Fractured Souls: Chapter 22

Asya

The phone vibrates next to my pillow. I spring up in bed and hit the button to take the call, then press the phone on my ear.

“Did you find him?” I whisper.

“Yes,” Kostya says from the other end.

I close my eyes and breathe. Four fucking days have passed. “So, he’s okay?”

“He is. In a way.”

My eyes snap open. “What do you mean ‘in a way?’”

Kostya sighs. “He’s fighting again.”

“What?”

“Yeah. I tried talking to him. It didn’t go well. Roman called him, as well. He even went to his last match. Pasha doesn’t want to come back.”

“But . . . why? He told me he quit fighting ten years ago!”

“Pasha is a very closed-off guy, sweetheart. Who knows what’s going on in that head of his?”

I bury my hand in my hair, squeezing it. “Are those matches dangerous?”

He doesn’t reply.

“Are they, Kostya?” I scream into the phone.

“It’s underground fighting, Asya. What do you expect?”

“I don’t know! I’ve never been to a boxing match!”

“It’s not a boxing match, sweetheart. Boxing has rules. These fights don’t,” he says in a grim tone as my phone pings with an incoming message. “I sent you the link to the club website and a password to access it. Search for ‘Pavel Morozov fights’ and see for yourself. But skip the last match.”

“Why?” I choke out.

He takes a deep breath. “I know you like him, sweetie. Please, don’t watch the newest video.”

When Kostya ends the call, I open the message with the link and click on it. At first glance, the website looks like an ordinary gym promo site with images of exercise equipment and people stretching or lifting weights. In the upper right corner, I find a login button. I click on it and enter the ten-digit password Kostya sent with the link. A new window pops up and I immediately notice the chart. The first column shows names, and I spot Pasha’s listed second from the top, just under another guy’s name. Next to the names are rankings and number of wins. Pasha is currently ranked second. Below the standings chart is this month’s schedule. I scroll to the bottom and note there is only one match left this month, set for tomorrow night. It’s between Pasha and the guy ranked first. I scroll back up to see the number of wins. Next to Pasha’s name is twelve. I glance at the number for the other competitor and my blood goes cold. It’s fifty-four.

“Jesus fuck.” I sink to the floor and lean my back to the wall, then type “Pavel Morozov” into the search. A collection of videos pops up. The oldest one is dated a month ago. I hit play.

I’m not sure what I expected. Probably a fighting ring and some people standing around it. At least, that’s how I imagined boxing matches to be like. What I’m seeing looks nothing like that. The video starts with the view from above, showing the inside of some abandoned factory or a warehouse. In the center, set on a raised platform, is an octagonal cage. Around the cage, men and a few women are seated on cushy chairs. All of them are impeccably dressed as if they came for a business meeting and not to watch a fighting match. Some even have bodyguards standing nearby.

A metal door across from the cage opens and two men enter. The camera zooms in on the fighters, and I almost don’t recognize him. Pasha shaved his hair—all of it. But somehow, that’s not the biggest change. His posture, the way he walks, and the grim expression on his face make him look as if he’s someone else. He climbs into the cage and takes the spot on one side while his opponent heads for the opposite end. The referee signals for the start.

Pasha and his rival circle each other. He swipes at Pasha’s side, but Pasha dodges and grabs the man’s head, kneeing him in the face. Blood bursts from the guy’s nose, and I look away from the screen. When I gather enough courage to look again, Pasha is standing over his opponent, pressing the fallen man’s face to the floor. I’ve never watched a boxing match, but I had the impression those lasted for at least half an hour. This one is done in less than two minutes. The referee signals Pasha’s victory and the video ends. I steel myself and click on the next recording.

It takes me almost an hour to watch the first ten videos. I have to pause and collect myself several times before continuing. So much violence. Blood. Broken bones. Each video is more violent than the previous one. It’s killing me to watch my Pasha become so vicious. Bloodthirsty. I don’t recognize this person as the man I spent three months with. What happened to him? Why is he doing this? There’re two videos left, but I can’t make myself watch them. It hurts too much.

Sometimes, I wish Arturo hadn’t found me. I know it would have destroyed him and my sister. Sienna still blames herself, even though I’ve explained at least a hundred times that it was me who made the decision to remain at the bar that night. Still, sometimes when I can’t sleep, which is often lately, I imagine what my life would be like if my brother hadn’t come and I stayed in Chicago.

I still don’t understand why Pasha pushed me away. I tried to think of a reason for his behavior, but I can’t.

It’s almost seven in the morning, but I can’t sleep. Not after what I’ve just watched. I’ll wait for Arturo and Sienna to wake up, then try playing the piano again. I haven’t been able to complete a full melody since returning home. At least twice a day, I’ve gone to the ground floor and sat in front of the big black piano, staring at the keys. Most of the time, no music came, and I left it as quiet as it was when I arrived. Other times, when I actually tried to play, every note came out wrong.

