Nicole Beharie as
Dr. Cassandra Joy
Florian Munteanu as
Paing Takhon as
"I just... keep... seeing their faces. Cold. Lifeless. And I think... I think to myself...I did that! I killed those...those innocent people. I-"
"It's alright, Anthony..."
Viktor raised his light hazel eyes and looked across the circle of chairs.
This was the 4th military veteran to break down.
And they weren't even 20 minutes into the session.
He groaned in frustration as he leaned on his left hand. His fingers absentmindedly tweaking the strands of his soft beard.
"Guilt can be another form of grief. What you're feeling is normal. And the important thing is that you're releasing it rather than holding it inside you which is destructive."
Viktor let out another frustrated sigh. He was getting tired of hearing the same mantra from this doctor over and over again.
He glanced around the circle to see several other veterans listening attentively. Hanging on her every word.
How the hell were they into this bullshit?
Viktor felt this session was unnecessary. It was just keeping him from his duties. He didn't have time for this.
"The trauma that you're dealing with is common with war vets. You, Anthony, have been suffering from intense anxiety, particularly if you're alone, right?"
The young blonde-haired vet glanced at the doctor with large, blue, tear-filled eyes. His hands clenched tightly as he slowly nodded his head.
"Have you ever considered having a mental health buddy. Someone who can check in with you from time to time to see how you're doing. Preferably another vet."
Anthony shook his head. "I... never heard of that before."
Dr. Cassandra Joy sat back in her chair and looked around the circle. "For today's session, I want us all to partner up. The two of you will have regular check-ins and will partner on some of the exercises that we will be discussing here."
Viktor scoffed out loud.
Dr. Joy looked up over her glasses and glanced at the large Russian-American soldier sitting across the circle from her.
"Something bothering you, Mr. Petrovic?"
Viktor shrugged. "This seems pointless..."
His slightly Russian-accented voice was deep, tired and came off rather disinterested.
Dr. Joy raised a concerned brow. "I understand how you might not see the value in having an accountability part-" she started.
"I don't see the value in this," he cut her off. "No offense to you, 'doctor', but your med school business case bullshit feels like a waste of my time."
Cassandra moved her shoulders back as she looked at the man questioning her education, career, and ultimately her legitimacy.
She was used to this.
Even moreso... she expected this.
Working through the mind of a man or woman who had seen combat was like trying to untangle a fly from a spiderweb while still leaving the web intact.
Cassandra glanced down at her notepad and found his name.
"Viktor Petrovic. Combat war veteran for the U.S. Army. Russian American specializing in the deconstructing of Russian intelligence-"
"I fought against the Russians," Viktor quickly clarified. "I'm a proud American."
Cassandra gave Viktor a friendly disarming smile. "I didn't think otherwise, Mr. Petrovic..."
Viktor's lip tightened as he sat back in his chair. He watched her attentively as she looked back down at her clipboard.
"Combat in Czech Republic. Serbia Montenegro. Ukraine. Six...six tours?!" she said with a bit of disbelief. She looked up at him confused. "You must have started young, Mr. Petrovic."
"It has always been my passion to serve my country," Viktor said quickly.
Cassandra eyed him for a moment. She caught the way his hazel irises shifted. How he nervously bit his bottom lip. The way his left knee bobbed rhythmically. The slight shake in his hands.
"And serve your country you have..." she said putting the clipboard down. "I think we should take a water and bathroom break. Let's meet back up in 15."
As a few of the men stood to their feet and casually walked around the room, Cassandra got up to check her phone.
Cassandra turned around and stepped back rather startled at how abruptly the Russian American stormed her. His large form towering over hers.
"I really don't need to be here." His words dripped with a stifled frustration as if he were just on the brink of losing it.
"Mr. Petrovic, your sergeant asked me to-"
"I know what he asked," Viktor cut her off again. "He's got me all wrong. I'm fine, alright? If you could just let him know that I don't need this. Or that I pass or... whatever it is you doctors do."
Cassandra looked at him hesitantly, assessing his behavior, not sure she agreed with what she saw.
"Look," Viktor said impatiently. "I was supposed to be deployed to Uzbekistan a week ago. My unit needs me. I can't be here. I need to be out there. On the field. Saving lives. Not cooped up in some fucking warehouse with your damn cookies and tea talking about my fucking feelings."
