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Special Forces Chapter XXIV: Collateral Damage
 
 

July 1991, The Persian Gulf

The heat outside was nothing compared to the hell inside the armoured vehicle. Dan was drenched in sweat, his body armour soaked and the shirt underneath dark with dampness. He could feel sweat run in rivulets beneath the helmet and his hands kept slipping off the rifle. Ironic that he should look forward to stepping into the blinding light of stifling heat under the merciless sun of Iraq's desert. Anything was better than the inside of a moving tin can.

Dan got himself out of the vehicle, head down, rifle in his right, the left fiddling with the helmet strap. The relief of taking it off was unlike anything, except for the joy, perhaps, of getting sweaty feet out of heavy boots. He lifted his head, slicked the sweat drenched hair out of his face, and looked around the open space in front of the huts. One of which had become his 'home'.

Squinting his eyes against the sun, he tried to make out a figure that seemed unfamiliar in these surroundings. Knowing all the regular guys by now, this could be a new addition. Whatever. He'd find out soon enough if the new guy was good for a fight - or a fuck. It was far more important to get the armour unbuckled. He'd probably lost a pound or two underneath from sweating like a pig.

The vehicle was moving off, creating a cloud of dust that seemed to swallow Dan whole for a moment, but he was too used to this yellow-red shit to bother. It only pissed him off when he had to pick the sand out of his jap's eye. He had finally opened the straps and groaned in something akin to ecstasy when the plates fell open across his chest.

Catching the silhouette of the man out of his eye again, he wondered. The guy was still standing just like before, hadn't moved. Was staring right across the open space. Watching, it seemed, Dan could feel the gaze in his guts and between his eyes. He sighed. Alright, alpha male games? He could play them blindfolded and he'd never lost the game. Not here, not in this camp of soldiers and insane fuckers - formerly authorized killers who couldn't fit into society anymore. Close security, what fun. Better than sectioning the no-longer sanctioned ones. Dan lifted one hand to shield his eyes, using the helmet for shadow and froze.

Tall. Broad. Short-shaved blond. Arms crossed on a massive chest. Legs apart.

Fuck.

Dan knew how pale the eyes were; remembered the taste of skin and flesh, had touched every single inch of that body. Knew pain and fear, hurt and tears; remembered utter desolation, a feeling so empty and lost, he needed danger, pub fights, deadly battle and bloodied fists to anaesthetise the agony.

He dropped his hands, rifle in one, helmet in another, and body armour gaping open. Began to walk, a straight line towards the man who stood like a stature. Dan's dusty boots disturbed red clouds with every step, until he stopped in front of the man he had not seen for months. Nearly half a year. Not believed to ever encounter again. Who had vanished without a word and elusive to be traced.

He stood, one step apart.

Two men, same height.

"You fucking cunt!"

Dan's voice cut through the entire camp, carrying danger.

You fucking cunt.

Vadim was too surprised even to recoil. They had told him McFadyen's patrol was due any minute, and he'd get picked up by his team leader, who would just about return at the same time. He had passed the time watching the comings and goings, working in his mind on what he wanted to say, while adjusting to the blistering heat as much as he could, drinking two bottles of water while waiting. He'd wanted to offer friendship, ask for forgiveness, explain himself. It was not much different than meeting up after months in Afghanistan. There was enough understanding, enough knowledge, enough … closeness, to bridge the time. They had done that so often, for so long.

Why then was that thing Dan called him now a punch to the guts? He'd expected anger, had expected to see Dan, but hadn't expected that word. What it was meant to mean, and what it hadn't, when they had been close. Closer than this. Vadim's shoulders tensed, lips grew hard, jaw tightened, and fists formed. He locked his body in place to not give a quarter.

Dan, covered in red dust, bristling with anger. It was really him. Surprise, and a familiarity, a feeling of recognizing, of knowing this man, and now not knowing him at all. Like he'd misread him all the time, like this man had changed so much that there was no knowing left, no memories, only the bad stuff, the stuff when they had been enemies. And that was something he hadn't been prepared for, didn't know how to take it, default response was a show of fighting spirit, like he had always defaulted to that when challenged. He had to stand his ground or everybody would walk all over him. No man could take that word without being laughed at, no way he could accept that. Couldn't. He met Dan's eyes, could feel the other's breath on his face, facing off a tiger. Knew he had lost all momentum, couldn't build it up now for a counter attack, and thought what attack? This is Dan?

Other soldiers drew close, drawn like flies to sweat, and Vadim did what he could: stare right into those dark eyes, encrusted with dirt, and refuse to budge. Refused to move a single muscle, in anger, or in defeat. I can't answer that question. I can't move. I can't speak.

Dan's lips bared his teeth in a snarl. Outraged, out of his mind with fury, all senses set on one goal only: kill.

"How dare you." Dan's arm raised by instinct. Rifle moving, shifting, lifting, aiming without bothering to aim.

Vadim just stared at the rifle, could almost feel the butt impact, or, irony of ironies, could see himself stare down a darkness that not even the Lubyanka had been able to emulate. Shot down like a dog. Could do nothing but face it, hadn't been issued his weapons yet.

The safety was still off and Dan's hand re-gripped the weapon. Some of the guys who were starting to gather round Mad Dog and that weird looking newcomer, belonged to Dan's team. One of them dared to walk up to him, uttering a few quiet words and not only taking Dan's helmet but prying the rifle out of his hand.

Dan let go. Too intent on the fucking bastard and the blinding wave of memory, hurt and pain that crashed upon him. It all came back, within one second.

"How fucking dare you!" Dan snarled, empty hands in fists.

Vadim snarled right back. "What? This your private property? You fucking walked into my war, now I fucking walk into yours."

"Wrong, bastard. It's our war. Yours. Mine. It has never ended, just that you walked out of it without a word, to leave me to rot, you fucking piece of Russian shit." Dan spit out the next words, "you fucking cowardly cunt!"

Dan was losing it, he'd never felt so much rage, not even in the aftermath of the rape. A lifetime ago. The agony had been less, then. Less shattered, less broken. He had survived more intact than now.

Not the man. Not the man he'd held. Vadim was stunned underneath the anger, found it near impossible to keep that stoic façade together, and he moved forward, to go chest to chest. Maybe invite those punches, allow Dan to vent that anger, have a fight, and maybe talk later? When Dan was too tired to be this angry? When he was more rational? He felt a movement behind him and strong hands grabbing his arms, and a voice. "Don't. He's not worth it. Don't want to spend your first days here in the brig, do you?"

"Not fucking worth it?" The roar that broke out of Dan's chest was enough to get a couple of his team mates alerted to drop the suspense of a proper fist fight, and to rush forward, one on each of his side. "Eleven fucking years not fucking worth it? I'm going to fucking kill you, Legionnaire, when I'm done with that Russian cunt!" Dan was about to throw himself against Vadim, this time no holds barred and death and destruction blazing from his eyes, when the two guys grabbed each one arm. They had to struggle to hold him back.

"Get Mad Dog out of the fucking way. Guy needs a shower. Cold."

Vadim was pulled back, almost physically lifted, when he looked over his shoulder. Caught a glimpse of blue eyes like water, too stunned to do much, saw the guy wore camo, and felt him release his arms. "You stay. Put."

"Watch your back, Vadim, I'll cut your chest open, dig your heart out and let it dry in the fucking desert!" Dan was being dragged away, all but fighting the guys who were restraining him. "Keeps you from breaking anymore promises, won't it, cunt?"

The stranger stepped between Mad Dog and Vadim, left hand against Vadim's chest. Vadim stared at Dan, felt a shudder rise in his body, knew Dan meant it, meant every word, and found himself lacking the strength to resist. He couldn't win this fight, as much as he could fend off lightning. Promises. His honour, shit, yeah, what did his word mean anyway? Had prided himself once on things like that, but truth was, that had been one of his many delusions. "Okay, fucking do it. Let's be done with it."

"I'll get my chance, bastard. And when I do, you wish you'd never set foot into a fucked-up place in Kabul, eleven years ago." Too many people around, but he'd do it, meant it, couldn't wait to smell the Russkie's blood on his hands. Payment for pain that was drowning him right now, hurt that had never left. Desolation, and nothing left. Pain that welled up from the depths he had shoved it down into. Two years. Then six fucking months ago, on New Year's Eve.

"Bonne chance", said the guy between them, dark blond, eyes as clear as water, tall, broad, Slavic features, a broad, open face. "Trust me, the brig is even hotter than accommodations."

"Stay out of this shit, legionnaire." Dan growled, but the worst spike of hatred was off, now it was just the fucking pain and memories. "Besides, your new friend hates heat. You should know that." Dan pointed at Vadim, "he's one of your countrymen. The worst kind. The kind that does not keep promises and does not care."

The legionnaire huffed. "Mad Dog's finished biting, huh? That all?" Tone light, but the man was ready to fight, much more ready than Vadim was. "Grab some chow, you're not getting paid for this shit."

His team mates were still standing beside Dan, but wary of touching. "Be careful, Legionnaire, the bastard can't be trusted." Dan forced himself to turn, ignoring anyone who stepped out of his way quickly enough, ready to punch those who weren't fast enough to jump. Storming towards the accommodation block and the gym.

The legionnaire looked at Dan's mates, refrained from commenting, visibly, then looked at Vadim. "It's no use fighting him. Took on a bunch of jarheads a couple weeks ago. You know. Jarheads. US Marines."

Vadim blinked, then met the blue eyes. Odd. Something odd about the language …? It was Russian. Felt like the bitch who had changed hands, that's what it had to look like for everybody. He had taken it lying down, the insults, and then had to be protected by another man. Shit. And Dan. Be careful Legionnaire. Like ... handing him over. Impossible. Just impossible.

Russian. Countryman. He moved away a few steps, was glad when he broke the touch, didn't want to be touched, only felt guilty and pained, somehow, strength sapped. All the strength they had been building up in him. The hard-won pride. Why again had he bothered? All this, only to be nearly shot down for his troubles?

Make him see.

"Welcome to the Gulf, anyway." The legionnaire began to walk towards one of the bigger tents. Vadim hoped it held the kitchen, mess hall, whatever, and followed, glad the other gave him time to stomach the punch. "You must be Vadim. They told me you'd arrive today. I'm your team leader. Jean-Pierre, but people call me Jean."

"Yeah, right."

"I can show you my papers. It's all official. I'm Belgian by birth, French by service."

"I'd say, central Moscow. You sound like you lived two streets down from where I lived."

"Ah. Hobby linguist." Jean grinned. "But at least you speak a civilised language. It's been ages since I heard Russian."

Shit. He'd responded in Russian without even thinking about it. Too familiar, he just switched back into his language, found it less awkward, and felt stupid and weak because of it, and didn't want this 'Jean' to have that effect on him. He didn't want to be reminded. He didn't want to be Russian, look Russian, sound Russian. He wanted nothing to do with Russians.

Jean led him to the mess tent, just in time to grab chow. Not much different from Britain, same kind of food, same kind of company, only more ragtag, more adventurous. Jean gave him the quick story, as if trying to build rapport, as if Vadim would have asked him anything about his past. Jean had joined the French Foreign Legion and, after his service, had a nationality, skills and commanded an excellent price on the market. Too young to retire just yet, had moved on, spent some time in various places in Africa, then had been hired as a security contractor. And he used Afganets lingo, the occasional twist of sentence, the occasional expression. Telling him without telling him, that he'd been in that hellhole. Brotherhood of Afghanistan.

Vadim studied him, wondering about his motive. This man might actually be a deserter. Just didn't look like a career soldier, even if he was now, well, a merc, really. This guy gave off the vibes of a conscript who'd been pulled deeper into the war than he could have wanted.

Jean showed up again after Vadim had set up his kit and his bunk in one of the tin huts. At least he didn't have to share. He could have all the nightmares in the world and nobody would notice. Jean brought a 'welcome gift', a bottle of vodka that wasn't nearly cold enough, but the taste was clean and crisp. Maybe one Russian thing that Vadim welcomed. According to Jean, there was absolutely no alcohol while on duty, but Jean had a day off, and would spend that to show him the ropes in camp. Allow him to settle in smoothly, and for today and tonight, Vadim could relax.

Vadim felt relaxed, dug his heels into the ground, and tilted his head back, taking the last swallow from the bottle, felt it burn and calm and warm him. Fuck Dan. Or 'Mad Dog'. Mad Dog alright. Unless Dan came to his senses, unless this huge mess sorted itself some way, he would stand and fight. Next time Dan shouted at him or moved to attack him. It didn't matter whether he was right or wrong. He couldn't allow anyone to walk over him like that. Last bastards who'd done that had been KGB. Maybe he could punch some sense into the man.

"Okay, Vadya, I shouldn't be saying this."

Vadim blinked at the affectionate name. "Then don't." Despite Jean speaking Russian, he kept to English, pointedly.

The legionnaire grinned and obliged him, also speaking English. "First: get that Soviet shit out your head. Second: keep the knife where it belongs. You'll be in trouble here in camp. And I'll tell you why. Mad Dog started that fight with the 'Amerikanskies' when he told everybody he prefers cock and ass. And after the stunt he just pulled in front of everybody? That would be your ass."

Vadim shuddered. Cocksucker. Faggot. He couldn't even say it had been Dan who'd been the bitch. Not with those scars on his back. Not the way he had failed to stand his ground alone. Jean, or whatever his name was, had come to the rescue. And Jean took him under the wing, showing him the ropes, tomorrow, for everybody to see. Fantastic. Just brilliant.

"Now. I can't say I like the fucker. I don't actually care. But I sure as hell wouldn't want to be his ex-bitch in a camp full of people that either like the size of that bastard's balls or hate his guts. Got me? Be careful."

"I was special forces." It just slipped out. Vadim frowned.

"The camp's full of special forces." Jean paused, as if expecting protest, then nodded again. "Just make sure you control that knife."

Vadim stared at the empty bottle, could feel the vodka already, which was disgraceful. Half a bottle and it already made him talk. And think, and that was worse. Dan had provided all the information that the other mercs could put two and two together and end up with a twisted version of the truth. Bitch. Suka. Cocksucker. Liked to have a cock up his ass. He remembered having liked it, had loved it, had offered, asked, and begged for it. His body coiled and rolled, didn't even want touch now. Smelling Dan's breath had been almost too much. Seeing him, even in that state. Dan. He just didn't know what to feel. He would have to watch his back very, very carefully. "Shit. Spetsnaz."

"Means fuck-all." The legionnaire smirked. "You could be fucking Vympel, those peasants couldn't tell the difference. Lots of those have spent their lives hating the Soviets. We're not the good guys and it gets even worse when we do shit with the Americans. They'd love a cocksucking commie, ex or not."

Vadim groaned and leaned his head against the sheet of metal doubling as their cover and couch. "Aye. What's the worst I can expect?"

"You're a bright spark, I can tell." The legionnaire laughed. "Well, fists. Lots of those. Ever been in prison?"

Vadim swallowed and made a dismissive gesture. "Cut to the heart."

"Prove that you don't go to your knees. Big guy like you should be able to give them a run for their money. But knives is one step too far. It will be nasty, but it's not about killing. You got that?"

He just wasn't used to that anymore. It felt like fucking drilling again, only without the benefit of a rank, and nobody knowing that he liked getting fucked. Had liked. He wasn't sure. Been long and even thinking about it brought an acidic taste of shame with it. "Aye."

"And yes, you walked into his war for real." The legionnaire half-turned. "I can't promise anything."

"It's not your job."

"That's it. Wouldn't help you, anyway."

"Because then I'd be your bitch."

The legionnaire eyed him. "I like tits. Truly. Deeply."

Vadim stood. It was late, his body was still aching from the final tests and from lack of sleep. Hadn't quite recovered, he really wasn't thirty anymore, and the conversation went into a territory that was completely unknown and uncharted, and he wouldn't make a single step without some serious recce. It was about comradeship for this man, very likely, about Russianness and about being Afghantsy. Fabled brotherhood of a sold-out, betrayed and fucked-up generation. In a camp full of enemies, and Dan, he could use a 'friend', if he could get across that he didn't want to speak Russian and wouldn't mention his past. "You play chess?"

The legionnaire grinned. "You any good?"

"I get by." Vadim rubbed his face and scalp. "I need to crash."

"Won't walk you to the door."

"No." Vadim didn't really feel that smile. Couldn't read this Jean, but the man was not a threat. Unlike everybody else, thanks to Dan's scene. Just great. Mad Dog's bitch. Dog. Bitch. It wasn't funny. But he needed control to not make this slaughter. That was the hard part, the whole warning. Murder was murder, provocation or not. He was not a loose gun. He was not a psycho. He had nerves, he knew that, it took a lot to make him flip, he was not a raving lunatic. He had passed all the tests. Then why the fuck did he feel so brittle? He'd fought unjust wars, done nasty shit in his life, then why did this fluster him? It shouldn't touch him.

Because the KGB had cracked him open and peeled him alive. Professional torture. Screaming in the night? Waking shit-scared, sobbing into the fucking pillow? Sex drive next to nil? Only feeling he'd left was a little pride and that whole, big, heavy nothing in his mind that made way only too willingly to fear. There had been stirrings of something else. Some feelings, but it was like those didn't matter anymore, like he was sliding back into the darkness with nothing to hold him but sheer willpower. He should have stayed away. Or asked to be sent somewhere else. How fucking naïve to believe Dan would listen.

He had wanted to tell him goodbye, let him go, maybe try and make him understand that he had been fucked up, that he was a different man now. Then, he had dared to hope, hoped at least for friendship, no, fuck that, had hoped to return to what they'd shared once. Love. The willingness to die for each other. Despite the Baroness' warnings, nothing had prepared him for Dan's rage. He did deserve it. He shouldn't have come. He couldn't sort this one out. Dan had meant it, the bit about cutting his heart out. That was not a metaphor. Dan didn't even know what metaphors were.

"I'm so fucked", he murmured. He was tired, above all things. He'd be ready for the attack, hoped the adrenaline would carry him through. He'd fight it, the bitch thing, whatever they said, whatever they did, however many were going for him to give him a beating just because he'd fucked with Mad Dog, and that made him less of a man.

He headed to his bunk, found it hard to sleep.

Awoke screaming. No surprise there.

* * *

After the encounter, Dan had gone straight to the gym, only bothering to take the plate armoured vest off, before lifting more weights than he'd ever done before. Torturing his body into utmost exhaustion, until his knees nearly made him scream and every bone in his body, every muscle, protested in pain. At least the physical pain numbed the agony he was in. Hadn't expected this. This man. This shock. This pain. The onslaught of everything he thought he'd buried deep down. The suicidal emptiness, the bottomless grief, and the sheer unimaginable terror of having lost all he'd fought for, hoped for, loved and lived for.

