Morning. The first day of June.
It had rained overnight. Even with the bright summer night's sky, that made work harder, the going more difficult. The world was left a sopping wet mess, and Lalli along with it. It had been a slow and steady drizzle, the kind that not only sank into the earth but also managed to sneak through clothing, soaking to the skin.
Lalli bore it well enough. He always did. A little rain was nothing. But when it finally came time for him to head back to his room, he felt exhausted, longing to change out of his damp clothes and curl up in his tiny space in the quiet dark.
He had his hand on the door when he heard a voice.
Lalli scrunched his eyes up tight. Bit the inside of his cheeks. She was his cousin, and he liked her well enough; during their time in the silent world, they'd come to know one another just a little more. Just a little better. It wasn't a surprise. Not when they were living in close quarters with five other people in something as small as their tank. Lalli had decided for himself after the first few weeks that he had two options. Give in. Or go crazy. One of them offered more possibility for survival than the other.
It had come together. Somehow.
But last winter was not now. What Lalli wanted now was to sleep. To get out of the sun, somehow shining all the brighter because of the dampness all around. To put on something dry. It had been a long night. Still, he turned to look at Tuuri. Maybe it would be quick. Whatever it was.
She was out of breath, smiling widely. "Guess what?" she said, looking as if she was about to bring him the most amazing news in the entire world.
Oh no, Lalli thought, and slumped against his door. "Shh!" he hissed. Put his fingers to his lips. He was sure that his neighbours were already sleeping. "I'm tired," he added. Make this quick, is what he meant by it.
"Fine," Tuuri replied, and dropped her voice, taking the hint. "Well - you remember that the group from Sweden are coming tomorrow-"
"The cleansers, you know, the ones we're bringing in for that special project to help expand the perimeters? You'll be scouting for them next week -"
Tuuri frowned. "You don't remember me telling you anything about this? I left you a note...."
"Um...." Lalli opened his mouth. Shut it. Tried to think. Remembered, vaguely, the piece of paper that had been pinned to his door two weeks ago. It hadn't looked like much at the time. "...Wait." A sigh slipped out of him. He didn't bother to try to hide it. Instead he merely pressed open his door, and waved her in.
It wasn't hard to find her note. There it was, folded up on the counter by the sink. Untouched since the morning when he had taken it down, read it, and decided that it was something that could wait until later. Lalli unfolded it and scanned over it again, while Tuuri perched her chin on his shoulder, disregarding the wetness of his uniform.
"There, that's it. Honestly, Lalli, you really should pay more attention to these things, I -"
"Why did you sign me up for this?" Lalli muttered, reading over the details again. The work wasn't a problem. Of course it wasn't. He could do it. And he'd be good at it. He always was. But spending all that time working with a bunch of strange Swedes, who probably didn't understand a word of Finnish, and were probably weird besides, was not what he wanted to be doing.
"Oh, Lalli. I already explained that to you before. Look -" Tuuri shoved another piece of paper under his nose. This one was a list of names.
Lalli frowned, scanning them, not sure what her point was. Then she tapped the name at the bottom of the list.
"He'll be here tomorrow morning," Tuuri said, barely able to contain her excitement. It soaked through in her voice. Though he wasn't looking at her, he could hear that she was smiling. "I received that letter from him last week, remember? He said he was looking forward to seeing you again."
Lalli carefully took the list of names from her, staring at the one he recognized as if he expected it to transform into something else before his eyes. He dimly recalled the conversation they'd had, when Tuuri had translated some select parts from Emil's letter for him. But when she'd said that Emil wanted to see him, Lalli had thought he was talking about next autumn, when they would meet with the rest of the crew again. Not now.
Even when people are talking to me in a language I understand, he thought tiredly, I never know what's going on. Annoying.
It didn't matter. He stared at the sheet of paper, and the name remained exactly as it was.
Emil. He'll be here, Lalli thought. Tomorrow.
"Okay," he said quietly. That seemed to be enough of an answer for Tuuri, because she patted him on the shoulder and took the list back.
"They'll arrive shortly after you finish your shift," she said. "Do you want me to come get you?"
A nod. That was all the answer he gave. Then he nudged her toward the door. "Fine. But I need to sleep. Now."
"Fine, fine, I understand. Sleep well."
Lalli gently pushed his cousin out the door. Closed it without a word. Then he leaned against the door in the dark. Closed his eyes. Breathed. Grabbed those feelings that were threatening to burst. Tied them down.
