Daniil opens his eyes and inhales.
There's a cough in his throat that he swallows down as he scans the room. None of the refugees pay him any mind, his bag is unmolested from where he dropped it before he collapsed onto the spare bed Lara had promised him yesterday. The woman herself is in her room, he can see her at his current angle, head bowed over a book and staring glassy-eyed at the pages.
The sky is dark when he rolls out of the bed and sets his feet on the floor. He checks out the window and there they are, the street lamps lit, the too-dark sky, the haze in the air from the dirt blowing in from the Steppe. The clock over the mantel says it's after ten, which means he has less than two hours to get to the city centre, to get to the theatre for tonight's performance.
He coughs into his fist, clears his throat, closes his eyes for a moment until they stop watering. He has one sheet left at the bottom of his bag, but still has a spare set of gloves in case his current pair rips. If he finds something good by tomorrow he'll be able to trade for more medicine, at least. Another sheet or two to protect him from the creeping menace along the walls of the houses of the diseased.
The strap on his bag strains as he tosses it over his shoulder, on his way out the door. He's laden with filled water bottles because he couldn't find anyone to trade with before he had to escape to safety. He was too busy keeping one eye over his shoulder at the gathering of children that followed him from place to place, appointment to appointment.
Olgimsky the Elder grinned at him when they met at the man's front door. He had nodded his head, waggled his eyebrows, skimmed his oily gaze over Daniil's shoulder to leer at the girls and boys drifting around the fence to his property. Daniil wanted to snap, you have a daughter their age, but he hadn't. He was trying not to cough, didn't want the trouble.
The Shelter's front door closes behind him, heavy thud that echoes in the empty street. He peers at the darkness. Is that a belligerent walking along the canal? Does he dare to even chance it?
Once, back in the Capital, he had the attitude and confidence to walk along the empty streets on his own. He would hurry, of course, self-preservation comes for us all, but he had a reasonable expectation of being left alone, of making it from point A to point B with little to no stress. He'd leave the University after hours, leave the hookah bar even later, and no one attacked him once.
Last night on his way back to Eva Yan's place he had to stab a diseased rat to death with his last scalpel. His viewpoint had already changed by then-- that change had come about with the first rat, the second, the third, and the tour of the abattoir with its sickly smell clinging to his hair and eyelashes-- but it certainly clarified a few crucial things to his worn-down psyche.
There's a bin down the street nestled in next to the stairs leading up to some poor family's front door. He goes there first, peeks under the lid as quietly as he can. Footsteps are everywhere in this town, even so close to midnight. He can hear the shuffling of inflicted even now, the stronger strides of the ones doing the affliction thumping out an echo during their nightly hunting.
A razer is in this one. He pockets it quick, careful not to nick his gloves. Under that is a bit of wax paper, which he investigates with one finger.
It's a half-eaten sweetmeat crawling with ants. Daniil frowns and bites his lip. There's a blockade going on and everyone is starving. Who would...?
Someone is coming closer, so he abandons his curiosity and the rubbish bin altogether in favour of ducking into the shadows and waiting.
A woman walks past him by herself, shawl drawn up tight and eyes wide as she hurries along, street lamp to street lamp.
If he were a better man he would offer to escort her home, get between her and the thief who will inevitably find her. But he's not, so he waits until she's far enough away and then ducks through the shadows in the direction of the bridge he needs to cross to get to the theatre.
Here's another bin, near the playground that comes up to the bridge. This one he wanted to check earlier today, when he was on his way to The Shelter for some rest. There was still a herd of children dogging his steps so he didn't, because he knows Klara talks to the children, and if they told her what he was doing she absolutely would tell Artemy.
This one has two empty water bottles in it. He carefully extracts them, shakes out some dirt, and packs them into the spare space of his bag slowly so the glass doesn't clink together.
He assumes Artemy just walks wherever he wants and to hell with everyone else. None of this shadow to shadow nonsense. It's enough to make a man resentful, if Daniil was the sort to feel resentment.
The bridge is in sight, and as he surveys it for passing violent people he decides not to delude himself. He absolutely is the resentful sort.
There doesn't seem to be anyone around. He can pick out shadows that are still, the hulking form of the water barrels in the back of some fellow's overgrown yard. How they manage to keep these full is beyond Daniil's understanding, but he doesn't want to question it where anyone can hear and any repercussions can be devised.
The plague bells are ringing, somewhere in another neighbourhood. He's going to have to get his map marked at sun up if he wants to avoid things until he can get another few sets of sheets.
No one is stalking the canal right now; Daniil is lucky tonight. He holds his bag to his side to keep it quiet and runs across the bridge, keeps going as fast as he can so no one can pop out of the dark and catch him.
It's a relief to see the lit up plaza of the community theatre house. He doesn't slow down, he allows his lungs to rattle him right up to the door and inside the building.
He's the last one in, because of course he is. Klara is sitting like the child she is on the edge of the stage, legs swinging and humming some nonsensical tune. Her hat is off her head for once, hair wild with static and grease.
