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“The Inquisitor mentioned you, today,” Artemiy said, carefully placing his gloves back upon his hands. Daniel seemed aghast that he even dared touch the herbs of the steppe with his bare hands, but Artemiy's knowledge of such things seemed to afford him a fearlessness about it, even if Daniel did stare quite owlishly at his bare knuckles – presumably suppressing some reflexive anxieties about workspace hygiene, left over from his days in the infamous Thanatica.

Daniel did his best not to perk up at Aglaia's mention, but there was no hiding his interest. “Is that so?” he asked, smoothing the lapels of his coat distractedly, as if the Inquisitor were right there.

“She claimed that you were – quite impressed with me,” Artemiy mentions, careful to keep his tone casual above all else. He didn't even have to look up to know what sort of face the Bachelor was making at him.

“She is a seasoned logician, but I really can't fathom what the point of such a comment would be!” Daniel said, a touch defensive. “If I desired to flatter you, I would do so myself.”

“I'm impressed with you too, oynon,” Artemiy said, deftly collecting his specimens back into a burlap sack. (Just a day ago: “That's no proper way to contain sensitive materials.” “I only have so many pockets, oynon.”) Artemiy continued on, turning away to hide his amusement. “The comment was a passing amusement of hers, I would think, as you indeed flatter me so rarely she sought to pacify an unhappy ego of mine. Or perhaps Aglaia assumed that I thought our contrary natures or motivations put us at odds, and wished to convince me of your goodwill.”

Daniel seemed to have more to say but he remained quiet, watching Artemiy brush his makeshift workstation clear of stray leaves and twigs. There was a moment of silence between them – perhaps less companionable and comfortable than before, but Artemiy was not much perturbed by it at any rate. Silence never really bothered him much at all.

“Have you eaten, oynon?” Artemiy asked, after it became apparent that the gap in conversation was taxing him, if only for the tense hang of his shoulders. Or did he always stand in such a way? The Bachelor had a strange way of being, in Artemiy's memory; he always saw him in vague shapes, as if in periphery, a weak recollection of his face: his dark eyes, a stubborn chin, an arrogant nose – but nothing close to the original, and whenever he saw him again after a day's absence, it was as if he'd summoned up the blood-and-flesh of a poorly remembered dream. All the pieces fit together satisfyingly, organically, and never how Artemiy could do justice to.

If not for how badly the doctor seemed to take care of himself, at any rate. There were dark, bruise-like circles under his eyes, and a sluggish bearing to his movements that reminded Artemiy of snakes caught in the cold, moving in just suggestions of action. And, if he wasn't mistaken, Daniel seemed to limp in the slightest way, just the barest lagging. Maybe some gift from some street brawl that Dankovsky always found himself in, the ill-tempered demon.

“What do you think?” Daniel snapped, crossing his arms. “As if I could find anyone alive to sell a bite of bread or meat for less than a burglar's ransom. But, if you are asking if I will allow you to feed me, I will decline.”

“On what grounds?” Artemiy asked, surprised.

“I'm already in your debt, you blockhead. Much more and I don't know what I'd give you in return,” Daniel explained, gesturing to Artemiy's hands. “You are finished with the preparations for this … herbal tincture, I see, and so we are done here. As to my condition – it is my affair. I will tend to it.”

“Alright,” Artemiy said, shaking his head. “How about this, then: meet me here later tonight, and I will provide you with a meal, so that you may be of an acceptable condition to continue working. This will be in exchange for a small favor. Something minuscule, and I promise you will not have to go sprinting around town for any reason to fulfill it.” Artemiy didn't have much of food in stock, to tell the truth, but he could think of no better thing to do with his time than to preserve the health of one of the very few doctors remaining alive. He would find something.

“I sense that you will be unreasonably stubborn in this regard. So, fine then.” Daniel relented, his expression drawing just a notch softer. “Thank you.”

“Of course,” Artemiy said. That was that.

 

 

The Bachelor had barely touched his fork before hesitating, turning his eyes onto Artemiy, already some argument just under his tongue. Artemiy could see the edges of it in the way he clenched his jaw at him, and found himself exhausted of it already.

“Can't you just eat, oynon? I'm not going to wrest you of your funds or your time. Just help yourself, for a moment.”

Daniel's glower did not cease, but he didn't require any more prodding to begin attacking his meal. It was almost funny, the way he ate: his Capital etiquette, holding his fork and knife as his surgeon's tools, and his meal a knot of parts that had to be cut and separated and broken off. But he had to work quickly, owing to what Artemiy sensed was more than a few days' hunger, and watching him work, torn between his meticulous protocol and the sheer need to satiate himself before he actually fainted would be more than amusing – if Dankovsky weren't already almost a corpse on his feet.

And guiltily, bizarrely, it came almost satisfying, to watch Daniel apply himself to something so attentively, to see the flesh of his throat move, the faint flash of his teeth as he sawed his knife, working at a stale heel of bread. Before he tore it to pieces in his hands, that is. He knew when to give in.

