1-72 hours after exposure: Headache and Nausea
Boris wasn’t the type of man to fear the things the earth produced. He’d spent years breathing in fumes from gasoline, smoke from burning wood and coal.
Boris also wasn’t a man to be challenged. This professor, this Valery Alekseyevich Legasov, was not going to be telling him how to think.
Legasov would be trouble for him. Boris would be rubbing his head, trying to push the ache out, if not for the man already in the helicopter. He was annoyed, so annoyed to have this man holding his knowledge over Boris’s head. He would send him back as soon as he saw the reactor.
When the man pleads with Boris to not fly over the roof, pleads with him using Boris’s name, Boris gets a bad feeling in his gut. He becomes more angry at the professor, even more angry at himself for not following through with his orders to have him and the pilot shot.
He holds on to that anger. It stays with him, with the bad feeling in his stomach, when he meets with Bryukhanov and Fomin, the ones that were supposed to be in control of the plant.
He studies their reactions when he tells them what the professor had been saying. He’s been around enough men who think they are better than him, he’s made a career on proving those men wrong. He sees more of the same in front of him.
When Legasov looks at him, after being taunted for not having the impossible answer, it’s the same pleading look he had in the helicopter.
When Boris asks about how he saw graphite on the roof, despite not getting close enough to see it, he sees the men fall apart, blaming anything but themselves. He can feel the note with the names of the sacrificial lambs in his pocket.
Like all of the unseen radiation Legasov says is in the air, he knows there is more to it than what has been presented to him.
Boris feels his anger at Legasov sliding away. Legasov might be an asset against fools. The anger may be fading, but the headache remains.
I’m sorry, Legasov says.
I’m sorry I told you this way, he means.
Boris has to force himself to answer that ringing phone, force himself to meet with the people that knew it was dangerous, force himself to not scream himself hoarse at the ridiculousness.
They are at war now, and Boris is sick with it. He fought in his share of wars, against people, against the earth, but this didn’t feel anything like it. This felt like a preventable one, Boris just felt sick.
He believes every word he says to the plant workers, about cursing and suffering, but still doing what needed to be done. The state is a giant hazy face. The men he sees are flesh and blood. He believes in these men, the only intelligent thing in a stupid situation.
He sees Legasov struggle with the same, he wore his thoughts on his face. He knew Legasov must be able to lie, but every word he had said to Boris had been the truth.
14 to 36 Days after exposure: Fatigue
Valery Legasov didn’t know how to turn off his mind. Boris watched for the signs of burning out, and like always Legasov didn’t disappoint to hit every one.
“We are drinking.” Boris plops the bottle right in front of Valery, right on his papers. Legasov looks up, exhausted, but still defiant.
“I see you’ve already started.” Valery eyes the bottle, opened, only halfway full.
Boris doesn’t move it off the papers. He doesn’t say anything, goes to the side, and picks up an unopened bottle. He sets it down next to the first. “For that remark, we are going to drink both.”
Valery doesn’t challenge him again, knowing, rightly, that Boris would just pull out a third bottle in retaliation. He grabs two cups and lets Boris fill them halfway.
He raises his glass to Boris. Boris drinks his own quickly, to see to Legasov if he didn’t drink his.
“Good.” Boris says, and Legasov gives him a weathered look. “Let’s continue.”
“Why are we getting drunk?”
“Are you drunk after one glass?” Boris says, intentionally avoiding answering. “No? Then, let’s continue.”
Valery is smart enough to not continue that line of questioning, and accepts each glass full. It is into the second bottle that he speaks again. “I’m so tired.”
Boris was waiting for this. He knew Valery enough to know he wasn’t just physically tired. “As am I.”
Valery looks at him like he was surprised for Boris to have admitted that. Boris would never have, not before Chernobyl. All the talk about rewriting DNA, he knew he had enough cells in his body that knew of Chernobyl, that didn’t exist before Valery.
“What do we do?” Valery had that pleading look again, the one that Boris knew to answer to.
