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chapter 11    chapter 12    chapter 13    [chapter 14]

this chapter contains like 4 lines of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references to the least explicit sexual content on this green earth. you won’t read them having sex in this fic. that’s for the next one!

Arms for Good

(THE SERPENT and THE HARUSPEX are sitting at opposite ends of the PROSCENIUM LINE, curtains drawn behind them, but not closed as to allow for THE CHOIR, UPSTAGE CENTER, to be seen as they sing softly. THE SERPENT and THE HARUSPEX appear calm, but sorrow is read on both of their faces. THE CHOIR dances with very small steps, moving from left to right and back again as if moving with a breeze. They all sway their arms slowly and gracefully, melancholic and grieving.


(humming) It has been a long way / a long way down / a long way woven through ribs / of the mother (of) earth / It has been a long way, dreamer, a long way down / Your eyes traveled so far / your hands so forward / thrusting like bayonets!


THE SERPENT begins to shed its skin, curling in on itself. It pulls its scales out, plucking them one by one, and emerges from its kneeling pale and bare — naked (not nude). He sits on his heels with hands on his thighs, back very straight, composed and collected. THE HARUSPEX takes his smock off. He folds it meticulously and sets it aside. He is now THE SON. THE SERPENT is now THE WELCOMED, LEAVING GUEST.


(humming) Your hands shan’t be your father’s hands / Your acts shan’t be (y)our Mother’s acts / You’ve risen and crawled…


THE SON gets up and walks towards THE WELCOMED, LEAVING GUEST, but stops before crossing into STAGE CENTER. THE WELCOMED, LEAVING GUEST gets up and walks towards THE SON, but stops before crossing into STAGE CENTER. They stand in front of each other, looking at each other. Three women of THE CHOIR detach themselves from the group and walk, still dancing to DOWNSTAGE CENTER, where they let their hair down and brush the stage with it, sweep the floors with their hands and the hems of their dresses, reaching for each other’s hands sometimes, pirouetting slowly, swaying arms like branches in the breeze. They step back in order to form a line in STAGE CENTER, still dancing.


(humming) There’ll be people / below you / singing!


More members of THE CHOIR, until then having stayed silent, sitting just before the APRON of the stage, stand up and join the singing, not stepping on stage, dancing in the same manner of those heard first.


(humming) Wipe your lips clean of that dried blood / of those red things you so love / Come meet hunger like you meet everything else born in your mouth / Yargachin! / Spit the seeds of pomegranate / so in the wake of your bloodshed / fruit trees will grow…


Members of THE CHOIR who were in front of the stage climb on and join the three at CENTER STAGE. They dance here, humming, before all rejoining the group at UPSTAGE CENTER and continuing the dance. As both THE SON and THE WELCOMED, LEAVING GUEST walk to each other, closing the gap before turning their backs to each other, THE CHOIR disperses in a controlled chaos, equal number leaving the stage from the RIGHT and the LEFT. Even with the stage empty except for THE SON and THE WELCOMED, LEAVING GUEST, the voices of THE CHOIR are heard from backstage and the audience.


(humming) There’ll be people / all around you / singing…


Lights fade. The curtain shivers, but does not fall.)




       When Burakh hauled himself out of bed, the sun was barely setting. It hung like the head of a pin over the yellow, rough fabric of the steppe, catching the tallest blades of grass and throwing blue, cold shadows in the wake of stones. He had slept the whole damn day. His heart was hit by a pang of panic as he realized people could have left (—well, people… Let him not kid himself. He didn’t care about many who could leave).
He found Sticky in the living room, rummaging through cabinets like he had done so many times before, Murky pacing the halls with her hands on the walls. 

      “You’re leaving?” Sticky called after him as he approached the door.
      “Yes,” Burakh said. “I’m going to the workshop.”
      “Can I come?”
      Burakh saw the excitement in Sticky’s eyes, but had to shut it down: “I would rather you stayed here. I… just need to take care of… stuff.”

That was (mostly) the truth. He needed to look over the last batches of Panacea. To clean the alembic and the brewery. (Here, his thoughts marked a notable pause as he sought more excuses.) To find solace in the finally-silent lair. (To be alone with the weight of his father’s ghost, and the weight of the rubble, the rubble of everything.)
Sticky nodded and, when Murky’s head popped into the hallway, he hurried towards her to tell her Burakh was “going out for a little bit, we can pace together”. As Murky seemed satisfied, Burakh slipped in the doorway.


