He stares at the hatch. He wills it to open, or that at least there’s a sound from the other side. But nothing happens. He's waiting, and Valery is waiting next to him. Time passes. No one says a word. They keep waiting and still do when it becomes abundantly clear that the divers will not come back. Boris has sent them to their death. He turns to Valery. He knows what he’ll see in those eyes. Defeat. Valery doesn’t say anything. He just looks tired, shaking his head. Boris has failed him.
Boris wakes with a gasp. That nightmare again. He hates it the most of them all. He can’t fathom what his mind is playing at. After all, the divers did come back, the mission had been a success even. He pinches his eyes together, tries to chase off the defeat he saw in Valery’s eyes that now lingers in his mind.
No light comes through the curtain of the bedroom, so Boris guesses it’s not even 3am yet. He goes about to fumble for the lamp on the nightstand before he remembers that it broke some days ago. He glances at the other side of the bed. Empty, of course. The light coming through the open door from the other room reveals it has not even been used.
Not a surprise. So far, Valery has avoided the bed altogether. He's either not sleeping at all (most nights as Boris has counted) or falling asleep completely dressed on the tiny bed in the main room. Boris doesn’t know why. And it bothers him. There are probably a lot of proper reasons why someone doesn’t want to share a bed with another person. Still, since the trenches, Boris can't remember any. It has never bothered him to fall asleep when surrounded by other people. Of course, the few times he has shared a bed with another man that he liked had been different altogether.
Not that he and Valery fall under that category.
Boris sighs. He knows where these thoughts are heading, and while they might shoo away the nightmare, they won't make him feel any better. At least he is more awake now. And he needs to pee. He gets up, his bare feet making soft padding noises on the carpet. The only sound he can hear from the other room is regular breathing, so Boris expects Valery to be folded in on himself on the small bed again.
But when he sees Valery, Boris stops in his tracks. The man is definitely asleep, but he never made it to the bed. Instead, he is bent forward in his chair, his head resting on a pile of papers on the table. His glasses are in his right hand, dangling dangerously over the edge of the table.
But his face… Boris can’t help but stare. For once, the expression isn’t twisted into worry. The tense lines Boris sees so often have disappeared. As has the hardness around his mouth. Valery doesn’t seem to have a nightmare, either, he doesn't twist, and there's no furrowed brow on him. He looks … untroubled.
And he’s beautiful. The light from the lamp above the table gives his tussled hair a kind of glow. It makes his eyelashes shine even lighter than usual. His lips are slightly parted, and with every breath he takes, the corner of one of the maps flutters softly.
Boris’s heart does a little jump. It's the most precious he's seen Valery yet. The whole picture screams innocence, and some part in Boris feels the urge to protect Valery. Get his glasses before they break, give him a blanket before he starts to freeze. Truthfully, he wants to pick Valery up and put him in bed, and wouldn’t that be the most ridiculous thing to do. He wants to do everything but fail him.
What he should actually do is get moving to the little bathroom to relieve himself. But he’s still rooted to the spot. Because the other part of him that dares to dream and imagine has noticed how Valery’s posture exposes his neck. Now Boris can see the spot quite clearly, right there at the nape, where Valery’s hair is a bit longer, less tidy, like he’s tried to groom himself but not quite managed the part. It’s utterly enticing. And from there, it's a long stretch to where the collar of Valery’s shirt begins. A long stretch of skin.
Before Boris can ask himself whether it’s a good idea to think about his comrade in this much detail, he's already wondering how it’d feel like to touch Valery there. Would the skin be warm underneath his hand? Would Valery get goosebumps if he started to stroke through the hair with his fingers? How easy it would be to lean forward then if Valery lets him, to press a soft kiss to the corner of Valery's mouth. Maybe Valery would like it? Maybe Boris could give him another kiss, this time right on his parted lips…
He must have made a noise because suddenly Valery opens his eyes. They are unfocused for a second before they zoom in on Boris. Valery's face loses all softness when he takes hold of his situation and rights himself, automatically putting his glasses back on.
