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Chapter Text

Artyom encountered many people in his journey through the Metro. Anna, for one, was one that he found himself missing at the current moment, despite her constant ridicule and general unpleasant attitude. She was slow to warm to Artyom, but that was understandable. Trust no one fully in the Metro. So while she berated and taunted him when they first met, he never let that fact bother him. If he were completely honest with himself, he couldn't wait until they parted ways for the first time (even if that parting didn't go the way that he had hoped). He preferred to travel alone. Everyone else always ended up leaving him or letting him down in some way.

Artyom was a man of very few words, preferring instead to let his actions speak for themselves. If one didn't know him, he would come across as almost abrasive with his body language. His appearance didn't exactly do him any favors when he had his gas mask on. Intense eyes behind the thick glass covering, shadowed by an almost perpetually furrowed brow. The Metro had forged him from a young naive boy into a grown man capable of atrocities. Atrocities just like the rest of his fellow humans.

Yet he always had a certain softness behind those intense eyes. A softness that betrayed his outward appearance of harshness. Even some of his actions would also reveal that he wasn't like the other people down in the Metro, always fighting tooth and claw with each other. He had a certain level of kindness and selflessness about him that wasn't often seen by others, only felt through action.

He always carried his journal everywhere he went, eager to catalogue his journey and experiences. There were multiple times throughout his travels where he would pull it out and jot down a few sentences to record his thoughts. He became an adept writer through much practice, able to scribble out entire sentences and paragraphs in record time compared to others in the Metro. Sometimes there were even opportunities to make a quick sketch of his surroundings or various monsters, and he always took those chances with great care to his pages.

~*~

Pavel watched as Artyom sat down by the fire, mask off and eyes flicking across the many papers that made up his personal records. He had a well worn and well cared for pencil in hand, the graphite slightly dull but serviceable for the job it was about to undertake. Pavel wondered where the man even had acquired such a thing, as writing utensils were not very common in the Metro (aside from being in the hands of scientists or the artists of Polis). He had half a mind to ask him where he got it, but Pavel was loath to break the comfortable silence they had found themselves in.

Artyom looked thoughtful for just a moment, before taking a tighter hold of his pencil and writing a flurry of words across the paper in record time. It seemed like within a blink of an eye he had already written enough to be considered a full entry. But this time Artyom kept going. This particular situation was different than what Pavel was used to. He would sometimes glance over at Artyom during their journey through the tunnels to see him scribbling away a few idle sentences, but this was something else entirely.

He was a man consumed. The page was full and he had already moved on to the next when Pavel exclaimed suddenly:

"Woah, D'artagnan! Slow down before you start smoking!" Artyom looked up with a small curl of the lip. That was the face he made when slightly exasperated but amused. Pavel grinned and continued, "I mean, we already have one fire, no need to start another one chuvak." Artyom let a quick exhale through his nose and turned his head back down to continue writing, dark hair gleaming in the light of the fire. Although this time he was a lot slower, every now and then taking a few moments to pause before continuing again.

Pavel leaned back against the box behind him, taking off his hat and setting it down on top of it. He let his eyes roam across the dilapidated walls of the tunnel, shadows from the fire dancing and lengthening across the metal and stone. He ran a hand across his head, feeling the short hair shaved close to his skull. A few fingers ran across his jaw as well, stubble scratchy and longer than preferable. He would have to shave soon.

Another glance at Artyom. His hair was longer than Pavel's. There was enough of it atop his head to flop down over his forehead, shadowing his downcast eyes. Enough to run fingers through aimlessly, enough to grip tightly--

It wasn't safe for him. Pavel chewed on the inside of his lip. Artyom was lucky his damned head was covered most of the time, or else enemies could take advantage of his cropped hair and grab fistfuls of it. That's why Pavel kept his shaved. No need to repeat the incident of a few years ago, just simpler to cut it all off.

But there was no need to think of that now. No need to dwell on the past except to learn from it. The complete opposite, it seems, of what Artyom does. He seems to focus and meticulously catalogue every bit of his own past. It was a difference in character between them that wasn't lost on Pavel. A difference in character that might give him trouble when assimilating. Artyom may very well not fit in with the rest of Pavel's comrades. But he would come to learn, eventually.

He had to.

The young man had finally stopped writing in that journal, and instead pulled out a completely blank page and shut the book. He placed it on top of his journal and turned it sideways. Pavel recognized this as the precursor to Artyom drawing something. He had seen a few of his sketches before, and while they weren't amazing or masterpieces, they were clearly something that Artyom put a lot of thought and care into. The way he was angled meant that he couldn't see what Artyom was currently working on, but Pavel hoped that he would show him when he was finished.

The pencil moved across the paper in careful strokes, Artyom glancing up at Pavel every so often and adjusting his own sitting position (presumably to be more comfortable). Whenever his eyes met the other man's, and he realized that Pavel was staring, he quickly looked away and continued drawing. It was almost as if he was uncomfortable by his watching. Odd. Maybe it was some sort of artist thing, as Pavel noticed Artyom only became nervous when he was sketching. It was only a few more minutes before he finished, and Pavel sat up eagerly to see him share his creation.

Except...

Artyom didn't. He only took another look at Pavel before opening his journal and beginning to tuck away his drawing. Pavel let out a displeased noise and started to move closer. "Aw, come on Artyomshka! You aren't gonna show me?" Artyom shook his head and shot him a mild glare, clearly annoyed at Pavel's antics. "Was it because I was staring? I didn't mean anything by it, is just interesting to watch!" Artyom blankly stared at him, as if to say 'That's not the point, idiot.' Pavel scooted around the fire and moved even closer as Artyom slammed the book shut. "You know that just makes me more curious, prav? What exactly were you drawing that you can't even show me, your Athos?"

Another short glare was his answer as Artyom shoved the book back into his pack, much less gentle than the other times Pavel had watched him put it away. He turned to look out into the tunnel, silently asserting himself as the one to take first watch for their respite. Pavel knew better than to argue with him at this point. The only thing he could do now was drop the subject and get some rest before they had to move again. Artyom would get over it eventually, and hopefully show him the picture once he calmed down. Pavel moved back to his side of the fire and stretched out his stiff legs in front of him, tired from all of the running and jumping they did today. A sudden wave of exhaustion swept over him, the day's events playing through his mind and reminding him of the deep ache in his very bones.

He laid down on the hard ground, facing Artyom's back. The man was tense and sitting up straight, hands on his weapon and toying idly with the controls. The last thoughts Pavel had before slipping into sleep were of the drawing Artyom refused to show him, and of his anger.

Chapter Text

It wasn't long after Pavel fell asleep when Artyom decided to stand up and walk around their little camp. His legs were sore from crouching and running around with his heavy gear on. While he got used to the weight, it was still a struggle to heft around for long periods of time. A lot of said gear had been discarded when they decided to rest, but both Artyom and Pavel kept a fair amount on in order to make a quick escape if needed. Artyom balled his hands into fists and pressed them into the small of his back, kneading the stiff muscles there with a small groan.

He did a few laps around the fire and then sat back down, facing away from the sleeping Pavel. That man really could get on his nerves sometimes, what with his staring and general disregard for privacy. But they were still friends, as they bonded through their capture and subsequent saving of each other's lives. Artyom was glad to call Pavel his friend, and they were almost at the Teatr which was one step closer to Polis. Pavel said that there was just a short distance to cross once they got above ground before they made it to the entrance of the station. The current stop that they had made wasn't particularly good for schedule, but Artyom knew when to call the shots.

During their journey to Teatr Artyom noticed Pavel dragging his feet more and more, shoulders slumping under the weight of his pack. That was what made him suggest the brief rest. Pavel would only end up getting himself killed if he continued. Being tired left much room for errors, and that just wasn't something that you could afford in the Metro or on the surface. So it was safer to hunker down and get a few minutes or hours of shuteye before continuing on your journey to wherever you were going. That was something you could afford when you had a partner, and was probably one of the only reasons why Artyom ever enjoyed traveling with someone else. The ability to sleep in shifts and make sure you weren't about to get slaughtered in your sleep.

There wasn't much to do while being on watch for the time being, so Artyom attempted to find a way to entertain himself while still staying on full alert. His eyes roamed the tunnel in the light of the fire, searching for something, anything. There was a panel of wood standing up against the wall of the tunnel about five meters away. It wasn't very big. He sized it up with his eyes before pulling out a throwing knife from his boot and taking aim.

Might as well practice while he was waiting. Anything to stay awake.

He let the knife loose and watched it whistle through the air before hitting the board. It was at a slight angle and a little bit crooked, but buried deep into the wood. Artyom pulled out another knife and continued aiming and throwing until he ran out. One of the knives hit the board strangely and just bounced off, testament to his need of practice. Artyom stood and walked over to it, yanking out the knives that hit their target and picking up the one that fell to the ground.

When he walked back to the fire, he took a glance at Pavel in order to make sure he was still asleep and safe. All was well; the man was sprawled out on the ground in a position that looked anything but comfortable. Yet he was sound asleep, and Artyom shook his head in disbelief. He wouldn't be surprised if he started snoring any minute, that was just how peaceful he looked. How anyone could ever relax enough to sleep that well was beyond him.

Artyom practiced his throwing a few more times, letting his body fall into routine with the knives. His aim got better as he worked, eventually improving enough for Artyom to nod with satisfaction at his progress. There was something to be said about being able to just sit down and perfect your techniques, without having to worry about wasting resources or dying horribly to mutants in the event of failure. He twirled the knife around his hand once before shoving it back down into his boot. As Artyom stared into the fire by his feet, he found himself missing his guitar back home.

He wished to play it just one more time. That was another thing he enjoyed doing; tuning and strumming aimlessly at the instrument, working out what sounded good. Not much did, but Artyom worked with what he could and ended up with a few sound melodies that he was particularly fond of. Maybe Pavel would have enjoyed to hear me play, too. Artyom thought to himself, looking over again at the sleeping man. He had turned over and had his head pillowed under his arm, neck bared in an unconscious show of vulnerability.

Artyom could see the bruises wrapped around his throat from where he sat. It was an unsettling sight, the discolored flesh standing out pinkish-red and beginning to turn purple. The Ranger swallowed thickly, almost being able to feel the rope himself. Pavel was lucky Artyom had gotten there in time, any longer and he might've suffered worse damage from the noose. His heart leaped into his own throat at the thought of what could've happened if he was too late. The sick feeling of almost failing a comrade just wouldn't leave his stomach; Pavel had almost become a casualty of the Metro because of Artyom.

He wondered if it still hurt, as Pavel's voice was still the slightest bit scratchy even now.

~*~

Artyom shook Pavel's shoulder lightly, mumbling a short greeting in order to get him to wake up. It took a bit of effort, as it seemed that Pavel was a heavy sleeper. So Artyom shook him harder, already preparing for a possible hostile reaction at the disturbance. It was never safe in the Metro; always be ready for an attack. He was proven right when the other man nearly jumped up from where he lay, hand already reaching for the pistol strapped to his hip. Artyom moved quickly, covering Pavel's hand with his own and forcefully keeping the weapon holstered. Pavel struggled for a moment, shouting out angrily. Once his vision cleared and he saw it was Artyom who woke him, his face broke out into a wide grin.

"Artyomich! Be careful, chuvak. I nearly blew your head off." His response was a cocked brow and pursed lips. Artyom's hand made no move to remove itself, however, still cautious of his reaction. Yet his grip was more slack than before, no longer clenching his fingers tightly. Artyom had hunched over him in order to wake him, and when Pavel shot up into a sitting position their heads nearly bumped together. That disaster was only averted by Artyom moving away just slightly at the last moment. "Eh, what is it?" Pavel's eyes flicked down to their hands before focusing once more on Artyom's face. He hadn't realized just how close they were until now.

There was something in Artyom's eyes that Pavel recognized.

But it was gone in a flash as Artyom cleared his throat and pulled away, tilting his head towards the far end of the tunnel. It was a clear 'let's go' signal, but Pavel couldn't help but feel hesitant. "Artyom?" He asked as said man began gearing up to travel. "How long was I sleeping?" Artyom paused for a moment, looking at that handy watch of his before holding up two fingers behind him. "Two hours?! What did you even do, chuvak? Aren't you tired?" Artyom's response was a wordless shrug, and Pavel found himself annoyed at the man's lack of care for his own well-being. It reminded him of a few unlucky comrades that ended up butchered because of their carelessness.

Although Artyom seemed anything but careless as he geared up.

Chapter Text

Rage bubbled and boiled over like a pot of stew left unattended. It was seething, unable to be quenched or masked in any way. There was no coming back from this. This kind of anger was deep and writhing, something that was unnatural for Artyom's usual calm nature. But then again, he had never experienced something quite like this before.

He'd never been hurt so deeply by another human being.

It seemed to be perfect, which should've been the first thing to tip Artyom off that something was wrong. Pavel had brought him to the Teatr and told him he could spare enough time to watch a show before they left. The chair he sat in at the front of the rows was unlike anything he'd ever had the pleasure of sitting in. A little musty, and a little stale, but it was amazing. And the performances were like something out of a dream, allowing him to imagine for just a moment that he was living atop the surface. That he was attending a show with his good friend before a night out. Pavel even invited him to dinner and drinks before they had to leave, saying that they might as well drink to the fact that they had made it this far. He told him that he would help him, lead him to Polis and his fellow Rangers.

He told him that they were Musketeers, that Artyom was his D'artagnan. Artyom had never read the book, it was one of those that hadn't been seen yet at his home station of VDNKh, but the enthusiasm on Pavel's face whenever he talked about it was enough for him to completely (mindlessly) agree and become excited as well. And the way Pavel said it, putting a caring emphasis on the syllables that made Artyom feel... Important. He found that he liked the nickname; it was something to focus on in the dark tunnels and dank service rooms. It was something that he and Pavel shared, something that crossed the borders of Red and Spartan. Something that showed there was a chance for peace between them.

How stupid of him.

And now here he was, wading through water and garbage and corpses and who knows what else on his way to Venice. The goal of his journey. Where Pavel was headed. The force of his anger was the only thing keeping him going at this point, else he'd have let the sadness of the betrayal take him. The horde of nosalises at the underground dock threatened to overwhelm him for a moment, their jaws snapping and strong arms nearly ripping him apart were it not for his quick feet. But his rage was stronger. And that rage hadn't abated ever since Pavel uttered those damning words of his.

"So, my friend. That's how it goes."

He called Artyom a friend right up until the moment he was arrested and hauled away, drugged by the very man he then trusted with his life.

Artyom should've known there was something wrong with those drinks, but by the time he realized Pavel was unaffected by the strong brew, it was already too late. He remembered looking into the bottom of the cup confusedly as his vision blurred and extremities became harder and harder to control. There was a trace of something lining the bottom rim that he knew wasn't any sort of dredged leftovers of the alcohol. And as he looked up at Pavel with the cup held loosely to the side, brows upturned and mouth dropping open as he realized what had just happened, he thought he could see something recognizable in the other man's gaze. Pavel had looked down at him with something in his eyes, something almost akin to regret, before he schooled his expression into one of smug success. He brought his hand to his head in a cheeky two-finger salute as Artyom's temples pounded incessantly. It was getting hard to focus, and Pavel's face swam in and out of his view.

It was then that the anger reared the first sign of its ugly head, just climbing up onto the edges of Artyom's thoughts as he clung to awareness with all his strength.

He tried to push himself out of his chair, tried to get up on shaky legs. He attempted to support his arms on the table, feeling the slightly scratchy cloth of the cover beneath his fingertips. The soldiers behind Pavel stiffened into alert, hands tightening on their guns as they began moving around behind Artyom. But everything seemed to move at half pace, their feet scraping across the floor in almost imperceptible movements. Artyom's lips moved silently to the syllables of unknown words, tongue thick and mouth suddenly dry. He was able to make a noise in the back of his sore throat, the beginnings of a word. Of a name.

But his legs gave out from under him and he collapsed onto the table, sending dishes clattering and losing consciousness right when his head made contact.

As he was pushed and shoved through the ranks of soldiers Pavel wouldn't stop talking, going on and on about how he should join them, how Artyom could still save himself if he just assimilated into the ranks of the communists. The way he spoke gave away the fact that he had thought about this in detail, probably planned it from the start. That made Artyom wonder.

Did he plan this from the very beginning?

And the worst part about this whole situation was that Artyom couldn't even find Pavel at fault. He had made his choice, his priorities, and made it clear that he was a soldier first and foremost. Artyom had done much worse in the name of his own orders and ideology. Much, much worse.

That didn't mean he wasn't angry.

That didn't mean he wasn't furious.

Venice was close now, hidden behind sharp corners and through flooded tunnels. Artyom kept his rage under control during the journey there, as an unclear head could be a vital factor to one's own destruction in the Metro. Before now, he'd let it completely overtake him, run rampant through his mind until there was nothing left but a hollow shell. But Artyom learned, he grew and matured. He wasn't the naïve child that he was when he set off on his mission given by Hunter; a year had passed since then. And he had already done so much.

The man who drove the boat through the waters, Fedor, gave some good insight as to what was going on in the underground city. "The shrimp aren't usually this agitated, those damned Reds came through earlier and stirred them all up. That's what I'd wager," he puffed away on his homemade cigarette as Artyom's head whipped around to face him. Fedor smiled knowingly and kept his other hand steady on the steering lever. "You interested in them Reds, Ranger?" Artyom gave a curt nod and tightened his hands on his duplet, turning back to face the front. "Hunting them down? You looked pretty angry there for a second."

Those words awoke something in Artyom. Fedor was right, he was hunting these men down on a wild chase that they weren't even aware of. And he was angry. "By the way, young man. I never got your name. Haven't even gotten a single word out of you yet!" Artyom mumbled his reply, and Fedor strained forward to hear his quiet voice. "Artyom, huh? Well, Artyom, you're lucky I came around when I did. And I'm damn lucky that I picked you up, else we'd both be at the bottom of these here rivers."

Artyom honestly couldn't agree more.

Chapter Text

When Artyom heard the signal in the beaten down building, he felt as if he could cry with joy. Then when he heard the familiar voice of Ulman on the small portable radio, the urge for tears to burst through was even stronger than before. Ulman was a close friend, one of the people who always seemed to show up when Artyom was in the most need of help. And his general joking demeanor helped keep Artyom looking on the bright side. Not to mention, he didn't seem to mind when Artyom's voice failed him.

"Artyom? Come in! It's Ulman. We're at the church across the water!" The radio crackled unevenly and Artyom snatched it up immediately, pressing down on the button to respond. He opened his mouth, thoughts racing with what to tell them--

But he couldn't say a thing.

His throat seemed to be unable to work, no sound escaping except for an almost pained wheeze. Damn it, why did this have to happen now? His vocal cords were tight and aching, like a hand had wrapped itself his neck. Frustrated tears pricked the corners of his eyes and Artyom blinked furiously to rid himself of them. He tried to swallow but his throat was dry and tense, refusing to work for the moment. Instead of talking, Artyom tapped the speaker quietly and quickly, thoughts already running through his head on how to communicate with Ulman. This wasn't the first time this had happened in the past year. Ulman would know it was him.

On my way. Over.

The radio crackled and came to life again, "Alright Artyom! Hurry up, we can't stay here forever waiting," there was a pause and muffled speaking on the other end of the line. "Don't get eaten you crafty bastard! Over and out." A smile crossed Artyom's lips as the radio fell silent.

Ulman was as cheery as ever.

~*~

Artyom didn't feel sick. Well, maybe a little, but that could've been an effect of having to remain in quarantine for almost a week with no one but his comrade for company. Said comrade was sitting on his cot, head resting on one of his hands as he stared out through the plastic sheeting that separated them from the rest of the patients. Ulman was unusually quiet; he had been quiet for much of the past week.

When Artyom had arrived at the Church Base and subsequently defeated the bog shrimp, Ulman was joking and smiling like usual. He talked about how he volunteered to lead the welcoming party for Artyom, and how good it was to see that ugly mug of his once more. Artyom couldn't help but smile and pull his old friend in for a hug, letting his body speak the words his throat could not.

That he missed the other man.

Ulman returned the hug and ruffled the top of Artyom's hair in a brotherly gesture at the time, motioning for him to follow as he explained the Rangers' plans. It seemed that Artyom had missed a lot on his excursion to Venice. They were to travel to Polis and participate in the peace negotiations as soon as Artyom was ready, but Artyom didn't feel as if he was important to those particular negotiations. He hadn't been a Ranger long, and most of his fellows still treated him like a child. He didn't raise his concerns, as he knew Ulman would expect him to participate as well.

Then the explosion happened.

Artyom was left in a smoldering ruin and Ulman was gone. Taken by Lesnitsky as some kind of sick ransom. It wasn't surprising that Ulman would be the one taken; he was somewhat of a second-in-command to Miller, weighing in his opinion on many important issues. Miller trusted him, and while he didn't appreciate the constant wisecracks, it was obvious that he cared for the younger man. How could you not care about someone, when you did so much together to further peace in the Metro?

And so it was on Artyom's weary shoulders to slink through the church catacombs and the burning station of Oktyabrskaya in order to find his friend and rescue him. The horrors of the nosalises and the vicious Rhino would be enough for any man to give up and let himself be taken by the monsters.

But Artyom was no ordinary man.

He fought his way through the old tunnels, crept through communist encampments and the dead station. Fire threatened to blind him at every turn, and the smell of burning bodies was almost enough to get through the hardworking filter of his gas mask. The air was poisoned with a plague down there, of what Artyom wasn't sure.

So when he burst open the final door to see Ulman strapped to a chair and a gun to his head, Artyom was ready to fight for his friend. Lesnitsky sneered and gave him an ultimatum:

Take off the mask and give it to him, or Ulman dies.

What would Miller have done? Artyom found himself thinking in that moment as his hand reached up to the straps of his mask. He faintly heard Ulman yelling at him, but Artyom couldn't process what he was saying. When the mask was off and in Lesnitsky's hands, he disappeared in a flash. Ulman falling over and coughing as the air made its way deep into his lungs. Artyom rushed forward without thinking, slinging his friend's arm over his shoulder and hoisting him up.

The escalator was so close; it was right there within reach. They dragged each other to it, the stairs below them creaking under their weight. Ulman's mask had broken in the struggle, and they both were sputtering as their chests tightened from the smoke.

But they were rescued. Taken to Oktyabrskaya-Koltsevaya and hurriedly shoved into these plastic rooms. Ulman was almost as silent as Artyom the whole time, letting the soldiers push and pack them in.

"Ey, Artyom?"

