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"On the first Monday of the month of April, 1625, the market town of Meung, in which the author of ROMANCE OF THE ROSE was born, appeared to be in as perfect a state of revolution as if the Huguenots had just made a second La Rochelle of it."

Artyom was lying on his cot across from Pavel, eyes shut and hands behind his head. He had a peaceful smile on his face as Pavel's voice resounded throughout the small room. The train thrummed beneath them; the deep rumbling of the wheels a gentle backdrop to the story. It had been a day since Artyom's lovely gift, and Pavel was going to make the most of it. Comforting, soft. Emotions like that enveloped him as his eyes flicked across the pages, lips forming the words printed upon them. It was easy to forget about where they were now, easy to come to terms with his current situation. In this little room, it was just them.

No interruptions. Just them spending time together. Pavel absolutely relished it, especially after the long time spent away from Artyom. Not talking to him was absolutely torturous when the other man was still so close. Like something wasn't right between them. But now that was in the past. And Pavel could spend as much time with him as he wanted. Artyom didn't seem to mind, and he was going to take complete advantage of that fact. In fact, this activity together was an easy and safe way to spend time together. It was distracting. Pavel didn't have any time to think about his jumbled emotions, didn't have to try and untangle that dangerous knot. Though... He supposed that it wouldn't really matter much anymore. Not out here, far from others. Others who would sneer and insult and possibly even throw punches.

But Pavel wasn't a coward. Anyone who questioned his morals would find themselves on the ground, clutching a bloody nose. That's just how it was in the Metro. Fight first before they could land the first blow. Before insults became frequent. But they weren't in the Metro anymore. The only other humans they encountered now were mostly aggressive on sight, desperate to defend their territory. But none of that even concerned Pavel anymore. He had a team, people to lean on now.

The other Rangers were still a bit intimidating though...

He still had Artyom to call as his friend. And that was worth more than everything he had ever left behind.

For as long as he had Artyom, Pavel would be able to make it anywhere. "He drew his sword entirely from the scabbard, and followed him, crying, 'Turn, turn, Master Joker, lest I strike you behind!'" At those words Artyom opened an eye incredulously to look over at his friend. It did not go unnoticed. "What is it?" Artyom turned ever so slightly to the side in order to fix Pavel with a jokingly confused expression. You say I'm him? Pavel stifled a laugh at the look on his face. "Just wait, my D'Artagnan. You will see." Artyom rolled his eyes and let his head fall back onto his pillow again, making an idle gesture for Pavel to continue.

He turned back to the book, finding where he left off and starting again. There was a slight tickle in his throat from reading out loud so much, overexertion of his vocal cords. He cleared his throat and continued:

"'Strike me!' Said the other, turning on his heels..."

~*~

They were able to finish the first chapter before the day was out. Which was good. Pavel wanted to continue reading longer than that, but his throat had other plans. By the end of it he was nearly hoarse with the effort it took to keep up the inflections. Artyom had quickly stopped him when he started reading out the title of the second chapter, fanning his hand out across his neck in a clear 'stop' symbol. Pavel's voice needed to rest anyways. So he folded down the corner of the page he was on and set the book under his own cot, lying back and staring up at the ceiling. A little rumble and a cough from his chest; an attempt to soothe his aching throat.

"Oof!" He cried out when something hit him in the stomach. His hands immediately moved to grab the offending object, closing around a slightly circular container. It was a canteen. Filled over halfway, heavy. Pavel shot a glance over to Artyom who was staring at him. The Ranger merely lifted his hand to his lips and mimed drinking. "You know I have my own, right?" Pavel asked, quirking a brow. Artyom's slightly playful expression changed at that, closing off and flicking his eyes to the side. Pavel scrambled for something to say. "Ah, but how could I resist such an offer? Especially when you practically assaulted me with it?" Pavel said with a laugh, unscrewing the lid and taking a short sip. The water was a little lukewarm but still a balm to his sore throat. He was tempted to take another long gulp, but decided it would be better to not drink all of Artyom's water.

He replaced the cap and lightly tossed the canteen back to Artyom. "Thanks, chuvak." Artyom caught it with a surprised air, eyes wide. And before Pavel could even say anything else, he opened it and took a sip of his own. Any words he was about to say died in the back of his mouth; he could only stare. Artyom's head was tilted back, long line of his throat exposed. His Adam's apple bobbed once, twice, three times. Once he finished, he pulled back with a short sigh. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and screwed the lid back on before tossing the canteen near his feet. For a second he looked at him like a man starving, desperate. But the glint in his eyes was gone as soon as it appeared, and he turned over in his cot. Artyom's back now faced Pavel.

Pavel was left blinking in confusion. What just happened? He thought, lowering himself down onto his side. His eyes bore holes into Artyom's back as the train hummed beneath them.

~*~

Yamantau was a mistake.