Viktor felt that uncomfortable fast beating throb in his chest when he realized he nearly had the doctor backed into the wall. Despite the lack of apprehension on her face, he could tell that his actions betrayed his words. He was certain he came off completely unhinged.
He quickly took two steps back and shoved his hands in his pockets.
"Sorry..." he muttered, diverting his eyes.
Cassandra's look lingered on him before she pulled up her clipboard.
"So you just... want me to write this off. Tell your sergeant my assessment of you is clear so that you can leave," she said.
"Yea, actually, that'd be great," he said surprised.
"Mr. Petrovic, you were removed from duty because you beat one of your comrades close to death. He's still in the hospital recovering."
Viktor's words were trapped in his throat. It's not that he had forgotten the episode, but rather...
"I understand that..." he said lowly. "But I... I've gotten past it."
"Really?" she said with a raised brow. "How so?"
"I apologized to him," Viktor said. "It was a mistake. I thought he was someone he wasn't. It won't happen again. I was just confused."
"That's another form of PTSD, Mr. Petrovic. You're here for a reason. I'm afraid I can't release you just yet," Cassandra said.
Viktor growled in frustration, ready to protest again when he caught the look of concern in her deep brown eyes.
He felt like she could read him like an open book.
It made him severely uncomfortable.
"Perhaps you should find a partner," she added. "There are many people here going through what you are-"
"Fuck your partner shit," he muttered as he turned on his heels and walked away from her.
Her work was emotionally taxing.
But the tugging on her heart with each patient she spoke to was a constant reminder:
...she was born to do this.
She heard a knock on the door just outside the large room.
Cassandra turned around to see a tall, handsome and well-built Asian man with short black hair and soft brown eyes standing at the door.
Cassandra turned around to see a tall, handsome and well-built Asian man with short black hair and soft brown eyes standing at the door
"Hi," she said walking up to him. "May I help you?"
"I hope so," he said. "My name is Malcolm. Malcolm Chen. A friend of a friend recommended you to me. Said you work with people privy to combat who have coping issues?"
"Yes, that's right."
"Do you only work with war combatants?" he asked.
"They're the majority of my patients, but no. I work with a wide variety of people," she said. "Did you want to register?"
"Not me," Malcolm said as he glanced to the side and motioned with his fingers. "Guòlái, Milo."
Cassandra looked up to see another rather tall Asian man who looked ever so similar to the one she was talking to. His long black hair had been tied into a ponytail at the back of his head. His eyes barely visible behind the dark shades covering his face.
Several tattoos painted his arms and the sliver of skin that was exposed from his v-neck shirt.
"This is my baby brother, Milo," Malcolm said.
Milo sucked his teeth in annoyance. "..baby brother.. báichī.."
"Hey!" Malcolm said giving Milo a look of warning to which Milo merely rolled his eyes.
"Anyway, I was hoping he'd be able to join," Malcolm said turning to Cassandra. "He's a bit hardheaded, but he needs it."
Milo muttered something else in Mandarin that Cassandra couldn't quite understand. However she figured it must have been something pretty bad for Malcolm to react the way he did.
"MILO!" Malcolm growled as he aggressively stepped towards him.
Milo instinctively stepped back, quick to be defensive as he put his hands up protectively.
Malcolm quickly grabbed Milo by the shirt pulling him forward before he could move back further.
"You said you would try, jìdé?" Malcolm said impatiently as he shook him. "Remember?!"
Milo's eyes glazed over as he scoffed in irritation.
Cassandra furrowed her brows in confusion at the strange interaction between the brothers and quickly spoke up.
"Milo... can I have a minute to talk to your brother?" she asked.
Milo's eyes slowly switched from his brother to the doctor a few feet away from him, daring to call his attention. His emotionless, cold brown eyes slowly raked over her form, assessing every curve on her body. Cassandra shifted uncomfortably until she saw a smirk etch across his face. He shoved his brother's hands off of him before he finally stalked away.
"I'm sorry about that," Malcolm groaned as he ran his fingers through his hair. "My brother and I... we have our issues..."
