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Special Forces Chapter XXV: Friendly Fire
 
 

July - August 1991, The Persian Gulf

Completely unaware of the stand-off between his new-found more-than mate and Vadim, Dan had refused to take notice of the accident at breakfast. Doing all he could to ignore the Russian - and failing miserably at night. When the world quietened and the adrenaline died down, the images were coming back. Memories, touches, and most of all the promises.

The desert at night, in a tin room full of shadows, held eleven years inside, like Pandora's box.

After a fairly uneventful day at work, Dan returned bang on time with a couple minutes to spare. Doing the usual routine of signing the weapons back into the store, airing his body armour and dealing with the laundry of his sweat-drenched kit, he finally relished the best moment of the day: washing the sticky cover of sweat, red sand and dust off his skin.

After his hot shower, he went to get some scran, famished as ever. Sitting first with his team mates, chatting about the events of the day and planning the route for the following day, until it was time to get a second or third helping of sticky toffee pudding. Taking a seat amongst Jean's team after that, laughing and joking while wolfing down his dessert. Glancing at Jean with a grin, Dan made a rude gesture and an entirely inappropriate comment that let the guys break out into roaring laughter. Sure, Mad Dog, the self-professed fag, and Jean, the uber-stud. Made everyone piss themselves.

Half an hour later, while dusk was settling, Dan was talking to Jean as both of them carried a two litre water bottle, while smoking a companionable cigarette on their way towards Jean's hut.

Jean paused, seemingly thoughtfully twisting the cigarette in his hand, glancing at the glowing point, half-turning, a movement that allowed him to have a quick overview of who was close, with one face, one presence especially unwelcome, but Krasnorada was nowhere to be seen. He nodded for Dan to get in, flicked the cigarette away, followed into his microwave oven and padlocked the door. Pulling his shirt off right at the door, he looked at Dan with half-closed eyes. "I think the pieces are all set." Idly adjusting himself in the camo trousers, grinning, left hand against his groin, pressing in a little, glancing at Dan with a friendly challenge. "I could use a cocksucker", he murmured. "Or just a hand. Flexible here …"

"Funny you should say that," Dan grinned, "I was thinking to myself today," taking his own shirt off and tossing it onto the bed, "while securing that particularly deserted piece of land", popping the button of his shorts and pulling the zipper down, "and guarding this particularly annoying piece of Big Wig shit," dropping the shorts, he stepped out of them, kicking them towards the bed as well, "that I could do with a body."

He suddenly pushed hard against Jean's chest, making him stumble backwards and against the wall. Grinning all the way, especially when he ground his naked body into the other's.

Jean groaned, full-on-contact, part wrestling, not that he wanted to fight, really, a vague, but nagging lust turning into heated desire at the touch, the grinding. He pushed against Dan's groin, felt the heat against himself, fumbled with the belt and buttons to get the trousers down, growing breathless. Would be fast, a quick release, fine with him. Touching and kissing and lying there resting, later. "Any body?" He teased, kissing Dan's neck. "Of course … as long as he's strong, and willing …" he murmured into Dan's ear. "And has a big cock you can suck … you're game …" Toneless laughter.

"Sure, any body." Dan smirked, moved his head, away from the lips on his neck and towards the other's face. "And that would be almost everybody since no one can resist my charm." Biting along the jaw line while pushing Jean's trousers down. Cock against cock now, heat and desire that had been simmering all day.

Dan's right hand got hold of both their cocks, trapped between their bodies, starting to stroke, push and grind.

Jean suppressed a curse, not quite what he had expected, but he'd be damned if he didn't roll with it. Feeling the other's cock so close. Nothing like Krasnorada. Krasnorada had loved the fear. Dan loved the lust. Fuck it. Nothing like the Russian granddaddy. Lips opened, he was starting to pant, push forward, hard enough to force Dan to use more strength, which, in turn, made Jean even hornier.

"If I didn't know you're such an arrogant twat," Dan's voice was husky and breathless, lips working their way towards Jean's mouth, "I'd tell you, you have a fucking great cock to suck." Delving in for the kiss, harsh and demanding.

Jean groaned into the kiss, liked the compliment, loved the kissing. Hand on Dan's shoulder, digging into the muscle. Tongue wrestling his, no fight, not at all, a weird sense of rhythm and harmony, like the other read his body much too clearly.

Then, suddenly, something banged hard against the door, just a yard away from where they were standing. "Jean? Got a minute?" The door rattled. "Hey, you in?"

Dan almost jumped out of his skin, first reaction to delve for cover at the attack and aim his weapon, when his violent jerk head-butted Jean's chin.

Jean glared at him and touched his chin, grinning, face gleaming with a sheen of sweat. "Pascal", he mouthed.

"Fuck!" Dan muttered, still standing close, reluctant to step away from the heat of their cocks. Could feel an insane bubble of hilarity welling up inside him, despite his heart racing in the sudden adrenaline rush.

"What's up?" Jean bit his fist to stop himself from laughing, face twitching, eyes brimming with humour at the fucking stupid situation.

"You got time?"

"Bad timing, Pascal. I'm … busy right now."

"C'mon, man."

"Sorry, mate, just fucking a tied-up Mad Dog on my bed. Not sure you'd appreciate the sight. It's a bit of a massacre." Jean fought full-out laughter while speaking. Grinning like a devil as he took Dan's hand and made him stroke him again. "Yeah, baby, just like … that."

Dan immediately started to stroke, adding the grinding of his body into the mix. Harder than before, while biting into Jean's shoulder muscle to stop himself from laughing.

Stunned silence. Then: "You're hitting the fucking bong again."

That was too much, too fucking hilarious and Dan lifted his head, shouting: "Sure thing, mate, coz Jean got it all wrong. Must be fucking delusional, that teamleader of yours, seems to be mistaking his own arse being pounded with mine." Dan delivered a particularly vicious stroke, that made his own cock twitch and his body shudder, adding an unmistakable huskiness to his voice. "Yeah, bitch, you're as tight as a fucking fist."

Jean almost came with that, giving a groan that shouldn't have come out, not like that, lust, desire, needs. Just barely managed to laugh at Dan's game of dare, eyes closed, panting against Dan's shoulder. "Finish me off", he breathed, in Russian, probably so Pascal had no chance to get what he was saying, but Jean was too fucking close, needed to come, whatever the situation. Teeth locked in Dan's shoulder, body tensing up with the onslaught as Dan obliged, thank god, and Jean gave another groan.

Dan shuddered, different, memories. Suffocating. Burning. Language and man and shadows of blond hair and angular planes of muscles and jaw and cock and … stroking furiously with a renewed viciousness. Needed to come as well, to eradicate the image of another man.

"Yeah right, you bastards are taking the piss", grunted Pascal. "Got it. Have the shit for yourselves."

Dan knew he shouldn't shout, too breathless, but the weed was a brilliant excuse. "You can always join us for a threesome, I'd be willing to pop the cherry of your virginal arse." Dan laughed, but only for a brief moment, had to bite hard into Jean's shoulder to stop himself from groaning. Forgetting about the marks he left, his own mauled in return, stroking so hard and brutal it bordered on pain. He came hardly a second later, right after the legionnaire, convulsing and grinding into Jean. Whimpering against the sweaty skin, biting hard into muscles to stop himself from making too much noise.

"Uhm. See you guys later, then." Pascal sounded flustered, probably at the laughter and the shared joke he wasn't privy to. Rapped against the door as a goodbye.

Jean laughed, breathless, helpless, just didn't seem able to stop, even though his knees were weak and he seemed eager to collapse on the floor or bed or anywhere. "Fucking brilliant voice-acting", he laughed, giddy from climax and the fucking risk. Hand running through Dan's hair, taking a handful to force his head into a kiss. "Reckless fucking sexy bastard …"

"And you're a kinky motherfucker." Dan grinned, let himself be drawn into the kiss, bodies still grinding against each other. Contact too good to leave yet. He liked kissing that guy, Jean was good, different to Matt, even though he liked kissing the kid. Jean was somewhat distinguished, somehow deeper-intense. Entirely unlike to the only other man he'd ever kissed, whose kisses had reached into the depth of his soul and had …

No. Dan broke the kiss, breathlessly chuckling, covering up his thoughts with a smirk. "Want to get stuck to me?"

Jean glanced down between them and gave another laugh. "No fun in that … but I guess we could make the most of it." He broke the contact to reach for his discarded t-shirt and wiped himself down first, then handed the shirt to Dan. "And whatever Pascal says, I'm not smoking pot in camp. Not on duty."

"I didn't expect you to. You're not an idiot." Drugs meant getting chucked out, no matter what; while alcohol on duty warranted a severe warning. Dan took the shirt, eyed it for a moment before wiping himself down, then handing it back. "Make sure no one sees your laundry. Interesting white stains." He grinned, not that it mattered. They'd all wanked into an item of clothing, after all.

Jean picked up the bottle that he had set down and drank, deeply. "The medics say I will probably be all set next week. Swelling goes down nicely, and the joint seems to be alright. With a little luck, I'll be on your flank in a week."

"That would be good." Dan waited for Jean to finish drinking before taking the plastic bottle and chugging the water down his neck. "Let's sit down for a while before I need to grab some shut-eye. I demand some of your after-sex speciality." He pulled away from the other and sat down on the bed, inviting.

Jean grinned. "And that would be …?" He sat down while Dan merely grinned from ear to ear. Jean was leaning against the wall, adjusted the sling, then raised his hands. "Docking permit granted, Sir. Welcome aboard." Laughing again. "I would have loved to see Pascal's face. Holy shit."

Dan let himself fall back across Jean's thighs. He rather liked the 'grooming', that human touch that he had missed for two and a half years. The Yank kid was great, but was a kid after all, and the depths of non-verbal communication just didn't exist with him. Dan settled in, grinning upwards. "He'd have upchucked his supper, but who knows, he might have joined."

"I doubt there's enough space for three in your hand …" Jean idly traced the hairline with his fingers, then ran them into the dark hair, smirking. "I thought chess was a game for two players, but then, there's still poker."

"Never played that kind of 'poker'." Dan closed his eyes, grinned lazily, "sounds interesting, though."

Jean went down the temple to the jawline, touch almost minimal, just the fingertips, it was still too warm. "And he's too much part of the rumour mill. No. Good long legs though. He did a lot of marching and running."

Dan chuckled, "I'm not fucking stupid. The less anyone knows the better - in this case." He let his arm dangle off the bed, revelling in touch, heat, satiation. "I meant to ask you something. How in god's name did you get into the legion? What shit happened back in Afghanistan?"

"I was unlucky enough to turn eighteen in the Soviet Union. Got drafted, of course. A couple months later I was sitting in a mountain fortress, scared shitless and homesick. Didn't help I caught typhoid fever … polluted water, and logistics were appalling. I mean, you get used to being hungry, right? You steal and barter enough to stay alive, share stuff with comrades … of course, all illegal. You were not supposed to do that, but the fucking system fucked us up the ass, every fucking day."

Jean inhaled while Dan listened attentively, with closed eyes. Didn't he just know it. He remembered supplies he had brought back for an enemy, to keep that man alive.

"War at a discount. Save money. No idea. I only know that there was hardly a day I had enough food to not be fucking hungry. They say it was the same in all the barracks, the Soviet Army likes to keep her bitches lean, but we were combat troops." Jean's hand rested against Dan's cheek. "That's what I remember of Afghanistan. Being hot. Being cold, being hungry, and finally, being sick." He paused, as if waiting for Dan to tell him to stop.

But Dan didn't. Not a word, just opened his eyes at Jean's pause and nodded.

"The medic in our unit. The only man I ever respected in that army. He'd get his steel helmet, get kitted like the others, like the fucking special forces, and raid the trucks with them, for medical supplies, never for anything else. Most of the booty vanished in the deep dark pockets of the officers and the specwar types, especially bandages, syringes, and morphine. Sure, they could use it, too, but they also traded it. So, the medic goes out with them, carries his own shit, laden like one of those fucking bend-legged donkey, takes off the helmet, washes his faces and hands, gets the clean and new gloves, and while everybody else is still squirreling away the booty, he starts operating."

Dan frowned, dark brows steep over equally dark eyes. He had suspected, never known, and sure as shit never asked. He was still silent when Jean shifted to reach for a packet of cigarettes, pulled one out with his teeth, let it hang between his lips. "Anyway. I caught the fever. No drugs to treat the shit. I got isolated, and that was it. I got the feeling they were just waiting for me to die. Medic could do nothing. Officer didn't care. That bitch almost killed me, so I decide to leave. And I did. I don't remember much of that. By all rights, I should have died. I ended up with some villagers that thought higher of hospitality than revenge. There were Europeans, too. Could have been CIA, or reporters, or anybody, really. Those had drugs, which kept me going until I could cross the border to Pakistan. I recovered in a small hospital near Peshawar. But before they could put me on a plane to Moscow, I could walk again, and I was on my way. Went West, did some crazy shit." He laughed and Dan grinned, murmuring, "I bet."