Daniel swallowed, and grimaced. “I really can't remember the last time I had bread.”

“Well – good, then,” Artemiy said, a bit speechless.

The Bachelor finished the rest of his meal in timely silence, rejecting Artemiy's offer of milk or coffee and instead taking just water, tipping up the glass bottle and drinking so voraciously Artemiy wondered if he might gag after. (He didn't.)

He put the empty glass on the table, running a tongue over his lips. “I'm at your service, then.” There was a black gleam in his eyes.

“No, I ... shouldn't have said,” Artemiy admitted, not completely able to keep eye contact in such a state, managing to hold his focus somewhere around his mouth. It didn't help.

Daniel seemed confused, for a moment, until his gaze finally darkened with understanding, a contemptuous thing. “How predictable. Here, I thought, you might ask something actually surprising. Well? I suppose here is where I tell you how scandalized I am.”

“Don't bother,” Artemiy muttered, standing up from the table. “I don't want anything from you.”

Daniel scoffed. “I'm actually shocked it took you so long to bother fashioning up a reason. Hunger, as good as any, I suppose. Not much reason to back off now, unless you're concerned with reality not being able to live up to such painstakingly-crafted fantasy - ”

“You're a menace, oynon,” Artemiy growled, feeling far too much like an incensed bear. “Listen to yourself. What sort of creature do you think I am? I was going to ask you to take a look at a blood sample, one I'd collected yesterday - ”

“You had plenty of time to ask.”

Daniel stood out of his seat, approaching Artemiy in just a few purposeful strides that seemed to take long, terrible moments to complete, til he had brought their faces close – if Daniel were of a height to do that. And then closer enough to hold his mouth level with Artemiy's. It seemed impossible to breathe. He smelled of intoxicants – a chemical thing that burned the nose, meradorm or morphine, something terrible that made his vision swim.

“Open your mouth, Burakh,” he said, his eyes sharp. “Show me your tongue.”

Artemiy turned his cheek, eyes closed. The Bachelor paused, and very deliberately pressed his lips against what was offered to him anyway, a brushing of his mouth against Artemiy's unshaven jaw. The scent of him was paralyzing, utterly maddening, and for a moment Artemiy thought he might just lose his mind when he finally cracked open his eyes, and seeing him there, snakeskin pressed against his body, a deliberate, feverish warmth.

Artemiy could barely summon another full thought before Daniel was there, his mouth on his. Daniel was a relentless force in everything he committed himself to, and it hardly shocked him to see that he would kiss as a manner of conquest, all fire and teeth. Artemiy felt a fey shudder crawl up his spine when Daniel's gloved hand came up to the back of his neck, gripping him tight when Artemiy groaned into the kiss, rumbling and dark.

Eventually, Artemiy managed to extricate himself, if only to force a few breaths out and collect his racing thoughts, though Daniel seemed none too willing, still arrogant and cool with his 'victory,' at loathe to give it up.

“Damn you to hell,” Artemiy bit out.

“I am already there,” the Bachelor muttered, drawing his fist across his lips, as if he'd just been punched. From the color on of mouth and the state of his hair, it looked more than right. The sheer look of it made Artemiy's blood run hot. “Just make yourself useful with distracting me, and I will be all the more grateful.”

“This is about distraction, then?”

The Bachelor rolled his eyes. “Right, right, you had some desires to fulfill with my dashing self. How did you want me, exactly? Or is depriving me of that information part of the intrigue?”

“Always gnawing at the bit,” Artemiy growled. “Have you no manners at all?”

“The sort of manners that dictate, what, dinner before relations?” Daniel retorted. “Don't bother, then. You've educated me profoundly on that matter.”

Artemiy gave the Bachelor a forceful shove, where he crashed heavily into the side of the wooden dinner table, Daniel's gaze unrepentant. “Just do it, Burakh. I don't care how,” he said, gripping the table's edge.

“You want this? Are you certain?” Artemiy's hands were huge, bear-like things when they gripped up on Daniel's coat, unyielding. His knuckles came up to Daniel's chin, almost to his lips – enough to allow the doctor to bend his head and press his mouth against the bony indent of the back of Artemiy's knuckles, teeth just grazing his skin. His eyes were shadows.

“Does that feel certain?” He asked, his smart mouth still just a hair's breadth from Artemiy's fists. He wanted nothing more than to feed his fingers into Daniel's mouth, that hot shallow recess, to lay his touch against the back of his throbbing pink throat until Daniel grappled for his wrists, begging him stop.

But Artemiy did nothing, planted there.

Daniel unfolded Artemiy's hand, examining his fingers, his palm, before running his tongue in between his index and center finger, as deliberate and calm as if he were closing an envelope, holding Artemiy's gaze like a match. When that did nothing, he took his fingers into his mouth. Artemiy could feel the line of his teeth, his tongue, God, the lewd shape of his cheek faintly bulged with his fingers inside.

Artemiy made some rotten, choked utterance – some mangling of words, devoid of meaning, before he ripped his hand away from the doctor and covered Daniel's body with his own, forcing his hips blindly against Daniel, the catch of his thigh.

