Pavel hadn't returned to VDNKh ever since that day when Artyom woke up from his botched journey up above. It had been weeks, almost a month even, and Artyom was beginning to worry that he would ever come back. Pavel had never stayed one this long before. His memories of the aftermath of his injury were hazy and confusing, filled with swimming faces and jumbled words. But there were some things in particular that stood out.
Duke patting him on the arm and shooting him a hopeful smile. Anna exhaling in relief when she saw that Artyom was healing nicely. Pavel giving blood to save Artyom's life. Pavel snatching his hand away in fear and pacing just outside of Artyom's room in the infirmary. Small, hushed and panicked words spoken in tones almost too quiet to hear.
"Why not anyone but him? Why can't I just be--"
Artyom didn't have the chance to hear the rest of Pavel's sentence by then, as standing up and moving closer had taken its toll on his fragile health at the time. But Artyom's mind was racing, trying to piece things together and paint a coherent picture, addled by pain though he was. The delirium of it all allowed his mind to come up with simply outlandish possibilities, even starring the one that he wished the most to be true.
That Pavel felt something for him.
And, in that moment of vulnerability and hope, Artyom decided to let it color his actions. If he had been right-minded, he never would have acted the way he did. Blushing and averting his gaze in a predictably coy act. It would take an absolute idiot to not understand what was meant by it.
Either an idiot, or one who was extremely distracted. Which just so happened to be the plight of the only other two people in the room. Both had been preoccupied and unable to see what was right in front of them. The doctor cared less about anything else other than getting Artyom bandaged up and healing well. And Pavel... He had been stuck in his own turmoil of feelings. But now, Artyom found his head in his hands. He gritted his teeth and ran his fingers through his hair. Stupid. Unbelievably stupid! That was possibly the single most embarrassing thing I could have ever done in my life. However, the entire situation opened up a train of thought that he would never have thought possible until his pain-addled brain came up with it.
The idea that Pavel could possibly feel the same way.
It was unheard of. Artyom felt as if he was the only man in the whole Metro to feel this way, and yet here he was. Someone else who might share the same sentiment. Pavel's jokes and teasing struck a chord within him that no one else's seemed to. There was something about the way they were told that drew Artyom in, made him more interested to hear the rest. Perhaps the jokes were born of some truth, instead of mockery.
Artyom didn't know how to respond to them in a way that didn't come across as obvious. But if he was too subtle, then Pavel wouldn't pick up on any of his hints! Life was so much easier when he was staunchly believing that his feelings were unrequited. When he was certain there was no chance. Now everything was a mess; it all seemed so complicated and delicate now. Before now, he was happy to have his daydreams and fantasies in peace. He was happy to suffer at arm's reach.
But now? Now that there was some tiny shred of hope that maybe his feelings were returned? He couldn't just sit by and watch them falter. Artyom was a man of action, and he'd be damned if he didn't do something about this.
His wound had healed nicely, leaving a scar but not much else. He was able to move around again relatively easily. Artyom knew what he needed to do; he needed to go to the Red Line. They would welcome him with open arms now that things had changed over there. Leonid might even come to personally welcome him.
So Artyom packed his bags with everything essential, in preparation to travel through the Metro one last time and find Pavel. He knew what he needed to do, what he needed to ask of the other man.
Now all Artyom could do was hope that he'd accept.
"Just my patriotism for my fellow comrades."
But none of them knew the real reason.
It was all an attempt to forget those eyes. He couldn't go back to Artyom now, not after everything that had happened. He had apologized for his horrendous treatment of his friend, made amends for his deeds. But now there was no going back to the way things had been. Not after his feelings were laid bare without his knowledge. Artyom probably didn't care to see him again, either. How could he care the same way he used to knowing Pavel's fascination and want?
It was for the best. Someday these feelings would fade away and he would move on. Maybe find a nice enough girl to settle down with. There were plenty of them who liked him, that was for sure. All he needed to do was find one and have children of his own, keep his legacy going. Maybe one day he'd find feelings blossoming for one, one who had gorgeous dark hair and pretty green eyes--
Pavel nearly slammed the hammer into his fingers holding the nail in place with the direction that his thoughts took. Always back to him. Always back to Artyom. Pavel had always cared, and cared deeply. It was a bad habit to have in his line of work, but he had worked to conceal it well enough. To keep his feelings contained in attempts to not get attached to his fellow comrades when they perished. But Artyom had cracked him open and crawled inside, shredding his barriers and settling deep into his very soul. It was impossible to not get attached.
Pavel let out a harsh breath through his nose and continued hammering the board in place. He was working on the housing arrangements for his fellow station dwellers, the residents of Komsomolskaya. It was packed, and there wasn't enough rooming for all of the residents. So Pavel volunteered to lead a team of soldiers in order to help construct some more pseudo-rooms and tents around the station. It was one of the more aesthetically pleasing stations, with tall pillars rising up to the ceiling. Pavel had no doubt that it had once been beautiful, like all of the stations of old. Perhaps Artyom would have liked to sit down with his back against the wall, sketching the architecture and residents going about their daily lives.
