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Winter’s Warmth

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In that week, Lev would have died if it were not for Kolya. 

Kolya, who always exudes such confidence, even when all odds are against him. He was the perfect hero-prince, the blonde Cossack boy from the folk tales mother would tell to him and Taisya by the fire, on long winter nights from childhood. 

Lev’s very own knight in shining armor. The thought made him laugh. 

There was the jail cell, and the ration sausage Kolya had spared Lev that night. Out of pity at first, Kolya spoke with him, gently, as if negotiating with a frightened animal. 

By the next day, when they were trekking back to Piter with a newfound determination, Kolya had smiled at him, and Lev knew that Kolya was intrigued by him. 

Lev hadn’t a clue as to how or why he had earned such a look, and that terrified him. 

Then there were the cannibals- Lev had never felt such gut-wrenching fear, and Lev had seen what the war had brought, seen his fellow man waste away, from starvation, or sickness, or the cold. 

It was always the cold that gave the finishing blow. 

Lev was skin and bones. He knew it too, and he knew that he surely would have succumbed to the biting winter air on their journey if it were not for Kolya.

The company, first of all, was good. The best Lev had in years, actually. Kolya was shocking, in a beautiful sort of way.

 He kept Lev on his toes in the world of conversation, and Lev found that he quite liked this, even if the subject was something embarrassing like sex, or nightmares. Banter with Kolya distracted Lev from the numbness in his appendages. 

More importantly, Kolya was a soldier. A deserter, of course, but built as a soldier nonetheless. Broad shoulders, muscular, and sturdy. Dependable, especially in dark times when one was in danger of literally freezing one’s ass off. 

He and Kolya had huddled for warmth together more than once. At first, it was out of sheer necessity. They both would have perished. 

Then, Lev had his time with Vika. Stunning girl, striking girl. Lev had thought he was in love, and he had never been in love before. 

As it turns out, Vika was a passing infatuation. Lev had this epiphany when his hands were still covered in Kolya’s blood, and Kolya was lying on his stomach, unconscious in a stained hospital cot. 

Lev had this epiphany when Kolya called out his name, fervently in his sleep, and Lev had shushed him tearfully. 

Lev smoothed Kolya’s dirtied hair away from his forehead, and realized that he was in love. 

He had wanted to say that he loved Kolya when he was sure that Kolya was going to die, but Kolya lived, and he said nothing to him then. 

When Kolya awoke the next day, blinking sluggishly, still bleeding sluggishly, Lev had held his hand, and told him so. 

“I love you, Kolya.” 

Kolya blinked up at him with an incredulous and startled clarity. Lev realized what he had just said, and wished that he had succumbed to the winter, so he wouldn’t have to lose Kolya in such a mortifying way. 

He stood, and turned to leave. Ironically, even when barely alive Kolya was stronger than him, and he gripped onto Lev’s hand with Herculean effort.

“Little lion. Stay with me.” He croaked. 

And Lev did just that. 

-

They had very good ration cards now, so they were never starving. 

In Kolya’s circumstances, he normally would’ve been executed, but they had gotten the eggs, after all. They had done what they were supposed to, and in times like these, that was never enough. Which is why it was a miracle that nothing happened at all.  

The siege raged on, and Lev was still deathly afraid that they would send him back to the army- the army apparently wanted nothing to do with deserters who now hobbled everywhere with a cane. In their eyes, Kolya was disabled, and Lev was his malnourished and tiny caretaker. They managed, undetected by the sweeping radar of recruiters and policemen. 

It was surprisingly easy to settle once more with the help of the colonel. He was generous with them, and did not question the request for only one apartment. The less expensive, the easier, he supposed. 

Lev nursed Kolya back to health, slowly, and Kolya would talk with him about anything and everything that came to mind while he was bedridden. 

Kolya welcomed every touch that Lev gave. From something simple, like changing bandages or helping him to the toilet, to complicated things, like when Lev would card his fingers through Kolya’s hair, and he would lean into Lev’s hand like it was a fire, and he was a freezing man. 

Lev often wondered if Kolya was letting him do these things out of pity, or if there was a possibility that Kolya returned his feelings. Lev supposed that he should feel lucky that Kolya looked at him at all. 

On that note, when Lev still had to spoon feed him, Kolya would make prolonged eye contact with him and say things like; “ Oh, doctor,” and “ you know, you are an excellent cook.” Lev shook off his teasing with as much grace as he could muster, even if Kolya never failed to make his cheeks flush, and then he would say “ Ah, the roses are in bloom!” And Lev would wish that Kolya were not injured, so that he could kick him. 

One night, when spring was not yet upon them, Kolya asked Lev to sleep with him. 

The request made Lev’s brain short circuit, and he nearly dropped Kolya’s glass of water. 

“Not like that, it’s just very cold, and it would be warmer if we,” Kolya had said, and nodded to the other side of the bed, a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. Lev was weak, and indulged him, of course. 

Gingerly, he lay down next to Kolya, still and stiff like the boy next to him was a venomous snake. Kolya chuckled at him, and wrapped his arms around Lev’s middle, tugged the quilts over the both of them. Lev’s heart felt prone to exploding. Kolya pressed his face into Lev’s neck, and breathed in deeply. 

“You must know that I love you too, my dear.” He murmured, and Lev melted into his arms.