Disclaimer: I own nothing. Lackadaisy belongs to Tracy J. Butler.
The first time it happened, Viktor attributed it to her age. She was newly-fifteen, and had the naïve confidence that all fifteen year old girls have; the belief that life is their oyster, just waiting for them to open it and use it, that bad things only happen to bad people, and if you look hard enough, someone, somewhere, is out there looking for you, too. Viktor knew this because Ivy had informed him of her particular beliefs along with many other details of her life he hadn't wanted to know while they had been waiting for Atlas to return from some business meeting before her birthday party could begin. ("I mean, look at Mrs. M and Atlas! They found each other, didn't they?").
And as a newly-turned fifteen year old, Ivy was abuzz about boys. (Yet another thing Viktor wanted to know nothing about.)She seemed determined to find her soul mate in St. Louis. Viktor silently longed for the year before, when Valentino had been her obsession (which had been perfectly alright with him, seeing as Valentino would have shown as much interest in Ivy as he would any other starry-eyed girl). But now, she was showing an interest in real, breathing, St. Louis boys, and even worse, they were showing an interest back.
Viktor did not approve.
He did not approve of the leering looks they gave her, the far too low-cut and far too short dresses she wore now (he fully blamed Mitzi for this development), the flirtatious looks she gave them when she walked down the street. She was his girl, his dieťa, and still entirely too innocent and good to be behaving in such a manner.
And of all the boys that were now drooling like hlúpy idioti whenever she went by, she had gone and picked Cecil Scott.
He was seventeen, towered more than a foot taller than Ivy, had black fur and green eyes. ("A total dreamboat." Ivy had sighed. Viktor had resisted the urge to hit himself over the head with the nearest blunt object.)
Cecil was…no good.
Oh, he was polite enough, greeting Atlas with a "hello, sir, it's nice to meet you" and a chaste kiss on the hand for Mitzi, a cordial head-nod to Mordecai, and a terrified wave in Viktor's direction. And other hand? It had been around Ivy's waist during the entire meet-and-greet process.
Viktor did not approve.
It was this constant touching that bothered Viktor; Cecil's hands were always on Ivy. Resting at her hips when they were milling around waiting for the band to start playing, lingering at her elbow when they walked through a crowd, even brushing over Ivy's ohorok when they danced (she had startled at that, and Cecil had quickly apologized, clearly thinking no one had been watching.)
But someone was always watching, and that someone was Viktor.
Ivy, despite thinking of herself as a "grown woman, and I don't need a hoity-toity babysitter, Viktor!", was far too young to have a boy even thinking of touching her in the way Cecil was, let alone actually touching her in the way he was currently doing-psie krvou, were American boys not taught respect? Viktor's solitary eye narrowed. Dieťa was far too innocent to know what Cecil was attempting, and far too kind to accuse him of anything but accidental touches.
After another near miss between Cecil's prying hands and regions of Ivy that should never ever be touched (or thought about being touched, or even thought about at all), Viktor decided he would need to have a chat with the boy once his prekliaty ruky (and the rest of him) were away from Ivy.
A chat in the sense of all the bones in the boy's hands being broken. Possibly just a few broken fingers, if Viktor was put in a better mood before the opportunity for said chat arose.
Unfortunately for Cecil Scott, he made the mistake of dipping Ivy back in the middle of the dance floor and kissing her for all to see.
An emotion bubbled up in him as he watched Ivy blush and Cecil smolder down at her, and it clawed at his chest and he could've sworn for a short moment, he saw red.
Ivy waved at him from across the room, and Viktor's eye met Cecil's. The boy seemed to realize some semblance of what he was in for, and Viktor could see his adam's apple bob apprehensively even from the distance between them.
Ivy momentarily dashed away, called to Atlas' table by Mitzi.
Viktor saw this as his opportunity.
Cecil saw his life flash before his eyes.
And one week later, Cecil had still not returned.
"Can you imagine Viktor? Cecil said an entire shelf of books at the store just collapsed on top of him! He's got a black eye and his voice sounded funny, so I guess it messed with his mouth too, and he says his hands were pinned and he's not sure if he'll be able to write again! Isn't that just ghastly?" Ivy asked, worriedly swinging her knees back and forth from her perch in the garage.
"Ya." Viktor said, keeping his head down so she could not see his smirk, "terrible. But it better that vay, dieťa. No use for vychudnutý zvrhlík, anyvay."
Ivy sighed and returned to her magazine, silently wondering what on earth a va-chu-di-nu za-hwee was.
The second time it happened, Viktor blamed it on the fact that Claude Evans was an unimaginable scoundrel.
Ivy was seventeen now, more grown into her body, more aware of said fact, and even more aware of how this added to her allure to boys. She simpered and flirted and smiled saucily and batted hands and fluttered eyelashes and blushed far more than Viktor would have liked to have seen. When he mentioned this to Atlas, the older man had merely shrugged, a fond smile on his face. Atlas loved Ivy, loved her enough to never want to try to subdue her or make her feel as if she should be something she was not (as many at the Lackadaisy knew her parents did, both intentionally and unintentionally.) As such, her dresses were even-more low cut and even-more leg revealing than before (which, alone did not trouble Viktor, and thinking back he realizes this should have been his first clue as to why all of these boys bothered him without even knowing their names), and her hair, recently cut shorter than ever, swung in a way that practically drew rogues in by the droves.
The worst of all of these to claim her attention was Claude Evans.
Twenty years old, an orange tabby with blue eyes, just a bit taller than Ivy in her highest heels, the boy had a Cheshire cat grin that suggested far too much to a girl who likely didn't truly understand the nature of what her flirting and sultry smiles meant.
Oh, he was attentive, always listening to Ivy (Viktor admired this, as he often tuned her out himself), always ready with a joke, an offer for his jacket if Ivy was cold, always ready to run and get her a fresh drink, should she need one.
And Ivy seemed to genuinely like him. She tended to act as if she hadn't seen him in months when he came into the Lackadaisy, sprinting across the room much to the amusement of Atlas and Mitzi, just to throw herself into Claude's arms.
Viktor did not approve.
"You know, if you keep breaking glasses, the entire symmetry of the china cabinet's going to be off." Moredcai noted dryly. Viktor blinked, just now registering that the glass he had been holding in his hands was now little more than powder. Atlas gave him a confused look from his seat next to Mitzi. Viktor gave him a curt it's nothing nod, and cleaned the mess up, scowling.