His head shot up at the mention of his name, bringing him back to the present. He looked over to see Ulman staring at him. He had let his hand fall so both of his elbows were resting on his knees with hands between. "What a week, huh?" A smile curved the side of Ulman's mouth, but it looked forced. Artyom recognized that face. He had only seen Ulman make it once before.

When his comrade Ranger, Pavel, died.

Artyom tilted his head to the side and made a quick movement with one hand. I'm listening. Ulman looked over to the side, out through the zipped doorway. Artyom turned on his cot to face him more fully, leaning back on his arms and letting his eyes wander up to the ceiling above them. Ulman cleared his throat and attempted to lighten the mood, attempted to distract himself from whatever was troubling him. "I saw Anna before I came to the church for you. She told me what happened with the Dark One and damn, I think she might actually feel sorry about something."

Artyom curled his lip and looked away. He was still mad at Anna for leaving him to be captured. When he didn't know of her whereabouts, he had been worried that maybe she had been captured too. But when Artyom found out that the Nazis hadn't even known she was there that day, the vestiges of worry disappeared and were replaced with anger at her lack of action. She had a mission along with him, and failed it. And from Ulman's nonchalant way of speaking, she wasn't punished for failing a comrade. "Woah, Artyom! That's a scary face. You really that mad at her? I didn't think you'd be the vengeful type, huh?" Artyom shook his head and sighed under his breath. He wasn't that mad anymore, but still at the very least frustrated.

She was supposed to be the Order's best sniper, yet she left him there to be captured by the Nazis.

"Do you think we'll make it?" Ulman asked, getting Artyom's attention again. "I don't mean just this, this is a complete disaster I don't expect to survive," he waved his hand in a broad gesture towards the rest of the 'cells', "I mean D6, the peace shit Miller is handling. Do you think it'll really work, Tyoma?" Artyom pushed himself up into a sitting position again, putting a hand to his chin in thought. Did he think it would work out peacefully? Most definitely not. But did Artyom doubt his comrades' abilities?

Hell no.

Artyom nodded his head and shrugged, holding his hands up in a gesture miming shooting a machine gun. If it doesn't, we'll defend ourselves to the last man. Shoot them all. Ulman let a chuckle escape his throat and a smile finally fully grace his lips. He looked like his old self in that moment.

"Why am I not surprised, Artyom? Ever the optimist." He shook his head, still laughing. "That's good. It's been a real struggle to come up with some new material, Tyoma." He fell back on his cot and faced the ceiling. His laughter died out and it was silent again. There were other patients milling about their own cells, but for the moment it was quiet. Artyom watched as Ulman's face changed through a myriad of emotions, clearly trying to mask something that had been bothering him. He finally sighed and whispered out:

"It's been a year, Artyom. A whole damn year and I still can't forget him." Artyom knew who he meant. Pavel. The man who helped save Artyom before they found D6. Who sacrificed himself so that Artyom could live. He had let Ulman know what happened after they returned down below the surface, once things calmed down with the Dark Ones. He was strangely accepting of the fact, probably had already done his grieving before Artyom told the tale. "We knew each other before, up there."

Now that was new.

Artyom leaned forward to show his interest. It was so rare that Ulman was ever serious with him, much less that he talked about his time on the surface. "We were about ten when the bombs hit. Luckily we had been running around near the stations that day, ignoring our mothers' orders to stay near home when we played." Ulman wasn't looking at Artyom, and his voice was rushed and wheezing, stumbling over words like he just couldn't stop talking. "We only made it because we had been so close. Our families didn't. We were alone, crammed into the Metro with no one but each other."

Artyom thought of his mother and the photograph he had found up in the dead city of Moscow. Of what he'd give just to see her face. What Ulman was saying though, was something completely different. He didn't even have the opportunity to say goodbye, didn't know that it would have been the last time he saw his family. "Luckily Miller found us not long after. He was already saddled with Anna, who was just a baby. But he took us in anyway, saying that we could make ourselves useful down here, that we just needed to know where to look," Ulman continued, a soft smile making its way across his face. "Pavel and I got into so much trouble, couldn't seem to keep out of it."

It was strange, sitting here and listening to Ulman reminisce about his old friend. Doubly so since he shared a name with the man who betrayed Artyom so willingly. And it was so uncharacteristic of Ulman; in the year that Artyom had known him he had never gotten into his past like this.

It seemed there was a reason.

"Anyway, eventually Pavel and I got old enough and joined up with Miller. We were some of his first Rangers, probably the best too, if I do say so myself." Artyom could hear the cheeky grin. "Hunter was another of the first, but it seems like Miller, Vladimir, and I are the only ones left now." His demeanor changed again, like he kept trying to stay lighthearted but ultimately came back to that resigned sadness. "Well... Miller and Vladimir will be left. Pavel might kick my ass when he sees me."

When.

He didn't need to say anymore as the uncertainty of their health hung in the air. But there was no way Artyom was going to let his friend sit there and muse about his own death, and whether or not he'd see his comrade in the afterlife. Artyom got up and crossed the cell, kneeling down next to where Ulman lay. He sat up a little in order to see Artyom clearly, a confused expression on his face. Artyom put a hand on the man's shoulder and shot him a determined look; the meaning was clear.

We're going to make it. Pavel is going to have to wait for you a little longer.

"Aha, Tyoma. You're too much for me!" Ulman laughed again, letting his head fall back onto the sheet below him. "Where do you get that determination? I mean, I try to keep up the cheer for morale. But you're on another level entirely!" Artyom shook Ulman's shoulder and kept up the fierce look. "Ah... You'd probably bust out of here anyways. There's no way you can be sick, look at you!"

Ulman was right. Neither of them had shown any symptoms of the virus yet, so it was Artyom's opinion that they just had to wait out a set period before being released. So he shot another pointed look at Ulman and poked his finger into the other man's chest. Ulman smiled again, playfully batting away his hand. "Okay I get it, I get what you're trying to say! Damn, you're a persistent bastard." The entire atmosphere changed at that, life finally returning to the room.

Now they just had to wait.

Chapter Text

"Artyom, there are bad people. Many. Very red."

The voice of the Little Dark One echoed in his thoughts as he slid down the dirt slope into the Red Square. This was the final leg of his journey to find Pavel; the man would be here, somewhere. Artyom's booted feet landed heavily on the ground, and he held his rifle closer to him. He glanced around quickly, eyes darting to and fro in order to get a quick assessment of the setting. Lots of potential cover, upturned and cannibalized cars were frequent. Large wooden beams and pallets were resting on their sides in order to stand up at slight angles.

But no people. Artyom could feel the complete lack of lifeforms where he was. There was no one there on the ground level. But that didn't mean he thought the Little Dark One was lying. There was a bond between them, and Artyom wasn't sure if the Little One could lie to him even if he tried. Maybe he didn't even know how to be dishonest. So that meant these people were somewhere else, somewhere nearby. He just couldn't see them. His gaze moved up the sides of the walls, to the openings and sweeping arches.

Definitely there. But waiting?

Artyom took a few more steps into the clearing. There was a dead body to his right, turned onto its stomach and clutching something tightly. Bullet holes riddled the corpse and flies had started buzzing around it. Artyom moved a little closer and nudged the body with the tip of his boot, turning it over to its back. The gas mask was cracked open and filters gone, nothing salvageable there. And as Artyom knelt down to inspect it further, he saw that it hadn't started decomposing yet. It was still fresh, maybe a few hours old.

Artyom was grateful that his own gas mask filtered out smells along with everything else.

Turning back to the center of the Square, he hefted his rifle and continued walking. There were a few more slumped corpses in various areas, and Artyom checked each one for any useful supplies before moving on. There wasn't much, but you had to take what you could get from those who came before you. A few guns were discarded at the feet of the bodies like they had thrown them down onto the ground. A quick check to the weapons revealed they still had ammunition inside, and Artyom eagerly stripped them down to replenish his dangerously low stocks.

There was another body draped over a car, headlamp still on and flickering. He lowered himself to the ground in order to inspect the state of the corpse. Shot multiple times, but the gas mask was intact still. And it was in much better shape than Artyom's current one. His had a large crack right down the center of his face, splintering into hairline scratches. It was serviceable, but this new mask was free of damage. So he quickly tore his off and secured the other onto his face. He tightened the straps and screwed a new filter into the receptacle, finally taking a deep breath once it was safe.

He stood and took a glance over at the closed gates leading into the building, sizing up how best to get through. They were fortified with wooden panels, just like most of the rest of the openings. A voice, muffled by the filter of a gas mask, rang out across the Square. It was familiar, and Artyom realized with a heavy heart who its owner was.

"Op-pa! One more!"

Two spotlights turned on with a large booming sound, illuminating the open space and nearly blinding Artyom with their intense glare.

"Put your weapon on the ground and hands behind your head!" Pavel called out again, this time accompanied by the green shine of laser sights. Soldiers lined the walls of the second story, hiding behind columns and aiming their weapons at Artyom. If this situation wasn't so dangerous and delicate, he would have found it funny. All of them, just to bring down one man? Instead of following the voice's orders, Artyom gripped his rifle tighter and pulled it close to his body. He squared his feet and set his jaw under the mouthpiece of his mask. He hadn't come this far to die at the hands of these communists. "That wasn't a question," Pavel said, a new laser pointing right at the center of Artyom's chest.

He brought his face up to where it led, seeing the dark silhouette of a person. It was impossible to make out any details, as the lights shining in his face made it difficult to see. But it was Pavel, without a doubt. He really was here. A shudder ran through the silhouette as he stared.

"I will be damned! It's Artyom!" It looked like Pavel recognized him too. His new clothes didn't fool the other man. The red laser moved away and Pavel shrugged nonchalantly, safe in the relative darkness of his alcove. "Well... Your luck had to run out someday. You can disregard the order about the weapon, okay?" Artyom's mouth twitched darkly at the thought of how many people they killed before him. Pavel continued talking, ordering the soldiers under his command as Artyom looked around for a suitable cover. There were too many for him to gun down while in the open. He was vastly outnumbered, and his odds weren't good.

But who would he be if he couldn't get out of nearly impossible situations?

"Fire! Fire at will!"

Artyom ducked and slid behind an overturned car, aiming down the sights of his rifle just as the Little Dark One's voice reverberated through his mind.

"Don't stand... I will help!"

Artyom's vision went dark and light; it was the strange sight that the Little One gifted him from time to time on their journey together. Everything moved at the slowed pace that came with the gift, and Artyom could even feel the movement of the wind across his hands (though they were covered by his gloves). He could see every last man who was there with crystal clear clarity, including Pavel. He had moved behind a pillar, safe from the hail of bullets no doubt about to rain down throughout the Square. Artyom's eyes also sharpened, now able to aim his rifle perfectly without the need of the scope mounted on it. He could even see the twitching of the men's eyes as they readied their own weapons to fire. Too slowly. His shots were almost mechanical with how perfect he fired them, going straight through the foreheads of five men in succession.

"No more, too tired..."

His young voice went silent at that, as did the strange colors and usually imperceptible sounds. Artyom couldn't help but hope he was somewhere safe, unable to be harmed by this furious battle. There was a millisecond of peace before shouts rang out across the plaza and bullets began whistling through the air. The cracks of fire ringing out made Artyom's head pound. Adrenaline surged through him as he reloaded his rifle and pulled back the bolt handle.

"Blyat, he got Kolya!"

"How the hell did he do that?"

"Vasilyi! Damn!"

"Hurry up and kill him!"

The communists were baffled when they realized he had taken out so many of their comrades in such a short time. Now Artyom's back wasn't as exposed, and he had the opportunity to aim again at another of the men on the other side of the Square. This time he had to use the sight on his rifle, as his enhanced vision wore off along with the odd coloring. When one of them whirled around the corner of his pillar in order to aim, Artyom let fire and hit him in the upper chest, just below his collarbone. He fell back with a groan and the other men got even more agitated, now yelling and shouting at each other over the sounds of guns discharging rounds as if they were plentiful.

"Eliminate him! Now!" Pavel screamed, the red laser roaming across the plaza as it searched for him. Artyom paid it no mind, knowing that trying to get a good aim on his friend-turned-enemy would be near impossible. Instead he focused on the other men now swarming the grounds, jumping through windows and making their way to his cover. Artyom lit an incendiary grenade and tossed it in the direction of their boots, noting with a grim satisfaction when he heard pained screams ringing out as it exploded on contact and set several men aflame.

One man was able to avoid the fire and rushed Artyom. He was able to skid around the overturned car and held his gun at the ready. But before he could fire Artyom jumped up and punched him square in the face with the knuckle guard of his knife. He fell to the ground with a gasp before going quiet. Artyom ducked down behind his cover again, as one soldier took advantage of him being exposed and let loose a round of fire. The bullets ricocheted against the hood of the car, sending sparks flying.

"And you had a chance!" Pavel was talking again, not even having to strain his throat in order to be heard. He just had that kind of an echo about him, that way of projecting himself in order to be easily heard. "You know you could have stayed at the Red Line, we would've taken you in!" Pavel's voice turned soft for a moment, probably thinking about what could have happened had Artyom cooperated. But that moment of calm had passed as quickly as it came, with his tone becoming mocking and angry. "But you just had to escape, huh? And then come right here." Artyom could hear the beginnings of a sardonic chuckle at the edges of Pavel's words. "You should use your fucking head sometimes, Artyom!"

It was good to hear his voice again, twisted by anger though it was. That voice sent a feeling through Artyom, one of the past adventure that they had together. It reminded him of that night by the campfire; where Pavel eagerly watched him draw, blissfully unaware that he was the subject of Artyom's sketching. That was part of the reason why Artyom was so reluctant to show him, as the idea of Pavel knowing he was Artyom's muse in that moment was too much for him to bear.

But he didn't find out. He didn't know. And now he never would.

"Or, what, maybe you thought that Korbut forgot all about you? Not on your life, D'Artagnan," there was that nickname again. It was the first time that Artyom had heard it since Pavel had betrayed him. "And neither did I." That phrase said many things to Artyom, things that maybe Pavel didn't mean to project. His voice held tones almost too complex and hidden to be caught. But Artyom was always a perceptive man, able to read people extremely well just by how they spoke. He didn't forget about me. Of course not. Artyom remarked bitterly to himself, pulling back the bolt handle again and letting another shot loose at one of the soldiers who had peeked his head out from behind the pillar where he hid.

Someone swore loudly. It was unclear who, but Pavel had gone suspiciously quiet for the moment.

The only sounds were those of bullets being fired.

"You didn't like it our way, didn't want to join us, huh--So you'll just have to bite the fucking dust here!" It seemed that he had found his voice again; Pavel sounded even more angry than before. He spat out those last words of his, with the intent to burn. He knew they would hurt, knew they would sting. And their effect was immediate; something inside of Artyom snapped in that moment. That something was hanging on by a thin thread for the longest time, but Pavel had uttered those words.

The words that confirmed what was to happen by the end of this.

One of them wasn't going to leave the Red Square tonight.

Artyom's throat did something that he couldn't describe; it was something that he hadn't felt often. He had only had a similar feeling happen when Bourbon died, and when Pavel betrayed him. It was hard to breathe, and that wasn't because of the poisoned air (his filter still had a few minutes to spare before he had to replace it). His stomach roiled in knots as he realized that he didn't want to kill Pavel. Didn't want to kill the man who had been his friend, the man who saved his life. It didn't surprise him. Artyom was a sentimental man, a sensitive soul who disliked violence and only killed when necessary.

And it seemed that Pavel was going to make it necessary.

"Well, Artyom, this is getting tedious, suka! Soldiers, finish him!"

"I help."

Artyom's vision changed again as the Little Dark One lent his power once more, everything sharpening and slowing. He could see who was left, who had started storming the grounds once more. There weren't many men in the plaza, so it seemed that Pavel was becoming desperate. He had gone quiet and the red laser was nowhere to be found.

Artyom didn't let that moment go to waste.

He tore through what soldiers remained, holstering his Valve in favor of the Kalash at his side. The men were no match for him when the Little One aided his sight, he could even see their heart rates accelerating as they realized just what they had gotten themselves into. As they realized he was no ordinary man. His weapon peppered his pursuers with bullets, and Artyom sickly pressed onward to his goal.

"So tired..."

Artyom wished he could tell the Little One how grateful he was for his help. There was a sudden wave of feelings through him though, one of gratitude and pleasure. Artyom knew his message got across; his message without words.

There were two in the gateway; it had opened in the struggle to allow the heavily armored troops through. And that was a path straight to Pavel. Artyom quickly dispatched the two men who stayed near the entrance and pressed himself up against the corner leading up the stairs, knowing that Pavel would be at the top waiting.

Sure enough, when he poked his head around the edge of the wall a rain of gunfire assaulted his ears.

"So, Spartan, you decided to show up? You've got balls, huh, that's for sure!" All traces of familiar things had left Pavel's voice, only leaving that incapacitating anger. Artyom had never heard him talk like that before, and it only hurt him more. "Come on, Ranger! Kill and maim, like you always do it, huh?" Now that was something different. "Or you're a chicken, you're chicken or what?" He was goading him, but to what end? Artyom strangely didn't feel any anger at this moment due to the words.

Oh, his rage from before was still there, simmering below the surface. But Pavel's mocking didn't have the intended effect, didn't incite him more. His lack of reaction seemed to irritate Pavel more, as he began yelling down the steps again. "So, Artyomuchka, you chickening out, huh? No--ah, of course, it's not like burning helpless mutants, I know!" Helpless? What was Pavel thinking? Artyom jumped out from behind the wall; Pavel reacted quickly and they both ended up shooting at the same time. Artyom was the better shot at the current moment though, aim ringing true and hitting him in the shoulder. Pavel's shot went wild.

"Aaagh-- blya--... You are one tough, son of a bitch, huh?" Pavel disappeared around the edge of the steps after throwing down a few of the boxes to slow Artyom down. They tripped up his feet on the steps a little, but didn't deter him from his goal. "So, ah, you coming to finish the job or what? Come on! Come up here!" His voice had changed again, tinged with struggle and pain. "Ay, blyat. I should have left you to the fucking Nazis..." Artyom's mouth turned down into a displeased frown. Both him and Pavel knew that neither of them would have been able to escape without each other. Pavel was just angry, Artyom assumed.

The next level of steps led up further into the building, and Artyom planted his right foot onto the landing while staying safely behind the wall. "Come on, Artyom! Come on, you coming up here or what? Coming to finish the job, huh?" Artyom had to grit his teeth at the situation he found himself in. This was probably the worst outcome that could've happened. Why did Pavel have to be here? Why couldn't he have just stayed down below the surface in the Metro?

Why couldn't he have--

There was nothing to be done about it now. Artyom leaned back around the wall and let loose another string of bullets, but Pavel was more prepared this time. He knew Artyom was coming.

A red-hot pain erupted in Artyom's left shoulder as Pavel's shot grazed it. The bullet whizzed past him and hit the wall behind him, but not without inflicting some surface damage on Artyom. A gash opened up in his shoulder as the bullet tore through his clothes and harmed his skin. Blood oozed from the wound and stained the orange fabric. But Pavel suffered more, getting a shot right in the meat of his left thigh. He staggered and let his weight fall on his uninjured leg.

"Aagh! Fucker..." Pavel pulled away from the opening again and Artyom's heart constricted at seeing the blood on the wall where he once stood. "Come on, Artyom, come on!" He began coughing, moving further down the hall and back to cover. "I can't chase you anymore, but I can still put a hole through your head if I see it, don't you worry!" Artyom bounded up the stairs two at a time and kept pressure on his new wound, wrapping a small bandage over it for the time being to stop it from bleeding as much. He turned to peek out from the wall and saw Pavel a few paces away from the opposite wall.

He was facing him, dragging his leg and attempting to keep weight off of it. Their eyes met for a moment, but Artyom kept his gun lowered to the ground when he saw him. As did Pavel. His blue eyes shone with the pain of his injury, and he hauled himself behind the wall before either could think about what their mutual hesitation meant.

Artyom had to whirl around behind his own cover again as Pavel moved to shoot him, bullets ricocheting off of the stone wall at the end of the hallway. "Come on, you bitch. Come on out! Aren't you going to kill me? Or did that brain of yours finally go along with your throat?" A cold shock washed over Artyom, like someone had dumped ice water right on top of his head. It seeped into his clothes and clung to his skin. "Maybe if I hit you enough I can make you scream, ah? Would be a far cry better than that condescending silence!"

That statement put a vice grip over Artyom's heart. He knew that it was odd for how silent he was, and often had people make smart remarks or insulting comments. Pavel had been one of those people who didn't seem to think anything of his muteness. He simply shrugged and said 'maybe it's better to stay silent in this damnable world'. He had never brought it up since then, somehow being able to understand what Artyom was thinking just by his expression. Khan was the only other person who seemed to completely understand Artyom. At least, Artyom had thought so. Perhaps Pavel's attitude had been a ruse as well.

That thought set a deep pit in the bottom of Artyom's stomach. Another thing that Pavel had lied about to get close to him. Another betrayal of trust. Artyom reloaded his Kalash with a mechanical precision, letting the rage that had been boiling just under the surface spill forth.

Everything had led up to these final moments. From when they met; when Pavel helped Artyom escape from the Nazis; when Artyom saved him from the hangman's noose; when they sat around that fire and let the flames warm their weary bodies; when they made their way through the surface and to Teatr; when Pavel betrayed Artyom and didn't bat an eye at the torture he suffered (Artyom knew he still had traces of a black eye as well as a split lip from the beating); when they met in Venice and Pavel tried to take advantage of their past friendship. All up to this very moment, where friends-turned-enemies attempted to gun each other down in the names of their ideologies.

When Pavel moved to take a look out into the hall Artyom was ready. Only the edge of his gas mask poked out, but that was more than enough for Artyom. He aimed and fired within the second, bullet racing and glancing off of the glass of the mask. It broke under the force, the corner of it blasting open and sending cracks arcing throughout the rest of it.

"Fuck!" Pavel kicked over the table and the lantern on it set it ablaze, a fire sending monstrous shadows across the walls. He scrambled around his cover again and presumably went further into the building. He didn't have long though, not with a cracked mask. Artyom stalked ahead with his gun held in front of his torso, finally ready to do what he must to end this. There was nothing going through his head, nothing but the roar of blood rushing through his ears.

"He isn't red... No anger, just... Sadness? I don't understand..."

Artyom had almost forgotten the Little Dark One was still there, with how quiet he was being. But those words woke him up from his rage-induced blindness, his blank thoughts became filled with so many words he couldn't focus. Sadness? Pavel isn't-- He can't be--

There's no way.

It's impossible.

How was he not angry? Artyom had wounded him enough to show who the clear winner was. Who was going to live.

Pavel wasn't going to survive this. How was he not angry?

