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The sun has started to set already: Fyodor notices the room dimming, the light from the laptop's screen becoming more and more apparent. He woke up recently: one or two hours ago, and he is still in his bed — he doesn't expect anyone to visit him today, even with all probable calculations for the plans going wrong; there's absolutely no need to change into his usual attire, so he lounges in an old, somewhat riddled with holes T-shirt and baggy pants. After all, if he is going to spend his whole day (and night) working, might as well make sure he is as comfortable as it can get.

Although, he might have lied a bit when he figured he expected no one: there is a chance for a certain person to show up, and it is a considerable one, given the date. 

February 14th, also known by a majority as "St. Valentine's Day". Something for couples, and something to entertain school kids with: Fyodor's experience with this particular day begins and ends with a few valentines he got during his school years… And a few compulsory ones he sent. For him, it is just another date in the calendar, if only with a certain peculiarity.

To his disappointment, he manages to hear a key turning in the hole, which can mean only one thing: that person is here, and Fyodor will be forced to tolerate his presence for however long he decides to stay (and that is, most probably, for the rest of the day).

But it's not like Fyodor minded it that much: he has grown used to the loud and silly antics the other had, as with time it became something he could tune out; perhaps, sometimes it even acted as a background noise to drown out the silence.

Loud footsteps draw close: it's not unlike this visitor to be excited over anything — and Fyodor knows that the moment the door to his room is opened he will be greeted with a loud speech.

"Ta-daaa!!" A loud cry pierces through the silent room as the door bursts open, revealing the culprit behind the disturbance. "Gogol's here!! Hey, Dost, I've got a ti-iny quiz just for you! The question is: did you see this coming?"

After hitting the keyboard shortcut for saving, Fyodor looks up. The bright smile on Nikolai's face draws almost all of his attention: but the plain white package Nikolai is holding does not escape his gaze either — he figures it is the reason this clown waddled all the way to his apartment when he absolutely did not have to.

"Mhm, I did see this coming," Fyodor replies with ever persistent indifference in both face and voice, facing straight into Nikolai's eyes — the expression on latter's face changes, lips curling up in a slight frown for a moment, before the even bigger smile takes its place.

"I didn't expect less from you, Dost!! Then you've gotta already know why I'm here," and Nikolai chuckles as he makes his way to Fyodor's bed, plopping down on it after and holding up the package.

"Happy Valenti—!!"

"Nikolai Vasilievich, I have to remind you that we are not a couple."

Perhaps, if there is one activity Fyodor enjoys, it is depriving Nikolai of his jokes and excitement — the latter didn't seem to mind it that much, even if his expression now is identical to the one of a kid who has accidentally eaten an extremely, awfully, unbelievably sour candy.

"E-Ehhh?! And you gotta be so official too!.. People can die from heartbreak, you know!" A pout accompanies the whiny speech; Fyodor smiles, almost imperceptible.

"If you could die from heartbreak, then you would have been dead long ago," Fyodor muses, pressing a finger to his lips. A moment, and his face enlightens. "Oh, are you saying that you have been dead this whole time?"

"Do-ost! Of course I'm not dead!! —And you really didn't have to rub it in my face again!"

"As I recall, I was not the one who, a week or so ago, insisted that we were a couple to staff. I thought I would remind you to not get any ideas."

"But, bu-ut!! It was for a discount, alright! Were you not the one who always kept pointing out I spend too much? I wanted to impress you, you know!"

"Oh, is that so? I was not aware of that."

"You!! You were aware, I’m pretty sure! … Anyway!"

The rose dusts Nikolai's cheeks as he is reminded of that incident yet again — but they are straying too far from the main topic at hand right now! He won't let Fyodor weasel out of it this easily, especially not when he's spent too much time preparing the gift.

"Here!" Nikolai almost shoves the white package in Fyodor's face, before placing it on his lap (which used to be occupied by the laptop, and Fyodor has put it away moments before). "It's a gift I made for you! Simple chocolate would be too plain, don't you think? And, and!! What kind of a magician would I be if I just stuck to what's normal, am I ri-ight?"

"Uh-huh," Fyodor nods. It is rare for anyone to see Gogol without his clown attire: he dons a black long sleeve with gray sweatpants, and the oddest detail is the complete absence of his favorite mask — there is no eyepatch or a simpler mask, Gogol's right eye is in the plain view.

It is not the first time Fyodor has seen it, and it definitely won't be the last: he's had quite a few opportunities to examine it closer and found that it differs only slightly in color. Nothing unusual, he concluded. 