“We do what must be done,” he says filling up the glasses again, “But we don’t kill ourselves in the process.”
Valery had one side of his mouth up in a sort of smile. Boris felt the one on his own face.
“Alcohol is like poison to the body.” There Valery was again, the one Boris got bossed around by. His brother-in-arms.
Boris sprawled out in his chair. “Don’t be mad that you didn’t think of this idea first.”
“I don’t think you’ll be saying that in the morning, when the hangover comes.”
“You still get hangovers? Ah, to be young again. I remember my first time drinking.”
Valery bursts out laughing and Boris joins him.
1 to 4 months after exposure: Weakness
Boris found a private room, one he checked for listening devices, he made sure to check the room twice.
He laid down on the bed thinking of Valery. It was a slow creep, his thoughts about him. He had thought more and more about him until it was all he could think about. He knew Valery couldn’t possibly know. But it was getting to much for Boris to will away.
He unzipped and went straight for it. Boris was content for a moment by just using his hand. Then his thoughts came back to Valery.
His fantasy came to life, it was Valery’s hand on Boris now. He pictured how Valery’s lips looked, giving him eye contact before taking Boris in his mouth. Boris closed his eyes at the thought. His hand not stopping.
He imagined his hair, how it would feel under his fingers. Valery looking up at him when Boris touched his hair, and then turning his attention back to Boris. Valery’s tongue would press against him just right, he made his thumb press into the spot and he was overwhelmed. He had a towel for that purpose, knowing he’d dispose of it later.
Boris caught his breath and righted himself. He did one last tug on his jacket, squared his shoulders and stepped out of the room.
Valery was smoking a cigarette, working, when he came in. When he notices Boris, he starts to say, “Boris, good, I have an idea about-“ Valery stops and tilts his head a little to the side. “Are you alright?”
Boris’s heart drops and then pounds. He makes sure to not a move a muscle in his face. “Yes, why?”
When Valery wraps lips around his cigarette, Boris has to bite his cheek.
“You look,” Valery pauses again. “Uneasy, I guess would be the word for it.”
“No, no.” Boris makes himself take a deep breathe and let it out. “No more than usual. What with all this radiation spewing about.”
Valery wasn’t easily appeased. “You know we can,” he motions between them with a hand. “Talk?”
Boris couldn’t help his eyebrows go up.
“I’ll remember that.” Boris was eager to get out of that conversation. “What were you saying before? About your idea?”
Valery let the conversation change, reluctantly, and finishes his thought.
Valery came to Boris later, with a full bottle in hand. He holds it out for Boris to take, Boris does, but sets it down, not opening it.
“You’ve done this for me.” He waits for Boris to look at him. “Something is troubling you.”
Boris sighs and opens the bottle. He pulls two glass and fills them up. Valery says nothing and they sit in silence.
They are near the end of the bottle when Boris says, “It’s not something I can fix.”
Yes, Boris wants to say, but he doesn’t. He can’t lie and say the word no, so he shakes his head.
Valery gives him the rest of the alcohol, and goes over to where they keep the extras. As he opens the other bottle he says, “What can you do about it?”
“I don’t know.” He says honestly. He doesn’t know.
Valery nods, spinning his glass in his hand thinking. “It’s not about Chernobyl, you’ve come to terms with this mess. What is it, Boris? Please?”
Boris cannot, he can’t even look at him, he gets up to leave, but Valery pleads, “Boris.” Boris cannot deny him that so he sits back down, one step closer to Valery knowing about him.
“Look at me.” Valery says, Boris does, but leans back in his chair and crosses his arms.
He can’t tell what Valery was thinking or what he was seeing. When Valery gets up and leaves, Boris sits there for a long time. He had failed Valery. In their time together, this was the first time Boris had failed to give Valery what he needed.
He didn’t know what was worse, Valery knowing what Boris wanted or knowing that Boris had failed him.
When Boris gets back to his room, Valery is on his bed sleeping. Boris’s bones feel heavy with relief. He climbs into his bed, and rearranges their limbs to fit together.