Claude and Ivy had now made their way to the middle of the dance floor, with her laughing in her typical exuberant way. The sound made Viktor's ears prick, as they had since she was thirteen, always on the alert for where she was and who she was with. He had long ago given up trying to hide the reaction. Mordecai gave an uncharacteristic snort.
"You are talking about vhat?" Viktor growled. Moredcai removed his glasses to polish them, ignoring Viktor's furious glare.
"Nothing." Mordecai said. Viktor grunted, and returned his gaze to the dancing pair. "Only that I do sometimes wonder if when you lost your eye your mind went along with it."
Viktor's aforementioned eye snapped back to his stoic companion.
Mordecai merely gave a light shrug before putting his glasses back on. Viktor cursed softly under his breath, more confident than ever to disregard most of what his companion said.
His eye was already focused back on Ivy and Claude, who for all appearances, seemed to be having a decent time together (Claude was better than Cecil in one respect, as his hands were never anywhere they shouldn't be).
But when Ivy danced away for a moment, either talking some other unfortunate soul's ear off or just merely dancing with a random victim plucked from the crowd, Viktor watched as Claude beckoned to another girl, who looked scandalized by his attempts. The debile was undeterred, and winked at the girl just as Ivy returned to the table.
"Were you winking at someone, Claude?"
"Me? Winking? Don't be ridiculous, Ivy darling, I just had something caught in my eye, that's all."
And then later, another time Ivy had wondered away, he was off again, making moves on another girl, even daring to go so far as to brush needlessly against her as he passed by. She was far more receptive than the first girl had been, and leaned across her table to giggle at Claude's devilish smile. Viktor glared at the pair. The girl, who was clearly far more intelligent than that prekliaty Claude, took one look at Viktor, and uttered a tiny eep of terror before quickly making her escape. Claude looked up with a scowl to see what had chased his newest conquest and met Viktor's glare.
Viktor had never seen anyone go quite so white before, and he had seen people in far worse situations than the ničomník was in.
Ivy returned to their table a few minutes later only to find it deserted. She tapped the nearest girl on the shoulder, who coincidentally was the girl who had rejected Claude's advances.
"Say, have you seen my date?" Ivy asked.
The girl shrugged, eyes nervously darting the door where she was certain she had seen the fella being escorted out of. "I think he may have been getting a bum's rush."
Ivy's eyes widened and she began scanning the room for Claude. "From who?"
"Aw, don't mind Clara." The nearest boy said. "He was goin' outside for a smoke, I think." Ivy twisted her lips, but with the rest of the adjacent table assuring her he had just gone outside for a cigarette, she was appeased and returned to the dance floor.
Claude, however, did not return.
Three weeks later, Ivy pouted from behind the cash register. Viktor noted this, and knew it would only take a few moments for her to divulge the reason for her gloomy mood.
Viktor gave a grunt, which Ivy, who had spent years deciphering Viktor-speak, knew this to mean to continue. "He says he fell down the stairs in his dorm and broke his leg! The doctor says he's not sure if he'll be able to dance anymore, and his parents don't want him putting any pressure on it…which means I'm out of a dance partner. Again." She sighed. "I just have the worst luck, don't I?"
Viktor's shoulders shook in silent laughter. Ivy gave him a puzzled look.
"What are you laughing at, Viktor? It's very serious! Claude could've broken both legs," Viktor's laughter increased, now actually being able to be heard, "Viktor stop laughing!—and he could've never been able to walk again or get to his room, which, now that I think of it, he lives on the first floor, how could he have fallen down the stairs…he must have been visiting a friend! Of course, Claude's so personable, you know, just the bee's knees…" Ivy continued and Viktor slowly tuned her out.
The grin did not fade from his face.
The third time it happened, Viktor had long run out of valid reasons and settled for the old standard; that he was being protective of her.
Of course he was being protective of her, he had known her since she was a child, had watched her grow, laugh, play, cry, and become the girl—no, woman—she was now. And Atlas was gone, and her own father was a zbabelý bastard who knew nothing about what his daughter wanted, let alone how to guard her from boys (Viktor had started with protecting her from thugs, and was actually beginning to miss those days. At least there had never been the danger of her running off with them.) There was no other reason for him to growl at the sight of every new beau, no reason for him to want to rip the arm off any boy who pulled her close, no reason at all, other than wanting to keep her safe. Because if it wasn't protectiveness, the small, repressed piece of his conscious whispered to him in the late hours of the night, it was possessiveness.
Atlas' death had changed her. Hell, it had changed them all. The Lackadaisy now limped along without him, and Mordecai and the booze that had always flowed in such abundance were gone as well. And Ivy? She was eighteen now, eighteen and fully grown and beautiful and headstrong and filled to the brim with life and love and laughter, though tempered with experience. Her eyes, once so blind to what the Lackadaisy was, were opened, yet she did not leave. She went to extensive lengths just to stay in St. Louis, despite the danger.
Viktor did not approve.
They had argued countless times over this matter, her insistence to remain in the city, but she would hear nothing of leaving. She was in the University now, with friends, and a good shot at being successful (if she'd stop purposefully failing classes so her parents wouldn't force her to come home in the summer). And though so much had changed, their relationship of bickering and bantering (nonverbal on his half), had not, and for some bizarre reason that made him irrationally happy.
Well, as happy as Viktor Vasko could be.
Smiles were not involved. (At least, not ones visible to the common eye.)
But, of course, she still drew boys in by the droves, but without Atlas' indulgent encouragement over each one, no matter how suspicious, her taste improved drastically.
Which explained her newest beau, Chad Alexander.
He was her age, a fellow student at the University, with tan fur and yellow eyes, roughly a few inches taller than Ivy, and a think Southern drawl.
Bad in the sense that Viktor could find absolutely nothing wrong with him. He was polite to Mitzi, made friends with Rocky, faced Viktor with only the slightest tremor in his voice, and the most touching Viktor had ever witnessed between Ivy and Chad had been dancing or hand holding. He held doors for Ivy, helped her with her homework, would visit her at work in the Little Daisy, would even walk her from the University to wherever she may have been going.
Viktor did not approve.
