The room was rather small, but not constrictive. It appeared like a standard, clean hotel room without any additional pieces of luxury. On the right near the main door was another door, most likely leading to a bathroom, and across from it was a place with hooks to hang up coats and a rack on the floor to put the shoes. Next to that was a simple wooden wardrobe for clothes, which was most likely empty or near-empty considering that Fyodor only booked the room because he planned to gamble – most likely over the weekend. On the other side of the room from the main door were two standard square-shaped windows with grey curtains to the sides, and a desk with a chair in front of the left-hand window. To the right of the windows was a bed with two pillows and a blanket. Opposite that against the other wall was a small table with a standard television on top of it.

Once they were both inside, Fyodor shut the door before he took off his jacket and casually hung it up. Damia glanced around in a mild confusion, watching him as he then untwisted his necktie and flopped it over one of his shoulders before taking off his belt and sliding it out of the loops of his trousers. She continued to observe him as he hung up his necktie and belt with his jacket and bent down to proceed with carefully untying and slipping off his shoes. Damia looked down at her own feet and slipped off her own shoes, picking them up and placing them onto the shoe rack just as Fyodor finished taking his off. She saw him pick up his shoes and examine them as if looking for a trace of any scuff or imperfection until he decided that there was nothing out of place with them and gingerly placed them onto the rack.

'I've got some things to drink here, too,' Fyodor said and turned to the wardrobe to open it. Instead of having clothes inside, he had a couple bottles of the same Ararat cognac he had been ordering for them the entire evening.

Damia couldn't help but chuckle. 'Is this all you like?' she asked.

'Do you want something else?' he asked as he picked up one of the bottles.

She shook her head. 'No. It doesn't matter.'

'Are you sure?'


Fyodor closed the wardrobe and took the bottles with him over to the double bed. He looked around, as if searching for some glasses to find that there were none. With a sigh, he scratched his head and glanced down at the floor before raising his eyes up to Damia, who still stood near the wardrobe across from the bathroom. 'Is sharing the bottle a problem for you?' he asked. 'I know, I am not very refined in a place like this and I've never had an unexpected guest before while at a hotel.'

Damia snickered.

Fyodor stared at her. 'Look at me. Do you think a nice lady would want to spend the night with me? No, don't answer that.' He opened up the bottle and took a slug of cognac into his mouth. 'Do I look like the type to hire a hooker? No, don't answer that either.' He plopped onto his rear-end on the bed and took another slug of cognac.

Damia rolled her eyes. 'You didn't let me answer, but I'm fine with sharing the bottle.' She walked over to the bed and sat beside him.

Without a word, Fyodor handed her the bottle and stared at the floor by his feet while she took a sip. When Damia was finished, she tapped him on his upper arm and handed him the bottle back. Fyodor looked at her for a moment before he took the bottle and had another gulp of the brandy before lightly twisting the cap back on and holding the bottle in his hands.

'I don't know how to start,' he said and stared at the bottle as he slowly turned it in his hands. 'About this marriage conversation. I don't know why I'm even telling you. I don't even know you.'

'You said earlier, you wanted to know me.'

Fyodor snickered. 'I don't believe we'll ever know each other,' he said. 'I'm thirty-eight. I'm old. You'll say I'm not old, but I'm old.'

I'm over one hundred years old, so you're a baby, Damia thought.

'I've met a few women in my life that I felt a strong connection to,' Fyodor continued. 'Nothing ever worked out with them. Then I met you tonight. Nothing will work out with you, I can sense that. I don't resent you for it. It's a bad time for you to commit to someone and start life differently.'

'Stop read –'

'Stop reading your energy, I know.'

Damia pulled the bottle from his hands and twisted off the cap. She watched as Fyodor turned his head to look at her, watching her as she took a sip of the cognac. He smiled a little, as if thinking that she was adorable and precious as she held her lips around the top of the bottle and tilted her head backwards just a bit so gravity would pour the liquid into her mouth. She could sense that he was somehow quite aroused by watching her drink the brandy, but knew too that the would keep his feelings suffocated internally within himself, only enjoying what bits and pieces he was able to experience from her company. In his mind, no matter what, she would ultimately reject him for the faults he saw himself … quite similar to how she felt about herself vis-a-vis him.

Damia brought the bottle away from her mouth and twisted the cap back on. Staring Fyodor in his eyes, that now looked more green than brown in the hotel room's light, she handed him back the bottle and put her hand to her neck.

Fyodor's shoulders rose and fell as he breathed. 'You really are very charming and beautiful,' he said. 'And you're a good person overall … not like that Valeria …'

Damia said nothing, sensing how he started to tense up.