Tomorrow was short notice. But tomorrow was fine. He could prepare himself for tomorrow. He didn't want to think of how it might have been if she had said today.
It didn't matter. Emil was arriving tomorrow, and tomorrow was fine.
Lalli remembered their parting. There had only been a little time left. The boat to Finland would arrive soon. He remembered how they'd tried to get some privacy, how he'd slunk off into a corner of the station and Emil followed. How Emil had cupped his face. He'd been talking, as usual. Most of it didn't make any sense, as usual. But he caught a word here, a word there.
November. It was agreed they would meet in November. That was what he was talking about.
It hit him, then, that they would not see each other for months. The realization didn't hurt, but it was annoying. It was frustrating. Lalli didn't like it one bit.
He reached out. Touched Emil's face. Slid his fingertips along the soft round curve of his cheek, watched his eyes widen a little. Glanced around, just once, to be sure that no one was watching them, that no one was around. Then he tilted his head and kissed him.
It was not for the first time. There had been other moments like that. Moments when they had been able to grab slivers of time together. Seconds. Minutes. Long enough to touch, to steal those kisses. But this kiss was different. It would have to last them for a long time. Still, even if he tried to draw it out, make it last, it was over too quickly. As he pulled away, he wished there was more time, and was annoyed that there wasn't. He could hear Taru calling for him, and for Tuuri too.
It was a strange feeling.
That was how they parted. He remembered the boat ride back to Keuruu, how it was no less awful than their departure. But as he rested curled up under the table, his head pillowed on Taru's luggage, he slid his fingertips against one another and remembered the softness of Emil's hair. Pressed his lips together and remembered the shape of his mouth.
He would see him tomorrow.
Sooner than expected.
Lalli breathed in. Breathed out. Then pulled himself away from the door and got ready for bed.
Tomorrow would be fine.
The sun was bright when the boat came in. Lalli watched it with drooping eyes, took in the sight of it in the sun on the water. It hadn't been that long since he had last stood on the dock, but he'd thought the next time would not be for months. Beside him, Tuuri stood - or vibrated. Going up on her toes, squinting as if she might get a closer look that way, then down again.
She'd been doing that ever since they had arrived. It had only gotten worse after the lock opened and the boat appeared as a dark blob on the water.
"It won't dock any faster if you do that."
"I know, but I'm just excited! Aren't you?"
Excited to see Emil? Yes.
But he remembered that list. Lalli frowned, considered it. It had been a long list. Lots of names on it. Too many. He wasn't looking forward to that.
So when the boat disgorged its contents, and the air rang with the familiar nonsense-tongue that he had come to know, Lalli held back. Waited. Searched, carefully sweeping his eyes over them, while Tuuri left his side, rushing forward to greet people she didn't even know, just because she wanted to.
Then he saw him. That familiar round face came into view. Scanning the people at the dock, looking, searching, watching out for someone specific.
Their gazes met.
In a second, Emil was in front of him, and the space between them so much smaller. His hands went up, as if to - for a second he hesitated, then went on as he usually would, smoothing Lalli's hair down with a grin.
It had only been a few months. Nothing had changed.
"Lalli! Um..." A pause. Emil's hands came to rest on Lalli's shoulders, and a look of concentration crossed his face. "I'm... happy to see you?" he said in halting Finnish.
Something twisted inside. Those words. The proud look on Emil's face, so pleased with himself, even if he must have known that it hadn't come out quite right. The weight of Emil's hands. The warmth.
"Hi," Lalli said. What more could he say to that? But Emil looked like he expected something, an almost impatient edge to his smile. ...Oh. "It's good to see you, too."
He meant it.
Too much information. Not enough sleep. The familiarity of it rushed at Lalli. He took hold of it and floated along.
The Swedes would be two days in Keuruu, and then they would move on, going out toward the exclusion zones to continue the work that the Finns had already started. And Lalli would go with them - along with a handful of others who, thankfully, spoke both Swedish and Finnish.
It wasn't bad. It sounded fine. Better-prepared than last winter. Routine. He'd be on his own much of the time, or with other scouts at least.
And Emil would be there.
His Finnish was better than it had been when they had last seen one another. A little. Tuuri had taught him some during their time in the silent world. There were days when they found safe places to hole up. Days when they couldn't go out due to weather. Some of them would go stir-crazy at those times. Lalli just slept, only to slip into wake, occasionally, at the sound of Emil's voice stumbling over the words and phrases Tuuri gave him.
