Castle Roland

From the Cup of the Worthless

by Cynus


Chapter 22

Posted: 2 Jun 16

From the Cup of the Worthless

Copyright © 2015, 2016
by Cynus

Nicola Salvitici was amazed at the amount of grey in Mikhail Karimov's hair. He hadn't shared the same space as Mikhail in years, but other than his hair color, little had changed. Perhaps, if he looked long enough, he could admit Mikhail's face was a bit more weathered, and his eyes were a bit harder, but he was still the same handsome man he'd always been.

Standing from his seat in the hospital waiting room, Nicola stared at Mikhail until he was noticed, and Mikhail headed his way. "Nicola!" Mikhail said, his eyes frantic as he stopped in front of Nicola and looked all around him. "What the hell is going on? Where are my boys?"

"Try to relax, Mikhail, they're both recovering," Nicola said, reaching out to lay a comforting hand on Mikhail's arm. "Viktor is in with Vladimir now, who is resting. The last thing he needs is you bursting in there frantically before you've had a chance to think the situation through."

"My sons were just attacked by a guy with a knife, on the street, in daylight," Mikhail said testily. "What else is there to think through?"

"A great deal," Nicola said, reaching out with his other hand so he was gripping both of Mikhail's arms. "Calm down. Breathe. Come on, you need to have a better handle on this."

Mikhail met Nicola's eyes and nodded, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes for a moment. "Okay," he said, opening his eyes again and staring at Nicola. "What are you doing here, anyway? Officer Gura told me you were already there when he arrived." Some of Mikhail's panic returned and brought with it anger. "Is this your doing, Nicola? Please tell me it's not."

"We were there to save your sons' lives, Mikhail," Nicola replied calmly, knowing Mikhail was simply letting his emotions get ahead of him. "We stopped the knifeman before he could kill anyone. They were both lucky I was there."

Mikhail took another deep breath as his anger subsided slightly. "What happened? And why were you there? Please, tell me everything."

Nicola nodded and gestured for Mikhail to sit with him for a moment. Mikhail eyed the chair skeptically and then looked down the hallway. Nicola smiled sympathetically and said, "They're still getting checked out. They can wait a moment for you to get in there. As far as they know, you're still on your way." Mikhail nodded and allowed himself to be led by Nicola to a pair of chairs against the wall. Once they were both seated, Nicola began to recount the important details of the incident. "Viktor was attacked."

"Viktor?" Mikhail echoed, confused and panicky. "But it was Vladimir who was stabbed, right?"

"Yes," Nicola said carefully. "Defending Viktor. He tackled the attacker and was stabbed immediately afterward."

Mikhail shook his head in disbelief and asked, "Why was Viktor attacked?'

"The attacker went after Viktor in order to get even with Viktor's boyfriend," Nicola explained calmly.

"What?" Mikhail asked, staring at Nicola with obvious confusion. "Viktor's not gay, Vladimir is." He shook his head and said forcefully, "So you mean Vladimir was attacked . . ." he trailed off as Nicola shook his head firmly.

"No, I definitely meant Viktor," Nicola said with conviction. "Viktor's boyfriend, Nobuyuki, is the one who fought the knifeman until we arrived to rescue him."

"What!?" Mikhail asked jumping to his feet and staring back at Nicola as if he'd lost his mind. He shook his head in denial and continued, "Viktor . . ." his hands moved up to both sides of his head, gripping tightly and then sliding back along his scalp as he looked upward and whispered, "Oh god almighty, this can't be happening. Both my sons are gay?"

"Mikhail, you better get your priorities straight," Nicola warned. "You sound like your kids being gay is worse than them being attacked by someone trying to kill them. What the hell has happened to you?"

Mikhail looked down at Nicola and muttered angrily, "You wouldn't understand."

"Like hell I wouldn't!" Nicola shouted, jumping to his feet and not caring at the other people in the waiting room staring their way. He leaned in close to Mikhail and snapped, "This is about Luca, isn't it?"

"N-no," Mikhail stammered, his eyes open wide. "It isn't, I—"

Nicola gripped Mikhail by the front of his shirt and spun him around, forcefully slamming him against the wall. "Shut up, Mikhail. Shut up for one goddamn minute," he snarled.