"Most families do," Cassandra said. "Do you and your brother... physically fight?"
"No," Malcolm said quickly. "I mean... well... my brother and I were raised by our community to be fighters... we lost our parents at a pretty young age to some pretty bad people. It's just been the three of us: me, him, and our sister."
"You have a sister?" Cassandra asked.
"Nia," Malcolm smiled fondly. "She's the youngest of the family. She used to call the three of us... M.N.M. You know like the candy M&M's?"
"I caught that," Cassandra chuckled softly.
"She's in Beijing for now... safest place for her..." Malcolm's smile quickly disappeared as his eyes glazed over. "I don't want her caught up in the shit Milo and I are in. She's too pure, too good... too young to have her life fucked up because of our bad decisions."
Malcolm looked at Cassandra more seriously. "Milo and I are not... we're not exactly 'saints', Doctor..."
"You don't need to explain yourself to me," she assured him.
"I know I just... even if we're both in deep shit, we were in deep shit together, you know. Milo and I used be on the same path and then... I don't know... somewhere along the way we diverted. I partnered with a good friend of mine and he... well he got involved with some fucked up gangs. He attracts trouble like a magnet. I just want to get him the help he needs before he ends up getting himself killed."
Cassandra nodded her understanding. "Did he say he wanted to be a part of this?"
"Not like he has a fucking choice," Malcolm muttered.
"Mr. Chen," Cassandra sighed. "My program is open to all but... I need their attendance to be consensual so there's at least some invested interest in their rehabilitation."
Malcolm groaned as he glanced at his brother standing near the exit as if he were ready to make a run for it.
"He may not want to be here... but his attendance is as you say... consensual," Malcolm explained. He looked at Cassandra plainly.
"We have an agreement."
"I see..." Cassandra said not wanting to probe further. "In that case...I'll take it from here."
Malcolm nodded gratefully before he turned to look at his brother again.
"Milo!" Malcolm shouted.
Milo took a deep breath and with his hands deep in his pockets slowly turned to his brother. Looking at him as if it were a chore.
"You'll call me when you're done?" Malcolm asked.
Milo shrugged. "Whatever you want, Czar Malcolm..."
Malcolm's lip tightened in irritation before he looked at Cassandra and tried to put on a softer face.
"My brother is also a bit of an asshole... just an FYI," Malcolm muttered.
Cassandra smiled. "I'll keep that in mind. Thank you."
She waited for Malcolm to leave before turning around and nearly jumped out of her skin to see Milo standing directly in front of her, his shades no longer on his face, his chest a mere few inches from her face.
"So..." Milo said coolly, his deep brown eyes probing hers. "Just what the fuck is it exactly... that you do?"
Cassandra could tell Milo was rather young. Couldn't be more than 25. And yet the look in his worn and weary gaze showed signs of a rapidly aged man who had seen far too much too soon.
"Take a seat and you'll find out," Cassandra said simply.
Milo raised a curious brow, his eyes taking their slow time carefully wandering over the details of her face.
"...sure," he said finally. "Who am I to say no to face like yours, eh Měilì?" he smirked.
As Cassandra watched Milo stroll to the circle where the rest of the vets were gathering, she took a mental note to start carrying a book on Chinese translations.
"Reintegration back into society is often a strenuous task for veterans when they return home. It can be a taxing process for both the vet and the family if not done properly."
Viktor leaned back in his chair, his mind drifting. He remembered his return home from his first tour.
Nothing felt more perfect than seeing his family again. To be so loved. So embraced. So accepted.
Then, he remembered his visit back home after his last tour. It was Christmas:
He got into an argument with his father.
He punched his cousin in the face.
And his mother cried.
Viktor chewed on his knuckle as he tried to blink those memories back into the hidden vault of his mind.
"Most people who've spent a considerable amount of time away from home in a combat zone do not have the means to reintegrate alone. And that's perfectly fine. You're not expected to do this alone. You are not alone," Cassandra said speaking to the people in the circle.
Milo wanted so badly to block her out. Noise. Noise. That's all he heard when anyone spoke was noise.
But her voice had less... static.
He leaned back in his chair, his arms crossed over his broad chest as his eyes followed her every movement.