Stop. Not again.
Pavel grumbled to himself as he moved on to the next section of the station; he had finished most of his other work already and was nearly done what with the help of his men. All that was left were a few more rooms, and then he could go back to Revolution Square, maybe drink all his troubles away for the night.
"Lieutenant Colonel Morozov!" A man shouted, running over to him in such a hurry that Pavel was worried for a second that maybe the station was under attack. He stopped and leaned down, attempting to catch his breath.
"Spit it out Igor, what is it? You look like you ran across the whole Red Line!" Pavel attempted to let out a short chuckle, but it only came out as an almost pained wheeze. Igor sucked in a deep breath and stood to his full height, saluting.
"You have a visitor. A Ranger came to see you, said he's got a job for you. Well, said is a strong word, really. More like--" Igor didn't finish his sentence as Pavel was already pushing past him and off down to the southern entryway of the station. For all of his denial and unwanted roundabouts back to Artyom, the idea of him coming to see Pavel was too much to pass up. The station passed by in a blur as he practically ran as fast as Igor was to report.
Rounding a corner, turning past a pillar to see the exit to the Ring Line of Hansa. Nearly tripping over his own feet in haste. There were a few guards stationed there, attempting to make conversation with the man between them. He was kitted out in Spartan Ranger gear, helmet and all. Pavel didn't stop until he stood in front of the new visitor, chest not even heaving despite the run it took to get there.
The Ranger's hands raised to the sides of his head, fingers slipping below the rim of the helmet and pulling it off. His dark hair was messy and flattened to his skull in places, sticking up in others. But a soft grin spread across his lips and his eyes softened immediately as Pavel stared.
"It's alright, men. He's with me," Pavel said hastily, waving Artyom through and ignoring the questions of the entry guards. Artyom followed without a word and sped up so that he was striding right next to Pavel through the station. "Come on, Artyomich, this way." He jerked his head forwards and put a hand on his friend's arm, unable to stop himself from touching him. No matter what Artyom or the others thought. Artyom glanced down to the hand on his bicep and then up to Pavel's face, but his companion was looking away down the hall.
They walked to Pavel's temporary quarters and he shut the door behind them, motioning for Artyom to sit on the cot. Artyom nodded and took his seat, Pavel sinking down next to him. He had his hands folded together on top of his lap, legs stretched out in front of him. Artyom heaved a breath, making Pavel quirk his brow in question. He cleared his throat, "Ah, you seem tense. Something bothering you?" He tried to ignore the obvious reason why Artyom was bothered. Pavel's stupid emotions and inconvenient feelings.
Artyom looked over to meet his eyes and shook his head slightly, an almost pitiful look on his face. Whatever it was he wanted to talk about must have been important. He pursed his lips and reached into the pocket on the side of his thigh, pulling out the old journal that had to be a couple of years old by now. Pavel watched as his friend and object of affections flipped through it hastily, overlooking sketches and scribbled reminders in order to fall on one of the last pages. Artyom held it up for Pavel to read.
I'm leaving for the surface again, for the last time. I'm done after this. I wanted to let you know, in case you wanted to come too.
If I can't find anything this time, then I'm stopping. There's no point anymore now.
Pavel's jaw nearly dropped. He read and reread the words over and over again, in an attempt to see if he missed something. As he studied the page, he saw that there were crossed out words and portions that had been scratched out; it was like Artyom had deliberated on what to say to him. Pavel looked back to see Artyom furrowing his brow and biting his lower lip anxiously. He wants me to come with him. He's not bothered? Does he even realize how bad it is for me to feel like this? Pavel thought to himself, shoulders sinking down. But would he really let Artyom go alone? After what had happened?
There was only one answer to that.
"D'Artagnan. I'm your Athos. Of course I'd come with you," Pavel said, patting him on the shoulder and attempting a friendly grin to cover the true meaning of his words. Artyom shot him a happy look, a secret smile that let on more than he meant to. Pavel's throat tightened up at the sight and he cleared it quickly. "Wh-When are we leaving?" He asked, wanting to change the subject before it wandered into dangerous territory. Artyom scribbled out a reply under his life-changing message:
Tomorrow, if it's alright?
Pavel nodded, thoughts already racing on how to get his men prepared for some time without him. They had almost finished the fortifications, and he could send them back to Revolution Square to report their success without him. His superiors would understand an expedition to the surface with a Spartan Ranger. Sometimes it paid off to be allied with them, and to have a personal friend in the ranks.
"So, got accommodations set up for the night then, chuvak?" Pavel said once he had his own plan set up. Artyom's face flashed with alarm for just a moment before he shook his head, standing up and waving his hand in a gesture for Pavel to not worry. "You sure? I can help you set up something," he continued, almost not noticing the way Artyom's gaze lingered on Pavel's quarters for a moment longer before he shook his head again and exited through the door with a short wave goodbye.