In the few months they were apart, Emil managed to make it stick. Somehow. And somehow, he had learned a little more on his own, pressing through the little notes Tuuri sent him along with her letters, pressing through by sheer stubbornness.
That didn't mean he was much good at it. He wasn't. He'd start to say things, then stop, his brows furrowing as he tried to remember words that he'd forgotten, or struggled to piece together phrases he had never learned to begin with.
Lalli settled for patting him on the shoulder. "It's okay," he said, and decided not to speak. Let Emil talk in Swedish instead.
They didn't need words, anyway.
When they were finally able to get away from the rush of getting everyone settled, Lalli was tired. But not too tired to slip a message to Emil. It was simple, brief, scribbled on a scrap of birchbark.
Barrack number. Room number. And a time.
He saw the look on Emil's face when he unfolded the note. The raised eyebrow, and then the way his eyes widened with understanding. It was enough.
Later, when Lalli was dozing off in the comfort of the familiar notch underneath his bed, he thought of Emil. A smile tugged at the corner of his lips.
They would see plenty of each other soon enough. That would be work, and that would be fine. But before that, they'd get some time to themselves. A little, at the very least.
Lalli woke at the usual time. Cleaned up. Dressed. Brushed his teeth.
He was up early. That was not unusual. Not when things were routine. Up early - no matter what the time of year. Quick to grab something to eat before heading out. Often late to come back. But frequently up early. There was always something that needed to be done.
But usually, he didn't wait. Didn't have anyone to wait for. Well - sometimes Onni would find him. Have a word with him. Tell him something he thought Lalli should know, in that way of his. Or Tuuri would want to talk to him. She'd have letters she'd want to read to him sometimes. She would catch him and sit by him while he had his breakfast, translating beside him while he ate, blinking the sleep from his eyes and only half-listening to what she was saying.
But that was one thing.
This was different.
Lalli waited. Breathed. Waited. Stretched his fingers out slowly. Let his shoulders droop, let the tension fall off. Waited. Wondered if he should have asked - no, he couldn't have asked Tuuri to relay this message. It was personal. He didn't want her to have anything to do with it.
There was a knock on the door. Hesitant. A light tap. Barely there. Then a voice whispered, nearly inaudible through the wood. "Lalli?"
He opened the door. Reached for Emil. Pulled him in. Closed it.
One second passed. Two. They stood in the dim light of Lalli's room, not saying anything, their eyes taking a moment to adjust in the dark after the shock of the evening's brightness. He had left the lights off to combat the early evening's heat, and in the room's shadows, Emil was little more than a dark outline.
That dark outline stepped forward. Put his arms around him. That was all it took.
Lalli sank against Emil. Pressed him against the door. His hands went up to cup his face, coiling in his hair.
He kissed him as hard as he could.
In return, he got a gasp for his efforts, and sturdy arms wrapping around his waist, holding him firmly. Emil clung to him as if he were afraid Lalli would pull back. As if he would move away. As if he hoped he would never have to let go.
Lalli softened his kiss, cupped Emil's head gently. Slid his palm back so he wouldn't knock his head against the door as he pushed him there. Their lips parted for a second, but only a second. Nothing more than that. Then they kissed again.
He remembered Emil's attempts. Earlier. Those times earlier that day, when he'd tried to talk to him. It hadn't gone smoothly. Emil made a few earnest tries. Made little frustrated noises and kept lapsing into Swedish. Lalli hasn't said anything about it then. Neither of them needed to say anything now.
He could tell that Emil had missed him. He didn't need to hear him say it. The kiss was enough. Those hands on him, sliding to his waist, were enough. The way Emil pulled him close, held him tight against his body. The urgent, desperate edge to his open-mouthed kisses.
He bit at Emil's lips, worried them to tenderness. Listened to the way he gasped, as if even the sensation of teeth, that small sharpness, was too much for him. And maybe it was. But he wanted to leave Emil with it on his mind. That kiss. This moment in the stifling dark, just the two of them together.
Lalli dipped his head. Pressed his mouth to Emil's jaw, felt him shudder. Threaded his fingers in those soft strands of hair, gripped it, held him still. Maybe holding him a little too tight. Guided him to tilt his head, to give him room for more kisses, give him room to press his mouth to his throat. Listened to the gasps and felt every shudder.
He knew that he should stop. He would have to leave in a while, and what then? But he didn't want to. He didn't want to, and he knew Emil didn't want him to either. He could feel the evidence of that pressing against his hip.
Lalli paused. Waited. Listened to Emil's unsteady breathing. The hands on his waist had slid down to his hips. They were shaking.