Milo wasn't attracted to women that looked like her. He'd been with a lot of women. She was average at best.
She had distinctively wide hips that complemented her shapely backside. Her thighs were...supple. Her breasts sat nicely on her chest that despite showing absolutely no cleavage he could tell they were perky. Not too big, not too small. A handful is perfect.
No he wasn't attracted to her at all.
His eyes lingered on the doctor's backside as she turned around, still speaking, when his eyes immediately met the gaze of another.
He was large. Had to be either German or Russian. They were typically larger than the average white American. Not an ounce of fat on that body. Milo imagined the joy he'd have in challenging himself to take a man like that down. He'd fought bigger. He'd make quick work of him.
And he clearly had eyes for the doctor.
The doctor he wasn't at all attracted to.
Viktor felt frustrated. Why the hell was this weird kid looking at him?
Why was he looking at her?
Why did he care?
The doctor was fairly pretty. Her body was nothing to turn his nose up at and he found her voice to be rather soothing.
But she was a pest. An obstacle.
Snarky. Know-it-all who knew nothing.
Spitting shit that doctors of her ilk made up like it actually meant something.
Viktor leaned on his knees and groaned, his eyes still following the doctor's every movement.
He shouldn't be here.
At least she was nice to look at...
"I feel alone," one of the vets spoke up.
Cassandra looked at the woman sitting in her chair with her head down as her fingers anxiously pulled at each other.
"You want to speak on that further, Lydia?" Cassandra probed.
The woman looked up at Cassandra and frowned. "I... I always prided myself in being a hero to my children. I thought that... that being deployed didn't mean just fighting for my country but for my kids. My son, Brian, he's 8 years old and he's such a sweet kid, ya know? He loves science and experimenting. Used to drive my husband and I crazy with how many things he'd blow up in the house."
Cassandra gave a sympathetic smile to the woman who started frantically rubbing the tears from her eyes.
"I... I've seen children my son's age... fighting for their lives. I've carried the corpse of a child half my son's age because of a bomb that I helped set off! How! How c-can... c-can I be home with my son knowing th-that- that I-"
Lydia immediately broke down, sobbing into her palms as Cassandra quickly walked up to her to comfort.
"The things you've experienced won't go away so easily, Lydia. I won't lie to you and say you'll eventually get over it. We're human and taking the life of another is bound to have a drastic impact on you. What you're feeling is normal, but what's important is how you deal with this. How you process it," Cassandra advised.
"You have nothing to be ashamed of," another vet spoke up. "You were just doing your duty."
A mocking scoff echoed across the room before all eyes landed on Milo.
"Do you have something to add, Mr. Chen?" Cassandra asked.
"You're all pathetic," Milo shrugged.
"Excuse you?!" another vet growled.
"You're lying to her," Milo said. "She has everything to be ashamed of. She killed a fucking kid."
"She was just following orders! It's not her fault, the kid was collateral damage-" another vet spoke up.
"Collateral damage?!" Milo laughed mockingly. "Typical fucking Americans."
"Milo, your points are valid, but this isn't really constructive," Cassandra started.
"Constructive?" Milo scoffed. "Your fluff shit isn't getting to the point, doc."
"Which is?" Cassandra said with a raised brow.
"That they get off on this shit," Milo said matter-of-factly. "It's like a fucking drug to them. They come here pretending they have some type of remorse when in all actuality they just don't know how to stop."
Viktor felt this throat tighten. A bead of sweat bubbled at his temple before pearling down the side of his face. He slowly raised his eyes to Milo. His palm furiously rubbing against his fist.
He never wanted to punch someone in the face so badly.
This fucking kid.
"Why the fuck is this guy even here?" someone spoke up. "Are you even a vet?"
Milo smirked. "Well, nah, see I didn't invade countries and commit mass genocide all in the name of patriotic 'nationalism', but I did see it happen to my own people. So that has to count for something, right? Sorry to disappoint. But don't worry, friend. I'm still a murderer just like you. Only my targets are dicks like you and not actual fucking kids."
The man immediately jumped to his feet in anger before two other people held him back.
"Ernie please calm down and have a seat," Cassandra said quickly.