"His heart is heavy, hurting. What is it? He feels like his chest is about to burst, that's how much it hurts."

Artyom froze where he stood, a few steps away from the wall and right next to the burning table. Pavel's blood was on the floor, dark and shining in the poor lighting. Artyom had done that. Pavel was stuck just around the corner, in the room that he would die in. Waiting for Artyom to come and strike the finishing blow. Seemingly resigned to his fate and not even angry about it.

His rage lost its fuel all of a sudden.

As he holstered his Kalash and slung it up over his shoulder, Artyom let a deep sigh wrack his whole body. It was getting harder to breathe; there wasn't much left of his filter, and he'd have to change it soon. Another breath, an attempt to steel himself for what was to come next. He took a few steps forward and turned the corner--

He was there. On the ground, left leg splayed out and twitching occasionally. Pavel had pulled himself close to the far wall, leaning against a desk in the room. When he saw Artyom, his eyes lit up fiercely.

"Oh, there you are, Artyomshka. Was wondering if you were gonna come and finish me off," His breathing was labored and heavy; the gas mask he wore was cracked and broken from Artyom's most recent shot. "No gun? Ah... A knife, huh?" Pavel was holding his right shoulder, the one that Artyom had shot first. "Davai, davai. No remorse, no reproach!" Artyom was unsettled by Pavel's eagerness.

He felt sick.

There was no way Artyom could refuse the orders of his superiors, and Pavel had done much to warrant his death. But that didn't mean Artyom wanted to be here, standing over his once-friend, knife in hand. The very knife that Pavel gave him when they first met.

The very knife that was to now slit his throat.

Chapter Text

"Well come on! You aren't just gonna stand there now, chuvak? Do you think the knife is just gonna slit my throat on its own?" Pavel just kept trying to goad him, trying to rouse a reaction from Artyom. But it wasn't working. Any urge he might've had left to harm Pavel had just died out when he saw him on the ground, injured and bleeding. But when he walked closer, right up to the tips of Pavel's boots, the other man seemed to think that his words had an effect. "Davai, Artyom."

Artyom knelt down on top of Pavel, letting his knees fall to the ground on either side of his waist. "Wha--?" He grabbed him by the downy collar of his jacket and shook his shoulders roughly, the only thing he had strength left to do to his old friend. "Aagh, what the hell are you doing?" Pavel cried out, confused and annoyed at Artyom's antics. It was hard to see his face, as the cracks in his gas mask splintered all across the visor and blocked out most of his features. Pavel probably couldn't even fully see Artyom either.

Probably couldn't see the sad way his brows were tilted.

But Pavel's gaze flicked to the left, then his entire head shot over to look at the opened window next to them. "What the fuck?" Artyom looked over to see the Little Dark One climbing through, inquisitive and tilting his head to the side as he inspected Pavel. The man started weakly struggling under Artyom, calling out, "Ah, you're gonna set the beast loose on me then? Woah you're some hero, huh?" Whatever Pavel was going to say next was cut off by the Little One rushing forward and laying his hand on the exposed skin of the side of Pavel's head.

Artyom could feel the darkness overtaking his vision; the precursor to a walk through memories not his own.

~*~

"Comrade Morozov." It was Korbut, with Lesnitsky sitting across from them in front of the desk of the general. "You understand your mission then? When you succeed, the whole of the Metro should be within our grasp. The virus will wipe out those who oppose us." Pavel's heart raced with nerves; Artyom could feel it like it was his own. "I expect you to deliver it to your contact, who will then plant the box in the station of Oktyabrskaya. Then you will go to the Red Square and await further orders. Do not allow anyone to pass through, kill if you must." Pavel saluted, but the nervous fluttering of his stomach didn't cease. "You will not fail me again, Major."

"I won't, Comrade General!"

Artyom's vision blurred and swirled before his eyes, until he found himself in another part of Pavel's memories.

Seeing himself through another's eyes was an odd experience. Memory-Artyom was slumped over in the 'negotiation' room, passed out in the chair he was strapped to. He would've looked peaceful, had it not been for the bloodied face and quickly swelling eye. The room was dark and empty of other human beings. Pavel was the only other one there. Artyom could feel a pressure building in his throat and behind his eyes. Like he was about to cry. It gave him the urge to sneeze or wipe his nose, but he couldn't while observing through Pavel's eyes and body. "Ti durak. Why didn't you just tell them what they needed to know?" He felt Pavel's mouth move and hoarsely question his own unconscious body.

Pavel moved closer and held up a wet rag to memory-Artyom's reddened cheek, beginning to wipe away the blood with gentle strokes so as to not wake him. Not like anything could actually wake him from his drug-induced coma. Artyom realized this was not long before Leonid entered the room and freed him, as he remembered the feeling of cool water on his face when he had awoken. "I didn't want you to get hurt, D'Artagnan. I wanted you to join us, they'll kill you otherwise." Artyom felt that feeling in Pavel's chest again, a pressure like a wire wrapped around his heart. "Despite what you may think of me, I really do consider us friends," Pavel sighed, bringing up his free hand to run his fingers through memory-Artyom's hair.

"Maybe you'll learn to forgive me."

The scene scattered to the wind like leaves, another memory taking its place as soon as it ended.

"Go to the right Artyom!" Pavel shouted over the howls of beasts, pointing with his free hand at the path. "I'll cover you!" He held up his gun and began shooting at the Watchmen in order to make sure memory-Artyom had a clear route. He saw himself make a run for it from Pavel's cover, glancing behind to make sure Pavel was going to follow. "Go, Artyom! I'll be right behind you!"

A low growl resounded out as a Demon flapped its wings and rose up above the buildings, rest disturbed by the commotion on the ground. Pavel's head turned swiftly from side to side and made Artyom feel dizzy. "Artyom look out, it's coming right for you!" He yelled, waving his arm and taking aim at the flying mutant. Memory-Artyom ducked behind a car right as the Demon swooped down and nearly slammed into it, roaring ferociously. Pavel let loose a round of bullets, tearing a few holes into one of the Demon's wings. That only seemed to anger it further.

It bared its teeth and growled menacingly, taking off and circling them. Pavel had to turn away from where memory-Artyom hid in order to fend off the Watchmen that began swarming them again. They had backed off while the Demon was on the ground, but came back once it returned to the skies. Pavel was able to down a few more before they arched their backs and took off once more; perhaps they realized that these humans were too dangerous to be worth the meal.

"Artyomshka! You alright?" Pavel called out, craning his neck in order to see where his friend had hidden. There was a few second wait before a gloved hand poked up from behind the car, thumb up. Pavel laughed at the sight and shook his head. "Well come on then! I can't kill this thing on my own!" Memory-Artyom's head soon became visible, then he slid around the side of the car.

Artyom knew what was to happen next; how could he ever forget?

The Demon had been circling, watching them angrily. As soon as memory-Artyom was out in the open it dove, talons outstretched and mouth open in a furious roar. Artyom could feel Pavel's stomach drop in fear as he raised his gun. But he wasn't fast enough, and Artyom watched in slow motion as he saw himself get grabbed from behind. The Demon pumped its powerful wings and lifted the young man off of the ground, a startled cry escaping his throat.

"Artyom!" Pavel screamed, gun at the ready and chest burning. Fear had sunk its claws into his lungs, just like the Demon's hold on memory-Artyom. They flew through the air, the Ranger flailing hopelessly and trying to twist himself out of its grip. "I'll try to make it drop you!" He shouted, voice shaking and uneven. Artyom hadn't realized how scared Pavel really was in that moment, only focusing on his own fear. He hadn't noticed his friend's uncertainty. Pavel fired, his reluctance to hit the Ranger on accident pausing his pull on the trigger. But he steeled himself and aimed for the Demon's wings.

A good Communist knew that God didn't exist. But Pavel couldn't help but pray for one moment that he wouldn't hit his comrade.

His bullets met their target, riddling the leathery wings with holes. The Demon hissed and screeched as it lost air, falling to the ground with memory-Artyom still in its grasp. "Artyom!" Pavel yelled again, running out from behind his cover without a care to how he exposed himself. Artyom could see that the Demon was still alive and got a perspective on this memory that he hadn't had. He had lost consciousness as soon as he hit the ground with the Demon on top of him.

Pavel roared with anger and sent a round of bullets into the Demon, and it took a few steps back; it finally released its hold on memory-Artyom. The man was face down on the ground and Pavel's heart leaped up into his throat at the sight. He ran forwards and stood over his comrade, still shooting at the winged monster. It couldn't fly, couldn't escape.

It let out a weak cry as it collapsed onto the ground under the weight of fire, then finally went quiet.

Pavel stopped shooting once he was sure it was dead, not sparing a moment before he fell to his knees next to memory-Artyom. His gun was discarded into the melting snow as he turned him over onto his back, grunting with the effort. "Come on, D'Artagnan, get up," he said, noting with horror that his friend's eyes were closed. Artyom could only watch as Pavel loosened the belts and straps across his unconscious body. He ran a hand over the back of his head, checking for any sort of injury. It felt strange, touching his body through another person's hands.

Pavel opened up memory-Artyom's heavy jacket, unzipping it with shaky fingers and feeling his chest for signs of breathing. "Ay, blyat. Come on, you bastard." Pavel's throat burned, not unlike the feeling Artyom had when he saw Pavel in the noose. But this was a lot more intense, like someone was choking him and reaching into his chest to tear out his heart. Artyom had never felt anything like it before. "Artyom! Quit fucking around, we need to get out of here!" He yelled, maneuvering his hands below memory-Artyom's back and legs. He started lifting the man up, pulling him closer and towards the entrance of the building.

There was a weak cough. Pavel's head whipped around to see memory-Artyom opening his eyes with a struggle, coughing and sputtering through the filter of his mask. A few vague hand gestures were all he needed; Pavel tore off the used up filter and replaced it with one of his own. He screwed it in tightly and watched as his friend took in a deep, shuddering breath.

Something pricked the corners of Pavel's eyes.

His view of himself cracked like breaking glass, shattering with one more memory taking its place. Artyom felt less tethered to Pavel's mind; that meant it was to be over soon.

"Ah, come on, chuvak!" They were on the surface, traipsing across the deadly landscape in search of the entrance to the Teatr. "We're almost there, now. I don't want to see you lagging behind." Artyom watched through Pavel's eyes as they continued forward through the ruined buildings and crumbling pathways. It came to his attention that while they could encounter danger at every turn, Pavel was strangely calm and relaxed the whole time as they traveled.

Except there was something that Artyom could feel that betrayed the outward cheery exterior. Something that he didn't quite get a grasp on. It was a jump of the stomach, a raced beat of the heart whenever Artyom saw his own body stumble or trip over an exposed root. These weren't phantom sensations, as Artyom could never feel his own bodily processes whenever he was occupying the mind of another. No, these were things Pavel felt. Things Pavel experienced whenever memory-Artyom was less than graceful.

He was just worried for his comrade.

Artyom knew what was coming next, as this moment stood out to him as an extremely embarrassing part of their journey together. He had always been a little on the clumsy side, only able to counteract it by training and being constantly mindful of his surroundings. But the journey had made him just as tired as Pavel was before they took a rest, and he was less than observant. Artyom could see the rebar on the ground through Pavel's gaze as he noticed it, watching as Pavel stepped carefully over it. It was only a few more paces, then--

CLUNK

Pavel whipped around to see that memory-Artyom was less careful, stepping directly on a curved part of the metal and sending it careening into his face. He was lucky that it hadn't broken the glass of his visor or his nose. But his own foolishness made Artyom feel quite childish and silly as he watched himself struggle with the bar. He felt as if he could cry; he looked just as stupid as he felt when it happened.

But what was coming next was worse.

Memory-Artyom's foot slipped out from under him when the rebar made contact with his gas mask, and he fumbled for balance for a moment. Pavel was quick, though. He rushed forward to catch him before he could fall flat on the ground, wrapping an arm around his waist and pulling him in tight. Artyom saw his own surprised expression and that feeling coursed through Pavel's body again. It was hard to explain, something that Artyom couldn't place where he had felt it before. "Be careful, chuvak," Pavel said, heart in his throat. His other hand placed itself on Artyom's shoulder once the other man was upright, squeezing it gently and stepping away.

The memory-Artyom scratched the back of his neck, pointing to his mask and turning his head to and fro. The question was clear. From Pavel's eyes Artyom could see that his mask wasn't cracked or damaged in any way. "Ah, don't worry. You look goo--," Pavel swallowed thickly. "Yo--your mask. It looks good." Memory-Artyom gave a thumbs up, ducking his head and walking faster. He was trying to hide his embarrassment.

Artyom could feel Pavel's small smile behind the mask and his heart clench under his heavy jacket.

~*~

Artyom's view was suddenly overtaken by monstrous hands, grasping and pulling him down. His vision went dark, then achromatic.

Then a red light suffused the scenery; it was like he had fallen into a pit full of those lost souls that the Little One guided him through just an hour ago. Hands reached out and tried to grab him, but something kept them at bay. Screams and gunfire rang out, assaulting his ears and making his stomach turn.

"Artyom? Artyom, my friend! Hey, hey!" Pavel was shouting, voice cracking with fear. Artyom turned to look at where his voice was coming from to see him held up against a wall, hands pulling at his clothes and restraining his arms. He was shaking his head, eyes wide and blue; the only other color in this hellish landscape. "What's up with you? Please, don't leave me here! Don't let them take me!" His tone was unlike anything Artyom had ever heard before, pleading and scared.

"Decide. You go? You help? Decide... We can't stay long."

As if he ever had a choice.

Artyom jumped forward, feet making contact with the hands but glancing off thanks to the Little One's protection. The look that crossed Pavel's face when he saw Artyom running towards him would be something that he'd never forget.

A smile, a real one. One that softened his face and let Artyom think for just a moment that they were anywhere but here. He reached where Pavel was suspended and pulled at his jacket, trying to free his friend. The hands held fast, however, unwilling to let their catch go. Artyom moved closer and attempted to plant his feet into the ground, forcing his own arms behind Pavel and lacing his fingers together behind the other man's back.

Their faces were almost uncomfortably close together, Artyom grunting with the strain and Pavel trying to pull himself free with him. One of the lost souls reared its head next to Pavel's and bared its teeth in an ugly grin, wrapping one of its hands around the man's throat. Artyom pressed his chest to his friend's and put a foot against the wall Pavel was suspended on, kicking away as he pulled with all of his strength.

The grip of the cursed dead loosened and released guttural cry, angry at the loss of a fresh soul. Pavel came off of the wall and Artyom fell back with him, landing on the ground together just as his vision faded and finally went away.

~*~

Artyom awoke to pained breathing, suddenly aware that Pavel's mask was still broken and there was nothing he could do about it. He had fallen on top of Pavel during the brief stint through his memories, and the other man's chest moved up and down in a steadily decreasing rhythm. Artyom pushed himself up and was almost resigned to watching his friend suffocate, when a movement to the left got his attention.

It was the Little One. He held Artyom's old discarded mask in hand, offering it to him with a tilt of the head.

"Life. Without this he will die. Soon."

Artyom nearly snatched it in his haste to put it on Pavel, ripping off the broken mask and replacing it with the new one. He screwed in a filter marked with the Sparta seal. Once it was secure he let his head rest on the unconscious Pavel's chest, whole body slumping with a sigh. Pavel's breathing slowly steadied below Artyom's ear, getting deeper and more stable each time he inhaled.

Artyom realized how relieved he really was when he heard Pavel's breathing become normal. He fisted his hands into the man's heavy jacket and pushed himself up off of him. He looked as if he was sleeping, almost peaceful in a way. Artyom inspected Pavel's wounded shoulder and leg, unzipping the jacket and removing the criss-crossing belts over his chest. He had a thin button-up on under it, and Artyom opened it up to better treat his shoulder.

A wave of silent relief washed through him at the sight of a bulletproof vest. Even if Artyom had been aiming for his torso Pavel would have been protected. But however relieved he was that Pavel wasn't mortally wounded, there was still a more pressing matter at hand.

If his injuries didn't get treated soon he could die. And that was something Artyom couldn't let happen, not after everything. Orders be damned. Artyom pulled out his medkit and began meticulously cleaning and bandaging, almost mechanically and without thought. That must've said something about his lifestyle.

There was no feasible way to remove the bullets, so Artyom worked around them as best he could; Pavel was just lucky that his Kevlar vest beneath his coat and shirt protected his torso and vital organs. Shoulders and legs could be treated relatively well by a trained doctor down in the Metro. It was a wonder Pavel was still unconscious; the pain should've woken him by now. But the deep breaths that made their way through the filters of Pavel's mask made sure that Artyom wasn't worried.

"This is forgiveness? Thank you, I will remember this."

The Little One was still sitting next to them, and Artyom scrambled away from Pavel in a hurry. In his haste to treat Pavel he had nearly forgotten the child was there, quietly watching him. He looked incredulously over and could've sworn that amusement crossed the Little One's face. Or something close to it, considering their different features. Artyom's cheeks burned and he broke eye contact uncomfortably.

Forgiveness indeed.

Chapter Text

Pavel awoke alone with a sharp gasp. For a moment he thought that what had transpired was all just a dream. Where the hell am I? Then pain became known to him; his left shoulder and leg both throbbed and stung sorely. Pavel groaned as he sat up, a sharp ache in his neck making itself known. He had been asleep at a wrong angle, and now his body was making him regret it.

It took him a moment to remember what had happened; everything got blurred at about the time when Artyom started pursuing him up the stairs. It was hard to even remember what he had said at the time. The memories slowly trickled back into his brain, like someone was meticulously (sadistically) drip-feeding him. Yelling at Artyom, getting shot, shooting him (how could he have done that how dare he), Artyom standing over him with his knife in hand.

Artyom falling to his knees on top of Pavel, grabbing his shoulders and--

--shaking him roughly. Pavel's throat was tight and sore when he thought of that moment. For just a second he had thought that maybe--

Pavel lurched forward when he remembered the creature afterwards, the thing invading his mind and dragging out his innermost thoughts to the surface of his brain. Now Artyom knew everything. Pavel's heart sunk down to his stomach as he thought about what had transpired. What memories had been relived. He knew; there was no doubt. Knew about--

All of the plans of his superiors. Artyom was probably on his way to D6 now, in order to defend it against the assault no doubt coming. Maybe he'd go to Polis first, try to alert Miller. No use. There was absolutely no chance of his success; there were simply not enough Spartans to defend the bunker from the vast forces of the Red Line.

Artyom might even already be dead by now.

That... Wasn't something Pavel wanted to think about.

He checked his watch, still slightly envious of Artyom's even now. 5:04. The fight at the Square had taken place a few hours prior. Pavel sat up fully, bracing his good arm up against the desk in order to stand on shaky legs. That's when he noticed his wounds weren't hurting nearly as much as they should've been. In fact, he should've been dead by now. A single untreated gunshot wound was pretty much certain death both on the surface and in the Metro. Much less two. So why wasn't he?

His jacket was unzipped and opened at the front, a slight chill penetrating the heavy fabric. When Pavel stood up his pack and belt fell to the ground, buckles clattering on the stone floor. He looked down at himself in surprise. Pavel most certainly didn't do this to himself. His left pant leg was also bunched up uncomfortably around his thigh, like someone had stuffed his pants. He looked down and felt around the injury under his trousers, inquisitive fingers meeting bandages. They were wrapped tightly, tucked and folded neatly. A check to his shoulder met the same result under his dark shirt. The bullet wound was right next to the Kevlar of his bulletproof vest; if Artyom had aimed just a little bit to the right he would've hit the protection instead.

Although Pavel didn't know which outcome he would've preferred.

He sighed deeply, and then he finally noticed that his breathing wasn't restricted and harsh like before. His mask was also not as broken, not shattered at the right corner. It had been replaced. This gas mask wasn't perfect, what with a large crack down the center of its visor. But it wasn't broken. And that was good enough for Pavel. There were a few extra filters on the ground next to him, as well as some painkillers and a roll of bandages.

Artyom...

There wasn't a doubt about it. It was Artyom who had spared him, who had saved him. Why he chose to, Pavel had no idea. They were enemies, on opposite sides of an entire war! It wasn't a total surprise to Pavel; Artyom had always been sentimental. Freeing those prisoners when they first met. Always writing in that damned journal. Opting to never kill unless necessary.

Except Pavel had made it necessary.

He wanted Artyom to kill him. Anything would have been better than the other outcomes. Or rather, the only other outcome. Pavel didn't even want to think about what else could've happened, didn't want to think of the life draining from Artyom's (green) eyes as he lay on the ground. Didn't want to think of a fatal gunshot in the center of the man's chest...

But something had happened that Pavel never expected. Something that he had never accounted for. Artyom had flipped the script, done the impossible. Again.

Pavel chuckled under his breath as he zipped up his jacket and painstakingly refastened his belt, slinging his pack over his good shoulder. A soft grunt left his clenched jaw as he brushed against the sore injury. He'd have to get it looked at by an actual doctor down in the Metro. Where, he had a vague idea; there were a few independent stations that would be able to treat him.

For there was no returning to the Red Line now, not after failing Korbut twice.

Maybe he won't know that Artyom got past me... Pavel thought, putting a small amount of weight on his bad leg and hissing in pain. I can spin a story. 'The crazed man killed my squad and I barely managed to stop him.'

Now Pavel was going to be miserable, trying to sort everything out. It would've been easier if Artyom had just killed him. Even if he was able to convince Korbut that he hadn't failed him, that lie would hang over his head for the rest of his short life. It wouldn't be able to stay secret for long, not if Artyom's body was found in D6. Pavel found himself sick to his stomach thinking about what Artyom would look like dead in the aftermath of the battle. Maybe his corpse would be so damaged they wouldn't be able to tell it was him.

But there was another part of Pavel that couldn't even imagine Artyom dying in such a way.

Why would Artyom even spare him? He could understand leaving him to bleed out, or letting the creature turn his head inside out. Or even slitting my throat with the knife that I gave him.

But treating him? Leaving him supplies without a word?

Pavel didn't know what to make of that.

Chapter Text

The Dark Ones were gone.

Artyom felt it was for the best; Humanity wasn't ready yet. He honestly didn't know if they ever would be ready. But with his connection to the Dark Ones, he felt that they were never truly gone; they were only waiting. Waiting for the humans to grow and change, in order to accept them.

"Artyom, come on! Miller won't wait for your ass forever." Speaking of humans not ready to accept the Dark Ones... Both Miller and his daughter Anna were prime examples of why the Dark Ones couldn't stay. Their minds weren't ready, weren't able to handle the idea of cooperation. "Quit daydreaming and come on!" Anna shoved his shoulder playfully, and Artyom rolled his eyes and continued walking with her.