And yet, this moment feels different from most: Fyodor attributes it to the fact that they both are dressed casually, and there is nothing present that reminds them of work (except for the forgotten laptop, but it won't be touched any more today). It almost makes Fyodor grimace in light disgust — he was never the one to allow others to venture into his "private" life so easily, and yet, Gogol manages to barge into it again and again; there is something peculiar about this clown that makes him bearable: while his constant quizzes and general behavior of a five-year old high on sugar can be quite grating, he seems to have what one would call "a charm", and his fooling around provides a temporary relief from work-related thought processes. Of course, there are times when the clownery is unnecessary, but—


A loud sound snaps Fyodor out of his thoughts, and he is met with a concerned look. "Did you get lost in thoughts again? I'm right here, you know." Gogol scoots closer to him, placing an elbow on Fyodor's bent knees. "Maybe you should sleep more?"

"I'm fine," is all Fyodor has to say. It's impossible not to pick up on the slight change of Nikolai's voice: instead of ringing clear it is marred with emotions he rarely lets others see. 

Reaching out to untie the slim ribbon on the package, Fyodor manages to notice a faint smell that jogs his memory: although, what he remembers exactly he cannot say — the scent is familiar, extremely so, yet nothing comes to mind. That, in itself, is a problem, Fyodor notes, and he will have to address it later — he cannot have memory lapses affect his performance.

If there is at least one thing Gogol is good at, it would be knots. It takes Fyodor a full minute of struggling to unravel it: while it is unnecessary, it has always been a rule of his to never cut the knots off, and instead undo them, no matter how long it takes. Chewed nails and damaged fingertips do not help with this, and eventually Gogol gets tired of Fyodor struggling — he fishes a pair of scissors out of nowhere and, with a courteous "Allow me!", cuts one of the lines, freeing the package.

"Next time I'll make sure to tie it looser just for you!" he chirps after noticing Fyodor's displeased expression. "It wouldn't be good if it got undone before it reached you, so I tied it re-e-eal strong!"

He is given no answer, as Fyodor removed the ribbon and lifts the top: what is revealed to be under he did not expect. A cake, rectangular in shape and cut into small pieces: the deep brown of it reflects stray lights with bright white as the chocolate aroma proceeds to fill the room. To the right of it, there is a plastic fork — Fyodor guesses Gogol put it in to spare the unnecessary running around in searches of any forks in his apartment.

"There!! Do you recognize it?" Nikolai inquires with excitement. It gives Fyodor a weird feeling: this seems like a perfect time to do one of his favorite quizzes and have Fyodor guess it, before finally revealing the answer.

"You are going to tell me the answer anyway, so what is it?" Fyodor leans in to take a deep breath, but the associated memories still escape him: he knows that this particular mixture of scents — it is not just chocolate — is definitely familiar to him, and he has encountered it not once or twice either. 

"No can do! I worked so, so hard on it, I can't just give the answers away, even if I would love to! But I can give you a hint!"

With these words Gogol swiftly takes the fork and impales one of the pieces on it, then brings it close to Fyodor's lips.

"Come on, Dost! Say "A-Ah"!"

There is no escaping this situation for Fyodor: the eager and expectant expression on Gogol's face, the cake that is almost touching his chapped lips — and his own curiosity, except he doubts that tasting the cake will provide him with any answer. But he obliges anyway, opening his mouth wide enough to let Gogol place the treat in.

And this turn of events Fyodor didn't expect.

The moment it touches his tongue, the different flavors fill his mouth, a sensation already so foreign, forgotten — and new. Fyodor recalls winter evenings in a small cafe, alone and not, with live music and the warmth of a fireplace: his favorite table was near one and facing the window too, allowing him to observe people from a three-story height. The veil of snow falling would obscure the vision, but he never minded it: it has always provided a spiritual comfort, not unlike a soft blanket one would wrap themselves in. The farther outlines of the city dissolved in the white mist, and the river nearby always remained untouched, until some brave souls cut a few holes in the ice — Fyodor would occasionally see them fishing, the dark silhouette against bright white, but he never got the answer to the question which crossed his mind from time to time: is it possible to actually fish something out of that river? 

Ah, he misses it. He misses his dear Russia and her cuisine, he misses her cold winters and blazing summers — he longs to return there and to rest in his apartment near the city center, to take strolls across the squares when deep in thought and to visit cathedrals when in doubt, to hear the bells ring for good luck and to rub the muzzle of a certain dog to be blessed. It hasn't been long since he came to Japan, but he would rather hide in his own room he grew in than content himself with the simplest accomodation in this city.