"Ended up in East Africa, working any way that would fill my stomach. Happened to stumble across a recruitment office. I needed a new life, a new name, and the Legion offered that, so I thought fuck it, can't be worse than the Soviet Army. Signed up for my five years, got shipped to Castelnaudry in France, learnt French, and did the whole tour."

Dan nodded again, "I did the whole Afghan war, but on the other side." He shrugged, fished for a cigarette for himself. "Did your five years, or more?"

"Almost nine. Got shot after the first two years, could apply for citizenship one year earlier than anybody else, sure as fuck I did. I learnt a lot of useful things, and I liked being a hard bastard. Still like it." Jean grinned darkly. "But I heard how much private security people make. So I left, could have had a nice pension after fifteen years, but I did the numbers and figured I'd try being on my own. Met Solange right after leaving and was just having a one-man-and-lots-of-women-party in Paris. Thought I could do better with my languages and experience, and figured being a merc was more interesting than the goold old 'march or die'."

Dan lit his fag, inhaling deeply. "Seems you fell on your feet in the end. Good for you, mate. Thousands didn't make it."

"Mainly the officer's fault. I watched it, on CNN. The bandits getting better, the speeches of the general secretaries getting grander, the fucked idea to launch an offensive in the Panjir. But the worst thing were the granddaddies. Bitches like Krasnorada. Officers could do whatever they liked. I've seen men being beaten to death for stealing food. I don't believe the numbers. Any numbers. No cause of death. I stopped being Russian in Afghanistan. Calling me Russian was a good reason for me to kick somebody's teeth in. I'm French. France has treated me like a human being. Not always, but most of the time."

Dan said nothing, smoking quietly and staring at the ceiling of the tin hut, past the other's face. Eyes not seeing anything other than too much of the past. "Aye, they were gods. At least they thought so." Inhaling deeply, he stalled, feeling the hot smoke enter his lungs, then slowly exhaling. "Vadim Krasnorada is a human being. Always has been. In some corner of their fucked-up minds they all were. Family dads, husbands, sons, and shit like that." He shrugged, felt suddenly drained and sat up. He couldn't gather the energy to try and explain and it was probably of no consequence, no matter what it felt like inside.

"He is. He screams in the night. He bleeds. I guess that counts." No real malice in Jean's voice, just a tired bitterness.

Dan twitched. The screams. Jean mentioned it again. No. No, he didn't care, he couldn't care or it would kill him. Again. "Whatever. Who cares. The war's officially over, but guess it never will be for the survivors." He craned his neck and suddenly bared his teeth in a humourless, dark grin. Feral and close to nasty. "I sleep and never dream. My only guilt is that I have none." Taking another drag, Dan inhaled quicker this time, switched unexpectedly back to the piss-taking, fun-loving Mad Dog everyone knew. "At least this shit here pays damn well. Enough to keep your lady happy and enough to make me stacks of dosh to turn my farm in New Zealand into Crystal Palace."

Jean grinned. "And as many needy guys in camo as you can wish for. Like a great white shark trawling the coastline. Something's bound to show up." His hand returned to Dan's chest, idly stroking the skin, following the lines. "I don't feel guilt, either. It's not like we get forced to do what we are doing, and Iraq is evil, so Kuwait is good. We're helping the good guys, and that makes us heroes."

Dan started to laugh, leaning against the wall to allow the stroking of a hand that damn well knew what to do with a body. "Black and white, eh? If you ask me, there are no goodies and there are no baddies. Just a great big fucking mass of shades of grey. It's all a matter of who is worth more, and fuck, the Gulf is filled with oil. Or do you think the bloody Yanks are doing this shit for the greater good of mankind? Fuck them," he shrugged and finished his fag. "Fuck them and their 'policing of the world'. But as long as that pays me fucking shitloads of dollars or pounds, I don't give a fuck why I'm doing this. I'm a war junkie; I'm a soldier. That's what I do. I chase adrenaline and I risk my life. In return I used to get my countries 'thanks'," Dan snorted, "and now I get paid enough to live a comfortable life when I'm too old and my body belongs to the scrap heap."

"Amen, brother."

Dan grinned humourlessly, "I've paid enough for the 'honour' of earning fat zeros behind numbers. I've paid with my blood, my pain, my health. I've survived until now, I've got a few more years in me." He turned to Jean and smirked. "But I probably won't if I don't get some shut-eye now. Double shift tomorrow, it'll half kill me. So no cocksucking Mad Dog tomorrow night, I'm afraid."

Jean nodded. "Well, there's the weekend. And I'm fucking bored, so drop by whenever." When Dan got up, he leaned in to whisper again. "And if Pascal asks, don't tell him just how much I begged you to fuck me. He's still in my team." Pressing his lips right on Dan's. "See you after your ass-kicking, Mad Dog. Kill a towelhead for me."

Dan winked, stood up to find his shorts and t-shirt, even the flip-flops had to be somewhere. He never lingered long and was at the door, working the padlock once he was dressed. "Maybe." Opened the door. "Maybe I won't tell - maybe I will." He was still laughing when he kicked the door shut behind him.

* * *

Couldn't bear it. Just couldn't. It was a grinding pain in Vadim's guts, like somebody had shoved a hand into his innards, grabbed a handful of the stuff and pulled and twisted. Vadim went to bed with how Dan looked, how he moved, how he spoke, but it was too often how he laughed with Jean. Too often when he'd seen him, it was with the legionnaire. It was so damned obvious; all of it. He was amazed nobody saw it. He could imagine them together, entwined, sweating, cursing, fucking each other's hands, wondered if Dan fucked Jean, didn't quite think it was the other way round, assumed Dan still didn't like it, unless he did it out of spite. Because Jean had never harmed him, never forced him.

Had the legionnaire spilled the beans? Vadim waited for it, but it didn't happen. Jean kept shut. Good. Bad. By now, he knew he could only end this one way. And he lay awake and thought about it. Thought about it all the time, before duty, after duty, worked hard to be too tired to think.

But he was alone in his room, alone with the darkness. Knew Dan was less than a hundred yards away. Knew Dan was probably right now sucking the legionnaire, and that made him hard, but in the most desperate, wretched way. Knew too well what that felt like, what Dan looked like on his knees. Knew all of it, the kinds of sounds he made, turned, restless, didn't want to think, didn't want to remember, and couldn't help it.

Fuck SAS, fuck Royal Marines, fuck everybody who had put him back together. It didn't matter. He was unable to deal with it, one ambush, one pounding, one artillery strike that rattled him, rattled heart and mind, and he clutched at thoughts and memories, and they broke when he touched them. What amazing bad idea to come here. What utter stupidity to walk into Dan's war, thinking just because he could walk again, the other would once more accept him as an equal. Dan had found a man who wasn't broken, for fun and laughter, and that was it. Why drink salt water when you could have something entirely more healthy?

Something that quenched the thirst. That easy laughter. Vadim groaned, turned again, felt the anger and pain mingle, like puss and blood. Just couldn't stop worrying that wound. But one question was answered. What he felt for Dan. He had learnt that here. The rage, the fucking loneliness, the helpless anger, the envy. And the pain.

He wiped the sweat off, heard jeeps arrive, checked the time. Ah, the late shift returned. Dan. He knew what Dan did, and where, his duties, his team. Of course he did.

There was only one solution to the pain. He dreaded it. Dreaded it almost as badly as the pain itself, but maybe he could stop prodding at that wound. Maybe the twisting in his guts would stop. Permanently.

He stood, slipped into his boots, the vest, still wore the trousers. And the knife. Reached for the moonshine, emptied the bottle. Felt the alcohol kick. Again.

Made his way through the dust, saw people, didn't greet, didn't pause to chat, People tended to jump out of their skins when he had tried. You make my skin crawl, Krasnorada. He'd heard that a few times, different words, sometimes only as much as a surprised "fuck!" when he showed up. The man who smashed glasses in his hand without provocation. The bastard who had knocked people out in hand-to-hand. The hardass who stood his ground even against the gay-hating crowd. Who asked for the fight. Who got it, every time, and who refused to lose. Who got up when he fell, just to absorb more pain. Who didn't give any quarter when he was winning.

Now, the last fight in this camp. He saw Dan head for the showers.

* * *

It had been a bloody bone breaking double shift. Dan was completely shattered when he finally returned just after midnight, but the reason for swapping the shift had made it worthwhile. At least the desert was cool now, and the sweat had dried on his body, encrusted with that vile mixture of sticky sand and dust. Having signed his weapons back into the store and exchanged a few words with the QM, Dan dropped his helmet and body armour in front of his hut, to let it dry out from the inside. Shirt and trousers discarded, boots drying as well, he was in his running shorts. Towel slung over one shoulder, soap bag in his hand, he walked towards the shower block, whistling to himself. Tired, but content. If he worked his body to the bone until he was so tired he couldn't stand anymore, then he didn't have to think. No memories for him tonight.

Entering into the shower block, Dan hit the light switch. The place was deserted, everyone else had hit them either first thing or was long past their bedtime anyway. Stepping out of his shorts he kept the flip-flops on as usual, the best protection against the dreaded athlete's foot that loved sweaty boots far too much. Sorting his soap bag then dropping the towel over a hook, he turned towards the first set of showers. Almost asleep on his feet and doing the mechanics of cleaning automatically.

Vadim glanced around, saw nobody in the showers, followed like the hunter. Tiles. Blood. Water. The room in the Lubyanka. Tiled. Buckets of water that turned the blood pink that brought him back around, staring at the swirl of colour in the water running from his head.

Yes. What's good enough for the KGB sure as hell is good enough for me.

He followed, saw Dan, saw sudden tension between the other's shoulder blades, saw him turn around.

Dan was staring at Vadim, fucking defenceless. Naked. Bone tired, but suddenly all his senses were alert. Checked the situation, the man - drunk, the danger. Glanced behind, but had the tiles in his back. Fuck. No way out.

The darkness came up like bile, Vadim wanted nothing but to scream, scream like his body normally did, instead pulled the knife. Needed to end the pain, couldn't see him any longer. Just one more fight and I'll be free. No more screaming, no more pain, no more.

Dan couldn't even reach for the towel. Had nothing, razor too far away. Just his fists and his sober senses. Adrenaline kicked in, with no where to go, except forward.

"Get a weapon", Vadim said, in English. "Let's finish it. You or me. Think you can ignore me? Think again." Moved closer, teeth bared.

"Fuck you, Russkie." Dan snarled, in Russian as well. Attack the best defence. Vadim was unhinged, lethal, and he believed him when he said he would finish it. "You want to use a weapon in camp? Think again, bastard."

Vadim's grip around the blade was light, insecure, yeah, whatever. He didn't plan to win. Lost ages ago. The battle, the war, and everything else. "Fucking camp mattress. Russian and blond, and that's enough. Fucking your way through the camp, deserters and anybody else. Leaving me to rot, you don't even care enough to fight me. Make me feel one last time, Dan. Come on. I'll cut you open and fucking strangle your bitches with your guts. Don't doubt me for a heartbeat, because I will."

"You fucking cunt!" Dan hissed, seeing red-hot anger. "How dare you, fucktard. Pissing off without a word, not giving a shit. Two years and you just fucked off. Fuck you, bastard. You want to kill me? Try it, loser. Try it and suck it and see!" Dan's heart was racing, his naked body in the best fighting stance possible. Would have to deflect the blade, possibly grab the towel and flick the knife out of the lunatic's hand. "I fucking hate you, Russkie. Fuck out of my life for good. How dare you. How fucking dare you!"

No lust for bloodshed. Vadim would go into this fight with no thrill. Had to be done. Just another task. Work. Function. I want to function, Sir. What a waste of effort. Dan's hatred hit him square in the chest, deeper, pressure wave. Couldn't say that he had been broken. Couldn't admit the weakness. Didn't want pity. Didn't want any more ridicule. Inched closer, saw the body he had been so desperate to have, recoil, tense, ready to defend and counterattack.

"Sorry for not being your bitch straight from prison … sorry for needing some time to fucking get my head straight", Vadim hissed. "Jean does that quite nicely, the bitch part, huh? Almost as tall, almost as strong. And he's so funny, our legionnaire. Such a sunshine. Pretty boy, too. Not like that piece of cunt you discarded. Tiger and mountain lion, fuck you. Fuck you for getting me out. You should have shot me. But you didn't have the guts to do it. Too weak. You just didn't care enough. You waited two years, and then you stopped to fucking care and tear out my fucking heart. Come on. Promises, Dan. Keep them. Cut it out. If you're a man. Make me scream if you can."

Dan jerked as if punched. Words. Fucking words. Pain. Punches un-pulled. Words that hit, deeper, harder, drilling down into every memory, every thought and each feeling he'd ever had. Words. Torture. Words. Death. Words. Hatred and accusations and guilt and pain.

"No." Dan snarled, stunned and debilitated with a pain like the one back in Finland. Pain, like the day he had been listening to the tick-tock of the clock, counting towards his lover's death. "No, Vadim. Fuck you! You won't make me into who you are." He kicked out, aimed at the hand with the knife. Smashing his heel against the wrist to disarm the Russian.

