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Vadim Vankov

They say that true love hurts, well, this could almost kill me

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Vadim Vankov

Vadim wasn't sleeping.

It wasn't because he'd vacated his spot on Deja's floor, which was infinitely quieter than the cabin he shared with Laz — silence wasn't the problem, anyway, it was more about the knot in his stomach that twisted like a bed of serpents each time he went to class and saw Iskara Levitsky seated near the front, trying her hardest to commit everything to memory and, at the same time, trying her hardest not to look at him.  It was wretched of him to hope she failed at the latter, if only because when she did, he often caught her.  He'd look up when that tingling feeling of being intently watched spread up the back of his neck and sage green eyes would meet toffee brown ones.  For a split second, the two of them would look like children with their hands caught in the cookie jar.  Some secret would pass between them, wordless and unnoticed by everyone around them, and then she would hurriedly look away with a fresh rose flush in her cheeks.

She'd meet him after class (in secret, of course, because Vadim wasn't prepared to face Nadeja's ire and Iskara wasn't prepared to admit that she'd caved to a distraction) and they'd part ways with kiss-bruised mouths and racing hearts.  They met anyway, of course, even if the eye contact failed to come to fruition during class.  Iskara would seek him out in the little library on the ship, lead him off to some dark corner...or Vadim would find her holed up in an empty classroom in the castle, pouring over books that he would quiz her on, stealing kisses between questions.

It wasn't the secrecy that made his stomach knot.  He had lived with secrets his entire life.  In fact, he had his own and he'd only recently shared them with Nadeja in an effort to help the Durmstrang team unravel their cryptic clues.  He hadn't yet told Iskara all the many, many reasons that he didn't go home over holidays or that he'd spent that very morning cringing over the letter that had arrived for him, written in Kostadin's angry, spiked writing that conveyed so many various layers of contempt for what his only son had become — which was, to be totally truthful, intentionally the exact opposite of his father, a fact that Kostadin Vankov was becoming acutely aware of as Vadim grew older.  His demons were his demons, though, and she had enough to concern herself with.  It was different to tell Nadeja.  He knew she would put it from her mind in favor of her own goals.  In the wake of an opportunity for self-promotion or improvement, he was worthless to the seventh year.  He was no longer worthless to Iskara and she couldn't afford the burden.

So he'd tucked the letter into his pocket where the corner stuck out just slightly, wrinkled by the sheer amount of times he'd read it because no matter how frequently he told himself that Kostadin's opinion didn't matter — especially now that Vadim lived with Thea — he still kept hoping that one day he'd get some level of recognition or even vague concern from his father.  It was setting himself up for tragedy, he knew that, but it was nearly unavoidable.  There were certain things children expected from parents and no amount of apathy completely bleach the hope that was written into the human condition.

It was the steadily encroaching anxiety that surrounded the second task that made his nights sleepless and his chest tight.  The more afternoons he spent with Iskara, the more he became...attached.  Not attached like some lovesick little boy ready to do her bidding at a moment's notice (though he was that, too) but attached in the sense of...not wanting to let her go but, at the same time, knowing he would have to because if he kept his arms locked around her she'd grow to resent the cage he represented.  So he held on to what he could and, at the end of every meeting, he let her slip through his fingers like fine sand in an hourglass, marking the time he had left until he had to watch her go through all of it all over again.

Before seeking out Nadeja with Kostadin's second page of writing, addressed to her regarding her runic glyphs, he sought out Iskara.  Vadim would have never admitted it, but the ache in his chest that blossomed after hearing from his father was threatening to swallow him whole.  He wanted, more than anything else, to lose himself in the mint scent of her lotion while she rubbed it into her hands and recited advanced laws of transfiguration, sitting half in his lap and with her legs tangled in his.  

Instead, when he reached her and grasped her fingers with his own atop the deck of the ship, she pulled them free and turned pointedly away.  It was almost like being slapped and alarm rose in his throat, clawing at his windpipe.  He'd never thought on what to do if she picked a fight with him — Vadim didn't fight.  He was much more likely to let someone walk all over him the way he did with Nadeja but, in the case of Iskara, he'd always had a bit more backbone so when she took two steps away toward the stairs down into the belly of their floating home, he took three and put himself directly between the door and her.

"Hey," he started lamely and then shook free the anxiety and panic, swallowed the alarm, and steeled himself for the worst.  "What's wrong, Iska?"

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Iskara Levitsky

Everything her father had taught her about this game was true. Every heartache he faced when he'd been a champion, she found herself fumbling through as well. Every warning he'd given her, she had tossed aside, thinking that perhaps she was different, that the time was different, that everything was different and she needn't worry about the trials that her father had been forced to endure when it had been his turn. She had assumed, naive that she was, that because it was her, because she'd been prepared, because she had been sculpted for this her entire life, that it would be easy.


It had been everything but.


Throughout it all, there'd been a moment of peace, however brief that was. She had her abandoned classroom she took over as a sanctuary where she could study and practice and dance whenever she wanted. It was a hole in the wall, desks with broken legs, a chalkboard that was in such poor quality that you could see the history of what was written there from years passed no matter how much you tried to wipe it off. It had character, that room of hers with its dust in the air and its door that creaked and windows that were so dirty and cloudy that you couldn't see anything more than blurred shapes through the outside.


