And all people live,
Not by reason of any care they have for themselves,
But by the love for them that is in other people.

Leo Tolstoy

Chapter twenty
Escape Ways

X

''You know how they say that it always gets worse before it gets better? Yeah, that's you, right here. It may seem rough now, Boris, but it's going to get much better.'' Soren bit his lip with a frown as the other man still wouldn't even look at him.

He had been sitting there for quite some time now, trying to talk the man back to reality. But Boris kept stubbornly fixating his gaze on the far wall, lying still and unmoving it looked almost as if he was dead, his eyes distant and without presence. Soren scratched the back of his head and sighed. He was simply not getting paid enough.

''You can't be holed up in here forever. You know they wanted to throw you out, but I didn't let them. I was on your side, and I convinced them to let you stay because...'' he looked pained. ''Face it, Boris. You need this. You've been here barely a month and I think you need to stay longer. A lot longer.''

He sighed. Casting a glance towards the door he collected himself. This was hard. Not unusual, but hard. With more strength in his eyes he returned his gaze to Boris, trying to sound resolute and firm as he spoke next.

''You know, it's a miracle they let you stay after breaking all those chairs. You're lucky no one got hurt.'' he grazed the cut in his lip with his tongue. ''Well, okay, except me but lucky you that I was the one getting hurt. I'm forgiving. Had it been nurse Nancy you would've been out of here so fast you wouldn't even have had time to blink.''

Boris still wouldn't respond. It was as if he wasn't even in the room. Soren knew he shouldn't worry, the psychologist had said he'd snap out of it eventually, but he had seen people revert into themselves like that before. Sometimes, they never came back.

Sighing for what felt like the hundred time, he drew a hand through his soft hair and stood up.

''Well, you know what? The least I can do is find your book.'' he began walking, then turned at the door with a bothered grimace, soldiered up, turned again and went to find an English translation of the book Boris had been reading recently.

Maybe it wouldn't snap him out of his stupor, but at least it was an effort.

X

Johnny, for a lack of better things to do, was making himself comfortable in Boris' armchair. He had spent most of the past three days there when he didn't have group therapy, individual therapy, morning meditation or afternoon exercise. He even got to eat lunch in there, as he was responsible for giving Boris food which wasn't exactly an easy task.

When Boris lay motionless, ignoring the rest of the world around him, it was quite easy to get along with him. Johnny had told him all about himself, about the girls he had dated and this special girl, Regina, who had broken his strong, Scottish heart, as he had put it. He told him all about their problems, about the fighting and the constant cheating, feeling like it was much easier to talk to someone who was ignoring him than to anyone in his therapy sessions. He just didn't like sharing.

But, his doctor said he had to, if he wanted to get out of there. Regina's birthday was soon, and he wanted to be there. He'd spoken about the drugs they both used, how he had gone on and off since he was a young teenager, how he'd been close to heroin so many times it felt like some sort of miracle he'd managed not to fall down that particularly thorny steep.

Eventually Johnny liked being there more and more, he was almost certain the armchair was getting an imprint of his butt by now. When he wasn't trying to read the Russian books, and failing miserably, he'd take over where Soren had left off and read from the English translations.

Today though, Johnny had grown too bored with the books, and eventually after switching every other word for genitals and laughing at himself, he realized it was better to stop lest someone would pass by and think him a madman. Not that he was normal, but Johnny liked to keep them thinking so. He did want to get out of there, some day. Preferably very soon.

He closed the book and regarded the Russian, blankly staring at the nothingness as usual. Johnny sighed, wondering if he was supposed to kick him in the face or something, but decided against it.

''Ye know, Bor'' he drawled. ''I'm leavin' in a month. Ye should try t' spend some quality time with me here.''

When Boris ignored him, or failed to notice, he grew fairly more irritated. Growling he threw the book at the man, but not even then would the man acknowledge him.

''Booooooooooris'' he was whining now, regrettably. ''I'm boooooooored.''