The knife sped away, clattered over the tiles. Killing a man without a weapon was too hard work. Dan had failed once to tear him to bits. In the mountains. "Who I am? A walking corpse?"

"A liar, Russkie, that's what you are." Dan hissed, brimming with rage and pain, it suffocated him and turned his voice into a snarl. "Breaking promises, forgetting any- and everything and not having a fucking idea what feelings really are. Loved me? Liar. Fucking disgusting useless pathetic liar!"

Vadim's face twitched, the mask of rage almost falling apart. Needed to deliver one more blow. Maybe Dan would still do it. "You don't have the guts. For nothing." He turned around. "Last chance. Or I'll take you apart. And I'll start with Jean. And then your other friends. I'll destroy you so completely like nothing has ever been destroyed."

Dan took a step forward, his whole boding shaking. "You already did that, cunt. Six months ago. You can't destroy me twice." His fists were useless now, trembling too hard. "You touch them and I fucking take you apart and then let you live."

Failure. It hurt. Vadim wanted to scream. He wanted to fall to his knees and die. Please fucking kill me.

Don't kill me. We're soldiers.

We're nothing.

Vadim nodded, and walked away. No more strength. He didn't scream that night, but he wished he could.

Dan watched him leave. Stood. Turned on the water. Stepped under the shower. No sound. No gesture. No reaction. Turned his back to the room, didn't give a shit if Vadim returned. What did it matter if he were stabbed like a pig, bleeding out under the water.

He stood, letting the water drum onto his skin and blind his eyes. Leaning forward, one palm resting against the tiles, he hung his head. Water mixing with salt as he cried.

No one heard. No one saw. No one knew.

* * *

Jean checked the watch. Ten hours should be enough. Besides, it was getting too warm to sleep, he could tell from the sweat gathering in his bandage. He headed over to the tin huts, whistling to himself, flipping the finger to somebody asking whether he was bringing his 'stud' some tea - as long as it was not Krasnorada, it would just be the finger.

He rapped the door, which stood ajar to catch what feeble breeze might err in this direction, then stepped in. "Wakey wakey. Coffee." Not that the Nestlé shit deserved that name, which was the reason why he'd dunked three heaped spoonfuls in there. If his taste buds were going to be in pain, make it proper pain and a caffeine punch to the guts.

He'd seen guys in their morning glory before, but Dan wasn't there. The soap bag was still there, but so were the combat boots. That could mean the tracks, or the gym. He'd have to deliver the liquid there. He headed out again, strode across to the gym. The clatter of metal disks on the ground and against the bars. Comrades helping each other, making sure the big weights didn't crush a chest first thing in the morning.

Dan was in the corner on one of the weight machines. Doing butterflies while letting out grunts that sounded positively offensive. He'd put more weights onto the machine than he usually did and was forcing his body into yet another push. Sweating like a pig, he'd already done the leg workout and the rest of the upper body, winding down the torturous routine.

"Don't pull up that shoulder", said Jean, completely useless comment, but Dan was overdoing it.

"Huh?" Dan hadn't quite understood the words nor registered the newcomer, letting his arms move back slowly, wrists resting on the padded bars. Feeling his muscles tremble with over-exertion. He ached, would hurt like shit in a day, but fuck, did that feel good right now.

Jean put the coffee down on the seat of the next butterfly machine. "Breakfast." He eyed Dan, had a quick sweep of the gym. No Krasnorada. Like most biblical plagues, Krasnorada entered when least expected, and Jean did expect him.

"So?" Dan's grin wasn't quite the same as usual, fading too fast. "I grew up with porridge and stale tea. That was the scran at home, the army was worse." Flashed his teeth. "Don't think you got better in the Glorious Soviet Army, eh?"

"No." Jean crossed his other arm in front of his chest. "How was the shift? Alright?"

Dan shrugged evasively. "Aye." Looked around, too many blokes in the gym. He gestured with his chin to the towel out of reach. "Got to tell you something. Will be re-deployed."

Jean picked up the towel, stepped closer to hand it to Dan. His credentials as team leader were going to hell. He placed the good arm on the padding of the machine and leaned in. "Ah. Already fed up with Disneyland Kuwait City?"

"Not quite." Dan wiped the sweat off his face and neck, his t-shirt drenched so badly he had several stages of white salt-lines of sweat, dried, and the freshest one on top, wet. "Fed up with some of the company, rather."

He slung the towel around his neck and came out of the machine, chucking the coffee down in one go and the Styrofoam cup into a nearby bin. "I'll request transfer later."

Jean glanced around. "Let me guess." He paused, looked straight into Dan's face and knew the answer before he asked the question. "You're fed up with the twohundred-something pounds of shit that is doing his damned best to win the popularity contest against Saddam Hussein?"

Dan's grimace said it all, he didn't bother to nod. "I had a visit last night, aye. Am not going to put up with that shit anymore. Too much history." Walking towards the exit, he expected Jean to keep up. He needed a shower badly, and they had too many witnesses in the gym for their conversation. "Anything at least ten thousand miles away will do."

Jean's face darkened. He nodded, seemingly thinking unpleasant thoughts. When they left the gym, he murmured: "Something I should know as his team leader?" He glanced to the side.

Dan was shaking his head. "No. It's up close and personal." What else. It could never be anything else.

Jean nodded, decided on a different angle. "You know, I have some shit on him. Some pretty bad shit. I'd rather not bring it up, but he's on probation and he's been acting like a loose gun."

"Shit?" Dan stopped dead in his tracks. "What shit? What the fuck did the cunt do?" The tight line of his lips betrayed the sudden tension.

"That's confidential. No permanent damage and word hasn't spread." Jean inhaled. "I can return him to sender. He's here on my goodwill. CO will bust his ass if I talk to him."

Dan's fist clenched, 'damage'. Not 'permanent damage', but damage, after all. There was only one kind of damage he truly remembered. Bastard. Finally looked at the other, silent for a while. "Vadim has nowhere to be returned to." At least he, himself, had a farm, a friend, medals and honour, and a country that would pay him a pension if he made it to fifty-five.

"I can just about manage to keep my heart from bleeding for him", said Jean. "And I'm sure there is some nice dictatorship somewhere that buys his kind wholesale."

"No!" Dan's answer came fairly quickly, but then he paused once more. Why the fuck did he keep defending that Russian cunt? Why? Damn. His face was thunder and lightning. "No." Calmer, he shook his head. There had to be a rational explanation for it all and he'd cling to it. The rest would fade away again once he was thousands of miles away. "There's too much history, too many memories here. Everyone would remember the madman. I have to leave, go somewhere where I can't be traced. I am sure my employer will make certain of that."

"Damn shame", murmured Jean. "Yeah, I guess it's an option. I'd prefer it the other way, though." He allowed Dan to step into the showers first, then followed. The place was empty. Still no Krasnorada. Jean hoped the Russian would get shot up today. A car bomb would do just nicely. "You're an asset, he's not."

Dan had already stripped and was turning on the water, realised too late he had forgotten his soap bag. Just water would have to do, at least the sweat was fresh. "You never know, he might become an asset." Dan huffed dryly, wondered if hell froze over before that happened.

Jean glanced at Dan, then slipped out of his wifebeater and the shorts and stepped into one of the showering stalls, separated by a thin partition from the other. Talking to a naked man under a spray of water when dressed looked a bit awkward. He took the sling off and began to remove the bandage, rolling it into a dusty ball of fabric. Prodded at the elbow, slowly straightened the arm, but made an effort not to move it or use it too much. The round scar on his thigh became visible as he turned. "Let me know when you get your new posting."

"I'd rather not." Dan stepped under the hot stream, tipped his head back and closed his eyes, letting the water run over him before moving his head back out of the water to continue. "Vadim has … ways of getting information when he sets his mind to it. You know the old motto 'know as little as you absolutely need to know and you're less of a target'."

"Good motto." Jean leaned against the partition and watched Dan, thoughtfully. "But I'm not exactly Red Riding Hood that gets ambushed by the evil black wolf. If he does so much as look at me funny, he's right outside the camp gates, with no security clearance to return." But he didn't ask again, instead turned the water on to cool down in the heat.

Dan was still shaking his head with a weary chuckle. 'Little Red Riding Hood', indeed. Yet it would be better for everyone concerned if no one knew where he got sent to. He'd have to tackle the issue straight away, then contact the kid to explain and to meet him later. He'd have to turn the regular shag into a good-bye fuck-fest. Possibly with a bottle of booze. For him, not the Yank.

He washed quickly, didn't bother to wipe down with the sweaty towel, slung it around his hips and waved to Jean before he left. "See you later, mate."

* * *

Later that morning, exactly one week after he got hauled in front of the goddamned CO, Dan requested an international phone line, once more waiting for the Baroness' aide to let him through to her. It took several minutes, before he finally heard her speak.

"Dan?" Her voice gave no clue what she might feel. It probably didn't matter. He'd trusted her, like he had trusted another, once. Fat good that had done him. "How are you, Dan?"

"Not good, Ma'm." He cradled the receiver in his hand, stared at the wall, then his boots. "I need you to get me out of here."

There was a pause and the line was dead for a long moment.

"Why, Dan?" As if she didn't know and Dan huffed quietly, but said nothing. Enough to make her continue. "Vadim Krasnorada?"

Dan nodded even though she couldn't see him. "Yes, Ma'm. Who and what else." He lifted his eyes only to stare at the bare wall once more. "Ma'm, with all due respect, you shouldn't have sent him here, shouldn't have interfered. It's …" hesitation, deeper breath, admitting defeat was painful. "It's unbearable, Ma'm."

The line fell once more silent and Dan wondered if she would ever reply, before she finally spoke again.

"I am sorry, Dan." Her voice as posh and classy as ever, but he imagined he heard a different dimension in it. Emotion. A rare occurrence. "I made a mistake. As you so rightly said, I interfered, believing what I was doing was for the better. For your good." A slight hesitation, "I realise now that I was wrong and I apologise. Deeply, and from my heart. I consider you a friend, Dan. As close to a friend I will ever have, and I am devastated that I have hurt you."

Dan didn't know what to say, couldn't answer at first, had to swallow, then cleared his throat. "No need to apologise, Ma'm, but I thank you nevertheless." He pictured her nodding, in her economic style.

"I will get you out, Dan." She spoke again, firm and convincing. "But it might take a while. Will you be alright in the meantime?"

He realised she hadn't even argued, nor asked why she shouldn't simply take Vadim away instead of sending him as he had requested, and he was thankful for her immediate acceptance.

"Aye, Ma'm, as long as I know you'll get me somewhere else, whenever that's convenient. Guess there are enough war zones in the world where I might be needed."

He fancied he could hear her wry smile in the voice. "Too true, Dan. Sad, but too true, and it's our business to deal with truth."

He nodded, drawing formless shapes against the wall with his fingertip. "Guess I'm good at something, even though that's war."

"You are good for a lot more," her answer came without a moment's hesitation, "I have faith and trust in you."

He smiled, "I know, Ma'm." She didn't answer, except for a gentle huff, and he continued. "Good bye."

"Good bye, my friend." A click in the line told him she had put the phone down.

* * *

A few hours later, Dan made his way to the safe house. Unlike any of the other times he'd ventured out of camp, he was unsteady on his feet. Swaying, occasionally hitting a wall of one of the buildings with his shoulder, before zig-zagging for a couple of steps towards the centre of the road. Catching himself again, he managed a few more strides that were more or less moving forward. He'd be the perfect target for anyone wanting to shoot up another of those Brits, Yanks, or whoeverthefuck the war had brought into the Gulf.

He finally made it to the safe house, let himself in after some lengthy fumbling with the lock. Matt wasn't there yet and Dan grunted as he flopped onto the bed, reaching for one of the unopened water bottles. Luke warm, but didn't mater jack shit, might stop the carousel in his head and the pain in his chest. Maybe. Possibly. If he was goddamned lucky.

Dan had fallen to the side, curled up in an awkward foetal position, when the door opened again and the jarhead slipped inside. Oblivious to the sounds the Yank was making, Dan slept on, drunkenly, which stopped Matt in his tracks once he'd locked up behind him.

Unbelievable, the carelessness, especially from an old dog as Dan, and Matt frowned as he walked closer. Taking the risk of getting jumped at, he shook Dan's shoulder. "Hey, buddy! You wasted?"

With several snorts and grunts, Dan was coming back to himself, blinking sluggishly. "Aye …" yawning, he pushed himself up to sit, swaying, before looking at Matt with a distinct lack of focus. "Good ... to shee … see you. Last time. Gonna be gone."

"I know." Matt pulled the only chair close, plonking himself down, right in front of the rat-assed Dan. "You told me. Want to tell me why? Can't imagine, like, that you'd be thrown out or stuff. Except for the shit you're pulling right now, bud."

Dan blinked again, then tried an uncoordinated grin, which failed miserably. Waving his hand about as if shooing imaginary flies. "No. No shit. Off duty." His head almost hit the wall when he nodded and tried to sit up straight at the same time. "Just so much crap."

"Hm?" Scratching the back of his neck, Matt put a booted foot onto the edge of the bed, leaning with his elbow on it. Moving forward to study the drunken Dan. "What the fuck's up with you?"

