Chapter One

When I wake up, it's to hear Mikhail screaming again. The sigh brushes past my lips and I realize it's just going to be another one of those days.

The scuffling in the room next to mine tells me that Anna isn't sleeping, either- and honestly, how could she in this racket? The alarm clock on my nightstand reads three-thirty AM, which, in my house, is not all that early. The workers are up and around earlier than this most days. For a while, I roll on my side and stuff my head under the pillow, trying to block out the screaming downstairs, but my bedroom is directly above the kitchen and they're just too loud to ignore.

My aunt and uncle fighting is not all that uncommon. In fact, it's normal by now. There is hardly ever a day that goes by without fighting in this household. It's Mikhail, always uncle Mikhail, because the drugs and the vodka make him insane. There was a time, what seems like forever ago, that he loved us. There was a time, when I was small, when Mikhail was calm. To anyone who's met him since then, it seems impossible, but those of us who knew him before remember who he used to be.

I've been living in Liberty City since I was 10. I was born in Moscow, Russia, but when my father's involvement in the mafia went too far and he and my mother were killed, I had to come here. I suppose I miss them, but I've really felt nothing but angry for my father's idiocy. Liberty City hasn't treated me all that well, but it's better than being in an orphanage back home. My aunt, Ilyena, is a kindly but definitely fragile woman. She wasn't always so shaky- like I said, when Mikhail turned to cocaine and vodka to ease his stress, he changed us all. I used to be softer, too. Kinder. But in Mikhail's household, kindness is not a extolled virtue. In fact, in the Russian Mafia, it's considered a weakness. It's taken me 11 years here to figure that out.

It's true that someone my age would be living on their own by now- I mean, I'm 21, that's a typical independent age- but it's both due to my own anxiety and Ilyena's fear that I'm still here. I'd be terrified to leave her alone, and I think she values having me here. Sometimes Dimitri isn't around to keep Mikhail off her back. And even then, sometimes Dimitri alone isn't enough. Sometimes it takes both of us.

Dimitri Rascalov and I have a strange relationship. I suppose you could call him a close friend, though that seems slightly too casual a term for what we are by now. Dimitri's the only one who gets what it's like with Mikhail. Ilyena never wants to talk about it and Anna, my cousin, is never around. Dimitri and I are both relatively sane and we're both constant targets. Whenever it gets bad with me and Mikhail, Dimitri is always the one I go to, he's always the one that listens. And I've seen Dimitri in the mafia and I know the things he's capable of, but there's just something about a man who helps you pull a raging psychopath off your aunt that you can't help but trust.

Eventually I kick off the sheets and sit up. There's no sleeping through this bullshit, and they're not going to stop unless someone stops them. I'm assuming Dimitri's either being ignored or he's not here, because there's been no cease in the argument. I toss the sheets back onto the bed and step out into the drafty hallway, not bothering to be quiet as no one's asleep anyway. The hardwood is freezing under my bare feet, and I can't help but think that somebody needs to show Mikhail how to turn off the air conditioning.

It isn't until I hit the bottom of the stairs that I get the gist of what the argument is about- Anna left yesterday, and apparently Ilyena didn't ask her where she was going. Maybe she should have asked, but it's not likely that Anna would have told the truth anyway. Even if nobody but Ilyena cares, Anna still likes to feel rebellious. Likes to feel like only she knows her agenda. I guess it's part of the American Teenager high she's on- rebel against your parents, do stupid shit, and pay for it all later. Personally, I don't see the sense in it, but if it floats her boat, then whatever.

The first thing I see when I arrive at the scene is the shattered vodka bottle, lying in pieces on the floor, and inadvertently opening a few cuts on my soles, and then burning as the vodka subsequently enters them. Ilyena's at one side of the table and Mikhail's at the other, and Dimitri's long since given up between them, now slumped on the couch with a hand over his eyes, speaking to one of the workers- Andreiy or something like that. Sometimes you just have to wait it out, intervene when he gets physical. Which he already has, judging from the fantastic bruise blossoming on Ilyena's cheek. Maybe Dimitri wasn't fast enough for that one.

-ask your own damn daughter where she is going!" Ilyena is screaming when I weave past them to the back of the kitchen, which is where we keep the cereal and the refrigerator. "You could take some initiative yourself, instead of relying on me to-"

"My daughter," snarls Mikhail, "I'm the one who wanted to kick her out! I spoil her rotten, I take care of both of you, and what do-"

I try to tune them out, blend them with the buzzing in my ears, and go about making cereal. I have to hold the cereal bowl with both hands as I make my way back to the couch, as Ilyena chooses that moment to back up and run into me, sloshing milk onto the floor. Oh well. We've got enough of a mess to clean up anyway, what with the vodka bottle, so a little milk won't make much difference.

I see Dimitri's eyes flicker to me through his fingers as I sit on the couch next to him, and then he sits up a little, pulls the hand from his eyes. "Good morning."

"Morning," I say, folding my legs criss-cross and starting in on my breakfast. "How long have they been at it?"

"Nearly an hour," he says. "I gave up around a half an hour ago."

"Probably wise," I say through a mouthful of cereal. "They're beyond caring at this point, I think." It's true. There comes a point where nothing and nobody matters to them. It isn't until Mikhail leaves that Ilyena comes back down to Earth.

This has been my life for the past 11 years. I doubt it's going to change anytime soon, but it moves along, I suppose. I get by. I have a part-time job at Drusilla's in Algonquin, which you might think is odd since it's an Italian Mafia-run restaurant, but as long as Ray Boccino and I pretend we're not from rivaling Mafias, I'm okay. Sometimes I think he only hired me because he feels bad for me, which is bullshit, but I get paid and nothing else about it matters.

The thing about this life, though, is that you can never tell what's coming, and that's what I hate. You could come home to find everyone you love dead. You set out every morning wondering to yourself if you're gonna make it home, or if you'll end the day in the slammer or lying on the concrete with a bullet through your head. I've been in an American prison before, and it was bad, but not so horrifying as what I imagine death to be like. But even despite that fear, I move along.

A/N: So I'm taking a shot at a multi-chapter again. I'm not a very fast chapter updater, what with school and all. Once summer rolls around I'll be a lot more efficient.

Please review- it doesn't matter what you think? You liked it? Review. You found some things wrong with it? Please review. You hated it and want to beat my face in with a brick? By all means. :)

Chapter 2 will be up soon!

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