"Lalli? Um..." More words. Soft words. Swedish. He didn't know the exact meaning of that unsteady nonsense, but by now he knew how Emil sounded when he was apologetic. He was apologizing now.
Lalli slid his tongue along Emil's throat. Grazed his teeth there. Felt him shiver, and heard a sound that was without a doubt a moan, even if Emil tried to stifle himself a little, tried to cut the sound off. The source of Emil's apologies was very, very clear.
Lalli closed his eyes. Thought. Quickly calculated. When he had asked Emil to visit him this evening, he'd known they didn't have much time. And he hadn't taken something like this into account. It hadn't occurred to him. But they did have enough time for this. Maybe.
He lifted his head. Kissed him. Kept it soft, so he could take in the heaviness in Emil's breathing. He could feel Emil tensing against him, almost as if he wanted to sink back into the door and make himself a part of it. Embarrassed, maybe, at his body's reaction. The heat on his cheeks spoke to that.
Lalli drew away. A little. Just enough. Looked at Emil in the dim light that seeped in past the door. He couldn't see his face, not really. Just the outline of his form. No words, then, and no expressions to go by.
That was fine. They could get by. They always had. Lalli grazed his lips against Emil's cheek, then let one of his hands trail down. Down along his throat, his shoulder, his chest, down....
It took a second for Emil to catch on. Then, there was a shiver, and a gasp. Soft, whispered words, probably a curse. Then his name, a bare intake of breath. "Lalli-!"
Lalli covered Emil's mouth with one hand. Palm over lips. Hissed a soft "Shh!" by his ear. The words stopped, at least, and the other sounds too. He could feel Emil biting his lip under his hand. He let out a whimper as Lalli palmed his crotch, barely audible. Then nothing. Just his heavy breathing, heavier still for being done through the nose. Good. That was enough.
He moved his hand from Emil's mouth. Kissed him and sighed when Emil's hands came up to thread his fingers through his hair, giving him room to work below. Getting Emil's trousers open took only a moment, and when he finally touched him, he felt a barely-audible whimper against his mouth, and heard nothing.
Emil understood that he had to be quiet. Good.
Not that it would be the end of the world if anyone heard them, Lalli thought as he stroked him, as he coiled his fingers around Emil's cock and felt him shudder. People would talk. It didn't matter. Not exactly. But it would be annoying. An annoying inconvenience that he didn't want to deal with.
All the better if Emil stayed silent, then. All the better if they got this finished quickly.
Emil's fingers wrapped in his hair. Clinging. Tight. Maybe too tight, but somehow, Lalli didn't mind. Closing his eyes, he kissed him and stroked him and remembered another time like that. When Emil's touch on his hair hadn't been gentle in the way it usually would be.
They had been intimate a few times. Had managed, somehow, to grab just enough time together in dark and silence. Scraps of time when they could touch one another, could press together, rushed moments in the dark. But there was something else, and they had done it that way only once.
Lalli broke the kiss. Listened to Emil's shaky breathing in the dark. Hissed another soft "Shh!" and that time it was gentle, little more than a breath by his ear. Felt him nod unsteadily.
Then he drew away, and sank to his knees.
Emil's hands had slipped from his hair, but only for a moment. As soon as Lalli was down in front of him, those hands found him again. They trembled even more than they had a moment before. Lalli nuzzled against them as he worked with deft fingers to get the fabric completely out of his way. Then he wet his lips, and took him in.
Those hands slid along his scalp, wrapped around his hair. Somehow, Emil had enough sense to grab the strands that framed Lalli's face and pull them back. Or maybe, Lalli thought as he slid his tongue along the shaft, it wasn't intentional. Just an accident. It wouldn't surprise him.
He was glad for it, anyway.
Lips. Tongue. Sweeping around the head, then taking him in. He kept his mouth slick. Let his eyes fall shut.
It wasn't bad, Lalli thought. He didn't mind it. Even if he would rather use his hands. Touch him. Kiss him through it. Hold Emil against the door and take in the sensation of him shuddering, savouring the tremors that went down the entire length of his body.
But Lalli knew exactly what would happen if he did that. How his body would react to the way it felt to have Emil shivering and grinding up against him, muffling low moans against his mouth. The few precious times that they'd been able to catch a moment for this kind of thing, it always turned out the same. It made Lalli want him. It wasn't a bad thing. But he didn't have time for that, not tonight. And he couldn't afford to be distracted. Not with a night of work ahead of him.
This was enough. This was fine.