He did not approve because as he watched the pair, and indeed they were a pair, as Ivy had neglected her other "boyfriends" as of late (who all had names that began with C…Viktor wondered if Ivy realized this or had been doing it subconsciously), he saw the signs of puppy love, and that alone bothered him more than Claude, Cecil, Christopher, Caleb, Cole and all the others ever had.
The pair (even thinking the word left a horrible taste in his mouth, much like Mrs. Bapka's cooking) was sickeningly sweet together. Nicknames were used, little nuzzles were exchanged, along with a lot of sighing and long looks.
Viktor did not approve.
One night, Ivy walked Chad outside, to say last minute good-byes. Viktor followed, of course, and stood silently behind the door as the pair talked.
"Look, Ivy," Chad began, nervously twisting his foot on the pavement, "I…I like you."
Ivy giggled and Viktor muffled a groan; chudáčik clearly had no idea how to talk to a woman.
"I know, Chad, I like—"
She was abruptly shushed, albeit gently by Chad. "No, no, doll, you misunderstand. What I mean is, w-well what I'm trying to say is…"
Ivy's back was to Viktor but he could picture her face. It was the same face she had given him time and time again; the adorable cross between admiration and exasperation, with her eyebrows drawn together and a tiny, encouraging smile on her face. Viktor blinked. Adorable? Psie krvou! Viktor shook his head as to remove the thought from his brain; as it was, Chad had found his voice and had resumed speaking.
"Well, I uh, I uh…I think I'm…I'm stuck on you, Ivy."
Ivy's sudden gasp indicated that this was a positive development (at least from her point of view.)
Viktor, having never grasped the concept of English slang, was momentarily perplexed. Stuck on her? Had the boy somehow lassoed himself to Ivy and now could not get free?
Viktor did not approve of this "stuck on you" nonsense.
There was no more speaking, which led Viktor to believe the pair was now kissing.
He could not see, did not want to see, did not even want to think about it. With Cecil and Claude and Christopher and Cole and all the others, it had never really mattered whether Ivy kissed them or not. Why? Because it had been obvious that she, no matter how much she may have liked the boy at the time, had never felt anything deeper than an attraction to them. Clearly the case was different with Chad. There was the low rumble deep in his chest that he had come to associate with Ivy being with a boy; he could not name it, but oh how it rankled.
And that maddening little voice in his head started speaking.
Jealous jealous jealous jealous jealous, it whispered.
Which was ridiculous, because Viktor Vasko did not get jealous.
He lived a lifetime before Ivy had even been born. He had loved and killed and grown cold before she could even wrap her sweet little mind around such concepts. Why on Earth would he be jealous of the completely unworthy swine that hovered around her, as irritating as flies? Jealousy was a petty emotion, found in those who still felt. Still had a heart to break.
You do have a heart. And she has it.
Viktor noted that his inner voice sounded annoyingly like Atlas.
Atlas, who had always been insightful about people; he had seen Mordecai for what he was, and Mitzi, and Ivy, and even Viktor himself. This did not help. Viktor was willing to concede that he was perhaps the smallest bit jealous. But only because she was the only one who saw him as more than a killer, less beast and more of a man, as Viktor, not as a mindless brute, and now she had her time consumed by other things.
Good God, you great idiot, it's because you lo—
Viktor stopped the voice short.
No. No, no, no, no, NO. That word in regard to Ivy Pepper could never be thought. Of course he cared about her, that wasn't the question. But love? Viktor had long forgotten its meaning. It was safer that way, and at the very least, he was unsure if he even knew how to anymore. That ability had been lost, with his family, his eye, his knees, and so much else, in the Great War, and even here, in St. Louis. He scowled as he stalked back inside. In the midst of his inner turmoil most of the patrons (including Chad) had apparently left and now the Lackadaisy was mostly empty.
Zib and Rocky were clearing off the stage, Mitzi was leaning across a table, flirtatiously smiling at Wick, and a few other people were lingering, still talking. Viktor ignored all of this. He moved back to his customary place behind the bar, resuming his typical glaring stance. Ivy plopped herself down on the nearest bar stool and beamed up at him. Viktor did not give her his typical nod of welcome, which Ivy knew to mean something along the lines of 'hello, nice to see you', as Viktor would never say such a thing. Her smile dimmed.
"Viktor, is something the matter?" He did not answer, and Ivy grew visibly worried. "Are your knees bothering you? It's a bit cold tonight, and Doctor Quakenbush said that that can cause joints to ache, especially if they've had any kind of stress on them, which clearly yours have, so maybe you should sit down? It's not like anyone's going to order anything now, it's far too late and everyone is skedaddling anyways, Chad's already gone, only Wick and his cronies are left, and that's just cause he's sweet on Miss M, but anyways, if your knees are bothering you, I really don't anyone will mind if you sit down, and you really shouldn't stand on them for too long, they only just really healed…" She kept going, the anxious worry in her face the final straw.
She cares for you, Atlas' voice whispered sharply.
He felt incredibly old and worn, and at the same time his heart gave a lurch so strong he nearly had to reach out a hand to steady himself on the bar. Perhaps she noticed his sudden lack of balance, for she fluttered over to him, dragging a stool behind her.
"Really, Viktor, no need to be stubborn!" She set the stool down and practically shoved him onto it. Her paws were feather-soft and tiny on his arm. His heart gave another lurch then, and he cursed it, cursed himself for not being smarter than this, cursed the whole damn world for putting him in this situation, hadn't he already been through enough already? Ivy gave an irritated huff and suddenly one of her paws was on his cheek and she forced him to look at her. Her golden eyes, luminous and beautiful (had they always been like this and he just overlooked it? Or had he always known and was now just allowing himself to notice?) bore into his solitary green one. Her paw remained on his face, as if he would look away the minute she removed it. It felt even softer there than it had on his arm.
Viktor momentarily forgot how to form coherent thoughts.
"I swear you're not hearing a single thing I'm saying tonight! Do you need ice or something? Viktor! Viktor Vasko, are you in there?"
He managed to give a growl. "Dieťa, I am fine. Vould you stop vith the touching now, ya?"
Ivy's paw vanished so quickly Viktor would have believed she had been touching a hot stove rather than his face.
