“Can you goddamn hear yourself, Vassi?” Fyodor raged. “Do you know what you’re goddamn saying—-”
He said flatly, “I do.”
In the opposite room, Seri’s sobs hadn’t stopped, hadn’t even softened, and her pain hurt and strengthened him at the same time.
“I love you both equally, and I would not hesitate to give up my life for either of you.”
“Think about what you’re saying,” Fyodor said wearily. “Just think, Vassi. She’s your sister—-”
“She tried coming on to me, dammit—-”
He said fiercely, “She did it for me.”
And as soon as the words left him, Vassi knew it was true, and it was like having the burden of the whole world lifted from his shoulders.
“She did it for me,” he repeated, “and I just wish I had known it was so from the start.”
“Don’t let her fool you—-”
“The only time she tried to fool you and me, Papa, was when she wanted us to believe she was something she wasn’t.” His voice became raw. “Think about it, Papa. This is Seri – our Seri – we’re talking about. We all had a hand raising her, and you know – I know you know – you know how sweet she was, how innocent and loving. Do you really think—-”
“I know you don’t want to see it,” Fyodor gritted out, “but she’s lying. Her whole life she’s been lying—-”
Fyodor fell silent.
“I won’t try to convince you to believe me. It’s your choice. But just know – if I have to choose, I will always choose her. And I know it’s a long shot, but I hope – I hope you choose her, too, given the chance.”
He ended the call.
He listened to the sobs coming from the room.
I’m sorry, leech.
I should have trusted you more.
Rising slowly to his feet and feeling like an old man every second, Vassi made his way to the connecting door and carefully turned the knob. The door swung open noiselessly, and he entered the suite.
Seri was on her knees, her back to him, her shoulders shaking hard.
He stepped forward. “Seri.”
Almost falling out of balance as she spun around, Seri could only shake her head dazedly when she saw Vassi inside her suite. “V-Vassi? How did you – what are you—-” But then she noticed the connecting door next to him, and as the answer became clear to her, her lips twisted. “Adjoining suites for stepsiblings who fuck?”
She shook her head. “I’m not in the mood to talk.”
“If this is about Daniela—-”
She laughed humorlessly. “No, Vassi.” Wiping her eyes, she whispered painfully, “I almost wish this is about her, but it’s not.” Forcing herself to get back on her feet, she carefully averted her gaze from him, saying pointedly, “I’d appreciate it if you leave now.”
“I will – as soon as you give me the answers I need.” He came to stand in front of her.
She turned her face away. “I don’t—-” Hands suddenly cupped her face, and she gasped as Vassi forcibly made her look at him.
“Why were you crying?”
She squeezed her eyes shut. When had she become so weak that just hearing Vassi ask something so simple was enough to break her?
She shook her head. “It d-doesn’t matter.”
“But it does – if it’s because of what happened at the lobby.”
Her head jerked up, her stunned gaze meeting his.
He answered the unspoken question in her eyes, saying quietly, “Yes. I saw what happened. I saw everything. The way you made it so damn clear to them that you’ve changed—-”
Tears of humiliation stung her eyes.
“But more than that, I also saw the way you were crying just now.”
“And it doesn’t make any fucking sense. Why would you cry like that over people you don’t really care about?” His voice turned savage, and he demanded, “Why would you cry like your fucking heart’s breaking when you already have Plan Fucking B in the bag—-”
She managed to wrench away from him, crying out, “Stop it!” She was so, so tired of having her lies constantly thrown at her.
Grabbing her shoulders, Vassi snarled down at her, “Why should I stop? Can’t you handle the truth of what you’ve done? Is that why you’re crying? You feel fucking guilty about my father going to pieces—-”
“Shut up!” She let out a cry of despair.
“You want to know how he can only sleep when he’s drunk or taken pills—-”
“It’s all because you destroyed him.”
“You won, Seri. Are you happy now—-”
She slapped him, sobbing, “No. NO. NO!” She could no longer see him through her tears, but it didn’t really matter because right now all she could see was Fyodor—-
Sobs broke out of her, tearing her apart.
“I d-don’t want him broken,” she wept. “I n-never wanted that, and I don’t know what to do—-”
Hands clasped her face, and she found herself looking up at Vassi.
He was smiling down at her, and it was…real.