When the recon team returned from their journey to the bunker, Pavel was ready to welcome them with open arms and smiles. But he quickly schooled his expression into one of worry once he saw the state they were in. Miller and Sam leaning on each other, the younger man helping support the aged commander. Artyom was lending Anna his shoulder, and she looked like she had been to hell and back. Idiot and Krest seemed to be faring a bit better, although no less exhausted than the rest. Pavel and Stepan rushed forward to greet them, pulling them onto the Aurora and securing the railcar to its place on the train. Artyom nodded at Anna as he handed her off to Tokarev, inclining his head in a clear message for her to see Katya. Maybe she was hurt more extensively than what they could see.

Pavel grabbed Artyom by the arms and hauled him off to their room after a quick once over, noting that he didn't seem to be hurt too badly. Nothing major, at least. And the fact that Artyom didn't protest as he guided him away was a good sign as to his health. Pavel could hear Miller and Sam filling in the rest of the crew in fragments as they walked away, something about cannibals and madmen in the place of what should have been level-headed leaders. He couldn't help but scoff under his breath. Of course something had gone wrong. Nothing ever seemed to go right for them, after all. He nearly slammed the door to their tiny room behind him as he deposited Artyom on his cot, letting the man fall onto his back with a sharp groan.

"What is it, chuvak? You hurt? Come on, you can't be comfortable in all that gear," Pavel said, tapping Artyom's shoulder and attempting to get him to sit up. Artyom let a deep sigh wrack his chest as he righted himself. He looked much too tired to be of any use to their fellows right now. Pavel chewed on the inside of his cheek and dropped to his knees in front of his friend. Artyom's eyes widened slightly in surprise as Pavel lifted one of the Ranger's legs to rest his foot between his thighs. He made quick work of the laces to his boot and unceremoniously yanked the thing off before repeating the motion with Artyom's other boot. Pavel was methodical and quiet now, focusing entirely on making sure Artyom was safe and comfortable. There were no other thoughts running through his head now.

Artyom let out another groan as he struggled with the straps to his gear. His fingers wouldn't obey him and kept slipping on the buckles. Pavel leaned up on his knees to pull one of Artyom's hands away, cradling it in both of his own. He was slow, undoing fastenings and slipping the glove off before setting it on the small stand next to the cot. He did the same with the man's other hand, ignoring how his palms burned at the touch of Artyom's skin on his. He ignored the racing of his heart. He ignored the tickle in his throat and the tightening of his chest.

The only thing he couldn't ignore was Artyom's reaction. His hands were still held in Pavel's own, and he turned them around in his grasp in order to run his thumbs over his friend's wrists. Pavel kept his gaze lowered, not wanting to see Artyom's expression. He didn't know if he would be able to handle what he would see. And so they sat in silence, Artyom tracing lines on the soft skin of his inner arms. But it didn't take long before Pavel felt overwhelmed by the touch, and he snatched his hands back to hold them close to his chest. "Get out of that heavy gear and I'll patch up any wounds. Katya is busy with Anna and old Miller most likely." Pavel turned his head to the grubby window, gaze fixing on the rustling leaves of one of the trees next to the train. He swallowed and pushed any thought of Artyom (other than worry) from his mind.

None of that was important right now. What was important was making sure he was alright.

Artyom blew out a short breath from his nose, probably exasperated with Pavel's actions. But he obeyed, hands moving to the buckles at his waist in order to undo them. Without the gloves, and having a moment of calm, it was easier to control himself. His vest fell into Pavel's lap and the man stood up, hanging it on one of the hooks on the wall for Tokarev to inspect later. He was under no impression that he could mend their gear better than the older man. Pavel chanced a glance back at Artyom and was relieved to see nothing bloodying his torso. His armor did its job and did it well. It seemed that most of Artyom's exhaustion was merely from a harrowing experience, and not from any kind of injuries. Pavel cleared his throat and caught Artyom's eye. "Did you want to read a chapter before passing out? Or did you just want to sleep?"

The grin that crossed Artyom's face at the mention of reading gave Pavel all the answer he needed. Pavel patted the man's knee before moving over to his own cot in order to grab the book. Once he located it and sat down, he began thumbing through the pages. A clearing of the throat made him look up in question. Artyom had situated himself on his own cot so that his legs were stretched out; his back was leaning against the wall. Pavel quirked a brow at him and Artyom patted the sheets near his legs, pursing his lips and staring resolutely at the wall opposite him. "You want me to come over there?" Pavel asked, scarcely able to believe it. He had to get some real confirmation, something to show him that he wasn't imagining his wildest hopes.

Artyom's murmured reply was all he needed.

Pavel let a soft grin cross his lips as he stood and crossed the room in two short steps. He sat down at the foot of the bed across from Artyom, letting his right leg press against the outside of Artyom's left. His other foot was firmly planted on the floor, helping support him on the thin cot. Pavel let his own back lean beck on the wall, opening the book and looking down as he flipped through the pages.

The smile never left even as he read the chapter. If Artyom noticed, he never made mention of it.