"Well why didn't you say so then? I was afraid Rocky had dropped something on your head or something and then I'd have to slip poison into his pancakes for being deprived of our lovely conversations…"
Viktor's mouth nearly twitched into a grin and he caught the mirroring smile on Ivy's face. He cannot remember an expression meaning as much to him as her smile does.
Which is why, when two weeks later, Ivy and Chad had their first big fight and Ivy cried, all of Chad's legs and arms were broken.
Of course, she figured it out. Ivy's a smart girl, and Viktor had made the mistake of glaring at her possible new interest (Calvin/Freckle? Pre pánajána, the boy is related to Rocky, of all people, which means Ivy's standards had fluctuated yet again.)
Viktor does not approve.
"…YOU'RE the reason Chad is afraid of me! It was you. Wasn't it? What can you possibly have to say for yourself?"
Ivy crossed her arms, looking distinctly grumpy. "Oh really? And Claude? That was your work too?"
"Let me guess—flawed?"
"He vas. Uhh…"
"Oh don't bother answering that. Nothing rhymes with Cecil anyways."
"Terrible name. And also he vas no good."
"What's no good is you sabotaging my social life! I thought we were friends!"
It took every ounce of Viktor's considerable will-power not to laugh at this statement. Ivy's relationships to these boys were not her social life; they were her love life. And friends? Friends didn't beat up friends' significant others for petty reasons. Friends didn't wake up in cold sweats from having unrepeatable dreams about their friends. Friends weren't consumed with the thought of all the dangers their friends faced just by staying in the damn city. He had long since crossed the line between protection and possession. No. He was not Ivy's friend.
He could hear the anger, the hurt, the confusion in her tone. He had to say something, and decided on the safest route.
"You have alvays these reasons for staying here you shouldn't have. You should not be here at all. Last night…"
There was so much meaning behind that sentence she doesn't understand; like how when the farmer had pointed his gun at her Viktor had had a sudden vision of what might have happened; her lifeless, cold, those golden eyes dim forever and that ever-running mouth of hers silenced; and it had haunted him in his sleep, both last night and during his attempted naps during the day.
"You mean at Lackadaisy? But I went to all that trouble so I could stay for the summer. And now you're not my friend and you don't want me around?" Her voice was so small, so sad, just as it had been when she was a child and she had been caught doing something wrong. It made his heart twinge in a way it hadn't in years. "What's this about? You're bored because you can't do all the horrible things you used to do, so now you're playing concerned patriarch?"
He could not meet her eyes. This was one of the only times she had ever mentioned the fact she knows what he has done, and it struck him even more silent than usual. Concerned patriarch? He had never felt less like her father. Fathers did not dream of their daughters kissing them. This he knew. He stole a quick glance at her and saw the furious look he knows all too well on her face.
"Well, either way, you're just a monster." That made his heart lurch yet again, but in the most unpleasant way possible. She had never called him that before. "Here." A sandwich was tossed at his head. "Your neighbor made you a questionable sandwich. You can eat it by yourself." And with that final remark, she stormed outside. Viktor grew more irritated by the second; he had done everything for her and was trying to keep her out of trouble and alive and she had the nerve to call him a monster? He hobbled to the window and threw the sandwich at her feet as she fumed past. He shut the window quickly and was unable to make-out what she yelled back at him.
They did not speak for weeks.
He had not expected her to apologize but if Ivy Pepper was anything, it was unpredictable. She had stomped over to him one day, and Viktor had expected to be berated yet again for "interfering in her social life" but instead she threw her arms around his neck and held on tightly.
"You're not a monster, Viktor." She mumbled. "I'm sorry."
He wanted to tell her he is and that's all he'll ever be but then she turned those eyes up on him and they were shining with tears and regret and please please please forgive me and his skin felt like it was on fire where she was holding on to him and he had never been able to tell her no in the first place so he nodded.
"Is okay, diet'a. I am…sorry also."
The tears vanished and she smiled happily up at him.
"Well good, you big lug. No more beating up my boyfriends! They're not all bad, you know, but I guess you may have been right about Cecil…and Claude…but Chad? Come on, Viktor, he was probably the nicest boy alive, and you broke both of his arms and legs."
"He made you cry."
Viktor froze. The words had just tumbled out of his mouth; he had not meant to say them aloud. Ivy blinked for a moment.
"You beat him up…because he made me cry?"
Viktor did not answer. He looked away from her. Ivy's paw caught his cheek (Psie krvou, she needed to stop doing that or his heart might actually give out) and his eye was forced back to hers. There was wonder there, admiration, apprehension, and a glimmer of something he couldn't (wouldn't) put a name to. "Why?"
There were so many answers he could have given, ranging from the worst, I love you, to slightly better, he didn't deserve you, to the crazy, because I wanted to.
He settled for the one that would make her smile.
Ivy rolled her eyes, but a grin pushed the corners of her mouth upward.
"Oh, very clever, you cranky curmudgeon."
He took this to mean a truce between them, and things continued as they had always been. She brought boys in, flirted, danced, and he scared them away (albeit without breaking any (many) limbs, as she had made him feel rather(somewhat) guilty about that).
But sometimes, when she thought he wasn't looking, Viktor would catch Ivy giving him a strange look out of the corner of her eyes. It was different, this stare, but not at all unpleasant.
Eventually, someone else figured it out too. Of course the entire Lackadaisy crew had had suspicions for years now, but most of them were either too smart or valued their lives too much to bring the matter up with Viktor, and were less sure of Ivy's feelings on the matter, so they had stayed silent.
So of course it was Rocky, who lacked both in tact and sanity, who sidled up to Ivy one day, with a smirk that stretched his face to the near-breaking point.
"Jeez, Rock, you got an edge already? It's only eight!" Ivy scolded. Rocky's grin failed to dim.
"If I've got an edge it ain't from the booze…" Rocky said, waggling his eyebrows, "Come on Miss Pepper, level with me for a minute."
"What are you talking about?" Ivy said. Rocky's goofy grin only grew wider, resulting in Ivy groaning and covering her face with her paw. "Look, if you aren't going to tell me, I'm going to go dance with Freckle—"
"NO!" Rocky suddenly burst, grin vanishing. Ivy blinked, stunned.
"But…you were fine with it before!"
Rocky's eyes shifted nervously around the room. "Well, that was before I knew…oh come on Ivy, you have to have figured it out by now!"