Artyom was able to find lodging for the night in a public barracks, still too cautious to even attempt an offer onto Pavel. He made a monumental step today, asking if Pavel would accompany him on his last journey above. Everything hinged on this trip up to the bones of the dead city of Moscow. It would be there that he would make that final step; it would be there that he would ask Pavel to travel east with him.
It would be there that he would confess.
As Artyom laid there in the barracks, staring up at the dreary Metro ceiling, thoughts of traveling the world resurfaced. He could only hope that Pavel would see how much he cared, how much he wanted him by his side. Maybe far away from the others, off on their own, he would finally realize the depth of Artyom's feelings. Maybe he wouldn't push him away.
Artyom rolled over on his cot and huffed to himself, unable to sleep due to nerves. He was already rehearsing his lines in his head, regretting the lack of light to write them out in his journal. It took him long enough to even come up with his first offer; how in the world would he ever articulate his feelings properly? He didn't even want to think about it. It didn't bear thinking about. Maybe he would just grab Pavel by the shoulders and kiss him--
No. That's a horrible idea. He's not ready. He's disgusted by himself most likely; what would he do if Artyom essentially jumped him?
So when morning came, Artyom awoke to find himself astonished by the fact that he had actually been able to find sleep the night before. All of his worrying had been a sure sign of him losing it and staying up the whole night. But no, he somehow slipped into a dreamless sleep and passed the night unnoticed. He sucked in a deep breath as he sat up, looking over at his journal and picking it up.
The words came without warning. He flipped it open and past the drawings, past the sketches of Pavel, past the jotted notes to Anna and Duke, past the previous attempts to gather his feelings, past the offer to Pavel, all the way to the end. The very last few pages. His pencil flew as if possessed and he hunched over the small journal, unable to stop himself. Words became sentences which became paragraphs. Perhaps ten minutes had passed when he put the final period at the end of his work, the last line on the last page.
The journal was full to bursting, and now it could hold no more. The confession on the final few pages ate up what remained of the free pages, spanning the last four from front to back. The writing was cramped and messy in attempts to explain everything. Artyom took his first breath in what seemed like hours and shut the book, closing off his heart with it. It wouldn't do to be an absolute wreck before even leaving the station, now would it? He stood and dressed quickly, placing the journal in the pocket on his right thigh; it had become the home of the small book and was almost a comfort to Artyom, knowing that it was there and always would be.
He steeled himself and left the barracks, casting short glances to the other soldiers within the room. They probably thought he was a madman, after his display of hurried writing. His pack of supplies was with Pavel, as he was the only other man in the station he trusted with his things (other than the journal of course, too personal). As he walked through the station of Komsomolskaya he saw a few men working on setting up lodgings for the civilians. The station was too crowded in Artyom's opinion, and he thought that they should probably pack up some people and have them move to another less populated station.
Then again, those thoughts came to him in pretty much every station he visited. Too cramped, too dark and dim. Too dreary and small. Artyom was a creature of the sun and sky, despite his upbringing. He lived for the clouds and the wind and rain, no matter how harsh and polluted it may be up there. He was a remnant of a world above the earth, something slowly going extinct in the damp tunnels.
Pavel was up already, chatting with the guards by the great hermetic doors. Artyom saw him standing there, arms crossed and posture pleasantly relaxed. He was smiling at some stupid joke one of the men said, head thrown back and his charming laugh ringing out. Artyom couldn't even bring himself to be jealous; he was too happy to see Pavel finally smiling genuinely. It had been a long time.
"Artyomuchka!" Pavel shouted once he caught sight of the Ranger, waving his hand in the air. The other men turned their attention to him as well, and Artyom found himself walking straighter and stiffer. He nodded at Pavel with a smile, holding his Spartan helmet a his hip before slipping it over his head. "Well then, you ready to go?" Pavel asked, holding out Artyom's pack. He took it from him with a nod and hoisted it up on his shoulders. "I've got some stuff as well, gotta be prepared. Right, chuvak?" Pavel chuckled and waved at one of the men by the gate. "We're going up! Shut the damn thing behind us, don't want any bastards getting down here while we're gone!"
The steel doors shuddered and groaned as they opened, Pavel pulling his gas mask down over his face and tightening the straps. His heart was racing, like something was about to go terribly wrong. Or perhaps it was just being in such close proximity to Pavel, knowing that his confession was probably mere moments away. Artyom screwed a filter into his own mask and took another glance to the man next to him. Pavel was looking up at the doors opening like they were about to go off on some grand adventure.
Hopefully they were.
Once the doors had opened fully and sunlight spilled into the dark and dreary tunnels, Artyom couldn't help but want to take Pavel's hand in his own as they ascended into the dead remains of Moscow. Into their new life. But he kept his hands balled into fists at his sides, aware of the audience around him. No matter what happened, he only hoped Pavel would stay by his side. That he would accompany him on his journey; Artyom didn't know if he could truly go at it alone. All he knew was that Pavel was important to him and he would do almost anything to stay by his side. Does he even feel the same? Is he aware of how much he affects me?
Pavel turned to him with a grin under his mask and said,
"Well, D'Artagnan. Ready to go?"
Perhaps he is.