Still ignored, Johnny pouted.

''Oh, get off it ye big lump! Ye gon' be there all year? Huh? Getta fuck out of bed ye stupid, walking sack of vodka!''

Johnny hitched on his breath, amazed. Could it be? No. It was impossble. That couldn't have been a reaction? Could it? It had seemed like the smallest of eyebrow twitches, but he was certain. It had been there. Suddenly, he got an idea.

''Ye stupid wanker'' he continued, slyly. ''Yeah, ye just lie there all day like ye always do, ye giant twit! Man, no wonder no one likes yer kind, I mean, come on. Ye're such dillydallying fucking boozehounds that - ''

Johhny got no further before a swift kick to the chin had knocked him off balance. Falling backwards, pulling down everything in his way, Johnny wondered if this had been a good idea. As his chin ached and churned in quite belligerent pain, his head needed a few seconds to stop swimming in its dizzying haze. As the room stopped spinning, he looked up to see a pair of angry, malignant eyes glaring down at him. Johnny smirked.

''Heh. Knew I'd get ye outta bed, ye big lump.''

Boris knew not whether to laugh or crush his head. He contemplated both but settled for a kick to the ribs. Johnny contorted into a ball of shivering pain, cursing and roaring. The Russian just intensified his glare, feeling tired from the small action. He hadn't eaten much in days, not more than the few pieces of meat and pudding Johnny had forced down his throat. It wasn't much and he was already feeling dizzy from all this standing.

''Yw know, ye kinda kick like a girl'' Johnny got up on his feet, wincing, despite his words, whenever the movement jarred the damage. He smirked at the other, giving him a pained little wink. ''Welcome back t' the real world.''

Boris said nothing. His glare remained blank and dark, his face motionless and dead. Johnny did not like it as the eeriness had him worried, perhaps he had not awoken Boris at all but instead just kickstarted some little reflex in his brain. The Scot frowned.

''Ye know ye've been cooped up'n here for days. Ye can't stay'n here forever. Ye've got therapy 'n stuff.''

Boris arched a brow.

''Oh, hello, mother.''

Johnny rolled his eyes.

''Just sayin'. The staff's been worried 'bout ye. Ye don't wanna get kicked out, do ye?'' when Boris didn't respond, Johnny got irritated. ''C'mon Bor, ye know as much as I do that ye need this place! Ye can't go out there like this, ye won't make it.''

Boris' glare burned hot and intensely, his anger curling in his veins and muscles like little, gnawing parasites. He balled his fists and huffed.

''You don't know shit, McGregor. Fucking shut your mouth and leave me alone.''

Johnny put his hands in the air, shaking his head in resignation.

''Fine, whutever, Boris. I don't care. 'M just sayin', ye need nothin' short of a miracle, man, and I'm tellin' ya, ye ain't gonna find any of them out there.'' he nodded his head towards the window, then got ready to leave. ''Just... one day ye're gonna wake up an' wish ye'd taken a different path a long time ago.'' he gave him a serious look, the most serious Boris had ever seen him with. ''I'm sayin' that ain't such a nice place ta be.''

When he had left Boris knew not what to do. His tired body told him to get down in bed immediately and let it rest, while his stomach churned and whined, screaming for food but he knew that if he ate he would only throw it up. Drawing a hand through his head Boris sighed. He didn't want to be here anymore. All the people with their idiotic opinions, always butting into his life as if they could do something. He didn't want their false miracles or their holier-than-thou attitude. He was sick and tired of the self-righteousness and people believing he couldn't handle it.

But truth was he couldn't. He wouldn't be at rehab otherwise if he didn't need help. Right? Boris sighed. What was the fucking point anyway? With a small glance at the bed he discarded the thought of returning to it and instead headed towards the gym.

X

''This does not look good, Mr. Kuznetsov'' the doctor shook his head in worry, looking rather displeased his wrinkly face was scrunched up in a way that told Boris something bad was going on. ''Not at all.''