The alternative to numbing himself with exhaustion would have been murder.

Dan took a long, hot shower, closing his eyes under the spray. Wished he had peace of mind. Fat fucking chance with that fuckwit close by.

If only he didn't hurt like a torn-open bled-dry motherfucker.

He had a phone call to make, and he had to do it now, before he might commit a crime that would end his own life as well. Once he was washed up and dressed, wearing the shades as always, he marched into HQ, demanding an urgent phone line to Britain. Dialling the Baroness, Dan waited impatiently to be put through to the Margaret de Vilde herself. He didn't bother with introductions, not this time. She'd know he was on the line, her aide would have told her.

"Ma'm?" Straight to the bone. "There is no way I will work with him. With Vadim Krasnorada." Dan was gripping the phone so tightly, the scars on his left hand were stretched taut. "No way, Ma'm, absolutely no way!"

"Dan, I thought you were a professional." Her voice sounded impeccable and stern, despite the crackling line.

"Ma'm, I could say the same for you, or should I ask why you sent Krasnorada here? Into this camp? Where I am?" Dan was bristling. "I asked you, before you sent me here, not to look for him. I thought I'd explained!"

"Are you saying you question my professionalism and are you suggesting that there is an ulterior motif to my decision?" There was a pause in the line.

"Aye, Ma'm." Dan kept to his guns, "why here, why he, and why with me. I don't get it. With all due respect, Ma'm, but to me that feels like interfering, especially since I asked you not to." He didn't hear anything for a while until her voice came back, as level as ever.

"First and foremost, Vadim Krasnorada came to me, I did not seek out his whereabouts. Secondly, he has proven during Marine Commando training and SAS Selection that he is still in perfect shape. He is simply the best for the job, a job like yours. This is why I have sent him to the Gulf." She paused, "is this your last word? You will not work with Mr Krasnorada?"

Dan could not make out what she was thinking, her voice had kept its usual crystal clear perfection. If she felt anything at all, it was lost in the precise vowels and consonants.

"Aye, Ma'm. I wouldn't want a knife to slip on a mission, nor a bullet to stray." Dan knew exactly what he'd just implied, wasn't willing to take it back. Fire behind the lines, a knife meant for an enemy, ending in the body of a different kind. He couldn't guarantee the bastard's safety. Not now. Not when he wanted to rip the fucking Russian apart, as much as he had been torn to shreds, six months ago, and had never been mended back together. His rage was deep-seated, an all-consuming, blind hatred where there had been nothing but love before.

"I understand." She conceded, "I will inform the Officer in charge of the situation. You will not work in a team with Vadim Krasnorada, but right now we need his expertise in the Gulf and I am not willing to send him somewhere else."

Dan frowned, but he knew her too well. There was no way he could sway her decision, not yet anyway. "Thank you, Ma'm." Curtly, Dan put the receiver down without further acknowledgment, staring at the phone for a while. He didn't know what to think. Had she done this on purpose? There was no other explanation and for one moment he fucking hated her as well for what she had done.

Time to see if the Yank kid was off duty some time soon. Nothing but a fresh-faced jarhead to ease the tension.

* * *

Back in the embassy Baroness Margaret de Vilde was putting the phone down and sighed. Her hand resting on the receiver, she murmured to herself, "I am sorry, my friend."

* * *

"Hey! Shut the fuck up!" Someone was banging against Vadim's door. "Some of us need to grab some sleep."

Vadim lay awake, shuddering, could scoop the sweat in handfuls from his chest. No idea what it had been, but his heart tried to jump through his throat. "Fuck you!" he shouted towards the door. Remembered what the doc had said. In times of stress. Emotional stress. Seeing Dan obviously counted.

"Ah fuck me", he groaned, listened to his voice in the tiny place that was his quarters, field bed, a couple boxes, that was pretty much it. His body that decided to freak on him. Wiped the sweat off his chest with the blanket and stared into the darkness. Checked the time. Two. Three more hours before he would wake up again, unless the exhaustion claimed him and he'd wake from the commotion the others caused. Stared into the darkness, forcing himself to count his breaths, twenty at a time, then started again until he finally fell asleep.

He awoke from the others moving, chatter outside. Got his kit and headed for the showers, paused. Folded the towel around the soap, improvised weapons were best, slings were one of the things he could work with, even though he preferred the garrotte for speed and elegance. Or any other cable. Fighting in the shower. Now, that would indeed be a throwback. But whatever happened, he'd never been fucked in any shower, and he was pretty confident he would keep it that way.

He could see the glances, none of them friendly. The chatter turned hostile, no specific words, just a general sneer that was in the air, grins that seemed inappropriate. Too many eyes on him.

Vadim stepped under the spray, the guys left and right changed positions, moved one shower further away, there was plenty of space this early in the morning. Vadim kept his face a studied mask, knew he was being checked, assessed, knew they read the scars. Hoped they didn't know what they meant. No side of his body that didn't tell a story. The burn mark right under his throat. The knife cuts on his back. His neatly kept, nearly hairless body, shaved neck, short hair. The old tattoo on his arm.

He ran a soapy hand once over his scalp, getting soap into his eyes just wouldn't do. Stance broad, balanced, as secure in his footing as the Hindu Kush, he was fully there and aware, and he could just feel how they were thinking about ways to take him on.

He washed himself with all the calm of a man who had nowhere to run. Conscious of the wall in his back, even if that wall was not very solid. He weighed a few snide comments, but didn't want to be the one who started it. Not that he would be able to find anybody who'd defend him if an officer caught wind of it.

He stopped the water, shook his head and moved to the side to have a quick towel-down.

"What's that shit on your back?" London, Cockney-tinged. Squaddie. Ex. Oh, the sheer bravado of it.

Vadim dried his hands, didn't want to slip, measured the man. Could feel others draw closer. He would have to get out of here without running away too obviously. Fighting retreat, SAS tactics.

"Hear me, Russkie?" Bastard was already wearing sports kit, danced a little around like he was a boxer. He probably was. That meant a good punch, but an open face. No gloves to hide behind. And they usually didn't expect to be kneed in the balls. "What's that shit on your back." Grinning and leering. Oh, my hero. One of the lads.

"Scars", said Vadim.

"I can see that, dickhead." The Cockney stepped closer, grinning at him, hands at his chest, half closed. Maybe fancied himself to be a martial artist as well. "Princess like you getting that shit."

"Aye, should make you think", said Vadim and remained standing. More people drew closer. Six, seven. That shave would be close, if he started the fight now. Pack mentality. They'd be cowards enough to go for it. Shit situation. He'd get hurt, unless he defused. If he defused, he'd prove he had no balls. Fighting naked. Wonderful way to get back into the rhythm of war.

The Brit obviously didn't get it and there was silence for a few heartbeats, then somebody slapped Vadim's ass. "Bitch's been screaming last night."

The London squaddie was back into his depth again and leered. "I can make you scream alright." He moved closer and made a stupid kissy-face.

Being slapped meant the others were too fucking close. Simple. Safe distance, neutral distance, fuck it, this was too close, and they knew it. Vadim advanced and brought his elbow forward, nice clean sambo move along the lines of 'jaws don't grow muscles'. Was rewarded with a grunt and the guy spinning off balance. He could smell blood, then brought his hands up to place an open-handed heel strike on the next squaddie's nose, hoped it was the bitch that had slapped him.

And after that, it deteriorated into a nasty punch-up. No points for style, it was just plain old dirty hand-to-hand, and he was outnumbered. Pulled all the tricks in the book, solar-plexus, head-butting, knee strikes into the short ribs, axe-kicks to gain space. Slow, but powerful, heel, back of the foot, elbows. Was nearly brought down by somebody who dropped a double fist into his neck, felt his body go numb for far too long, a kick into the lower back pretty much finished the fight for him, the pain only kept in check by the numbness from the earlier hit. Fuck - he managed to cover his face, stagger to the side, too many attacks, was disoriented, then somebody took his hand by the wrist, pulled it to the side like that and punched him straight in the face. Numbing, disorienting pain. Steadied himself against the wall, tasting blood. Fuck.

The fight ended once he was down on the ground. One of the squaddies - the first one, Vadim thought, and his hands formed fists again, stepped up to him. "And I was being nice, cunt."

Vadim glanced up, saw the man adjust his cock in the trousers, provocative. Stayed out of reach.

"You fucking coward", hissed Vadim.

The bastard didn't move closer, reluctant even that way, instead brought his leg forward to deliver a kick. It wouldn't have hurt much, he was only wearing trainers, more a stomp than any fancy shit. Vadim thought he should take it, but his body had different ideas. He lunged up and forward, grabbed the guy's leg by the knee and brought it up hard, shouldering into him and dropping his weight onto the other man, who didn't have enough breath in the impact to make more of a sound than his skull on the floor. Vadim's hand found his pulse under the jaw and squeezed, hard, pressed the heel of his hand down on the bastard's voice box, perfectly willing to make him drown in his own blood. "Fuck you …" he snarled.

He was pulled off again, freed himself and staggered off, hearing coughing behind himself. The Cockney would live. This time.

* * *

Dan woke up in a murderous mood. He hadn't had enough sleep, but had to be on duty. Close security, thus no chance for illicit booze at night. Being completely sober didn't help with the sleeping, nothing to stop the thoughts, memories surfacing unhindered and he'd all but given up on sleep, stewing in rage instead, when he'd finally dropped off towards morning. Only to be woken by his alarm half an hour earlier than usual. Eager to avoid the Russian cunt during the morning ablutions, Dan had been in the showers before anyone else, then in the washing block, shaving the first time of twice every day, and finally frequenting the row of loos.

Waiting in the line for breakfast, he was getting pissed off even more, because despite his early morning routine he had been held up by the Quartermaster, trying to exchange his body armour that got somewhat fucked the day before. He could have done without a discussion and a promise 'not to do anymore crap' with it. Yeah, right. Sometimes, kicking the shit out of ceramic plates was the best way to avoid killing another human.

Tray in hand, brows dark and mood even darker, eyes hidden beneath the shades, Dan was standing behind Mick, one of his team mates, and in front of Dave, an Ex-RA gunner, who for once was refraining from making an arse-groping oh-so-funny comment. Dan would have his balls for breakfast, and the guy knew it.

Snide comments raised their ugly heads as Vadim entered the mess.

Dan heard the voices, could tell the mood without having to understand the words, made the mistake to look up. Fuck. The bastard. And there he had been trying all morning to avoid the cunt. Averting his eyes before he had to take a proper look at the Russian.

Vadim was just in time because he hadn't gone for the jog, figuring the fight had been enough exercise, but of course he looked like he had had a fight. His lips tingled, swollen and raw, his back ached badly from the nasty hit into the neck, and there were a few places on his body where he would most likely grow bruises. The camo covered most of those, but the face was difficult to hide. He probably walked stiffly, too, which was the reason for the comments. The bitch had got it. Haha. Great fun.

Vadim kept his jaw muscles clenched, kept just barely from grinding his teeth. Queued for the food, held the tray and remembered how to hit and strike with that shape. He was dying to bring it full force into somebody's throat. Not a bad weapon at all. But the main thing was not being tripped over or having the tray kicked or punched from his hands.

He got an assortment of English breakfast, fat and grease, but surprisingly good, if his cardiovascular system could forgive him, then found himself a safe route around the benches, never within touching, punching or tripping distance. When he reached the empty table without problem, he knew it would be harder on the way back. It always was.

Dan had got his own breakfast, double helpings of sugar laden cereal and the usual blood-clogging full fry up with stacks of fried bread on the side of his overflowing plate. Finding a seat amongst his team mates, he was about to stuff himself and wash it all down with a jug of coffee. Sod's law, when he looked up from ladling the food down his neck, he was confronted smack bang with the man he had tried to avoid. Even through the dark shades, seeing Vadim was like a shock to the system. Fucking arsewipe! He had to be doing that shit on purpose. Dan grunted something vile into his food, shovelled more cereal down, before forced to look up again to drink his coffee. Almost choked on the brew, spilling some of it, when he caught a glance of the bruised face.

Fuck.

What the fuck had happened? No. Don't care.

Looked back down again, chomped and chewed on the next spoonfuls of crunchy sugary stuff as if violently devouring a particularly evil spell. That fucking Russian be damned. Bastard. Cunt. Arsewipe.

How the fuck had he got into that state?

No, he didn't care. He couldn't give less of a shit. Couldn't possibly feel that sudden sharp sense of red-raging anger, wanting to cut whoever was responsible for beating the Russkie up into thin strips, roasting them over an open fire. Vadim was his. His to touch, his to hurt. His.

His cunt.

No.

Not any longer. Dan scraped the last of the cereal out of the bowl before tearing into the sausages and bacon. He didn't care. Didn't give a fuck about the obvious signs of a fight. No. Couldn't afford to feel nor think.

Vadim's skin was taut, he was ready to stand and fight, could feel how the place turned against him, the comments, the sudden change in topics. Cocksucking. Ass. Bitch. Cowardice. Weakness, groping. What bitches wanted and what they deserved. He ate, kept his gaze straight ahead, peripheral vision wide open. No knife. He better not kill or incapacitate. He was not an officer, this was not the Soviet Army. Fuck. If freedom meant being ridiculed, he would walk home to the Lubyanka and ask to be taken back.

He felt a touch on the shoulder, firm, a tray moved within vision, all slow, non-threatening. Jean. "You alright?" The 'Frenchman' asked in Russian and sat down opposite, keeping his eyes on the area behind Vadim's back. Vadim was grateful, despite the fact that the Russian made him tense inside. He knew Jean would signal with his eyes if anybody moved closer. Saw tousled dark hair and sunglasses two rows up front, shit, too close, even with five or six men between them. Too close.

"Aye."

"What happened?"

"Fell off horse." Vadim sipped his tea. Didn't want to speak about it, not in Russian, not in a perfectly conversational tone that Jean had started, and stubbornly stuck to English, whether Dan could hear it or not. "I broke my wrists in '72, falling off a stupid horse."

"Both?"

"Aye. And yes, it means wanking is less fun."

Dan's head was lowering further into the food. Didn't want to see, didn't want to know. Of course, the legionnaire. Would make a good pair; the perfect fucking couple to shoot into fucking pieces of fucked-up meat on a fucking patrol out there in fucking Iraq. Fucking bastards!

He tried to ignore the Russkies' conversation, starting to chat with Mick, discussing the plans for the day and the route their armoured vehicle should take. Plotting an alternative route, never the same one for their charges. Talking, just to drown out the words that came wafting over from across.

Jean gave a laugh, which was good. Nobody would assume Vadim was crying his heart out. "You should hear the rumour mill, Vadya. The squaddies are yakking, yak, yak, like babushkas." In Russian. Again. It was beginning to irritate Vadim.

The ex-legionnaire ate a pile of toast and thick gelatine-covered pieces of spam for breakfast, and coffee. Clearly less enthused about the English approach to a coronary.

"And?" Vadim replied in English.

"According to the rumour mill, you've slept around and Mad Dog caught you. Or knows it somehow. While he was risking his life." Jean laughed again, an unpleasant sound. "Unfaithful girl betraying her squaddie lover, old story. Rings a bell with many of these guys."

"And I thought it might be worse."

"Oh, it gets worse. That's the story from Mad Dog's mates. The ones that don't care he likes ass. They hate you because he does. Hooray for the right to be an individual."

Vadim laughed. Oh boy, that felt good. It took the pressure down a notch. "And the other story?"

"Not much of a story, just planning the next attack. Fucking faggots need to get their teeth bashed in, cut their faces, cut off their cocks and balls and all that. It's open season."

"And?"

"When you turn your back, Vadya." Jean did actually look a little worried. "Figure I should tell you that. Being your team leader and all that."

"Yeah."

Jean finished his last slice of toast. "I liked the bit with the elbow. Good work." He stood and took his tray away, seemingly unconcerned about the attention on him. Them. The bastard had seen the fight in the showers and not interfered. Vadim glared after him.

Dan had managed to drown out the conversation, but caught the motion and despite his best intentions, raised his head to see the legionnaire standing and leaving the table. Old habits died hard, had to check what was going on around him at all times. He was about to point out to Mick and a newcomer to their table, how they should avoid the recently shot-down rubble in the Western area, when he caught a glimpse of a man standing up and waving. Midge. Fuck. Ringleader. He'd broken that guy's nose twice already and had received more bruises in return from the bastard's gang during the first two weeks, than he'd received throughout all of his army career.

"Hey, Mad Dog!" The ginger merc was shouting over from across three rows. "Why the dark look? Thought you'd be whistling today, figured you'd got some man-cunt, now that your bitch is back."

Dan pushed the sunglasses off his eyes, a sign for anyone who knew him, that he meant business. Nothing else could get him to take off his shades. Placing each palm beside his tray, he pushed himself off the bench to stand. Ignoring what was going on at the Russkie's table, refused to acknowledge Vadim's existence.

"Shut. The. Fuck. Up, Midge." Each word clearly pronounced. "Unless you want to swallow your own blood. Again."

The cookhouse fell silent, the reaction was unlike Mad Dog's usual banter, who took every insult with his piss-taking sharp and nasty sense of humour, not a threatening seriousness.

Vadim looked up, this Midge guy was too close, two yards counted as too close. He kept him in the corner of his eye. The bastard wouldn't start a fight right here, right now? Would he?

"I can make you whistle." Vadim said and got up. "That is what you want, come. I teach you whistling." Too loud in the silence. But he wouldn't allow Dan to keep acting like he was his bitch or ex-bitch. His own ground.

Dan couldn't help it. His head turned a fraction, glancing at Vadim. Fuck. The bastard sounded and acted like he used to. Unlike that one night he'd seen him last. He fucking hated the cunt right now, more than ever. He was about to snarl in anger at Midge, who was making exaggeratedly camp hand gestures and wiggling his stupid arse, when there was a sudden commotion.

"Stop. Immediately." The voice was no-nonsense, un-amused, and obviously used to giving orders. "No fighting in the mess. You know the rules, Forces or not. Get the fuck out. Now."

"Not fighting. This would be slaughter", Vadim muttered under his breath. Looking at Midge with all the emotion of a butcher. He wanted to cut his throat. No, worse, a far darker urge, one that he hadn't felt in a long time. It would be worthwhile to make the man scream and break him, once and for all.

Dan visibly twitched. Had to refrain, bound to keep order, but hated him. Hated Vadim for making him remember, reminding him of the knowledge that if they fought side by side instead of being enemies, they'd be an unstoppable force. Fighting. Fucking. It hurt to the bone.