Boris tries to arrange his face in something of a neutral expression while he watches Valery peel himself off the paper. A groan escapes Valery when he’s back to the sitting position.
“That’s why I try to avoid falling asleep,” Valery mutters and starts rubbing the back of his neck. The irony of the gesture isn’t lost on Boris. He manages to nod. After all, he has an inkling as to how stiff Valery must feel. Like your dick.
Boris stops breathing. It’s true. He can feel his half-hard cock pressing against his underwear. He wants to look down, but instead he wills himself to stay focused on Valery. What if the other man looks down. Oh God. His face must do unspeakable things because Valery’s eyebrows knit together.
“Are you alright?” There’s worry in Valery’s words.
This isn't helping. Why for heaven's sake had he gotten up from bed? Because you needed to pee, he reminds himself. Ah.
"Yes, I mean, no, I just need the bathroom." He points in the obvious direction, and finally, his feet find their bearings, and he starts to move. He doesn't slow down until he closes the door to the little cubicle behind him. Boris leans on the sink and presses his head against the cool mirror above it. Immediate problem solved.
What had he been thinking? Letting his imagination take over like this while in the same room with Valery. Yes, he had allowed his mind to wander before, but only when he was by himself. On every other occasion, like when Valery closed his fine lips around a cigarette to take a deep drag or leaned forward in a way that made his butt protrude lovingly, he had squashed down any indecent thoughts instantly.
But this, this is new. This looks like he’s starting to slip, to lose control, and that can’t happen. He needs to function. Even though he wishes for nothing more than a few hours, even just minutes that don’t have death written all over them. As it is, death is looming everywhere around them, from the divers he sent to their doom to their own inevitable demise, whether in one year or in five.
It would be so nice to feel alive again. Just once. He barely remembers what that is.
He straightens himself and shakes his head. You are an old fool, he scolds himself. A look in the mirror tells him it is true. He is old. He spots wrinkles that hadn't been there only weeks ago. A hard face that seems to have forgotten how to smile. He presses his lips together. He should know better than to wallow in things he can't get. In things that just aren't happening.
What he can get is some more sleep, so he'll be able to deal with a blown-up reactor tomorrow once again.
Boris looks down. At least his erection has gone away thanks to the self-pity. He is relieved. He really doesn’t want to face Valery in that state again. He does what he actually came to the bathroom for and goes out to the main room again.
His plan is to bid a short ‘good night’ to Valery, no matter how much exposed neck there is, and then go straight back to bed. Just, Valery isn't to be seen. He isn't pacing the room, he isn't back at the table, and the little bed in the corner is empty, too.
Did he go out? Valery didn’t hear the door. Or did he actually … Boris peaks around the doorframe into the small bedroom. Indeed, Valery is lying on his back on the left half of their bed. Well, theirs sounds a bit excessive. Boris sees Valery’s shirt and pants tossed onto the chair. But Valery still got his glasses on and he looks like he wants to vanish through the mattress.
"I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but my back can't take the other bed tonight," Valery says, and he sounds like he's apologizing.
“What?” Boris is so shocked over the development that his brain draws a complete blank.
"I pulled something, I think. I'm sure it's all better tomorrow, and I can use the bed in the other room again. Or, I mean, I try not to sleep, it's just losing important hours in which I could do…"
Boris cuts him off with a decisive hand movement.
Valery has started to ramble, and Boris knows how this tends to go. He can take a lot of things but not Valery giving him statistical figures in the middle of the night while they are both in the bedroom. Also, it doesn't help him at all to figure out what Valery is talking about.
“No,” Boris grumbles, “I meant,” and he emphasizes the words, “what are you apologizing for?”
He doesn't wait for an answer, though, just goes over to his side and climbs under the covers. The temperatures shouldn't make him freeze, especially since he's still wearing his shirt, and yet he is cold. He'll not discuss sleeping arrangements standing here in his underwear, especially not after having had to fight down a boner.