Mikhail tried to break Nicola's grip. Even though Mikhail was the larger man, Nicola had adrenaline surging through his veins and held him fast. "You're really going to assault the chief of pol—" Mikhail's protest was cut off as Nicola pulled him back from the wall then slammed him against it again.

"I'll throw you through the wall if that's what it takes for you to listen to me," Nicola snarled. "You've got to stop blaming yourself for Luca's death. It's not your fault, and it never will be."

Mikhail shook his head but stopped struggling. "If we hadn't had that affair—"

Nicola cut him off with a glare and then said, "It's not an affair if both of your wives were already gone, Mikhail. You needed comfort, and he was your best friend. You loved each other, anyone could see that. Did you forget I was there?" People were starting to stare at them, so Nicola leaned in closer so he could whisper in Mikhail's ear. "Did you forget I used to cover for the two of you with my father?" He released Mikhail and stepped away, shaking his head in disgust.

"You don't know what you're talking about," Mikhail said as he started straightening out his shirt.

"Mikhail, you've got a choice to make here," Nicola said, his earlier calm returning but he retained an edge in his voice, wanting to communicate how serious he was. "You made the wrong one when you decided to stop talking to me after Luca died, but I pray to whatever god you claim to believe in that he sets you straight here." He pointed down the hall as his voice raised slightly in pitch and volume. "In a room down that hall, your boys are both being treated for knife wounds, one serious and one not so serious, but both have had a hell of a day. Both need the comfort of their father's love, and not his guilt-driven hatred of the love they can't change. Get over yourself and show your sons you love them; the way I know a father does." He shook his head and clenched his hand into a fist, punching the air in front of him to prevent himself from hitting Mikhail. "Dammit, Mikhail, I know you know how to love. I used to see it every day."

Mikhail met Nicola's eyes, and they stared at each other until Mikhail started nodding in understanding. Then he blushed and looked away, his eyes filling with shame. "Nicola," he whispered, "I'm sorry."

"You better be," Nicola warned. "And when this is over, we're going to go get a drink, and we're going to talk about Luca like we should have a decade ago." He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Mikhail, pulling him in tight and holding him there for a moment before breaking the embrace. Once they were apart again, Mikhail's eyes were wet and the pain in his expression had lessened. It was enough for Nicola to believe Mikhail was finally in the right frame of mind to deal with his current situation. He nodded down the hall and said, "Now, go see your sons. You better behave yourself, or I'm going to make good on that threat and throw you through the wall, got it?"

"Thanks, Nicola," Mikhail replied, reaching out to gently touch Nicola's arm just above his elbow. "I guess I needed that."

"I've always been there for you, and you should have known that," Nicola said, smirking knowingly. "Now get out of here. Those boys are waiting for their father."

"Nobuyuki, we just escorted Katsumi out of the building. Father is in Katsumi's chambers still, and I believe he may need help."

"What kind of help, Nao?" Nobuyuki asked, cupping his ear to show Dante he was focusing on the call, not sure he liked what he was hearing. Not only had it now been confirmed that Katsumi had been the one working with Daisuke, but she had also hurt Masahiro in the process of him finding out, or so it would seem.

"I don't believe he should be left alone," Nao replied with concern.

Nobuyuki nodded even though Nao couldn't see the gesture. "All right, I'll head up there right now."

He ended the call as Dante reached out and touched his arm. "Something wrong?"

"I'm not sure," Nobuyuki replied with a concerned frown. "Daisuke wasn't lying to us, at least. Would you please stay here a little bit longer? I have to make sure Masahiro is all right."

"Of course," Dante said, nodding quickly. "Anything you want me to do?"

"If Satoshi needs any help, call me," Nobuyuki replied as he started toward the elevator.

"You've got it."

Nobuyuki reached the elevator in record speed for someone with a sprained ankle. The pain was completely insignificant in comparison to the worry he felt for his father. He'd seen the way Masahiro had looked at Daisuke, and that had been enough for Nobuyuki's concern. Masahiro's mental state after dealing with the betrayal of the woman he loved was something far more serious, and Nobuyuki wasn't sure he'd even make it in time.

As he reached the second floor from the top where Katsumi's suite was located, he was filled with impending dread, and he started running. Katsumi's door was standing open, and Nobuyuki didn't hesitate before pushing through it, expecting to find his father in a precarious situation.