Dan turned his attention to the RSM. Fucking joy. No point to mess with the Sergeant Major. He could see the man pointing first at him and then to the exit and shrugged to his mate. Mouthing 'later, vehicle park', before grabbing the remains of his breakfast in one hand, greasy toasts, last sausage and all, to weave his way through the rows of tables and benches. No point in arguing with the RSM. He'd been marked as a trouble maker long ago, so he better kept a low profile. Successful mission or not, if he was a destructive force amongst the troops he'd find himself out of a job before he could finish a wank.

Vadim moved, knowing that under the eyes of the NCO nothing could happen to him. He turned his back on Midge, walked close enough past him to smell his aftershave, a biting, citrusy concoction he would be able to identify and sniff out in the darkness, if it came to that, and put the tray away. Allowing Dan to move first, then himself, making sure he couldn't get attacked in the back the moment he stepped outside. Snarling at Midge on his way past. "That wriggle … good one. You might have talent as a faggot." Not letting it go, no.

Dan's shades were dropped back over his eyes before before he stepped outside, turning his head to check on Midge. "Don't be stupid." In Russian, to Vadim, without looking at the cunt, instead keeping the other Merc in his vision. "Time for work."

With that Dan turned, tried to stop giving a shit and left both men behind, the sound of nasty laughter in his ears from the ginger twat. Whatever happened now, it wasn't his business. Making his way back to the cookhouse entrance, Dan rapped his knuckles a few times against the door. He was less than twenty yards away, trying hard not to listen to the scraps of sounds drifting over while getting his extra bag of packed lunch from the cook.

"You would know all about faggot talents, wouldn't you, bitch?" Midge glanced towards Dan in the distance, as if he wanted to make sure Mad Dog wasn't in earshot. Appeared to be wary while smirking at Vadim. "I'll get you, when you least expect it, and you'll squeal like a little girl." He bared his teeth, ugly in his hatred.

"You mean like your mother when her dog fucks her?" Vadim turned to face the merc, pose deceptively relaxed, ready to fight.

Midge sneered, didn't take the bait. "Good thing me mother's dead, innit, bitch?" Tension in his stance, once again glancing over to where Dan had been, only a minute ago. "Just remember. I'll get you, and it'll hurt worse than a virgin on her wedding night." Casting another nasty grin, Midge turned and hurried into the same direction that Dan had vanished to.

"Your mother must have died of embarrassment at seeing you after shitting you in the toilet", said Vadim, loud enough for Midge to hear it. A bit weak, but hitting the same spot made sense when the other flinched. And Midge had flinched. He shook his head and headed towards the armoury. Time to pick up kit, get fitted with body armour, gear, and the whole lot. Oh yes, and sunscreen. Protection factor 50 or more. He could already feel his skin tighten.

Jean introduced him to the rest of the team. It seemed Jean had them under control. His style of leadership was exactly what Vadim had seen from him so far: he seemed laid back, friendly, open, and led by example, leading from the front like they were equals on some fundamental level, and he was just happening to be the leader. Not one to be seduced by the trappings of power or become a bastard just because he had the command.

On the next day, out in the field, Vadim could confirm his assessment. Jean was completely no-nonsense under pressure. Calm like a bomb. Vadim noticed how Jean's eyes gleamed when he focused, the way his jaw set. Couldn't help but notice the shape of his lips, neck. But then, it was security duty, boring as hell. Sickeningly tense for a few heartbeats, then mostly the dazing, glaring heat that wore him down, especially in the armour.

But it felt so familiar he caught himself smiling. Now, this was something he knew, something he could do, easily. Finally. Some semblance of home.

* * *

The next week did not bring any change, certainly not for the better. Sparring didn't seem to take the pressure down for Vadim. Fighting with gloves and protection just didn't satisfy. Punching bags, lifting weights, running, hitting and kicking pads that Jean held for him didn't satisfy. It merely seemed to make the dark flood rise, increase pressure, fill the space inside, and the nightmares stoked the fire. He took the anger with him into the showers, and the first week was a haze of heat, dust, punch-ups, duty, training, sleep.

Vadim never closed his eyes, never turned his back. His body fell into that rhythm, knowing he was only safe when Jean was around. The legionnaire had his own gang, comprising of his team and the friends of his men, presumably people he had worked with before or shared history with. And as easy-going as he was, he was also surprisingly sane. Jean stayed around to play chess (which he would have been good at if he had bothered to think beyond the fifth or sixth move), and to chill, and to lift weights.

Vadim was itching for a fight. No, worse than itching. It was as dark and cruel a desire as he'd ever felt, much worse than any itch, a burn, a wound in his flesh, no less painful than Dan's knife that had carved his back. A proper fight, no holds barred, he wanted to break and destroy, permanently, wanted to take something apart in a way that nobody would be able to tell what it had been, but he remembered the warning about knives, and didn't carry any when the bitches came for him.

It was nearly a ritual. They were waiting for a mistake, for him to be alone and unprepared, and sometimes they managed, or Vadim sought them out to take the pressure down. Splitting lips and punching jaws, the pain in return keeping the darkness away. He got the reputation to pick a fight for nothing but a sneer, nothing but a crude gesture.

And sneering there was plenty. He was Mad Dog's bitch, after all. He would have to fight the whole camp, that was what it felt like, and he'd rather have cut their throats in their sleep. But Jean's presence was worse. And the fact he spoke Russian, as if to do him a favour, but it felt like a knife in his brain. He detested, he hated that, he wanted to punch Jean every time the bastard called him 'Vadya', like they were close, or lovers, or family.

"It's not getting any better", said Jean, starting to shed his body armour in the tiny room that was his quarters. Nothing much in there - it could have been Vadim's room, apart from the photos blue-tacked to the metal wall near the bed. Vadim leaned in to have a closer look. It looked like cut-outs from a fashion magazine, even though he was halfway sure not even fashion magazines showed their models bent over like on the first picture. That skirt rode up awfully high to reveal a glimpse of black slip. Or it was just shadow.

Jean glanced at him. "C'mon, not like you could do anything with those."

Vadim looked at the bed, thought this was the place where Jean jerked off, staring at the darkness between those legs. Fuck. He swallowed. The back was slender, a white shirt, pilot style, open at the shoulder. She couldn't wear anything, not even a bra, that would have been visible, so Vadim assumed her breasts were nothing but a handful on her bony, long frame. Hair was clearly a wig, a sleek chin-length cut, face slightly turned to look over her shoulder, but the fake hair covered most of her features. One dark eye, fake lashes, make-up like a mask, moist glistening reddish purple lips formed an 'o'.

Vadim could imagine Jean with that girl, who looked something like sixteen, seventeen, but already in full slut mode. Long fingers in white silk gloves, splayed on her lower back, an invitation, she wouldn't dream of pulling the nothing of black leather skirt down.

"Woah."

"Yes. Sex on legs", said Jean.

"Who's she?"

"My girl."

"You're fucking joking."

"She does some modelling on the side."

"This kind of modelling?"

Jean lifted the body armour off and placed it near the bed, the shirt underneath dark with sweat, clinging to his body, showing off lines and planes, muscle, and his sixpack. "What do you mean?" Calm, but Vadim detected something like … jealousy. If it hadn't been ridiculous.

"She doesn't really seem to wear much."

Jean gave a short laugh and pulled his shirt off, tossed it on the ground. The sixpack was exactly as imagined. There were some freckles on his shoulders, a few tattooed lines on his left pec. 'AB+', in Latin, Cyrillic and what looked like Kanji, Chinese, Arabic and a few other alphabets. Just in case he got shot, Vadim supposed, or maybe it was some kind of personal joke.

"You mean for wanking material?" Jean seemed relaxed, but that meant nothing. "Sexy stuff like that, but nothing worse."

"How do you know?"

"She doesn't undress beyond that, not for the camera."

Vadim could feel the reservation, just knew Jean was hiding something. He should let it go, accept the half-lie, but it intrigued him. He imagined that body before him strain against that ass, imagined Jean's cock take her from behind, like that, rough, fuck her raw. Probably the exact same thing that Jean imagined when lying there. The whole purpose of that photo. "Guess you're one lucky bastard, then."

"You can say that again." Jean grinned, like mocking him, that shit-eating, overconfident grin that Vadim had got so sick of in the last week, and something snapped, pressure valve exploded. Might have been the image of Jean fucking that girl, or too much naked skin, or truly that grin, hard to assemble and align cause and effect, suddenly Vadim shoulder charged into him, tackled the lighter man, made him stumble and hooked the legs out from under him. Taking the reflex punch without feeling it, and came crashing down on Jean, his whole weight one massive punch that drove the air from the other's lungs.

The surprise didn't last, Jean was fighting and Vadim needed his whole weight to keep him down on his back, no way he could turn him around. Could feel Jean's hand go for the combat knife, took his elbow with his hand, lifted it and brought it down so hard on the ground that Jean would have screamed with pain if Vadim's hand over his mouth had let him.

"No knife", hissed Vadim and pushed the weapon away, the arm useless now. Jean was right-handed, that meant he only had the left hand to fight with. And his legs, and the torso. Vadim could smell the stress, shifted his weight to force the legs apart. Jean's eyes grew wide and he began to breathe hard through the nose, clearly stress, fear, on top of that pain.

"I am nobody's bitch, tovarich. That includes Dan. You hear me?"

Jean, staring at him with wide blue eyes, sweat beading on his forehead, nodded against his hand.

"Not his girl. It was me who had him. I fucked him, in Kabul. And he loves cock. Can't get enough of it." Vadim used the sharper angle, forced his knees between Jean's legs, came groin to groin with him. Felt the man shudder with revulsion, felt his stomach sweat. "Like I could take you right now", just breathing that into Jean's ear, grinding against him, slow, deliberate, using pressure and weight. Enjoying this more than he should, could come like this, easily. Enjoyed too much to have Jean under control, the only thing he had under control. Nothing the other could do. Scream for help? Unlikely.

Jean's eyes closed, the pressure of his legs subsided and it seemed like he was moving against Vadim, probably to get him off faster, to appease him. He was hard, worked against him with determination, Vadim's hand moved between them and released the belt buckle, nearly tore the fly open, snarling with aggression, freed the other and pushed against him. Jean's cock finding skin where his shirt was pulled up from the fight, hot, strong, sweaty, exactly what Vadim needed, needed even worse than killing. Jean's eyes were closed, whatever he imagined, it wasn't Vadim, and Vadim wanted to punch him to make him acknowledge his presence, his identity, as he came already. Managing just barely to suppress the groan, forced himself harder against that body until he was spent.

Lying on top, still keeping the other pinned, Vadim didn't resist when Jean pulled his hand off his mouth. No way he'd shout for help, not in this position. It looked too willing. Too much like Jean didn't mind at all, never mind the bruise that was forming on his elbow. "Now, that's better", said Vadim and began to stroke Jean, who shuddered from the touch, eyes still closed, lips pressed together like he feared Vadim would try to kiss him.

You won't hate me for long, thought Vadim, and moved down his body, saw his cum run along Jean's flank, the smell of it, and the sweat in the heat of this place.

He took the cock, but didn't try to finish him off quickly, took his time, the last bit of power that Jean's body could give him. And he took it, knew he was probably thinking of that girl of his and he didn't mind, didn't remind him, not now, took him deeper and harder, eventually, and made him twitch and push and cum.

Vadim stood to find water to wash the taste away and rummaged through Jean's kit for the bottle.

"I think I …" Jean groaned and reached for the discarded shirt with his left hand to wipe himself down. "I think I understand now why Mad Dog hates you."

Vadim nearly dropped the bottle, turned to face the legionnaire, who got up and stepped away, just out of reach, still breathing hard. "What?"

"You got me." Jean leaned down to pick up his knife and slid it back into its holster. Still with his left hand. "I should cut you open like a pig. Only finishing you off would be a fucking mercy. And I'm not merciful. Get the fuck out of here. And if the medic says you broke my fucking arm, I'll kill you."

"And you bitch came."

"You make my skin crawl, Krasnorada. You got what you wanted, now fuck off to nurse your fucking self-pity and get yourself killed for some shit. And count your blessings that I have more fucking honour in my finger than you in your whole fucking body. Get the fuck out."

Vadim wanted to protest, but Jean turned around and continued to change, as if he had already left. He didn't hate the other man, hadn't actually wanted to fight or fuck him, not his intention, even though he had wondered about Jean. Had wondered about how that man insisted on being his friend just on the basis of the fact they had both been born in the same city. And were both deserters of some description.

I understand why he hates you.

That went deep, turned the buzz into acid. Nothing had gone like he wanted it to go; he hadn't wanted to do this, if anything, he'd have taken it slow, or not at all, but somehow, his body had wanted this man. He had wanted to punch him and have him, fuck him slow or hard, but have him some way. It felt damn good to be able to do this, felt good to feel a body shudder and tense with orgasm.

Suddenly a soft snort from the legionnaire. "And to think that Mad Dog warned me. He was right about you. You can't be trusted. That's the deal about you. You're not afghantsy. You're just scum."

You're a predator, devoid of any humanity. An animal, ruled by animal urges.

Vadim didn't know what he felt and what he didn't feel. Oddly defenceless against the hostility and had managed to ruin everything. Including the developing 'friendship' with the man who called himself Jean. All gone. Wasted. The only man that had even attempted to respect him. Nothing was how he had imagined it to be, when he had contemplated meeting Dan again. Nobody respected him here, Dan didn't even look at him, they couldn't
talk, Dan just went on living his life. Of course, what had he expected, he had walked away after all. Couldn't have expected Dan to wait for him. So, it was over. He'd screwed up and been defeated in everything that mattered.

Vadim turned and left. He'd find Midge. Time for another punch-up. He needed to break something that deserved it.

* * *

That same day Dan was hauled in front of the Officer in Charge. Uncomfortably reminded of his days in the British Forces, when he was barely more than a raw recruit and way before SAS Selection. The sense of doom came rushing back, even though he knew they had no jurisdiction over him like they had over the regular troops, and neither had he misbehaved in any way, not even partaking in one of the many low-level brawls and secret punch-ups. Still, once a squaddie, always a squaddie, and twenty years could not wipe a hint of dread away.

He felt even stranger once he stood in front of the Big Wig's desk, not having to - nor bothering to - salute. Out of place, but the niggling discomfort disappeared when he realised he really was not part of the Forces anymore. Smirking briefly as he stood while the CO was still looking down, not acknowledging his presence. Typical arrogant upper-class bastard, but Dan didn't need to give a shit anymore. Still, he pushed the shades off his eyes and perched them onto his forehead, the one sign of respect to the man in charge. His face looked bored, but his stance showed tension. Legs braced, arms in his back. Standing like he had done on the day, back in Blighty, when he'd had to defend his decision to leave the Army after twenty years and without his full pension. Four years ago.

Dan waited another moment, but the condescending twat didn't seem to bother acknowledging him yet, which was oddly amusing in an entirely sickening way. Even if the CO had spelt it out in neon letters, his dislike for Daniel McFadyen could not have been more obvious.

"Sir, you wanted to see me?" Dan's voice carried a hint of bored sarcasm.

"Yes, McFadyen, because it can't go on like this."

"Sir?" Dan was confused for a moment, what the fuck was that ponce talking about?

"You know very well, McFadyen. The situation in camp is unbearable, the atmosphere nothing but vicious."

Dan frowned. 'McFadyen', again. Fuck that, the arrogant arsehole should be addressing him with 'Mr', but he let it drop.

"Which situation, Sir?"

The Officer stared incredulously at Dan. "You know damn well what I mean, do not try to play games with me. There has been more violence in the last week, since you have had that stand-off with Krasnorada, than ever before. The men have been talking about that shouting match of yours."

"It was hardly a 'match', Sir." Dan's jaws squared, "as far as I remember, Krasnorada hardly returned the compliments."

The Officer stood up, brimming with rage all of a sudden, almost shouting. "McFadyen, I do not feel like laughing at all. Drop your infantile behaviour, it is most inappropriate in this situation."

Dan wondered for a moment if that throbbing vein on the red-faced CO was going to burst, before deciding on the most antagonistic course of action.

"Which situation, Sir?" He could feel his own dark wave of anger rising, barely held in check by opposing the big-headed dickhead.

"Which situation?" The Officer shouted, his face had turned beetroot red. "Do not treat me as if I were stupid! There are constant fights, the men are on edge, there is aggression and violence spilling into the Mess and the cookhouse!"

Dan's brows, lips tensing into a narrow line. "Does this mean, Sir, that you are accusing me of being unable to hold your men in check, due to my mere existence in this camp, which coincides with the arrival of a new contractor?"

That was it, the CO was losing it. "McFadyen, are you accusing me of not having my troops under control?"

"No, Sir," Dan's lips twitched, revelling in the momentary satisfaction of having hit that twat, right into the gonads, "I am merely saying that I cannot see how this situation, nor any other that is connected to Vadim Krasnorada, should have anything to do with me; be of my making; could possibly be influenced by me. What does the recent violence therefore have to do with me? I was not involved in any fights in the past week."

"No, you weren't." The CO snarled, "but you are the root of it."

Dan felt a bitterness well up in him that tasted like acid in his throat. "Sir, with all due respect, how the fuck am I the cause? Because I'm a fag and everyone knows that? Sir, you have no jurisdiction over me in that respect. Who I fuck is my personal matter, I am not a member of the British Forces anymore, am not committing any crime against the fucking rules, and have never actively pursed my sexuality in camp." Yeah, and that poncy bastard hated his guts, he could smell the disgust at the word 'fag', like he could smell the stench of dried sweat under his body armour.

"Don't use that language with me!" The man shouted, trembling with anger.

"What do you expect me to do, Sir? Snap my fingers and your men accept the Russkie as their own? I'm not a fucking fairy with a magic wand!"

"You may or may not be a 'fairy', but you and Krasnorada clearly have a history." The Officer was beyond losing it, both hands on the desk, leaning forward. "The situation in camp is not about the Cold War, this is about your past."

Dan tensed, stood straighter, taller. "Sir, my past is my own business."

"No, McFadyen, not if it encroaches into the present."

Dan said nothing, his dark eyes narrowing, jaws working before he answered.

"It doesn't. There is no present."

The CO stared at him, long and hard, not buying into any of Dan's defence, but seemed to realise he wasn't getting anywhere with him.

"Don't ever overstep the line, McFadyen or I'll bust your sorry arse. I don't care what kind of Missions you have successfully completed. If you go too far, you'll have it." Ponce or not, the CO let his true colours show. Open hostility, which Dan continued to stare down.

"Dismissed."