"Figured what out? Rocky, you're acting awfully strange tonight…did you get another bump on the head? Another frustrated farmer take a shot at you? You really shouldn't go on those jobs alone, you know what happened last time."
Rocky waved away her concern. "No, no, I'm swell Miss Pepper, really."
Ivy crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. "Then what is it then?" Rocky gulped and hazarded a glance at Viktor, who was lurking at his typical post, looking intimidating and dangerous as usual. Ivy mistook his silence and gave an exasperated sigh. "If this has anything to do with the phrase 'struggle buggy', Rocky, I swear to God—"
Rocky burst into laughter. She'd hit closer to the mark than she could've possibly known.
"Don't you think it's odd how your 'boyfriends' always 'disappear' within an hour of showing up here, especially if they're touching you?"
Ivy's cheeks flamed. "It's not…it's not that strange…"
Rocky was flummoxed. Was it possible she actually knew? Damn, now the fun would be ruined for him. "You know, don't you."
Ivy bit her lip, nodded. "I figured it out when he gave Freckle that look—you know, the one where it looks like he's trying to set someone on fire with his eyeball?—and he told me."
"He told you?" Rocky screeched. Ivy gave him a puzzled look.
"Of course he did. I already knew, of course, and I was so mad when he admitted it—"
"Mad? Why would you be mad about him being in love with you?"
Ivy's eyes went as wide as Rocky had ever seen them go. Ah shit. Her mouth opened. And closed. And opened. And closed.
Miss Ivy Pepper, has a cat finally caught your tongue?
"What…what did you say?" Ivy's voice was a shriek. Rocky cringed as Viktor's near-paralyzing gaze swung towards him.
"Miss Pepper, shh!" He shushed, hunkering down in his seat, making sure he could not be seen from behind Ivy. "I thought you knew!"
"KNEW?" If possible, Ivy's voice had gone even higher. Now half of the speakeasy was looking at them, confused and intrigued.
Rocky bumbled over speech; "I mean, it's totally obvious, n-n-no one goes through that much trouble to keep boys away from a dame, not even one as good as you, Miss Pepper, and the way he looks at you, like you're the only thing worth seeing…Zib's had a bet going for months now, and I don't want Freckle to end up missing an appendage—"
Ivy was staring at him, flushed a bright pink. Rocky stared back at her for a moment before giving a tiny awestruck gasp.
"You're carrying a torch for him too!"
"W-w-what? No, no, no, it's Viktor for God's sake—I mean, not that he's not…but I don't…I can't-!"
Rocky's huge grin from earlier returned.
"Are you going to go for a ride in the struggle buggy with Vi—"
Ivy slapped him across the face and Rocky fell from his chair.
"Shut up, you great rag-a-muffin!" Ivy hissed.
Rocky made kissy faces from where he lay upon the floor. Ivy gave him a hard kick, but Rocky was continued, undaunted. Freckle appeared and gave the pair a confused look. Rocky leapt to his feet and away from Ivy's increasingly more painful attacks.
"Ah, Freckle m'boy!" Rocky said grandly, throwing an arm around his cousin. "Is not young—well, maybe not quite so young—love not a grand thing to behold?"
"Rocky." Ivy growled. Freckle looked back and forth between the two, still perplexed. Ivy's murderous gaze (which Freckle suspected had been perfected after spending most of her childhood in St. Louis with a certain one-eyed former bootlegger) was lingering on Rocky far too intently for Freckle's taste.
"I think I'll do us both a favor and excuse Roark." Freckle said quietly. Rocky opened his mouth to protest but was silenced by Freckle's stern glare. Ivy gave a prim nod. Freckle latched onto one of Rocky's arms and yanked him away.
"Just let me know if you're going to need the struggle bugg—" Rocky's last tease to Ivy was cut short by him running into something hard. And breathing. And orange. Rocky's eyes drifted up to Viktor's face. "Ah, the man of the hour himself!"
Viktor did not approve.
Rocky, sensing that Viktor's gaze would most likely roast him (slowly) from the inside out, wisely took a step back. "Viktor! I was just telling Miss Pepper here about—" Rocky's voice died away as the weight of Viktor's glare hit him. "Right. Leaving now."
Quickly Rocky and Freckle scuttled away. Viktor's eye flicked over to Ivy, who was now sitting alone at her table, eyes down to the floor. Suddenly, her eyes jumped up to his. They were searching for something and there was an almost haunted quality about them that hadn't been there before…it made Viktor distinctly uncomfortable.
"Diet'a? Vhat is vrong?"
Ivy gave a tiny shrug, looking away from him again. "Nothing, nothing. I think I'm…I'm going to turn in early tonight." Viktor gave her a confused look and; was that regret? Ivy shook her head and brushed passed him, giving his arm a gentle squeeze as she went. Her heart nearly stopped when his large paw covered her own tiny one, trapping her in place.
"Alvays, you vere a terrible liar."
Ivy gave an unnoticeable gulp as her eyes diffed from their touching paws ("For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch, and palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.") to his eye, that had always been able to see through her falsely innocent smile, had seen her at her best and at her worst, that had watched her dance and flirt and coo…and if what Rocky had said was true, watched her not just as a friend. She gave a tiny smile, hiding her thoughts behind a mask.
"I'm fine. Really. Just a bit tired."
Viktor's eye narrowed; she knew he did not believe her. Under his stare the rest of the world seemed to fade away and all she could focus on was that eye and that paw.
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers, too?
Ivy, at that thought, quickly but softly extracted her paw from under his, and hurried out of the Lackadaisy.
Ivy found no sleep that night. She flopped on one side, rolled to the other, laid on her back, arched on her stomach. Grumbling, she decided on reading, something that could usually distract her from just about anything. She leaned on her side and picked up one of the many books on her cluttered nightstand.
It was Jane Eyre, and Ivy gave a happy sigh. It was one of her most favorites, with the tortured Mr. Rochester, the passionate and truthful Jane Eyre herself, and the love between them. Ivy tore through the book (she had lost count of how many times she had read it), sighing at the banter between the pair.
It was the perfect book, she decided. True love prevails, happy ending and all, for Mr. Rochester who suffered so much to get there, and for Jane Eyre who was strong enough to retain her own personality and the love of a man. Previous agitation forgotten, she promptly rolled over and went to sleep.