He closes his eyes.
2 to 6 months after exposure: Marks on Skin
Boris wakes up sharing the pillow with Valery. He was still asleep, so Boris gives himself a moment to look, before getting up, to get ready for the day. By the time he came back in the room, Valery had left.
He felt disappointed, but with a good amount of relief. He was unsure of what Valery thought of Boris sleeping with him. Had Valery just fallen asleep waiting on Boris to get over himself? Was it supposed to be a friendly gesture of support, that Boris took as something else?
The phone rang in the other room and Boris was saved from having to deal with his thoughts.
Boris didn’t see Valery during the day, there were days like that. Boris hadn’t minded it on those days, but it grated on him that day.
He was late to return to his room that night. Valery was again asleep on his bed. Boris was overcome by emotion, he gathered a sleeping Valery to him, kissing his hairline.
He was tempted to wake Valery up, but instead submitted to the part of himself that told him that he could have things, without trading it for another part of himself.
Valery was looking at him, when he woke up, still wrapped tightly around him. Boris stared back. Valery gave him a soft smile and Boris felt his chest tense. Boris kissed his forehead, his cheek, and then his mouth. Valery kissed him back and Boris was filled up with him.
Boris was preparing to roll Valery on his back, when the phone rang. He looked up to where he heard it coming from, but went back to opening Valery’s mouth wide with his tongue, something that Valery encouraged.
Valery pulled back abruptly, and pushed at Boris’s shoulder, when the phone kept ringing.
Boris couldn’t help the gruff Shcherbina that came out. He listened to the morning briefing, and tried to calm down. His skin felt on fire with Valery so close in the other room.
Valery stayed close to him that day. Lost in maps and equations as he was, throughout the day he gave Boris looks.
Those looks spoke volumes of what Valery wanted. Wanted with Boris.
When Valery followed him into his room, Boris held him against the closed door. Boris was thinking about throwing out the idea that he was too old to take Valery against that door. But they needed a bed for what Boris wanted.
“Come,” he says into Valery’s ear, using lips that were covered with Valery’s spit.
“I plan to,” Valery says softy. Boris brings him closer, and then puts a distance between them.
“Follow me, Valera.”
Valery nods wrecked, and does. He keeps a good amount of distance, until they are in the room Boris knows is safe. Valery is on him quickly, too quickly that they fall together on the bed. Boris let’s out a noise after catching Valery’s weight, and Valery swallows it down.
Valery eyes are intense when he pulls back up, he’s frantic with getting their clothes off, getting in Boris’s way when he tries to help. He can’t be bothered to get his shirt off all the way, and takes something out his pocket before kicking his pants off the bed.
He leans down to kiss Boris urgently. Boris moves up to elbows, Valery has one hand on the bed. When they stop kissing to catch their breath, Valery took the opportunity to spread something slick on Boris. It’s so unexpected that Boris can’t help letting out a moan. The next thing he knows, he is inside Valery.
Valery was taking, and taking, Boris was just along for the ride. Valery was making good on his goal from when they started.
He couldn’t kiss Boris the way he wanted to while he was fucking Boris, and it frustrated him. Boris decided it was time for him to take control, he pulled Valery off of him, rolled him on his back. He adjusted how he wanted Valery’s legs, and slid back into him. He didn’t even give Valery time to catch his breath.
“Give yourself a hand.” Valery was bleary eyed, too close to understand what Boris was telling him. Boris hitched his legs higher. “I would lend you one of mine, but they’re a little busy.” Boris squeezed his hands on Valery’s hips. Valery finally got with the program, and used his own hand to finish himself off.
He came mostly on himself, on his chest and shirt. Boris only needed a few more thrusts, the last one pushing Valery up the bed.
Boris feels a few aches starting, but the way he feels now is more than worth the pain.
“Good?” Boris asks, when they are getting dressed, working together to make Valery’s shirt presentable.
“I might need another performance to form an educated opinion.”