Daniel made some mess of tearing off his black gloves with his teeth before working to prise himself out of his trousers. He spat and stroked himself with one hand, the other still gripping the table edge, his face flushed to the tips of his ears. “Just on this table, here?” Daniel asked, the turns of his bare wrist burning a hole in Artemiy's lungs. Just the look of him was obscene, nevermind what he did.

“I'm not moving,” Artemiy told him. Daniel made some noise that might've been a scoff in response, if not for Artemiy crushing their mouths together again. He groped for Daniel, found the fabric of his trousers much too in the way. “Take this off,” he growled, lips at the corner of Daniel's mouth. He felt Daniel struggle with it, groaning frustratedly against his cheek as he did as asked, baring himself without reserve. Artemiy grasped Daniel in just one of his hands, felt him shudder and swear mutely.

“Your hands are too rough,” Daniel told him, impatient, breathless. He was slick against Artemiy's fist, painfully hard, his hips making quick, abortive thrusts into his hand as if he couldn't help himself. Artemiy squeezed him at the base, just to see the look on his face, and Daniel gave him a tremulous moan, shoulders hunching.

Artemiy bit his ear, cheek against his dark shivering hair. “I hear you, oynon,” he murmured, laying a tender kiss on him. Daniel was close - he could feel it in tensed, stilted measure of his breaths as Artemiy carried on at a deliberate, almost lazy pace that had Daniel near ready to kill him.

“Faster, please,” Daniel said, grappling urgently at Artemiy's sleeve.

“Persuasive …”

“Finish me, or I swear I'll end you. I'll put a bullet in your mouth, God, please, Artemiy, I'll not forgive you,” he choked, his words breaking at the edges. Daniel was so close, Artemiy could taste his want, the sheer, tangible, breakable thing. He gave Daniel what he wanted, held him at the throat as he stroked him as hard and fast as he dared.

Daniel went quiet, too far off from words, and not long after that he came into Artemiy's hand with a choked hiss, gasping in rough pulls of air when Artemiy released his neck, almost at loathe to.

To Artemiy's surprise, Daniel's voice was even and conversational when he spoke again. “You want me to help you on?”

“No. Remain pure, oynon.”

He didn't even bother responding to that. “My mouth, I think,” Daniel said, as if deciding to himself. “Stay where you are, I'll kneel at the floor.”

“It's filthy,” Artemiy said. He couldn't stop Daniel if he tried, the black-coated creature that sunk onto his knees before him, sluggishly pulling at Artemiy's trousers and mouthing hotly at his cock, as if he'd done it all before, knew the exact way Artemiy's blood would boil seeing him there.

Daniel experimentally led his tongue down Artemiy's cock before hesitating, wetting his lips, and trying again with all of his mouth. Artemiy groaned and swore, sinking a hand into Daniel's hair, carding it back like how he'd seen him occasionally do, vexed or thinking hard. Daniel's lashes fluttered at that, irritated or pleasured, Artemiy had no way to know.

He wondered, vacantly, jealously, if Daniel had done this much before. He finds his answer when Daniel catches his gaze, fiendish, and curls his tongue over the head of his cock, his bottom lip dragging lewdly across his tip, catching.

“Suck me,” Artemiy ordered him, gripping his hair more tightly. Daniel gave some faint response, a fleeting hum in his jaw, before circling the base of Artemiy's cock with his index finger and thumb, taking what he can into his mouth. It's enough, it's more than enough – he came, buried in the back of his throat.

Daniel gagged and spit into an empty bottle that had rolled under the table, wiping his mouth and chin with his wrist. “I thrashed the last man to do that,” he muttered, easing himself up to his feet, a drunken sort of movement. After he'd tucked himself away, (and he didn't miss Dankovsky's curt, amused exhale through the nose, all arrogant self-satisfaction) Artemiy helped him up by the arms, steadying him. A light weight, easily lifted.

“Fair is fair if you want your shot, I suppose,” Artemiy said, rolling his shoulders.

“You'd only be pleased if I hit you, after all this. I don't think so,” he said, turning around to paw at the table. He found his gloves and slipped them back on with a restless twitch before turning back to Artemiy with a strange sort of hesitance, not sure where to put himself around him. Artemiy could see the analytics buzzing just behind his eyes, what to say, what next.

“It's so odd, what you do ...” Daniel said.

“What is?”

“No … nothing, Burakh. I've enjoyed myself. I think I'll take some of your coffee, if I may, before I submit myself to the will of the streets - ”

“My bed is yours. Take the night here.”

“How much time we could have saved if you merely had said that in the first place. Alas, some other matters require my attention near across town. If you ever need me to look upon a sample of blood again, or to devour your ration stores, that can be done. Easily.”

Artemiy caught him before he could roll out of his grasp, kissed him gently at the cheek. His ear, when Daniel twisted away irritably, grimacing. “You oaf, I've tried to divert you diplomatically, what are you doing?”

“Good night, Daniel.”

“Bonam noctem, Haruspex. Now set me free.”