He didn’t go to the workshop yet. He didn’t go to the workshop still.
He made his way to the Broken Heart. The granite stairs were as if sanded down in his path, the stone giving way to his weight, cursing how heavy he treaded. He pushed the door. The air was as heavy as ever — the more things change, the more they stay the same… — and the music was loud.
Loud, dragging, hoarse; like it was in pain too.

He approached a table like one does a feral horse. Andrey, sitting on a wide leather couch, crawled his gaze up his face — it was darting, dark, obsessive. Across from him, Dankovsky didn’t spare him a glance.
His face was pale. His eyes were cradled in a deep blue hue. His eyelids were heavy on his aphotic irises, like he wanted nothing more but to sleep at last. Yulia, next to him, was reserved and reclusive. She was here out of convenience, almost; seeking meaning amongst people who couldn’t find it either.

Andrey hissed.

      “... So, matricide, I’ve been told.”
      “By who?” Burakh snipped in the same tone. “Your dancers?”
      “Watch your tongues. They’re your sisters. ” Burakh held his stare, but didn’t speak. They are. “And they’re orphans, now.”

Burakh held his stare. Didn’t speak. The rubble sunk inside of him and settled in the coils of his entrails like the carcass of a shipwreck at the bottom of the sea.
Andrey’s face shifted, softened, almost, and Burakh winced at the vision.

      “... Hey. I wouldn’t ever do it myself… but I won’t tell you I do not understand at least a little.”
      Oh, don’t even start. “You don’t understand, not even a little. You couldn’t.”
      “Go to the grave with that thought, if it helps you sleep.”

Burakh’s upper lip twitched.

      “Where’s your brother?”

Andrey’s long, scraping finger pointed to the quilt thrown on the couch next to him — it struck Burakh that was a coat, and Peter was under it, curled up like a fox in a bear trap.
Burakh watched him as he didn’t move; as his coat barely rose and fell with his breath. His wet, strung, wrung breath.

      “Two birds one stone, eh?” Andrey sneered longly, slyly. When Burakh looked at him perplexed, he continued: “Your mother, and his child.”
      “Stop, will you?” Burakh said through gritted teeth.
      “I will.”
      “Shockingly compliant that you are.”
      “Between parricides, we can see eye to eye.”
      “Do not fucking call me that,” Burakh barked.
      “Sorry, Burakh. Hey, it gets easier to live with”

His voice was measured, soft, almost — as if he meant it. As if he wanted to lift the weight of guilt from Burakh’s shoulders. 

His voice was heavy still; heavy and dark, a hiss behind the tongue, a venom dripping slowly. He would have torn Burakh’s hands to shreds if he could. He could. He didn’t… How merciful. And Andrey was. Because he was hurt; he was hurt; he’d never been so hurt.

Burakh didn’t talk too much to Dankovsky.
He wanted to. He needed to. He was deathly afraid of all the words that could gallop out of his mouth and make a fool out of him in front of the twins — well, in front of Andrey; he assumed Peter could care less — and Lyuricheva,
He asked him what he was going to do now. (He thought about asking him who he would find the strength to look in the eyes.) Dankovsky offered a bleak, exhausted smile. The corners rose like two long horns. He bared his teeth — in any other circumstances, he would have looked menacing and cold. Now, oh, now there was nothing left but sorrow. His face was forlorn, empty, furious; all at once, nothing still.
Dankovsky said he was going to pack all of that grief in his suitcase and take the train back home.

Burakh left without asking him to come see him. Like the day before, he hoped he could come on his own — he wished he could come on his own. (It would make Burakh feel like he wasn’t imagining things.)

Burakh kept poking his head out and looking at the train station, nervously awaiting a train. (In the meantime, he picked seven stems from a drying bouquet. He carefully brushed their leaves and florets of dirt. They were rough, a little prickly under his calloused fingertips. He bound them together with thread. He placed the bundle in his leather pouch between two sheets of clean gauze.)


       Burakh pulled himself a chair. His legs were restless, his knee bounced. He touched the empty bottles, red-kissed still, like they could contain him as well. He waited. He had never wanted to wait more. Both prospects — the one of Dankovsky never coming, and the one of him walking through the front door — were equally daunting.

Eventually, the evening wind brought the latter. Dankovsky’s silhouette pushed itself into the Lair — and the Lair didn't oppose any resistance. He had changed his heavy snakeskin coat for a lighter one, just as long, that draped him a corduroy red. Changed his shirt, too; the blood-pink sleeves would have accessorized his cloak tastefully (Burakh almost made himself laugh thinking about it), but he had put on a black one, the sleeves of which had been rolled so as to not peek past the red arms of the coat. His arms, then, were bare. He had kept the gloves — of course he had. Burakh almost felt a pinch when he noticed his cravat had been cleared of its snake-head pin; almost like he missed it.
Burakh realized he had been staring at his guest in silence for however-too-long. 