Instead, Masahiro was standing by the window and gazing out at the city, a look of complete despair on his face. But he was only standing, and didn't appear in any danger of doing anything else. Without looking Nobuyuki's direction, Masahiro said, "Nobuyuki."

"Yes, Father?" Nobuyuki asked, taking a moment to catch his breath.

"I loved her," Masahiro said quietly.

Nobuyuki felt the tension fade from him as he sighed, "Yes, I know."

"I couldn't see it," Masahiro replied, shaking his head ruefully. "I didn't want to believe it was her."

A deep frown creased Nobuyuki's face as he started toward his father. He surveyed the room, seeing the broken bottle of sake and the discarded knife and cup. It was a recklessly beautiful scene, like one after a lover's quarrel which had ended in tragedy. "I didn't see it either," he said as he joined his father at the window.

Masahiro chuckled, but there wasn't a trace of humor in it. "But I always knew, somehow, she would be my undoing."

"You're still here," Nobuyuki observed.

Masahiro turned toward Nobuyuki at last and asked with sorrow, "Am I?"

"Yes, and there's more to be done," Nobuyuki replied without hesitation. "Your family needs you."

"And what of my son whom I must now kill?"

Nobuyuki sighed and said, "He did it all out of a need for your approval."

Masahiro laughed bitterly and stared back at the city stretched out before him. "He would have had it if he'd only embraced you instead of pushing you away. I would have given him anything he asked for in the end, if he'd only remained loyal to me in everything."

"I know," Nobuyuki said quietly. "I think he knows that now, too."

"What makes you think so?" Masahiro asked.

"I couldn't torture him," Nobuyuki explained, shaking his head in wonder. "I looked in his eye and knew he'd been tortured enough. The reason he didn't kill me was so he could return one last time, to seek your approval."

Masahiro sighed and said, "And now I have to kill him."

Nobuyuki reached out and placed a tentative hand on his Father's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Father. I wish it could be different."

"He chose his fate when he chose to betray me," Masahiro said, shaking his head. "I cannot allow such a deed to go unpunished."

"I know. We must do wha—" Nobuyuki stopped at the sound of Dante's ringtone in his ear. He turned away from Masahiro and said, "Dante, what is it?"

"You need to come down here," Dante replied with a note of panic in his voice. "I just heard Satoshi scream."

"Shit! Father, we have to go," Nobuyuki said as he ended the call. As he started toward the door with Masahiro right behind him, he made a call to Nao and the rest of the security forces. "All forces, cover all exits, Daisuke may be trying to escape. Kill him on sight."

Viktor was having a hard time keeping his eyes open, and considered going down the hall to the vending machine to find some caffeine. They'd offered him a room of his own, but he'd declined. There seemed no reason to be anywhere other than at Vladimir's side now that they'd stitched up his wound. He didn't need to be monitored, but Vladimir definitely needed someone there for him, even if he was sleeping.

Just as he was about to get up, there was a light knock on the door and Mikhail poked his head into the room. He smiled meekly at Viktor and asked, "Hey, can I come in?"

"Father!" Viktor said more loudly than he intended, and cast a nervous glance to see if he'd woken Vladimir before crossing the room to embrace his father.

"Viko," Mikhail said quietly, kissing his son's forehead, "how are you feeling?"

"I'm okay," Viktor replied as he pulled away from his father. He gestured to the patch of gauze attached to his cheek and said, "They've given me something for the pain, and they've already stitched me up."

"How's Vladimir?" Mikhail asked, nodding toward Vladimir who was stretched out on the hospital bed, his injured side facing upward.

"He's resting, but . . ." Viktor began, but then stopped as Vladimir stirred at the mention of his name.

"Dad?" Vladimir asked groggily as he opened his eyes and looked at Mikhail.

"Vladi . . ." Mikhail said uncertainly as he let go of Viktor and walked toward Vladimir's bed. "Are you in much pain?"

"I'm doing better," Vladimir said, yawning and groaning at once. "I feel weak, but that's mainly the blood loss, I think."

"I've been told you're going to be fine. Nothing vital was hit," Viktor said, smiling encouragingly at Vladimir.

"No. I'm lucky," Vladimir replied, looking back at Viktor and grinning. "He didn't want to kill me, just wanted to stop me. He should have tried harder."