Artemy stands from his seat on one of the benches, stares right at Daniil with that heavy brow and blank eyes of his, raises one of his hands in a gesture. Daniil translates the movement as, what is this, then?
Another cough is coming, and if Daniil is really looking to humiliate himself, a good series of wheezing will come after that. He tries to dodge Artemy's gaze and slumps himself over to a pillar, leans against the side that shields him from the room, breathes steady through clenched teeth and tries counting backward from one hundred to see if that calms him.
"Interesting entrance, Bachelor," Artemy says, at his shoulder. Daniil hiccoughs in surprise, then gives in and covers his eyes with one hand.
A hand wraps around his wrist, tugs his hand away. Daniil tries to glare as best he can with watery eyes and Artemy, the bastard, shrugs an affectation that is uniquely him, a motion that has always said to Daniil, ah, what's there to be done about this, do you think?
Artemy digs into one of his cavernous pockets and produces a metal flask, holds it out. Daniil raises his hand automatically to take it but the dissonance of wait, what causes him to hesitate, leave his hand empty and hovering midair like a fool.
After a moment Artemy sighs. "You look like death," he explains.
Daniil's hand remains frozen in the air. He's not parsing this, what is in the flask? Why is he--
Artemy grunts deep in his throat and shoves the flask into Daniil's hand, uses his own fingers to force Daniil to grip it tight and flip the lid off with his own thumb.
"It's just Raki. It isn't going to kill you, schoolboy." He releases Daniil, jerks his chin in a well, go on sort of way. "I drink it myself and I still live."
"You could drink a gallon of petrol and still remain upright," Daniil snaps before he thinks better of it. "Why are you giving this to me?"
Artemy rolls his eyes; it makes Daniil grit his teeth.
"If you faint during the performance they might stop it to tend to you, and we'll be stuck here all the much longer." Artemy rolls his shoulders, rubs at the back of his neck with one hand. "It was a long day, and I have things to do. Don't want to be here all night, understand?"
"Things to do, he says," Klara sing-songs over by her perch on the edge of the stage. "Going about the town, warbling little lovers, where is my tomb?"
"I also don't want to be in the same room as that brat for longer than I have to," Artemy says, slight grin making his teeth look sharp in the dim light.
"Your focus on diligence isn't impressing who you think it will, heritage witchdoctor!"
Daniil sighs at the both of them. His headache had lessened with the sleep, but their nattering on is taking away any progress made and with great painful prejudice.
"Fine, fine," he mutters, then takes a healthy swig from the flask.
It was a horrible mistake to accept anything from the bloody amateur, because the contents feel like acid flowing down the back of his throat and it makes him start to cough. And cough. And cough.
A heavy hand smacks Daniil between the shoulder blades. All it does it make him almost vomit onto the rough-hewn stone that makes up the floor.
"Are you killing him? Is that what this is?" Klara asks, idle. Daniil notes through the pain and suffering that her and her so-called healing hands aren't making a move to help him.
Artemy grabs him by his shoulders and hauls him towards the ground-level benches. He's still coughing, trying not to spit-- or help him, drool. He's not in a place to argue this treatment.
"Is he going to be alright?" a wavering voice asks. Daniil squints towards it, and there's one of The Tragedians up on the stage, surrounded by an assortment of Executioners and also some of his fellow thespians in crime.
Artemy waves the performer off. The man shrugs and goes back to setting up the stage with his fellows.
"If I had known you had gone teetotaller I wouldn't have bothered," Artemy whispers into his hair.
"I drink wine," Daniil hisses back at him. Jerks his head to the side so he's no longer feeling Artemy's breath against his scalp. "I'm not an uncivilised lout who looks for any excuse to drink rotgut!"
Artemy rolls his eyes and returns his attention to the stage. Daniil feels secure enough to do what he needs to regain his breathing function, so he opens his mouth wide and tries to force the air from his lungs, then hold it for as long as possible, then slowly sip air back in through his mouth until he stops feeling like he's dying.
The lights drop just as he finishes one cycle of this and manages not to choke. He switches to breathing out through his nose and inhaling through his mouth because it's quieter.
One if the Tragedians is now on his back on the sacrificial slab table in the centre of the stage and the Executioners are bobbing their heads at him.
He's pressed against Artemy's side, overwarm and feeling like ropes are criss-crossed across his skin. He tries to shift away, can't because his arm is trapped. He looks down, and in the dim light from the stage he can see that Artemy is holding onto his wrist like a makeshift manacle, some sort of impromptu imprisonment.
He tentatively tries to tug himself free. Artemy's grip does not grow weaker.
Daniil doesn't know what to do. Does he tug harder to free himself? Endure and make a remark once the actors are off the stage? Keep quiet and see how Artemy plays this off later? He never knows with this man. He never did back in University, he never did when their paths crossed at the occasional conference, and he certainly doesn't know now.
One of the Executioners tries to stab a Tragedian up on the stage.
Artemy's grip is like a burning band of metal around his wrist. The urge to sink into the sensation is overwhelming.
Daniil closes his eyes and exhales.