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The second time Vitya kissed him, they were both sober.

The first time, Kassian had written off as a fluke. They’d been drunk and laughing, resting against each other while trying to play cards, sitting too close to be practical. Kassian wasn’t sure how it had happened in the first place, but Vitya had an arm around his shoulders and kept leaning over to try to look at his hand. One time, he’d leaned even further, and his mouth had unexpectedly grazed Kassian’s lips.

He had lingered, tasting of vodka and those cheap cigarettes, kissing Kassian sloppily, lazily, for long moments. But then he’d pulled back and laughed, and called Kassian a svoloch, and then they’d gone back to playing, as if nothing had happened.

But Kassian’s lips had tingled, and he could still taste Vitya’s cigarettes, even later that night, when he’d finally collapsed in bed.

He’d told himself that Vitya was so drunk, he’d just missed his cheek.

The second time, there was no such excuse.

Kassian had been perched in his bunk, trying to read a book Vitya had let him borrow. They’d agreed to each read a book of the other’s choosing, for a change. In a fit of pique, Kassian had chosen Plato’s Republic for Vitya.

Personally, Kassian had hated it, though it had been difficult enough to get, banned because was foreign, and therefore did not promote communism. At first, reading the book had been an illicit thrill, but soon the philosophy had bored him to tears, and his mind had wandered throughout, absorbing nothing but the vaguest idea as to what book had been about. Since Vitya was bound to dislike anything he chose, he might as well inflict the most suffering with his selection, since he was sure that Vitya would be similarly ruthless.

He’d been right: Vitya had given him the dullest, driest, and most unpleasantly pedestrian work of socialist realism he’d ever had the misfortune to open. To prove a point, Kassian knew, and only took comfort in the fact that, if caught reading it, at least he wouldn’t get in trouble for possessing contraband, unlike Vitya.

“Comrade!” the voice breathed in his ear, causing him to jump. He’d fallen asleep reading, the book had been so disengaging. Kassian recognized Vitya’s scent in the darkness, though, and had turned to look at the shadowed silhouette hovering next to his bunk. “Thank you! This book is fantastic!”

It took Kassian a moment to realize that there was no sarcasm in Vitya’s tone.

“I won’t mock you for reading this ancient stuff again!” Vitya continued, his voice just a whisper, undoubtedly concerned about waking Kassian’s bunk-mates. “This is interesting, comrade, far more so than I’d thought. It’s relevant to our times, and Russia, the way things are now.”

Kassian stopped listening. “All right, Sidorov. I don’t like your book, though.”

“Bah! You’re not supposed to like it, Kasya. You’re supposed to learn.”

Kassian made a disagreeable noise.

Vitya chuckled, shaking his head. “What am I going to do with you, Kassian Dmitrievich?” he asked, then learned forward and kissed him.

It was slower, but not as sloppy, almost a casual exploration of Kassian’s mouth. Vitya seemed to be in no rush, taking his time, lips moving unhurriedly.

After a few moments, Kassian felt himself start to respond.

He had never been kissed before – not like that, at least – and his body tingled down to his toes. Warm lips moved against his, and Vitya’s tongue caressed his mouth.

Kassian shivered, not quite understanding how and why it felt so good, and what made it addictive, like strong drink.

Though even as he thought it, Vitya pulled away. “That’s for giving me this book,” Vitya whispered.

It took Kassian a few tries to recover his wits enough to answer. “Just don’t get caught with it.”

Vitya chuckled as he withdrew to head back to his barracks. “You worry too much, Kasya. Have a good night,” he said, then was gone.

Kassian lay awake afterward, touching his own face. His lips felt sensitive, and Vitya’s taste lingered. He wondered for a while what it all meant, and why everything felt different, irrevocably so.
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