But, his mission is his mission, and while nostalgia might nib at his heart, it is ultimately powerless before his conviction and determination: no amount of heartfelt thoughts will sway Fyodor's resolve.


Gogol perks up at the answer, lips curling up in a gentle smile. While Fyodor has been slowly chewing his creation — and getting lost in thoughts again! — he has been watching him not unlike a hawk. 

The moments after Fyodor closed his mouth, Gogol was treated with the blessed sight: he never expected his culinary experiment to influence his dear Dost so greatly, and yet it did! The rare, rumored to be non-existent, genuine surprise took form on Fyodor's face: eyes wide open and brows relaxed, fingers touching lips as he chewed, trying to prolong the familiar taste; it is as if it brought memories hidden deep, unnecessary to duty yet dear to heart. And Gogol could swear one detail certainly happened: under the rays of the setting sun Fyodor's eyes glistened as he indulged in a short reverie.

Sometimes Gogol questioned himself, is freedom really worth it? The set ideal never cracked before, it stood proudly in the center of his heart, guiding him — that is, until he met Dostoevsky. The promised freedom's wings of protection were torn away and stitched back, and torn and back again: Fyodor understood him, and understood him unlike all others — nothing escaped the violet crimson gaze of his; he promised to guide Nikolai to his freedom, the one he longed for his whole life, but… With time, when days and weeks passed, Gogol started averting his gaze from the blue skies, instead finding solace in this man, the only person who knew the real Gogol, not the clown. 

He still questions it even now, after all cards have been revealed to Fyodor. The demon who rouses his heart, who makes him long for his presence and who will never choose him over duty — that Nikolai understands with pain in his chest. The cage's door is open, but the little bird stays inside, unwilling to leave the prison he's trapped in: it's not that he isn't aware of an escape, it is a conscious decision to continue existing with shackles attached, for the reward of doing so is familiar and dear, unlike the freedom's uncertainty. The bird may fly away, but will he soar the skies or will he collapse on the ground, unable to sustain himself? Oh, but the bird deludes himself that he can always hop out, whenever he likes! He can fly away from that cage, he can escape it — but won't he regret it? 

That he will decide later, Gogol muses to himself. The decisive hour is far away, and he has time to indulge in the horrible vice of his known as Dostoevsky. The one that will never return the burning feelings Nikolai harbors. The one with a deathly touch. The one who looks as if the Reaper will come for him any minute. Maybe it is the unrequited love that makes Gogol think he can tear himself away from Dostoevsky when time comes — after all, that demon definitely won't be sad over losing a simple clown! 

And yet, upon seeing the glistening eyes of Fyodor, Gogol finds himself wanting more: it is one of rarest times when Dostoevsky isn't aloof or inhuman, it is almost as if the so-called demon is a simple person in a disguise of God. A pleasant burning tingles on his cheeks, as serenity fills his heart. Moments like these make the ever desired freedom seem like a fairy tale — a dream for kids, a paradise promised — and all he finds himself desiring is to see more of Fyodor, the real, human Fyodor, no matter how little of him is left. It is his own gilded cage he is so reluctant to leave.

"That's right! It's "Prague"! I knew you could get it!" Nikolai clasps his hands together, fork between them. He loves it, he really really does! It means it worked, as Fyodor managed to get it right. "You know, I've been so-o craving one recently, so I made it!" Gogol notices from the corner of his eye that Fyodor pulls the fork out of his clasped hands and takes another piece of cake. "O-Oh, you liked it that mu—"

"Nikolai, why don't you try it?" Fyodor interrupts him, holding the fork with a cake dangerously close to Gogol's face. 

"E-Eh, why should I?.." Oh, crap. He did not think it could happen, and, despite the fact that all his efforts went into baking it, Gogol absolutely does not want that anywhere near his tongue, but!.. It is Dostoevsky asking him, so he can't really refuse, now can he?

"It would be a waste for you not to try it — I'm assuming you spent way more than needed on it," Fyodor says with a devilish smile on his face — or at least it seemed that way to Gogol. "Why don't you say "A-Ah" for me?"

Nikolai can feel his face burning like a raging inferno, with that last remark being the match to ignite it. He can't just refuse Dost like that! Not when he asks for it with such a face!! Gogol almost wants to damn this man for manipulating him into eating the cake, but! But it's Dostoevsky asking him, it's such a rare occasion!