''What's wrong?'' he said. ''It's not my liver, is it?''

''Oh, no! No, your liver is fine. You still keep up with your immunosuppressives?''

Boris nodded.

''Every day.''

''Good. But no, the liver isn't your problem I... Mr. Kuznetsov, have you been feeling abdominal pain recently?''

The Russian gave him a stupefied look.

''I always have abdominal pain. It's like white noise to me now.''

The doctor looked troubled by this, scratching his chin he looked as if he didn't quite know what to do with his patient.

''Ah, well... Have you had any pain radiating towards your back?''

Boris thought for a moment, then shrugged.

''I guess.''

''Any other problems? Have you been throwing up or losing weight or had any other problems that are not a direct cause of detox?''

Boris looked immensely more bothered. He was not in the mood to discuss these things with the man, especially not today. He had been feeling like crap ever since he arrived, but this day was the prize winner. Just everyone seemed to be out to annoy him and whatever he did, bad luck always tripped him in the last second.

''What are you getting at here?'' he said a bit more gruffly. ''Am I in trouble?''

The doctor sighed.

''Yes, I'm afraid so. I think... I think you might be having a problem with your pancreas. Acute infection of it, actually.''

''Which means..?''

''It means your pancreas has taken such damage from the excessive alcohol that it's caused an infection, which, if it goes untreated, will not only make the pain worse or the vomiting cause weightloss, but it could lead to chronic pancreatitis which is... not pleasant in any way.''

Boris bit his lip. That didn't sound too bad. He could live with the pain, he had so far. It wasn't like he was dying. The doctor saw the look in his eyes and immediately recognized it.

''Oh, yes, you know this means you have to be careful? No more alcohol, although that was the case anyway, and no more high carbonated food, heavy food or anything that puts a toll on your pancreas.''

Boris frowned.

''Why do I even need a pancreas? Are you saying I can never have steak again?''

The doctor grimaced.

''What's a steak compared to your life?''

''This isn't lethal, is it?'' Boris frowned. ''Sure, I vomit a lot but that's not too bad.''

''Vomiting strains both heart and brain quite a lot, I'm afraid, and it is not good for the body. Please, Mr. Kuznetsov, I advice you to handle this carefully.''

Boris was silent for a moment, looking around himself in the neat little white room with all the instruments and the tools. He sighed, shaking his head in defeat. He found it much simpler to not care anymore. After all, the more he did the more it all seemed to go out of its way to screw him over. Boris thought long and hard about leaving many times, but something always made him linger.

''So, what do I do?''

''I'm going to prescribe you some painkillers, other than that, stay away from the alcohol and I'll tell the caf├ęteria staff of your new diet. Return to me later and we'll see if you've recovered.''

Boris scoffed.

''Sure I should be eating pain killers?''

The doctor shrugged.

''Unless you wanted to deal with the pain of course.''

Boris sighed.

''What do I do about the vomiting?''

''It is rather alarming...'' the doctor eyed his charts lazily. ''You're greatly underweight and this pancreatitis is coming at a very bad time. I'd like you to eat supplements...''

''Like some anorexic? Seriously?''

The doctor gave him a stern look. The man was growing quite tired of his whining.

''You need to gain weight, Mr. Kuznetsov. Do I need to tell you the dangers of being underweight? Because I can.'' he gave his patient a challenging look, daring him to take the bait. Boris had a feeling the doctor could go on forever if it meant to torture him.

''I'm not a child. I can take care of myself.''

''I dare say you can't, Mr. Kuznetsov. Your heart is going to suffer the most from this maltreatment. You already have a high-maintenance liver, do you really need heart problems, chronic pancreatitis, brittle bones, organ failure and cancer to boot? I'm not very pleased with your immune system, either... You're what, 35?''

''27.''

The doctor looked increasingly alarmed.

