Chapter 4 - A Last Drink

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"How do you stand him?" Rocky asks.

It's been just over a week, and Ivan is so used to Balboa being around that he doesn't like to think about when he isn't.

"I don't know how you do it," Balboa says. "he's a headcase, that's for sure."

They're walking along a strip of road Ivan isn't familiar with. Balboa has a habit of leading the way, and Ivan has a habit of following without question. Yesterday they ended up in an old mans pub, and one of the old men had stared and asked them if they were lost.

Ivan felt his face heat up and wanted to leave, whilst Balboa laughed and got into a strained conversation with them about the differences between Russian and American beer.

Now Ivan is getting used to when Balboa does things like that, or at least he's starting to learn what to expect.

"So. Are you ever going to stand up to that guy? Or you gonna just, you know, keep acting like his pet robot, or something?" Balboa stops at the corner of some street.

Ivan turns to face him. "pet robot?" he wonders.

Balboa snorts. "yeah. Look, I'm not tryin' to be rude or nothin', but he's playin' you a fool, Drago."

Ivan considers. Balboa hasn't really stopped ranting about Nicoli since that incident in the gym. He doesn't want to let it go, and Ivan is confused and fascinated by it.

He keeps wondering if it's because Balboa actually cares.

"Nicoli is my superior," he decides simply. "I have to take his orders,"

"you don't have to do anything, you lunatic," Balboa starts to say something else, but then seems to think better of it. Instead he just looks Ivan up and down and shakes his head, smiling a bit. "c'mon. Let's make the last drink a good one,"

Ivan lets Balboa take his elbow, realising that this is his last night in Russia.

He didn't imagine he'd be sad about it, but there it is.

"Maybe I'll achieve the impossible, and get you drunk?" Balboa grins.

8

They go to a bar Ivan has never seen before. All streaking lights and loud disco music.

Ivan pushes some money into Balboa's hand.

"For me?" Balboa puts on a girlish tone and laughs. "thanks, Drago," his tone is sincere though, and Ivan leans on a table, watching Balboa's back as he goes to get the drinks.

There's figures dancing all around him, but Ivan isn't keen on anything like this at all. If he could he'd be outside, or maybe even at home.

He wonders if he really is a robot sometimes.

He blinks up and notices Balboa is talking to a women at the bar. She's curling her hair round her ear and laughing.

Ivan looks away. At least he'd be able to talk to Balboa at home.

"Hey," Balboa taps his shoulder and puts a drink in his hands. "Thought maybe I was gonna lose you in all these crazies for a minute,"

Ivan follows Balboa's gaze all around, barely noticing that a group of women have been edging around him, closer and closer.

"D'you want me to save you?" Balboa smirks around his drink.

Ivan swallows, obscenely embarrassed, and nods his head.

Balboa grabs his arm and pulls him away. "sorry, ladies. He's taken."

Ivan lets Balboa drag him through the crowd, through the blur of lights and dancing bodies, and then to a dark corner of the bar.

"Perfect," Balboa says, and takes a seat. "we'll be safe for...oh, about five minutes, maybe?"

Ivan tips back his drink, wanting to disappear with his embarrassment.

"Does it ever get old?" Balboa is still smirking at him.

"What?"

"You know what. You could have your pick of anyone in this room."

Ivan frowns at the table. "I don't think so,"

"Sure you can,"

"I am married," Ivan tells him. It's far harder to say than he'd thought.

Balboa leans back in his chair. "Yeah, but you wouldn't know it,"

Ivan looks at him, feels like he's been hit harder than any punch he ever got in the ring.

"What do you mean?" he holds his glass a little tighter.

"Just what you think," Balboa mutters, stirring his drink with an idle finger.

Ivan feels hot and uneasy. For once he's thankful for the blasting music, thumping against his ears, and the distracting shapes of people dancing around them. Anything to save looking at Balboa for another moment.

A few people are staring at them like vultures, Ivan stands and goes to the restroom.

8

Inside it's much cooler, and the pounding music is just a dull thump against Ivan's head.

He leans against the tiled wall and Balboa's voice echoes about his mind, like he knows everything.

"Are you mad with me?"

Balboa is standing in the doorway. He looks kind of upset.

"think I needed a bit of um...fresh air too," he looks at the stained urinal stands and curls his lip. "those girls love any old american accent, apparently."

Ivan pushes away from the wall, and shakes his head. "I'm not mad,"

"Even if you sometimes act like a robot, you don't lie very well," Balboa steps properly into the room, smiles half heartedly. "Look, I'm sorry I said that about your marriage. It's not my place to say stuff like that. I don't know what goes on with you and your woman. So I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Ivan says automatically, and feels resigned. "it is not...much of a marriage."

"I'm sure it's not that bad,"

"It's not bad. Just...disappointing." Ivan can't think of any other way to describe it.

He has seen the way Balboa looks when he talks about Adrian. It's something Ivan doesn't think he'll ever know.

The touch of skin over his hand startles him to his senses. He blinks to find Balboa's hand there, vaguely touching him, but his attention is on the door.

"C'mon. I think the crowds died down a bit. We can survive one last drink, right?"

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They leave after a few more than one last drink, and Ivan feels dizzy and wonders if Balboa can tell that he's having trouble walking properly.

Balboa's shoulder bumps him, and then Ivan realises he's just as drunk.

Balboa hugs himself. "Man, it's cold."

Ivan looks sideways at him, thinks about offering his jacket, but hesitates too long.

Balboa walks ahead, "where are we, anyways?"

"I'm not sure," Ivan says, and he still doesn't recognise the street at all. He's not worried, though. For once, he's kind of relaxed. He ambles a little closer to Balboa. "Are you...are you going back tomorrow, then?"