Ivy would later realize that one suffering emotional turmoil should never read a sweeping romantic novel before going to sleep, as very odd dreams tended to occur as a result.
Such as dreams with her in the role of Jane Eyre, and none other than Viktor as Mr. Rochester.
(At this, her mind protested, but a small, niggling part of herself annoyingly asked who better to play the unpredictable, cranky, but somehow endearing hero?)
She woke up with a jolt, as the last bit of her dream had been word for word from the book, the only exception being Viktor's accent mangling the real Mr. Rochester's impassioned words.
The innocent book was promptly flung at the floor, and Ivy uttered a frustrated scream.
That's it, Ivy, you've finally lost your marbles.
Viktor as Mr. Rochester? Preposterous! As if he would ever make such a lovely speech, to anyone, let alone her…
Ivy felt her cheeks flush at the thought, and smothered herself with a pillow.
Rocky's accusation from earlier in the night resounded in her ears again.
"You're carrying a torch for him too!"
No. No! That was just…Rocky, being Rocky. Yes. That was it. She could never, ever think of Viktor like that—and with that thought, she gave a haughty sniff and forced herself to go to sleep.
Her subconscious was clearly delighting in torturing her, and her dreams were less fantastical and more like a montage of memories.
And the only thing that connected the memories was one Viktor Vasko.
Rocky was right.
Ivy burst into Viktor's apartment, as she usually did. Viktor was not in his usual chair. Or, as Ivy discovered when she explored around his apartment, in the kitchen. Or his bedroom (which she had discreetly peeked into). Confused and somewhat disappointed, she left, moping to the Little Daisy. Mitzi and Rocky were inside when she walked in.
"Morning, Ivy dear." Mitzi greeted. Ivy gave her a tiny nod and a half-smile.
"Why so blue, Miss Pepper?" Rocky asked. "No rides in the 'struggle buggy' last night?"
Ivy sent him a poisonous glare. "Not that it's any of your beeswax, but no, no 'struggle buggy'," she made a face at the terminology, "rides. Is that all you think about?"
Rocky grinned. "Mostly. But if you're looking for your co-struggle buggy-er, I do believe he's in the place where a struggle buggy would be." Rocky's eyebrows waggled. Mitzi sighed and rolled her eyes, having given up a long time ago on trying to understand Rocky-speech.
Ivy, however, understood the message.
She flew across the restaurant to press a kiss to Rocky's forehead, "Thanks, Rock, thanks!" before running back outside.
Rocky's face was flushed pink as Mitzi shot him a confused look.
Ivy tore into the garage, flinging the door open with a loud bang. There was a sudden clang and a quick curse from under the car.
"Viktor?" Ivy called tentatively.
"I really, really, really need to talk to you."
There was another muttered curse, and Viktor appeared out from under the car. Ivy's heart seemed to expand just at the sight of him.
How did you not know? And here you were, thinking you were so smart and worldly and educated when you didn't even know you were in love with someone that you've probably loved for…for forever until ten hours ago!
Ivy's courage suddenly shrunk. Where was that brave and amazing speech she had recited in her head? It sounded stilted and silly and immature now. But he was standing in front of her! Waiting! Focused on her, only on her…she looked up and color flooded her face.
No, he was not Valentino handsome. Or particularly talkative. Or a Saint, or even what most would define as a good man. But he was Viktor and that was enough for her. Had always been enough for her.
"I…I…well, I, um…"
Viktor's mouth twisted up in a half-smirk.
"Diet'a, vithout vords? First time for everything."
Ivy flushed even deeper. Her eyes flicked back to the ground, where she seemed to take extreme interest in the oil spots on the floor.
Her behavior was odd, to say the least. Viktor was both amused and for some strange reason, nearly frightened by it (though he was not afraid of nearly anything, at least not anymore). She was trembling! And she still would not meet his eye. It made him…nervous. Yes! That was the word; as if he could feel something sneaking up on him but was powerless to stop it. Ivy shifted from one foot to the other. Viktor's eye was glued to her. There was no reason to hide his look now; she was not watching him and no one else was present to mind. So he looked at her, unguardedly and with all the things he could not say hovering in his mind.
She was beautiful. She was so young. So kind, but fiery, and so loyal and uncorrupted, and there was such potential for greatness in her. More than there had ever been in him. He did not deserve her. He was old. And weak. And broken. She deserved someone whole. Kinder. Wiser. With hands not tainted by blood and years and dirt and grime. It was better this way. She would find happiness with some chlapec that was younger and handsome and funny and anything else she could ever want. It would kill him, to watch this, to stand by and say nothing, but he would do it. For her.
And then her eyes met his, and his knees, already stiff and sore from clamoring around under the car, nearly gave out.
Her eyes were as clear and transparent as the surface of a still pond.
I love you.
She didn't have to say it. It was written on her face as clearly as if someone had taken a pen and drawn the words on the walls, the moon, the sky.
A solitary tear welled up in her eyes, but the message was still there, still snaring him where he stood. His heart thudded. His throat went dry.
"You always could see right through me." Ivy said. Her voice was soft, as if he would spook at any sudden loud noise. "I don't know why I expected this to be any different."
"You shouldn't." Is all he can manage to choke out. Ivy shrugged. She expected this.
"I don't think I really get a say. Or if I did, I gave up that chance a long, long time ago." She said. She was moving closer.
Viktor did not approve.
How could he approve? He was wrong for her; the wrong man, the wrong choice, the wrong everything. He would be so incredibly selfish to claim this…this…kvetina for his own. And then she was directly in front of him. One paw drifted up to his face, and gave it a tug so he would look at her.
Those eyes caught him again.
I love you.
"It'd be nice if you'd say something back, you know, Viktor."
He could not answer. Anything resembling an understandable language, English or otherwise, had vanished; she was so close, so close, close enough that if he were to take a step nearer, she would have fit right under his chin, her ear would have been pressed to his heart…he could not recall the last time being close to someone was both heaven and hell, both torture and the sweetest pleasure. He could not have moved if he wanted to. And oh how he wanted to.
The silence drew on, and Ivy's smile fell from her face.
"I'm wrong aren't I? Oh, God, what was I thinking? Please, don't ever look at me again…" And her paw was wrenched from his face and she moved away.