"A bit morbid, but I'm glad he didn't," Mikhail said, forcing a smile to his face.

Vladimir turned toward Mikhail with a neutral expression and asked, "Are you?"

"Vladi, that was a terrible thing to say!" Viktor scolded.

"Yes, it was, but it was also deserved," Mikhail said as his smile faltered. He reached out and took Vladimir's hand in his, and seemed surprised when Vladimir didn't pull away. "I'm sorry, Vladi. I'm so sorry . . ." Mikhail went on with misty eyes. "I should have never kicked you out of the house. I should have never gotten angry. Can you forgive me?"

Vladimir stared at Mikhail for a few seconds and then withdrew his hand, folding both his hands in his lap as he said, "It will take me some time, but I think so."

Mikhail nodded and replied, "I'll have to live with that."

"Everything will work out all right," Viktor offered, looking between his father and brother as he came to stand next to them. "It always does."

Mikhail cleared his throat and looked at Vladimir. "So, are your friends coming to see you?"

"Dimitry and Alexi are on their way, yes," Vladimir replied with a curt nod. "Is that going to be a problem?"

Mikhail shook his head. "No. It's not."

Vladimir stared back at his father for a moment and then nodded. "Good."

"What about your friends?" Mikhail asked, turning toward Viktor. "I understand that they're the reason you're here and not worse. I'd like to thank them."

"I'm sure they'll be here eventually," Viktor replied, shrugging. "They had to take care of something."

"Yes, the one who attacked you," Mikhail replied, nodding in understanding. "Nicola told Officer Gura about him, and I was briefed on that part on the way over. I'm sure glad Nicola was there."

"How . . .?" Viktor asked, sharing a confused look with Vladimir. "How are you on such good terms with Nicola? He's Mafia!"

"He and I went to school together, many years ago," Mikhail explained with a shrug. "When I joined the police force, I remained friends with Nicola and . . ." he paused and swallowed hard, and a tremor entered his voice as he continued, "and his brother Luca, even though they were in the Mafia."

"But you're the Chief of Police!" Viktor protested.

"I'll let you in on a little secret, Viko," Mikhail said with a deep sigh. "I don't think there's ever been a city in Russia which hasn't had some affiliation with the organized crime in the city. I'm sorry if that ruins your opinion of me, but I think after today it's time we were all honest with each other."

"It doesn't . . ." Viktor said cautiously, letting the information sink in. He nodded with determination and then said nervously, "I've . . . changed my mind about a lot of things recently."

"Seems we've all been doing a lot of that," Mikhail mused with a nervous chuckle. He then patted the side of the bed and stood, turning away from them as he broached the subject he'd been afraid of for years. "So, which one of you wants to tell me about your boyfriend, first?"

Viktor and Vladimir shared a look of horror as Viktor stammered, "Uh . . . wha—"

"Neither of you?" Mikhail asked, cutting Viktor off before he made up some excuse. "Well, okay, I'll go first," Mikhail said, wringing his hands as he turned back around. "I haven't been fair to either of you, and I'm sorry. I need to tell you about what happened after your mother died." He looked first at Vladimir and then at Viktor, but then returned his gaze to his eldest, who was watching him with awestruck anticipation. "I was very lonely, as I'm sure you could imagine. Most of my friends had disappeared over the years, but Nicola and Luca had remained close to me. I sought them out, and they helped me out." He felt his emotions start to get the better of him and looked away, unwilling to let Vladimir see the shame in his eyes. "Luca especially," he continued, his voice trembling, "his wife had died in childbirth, delivering their only child, Dante."

"Dante?" Viktor asked with wonder. "Dante Salvitici?"

"Yes, do you . . .?" Mikhail started to ask, and when he saw the recognition in Viktor's eyes he nodded with approval. "You've made a good choice in a friend if you're friends with a Salvitici. Dante was a very energetic boy when I knew him, and I bet he still has a heart of gold."

"Father, I never would have guessed," Viktor said with wonder.

"Well, Luca was particularly good to me," Mikhail continued, knowing he had to get the story out there now or it would break him. "He understood what it was like to lose someone he loved. We began to spend a lot of time together, whenever I could get a babysitter to stay a little later for you boys. I . . ." He paused and chuckled nervously, unable to meet Vladimir's eyes even though he could feel the intensity of his son's gaze on his face. "I never told anyone this, other than Nicola. Luca and I, we fell in love."