      "Donned your formal attire?" He eventually spoke. In the low light, he saw a smile tug frankly at Dankovsky's lips, cracking the heavy coat of exhaustion on his face.
      "Does this look formal to you?" 

Upon closer inspection — closer as he walked to Burakh and took an offered chair —, it didn't. He looked around the workshop, leaning over to steal glances in the corners.

      “Where are the children?” he asked.
      “My father’s house.” (He swallowed.) “My house. Home.”

Dankovsky watched him weigh his words in his mouth. Heard him carefully pick them like growing herbs.

      “When’s the train?” Burakh asked — cutting through the silence before it had its chance to anchor.
      “Nine in the evening.” He pulled out of his pocket a watch and gave it a quick glance. “An hour and a half from now.”
      “That’s late.”
      “They’re making it a night train so it can arrive at the Capital in the daylight. I… do also think they have a few things to take care of.”

Burakh thought of the body of the old Olgimsky in the Termitary, of the last panaceas in the Theater and Town Hall still to be distributed by the Orderlies; of Lilich, still to be executed.


      “… Why have you come?” Burakh asked.
      “Because you wanted me to.”

The words hit Burakh straight across the chest like a hoof quick, and his breath hitched in his throat. And yet, that’d be a bold lie to say he didn’t. (He never wanted to say he didn’t.) Dankovsky spoke again, and Burakh had to contain a sigh of relief that he didn’t expect an answer.

      “And I wanted to talk to you,” he said. Burakh looked at him. “Because you wanted to talk to me too.”

Burakh nodded. (He just nodded.) He turned his gaze on Dankovsky and waited for him to speak.

      "You've been... needlessly kind to me when I truly didn't deserve it." 

Burakh pouted skeptically—he... vividly remembered calling him all sorts of names, including names that Dankovsky wouldn't have understood, which was the point. 

       "Earlier today, for example. When I caught your eyes on my bloodied sleeves, I thought you would punch me then." He stopped himself; he weighted the words in his mouth very visibly, Burakh's eyes catching how his mouth curled and curved. He corrected himself then: "No, I didn't think you would. That's what shocked me. I thought... frankly, I deserved it, and expected you to believe it as well."
      "Yeah," Burakh replied without a missed (heart)beat, "you would have deserved it." 

Dankovsky barked out a laugh that hit Burakh head-on; a croaky, tired, genuinely amused caw. 

      "But you didn't," he then asked. "Why?" 

Trick question.
Burakh knew the answer, what he wanted to answer, and the answer he was formulating — all vastly different.
The words crawled out of him like he did out of the earth — all red. They tasted awfully raw, like they had scraped him bare. 

      "... I feel... like I've shared something intimate with you." Immediate, nervous correction: "Like we have shared something intimate." (Oh Burakh, that's even worse!) 

Who did that scare the most? Silence had fallen upon them with a dead weight. Burakh looked at Dankovsky — out of the corner of his eye, animal-like. And Dankovsky looked at Burakh, dead-on, spine stiff, strained, pulled straight. 

      "That's a very heavy word, Artemy." 

It was. So was that one; the name; that was heavy... 

      "It is." A pause. A long one... "It is. I am aware. I feel the weight." 

Haut les cœurs, Burakh! He dared look at Daniil straight on. 

      "Do you?" 

No reply. A stare—a gaze; long, loud, swelling. No reply, then eventually: 

      "I feel more like it has been lifted." 

Burakh nodded. 


      “Would you accompany me outside?” Dankovsky eventually asked.
      “For some fresh air?”
      “I’ll follow you.”

He did.
Dankovsky held the heavy door open for him. The wind rushed into the red sail of his coat as it trailed behind him.


      “The air… has cleared.”
      “It has.” (Burakh marked a pause. With a tilt of the head, he indicated a secluded spot on a steppe hillside, and Dankovsky followed him.) “On the third week of September, the twyre pollen will blanket the steppe. On the fourth, it will sink into the ground. Then, winter will come.” (A pause again. The unpicked blades of herbs were bending to the ground, yielding way to him in a bow.) “Winter, if nothing else, will come.”

Dankovsky nodded; a solemn, sober nod. He had found a grip back on his composure, now. Burakh looked at his pale, long neck, a little stiff with fatigue and stress; at the locks of overgrown hair that curtained his brows, his eyes, the shells of his ears as he watched dutifully the path ahead.