'Valeria who … I will have to marry.'

'Have to?' she asked and watched as Fyodor drank some of the cognac so swiftly and carelessly as if it were water.

'My death sentence – her,' he said and twisted the cap back on the bottle.

Damia felt her hand press against her neck.

'I have no future,' Fyodor said. 'I'll just continue with my job, with my other doings and wait until I die. At least I shouldn't have to live with her. She hates me, too. She finds me disgusting, too. In that way, it's manageable.'

'But why do you have to do it?' Damia asked and consciously put her hand in her lap.

'For the money that doesn't exist,' he answered right away and twisted off the cap of the cognac bottle. He glared at it and threw it into a corner of the room before gulping down more of the brandy. He looked at Damia. 'Money that doesn't exist. You know what that means.'

She nodded. 'But what does it have to do with marrying this Valeria?'

'Because,' he said, his voice becoming snarly. 'My family thinks I should be married by the time I'm forty, and if I'm not and not proving I'm a man by being married, they'll cut off my access to that money that doesn't exist.'

Damia's jaw dropped in shock. 'They'd do what?'

'You heard me,' Fyodor sneered and gulped down more of the brandy. 'They don't care what I accomplished. They don't care that I worked hard to get a job in Moscow and to get to a big city, not being stuck in Sevastopol. They don't care that I've been successful. Nope. I have to get married. I have to produce a child. Otherwise the money that should be mine goes to my niece.' He pushed the nearly-empty bottle to Damia's chest. 'Finish that one,' he said and got up to walk to the wardrobe and take out the other bottle.

This sounds very … Ottoman, Damia thought. I guess Sergey was right about his distant relatives in Crimea.

She looked at the bottle and finished it, watching as Fyodor came back to the bed with the unopened cognac bottle. He stood in front of her and twisted open the cap, an angry expression on his face that she knew was not directed to her, but directed at the circumstances he was telling her about. However, it still came as a shock to her to see just how snarly and bitter he had become, and from her impressions it wasn't the alcohol that was producing it. She wanted to ask him some more questions, finding herself dumbfounded by this apparent rule in his family, but she didn't want to infuriate him any more.

'So? Have you nothing to say?' Fyodor asked, still standing in front of her, his hand tightly squeezing and gripping the neck of the bottle.

'I don't know,' she said. 'I didn't think stuff like this still happened now. We're in the middle of the twentieth century.'

'Middle of the twentieth century?' Ha!' He plopped onto the bed next to her and offered her the uncapped bottle. 'You have it first,' he said.

Damia paused before taking a sip from it and handing it back to him.

'That's how they set up this money,' Fyodor said. 'My grandparents created this mess when they put it all away somewhere while that fucking revolution happened. I don't even know why the idiots did it. Maybe so if someone took off to France or England they couldn't live off the funds forever. I'm not in France or England, am I? I'm here. Still here and born in that hellhole they call the Ukraine.'

'Why Valeria?' Damia asked.

He took a gulp of brandy. 'What?'

'Why Valeria?'

'Because my arsehole nephew had to get killed by a damn bum.'

'And … so?'

'I'm his closest unmarried relative, get it?'


He took another gulp of brandy and pushed the bottle towards Damia's chest. 'Somehow that Konstantin continues to win. Even in his death he wins. He hated me and I hated him. He swore he was going to get revenge on me after I burnt the banknotes in front of him, and, well, he continues to do it.' He rubbed his hand in his hair. 'My parents didn't care to bother arranging a marriage for me when I was younger, like they did for my older brother,' Fyodor said, still with a snarly tone but not as sharp as before. 'They got the grandkids and wanted to be uninvolved. I told you, even growing up, my older brother took care of me most of the time. But I couldn't find anyone on my own to marry, could I? And did I want to? No, not unless I felt a connection with the girl and cared for her. But now, I'm trapped, unless someone like you decides to marry me instead.'

Damia rubbed her forehead. 'You said you're thirty-eight,' she said. 'You've still got time.' She took a long sip of the cognac.

'No. They need to do all this shit wit the preparations and the ceremony. The marriage itself has to be finalised by my fortieth birthday, otherwise I'm fucked.' Fyodor grabbed the bottle from Damia's hands and looked at her. 'I don't blame you. Even if I begged you, you'd say no, wouldn't you?'

Damia said nothing.

'Can I ask why?'

She stared at him. 'I'm ill,' she said.

'Ill,' he said and was silent.

'You're reading me again.'

Fyodor took a deep breath. 'You're ill and you've been drinking with me, smoking cigarettes all evening.'