"You're telling me you were in a gay relationship . . ." Vladimir said, wounded and a bit angry, "then why . . . ?"

Mikhail knew he had to face his son then, and he forced himself to be brave and turned toward him as he said, "Because of what happened, Vladi."

"What happened?" Viktor asked.

This was the hardest part of the story for Mikhail, and he took a deep breath and exhaled slowly before he began. "One of my enemies in the Russian Mafia learned of my relationship with Luca. I don't know how they found out, but they did. He was upset for me throwing his father in jail, and he decided to get even with me. He . . ." Mikhail choked on his words and then began again, "One night, I was going to meet Luca when I received a call from Nicola. Luca had been found dead, and all evidence pointed to that Russian bastard who . . ." His hands clenched into fists and he had to turn away, his mind filled with a mixture of shame and rage. "I'm sorry. It's been over ten years and I'm still angry."

"Father," Viktor said, reaching out and embracing his father from the side. "I'm so sorry."

"Thank you, Viko, but I'm not finished," Mikhail said, patting his son's shoulder and then pulling out of the embrace so he could turn back to Vladimir. "After Luca died, I withdrew into myself. I didn't know how to handle either of you. I didn't know how to show my love . . ." he shook his head with shame and said, "I was afraid I'd been punished for having those thoughts about another man, and I turned to the faith I was raised in, and the philosophy of Vladimir Putin. I remember in my youth that he had always preached against the dangers of weakening our nation with homosexuality. I couldn't be weak anymore, I had to be strong! I had to be strong for the two of you; I had to be strong so I wouldn't lose either of you." Locking gazes with Vladimir, Mikhail promised himself he wouldn't look away again until he'd finished everything he had to say. "I've been a fool. In following that philosophy, I ended up pushing you both away. I don't want to do that anymore. With that in mind, I want to hear everything. I want to know who these people are in your life you've been afraid to tell me about."

Their eyes remained locked on each other's for a long moment, interrupted at last by the door opening and Dimitry pushing into the room. He only had eyes for Vladimir, and he rushed toward the unoccupied standing room on the other side of Vladimir's bed. "Oh my god, Vladi! Oh, I've been so worried coming over here."

"Dimitry, get over here," Vladimir said, reaching for his boyfriend to come closer. Dimitry leaned over him and Vladimir pulled him down, planting a hungry kiss on his lips. They parted after a few seconds and placed their foreheads against each other's as each simply basked in the other's presence with their eyes closed. Vladimir kissed Dimitry again after they'd opened their eyes and then gestured toward his father. "Dimitry, you've never been officially introduced to my father. This is Mikhail Karimov, my father." He looked at Mikhail expectantly and said, "Dad, this is Dimitry. He's my boyfriend, and I love him."

Mikhail stuck his hand out for Dimitry to shake and smiled warmly. "We've met before, but not in many years."

"I remember," Dimitry said as he took Mikhail's hand and shook it. "My mother took us to Vladi's mother's funeral. She was a saint. The whole neighborhood loved her."

"That she was," Mikhail said quietly, eyes misting again as he met Dimitry's eyes. The sound of the door opening behind him brought his attention to the tall young man standing there, watching the scene unfold with obvious surprise. "And you must be, Alexi," Mikhail said as he released Dimitry's hand and turned to greet Alexi and offer another handshake. "I haven't seen you in years, either. You've grown up a lot."

Alexi recovered from his shock quickly and took Mikhail's hand in both of his, shaking it emphatically. "Mr. Karimov, it's a pleasure to be able to shake your hand. You keep the city safe, even if it does get a little annoying from time to time."

"Alexi, you probably shouldn't be talking about that . . ." Dimitry warned.

"Oh, right," Alexi said, wiggling his eyebrows at Mikhail and catching him off guard. Without skipping a beat, Alexi turned toward Viktor and approached him with his arms open wide. "Viko! Your cheek's all bandaged up. I guess I'll have to kiss the other one." He pulled Viktor in tight and gave him a quick peck on his uninjured cheek before letting go.

"Who's kissing Viko? I want in!" Dimitry exclaimed as he started to pull away from Vladimir.

"Hang on, me first," Vladimir said, pulling Dimitry in for a quick peck on the lips. He then let Dimitry go and waved him away. "All right, go ahead."