They sat then; it was just clear of eight in the evening. Dankovsky’s knees were bent, his feet anchored in the ground; he brought his hands to the front of his knees. Burakh’s legs were flat before him as the blissful feeling of not having to bear weight on his bad joint washed over. His hands supported his weight as he pushed them against grass behind him.
Aquarius had risen in the south-east. Zeta Aquarii was a bright pin of light through the thin cover of clouds. Above it, Altair of Aquila scratched the edge of the Milk Way. The colorful stripe seemed to snake along the railway, appearing above like a long, uninterrupted cloud of locomotive smoke. On the other side of it, Jupiter and Antares were like two set eyes of the black animal of the sky.

For a while, the two men didn’t speak. Burakh watched Dankovsky as he didn’t speak.
Then, he said something Burakh felt wasn’t what he had first wanted to:

      “How does one… live after this.”
      “I don’t think… one has any other choice. One will… wake up in the morning and realize he hasn’t died. Not yet. So you’ll have to get up, and put your clothes on, and look at yourself in the mirror and find ways to not be disgusted by what you see.”

Burakh bit his tongue when he realized he had slipped — and he realized too that Dankovsky had noticed. He was looking at him with a sidelong eye. The even force of his gaze made Burakh understand he knew what he meant — and maybe even he felt the same.

      “And I guess… It will take the time that it will take. But that’s all there is left, now. Time.”

Dankovsky’s eyes drew the hazy horizon line, and Burakh thought he saw him nod.

      “What will you do, now? Besides ‘stuff your grief in a suitcase’...”
      Dankovsky’s shoulders twitched with what barely was a shrug. “I will go back to my place. I might go see my mother… Go to the sea with her. I might write a book… Maybe there is truth to the saying that bad tragedies make good fiction,”
      “Can I get a first-page dedication?” Burakh joked.
      "You will,” Dankovsky replied; and even if he was laughing too, Burakh heard the bluntness of sincerity in his voice.

Silence walked the steppe for a minute, sweeping it with a warm, heavy breath. It carried lamentations.

      “How is the sea?” Burakh asked.
      “Have you never been?” Burakh shook his head. “The water is… clear, mostly. A bit cold, at this time of the year. The shores are lined with small grey rocks that disintegrate into dark sand along the coast. Hills of dense forest overlook the water. Their cliffs look like they’ve bowed to the water, ceding to it.”
      Burakh’s head swayed a dreamy nod. “It sounds nice.”
      “I could take you.”

Burakh’s words fail him, and his breath too. The voice had been low. The voice had been, almost, cautious; like Dankovsky had been afraid to fuck things up.

      “Does your mother accept guests on your trips?”
      "She never has, because I’ve never brought any. I’ve never loved anyone enough to want to show them the sea.”

Then, Burakh fell mute. His eyes hit the side of Dankovsky’s face; his gaze was directed at his own hands. He wasn’t ashamed. He wasn’t shy. He was somber with an unspeakable and sudden gravity.
An appetite he struggled to shape into composed words.
Burakh felt how his jaw slowly grew slack, heavy with its own. Every word he had ever known felt suddenly potently empty and weak. His mouth was hollow; a vessel in which he wanted Dankovsky to seep.

      “… Is that the word you want to use?” (Dankovsky, for a minute, didn’t answer.) “That’s a very heavy word,” he said, softly (for once. At once. At last.) and with the brush of a laugh, echoing Dankovsky’s words from earlier.

Dankovsky’s eyes on him were unmovable. Burakh felt himself flinch under their weight — their horrifyingly warm, calm, unwavering, eager weight. Burakh could see into their depths all the flakes of copper and gold that fit themselves into his drilling gaze.

      “Will you let me wield it over you?” Dankovsky asked.
      “I — yes. I will. Yes, I will.”

He watched how Dankovsky’s jaw jutted, tight, strained, restrained, fighting to hold his words in; then slacked, lips still pinched together, as if he was chewing and swallowing them.

Burakh leaned to him. His head hitched forward, as if tugged, as if yanked; as if Dankovsky’s eyes caught him by the sides of his face. Their stares scrape against each other’s like they were trying to make a fire.

Connections overcome death. Connection implies severance. Connection implies difference. Connection implies two; not halves, two, two wholes. Connection implies wholes finding wholes, hollows finding hollows; wholes finding hollows, hollows finding wholes. Connection implies touch.

Marble, to it—the touch—is not unlike the dead. Rigor mortis settling in, the skin, drained of its fluids, becomes taut, stretched like hide over the hard bones. Under fingertips, it is cold. It is hard. It doesn’t dip under pressure, feeling like it pushes, almost, against the contact.
Marble is not Dankovsky’s skin, despite its same milky color, despite the smoothness in the hills and hollows as Burakh finds it, finds himself allowed to touch it. The flesh — of his bared arms, of his taut neck, of his stubbly cheeks — seems to elude Burakh’s touch: it grows goosegumpy under his coarse fingertips (and he grows contrite at the thought that his touch is more painful than pleasurable), and Dankovsky takes sharp, short breaths, as if shocked.