The Officer waved a hand and Dan turned without another word. He was burning with anger, needed to fuck or destroy, couldn't have either and started to run instead. Didn't give a shit he was in combats and boots, pushed the shades back over his eyes and headed towards the exit. Let them shoot him down like a rabbit if he was unlucky. Didn't matter shit. Just the heat in his lungs and the pain in his knees and running until his body broke down.

Fucking cunt! Dan didn't know if he meant one or the other.

* * *

The next day after Dan's bollocking from the CO, his body was in such agony from overdoing the run, he rediscovered how much a man could ache. Queuing in line for breakfast, customary shades over his eyes, he stood with a stoic expression, refusing to look around nor acknowledge anyone except when he absolutely had to.

He could do with a day off to rest, but fuck, that'd make things worse. Would get him to think, and thinking without proper solitude like the Afghan mountains would get him down even more. Needed all his strength and considerable willpower to not think. Not remember. Not feel. Just exist. Even the damned yanks were conspiring against him, the kid wouldn't be available before Saturday at the earliest. How the fuck he was meant to get through the week was beyond him.

Dan turned when a mate tapped his shoulder, nodded to him, barely bothering to grin, was in the process of once more looking straight ahead at the back of his foreman, when something caught his eye. Despite all good intentions, his vision was draw to the legionnaire. Stupid wannabe French bastard who was nothing but yet another sick-fuck Russian. But something was wrong. Something … shit. The guy sure as fuck hadn't had his arm in a sling the day before, and as far as Dan knew the git hadn't even been on duty, but was sporting a lily-white bandage around his elbow, with the arm in a sling. How …? Dan realised he had been staring and musing for too long when he caught the legionnaire's attention. Great. Fuck. He'd rather chew off his own hand.

Jean looked over, met Dan's eyes and moved into the queue as well, managing with his left hand, which looked nowhere near precise nor strong, but he bore it with an ironic smirk, when somebody asked him whether he had overdone the wanking. Gathering his breakfast, which took longer, he gave Dan a nod of acknowledgement. "Sorry, won't be securing your flank today in the transport. Knowing my luck, this will be the day when something interesting happens."

Dan's brows rose above the shades. Moving stiffly when he turned, damned advancing age. "What the fuck happened, legionnaire?"

"Sprained my elbow. That could take a few days to heal up. Guess I'll be cleaning rifles for a while." The self-irony paled a little at that, the merc clearly resented those aspects of duty. Jean balanced the tray with the left hand and held it against his chest.

"Too bad." Dan shrugged, then made his way towards one of the empty tables. Scanning the room, eyes hidden beneath the shades, as he searched for the Russian. Had to avoid Vadim, couldn't bear it. Impossible. Cutting too deep. Deeper than the Russian's scars.

He didn't know nor care if the legionnaire was following him, until he sat down on the bench and found the Belgian-French-Russian-whateverthefuck seated opposite to him.

"Sprained your elbow." Dan remarked casually, while sorting his bowls and plates, then pouring a triple helping of sugar into his black coffee. "Just like that, eh?"

Jean glanced up as somebody called his name and tried to wave him over. Pascal. One of his usual team. "Later", he called over, then looked at Dan again. "Was working on my chest muscles. Too many press-ups, then a bad move during sparring." He reached for his coffee, then remembered the sugar, let the coffee go, reached for a pack of sugar, tore it open by keeping one corner of the pack between his teeth, then poured the sugar in, and stirred with his left hand. "Seems we're all training too hard."

"Sure." Dan paused, tilted his head in his usual manner, before stirring his own coffee. "and since when do you talk to me?" Took two of the fried pieces breads and bit into them simultaneously. "I remember that you figured I wasn't worth it." While chewing.

"We got off on a bad start." Jean rearranged the cutlery to the left side of the plate, then put the knife back, clearly having to get used to being a lefthander for the time being. "Nothing we can't sort out, I'm thinking. There's already too much shit going on in this camp." Tone deceptively light, he didn't meet Dan's eyes, apart from the last word.

Dan chewed on his bread until he had finished both slices, watching the legionnaire all the time, before grabbing a couple of sachets of tomato ketchup and slicing them open with an expert flick of the knife. Knives - they'd never disappointed him.

"Aye." One word, acceptance. Squirting ketchup all over his large portion of bacon, he tucked into the sausages first of all. "A lot of shit going on." Shoved half a sausage into his mouth, munching while watching the other from behind his shades. Swallowed. "Got a bollocking from the CO yesterday."

"Yeah, Pascal heard him shout." Jean made a rude gesture. "Overpaid bitch." He paused for a moment, then flashed a grin. "Bitch in the bastard sense." Reached for the coffee and had to turn the mug around to be able to grab the handle. "What about?"

Dan snorted, shook his head, stuffed his face with an fork-full of scrambled eggs. "The usual. Violence, aggression, brawls, fights, shit like that. Thinks it's all my fault. 'I'm at the root of all evil' he said, or some crap." He shrugged, washed the food down with his over sweetened coffee. "Accused me of being the reason why the shit's hitting the fan since the Russian arrived." Dan couldn't help his jaw setting and his face showing a reaction that he'd rather hide.

"Really?"

"What-the-fuck-ever. It's a well known fact the CO doesn't like fags. Especially loud and outspoken ones, and in particular this one." Dan pointed with the butter and ketchup smeared knife towards himself, shrugged again. "Next thing it's my fault the Yanks are hitting more of us with friendly fire than the enemy."

Jean seemed thoughtful, then shook his head, still clinging to his coffee, not yet ready to eat like a left-handed cripple. "The Russian's a loose gun. They wound him up like a toy and let him go, like the fucking Duracell bunny." He snorted into his coffee. "By all rights and purposes, the CO has more reasons to hate Krasnorada. "

"At least the Russian hasn't been walking round telling everyone he was a fucking poof, while itching for a fight." Dan bared his teeth in a humourless grin, before starting on the pile of mushrooms and hash browns, adding a spot of ketchup dripping bacon to go with it.

"Ah, speak of the devil." Jean nodded towards the queue, where Vadim had appeared, moving like he was still tired and stiff, clearly had had another fight.

Damn. Fucking bastard. Dan deliberately didn't look, refused to acknowledge the arsewipe. Every glance cut deep to the bone and it wasn't getting any better. It just fucking hurt and Dan wondered if it actually got worse with every day. "I wonder how long it takes before they realise Vadim's going to cut them to strips every time they try it on with him." Dan shrugged, "he can be a psycho."

Jean gave pause at that, tried a grin which faltered, then drank coffee. "If he uses a knife he gets done for murder, fucking spetsnaz or not." The legionnaire sounded actually angry and his eyes followed the other Russian, as Vadim made his way, careful again, to not be tripped or intercepted or jostled, not that he was easily jostled. Watching Vadim sit down, alone, not even with Jean's team, even though they seemed to invite him. The Russian chose to sit alone. "Very hard to predict the man."

Dan shook his head, still refusing to glance over. "Not hard at all. Expect the worst; expect him to betray you." Shoved another piece of bread into his mouth, angrily chewing. No, not anger. Worse. Fucking rage and hatred and goddamned hurt. So much pain, if only he could make it stop and if he had to kill Vadim for it, he would. "Not difficult to predict at all."

Vadim looked up, saw them together, and Jean reached out over the table to touch Dan's arm. "Just to make sure: Poof, whatever, I don't care what you fuck. Got me?"

Dan stopped in the middle of eating, staring at the hand on his arm. What the fuck had happened to the legionnaire, singing to an entirely different tune than only a day before. Instant dislike for each other, that's what they had shared. For whatever reason he'd never bothered to fathom. "I don't know what the fuck happened to you, mate, nor do I want to know if Vadim had anything to do with it, but I got it."

Jean pulled his hand away, his team must have seen the gesture and that was almost the typical Russian pair of kisses for friends. Mad Dog was off limits, he was part of the crew now, no snide remarks. "Good."

Dan nodded, remembered to swallow. "Just don't expect me to trust you." His grin was feral, "you're Russian, after all."

"Mother Russia sent me to Afghanistan when I was eighteen." Jean glanced up. "I came as a conscript, then decided to not finish my term." He shrugged. "You're as much Afganet as I am."

"Aye," Dan smirked, "seems you're as much Russian as I am English." He lowered his head, concentrated on the food. Focussing on the good stuff, since there wasn't that much left of the good things. Food, friends. Friends? Plural? The Baroness? She'd interfered. The Yank? Sex. Friendship? Who knew. Soldiers had mates - couldn't afford friends.

"Guess I'm more of an Afganet than you are." Dan wiped the last of the grease, egg yolk and ketchup off his plate with a couple of pieces of toast. Anyone else would turn into a fat-filled balloon with the amount he was eating. Not him. Lean, tough, and weathered. "Spent seven years in the mountains, working on my own, then left the Forces and another two years in Kabul, close security."

Jean grinned. "Yeah, a turkey. I never got much of the booty, though. Damned officers took everything." He glanced at his plate, like considering whether he should eat and didn't really seem to want to start. It would mean putting down the coffee mug. "Ah, fuck, getting all nostalgic after all those years. If you want to compare notes, guess I'm free all day." Jean gave a laugh. "And, no, I don't ask you for a date, Mad Dog. You're a bit too broad in the shoulders for my taste."

Dan laughed and it felt good. Hadn't done so for a while. Shaking that unruly mop of hair, still dark except for the temples. "You're not my type anyway." He smirked, "too straight."

"Damn right."

Wiping his lips with the napkin, Dan caught a spot of grease on his chin, which already sported a shadow of stubble. "I prefer my shags to be willing." He grinned, stood up, still avoiding the tall, blond man, several tables along.

"Have to be off, might take you up on the offer." Taking his tray Dan turned, glancing back at the legionnaire. "Later." Walking off to do his day's duty in sweltering heat.

* * *

Jean was lying on his bunk, silently sweating, cursing the bandage that soaked up his sweat and itched like the clap, only more difficult to scratch. He wasn't supposed to straighten the arm, damn lucky that the joint itself seemed alright, no bone or cartilage splinters, just pressure on the bit that held the joint together.

Fucking Russian.

Reminded him of the day when he had almost lost it as a new arrival in Afghanistan. When they had gang raped a woman whose legs were very visibly broken. He'd seen a lot of shit, heard people scream, but that one was still around in his head. At least she wouldn't kick. Or run away. Damn straight, officer.

Krasnorada had brought Afghanistan right back, and the methods, too. He didn't even want to look at Solange, would get the wrong ideas. Better put up a different photo. Not that he had anything more to do. He stood, set his bare feet on the ground and wiped his face on his shoulder.

Dusk. He switched on the light, waited for the temperature to plummet. Used to temperatures in Djibouti, which had one of the nastiest microclimates on the planet, had sweated in French Guyana. He was alright, as long as he drank enough water.

* * *

Dan showered longer than usual, the heat had been the worst since … almost forever. Bloody lucky he didn't mind heat, nor cold, couldn't help the occasional thought how much the Russian cunt had to be suffering. Tried desperately to stop thinking of Vadim at every damned inopportune moment, throwing himself into the work, thankful for the utter exhaustion of his body, once the sweat took everything out of him.

Thankful, too, for the small mercy of his duties being re-scheduled, leaving him with the chance to sleep in the next day, not having to get ready before the early evening. Showered and shaved a second time, he managed to acquire in highly illegal ways a couple of bottles of port from the Mess, thanks to a mate he'd made amongst the NCOs. Still wearing the shades, no matter if it was dark or bright sunlight, and dressed in flip-flops, cut-off camo shorts and t-shirt. He'd take the legionnaire up on his offer, at least that would give him something to stop thinking and remembering what he couldn't bear thinking about.

Knocking on the door, he called out, "hey, cripple, fancy some booze?"

Jean looked up, didn't quite identify the voice, but booze was good. "Come on in. It's not locked." Too much of a fire hazard, or something. He didn't fancy running into the door on the way to the shitter, either.

When the door opened, he recognized Mad Dog. And two bottles. Jean grinned and motioned. "Welcome to the oven I live in." Nothing much to sit on, he took the handle of one of the crates of kit and pulled it opposite the bed, then tossed the woollen blanket over it. "Beats club sofas, huh?"

Dan grinned, kicked the door shut behind him. "Think my room's any better?" He sat down on the makeshift chair, shoved the shades onto his forehead. "Guess I'm just a lucky bastard, got used to the heat years ago. I don't mind." He shrugged, handed one of the bottles to the legionnaire.

"Yeah, yeah. It's not like we have most wars going on in nice climates. Maybe we should start something on Réunion, or Vanuatu." Jean adjusted the light a little to not shine directly into Mad Dog's face when he sat. "Hm. Glasses. Nope."

"Fancy glasses are for nancy boys and Southern poofs." Dan grinned.

"I think you just started a war with France and La Legion." Jean smirked. "We were entitled to half a bottle of wine with meals. Decent quality, too. I used to trade mine in, then they told me if I ever wanted to convince anybody I'm properly Belgian, I should cut that and drink the fucking wine."

Laughing, Dan unwound the plastic off the first bottle, then pulled the cork. "Slainte."

Jean glanced at his arm. "The bottle opening hand is a little … worse for wear." He gave the bottle back with a wry grin.

"Fair point." Dan traded the open bottle with the other, uncorking that one as well. "However, how the fuck you'd convince anyone you are a Belgian is beyond me. You look like too many of the Russkies I ever encountered in good old Afghanistan." He grinned, raised the open bottle in a salute, took a swig of the port. Thank fuck it wasn't a cheap one.

"The recruiter told me to say I'm Belgian. Never mind I don't speak a word of their language, but apparently even the Frenchmen who join the Legion are Belgians. Regulations. The only Frenchmen are officers." Jean shrugged. "Back in the day, they were hungry for fresh meat. I imagine they have whole battalions that speak Russian in one dialect or the other these days." He looked at the bottle, then took a swig, blinking. "Nice … sweet. Ah. Slainte, was it?" Idly wiping a tickling sweat drop off his side and into the camo trousers. He only wore the trousers and the bandage, and that was bad enough.

"I should at least put a shirt on, protect my modesty."

"You think I give a damn?" Dan wiped his lips with the back of his hand, put the bottle down onto the floor. "I find the myth that every gay bloke fancies every male in existence damn funny." Pulling a packet of fags out of his trouser pocket, he looked at the other questioningly, asking without words if it was okay to have a smoke in the room.

Jean nodded. "Go ahead. Ah, fuck, give me one. It's not like … somebody would smell it."

Dan lit one of the cigarettes for Jean, handed it over. "Still, I guess I can't claim you're not my type, eh?" His grin threatened to falter, but he had himself under control.

Jean drew his hand with the fag back, slowly, as if to hide the moment of unease, or to make sure Dan understood that he didn't mind. He wouldn't have known himself. "I look nothing like him." He leaned back to take a drag, slowly, just restarting a former habit. On-off smoker. He had a habit of quitting. "Blond, then? Blue eyes? Funny. I like my women dark-haired." He gave a laugh. "All about contrast, huh?"

"I wouldn't know." Dan lit his own cigarette, drew in a deep drag, relishing the burn in his lungs. "Haven't got a type. Things just happened along the way. I wasn't always gay, used to fuck women."

"You did?" Jean smirked, but it wasn't malicious. "Ah, none of my business." Took another, deeper drag, as if testing what his lungs thought of smoke. They seemed to be fine with it.

Dan laughed, a cynical, dry sound. "Aye, just one of those things." And a Russian cunt who raped … no. No hatred, no love. No memories. Not now. Had to distract his thoughts with something else … looking around the room, his eyes stopped at the wall over the bed. Squinting at the photos in the murky light, Dan tilted his head. "Holy fuck." Taking another swig from the bottle before he stood up, taking a step towards the pictures while dragging on his fag. "You mind me taking a look?"

Jean leaned to the side to allow Dan to take any of the photos off the wall. "Take it."

Dan was studying several of them, one more 'exotic' than the other. Peering closely at one of them, the same lady again, long black hair, dark eyes, an unmistakable North African air about her beautiful frame. "She's fucking beautiful. Is she a model?"

"Yeah, she sometimes …" Jean paused, then willed himself to continue. "wears clothes for money, and I assure you, that's hard work." Echoing somebody else's intonation.

Dan picked the photo carefully off the wall. It was glossy, showed the shortest mini skirt in the world on unbelievably long, straight legs, and the highest fuck-me stilettos anyone could wear. Narrow hips, small, perky breasts. Wearing a corset type top and bare, slender arms that played with something which looked like a black fur stole.

Dan studied the photo closely, smoking, standing right beside the bed.

Jean noticed he didn't mind Dan being that close and would have felt stupid if he had moved away. "There are more over there." He nodded to the crate. "Don't call me obsessive, okay?"

Dan turned his head, grinning, sat back down on his improvised chair, still looking at the photo. "That's class, mate. That really is. What a lady. Even I can see that."

"Yeah, she's special." Jean seemed a little surprised that a gay guy would say anything like that, but took it as a compliment by proxy.

Turning the picture in the light, Dan took in a deep drag of the cigarette and then suddenly stopped, blinked, coughed when he forgot he had his lungs filled with smoke. Squinted, then looked up at Jean from under his lashes. "Don't mind me saying that, but that beautiful lady has an adam's apple. I figure you knew that?"

"Shit." Jean paled. "Shouldn't have … left that on the wall. Shit." He inhaled, deeply, looked at Dan, suddenly nervous, guilty, ease gone. Opened his lips a few times to explain, and aborted, wincing instead. "You're the first ever that ... spotted that. Oh fuck." Battled the shock, took him several long moments. "Listen, I didn't know that when I met her. It's … a complicated story, okay? Shit. She's more … no, just as …" Jean suddenly stood. "I didn't know."

"Hey, mate, what's the problem?" Dan handed the photo back to the legionnaire, felt somehow that it belonged into the other's hands, not his own.

Jean took the photo and put it away, which gave him a moment to try and compose himself. Hiding it in the other crate.

Dan grabbed the bottle and took another swig, loving that sweet stuff. "I remember I was fooled, yonks ago, by a girl in the pub. OK, I was drunk, as usual, but fucking hell, I remember she was hot. Damn shame I was a gay bashing, poof hating, cunt fucking bastard back then. Real cunts, you understand. Giggling girls." He shrugged, a shadow of regret ghosting across his deeply tanned face. "I beat her/his pretty face into a pulp when I took accidentally hold of a package between 'her' legs. She'd been wearing a snug necklace or some shit, can't remember, but I sure as fuck hadn't seen the adam's apple. Been a bit wary since then, I guess, so I spotted it."

Jean closed his eyes, nodding at the story. "I actually had my knife out when I … worked it out. I was just so fucking freaked. She looked better than the real thing." He rubbed his face with the left hand, then looked at Dan, still embarrassed.