"Milo," she sighed as she started to get a fuller grasp on just the kind of guy this kid was. "I understand your anger but-"
"You talk big shit for an asshole who totes his kills like a fucking incel gamer," Viktor barked.
Milo looked at Viktor surprised before he chuckled. "And you don't?"
"No, I fucking don't," Viktor growled. "Because at least the shit I do has a gotdamn reason-"
Milo cut off Viktor with a laugh. "You fuckers swear you're the gotdamn hero's! When you're no better than me."
"I don't think comparing the United States Army to the Yakuza is all that adequate," Viktor said with heavy snark.
Milo froze as he quickly lost his words.
The audacity of this fucking German.
"I used to fuck with the Bratva who had shit with the Yakuza. Your tattoos are a dead giveaway," Viktor said mockingly.
This fucking Russian.
"Like I said..." Milo muttered. "You're no better than me."
Viktor's nostrils flared slightly, his fingers itching to do something they weren't supposed to do.
"Since you both seem so passionate about this particular subject," Cassandra said. "Viktor and Milo, you two can be partners."
Viktor and Milo both looked at Cassandra like she was crazy.
"You fucking kidding me?!" Viktor snarled.
"Fuck that. Pass," Milo said dismissively.
Cassandra shook her head. "You two are the only ones without a partner. Take this as an opportunity to learn more about each other. There's a lot of value in taking the time to listen to and understand perspectives outside of your own. It's also what helps us to establish empathy."
Milo and Viktor went to protest when Cassandra quickly cut them off before they could say anything.
"Our time is up for today," she said clapping her hands. "We'll meet back up in a week to go over our trust exercise."
As people got up and started to walk out, Viktor started to seriously consider what the repercussions might be if he just turned his back on the entire program.
Fuck this doctor.
"Tā māde niǎo..."
Milo angrily muttered to himself, cursing in Mandarin, as he walked down the sidewalk. His hands sat in the pockets of his hoodie as he grumbled under the covering of his hood.
Any remote attraction he had towards that doctor had completely disappeared the moment she paired him with that giant Russian oaf.
He thought back on his earlier conversation with his brother. When he first threatened him to seek help.
Milo didn't need help.
Removing himself from the gangs he often frequented wasn't that hard. His brother was freaking out for nothing.
And what a hypocrite his brother was. Malcolm always tried to present himself as somewhat of a responsible older brother when he had been working with the infamous Blonde Lycan for years.
Malcolm had no place to judge Milo.
There had to be a way out of this.
He groaned in frustration when he realized this was the only way he was going to get his sword, Yan Wang, back from Malcolm. His fingers itched to feel the smooth steel between his fingers again.
Yan Wang was practically a family heirloom. Milo almost beat the shit out of his brother for confiscating it.
Perhaps that was part of the problem. That his first instinct was to beat his brother to a bloody pulp...
...over an inanimate object.
Milo shook his head in frustration.
Malcolm was no better.
Lost in his thoughts, Milo didn't seem to notice the change in his surrounding as he turned down an alley.
He didn't notice the lack of pedestrians.
The way the sun had already started to set.
The eyes that followed him.
The feet that traced his steps.
Milo stopped short at the sound of his family name being called. He looked up to see the shadow of a man standing at the exit of the alley.
A bit of color drained from Milo's face.
He recognized that man...
He took a step back and turned around to see two more men blocking the other exit.
"...course..." Milo smirked as he pulled his hands out from his pockets. "Well? You're gonna have to come to me to kick your ass. Let's get this over with. I have shit to do."
"Cocky, Chen. Always cocky!" the first man said with a thick Japanese accent before he yelled something in Japanese and the other two men started running towards him.
"Don't you know it," Milo said running up the wall and slamming his ankle into the head of one and kicking down the other.
Milo ran over their bodies towards the exit only to be stopped by three more guys.
"Fuck..." he muttered as he put his fists up. "Could really use Yan Wang right now, Malcolm, you bitch."
Viktor took rhythmic breaths as he jogged through the rain. His sweatshirt, sweatpants, and all exposed skin were soaked, but he didn't mind.
Running in the rain had strangely become therapeutic for him.
At least at home it did.
It bothered him. Milo's words bothered him.
Did he really enjoy it? Did he miss...combat?