He sucked him off slowly. Dipped his head. Took him in. Then again. Felt the shape of him in his mouth, the tightness of Emil's strong fingers in his hair. Gripped at Emil's hips and held him there to stop him from bucking into his mouth. Listened to his breaths, his gasps, the soft whispers that slipped out. And as Lalli tightened his lips around him, he heard a low, deep moan.
Quiet, Lalli thought. But unlike before, he couldn't say it. Couldn't hiss it in Emil's ear, press fingers to his lips, cover his mouth. He settled for digging his fingernails into Emil's hips instead. There was a sharp intake of breath, a startled yelp, and then silence.
One hand let go of his hair. Moved up. The sound of Emil's breathing became thicker, and suddenly Lalli realized what he was doing: covering his own mouth. Stifling himself. Staying quiet.
Good, Lalli thought, and rewarded him with a dip of his head, taking him in deep.
He didn't know how long it took. Didn't count the minutes. He went at it slowly, took his time, because he knew there was enough time for this. Paid no mind to the way Emil gripped his hair too tightly, to the way he pressed against the back of Lalli's head, a little too eager, a little too urgent. Emil's sounds were soft, stifled, muffled. The only other noises were Lalli's own thick breathing and the slick, wet sounds his mouth made as he sucked Emil off.
The boards were hard on his knees. By the time Emil came, Lalli was thoroughly fed up with all of it. It wasn't hard to anticipate it, and he was glad for that. He heard a change in his breath, felt a shudder different from the rest. The jerk of his hips. The sharp, half-coherent warning. Then it was done.
Lalli pulled Emil's limp fingers from his hair. Rose. Made his way in the dark to the counter, and spat in the sink.
He didn't mind. He didn't mind doing it. He hadn't minded the first time. He didn't mind this time.
But still. It was gross.
He closed his eyes, flicked on the light. Ignored Emil's cursing at the sudden brightness. Reached for his toothbrush.
Emil was still slumped against the door when Lalli glanced over him, finished with brushing his teeth. But he'd at least had the thought to do up his trousers. There was a flush on his cheeks, a new brightness to his eyes.
He said something. Soft words that Lalli didn't understand, couldn't catch the meaning of. Then he peeled himself away from the door. Took some steps toward Lalli. Reached up. Touched his face. Nudged him against the counter. Let his hands drop -
Lalli took hold of his wrists before he could do anything. "No," he said.
"No?" Emil stared at him, eyes suddenly wide, his fingers curling and hesitant, as if nervous. As if afraid he had done something wrong.
Lalli released his wrists. Took hold of his hands instead. Knitted their fingers together. Gave them a squeeze. "No," he repeated. Thought quickly - should he bother trying to explain? Would Emil understand the words for that?
In the end, he nodded toward the corner, where his rifle leaned against the wall, ready and waiting. Emil followed his gaze. One second. Two. "...Oh." He understood. Rested his head against Lalli's shoulder and mumbled in Swedish. Familiar sounds. Apology-words. Then again, in hesitant Finnish. "...Sorry."
"When... uh." A pause. "When do you...." Another pause, followed by a frustrated sigh against his neck, and a mutter that was probably not meant for him.
What was he going to ask? Lalli thought. 'When do you....' Oh. He pulled away gently. Held his hands up so that Emil could see. Seven fingers. "I'm finished at half past six. Be here at seven," he said, as clearly as he could. "In the morning. Okay?"
A nod. "Okay." And he could tell by the comprehension in Emil's eyes that he actually did understand. So when Emil coiled his arms around him, pressed his face to the curve of his neck, Lalli allowed it - for a moment. One moment. Two. Then he patted his shoulder and squirmed out of his grasp.
That was the end of it.
They parted without words. They stepped outside, squinting at the brightness of the early evening sun. Lalli closed the door behind him. Looked at him in that warm sunlight. Hesitated, then reached out to smooth down Emil's hair, tidying the mess he'd made of it.
That was all. Emil spoke, smiling, the flush still lingering on his cheeks. Lalli understood none of it. He left him with nothing but a glance and the smallest of smiles.
That was all.
Food first. Something to take away the taste of him. The toothpaste hadn't quite done it. Then work.
And then, later, they would see each other again.
Lalli ran his tongue over his teeth, recalled the sensation of Emil's fingers gripping his hair. He would have to keep that memory close. There wouldn't be many moments when they could be together like that.
It was fine. He could go far on a memory, could make a little last for a long time.
They both knew how to make do with what they had.