It doesn't take long for Gogol to finally open his mouth, in which Fyodor promptly shoves the cake piece. There is intense curiosity in those violet crimson eyes of his — unlike most of time, they do not shine with sinister intention. And, sadly, Gogol knows exactly why.

The second it touches his tongue, he wants to spit it out and clean his whole mouth with a toothbrush, but — but he cannot, he will swallow it whole for Dostoevsky! He will endure it, no matter how hellish it is!! 

It's too much — there is so much going on, and so intense Gogol almost gags at the sheer degree of taste he is experiencing! What for Dostoevsky has been a normal cake, for any other human is torture, and Nikolai cannot help but feel his eyes water: he has gone through a lot, but to have his tastebuds assaulted in such a way by his own cooking? Never! 

After a minute — that felt like an eternity — Gogol finally swallows it, grimacing at the lingering taste he will be forced to deal with for a while, and he hears a light chuckling. Wiping the watered eyes he focuses on Dostoevsky, who is the one laughing: and while it wasn't unusual for Nikolai to hear a chuckle or two, the way his laughter rings through the room is different — it feels light-hearted and innocent, so unbefitting to the usual Dostoevsky he knows.

But, if he was made to eat that abomination and he made Fyodor laugh, he would gladly eat however much he can manage! Despite the annoying taste in his mouth, Nikolai manages to laugh too — their voices echo together for a few seconds before Dostoevsky speaks up.

"I did not know you could make such expressions," he says, smile still on the lips. "Perhaps, you are a better clown than I thought you were."

"I'm sure even you would be making faces if you experienced what I did! It is no laughing matter!"

"And yet, you laughed with me after."

"E-Eh… I guess I did…"

"That aside," the tone of Fyodor's voice changed slightly: less playful and more inquisitive, "how did you know I cannot feel taste as well as others?"

"Well, Dost, a magician can't spill all his secrets!" Gogol smiles, leaning in to Dostoevsky. "All I'm gonna say is that a tiny birdie has told me that!" 

"Hmm," Fyodor hums, closing his eyes for a short moment. "So you guessed it yourself. Probably around the time you harassed the staff for the couple discount."

All he is met with is a nervous chuckle from Gogol, who rubs the back of his neck, averting the gaze. He has been caught red-handed by Fyodor, and as much as he is happy, joyful, ecstatic about that, he cannot help but feel embarrassed: the conversation has died down, and neither of them have anything to say… 

Nikolai hesitates to look up to meet that particular shade of color between violet and crimson, but there is a bubbling feeling that urges him to do so — and to utter certain words most dread saying.

"I love you."

It isn't the first time Gogol voices his true feelings — or a part of them, at least. They say the more you repeat these words the easier it is to say them, but he finds it to be a lie: it doesn't get easier when he knows he will never hear them said to him — there is a nagging desire to hear Dostoevsky say them, to learn how they would sound in his voice and how it would feel to receive them. Will it finally liberate him from his doubts or will the door on the gilded cage finally close?

"Uh-huh." And that is Fyodor's whole reply? He used to say "I know" or "Thanks" at the very least, but this!.. At least he seems to be in thought, Gogol notices, sighing. "Oh, that is the fourteenth time you've said it to me."

Nikolai cannot help but perk up at hearing that, especially since Dostoevsky is still wearing that gentle smile, much unlike his usual — as if he is trying to capture Gogol's heart even firmer, damn it. And yet, Fyodor counted?.. Why, Nikolai wonders, as he always assumed that he dismissed it as nothing but simple words — to be proved wrong felt rather endearing.

"I believe you are forgetting something," Fyodor continues before Gogol has a chance to speak up — the latter only moves even closer, prompting Dostoevsky to put the fork down and move the cake away from his lap.

"Did I miss something? I believe there are only three words, unless you mean I forgot your name! … But you don't like it when I call you Fedya, and Fyodor is too formal, and Dost is too casual!" A pout accompanies the complaint.

"No, it's nothing like that," Fyodor cannot help but have his voice crack, chuckling — he didn't expect Gogol to perceive it that way, and, frankly, he found it rather cute and pleasant to watch. "Do you want me to remind you?"

Dostoevsky runs his fingers along Nikolai's arm, resting it on his shoulder and gently tugging on it — and Gogol leans even closer, heart racing from the sudden touch: it wasn't as rare as one might think, but it never got mundane; Fyodor's touch almost always brought death to the unfortunate, yet Gogol has always remained alive no matter what — he doesn't know the true nature of Dostoevsky's ability, and doesn't want to, the ignorance that permits him to indulge in this pleasure is too sweet. 