''Oh, how you depress me...'' he sighed. ''Quite frankly, this will kill you if you let it go on too far, which I dare say, Mr. Kuznetsov, is not very far at all in your case.'' he shook his head, almost as if chastising him, and Boris had the feeling he was being condescended. ''Not far at all.''

''You're exaggerating''

''I am not, in fact. When was the last time you had a check-up?''

Boris shrugged.

''A year? I don't know.''

The doctor sighed almost desperately.

''Oh, you people. Oh, well, here's the prescription, you can ask Nurse Roberts in the lobby about it and she'll come give it to you with your regular doses. Sound good?''

Boris grunted. Nothing sounded good to him anymore. Nothing but the words 'you may leave now' which were very rare. He just wanted the whole thing to be over with. But addictions didn't go away over night, he wasn't as stupid as to think as such. He just really wished they would. Sighing, Boris gave the man a last glare before he hopped off the cot. Reaching out his hand expectantly he gave the doctor a curt nod.

''Sweater'' he barked, and the man handed it to him. ''Why the fuck can't I wear my own fucking clothes? This fucking sweater is itchy.''

''Mr. Kuznetsov?'' the doctor said inquiringly as Boris was halfway out the door but not nearly halfway through his sweater.

''Mm?''

''Please be more careful. I'm quite worried about you.''

Boris rolled his eyes.

''What's with everyone acting like my mother in this place?''

The doctor smiled, sardonically. His eyes bitter and jaded by the things he had seen.

''Maybe because you need it''

With a last little snarl the Russian left, the little yellow note firmly gripped in his hand.

X

Boris leaned his hand against his head. He didn't quite like group therapy, never really did. He mostly spent the sessions glaring at some far off corner of the room, brooding silently. Seething in irritation, most people decided to leave him alone. The therapist was a weak little push-over, the kind he used to kick into toilets in the Abbey, with brittle hair and an odd-shaped pair of a glasses. She reminded him of someone, though he had a hard time remembering just who.

Boris had felt unusually sullen as of late. He'd had hoped the decrease of drugs would have cleared his mind a bit, allowed him to use his mind more freely and stop the numbing of his emotions. He quite liked his emotions, at least the anger and the detest. Not that he had much else to feel. It was just such a strange sensation, living with soul-numbing anger all your life and then waking up one day to find it gone. It was uncomfortable, as if he had lost a toe and was trying to walk on the bleeding stump. It was awkward, it was messy, complicated and by no means pretty. It felt, in a way, empty. He was so used to have the anger there and now as it had been reduced to a mere irritation, Boris knew not quite what to do with himself.

So he mostly spent his days sulking. Avoiding Soren, ignoring Dr. Baba, glaring at Johnny. Who did the little twit think he was, anyway? As if he knew him. Boris rolled his eyes at no one in particular, earning some strange looks from the therapist who thought he was rolling them at her.

''I'm sorry, Boris, would you like to share?''

Boris looked at her sluggishly, detached and disinterested in the world around him. It all seemed to move in blurs of grey and he felt strange being part of it now.

''Hm?''

''Would you like to share your disgust with the rest of the class?''

Boris frowned.

''What?''

The therapist crossed her arms, pushed her glasses up her nose and gave him a stern look of reprimanding. Boris felt confused.

''You know, you come in here every day, while we sit here and share our innermost fears you just sit there like a little lurking leech, feeding off of it'' one of the patients said, a gnarly mess of a person he'd not cared to learn the name of. ''Like you can just feast on our misery without ever contributing any of your own.''

Boris snorted, he could not believe it. The idiocy of his so called ''peers'' never ceased to amaze him.

''Maybe I've nothing to share'' he drawled, earning a hateful, burning glare.

''Everyone has something to share'' the therapist said. ''And it's not fair for you to just sit there quietly. I know we all need to take our own amount of time before we can open up, but you've been here for three weeks.''

''So?''

''So it might be time for you to tell us a little something about yourself.''

