Author's Note: Hi everyone. It's been a while and the Shadow Hearts section has been so quite lately (well that's not much of a surprise). So I wanted to try something a little different with this one and I hope you enjoy.

Flicking through the pages, old and frail like the wings of a butterfly, Nicolai glanced over the Greek writing. The skull shaped book sat awkwardly in his hands and he shifted it from time to time to ease the discomfort. His eyebrows knitted together as he studied the text more closely. A vessel to house the soul…calling it back from the spirit world…controlling the flow of time…

"Why would he want something like this?" Nicolai mused aloud, leaning back into his chair. The request had been a strange one, but if it meant that he could use Sapientes Gladio's alliance with Japan to gain more power, then he was willing to agree with whatever Kato wanted. Of course, no one knew about this little arrangement. They were only given what they needed to know, Rasputin especially.

He had heard of a Lieutenant Colonel Yoshiko Kawashima…and that both she and Kato were rather close. Surely he doesn't intend on performing the ritual. He sighed. It doesn't matter; as long as my plans go ahead nothing matters.

The door opened and the echo of heels filled the room. Nicolai swiftly opened the drawer and placed the manuscript inside. "In future would you at least knock?" he said sharply.

Stretching her arms Veronica gave a wry smile, her skin glistening with sweat. Nicolai arched an eyebrow. "I gather you had your fun."

Her smile disappeared and her large red lips gave pout. "The old man's reaction…" she hesitated for a moment. out. "n glistening with sweat. "i swiftly opened the drawer and placed the manuscript inside. ""Wasn't what I had expected."

It took all that he could to resist a smirk. Surprising ,I thought you were into older men. Much older. She continued, "The vampire with the muscles? Such a disappointment…" She scowled, "I'll admit he was fun, at first. Turns out he was as over dramatic and as annoying as Lucia. How dare she call me old? The nerve-"

Veronica glared at Nicolai, chuckling into the back of his wrist with his shoulders shaking with merit. "Does that amuse you?!" she snapped, clutching her snakeskin whip in her hand. When he didn't reply she continued, "I wouldn't get so cocky if I were you. Not too long from now I will be your queen."

That very word irritated him. He wondered if Rasputin had promised that same or at least similar offer to other women. His penchant for women wasn't exactly a secret, yet none dared speak of it out loud. He was still a holy man in their eyes, or at least they still feared him. If only they knew his version of "holiness" was far more perverted than their own.

Nicolai sighed. Still, he had to humour her for his own sake. "Do you really care about what I think?" he replied calmly, recomposing himself.

She harrumphed and began strutting around the room. Each step she took was heavy and deliberate, yet still elegant and refined, her heels clinking loudly against the stone floor. Her ample breasts bounced as she walked and his eyes lingered around her chest area for a moment while she was looking away and still pouting, her nose pointed upwards. "So where is he?"

Nicolai averted his gaze as she turned her head around folding her arms. "With the Empress I presume."

She frowned. "I wasn't referring to Lord Rasputin," she said coolly, placing a hand on her hip and leaning to the side.

He raised an eyebrow. "Lenny's going after the dog, like I told him to. Why?"

She was beginning to look impatient. "Must you question everything I do or say?"

"No," he admitted. "But it is certainly rather entertaining to rile you."

Her eyes widened and she marched over, slamming her fist on the desk. Her nostrils flared and her icy blue eyes seemed to burn with malicious desire. His face was plain, calm and cool. This seemed to frustrate her even further. Her jaw clenched and she turned to look away from him. "Like I said," she finally answered, her voice giving away no trace of anger although Nicolai couldn't help but notice the strain. She returned to look at him, a condescending look on her face. "Don't get so full of yourself. Besides…" She grinned, leaning in over the desk , her mouth just inches away from his ear. In a sultry tone that dripped with acid she whispered, "Your little red head gave me quite a few hours of joy."

The corner of his mouth twitched. "Is that so…?" His tone was low but remained composure. I won't give her any satisfaction from me.

"Oh you should have been there," she purred. "The way she screamed was so…delicious. She resisted at first but deep down she knew better. She knew that I was more powerful. She knew that I was better than her. And she that I was her queen." She smiled sadistically, her eyes shining in triumph. "She begged for mercy, begged for her life. Cried out for help from the others – not like that would have done anything, the stupid whore. But most of all, she called out for Yuri."

"Where are you getting at?" he said a little too sharply. She straightened up, towering over him, victorious. Damn you, Veronica…

"Don't play coy," she cooed, teasing him. "Or…did you forget what happened a fortnight ago?" Now it was his time to scowl, looking away and resting his chin onto a closed fist. Veronica took this as answer enough and pressed on. "That bit of pinch of tickle was rather refreshing I must say," she admitted, fixing the back of her long, thick golden locks. "Nothing like my Lord Rasputin of course." She smirked, leaning over the desk once more, giving Nicolai a perfect view of her bosom. When she caught him staring he flushed red and muttered a curse. "Still, I was quite surprised when it was…you who took control." She giggled. "I wonder if your dear Karin knows of how dark your desires really are. However you spoiled it when you started screaming her name." That dark expression that she donned earlier came back again as she watched his reaction.

He sat there motionless, not daring to utter a word for a few minutes. After a pregnant pause he spoke, is voice dark and poisonous. "I would take your own advice if I were you, Veronica." She blinked, taken aback. His eyes shot up to get a proper view of her face. "It will be your own demise."