Dimitry dashed around the room and wrapped Viktor in a hug, duplicating Alexi's actions entirely. Once they'd pulled apart, Dimitry shared a look with Alexi and they both moved in on either side of Viktor, fingers darting in to tickle Viktor's ribs.

"Hey, guys!' Viktor protested, howling with laughter as they forced him into a seat and continued to tickle him. "Stop it!"

After smiling fondly at their antics, Vladimir turned toward Mikhail and asked, "You're really okay with this?"

"I have to be, don't I?" Mikhail asked with a shrug.

"No. You can hold onto your beliefs if you want to, and I'll just leave," Vladimir said with a blank expression. "Don't accept them unless you want to. I was already prepared to let you have things the way you wanted."

Viktor's howling laughter kept the others from noticing what was happening next to them, and Mikhail walked around Vladimir's bed to stand on the other side. He reached out and took Vladimir's hand again, squeezing it gently as tears began streaming down his face. "You boys are both smiling and laughing, despite what happened to you today. Trust me, this is what I want. This is all I could ever ask for."

An instant later, Vladimir's eyes were also filled with tears as he reached out and touched his father's face gently, as if seeing it for the first time in ages. "I forgive you," he whispered.

"What's going on?"

Dante looked up as he saw Nobuyuki and Masahiro enter the room and finally stopped pacing. It had been several minutes since he'd heard Satoshi scream in pain, and since then he hadn't heard anything else out of the room. Several Yakuza had arrived a few seconds earlier and rushed into the storage room, but Dante hadn't chosen to follow them.

"I don't know," Dante said, shaking his head. "I heard him scream and then called you. Some of your operatives just showed up, but . . ."

He trailed off as the door to the storage room opened and one of the Yakuza poked his head out and locked eyes with Masahiro. "Father, you should see this," he said before stepping into the hallway and holding the door open.

Satoshi stumbled into the hallway as Masahiro started toward the door, waving for Nobuyuki and Dante to follow him. "Satoshi, explain yourself," Masahiro said as he studied Satoshi's stricken expression. The young Yakuza was clutching with his right hand at his left, which was coated in blood. Staggering forward, Satoshi lifted a small package of bloodstained cloth in his injured left hand and handed it to Masahiro.

"Father, I'm sorry," he whispered, bowing humbly. "This is for you."

Masahiro took the package and unwrapped it, staring in horror at the pinky finger resting at the center. "Satoshi, what have you done?" He asked as he wrapped the finger back up and clutched it in his hand. "What have you done!" He pushed past Satoshi and into the storage room. As soon as he reached the doorway, he lost all of his composure, gasping in morbid terror.

"I couldn't let him stay like that," Satoshi whispered, looking at Nobuyuki for support. "I had to . . ." he hesitated, a sob stopping his words from forming properly. "Daisuke taught me everything I know. He was my mentor . . ." he shook his head in dismay. "I couldn't let him be executed like that. He asked me for my knife, and I knew what he wanted . . ." he began mumbling incoherently as Nobuyuki moved past him to see what had happened. Dante followed numbly, not sure he wanted to see what had so greatly affected these stalwart warriors.

Masahiro had moved into the room to join his men as Nobuyuki reached the doorway with Dante at his shoulder. Dante gasped at the sight which awaited him. Daisuke knelt in seiza in the center of the room, his head bowed and his shirt hanging open as his upper body slumped forward. His hands were clutching around the handle of Satoshi's belt knife where it sat embedded in his abdomen. Blood seeped from a long 'L' shaped gash across Daisuke's stomach, and with the grievousness of the wound there was no doubt in Dante's mind that Daisuke was dead.

"Seppuku," Nobuyuki whispered in awe. "Harakiri . . ." he shook his head in wonder, his voice breaking as he stared at Daisuke's corpse. "In death he seeks the honor he had lost in life."

"My son . . ." Masahiro whispered, kneeling down in front of Daisuke and reaching out to touch his face tenderly. "My poor son. Why did you have to take this path? You are lost to me forever."

Nobuyuki turned away to give his father space and returned to Satoshi's side. "Satoshi . . ." he said calmly, though Dante could tell Nobuyuki was fighting back tears. "You did the right thing. Come with me, let me get your finger taken care of."