The blood. The violence. The brutality. The unrestrained bridling rage.
What the hell was wrong with him?
So many other vets were struggling just to cope with the things they had done.
Yet for him...
"...shit..." Viktor sighed as he skidded to a stop. He ran his hand over his wet head as a million thoughts raced through his mind.
He thought about the doctor. Something about her pissed him off.
Everything about her pissed him off.
He started a fast walk as he pulled out his card from his pocket and read her name on the card she had given him.
"Cassandra Joy..." he read. He wondered if she was married.
"Why the fuck do I care?" he said stuffing the card back into his pocket before he started jogging again.
Viktor got back into his mode. His blood was racing. His muscles were tense. He felt deprived.
He felt like shit.
He shook his head in frustration when suddenly he heard the sound of shouting and bodies smacking into one another.
Turning the corner of the building, he squinted his eyes trying to see through the rain to see a massive mob of a fight taking place.
It was 6 guys on 1.
"What the hell?" Viktor muttered.
He walked closer to see what was going on. He figured he should mind his business.
Don't go looking for trouble, Viktor.
But his fingers were itching again. His blood was racing again. His muscles were tense again.
"6 on 1 just ain't fair," Viktor said rushing towards them as he grabbed one of the men by the back of his jacket and slammed his fist into his face.
Milo tried to catch his breath when he realized not all of the men were directing their attention at him. He looked through the pouring rain to see another guy fighting them.
"Who the fuck is this psychopath?" Milo said bewildered. The guy was fighting two of them at once which was incredibly impressive considering the caliber of fighters they were up against.
Milo swiftly move through the fighters, using his body as a weapon. He felt his feet get kicked out from underneath him before he landed on his back knocking the wind out of him. But before the beating could continue, the same stranger knocked through the fighters before lowering his hand to help Milo up.
Milo took the hand and jumped to his feet. He squinted to look at his rescuer when his eyes bulged in shock.
"YOU?!" Milo and Viktor blurted at the same time.
They barely had a second to process before they were fighting off their assailants again.
"Why the fuck are you here?!" Milo said punching one guy in the face.
"You're welcome, asshole," Viktor snapped.
"I didn't ask for your help."
"Yea, clearly I need to work on my vetting process before helping any random moron," Viktor said kicking a guy in the chest.
Milo put the last guy down before leaning on his thighs to catch his breath.
"You can't stay away from a fight, can you," Viktor mocked.
Milo looked at Viktor and rolled his eyes. "Can you?"
Viktor sucked his teeth before throwing his hood on his head. "Fuck off."
He turned around when he heard the sound of yelling and a groan. He quickly turned back around to see Milo pushing one of his assailants to the ground, passed out.
"...you alright..." Viktor asked.
Milo slowly turned around holding his stomach, blood oozing from between his fingers.
"Shit!" Viktor blurted as he rushed to help him.
"Go away. I can take care of myself," Milo said swatting at him as he groaned in pain.
"You're fucking bleeding, idiot!"
"It's not the first time I've been stabbed. It's nothing."
Viktor looked at Milo startled. "And I'm the crazy one?!"
"Stop! Go away! Fuck you!" Milo protested as Viktor grabbed his arm and hooked it over his shoulder.
"You need to go to the hospital," Viktor said.
"I can't go to the fucking hospital!" Milo growled. "I'd rather die here than you drag me there!"
"Why the fuck are you so damn stubborn?!"
"I'm already a wanted man. You bring me to the hospital, I'm a sitting duck. They'll find me and they'll kill me," Milo said.
"Who?" Viktor asked.
Milo glared at Viktor who understood from the look in his gaze.
"You're a fucking idiot," Viktor snapped.
Milo started cursing at Viktor in Mandarin as Viktor walked him out of the alley.
"I don't know shit you're saying so don't waste your fucking breath," Viktor muttered.
He quickly looked around before he spotted a building that looked familiar.
"Come on," Viktor said walking Milo towards the building.
"Come on, you suicidal idiot, we're almost there," Viktor muttered as he held Milo up as they got on a freight elevator.
"Where are you taking me..?" Milo said breathlessly as they walked down a quiet hallway.
When they came to a white door, Viktor hesitated for just a second before he knocked.