"Not me. Nuh-huh." Heaving a heavy sigh, Dan shuffled upwards to sit at last in a mostly straight way with his back against the wall. "Shit's up with Vadim."

"Vadim?"

"Aye, Russian cunt."

"Russian? Cunt?" Matt shook his head, completely lost by now. "You better tell me what the fuck you're on about, buddy."

Dan blinked at him again, then nodded awkwardly. "Aye." Nodded again. "Tell you."

And that he did. Despite his pissed-up state, or perhaps because of it, Dan told his baby-Yank the whole story. Everything, except for the very first and very worst secret that no one know except for one dead Russian, whose throat he had cut, and two men: Vadim and himself. The rest he told as it had happened. Eleven years of pain and pleasure, hatred, sex, lust and love, and deepest understanding - until the terror of the end and the ultimate price he'd thought he'd paid, until it all began and ended again. In one single day. Then nothing. Until now, and the unbearable sense of being; being close.

Matt was quiet all the way through except for an occasional grunt, and he remained silent for a long while after. Long enough for Dan to nearly fall asleep.

"Do you hate him now?" Matt asked quietly.

Dan opened his eyes to stare at the opposite wall, unseeing, unfocussed in his drunken state. "No." At last, "I can't. Can't hate him, even though you hate what you love, aye?" He huffed with a half-arsed wry smile. "But I hate him for what he did to me. No, shit. Not him. Don't hate him, hate what he did, but can't hate him. Cut me the fuck open and left me to fucking rot." Dan's eyes closed again, "Two and a half years. Just fucking hurt."

The last words more slurred and mumbled than the ones before. Dan dropped his head, staring at his hands which seemed strangely empty.

"What are you going to do now?" Reaching for one of the water bottles, Matt kept watching the drunken man. Expecting an answer, but nothing happened.

Dan kept staring at his hands as if he hadn't heard the question. Suddenly moving into action with a jerk, he clumsily patted his shirt down, looking for his fags, but couldn't remember where the fuck he'd left them. Hands dropped onto his thigh, his body weaved to and fro as he tried to sit upright once more, blinking to focus on the Yank.

"You know what, kid? I wanted to die …" pausing, "but one's not s'posed to, and I promised Maggie." He drunkenly waved his hand. "You know, Baroness." As if he'd ever talked about her before. Expecting Matt to understand and ignoring the kid's confused sounds. "The diplomat, you know, the one I'm working for. Promised her I wouldn't go on a suicide mission."

Matt interfered with three quiet words. "But you did."

"No. I ...," Dan closed his eyes, hand waving about before dropping on top the covers, beat. "That's open for in... intra... interpretation."

"I see." Matt pushed the water bottle into the discarded hand, but it never made it to Dan's lips. "That's, like, the most fucking amazing love story I've ever heard."

Huffing with an uncoordinated movement of his head, Dan forgot about the bottle, gripped Matt's hand instead. "Some 'love' story alright."

"But you do still love him, don't you, Mad Dog?" Matt leaned closer.

Dan ignored the question, his hand surreptitiously opening and closing around the kid's for a long time. "Tell you what … you can be strong and keep going for so long, and then ... then all hopes and wishes just die. Shatter. And all of the nightmares, too. " Shaking his head while looking onto his flexing hand. "The day they let Vadim out ... that night he left. Just walked away. No note, no sign, nothing. I knew he wasn't the same, I could see it, feel it, even smell it. But he just walked. No chance, I didn't get one. I would have done anything. Any fucking thing. But no chance." Dan paused again, lifting his head slowly, and when he looked at Matt, he wasn't aware that he had tears in his eyes, unable to stop their flow. "I never knew anything could hurt so much."

Matt stared into the face before him, and it was too much to bear. Sliding onto the bed, he sat beside the other. "Hey, buddy …" Trailing off, his hand clenched tightly by Dan's. "And what now?" Quietly.

Dan shook his head, again and again, while those goddamned boozed-up tears kept falling onto the blanket. Like a stupid bimbo, crying like a girl. "Don't know." He finally murmured. "Just don't know. Fucking hurts. All of it."

"So you do love that Russian." A careful statement, not any longer a question.

"Aye." Whispered, "how the fuck could I not."

Matt sat with Mad Dog for a long while. A kid, offering silent comfort to a weary old soldier, who'd seen one battle too many, and had lost himself in the final war.

* * *

Dan had left the safe house after a couple of hours. Still unsteady on his feet, despite litres of water and a session, that had, after all, ended in sex. Predictably. But he'd make his way back to camp even if he had to crawl all the way. He'd proven it before, and almost managed to get himself thrown out of the job for it.

Matt was tying his boot laces while thinking about everything Mad Dog had told him. He couldn't get his head around the whole fucked up situation. How anyone could still love such an arsehole and how that arsehole could have once loved the other. Was a mystery to him. Strange thing, that love. Unlike his own relationship, wholesome, simple, if it weren't for him being in the military. Ken, his boyfriend, back home. Safe, sound and normal. Matt huffed, stood up and stretched. The night hadn't quite turned out as intended, but he'd got some pretty damn good sex out of it in the end, so he wasn't going to complain. And fuck, he liked Mad Dog, and being buddies meant sometimes to listen. He'd miss that crazy Brit.

He checked the room and turned off the light before slipping through the door into darkness.

Vadim came down on him like a ton of bricks, his elbow hit Matt's neck, and the jarhead went limp, stunned, unconscious. "Surprise", murmured Vadim, spared a glance for the surroundings, grabbed the Yank by the collar and pushed him right back into the safehouse. Third dimension. Sniper. Ambush. Jarhead never saw it coming.

He closed the door with a controlled kick, then sat the kid down on a chair. It looked solid enough. Weaved the boy's legs back under the chair, flexcuffed them to the legs, hands bent back enough to put pressure on the hips and back, flexcuffed those as well, double-checked the stability of the position. He pulled the cover from one of the pillows, stuffed it in the kid's mouth, took the scarf off his neck and secured the gag. Glanced around, could still smell Dan's sweat here, like a shark tasted blood in the water.

He checked the soldier over, but he was still out cold. Waited a little, then thought he could start with the psychological part of his. Unbuttoned the tunic, pulled it down over the overstretched shoulders, pulled up the shirt underneath. Nice sixpack. Good definition. Fitness freak. The skin was soft, vulnerable. Vadim felt his face twitch. Fuck you. Fuck you, Dan. Tore open the other's belt, bared the briefs, reached inside and pulled out that cock. Thought Dan had touched it. Sucked it. Less than an hour ago. Fuck. His head spun, the anger came back. He stepped behind the kid and waited, just waited for a change in breathing.

Matt's next thought after stepping out of the door and closing it behind him, was the feeling of heaviness in his body, discomfort, and a sharp pain in his neck. His breathing quickened and he tried to move. Completely disorientated. Groaned, but found himself biting down on something obstructing his throat, had to cough - unable to cough. Began to panic in that state of utter disorientation. Fuck. He'd been caught. Iraqi insurgents. He forced his eyes open.

Vadim checked his watch. Twenty minutes. Not bad. Well within the time frame. He stepped close to his prisoner and placed both hands on the kid's shoulders. "Welcome." His voice so low it would be hard to identify him. He didn't care. "You are in my control now. If you want to breathe, I need you to understand that I will cut your throat if you scream. And I mean it. No shit."

Full-blown panic set in. Matt couldn't breathe, couldn't cough, couldn't swallow and most of all couldn't understand what the fuck was happening. Who was that bastard who touched him and talked in a weird voice and ... oh God! Only then realised the way he was tied to the chair. Naked. The important parts. Felt air on his genitals and on his abs. He tried frantically to calm himself down by remembering all they had told them in their training.

Matt's breathing was sharp and noisy. Mad Dog. Where was he, what happened? Not someone he knew, the voice. No American, no Brit either. Fuck. No. Panic. Sweat broke out on his forehead, but remembered he had to acquiesce his captor. Nodded. Just nodded. Would stay silent, but needed to breathe. Get out. Survive.

Vadim moved to the side, just allowed Matt to see the glint of the blade. Turned the knife so it definitely caught the light, then brought it up to the kid soldier's face, cut the scarf, pulled the pillow cover free with the left hand, point of the blade touching the corner of those lips. Lips Dan had felt on his body. Lips that had gasped, maybe cursed.

Matt's eyes followed the blade, as if staring at the steel made the weapon less lethal. Repeating in his mind 'calm, calm, calm', had to keep his senses about him. Breathing desperately, in large gulps, once he could, before coughing and moistening his lips. Trying to catch a glance of his captor, who didn't sound like anyone he'd ever heard, but sure as hell it wasn't an Arab. Couldn't stop the sweat that was running down his face.

Vadim stepped into the kid's back, rested the blade against the jaw line. "There. Let's make this quick. I'm sure you want to return to your unit on time, yes?" He smirked, didn't feel a scrap of humour, felt nothing.

"What the fuck do you want. Who are you!" Matt's voice was raspy, trying to ignore the panic. Fear burning like hot coal in his stomach. Vulnerable. Exposed.

"Stuff the bravado, Yank. You will cooperate. You are meeting a man who is called Mad Dog. You're fuck-buddies."

Matt's eyes widened. Mad Dog. What? What the fuck? He tensed, nostrils flaring with every breath. This was an interrogation and he didn't have an idea why and what for. Mad Dog. His buddy.

"No."

"Wrong answer." Vadim moved closer, placed his hand around the kid's throat, allowed him to feel the strength in his hand. Enough strength to squash the voicebox. "I have seen you. I know. Try again."

Matt finally managed to get a good look at his captor and he forgot to breathe for a moment. Tall. Blond. Blue eyed. The accent. That man. Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck! Hadn't thought his fear could rise anymore notches until he realised who that madman was. Had to be the Russian Mad Dog talked about.

"No."

Matt forced the word out, had to be strong, couldn't allow himself to break down, but that hand, oh God, he'd do it. He'd just slaughter him like a pig or let him suffocate slowly. From what Mad Dog had told him, that man could be mental, absolutely fanny-fuck crazy.

Vadim smiled at the reaction. The muscles did everything to make it a smile, at least. The baby soldier's fear came from the stories, the rumours, his reputation.

"What do you want?" Desperate, Matt tried to hide the fear.

Vadim leaned in, met the other's eyes. "Let's start with what I don't want. I don't want to have to hack off your head and hands with just a combat knife, then put your bits and pieces into plastic bags and bury them somewhere out in the desert." He read the fear in the kid's eyes, could smell it on his ragged breath, saw the sweat rolling. "Making men vanish is hard work and I don't get paid for this. Because this is a personal matter."

Matt stared at the madman, followed every movement. Personal matter. Oh God, oh God have mercy. All he'd done was have fun with Mad Dog and make the man laugh while having a great time in return. Mad Dog. His idol.

Vadim glanced at the kid's name tag. "Donahue. I know you're fucking with Mad Dog." He brought the knife down, let the blade scrape over that smooth chest, touched the nipple, watched the old poetry of skin against steel. Magical.

Matt shuddered, tried to follow the blade but couldn't lower his head enough. Believed every single thing he was being told. Everything. And worse.

"I will release you, unharmed, if you tell me the whole story." Vadim grinned, again, without emotion. He used to enjoy situations like this, but it was as technical as planning how to take a building. A man's mind was nothing but a room with a closed door. "You will tell me everything Mad Dog has told you. Every word. Every … touch. I want to know the whole story."

Matt shook his head. No. No he couldn't. No no no no no! Had given his word. Couldn't do it. Breaking his word, no way, no. Even though he was sweating like a pig with fear.

The knife rested against the taut stomach and Vadim looked at the blade, thoughtfully. "I have made tougher men than you talk. Scream, even. I can make you vomit with pain, Donahue. I can destroy you so completely even your experts will have trouble reconstructing how you died … or what you looked like."

"I … can't." No. Just can't. Fucking fucker of a fucking madman. "Fuck off." Had forgotten the Russian's name. Just remembered what Dan had told him, and those fucking tears that he promised he'd never tell anyone about. The anguish, a buddy in pain, a man who didn't deserve that shit and ... trying to prep talk himself while so frightened, he wanted to spill the beans. Everything, but couldn't. He'd be a swine if he did.

Vadim paused, stared into the kid's eyes. What did inspire him to do this? Love? He recoiled, then hit the kid in the face, a bitchslap that made the head turn, and another one, for symmetry. Snarling, faced with a sudden bout of feeling. Anger. Jealousy. "Too fucking bad, then."

Matt's head exploded. Once, twice, felt the bruise in his neck protest and his face hurt like fuck. Nothing in his training, not even the worst of his Drill Sergeants, had ever been like that.

Vadim inhaled sharply, turned the knife in his hand and brought the blade around to Matt's balls. "Not very dignified, bleeding to death with your cock in your throat", he murmured, toneless. "Guess it can't be helped."

Matt's whole body tensed, he almost shrieked with panic. "No!" Oh God please no! He was praying now. "I can't tell you!" Tried instinctively to pull his knees together, fighting against the restraints. "I gave my word!"