She had warmed up to him since the battle for D6. They only saw each other again after the fight was over, and she sat by his infirmary bed while he recovered. Artyom was grateful to have her there, as Ulman was in the room over and therefore unable to communicate with the silent Artyom. She explained to him what happened when he got captured, and how she tried to rescue him but failed. She even ended up apologizing to him, a remorseful look in those pretty blue eyes.

He couldn't stay mad at her.

Now they were on their way to report to Miller about some of the other findings in the almost ransacked base. D6 had been saved from the Red Line seige, but with great cost to the Spartans defending it. Many doors had been blasted open in the assault; it was up to Anna, Artyom, and a few select others to work on the cleanup. "Dad isn't gonna be happy..." She trailed off as they walked, voice betraying how nervous she was.

Many of the rooms held even more dangerous weapons and biological nightmares. Most would have to be destroyed, as those kinds of weapons of destruction were just too deadly to be held in the hands of men. Said destruction would have to be performed carefully and cleanly, as most of said weapons were too dangerous to be dealt with by normal means. Artyom couldn't help but agree with her sentiment; Miller could end up being furious by what they found. The walk to his office ended too soon, and they looked at each other to brace themselves before opening the door and going in.

~*~

It wasn't as much of a disaster as it could've been. Miller was displeased, definitely, but not surprised with what they found. He had a suspicion for a long time now that D6 wasn't what had been promised, and now this was confirmation. The base wasn't a salvation.

It was a weapon.

Anna and Artyom exited the office relatively unscathed from Miller's wrath, taking a quick trek to the infirmary to visit Ulman. His wounds had been much more severe than any had anticipated, and it was lucky the man was still alive even now. As soon as they entered where he rested his face lit up with joy.

"Tyoma! And Anya! So good to see you two again!" Ulman immediately perked up from his resting position, wincing in pain when he strained his back.

"Easy, Ulman," Anna said, sitting down at his bedside. "We don't need to call the doctors on you again, now do we?" Artyom laughed a little under his breath, pulling up a chair across from Anna.

"Ah, no need to mother me! I remember you when you were just a malen'kiy rebenok!" Ulman was smiling widely, happy to have visitors. It was good to distract him from the broken state of his body. Luckily they didn't have to amputate any limbs, but he sustained some major damage to his legs and back. "If anything I should be mothering you!"

"Ha, I'd like to see you try," Anna snorted, shaking her head. Artyom still couldn't believe that this was the same woman who berated him and teased him when they first met. Now she seemed so... Different. Cheery. Anna looked from left to right before leaning in close to the older man and whispering conspiratorially, "Make sure you get some rest, I heard the doctors might be letting you try walking soon."

Ulman's eyes widened at that statement; it had been about a month since the battle and things were still going slow for both his healing and the cleanup teams.

"Anya, don't go getting my hopes up!" He whined, bringing up a hand to ruffle her hair. He turned to Artyom and did the same to him as well, "You better not encourage her, you bastard." Artyom pursed his lips and cocked a brow playfully, leaning back in order to spare his hair from Ulman's wandering hand. It was good that Ulman seemed to be feeling better, as Artyom remembered all too clearly how he was while they were quarantined.

He never wanted Ulman to end up like that again.

They stayed for a little longer, listening to Ulman tell his jokes and updating him on matters important to a high-ranking member such as himself. Eventually a doctor came by to tell them that they had to leave, as he had to administer some treatment and physical therapy to Ulman's slowly healing body. They bid each other farewell with smiles all around.

Things might finally be looking up.

~*~

"I still can hardly believe that we're still alive, Artyom," Anna told him later, at a table in the corner of the bar. "It just seems so impossible, doesn't it?" She looked out at the other soldiers, blue eyes shining in the dim lighting. Artyom shrugged and took a sip of his drink, coughing when it was stronger than anticipated. Anna laughed at him and downed her own much more successfully, silently bragging that she could handle her alcohol better.

"I wanted to ask you something," she said, scooting her chair closer to his. "There's been something I've been thinking about. With you." Her bangs fell over her right eye as she leaned forward. Artyom sat there, a little bit confused as to her antics. Her voice got lower as she continued, "You have always been so quiet and respectful, even getting on other men when they make passes at me. But I still get the feeling that there's something about you. You aren't the best at hiding your feelings, Artyom," she murmured, sliding a hand up his wrist to his arm and finally to his shoulder.

Artyom felt his mind go blank. She couldn't be-- Could she? Anna was a pretty girl, a very pretty one at that. Other men had noticed too, and were less than subtle in their attraction to her. Artyom found himself defending her on more than one occasion, not tolerating any sort of disrespect to a woman he held in good regard. And while Artyom could admire her curves and sweet smile from a respectable distance, he never thought that she felt any sort of attraction to him.

How perceptive of me.

Anna moved closer and her gaze flicked down to his lips. She bit her own bottom lip and ran a hand through his hair, twirling the strands through her fingers. "Artyom." She whispered, moving up and out of her chair to nearly sit in his lap. "Talk to me."

That broke Artyom from his stupor. He grabbed her shoulders before she could kiss him, holding her at a safe distance. Anna was beautiful, there was no denying that. And Artyom could appreciate a beautiful woman. But Miller would castrate then murder him if he ever tried anything with his daughter. There just wasn't any option with her.

Artyom moved her away and did a motion with his hands, a half-salute mixed with a hand across his jaw. Miller.

"My father? Artyom, he respects you!" Anna was understandably confused at his rejection of her, but not angry. Not yet. "Did I... Did I read you wrong?" Now it was her turn to be embarrassed, cheeks reddening at her misconception of him. "I thought that... Well--"

Artyom felt awful. He got her attention again and tried to reaffirm her beauty in his eyes; a few vague hand movements and facial expressions got the point across. Anna laughed a little at his panicking, mood lightening.

"Alright, I get it. No need to look so scared," she got up from his lap and moved back to her seat across from him. "I shouldn't even be surprised. You don't seem like the type to just jump after any woman who asks." She almost sounded, respectful? Anna tucked her hair behind her ear and clicked her teeth. "I hope this didn't make things strange between us. Maybe you're right, too. It would be better to stay as friends, huh?" Anna took another sip of her drink and cleared her throat. "Too many other things to focus on now, right?"

Artyom nodded at that, agreeing with her wholeheartedly.

Too many other things...

Chapter Text

In the months that passed, Artyom fell into a routine. Clean up D6, go on scouting missions with a few other Rangers, occasionally make their way to the surface to secure a new outdoor base. It was easy to forget all that had happened.

Ulman was walking again. Anna had pretended like she had never come on to Artyom, and their friendship didn't suffer for it. Miller had lost his legs, but prosthetics were already in the works for his use. Everything was finally getting back to normal. Or as normal as you could get in the Metro.

But Artyom's dreams just wouldn't stop.

~*~

He was in his bed at the bunker, staring at the ceiling. It was completely silent, something strange for the normal activity levels that happened at D6. Artyom sat up and looked over to his door, feeling a strange sense of foreboding from it.

But he got up and went over to open it anyway.

It creaked open on silent hinges, revealing not the halls of D6, but the soft red glow of emergency lights. His home station. VDNKh. Artyom didn't think anything of the strange change of scenery; it just seemed like a natural progression as he stepped out into the tunnel. He was facing south, towards the rest of the Kaluzhsko-Rizhskaya line.

Artyom turned around, now facing north and the rest of his old home. The door behind him was gone, instead replaced by the station. The tents and small hovels erected haphazardly were just as he remembered them before he left, untouched by the Dark Ones. VDNKh was deserted, dead silent except for a strange wind blowing. It was soft and deep, echoing throughout his mind. But something felt off about the peace.

Like it was frozen in time just before something terrible occurred.

His feet moved of their own accord, taking him through the makeshift pathways and past the communal fire. Even the fire's flames had stopped, licking up the wood and freezing in place. Dust had been floating in the air, halting in its meandering paths. But nothing seemed out of the ordinary to Artyom as the scenery got more and more unusual.

Vines had curled up around the walls and cracked the heavy stone with their weight; branches began blanketing the ceiling above him. With every step he felt a little more uneasy, but he was unable to stop. It was like something had possessed him to keep moving. He stepped on a vine and it shriveled under his boot, wriggling like an injured snake.

As Artyom walked everything became more wild and untamed, like nature had reached down and reclaimed the station regardless of how far below ground it was. Eventually he came to stand in front of a living wall, with it pulsing and undulating in front of him. He lifted up his hands and dived in, vines shrieking at his touch and burning away. The cries of the living plants were almost too much for Artyom to handle, but he kept pushing and finally broke free to find himself on the surface.

The moon was red and full, with a halo of clouds around it. The light from it drenched the scenery in its glow, looking like the bloody aftermath of a battle. Even the stars were red. The landscape was similar to his nightmares of the Botanical Gardens, but those had stopped once he helped the Little One reunite with his family.

These were remnants of his own city. Moscow.

The buildings were gutted like usual, steel bones exposed to the toxic air. The setting was even more unsettling than usual due to the red coating over everything, like blood dripping down the walls. The buildings still stood tall and proud, regardless of the pitiful structures that they made. The vines from before were gone.

Artyom began walking on the crumbled pathway, the husk of the once great city towering over him. The presence was oppressing. As he passed through the deserted areas and empty squares, he began to feel that something was guiding him to his destination.

Where, he didn't know. All he knew was that he must keep walking.

And so he did.

~*~

Artyom awoke in a cold sweat, shooting up on his cot in his room. This dream was just like the others, with him walking ever onward through the Dead City. But he never reached where he was going; Artyom always woke up before he got there. No matter what, he always woke up once he realized he was being guided.

He wasn't losing much sleep with these dreams, not like when he was plagued with nightmares after bombing the Dark Ones. No, they were just odd, probably his subconscious trying to tell him something. At least it wasn't that one...

There was another dream that Artyom began having once he returned to D6. It didn't have anything to do with Moscow or the Dark Ones. He just knew that it didn't, even though in that dream he could only ever recall one thing upon waking up. Just one thing, along with a strange feeling in his chest.

The sad blue eyes that seemed to continue haunting him no matter where he went.

They were the only thing he could remember. Everything else was hazy and washed away once he awoke. He could faintly recall a voice calling out to him from the distance, but he was unable to ascertain whether or not it was male or female. Or even what they were saying.

But he had an idea of who it was, haunting his dreams. There couldn't have been any other person with eyes that blue and a voice so pleading. Not Anna. Not Miller. Not Bourbon.

No. It had to have been him. Pavel.

No matter what, the man just wouldn't leave his thoughts. Every time Artyom left D6 on a scouting mission or some other task, he couldn't help but dread that he'd meet Pavel again down in the Metro. He almost thought that he could have died on the surface, but Artyom couldn't truly believe that he was dead until he saw it with his own eyes. Pavel was too quick, too resourceful to die by anything less than Artyom's own hand. And Artyom had stayed that hand, let Pavel go.

Miller didn't know that Pavel was alive. He didn't even ask if Artyom had killed him. Maybe he didn't care, as the fate of a single communist soldier didn't concern him much. No one else knew of Artyom's weakness, his sentimentality for an enemy. For someone who betrayed his friends so easily and had such unwavering loyalty to his government. Enemy... Perhaps they wouldn't be enemies for much longer.

There were whispers about, of the reform of the Red Line. Leonid had returned to his home after the death of Korbut and subsequent dethroning of the Secretary General Moskvin. He rose to power quickly, since most of the higher-ups had died in the battle for D6. It was easy for him to convince and charm his way back into the ranks of those who banished him. The young man was an idealist, urging for peace and prosperity through the Metro, but without violence. He used his travels around the stations as ways to bolster himself and his ideas. His goals were to bring back beauty to the underground.

Artyom had heard there were already three unsuccessful assassination attempts. Leonid was a smart man, surrounding himself with a small circle of others whom he trusted. Else he'd have never survived this long. But he used those attempts on his life as a bolster for his ideals, claiming that change must be made in order to prosper.

Leonid already established a contact with the Spartan Rangers, eager to form an alliance and begin uniting the Metro (if not by Communism then by at least civility). He also began forming his own relations with the Ring Line of Hanza, keeping the trade agreements and expanding on others. He treated his civilians with care, and his soldiers not like fodder to be thrown at the Nazis.

Artyom couldn't help but respect the young man. Leonid's goals were monumental and almost unrealistic, but his enthusiasm was infectious. It began influencing others. Waves began echoing through the Metro, feelings of a possible change. In order to fix the stagnation that they found themselves in people began rising up and taking matters into their own hands, inspired by Leonid's speeches and the fresh face of his leadership.

The new leader of the communists would be arriving soon, to talk with Miller about establishing relations. They were coming in a small group of about ten men, Leonid with his personal guard and a few other higher-ups. Artyom couldn't help but be worried as well as excited.

It could be a huge mistake.

Or, it might not be.

Chapter Text

When Pavel returned down into the Metro, he hadn't expected to see such chaos. Sure, chaos was a normal thing there, but this was something entirely new. The Red Line had fallen into disarray after the siege; that was how Pavel found out about their failure. So many high ranking officials had died or gotten ousted; Moskvin admitted to fratricide and was being tried. The rest were on the run.

So Pavel decided to return to the Red Line. Korbut and Lesnitsky were the only ones who knew of his mission, and the secret had died with them. Korbut was gone; Lesnitsky's whereabouts were unknown. And when Pavel returned many of his old friends had flocked to him, updating him on what had happened when he was gone.

It took over a month to begin rebuilding; no one could seem to come together on a decision of leadership. Many of the brass who were left began squabbling amongst themselves, all eager to take position with no thoughts to the others. That was when Leonid strutted up to the outer stations of the Red Line, hand clutching his stomach and a charming smile on his face. It didn't take much to convince the soldiers to let him in; Leonid was always a smooth-talker. He had a bullet wound that had been treated by another doctor, but it would take months of healing for him to recover fully.

Leonid didn't let that stop him though. He asserted leadership responsibilities almost immediately, casting down much of the Red Line's policies and enacting new ones. Secretary General... That title didn't belong to him, to a mere child who had no experience fighting. Pavel wasn't even much older than him (only a few years at most) yet he'd been in more battles for his life than the boy could probably even think of.

Pavel could scarcely believe that the boy was already doing so much and had still survived. Most of the older generation abhorred him and his ideals. Even some of the soldiers like Pavel had a hard time believing that he would deliver what he promised; the goals were just too lofty.

But the general civilians were loving it. Leonid often traveled through the stations of the Red Line (not without a personal guard, of course) and met with the public to speak with them. Not at them. He announced new treaties with Hanza and the Spartan Rangers, promising a chance of peace through the Metro and free travel regardless of party.

He was crazy; an absolute lunatic who knew nothing of government or how to run the Red Line. Pavel couldn't bring himself to actually respect him as a leader, there was no way this boy was going to succeed.

And yet Pavel found himself standing in front of the new leader's office, shifting from foot to foot uneasily. He had been called for a meeting with Leonid; all of the rest of the higher rank soldiers had been asked to meet with him at some time or another. Now it was his turn.

"Come in, Major," Leonid said when he opened the door, smiling at him from the desk where he sat. "I'm sure we have much to talk about."

Pavel didn't know how to react. Half of him wanted to salute and follow orders blindly, but another part of him just didn't know how to treat Leonid. The child who had taken power into his own hands. He had spoken with him before, when the boy was still under the thumb of his father. And he never seemed like he'd be able to handle command well. Yet here he was.

"Sir." That was all Pavel could bring himself to say for the moment.

"I think you already know what I'm going to ask you," Leonid replied, motioning for the chair across from him. He reached under the desk and pulled out a bottle of old, pre-war liquor. "Can I offer you a drink?" Pavel nodded his head silently, still unsure how to address the boy. Leonid seemed to be alright with his quietness, pouring out a drink for both of them and placing Pavel's closer within his reach. "I want to know where your loyalties lie."

Pavel's throat went dry. This was the moment of truth; the tipping point as to whether or not he'd be able to stay with his comrades. No matter how crazy Leonid was, if he was able to convince him that he was trustworthy then he'd have his ticket to stay. Whoever overthrew the boy would be easy to convince as well. "You were very loyal to my father and Korbut, almost to a fault now that they are no longer in the picture. I want to know whether or not that loyalty still lives after them and whether or not you are a possible threat."

Leonid's eyes were green, watching him carefully for a telling reaction. There were flecks of brown in them, like most people's of the Metro. Not like Artyom's, whose were so bright and deep and clear. Leonid's were muted and almost dull, like the environment around him. Artyom's shone.

Pavel had to snap himself out of his trance, as Leonid cocked a brow at his silence and lack of response. He cleared his throat and began talking:

"Well of course I was loyal to them, how could I not be? I'm sure you already know, but the conditions then for a solider weren't the best." Play it up, slant to his side. Pavel was accustomed to doing things like this; he did it all of the time. "I assure you my loyalties lie with the Red Line, and I want nothing but a better and more equal state for everyone!" Leonid tilted his head and took a small sip of his own drink, almost daintily.

"Tell me what you actually think," he said, almost making Pavel sputter incomprehensibly. But he kept his cool, knew how to act. It seemed that the boy was smarter than he let on. "I'm not like Korbut or my father. There is no need to exaggerate or garnish your words here. You will not disappoint me." Pavel began to see why so many of Leonid's new officers were so loyal, and not loyal out of fear like before. He knew what he was doing, and treated his men like true people. There was an innate charm he had that made you want to believe in him. "I just want to know what your real aspirations for the Red Line are."

Pavel thought for a moment. Sure, there was the obvious. He believed in Communism and how it could benefit the Metro. The ideas offered by the Red Line were something he had always believed in. Food for all, equality, basic human needs fulfilled without a worry. What Leonid was asking was something completely different. What did he want? What was he willing to do for what he believed in?

Most anything, as his journey with Artyom revealed.

"I--... I'm not sure I'm the one you should be asking about this," he finally said, shrugging his shoulders with an air of defeat. "What I want isn't important. It's what you guys want up there that is. I follow orders." Leonid clicked his tongue, and Pavel had a sudden feeling that he had disappointed the boy with his answer. But didn't surprise him.

"That's the opinion of most who I have asked. But the Red Line requires all to participate if we are to succeed. You must care about what we do, must raise your voice. How are we supposed to know something is wrong if no one tells us so?" Leonid laced his fingers together in front of his chin and rested his head on top of them. "I've given thought to your loyalty, and its repercussions. There is a place for you here, you know the people and soldiers of the lower ranks well. They respect you." Pavel could feel his chance coming closer and closer, his need for belonging pulling him forward. "But I have to make sure that you are loyal to me. Not Korbut's dead ideals and need to conquer, not the older brass left who want the Red Line to stagnate in its own filth and squalor.

"I want to know if you are willing to move forward and not let the shackles of the past bind you to those long gone." Leonid's words stunned Pavel into silence, holding his mind hostage and his attention clearly. "Your passion for our cause is admirable, but I will admit some of your methods are a bit... Unscrupulous. That just will not do, either. If we are to prove that peace can be established, we must do it with diplomacy and not dishonesty. Is this clear?"

"Yes, sir," Pavel said on autopilot, before he could even process what he had just agreed to. Once the words ran circles around his brain, however, he found that he worked himself into a corner. Ah, well. It wouldn't be easy, what Leonid was asking him to do, but it was possible. Pavel was good at lying.

Too good.

"Good. There will be many opportunities for you to prove your loyalty to me. You are a good Major, Comrade Morozov. See to it that my faith in you is well placed." Leonid stood up and Pavel realized he never even drank the cup offered to him; he had been so distracted. So Pavel tipped it back in one gulp once he stood as well, nearly coughing but able to hold his breath back when he saluted his new leader. In his mind, Leonid could never be the Secretary General. That title just didn't fit.

As Pavel left the office and walked down the halls of the Red Line, he considered Leonid again. The boy was crazy, absolutely insane. If he thought that this was going to work then he was sorely mistaken. There was no way the Red Line would ever be able to influence the others without subterfuge and violence.

But Leonid's words planted a little seedling of doubt into his mind, one that promised all of those lofty goals and idealistic things.

You don't get by on ideals alone in the Metro...

Chapter Text

The Red Line was seen as something unchanging and concentrated in its efforts to expand. The need to spread Communism was a part of its being. Yet now, everything was changing and being brought down around everyone's ears. Leonid had gotten rid of all of the members of the Politburo, firing them all and demanding a re-election in the hands of the people. No one refused, the thought was too tempting.

Leonid had already swayed the hearts of many, filled their heads with his hopes for change and true equality.

The stations of the Line were to choose one member as a representative. Each representative would speak for the station and its needs whenever there was a council meeting. Leonid stayed on a while longer as the grand leader, unwilling to turn over his power to those that weren't trustworthy. Once each member of the new Politburo had been chosen, he met with each one personally and either approved or disapproved of the choice.

Most were approved.

Once the new Politburo was elected, Leonid gracefully and politely handed his power to the hands of the people and the council. While the boy wasn't the sole leader of the Party anymore, he still had a good amount of say as to what would be happening. He was kept on as an ambassador and advisor of sorts, as his travels gave him experience with those at other stations. He would be a good representative of the new Red Line. Even Pavel was starting to believe Leonid had some aspect of an idea, and a possibility to succeed. He had made it this far; it was much more than Pavel had ever expected from the young boy.

He might start to actually respect him if Leonid kept at it.

The station of Revolution Square became a hub, more bustling and busy than ever before. People were able to travel there safely, something that was rare and not often seen before now.

That was where Pavel was currently at. He had been called in by his superiors to meet with Leonid once again. They didn't meet often, but whenever they did Pavel was sent on a personal mission by the young man. Ever since he had sworn himself to the then-aspiring leader, he found himself mainly doing reconnaissance on the surface or short meetings with the Hanseatic League. No battles with the Nazis, not even confrontations on the surface. He hadn't fired his gun in a long time; it had been even longer since he'd been in a fight.

The last fight he'd been in was the one at Red Square. Where Artyom had defeated, then spared him.

Artyom...

Artyom just wouldn't leave Pavel's mind. Thoughts of the other man tended to pop up at the most inopportune moments; there could be one thing to set them off. Someone with a slightly similar build, the scratch of a pencil on paper, even the gentle scrape of boots sometimes sent memories racing through Pavel's head. Memories of his old friend as they traveled together.

Artyom's eyes as they shone with silent laughter, the little tilt of his shoulder when he was unsure. The single-minded drive he had when a goal was visible. His hair, messy and dark; it would always stick up at odd angles when he removed his helmet or gas mask. A quirk of the mouth whenever Pavel told a stupid joke. Every feature, every little detail about Artyom was fresh in his mind, even though it had been months since he last saw the other man. He'd probably never even see him again.

