By midnightchan

>Ah, youngsters. You keep asking me that question. Come, come! I tell you it is quite the tale

>in the old country there are three vices to occupy a man, vodka, porn, and church

>working the tractor factory's long shift, I quickly became acquainted with the first

>As years passed the pleasant warmth gave way to an empty wallet. Now it just leaves me sad

>not being religious myself, I turned to the second to the anger of the third, only for the cycle to repeat

>if I wanted to live, I needed to leave

>It turns out that the new country is not so different from the old

>the cars are more expensive, the vodka is cheaper, and the vory here drain your credit card legally

>communism may be a dead god, but so is capitalism, unless you start with some capital

>Fortunately work is not life, and I was very lucky

>my friend Andrei says there's a monster girl challenging men to drink? an oni? no, something else!

>to humor him I go to the tavern. there I see here

>a beautiful winged lion with a most sinful tail - a manticore, as my time with the second vice taught me

>the locals give her wide berth, and when I walk over she looks at me like a well-seared steak

>No introductions, just a bet. Loser buys the drinks, and winner them home. I see no downside and agree

>she too prefers vodka, and by the fifth shot becomes talkative

>her name is Svetlana, she works as a security guard, and when not there or here she's in a band

>I ask her to sing, and she does

>it is violence against my ears. I compliment her anyway. one's drunk singing is sacred and beyond reproach

>by the ninth shot it's clear she'll lose, to anyone but her

>still, she's pleasant company, and leans on me more heavily the more she drinks, so I allow her delusions

>ten minutes later the barkeep cuts her off, but my victory is pyrrhic: expecting to win, she has no money!

>worse for wear myself, we take a cab

>the whole ride home she cries, first about the money, then that she's unlovable, not like her nurse sister

>I try to tell her that's not true, but even drunk I lack the courage

>In the morning the haze is gone, replaced by a headache, but the guilt is not

>sleeping she at last looks happy, her tail wrapped around my waist possessively. that makes it worse

>to assuage it I make breakfast, potato pancakes with a double helping of bacon

>as hoped, my mighty predator is lured to the smell

>she's at first confused, then red with embarrassment and frantic to conceal it

>I feel a prick, then a rising lust not justified even by her lingerie's poor try to rein in her curves

>while reason remains I turn off the stove, which amuses her. she unclasps her bra

>breakfast is cold by the time we return to it

>The 'spur' of that moment became a pattern in the following days

>sex blending with drink in a banquet of debauchery

>both of us desperate to fill the hole within, the gnawing ennui and whispered loneliness

>Svetlana liked to be on top and I didn't argue, not seeing her control there covered its lack elsewhere

>we didn't see then that the cycle was repeating, that desperate sex was blood kin to desperate boozing

>the signs of trouble were all there

>her dozens of text messages trying to track my movement like an inmate

>my little rebellion in ogling other girls at the bar, the elegant ones when I wanted to twist the knife

>the empty air between us when friends and drink had left the room, silence never easy

>and most of all the fact that her little needles didn't do what they used to do

>the Great Satan of hedonism, tolerance

>It came to head when I agreed to watch her concert, the opening act for a bigger band

>her excitement sadly did not translate to performance

>and unexcused by drink, I had to inform her that being part cat doesn't entail sounding like a dying one

>she was livid

>it all came out

>'you never care about anything that matters to me'

>'you never listen when I try to help, which is why you keep failing at them'

>'you worked straight through our one-year and claimed you forgot'

>'you still never paid me back for the first night'

>it got physical. I'd have fared poorly had not the oni bouncer stepped in, looking down sadly on us

>Needless to said, we didn't return home together that night. Or for many nights after

>that didn't mean life got better

>suddenly without her, I found there was nothing

>nothing to do. nothing to look forward to. even nights with Andrei seemed ephemeral cheer, and avoidance

>I drank and drank, but again no matter how drunk I was, I couldn't say the words I needed to

>and one night I drank myself into the darkness, and as I awoke, the hospital

>and there before me, a familiar white mane and prickly tail

>Svetlana? I asked, struggling against the dry numbness of the medication with renewed hope

>"Wait, you're the guy?" The voice was not hers; my hopes were dashed!