Vadim stared at him. Strange, it was getting difficult. Word. Honour. The world according to a baby American. As if it mattered. As if anybody cared. "Do you think you're harder than Mad Dog? You're not. You will break. I promise, you will break. And nothing will keep me from what I need to know. It's simple. He wouldn't want you to die for his secrets. He knows me, Donahue. You stand no chance in hell."

Matt could hardly swallow, sweat stinging in his eyes. "Why me. I don't understand." Didn't beg, not yet. "Mad Dog's my buddy." Couldn't say it. Couldn't admit to the sex.

Understanding did not matter. No why. Just how. Above all: when. Vadim shook his head. "Brave little soldier boy. Willing to die for a blowjob. You are so willing to die, you children."

"I don't want to die!" Matt started to fight against the restraints with all his strength, while trying to stay away from the blade as much as possible. "No! I didn't do anything. Let me go!"

Vadim moved in, pressed his hand to the kid's mouth, shut his nose off, too, waited whether the kid would be able to topple the chair. Matt was breathing hard against the hand, felt like suffocating, but still thrashed wildly, using all his strength until he ran out of air.

Vadim allowed the kid to fight, for a little, the adrenaline would work in his favour. Steadied the chair when it rocked, with a knee between the kid's knees. "Wrong company, Yank", he said, calmly, clearly, to allow the information to register properly and sink in. Allowed him to breathe through the nose, but kept the head pushed back so harshly that he stretched the kid's throat. He liked the view of that, healthy, strong flesh. Could imagine the kid arch like this when he came. Damn unlikely he'd ever see this.

Matt's breath came in frantic, sharp gusts, trying to remember everything he'd ever been told in training. How to survive, how to fool his captor, how not to break. But they'd never told him about a madman who was not playing by any rules.

Vadim wasn't in the mood for sex, forced or not. He wanted to know. Needed to break into another man's mind, not his body. There was no struggle involved.

How far are you willing to go, Vadim?

As far as I have to.

Copy that.

He hammered the knife into the chair, close to the kid's balls and Matt jumped within his bonds, half-muffled yelling against the hand. Vadim then took the pillow cover again. "You don't want to talk. Fine. No screaming, no talking. But you have to understand, Donahue, that thing like mine and Mad Dog's does not end like this. Not by you nor deserter stepping between us. Yes, you are pretty, and deserter is such nice man, but it won't end like this. If I am going crashing down, I'll take Dan with me. His life is mine. It cannot be separated. We are like Siamese twins sharing heart of a killer." He gave a laugh that only increased the tension in his chest.

Matt's eyes grew wider with every word. Insane, fucking insane. Completely unhinged, impossible to judge and no way to survive according to any rules he'd ever learned. He almost whimpered when the Russian continued.

"Believe it or not, but one of us will die. I know you are hoping right now it's me. You might as well be right. It won't matter, because I will destroy Dan on the way down. You, Donahue, are just collateral. Ah. I thought you'd understand that concept. You're Yank, after all." Vadim took his hand off, then forced the pillow cover back into the baby soldier's mouth, pushed the teeth apart when Matt tried to protest and resist, brought his lips close to the other's face. "I can smell your fear, Donahue. I know you want to talk. I can hear it in your breathing. But you won't. That's where I will fuck you up."

Matt was swallowing on the fabric, sweaty, uniform stained, whatever of it was still on his body. He stank of fear and loathing, while Vadim stepped back, then took off his watch, slipped it into his pocket, watched the young soldier fight his fear. Looked a lot like neither would budge. The kid had guts. Too bad the deck was stacked against him.

Vadim took off the vest, neatly folded it on the bed. Where those two must have fucked just an hour ago. Dan and the kid. He stared at the sheets, remembered a room like this. Remembered a lust that had destroyed his career. Worth it. Fuck it. He was crashing down, had been for nearly three years now. Maybe the day Dan had been blown up. Changed everything. He hadn't been able to stand what he was. Spetsnaz, officer, invader, fuck it. The lies. The subterfuge, treason, committed a hundred times, every time he had left Dan, had allowed Dan to leave. Had denied what he felt. Had not put everything on that card, that fucked-up feeling of belonging. Of love. This feeling was to love what a ravenous wolf was to a dog puppy. He wasn't even sure it fitted the bill. He pulled the shirt off. He paused for a moment, glanced at the kid. "I don't want to have to explain your blood on my camo at the gate", he clarified, and allowed his lips to curve into a lazy, dismissive smile.

Matt moaned against the cloth. Couldn't help but stare at the crazed bastard, fighting against the restraints once more. Had to get away, please, not die, not like this, couldn't do it anymore. Wanted to break, to give up, but hated himself for that very same thought.

Vadim loosened his belt, opened the fly, fully frontal to the kid. Part of the game. Showing off the body, the engine of destruction. Showing the implements of torture before the torture, a time-honoured tradition. Just wearing his briefs, black, clinging, he placed the camo on the bed, took an extra moment with that. He had time. The kid's time frame was now different. Minutes were hours, trapped like this.

Matt just concentrated on breathing, as hard as that was. Panic went up a notch. Sheer, unadulterated fear of dying like a dog.

Vadim closed the distance again, placed the knife against the kid's left nipple, cool perfection against something just too weak. Tilted the blade and pulled it across the skin. Felt the resistance only in his fingertips, saw a line open, and swell. Matt jerked and whimpered, tried to see what was happening, felt pain, too much, too sensitive, and he started to fight embarrassing tears.

Hardly more than cutting into the dermis, but the kid had no fucking clue. Would heal without a scar, and looked like a scratch. "Ah. I guess I'm already drawing blood", said Vadim, and smiled. Not enough to bead, or even run, but it did have an effect, he could see that in the Yank's eyes.

He brought the knife lower, and Matt shuddered, stilled, breathed harshly. Vadim placed the knife into the ridge between two muscles. Loved the contrast. "The Mujahideen, as you called them … to us, they were just bandits … they had something we called the 't-shirt'. They liked killing our men like that. Skin the torso of a man, pull the whole shit up, and knot it over his head. We found a few that were still alive, barely. Amazing what the human body can survive." He slowly pulled, another shallow cut, but long, and Matt nearly screamed into the gag.

"Of course, this blade is too broad for it. You need a proper skinner to do it. Takes some practice. I learnt to do it. Sometimes, I was tasked to kill a man and make it look like it had been somebody else. Using trademarks like that one did half the work for me. The first one was clumsy, but that was just a test run. I had it down on the second one."

Let the blade slip deeper, brought it to the insides of the kid's leg, felt that body turn to stone, and Matt's eyes filling with water. Tears he had tried so hard to fight, holding on by the thinnest thread. "Actually, I think I prefer you not talking." Vadim looked up into the kid's eyes to judge his reaction. Still not done. Well. The Yank just didn't have enough imagination.

Vadim took hold of the other's cock. Clearly not a masochist, ran his hand over it, patient, the touch deceptively gentle, couldn't help but wonder how Dan touched him. What Dan felt when fucking a guy half his age. "Ah, you hurt my feelings. Now, let's make this consensual, huh? Think of somebody else. Everybody else does." He gave a laugh, dark and cynical, when Matt let out a choked sound. Vadim paused to spit into his hand, began to go more seriously, twisted, pressed, pumped him nice and intense, felt his own body grow interested in the quarry, much like the flesh in his hand began to harden. "Now, that's better."

Matt fought. Fought his own body. Fucking treacherous body and its simple mechanics. Could hear nothing but the blood rushing in his ears, the pounding of his heart pounding, and his harsh breathing.

Vadim looked into the young soldier's eyes, saw a new level of fear. This was hardly something they learnt to resist. He'd be surprised if it was even mentioned in the Marines handbook. Nothing but friction, just like with Jean, nothing personal or intimate about it, no struggle. This was where he was going to fuck the kid up, pretty badly, depending on how strong he was in that area. Hard to judge. And he didn't actually care whether the Yank healed from this. Life was tough, and unpleasant, and never fair. The flesh was fully hard now, and Vadim looked down at it, kept it in his left hand, while reaching for the knife that was still stuck in the wood of the chair. Regarded the bare tip with a smile. "I'd feel so vulnerable", he murmured. Why on earth the Americans chopped away the foreskin was a mystery to him.

Matt cried now, pleading. Holy Mother of God and mom and pop and buddies and Mad Dog and please, please, no, not this. Not die like this.

Vadim took the knife and laid it flat against the tip of Matt's cock, moved his hand up to take more control, and let the flat blade run across the organ. The kid was sweating like a waterfall. Then, took the knife away and brought it back, tip of the cock in his hand, knife point moving towards it, like he wanted to stab it, and gingerly placed the steel tip into the slit, and turned the blade for just the hint of friction.

Matt broke. Resolve shattered, sobbing with panic and absolute terror. Attempted to shout against the gag, didn't have enough breath. Not dying like this, oh God, no. Shook his head, body tense as a rock, would do anything, anything!

Vadim glanced up, questioningly. "Oh. I almost forgot. Talking, now, is it?" He released the cock to pull out the gag. "Well then, talk. Everything. Each and every word."

Matt coughed, curled forward, relief for a split-second, before he came back up, head high. Still sobbing, godamned fucking tears of fear and dishonour.

"You fucked-up bastard!" He spat out the words with a dry voice. Choking on the humiliation. "You don't need to destroy Mad Dog anymore, you've already done it. Fuck you. Fuck you!" Matt was shouting and sobbing at the same time. Panic, disgust for himself, hatred for the madman and shame, terrible shame. He was shaking and he loathed himself for that weakness. "I promised him not to tell you, not to tell anyone. Gave my word. I fucking hate you. How the fuck can he still love you. How? How could he ever love you in the first place? You are disgusting, you make me sick." Matt was choking on tears and snot, tried to wipe his face on his shoulder. Trembling with rage and terror, but there was something else, an overwhelming anger.

You make my skin crawl. You make me sick. Seemed, Vadim mused, these days he had that effect on people. How the fuck can he still love you. Secret. This man was a whole lot closer to Dan than he had any right to be. Somebody to get drunk with and share secrets. That was more intimate than a blowjob, and Vadim felt bitter envy, and even worse resentment. Jealousy. He kept his face impassive. "I'd hate to repeat my question, Donahue." A warning.

"You want to know all he said? He cried, you understand? Damned Mad Dog cried. Drunk, for what? For you. For fucking you! Told me the whole story, told me all about Afghanistan, KGB and the way you fucked him up. Well and truly. You don't know what you did, do you? You wouldn't care. You don't care about anything." The tears had stopped, the fire of anger was burning now, taking over the fear. Matt had forgotten he was looking into death's face, his cock soft now, wilting against the steel. All he could think of was the shame of breaking down and telling everything he had promised he would never say. Shame, and rage, growing, burning.

Vadim tensed. And even that secret. Those many, many secrets, the shadow years. Dan had delivered them both into the hand of a child, on a drunken whim. Vadim pulled back, broke contact, moved the knife in his hand so it pointed against his elbow. He cried? We all do. Enough vodka, and we cry.

Matt was shouting by now, tears still running. "You don't deserve him. Of what I know of Mad Dog, he's a great guy. So fucking loyal, you wouldn't even know the word, have no idea of honour, do you? What the fuck do you care that he'd never gotten over you walking out; that he had given his word to that woman boss of his to not get himself killed. But you don't know, do you? The missions he's done? Suicidal. You fucked him up, congratulations, arsehole. He's hurting like shit, enough to get himself piss drunk, after all the time you son of a bitch walked out on him. You know that he sold everything he owned to bribe those people? Just to get you out. What for, for you? I don't get it, you don't fucking deserve anything."

Vadim stared, then broke eye contact, knew it showed that that had impacted, and pretended to get dressed. He still loves you. That was the prize he had come to claim. A secret. Dan did feel the same, there was something left. He was clutching at straws and knew at the same time how futile it was. He thought of selection, and the doctor, and all the hard work to get into the camp in the first place. Fuelled by a hope that seeing Dan might make things alright for both of them; about saying goodbye, or maybe find out if there was anything, anything left to feel.

Matt was getting so angry, the fear began to fade. "I don't understand what he's ever seen in you. You asshole, you fucking asshole! Accusing him of who knows the fuck what, and now he's getting himself redeployed and none of us his buddies know where to, because of his asshole of a fucking ex!" Matt was seething now, despite his situation. All but forgotten, replaced by something bigger and so insane, he was yelling at the Russian madman. No tears anymore, just rage. Tearing at the restraints again, this time with loathing, despising that man before him.

Redeployed. No. Dan was about to cover his tracks and vanish in a different war. And the woman diplomat wouldn't send him after Dan. Last chance. Wasted. He looked at the kid that was getting himself all worked up, felt nothing for him but envy. He'd live. He'd survive this, mentally. That anger would help him cope. Dan. We ruined it. We broke it beyond repair. Vadim pulled his trousers back up, slipped into the shirt, the vest, closed the belt, sat down on the bed to tie his boots.