Touching him feels like scraping a matchstick. He's afraid — no, it's not fear he feels... He's awestruck at the enormity of Dankovsky's desire. It is the unspeakable, unknowable, evading organ that Burakh is the most careful to handle. It seeks his touch and flees like once did his loud heart. It's untamable in the ways of a wounded beast, and he is not sure even Dankovsky has the smallest grasp on it. He knows he doesn't. It's like grappling with a thunderstorm. Trying to harness lighting and burning from it.
Touching him overcomes it—death and the rest.

The fragile vial of restraint is a cauldron overbrewing; bitter when it spills and then setting the floorboards on fire.
Dankovsky doesn’t want that. He thinks he’s had enough. He’s bitten and cut all over like the world tried to tear him to pieces — and it did. The vial is full like his mouth is of words and only one those spills: he doesn’t speak. Burakh sees the flight of his hands then; the raven-flight of his gloved touch, he grabs both sides of his jaw and pulls him and kisses him fiercely.

Burakh steals a glance at his mouth, at his wide, shallow, hypnotizing cupid’s bow, the mesmerizing halo around his reddened lips, pale pink skin where stubble does not grow. 

      “Do not call me that,” Dankovsky huffs, hushed against Burakh’s mouth; “not now, not right now…”
      “... Danya…”

It takes him by surprise; he seems to flinch, his lips close and tighten — Burakh fears he is piqued but, angling another glance, he can see him holding back a smile.


you love red things,” once spoke the beast, and Burakh cannot say he does not. He loves the long red coat he slips his arms under to put hands on Dankovsky’s waist and chest, his red cravat that Artemy’s mouth keeps catching when he kisses his neck. He loves the red that Daniil’s pale skin swallows, finding itself tinted pink, the red, worried lips Daniil offers him, the red, shivering organ of his tongue like a beating, pulsating heart.
Gone is the image of the narrow, paper-edge lips of a clean-cut wound. There is only Dankovsky’s. Daniil’s. They aren’t particularly plump, particularly plush — they are thin, a little dry where he hasn’t licked them in anticipation, dipping into sharp furrows where he has worriedly bitten them until they bled. When Burakh lets the tip of his tongue wander in these grooves, he meets a lingering metallic taste; Dankovsky breaks the kiss—not the hold—and pinches his lips, discomfited. “Sorry,” Artemy says, low and cloud-warm against his mouth. “Sorry.” “I bit it too hard,” Daniil replies just the same. “I know. Sorry,” and they kiss again.
One of Daniil’s hands emerges out of his pocket and Artemy feels it on his shoulder, down his flank, up the jut of his hip and lower down his thigh. As he hitches his head up, wild eyes finding Daniil’s, way more placid, he catches on his mouth the words: “Don’t get too excited,” followed by the crinkle of paper as something is pushed down his pocket. His hand freed, Daniil brings both of them into Artemy’s hair, and kisses him again — kisses him back, and back again (and again, back).


      “Walk me back,” Dankovsky eventually said. “I still need to pack my things.”
      “Sure,” Burakh said, and it stung like his own blade went through him. 

He walked the Bachelor back to the Stillwater. He stole glances in the low lights of the streetlamps, catching how he hadn’t straightened his cravat back up, how the one button of his shirt Burakh had worried with a thumb still hung open, wide, a bit hungry — obscenely so. 
Burakh well and truly believed they could have had sex back then (he didn't know how, he had never known how, but his guess was that he'd learn, like the rest), but he wasn’t going to tell Dankovsky that, so he zipped it, he stitched it shut, he buried it hurriedly. He was still thinking about it as he helped the Bachelor fold and pack, when he pleated on itself the collar of a white shirt he, nights prior, parted open with his own hand. The Bachelor’s bag was lighter than when he came to the town, hollows left in the wake of pill boxes and serum bottles that the plague had swallowed whole. 
It’s in one of these holes that Burakh buried herbs, their smoky-mint scented leaves bunched together with red thread. He shoved between the stems a little note he had been too distracted to give Dankovsky before; a simple, scribbled piece of paper that read: “ to slice thinly, to put in boiling water, let steep until fragrant. store in a dry place. for your nightmares and your migraines.”