"What about Father?" Satoshi asked.

Nobuyuki swallowed hard but forced his voice to remain calm. "He needs time alone. Come on."

Nao rushed into the brothel, a group of five Yakuza behind him, all with guns out and at the ready. "What's going on?" he asked, looking to Nobuyuki for the answer.

"Nao, you are in charge of everything for the time being," Nobuyuki said quickly. "Please call Dr. Yamaoka and get him up here. Do what you can to make sure things run smoothly, please. There's no need to worry about Daisuke escaping. He's dead."

Nao nodded solemnly and waved for the others to put their weapons away. "Understood, Nobuyuki," he said with a quick nod. He reached up to activate his communications device and began relaying orders to the security forces throughout the building as he walked away. "All right, everyone, back to your posts. It was a false alarm. There's nothing to see here. Dr. Yamaoka, we need you on the . . ."

He grew too distant for Dante to hear as he walked out of the brothel, and Dante returned his full attention to Satoshi and Nobuyuki. "What can I do?" He asked, eager to feel of use.

Nobuyuki nodded toward a stack of towels sitting outside one of the rooms of the brothel and started guiding Satoshi toward them. "Help me get Satoshi's bleeding under control while we wait for the doctor."

Dante darted ahead of them and retrieved a few towels, handing them to Nobuyuki as he asked. "What happened to your finger? Shouldn't we keep it so we can get it reattached?"

"Dante, do you remember what Yubitsume is?" Nobuyuki asked as he started undoing Satoshi's makeshift bandage, a scrap of cloth he'd found in the storage room and had used to momentarily stall the bleeding. As soon as the cloth was removed, Satoshi started bleeding profusely again, and Nobuyuki quickly applied one of the towels to the wound and put pressure on it. Only then did he look up to see Dante nodding that he remembered what Nobuyuki had done for Viktor earlier.

"You gave up a finger for me, and were beaten by Daisuke. I gave one up for Daisuke . . ." Satoshi shook his head and stared at Nobuyuki as he winced in pain. "Now I feel like I might owe one to you."

Nobuyuki shook his head and replied, "No. You did what I couldn't. I wanted to give Daisuke his honor back but didn't know how. You've done him a great service, and I think the gods would call it even."

"Thank you," Satoshi said with a sincere smile.

Nobuyuki nodded and began directing Dante to gather several other nearby supplies as he set to work on making a makeshift bandage for Satoshi's hand. Dante followed Nobuyuki's directions to the letter until Dr. Yamaoka rushed into the brothel to take over.

"What happened?" Dr. Yamaoka asked as he took Satoshi's hand from Nobuyuki.

"Yubitsume," Nobuyuki replied quickly.

"Understood," Dr. Yamaoka replied and then waved Nobuyuki away with a smile. "I'll take it from here."

"Thank you," Nobuyuki said to the doctor before turning to Satoshi and placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. "I'll come check on you later."

"What now?" Dante asked as Nobuyuki stood and turned toward the storage room.

"I need to check on Masahiro," Nobuyuki said, grimacing. As he started toward the storage room, however, Masahiro stepped out into the hallway, his face stricken with grief. "Father?" Nobuyuki asked, halting his approach.

"Nobu . . ." Masahiro said quietly, turning toward Nobuyuki and smiling gently. "I need some time alone. Will you make sure they take care of Daisuke's body?"

Nobuyuki bowed and replied, "Of course."

"Thank you," Masahiro said with a nod. "You're a good son, Nobuyuki. I'll be in my room, and I would prefer to not be disturbed until tomorrow. Please make sure my wishes are relayed to the staff?"

"Of course, Father," Nobuyuki said with another bow.

Masahiro started to walk away, but before he'd taken more than a step he turned and faced Dante and said, "Dante?"

"Yes, Masahiro?" Dante asked.

"Thank you for your help today," Masahiro replied with a nod. "Please, feel free to come back any time." He waited for Dante to acknowledge the sentiment before turning away again and walking out of the brothel.

"I think he likes you," Nobuyuki said, turning to Dante with a smirk.

"He looks like hell," Dante said, shaking his head in dismay.

Nobuyuki nodded and said calmly, "He will heal. It will take time, for all of us." He then turned around and headed back toward Satoshi and Dr. Yamaoka.