Boris glared.

''Fine, I'll just leave'' he said, not that he really had a choice, group therapy was mandatory.

So many things were, he felt like a rabid, diseased animal. Confined to let the disease kill him, lest he be a pest to those around him. Like their little, precious lives were not to be contaminated. How he hated them all. Some nights he dreamt of wringing their little necks like wet rags. Squeezing their pathetic lives out of them for good. Boris trembled with this new and sudden emotional clarity. Perhaps the drugs were finally wearing off.

''You can't do that!'' the therapist objected tersely. ''You have to - it's in the program!''

''Well, you can shove your program up your ass.''

The group fell into a tense silence, before one of the most obnoxious members spoke up.

''Ya know, we don't really appreciate yer tone there, mate''

''Don't fucking mate me, you stupid Brit!'' Boris grit his teeth, eyes boiling with an innate rage that finally had enough room to spread itself. It felt strange, but liberating and for a moment he felt dizzied by the sudden rush of adrenaline. ''I don't fucking care, I've had it with your stupid shit. Oooh, Boris'' he started speaking in a mock voice and thick British accent, gesturing exaggeratedly. ''please will you tell us all about yer bloody life? We are so very interested to hear all about it! Oh, Boris, my dear lad, why don't you put on this leash and name tag and run a few laps for poppy? Why yes, you are just the greatest little puppet, aren't you, laddy? Who's the best little slave? Who? Yes, you, my dear lad! Ho hoho ho ho! Tea and crumpets for everyone!''

He growled, his eyes suddenly so much darker and sharper, rumbling in them was a blood thirst that had been quelched for so long it was overpowering now.

''Fuck you, just...'' he shook his head. ''I'm done with this. I'm leaving.''

The group looked at him as if they did not quite know how to respond to that. Half of them looked torn between being offended and frightened, the other half simply annoyed, as if they were staring at a sick bear about to go for their throats. Boris seethed, the trembling worsening, every muscle clenched tight in his body as his eyes burned. The only one looking mildly bored was Johnny who mostly looked at Boris as if the Russian was some new kind of idiot, never before discovered; like he personally wanted to document its existence and habits.

''Fine'' Johnny said ''Just leave then, ya big lump. Not any of our concern, ennit? Ye wanna screw yer life up, fuckin' fine, mate. I dun' care.''

Boris snorted.

''Oh, shut your fucking mouth, Johnny. Like I'm going to take advice from you.''

Johnny glared, looking angrier than he'd ever seen him. All their stay Johnny had seemed cocky, loud-mouthed and bumptious, but never angry.

''Hey, fuckhead. Unless ye noticed, I'm not the only screw up here.''

Boris' face twitched.

''What the fuck do you know about anything, you meth-head?'' Boris basically spat out the words, and it was clear Johnny had to restrain himself from lunging at him. ''None of you fuckers have any right to tell me anything, you're fucking pathetic and just as bad as me, if not worse.''

''Yeah, we're all sinners here'' Johnny clasped his fists as if preparing for battle. ''And I don't do meth.''

''Yeah, whatever, McGregor'' he rolled his eyes. ''You're all just a bunch of loser anyway. I mean look at you!'' he stretched his hand out, gesturing to each and every one of them, the people in the room looking increasingly more offended. ''You've wasted your god damn lives and now you sit here whining because your lives're in the shitter. Fucking grow up, will you? You!'' he pointed at one shivering little man whose eyes darted around in look for an escape way. ''You fucker, you come here every god damn day crying about your little brats. No wonder you lost custody, you smoke crack all the time! That's all you do! Ever!''

''Please, Mr. Kuznetsov - '' the therapist tried, but Boris could not be stopped.

''And you - '' he pointed at a rugged woman. ''How many STDs do you have? I'm pretty sure if they ever discover a new one, they're gonna give it your name. What the fuck were you thinking?'' he turned to point at another person ''And you, oh my shit how I loathe you. Do you know how sick and tired I am? Ooh, mommy and daddy abused me so I snort lots and lots of coke! Well, fucking get off it you sissy. We all have shit to deal with. I did not come here to listen to your whining.''

