Sleep Well

From the Story Arc: There's No Place Like Home

Previous Story in the Arc: Endgame by Althea Nagy (Friday, June 10, 2005)

(posted Friday, June 10, 2005)

Mosca unlocked the door to their apartment as quietly as possible. Natalya had left the post-rescue celebration early, complaining of stomach pains. Lines of tension around her eyes told him there were other reasons, but he knew better than to put her on the spot in front of comrades. After she left, the room grew quiet, as if the Russians, and a few remaining Americans, no longer felt like maintaining a pretense.

A single candle lit the living room. Natalya sat on their couch, her hair up in a towel, and wearing the bathrobe Mosca purchased for her on a whim. A bottle of harsh Kutsova vodka stood half empty on the coffee table, strong enough to scent the candle smoke. She didn’t look up as he entered.

“Corazon?”

Natalya kneaded the vodka glass and continued to stare at the candle. Sitting down at her side, he draped an arm around her.

“You have showered already, no? I was going to offer to scrub you clean.”

Mosca expected her shoulders to relax in his embrace. Instead, she straightened. “Nyet. I am fine.”

He leaned over to pour a glass of vodka, but hesitated. “Do you wish me to leave?”

She still had not turned her attention from the flame, but she nodded slowly. “Da.”

Mosca stood, frowning. Natalya was nothing if not expressive. He’d never seen her so closed, yet he knew when a woman needed space. “I will retire for the night, then.”

Her hand reached out to his. “Nyet, stay. We go to bed soon.” Mosca put an arm around her again; this time she settled in. He stroked her arm.

“Do you think I was wrong?” She spoke the question with no trace of uncertainty. He knew this tone: it was his Commissar addressing him.

“No.” The candle guttered, drawing his gaze.

“You understand why I gave my orders, da?”

Mosca sighed. He knew now what the source of tension was at the party. “I do, my heart. I am no stranger to war.”

Natalya poured another glass of vodka. “Fei Li agreed with me. ‘We must teach them that fire burns,’ she said, or something like so. Anything she says sounds like ancient proverb.” The vodka disappeared down her throat. She exhaled. “We are so vulnerable, darlink. Thea was easy target, but it could have been anyone. I had to show Council that CCCP wolf bites back.”

“These orders, you do not have to justify them to me.” He squeezed her shoulder. “I am your husband, but you are my Commissar.”

“Commissarina,” she corrected him with a sad smile. “And nyet, I do not look for justification. I made correct decision. My mistake…I failed to prepare comrades for true warfare. I let them swallow Amerikantski lies about romance of crimefighting.”

Her knuckles whitened on the vodka glass. Mosca took it from her and refilled it to the brim. She gulped back the vodka and set the glass down properly.

“Those Council soldiers had to die. If it was nyet today, it would have been later. We cannot strike at their roots if we rely on weak Amerikantski justice system.”

“But you allowed the Police bots to clean up,” Mosca pointed out. “You did not destroy the facility either.”

“Da.” She twisted her wedding band, a faraway look on her face. “I realized too late I was on verge of mutiny. Svoloch Red Djinni and John Murdock, subverting my authority.”

“That is why you sent Communard after Djinni?”

A look of confusion crossed her face. “Shto?”

“Communard bragged that he was sent to excoriate Red Djinni for disrespect towards you. He was quite proud.” Communard’s self-congratulatory laugh came back to him. He told everyone at the party twice of his confrontation. No one else shared in the joke.

“I did nyet…order…oh.” She slapped her forehead. “He called right after extraction and offered to knock Djinni around. I thought he was joking, so told him to go ahead. I just wanted to get him off comm line.”

“Ay ay, you must be more careful. Comrades take your words literally.” He hugged her as she groaned in frustration. “Especially blowhards like Communard. Perhaps you can send Djinni a bottle of fine vodka and apology.”

“As if that will help. These Americans, so serious. He argued with me for entire mission. You would think man who was living flamethrower would nyet be so squeamish.” The ice had been broken. She put her arms around Santiago and buried her head in his chest. “I was right, darlink. Right choice was nyet to scamper in like thieves to rescue that poor girl. Right choice was to strike with iron fist. Fear is only thing cowards like that understand.”

“Do you doubt yourself?” He adjusted her falling bathrobe and gave her another squeeze.

“Nyet. Not to make hard decisions…but to enforce them.”

“Can you force comrades to change beliefs? They follow you out of duty, and love…Si, love, I have seen it in their faces. But you must return this by respecting their loyalty. These heroes, they do not think like soldiers, who blindly follow orders. But they fight like tigers when they have faith in their leader.”

Natalya’s tearing eyes met his. “Then what is being solution? Is sounding like weakest link saying.” The pain in her eyes made his chest clench. His wife stood in the center of a crossroads of ethics, and the responsibility to choose only one road. “Am I to consult with every comrade to make sure I do not upset them? I cannot allow myself these limitations. Moscow is bad enough.”

Mosca searched for a solution. He longed for the simplicity of jungle warfare, removed from civilization. Kill or be killed. Your brothers were your brothers, and your enemies enemies.

“I don’t know,” he said at last. “I’m sorry.”

Natalya levered herself up. “There is one thing I do, in times like these, when there is blood on my hands.” Many times, Mosca knew. “It is little ritual, silly I am supposing, but it gives me comfort. I have never shared it before with anyone,” she handed him a glass, “you are nyet just anyone.”

Slowly, with deliberate movements, she filled a glass of vodka for each of them, then faced the flame. Mosca did the same, expecting a toast. Instead, she held the vodka glass in both hands to her heart.

“I do nyet usually say out loud, izvinit. It may sound very foolish.”

Natalya gazed at the flame, and Mosca saw her mouth twitch and back stiffen. She was recalling the raid, he guessed.

“I think of faces of my foes… or, some cases, their helmets or masks… whatever. I try to count fallen, dead, wounded.” She inhaled the vapors of the vodka. “When I have them in my mind, I tell them…well…” She paused, gathering the words, then addressed the candle flame. “Comrade, we have lost you in long journey to worker’s paradise. You will nyet live to see it.”

Mosca saw tears run more freely down her cheeks. He reached to brush them away but she shook her head.

“Revolution is for all workers…all humanity. You did nyet understand, and so you stood in way of progress.” She swallowed. “But I wish I could have called you brother than to take your life.”

Natalya held up the vodka glass in a gesture another would have called supplication. “I swear I will fight until no one is left behind. Do svedanya. Sleep well.”

She drank the vodka down. Mosca followed her, wondering at this woman he’d taken as a wife.