Arina Timofeyevna pressed her elbows into her knees and slumped forward on the cold metal bench, wincing at the sharp ache in her back. She had been sitting and laying there for nearly two days. She glanced to the left and saw a handsome young police officer as he stood just in front of a door, his dark hair perfectly styled and his uniform crisp and clean. He looked at her and smiled, but she offered none in return. He turned his eyes to the glinting hammer and sickle earrings she wore and the red military uniform and shook his head.
In her peripheral vision to the right, far down the hall, Arina saw the earth-toned shape of a man pacing back and forth. Alexei had the phone against his ear and was speaking their native tongue, but his words were animated and with a hint of frustration.
“Yes Sir, I know. But there is still more…”
Her attention was drawn away when the police officer cleared his throat. She turned her head and gazed up at him with eyes bluer than the White Sea outside of Arkhangelsk.
“Miss, do you speak English?”
She didn’t answer him. She didn’t offer a smile. She didn’t change her expression. She just blinked and turned her eyes back to the floor. She tried to eavesdrop on Alexei.
“….that is unfair, Sir. You cannot do that…”
The police officer had more to say under his breath. Her mastery of English was nowhere near perfect, but she knew the intent.
Feeling a wave of anxiety wash over her, she tried to remain calm and composed, remembering Mr. Ruslan’s teachings on controlling emotions. But deep down, she couldn’t help but feel fear and frustration rising within her. Even anger. Still, as she listened to Ruslan, he certainly wasn’t controlling his emotions as his Russian words rose in volume.
“…he did not give up, Sir. It was stopped. The referee ended the bout. Ivan would have died before doing that….”
She studied Alexei as he propped himself up against the brick wall. His face was contorted in pain, a result of the fierce beating he’d received at Colossus. Despite his apparent age, there was something unbreakable about him, as if his relentless determination gave him supernatural vigor. It showed no signs of waning, but he spoke in a low tone now, and she could not quite make out his words.
She looked back to see a doctor standing there. One who had come and gone from time to time. She shook her head curiously as he held a file folder with dark, glossy documents inside. She looked past the doctor to the police officer for a moment.
“I am assistant.” She said with her angular, jagged accent. She stared past the doctor at the police officer and watched his expression change from surprise to shame.
The doctor nodded. “I apologize. I am Doctor Johnson. I thought you might have been his daughter.”
He cleared his throat and offered his hand to shake. She rose, slowly, and fixed her uniform but did not reciprocate. “Is he good?”
“He has no permanent damage and is free to go.” He added. “Between you and me, I have no idea how Mr. Stanislav managed to take so much…”
“Starshy Praporshchik.” Arina said proudly, interrupting him immediately. She tightened her back and straightened her shoulders.
“Excuse me?” the doctor asked.
“He is Starshy Praporshchik Stanislav.” She said bluntly. She raised her chin with pride. “That is correct name.”
The doctor cleared his throat as he failed to understand the importance, but he nodded. “Well, anyway, he will be fine. He needs to take it easy. He has no business doing what he’s doing. At this rate…”
“He does good at what he do. I see him?” she asked pointedly and he nodded.
Arina wasted no time and brushed past him, grasping the doorknob and swinging the door open without saying another word. She offered the police officer one more glare infused with Russian ice.
The bright sun poured through the hospital room’s windows, reflecting off the white walls and illuminating the face of Tulane Medical Center’s largest patient. Arina entered the room and closed the door behind her, her gaze fixed on the hulking man lying in the bed.
His long legs extended beyond the end of the bed, so they had placed a smaller bed perpendicular to it to accommodate his massive frame. Gone were the usual suspenders and black shirt he always wore. Even his high and tight hair was now flattened against his head.
Still, Ivan Stanislav offered a small smirk when he saw her. He attempted to speak, but instead let out a massive yawn that echoed through the room.
Arina masked a grin of her own and approached the waking Bear.
“Well?” he rasped in their native language.
She raised an eyebrow at him. “You’re going to be just fine, Starshy Praporshchik.”
A rumbling sound, like razor blades scraping together, emanated from his chest. It may have been a chuckle? “I knew that already, Arina. I just want to know when we can get out of here.”
“You are free to go, Starshy Praporshchik. I can go get some of our things.” She turned to leave, but iron made flesh wrapped around her forearm and held her tight. She wondered how horrible it must feel to have that hand wrapped around one’s neck.
“How long have I been here?” he asked curiously. “Stay for a moment.”
“Two days,” she replied, pulling up a chair to sit next to him. She leaned forward to study the bandage around his head. Ivan jerked his head and tsk’d.
“Mr Ruslan is out on the phone talking to someone.”
“And the others?”
She felt a pang of embarrassment. “Yanukovich and Maksim left after the match. They are back at home.” She nodded. “Speedy is here though. He went to get something to eat.”
As Stanislav processed this his voice became more immediate. “My mother?”
Arina offered a smile back and patted his forearm. “Mr. Ruslan spoke to her. He knew the match would be difficult to watch so he ensured she did not see… everything.”
Stanislav let out a sigh of relief, but then remembered something else. “You should go home to Russia,” he said firmly.
“No.” She replied, flatly.
He lifted a bushy brow. “What?”
Arina Timofeyevna lifted her chin. “I am responsible for you, Starshy Praporshchik. I will stay.”
Stanislav narrowed his eyes thoughtfully and parted his lips, but the room was swept up in a whirlwind as Alexei barged through the door.
“Rest assured, Vanya, I have monitored this room for bugs multiple times. Their attempts to spy on us will fail.” He marched over to the IV drip and peered at it carefully, as if trying to find any trace of nefarious substance. He muttered thoughtfully, “I had better have this checked…”
“Easy, Alexei, easy. I have a big enough headache as it is.” Stanislav grumbled. Arina moved out of the way and to the corner, where she sat in a chair.