Stubbing the cigarette out on the floor, Dan grinned. "Takes all sorts is what I say. Besides, what the fuck's the problem? She's got class and she looks like a real woman, guess she had that operation thing? Must be weird." He shrugged.

"Not so weird. Yeah, the body changes. Operations should be finished when I … go on R&R next. She promised photos as soon as she's properly healed." Jean looked at the wall, clearly longingly, obviously devoted and in love, and knew himself how bare his emotions were in that moment. Didn't manage to look at the other.

Dan couldn't help but smile, his grin softening. The look on the legionnaire's face didn't go hand-in-hand with the hard arsed image. Had been a while since last he saw anyone like that, let alone felt it himself. "Well, legionnaire, I never in my life fucked anyone that beautiful. So yeah, if she's your girlfriend, then I wonder what the hell you did to deserve and keep such a lass." He chuckled, winked at Jean, "that wasn't an invitation to tell me exactly how you keep her happy. Not my cuppa."

"Just don't tell them, right? I'm not … hiding anything, just that … ah, my woman hasn't always been that. She should be all sorted in a couple weeks. Apart from that thing." He pointed at his own throat. "And the size of hands and feet, but there are ways to hide that." He groaned. "I sound like a fucking expert. Serious, she's been never anything but a woman for me." He reached for his bottle and drank, taking several deep swallows. "Just can't see her harmed."

"Why the fuck should I tell anyone?" Dan frowned, "don't insult me, OK? You've never been my enemy, you just couldn't stand my guts and I didn't give a fuck about yours. Besides, even if you had been, I don't do sneaky shit. Get it out and into the open, sling it out with fists, if need be with knives, but insulting a man's woman or man? No chance in fucking hell. No one will know. Not from me." Left hand holding the bottle, Dan took a swig, while his right reached out to the other. "You have my word. Deal?"

Jean stepped closer. "Just a healthy dose of paranoia." Twisting his left hand to take Dan's right, he pressed it for a moment. "Yeah. So. I never hated you for being gay. My own stuff is pretty messed up as it is. If anything, I hated you for acting as if the whole fucking world belonged to you. That grated on my fucking nerves. I thought you were full of shit."

Dan gave the hand a firm shake, smirked with teeth and all. "You're not so far off the mark, there. I am full of shit." Clinked the bottle against Jean's before taking another swig. He was getting half-way through the potent stuff and started to enjoy himself. "I took an instant dislike to you. Not your fault, must have been the blue-eyed blond haired stuff."

Jean huffed. "I look nothing like Krasnorada. I have more than one facial expression, for one." Clinked the bottle against Dan's, then sat back down on the bunk bed.

Dan grinned, "Reason why I was running round telling every arse, who didn't want to hear it, that I was gay? Itching for a fight. Pressure valve, getting rid of the whole load of crap inside." He shrugged, "worked quite well, until recently."

"Now the jarheads are too fucking scared to drink in the same bar as you do? Loved that stunt. Seeing a bunch of Marines run to mommy was priceless."

"Hey, they aren't all that bad." Dan grinned at the memory, though. He'd taken a lot of damage, that night, but if he hadn't had the mad fight with a handful of pissed off Yanks, he'd probably got himself killed the next day on duty. "They are just so fucking young and bloody naïve, it's almost painful." Chuckling, Dan poured some more of the sweet stuff down his neck.

"Yeah, I guess. Plenty of beefcake, anyway." Jean started to feel the alcohol. It punched just as hard as expected. "Nothing in the world can be as young as an American, I think sometimes."

"Aye," Dan grinned to himself, sloshing the port in the bottle, "there's meat alright."

Jean felt himself relax, the alcohol dulled the throbbing pain in his fucked-up elbow. "I guess I shouldn't be saying this …" He waited for a moment. "Or asking. You know. Don't want to spoil the evening. There's the story in camp. Midge and his retards believe Krasnorada was your bitch, and he cheated on you, and you found out. And that's why you hate his guts."

Dan froze, eyes wide. "What?" Complete and utter disbelief in his face, and something else, something much darker, almost insane. "What the fuck do they think?" He shook his head, muttered something under his breath. "Vadim was my bitch and slept round and that's why I hate him?" The darkness came welling up inside, tickling Dan's throat with hysterical laughter. "Holy fuck." Couldn't say anymore before the laughter broke out. He was almost pissing himself as he let himself fall into a vat of insanity.

Jean grinned. "I guess that's a no, then." He waited till Dan could breathe properly again and seemed to expect an outbreak of more laughter or violence, but when nothing like that happened, he gave another grin. "Okay. What about … you tell me how on earth somebody like you - I mean, a … bastard who's full of shit about being invincible and unkillable, but who's pretty laid back otherwise … ends up being the ex-lover of one of the scariest, most fucked-up dickheads I've ever met. And yes, that includes the bitches who trained me in French Guyana. What the fuck happened? And what does he do in the Gulf and not in some other meatgrinder? I mean, it's none of my business, really. Or maybe tell me to shut the fuck up."

"No, it's none of your business, but this whole shit is no one's business, yet affecting everyone." Putting he bottle to his lips Dan was tipping back more than a quarter in one go. Wiped his lips. Almost empty. Time for business. "You know the way you look at the pictures of your lady? That look on your face, that's love. Shit, I recognised it because I know that look. I used to have it myself. I fucking loved him. Nine years in Afghanistan, seven as a turkey, left the army after knee surgery and they didn't want to send me back. Went back anyway, because of him. Close security, whatever, just back to Kabul and back to having a chance to be with him."

Dan's wry grin burned like acid in his face. "Probably sounds fucking impossible, eh? Love and all that shit. Loving that madman, but I tell you what, legionnaire, this here, that fucked-up bastard, is only a part of him. It's the bad part, and that part is goddamned motherfucking bad, so dark and nasty and brutal and without any remorse nor regret, you don't want to be pulled in by its tide." He shook his head, "but that's not the man I've known for over eleven years. The man I knew and loved saved my life in the mountains, when I lay wounded under a pile of Muja corpses; shaved my face and gave me a reason not to walk into the next bullet because I'd been too weary to duck it; slept with me wrapped around him, and …" he had to stop, inhaled harshly, "but fuck …" this was getting too painful and Dan shuddered, but still he ploughed on. "Too much information, but that man crossed Pakistan and India to get to a hospital where I was lying, dying, blown to pieces by a fucking bomb meant for my charge. That man sat sobbing, holding my hand, professing a fucked-up love that I believed in."

Dan paused, exhausted, put the bottle to his mouth again and drained the last of the port. Feeling the alcohol flood his blood, the only way, except for adrenaline, to deal with all this crap.

Jean didn't move a muscle, only winced every now and then, holding the bottle in his left hand. Looked like he wanted to say something when Dan paused, but pulled back, and listened.

"But then it was all over. The Glorious Soviet Army left. One last night in a hotel, promises, hopes and ridiculously naïve wishes. Stupid, really, to think we could have got away with nine years worth of secrets. The KGB set him up, charged him. Traitor and all that shit. Off to the Lubyanka. Loved that bastard so much, I fought tooth and nail to try and save his life, and when it was too late, when he was sentenced to death, I paid a damn high price to get a message to him. But he wasn't executed, the KGB wasn't all that stupid and the West had too many offers that they wanted to take. Money. Financial bribes. More fighting, but never giving up and never surrendering. Pathetic, really."

Dan shrugged, looked at the bottle, empty. Damn. "I sold all my assets and we bribed the shit out of them. Retrial, they let him go. Somewhere. Middle of nowhere in Finland. Last Christmas, almost seven months ago. I stood and waited and picked up a man who was a ghost." Dan wiped his forehead, ran a hand through his hair, before looking up. "He left. Walked away. No word. Nothing. Left me fucking shattered." Tapping another fag out of the package, he lit it and inhaled the smoke.

"I hate the fucking bastard."

Jean looked at Dan, for long, long moments, again reaching for words, and not saying anything for a while. Very little he could say. "That's why he screams off his head at night", he murmured. "Shit. Nine years. Eleven, even. I was a kid back then. And I thought my shit was complicated." He gave a small laugh, shaking his head. "Woah. Shit." He stood and walked over to Dan, tapping one shoulder with his bottle that still held a third of liquid, offering it.

"He's screaming?" Dan looked up, snatched the offered bottle, looked straight into the other's face. "Screaming, you say?"

Jean nodded, his hand now dropping on Dan's shoulder, firmly settling around the round part, clasping. "Screaming his head off. There have been complaints. Happened, what, three nights out of seven. I tried to work him hard in the gym, tried to get him tired, but it doesn't seem to have any effect. And he's not talking about it, either." He stood close.

Dan was still looking, the hand on his shoulder felt good. A yank. A Belgian. Several Brits as mates. He wasn't doing too bad after all. His thoughts raced, one catching the tail of the other, until then he suddenly shrugged, holding the bottle tighter. "Not my business. Not anymore." Tipping his head back, the bottle followed, and Dan gulped down several large swallows. Wiping his lips, he felt the alcohol strongly.

Jean nodded. "Guess it's better to move on. You know what? You could visit us in Paris on R&R, and we make sure you get nicely distracted from this shit. Paris remains top of the list for nightlife and quality entertainment. And I mean quality." Patted the shoulder, Jean tried to distract and get Dan out of the gloomy state. He didn't have to know what the Russian madman had done.

"Aye," Dan grinned, feeling fuzzy, "move on. Paris, Yanks, the next assignment." Really, that hand was doing nice things. Buddy-like. "Sounds like a plan. But can't imagine I'd go for a male whore. Have always stuck to the female ones. Blowjobs are blowjobs." He chuckled, forcing the memories down.

"Yeah, that's true." The hand moved to Dan's sweaty neck, a gesture Jean would do with any of his team members. Rest the head against his side, when they felt tired and pissed and sad. "That how I met her. Got into a fling with two girls in a nightclub. Okay, bar. Seedy kinda money trap, but I was just out and needed to … get rid of some stuff. Took me a while to work out the one that had been sucking me never got undressed." Jean laughed. "Oh shit. No female bits, there, apart from those lips. They were female alright."

Dan chuckled, moving his head towards that hand in his neck. Was alright, un-sexual, the touch of a mate. He couldn't remember when he'd last felt anything like that. "Must have been a fucker of a shock. How did you manage not to freak? You said there was a knife involved."

"Yeah. Montmartre … better have a knife." Jean gathered his thoughts. "We ended up in one of the dingy places there. The other girl was asleep, I was so high on freedom, I could have fucked them both all night. She was halfway through giving me a blowjob when I tried to get her to proper fucking. I mean, she was prettier than the other one, and I'd already had that bitch in all ways. Just wanted to continue with her, so I guess I asked a little roughly, and she said I could fuck her ass if I didn't touch her. I thought what the fuck, yeah, and I think I was a bit loud, and went a bit rough, tore her dress, massive ruckus. The other bitch wakes up and starts screaming, and she freaks, too, and out comes the knife. I was really close to cut that bastard's throat. So she starts crying and begging for her life, and swears to God and Allah that all she had wanted was suck me off and that was no reason to kill someone."

Jean inhaled. "She was crying and clinging to my hand and I thought, fuck, something's seriously wrong. I shouldn't … believe her. I mean, that was … the body was male. But the crying, all that stuff, that was a woman. Guess I dropped the knife and calmed her down. That friend had run off to get the police, well, good luck finding an honest flic in Montmartre. Made sure she got home alright. She was so flustered she kept losing shoes."

Dan had closed his eyes, listening, just letting that hand rub his neck. "And then? You took her home." Felt that he shouldn't be nosy, but fuck, was good to hear about someone else's life for a change. He had to smile at the story. If that wasn't a bloody romantic love story, then what was. Better than rape, torture, death and destruction.

"Yeah. She told me she played with the idea to let me sleep on her couch, but feared I'd kill her on second thought, so locked and bolted the door and swore never to pick up horny soldiers again." Jean laughed. "Next morning, I remember what happened, and check whether she's alright. She's still scared, but kinda works out I might not kill her, so we go out for a walk and she tells me she has a thing for soldiers and I'm stupid enough to ask for that blowjob. Because, damn, she was good. Yeah, and made up and everything, that morning, so I thought just don't think about what she actually is. But seriously? In daylight, when she wasn't scared, she made it pretty damn special. And I thought, okay, the world's best cocksucker is well, that. Cool. Whatever. I don't have to touch her, right? So, we meet. Bars, nightlife, and everybody buys she's a woman. And at the end of the night she asks me to fuck her ass. And she likes it, goes completely crazy for my body, can hardly peel her off me for a week. I mean, she was on hormones already, and you could feel her go softer, the skin changed, you can just see that's becoming a woman in front of your eyes, right under your hands. While you fuck her. Completely blew my head off. She'd been doing some modelling, but wanted the operation badly, so yeah, I didn't really want to deal with her bits … guess I blew a fair part of my money on getting her fixed up."

Dan grinned, his eyes still closed. "While it's a fucked-up story, you do realise you're a bloody romantic sap." Opening one eye, he peered upwards.

Jean glanced down. "Yeah, right. Ex-Russian ex-Legionnaire so fucking horny he'd take anything. Algerian transvestite with a taste for camo. We make something really special there."

"Lust is a great thing, but you're far off that one. Head, heels, and over, now put that back into the right order." Dan chuckled, "hope you'll have a 'happily ever after' to that story and not some crazy shit." Rubbing his eyes, hell, he was booze-mellowed and tired from a hard day in the heat. "If you ever need a best man, tell me. I'll slap that ring on, alright."

Jean smiled, held Dan's head to his side, one hand still stroking the other's neck. "As soon as the papers are sorted out. Fucking bureaucrats get a kick out of delaying shit. But yeah, if I need a best man, I'll ask you. Only thing: you will not wear a scrap of camo while in her line of sight." Patting the neck again. "Shit, that was a nice evening. Beats the hell out of yesterday."

"Deal. Even though I'm afraid as beautiful as your lady is, I'm really not interested. Not quite a 'red hot blooded male' in that respect. Now, if she'd left that cock on, then we'd be talking." Dan laughed, kept his head where it was, enjoying the physical contact. He just didn't get enough of that.

"Yeah, right. No way."

"What happened last night?" Dan asked, out of the blue.

Jean paused. "I was talking to Krasnorada last night. He just gave me the creeps. Ranted about being nobody's bitch and he'd teach them a lesson. Something along those lines. We had a bit of a fight. I tried to calm him down and got my elbow nearly ripped off for my troubles. Bastard stormed off afterwards. Good riddance."

Dan nodded. "Sounds like him, I guess." He started to get up, despite the port and tiredness only slightly unsteady on his feet. "Guess I better head off." Feeling more relaxed than he'd done for ages. "Could do with a shag but won't get anything for a week."

"Yeah, same here. Hope they let me go earlier on R&R. Fucking elbow." Jean stepped away and smiled. "Thanks for the booze."

"Cheers, legionnaire, a night like this was just what the doctor ordered." Walking to the door, Dan glanced back before pushing the shades over his eyes, "have a wank on my behalf." He grinned, a flash of teeth in the darkness.

"Easier said than done." Jean laughed and pointed at his arm. "Doctor said absolutely no strain." He paused, then winced slightly. "Listen. You could … stay." Winced harder. "I could use some help."

Dan stopped, took the shades off again, his sign that this was important. "As much as I'd like to take you up on that offer, I like cock a bit too much - and you like cock not halfway enough. It would be a one-sided business on too many levels."

Jean felt visibly stupid. He should let it go, really. "You said you like my type, and I'm just drunk enough. Don't think you'd rape me or anything."

Dan smiled as he pushed the shades back over his eyes. "Mates, alright? Let's keep it to that and we'll get along just fine." Added, while opening the door, "on all levels."

With that he left.

* * *

What if the legionnaire went to the CO? Vadim covered his eyes with his arm and groaned. Fuck. This was not the Soviet Army. He was not an officer who could do what he liked.

These days they could prove every little shit. There were genetic traces, and somebody had clearly fucked up the other's elbow. Assault. Whatever they called it. Definitely a crime, even without the sexual part of it. Attempted rape? 'We found your genetic code splattered all over this soldier's trousers. Any explanation for that?'

Are you so fucking keen to go back to prison? Are you? This time with the showers and improvised weapons?

You're a predator, vile, depraved and utterly incapable of guilt. I wish I had the time to teach you the meaning of regret.

He'd wanted Jean, he couldn't have him, he'd just taken him. Not like he had fucked his ass. Not a proper rape. Had even given head. Yeah, for the power, not for any kind of equality. Just being able to want, just desiring again. Like drugs. Heady. Like suddenly realising how hungry he had been.

Like fucking Dan in Kabul. He had just gone back into something that had screwed up Dan, and this time, it had been a superior, technically, and the only ally he had had in this place. And fucking Jean ran straight to Dan. Had switched sides, easily, with no visible hesitation. From Vadim's ally to Mad Dog's in a heartbeat.

Mad Dog. It hurt to see him, hurt to know he'd be shouted at, again, have that snarling beast at his throat that wanted nothing more than to rip out his heart. It was agony. Vadim hadn't thought it could actually hurt that bad, had been sure he couldn't feel anything, but he had been wrong. There was fear, and anger, and he thought they felt as potent as they had always been. The fear was certainly stronger, these days.

And knowing what Dan's face had looked like in Kabul, the night they'd spent in the hotel room. What he'd said. My light, my life, my sanity, my love. Nothing of that had been wrong. Not the sex, the kisses, the teenager oaths of staying together, always, rain, shine, life, death. I'd die for you. Live for me. Hold me. Fucking hold me.

Vadim pressed his head against the bunk bed, tried to choke the sound, a pitiful strangled thing from deep in his chest that sounded like somebody had cut his throat, and cried, cried so hard he thought he could never stop.

* * *

Dan slept undisturbed and deeper than he had done for weeks. After his first piss at stupid-o-clock he'd left the door of his 'tin hut' open to get a breeze in, pulling the camo-net in front of it, which he used as a makeshift curtain. It would get as hot as a cooking pot in these small metal rooms, once the sun was up. The only way to get any air flow going was to wedge the door open, keep the minuscule window wide open as well, and sod all pretence of modesty. At least their accommodation as 'affiliated' personnel was a distance away from the British troops, with the added luxury of a few square yards that each merc could call their own.

He slept through the racket the guys who were on early morning duty were making, and when he finally woke up, it was baking in the hut, but he didn't particularly care. Extreme temperatures had never bothered him and he'd got so used to the heat, he moved in it like a lizard. Gagging for a coffee, his stomach rumbling from lack of food, he had to get washed and shaved before he could present himself anywhere, let alone the cookhouse.