"I hope you'll die, fucker." Matt shouted, "I hope you die like a dog, screaming in agony, because you deserve it. But since that would fuck Mad Dog up even more if he witnessed that, do us all a favour and go and die like a fucking dog once he's gone. So that he will eventually forget you, because he doesn't deserve this shit!" Matt spat at Vadim, right into his face, "Fuck you, asshole. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you! Fucking kill me now if you want to. Do it, just do it already. Kill me now, hear me? Kill me!" Matt was mad with rage, completely out of his mind.

Vadim looked up, wiped the spit off on the arm of his vest, looked at the kid. He had nothing in his defence. Had stopped defending himself somewhere in prison. Don't go there. Honour, loyalty, pride. Yeah, right. He gave a smile, bared his teeth and stepped closer again. Ripped the name tag off Donahue's tunic while Matt glared at him, unable to stop him. Vadim slipped the trophy into his pocket, pulled his watch free and closed the wristband, sneering. "Welcome to my fan club, jarhead. Run mewling back to Dan and tell him Vadim made you cry." The poison returned. "That's right, you'll live. I know everything I required to know." He brought the knife back out, stepped behind the chair and cut the plastic restraints.

Matt sat still, just as tense as before, the anger still burning, but something else there, big and overwhelming and it wasn't relief. Sat wary. Silent now while breathing hard. Expecting the worst. A knife at his jaw, slitting his throat, or stabbed in the back.

Vadim glanced down, checked, from the look of the Yank's hands and wrists, he'd be alright. They were slightly swollen, a bit raw, but nothing that didn't heal in a day or two. He stepped back, expected Donahue to attack him and the knife was ready. He'd die if he attacked him, simple. His patience was worn thin, and he only needed to be free and alive long enough to finish this. Put Dan and himself out of their miseries.

But there was nothing, no movement, only extreme tension in Matt's body. Live. Over? Matt could feel the cuts burning, and the swallowed the last of the snot from his sobbing, tears still stinging. Fucker. Bastard. He hated that Russian asshole. Hated him so much, he wanted him dead.

Vadim stood, looked down at the kid. Dan wouldn't take him back, love or not. He didn't believe it. Dan would never admit to it. He'd crossed the line, all he had to do was finish walking the distance. Get Dan to kill him, finish him off, thought the other might come to terms with that, and that meant he didn't have to turn the gun on himself. Despair had never been darker, never been more enticing. End this. The nightmares, the envy, the bitterness. He wanted that love. He couldn't have it. No way to take it or force it. It was fucked beyond recognition. Donahue seemed to work as a replacement. Jean was the friend, this was the lover. Dan had everything he needed to survive.

He moved towards the door, put his hand on the frame. "Ah. Rule one in a hostage situation: Don't antagonize your captors. Show respect. Befriend them." Vadim smirked. "I'd grade that as a failure, Yank."

And left into the night.

Matt turned his head, burst into action and shouted, "fuck off and die!" The Russian was gone and he could suddenly move. He had to get out of this place, back to his unit. Grabbed the stale bottle of water beside the bed, chucked water over his face before pulling up his uniform trousers. Standing, he felt dizzy, but he gritted his teeth, inspecting the damage. Shallow cuts. The bastard had known what he was doing. Known far too damn well. Rubbed his wrists and put his uniform back together. His hands were shaking, but he would pretend nothing had happened. Way to go, Matt. Way to go. A fun fuck ending in a fucked-up mess. So much for sex and fun and rock 'n roll.

He was out of the room and back in the night, heading towards camp, but he wouldn't sleep that night.

* * *

That night in bed, Vadim stared into the darkness, shifted every now and then to convince himself that he wasn't tied up, moved his arms, his legs. Thought of the kid. Strange. No other victim had stayed with him after the job was done. But he did remember them. Remembered Platon, remembered his unassuming sweetness, his desire to go home, have an education, have a life after Afghanistan. Remembered the smell of Platon's blood. Smelt just like that of anybody else. Red colour. Nothing to it. People die. And this kid. Strength in the face of adversity. Anger replacing fear. Donahue replacing Krasnorada. Two years. Plus six months.

It's me, thought Vadim. I'm trapped in the past. I'm still in Afghanistan.

The kid and Dan. Hard to imagine and it still made so much sense. That fresh-faced innocence. Dan, who'd seen and done everything.

Vadim dozed off for a while, had a vivid dream that was about sex, wild, cruel sex, painful, but oh so good, gut wrenching. He thought it was Dan who fucked him so hard he thought he'd have to die, and he cried when it happened, cried during the sex, felt burnt to ashes, his own need impossible to survive, knew there was blood, a knife that sliced through skin, carved him open, heavy bleeding, hoped he'd come before he would be too weak to feel anything, could feel the blood leave him, the last shreds of his life for Dan, felt how he got numb, bleed out with the sweat. Cried with relief that Dan would still have him, didn't care he also killed him, and woke up horny and with gunk covering his eyes and lashes, breathing hard.

Too vivid. Too vivid, too intense, feared he'd been fucked with a knife, couldn't remember, didn't dare to. Only knew he'd died in the dream. And how good it had felt, dying.

How much his body liked the thought. He finished himself off, felt miserable, felt it like a loss, and cried, silently. Nerves so bare he felt raw and pained, as bad as after the first interrogations. No. Don't go there. He'd pleaded, just like Donahue. He'd wanted to survive. Just like Donahue. That had changed, now. He didn't care.

Did you ever consider suicide?

Dr Williams. He'd known. It was a normal response to trauma. He probably had put it down to survivor's guilt, some fucked-up misunderstanding. Ten years in Afghanistan can fuck a man up.

I will live. I have something to work towards. That keeps me on target. I am focused, Sir. As long as I have a target, I keep going.

We will have to give you a target, then. But be advised that this might not be enough.

Had worked to prove he wasn't broken. Worked to see Dan again, forced that aging body to compete when his prime was over, when he clearly didn't heal as fast anymore, when his body punished him with pain for carelessness. All for unfinished business. Had felt he'd owed him. And had.

So focused on the landing of the plane, so focused on seeing Dan again that there was not a single thought that reached beyond that. He'd worked towards it, like he had worked towards winning a war. Victory was supposed to be sweet, the end of all strife. Victory resolved everything. Had relied on Dan's goodwill, on his understanding, on a bond they'd forged with sex and pain and trust. No sex, no trust. Plenty of pain. That was all that was left now. And that had to end.

Vadim burrowed his face into the pillow, cried, he didn't want to die, didn't want to lose this battle, but there was no place he could go. No life. No alternatives. He had no idea how to be free. Dishonoured, disrespected, fucked-up, with no goal, no target, nothing worth fighting for, no country. He thought maybe Katya would take him back, allow him to have a bit of her life, like friends, brother and sister, as awkward as that would be after all that time. It was the only bit of life he had left, a few things that weren't all darkness, a few things he hadn't ruined. Hoped the kids were growing up to be good people, despite his hand in their life. Two people he hadn't fucked up. Two he'd never touch. He should stay away from them. Another reason to remove himself from the equation.

And the hope that had kept him going in prison. He should have died the night they'd taken him in that hotel. With the feeling Dan loved him, and that he loved Dan, invincible, indestructible, with the illusion he was a worthy man. Honourable, a man who finally did what he was supposed to be doing, one that followed his heart instead of orders. A good man, a lover, a soldier defeated, but with his integrity intact.

A walking dead man. Vadim wiped the tears away, swallowed, looked at the dark ceiling, too close, felt trapped in an oversized coffin. He'd seen death. He knew what it would look like on his body. Had a fair idea what the temperatures would do to his skin, his flesh. He'd fester within hours. They'd bury him somewhere here, no 'home' to send him back to.

He was not an infidel, just somebody who didn't believe, not even a lip-servicing Christian. Clearly doomed. He didn't believe in any kind of afterlife. Didn't think there could be a god sadistic enough to create stuff just to make it suffer. Would resent a god that did that. It would just be over, darkness, with no senses to perceive it. An end to everything. Which sounded like a good deal. Nobody required him, he'd be a lost investment to the boss, eleven years worth of memories to some people. He'd be in no position to care whether those memories were good or bad. He hoped there were some good ones. Knew there were good ones, not all bad, some good stuff before he had ruined it. Hoped his death might counter some of the bad shit, but he'd be in no state to care. He cared right now, but that would pass.

He got up, cleaned his tin hut. Sorted his locker, shined the spare pair of boots, made sure everything was in top shape. Field bed, pillows, everything like he was still in the army, and still did this himself. Soothed his mind. He'd not give any reasons for further ridicule. Arranged the books on his shelf by size, not that he had managed to read any, but that hadn't kept him from trying, pulled the plug on the radio, took out the trash. Checked the letters, made sure they were correctly addressed. One to Katya, another one to Anoushka, and one to Nikolai, to be sent via the Hungarian. How grateful he was, grow up to be honourable people, just in case anything happens to me. I lived the life I wanted to live. It was my decision, all of it. My responsibility. There is nobody else to blame. True enough. Another letter, that passed as a 'will', his pay to be refunded to the place where it had come from. The closest he'd come to admitting this was suicide. I am a wasted investment. Here's your money back.

Yet another letter - he'd written this five or six times and cried too hard the last two times. To Dan. But Dan was the very tool with which he was about to kill himself. Had tried many things, one of them was just 'I love you, I'm not a good man, but I love you'. And: 'Forgive me. Forgive me for being the man I am'.

All that horrible darkness, the bitterness, the relentless pain. He doubted Dan could forgive. No. Disbelieved. Didn't think his love made a difference. Not now, not with Donahue and Jean. Donahue had told him there was still love. Maybe it made a difference. Maybe, in a fucked-up way, Dan would understand. Maybe. But then, it was better to not say anything than saying the wrong thing. It would be like turning the knife in the man's heart. Nothing he could write would take that away, forcing Dan to kill him. It was better when that scrap of love turned into hatred as well.

He burnt that letter, then finished cleaning up his kit. Placed the photos into a bag, labelled it, put the letters on top, what 'personal effects' he had. Would tell everybody he had anticipated death. And being killed by Dan made sense. A last, fucked-up pledge. A last pain. A last satisfaction. He hoped Dan understood it the right way. But it didn't matter. It would end like this. Better than how it was going. Much better. Less painful. Dan would lose control, and he was probably the only man who would manage to do it. One last favour.

Vadim checked and double checked his gear, then went to shower, shaved with the care of a man condemned, shaved the sides of his head, his neck, took all the care that was necessary to make a bit of a dignified impression, at least that, at least leave like a soldier. With a modicum of face.

Then, dressed, impeccably, and went to the Mess when it was time. He wasn't hungry, went for orange juice, shoved token scrambled eggs on a plate he didn't intend to finish. Dan wasn't there. Damn. But Jean was. The legionnaire would do. He'd be a tool for a tool.

Vadim moved towards him, saw Jean's crew glance up, while the legionnaire kept drinking coffee. The tension around the man spoke volumes.

Vadim put the tray down on the same table. Saw Jean look up, eyes baleful. "How's the screaming going, you sick fuck?" In Russian.

Vadim smiled. "I slept like a baby." In English.

Jean looked up, seemed almost worried at that, and stared at Vadim as Vadim pulled out the name tag and tossed it on the table. It landed with the right side up, and read 'Donahue'.

"What's that?"

"A trophy." Vadim kept smiling. "You might want to ask your 'stud'." English.

Pascal stared at him, then laughed, like it was some stupid-ass insider joke or running gag, and Jean looked uncomfortable, but just for a moment. "Will do. Now piss off."

Vadim drank his orange juice, then cleaned away the tray. Stepped outside, in the middle of camp. Knew Dan would be able to see him, knew it would happen right here. Dangerous, they might be stopped, but he counted on Dan's effectiveness and speed. It would be done within minutes. Maybe Dan had the presence of mind to ask him into a different part of the camp. At the moment, the main point was to be visible and easily found.

He looked up into the sky, a pale blue that would heat up soon. He'd be dead before it became hot, he'd die in the morning cool. Good timing.

Dan was crossing the open space in front of the tin huts, showered and shaved, dressed in t-shirt, trousers and boots instead of his customary flip-flops and shorts on days off duty. Seemed he had something planned for that day. He rubbed his temples with a groan, fighting off a hangover induced headache, thankful for the shades that kept the worst of the morning sun away. Muttering something to himself before he glanced up and set eyes on Vadim. His stance changed immediately. There was tension, his lips set into a thin line, glaring at the Russian before heading straight into the Mess tent. He needed food. Lots of it, and the company of men who knew nothing about his past. Some stupid jokes, a bit of banter and a good amount of laughter would do just nicely.

Getting his tray laden with double helpings of everything, he spotted Jean and Pascal at a table and grinned, heading straight towards them and plonking tray and himself down. "Morning, mates." Lifting his shades for a moment, revealing red-veined eyes. "How's things?" Downing the first cup of coffee in one go.

Jean's hand closed around a scrap of cloth. "Morning." He saw that Pascal was about to say something, and even for an ex-para, Pascal was a little slow to pick up on social interaction. Which could save the day, or ruin it. Mind racing, but then he decided to speak Russian to keep Pascal out of the conversation. Pascal would think he knew what it was about. "Do you know anybody called this?" He opened his hand and dropped the name tag, then emptied his coffee, like this was routine.