"...since you refuse to go to a hospital... hoping this person can help..." Viktor said reluctantly.
The door unlocked and slowly opened.
Cassandra's eyes widened in shock.
"What the heck are you guys doing here?" she asked. She blinked startled when she saw the blood oozing from Milo's waist. "What the hell happened to him?!"
"You brought me to the fucking doctor?!" Milo groaned annoyed.
"Shut up," Viktor snapped at Milo before he looked at Cassandra. "Can we just come in before he bleeds out?!" he said impatiently.
Cassandra sighed as she opened her door further, allowing Viktor and Milo to push themselves inside her home.
"You offered your home as a place of refuge, right? You were the closest building nearby," Viktor said as he walked into her living room. He eyed the small place with cream-colored walls decorated with plants, paintings, and the moonlight peaking through the windows.
"I meant like... to talk," Cassandra said rushing behind them. "Put him on the couch."
Viktor helped Milo lay on the couch who groaned as he clutched his side.
"I'll ask again... what happened?" she said.
"It's a long story.." Milo muttered.
"The idiot got stabbed," Viktor said plainly. "Not that long a story."
"Asshole..." Milo muttered.
"Okay..." Cassandra sighed as she ran her fingers through her long brown locks. "And you couldn't bring him to a hospital because..."
"He refused to go," Viktor said.
"It's not safe for me there," Milo said quickly. "I've been stabbed before. It's not that big a deal."
"Really not helping your case here, Milo..." Cassandra said with a raised brow.
"I can handle it," Viktor said. "I've dealt with shit like this before. I just... need some water. Towels? You got a first aid kit?"
Cassandra twisted her mouth in frustration.
Viktor sat on the edge of the living room table as he leaned over Milo laying on the couch. His breathing had finally regulated after Viktor cleaned up his wound.
Viktor's light hazel eyes scanned the hundreds of tattoos that decorated Milo's lightly-tanned skin. Some of them he could tell were blatantly to cover up some really ugly scars.
He was definitely young. Viktor wondered what kind of fucked up life this kid had to lead for it to manifest on his body like this.
Perhaps they weren't all that different after all...
"Here's another towel."
Viktor looked up to see Cassandra handing him a warm wet towel.
"Thanks," he said grabbing it from her.
Cassandra looked from Viktor to Milo.
"How is he?" she asked.
"He'll live," Viktor said curtly.
Cassandra folded her arms across her chest and pondered for a moment as she looked over Milo's bruised body.
"Yakuza, huh..?" she said eyeing some of the tattoos.
"Among others..." Viktor said lowly.
Cassandra glanced at Viktor to see him staring at his own forearm. His thumb rubbing over a black symbol that seemed to be in a different language.
"Alright then... if you need me, I'll be in the kitchen. Your clothes are wet, so I suggest you change before you catch a sickness. I still have my cousin's clothes laying around so if you need a shirt, let met know."
Viktor glanced over his shoulder to see her walk towards a slim closet and pull out a large towel.
"I'll make you guys some soup," she said tossing the towel next to him.
Viktor eyed the way she bent over to pick up the dirty towels off the floor. Her small black shorts that hugged her hips showcased her smooth brown legs. Her plain white t-shirt with the words "Stanford University Alumni" hung nicely on her torso.
He swallowed thickly as he watched her hips switch all the way to the kitchen.
"Maybe if you stare hard enough... she'll actually let you fuck her."
Viktor quickly turned around to see Milo was awake. His eyes slightly squinting matched the mocking grin on his face.
"Shut up..." Viktor muttered. "I just saved your ass. The least you could do is stay quiet."
"Stupid Russian," Milo sighed. "Nobody asked for your help."
"I'm American," Viktor said quickly. "And it's not in my nature not to help."
"Yea, Americans are quick to help aren't they? They'll shoot you in the kneecap and then offer their own 'Made in America' first aid kits to help heal the wounds they inflicted."
"You sound bitter," Viktor said.
"You sound brainwashed," Milo snapped back. "So quick to deny your heritage. Got some self-hate issues?"
Viktor scoffed. "Says the Chinese guy who nearly got himself killed by the Japanese mafia. Who's the one with heritage issues again?"