Pavel gritted his teeth as he walked and clenched his fists by his sides. None of that mattered anymore. Artyom was gone. Either dead or on the complete other side of the Metro, never to be seen again by Pavel. There was nothing that could be done now. He needed to be focused on the meeting with Leonid, not running off into dreamland! The door was close now, and he hurried over to it in order to distract himself. Pavel rapped his knuckles against the door with three sharp knocks.

"Come in."

Pavel entered the room and was greeted by the sight of Leonid sitting at his desk, as well as his direct superior, Igor Melorovich. Pavel saluted them both and shut the door behind him, taking the proffered seat. "Comrade Morozov, you have been making some strides indeed," Leonid said with a smile, folding his hands in front of him. "I've been hearing a lot about you, and so has the rest of the Politburo."

Pavel couldn't believe his ears. He had been suspecting for a while now that they were pleased with his progress to further the Red Line's cause, but he didn't think that it would be this soon. Or that they had actually cared. Korbut certainly never did. "Colonel Petrov and I have been talking about your progress. There is a mission coming up in the next few days that I think you would be well suited for." The colonel was a severe man, and Pavel hadn't talked to him much. When he did, the older man was gruff and said as few words as possible.

But now he had an expression of almost pride. Leonid looked absolutely tiny next to him, and the fact that he was sitting down while the colonel was standing didn't help matters much. "It must be delicate and requires tact that I have seen you prove again and again. There is another thing before I tell you, though..." Leonid trailed off and motioned to the colonel, who stepped forward.

"Major Pavel Igorevich Morozov, you have served the Red Line admirably and efficiently. Your missions since the reform have all been successful due to your wit and finesse, and you have adjusted well to our rapidly changing system." This was the most that Pavel had ever heard the grizzled man speak. There was something in Colonel Petrov's eyes that shone mistily as he spoke. As if he were remembering something from before. "It is with great honor that I am able to present you with the title of Lieutenant Colonel," he held out a hand, the glint of metal visible over his thick fingers. The badge was cheap and probably fragile, but that's not what counted. Decoration of officers wasn't as important as the things they needed to survive, so it was understandable.

The gesture was what did count.

Could he even refuse? How would he ever?

Pavel took the small metal thing, pitifully shaped and poorly made by the smiths of the Metro. But he handled it like it was burnished gold, holding it delicately and nodding with a tightness to his chest.

"Thank you, Colonel. It--It's truly an honor to..." He couldn't even finish, cutting himself off with a lump in his throat. Pavel always got worked up when he was promoted; it just wasn't something he could help.

"The honor is all mine, boy. You've been an asset to the Party," the colonel continued, seeming like he's said these words a hundred times over. Pavel cleared his throat and clutched the small badge tightly, balling his fist at his side.

"So, you said something about a-- a mission? What is it?" He turned back to face Leonid, who smiled from where he sat.

"Ah, yes. Comrade Morozov, I have an important assignment that will be trusted to you as well as a few others. It is of delicate substance, and you've shown tact in matters of negotiation before." Leonid paused for effect, and Pavel nearly shouted at him to get on with it. The boy had a flair for the dramatic sometimes. "I have secured a meeting with Miller, the leader of the remaining Spartan Rangers."

Pavel nearly choked. The Spartan Rangers? He never thought that Leonid would ever want to try and rebuild a relationship with them, not after the battle of D6 and subsequent killing of most of their Order. Friendship just wasn't possible, not after what had happened. It was impossible. Not all Rangers were as forgiving as his. Just when I had thought Leonid had finally come to his senses. Once he caught his breath, he sputtered out:

"Forgive me, sir, but I don't think we could ever form an alliance with the Rangers. They, ah-- They aren't exactly too happy with us after what happened a few months ago," Pavel didn't want to directly say what had been bothering him, instead choosing to hint as to what he was talking about. Leonid fixed him with a strange look and waved his hand, dismissing him.

"Ah, but you see, that's where you're wrong. Have you ever met with one since the failed siege?" Leonid smiled again and stood up from his seat. "Colonel Miller has already agreed to a meeting! He's willing to understand that it was Korbut, not the whole of the Red Line, who wanted to take the Metro by force. He is a reasonable man, you know." Leonid was grinning excitedly, like a child right before they found out they were sorely wrong. And he was. There was no way in hell that Miller would ever agree to peace; more likely he wants to isolate Leonid in order to assassinate him silently. In order to finally rid himself of those who devastated his forces.

"I-- Well..." It also wasn't like he could refuse an order, especially not after being promoted and being expected to accept. No matter how much he disagreed with Leonid now, he had to obey. Colonel Petrov was looking at him strangely, almost in shock and disapproval at his hesitation to meet with the Rangers. "Of course I'll accompany you, though. It's part of my responsibility to help facilitate relations, after all." The tense nature of the room vanished at his words. Both Leonid and the colonel visibly relaxed.

"Perfect. We're going to be leaving in four days. Make sure you have everything ready, as we'll be staying with the Rangers for a couple of days as well." Leonid walked around out from behind his desk, grabbing Pavel's hand in a firm handshake. "This will be a grand step to help unite the Metro, and I'm glad that you'll be there to help us. Who knows, you might even make some friends amongst the Rangers that are left!" Leonid shared a hearty laugh with the colonel.

Pavel felt his stomach roil into knots. There was only one Ranger that could undo everything that he'd worked for, one Ranger who could ruin everything with a snap of his fingers.

Pavel could only hope that it wouldn't come to that.

Chapter Text

Today was the day. Leonid and his group of soldiers were scheduled to arrive in a few hours, in order to begin discussing alliance specifications with Miller. They had all agreed to travel to Polis, a neutral ground, in order to have the talks.

Artyom had accompanied him, along with Anna and a few other Rangers. Ulman had to stay behind, as his injuries were still a little too severe in order for him to set off into the tunnels. So Sam had accompanied them instead; the American Ranger wouldn't leave Miller's side for longer than a minute. He would be a good guard for the crippled colonel. At least until his prosthetics were finished.

The railcar pulled into Polis and the Rangers exited it, with Miller in the lead. Sam helped him with the cumbersome wheelchair, ignoring Miller's assertions that he could do it himself. The others had to hold back their laughter at the colonel's indignant protests and Sam's incessant bickering with him. Artyom followed after them with Anna and the six other Rangers falling into step behind. They were led to the 'hotel' they were to be staying at. Artyom was to have a room to himself, a rare event indeed. Most of them were able to afford that luxury, as the Rangers were now respected even more throughout the Metro. After what had happened, they were put onto an even higher pedestal than before.

They were hailed as saviors; people stared and gaped as they passed. It made Artyom more than a little uncomfortable. He didn't like having so many eyes on him at once. Any small mistake would be amplified by the hundreds; the people were scrutinizing and observant.

Artyom decided to forego mingling with the civilians and instead spent his time in his room at the hotel. Anna had stopped by before she left to go out to lunch with the other Rangers, asking if he wanted to come with them. Artyom shook his head from where he lay, waving his hand for them to go on without him. Anna acquiesced and shot him a small smile before shutting the door behind her, leaving him alone to his thoughts.

He was too nauseous to eat anyways. The idea of meeting with the soldiers of the Red Line just wouldn't leave him in peace. Any time he ever saw Red Line soldiers he felt more on edge than usual. He didn't want to think of the possibility of seeing him again. Artyom couldn't help but laugh at his own foolishness; Pavel was working him up into a tight knot of nerves, and the man hadn't even showed his face in months! The chance that he'd be there is so small, there are fifteen thousand soldiers of the Red Line. It's just impossible. Artyom didn't think that enough time had passed, didn't think that enough time could ever pass.

If he saw Pavel ever again it would be too soon.

He already saw him enough in his dreams; the damn man haunted his every step. His voice would always call out like it had when Artyom saved him from the lost souls. It was so broken and sad, pleading and begging for his help. His eyes were even more blue than Artyom remembered, like the sky from his dreams. They seared holes into his heart and left them there to fester like an infection. With each day that passed it worsened and grew inside of him, an ache within his chest that wouldn't go away. This had never happened before.

Artyom had put great thought as to what these dreams could mean, and the possibility of what they meant didn't scare him as much as it should have. He wanted to see Pavel again, deep down. It was hard to admit to himself, but unless he accepted what he was feeling then it'd never go away. He still thought of him as someone to care about, someone that a friendship could be salvaged with.There were other thoughts that still made him sick, made him want to vomit in fear, but they weren't enough to make him give everything up and quit.

Artyom was stronger than that. He'd dealt with this before, with others like him. It would pass, as it always did. Feelings were impermanent; they shriveled and died with enough time that passed. Even if Pavel showed up, it would be fine. Pavel wasn't even--

He would be fine.

~*~

Artyom had been able to work himself into a short nap, finding enough peace to relax for a few precious moments before the peace talks began. Anna had banged on his door when it was time, yelling out that he'd better be decent because it was time to go. Artyom extricated himself from his sheets and pulled on a jacket over his shirt and trousers. Polis was a peaceful city, there would be no need for his full uniform here.

They arrived at the room first, taking the opportunity to sit Miller behind a large wooden desk. It was placed to strategically hide most of his wheelchair; Miller didn't want to show any signs of weakness during the meeting. He had told them that manners were to be expected, as Leonid was a young upstart who had very grand ideas as to what could be done between the two factions.

"I realize that the young boy wasn't present in the Red Line when the attack was launched on D6. That's the only reason I agreed to meet with him, along with the fact that he has been most gracious to the other faction of Hansa as well," Miller explained before Leonid arrived, making sure every single Ranger knew to be on his (and her) best behavior. He hadn't wanted to bring Anna along at first, but Artyom had convinced him with the strategic value that knowledge of this could bring. Anna could become a skilled negotiator with practice, and who else but her would help lead the Rangers after Miller was gone?

Leonid was right on time, on the dot. He entered the room with his own soldiers and representatives, all of them out of their troop uniforms and in regular clothes. Both factions had the same idea regarding that particular circumstance, not wanting to project an air of hostility towards the other. The room was big enough for all nineteen people to fit comfortably, with both Leonid and Miller sitting down and the rest standing at their backs.

Artyom watched as the soldiers filed in one by one. There were eight in total, discounting Leonid. They all seemed a little more hopeful than most Red Line troops he had seen on his travels, as well as more fed. It looked like the famine was being resolved, as the soldiers no longer resembled spindly wastrels. They moved to stand behind Leonid as he saluted Miller and sat down. The unexpected show of respect wasn't lost on the Rangers, and Miller schooled his face so as to not show surprise. Artyom let his gaze flick between all of the soldiers, nerves easing as he catalogued each face. None that he recognized.

"You must forgive me, we have another man coming. My Lieutenant Colonel was held up by a few rowdy civilians on the way here," Leonid apologized, motioning to the blank space between two of his soldiers. "Please don't assume that is a sign of disrespect, Colonel." Miller waved his hand and pardoned the young man.

"Nonsense. You have already been much more courteous than most men I've dealt with before. Consider it pardoned," And so the negotiations began. Things started out quite light and cordial, as Leonid didn't want to proceed fully without his final man. Mostly greetings between the Rangers and the Red Line; things were a bit stilted, but not more than expected. Artyom felt himself relax. Pavel wasn't here. He had nothing to worry about.

Footsteps approached from the hallway, and a series of sharp knocks sounded on the door.

"Ah, that'll be Comrade Morozov now," Leonid said, standing and moving to the door. Morozov? Artyom's chest constricted in fear. No... Leonid opened the door and a panting figure was revealed, wiping his brow and adjusting his dress shirt.

"Apologies, there were a few citizens of Polis who otherwise demanded my attention. They practically dragged me away," Pavel chuckled lightly, immediately brightening the room around him. A few other soldiers (from both sides) joined in; his laughter was infectious. Artyom couldn't take his eyes off of him.

Pavel hadn't changed much since he saw him last. His hair was still trimmed close to his skull and he had shaved, probably specifically for this meeting. His uniform was fitted nicely and he filled it out well, clearly already reaping the benefits of the reformed Red Line. "Please, don't stop on my--" Pavel had finished looking around the room at around the time he cut himself off, eyes meeting Artyom's. "--account." No one seemed to notice his hesitation, as they all continued where they left off. "Lieutenant Colonel Pavel Igorevich Morozov," He said his name for an introduction and fell silent, not taking his eyes off of Artyom the entire time.

Artyom could barely hear what was being said over the rushing of blood in his ears. Why was he here? Now, of all times? His heart was beating so frantically that he was worried that Anna, who was standing next to him, could hear it nearly pounding its way out of his chest. This was bad, very bad. Pavel had stared at Artyom the entire time, surprise coloring his features and giving his cheeks an almost rosy glow.

His eyes were just as bright as he remembered them.

Pavel tore his gaze away when he was addressed by Leonid, inputting his opinion when asked. When he finished talking, he avoided eye contact with Artyom, choosing instead to stare a point on the wall above his head. Both men didn't let any sign show that they knew each other, knowing that revealing such sensitive information could be disastrous. While Artyom loathed seeing him again, he couldn't help but feel glad to know that Pavel was relatively safe and happy.

The fact that he had lived after what had happened in Red Square was enough to lift a weight off of Artyom's chest. Pavel couldn't keep his focus away for long, and when they finally ended up looking at each other again, Artyom smiled. It was small and almost not noticeable, barely even a quirk of the mouth. He let the gesture travel, the slight show of approval and openness make its way over to Pavel. He saw and replied with a relieved grin, shoulders relaxing just a little bit.

A flutter of the heart, deep down in Artyom's chest.

"--as a gesture of good will. Wouldn't you agree, Colonel Miller?" Leonid was talking, but Artyom hadn't been paying attention until just now. He needed to focus.

"Of course. Public announcements would be a good way to promote an understanding between our two factions," Miller replied, folding his hands together on the table. "However, we have already talked for a few hours now, and our stay is scheduled to end in three days. If we could continue this tomorrow, perhaps? Let's keep focus on one thing at a time." The older man was tired, but didn't want to show it. There was a small grimace on his face known only to a few select Rangers. His legs must be acting up again.

"Ah, yes, of course!" Leonid exclaimed excitedly, shooting out of his seat and extending a hand to Miller. He took it in an eager shake. "How about a trip to the bar?" He asked, turning to face his men. They all smiled at the suggestion, nodding their heads in assent. "Your Rangers are welcome to come along too, if they wish," Leonid left the statement open, the invitation to come friendly and eased.

~*~

Sam had elected to stay behind with Miller. But everyone else left to go to one of the bars of Polis with the Red soldiers. Conversation was strained at the beginning; despite the efforts to ally themselves, lingering doubts of each other were still there. Artyom walked next to Anna the whole time, eyes drilling holes into the back of Pavel's head. He wanted to talk to him, alone. Regardless of whatever was going on inside of him, he still wanted to remain friends with Pavel. Even more so, now that the Red Line was finally beginning to attempt peace negotiations.

All traces of his fear to see him again had vanished, instead replaced with a burning desire to hear Pavel's voice:

Not colored with fear.

The bar was half-full, and with the arrival of new patrons the tender perked up and greeted them exuberantly. Once drinks started flowing and food was delivered, the conversation became much more natural and eased. Leonid was quite the talker, regaling them with stories of his adventures before his return to the Red Line. His eyes caught Artyom's and a flicker of remembrance passed through them. He stood up, letting the other men continue with their discussion.

"You..." He walked over to where Artyom stood, leaning against a pillar. "I'll be damned!" He laughed, slapping Artyom on the shoulder. "I can't believe it. You are him, right? Do you remember me?" Artyom nodded silently, recalling the time when Leonid had freed him and allowed him to escape.

But he was distracted for the moment, keeping his eyes on where Pavel sat at the bar. He was mingling with the other patrons, electing to keep a distance between himself and the Rangers. "My father was not happy with that turn of events. Actually exiled me because of that little 'show of rebellion' as he put it," Leonid continued, crossing his arms with a smile and a shake of the head. "I am surprised to see you again, of all people. Even more surprised to not hear you objecting to the events happening now! After what they did..."

Leonid tilted his head and furrowed his brow. "It was..." He caught the fact that Artyom was distracted, letting his own gaze follow the other man's. "I--" Pavel was laughing at a joke, eyes closed and head thrown back in mirth. "Oh," Leonid seemed to think his fixation was based in anger, as he put a hand on Artyom's shoulder. He jolted and finally his attention was back to the young man. "Please forgive him. Comrade Morozov has really shown a lot of progress since you last met. During that time he was under the orders of such a corrupt and evil man, as I'm sure you remember."

Artyom couldn't help but shudder at the mention of Korbut. Memories of being strapped down in that dark room came to the surface, the drug coursing through his veins and making him sick. Being beaten and screamed at. "I know!" Leonid grabbed Artyom's arm and began pulling him over to the bar, snapping him out of the walk down memory lane. Artyom didn't have the heart in him to refuse; he secretly loved the excuse to go over and talk to Pavel. "Comrade Morozov!" Leonid called out, getting Pavel's attention.

When his gaze slid over to Artyom next to Leonid, his face broke out into such a wide grin. Completely different from his first reaction in that room.

"Artyomich!" He shot up out of his seat and rushed over to pull Artyom into a bone-crushing hug. "Crazy seeing you again, huh chuvak?" Artyom returned the hug, gripping tightly and burying his face into the crook of Pavel's neck. He had missed him. A lot more than he had thought. His throat was tight and sore, like he had been screaming. "And look at this, the Red Line is making relations with your Order now!" Pavel pulled away, waving Leonid back to his comrades and sharing a pointed look with him.

Leonid nodded and left, not without shooting a confused expression in Artyom's direction. Artyom ignored him though. Pavel had motioned towards the exit, keeping a firm hand on Artyom's arm as they left the bar. "Artyom." He said once they were out of earshot of their fellows, standing near the railing above one of the manufactured rivers. "Tak tak tak tak... How do I say this? There's so much to talk about," He was talking to himself, something that often happened when they traveled together. He made up more than enough for Artyom's silence. "Alright, most important thing first, right chuvak? About the Red Square..."

Artyom stood by his side, turning to face him and leaning back on the marble railing. He tilted his head in question. "I said some--... things, to you. Things that weren't true." Artyom thought back to that time with great difficulty; he didn't want to be reminded of when they fought on opposite sides. But he remembered. Pavel let his hands dangle down off of the railing, leaning over it on his elbows. "About your, voice." Pavel tapped his own throat and quickly looked away from Artyom, worried to see his reaction. "I didn't mean what I said, then. I thought of the worst thing I could ever say and, well... I said it. Blyadj, please do something before I embarrass myself more." It had hurt at the time, hurt so bad that he could hardly breathe through his anger.

But now? He already knew that Pavel didn't mean it.

So he patted Pavel on the shoulder, pressing his lips together and quirking his mouth in a sort of shrug. I've forgiven you, was the silent meaning.

Because he had.

Chapter Text

When he had first walked into that room and saw Artyom standing there behind the leader of the Spartan Rangers, his heart nearly stopped for a scant couple of seconds. His voice cut itself off, like a wire that had just been snapped. No one had noticed his sudden reaction; they were all too busy with their own attentions being held by Leonid and Miller. Only Artyom saw how his presence affected Pavel. Artyom hadn't looked particularly angry, just surprised to see him.

But he had kept staring. Pavel hadn't been able to tear his eyes away, losing himself in waves of green so bright one might've been blinded. They burned into him and made his face flush red. His gaze poured into Pavel like fresh water, filled something up inside of his chest that he hadn't realized he'd been missing.

The mere sight of Artyom alive, when in so many of Pavel's nightmares he was felled by a bullet or a mutant, was enough to nearly knock him flat. All of those times he saw him die, in a haze of machine gun fire, or carried off by a mutant, or throat slit by a bandit (red blood dripping down making his eyes all the brighter). The worst ones were when Pavel saw the light die, saw the hilt of the knife in his own hand, blade buried deep into Artyom's stomach--

Pavel clenched his hand into a fist. That would never happen. He had that chance at the Red Square, and couldn't bring himself to do it. Back when he had limped away and Artyom rounded the corner. He could've shot then, could've ended the man's life easily. He had the opening, had a perfect aim. All he had to do was lift his gun from its position...

But he really couldn't. And neither, it seemed, could Artyom. At that time Pavel knew he didn't want to fight, knew that Artyom was so unbelievably conflicted. It was etched across every line of his face, even behind the heavy glass of his mask.

But now Pavel wasn't able to get a good read on Artyom. He couldn't tell what he was thinking, what he was feeling. Artyom could be surprisingly good at hiding his emotions sometimes, keeping his face neutral and disinterested. Just staring. It made Pavel nervous, unsure. Did Artyom hate him? I would.

Then he finally tore his gaze away in an attempt to distract himself. He was able to focus on the meeting, only to find himself looking back at Artyom after what felt like just minutes. The other man smiled. It was small, a quirk of the mouth, barely anything. But Pavel noticed; his time spent training to recognize tells and minute changes of expression didn't fail him then. And of course he had to reply.

A smile of his own would suffice.

A weight had been lifted at that little silent exchange, and Pavel found himself finally able to relax. Artyom didn't hate him. He just knew it. There was something about his eyes, they were soft still when looking at Pavel. Like they had been from before; before Pavel ended up ruining everything.

He still regretted that. How could he ever betray Artyom, who walked so resolutely and eagerly behind him? Who listened to every word he said with interest, who smiled every time he was addressed as D'Artagnan, who wrote in his journal and drew little pictures. Who (and this might've just been a trick of the poor lighting) blushed so prettily when Pavel had called him dorogoy--

Pavel had to shake himself from those thoughts, not wanting to delve further into that particular lurker hole. Artyom was a good friend, just exasperated at Pavel's wording and joking tone. Because he was joking. Of course he was. There was nothing there; nothing like that.

When it was time to go he was one of the first out of the room, briskly walking down the hallway in the general direction of a bar. It didn't matter where he was; he just needed a drink, and badly. He could feel eyes on him, making the skin on the back of his neck crawl. Pavel was tempted to turn around and shout at him, or grab him by the shoulders--anything to get Artyom to stop. It was making him uncomfortable and tense, the way that he didn't seem to want to initiate conversation.

Why didn't he? Did Pavel misinterpret him?

He stayed as far away from the Rangers as he could, choosing to sit at the bar. Artyom stood off on his own too, near his fellows but not with them. Every handful of seconds Pavel found himself glancing back over at him. The man's posture was tight, but not quite uncomfortable. Just tense. Pavel decided to just look away and focus on his drink, listening to another patron tell a long and thought-out joke.