'Ehm, well … it's not an illness that's affected by my lifestyle so much.' She sighed. 'It's a rare illness.'

Fyodor nodded. 'I can sense that you're not lying,' he said. 'But, I'd say it's a medical condition, not an illness. Illnesses give the impression of being contagious.' He hesitated for a moment before putting his hand against her neck. 'Yeah. It's connected to your injury. And I don't think it can be cured.'

Damia stared at him.

'And … you're sterile, maybe,' he said.

Why am I letting him do this?

Fyodor smiled weakly. 'Of course, this is my luck.'

Do I just feel sorry for him?

'I understand why you can't.' He caressed her neck lightly. 'And I can't beg you to sacrifice for someone as worthless as me.'

'Worthless?' Damia asked.

He continued to caress her neck, treating it with so much care as if it could break or shatter under his touch if he were too rough with his fingers. 'Had I been a valuable man, I probably would have begged that other woman to accept my proposal. The one I dated who rejected me. But the experiences in my life told me that I was simply not that type of person worth someone's time and energy.' He paused. 'The same goes for you.'

Damia put her hand on top of his.

'Had I been able to cure you, I would be begging you right now.'

Damia brought his hand off of her neck and held it in her lap. 'Do you really think that you can read me accurately after all that you drank?'

Fyodor snickered. 'Are you saying I can cure you?'

She stared blankly at him. 'No.'

He chuckled and drank more of the brandy. 'Do you know? If I disobey my family, I wouldn't be surprised if they'd turn me in. Tell the government that I'm running those gambling circuits and give in the information to prove it.'

'Your older brother would let that happen?'

He drank more of the brandy. 'Konstantin ruined our relationship. Who knows what he would do now? And his wife, maybe she'd think that fucking me over even more is what her sweet baby boy would have wanted.' He took a deep breath. 'People are unpredictable. Especially my family.'

'I see.'

Fyodor laughed. 'Would they execute me for running gambling circuits?' he asked. 'Maybe they'd hang me in Siberia. Then we'd both have neck injuries.' He took another drink from the bottle.

Damia grabbed the bottle out of his hand. 'That isn't something to joke about.'

'It isn't, no, probably not,' he said and unbuttoned the top couple buttons of his shirt. 'But I have to laugh somehow.'

'I know.'

Fyodor stared at her, a glossiness in his eyes as he watched her and smiled a little. 'Would you mind laying down with me for a few minutes?' he asked. 'Since you're here and listened to me yap about boring things. You're very patient.'

She paused. 'Ehm … yeah, sure.'

He let himself fall backwards onto the bed. 'I'm exhausted,' he said. 'For many reasons. Not because of that precious liquid from Armenia.'

Damia snickered and got up from the bed. She put the open bottle of cognac onto the small table beside the bed before turning to face Fyodor. 'Why don't you pull your legs onto the bed?' she asked rather flatly as she looked at his legs hanging off the side of the mattress.

He snickered, nearly giggling and pulled his legs onto the bed. He then stretched out and curled a bit onto his side to look over at Damia. 'Can you just come here for a moment?' he asked, slurring his words a little into each other but still remaining completely comprehensible. 'Maybe rub my chest or my back?'

Damia casually laid down beside him. 'What's the point of this, hm?' she asked, watching him as he blushed as he looked at her.

'To lay beside someone that makes my energy feel alive.'

A dead girl makes him feel alive, She thought and snickered lightly under her breath between her teeth.

'To feel alive before I rob you,' she said.

Fyodor chuckled. 'You're not going to rob me.'

Damia chuckled too. 'Now you say that after I told you I won't be robbing you so many times,' she said and took one of the pillows from the bed. She brought it to the side of Fyodor's face and gently pushed it against his cheek.

He lifted up his head a little bit so he could slide the pillow underneath him before he nuzzled his face into it. 'Who would rob a guy staying here?' he asked. 'They don't even give you complimentary chocolates.'

Damia found herself giggling uncontrollably.

'Rub my chest,' he said. 'So I can look at you as I fall asleep.'

Damia looked at him, surprised by what he said, though not understanding why it came as a shock to her. She stopped giggling and stared at him, gazing into his eyes as he watched her, elated and in a deep comfort that was beyond her comprehension. She felt the urge to wrap him into an embrace but didn't, remembering the echoing, haunting words in her mind of how she expected Fyodor – or anyone – to react to her condition. As she envisioned him snarling at her and ordering her to get away from him, Damia suddenly felt cold and stoic, as if her soul had hid itself away into dormancy. She took a silent breath and blinked her eyes, returning to the present time and place she was in. Without hesitation, she found herself reaching over to Fyodor's shirt to unbutton it some more, pulling herself closer to him on the bed as she did so.