      The train, Burakh had forgotten, was this herculean beast of a cast-iron coat. It pulled wagons like a black ox, the pelt of which was lit with torches on the platform and the hands of those who had gathered. The army walked in a line in a cattle wagon, not dissimilar to the one Burakh had taken to come home, like a red hurried herd. Burakh didn’t see the General. (Burakh didn’t want to see the General.)
By the single passenger wagon, Burakh recognized a few faces; Andrey and Peter — the latter didn’t look particularly worse than Burakh was used to; his grief had been shockingly brief, then —, miss Yan, Lyuricheva, Aysa, two of the Brides that had carried Dankovsky to the Stillwater. Burakh was even surprised to see them here.
He waited for them to disperse. As they left, Peter throw him an outraged, choleric, biting glare. (He was still grieving, then.)
Burakh walked to the platform, and greeted Dankovsky with a tilt of the head. He saw how a smirk teased the curve of his lips at seeing him pretend they hadn’t just met.

      “This is it, is it not?”
      “It’s something. Just a beginning.”

Burakh saw him pull one of his gloves off; he pulled it off and tucked it under his arm before offering his hand to shake. Burakh (Artemy) looked at Dankovsky’s (Daniil’s) hand, at his lean, straight fingers that tapered at the end, at the writer’s bump that gave interest to a knuckle; they swayed lightly as he waited. Burakh (Artemy) took it, and Daniil covered the new hold with his other, gloved hand, empathic, thankful, beholden.

      “We’ll meet again,” Dankovsky said. 
      Hand still in his, Burakh replied: “In better circumstances, I hope.”
      And Dankovsky smiled. “Don’t just hope. We will.”

With that, he tapped the pocket at his thigh and, instinctively, Burakh’s hand flew to his. He heard the crinkle of paper. 


It struck nine. Jupiter was kissing the horizon line, and Ophiuchus, clinging to the Milky Way, was lighting the path out of the town.
Burakh watched the train leave until it made it to what looked (and felt) like the edge of the earth; he stood there for hours.
Eventually, he fished the paper out of his pocket, and uncrumpled it.
In a so-proper handwriting Burakh was almost jealous of, Dankovsky had plainly written his address.




That night, Burakh wouldn’t dream. At all. Everything would be black, tranquil, still. Stiff, stuffy, nervous. Suspended. He’d wake up tense and have to shake it off. 


The night after that, Burakh wouldn’t dream.


The night after that, Burakh wouldn’t dream.


The night after that, Burakh would. It would be a weird, raw dream, the kind that left him on edge, out of place. 
Then Dankovsky, in that dream, would kiss the hollow of his jaw, and say: “meet me. Do you need me to formally invite you?” and Burakh wouldn’t be able to reply.
A few days later, he’d receive a letter that would do just that. 




       He’d go to the Capital in the middle of winter. 

At Daniil’s apartment, they would speak. Then, he would get to eat, to swallow the words right out of his mouth, to cradle the apse of the back of his head.


They didn’t dance — not really. They stood in the room, and Dankovsky had his head against Burakh’s neck, and Burakh had his cheek pressed into Dankovsky’s hair. And Dankovsky had a hand on the small of Burakh’s back, and Burakh had a hand in the hollow between Dankovsky’s shoulder blades, and the hands that were left were linked with entwined fingers, oh, almost lazily, like they were not scared to lose each other anymore. 
And slowly, slowly, they rocked from one foot to the other in synchronicity, moving their weights back and forth on the creaking floorboards; chest to chest, hip to hip, Burakh’s bad knee against Dankovsky’s thigh. They wouldn’t dance — they would sway like two blades of tall grass, they would breathe; and a record of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, arranged for cello, would spin on its Intermezzo. (And the world would spin on.)


Later, they would have sex, and Burakh would see the stigma on Daniil’s flank, pale and faded where he stitched him up; and Dankovsky would trace the scarred pink skin on Artemy’s shoulders, arms and back, where he knows he stitched him up too. They would have to be careful, navigating these young pains that flared up to a touch or a too-prompt twist, but they would manage. Yes, they would manage.

They would lie side by side on Daniil’s too-small-for-two bed, pushed together flush from shoulder to hip, like the threads of them had been wreathed together—like they had wreathed them together. 

There would be then an uneventful night — except for when Burakh would almost roll out of the bed — in which Burakh would dream about sex for once (or again, depending on how you see it).




I feel anchored.


You are supposed to feel anchored.


I feel safe.


You are supposed to feel safe.


And from their high place they look on — down, at Artemy who sleeps, head buried in Daniil’s shoulder, arms around him, hair combed through mindlessly, at last, a still, a silent tenderness. ARTEMY watches himself sleep soundly — loudly, too, as they both snore — runs a thoughtless hand where he sees Daniil’s hand lingering.