"Where are we going?" Dante asked as he fell in step beside him.

"After I tell Satoshi what Masahiro said, you and I are leaving. I don't want to stay here right now, and they can't keep me," Nobuyuki explained with a grim smile. "We have friends to visit, and I need them as much as they need us."

Dimitry was the first to notice Nobuyuki and Dante through the glass wall to Vladimir's room. He nudged Viktor and then nodded toward the pair as they approached the door. "Look who's here."

Viktor jumped to his feet which drew the attention of everyone else in the room, including that of his father. Mikhail Karimov gasped as he locked his eyes on Dante and whispered, "Oh my god, he looks just like Luca . . ."

Dante opened the door and held it open for Nobuyuki who entered first. He scanned the room but stopped on Viktor as he said, "Hey, how is everyone? Since Viktor didn't call us, I assume everyone is all right?"

"Yeah, we're on the mend," Viktor said as he started toward Nobuyuki, carefully avoiding looking at his father. "Now, come here before I lose my nerve?"

"Lose your nerve?" Nobuyuki asked as Viktor moved toward him. "For wha—" his words were cut off as Viktor closed the last bit of distance between them and didn't halt his momentum at all, pressing into Nobuyuki urgently and locking their lips together. Nobuyuki wrapped his arms around Viktor and Viktor responded in kind, closing the embrace and making them one person for a fraction of time as they lost themselves in each other's arms.

When they broke the embrace Viktor's eyes were teary and he said, "I've been needing that ever since we parted. What took you so long to get here?"

"Daisuke," Nobuyuki replied with a grimace.

"What happened?" Vladimir asked, drawing Nobuyuki and Viktor to turn and face the room.

"He's dead," Nobuyuki announced as Dante stepped into the room and wrapped Viktor in a quick hug from the side. "We don't have to worry about him anymore."

"Is Daisuke the one who hurt my sons?" Mikhail asked, rising to his feet as he faced Nobuyuki.

"Yes," Nobuyuki replied as he turned toward Viktor's father. Even though Mikhail towered over him, Nobuyuki didn't seem the least bit intimidated. "You are Mikhail Karimov?" he asked.

"Yes," Mikhail said as he extended his hand for Nobuyuki to shake. "You must be Nobuyuki."

"Indeed," Nobuyuki said as he took Mikhail's hand in both of his and shook it firmly.

Mikhail nodded and smiled politely. "I've been told my son loves you."

"The feeling is mutual, I assure you," Nobuyuki replied quickly.

"Then you are welcome in my home any time," Mikhail said as his smile became a smirk. "I would prefer if you do not bring radical knife-wielding maniacs with you, however."

Nobuyuki chuckled dryly and replied, "It was not my intention for Viktor to be harmed, I assure you."

"I would imagine not," Mikhail said gently. "I can see you care about him."

"If you're done with Nobu, I'd like him back," Viktor said, wrapping his arm around Nobuyuki's shoulders and pulling him away. He then gestured to Dante and said, "But I would like you to meet Dante Salvitici." After Mikhail turned toward Dante, Viktor led Nobuyuki to a pair of chairs in the room and sat down.

Dante took Mikhail's offered hand and said, "I remember you from somewhere. My uncle once told me the two of you were friends, and I've seen pictures of you, but there's something else about you."

"Sometime I'll have to tell you about it, but for now, I believe you're here to see my sons," Mikhail said, stepping aside to give them room to enter.

"That's right," Dante said. He stepped around Mikhail and followed after Nobuyuki and Viktor. "Move over, Nobu. I want some Viktor time, too."

"One quick thing while you're all here," Mikhail said while he was still standing and had their attention.

"Hmm?" Vladimir asked, turning toward his father.

"Will someone please tell me the real reason I have a hole in my wall?" Mikhail said, chuckling as he looked at his youngest son. "I know Viktor lied to me."

"I suppose, in the interest of honesty, that's my story to tell," Vladimir said, then gestured to the last empty seat in the room and continued. "Have a seat, Dad. It's already one I want to remember forever, but this is going to be a long story. I hope you don't mind."

"As long as it ends happily," Mikhail replied with a wide grin, "who cares how long it takes to get there?"

Author's Note: Thank you to my Patreon supporters, Scott, Bill, Paul R, Joe, Jos, and Mark for helping keep the dream alive.

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