How was it possible that something so small and insignificant could lay such a mighty competitor low? No, Ivan Stanislav wasn’t thinking about Jared Sykes or Nate Colton. First off, they hadn’t the honor of ever defeating him, but secondly, it wasn’t them at all. Surprisingly, something much, much smaller. Dare one say it was even more insidious.
Ivan’s size was seen, by and large, as a great advantage in his line of work. However, that was not to say it wasn’t with its own downsides. The size of that jagged, clawing stone of calcium that tore its way through his system, stubbornly moving, then stopping, retreating, and simply needling its way this and that was big enough to render a normal sized man unconscious.
Still, there were times when he wished it would simply render him unconscious.
“Praporshchik?” Young Arina’s voice was soft as she said his name again. Stanislav hadn’t responded the first time, and indeed, he hadn’t heard her at first. But the second time, he pulled his eyes away from the window of his Moscow office and blinked.
He looked so tired. She watched his drawn and lined face harden as he drew the facade back in front of him. He did his best to hide the lack of sleep and constant agony. “Arina?” He asked with forced strength in his voice, “I was just thinking about something. What is it?”
The round faced, dark haired twenty-something smiled softly and produced a small box in her hands. “This came in for you today, Praporshchik. It is, uh, personal mail, I believe?”
She approached the large desk and handed it to the ailing Praporshchik. She heard him grunt with veiled discomfort as he took the box, a card box, that had the address of the Russian Embassy in Washington D.C. upon the back. He inhaled slowly as he stared at the box, and then up at Arina.
The last time he received a card, it almost ended in an international incident. A cruel joke played by a coward. Ivan didn’t need this again. And he suspected he knew just which hellion this box had come from. He frowned and looked back out the window. He spoke softly.
“Thank you, Arina.”
She turned to exit, but turned to him as she approached the door. “Can I help with anything else, Praporshchik?”
He shook his head and waved her off without a word. She frowned and exited, wishing she could do something to help a man who she saw, truly, as a hero.
The box was pink and frilly with a big white bow upon it and tied up with string. It sat there, inert on his desk, and taunted him. He sighed. No doubt Ami Troy was the one who sent the damned thing to him. The little annoyance had never stopped needling him since he met her on that fateful night at the Steakhouse.
He could not understand. Nor could he understand much of the vitriol that had been thrown his way. Yes, he was a threat, and he was dangerous, and perhaps, yes, his methods were less than conventional. To someone who was not a Bolshevik who was fighting for the Revolution, perhaps in their eyes it appeared barbaric.
Why the cruelty?
He knew the contents of the box would be nothing but barbs and insults leveled his way, and despite his attempts to ignore them, in his weakened state he couldn’t help but let them hurt. Even if slightly.
How could she have even known he had this issue? Yes, he had to let Dr. Fihlguud know about his condition, but he always found Astrid to be an honorable sort. Especially after the forklift incident, she had shown her mettled and trustworthiness. With a sigh, he shook his head. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t like anyone outside of Russia truly knew what was going on with him anyway.
He wanted to fight more for Kenny Freeman when he went up against Paxton Ray, but that damned stone made everything painful. He masked it, and carefully watched the footage afterwards. No signs of pain or discomfort. But inside? He was in agony. His guts were on fire every single moment.
Alexei argued vehemently for Ivan to just stay home and let him watch after Kenny, but what kind of a leader would Ivan Stanislav be if he abandoned his comrades in their time of need? He’d rather die.
He sighed again. Might as well get this over with. He carefully undid the string and lifted the box lid. There were two, identically sized letters within the box, one in a pink envelope, and one in red. He pursed his lips. One had “The Most Noble Honorable Comrade Praporshchik Stanislav” written on the front. His eyes narrowed and he turned the envelope over. There it was, on the back: “aka Pampers.” He grumped. Some things might just be more annoying than a kidney stone. The red card simply stated “Praporshchik.”
Sometimes, less was even worse, but Ivan decided to go with the over-the-top pink envelope. Inside, on a piece of pink paper and written in white ink. He pulled out his glasses and placed them upon his face:
Roses are red
Hope you feel better
From the Big Tum Tum pain
He sighed and flippantly tossed the letter to the side of his desk. It annoyingly clung to the corner and continued to taunt him, and though it hurt to breathe, Ivan let out a loud puff of air and blew it to the floor and out of sight.
What sort of person revels in the physical pain of others, due to a malady? He frowned and winced as pain shot through his side, and he momentarily pushed the thought away. How fortunate so many are that, when the object of their insults is someone who they dislike, they can get away with saying some of the most crass and hurtful things. Why, Ivan even tried to be cordial to most people, at the start, but was immediately demonized. And yet, those like Ami, or even Brandon Youngblood, Jared Sykes, and the others, can spit such bile and vitriol and instead the mob simply cheers them on! It was maddening!
Why could they not see why he grew so frustrated and angry? Why he felt a double standard always existed? That’s not to say Ivan wasn’t woefully blind to his own shortcomings, but such was the mindset of the man.
He almost trashed the second card. Why bother to even look at it. But, then again, it had traveled all the way from the States, did it not, to find its way on his desk. And after all, dutiful Russians worked hard to get it to him. It would nearly be a sin to waste their hard work.
And so, he opened the second card, a red one, and peered through his trifocals. The red card had words painted in dazzling, gold glitter:
A poorly, yet carefully drawn hammer and sickle rested at the bottom right corner of the paper, and a small, chibi cat with a puffy Russian ushanka found its home nestled in the left corner. It looked like it might have been saluting?
He blinked and turned the paper over. No gag. Nothing hurtful. He even sniffed his fingers. Nothing assaulting his senses. He blinked again.
It was a get well card.
A real one.
He felt woefully lost in his seat. For the moment, the pain in his guts faded and The Russian Bear didn’t quite know what to even do with himself. He studied the card, from the texture of the paper to the placement of the glitter-words. He stared and blinked, several times, and then tightened his jaw for a quiet moment and swallowed.
He placed it carefully on his desk, propped up by his small Soviet flag, ensuring that it was perfectly straight before admiring it once more. As he sat back in his chair, he reveled in a moment of painlessness.