This is not a war anymore. This is not a war. It’s not supposed to feel like one.


In the time ARTEMY keeps looking away, THE SERPENT hazily, slowly or maybe all at once, becomes DANIIL—JUST HIM. ARTEMY turns to him again and is surprised; DANIIL—JUST HIM is nude at least from the waist up.


Oh… Hello.


(after a soft laugh) Don’t be surprised. You’d find me eventually.


(He would.)
DANIIL—JUST HIM embraces ARTEMY, wraps himself around his shoulders and neck, very reminiscent of THE SERPENT; warmer, livelier; his flesh is warm under ARTEMY/Artemy’s fingers and palms, his skin just rough in the way of the skin of man. ARTEMY/Artemy returns the embrace, pulls him against his flank, then chest, and holds him here.


Again, it happens again: Burakh dreams that he is grass. Dankovsky is here too, as he expected; naked, now, curled sleeping on himself. His hands are tucked under his weight, palms to the ground — caressing Burakh of their touch. His face is against the warming soil from browbone to chin, his subtly-stubbly cheek scraping the dirt. The hair on his nape brushes against the grass; the grass — alive — brushes against the hair on his nape. 


(Burakh would wake up nauseous, tight-throated, tighter-lipped, folded in half under the weight of guilt — cold, slick, tacky guilt. It would haunt him for having felt goodness; for having felt good.
Dankovsky’s fingers would brush through the hair of his chest and at the back of his neck, through its feather-grass feeling as it softens along the tenseness of his semispinalis capitis.)




      “What is to come, then?”
      “Rebuilding. Sweep the house clean. Make a list of names for the graves. The Termitary has a union, now.”
      “It’s quite a shame they waited for such a catastrophe before this change.”
      “Indeed. The Enterprise has way fewer workers now. The town was way less everything. It will… stagnate, for a while. Stagnate, then grow...”
      “How do you think it will?”
      “Hopefully like a honeyberry shrub and not like a tumor.”

Dankovsky nodded then.

      “Have you ever had honeyberries?”
      “Not that I remember.”
      “Well then, I’ll put it on the list.”
      “With bringing me to the sea.”
      “With bringing you to the sea.”


Before the train home, Burakh would take a morning shower in Dankovsky’s bathroom, in a full bathtub, this time, and Daniil would peek through the open door like he wanted to be invited in. (He would be invited in.)



      He found Lara south of the Warehouses. She was wielding something and, for a while, Burakh couldn’t quite make out what. He spotted Grief by her side, gesturing at something in the distance, and he realized she was handling a gun. Grief pointed three spots, and three gunshots tore through the silence one after the other; Burakh recoiled at the strike of sound.


      “This won’t… fix anything,” he told Lara as they sat by the train station.
      “I know this.” She pulled a thermos out of a leather pouch she had at the waist and took a swing; Burakh stared at her in shock before she told him it was tea. “I know it won’t, but it’s a good stress-reliever.”
      “You could call it that...” Burakh mumbled.

Herb Brides, in the distance, danced still. They had shed the violence of their prancing. They treaded with a heavy foot. Their arms swayed slowly against the weight of sorrow. They weren’t throwing themselves to the ground, slapping their chests with clay-red hands anymore. Burakh listened to them, and their heartbroken songs.

There’ll be people / below you / singing…


      “I don’t see you around too much,” Lara eventually said.
      “Turns out my father was a busy man,” Burakh chuckled, “and many people expect me to busy myself with all of his affairs.”
      “Don’t you do it?”
      “I’m finding a balance.” (He paused.) “I’m trying to find a balance.” He kicked the dirt thoughtlessly. “I’m trying to be my own man and not just my father’s son.”
      “Heavy burden to carry.”
      “You had warned me, Gravel.”
      “I had. But you’re wickedly stubborn.”
      “It takes at least that to power through a story this long.” Lara raised an eyebrow at him. “I don’t know why I said that. Forget it.”

They watched the wind scrape the last of the kiss of the blue frost.

      “Spring is coming,” Lara said plainly.
      “What is ahead?”
      “Calving season,” Burakh replied, and Lara barked out a laugh. “When the weather becomes more clement, we’ll need to rebuild. Lyuricheva has plans for the reconstitution of some of the… she calls them road-webs. She wants to find a way to make the town more… resilient.” (He grimaced. He had heard it before. … And now he would hear it again, and he would have to live with it, or without it.) “Vlad has mentioned starting works to improve the sewage and water systems.”
      “… He wants to dig?”
      “Will you let him?”
      (Burakh didn’t speak. Then,) “Yes.”

