Only Second Best – May 2016

‘...she doesn't love you, you know...I could see it in her eyes when she looked at you...’


Grigori stood in the elevator, watching the numbers rise steadily as he wondered how he was going to deal with his brother.


‘She's mine, do you understand that Katorga?’


After receiving Bealian’s drunk and abusive voicemail and sending a quick ‘where are you?’ in response, he’d been met with only a single word in reply.


Alinas.


Well fuck. And uncharacteristic bad grammar.


That didn’t bode well.


The sliding doors opened with a little ding and Grigori stepped out into the hall, hurrying towards Alina’s penthouse apartment. It had only taken him twenty minutes to get there, traffic at this time of night was next to non-existent.


Oh shit.


He stopped in his tracks when he saw the door wide open - the lights flickering madly from within - but only for a second before he quickened his pace. His heart was pounding, his imagination running wild as he tore into the apartment, his eyes making a quick appraisal of the trail of devastation leading down the hallway. Artwork sculptures lay smashed on their tables, holes had been punched in the plaster walls and broken glass littered the floor.


"BAELIAN!" he shouted as he ran through the penthouse, sudden fear coursing through him.


If you’re dead you motherfucker, I’ll kill you.


The smell of smoke was coming from the lounge and Grigori could see the faint flicker of firelight through the art deco archway as he approached. He found Baelian on the floor as he entered the room, the fireplace providing the only illumination of the strange scene of chaos before his eyes.


The couches had been upturned and ripped open. Antique cabinets had been pulled down, their contents scattered across the floor. Baelian sat in the midst of it all, surrounded by a circle of photographs and empty bottles.


Seeing his brother there, Grigori leaned heavily against the wall and heaved a sigh of relief.


"Oh thank fuck you're okay," he blurted.


Baelian turned to stare at him, not looking the least bit surprised at his arrival. His bright blue eyes were red with tears and his clothes were a dishevelled mess, his level of intoxication evident by the way even that little head movement left him swaying unsteadily.


"You're an idiot, Katorga," the blue eyes narrowed, a pouting lip turning up into a sneer, "Do I look fucking okay to you?"


"I can work with breathing, Baelian."


Walking over to his brother, Grigori crouched next to him, his eyes scanning the photographs scattered all around.


Alina, Bella, Bethany, Lyra, Red…


There was a baby photo of someone who looked a lot like Lorelei…and there, beside Baelian’s hand, was a picture he'd never seen before.


Belladonna Black.


Their mother.


Leaning over, Grigori picked the polaroid up and studied it. Baelian’s eyes tracked his movement for a moment, then looked away.


"You know, I never actually knew what she looked like until she turned up at the last Funday,” he told Baelian, dropping the picture back on the pile and reaching over to grab an overturned bottle of vodka, “You take after her more than me, I think."


Taking a swig of the brew, he glanced back down at the old photograph.


"I wonder if I look more like Marcus? I don't even know what he looks like."


An odd feeling rose in Grigori’s chest as he stared at the lovely black haired girl in the picture.


Pretty.


Shrugging and suppressing the feeling, he took another swig and lifted his gaze to study his brother.


"She doesn't love you, Katorga," Baelian whispered at him, his averted eyes filling with malice as he turned to look at Grigori, "She came to see me that night, not you. Me."


The heavy feeling in Grigori’s chest swelled as he stared back at Baelian. His face must have betrayed something, because Black’s lip twitched in a smirk, as if he knew he'd hit his mark. Blinking, Katorga finally just shrugged.


"It's been a long time since I needed a mother, Baelian. Why do you care anyway? She abandoned you too, remember?" Pushing the feelings deep down, Grigori narrowed his eyes at his brother, "And what game were you playing, letting Cookie carry on and flirt with her like that anyway..?”


His words trailed off at the sudden look of confusion, then horror that welled in Baelian’s gaze, a dawning of realisation filing him.


You didn’t know. You didn’t see.


“She abandoned us and never looked back,” Grigori asked, swiftly changing tack, “What does she even want now?"


Recovering quickly, Baelian sneered at him and snatched the bottle out of his hand, moving to rise unsteadily and with great effort. Grigori followed his ascent, holding a hand out subtly in case his companion toppled back over. The way that he was swaying on his feet, it was a highly likely possibility.


"I don't have to tell you anything," Baelian said petulantly, taking a deep drink of the vodka and turning away. Anger boiled up inside Grigori and he reached out to grab Baelian’s shoulder, pulling him back and almost sending him sprawling.


"What the fuck is your problem with me now, Baelian!?" he demanded, more than over the mind games and passive aggressive barbs, "The hell was that voicemail? Is this about Bethany? Or is this just some tantrum about missing Alina…and why the fuck did you trash her apartment?"