The moment Dan's eyes fell onto the name tag, he dropped the Styrofoam cup and the rest of the coffee splattered over the table. "Where did you get that from?" Russian, as well.

Pascal jumped up as the coffee ran towards him and he cursed, which at least prevented him form saying anything stupid, and for once, Jean was grateful. "The Russian. He said it was a trophy. That was all he said."

Dan ignored Pascal, coffee, even Jean. Staring at the name tag, picking it up between his fingers. 'Donahue'. Matt. Fuck, Matt! "Trophy. He said trophy?" Still in Russian. "When."

Jean opened his hand and splayed the fingers. Five. "He just dropped it off."

Dan nodded, took off his shades, had never done that in public before. Handed them to Jean. "Hold onto them for me." Right fist clenched around the name tag, he stood up. "Stay here." Said nothing more, just turned and walked out of the Mess. Not running. Not walking. A purposeful march. One goal. One target. Shouting in Russian once he had stepped out of the tent, "Where are you, you fucking cunt!"

Vadim glanced back to the tent, over his shoulder. Like clockwork. Mind over emotions. Strings to pull, reflexes to trigger. Life could be simple. He turned, raised his hands, waved Dan towards him with his fingers. A mocking gesture, like they were already fighting. Waited till Dan had seen him, then broke into a run, to get to the racing track. Out of sight. A good place for a fight or murder. Felt good, running, last good thing he'd feel in his life. He was still faster than Dan, Dan and his fucked knees.

And Dan broke into a run, as expected. He'd run to the end of the next desert to beat that fucking piece of scum into a pulp. Vadim stopped on the wide open ground, a slight sheen of sweat, heart pumping. Felt good, and waited for the other. Thirty yards. Twenty-five. Twenty, Dan was shouting, not out of breath, just not that fast. "Where the fuck did you get the name tag from. Answer me, cunt!" Vadim assumed a defensive position, like he would actually fight. He'd put up an act, not more.

Dan stopped, opened his fist. Not even in a sweat yet. Heat. Dan. Heat and Dan and blood and murder. "Where did you get the name tag from!"

"I took it from his uniform when he was tied up and crying", said Vadim. "I followed you last night. He was helpless when you were gone. He never saw me coming." Vadim snarled, felt the darkness roll and coil, the poisonous blood. Predator. Utterly incapable of remorse. "He didn't give me enough of a fight, but give he did." He stared at Dan, gave a cruel, rough laugh. "Nowhere near as fierce a fight as it was taking you down. I didn't even need Vanya to take him prisoner." Stoke the fire, prodded the tiger. Hate me. Hate me like you did that night. Let's start at the beginning, and end it right there, annihilate everything. Annihilate me.

"No!" A roar of rage tore out of Dan. Had the presence of mind to stuff the name tag into a pocket before running towards and body slamming into Vadim. "I'll fucking kill you!" Impact of body upon body, shoulder first, square into the other's chest, where he was the most vulnerable. Hitting the solar plexus straight on.

The half-hearted block did nothing to take the force out of the charge. Vadim thought that that was an excellent way to start it, then the pain was a fist against his heart, eradicated thought, pain like a bullet, impact, heat. He staggered back, fell, body didn't obey, breath, heartbeat, all had stalled, stopped, chest too tight to breathe. Saw people running towards them. Body curled up, automatically, felt his breath come back like yet another impact, hurting like fuck.

"Fuck you!" Dan snarled, had his body more under control than ever before. Dozens of fist fights since he had joined the camp. The fag. The poof. The fucking faggot. He'd learned with every fight. A better killer than even in his SAS days. Bare-fisted, he'd smash the bastard's face in with nothing but his knuckles. Straddling the curled-up body, he hit the forehead once, twice, forcing the head back. "Look at me while you fucking die!" Hit the face, left, right, right again, jaw, temple, working his way to the centre, he'd broken the nose before, could break it again, but that wouldn't be enough. "Die! Fucking die already. Cunt!" Aimed for the neck and throat instead. Killer punches, designed to smash and tear the trachea apart. The fucking rapist would die in agony.

Vadim tried to protect his face, saw the rage on Dan's features, knew, yes, he'd done it, finally, the rain of blows would do it. Dan's weight, Dan's rage, Dan's vengeance, finally, for something he'd done so long ago. Fair payment. Lips smashed, an agonizing blow to the side of the throat which hadn't come in true. Felt Dan's punches open the defence, never worked, this wasn't boxing, no gloves to hide behind. His body wanted to fight back, hurt too much, he stared into Dan's face and thought you'll never know. I'll drown in my own blood, will never breathe again, but you'll never know. Felt a blow that came in true, the pain almost blacked him out. Didn't cling to anything, no feelings, no memories, no names. Had said his goodbyes long ago.

Jean came in a full run, freed his arm on the way, tore the sling, lunged at Dan, both arms around the other before any of those vicious blows could kill. "Dan! Don't! Fucking don't!" Felt him struggle, but at least had knocked him off the Russian, who didn't move, face one bloodied mess. Pascal had been right behind him, he hoped he'd have the presence of mind to act. Jean resisted Dan's struggling, felt his elbow hurt, grate like it was rusty, but clung to him, kept Dan's face in his hands. "Don't. Put a fucking bullet into his back, but don't kill him in camp. Listen to me!"

"He did it!" Dan was fighting Jean as if he were still fighting Vadim, but Jean had the better position and kept the upper hand, fucked elbow or not. "He did it again! Let go!" He was like a raging bull, vying for blood. Muscles, tendons, blood vessels beneath the surface of his tanned skin, all raised, hard, ropey. "Fuck off, Jean, this isn't your war! It's mine!" He could hardly breathe nor speak, could see nothing but a red haze and blurry vision.

Jean kept Dan under control with his own weight, would take any blow, tried to keep him pinned. "I know … he deserves it, Dan, he deserves it all, fuck I'd hold him down so you can fucking kill him, but not in camp. He's not worth it. He's nothing, he's scum, listen to me."

"I don't want to listen!" Dan shouted at Jean, one last effort to free himself, but the rage was starting to subside, draining his body and most of all his soul. "You shouldn't have fucking stopped me. Fuck." Jerked in the human restraint, then stilled. "Fuck!"

"Believe me, I'm already sorry …" Jean glanced up to see Pascal check on the Russian, check the throat. Pascal seemed worried, but not alarmed. Good. Bad. Shit. "What the fuck did he do", he muttered, holding Dan under control, away from the Russian.

Dan was breathing hard, the come-down harsh, like cold turkey with the dirty needle still stuck in his vein. Shaking his head. No. Wouldn't talk. Couldn't tell. "It's not your war." Repeated, while the tension in his body was draining away, leaving him aching. Sore. Empty. Refusing to look at Vadim. "Used to be ours. Only ours."

"Damn right", murmured Jean, releasing some of the pressure, grew tired, felt his elbow throb. Fuck. So much for 'no strain'. He patted Dan's face, touch meant tender, but Pascal wouldn't be able to tell. "How's the Russian doing?"

"Breathing", said Pascal. "He'll come round. Guess that's a concussion."

"He fell", said Jean. "Didn't tie his shoe laces. I can't have them both in the fucking brig after an ass-chewing."

Pascal grinned and gave a thumbs up. Jean got off Dan, released him and offered his good hand. "Come." But before Dan could take it, there was movement and sound from Krasnorada: "He sucks good cock, yes, Jean?" In English

Jean covered the distance, wanted to fucking kick the bastard, held back, but Dan was faster. Had got onto his feet and covered the few steps before either could hold him back. Delivering a kick into Vadim's ribs that was meant to break bones, only a slightly off aim prevented the worst from happening. "Fucking shut up and die, cunt!" He didn't get another kick in, Jean moved between Dan and Krasnorada, the good hand on his upper arm. "I need to check with the medic. Arm fucking hurts." Take Dan's mind off the enemy, who had curled up from the kick, smashed lips opened, teeth pink with blood, eyes shut against the pain. Good.

The fight had drained everything out of Dan yet the slightest provocation flared the rage back up again. "Sorry, mate." To Jean, glanced at Pascal. Neither would talk. He couldn't risk it.

Jean waved. "Whatever, don't worry about it." He looked at Pascal. "Make sure a medic checks up on him." Hoped Pascal understood that letting Krasnorada lie there for a bit would keep Dan and him separated. He began to turn back towards camp, picked up the sling that lay discarded on the way.

"You shouldn't have stopped me." Dan protested, "I'd rather go to prison than let that cunt live." He followed Jean, glancing backwards to where Vadim lay curled up, before forcing himself to take his eyes away.

"We can always arrange an accident by sniper", said Jean on the way to the medic's tent. "But not like this. He must have planned this. He wanted you to do this. That's the single best reason not to do it. Because he wants it."

Dan stopped as if frozen on the spot. "What?"

Jean glanced around. "Do you see anybody out here? Witnesses? And then, coming up to me and tell me I should tell you he took a trophy from somebody? I assume that somebody is somebody you … know quite well. Can't remember the name, but that's me, good old Jean having trouble remembering names and faces. Must be the shit they gave us in case of a chemical attack." Indicated back to Vadim and Pascal. "You nearly did it, and look at you. Not a scratch on you. Bruised knuckles, but that's it."

Dan said nothing. Stared at Jean. Planned. Vadim had planned it. The showers. The knife. The attempt to get him to fight. He hadn't bitten then, but had jumped at the chance now. The fucker had forced a friend into the equation. "Up close and personal." Dan murmured to himself. Fists clenching and unclenching. Could feel the ache now, where knuckles had connected with skin, muscle and bone. How satisfying it had been.

"Fucking arsehole planned it." He was breathing hard, shook his head, glanced back to where Pascal stood above Vadim. "Fucking bastard wanted me to kill him." Couldn't move, couldn't think. "Why? Fuck, why!" Didn't expect an answer. "I got to get out of here."

"Good idea. But that was a suicide attempt and we can't even get him for it." Jean shook his head. "And that bastard will have a weapon out there on patrol. Woah, no way. I'll have a word with the CO. Krasnorada is nowhere near fit for duty, and he needs to get his head checked."

Dan nodded at the latter. Shit, he couldn't even get a single clear thought himself anymore.

Jean continued, "Can't have him out there with my boys. And whatever shit he'll pull when he's in his hut. Nope. I want him in the brig."

"No." Dan suddenly stopped the other, "You can't do that. Lock him up in the brig and he'll find a way to kill himself. Even if that means running against the wall enough times to split his goddamned skull." Dan shook his head, "I'm not making excuses. I was ready to kill that bastard, nothing would have felt better than spill the fucker's blood. I swear, if he has done what he wanted me to believe he has done, I will kill Vadim Krasnorada, and no one will keep me from it, but you can't lock him up. He's fucked up alright. He needs help alright. But not here. He's a fucking nutcase, but if you lock him up, like in the Lubyanka, it'd be better to kill him first. Not that I care." Lie, Dan? Still a lie. "But you don't want the blame afterwards."

Jean groaned with frustration. "And who's going to watch over him and make sure that he doesn't shoot himself? Or us, and then himself? And how do I sell the whole hog to the CO?" He rubbed the base of his nose. "Okay. I will talk to him about the screaming at night. And propose that man gets his head sorted while on R&R. And if Krasnorada does not show significant changes, I'll get each and every one of the boys to complain and swear holy oaths he's been raping baby rabbits out in Iraq. I want him out of here."

Dan nodded, "just drop the bit with the baby rabbits." Started to walk, away from the man still lying on the ground, whose blood was drying on his knuckles.

"Damn, that was my favourite part." Jean laughed, shaking his head.

What has happened to us, Dan thought, and when did it happen. I would have killed you, murdered you, and you wanted me to, and I still will, if I find out you didn't lie.

"You think I got a chance to get into the Yank camp?" Dan asked, "got to have a swift word with someone who lost something." He was flexing his hands as he walked Jean towards the medical tent. He'd have to hide his scraped knuckles, knowing that Jean and Pascal would swear that the Russian had lost his balance while tying his laces.

Jean smiled, but didn't make eye contact. "I've heard a story that they requested some kit from us. Maybe they are getting sick of their MREs and are exchanging some of theirs for ours. I know the QM is involved, maybe he needs a hand or two for unpacking. Talk to him."

"Cheers, mate." Dan didn't smile, just flashed something which could pass for it. "Got my shades? I feel naked." Held out his hand. "Got to clean up first and then have a word with the QM. Need to check up after that, when I can get out and light fire under some arses. Better sooner than later."

Jean nodded and pulled the shades from his breast pocket. Looked like they had survived the small wrestling match. He put them in Dan's hand. "Yeah. Good luck with the guy who lost his stuff. I'll go off to get my ass chewed by the medic and the CO. Pretty sure the CO is a little sweet on me." He winked. "Like all faggots in this goddamned camp." Gave Dan a slap against the shoulder, and turned.