The earth was dead. They could dig to the core of it.
(That was not what he truly thought.
He believed, he hoped, he would pray if he was a pious man, that the earth could grow around the pipes. Yes; heal around them like bulging tree trunks swallow roadsigns, like bone eats shrapnel shreds, embracing them back. Like he, and the rest of them, would heal around these twelve days. Like he, and the rest of them, would have to heal around these days, and choices that were made.)

      He continued, so as to not let the weight of silence press itself against his throat: “It will take years. It could take decades, maybe centuries, but the town will be… repopulated.” He honored the emptiness for a few consecutive seconds. He didn’t speak so the ghosts could.
      Lara sipped her hot tea loudly, and that snapped him out of it. “From what I’ve gathered, you’re participating in every effort but that last one.”
      “That’s right,” Burakh nervously chuckled through tight teeth.
      “Thank God,” Lara said. “I have enough being an aunt to the two you already have. How old is Sticky going to be, fourteen? Wicked age. All three of you were terrible then.”
      “Come on, it wasn’t that bad.”
      “… He’ll have to live carrying something you didn’t carry then, too.” Burakh nodded. “You’ll have to too, now. You can’t just shed it like sloughed skin.”

At her words, Burakh brought his palm to the pad of his shoulder, down his upper arm where the sting lingered like a restless ghost. (It was placid, today; it clung to him just to make sure he didn’t forget. Burakh didn’t forget. Sometimes it hurt way worse.)

      “No,” he replied simply.
      “It’s in your skin now. It’s stitched in.”

Quite an apt way to put it.

      “… I never told you about it, did I?” Burakh turned to her. “Not even… drunk or feverish?”     
      “Never. But you’re not particularly opaque about those things. (She blew on her drink.) I’ve seen whose letters have you giddy for the rest of the day.”

Burakh pinched his lips very hard until he looked like a bit of an idiot.

      “I am not mad that you didn’t tell me. I wasn’t mad at you-know-who when I realized he hadn’t told me either.”
      Burakh blinked twice and turned to her dumbfounded. “Do I? Do I know who?”
      “You don’t?”

She stared at him with wide dry eyes. He expected her to speak, and she didn’t. She made the gesture of zipping her mouth up and she drank some more.



      They were then at the Architect’s, because bits of the scaffolding had to be taken down after having sustained frost damage, and no one trusted the drunk tenant enough to let him climb. That, and because Peter was making Burakh pay for the whole “destruction of most accomplished and dearest creation” thing with dusting and window-cleaning and dish-washing services. 

Burakh didn’t realize how often they must have been at the Architect’s, because one day a courier knocked downstairs with a letter for him. 

A red envelope. 

      “Connotated,” sibilated the younger twin, who apparently knew a lot about letters.

Burakh opened the envelope. 
(His immediate correction: the younger twin who apparently knew a lot about long, bold, shameless and shamelessly erotic letters. Burakh almost dropped the missive on the spot, which would have made the situation patently worse.)


       They were then skirting the fields around Shekhen. Dankovsky was visiting, and Burakh had insisted on showing him the newborn calves.
By the tents, two Herb Brides, whose mothers were mending their clothes, sat against bullhide cushions. They stared at Burakh, then Dankovsky. Dankovsky, then Burakh. Burakh gestured at them to zip it and they turned their noses up at him, like he couldn’t tell them anything.
He spotted horses, in the distance, and for a second his heart skipped its beats. His eyes skipped from beast to beast. They were short, rotund, with stocky necks. Many were a sandy wheat, others were a rusty clay.


      Later, at night, alone, after Burakh had convinced Lara to look over her nephew and niece until the morning, he squeezed Dankovsky against his chest will all his might. Dankovsky huffed out a laugh when he had to climb on tiptoes, and reciprocated.
He felt there a heart to a heart. Daniil’s arms embraced him back.
There was a soft prancing, outside, the light tapping of feet treading the earth, and someone was singing.



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Chapter End Notes

this baby was a labor of love. she was over 9 months in the making. (labor. oh lol...)
hope you enjoyed. I adored writing it. I hated writing it. I have grown from her. I have regressed. I've been crushed like a little pillbug. I've ascended.
some of you might see similarities in the ending with [my other pathologic fic] [[mirror neocities link] (] (which was 70k words shorter), and that's because in my little mind, all of what you've just been through is the prelude to that fic :3 these two fics... technically exist in a continuum, and bits and pieces of each are taken or added to make a single long line. but also, they had to stand on their own. and in my heart they do 🫶

see you very soon,

"you won’t read them having sex in this fic. that’s for the next one!" well, since it's been mentioned!

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