Steadying himself and glaring, Baelian pointed a finger at Grigori.


"Don't you fucking dare bring Alina into this!" he snarled, "You abandoned her when she needed you…she trusted you and you couldn't protect her! You promised me you would protect her!"


Oh fuck you.


Grigori looked away, the familiar and sickening guilt he still felt about leaving Alina with Nikolai hitting him like a blow to the stomach.


"And why? So you could go gallivanting around with my Bethany," the venom dripped from each syllable as Baelian continued, his eyes filling with tears, "You couldn’t even keep Bethy safe! You can't keep her safe, Grigori. You. Are. Not. Good. Enough. For. My. Daughter!"


Exasperated, Grigori threw up his hands. He knew his brother was drunk…well beyond drunk, but this particular tune was getting old.


"Then why the fuck did you decide we should get married?" he demanded, shaking his head, "If I’m not good enough for her, why did you choose me?”


"Because I thought you would do as you were told for once in your fucking life!" Baelian retorted, “Why won’t you just do as you’re told?”


"What the hell are you on about, Baelian? You told me to marry her and I did exactly that!" Grigori yelled, waving his arms.


"I didn't tell you to fall in love,” Baelian’s mouth twisted on the last word as if the taste of it disgusted him. Grigori stepped back, shock filling his features.


“Is that what this is about? That we fell in love?” Grigori couldn’t stop the amazed laugh that fell from his lips, “I was just as surprised as you about how this turned out, you know I was. Seriously Baelian, what the hell is your problem? Don’t you want your daughter to be loved..?"


All at once, realisation dawned.


"Or is this just the fact that she fell in love? That’s the part you can't stand, right? She fell in love with someone other than you.”


Baelian didn’t have to say anything, the look on his face said it all. Grigori scowled.


“Fucking hell, Bae!"


Tilting his head and narrowing his eyes, Baelian glared.


"She doesn't love you,” he said quietly after a moment, “Trust me on that."


"I was right then," Grigori sneered at his brother in disgust, "It's not me loving her that's got you up-in-arms. You just can't stand that she loves me back!"


"You?" Baelian laughed cruelly, "Do you really think anyone could really love you, Grigori? I mean, really? Your own mother gave you up the first chance she got and wouldn't even look at you when you finally met. Belladonna used you like a pathetic tool because you were just too easy to manipulate. You run from one damsel in distress to another while they all laugh behind your back about what an idiot you are…"


“That’s enough, Baelian,” Grigori said quietly. He stood perfectly still, watching his brother sway on his feet.


Baelian’s lips quirked and he staggered forwards a step, those blue eyes darkening with malice as his voice became softer, mocking.


"Do you want to know what Belladonna really thinks of you?” a shaking hand rose to Grigori’s temple and Baelian tapped on it less than gently, “She's right here in my head. Shall we discuss how much a failure she sees you as?”


Grigori blinked.


“…Every person you've ever tried to help, you’ve failed. You let your sister die…you left Alina in the hands of Nikolai, then watched Bethany run straight to him. You let my daughter and Alina get abused and raped by a psychopath…because you weren’t man enough to do anything about it. You failed."


Grigori’s upper lip twitched into a sneer, his hands clenching into fists as he shook his head. Baelian laughed and swayed closer.


"You think I'm jealous? You have no idea. It isn’t me that she loves, you idiot…and it’s not you. It's him! We both have to live with the knowledge that we'll never measure up…but at least I come close to what she needs…you’ll only ever be second best…to Bethy…and to our Mother…”


"Last warning Baelian!" Grigori hissed loudly, gritting his teeth.


“Remember that, whenever you’re kissing her…whenever you’re holding her against you, whenever you’re fucking her. Enjoy living with the knowledge that, deep down, Bethany prefers being raped by him over fucking you!"


Grigori’s punch caught Baelian in the jaw, sending him backwards and straight to the floor. He fell hard, broken glass crunching beneath him as the Russian yelled in fury and launched himself at his brother.


“YOU FUCKING CUNT!”


Snarling, Baelian lashed out with a foot, catching Grigori in the gut. Katorga barely felt it. His hands clamped on the lapels of Baelian’s coat and he dragged the drunk man upwards then shoved him down roughly, slamming his head back against the hardwood floor.


Once. Twice.


It was enough to daze Baelian completely, inebriated as he already was, but not enough to stop the mocking laughter from falling from his lips.


Bellowing in rage Grigori knelt over his brother, hitting him again. Baelian’s arm came up instinctively to defend his pretty face, but Grigori batted his feeble attempt at self-preservation aside with a growl, grabbing him by his hair and yanking his head up off the floor. He punched Baelian again, then let his head drop. Baelian coughed, blood staining his lips as his head fell to one side, a gash on his brow seeping crimson over his pale face, his nose beginning to bleed seconds later.