Ruslan looked down at his friend and shook his head. He wasn’t wearing his hat, but the overcoat was still omnipresent. “This is the worst part of my role, Vanya, you know that?” His words were thoughtful.
Ivan looked up at Alexei. “What is that, Alyosha?”
Alexei shook his head. “Watching you lay on your ass in a hospital.”
Stanislav smirked. “Oh, to Hell with you, smartass. You were in a hospital room too. I saw them wheel you into one!”
Ruslan laughed and slapped his chest. “But look at me, I got out quicker than you!”
The two chuckled quietly, but Ruslan’s expression melted. “I am sorry, Ivan. It was my fault. The baton. I was careless.”
Ivan shook his head, “Pfh. We win together and we lose together, Alexei. I would not have it any other way.”
Alexei offered a small, if sad, smile. “I know, Ivan. I know.”
But Stanislav’s expression darkened slightly. “It is time to get out of this hospital, but we cannot go home yet.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement.
Confused, Alexei asked, “What do you mean?”
“I have to meet with Lindsay Troy. My contract.”
“Fuck her, Ivan.” Ruslan interjected angrily.
Stanislav shook his head. “No, I have a responsibility.”
Ruslan placed his hands on his hips and began to wave his arms animatedly. “You have no responsibility to her. How many times will you let that bitch screw you over before you realize she doesn’t have an ounce of humanity in her cold husk of a body? She orchestrated all of this! Surprising you with the Frenchman, putting Timo in as the referee with free reign in the match with you DID NOT LOSE – Julien had nothing to lose in this match… Ivan, the more rope you give her the greater she’ll choke you. I just, I don’t understand it!”
“Alexei…” Ivan growled.
“What?” Alexei snapped back.
Stanislav pointed to the side of his head. “Headache.”
Alexei’s eyes flickered nervously as Ivan’s intense gaze bore into him. He nervously twisted his mustache, the rough hairs scratching against his upper lip as he tried to think of a response. “Okay, okay,” he finally said, the words coming out in a rush. “Let’s just get out of here. You’ll need to wear a brace on your knee…”
“…No braces.” Ivan growled, his lips twisting into a scowl.
“Ivan…” Alexei implored.
“I said no braces!” Stanislav boomed.
“You are wearing a brace!” came a confident and defiant voice from the corner. Arina stood with her arms crossed and her red uniform stretched tightly over her chest as she strode towards Ivan’s bedside, flanking Ivan with Ruslan on the other side.
“You need to take care of yourself, Starshy Praporshchik,” she asserted. “And we are going to make sure you do.”
Ivan grumbled under his breath but was outnumbered and outgunned. “Are you going to let her get away with talking to me like that?” he asked Alexei.
Alexei simply nodded. “Indeed I am, Vanya.”
Reluctantly, Ivan gave in. “Fine,” he muttered. “Then get me out of here.”
Ivan Stanislav groaned as Alexei and Arina struggled to prop him up on the hospital bed. The bulky Russians refused the nurse’s offers of assistance, determined to do everything on their own. Eventually, they managed to get him into a knee brace, with Ivan complaining loudly the whole time.
As Speedy Riggs drove the van, Alexei sat up front with him while Arina and Ivan sat in the back. Ivan’s face was bruised and bandaged, evidence of his recent fight against Colossus. She watched as he stared out the window, lost in thought. After a moment, he turned to her and furrowed his brows.
“Why the sad eyes, Arina Rakhila?”
She frowned. “I wish you had won.”
Ivan grunted and offered her a small smile. “I do too, Arina.” He motioned towards her. “But no one can remain undefeated forever. I am grateful for my time as Universal Champion.”
Arina interjected. “But there is still so much work that you wanted to do. So much that was left unfinished. I know you can win it again, Starshy Praporshchik.”
Ivan sighed and shook his head. “Right now, it is best to let others have their chance. Like Sykes and Hall.” He grimaced, wishing he could have one final match against Jared Sykes to settle their feud. “The truth is, I feel I have to force their hand to get the shot, through tournament or the like. They are too afraid to give me a shot based on my success.”
Arina studied him with a frown on her face.
“Now what is it?” Ivan asked, noticing her expression.
“I know what happened in OSW. With Jane Reagan. How you left.”
Ivan glanced out the window before turning back to Arina with a nod. “Yes.”
“Will Lindsay Troy do the same to you?” She asked softly.
He sighed and shrugged. “We shall see, Arina.”
“And if she does?” Arina persisted.
“I go home and fade away,” Ivan replied with a heavy heart.
Arina’s frown deepened before she lifted her brows in realization. “And if she doesn’t, if you get a new contract?”
The Russian Bear kept his gaze focused outside for a moment before finally meeting Arina’s eyes again. “If she keeps me around?”
Arina nodded, waiting for his response.
His face twisted into a scowl, his eyes dark and dangerous. “Then I have quite a few scores to settle,” he growled. “The Red Era isn’t over just yet. They think it is tied to title. No. It is tied to an Army. Our Army.”
Arina stifled a yawn, her eyelids heavy from lack of sleep. “That makes me happy, Starshy Praporshchik,” she said with a hint of exhaustion in her voice.
Ivan noticed the exhaustion in her eyes and immediately took charge. “Come on, Arina. You need to rest.” He gestured towards the long seat behind him. “Lay down there and get some sleep. Did you manage to at least get some rest while I was hospitalized?”
Arina shook her head shyly. “I couldn’t sleep, I was too worried about you.”
Ivan didn’t say anything to Arina Timofeyevna as she rose and laid down across the long seat behind him. It took but moments for exhaustion to overcome her, and that worrying face gently turned placid and calm. Ivan watched her for a long moment and despite losing the Universal Title?