Pavel had never felt more useless than he did now. He was a man used to the harsh Moscow winters, not the burning heat of the sun beating down on them. This place was a damn wasteland, and he couldn't even help them move on to their next destination. Wherever that may be. The heat was damn near getting to him, sapping the strength from his muscles and stealing his breath.
He could barely make full circuits around the little base they claimed without wheezing for air. It was torturous, amplified by the fact that he had no idea whether or not Artyom was okay. How that man was able to trudge around through the sand and sun was beyond Pavel. Damir was handling it rather well, too (although his troubles all stemmed from the mistreatment of his people). Pavel didn't know much about what was going on, but he knew that these oil-riggers were taking advantage of people weaker than themselves. That was most definitely a reason to completely destroy their influence, in Pavel's opinion.
It was just beginning to get dark when Pavel leaned against the low wall outside of the building that housed the rest of his teammates. Krest would occasionally check in with everyone, making sure that Stepan's heatstroke didn't worsen. Even though there wasn't much he could do at this point. Duke was also out of commission, weak and weary from the miserable weather. The sooner they left, the better. None of them were built to survive these kind of conditions for long periods of time. Except maybe Damir, and Artyom apparently. Pavel almost chuckled to himself at the thought of Artyom traipsing around the desert, unaffected by the blistering sun. But he was wracked with a sudden coughing fit. It was dry and crackling, stealing the breath from his lungs.
"Damn fucking sand, blyadj..." Pavel murmured to himself when he recovered. He reached for the flask of water at his hip and shook it a few times to gauge how much he had left. He could hear the soft pattering of water droplets on the inside of the damned thing. Not much left. Pavel had been trying to ration his water properly, but the wind whipped the sand, blowing it into his face and getting in his mouth, followed by his lungs, causing bouts of coughing that he couldn't seem to shake. He was damn ready to get the hell out of this terrible place. The sooner that Artyom came back with good news, the better.
He stumbled back into the building in order to get a respite from the weather to find that Stepan and Duke's conditions had worsened. Katya was fretting almost nonstop over the two of them now, and Alyosha was sitting next to them with his head in his hands. The heat was starting to get to him as well. Krest was hovering over a pot of stew, distracting Nastya from the dire situation that the crew was currently in. Pavel wanted to go over to them and help, but his legs were weak and he felt as if he could collapse at any moment. He made it to an open chair and fell into it, leaning his head back and closing his eyes against the bright light of the fire. He'd seen enough light now to last a lifetime. The sun reflecting off of the sand of the desert had nearly blinded him by now, and he was loath to see anything like it ever again.
Pavel could hear Idiot mumbling to himself in worry over in the corner. Ever since Artyom had brought back those satellite maps, he'd been working himself up into a frenzy over them. That probably wasn't a good sign, if Pavel could be honest with himself. Miller was with him, interjecting every now and then with some commentary that varied in usefulness. Pavel didn't really understand what they were talking about, as the names bandied about meant nothing to him. He was still a man of stations and underground tunnels, not this wide open world full of sunshine and complete freedom.
He didn't want to be here anymore. Obviously Pavel would follow Artyom's lead wherever he went, but this was straining the limits of his endurance as well as patience.
"Hey, Red. You holding up alright?" Pavel cracked open an eye to fix Krest with a tired look. "Ah-ha, you look absolutely miserable. Okay okay, I get it." Krest had often tried to initiate conversations with the younger man. Pavel didn't exactly know what his point was, checking in with him and constantly casting glances his way. It honestly made him a little uncomfortable. What was his problem? "Keep watch over the pot, my little helper. Who knows, maybe you can be as good as I am at cooking someday!" He directed his words at Nastya, who had been watching him with wide eyes for the past hour. She wrinkled her nose.
"I hope that I'll be better than you at cooking."
"Agh, you wound me! How can I endure such mistreatment? Well if you don't like my food then you don't have to eat it." Krest mocked, tapping the ladle against the pot and setting it down on his makeshift counter. Nastya sobered immediately and nodded, swapping places with Krest as he walked over and leaned against the wall next to Pavel. "But seriously, malchik, you look like shit." Pavel grimaced at the form of address.
"I'm not a little boy. Either call me Red, like what the rest of the crew seems to be fond of, or just by my name." Krest tilted his head back and laughed, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Ah, but you are just a little boy! You forget how much older I am than you. The way you act is like a broody teenager, too. You could be my little brother, you know." Krest kept laughing and Pavel felt a reluctant grin cross his lips. How this man could stay cheerful at a time like this was beyond him. "Anyway, that isn't what I wanted to talk to you about. I wanted to know how you were holding up, malchik." Pavel sighed at the use of the word again and resigned himself to it. It was unlikely that Krest would ever stop calling him that now. He just shook his head and sunk further into the chair, muttering something about the desert being the bane of his existence. Krest chuckled again. "Yeah, I hate it too. Kaduy was always cold, I'm more used to just a few degrees south of a nuclear winter. Much too hot here. Come on, you've got to get back out there. I'll keep you company."