Then Leonid dragged Artyom over, saying something that Pavel couldn't hear because Artyom was smiling again. Smiling at him. Pavel shot up from his seat and got the signal, shouting and pulling his friend into a hug, acting like all of those horrible things hadn't happened months ago. Artyom replied with returning the hug, patting his back and letting his face fall into the crook between Pavel's neck and shoulder. Pavel's heart raced and his throat closed up for a second before he cleared it and pulled away. He curled his hand into a fist and punched Artyom's chest playfully.

"And look at this, the Red Line is making relations with your Order now!" He shot a glance at Leonid, who was watching with an eager yet confused look. Leonid seemed to understand what the tilt of his head meant, and he nodded before returning to the group of soldiers. Pavel kept a hand on Artyom's arm and led him away; he needed to talk to him, alone. Artyom let him, just let him lead him around. Why wasn't he resisting?

They walked over to a railing, and Pavel leaned over it to look out at some of the expanse of Polis. "Artyom," He said, turning his head to face him. Artyom was quietly standing there, just standing there. "Tak tak tak tak... How do I say this?" There was so much that needed to be said, apologies to be dished out and offered. While an apology from Pavel of all people would be worth less than shit down in the Metro, he still felt like he owed Artyom something. The other man was still quiet; but when was he not? Pavel found himself filling the silence, talking so much while Artyom just silently listened. "Alright, most important thing first, right chuvak? About the Red Square..."

He needed to say it, needed to apologize. It had been bothering him for so long; the cheap shot he threw at Artyom when they fought. And while Pavel wasn't unaccustomed to throwing cheap shots, this was more personal than that. Even just thinking back on it made him feel sick and disgusted. "I said some--... things, to you. Things that weren't true." He didn't want to say it again, didn't want to remind Artyom about his insensitivity and rudeness. But if there was hope for recovery between them, he had to say it. "About your, voice," He coughed out, tapping his throat and looking away before he could see Artyom's eyes darken with anger.

Because they would. He knew they would. Pavel was sure that Artyom already faced enough abuse and mocking from others about his lack of spoken language, so for a friend to say such things? That would hurt more than the hundreds of strangers who already did. "I didn't mean what I said, then. I thought of the worst thing I could ever say and, well... I said it." This was getting even more uncomfortable by the second. "Blyadj, please do something before I embarrass myself more."

He didn't want to look at Artyom. Pavel just shut his mouth before he could say anything else humiliating, his fumbled apology sticking in his throat and coming out all wrong. This was something that didn't happen to him often, feeling remorseful and apologizing about it. There was a hand on his shoulder, turning him to face Artyom. The look on his face wasn't angry, though. It was almost neutral, with him tilting his head ever so slightly and lifting his eyebrows.

Pavel knew what it meant. I forgive you.

When Artyom had responded positively to his apology, Pavel let out a long sigh of relief. That was something that had been bothering him ever since he could remember carelessly throwing around those scorning words. "Woah, that, uh... That really takes a weight off of me, Artyomuchka." He attempted to downplay his reaction by over-exaggerating to a high degree. "No, really!" He added when Artyom cocked a brow, catching on to his tone. "I was absolutely 'up in arms'. So worried about you and how terribly rude I was!" Artyom rolled his eyes and wagged a finger at him, as if to say 'Don't push it too far, now.'

Pavel couldn't help but laugh. It was as if nothing had changed. But deep down, inside of him, he knew that there was something different. Something that could never be regained ever since that night at the Teatr. Artyom might be happy to see him, but he most certainly would never trust Pavel again.

And he was alright with that. I'd not trust me either. So he was happy to settle for what he got, a possible rekindling of their friendship. "Davai, Artyom," He said, putting an arm around his shoulders. "Let's get back to the others, eh?" Artyom smiled and shook his head, allowing Pavel to lead again.

There was a lot of catching up to do.

Chapter Text

The meetings were a total success. The Red Line and the Spartan Rangers were now officially allies, and would send men over to each faction frequently in order to remain in contact as well as keep good relations upheld. There were other sides to their agreements as well such as supply arrangements and the like; Artyom was just not overly concerned with them now. All of that stuff would come later.

Before Artyom left Polis with his fellows, Pavel yanked him over to the side in a small archway. He pulled Artyom close in a powerful hug, arms wrapping almost entirely around him. "I'm gonna miss you, chuvak. Make sure you stay alive, huh?" His voice was slightly muffled by the fabric of Artyom's jacket.

Artyom patted him on the back and moved away, shooting Pavel a small smile that said all he needed to. They would meet again, hopefully soon. Artyom found himself happy and already missing him? Pavel returned the smile softly, brows turning up and having an expression that seemed almost familiar--

"Artyom!" Anna shouted, cupping a hand over her mouth. "Time to go!" Artyom jolted and turned away from Pavel, rushing over to get on the railcar before he could be left behind. He looked behind him one last time and Pavel did a cheeky two-finger salute. The context of it was completely different than the other time Pavel had done something similar. As Artyom heavily landed in the seat next to Anna she leaned in and asked, "Who's that? You making friends with the Red Line soldiers already?"

Artyom shook his head as the car started moving, holding up his hands and pointing his thumb behind him in the direction of where Pavel stood. Then he touched his own chest and did a back-and-forth motion several times. "You and that soldier...?" Anna began cautiously, wanting to make sure she was correct. He nodded and did a sweeping gesture in a large circle, pointing backwards. "Aaah--" She looked absolutely confused. Anna still had some trouble understanding Artyom sometimes, even though they had set up a method of communication that worked most of the time.

Instead of attempting to play charades with her, Artyom pulled out his journal and flipped to the very last page, scribbling down a few words in messy Cyrillic. There were a few other phrases back on the page as well, left behind from times where he had to explain things too complex for his usual methods.

We've met before. We knew each other.

"Oh," Anna said once she read it, understanding dawning. Then she went silent for a few moments before another aspect of that explanation made itself known to her. "Wait, you knew him when we were still enemies?" He flinched on the inside; the implications of what he had just revealed were not very good.

Artyom did a little noncommittal shrug of his shoulders, attempting to stay casual. Anna stared at him, mouth slightly open, before she shook her head and punched him in the shoulder. "You're lucky that we're no longer enemies with them, else I would've had to report you for fraternization." A few of the other soldiers laughed at the sudden exchange, despite not hearing what they were talking about. Anna at least had the courtesy to whisper close to him, in order to keep their matters private.

And at least she didn't know what Pavel had done. Artyom nearly sighed with relief at her dropping of the subject; Anna didn't seem to care as much about his affairs like before. She trusted him to take care of himself now, and if Artyom trusted someone then she wouldn't question his judgement.

The railcar groaned beneath him, puttering along on the track as they made their way back to D6. Artyom couldn't help but keep looking back to the rapidly disappearing Polis behind him, feeling as if he left something behind at the glittering city.

~*~

No matter what he did with his fellow Rangers, Artyom couldn't help but feel something was missing. There were a few of them he could claim some level of camaraderie with, but for the most part he felt alone. Most of them treated him like he was some sort of savior for defeating the Dark Ones, or scoffed at his quick acceptance into the ranks. No one seemed to care that he was just a normal human being like the rest of them, regardless of his actions or senses. Ulman, while not believing in all of that 'tunnel mumbo-jumbo', often made jokes about Artyom's Savior status. Miller still treated him like a grunt to quash under his boot despite everything, and even Anna made mention of their victory more times than he'd care to like.

Khan was... Khan. He didn't treat anyone normally. But he knew Artyom more than most, even going so far as responding to words the young man hadn't even said. He felt like Khan, out of everyone, was the one who understood him the best. And then he had disappeared back into the tunnels without even a goodbye; he didn't even feel the need to explain himself. Artyom sometimes found himself wishing he could have gone with him.

Whenever he was sent to the surface he always found himself lingering for longer than he should have. His filters would be on their last legs, still working diligently for as long as they could before he finally went back down under to safety. Artyom wanted a glimpse of the clear sky, expansive above him. But it was always muggy and clouded, like a dome had been placed over the Dead City. He would often stand on the edge of a roof or tall hill, stand there for as long as he could and gaze out at the decaying world around him. His fellow Rangers would then scold him and pull him along after them, claiming that their mission was done and that they had to go.

No one understood. Not the young men who felt uncomfortable at the very idea of not having a ceiling above their heads, not the old men who reminisced about their apartments and cars. No one could understand that single-minded longing that Artyom had. Even he himself didn't know what he was searching for. A chance at life? Other people? Landscapes that he had only read about in old torn-up books?

He couldn't talk about these feelings to anyone. They didn't care, didn't understand his want for more. Focus on the present; survive. That was the mentality down in the Metro. Casting your thoughts to the uncertain future was a surefire way to descend into madness.

So he kept his feelings to himself, kept his wants and desires tucked away neatly inside of him. It wasn't like he could even articulate what it was that he wanted, not without filling pages upon pages in his journal.

There were times when he stood upon the dead ground below him, staring up at the sky until his eyes burned with the effort and the glare. Clouds would pass and grab his attention; they would rush across the sky and dissipate then reform. Artyom's hands shook as they reached up to the straps of his gas mask without his notice, loosening them mindlessly and nearly pulling it off right then and there.

He would realize what he was doing at the very last second, shaking himself and tightening the mask again. He would fall to his knees and turn his face up to the sky again, breathing heavily and wishing he could taste the clean air that he couldn't remember breathing. Minutes later Artyom would return to his fellows, ignoring the obvious glances they would shoot his way.

He didn't try to hide his fascination with the land. There would be no hiding anything from the other Rangers, not without seeming suspicious. They probably thought he was crazy, surface-mad. A few other Rangers had succumbed to it; they would suddenly run off into the wilderness of the Dead City, never to be seen again. But this was something different, at least that's what Artyom hoped. He wasn't going surface-mad, he wasn't.

He just didn't know what he wanted.

Chapter Text

Artyom's shoulders heaved as he trekked over the dangerous terrain. His gas mask was cracked, filters nearly failing. He had been separated from his fellow Rangers, their little search party being broken up by a group of Watchmen. Artyom had been left alone to fend for himself in the dilapidated buildings and deserted squares.

He was sent above ground with a handful of other Rangers in order to explore and scout out a high-rise that was rumored to have housed a possible Nazi outpost. Why the Nazis were above ground, that was anyone's guess. Artyom had no idea why they would ever crawl out of their little holes that they had dug for themselves. They had made it to the building and checked to see if anyone was left before entering. It had been deserted, trapped and armed, but deserted. Traps were nothing to any Spartan Ranger; they were something to look out for and easily disarm.

After they had ransacked the building and left nothing of value (the commander grabbing anything of note in regards to information) they left and began their journey back home. Only, they were ambushed by some Watchmen that had been stalking them for quite some time. The party was scattered and sent off in different directions. Artyom ended up alone and unable to get his bearings well. There were no landmarks or distinguishing features to be seen, just deserted and blown-out buildings.

Artyom crossed an old intersection, filled with cars that no longer ran. They had all been stripped of their useful components, hoods opened to reveal gaping holes where engines and other mechanics should have been. There was an apartment building off to the side with its doors blown open and charred black. He didn't want to get anywhere near there, so he went to the other side of the cracked street and walked parallel with it.

His ears were perked, straining for any noise that could belong to mutants or the other members of his group. Artyom doubted they were anywhere nearby but still kept a watch out for the familiar sight of another Spartan. His portable radio hadn't stopped spitting static since he got separated from them. He had hoped that maybe they would send out a signal to stay in contact, but no such signals had sounded out yet; perhaps he was too far away.

Artyom stayed alert of his surroundings for a while, checking open doorways and stepping carefully around piles of broken glass. Then came the realization that he was truly alone. No one was there to watch him; no one was there to judge him. The feeling of elation swelled within his chest at the thought. A wild smile crossed his face under his gas mask.

He stared up at the sky and ended up pulling off his backpack, dragging it to an overshadowed alcove between two buildings. After checking to make sure there was nothing dangerous there, he crouched down and opened his pack, pulling out his well-loved journal. Surely there would be some astounding subject matter for him to draw here! He flipped through the many pages, some added in and different in color from the rest. The whole thing was a combination of old notes and repurposed papers. Some were lined, others weren't; some had words already written by unknown authors.

Artyom found himself fond of the 'Fuck this fucking place. There's no damn sun.' scribbled up in the right hand corner of a page he had found in an old service room. Whoever penned it must've had the same desire that he had, Artyom thought. He chuckled to himself and continued flipping through pages upon pages of his records, passing drawings and entries that he had written what felt like years ago. Some were written that long ago, and some were only done last week.

One of his papers was sticking up, the corner dogeared slightly from being bent while in his pack. Artyom furrowed his brow and went to that part of his journal in order to reposition that particular piece. It was a drawing, done months ago and rough around the edges. Artyom's chest constricted slightly once he saw what exactly it was he had done.

Pavel sat leaning on an old box on the left hand side of the page, hat off and gazing off into the distance to the right of the paper. Implications of the fire they had built were scribbled at the bottom corner, carelessly thrown in as an afterthought. The most detail was concentrated around Pavel's face, recreated with an almost lifelike feeling. A small smile curved his lips and he looked relaxed, body sagging naturally like he was comfortable where he sat. There was a focus on Pavel's eyes and lips, lovingly drawn out with the skill of an artist who was in the throes of creativity.

There was no way Pavel could ever see this.

It was too personal, too damning. If one looked at this particular drawing there would be no doubt in the mind as to how the artist felt about the subject. And while Artyom knew what these feelings were and accepted them as a part of his being, there were others who wouldn't agree with his sentiments. It wasn't right, wasn't natural. There was a time a few years ago where Artyom felt ashamed, disgusted with himself. There were other men similar to him, and they weren't treated well down in the Metro. He'd seen enough of violence in order to understand that his feelings were considered wrong.

As time passed he began to wonder why it was so wrong. And eventually he just stopped caring, happy to keep these things to himself and just come to terms with it on his own. It wasn't hard for Artyom to ignore them most of the time, women were beautiful and he appreciated them greatly.

But...

Sometimes his gaze would wander. To the soldiers, strong and standing tall in their uniforms. Their frames broad, eyes dark and stoic. There was just something about the physique of a man that drew his attention in, in the same way that a woman would.

And Pavel--

He was gorgeous.

There was something about him; he had a sort of rugged charm and sly demeanor that certainly drew in others, not just Artyom. It was no secret that Pavel had been around the block, several times in fact. The women at the Bolshoi Theater had been testament to that fact. His flirtations with the girls were clear and direct; Pavel wasn't like Artyom. But maybe--

They hadn't known each other for very long before everything happened. Perhaps Pavel could see something worthwhile in Artyom. He didn't seem like the kind of person who would scorn and condemn someone based on such a triviality. Artyom let himself be swept away for a moment, lost in ideals and dreams that would never come to pass. It had never been this bad before. Idle fancies had come and go, never staying long before fizzling out. Usually they would die within a week or two as Artyom's attention drifted to other more important matters. Namely his thirst for adventure and constant need to find new things.

But this. This wasn't like any of those.

Artyom burned. His chest was fit to burst with how strong his feelings were. What exactly these feelings consisted of, was a mystery. They were so jumbled and confused he couldn't put a specific name on them. Anger was still at the forefront for a time; anger at what Pavel had done and was willing to do back then. Sadness and discontent were there too, but for what he wasn't entirely sure. Overshadowing all of them and giving a distinct bitter taste to everything was the yearning.

He yearned. He wanted to see Pavel again, for however short the time together may be. He wanted to make up for the lost time, to mend properly what had broken between them. Pavel seemed willing to move forward as well, so rekindling their friendship would be easy. But what would be hard was everything else. Artyom may have accepted himself for who he was, but he didn't know how Pavel would react if he ever found out.

Would he laugh? Would he lash out in anger, in disgust? Would he leave, unable to handle such things?

Would he smile gently and lean in closer--

A scurrying noise drew Artyom's thoughts away before they wandered off into dangerous territory. He wasn't alone here. His attempt at drawing lay forgotten, inspiration dashed along with the feeling of relative calm that he had earlier. He packed up and glanced around the alleyway. A low growl had him stumbling, jumping up and running into the doorway of the building next to him. Staying out in the open was dangerous.

Artyom dragged himself up the stairs as he screwed in a new filter onto his gas mask. Perhaps a better view would help him get his bearings. As he made his way up the staircase he thought about the rendezvous point. It shouldn't be too far away, as his compass helped lead him along with a few maps along the way in the city. The damn stairs seemed to go on forever, stealing his breath and making his lungs heave with the effort.

The door to the roof was rusted shut. A swift kick of a boot was all it took for it to burst open, nearly falling off of its hinges with a crash. As Artyom walked out onto the roof he saw just how tall the building was. He was sure to get a good idea of where he was now; he could see Ostankino Tower from here as well as some of the remains of the Botanical Gardens. He scanned the scenery for any hint of his fellows, pulling out binoculars and drawing them as close as he could to his face. They bumped into his mask but Artyom paid it no mind and strained his eyes in order to see.

Mutants were roaming in the shadows of dead buildings like usual. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Artyom fiddled with the dial on the side and zoomed in to certain points that interested him, places that could fit the criteria of the rendezvous point. His radio was absolutely going crazy now, shrilly squealing and crackling manically. Artyom reached down and unclipped it from his belt, changing the channel just to stop the noise--

"Come in... This is-- Requesting contact... Other cities-- Roads have been--"

Artyom couldn't believe his ears, mouth falling open as he nearly dropped the radio. The transmission was almost immediately smothered by a wave of static, but it was there. It had happened. He had heard it.

Other cities. Other cities.

People had survived? Where? He had to find them. Did people live on the surface, where the radiation wasn't so bad? Surely not the whole Earth was ravaged by war. Where would they live? In Russia? Had other countries survived? Those who lived below Moscow were no longer the only survivors. There were others. Was this what he was searching for?

A chance at life, true life.

He had to find them.

Chapter Text

VDNKh wasn't a small station, Pavel realized quickly after a few visits. It was quite spacious and densely packed with people, all who had their own goals and quotas for the day. As an outsider who wasn't familiar with their customs, Pavel found himself immersed in their way of life. He was content to just watch as the citizens went about their daily business. He had his own business to attend to as well; business that had nothing to do with the Red Line. And while he waited, he could people-watch.

Where is he? Pavel thought, looking around in order to catch a glimpse of messy dark hair. He hadn't shown up yet, and the possibility that he wasn't back was very real. Many of the station's residents regarded him with a cool air of formality; his uniform and stance screamed 'Red Line soldier'. But they were used to seeing him by now, and they knew that he didn't come to stir up anything with them. He was here for one reason and one reason alone. Pavel would visit every now and then on his journeys through the stations, in order to make sure everything was going alright. To make sure he hasn't gotten himself killed yet.

"He's out right now," A man said, hefting a heavy crate of mushrooms. "He'll be back in some hours. That is, if they don't get him this time." The civilians knew why Pavel was here, knew who he was searching for every time he came to visit. Their resident Ranger, the 'Savior of the Metro'.

Artyom.

"Thanks, I can wait," Pavel replied courteously, squatting down and electing to pass the time by counting tiles. Why was he even surprised? Of course Artyom would be up there now. He seemed to live up on the surface at this rate. Pavel cast a glance at the station's clock, noting the time. 11:00. Artyom would be gone at about this time. He could only hope that the Ranger would be back in time before Pavel had to leave and return to the Red Line. I could always stay a night or two here, go up with Artyom the next time. He probably needs the support. The Red Line can wait a few days, my mission isn't vital to anything.

Pavel knew that Artyom was going through a tough time right about now. He had been for the past couple of months, not long after their factions had become allied with each other. Both the Red Line and the Spartan Rangers were flourishing, and Hanza would have been alarmed had they not been part of the alliance as well. Peace was finally starting to take hold in the Metro. But Artyom didn't sit back on his laurels, didn't relax or retire early with his heroic deeds under his belt.

No. Artyom was always searching for more.

He had set his sights on the surface, confiding to Pavel about a radio signal he had heard ages ago. Seemed convinced that there were other survivors out there, that people lived above ground. Pavel didn't know whether he could believe the other man or not. Such idealism was foolish. But look at where similar lofty goals had gotten Leonid; the boy had almost single-handedly reformed the Red Line and changed everything. Pavel didn't know what to think anymore. He only knew one thing.

That he must support Artyom. Because no one else did.

If not us, then who? The phrase drifted through his mind, never being more true than it was today. If not Artyom's people, then who? If not his Ranger comrades, then who? Who would make sure he didn't get himself killed with his almost daily excursions? Who would be there to support him when he returned, stumbling and barely able to stand? Who would keep him safe, rebuild his determinations?

Because it seemed no one would.

So the burden fell to Pavel, who let the comforting weight envelop him. There was a purpose to his life, a duty to be done. It was a tie to Artyom. And Pavel relished any tie he could gather in his fumbling fingers, any thread to keep him near the Ranger. Artyom kept him moving, kept him alive. Pavel had to repay the debt of gratitude he owed, and this was the least he could do.

~*~

Artyom didn't return until much later than expected, covered in blood and shoulders slumped heavily. He trudged out from the shadows with the heavy radio strapped to his back, leaving muddy footprints behind him down the darkness of the tunnel. The men on shift at the patrol point noted that he had come back a different way then he had left; rather than through the great hermetic doors that were closer to the station, he had come back from the tunnel. Artyom often ended up coming back down a different way than before, sometimes leaving through the tunnel towards the Botanical Gardens, and sometimes instead going directly to and from the surface from VDNKh.

"Back so soon, Artyom?" One of the men joked from his place at the fire. "Find the Eiffel Tower?" A few others snickered at his words, but Artyom completely ignored them. He was sick of seeing their faces, sick of hearing them speak to him. He pulled off his gas mask and helmet in order to let them hang at his side in a clenched fist. His eyes didn't even rove over the patrolmen, instead staring straight ahead. The man who greeted Artyom rolled his eyes and turned back towards the fire, watching the kettle with newfound interest. "Hope you disinfected yourself nice and good before dragging your ass back here," he said, muttering under his breath. Leave me alone.

It wasn't far back to the station. Pavel sat waiting near the exit to the surface, chatting with the guards about some nonsense. The conversation died out as soon as Artyom walked up, with Pavel taking in the bloodied and bruised sight of his friend worriedly.

"Chuvak, you alright?" He put a hand on Artyom's chest to stop him from swaying where he stood. "Need a trip to the doctor's?" Artyom shook his head slowly, glancing between the guards and Pavel. He tilted his head in the direction of the station, an indicator that he wanted to go back to his room. "Alright then, davai Artyom." Pavel bid the guards farewell and walked with Artyom back to his quarters at the station.