>until reason caught up with consciousness and I realized what that response meant

>I talked with Svetlana's sister long into that night

>Svetlana had fared little better than I

>always angry, always getting into fights, drinking alone and pushing away anyone who tried to help her

>if this was our end, we'd've saved some trouble by staying in the old country!

>I aired all my grievances, all the problems, now with distance even admitting my comfortable cowardice

>I expected mockery as is a failure's due, especially since family is still family, disappointing or no

>instead the nurse asked a single question

<What did you see in her in the first place then?

>And in that instant I was demolished as a man

>pleading my own sins atop my lovers was still cowardice, like a sick echo of the religion I do no believe

>courage meant more than that. courage meant changing things, taking action

>I recalled and recounted everything good in my relationship with Svetlana

>the way you two would sympathize after work, taking the edge off your shit jobs with jokes and drink

>the way she'd never back away from trying something, even if she was terrible, and drag you along

>the way she cared so much it was obvious, even despite her every attempt to hide it and seem tough

>and in those unguarded moments when she thought you were asleep how she'd lean on you and for once relax

>The nurse apologized for the last one; she'd teased her little sis mercilessly about leaving herself open

>and because now she had to ask you to intervene. The chasm of sibling rivalry was to wide for her to do it

>On release from the hospital you made good your promise

>oh, it was not easy

>you filled her phone with messages, repaying months of the reverse

>you searched the bars in town, only to find she'd been blacklisted or abandoned them

>finally, one morning at four AM your phone rang

>her voice was unmistakable, if worn and weary

>but you found your own wouldn't come

>it is quite easy to accustom oneself to failure. it is very different to succeed

>to this day you're not quite sure how you did it

>you just knew you couldn't stand by when she asked again and you heard the pain in her voice

I love you

>and you hung up

>After work the next day she ambushed you, screaming

>how the fuck could you do that to her? just say that and hang up?

>after all this time saying nothing. letting her doubt. letting her think it was only her

>letting her think she wasn't good enough

>then she kissed you. you kissed her back

>you didn't go to the bar that night

>just went home

>and for the first time, you really talked

>it was terrifying

>mostly you made small talk, about your lives. you still couldn't tell her everything you'd told her sister

>but like in the old country, there are some things everyone knows even if no one will say them

>at the end of the night you made a request. to be with her, but not her spines. to show what she was worth

>when she looked back, blushing as she nodded, you knew you'd finally won what she'd witheld: her trust

>And you upheld it by giving her a night she'd not forget, showing by deed what you couldn't put into words

>hands roaming over her body, tongues dancing with desire, at times leading, at times enjoying her reign

>and at the end, falling asleep in each other's arms

>in the morning I found Svetlana was already awake

>cooking breakfast. Potato pancakes with bacon

>she wore an expression I'd yet to see, and I paused in the doorway arch. until her words dispelled my fear

<This time, let's make it work

>The following days were vivid, the palor of life banished to the far corners of lurid doubt

>troubles still abounded, but dealing with them had changed

>both you and Svetlana trying to show goodwill in the small things, which made the large bearable

>like how even with her venom's diminished effects, her libido was no less, requiring your heroic endurance

>you discovered that manticores, like other beastkin, have a mating season

>one where they are even hornier than usual

>and that's more likely to lead to pregnacy, which has much the same effect on them

>some things are universal. in new country like the old, the family man takes the longest shift of all

>but this he bears gladly, for the joys that wait at home lighten the burden

>if nighttime brings a very different burden, well, that too he bears gladly

>and all this, my young friend, should give you the answer to your question

>why does the slav squat? he is tired. but it is the good tired, the consequence of pleasing his wife

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