The words lodged somewhere between brain and mouth; they burned painfully, scorching, aching, flaying his poor throat raw with their intensity, and yet, they would not pass his lips. Ivy rushed out of the garage, pausing only once to give him a look that would've killed a lesser man; a look so confused, so full of heartbreak and disillusionment and I love you that Viktor felt any breath that had been left in his lungs after the look before that whooshing out of him. He might as well have taken a punch to the stomach. He would have rather taken a punch to the stomach. Cursing, he slung the wrench across the garage and sat down on the work bench, cradling his head in his hands.
He was, quite possibly, the biggest idiot in the entire world.
Any sort of noise would've been better than silence. A strangled half-groan, even. But no. Instead his throat had closed up as if he were a teenage boy again, unsure and soft and scared, like the armies that seemed to follow her with their eyes wherever she went and he stood there and let her practically admit to being in love with him and he still had not spoken.
He slammed his fist into the bench and reveled in the pain.
Good. At least this wasn't a dream.
It was just a waking nightmare.
Viktor did not move from that spot for a very long time.
And that night, everything seemed like a play. He put on his mask of indifference, grunted at Rocky when he made some inane comment, spared Mitzi a semblance of a smile, and took up his post behind the bar, scowling and scaring the pants off of anyone who came too close.
People asked for drinks.
He made them.
It was fine.
Zib and Rocky played some ridiculous song up on the stage, calling for Mitzi to come and sing, because she hadn't in ages.
Wick sat in his usual seat surrounded by his cronies.
It was fine.
A throng of people came in.
Young. Laughing. Moving rapidly towards the dance floor.
One of those people happened to be Ivy.
And, quite suddenly, everything was not so fine.
That strangled noise that he had not been able to get out of his throat earlier was finally heard with a vengeance, and the few people sitting at the bar gave him very confused and nervous looks.
She was dressed—no, she was nearly undressed—in the tiniest excuse of an outfit he had ever seen her wear, and drahý Bože was that a garter and she was beautiful in a way she had never been before, dangerously so, and his heart, because it was undeniable that he had one, no matter how much he was loathe to admit it, twisted and tightened in his chest just at the sight of her,and she was laughing and flipping her hair and batting her eyes at any boy, every boy, and they all were staring after her, tongues practically hanging out of their mouths. Viktor could hardly blame them. He was fairly certain his jaw had joined the glass that had just clattered to the floor.
He shouldn't be looking. She was not his. He was wrong, wrong, wrong for her, and he knew it, and everyone knew it.
But those boys should not be looking either.
Viktor did not approve.
In fact, it took every ounce of his considerable will power not to yank the shotgun hidden under the bar and demonstrate just how much he did not approve.
And things were quickly progressing from not-so-fine to worse.
Ivy, in typical Ivy-fashion, had attracted the attention of the worst possible person in the entire speakeasy; Carlo De Luca. Italian, suave, and more connected to the Mob than any person at the age of 20 should be, he oozed charm, seduction, and danger.
Ivy appeared to be enjoying the ooze.
Viktor did not.
Carlos' arm slid around Ivy's shoulders.
Viktor's hands twitched.
Ivy's mouth turned up in a smile in response to something Carlo whispered into her ear.
They danced for a while, spinning and dipping.
Rocky watched the entire scene similar to how one would watch a train wreck, and was amazed that Carlo was still breathing.
"5 bucks says the rube's dead before the night is out." Zib said.
The trumpet player snorted. "10 bucks says it happens in the next ten minutes. Vinegar Tom looks ready to explode."
And then, while Zib argued that Viktor, being experienced in taking fellas for a "drive", would wait until there were far fewer witnesses to murder the Italian idiot, the other shoe dropped.
Carlo's hand somehow found itself nearly up the bottom of Ivy's dress.
Ivy may have been a flirt, a bearcat, and (as a few boys had informed her) a tease, but she was not easy, and most certainly not pushover, and she shoved Carlo away from her with all of her strength.
The entire juice joint froze. No one messed with Ivy Pepper in the Lackadaisy and left with all limbs intact.
Viktor was torn between the desire to go on a barbaric rampage (because that's where his brain was at the moment, ferociously screaming something along the lines of woman mine) or go across the room and pummel the slimy scoundrel who would dare touch Ivy in such a manner.
And Viktor, being a man of action, decided on the latter. Scarcely seconds after Ivy had propelled Carlo away from her, Viktor seemed to appear right out of thin air between the two. Carlo, ever smooth and unruffled, peeled himself off the floor and gave Viktor a questioning look.
"You got a beef with me, big six?" Carlo sneered. Viktor took one step closer and his hand was around the spodina's throat.
"Ya." Viktor growled. "I have big beef."
Carlo's eyes were as wide as dinner plates as he struggled to breathe, scrabbling against Viktor's hand and gaining no purchase. He might as well be trying to escape from a trap of Houdini's for all the progress he was making.
"Viktor!" Ivy was hissing, kicking at his shin. "Put him down."
Viktor's ferocious glare shifted from Carlo to Ivy. Ivy glared back at him, an embarrassed blush coloring her cheeks.
"Did you vant him to touch you?" Viktor asked. Ivy's blush flared from pink to red, and her eyes widened.
"Viktor! Why would you even—to think that I—No I did not!"
Viktor gave an affirming nod and turned his glare back to Carlo. "Hear, spodina? Gentlemen not touch a lady when she does not vant, ya?" Carlo, whose face was quite nearly blue by now, attempted to nod. Viktor released him and took a step back, still between him and Ivy. "I think you vere leaving now."
Carlo nodded hastily, yanked his coat from where it had been resting on the back of his chair, and was out the door in under a minute. Suddenly everyone in the Lackadaisy seemed very intrigued by the glass or person nearest them. Viktor's face remained a deathly calm, and he steadily made his way out of the room, letting the heavy wooden door slam behind him. Ivy was frozen for perhaps two seconds before giving a furious noise and storming after him.
No one spoke, as if they were all straining to hear what could be happening out in the corridor. Mitzi waved frantically for the band to start playing, which they did with reluctance.
"Pay up." The trumpet player muttered. Zib groaned and handed him the money before giving a long wail on his saxophone.
The crowd was sufficiently distracted.