Ever since Miller posted him as a scout, Artyom hadn't been able to bring himself to return to the Rangers. He served them by proxy, never reporting back to the Spartans but still considered one of them. "Any injuries I should know about?" Pavel asked as they walked. Artyom shook his head again, holding a hand out and doing a simple gesture. Tired. "Just tired, huh? Well no doubt, chuvak! I'd be tired too if I did what you do. Don't you worry, D'artagnan, we're gonna get you nice and cozy back in your room," Pavel talked to fill the silence, doing what he always did best.

A few people greeted Artyom as they walked by, tipping their heads or offering a hello. Artyom did his best to respond to those who weren't mocking or watching with judging eyes. Pavel's strong hand was on his back, gently guiding him forward. Artyom found himself wanting to lean back into it, back into the safety of home. "Hey, hey, Artyomuchka. Don't fall asleep on me now. We're almost there." Pavel was right. Artyom could see the familiar sight of the communal bathing area. He looked down at himself; a shower would be nice.

Pavel took his helmet and mask from his hands to take back to his room, allowing Artyom a level of privacy as he entered the bathing area. Artyom undressed and looked at the heavy protective suit with thinly-veiled disgust. The blood had dried by now, and the mud had caked itself to his boots. The whole thing would need to be washed. Or preferably, hosed down from a distance. Artyom flung the suit over onto the ground and stepped under the water. His hair flattened itself to his skull and dripped down into his eyes from the spray.

The water wasn't hot, nor warm, but some strange mixture of cold and not-so-cold. It was the best one could get, though, and Artyom had known nothing different than this mixture. It was necessary for a level of cleanliness and that was it. No luxury, no pomp and circumstance. The soap was harsh and dug at his skin, but it removed dirt and grime easily. Artyom was soon finished and Pavel had returned shortly after with a clean set of clothes. A worn sweater and scuffed jeans were folded in his hands.

Artyom smiled and pointed at them, letting the towel fall around his neck and holding another closed at the waist. "I know they're your favorite, chuvak." Pavel grinned lopsidedly and handed them over to Artyom, who changed quickly and let the towels hang on the used rack. He felt much better now, no longer just barely able to stand and tired out of his mind. "Feeling better? I can tell!" Pavel continued talking as they walked, hand no longer at Artyom's back.

He couldn't help but feel like he had lost something then.

It didn't take long to make it to Artyom's room, only a few more minutes of walking before they arrived. Pavel shut the door behind them to have privacy; Artyom found that Pavel was a lot more amiable when alone with him.

Artyom sat heavily down on his cot, Pavel taking the seat at his desk. "Any news?" He asked, leaning over onto his knees. Artyom shook his head, a frustrated jerk of the neck. A strange expression crossed Pavel's face then, one that Artyom couldn't put a good handle on. Something crossed between disappointment and worry. "Well, not to worry D'artagnan. I'm sure something's out there." That was when Artyom saw it. That flicker of doubt in Pavel's eyes.

His gaze darkened. Pavel doesn't believe me either? Artyom frowned and pointed an accusatory finger at him, brows furrowing. It was tiring, having no one put any faith at all in him. The people of VDNKh all either looked on in pity or disdain at him. And now to see that same look in Pavel's eyes was too much. Anna didn't believe him when she found out, Miller thought it was a foolish endeavor. No one believed him. Pavel was the only one who didn't flat deny the plausibility of other survivors outside of Moscow, but Artyom should've known that his word alone wouldn't persuade him.

Pavel looked away at the postcards hanging from the wall, unable to meet his gaze. That was all Artyom needed. He raised his hands in the air and flopped down onto his cot, frustrated and angry. "Chuvak." He ignored him, turning over. "D'artagnan." He wouldn't look at Pavel. He wouldn't. He was sick and tired of no one believing him, no one taking him seriously. Not just in this, but in everything he ever did. "Artyom." He wouldn't look at Pavel.

He did. He couldn't help it.

Pavel was sitting there, looking at home in this tiny space that Artyom felt suffocated in. He had moved closer when Artyom pulled away, knees pressing against the sheets and leaning towards him. Artyom's heart raced for a moment and it felt as if it had skipped a beat. Pavel was looking at him sadly, brows upturned and hands on his knees. Artyom's gaze roved over his motionless form, taking in the sight of him sitting there. Sitting there like he belonged, with him. Like this was his home as well, not just a dingy room in a backwater station.

Artyom sat up, taking Pavel by surprise. "Artyomich, it's not that I don't believe you. I support your dream hundred percent. It's just hard to imagine, you know?" He had leaned back slightly, as if Artyom's sudden ascent had frightened him. "A life outside of the Metro." Artyom moved closer, sitting up fully and bringing himself closer to Pavel. His feet hung off of his bed, insides of his knees touching Pavel's legs. "Artyom?"

His chest hurt the more he looked at Pavel. For as much as he was glad to see the other man, he loathed the fact that Pavel continued to visit him. He was grateful for the helping hand whenever he got back from an excursion to the surface, but whenever Pavel left, his feelings would be stirred up and kicking around inside of him. An aching deep in his lungs, a longing for something more. A desire to tell him, to confess. Artyom opened his mouth as if to say something but quickly shut it, closing his eyes as well. He couldn't look at Pavel right now without doing something reckless.

He couldn't bear it. Pavel looked so concerned, so worried and caring. Eyes so blue...

Lips parted just slightly...

I can't--

He jerked forward sharply, turning his head to the side at the very last second to bury his face into Pavel's shoulder. His eyes burned and stung, and Pavel exclaimed in surprise at his action. "Artyom, you alright?" Pavel asked as his arms automatically wrapped themselves around his shoulders. Artyom had enough strength to nod weakly, pressing his face in further. Pavel awkwardly patted his back, unsure how to react with the sudden turn of events. Artyom swallowed, feeling bile rise in his throat.

Pavel shouldn't have to be here, doing this. I should be handling this on my own. He's confused; he'd probably be disgusted if he knew. Artyom berated himself and brought a hand up to clutch at Pavel's shoulder, unable to tear himself away. No matter how much he wanted to. "Yes, you definitely seem like everything is fine. No crisis here!" The hand no longer patted awkwardly, instead resting flat on his back and beginning to rub soothing circles. "I'm sorry, Artyom. I do believe you, it's just hard to. I'm sure you understand."

There was a pause, the only sound was that of Artyom's heavy breathing. He relaxed further in Pavel's grasp, imagining for just a moment that the man comforting him requited his feelings. Felt the same way, regardless of what others thought. That they were the only two people who mattered. They were in their house on the surface, and Pavel was comforting Artyom from a nightmare that had woken them both up. A nightmare where they were trapped underground and unable to be together.

"I'm sorry for everything."

Artyom shot back, pulling away and finally staring Pavel in the eyes. The illusion was broken and Artyom scolded himself for his imaginings. He doesn't know, he never will.

Pavel just looked sad, smiling with great effort and forcibly trying to change his expression. "I know I never really apologized for what happened, just parts." His eyes darted away for a second before focusing back in on Artyom. "Everything. Oktyabrskaya, Venice, Red Square, Teatr. All of the shit I did, all of the shit I allowed to happen. I've been trying to make it better but that doesn't change the fact that it happened. All of those people. You." Pavel's voice cracked and he sighed heavily. "Blyadj. It's harder to say than I thought. I now see why you never talk, huh chuvak?" The moment of vulnerability was covered and tucked away quickly.

Pavel moved his hands away, resting them back on his knees. He cleared his throat and looked away, turning his head towards Artyom's bookshelf. "When-- When are you going back up?" He asked, changing the subject. Artyom thought for a moment, catching up with Pavel's swift departure from serious matters, before holding up two fingers. "Day after tomorrow, huh? Well chuvak, no sense in me leaving now! Might as well go up with you. Who knows, maybe they're waiting for me to show up!" Pavel laughed, leaning back in his chair.

The moment had passed. Things like this happened with Pavel often; he would drop all of his walls for a handful of seconds, allow Artyom to see past everything to the hurt young man beneath, then cover it all back up just as quickly. There were times when the cold departure left Pavel's eyes, left them as expressive and bright as diamonds. And during those times Artyom thought he could see a flicker of something familiar. Of something more than friendly affection.

Wishful thinking.

Chapter Text

The wind bit at their clothes, much more intensely than usual. The roof was exposed to the toughest temperatures and weather, and Pavel found himself crouching low in order to not be blown flat. Artyom was hunched over next to the low wall of the barrier, radio in the corner and twirling the dial nonstop. Static emitted from it and was swept away by the wind, being carried off into Moscow on dead lips.

Pavel muttered to himself as he kept watch on the door and to the skies. He was glad to be here in order to make sure Artyom didn't get ambushed, but he wished they could've gone up on a day that wasn't so poor in weather. Granted, not many days had good weather, but there couldn't be much worse than this. As Artyom fussed with the radio Pavel began daydreaming a bit, thinking back to the day before yesterday.

It was hard to believe Artyom's dream, when the world had gone to shit all around them. The idea that there were other survivors was a hope that died out early in the first years of the new world. But Pavel was willing to support his friend regardless of his own thoughts on the matter. But Artyom had seen the doubt in his eyes. He had turned away from him, understandably angry.

Pavel didn't know how to appease him. He settled for reassurance, trying to get his attention with his words. 'I do believe you chuvak, really!' Artyom sat up and leaned in towards him, staring right into his eyes. He was trying to find the lies that were no doubt hiding away under Pavel's eager assurances. But there weren't any. Pavel was being truthful with the Ranger. His eyes are so green... Pavel found himself lost for a moment, thoughts swept away in a wave of overwhelming feelings.

Artyom's expression had changed for just a moment before he shut his eyes tightly. A flash of something before being covered and hidden away. Pavel thought he could recognize what it was, but found it gone before he could determine it. Artyom shot forward, nearly knocking noses with Pavel before burying his head into the other man's shoulder. Pavel's heart jerked with nerves; it was almost like Artyom was about to-- No. He wasn't. Artyom isn't like that. Artyom likes women, just like I do.

Pavel comforted his friend, rubbing circles into his back and breathing deeply with him. In that moment he was hit with a sudden desire to apologize, to be truthful and lay himself bare. Everything that he had ever done to hurt Artyom all came spilling over the edge. He apologized and fumbled over his words, everything getting jumbled and confused. Pavel wasn't the best at expressing remorse, even though he felt it get stronger with every day that passed. His regret. His guilt.

It had lessened to an extent, now that he had admitted it. Pavel let out a breath of air as the wind began to calm.

Artyom sighed angrily and hefted the radio back into his bag, shouldering it with a soft huff of air. "No luck, then?" Pavel asked, standing up with him and stretching his sore muscles. Artyom shook his head, shifting from foot to foot before making his way to the roof exit. "Maybe the signals are bad here, chuvak. You are trying to pick up radios from the other side of the world!" Pavel patted him on the shoulder as they walked over to the steps descending into the building. Artyom didn't look at him, but nodded his hesitant agreement. He kept his eyes to the ground as they began descending back into the depths of the city.

The stairs were cracked and crumbling in some places, so Pavel had to choose carefully where to step. Artyom followed silently, feet scuffling across the concrete and metal. Moscow was particularly quiet in terms of the local wildlife today; most of the beasts had taken shelter from the stormy weather and horrid winds. "Hey Artyom?" Pavel spoke up once they reached the bottom of the flights of stairs. Artyom looked over to him in question. "What-- What are you going to do once you make contact? I mean, you must have some plan," Pavel continued, adjusting his mask so the straps wouldn't chafe as much.

Artyom nodded, motioning Pavel over into a small offshoot from the hallway. It led to a room covered with dust. He got out his journal and began scribbling, holding it open to the very back.

Leave. I'm not staying. Tell others. They can come too.

Pavel wasn't surprised. He honestly didn't even know why he asked in the first place. "Alright. How are you gonna get there?" He leaned against the wall, crossing his arms. Pavel wanted to know if Artyom had a plan, or if he was just going to barrel forward into the unknown.

Walk. Maybe build car for surface.

Pavel let out a snort of laughter at that. Artyom's deadpan delivery and harsh strokes of the pencil paired with the almost clueless ideas of escape from Moscow were a little bit too much for him. The soft laughter alerted Artyom and made him glare at Pavel. It wasn't funny to him.

"I'm sorry, Artyomich! It's all just a little bit funny, don't you think? I'd say come up with some plan for transportation, chuvak. Filters don't last long on the surface, and you have a long way to go," Pavel replied to Artyom's glare with his honest opinion. The man's brow was furrowed, but not quite in anger. More like exasperated amusement. He knew Pavel had his best interests in mind, and was only trying to help. He was awfully cute like that--

What? No. Of course not.

Artyom huffed a sigh and nodded his head, acquiescing to Pavel's suggestions and wordlessly saying, 'you're right'. "I'm always right, chuvak!" Pavel said, swinging his arms wide and wearing a dopey grin that was unable to be seen under the face-piece of his mask. Artyom tilted a brow and shook his head at the words.

It was just like old times.

Chapter Text

Heavy breaths, harsh wheezing from below him. Pavel's left arm ached with the weight it was carrying. The dim lights of the station barely made things visible, so he tripped often over discarded things on the floor as he ran. The other three men with him stared straight ahead, in that characteristic fierce determination of the Spartan Rangers.

This wasn't supposed to happen. Not like this, not now. Artyom was immutable, strong and invincible. He couldn't be hurt by those who dwelled on the surface; he was too smart for that! I should have gone with him... The hand that held the pole of the stretcher shook.

Artyom looked so small now, trapped in the confines of the protective suit used by Stalkers. Curled in on himself in pain, getting jostled every so often by a sharp turn.

The crowds of people at VDNKh moved aside for the procession of soldiers as they ran through the station, stretcher cradled in the center. They whispered among themselves when the men barreled through. Mostly talk of Artyom and his condition. Mostly talk of his trips to the surface.

"It was only a matter of time..."

"Not surprising at all..."

"There's the hero now..."

Pavel's throat closed up and he gritted his teeth at their words. He resisted the urge to drop the stretcher and punch the nearest person who dared to disrespect the injured man being ferried through their station. But that wasn't what Artyom needed. What Artyom needed now was to get to the doctors, not more violence. Pavel was one of four men, at the back right corner and supporting some of Artyom's weight.

His chest was twisted in panic at the sight of Artyom's wounds. There was a lot of blood. Artyom had protectively shielded them from the station's eyes, holding at his stomach and side with hands covered in blood. The four men carrying him also created a barrier that made him unable to be seen very well. But it was clear that he was injured very gravely. Pavel couldn't look at him for long before focusing back on the road in front of him. I can't see him like this...

"I can't believe this, Damir! Artyom can usually handle himself up there," A man holding the front of the stretcher said to the other beside him, talking amongst themselves as they made their way to the hospital. 'Damir' shrugged his shoulders as well as he could and responded:

"Artyom isn't immortal, man."

Pavel had the feeling that was something he needed to learn as well.

~*~

Artyom was almost as pale as the bandages around his midsection. He looked incredibly fragile, lying there with his eyes shut and lips parted around uneven breaths. Pavel sat next to his bedside on a small stool, keeping watch on his friend's condition. He bounced his leg and linked his hands together to prevent them from shaking. Still weak from the transfusion.

The small bandage around his arm itched uncomfortably.

Artyom had a blanket covering his lower half for decency, but his torso was left uncovered for easy access to the bandages around his middle. He hadn't bled through them yet, and his bare chest rose and fell shakily. Pavel's eyes were drawn to his left shoulder, where a scar rested from an old wound. From his bullet at the Red Square. His stomach roiled and churned with regret; he had marked Artyom.

Pavel deserved every scar he got from the Ranger.

"How is he?" A man poked his head through the sheeting that separated Artyom from the other patients. Pavel recognized him as Duke, one of the Rangers who helped carry Artyom to the hospital of VDNKh. He walked over and stood over Artyom, looking down at him with barely-concealed worry.

"As well as he can be, blyadj," Pavel swore to himself and crossed his arms. He felt a little irritable, not wanting to talk. His eyes were drawn to the matching bandage that Duke wore, testament to his gift to Artyom. "Doctors say he should wake up within the next day." Duke had given blood first, as he was the same type as Artyom and had donated for him before. But it was quickly revealed that he wouldn't have enough to give for what Artyom needed, so Pavel stepped up and offered his own blood as well. When they asked him his type and he responded, they nearly pounced on him with needles and admonitions. "You saved his life."

"We were lucky to have you here too," Duke turned to face Pavel. "You said you came here for a visit? Well, to have a universal donor on the day he comes back injured like that..." He sighed and shook his head. His words made Pavel feel marginally better; so why did he still feel so hostile? It was strange to be sitting next to this man who was apparently a close comrade of Artyom's. A fellow Ranger (who probably never betrayed him). Duke talked about him fondly and with a twinkle in his eyes. He was young though, probably around the same age as Leonid. Artyom never mentioned him.

What was this foul taste in his mouth, then?

"Where is he? I need to see him!" A woman was shouting outside from a distance away. Pavel looked up in the direction of the voices and Duke nearly tore off with excitement. He must know her... That left Pavel alone for a moment, still shaky from nerves and slight blood loss. It was only a moment of peace, however, as said woman came bursting in seconds later. Duke trailed behind her almost awkwardly. She took one look at Artyom in the bed and calmed immediately at the sight of him.

Pavel felt a strange wave of nausea at that.

Then her eyes moved to where he sat. A few different emotions crossed her face at that moment, recognition and wariness among them. Pavel involuntarily felt himself bracing for a hostile reaction. "You." She walked closer and sat on the other side of Artyom, opposite him. "Morozov." Pavel was surprised to find that she had remembered his name; he had arrived late and hadn't caught hers when their two factions met. Her gaze shot to the bandage on his arm. "You did a transfusion for him?" He nodded, not trusting his voice for a moment. She opened her mouth again to say something, but was interrupted by Duke.

"Lay off him, Anna! You know what it's like after giving Artyom blood," He murmured, making sure to keep his voice low so as to not wake the sleeping man. All three of us have donated for him? That was the only common link between the three people. Pavel felt increasingly uncomfortable sitting there, knowing that he didn't belong here with the two Rangers. They were Artyom's fellows; they cared about him. He was unwelcome.

A doctor came in, panting and out of breath.

"Two at a time! You're crowding him," he said, waving his hands and shooing Duke out of the way in order to get a better view of his patient. Pavel immediately stood and excused himself.

"I really must be going, now. You know how it is--" He ended up fumbling over his words as he left, not even knowing what he was saying anymore as he exited in a hurry. He just had to get out of there. Neither Anna nor Duke pursued him, proving his suspicion that he was unwelcome in Artyom's presence. Proving that he wasn't needed anymore.

He had to clear his head.

~*~

Anna was still there when he came back an hour later. Pavel had to check on Artyom, had to make sure he was alright. But when he opened the curtain and saw her sitting there next to him, he wanted to turn around and leave. She had seen him, though. There was no way to just leave now. So Pavel entered the little 'room' and stood off to the side awkwardly. He didn't know how to deal with this woman, who seemed so tough and almost hostile towards him. Teatr girls and others he could deal with, but this? She was an enigma.

Pretty enough, he supposed. But definitely not his type. If he was to be completely honest, he hadn't met a woman yet who really was his type.

"Morozov." She said again, like earlier. "Why are you here?" She asked, looking away from where Artyom lay to fix him with a piercing blue gaze. Pavel found himself nervous, like when he was called to Leonid's office or when he saw Artyom again.

"The man has my blood in him. I was checking up," He replied smoothly, not letting those nerves show. He could deal with this. "Wouldn't you?"

"Not what I meant. I meant, why are you here? VDNKh is far out of the way for a Communist soldier," The word Communist was spat like a curse. There's that hostility. "So what were you doing?"

"Sightseeing." Pavel answered, crossing his arms with a sneer. He wouldn't let himself be intimidated by her. She was clearly trying to assert some kind of dominance, trying to show her strength. She certainly was strong. Pavel didn't move any closer though, not wanting to look like more of a threatening presence. She might even already feel threatened with him just standing there.

"Bullshit," Anna swore, tilting her head sharply. "I know he cares about you. Why, I have no idea. I know what you did to Artyom." Pavel felt his entire body go cold at that accusation. His throat was dry and his fingers clammy all of a sudden.

"How do you know that?"

"Artyom was helped by a Red Line soldier when he was captured by Nazis a few months ago, who later turned him in to his superiors. Artyom had to report what happened to him when he was separated from the Order before the battle for D6. He told me that he knew you from before. It doesn't take a genius to figure it out." Pavel was silent as she explained, mind racing as to how to respond to her.

"I..."

"I don't care who you are. I don't care anything about you. But I do care about him. And if I suspect for a second that you will ever hurt him again, then you better watch your ass." Anna stood up to her full height and walked over to stand face-to-face with Pavel. She wasn't much shorter than him, maybe only a few inches. Her shoulders were squared and Pavel didn't doubt her words for a second. He didn't want to get on Anna's bad side, he realized quickly. She didn't wait for a response, only brushed past him and exited the room.

He probably soured her visit with Artyom anyways.

~*~

Pavel stayed the whole night by Artyom's side. He couldn't leave him, not when the man was so helpless and hurt. He would twitch in his sleep, occasionally groaning in pain at his injuries. Pavel would occasionally stretch or fiddle with the bandage around his arm. It was a boring night; Artyom wasn't lucid and Pavel had no one to talk to.

So he talked to Artyom.

"You know, chuvak, I really think that it could work. You could cobble together a railcar for use on the surface and take the train tracks out of Moscow. It'll be a hell of a lot quicker than walking," He was talking about Artyom's plan to leave. Maybe if he planned things out while Artyom was unconscious then the Ranger would somehow hear him and wake up. If Pavel showed his support of his dream, then maybe Artyom would finally open those eyes of his. "I'll even help you. Filters will be a problem, but I know a guy who refits them. He could teach us. Ah, that'd be fun, wouldn't it D'artagnan?"

Still nothing.

Pavel wasn't worried. The doctor came in about an hour ago to check up on Artyom and declared him stable. All he needed now was rest to not worsen his wounds.

He wasn't present when they treated Artyom. He couldn't be, and not just because the doctors wouldn't let him. He just couldn't see Artyom like that, with gashes and bite-marks and clawed open flesh. They said he had been lucky to survive, that his organs were somehow miraculously unharmed. But Pavel knew better. There was nothing lucky about this. If Artyom had been lucky, he wouldn't have gotten caught in the first place.

"You better tell me everything when you wake up, had me worried sick!" He joked, touching Artyom's shoulder gently so as to not jostle him. "Well... You know what I mean. Write me a nice long entry in your journal, just for me you hear?" Pavel smiled at nothing in particular.