Boris is an old man, a dying old man. He knows this, knows it in every part of his body. He knows it the same way he knows he doesn’t deserve Valery. He’ll take him, nonetheless.
Valery was on his knees unbuckling Boris’s belt and pants. Boris had just answered the phone. It was late into the night, the call was a confirmation of another steel shipment. There were very few phone calls, that would make Boris put a hold on getting Valery’s mouth on him.
Boris raised an eyebrow and spread his legs to make room for Valery.
Boris said the necessary words of agreement on the phone. Holding strong against making any noise. That was until Valery found that spot with his tongue. It was better than imagined, and he had to put a hand over his mouth.
Valery most have known that it was affecting him, he didn’t stop to tease him. Clenching his jaw, He took the hand off his mouth to signal that he was close. Valery batted the hand away, and Boris had to put that hand back on his mouth. He had to push down the moan that threatened to come out when he came.
Boris’s voice was rough when he responded to voice on the line, saying the bare minimum to get off the phone. When he hangs up, he forces Valery up and onto the bed, going down on him.
Valery is breathing fast quietly when he pulls Boris up to kiss him after. Against Boris’s lips he tells him, “Good job on the completion of the call, I thought you were going to make a mess of it.”
“Fail to erect it?”
6 to 12 months: Body Shuts Down
They are in Vienna, before Valery has to speak about Chernobyl, without letting on what a shit show it was. Valery is understandably not at ease. Boris can’t distract him they way he wants to, nor do they have any alcohol.
With the amount of people listening on them, they can’t even talk.
They sit in silence. Valery starts to bite his fingernail, and Boris pulls on his hand. They’re sitting with Valery’s hand in Boris’s lap.
Valery gives him a look, but all he does is use his hands to message Valery’s. He starts with the palm and moves to each finger. They both look at Boris’s hands on Valery’s.
Valery puts his other hand on Boris’s. When Boris looks at him, he brings their hands up and kisses them.
They still need to attend and speak at the trial. They are still being watched, but not as closely as they had been during the summit. Boris walks around Valery’s apartment and finds a listening device near the door, the phone, and a few on the windows. He finds the devices by the windows a bit excessive. He shows the cat what they look like and how to mess with them.
He’s only had contact with Valery, when he’s not at work. He looks like a party man that will not talk to anyone that wasn’t a part of the incident. He uses that to his advantage.
They are sitting at the table, Boris gets out a bottle. Valery is amused, “What are we drinking for today?”
“Can’t we drink for fun?”
“Not with you.”
“Are you accusing me of having a ulterior motive?”
“Sure, we’ll call it that.” Valery drinks it, and holds his glass out for another.
Boris lets out a sigh, “You won’t leave it alone. We are drinking until you smile.” Valery is smiling now with a flash of teeth. “And then I plan to fuck you.”
Valery is smiling with all his teeth. He finishes what was in his glass and stands up. “I’m very interested with what you have on your itinerary. Are you ready for the next item on your list?” Valery starts undressing right there in the kitchen.
Boris feels hot and blames it on the alcohol. He finishes his own drink and gets up.
Boris’s doctors tell him what Boris already knows. He is dying, has been since he met Valery. He feels it now sitting outside with him during the interlude of the trial.
Boris is overcome with emotion when Valery tells him that he mattered the most. He knows that if Valery could he would have taken double the radiation, so that Boris could have been spared.
He didn’t realize the full weight of how Valery loved him, that alone would have overwhelmed him. He couldn’t handle that well-known pleading look, Boris had mattered the most at fixing Chernobyl.
All Boris could think of, looking at the little caterpillar, with Valery’s words still in the air, was the word beautiful.
When Boris tells them all to let Valery talk. He knows it is the last time he could try tell Valery how he felt about him.
Boris gets a postcard with an address he doesn’t recognize and no words written on it.
When he flips it over, it’s a picture of two old frogs sharing a bottle of vodka.
Boris smiles, Valery knew how Boris felt about him after all.