Hot breath tingles Nikolai's ear as they're dangerously close now: Fyodor's lips are almost touching the skin and his arms are wrapped around Gogol's neck, fingers intertwined.

"It is your Name Day, Kolya."

The words are whispered in the ear, exciting every tip of the nerve; but before Gogol can react Fyodor pulls away — and leans in once again to join their lips together, hands trailing from the back to neck and to Gogol's chin and into the hair. Nikolai, startled by such a gesture, hesitates, before resting one of his hand on Fyodor's waist, and the other on his thigh, concealed under the blanket — ah, how he missed the feeling of these chapped lips against his and how hectic can Fyodor be when stroking the pale hair: edges of bitten nails would catch stray hairs and tug on them, providing a slightly painful yet so fulfilling sensation. 

It doesn't take a while for Nikolai to slip his tongue into Fyodor's mouth, almost instantly regretting this decision: the aftertaste of the cake is still there, and still as atrocious as ever — but he found it mattered so little when all of his other senses are aroused by Fyodor, a simple cake won't stand between them! And Gogol pushes him gently, onto the bed where Fyodor rested initially, while the hand that rested on Fyodor's waist crept under the spacious T-shirt, caressing the back—

And a dull sound is heard, along with Fyodor's muffled whelp — he almost instantly pulls away, hands withdrawing from Gogol's hair to rub the back of his own head. Apparently, Nikolai, being as eager as ever, did not consider the fact that Fyodor was leaning against a wall in the beginning, and now hit his head on the bed's headboard.

"I almost bit off your tongue," Fyodor states with an ever indifferent tone of his, while holding his thumb to the lips. 

The desire to bite down on it is extreme, but he manages to hold it back — he knows how Gogol gets whenever he does it, and, frankly, he isn't in the mood to hear the whining or spoil the mood even further. This whole day has been much like a breath of fresh air in the monotone and boring world of his — Gogol, in general, has been said fresh air ever since he opened up to Fyodor about his true feelings… Maybe not verbally at first. But, indeed, Fyodor does not feel the same — he has never felt what others call "love", and it never bothered him, and doesn't bother now either. 

"Haha, sorry…"

Gogol isn't letting Dostoevsky go just yet, his hand still on his back, if only gripping the skin a bit — that is bound to leave a bruise or two, if not scratch marks. 

He loves Fyodor, he really does, yet he cannot help but feel a tiny bit embarrassed over this miscalculation of his: of course, he could make a scene for others like he always does, but what would that do against a person who sees through his very essence? Despite Gogol's pushy approach, it's Fyodor who dictates the pace they go at: partly because Nikolai respects his private space, with the other part being not quite fond of experiencing Dostoevsky's ability on himself. And so he waits for any sign, any tell that he can continue enjoying what is permitted — aside from that cake's aftertaste, of course.

"Don't think I'm going to congratulate you on every name day there is," Fyodor finally speaks up again, changing the topic — the hand is still dangerously close to his lips, and Nikolai notices it (finally), and moves his other hand, the one that is not under Dostoevsky, to grasp it and gently pull it away from Fyodor's lips.

"Well, my bad, I ki-inda forgot they were a thing," Gogol chuckles while trying to intertwine his fingers with Fyodor's — it's a way to deal with nervousness and awkwardness that is between them for now. "—Wait."

He never managed to fully process it until now, but Dostoevsky has called him "Kolya". Him. "Kolya". And that is with Fyodor's distaste for most diminutives! Nikolai's cheeks flare up yet again, and he cannot help but wonder what Fyodor thinks about him acting like a damn traffic light today! There's a whirling, fluttering sensation in his chest as he smiles like a complete fool he is, full of admiration and love.

"You called me "Kolya"!" Gogol finally speaks up — although this time his voice almost cracks from the amount of emotions raging in his heart: it seems as if he's about to bounce on the bed like a child.

"Oh, but," Fyodor tilts his head, gentle yet mischievous smile on his lips, "Nikolai Vasilievich, are you quite sure you are not misremembering anything?"

"Eh?.. —Do-ost, that's cruel!"

And in response he gets only mild laughter, which Gogol finds it impossible to get mad at, even if just a little — but he erupts with his own, almost thunderous laugh.

"I want sushi. The cake is good, but I want sushi. With extra wasabi."

"But I worked so hard on it… And you're gonna trade it for some fish?"

"Pleasant things are best enjoyed moderately, and that is why I'm putting it away. Now order us some sushi."

"Alright, alright! … Just drink a lot of water after those."

"Why? —Is it the cake?"

"Yeah. It's the cake."