And now, it had memories.


It had Vadim all over it. His handwriting mixed with hers and a dozen others on that chalk board. It had his books stacked with hers because he'd let her borrow them, sixth year that she was trying to learn seventh year's material to give her an edge. There were countless rolls of parchment with her essays and notes strewn about with his notations on her work in the margins.


There was the chair that they shared when she was leaning against him, reading a textbook and asking him questions whenever one popped into her head.


The room contained so many bits and pieces of him that Iska could no longer stand to be in there. Her sanctuary had turned into a tomb. A relic of what was and what could have been. One day a student in the future would stumble upon it and she wondered if they'd be able to tell what sort of story had unfolded there, if they'd be able to know that her heart fluttered when he was near. That her cheeks warmed when he leaned in to press a kiss to the corner of her lips. That she'd grown so attached to him that the betrayal she felt had caused her to cry a night's worth of tears into her pillow.


The ship had no memories, for Iskara had tried to spend as little time as she could locked up on the floating school as possible. But now, now she leaned against the railings, her hair down and ruffling in the wind, her fur lined cloak wrapped around her as tightly as she could manage so she wouldn't have to trudge to the bottom of the ship and find heavier clothing to fight the winter's chill. She was contemplating doing just that when she felt fingers intertwined with her own and without looking up she knew who it was.


There were only two people who ever held her hand and one came with a presence so loud she would have noticed he was around before he ever got this close to her. Vadim, however, was capable of sneaking up on her when she was lost in the forest of her thoughts.


Snatching her fingers away from him, she turned on her heels before she even glanced at him. Looking at him would give her pause, it would make her stop and listen and she couldn't afford that. He was a distraction, same word she had tossed at his feet before turn gin her back on him that first day he kissed her and she should have blocked him out of her life then. She should have pushed all thoughts of him aside, buried them deep where she'd never be able to find them. Instead she was here, storming across the ship as she cradled the pieces of her heart in her hands.


He stopped her before she could escape.


There was no choice to look at him now, to see the anguish etched into his features, the fear. The worry. It pulled at the strings of her heart, tugging at them and demanding that she cave. "You spend your nights with Deja," she whispered, letting the words fall between them. "And I keep telling myself that it's not true or that I heard her wrong, or that it's not what I think because you're you, you're the good one. But no matter how hard I try giving you the benefit of the doubt, I cannot get the picture of you and her out of my mind."

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Vadim Vankov

Vadim stared, struck dumb by the statement, which sat between them in heavy air that, quite suddenly, seemed capable of suffocating him.  He'd never thought much of camping out on Deja's floor — the girl was so cold and distant that the very idea of being involved with her was so utterly absurd to him that what it might look like on the outside hadn't crossed his mind.  That, combined with Vadim's typically naïve grasp on the world and the views of those around him had allowed him to pass through the new relationship kindling between himself and Iskara without considering what would happen if she'd found out about it.  To him, there was no reason to hide.  He hadn't intentionally lied to her — in fact, he hadn't even intentionally hidden it from her.  

He'd just never seen a reason to bring it up until this very moment when, faced with reality, he realized how devastating it must have looked to her —to Iska, who was...something to him now.  He hadn't quite figured out if he was allowed to put a label on it.  Certainly not anymore.

"I —" he started, his voice bland, incapable of finding anything inside himself other than blind panic that ran along with the beating of his heart, frantic behind his ribs like a war drum.  His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, tied up there in words he couldn't decipher and, perhaps, shouldn't have even tried to say because being defensive seemed like the absolute worse option...but it was also the only option, or so it seemed.  

Vadim had seen Iska angry.  He'd seen her so hissing mad that people moved out of the way when she stalked through the halls.  He'd seen her happy, laughing with Laz during meals together.  He'd seen her sleepy, contemplative, and relaxed in recent weeks — folded against his side while he read off her notes and quizzed her on the things that she had outlined in red ink.  He'd seen her look up at him like he mattered and he'd wanted to hold on to that expression, to tuck it away somewhere safe like it was crafted from fragile glass.

And now, standing on the boat in the bitter cold of Scotland, he'd seen her heartbroken.  

He'd never wanted that.  Never intended for it.  Needed to fix it.

"Nothing happened," he finally offered weakly, his shoulders falling as his tongue finally started to work again.  "C'mon, Iska, me and Deja?  Is that even believable?  She'd eat me alive."  There was no proof of it, of course, except his own reputation for being (as she said) 'the good one.'  It would have to be enough.  It would have to be.

He took a breath and the cold air burned his throat and his lungs — too deep, he thought.  Too anxious.  Too panicked.  "I slept in her cabin a few times.  On the floor."  He stressed the last part.  "Because Laz was...you know how he is.  I haven't been though.  I've spent all my time with you!  I've...I should have told you.  I'm sorry.  I just — anyone thinking that I could have something going on with Nadeja...or that Nadeja likes anyone but herself enough to even care — it's all so unbelievable.  I didn't think it would matter.  I didn't even think about it at all."

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