I take my cardigan off the chair and leave my room, heading downstairs to grab some breakfast. As I’m passing Arturo’s room, I overhear my name being mentioned, so I stop. He’s talking with someone on the phone. I lean forward and press my ear to the door.

“She’s not the same, Nino,” my brother says. “I don’t know what to do. She barely leaves her room.”

There are a few moments of silence while he probably listens to what Nino is saying.

“No!” Arturo barks. “I’m not calling that son of a bitch. I told him what I thought about him and his attempt to keep Asya from us. Hiding my sister and not allowing her to contact us? What kind of sick bastard does that?”

What?! I grab the knob and throw open the door, heart pounding a rapid tattoo against my ribs. My brother stands by the bed with the phone pressed to his ear.

“What exactly did you tell Pasha, Arturo?” I shout.

“I’ll call you later,” he mumbles and throws the phone on the bed.

“What?” I yell.

“The truth,” he says. “I told him the truth—that he kept you hidden to serve his own selfish needs. That he used a young, wounded girl and made her stay with him instead of returning her to her family. To her life. That he’s a sick bastard. That’s what I told him.”

I stare at my brother, stunned at what I’m hearing, then take two steps until I’m right in front of him. “He saved my life, Arturo.”

“Any normal person would have helped a woman in need. But they wouldn’t have tried to hide her.”

I close my eyes. When Arturo came to get me, I only told him about what Robert did. He thinks I spent the entire time with Pasha. I hoped it wouldn’t come to this, that I wouldn’t need to tell him what happened during those first two months or what those people did to me. What they made me do. I should have, but I didn’t want to hurt him.

“Sit down, Arturo,” I say, and when he does, I start talking.

I tell him everything this time.

When I’m done, he’s looking at me with red-rimmed eyes, hands gripping his hair while he’s barely keeping himself on the edge of the bed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my brother cry, not even when we were told our parents had been killed.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he chokes out, then grabs me and engulfs me in a hug, crushing me against him. “Why, Asya? Why?” he whispers.

“I was in a very bad place when Pasha found me,” I say into his neck. “Something had broken inside me, Arturo, and it felt as if I was trapped in a black hole with no way out. He saved me. And not only my life. He saved my soul, too. He helped me collect all my broken pieces and glued them back together.”

“It should have been us,” he says into my hair. “Sienna and I should have been the ones who helped you go through that.”

“I couldn’t make myself tell you. I didn’t want to see you or Sienna. I would have rather died than told you.”

“Why?”

“Because I wasn’t ready. And because I love you and couldn’t bear the thought of what it would do to you.” I lift my head and take my brother’s face in my palms. “I begged Pasha not to call you. I asked him to promise he wouldn’t call you until I was ready. It wasn’t him who kept me from you. I did that. It was my decision.”

“I should have kept you safe,” Arturo persists. “I will never forgive myself.”

“Please don’t do that. It’s not your fault.”

“I’m going to kill them all, Asya. Every single person who was in any way involved.”

“Pasha and the Bratva already took care of them,” I say, then tilt my chin up to whisper into his ear, “and I killed the guy who took me.”

Arturo’s body goes still. “You, personally?”

“Yes. After Pasha was done with him, I put a gun between the bastard’s eyes and pulled the trigger.” I smile. “It was the best fucking feeling ever.”

“Good.” He squeezes the back of my neck.

“I need to know what else you said to Pasha. He’s been ignoring me, not taking my calls since I left.”

Arturo grinds his teeth and looks away. “I told him that you deserve better, and he agreed.”

I take a deep breath and close my eyes while pressure forms at the bridge of my nose. “You had no right,” I say. “You had no right, Arturo. It’s my life.”

“You’re eighteen, Asya. He’s fifteen years older than you!”

“Yes. And I’ve gone through tough times most people don’t ever experience,” I bite out. “I think I’ve earned the right to make decisions for myself.”

Yes, I still have problems picking what to wear or eat sometimes, but I don’t have any doubts as far as Pasha is concerned.

“So, what happens now?” he asks. “Are you going back to him?”

“You will always be my big brother, Arturo. You know I love you unconditionally.” I look into his eyes. “But I’m in love with Pasha. And I want to be with him.”

“Are you sure you’re in love with him? Maybe it’s just a crush? Maybe—”

I raise my hand and put a finger over his lips to silence him.

“When Pasha found me, I was a wreck, Arturo. Both my soul and my mind . . . fractured. Pasha pieced me back together. And my heart yearns for him because he is the glue that keeps all my broken parts whole. Please, try to understand.”

Arturo stares at me while grinding his jaw. “I’m going to drop by your place at least once a month. Unannounced. If I notice anything, even the smallest thing that will lead me to believe you’re not happy, I’m going to kill that Russian and drag you back home.”

“You won’t have to.” I smile., “I love him. I’ll be okay, Arturo.”

My brother closes his eyes and reluctantly nods.

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