Dan yawned, rubbed his eyes and ran a hand through his tousled bed-hair, feeling better right now than he had done for a while. A little over a week to be precise. Finding his shades first of all, he put them on before scrambling up from bunk and blankets. Searching for flip-flops, towel and wash bag, he wrapped the pale blue towel low around his hips, with the scars peeking over the top, then dangled the olive soap bag from one finger. Filled with shower gel, tooth brush and paste, razor and shaving foam. What else could a man need? Had lived his life with those five items, perhaps a tube of lube added on top, the latter not strictly counting as 'beauty supplies'.

Lifting the camo-net, he stepped through the door, blinking into the glaring sun despite the shades. July was scorching in this place, as early as 1000 hrs. Dan braced his legs and took a deep breath. "Ah, nothing but a dose of flaming sand and dust in the morning." Muttering to himself with a grin, mocking the classic line.

Only a short space away, Jean was standing in a gaggle of freshly-showered mercs, wearing PT shorts, trainers and a white wifebeater. He had just finished telling a vastly exaggerated, and enormously untrue story of how he had fucked up his elbow - which included being taken prisoner by a temple of nymphomaniac ninja ladies whom he fended off after he had satisfied their unquenchable lust for his fat cock - and talked his way into a cigarette. It was lit by one of the guys and put between his lips, because Jean was already holding a Styrofoam cup of coffee with his good hand. With a close-lipped grin he gave his goodbyes, as he had just spotted Dan coming their direction. He headed towards the ovens, crossing Dan's path.

Dan grinned, about ninety-five percent awake, allowing himself the luxury of holding the measly rest back. Meeting the legionnaire in the middle of the open space, his right hand moved before he opened his mouth to get out a greeting, snatched the Styrofoam cup and unceremoniously gulped down half of the coffee, smirking. "Cheers, mate. Just what I needed."

Jean took the cig from his lips. "Want this too?"

"You just saved my life, mate." Dan didn't take the fag, just leaned forward and took a deep drag from the offered cig. Exhaling while talking. "Had run out, was about to get a packet after brekkie."

Jean glanced over his shoulder, grinning, as a few people seemed to expect anger or some other emotion. "You off duty today?" He grinned, secure despite the weird question. "Or just late?"

"Both." Dan handed the remaining half of the coffee back. Fair was fair. "Am on after lunch, it's the evening shift. You think I would have had the booze last night otherwise?" He grinned, "no chance, I'm a professional."

"Yeah, Mad Dog is more eager for blood than booze, yadda, yadda." Jean took a drag, flicked the cig away, one hand short to take the coffee back, then emptied the cup. Glancing down at Dan's body, mostly bared, just a movement of his pupils, nothing more, almost invisible. "Advertising your wares, huh?"

Dan laughed, hitching the towel back up that had threatened to slip even further down, revealing more of the serrated scars and far more of the dark line of hair than he had intended. "Aye, arsehole, as if anyone were interested in them. More scars than a whorehouse boasts used condoms."

"Offer them at discount to the CO? He's just a bit tight with the pennies since he had to pay for his momma's abortion." A poisonous grin. "To prevent another mistake, y'know."

Dan sniggered evilly, "So, how was the wanking?" He gestured with his chin at the non functional arm. "Or should I feel pity for you?"

Jean grinned. "Bastard." Making the international 'wanker' gesture with his left hand, which drew some shouts from his usual crew. Jean, fucked up, still dared to call Mad Dog a 'wanker'. Fun.

Dan was still laughing, shook his head and dropped his hand for a quick grope of Jean's gonads. Squeezed hard and sudden, let go immediately. "Yep, I can feel it, still full. Poor boy."

Jean laughed, shit like that was perfectly normal, like ass-slapping, not worse than a one-finger salute. "Yeah, you would know all about blue balls."

Dan tapped the side of his nose with his index finger, lowered his voice and winked. "Not as blue as you'd think."

Jean turned, and saw a pair of eyes so cold it made the desert suddenly feel temperate.

Krasnorada, arms crossed, kitted out, waiting for pick-up not too far away. Must have been standing in the shade, moving forward. Jean could have sworn he hadn't been there just a minute ago.

Jean glanced back at Dan. "Watch your back out there", he murmured.

Dan's eyes followed Jean's glance, hitting the ice cold glare with a full-on stare of his own. For just a second. Like he had done, eleven years ago, in a sweltering hotel room in Kabul. "Trust me, I am the goddamned king of back-watching." Added, "I won't die twice."

Jean felt his body tense with Krasnorada staring at him like that, like he was incapable of anything but that intense stare that Jean had mistaken for anything but what it meant. Murderous intent. The bandage itched, and he hardly managed to keep up the easy grin. Didn't want to stop the talk even though he had intended to, wouldn't allow Krasnorada the comfort of thinking he had interfered with him talking to Dan. "If you want a piece of me, Mad Dog, you'll have to battle your way through nymphomaniac ninja ladies like you wouldn't believe. They'd show you what you're missing."

"Aye, I have a fair idea. Just copped a feel, remember?" Dan grinned, refused to acknowledge the glowering presence. He didn't belong with the other anymore. Fucking bastard, how dared he. How dared he stand there and behave as if he gave the slightest shit about Dan.

"And if I didn't know you'd kick my teeth in for that, legionnaire, I'd cop another."

Jean looked straight into Dan's eyes, his lips spreading into a slow, sly smile. "Aren't you just itching for it", he said, loudly, then shot Dan another glance, quick, hard to read, gave a laugh, and was on his way, back to his quarters.

Dan was shaking his head, laughing. "In your dreams, legionnaire!"

Jean turned while he was walking, murmured "bring booze" in Russian, laughed again, and left. Delivering a nice blow to Krasnorada, which was the cause for the last laugh. Indeed.

That silenced Dan for a moment. Had he just been propositioned by a straight guy? Holy shit, there seemed to be room for more firsts in his fucked-up life. He said nothing, turned away as well to continue towards the showers, refusing to cast another glance at Vadim whose presence he felt even if he didn't see it.

He started to whistle, badly, and grinned while he walked.

* * *

"Oooohhhhh," A high-pitched squeal greeting him from the running showers. "Behave, girls, there's Mad Dog and his Big Dick!"

Dan sneered, pulled the towel off his hips and chucked it over the hook. "Look who's there." Didn't even need to glance over at the opposite stalls, knew that taunting voice. "St Trinian's, but without the skirts."

He had no idea who else was in the stalls along his side. The fronts were open, but individual stalls had thin side partitions.

The voice piped up again, less high-pitched, instead mock pitiful this time. "Does that make you sad? Not to have a skirt?"

Dan rolled his eyes, squeezed some gel into his hand before stepping under the shower, his head still out of the water. "You're just jealous, Midge. Itching for a nice juicy cock up your arse, but I'm not doing you the favour."

The laughter that came out from the stalls was half nasty, half genuine. "Why's that, then? Found yourself a cunt amongst the jarheads, or is the Russian bitch back in your favours?"

Dan closed his eyes, dunked his head under the water for a moment, lathered shower gel into his dishevelled hair and counted to ten. He'd give the bastard ten seconds grace this time. Arrogant twat - and far too close for comfort. He poked his head back out of the water. "Midge, you stupid wanker, last time you and your mates tried this game with me there was blood spilt all over the tiles. And fuck you, but it wasn't mine. Want a repeat?"

No answer for a second, before water stopped along the stalls, a guy stepping out into the walkway between. The ginger freckled merc was smirking, but holding his hands up, as if showing he had no weapons. Stark naked that would have been a challenge.

"Calm down, Mad Dog, gotta take the piss."

Dan was watching the git while sluicing the soap suds off his body. Midge was trouble. He'd have to beat the crap out of him again.

* * *

"But only for five minutes, Monsieur."

"I pay your fees, remember?"

A dry huff and the doctor left the line. Finally. Little respect for somebody calling from abroad, and even less for somebody who spoke very basic French. Jean had the feeling the doctor had taken an instant dislike for him. As if he pressured Solange into anything. Or maybe because Solange wasn't strictly white. Hard to tell.

"Baby?" She sounded drowsy.

"How are you?"

"Ask me tomorrow … just tired right now. Are you alright?"

"Won't leave camp for a while, got my elbow twisted in an exercise." He leaned against the wall, would have loved to drink her voice, the low huskiness pronounced by whatever they gave her after the operation. Rub against it, hold her, he should fucking be there, and wasn't, instead nursing his elbow, not even the luxury of getting head over heels in work.

"Does it hurt bad?"

"No. I had worse." He closed his eyes to concentrate on her, the slightest inflection, how she breathed, that she breathed. He missed her so much. "Did you get the dog yet?"

"I think I want a cat."

He huffed. If she could have made up her mind, they'd be the proud owners of a horse, a falcon, a pair of parrots and an albino python. "Sure. Whatever makes you happy." And doesn't require us to move too far away from an airport.

"You're sweet. I miss you, baby. But I must be so ugly right now."

Bandaged up, just herself, in that fragile beauty she hid under the stunning feathers she could don. Granted, it took four hours in the bathroom, but it was worth it every time. As long as she was his for the remaining twenty hours. As often as he wanted her. And that was an awful lot. "Only if you cry, remember."

Don't look at me. I'm ugly.

Pulling at her hair like she tried to pull the scalp off. This is not me, this is not me, oh Jean, how can you love me, how can you want this ugly sack of bones.

"I'll be pretty for you."

You're breaking my heart. "You better be", he grinned. "If you're not properly healed, woman, I'll slap your ass."

She gave a sigh. "Oh please." That made him horny beyond belief, that soft sigh, knowing how she flushed when he did those things to her, treated her like his possession. Something other girls would run away screaming from, but it only made her cling more, hold so tight like she would drown without him, and he remembered the nights when he had held that lanky body, bony shoulder trembling with tears. This is not me. How can you see me? That intense hatred for a body that was evolving, changing, mood swings. They had warned him, but it was still a hell of a ride, and her fucking family refused to see that their son wasn't dead.

"Time's up, angel, I'll call you tomorrow."

"I love you."

"Yes, I do, too."

Couldn't blow kisses or anything, this wasn't exactly private, so that was the most he could do without fucking up his reputation as a tough bastard with a stunner for a girl. Putting the phone down because he didn't want to hear anything from the doctor, nothing like "successful operation" or "everything's on schedule" like her gender reassignment - like she got fucking posted to a different battalion - was nothing but a schedule.

He drew a deep breath, gave a grin to Pascal, one of his crew, who had waited for him on the way to the mess.

"Is it a boy, Jean?"

Jean laughed. You have no fucking idea. "The appendix?" Hit the back of Pascal's head. "Fucking weirdo. Now you made me think about guts. Bastard."

Is it a boy? No more. Never really. Bastard.

Went on to grab food, felt strangely elated, just having heard her voice. Knew all her girl friends would queue up and entertain her with who was sleeping with whom, who had found that gorgeous little boutique first, and weren't citrine necklaces all the rage this summer? It made her happy. And he didn't care what the necklace had cost that he peeled off her on the way to the bed.

In this mood, nothing really touched him, not even the Russian thundercloud in the corner. Krasnorada looked less punched-up today, or healing faster. Jean sat down, had a chat with the blokes, spoke about Solange's appendix operation in as much detail as might be expected, drawing from his own a while back, hard, hot stomach, blue lights, emergency procedure, but she was fine now. It explained why he had been worried. A nose or boob job wouldn't have been convincing. Declined a few invitations to a game of pool, said he'd not give Pascal a view of his ass, bent over a table. Got roaring laughter, felt on top of the game, and called it an early night. So to speak.

* * *

Remembering the weird mix of offer-request from the legionnaire, Dan pulled in favours, offering some in return. He got lucky. Gary, the bloke with the stupidest yank name any ex-Seal could have, wanted to swap his shift desperately, a shift that was particularly disliked. Friday night, when everyone was already knackered and the Muslim world had gone quiet, but they still had to be on alert.

Dan took the chance, would have to do a double shift, but nothing he hadn't done before, and couldn't handle. He even managed to blag some booze out of the guy. It helped to have mates who had mates who knew mates who … and he ended not only with a free half day ahead, but also with a litre bottle of Jack Daniel's. Those yanks could be good for something, sometime. Just like the kid, who he was oddly missing, the carefree laughter, the toothpaste-ad white grin and the unblemished body that should be playing basketball in an America suburb and not risk life and limbs in the heat of the Gulf.

He'd done his shift, stuffed his face at tea, studiously avoiding the glowering, brooding presence in one of the corners, and was heading towards Jean's room as soon as he was ready. Back in flip-flops, shorts and t-shirt, Dan's 'uniform' when off duty. Didn't bother to knock this time, just called out, once he had reached the door. "Oy, princess, need rescuing?"

Jean was just scratching under the bandage with a pencil, manoeuvring the blunt point around on the itching skin, sweat and bandages were an especially devious torture. "Yeah, come in."

Got up from the crate, turned the French world news down, stuff was happening, as always. He was wearing shorts, and the bandage. Had placed a wet towel around his shoulders and head, which cooled, pulled it off his head, though, wiping his face with one part of it. He looked up as Dan entered. "'Princess'? Who's the faggot?"

Dan grinned, kicked the door shut behind him. "I already told the CO that I wasn't a fairy with a magic wand." Putting the litre bottle of bourbon down on the table with a thud. "Funny, he didn't believe me."

"Magic wand?" Jean huffed. "You're not talking about that cock of yours, are you?"

Dan smirked at the comment, while getting a good long eyeful of Jean's scarcely clad body from behind his shades. Holding a couple of tin mugs in his other hand, he placed them down beside the bottle. "You have to thank the yanks for tonight's treat," adding while pushing the shades up onto his forehead, "and my considerable charms." Grinning toothily.

"Thank God or Allah for the yanks, then, and their black market, corruption and willingness to fall to your many charms." Jean bowed mockingly. "Procurer of whiskey, charmer of Yanks. Wielder of the magic wand."

Dan laughed, waved his finger about then poked it into Jean's chest when the man came back up. "Poof, I'm a fairy."

Jean smirked. "Nope, didn't work. No change."

Opening the bottle, Dan glanced at the Russian Frenchie. "One thing, though, if you don't want to piss me off then don't call this shit here whisky. I'm Scottish, this is bourbon, never whisky. Don't insult my heritage with this firewater." He grinned, "or I'd have to call you Belgian sprout."

"Bourbon. No whisky. Cool. I'll explain the difference between a proper wine and Californian grape juice if I can be arsed." Jean laughed, shaking his head. "Have a Scotsman explain food to me. Ah, France weeps over fried Mars bars."

Dan waved at the legionnaire. "See who's talking. Borscht and chow. You're Frenchman by choice but you were still brought up on blinis and vodka." He grinned, leaned over the table and poured the black market booze into the mugs. "How's your lady?" Looking up from under his lashes. "Been thinking about you and her. You said she'd be sorted in a couple weeks, I assume she's been under the knife or is going to? She alright?"

"Just came out of surgery, had her on the phone a couple hours ago. She's doing fine." Jean gave a smile. "The others think it was the appendix. Well, close enough, I thought." He paused for a moment, then inhaled deeply. "She'll be fine. She's a tough one, deep down. Can't wait to fly back to Paris, though." Pressed his lips together. "Well. Another two months. Gives her time to get used to things."

"Two months can be a fucking long time." Dan handed one of the mugs over, filled to the brim. "Then again, we went many times with up to nine months in between encounters and there wasn't even a way of communication. Let alone knowing if the other was still alive. It worked." He shrugged, then smiled, tapped his mug to Jean's.

Jean grinned, spilled a little whisky, laughed while staring at his left hand. "I'm so surgeon material." Hand shaking just enough to be noticeable.

"I propose a toast, then. To your lady's speedy recovery, to time flying fast, and to miraculously resolved paperwork and that I get to be the Best Man for once in my fucking life."

"That sounds like an excellent plan. Slainte." Jean took a big mouthful of the bourbon, closing his eyes to deal with the onslaught of heat.

Dan took a gulp of the burning stuff, shuddered, and added while grinning, "and before you say anything, I'll attend without a scrap of camo. I promise."

Jean laughed, clinked the mug against Dan's once more. "But fully dressed. Those scars can curdle milk, you know."

"I know." Dan grinned and shrugged, "but I don't give a shit."

Jean briefly lowered the hand with the mug and touched it to Dan's abs, meeting his eyes as he did. "She'd get jealous if she knew you squeezed my balls."

"Aye, but mine was a buddy-squeeze and those don't count. Hers would be a fuck-me one. And hell, I know the difference." Dan looked squarely into the blue eyes, before closing his own and tipping another mouthful back.

Jean answered the glance, then chuckled, turning away to put the mug down. "I guess. Not sure everybody can tell the difference. You see, Mad Dog goes pretty rarely buddy on somebody's balls." He sat down, invited Dan to sit on that crate, while he went onto the bed, pulling his legs up.

Dan made himself comfortable, could do with taking the weight off his knee anyway, cradled the mug in his hand. He grinned, but said nothing. Seemed the legionnaire had him pegged quite well on that one.

"Can't help but wonder. You present an interesting challenge. Keeps that grey mush awake." Jean tapped his temple. "You're cut from some different stuff. You stand out."

"Eh? What's that supposed to mean?" Dan shook his head, chuckling. "I stand out in this fucked up place because I walked around announcing to everyone who didn't want to hear that I was gay. That's all. That, and the jobs I did or do, but even those aren't not special. There are folks out there now, twenty years younger than I am, who'd piss themselves with arrogant laughter at the granddad who forces his knackered body to pull stunts they'd do without even losing breath." He shrugged, fished for his fags and offered Jean the packet before taking one for himself.

Jean shook his head. "I wouldn't call myself that, granddad." He gave Dan a long look, almost a warning. "I hated the bitches. Still do. Krasnorada is that, you're not."

Dan shook his head. "Not that kind of granddad, but the one with pipe and slippers." His grin faltered slightly. Fought every time with himself, whenever Vadim was mentioned, no matter when.

Jean pulled a cigarette free, then groaned, lifting his injured arm. "What great timing to start smoking again. Light." He leaned over to hand Dan the cigarette, who took it, placed it between his lips and lit the fag before handing it back while Jean continued. "No, can't put my finger on it. But it's odd I invited you, and even weirder that I invited you again. My guts tell me you're fine. Couldn't name five guys that my guts have the same opinion about, here in camp."

"Well, mate, can't tell you why you fell haplessly for my charms, but seems you did." Dan grinned light heartedly. Pulled a cigarette out of the packet for himself, lighting it. "I could tell you something you probably wouldn't believe, though." Exhaling smoke while pushing the packet back into his shorts pockets. "I used to be an anti-social bastard with no friends." He poured some more of the bourbon down his throat, shuddered when it went all the way down in a fiery trail.