“Fuck you, Black!”


Grigori’s next blow caught his brother in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him and doubling him over. Baelian curled to one side, gasping, a small glass bottle falling from his pocket and rolling across the floor as Katorga drew back for another punch.


He froze as his sights fell on the blue pills within the bottle, eyes widening. Baelian made a snatch for it, but Grigori was quicker, scooping it up and inspecting the contents, already knowing full well what he would find.


"Ambrosia!?" he stared down at Baelian, "The Professor is dead…why the hell are you still taking these fucking things!?”


Moaning, Baelian could only cough up blood in response, a shaking hand reaching for the bottle feebly. Getting off his brother and rising to his feet, Grigori started to pace back and forth.


“What sort of fucking idiot do you need to be to keep drugging yourself with this shit? My God, Bae, you know what they do to you…"


“….I…..need them…” came the broken response as Baelian rolled over, trembling hands reaching out for Grigori, cobalt eyes filled with desperation.


Grigori shuffled back a step, just out of Baelian’s reach, staring down at his brother in perplexion as his rage ebbed away. Half Baelian’s face was streaked with blood now, the pleading in his tear-filled eyes was equally horrifying, heart-wrenching and pitiful…so much so that Katorga was at a loss to speak for a long moment.


Fuck me. You want me to hurt you, don’t you? You provoked me on purpose…


“…Grigori…”


“No fucking way.”


Baelian moaned miserably and rolled onto his side into the fetal position. The anger faded from Grigori completely as he watched his older brother curled up on the floor, his shoulders rising and falling as he began to sob silently.


Letting out a sigh Grigori pocketed the pills and left the room, returning shortly after with a first aid kit he found in Alina’s bathroom. Placing it aside, he lifted one of the couches upright, then turned to reach out for Baelian, who immediately flinched and pulled away.


"Please Baelian," Grigori pleaded with him, "I'm trying to help."


Baelian lay there trembling for a moment longer before holding out an arm and allowing Grigori to drag him up off the floor, then move him to the couch and carefully pull off his coat. Shards of broken glass clinked over the floorboards as the Russian discarded the heavy garment.


“Hold still,” Grigori muttered, kneeling before Baelian and starting to administer first aid, unceremoniously wiping his brother’s face and appraising the damage as he did so. There was more blood than actual injury…Baelian’s nose was bleeding but not broken, and the gash on his left brow was mostly superficial. Still…there were a few nice bruises already forming on his jaw and along his cheekbone.


Baelian sat in silence, watching Grigori through half-mast eyes as the blood and tears dried on his cheeks. He was still shaking, but that seemed to be a constant with him these days.


"Sorry," Grigori mumbled as he tended to his brother’s cuts and bruises, his gaze flickering upwards to meet those endless pools of shocking blue. Baelian frowned, as if genuinely confused as to why Katorga felt the need to apologise…for a moment it seemed as if he’d almost forgotten everything that had just happened.


Then he blinked.


"It's fine," he whispered emotionlessly, leaning back against the cushions carefully.


Finishing up, Grigori stood and moved to the bathroom, discarding the first aid kit and washing the blood off his hands. He caught sight of himself in the mirror…Baelian’s blood was smeared across his face and his clothing was just as dishevelled now as the fallen King’s in the lounge. Heaving a sigh, Katorga shook his head.


Fucking family.


By the time he returned to Baelian’s side, the broken billionaire had curled up on the couch, his eyes closed and his breathing ragged. Grigori moved to sit on the floor nearby, carefully moving aside stray shards of glass and picking up the fallen vodka bottle to finish the dregs as he studied the sleeping man.


If you can call that sleep.


Baelian whimpered, his body trembling and twitching as whatever monster hunted him in his dreams took a nice big bite of his psyche. Watching him for a moment longer, Grigori pulled out his phone to send a quick text message to Lyra.


-We need to do something about Baelian.-


His eyes fell on the photographs strewn across the floor, his gaze returning to the polaroid of Belladonna.


“You’ll only ever be second best…”


Grigori shook his head, looking back at Baelian.


If being first in line meant that he ended up like his brother, Grigori preferred to stay second best.


Written by Adam Grant and Natalie Ristovski.


All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016. Natalie Ristovski.

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TALES FROM THE BURLESQUE UNDERGROUND

© 2021 by Natalie Ristovski

Note: The Burlesque Underground is strictly for adults 18+ only and may contain gore, horror, simulated violence, simulated sexual violence, coarse language, partial nudity, and including images, concepts and themes that may offend some. Trigger warnings apply. All scripted and improvised role-play is safe, sane and consensual. 

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