Milo sucked his teeth as he lay his head back on the arm of the couch.
"Someone's always trying to kill me... that's nothing new..."
Milo turned his head and looked at Viktor. "Something tells me... you can relate."
Viktor locked eyes with Milo, and what he read in his eyes made him uncomfortable.
"Get some rest, moron," Viktor said standing up. "I'm gonna go check on the doctor."
"Is that code for trying to get in her pants, you stalker," Milo snickered amused.
"I'm not a stalker."
"You knew where she lived," Milo smirked.
"Because she gave me her card," Viktor said defensively.
"Which you eagerly took," Milo smiled as he rested his hands behind his head. "Stalker."
"Shut the hell up," Viktor said sucking his teeth as he walked away.
Cassandra rummaged through her top cabinet, until she found the bottle of seasoning she was looking for. She turned around and nearly jumped out of her skin to see Viktor standing right behind her.
"Jeezus!" she said putting her hand to her chest. "Scared the living daylights out of me."
Viktor eyed her for a brief second. "Is that shirt offer still on the table?"
"..yea.." she said hesitantly. She grabbed a black shirt hanging from the handle of her kitchen chair and handed it to him.
"Thanks." Viktor grabbed the hem of his wet shirt and peeled the damp cloth from his torso.
Cassandra bit her lip and stepped back slightly as her eyes traced over his abdomen and chest. His tanned skin was decorated with a mixture of worn out tattoos and the battle scars that marred them.
Viktor pulled the dry shirt over his head and caught her looking at him before she quickly turned away to the stove.
"Surprised that fits," she said not looking at him. "My cousin is a pretty big dude."
"Yea, well, clearly so am I."
Cassandra turned around to see Viktor leaning against the edge of the table with his arms folded across his chest. The way he looked at her made her feel...
"I'm also done with the soup," she said. "How's Milo?"
"The suicidal idiot is doing just fine," he said. "Seems like he's on the run."
"I'll contact his brother," she sighed. She looked at Viktor and frowned.
"You're bleeding," she said quickly.
"What?" he asked.
She grabbed a towel and stepped forward to dab the side of his temple when he roughly grabbed her wrist.
"I'm fine," he said tightly.
"It will take me two seconds to clean it off," she insisted.
"I said I'm fine," he snapped at her. "It's just a scratch. I've dealt with worse."
"Congratulations," she said sarcastically. "But as long as you're in my home I'd rather not have you bleeding all over my things."
Viktor sucked his teeth and reluctantly let her hand go. She immediately dabbed the wound on the side of his head.
"So... exactly how did you two end up in that situation together?" she asked.
Viktor shrugged. "I saw an unfair battle."
Cassandra twisted her mouth as she focused on his wound. "There's a difference between a battle... and a fight, Viktor."
"I didn't say battle."
"Yes... you did," she said looking at him. "Your mind.. you're still there, Viktor... you have to learn to separate reality from war."
Viktor sucked his teeth as he pushed her hand away. "This isn't one of your therapy sessions."
"Viktor, I was just making an obser-" she started.
"No offense, doc, but nobody asked you. You haven't been on the field. You haven't fought in a war. So please don't fucking pretend you know what that shit's like," Viktor said dismissively.
Cassandra looked at Viktor with irritation and backed up. She grabbed the hem of her shirt and rolled it up slightly exposing her abdomen.
Viktor's eyes fell towards her body and felt a heated sensation overwhelm him wondering if this is how she planned to seduce him when suddenly his eyes locked on to what she was showing him.
He felt his throat tighten.
A long, ragged raised scar ran from her sternum all the way down to her hip, marring her beautiful brown skin.
"I used to be an engineering technician in the US Army," she said. "I served two tours."
She pointed to her scar. "I got this beauty when a bomb went off at my base. Took 113 stitches."
Viktor swallowed hard as he watched her roll her shirt back down.
"See, Mr. Petrovic? You're not the only one with scars," she said to him.
Viktor wanted to speak... to apologize. But his mouth was so dry.
"Now don't you feel like shit, eh dick?"
Viktor and Cassandra turned to the kitchen door to see Milo leaning against it with his arms folded against his bare, bruised chest and an amused smirk on his face.