Jean smoked with his left hand, didn't seem to be able to make his mind up how to hold the cigarette. "And then you went into therapy and had your head screwed on right?"

"Not quite." Dan shrugged. "More like 'and then I screwed a Russian who taught me all about human interaction'." He bared his teeth in a feral grin. "Told you it sounded insane."

Jean glanced towards the door, as if he could see Krasnorada that way, even if he wasn't' there. "Not that Russian." He blinked, then stubbed the cigarette out. "That guy is as suitable for human interaction as a T-34 for heart surgery."

Dan shrugged, inhaled the smoke. "You only know his worst side: the bastard. Am not saying that he isn't an unhinged fucktard with a tendency to mass murder, but he's not all that." Exhaled, huffed dryly. "Bullshit. That sounds like a shit romance novel that wifeys read. Corrected. He didn't used to be such an arsehole. Don't know what the fuck happened to him in prison, and don't actually want to know. Not anymore." Again that shrug, casual pretence. "All I say is, he saved my life several times over, not just physically, and every time he told me he loved me, I actually fucking believed him. Had no reason not to." Dan stared at the smoke escaping.

Something lit up in Jean's eyes at the word 'prison', like a piece of the puzzle that suddenly completed part of a pattern, and he nodded.

"Ach well, fuck that," Dan tore himself out of reminiscing. "It's in the past. Let's talk about friends and mates and what's the hell's the difference."

The legionnaire smiled. "Friends. Now, that's different from buddies. In my book, buddies are guys you don't want to kill and share a cigarette with. Friends ... They are like best men and you go wind surfing with them in Australia and don't talk about ambushes and killing all the time."

Dan slowly exhaled the smoke, watching it escape towards the window. "I haven't got any friends in that case. Never had. No time, no opportunities, and no chance to establish anything before they most likely died. Mates, aye, friends, no. Squaddies don't have the luxury of friends."

Jean got up, went to the radio and turned the volume up a little. He stood behind Dan, resting a hand on his shoulder, close enough to lean against. "I might teach you wind surfing. Terrific for the abs and shoulders."

Dan felt the sudden increase of heat in his back, that touch again, casual, but not so casual after all. Something comfortable about it, and this comfort reached somewhere inside that none of the fun and sex with Matt had ever touched. The temptation to just lean back into that body was suddenly overwhelming, but he resisted.

"You're awfully close." The cigarette, neglected between his fingers, was burning down to the filter.

"Yeah. Sorry." Jean didn't move, hand went to Dan's neck, awkward touch of a man using the wrong hand. "And there's paragliding, too. I'll finish my piloting licence when I go home."

"Paragliding sounds like fun." Dan dropped the stub to the floor before the dying glow reached his fingers. He didn't move away from the touch, even though he figured he probably should. Fuck it, live recklessly. He grinned to himself at that notion. "I always used to prefer running and climbing, but the knees are knackered, had surgery on the right one." Keeping up the conversation while rolling his neck like a man who tried to get rid of some tension. "Not particularly team spirited sports, though."

"I knew a guy once who went paragliding with a broken foot. Take off and start were bitches, but they still hauled him up. Did that in Peru and lived to brag about it." Jean's palm went into Dan's right trapezoid muscle, firm pressure, rolling against the muscle to relax it. "I'd think your leg won't be much of a problem. It's all about balance, anyway."

"Aye, balance and landing safely." Dan rolled his neck again, leaning into the hand for a moment. "Quite fancied those gliders, but have never had time. Work hard - play hard. Yeah, fuck that. Where's the play?"

"Just don't expect the play coming and looking for you." Jean's fingers relaxed again, splayed on Dan's shoulder. "Can't do anything about that neck. Not with a fucked arm."

"That's alright." Dan craned his neck to glance up, grinning crookedly. "I'll just have a wank later. Usually sends me to sleep."

Jean paused, met that glance, hand moving up the side of Dan's neck, patting it. "Won't help your neck, either."

"Better than nothing." Dan craned his head to the other side, gave more access to the hand, inviting further patting as he grinned.

Jean let the hand lie there, relaxed, comfortable. "That's what you get from carrying the whole kit plus armour."

"Don't I just know it." Dan sighed, finished the rest of his bourbon. "I've been in this game for, what, about ten years longer than you? You pup." He grinned, gazed into his empty mug, felt the alcohol swirling inside his body like a warm, glowing buzz.

Jean huffed. "Yeah. Always wondered what war in the stone age was like."

Dan rolled his eyes. "You're how old? Thirty?"

"Close."

"You were still in your nappies while I was already holding a rifle." Dan grinned. "Must have carried my own bodyweight hundreds of times over throughout my Army career. Didn't expect I'd be back in the treadmill after the cushy security job... Guess I'm just a war junkie."

"Did you get fired?"

"What, from my Army job? No. I told you, I left because I wanted to get back to Kabul. From the security one? Neither. In fact, I'm still working for her. Kind of." Glancing backwards with a shrug. "I'm not exactly a bog-standard merc."

"Ah, so you're part of a secret government project." Jean's voice was playfully ominous. "As long as you don't have to shoot me now because I know too much ..." His hand went between Dan's shoulder blades and his body shifted, until he sat behind the other, legs open, left and right of the crate, chest almost touching Dan's back. The hand went back to resting on one shoulder. "I thought bodyguard was what everybody wants to be."

Dan tensed, the closeness was unexpected, but he felt himself relax against the near-touch fairly quickly. Paused for a moment, before he chuckled quietly. "Seems you're doing the body-guarding right now, mate."

"Thought about it, didn't do it, despite the free sex from bored film stars. All I'm doing here is work on my tan."

Jean couldn't see Dan's grin at the misunderstanding, strangely relieved that the meaning had passed by the other. He shouldn't feel as if the close contact was anything other than some weird-assed buddy-stuff, but the vibes he got off the other? Entirely above and beyond the line of buddy-duty. He really shouldn't get into wishful thinking.

"Your tan and earning shitloads of money to keep your lady happy, eh?" Dan shifted, moved slightly away from the close contact, leaning forward to reach for the bottle of bourbon.

"Doesn't hurt, either."

Dan grinned. No, it didn't, he was filling his own accounts back up after depletion, and cushioning them just nicely. "Want another shot?" He glanced backwards, but kept to the slightly extended distance.

"Yeah, mug's over there. Not that I can reach it from here." Another laugh.

"Sure." Dan grabbed the second mug as well, started to fill it. "Or are you already sweating too much like a pig?" He smirked, handing the mug to Jean. "You Slavic lightweights, and you already hardly wear anything at all." Dan winced. Great. You had to point out that you had noticed, right? Of course you had. You stupid poof.

"I'm sweating anyway. Dressed, undressed, sober, drunk." Jean let the hand slide down over Dan's back, following the spine. A back that was bone dry despite the t-shirt. The man seemed to be heat-resistant. "Hope you're not offended by my lack of full camo gear plus armour plates and helmet. I dressed down for the occasion. Although my lady loves the camo thing. Boots and camo trousers. That gets her going."

Dan was filling his own mug, spilled a little when the hand was wandering again. "Aye, the uniform kink. I remember that one. Always pulled when I let it be known I was a soldier and Special Forces on top of that. Don't know if the girls believed me, but I never gave a fuck, as long as I got to fuck." He chuckled, took a big swig from his refilled mug, then drew in a deep breath, twisting his neck to turn round and look at the other.

"Dressed down for which occasion?"

Jean was looking at him over the rim of the mug as he drunk, took a thirsty swallow, the kind that got people drunk fast. Made a noncommittal gesture with his hand that said 'You know which occasion'.

"Are you trying to seduce me?" Dan barged straight ahead, figured he wouldn't earn himself a punch. Hoped so anyway.

Jean put the mug down, crossed his arms in front of his chest, closed his legs enough to support his weight on the crate with his thighs, and let his upper body fall back enough to make all muscles tense in his body, showing off abs and chest, and holding the position like a strange sit-up. "Why? Having any success? Or rather, effect?"

Dan's brows crept to the hairline, unruly as it was. Studying the body on display with a smirk. "Want me to get my cock out as proof? Or will a snorted 'Duh!' do? Yours is a good body. Bound to have an effect, mate."

Jean smirked, flattered. "Me being your type and all. Don't forget that."

Dan put the mug to his lips and drained the entire contents in three, four gulps. Holy shit, that stuff would be killing him, but he needed the boozy crutch.

"You see," Dan wiped his lips, twisted round further. "There's a big difference between your lady and me." He poked his finger hard into Jean's ropey abs. "She's a woman. I'm a bloke. She's got a cunt. I got a cock." He poked again, grinning, "you are aware of that fundamental difference, aren't you?"

"Quite frankly, she will have the right set of bits when she gets out of the hospital. And yes, I've seen you shower. Several times. You got the complete set, as far as I can tell." Jean came back up, placed the good hand on the crate to lean forward, even closer into Dan's space.

"OK …" Dan drew out the vowel, stayed exactly where he was and waited a moment, figuring out what he felt about the even closer proximity. Comfortably boozed up and mellow, check. Even more comfortably aroused and ambivalent if he'd want to bother doing anything about that, check. Bloody comfortable in this almost-touching closeness with the other man? Double check. He grinned. "Right, mate. Since that's clear I got to ask the question again. You trying to seduce me? Coz if you were, I'd tell you I'd be a fucking idiot if I wasn't game, but I'm not an idiot. So, there, even though I don't get it."

"I was kind of expecting you to do the seducing", murmured Jean, "but seems you brought the booze, so I have to provide the entertainment." He took another swallow.

Dan smiled, more to himself than to the other. "I don't do that sort of shit to a mate. A straight mate." He moved a fraction backwards, to where he had sat before. Enough to touch the other's chest with his back. Sweaty skin and dry t-shirt. Nice. Would be nicer if that shirt weren't in between.

Jean's good hand came to rest on Dan's thigh, the elbow between them, which prevented more contact, but Jean moved in to bridge some of the remaining gap, making contact with his thighs, groin, up to the navel. "I wasn't that drunk last time."

"What last time? Last time you had a bloke?" Dan smirked, didn't move away from the touches. Really wasn't that stupid. If this was going to be a freebie, he'd take it. For now he remained fairly passive, just sitting in that unexpected embrace.

Jean dug his fingers into Dan's thigh in protest. "Last time we met here, and I said you could stay."

"Ah, that one." Dan grinned. "I chalked it up to delusions. But just so you know," he chuckled low, "I'm OK with being a substitute, already am for someone else. But just so we're clear," he raised one brow in a crooked grin, "and just in case I am reading that peacock-feather preening of yours right, I'm not a charity, legionnaire. I don't dish out charitable acts of human cocksucking kindness without expecting anything in return."

"Ah, but you did say the magic word, just now." Jean grinned, a suggestive, dirty grin. "I'm curious." He moved his lips to Dan's ear. "It doesn't feel too bad touching you, Mad Dog. I get the feeling we can be friends. And what's a little touching between friends, huh?"

Dan shook his head a little, enough to make his hair and skin press against the other's lips in the movement. "It doesn't usually work like this, but if that's what you are - curious - then I'll indulge your curiosity."

"Yeah, indulge me", Jean murmured into Dan's ear again, hardly more than a breath, not moving away from the touch, instead opening his lips slightly.

"You really are a weird guy." Dan chuckled low, lowered his head, just so he could move his neck against the other's face, dark hair tickling.

"Well spotted."

Dan came back up, glanced backwards, the motion making his already stubble-shadowed cheek move along Jean's lips. The tightening of the fingers on Dan's thigh indicated that the legionnaire didn't object to the touches or where it was going.

"What do you want, Frenchie? I wasn't trying to seduce you, but ..." Dan laughed, the sudden reference to an old film he remembered from his early Army days too fucking ironic to resist, "do you want me to seduce you?"

Jean laughed. "Now, that would be extra special nice. Preferential treatment for mates?" His hand moved up Dan's thigh, rested where it met the torso, fingers on the inside, thumb on the top.

"Not quite." Dan shifted on the crate, trapped. "Special treatment, full stop. Have never seduced a bloke." He twisted once more, but couldn't get anywhere. "Neither is it going to happen with you while I sit like this."

Jean grinned, hand moved forward to give Dan's cock a squeeze.

"Fucking tease." Dan muttered while Jean stood, moving backwards, turned and went to padlock the door. "No use getting interrupted playing chess."

Dan was pouring himself another measure of booze, then had a few more mouthfuls. "Good thinking, but if you don't change that awful radio shit to something more palatable, I'm not sure if I'm going to feel frisky." He grinned, glancing at Jean who rested his hand against the warm metal of the door for a moment, then shook his head. "Change it. I think I'm getting some British station, too." Jean checked the lock again, knowing he was drunk enough to make obvious mistakes. "Right, then. Back to the seduction bit." He turned and came back, standing close, but not making contact.

"I guess that involves the shedding of clothes." Dan put the mug onto the table, changed the radio station, glad to find BBC World and some decent music. Pulled the t-shirt unceremoniously over his head and dropped it onto the crate. "There's something about skin, you know." He trailed down Jean's sweaty chest, strong and calloused fingers finding their path across smooth, damp planes of muscles. "Something fucking irresistible."

Jean inhaled, stomach muscles tensing, powerless right hand twitching, and closed his eyes, focusing on the touch, warmth against warmth. Good hand touching Dan's chest, fingers splayed, then stroked down Dan's side. He grinned with closed eyes. "Some straight part of me is just freaking about how fucking strong you must be." Opened his eyes to only catch a glimpse.

Dan chuckled, "That's exactly what I like. The equality. Can't break a bloke who's as strong as yourself." Leaning forward, Dan replaced his hand with lips and tongue, lapping up sweat, leaving a trail of teeth and tickling stubble, right to the pec, where he lingered at the nipple. His lips moving over the bud of flesh while murmuring. "So irresistible in fact, I intend to taste all of it."

"That …" Jean bared his teeth in an attempt to hide how much he liked that, tried to stay cool. "… was what I had in mind." His hand came up to touch Dan's head, fingers running through the hair. He smiled. "Never seduced a bloke? Everything I know about gays is just jumping out the window."

"Never needed to." Teeth and tongue working on that nipple, sucking in the flesh in a surprise motion, before returning to more gentle laving. "With a bloke …" moving across the chest to give the other nipple equal attention. Jean might not be like Vadim, might be less sensitive, but Dan didn't give a shit. Enjoyed himself too much.

"… guess it's 'hey, mate'…" Dan's hand slipped into the waistband of Jean's shorts, squeezing the muscled arse, which made Jean tense on instinct, drawing a deep breath. "… and then wanking, sucking or fucking without further ado."

"Not wasting any time …" Jean opened his eyes again, swallowed hard. "Less complicated, huh?"

"Much less complicated …" Dan was working his way up to the throat and neck, leaving lapping, biting, friction and damp smoothness in its wake, taking his time. This was a proper seduction, after all. "I remember shagging girls …" pouring attention onto the neck and the line right underneath the jaw, making Jean shiver and lean in, baring his throat. Offering his neck, pulse hammering under the skin. "…tended to be a pain to get …" Dan bit with just the perfect mix of pain and pleasure into the neck muscle, close to the ear, getting Jean to tense and groan "… what I wanted."

Blinking, a touch dizzy from the sensations, Jean stared at Dan's chest, not only the absence of breasts, but the strength of it, hesitating. "Not a charity. Yes, remember. Got you." He ran the fingers of his good hand across the beginning of scars over the belt buckle, around the curve of waist, to the small of Dan's back. Closed his eyes again as his hand moved to Dan's ass, contour of it under the fabric.

Dan stepped closer, pressing his groin into the other man's. Unmistakable hardness, as if he wanted to make a statement. He was a man, would remain a man, fucking loved being a man, and he left no doubt about it.

Jean pressed in as well, hardness against hardness, didn't quite know what to do, cursing his fucked arm under his breath. Seemed he was lost without a routine, torn between letting things happen and regaining the initiative.

"Not sure I can give head or anything", Jean murmured. "But I won't leave you hanging." He laughed. "Or standing."

"Didn't expect you to." Dan pushed Jean's shorts down, grinning at the erection that sprang into his hand. "Will be happy with a hand-job." A twist of his hips and a harder grinding of his own cock into the other's.

"Ah … I … I can do that." Jean's eyes were firmly closed. Keeping the light out, a way to concentrate on what he was feeling and less concerned with the gender. "Fuck. You are fucking strong." He ran his hand to Dan's neck, pressed him closer, wanted to touch more but didn't have the hands to do it. "Figured… fair's fair… But I don't … have to."

"Remember, it's I who is the cocksucker." Dan lifted his head from Jean's neck, winked, before starting to go to his knees. He pulled the shorts down, far enough to give access and push the other's legs apart.

Jean blinked, eyes followed Dan, his body tensing in anticipation, want, need. Looked like he didn't quite understand what was going on, a strange sense of Whatthefuck, which still didn't change anything about the desire. "You're really …?" Going to do this, was what he wanted to say, but it was only a strangled moan that came out. "Fucking … hell …"

"Yeah …" Dan drew out the sound. Looking up, he grinned. On his knees and not giving a shit about it. The epitome of self assurance.

Using his tongue to tease and taunt, eliciting responses with teeth and lips, sucking hard all of a sudden before letting go, just tasting precum with the tip of his tongue. "Nice cock. Uncut, makes a change." Dan chuckled, using the vibrations of his subdued laughter as yet another stimulation. Nice cock, indeed, and bigger than any of the ones 'involved' with him. He got into his task, using every skill and want and the overpowering greed for a cock and its taste. Drawing lust from the other man's body with hands, fingers that pressed hard against the dam, lips, teeth, tongue, suction, and the sheer strength of a fucking powerful body.

Jean kept his eyes closed, breathing ragged, had placed his hand on Dan's shoulder, just to steady himself against the whirl of feelings, sensations, the greed, thirst, hunger, enthusiasm for cock. The pressure between his legs, behind the balls went deep. A pressure that was altogether good in a strange way, deeper inside his body than where he usually felt lust, and he was helpless. Never knew what to expect, just reacted to what Dan gave him, a hot, wet mouth, lips that had strength, could feel the raw strength of Dan's neck as he moved, and shuddered, tensed, relaxed, tensed harder, getting closer, not random, just as the other let him. "Need to … don't want … to get loud …" Breathing, just barely, at another excruciating twist of lust. If that went on, he'd seriously be loud. Didn't want it to stop, fuck no, but this was a bad place to shout any stupid nonsense while cumming.