Pavel nodded along, clearing his throat. His lungs burned and he wasn't keen on going back outside. The sand would irritate them all anew again. He stood with a groan and brushed off his pants. Well, it was a good respite for a moment. "But that Artyom, man. Have you ever seen him doing anything less than traipsing around in places he definitely shouldn't be?"
"Ah, it wouldn't be Artyom if he wasn't sticking his damned head into everything." Pavel replied as they walked outside, shaking his head.
"Damn right. You know, when I first met him he was trying to fight his way through a bunch of mutants. At night, too! Everyone knows that those things come out at night, especially where I used to set up base," Krest said, launching into a long tangent. "I mean, after I bring him up there next thing I know, he's running frantic. Trying to leave because you went and fell down a hole. Not that I regret helping you, as you'd be rotting down there if we hadn't come. But it seems like our young Ranger has a limited sense of self-preservation, huh?" Pavel was quiet as Krest talked. Why was he bringing up Artyom?
"Well..." Pavel started before falling silent again. How could he explain? "Artyom, he's... He likes to help people. One person saved is worth the world to him. He's been like that for as long as I've known him." Pavel let a small grin twist the corners of his mouth, thinking back to escaping the Nazi's with Artyom. That felt like a lifetime ago now. "You know, when I first met him, we were captured by some bastards. Had to escape together. Artyom was just... He couldn't leave any of the others behind there. Was able to free them all, even though we should have been getting ourselves out of there as fast as possible. That's just the kind of man he is. Always wanting to help the downtrodden. Even now I'm sure he's doing all he can with Damir to help the people here. It's the kind of man he is, you'd be crazy to not care for him."
"Sounds like he means a lot to you," Krest murmured, keeping his gaze locked onto Pavel. At those words Pavel immediately floundered, realizing what that sounded like. How could he say those things? Krest probably was suspicious of his intentions now.
"Well, I mean. He's my best friend! Of course! I'm grateful that him and the others welcomed me here." Pavel scrambled to rectify his mistake. "You know, that one friend who you just know is too kind for their own good? Artyom is that guy." Krest nodded before looking away from Pavel. The sandy desert stretched across their field of view, bright sun making the ground sparkle and glimmer.
"Malchik..." Pavel groaned inwardly. "Ah, I know exactly how you feel!" Krest's voice jumped and sounded almost falsely optimistic for a moment. "Seems like Artyom is a really upstanding guy, huh? You know, he kind of reminds me of..." Krest paused, words dying in his throat. He stared out at the landscape for a moment. "Reminds me a bit of my Dimochka."
Pavel's heart stopped.
"Eh-- um, huh? Your ah, who?" Words were hard. Sentences? Forget about it.
Krest just fixed him with a soft smile. He turned away and looked back out past the Aurora.
"Yeah. We traveled together for a while, a few years after I left home. Phooah, that was about... fifteen years ago? Almost inseparable. Joined at the hip, you'd say." Krest leaned against the low wall outside and talked as Pavel stood in silence. "My Dimochka was just like your Artyom. Always trying to help stragglers. We even took in some, at his insistence. Often they would travel with us for a while before parting ways. He was damn lucky that none of them decided to just rob us and move on. Sometimes I thought that he just couldn't understand that people could be cruel." Krest shook his head and sighed. Pavel swallowed.
"So, ah... What happened to him?" He dared to ask.
"Same thing that happens to everyone." Krest no longer sounded cheerful. Just pensive. "It was in Astrakhan, quite near here, actually. Bandits ambushed us in the night. Caught us by surprise. We got separated and... He fell." The wind whipped around them as Krest told his tale. Pavel felt something deep in his chest resonate at the story. He couldn't imagine ever losing Artyom in such a way. "I got in our truck and drove away. Probably one of my biggest regrets. Every time I think back on that moment I tell myself 'You should have stayed. Dimitri needed you, and you ran.' It would have been more honorable to have died there with him. But I guess I never had much of that."
"Me neither," Pavel muttered back. But he had to say something. He was never too good at comforting people, but something about Krest's story touched something deep within him. "I'm sure your friend wanted you to live. Better for one to make it and continue on than losing two." Krest's head whipped around at that moment. He shot him an incredulous look and leaned back so as to face Pavel more properly. After a second, his expression morphed into something more akin to resignation.
"My friend, yes..." He turned away again. A deep sigh; it sounded like Krest pulled it from his very soul. "Well. Sorry to ruin the mood. Keep Artyom safe. Men like him are always bound to get themselves into trouble. Their good nature always brings difficulty." Pavel laughed at that, wanting to brighten the mood a bit.
"Oh, you have no idea."