Boris turns to his right side, facing Valery. His eyes express utter discomfort and … is there even a hint of fear in them? It’s only softened by the light slanting through the door and falling on Valery’s face. Boris wants to keep looking at the man who makes his heart stumble and his body stir, but it doesn’t feel right. Not when Valery is this visibly uncomfortable. Boris doesn’t like it. He wants to reach out, take his hand and tell him it’s alright. Even though that would be a lie since he doesn’t know the problem.
He has the feeling he’s missing some kind of vital information. And he really doesn’t like that.
“If it is because we are in the same bed, I told you right at the beginning, I don’t mind,” Boris reminds Valery, trying to soften his voice as much as possible. He also tries to will Valery to understand the deeper meaning behind his words. In fact, I like it. Stay. Hold my hand. Kiss me.
It doesn’t work. Valery still looks startles, his mouth half-opened. Boris shakes his head. He’s seen this tonight already. Oh, Valery, if you had any idea what you are doing to me.
Valery still hasn’t spoken or answered Boris’ question. But his eyes dart between Boris and the door.
"If you can't stand being in the same bed as me, I can't help you, because I'm not going anywhere." This situation is starting to get to him, so maybe his tone isn’t the nicest. But the thought that Valery is trying to remove himself from their bed because he can’t bear to even lie next to him hurts.
This finally gets a reaction out of Valery. He blinks once, twice, his face twisting into something else. Guilt. "Oh no," he whispers, and his right hand reaches before he abandons the movement. Like he wanted to reach out to Boris. "That's … that's not what I meant."
Boris watches the hand. He’s now more confused than before. Just an unexecuted sign of comfort?
Valery struggles for words. Embarrassment crosses his face. "I avoided being in the same bed because," and even in the dim light, Boris can see the blush creeping up Valery's neck, "I tend to … snuggle.”
“What?” Boris repeats for what feels is the umpteenth time. He knows what Valery means, he just can’t believe his ears.
“I fall asleep, I scoot up to the other person. It’s automatic, I can’t help it,” Valery apologizes again.
“And?” Boris asks before he can stop himself, even though it’s unfair. Valery can’t know that, but to Boris, the idea of hugging Valery while sleeping sounds like one of his dreams come true. One of his pleasant dreams, as rare as they are. He wants nothing more than to keep Valery close.
Valery frowns. He clearly has expected a different reaction. “Uh… you might not like it?” he adds cautiously. He's clearly out of his depth, and Boris is, too, but he likes the direction in which this conversation is going.
Boris barks a burst of short laughter. "Who told you that?"
"Uh," Valery rubs his neck again, "I just thought…" he trails off. The frown leaves his face. "You would … like it?" He tries out the words carefully like he's stepping on slippery ground.
And maybe they are, but Boris now wants to see this through. He thinks about Valery’s extended hand. Perhaps it was indeed more than just the idea of comfort. But what was it? Friendship? Desire? Boris doesn’t dare to imagine anything more meaningful than that.
At this moment, stuck with this question, Boris has enough. Enough tip-toeing around, enough of himself dreaming up touching Valery and getting boners like a young man who sees someone naked for the first time, without it going anywhere. The exchange gave him the strength to go further. He wants to know where they stand, he wants them both to be on the same page. And if it’s just to stop the fantasies. That he might hurt himself leaves a foul taste in his mouth, and the idea that he might hurt Valery makes his stomach churn. But he doesn't want to lie, and he doesn't want to shy away from the truth. He’ll jump into the cold water and hope Valery will follow him.
“Yes, I would.” Boris smiles, and it feels weird like his face needs to relearn how to do it. “In fact, I've been thinking about it," he continues while keeping eye-contact with Valery. “And you? Would you like it?" he tries out the word. “To cuddle with me?” Get it out into the open, Valery. Tell me.
Valery exhales a breath he had been holding, his blue eyes turning a shade darker. Boris can see the wheels turning in his head. And then the corners of his mouth tip upwards. Is that a smile? A smile just for him?
“Very much so.” Valery’s voice is not as shy as he had expected but it is sharp. Boris had heard Valery use it before when he wanted to get a point across. "’I’ve been thinking for some time that you’d make a great hugger. Big and strong.”
Is he being cheeky now? Valery’s eyes twinkle. Oh, he is. Boris likes it.