"Are you threatening me?!" she exclaimed, glaring at him.

"No I am merely stating."

"Lord Raspu-"

"-Rasputin won't be too pleased that you've been disloyal to him."

Her eyes widened and a shiver ran down her smile. For once she seemed to be afraid. A new bead of sweat trickled down the side of her cheek as she stepped back. "You wouldn't!" she gasped.

He smiled like a lion about to kill his prey, the tables quickly turning. "I would," he promised. "And if you even think about touching her…"

"Don't get carried away! That isn't your decision, she's still my prisoner!" she shot back, shaking with rage. "You may think that you're better than me but I can assure you that if you so much as say a word or get in my way again, that pretty little ragdoll downstairs isn't going to be pretty anymore."

Nicolai gritted his teeth but said nothing. "I'll electrocute her, stab her, cut her, shoot her, flay her and much, much worse." She advanced towards him. "I may even let one of the guards have some fun with her." With that she began to cackle.

Her left cheek flared in pain from where Nicolai struck her. The slap was hard and harsh, catching her by surprise. She nursed her cheek in one hand and stared at him dumbfounded. As the realization of what just happened, her blood boiled and her face turned red. "You'll regret this!" she snarled. She stormed out of the room and slammed the door shut behind her.

His heart was pounding in his chest, threatening to break from his ribcage. She was right; he was starting to regret doing that. He stood there in the middle of the room for what seemed to be like an eternity. Karin… I'm so sorry.

Later in the evening, he snuck into the dungeon. Like some filthy rat. He had heard that Veronica had been called back to Russia and was already on a boat heading there.

He needed to see her, ideally without any of the others interfering. When he opened the door to the torture room, he was surprised to see Karin still strapped into the device, one of Veronica's new toys. She was slumped, completely listless. He winced at the sight of the injuries she sustained. The electricity burns were the most excruciating to behold. The jagged burned wounds were black around the edges and a deep red in the middle. Luckily they weren't large and would heal over time but there was a numerous amount of them. Her breathing was shallow and ragged, her chest rising and falling unevenly and awkwardly. Her mouth was slack and her hair was unruly and frizzy.

Nicolai walked over to her, cupping her chin and gingerly lifting her head up. She murmured weakly as he studied the welts that criss-crossed each cheek. She certainly defied her "queen" and with that he briefly smiled albeit wistfully. He caressed a patch of skin that wasn't red, remembering the train ride they took on their way to the Vatican.

The cabin that they were in was nice and cosy; the seats had red velvet cushions and the oak was nicely varnished. The rays from the sun were gentle as it was beginning to set. The light gave the cabin an ochre tinge. She was dressed in her military uniform and conversations were short, precise and polite. She intrigued him, and not just because he was astonished by the fact that they let a woman become a lieutenant. She was perched neatly on the seat opposite to him, the steam that came from the black coffee that was sitting on the table before her turned her visage into a mirage. She stared intently at the mug; the black liquid shimmered in the sunlight. While she had stayed silent, he had been describing the item that they would be searching for. She shifted her gaze to look at him and nodded.

He smiled softly at her. "There is no need to be so courteous," he told her. "This is quite a long trip and I would like to think that we could become friends."

She tilted her head downwards slightly and blushed. "A-alright, I'll keep that in mind," she spoke softly. Oh how he adored that thick German accent she had – gentle and delicate a perfect match for her face, which held an exquisite elegance to it.

Resting his elbows on the table and lacing his fingers together he asked, "So, tell me, in what part of Germany do you come from?"

Her skin lightened up and her chest swelled up with pride. "Munich," she managed to smile.

"I see that you love it."

She nodded. "Of course, I come from a proud family," she explained. She trailed off into silence.

"Go on please," he urged gently, still smiling at her.

She hesitated for a moment before shaking her head. "I'm sorry but I would rather not discuss it with someone I barely know. I hope I'm not offending you."

"No need to apologise, it's understandable."

"…How about you?"


"Where do you come from?"

"Born in Russia but I grew up in the Vatican." He tried to stay pleasant by keeping his voice sounding cheerful. It seemed to work. Also I'm the bastard son of Tsar Nicholas II, he thought bitterly. It almost wanted him to burst out into hysterics.

They fell back into silence, only the occasional sip of coffee broke the silence. They exchanged some more small talk every now and then, but both were lost in their own thoughts to fully participate. Or perhaps that was what he kept telling himself; perhaps he just wanted to keep hearing her voice as if it was the very thing that would save his wretched soul. A strange warmth travelled throughout his body. He rested his eyes on her, perhaps for too long as Karin shifted uncomfortably in her seat, fidgeting with her fingers.

Now here they were, in a damp dungeon, a far cry from a first class cabin. He continued to caress her face, gradually travelling down to her neck before stopping at her breast line. He kissed her forehead tenderly, contemplating on going for her lips. But you love Yuri… The thought made his blood curdle. He can't give you the love and warmth that you desire, the things that I can give you. His heart belongs to one person and one person only; Alice Elliot.

Perhaps she'll change her mind. Perhaps she will finally understand what Yuri is. Perhaps she will return his own feelings…

Author's Note: I don't know whether to slap Nicolai or hug him. He's one of three Shadow Hearts men that I love; Killer, Yuri and him. :3 (Four if you include Ricardo) Anywhoooo, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed. xx