Viktor did not turn as the door to the storage room swung open with a bang. He continued idly sorting boxes of booze (even though they had already all been organized earlier in the day by Rocky) as Ivy slammed the door shut behind her. He heard the tap tap tap of her foot on the floor, revealing her level of irritation.
"And what," she began, her voice a low hiss of anger, "in the hell was that, Viktor?"
Viktor did not turn around.
Ivy decided that the quality she hated most was his inability to just talk.
"No." She said, marching to Viktor's side and giving him as strong a yank as she could. "No! You don't get to do something like that and then not answer!"
Viktor gave a slight stumble (his knees had still not recovered from rummaging under the cars earlier) that much to his horror turned to a near fall before Ivy's arms braced him up.
She was surprisingly sturdy for one so much smaller than him, and held her ground well, her anger vanishing from her face. "Are you alright? Is it your knees? Here, sit, sit!" He found himself forced onto a large crate. Ivy fluttered around him, anxiously placing one paw against his knee.
If Viktor had thought his knee was burning before, now it felt like it was currently aflame.
His eye drifted up to hers, where she was intensely looking into his face for the slightest hint of pain. "Don't think I've forgotten how completely infuriated at you I am." She said softly. "But it's not worth your knees."
Viktor still did not speak.
Ivy's brows knit together in an adorable cross between frustration and concern.
"Look Viktor, you can't just…say nothing like you did today in the garage and then knock my date out, I can handle myself you know, and I know you have this bizarre need to prevent me from being taken advantage of, but I've managed just fine for eighteen years, and these fellas are easy to manage, especially when I can threaten them with you, but that doesn't mean you can just go punching every single one that looks at me funny, or holds me too close, or dares to, I don't know, like me? Because you've made it perfectly clear—"
Suddenly Ivy's breath flew out of her in a whoosh.
At some point in the middle of her rambling speech, his much larger paw had covered hers atop his knee. She gulped, looking down.
If there had been any air left in her lungs, it would've vanished in the next moment, because Viktor's other paw was suddenly under her chin and tilting her head to look into his eyes.
"Just because I did not say," he said, his voice steady, "does not mean I do not feel it."
Ivy opened her mouth. And closed it. Opened and closed it again. Viktor could not help but smirk at her expression, which earned him a pair of narrowed yellow eyes.
Viktor waited for Ivy to launch into a tirade or to berate him.
Ivy did neither.
For once, she didn't say anything.
Belatedly, it occurred to Viktor that she was returning his treatment from earlier (however accidental it might have been on his part), and was now forcing him to be the one to explain further.
Viktor did not approve.
He still did not think he was the best choice for her, the one that could make her happiest, and he did not approve of his own feelings (deep as they were, he was so much older than she, and he knew what it would like to others, Hell, what it looked like to himself).
But he approved even less of having to watch one more man touch her, charm her, smile at her, dance with her, even kiss her, while he seethed with unspoken rage and, yes, jealousy.
"Not everyone is as good vith vords as you, Ivy." He began. "I am not a young man…I am set in my vays, and my vay does not involve many vords…even vhen I vant to speak, I have found silence better. Better for many things, though," he paused, giving her a significant look, "not all things."
"Do you think I don't know that?" Her voice was gentle, soft. "I don't want to change you, Viktor, though I do wish you would talk more because sometimes I have no idea what's going on in your head and…it something I would like to be able to know. I get that I'm a chatterbox and talk far more than what's considered normal, but sheesh would it have killed you to say something before I left that garage feeling like a naïve little girl?"
Viktor gave a nearly unnoticeable snort. "You are a naïve little girl," Ivy scowled and Viktor continued so he could avoid being kicked in the shins, "but zhat does not mean you vere vrong."
Her eyes snapped up to his and that emotion from before was back, blazing just as passionately and trapping him in place, just as before.
"Do you mean it?" She asked in a hushed voice.
Viktor's voice had deserted him again, so he gave a slow nod.
If he had thought the emotion in her eyes was excruciatingly beautiful before, it was even more so now, and quite suddenly her arms were flung around his neck, nearly knocking him from the crate. She hugged him for a long moment, and he savored what had been forbidden before; the feel of her, so petite and fragile, the sweet smell of her hair, the brush of her dress against his own clothes.
She leaned back to look into his face. Before she could lose her courage, she pressed a kiss to his cheek.
Viktor's mouth fell open and Ivy giggled at his shock. She moved her mouth close to his ear.
"Sometimes, I don't need words either."
And with one last kiss to his other cheek, she flounced out of the storage room, grinning from ear to ear.
Viktor did not move for a very, very, very long time.
Ivy reappeared in the speakeasy, and thankfully was ignored by most of the crowd.
Rocky, however, was less easy to avoid.
"So Miss Pepper," Rocky drawled, "the struggle buggy getting any use?"
Ivy gave him a sharp elbow to the ribs, but Rocky knew he saw a tell-tale blush on her cheeks.
Months later, when someone finally caught Viktor pressing an obviously non-paternal kiss to Ivy's forehead (and her returning, equally undaughterly-like kiss to his lips), Zib owed Rocky an obnoxiously large sum of money.
Ivy still had dance partners, but they did not kiss, woo, or even touch her without explicit permission from the intimidating bartender.
He still didn't approve of many things, Rocky being one and the way men still looked at Ivy being the other.
He didn't approve of said dance partners, but hey, no one in recent months had left the speakeasy with broken appendages.
This alone made Ivy happy.
And for once, Viktor approved.
Author's Note: This idea got planted in my brain about two-three months ago by xcgirl08 (who also gave me lovely feedback and ideas) and I just had to write it. I love these two, despite the EXTREME unlikelihood of this pairing ever occurring. But hey, that's what hopeless romantics are for, right?
I tried so hard to keep them both in character, but as I wrote this over the course of a few months, and not all in one sitting, I worry it might sound a bit choppy.
But, overall, this is one of my most favorite things I've written to date.
Feedback, comments, constructive criticisms (but no flames!), and most of all REVIEWS would be greatly appreciated :)
Hlúpy idioti: Stupid idiots
Psie krvou: Dog's blood!
Prekliaty ruky: Cursed hands
Vychudnutý zvrhlík: skinny pervert
Ničomník: cad, scoundrel
Chudáčik: poor boy, poor thing
Pre pánajána: For God's sake
Drahý Bože: Dear God