The smile on Boris’ face seems firmly stuck there now. Valery’s words might have been witty, but Boris heard the message. Valery has been thinking about him before tonight. Boris wants to ask for how long and what exactly he had been thinking about, so Boris can tell him his thoughts about which parts of Valery he likes the most, and yearns to touch. But not tonight. It was hard enough to coax these words out of each other. One step at a time. For tonight they are on the same page. They know where they stand.
Also, it's now way past three in the morning.
“All right, it’s fucking late. Come here,” Boris rumbles and scoots to the middle of the bed, opening his arms in an inviting gesture.
That stunned expression is back on Valery’s face again - maybe he thought they'd fall asleep like this and see where the night would take them - but he gets over it quickly, shrugs, rolls over and lands in Boris’ arms like he’s always meant to fit there.
Valery molds himself to Boris’ body, filling out the empty spaces until he’s laying flush against Boris. There’s some dangerous rubbing in areas that could make things very uncomfortable again, but it ceases when Valery settles in. The warmth of Valery’s body is like a blanket to Boris. He isn’t freezing anymore. Nevertheless, he takes the cover and drapes it over their lower halves.
Boris feels Valery relaxing with every passing second until his breathing is becoming more regularly. To know he did that, that his presence let Valery unwind, makes Boris's stomach flutter in a way it hasn’t in a long time. He hasn’t failed Valery. At least not tonight.
His left hand settles on Valery's chest on its own accord, mostly on his undershirt, but there's bare flesh beneath his fingertips. The skin is warm there, too, or maybe Boris just thinks his fingertips are set on fire because they are actually touching what he’s been thinking about for so long. As if on cue, Valery lays his own left hand over his, holding him. It’s such an intimate gesture that the fluttering in his stomach increases some more. And suddenly, Boris remembers. This is what feeling alive is like.
In the semidarkness, Boris sees Valery's neck before him. He can't make out the freckles, but there’s Valery’s hair right in front of him. Boris smiles to himself again. For the first time, he's looking forward to the next day. To see where they’ll go from here. He’ll do his part to find out what Valery likes. What else they might like together. Tomorrow, maybe. Or the day after. When they’ve handled the daily dose of death surrounding them.
Boris recalls his nightmares. He should tell Valery before they fall asleep even though he doesn't like it. They make him weak, he's not weak. But he's also not stupid enough to risk what they've just started. "Sometimes, I have nightmares." He leaves it hanging in the air like it's self-explanatory. That he sometimes finds himself woken up with the covers strewn aside and his muscles hurting.
"We all do," Valery replies softly. He does understand. “I know they wake you up," he adds like that can take away all of Boris’ worries about potentially smacking Valery in the back.
Weirdly, it works.
Boris relaxes again. He hadn’t even noticed he had been holding his breath.
He doesn’t say anything but leans his head carefully against Valery’s neck, closing his eyes. He is out of words for now. He concentrates on the rise and fall of Valery’s shoulders, a soft rhythm he tries to imitate. If Valery could catch some proper sleep for a few hours, that'd be an ideal side-effect.
Suddenly, there’s movement again. Boris's eyes snap open. In the shadows, he can see Valery's arm moving.
"Glasses," he mumbles apologetically. At some point, Boris will have to do something about this matter of apologizing constantly. Valery doesn’t seem to care about tact with Gorbachev or Boris for that matter, but now when it’s just the two of them, he’s all … humble. And Valery is, in Boris’s mind, a lot of things, but not humble. He doesn’t have to be.
Even in the darkness, Boris can detect that Valery has laid the glasses down on the mattress at the edge of the bed. He smiles. Valery put them there, so he didn't have to let go of Boris. He's rather risking his glasses than losing their entwined position.
"You might roll onto them if you leave them there," Boris mumbles. But he also doesn't let go of Valery's chest. Inconsequential, he knows. Egoistic even.
Valery wraps his fingers around Boris's hand and presses himself even closer. "I promise I won't."
Boris rests his chin on Valery’s neck and closes his eyes again. He believes him.