"Yeah, around midday. I think the kid's missing me."

"Your wife, too?"

"Oh, she says she don't, but I can tell when she's winding me up, you know?" Balboa smiles, mostly to himself it seems. Ivan envies that look, how Balboa seems to recall a fond memory with such ease.

For a moment Ivan wishes he was a part of whatever it is.

"You gonna miss me?" Balboa asks. He sounds like he's joking. He probably is, but Ivan answers anyway, not having to think;

"Yes,"

"Yeah?" Balboa looks at him, like it's such a shock. Then he laughs and pats Ivan's shoulder. Even though he's drunk, his expression seems to sober when he looks at Ivan properly. "well, me too. Hey, wait a minute," He stops walking and digs around in his pockets. "It's here somewhere."

Ivan stands there, swaying in his own vague intoxication. He finds his hand is rested on Balboa's shoulder, and Balboa is holding his arm with his free hand, like he's keeping him upright, and he knows Ivan is such a lightweight. It probably looks really strange. Ivan doesn't really care.

"Damnit," Balboa curses. "I'm sure I brought it with me-"

At the same time a voice yells. It's very close to Ivan's ear, but Ivan reacts too slowly.

He hears a cry and then he sees Balboa on the floor, holding a bloody lip.

There's a man standing over him, and something metallic is shining in his hand.

He swears in Russian, but doesn't get a step closer to Balboa.

Ivan cuts in between them and pounds his fist straight into the attacker's gut.

The man drops the knife and falls like a dead weight.

"Shit," Balboa scrambles to his feet, eyes wide. "Is he...?"

Ivan doesn't care about that. He holds Balboa's shoulder. "are you okay?" he asks. The blood on Balboa's lip looks black in the dark.

"Yeah, man. Don't worry," Balboa is still looking at the fallen attacker. "Shit." he says again.

Ivan tears his gaze away from Balboa, and then feels sick. His hand is throbbing a bit with that punch, even though it was clumsy. He keeps forgetting he's kind of a good boxer.

He doesn't want to have that guilt again. Even if it's just for some stupid tramp on the street.

For a moment he is petrified, then he notices the man's chest moving, and a groan escapes his mouth.

"You big dope," Balboa laughs unevenly. "I thought you killed him,"

"So did I," Ivan kneels down. The weight of this relief is sudden and overwhelming. His legs feel unsteady. He rubs a hand roughly over his face.

Another shadows falls across him.

"He'll be okay," Balboa says gently. "well, maybe a bit brain damaged...but seems like he probably already was," he attempts to joke, and Ivan appreciates it somewhere in his frustration.

"I was stupid," he murmurs. "that was stupid."

"Hey, you're my hero," Balboa corrects him. "Could've saved my life."

Ivan stares at the knife, lying a few feet away. "Could have killed him,"

Balboa sighs. "let's just get this bum to a hospital and we can forget about it."

8

A hospital turns out to be just down the road, and they leave the tramp in the waiting room, slumped between a Coke machine and a man muttering something about his pregnant sister-in-law. Ivan and Rocky leave when a nurse comes over to see to their crazy tramp.

Outside, Ivan calls for a cab and pays for it to take them home.

Balboa laughs about his attacker, and wonders if most Russians are out for his blood or if it's just a one off sort of thing.

Ivan feels sleepy and kind of sick. He really is a lightweight. Still he enjoys listening to Balboa talk.

Outside Ivan's house, they stand for a few minutes, not really awkward, but there's a strange atmosphere. Ivan notices that Balboa's lip is still dark with blood.

"Do you want something...for the cut?" he asks.

Balboa touches his lip. "Nah. thanks. Ain't nothin' compared to the ring, right?" he grins, and then grimaces with the way it makes his lip throb. "Nice right hook, though."

"I'm sorry," Ivan feels obligated to say. "Not everyone is...crazy,"

Balboa laughs, in a knowing way. "Oh, I figured that."

Ivan can feel Balboa's eyes on him for a few long seconds. Then Balboa seems to have a light bulb moment. He searches in his pockets again.

"ah, I knew it was here somewhere," he takes out some little rectanglar tab with a victorious face. "Here, you keep this," he puts it in Ivan's hand.

It's a ticket to America. Ivan stares at it blankly, then at Balboa.

"Why?"

Balboa shrugs. "I dunno. Just in case you ever wanted to drop by again. I can give you a proper tour. I even got a robot butler," he pauses, "Plus, America can be pretty alright, y'know?"

Ivan thinks he understands what Balboa's saying. Somehow his heart beats a little faster, and he can feel himself smiling at the ticket. He puts it in his pocket.

He doesn't hesitate or anything, when he takes Balboa's hand and gives it a firm shake.

"Thank you," he says. "It was good to see you again, Balboa," he means it.

"Look. Call me Rocky. Everyone who saves me from drunk Russian tramps does," Rocky smiles in an earnest way, like he hopes that Ivan will call him that.

Ivan looks at the ground, but smiles too. "okay."

He can't bring himself to say it yet though.

"Take care, Ivan," says Rocky.

8

Later, as he's lying in bed, Ivan stares at the ticket. It's there on the bedside, waiting for him to pick it up and fucking use it.

He knows Ludmilla will be angry, but that's the point.

Ivan turns over and looks at the empty spot where Ludmilla is supposed to be. He places a palm over the cold sheets.

Whether she leaves him or not, It won't make any difference. And this is probably the only chance he'll get, to give her a reason to leave.

He tries to wait till morning, but only manages a few minutes.

He picks up the phone.

Balboa's voice is groggy but amused on the other end;

"Guess I'll pick you up at noon then?"

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