That wasn't true.

He was smiling at Artyom.

There was a bit of stubble across his jaw. Artyom must not have had the chance to shave before he left for the surface then. Now that he wasn't fidgeting and groaning in pain, he looked quite a lot more peaceful than before. A small grimace of pain across his lips, but other than that he looked relatively fine. His hair was definitely a little worse for wear, though; it had been neglected for quite some time now. Pavel reached out a hand and ran his fingers through it, wincing slightly at the greasy feel of the tangled strands.

He flattened his hand against Artyom's skull, brushing back the hair out of his eyes and guiding it into some semblance of presentability. Artyom let out a soft breath in sleep and his brow lifted, head tilting back into his grasp. Pavel swallowed as his face heated up. But he didn't stop. Instead he began to gently scratch his nails across the other man's scalp in a comforting gesture. His hand trailed down to brush his fingers against Artyom's cheek, cupping his jaw softly. Pavel wasn't even thinking, wasn't even considering the ramifications of what he was doing.

Until Artyom let out a soft groan, shifting closer.

Pavel's blood ran cold and his hand shot back to his lap immediately, almost as if he had been burned. What the hell was that? What was I doing? Artyom lay there, oblivious to everything that was happening in Pavel's head. He... Why? Why did I even do that? Friends don't fucking caress each other's hair! They don't touch like that! None of these words reached the surface; they only swirled around inside of his mind like a building storm. He stood and began to pace in order to calm his racing heart.

Then the words came.

"What the hell was that, Pavel? Yo moyo, you really fucked up now," he was talking to himself and wringing his hands together out of nerves. "Artyom is asleep, you shouldn't have even touched him!" For anyone passing by, they would've heard nothing. Pavel was whispering under his breath in rushed tones to himself. "It's not like that, it really isn't. Artyom is just... He's-- He's a man!" He was trying to convince himself of one thing and one thing alone.

"I'm not. I can't be. It's... Wrong."

His throat was tightening up, and it was getting hard to breathe. A cold chill was overtaking him, one of fear. He was denying everything, but to no avail. His feelings regarding Artyom were just too jumbled and complicated. Every single moment he spent with the Ranger had this underlying tension to it; Pavel had felt it before but just shoved it to the side and focused on something else. But now he couldn't deny and dodge it anymore.

Artyom's dark hair that flopped down over his forehead. His eyes, seeming so green and bright in the shadows of the tunnel. His smile and quiet laughter that made Pavel's heart pound rapidly no matter what. His cold determination whenever there was a threat. His desire to keep his comrades safe.

Pavel sat back down at Artyom's bedside, swallowing past the lump in his throat and eyes burning with unshed tears. How could this have ever happened? For the longest time, Pavel thought he could control it. Could hide it, could cover it all up.

"I'm totally in love with you girls, but I've been busy with work!"

"Looks like you're a bit woman-hungry, huh? Well, yes, yes, it's a hard life without a soft woman, I know."

"What about her, Artyomuchka? Isn't she pretty?"

Artyom likes women. Why wouldn't he? All men do.

So why can't I?

He was in anguish, sitting there next to the man who made his entire world come crashing down. Pavel felt disgusted with himself for all of the things swirling about in his head. But once he had made the connection, they wouldn't stop. Thoughts of Artyom smiling at him, of Artyom pulling him close, of Artyom bringing a hand to the back of his neck, of Artyom pressing his lips to Pavel's--

No!

Pavel felt himself spiral further down. He leaned forward and rested his forehead on the sheets at Artyom's side, shoulders shaking as he tried to compose himself. Too many things were happening at once, and while Pavel could handle most things and take them in stride, this wasn't something he was prepared to deal with. His arms came up to rest under his head, and he buried his face into the crook of his elbow. This is wrong, I am wrong. If he ever finds out--

Pavel fell asleep with Artyom's face swimming before his eyes.

~*~

His throat was dry when he awoke, and he was lying in an unfamiliar bed. Artyom opened his eyes to see the dingy ceiling of the Metro above him instead of the sky he so longed for. He was stiff and immobile, heavy bandages wrapped around his waist. A inquisitive hand moved slowly and pressed against them before a sharp pain had him gasping out. That was stupid of me. Artyom thought to himself as he looked around the room. It was dreary and dark, sheets hanging from metal frames. VDNKh's hospital.

A mass to his right alerted him to another person's presence.

He looked down to see Pavel, head resting on his arms and almost dangerously close to his side. His face was turned away from him, and so Artyom could only see the back of the other man's head. His hand stuck out and was clenched in the sheets quite tightly. Artyom swallowed and smiled; Pavel was here for him.

His jacket was hanging on the back of his chair, and one of his sleeves had been rolled up past the elbow. A closer inspection revealed a bandage wrapped around his arm, evidence of a needle being used. The implications of what Pavel must have done crashed into Artyom almost immediately. He gave blood. There's no way he didn't, I was dying. And now I'm not and he's still here? A feeling he couldn't explain settled deep in his chest. He shared Pavel's blood now, along with what seemed like countless others.

But Pavel's in particular stood out. Artyom now held a part of him within himself, and he would forevermore. His heart fluttered rapidly at the thought. He looked down at Pavel again, who was sleeping. His hand betrayed how tense he was, clenched so tightly that his knuckles were white. It took a few moments of hesitation before Artyom moved his own hand out from under the covers. His blood was rushing through his ears as he slowly began inching his way over to gently brush his fingers over the back of Pavel's hand.

It was electrifying. Artyom let out a shuddering breath as he curled his fingers under Pavel's and slowly coaxed the man's hand open. Palm to palm and clutching desperately. Pavel shifted his position slightly and Artyom's heart leaped up into his throat before calming. It seemed that Pavel was just beginning to relax from his tensed position, not wake up. His cheeks burned as he thought of what would happen if Pavel awoke. It would be best to not think about what his reaction would be.

So Artyom didn't.

He only closed his eyes again and laced his fingers together with Pavel's before nodding off once more.

Chapter Text

Moscow was cold today.

Artyom picked his way through the ruins of buildings as he made his way back to the hermetic doors that sealed the Metro off from the surface. There was nothing to be found, as per the usual. His radio picked up no signals, his searches for supplies turned up short, even his careful scanning for mutants revealed nothing. The city really was dead now. There was nothing left. Artyom sighed through the filter of his gas mask and cast a glance at a nearby car. Nothing salvageable.

There truly was nothing left.

Another reason why Artyom had to leave. He couldn't stay here any longer; couldn't stay in this dead world with its denizens on the decline. He needed to escape, to find a new place to call home. There had to be something out there. Even if it was impossible to find other people, Artyom would relish the opportunity to breathe in clean air and to dig his hands into untainted ground, to drink clean water. The idea of having a place to call home on the surface, to share with another, was so alluring to Artyom.

He was lost in his daydreams as he continued on through the city. It was still quiet, so Artyom felt his careful awareness of his surroundings slipping away the farther he walked. The farther he fell into wishes and goals. His feet began to fumble slightly, snapping him back to reality some. He had to be careful where he walked, else he could end up flat on his face with a broken mask.

And then he'd never be able to escape.

But as the adrenaline faded away from his few close calls, Artyom found himself slipping back into that same cycle as he drew closer to the entry to the Metro. And as he let his mind wander, he found his dreams becoming more and more focused. More and more specific, with one theme beginning to appear in every single one. One person. One cabin.

The cycle continued. Daydream, trip, snap back. Daydream, trip, snap back.

Daydream--

The cabin by the sea. It was small, not suitable for more than maybe two people. But it was perfect for them. All they could ever want. Artyom could imagine others living nearby, but with a healthy degree of separation. He and Pavel didn't need to live so close to them.

Trip--

Artyom nearly fell over when the toe of his boot got caught in a crack in the road. The filter regulator of his mask beeped, warning him that he would need to change it soon.

Snap back--

Artyom carefully picked up his feet and hopped across the cracks, screwing in a new filter and placing the used one in his bag. There was a man at the station who could refit them for use later. He was drawn away from his dreams for just a moment, scanning the landscape for any danger. But there was nothing there.

Daydream--

Pavel laughing as he saw the ocean, calling back to Artyom to come join him; Pavel sitting back on a chair in a small cabin, relaxing into the soft cushions; Pavel's soft gaze as he leaned in forward to brush his lips against Artyom's--

Trip--

A short scuffling to his right was masked by his foot kicking an empty can across the pavement. Artyom didn't hear it. Nothing there, nothing he could see. Especially not when he was distracted like this.

Snap back--

The low growl was what finally snapped him back to awareness, but it was too late.

~*~

Artyom was the first to awake again, not long after he took Pavel's hand in his. He came to with the feeling of fingers intertwined with his own, searing hot wherever their skin touched. It was enough to make Artyom break out in a sweat. Pavel hadn't woken up yet; he hadn't caught Artyom.

At this point, anyone with an ounce of common sense would remove their hand and pretend like this all never happened. What with the current situation being as delicate as it was. But Artyom was still hazy and not thinking straight. He simply smiled to himself and began trailing his thumb across the back of Pavel's hand. His heart was racing so fast that he was worried Pavel would hear it and wake up.

But Pavel was still sleeping as deep as ever, not having a care in the world as to what Artyom was doing. And so Artyom let himself fall back into the recesses of his mind, attempting to recall what he had dreamed about. Teeth, claws, ripping and tearing.

Ah.

His most recent trip to the surface hadn't ended well. Watchmen had ambushed him and nearly tore him apart; Artyom hadn't realized they were stalking him until it was too late. One had already pounced and began clawing at his side, the others following shortly after. It ended up taking all of his strength to fight them off with his Shambler, nearly breaking his arm with the force of the shots. He ended up killing some of them, two running off once they saw what he had done to their fellows.

But the damage had been done. There was a gaping hole in his side where their teeth had marred him, too much blood lost to drag himself back to the gates of the Metro. He had only survived thanks to a Stalker party that had recently ascended to the surface, seeing him laying on the ground and bleeding out. They carried him back down the VDNKh as best as they could, transferring him into the careful hands of others. Artyom couldn't see them, couldn't recognize who it was that carried him through the station on the way to the doctors.

There were familiar voices, drowned out by the unbearable pain of the teeth still embedded in his flesh. He lost consciousness soon after, unable to even keep himself aware of his surroundings. The next thing he knew he was laying in a bed with Pavel head-down next to him. Artyom could piece together everything else from that.

Pavel was still asleep.

Artyom's heart rate didn't slow no matter how long he kept his hand linked with the other man's. He kept holding on, however, like his life depended on it. It very well may have. He could feel his blood thrumming just below the surface of his skin, singing and rushing at the close proximity to the person it came from.

Probably a phantom sensation, something that wasn't really happening. A figment of his imagination. But that didn't mean it felt any less real. His stomach was fluttering like a swarm of demons had made a nest deep within him, fighting and thrashing at their bonds in his body. With Pavel so close to him it was almost unbearable; Artyom wanted to scream and shout his feelings. He wanted to hold Pavel by the collar of his shirt and pull him close, to give him all he could.

But he couldn't. So he settled for closing his eyes and thinking about it instead.

There was no way that Pavel felt the same way. Even if he wasn't disgusted by the fact that Artyom was attracted to another man, he probably would still be uncomfortable by it. Pavel liked to joke, liked to playfully poke fun at Artyom. Every now and then a joke would hit a little too close to home, though. Come a little too close to the truth, not that Pavel ever noticed.

Dorogoy.

Artyom could scarcely believe that Pavel had even said something like that. But Pavel had brushed it off almost immediately, dashing any lingering hopes that Artyom may have had at the sincerity of the comment. But he had said it, and that little word opened up a whole new door within Artyom's mind. With a frame of reference, Artyom imagined Pavel saying that to him every day.

Waking up in his arms, dancing across the wooden floor of that little cabin, eating meals together, walking across that beach and feeling the sand below them. Every little thing that he wanted was punctuated by Pavel's blue eyes shining with such love and adoration.

More secret thoughts also opened themselves up as well. Thoughts of Pavel shooting coy glances, thoughts of Pavel biting his lower lip playfully and raising his brows in jest. Hands pulling Artyom through the door and running across his chest.

Soft whispers in the dark, shuddering breaths and quiet moans. His name tumbling out from Pavel's open mouth--

Artyom...

Artyom...

"Artyom...?"

His heart nearly stopped. A shifting of weight on the medical bed alerted him to Pavel waking up. But Artyom kept his eyes closed, attempting to feign sleep. The fingers intertwined with his flexed slightly then tightened. A sudden jerk nearly had Artyom's eyes shooting open to see what happened, but in an astounding show of restraint he kept them closed. "Blyadj..." Pavel whispered, leaning up off of the bed and taking Artyom's hand with him as he moved. He attempted to dislodge his fingers, twisting his palm to the side and letting Artyom's hand fall limply onto the sheets.

An ache stabbed deep into his chest, one that shouldn't have been there.

Chapter Text

Pavel was pacing the room. This was bad, very bad indeed. His hand still ached from Artyom's touch. When had that happened? It had to be sometime after he fell asleep. Did I do that in my sleep? His throat was tight and almost tasted of bile. Disgusting. What would the others think if they knew? Pavel exited through the plastic sheeting that separated Artyom from the rest of the patients and crossed his arms, tapping his foot on the floor in a nervous fidget.

What was he going to do? Things were different now, much too delicate and tense to allow any more mistakes on his part. All of the jokes and innuendos had to stop. What if Artyom noticed he was more serious than intended? What if he found out that Pavel was a freak? Would he even want to speak to me again?

A shuddering breath escaped his lips. The very idea of that chilled him to the core. There would be no way Pavel could ever go on if Artyom decided to cut contact with him. Pavel just cared too much about the other man. He was his best friend. He was the one who pulled Pavel out of a vicious cycle of violence. How had that even happened? There were plenty of other people in the Metro; why had Artyom of all people been the one to snare his heart in a vice trap? Why?

"Why... Why couldn't it have been a woman? Why not anyone but him?" He murmured to himself, tucking his chin to his chest and squeezing his eyes shut. His arms were crossed and he had folded in on himself, a position of resignation and sickness. "Why can't I just be--" a choked cough cut his whispers off and Pavel whipped around to see Artyom clutching the side of the curtain behind him. He was barely standing and still pale; fragile.

He looked awful. Artyom's legs were shaking under his weight, struggling desperately to keep himself upright. There were dark circles under his eyes and sweat perspired upon his brow. A quick look downwards revealed that he had begun bleeding through his bandages. Pavel jumped with a start and put a hand to his friend's arm, plight forgotten for a moment.

"Artyom! You need to be lying down!" He chided, allowing the man to lean on him as he guided him back to his cot. Artyom felt hot and heavy to the touch, almost feverish. Pavel had to wrap an arm around his waist in order to keep him upright long enough to get him back into bed. His current predicament about his jumbled up feelings was pushed to the side, overwhelmed by his need to see Artyom safe and unhurt. He was mindful of Artyom's still serious injuries and made sure to not irritate them. As soon as Artyom had safely been maneuvered into a lying down position, Pavel took up the seat he had abandoned earlier. "Hey, chuvak. How're you feeling, eh?"

Artyom didn't meet his eyes. That should've been a sign that something was wrong, but it flew completely over Pavel's head in favor of making sure that Artyom was relatively alive. The man still looked about half-dead. However, his friend shrugged his shoulders and made an almost noncommittal noise in the back of his throat. It sounded hoarse and painful.

"Not so good, huh? Well I'd be worse off than you if I had taken the beating you did!" Pavel said, attempting to plaster a friendly smile on his face. His throat still felt tight. If Artyom was looking at him he would've seen right through the cheerful facade. "Why did you get up instead of calling a doctor over? You have a bell for that specific reason." A hand wave over to said bell made Artyom's eyes flash over to his bedside table for a moment before focusing back on a point on the wall. "You opened up your wounds, keep in mind that they're still attempting to stitch you up completely!" Artyom pursed his lips in irritation at the mothering.

But there was still something off. Usually Artyom would indulge Pavel a bit with his teasing, and he would defend himself more whenever Pavel would get too overbearing. But he was just lying there, not doing anything. Once Pavel calmed down from his burst of worry and called for a doctor to redress Artyom's bandages, he began noticing the little tics that had completely escaped him before. A little twitch of the eyebrow there, a flex of the throat there. A nervous glance towards him then away. Almost like Artyom couldn't bring himself to look at him. There was something wrong with the man, but Pavel just couldn't place it. What had happened to him? What caused him to completely close off his body language and expression from Pavel? Usually he could get a good reading on Artyom, but now it was nearly impossible.

Unless...

That was when he realized.

Artyom had been behind him. Had gotten up in search of his friend who he most certainly knew had stayed with him through the night. He had been right behind him. Right there, as Pavel cursed himself and his disastrous feelings. Artyom wasn't stupid. Maybe a little clueless and naïve at times, but most definitely not an idiot. He was well-read and more educated than most. Artyom could tell when something was wrong with someone. He could tell.

And he knew.

There was no way he didn't now. Pavel had his hope before that Artyom's little sojourn through his memories hadn't revealed anything telling about himself. But now that he understood what all of his reactions meant there was no other thing to think but--

Artyom knew. He knew.

And he was disgusted.

Pavel tried to swallow past the lump in his throat. This wasn't supposed to happen now! Pavel had only just found out himself! This was never supposed to happen, in fact. He was supposed to forget all about these feelings and never let them see the light of day, bury them somewhere deep down below until they shriveled and died. They weren't supposed to be revealed and paraded about in front of the very person they focused on! Artyom wasn't supposed to find out.

A tiny part of Pavel's heart, one that was so small that he could barely even feel it, soared with optimism at the thought. An opportunity! Perhaps Artyom was just nervous? Maybe he felt the same and just didn't know how to respond. His reactions were in favor of that outcome, that was for sure. The small glances and averting of the gaze reminded Pavel of the women who attempted to gain his attention by acting coy. Perhaps Artyom was doing the same?

But that tiny, optimistic part of Pavel was quickly snuffed out and ground into the dirt below his crippling sense of pessimism. What am I thinking? This is ridiculous! There's no way in hell that I would be so lucky. The only thing I can hope for now is that Artyom doesn't know, or I can play it off and he'll be none the wiser. Artyom was clearly embarrassed, clearly shamed by the feelings unknowingly thrust upon him by his friend.

How could Pavel fix this?

"Artyom?" He asked, tilting his head in order to better see the other man's face. He had turned away as Pavel processed everything that had just happened. Green eyes flicked back to meet his own before the rest of his face turned to match. It was slow and agonizing for Pavel, knowing that this could very well be the last time he ever spoke to Artyom. He refused to believe it. One last try, one last backtrack. If he buys it then everything will be fine. "You... I just wanted to tell you, that whatever you thought you heard... It's all completely wr--"

He was interrupted by a doctor, who had chosen that very moment to walk in and gasp loudly at the state of Artyom's bandages. He rushed forward and nearly pushed Pavel out of the way in his hurry to get to his patient.

"How in the world did this happen?" He cried out, placing a hand on Artyom's chest and pushing him down. He continued muttering and murmuring to himself as he cut up the side of the soaked-through bandages. They were ruined, unsalvageable.

Pavel tried to avert his gaze but found himself staring. The wound was grisly and intense, blood staining the fabric and skin. Muscle weeping at the damage caused. Luckily no bones were showing, and Artyom's organs were spared from severe damage. But he would scar, and scar badly. The bite marks would be embedded in his flesh permanently, forever a reminder of his brush with death. They stretched from just above his right hip then up, up across his ribs and finally ended below his right pectoral.

Pavel could feel himself pale at the sight. Artyom didn't deserve such marks marring his pale skin. He still looked strangely uncomfortable, head turned awkwardly to the side. The doctor fussed and fretted as he cleaned and disinfected, staunching the bleeding again and motioning for Artyom to sit up enough for him to get re-bandaged. Artyom pushed against the cot below him, but his arms weren't strong enough to get him up and out of the way. The doctor sighed.

"Look, you!" He said, turning back to face Pavel. "Make yourself useful and help him sit up. It won't do if he starts bleeding out again after everything." Pavel rushed over to Artyom's left side and placed a hand on his shoulder. It was hot to the touch. He slid his other hand below Artyom's upper back and gently began pushing him up enough for the doctor to reach under him with the bandages. Pavel swallowed and cleared his throat, moving the hand from Artyom's shoulder lower to his chest in order to give him better stability. He furrowed his brow and cast a glance up at his friend's face to find him still looking away, staring down at his wounds instead.

Artyom's heart was racing. Pavel could feel it thrumming below his fingertips. It was like a caged bird, fluttering rapidly and quickening his breathing along with it. Is Artyom alright? Pavel continued looking at his face only to see the man's cheeks and nose flush intensely. The tips of his ears that were poking out from under his wild mop of hair were beaming red as well. Pavel was suddenly overcome with the want to cup Artyom's jaw and tilt his face up to finally meet his eyes, but he stopped himself before he could do something even more embarrassing than he already had today. "Right, that should do it then!" The doctor said, clapping his hands and smoothing out the newly finished wrappings.

Pavel lowered Artyom back onto the cot and snatched his hands away as if they had been burned. He wrung them together and picked at his fingernails; anything to prevent his hands from moving on their own and touching Artyom again. "You're certainly looking better today, Ranger, but I wouldn't get up until a few more days from now. Those bites are pretty deep, and you need some time to let them seal," The doctor told Artyom, practically reprimanding him like one would a naughty child. He turned to face Pavel. "I assume you'll keep an eye on him, then?" Pavel's throat dried and he coughed into a tightly wound fist.

"I'm not so sure I can, erm. I should've been back to my station yesterday, and my superiors are probably wondering where I am." He awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck and tried to come up with an excuse to leave. He had to leave now and hope Artyom would forget about everything that had just happened. Maybe he was so out of his mind with pain and delirium that he'd completely forget what Pavel had said earlier. "I've stayed for too long already, and Artyomich here can handle himself, eh?" He joked, closing his eyes for a little laugh. If Pavel had chosen that moment to look at his friend then he would have seen the look of absolute longing and almost heartbreak on Artyom's face.

But he didn't. He was too wrapped up in his own panic and problems to properly interpret what was right in front of him.

That Artyom was desperately worried as well.

Chapter Text

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.

~*~

Pavel had been doing mundane duties for the Red Line ever since he returned from his last journey to VDNKh. He had thrown himself into his tasks with an almost fierce determination he had never felt before. Some of his friends noticed his uncharacteristic seriousness and often commented on it, mentioning how they'd never seen him so hardworking before. Pavel always replied with the same answer.

"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.

Artyom...

"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.

Almost.

"Blyadj."

~*~

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.