She felt Fyodor place his hand onto her thigh and heard him snicker a little, almost giggling through his teeth. Damia smiled and put her finger to his lips with a light 'shh' before she looked down at his chest. It was coated with short, curly dark hairs, which made his chest at least not appear as fleshy as it probably was.

Fyodor kissed her finger. 'If you need help,' he said with a smirking face and brought his hand off of her thigh and onto her hand. 'I'll help you gladly.' He took her hand and pressed it into his chest, which made Damia laugh a little.

'I'm taking too long and you're impatient,' she said.

Fyodor took a deep breath and closed his eyes. 'That's right. You're taking too long and I'm impatient.' He released her hand and let his arm fall against the side of his body.

Damia sighed and started to soothingly rub his chest. 'I'm at your service, Fedya.'

He smiled. 'I'm not cute enough for an endearing nickname.'

She rubbed his chest some more, somehow entranced by the texture and feel of his body.

It's not like Sergey at all, She thought.

'Damina? Damichka? What should I call you?'

'I'm not cute enough for those endearing nicknames,' she said and used her energy to add a warming sensation to the tips of her fingers and to her palms.

Dead people aren't cute, She thought and exhaled very quietly as she released a faint tightness encompassing her lungs.

Fyodor sighed with an 'ahhh' and sank his head more into the pillow. 'Your shoulders are too big, but you're cute … adorable …'

She massaged his chest some more, pressing a bit firmer with her hands into his body. 'Big shoulders, huh?' she asked a bit teasingly. 'Is that what makes me so Lithuanian to you?'

'Big shoulders … beautiful … and a snob …' He smiled.

Damia looked at his face, anticipating through how relaxed his muscles appeared to be just how much longer he would still be awake. She continued to massage him, slowing down her motions and adding more warmth to her touch.

Another minute longer, She thought. I wish I didn't have to do this. I don't want to do –

'You're a snob … but you're perfect …' Fyodor said in a mumble, interrupting her thoughts. 'I could love you … maybe I already do …'

'I think you love the massage,' Damia said.

'Not just the massage.' He took a deep breath and his body became a bit more limp and still. 'Do you think … do you think you could love me?'

Damia froze for a moment. She felt her heart beat under her hand and looked to his chest. Slowly, she rubbed her hands against him some more. 'Yes,' she said.

Fyodor smiled a little.

'If I were healthy …' she said softly, forcing herself to maintain composure. 'I would marry you …'

'You never told me your surname.'

Damia lightly caressed his chest. 'My surname …' she said and paused for moment. She felt her hand run against the hairs on Fyodor's chest and how they seemed to tickle the more sensitive skin between her fingers. 'Zubova.'

He smiled a bit more, as if he would have laughed had he been more awake. 'You're Russian,' he said.

Damia said nothing and continued to keep her hand in contact with his chest until she sensed that he fell asleep. She then brought her hand away from his chest and looked at it before she gingerly touched his chest once more and then rubbed her neck. 'If anyone could cure me,' she said quietly. 'I would lay next to you and hold you. Because you're an exceptional man … and maybe I need someone like you.' Damia looked at his face and listened to him breathe a few times. 'You're very handsome and intelligent … and you deserve better than me.' She looked at him again, wanting to kiss him on the forehead or on one of his cheeks, but couldn't bring herself to do it. She couldn't risk disturbing him and waking him up, thought she was certain that he would be out for at least five hours if not longer.

Slowly and carefully, Damia slipped out of the bed. She looked to the cognac bottle on the small table and took a long sip from it. 'Armenian brandy but no wine,' she said and exhaled heavily before she took another sip. Staring at the bottle, she quietly put it back onto the table. 'Fyodor,' Damia said almost in a whisper and turned to him. 'You'd like Pomeranian beers, I think. We'd drink some together, if I were healthy. On the beach. With crabs and scallops.' She smiled weakly. 'I'd definitely fall in love with you then.'

She looked at him some more, watching him sleep, until she decided that she had to complete her mission. She reminded herself of the reactions he would probably give her if he knew the truth about her and her 'illness'. It sent a sharp, throbbing pain to her heart and she rubbed her chest to calm that area's set of nerves before she went over to Fyodor's hung-up jacket by the door. As she anticipated, there was an inside pocket where he kept his wallet along with a pocket-sized black leather address book. Damia took the address book and wallet and went over to the desk near the window to find a notepad and pen. She went on listing down the names in Fyodor's address book, quickly but not hastily jotting them down to every last detail.