''Mr. Kuznetsov! That is way out of line!''

Boris glared at her.

''And you, you fucking bitch. You sit there all high and mighty, judging us like you knew anything. Oh sure, you dropped some acid in your youth but know what? We're not you, I'm not you, and I don't need this fucking shit!''

''Hey'' a man said, getting out of his chair ''Stop it. If you're going to ruin it for us, then just leave. At least we try to get better, this is helping us and I'm not going to let you piss all over it!''

''Says the man whose daughter drowned in the tub because he was too fucking drunk out of his ass to lift a fucking finger.''

The silence was asphyxiating. No one moved for so long Boris thought his ear drums would burst. The man sat down on shaking legs, looking knocked out of his mind, the guilt so overpowering for a moment he forgot to breathe. Boris just gave a rotten laugh.

''And you'' he glared at a woman, looking blonde and thin and excrutiatingly familiar. ''You live on deceiving people. You trick and you lie and you cheat and you ruin lives, you diseased bitch!''

The woman looked confused.

''I'm... sorry?''

Boris knew she wasn't her. This woman was much too old and much too thin, he remembered her name beginning with a T or an N. But he didn't care. Walking around empty for so long and finally feeling all the pent up wrath the pills had not managed to kill, only subdue for a while, was overpowering. He had too much anger, too much frustration and fear and confusion he knew not what to do with it anymore, so he just fired blindly at anything it would hit.

''God, things would have been so easy had you just fucking left me alone!'' Boris trembled, grabbing one of the plastic chairs he threw it in whatever direction he could find. It ended up crashing against a wall, leaving behind it a dent and a group of frightened, confused patients. ''You're all so fucking pathetic, things would just be better if all of you would just die already!''

As he silenced, the only thing audible above the terrified silence were his ragged, rabid breaths. But Boris only heard the thumping of his sick heart in his ear, feeling it pound and kick against his ribs the world spun for a moment. He steadied himself against a chair, his vision swimming momentarily.

Johnny scoffed.

''I've got news for ye, Bor'' he met the Scot's eyes which were cold and ruthless, yet in no way unkind. ''Ye're just like us.''

Boris bit his lip.

''No, I'm not'' he said, and he wondered if he sounded as tired as he felt. As if he had walked through the Russian tundra with a boulder on his back for years, never once stopping for rest or water. ''I'm nothing like you, I have - ''

''Control?'' Johnny nodded towards the shattered chair with a little snort; when Boris' eyes landed on it it was as if he saw it for the first time. ''That's not control, Boris. You're just as fucking pathetic as the rest of us. And unless ye wanna end up like this fella here - '' he nodded towards the alcoholic Boris had just berated, who was trying to hold back tears and failing ''I suggest ye sit yer bony ass down and fucking do as ye're told.''

Boris glared.

''I've done that enough and nothing's getting better. I'm wasting my time here.''

Johnny cocked a brow.

''Did ye ever stop to think that maybe it's not helping ye 'cause ye won't let it? Give it some damn time, Bor, ye ain't in a hurry to get anywhere. Unless ye're missin' someone...'' the last part was said with a wink, something Boris did not know if he should be angered or morbidly amused about.

Johnny patted the seat next to him, since Boris' chair was all in splinters anyway.

''Come on man. Whatcha got t' lose? Yer dignity? Yer pride? Well, I say that was all shot t' hell the moment ye fell down the bottle, besides'' he winked ''ye're among a bunch of losers, nothin' ye do will shame ye. I guarantee I've done something far worse.''

Boris looked at him, quietly and blankly. His head that had previously bristled with blinding, scorching anger, was now eerily silent. Staring at the group, the chair, then back to Johnny again, he eventually nodded and sat down.