Dan's head moved back, glanced up, his face looked fucked and fucking, he grinned, pointing to the bed. "Over there." Not a request, but an order. Time too fucking precious to elaborate on bedside manners.

Jean nodded, dazed, any order would make sense now, dumb with need. Staggered to the bed, managed to sit down, not fall.

Dan didn't bother to get up, just shuffled the yard over on his knees. Pushing Jean's legs further apart, he moved between them, then gave the other's chest a non too gentle shove backwards. "Get a fucking pillow into your mouth, or bite your fist." His grin had turned feral, before he got back to his task.

Jean reached blindly around for a pillow, smelling of sweat and stale need, shoved it down, fucking ridiculous, but the walls … reputation, and the need to cum. And no sooner than done, Dan made it unbearable, dealing with his cock with the utmost enthusiasm and a brutally raw but mind-shattering skill for cocksucking.

Pushing himself further down, ignoring the instinct to choke, Dan moved his hands, until his finger was well coated with spit and precum. He could feel the other man getting close, able to read the body as much as he could read any man's, similar to his own. Hand moving backwards, behind the dam, he found the tight muscle and the moment he sucked down particularly viciously, he pushed that slick finger deep into the legionnaire's arse.

Jean came, surprised, shocked, but yes, fucking yes, good he had that pillow in his mouth. That sound didn't become a shout, and only just, came, body helplessly tensing and twitching, a thing in his body, fucking good, unbearably good. Got an inkling, a taste, of why Solange went berserk in bed when he did that. It really felt like nothing else.

Spent, he pulled the pillow from his face, swallowed, dryly, sweat running over his body, tickling him. Didn't want to think, or speak, just glad now, sated, tired, relaxed, so many good things. Opened an eye to look at Dan. Felt lazy now, heavy and too warm but good.

Dan's hands moved carefully, one thing to push a finger into a bloke when he's about to come, another to slide out afterwards, when he's overly sensitive. He grinned, wiped his lips. "Told you I was a cocksucking bastard." Fuck, he loved that taste, so it wasn't Vadim's cum? Well, neither was it Matt's. Who gave a fuck, he just loved cocks.

Jean nodded, dazed mind realized Dan had swallowed, and he groaned. "You stupid fuck, good I'm clean, huh?" Grinned, mocking his own words.

"Chances you are such a stupid fuck to fuck your lady while fucking fucked with disease? Fucking zilch."

"I guess … my turn. Come here."

Dan grinned, stood up. Damn, he needed to come. Opened his cut-off BDUs, dropped them to the floor, not bothering to step out of them, just threw himself onto the bed beside Jean. His own cock in a state of urgent demand, his body was at last covered in a thin sheen of sweat. Glancing pointedly at Jean's left hand. "How the fuck are you going to manage?"

"Yeah. Uhm. Shit." Still trying, Jean wrapped his hand around Dan's cock, twisting his arm a bit, manoeuvred himself onto his side with his legs. Stroking the other, familiar, unfamiliar, strange, but promised, and clearly needed. Not quite strong and precise enough, too awkward.

Dan leant against the wall, limbs splayed on the bed, knees open, watching Jean, his own cock, the hand, and groaning with that goddamned need that was trying to reach relief but just couldn't.

Jean murmured. "Okay ... not exactly something ... I was trained to do. Right?" Hot, silky flesh, heavy and powerful.

"It's alright …" Dan groaned, closed his eyes, but it wasn't, couldn't be. Not enough friction. "You should have … experienced my first blow job. Fuck, was I crap." He managed to grin, then took hold of the other's wrist while shaking his head. "It's OK. I do it. You watch and learn till your bandage is off."

He got a guilty glance from Jean, who clearly hated not being able to live up to promises, but let his hand being moved away. Dan started to stroke himself, slow at first, but with a visible strength and a hint of viciousness. Jean watched, not repulsed, not at all, eyes slightly widened at the picture, something he'd find hard to forget. Raised his hand as if wondering where and how to touch Dan, or whether he shouldn't distract.

Staring at Jean's face, Dan's head moved forward, then suddenly stopped. Fuck. The urge was there. All that Yank kid's fault, but he couldn't just …

"Mind if I kiss you?" Never stopping to stroke his own cock.

Jean stared at him, then his lips cracked into a grin. "Do you think it would hurt much?"

"Only if I haven't shaved for a day." Dan grinned, but hell, he was getting rather desperate. His hand came up to the back of Jean's neck, just rested, didn't use any pressure. He closed his eyes for a moment when his cock twitched, precum glistening on the tip, and he swiftly slicked up his hand.

Jean moved forward, pulled his legs closer to stay balanced, and kissed Dan, eyes closed, lips open, with the feeling at least he could do that much. Tasting smoke and bourbon and lust as he pushed deeper, tongue fucking the other's mouth, much like he would kiss his girl. Breaking away only for a heartbeat to whisper: "Like that?"

"Holy fuck!" Dan gasped out, eyes open. Lust rising, drawing in and concentrating before it flared up and erupted. That man knew what he was doing with tongue and lips.

Bloody good kisser. He should shag a straight guy more often.

Jean grinned. "Shhh. You don't want to eat pillow."

"A touch ... would be good ... too …" Fuck, Dan was getting breathless and concentration was difficult.

Jean's hand moved to Dan's balls, took them and squeezed them, while his tongue returned to Dan's mouth. Kisses and touch fierce, with no reservation, no shyness.

Dan's response to the fierce kisses was violent. Stroking himself fast, reckless, bordering on pain, it only took one harder grip on his balls to topple him over. His groan swallowed by Jean's mouth, as he came onto his own chest, cum running down his hand. His body shook almost uncontrollably with lust, tension, release and aftershocks.

Jean licked his lips, pulling back, then grinned and dipped in again to kiss Dan's neck, the line of the collar bone, lips gathering some of the sweat. His hand idly stroking up Dan's hand, arm, shoulder, and back. "I'd love to share a woman with you", he murmured. "Feel you move in somebody? That must be goddamned sexy."

Dan hadn't quite got his breath back, closed his eyes and dropping his head to the side to lazily give the other man even better access to his neck. The sound that came out of his chest was nearly a purr.

"Mmmmm … not sure if I could get it up with a woman these days." Dan sighed contentedly at the touches of hand and lips. "Been a while."

Refused to remember. One and a half years ago. Not a woman, that one, but a snake eater.

"Just a thought. The legion has their own whores, did you know that? They have to speak French. Some of them can take two men, same time, some do." Jean reached for the towel that had been cooling his neck and still kept a little moisture, and dropped it in Dan's lap, while kissing his throat and chest.

Reaching blindly for the towel, Dan wiped haphazardly at himself and Jean, the kissing was far too good to bother with cleaning off his sticky cum. He grinned, felt sweaty, finally hot, and incredibly relaxed. Jean was different to Matt, and both of them managed to make him feel bloody damn good. Just what he needed.

"Oy, legionnaire," Dan chuckled, towel in his lap, "you're awfully good at this shit for a strictly straight guy."

"What, kissing? Tell you what, women have necks and shoulders and lips, too." Jean grinned and leaned against the wall, arm brushing Dan's, the white bandage almost glowing in the half-light. "Or good at being a sexy bastard that has fags fall for him left right and centre?"

"Careful, fucktard, you're getting too cocky." Dan's eyes opened as he laughed, craning his neck to look at the other. "So, how many fags do you have in your harem? Can only see one at the moment."

Jean's face darkened, but then grinned again. "I had a couple come-ons. Some of them fashion people."

Dan made a sound of disgust. "Not my cuppa those folks. Weirdoes. But to each their own, I guess, bet they'd think that we are fucking bonkers." He dropped the towel onto the floor before sprawling out on the bed even more. So relaxed, he felt mellower than he had for a long time. Even with Matt he could never quite let himself go completely, the kid was just too young.

Jean offered his thigh as a pillow, moved to get more comfortable and rested a hand on Dan's chest.

"Besides, the 'fall for' thing is relative." Dan let himself slide down more until he lay on the bed, head on Jean's thigh. As lazy as hell and as comfortable as heaven. "Afraid I won't go and write love poems to you now." He chuckled.

"Only because you can't rhyme." Jean grinned down. "Ah, bullshit. It's not that kind of thing. No strings, no rings, as they say."

"Sure as fuck not." Dan laughed, blinked upwards, looking at the other upside-down. "You got the love sorted anyway. Good for you." His smile was nothing but genuine.

Jean chuckled. "Yeah, good for me. A wife, and we'll buy a house in the countryside, somewhere close to an airport. Plan to sort that stuff out when I go on R&R next. And in the meantime …" Jean's hand moved to touch Dan's lips. "This kind of thing. Just good. And free."

Dan closed his eyes, enjoying the easy touch. "Seems I'm a lucky bastard right now. Got myself a multi-national harem." He smirked idly.

"You fuck Americans? Unless you were talking Jews, because of the 'cut' part." Jean leaned back again, reached around for a bottle of water. Got back up again, unscrewed the bottle and took a big mouthful, then offered the warm water to Dan, who took the bottle.

Lifting up by tensing his abs muscles, Dan grinned. "I trust you, Jean. I get that gut feeling, too." He gulped down several mouthfuls of the tepid water before handing it back, then letting himself relax once more on Jean's thigh. "That's why I'm telling you." He closed his eyes.

"Clever. That way you keep out of the rumour mill. Stays out of camp, difficult to trace. And seriously, which guy can resist getting sucked off?" Jean again touched Dan's lips, a speculative grin on his face.

Dan's brows raised without opening his eyes. "None." He liked cocksucking too much to argue. "But that's not the point." His tongue snaked out to play idly with the fingers on his lips.

"Not? So, are you or are you not?"

"Am I or am I not, what? A cocksucking slut?" The word made him grin. 'Slut', hilarious, really. He'd had one single man until four months ago. Pathetic, rather, than slutty.

"No. Fucking Americans."

"It's a Yank, aye. Been seeing the kid regularly for four months." Dan opened his eyes, a mixture of grin and smile on his face. Quite obviously rather fond of the person in question. "Jarhead, beefcake, buff'n beautiful, the typical All American Sports type." Grinning before he leisurely let his tongue run over the fingers once more.

Jean grinned and ran the thumb over Dan's lips before placing the hand on the jaw. "You don't have to sell him to me", he chuckled. "But if he rocks your boat, cool. So, blue balls syndrome and wanting to get sucked like from a pro?"

"Cheers, mate, you don't seem to have much faith in my charms. Bastard. There's more to me than giving head." Dan grinned. "He's gay, just like me. He's twenty-nothing. Loves his job, just tough luck he's a fag with a boyfriend back home, who's not happy about him being in the US Military. You do know what it means to be found out being gay if you're an American soldier?" Looking up at Jean.

"Yeah. You go to hell when you die, because God hates fags. Discharge too. Or do they go to prison for it?"

Dan shrugged, "Not sure. Never had to give a shit about all of that, but the kid's cool, nice guy, idolises 'Mad Dog' a bit, which makes me laugh." He shook his head before stretching out. Far too comfortable right now, and fuck, was it good. "Thing is, I'm bloody protective. Kid was desperate, approached me, and yeah, been meeting up since then. Anyone finding out that he's getting it off with the fucked-up merc, I'd have to kill them. Kid deserves better than a dishonourable discharge."

"My lips are sealed." Jean grinned. "Twenty? Pretty close to cradle-robbing, only that the cradle jumped at you. Never mind. Solange is twenty-three. Looks like … seventeen, eighteen, depending on makeup."

Dan laughed, "cradle-snatching, yeah, right. At least my 'kid' is a buff piece of meat." He peered up, "hope your Solange is healed soon. Must be a fucking incredible lot of pain to deal with. I remember my shredded guts … No, cheers mate, not going to have something cut off, then cut deep, then twisting, shaping, forming and turning into something else."

Jean grew serious and a little pale. "Yeah. But she wants it. She wants it so bad. Crying all the time, that … I mean, if somebody's in so much pain about it, you can't really just watch. Well, and the only way we can get married and so on. I don't really want to think about it, what they do. The surgeon explained, but it was too technical for me to understand, thank God."

Dan smiled, then yawned. "She seems bloody courageous and tough to me. Looking forward to meet her at your wedding."

"Next year, end of April. Chestnut bloom in Paris. Honeymoon is to Reunion, that's near Madagascar. Surfing, snorkelling, swimming, big huge ass cocktails and fish grilled right on the beach all day. Oh fuck, yeah."

Jean leaned back, grinning, one shoulder against the wall. "Wonder if I should kick you out or keep you here for the night. We could just have fallen asleep."

"Nah," Dan yawned again, stretching down to the toes, "I'll be off. I don't sleep with anyone. Prefer to be on my own."

"Fair enough." Jean grinned. "This is not exactly a king size bed." He ran his hand through Dan's hair. "Pretty nice, by the way. We could play chess again. Some kind of team building. Get the team leaders to know each other better, eh?"

"Nice." Dan gave a toothy grin. "What, the hair?" Deliberately misunderstood. Sitting up he stretched his upper body before fishing for the shorts that had ended up somewhere between ankles and bed. The flip flops couldn't be too far away either. "Good thing I always look dishevelled, aye? Wouldn't do to have a teamleader crawl out of another teamleader's den at night, looking fucked and smelling of sex."

"I doubt there are enough people around to smell anything. Could have watched porn and wanked. Not that this wasn't nicer."

Dan was laughing as he got off the bed, looking for his t-shirt to put it back on. "Aye, it was good." Found it, slipped into the shirt, stood for a moment before stepping back to the bed and leaning down. "I'll see you again after work, legionnaire. I feel like a game of chess tomorrow, but without booze, got to be on duty."

"I'm off for a week, at least. No strain on the arm. And nowhere else to go, really, apart from, of course, desert-watching." Jean grinned. "No booze? Fuck, and I was starting to think the plying with booze part was a good start."

Dan was still close, then reached out to grab Jean's neck and planted a swift surprise-attack with tongue and teeth onto the other's lips. Sweeping deeply into Jean's mouth before pulling back up, Jean opened up on instinct, hand reaching for Dan's shoulder.

"And the best thing?" Dan's voice was low, husky and amused, "no one's going to fucking believe any of this. Safe in plain sight."

"Making out with a straight guy has advantages, huh?"

"Guess it does." Dan grinned and stood back, walking towards the door and snatching the bottle of bourbon on the way.

"Sweet dreams, mate." Undoing the padlock, Dan slipped out of the door, whistling as he went back to his own tin oven that he called his room. Life had become remarkable easy-going lately. Except for …

* * *

Oh, he had a bad feeling about this. The change was subtle, but Vadim could see the change in Dan. Mad Dog Dan was having a brilliant time and the main reason was the fact that he spent more time with Jean's crew than with his own. Playing pool, doing the usual shit-grinned gropes and touches, the banter. One big, happy family, the legionnaire held court, or whatever, and Dan was the guest of honour.

The others might buy the thing. Jean was over the top, clearly, slightly overplayed it as if to drive the point home that they had suddenly just realized they were really alike. Jokes about French-British friendship, which sounded just as phoney as the Soviet-Afghan one had ever been.

Dan was too comfortable touching the other man. It might be just a pat on the back to announce it was him at breakfast. The way Jean called him, fucking 'stud', and everybody found that hilarious. The thought of Jean doing something with avowedly gay Mad Dog was pure comedy. Only Vadim had felt him come, tasted him. Had seen how Jean had closed his eyes and thought of something else, and wondered whether Jean had grown a taste for that. Vadim watched that for a day. The next day, at breakfast, he clearly saw Jean place his hand on Dan's shoulder, lean in and say something with a broad, shit-eating grin that was about a private joke they shared. Dan laughed, took Jean's neck and pressed the face into his shoulder, rubbing the head none-too-tender.

The sound made conversation stop, and some people looked at him. Vadim opened his hand, wiped the splinters of glass off, two minor cuts. He hadn't held the glass anywhere near the bottom or his hand would look much worse. The orange juice pooled on his tray, red mixed into it. Piss and blood. Vadim stood to bring the tray away, watched by more eyes than he wanted. Rolled through the mess like a tank, the injured hand formed a fist to keep the blood in, and his eyes promised murder, but he didn't look at anybody. Oh no. That meant warning them.

The medic cleaned out the cuts, checked the sinews, told Vadim that the callous had taken the worst, and Vadim nodded. He could have done that by himself. Had the wound disinfected and plastered, with a bandage for dust protection, some of the shit in the dust was just asking for access to a fresh wound. Had his jabs renewed, and deemed fit for service.

Sought. Knew it was difficult to catch the man alone these days. Patience. Had an idea where Jean might be seeking privacy, headed over to the phones. Jean was just hanging the receiver up, turned and stared at him.

"You finished? Or just started?"

Jean shrugged. "Finished."

"Didn't look like it."

"Looked wrong, then."

Vadim stepped into his way. "I know what's going on", he snarled.

"Do you? No longer fucking clueless, then? Good. Suits you."

"Funny you'd say 'fucking'."

Jean huffed. "Funny you'd say 'funny'. Listen, terminator, I don't buy your shit, and you get out of my way now, because spetsnaz or not, I am your teamleader, and I can have you RTUed faster than you can slaughter a nest of baby birds. You fucking freak."

"Only there is no unit you can return me to."

"Cry me a river. That's hardly my fault." Jean kept staring at him. "Anything else, Krasnorada?"

"Dan …"

"Teamleader McFadyen …?"

Vadim glanced around, saw that one guy from Dan's team just moved within earshot. The camp would be yakking about stuff unless he cut it right now. "Playing chess, huh?"

Jean grinned. "You bet. Off with you, Krasnorada. There's some desert out there you can liberate."

 
 
Special Forces Chapter XXV: Friendly Fire
 
 
Warning for Readers

The following work of fiction contains graphic homosexual interaction, violence and non-consensual sex. With this work of fiction the authors do not condone in any way any form of intolerance and injustice, e.g. racism, sexual harassment, incitement of hatred, religious hatred nor persecution, xenophobia and misogyny. Neither do the authors through this work of fiction promote violence nor make light of such grave matters as genocide, any taking of human life, murder, execution, rape, torture, persecution of sexual orientation.

By accessing this work of fiction you hereby accept and agree that this is a work of fiction and does not reflect in any way the opinions of the authors. The authors do not necessarily endorse the views expressed by the fictional characters.

By accessing this work of fiction you hereby indemnify the authors against all claims and actions whatsoever arising from reading the work of fiction.

All characters are fictional. Any similarities with living or deceased people are coincidental. In case of real life events, creative license has been applied. Special Forces is intellectual property of Marquesate and Vashtan. Copyright © 2006-2009. All rights reserved.

 

 
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Published 11 July 2007