"Not all, Jean. Remember." Dan turned as well, slipped the shades back over his eyes and made his way to the shower block to wash the evidence off his hands.

He'd almost killed Vadim. He couldn't bear it.

* * *

Dan's day couldn't possibly get anymore worse than the morning had started, but it got a hell of a lot more hectic. He remained under such tension and strain he was like a coiled spring, ready to snap any moment. He had to postpone his arrangements for the day off, instead sweet-talked the QM into letting him co-deliver the requested kit into the American camp. Heading straight for the accommodation tents, he'd been lucky. Matt Donahue was lying on his bunk, chilling out while reading some paperback. Dan had become buddy-friendly with a lot of the kids who came popping down to the bar for a soft drink whenever they were allowed to, and was able to pry Matt away to exchange a few words in privacy, without anyone suspecting more than a quick exchange of banter between mates. There were quite a few in that camp who secretly admired the old Mad Dog for his guts.

Matt was angry, but Dan had expected worse. Had prepared himself for blame and spite, instead meeting anger, hurt and a chilling edge to the kid that Dan had never encountered before in the Yank who'd always been a happy-go-lucky twenty year old jarhead. It sobered Dan, worried him, but clung to 'that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger'. He handed the name tag back to his mate and started asking questions. Matt couldn't understand why Dan was adamant and kept asking several times if he had been raped and refused to admit to it, until Matt lost his temper in a short-fused but spectacularly impressive way, leaving Dan absolutely convinced that the kid was telling the truth. Shallow cuts, Matt admitted to, swollen wrists from the rope and a spot of beating, but most of all fear and goddamned knife play that had gotten to him. Matt apologised, over and over again, for having told everything that Dan had spilled, the love and lies, the hatred and emptiness and most of all the pain, but Dan reassured him that it did not matter, and that anyone would have broken down and told it all if faced with that lunatic.

He said his good-byes, knowing they wouldn't have another chance to meet again and Matt seemed to be everything but interested in sex right now. Understandable, Dan had a fair idea how much the kid was fucked up, faced with Vadim at his worst, and he wished him good luck with his boyfriend and a bloody good military career.

Dan left when Matt started drilling him for an answer why he had been asking about rape several times and if that fucking bastard of a Russian madman had been known for the shit, but Dan shook his head, refused to answer and left Matt with a slap on the shoulder and an apology for having dragged him into a private war.

Collateral damage.

When Dan arrived back in the British camp, he managed to get an appointment with the CO, demanding the earliest possible date out there, being told that arrangements would be made within a week, probably sooner. They still were not sure where he'd be redeployed to, but there were plans afoot and the CO could not wait for the day Dan, the trouble maker, was leaving his camp, no matter how good he was in his job. Dan grinned, wryly, thanked the poncy arse, then pushed the shades back over his eyes. Finding scran, then solitude and silence in his overheated room, sitting naked on his bunk. Guzzling lukewarm water and staring at the metal walls, thinking.

It was already evening when he pulled the shorts on, threw a t-shirt over his head and found the battered flip-flops. His last mission for the day, the week, and the Gulf, would not need protective gear. Not anymore.

Dan was making his way through the dusk, past a handful of rooms in the row of tin huts, aiming straight for one he had never been in before. The lion's den. He didn't knock on the door, just hammered once with his fist against it, before walking inside, unannounced. He needed answers. Simple ones this time.

The door was open. A fan was running, adding a slight whirr to the room. Nothing else. The radio was unplugged, the cable neatly fixed to the side with duct tape. The room impeccable, no personal effects visible, no photos, the books in a line, untouched. No food. No water.

Dan stepped inside, closed the door behind him, allowing his eyes to get used to the gloom. Saying nothing for a long time while looking around, taking in every little detail. He'd never seen a place that was Vadim's own, not in eleven years. Twelve almost.

Vadim was lying on the field bed, wearing the British camo that he had adopted since the selection. Had felt odd, but he'd worn different camo patterns in his life, most of them to confuse the enemy. Take on different roles, nationalities, spetsnaz style warfare. The shirt was unbuttoned, boots shined and off, the only two things that implied the temperature. Dark sweat patches on the undershirt, old burn mark under the throat barely visible in the gloom. One hand was up to keep something cooling to his face, elbow propped against the wall, as if Vadim couldn't be bothered holding it up with his own strength. His face was mostly covered, apart from one blue eye, which opened to reveal a bloodied white rim, the area around it swollen where fist had hit cheekbone. Vadim's gaze focused on Dan and there was a flicker of tension, body panicking at the potential pain, the brute force, the potential killer.

Dan saw the sudden tension, did nothing, thought nothing either. Silent, still, until Vadim indicated the slightest nod, stoic, fatalistic, and closed his eye again. The left hand that had been resting on Vadim's stomach came to rest on the bed, palm towards the ceiling. His chest expanded with deeper breaths, soundless.

"I want you to answer me a few questions. It's simple. Yes or no will do. Can you do that?" Dan asked into the silence.

Vadim adjusted the cloth on his face to bare the lips, bruised, swollen. They hardly moved. "Yes."

Dan nodded. "You did not rape Donahue." He knew the answer already, but this was no game. It was deadly serious and it was big. Dark. Dangerous and fucking painful. He paused, waiting for the answer.

"No. I fucked his mind, but that's it."

"You lied to me by implying that you did do to the kid what you had done to me." Another pause, Dan was still standing in the middle of the room.

"Yes."

"You manipulated me into killing you, my bare fists as the weapon of your murder, and you would have succeeded had Jean and Pascal not interrupted." Dan was breathing evenly.

"Yes. Fuck them."

"You selfishly decided I would end your life. I would live with the guilt. I would be sentenced for murder." Three questions - three answers? Dan stood still, not a muscle twitched, only a few long hairs moved by a stray breeze from the fan.

"No. Not murder. Grievous assault, resulting in my death. You have witnesses in your favour. A beating that went too far. There were plenty of them. None of those were attempted murder." Vadim paused. "Selfish." That depended entirely on the perspective, the state hadn't liked this, the individual removing himself from the pool of workers and soldiers by his own leave. It was really a question of who owned a life. And who owned his? Not his homeland, and Britain handled him like something useful, but distasteful. Not a homeland. No army, just a job now. Now, Dan hadn't wanted his life, either. As if it weren't worthy enough for anybody to want it. Ironic. "Every decision is selfish. Everything we do is selfish. Dying is selfish. So is killing. I wanted you to hate me enough to do it."

"Because coming back was not what you had expected?" Still no movement, just Dan, dusk, and death.

"Coming back where?" Vadim opened that bloodshot eye again. "The plan was sound. I underestimated Jean. Or overestimated." He sounded tired.

"Coming back from wherever you had fucked off to. Coming back to where I was." Coming back to me? "Don't play dumb." Dan frowned, using his voice like a whiplash. "I don't even know where the fuck you'd fucked off to, how the fuck you came to the Gulf and most of all why the fuck you showed up here. Why?" He snorted, "No. Don't think I expect an answer." He moved, but only to put his hands into the pockets of his cut-off camo shorts.

"The short version: I was caught breaking and entering in Sweden. I got in touch with the boss lady, she offered me a job. I trained with the Royal Marines, and went through SAS selection to prove I can still shoot a rifle. And I was posted here, a mercenary like you. I requested to be sent to the same place."

"What the fuck were you thinking, Vadim? Half a year. Six fucking months of nothing. You could have been dead for all I knew." And it probably would have been easier than this now.

I was like dead. Vadim closed his eye again, it felt swollen and itchy, but it looked better than the other one. He shifted the cooling towel to cover it again.

Dan continued, trying to understand. "Two years, fucker, two years I had been hoping and working towards that one moment, for when you'd come back. Two fucking years and you left without a word, no note, not a fucking thing." Dan glanced over to the bare window, shook his head. "Just one word, anything, and I might not have understood, but fuck, I would have respected your decision. Just one fucking measly pathetic word would have done it. Just one, you thoughtless bastard."

Vadim's jaw muscles tensed. "It was not a decision. I couldn't think. I couldn't feel. I couldn't decide. Too much. It was too much. Your guys put me back together. I felt back in control. I came here to ... do what I should have done, and couldn't. It's not an excuse. I should have been capable of acting and deciding. It was a weakness. I was not in control." Sounding much like he was debriefing after an exercise to a superior. I blew it. I accept full responsibility. Punish me.

"Then what happened to you? What the fuck happened to you in Russia?"

Vadim's fist tightened, pressed against the outside of his thigh. Solitary. Confinement. He needed to see, to move. He took the wet towel off, couldn't stand the soothing darkness, manoeuvred his body to lean against the wall, face discoloured, one eye blackened and swollen. "Russia told me in no uncertain terms she's finished with me." My country. I was good enough to kill for Russia; suffer, bleed and be tortured for Russia, but I wasn't good enough to be forgiven - for one thing, being human.

Dan shook his head again, pulled his shoulders up before letting them drop. Resigned. "I don't claim I understand, but whatever it is that fucked you up, you got to get help, Vadim. And that help can't be me. You got to get your head sorted."

And I will be gone. Never knowing if you made it, because I can't. Too late.

"I've had help. I'm fit for service." Not for polite company, but for service. Shoot straight, run, march, kill. Suicidal, but fit for service. He wasn't sure he had fooled them, or whether they had made allowances. Something in Dan's voice made him look up, concern, more than accusations, a warmth that threatened to choke him. Wanted to beg. Ask. Hope. Felt his eyes burn.

Dan nodded his head slowly. Fit for service, but not fit for life, apparently not. "I can't stay, because what you've done this time was too close for fucking comfort."

Vadim nodded. "Yeah. That was the plan. It worked halfway. But no plan ..." survives enemy contact. He looked at Dan, that sunburnt bronzed dark-haired man he had wanted all the time, and who was already gone. Posted somewhere else. Loving, needing, trusting somebody else. "It's alright. It's good now." I'll live. No. Lie. You did everything you could, I used you, manipulated you, hurt you, and you're still here to ask questions. Courageous Dan. I've done everything I could think of to force you, but that's expended, the last bullet expended, nothing more, no weakness, no link, no guilt. No desire, no touch. Dan was free now, untouchable.

Again that slow, resigned nod. Dan inhaled deeply, dark eyes like pools of black in the gloom of the barren room. He was nothing but shadows.

Vadim looked at him, saw him move towards the door. Questions answered. Dan would leave. And wouldn't be there after that. Their rituals of saying goodbye. Be careful. Don't get killed. See you when I do. Get in touch, you know the place. The contact. The time. The reason. You know. Presents that he could find, kit, food, boots. He still wore Matterhorns, different model, more advanced. Anything like that. A scrap of the old thing. He didn't ask for a touch, craved it, yes, but he knew Dan too well. Anything. Maybe forgiveness. Leave me something, Dan.

"Just don't go fucking up any more of my mates." Dan paused, half-turned, then stopped, looking back. "Not that it will make a difference. I'll be gone in a few days and don't bother asking anyone where I am. They won't know. No one will."

And fuck, I don't even know it either.

Last concern for his friends. Jean. Donahue. It hurt like a blow to the teeth. "I've done that, it didn't work."

This time Dan walked to the door, a shadow amongst shadows, defeated on a level where only one man was able to touch him - and had touched him. Too many times. He stopped in the door, but didn't glance backwards. "I wish you peace, Vadim." Peace. The ultimate absence of pain, loneliness, anger, suffering. Love or hate.

Vadim's voice broke as he tried to speak. Had no idea what he had wanted to say. Don't go? I love you? Or just "no"?

Then he was gone.

"Peace is cheap. You can load it into a fucking gun!" Vadim shouted, and fell back onto the bed again, crying, stifled the sounds against his fist.

Dan never heard the last words, or perhaps he didn't want to.

* * *

"Thanks, asshole", said Jean, darkly, after stepping out of the CO's tent. Overpaid bastard had been exceedingly helpful. He snorted and headed back to the tin huts, inhaled, cast the tension off. Solange hated it when he frowned and kept telling him if he smiled, things always got easier. Trouble was, she was right. She kept reading stuff in Cosmo and Elle and even though she managed to whittle the articles down to short maxims like "smiling makes you pretty", there was something to it.

He rapped against Pascal's door and the para opened the door, dressed in cycling shorts and a sheen of sweat. Holy fuck. Was he really starting to look at men differently? Was he? Jean stepped back and raised his hands, laughing. "Fuck, man, you getting ready for a date with Mad Dog? You ain't got no shame ..."

Pascal hit him square against the chest. "Shithead. What do you want?"

"How's the Russian?"

"Brought him to the medic, seems he's alright."

"Anything he said?"

Pascal shrugged. "Na."

"Heard anything?"

Pascal got a sly expression. Which was about as believable as Pluto the dog feeling sly. "Medic said he's off duty for today and tomorrow. Did stuff to his pupils, so they can see whether his eyes are fucked. Can't have bright light for twenty-four. Had a few stitches. Concussion, so he got some painkillers and they told him to rest."

"Hm. Need to think about that." Jean peered inside. "You have a bottle left?"

Again that Pluto the dog expression. "Yeah." Pascal vanished inside and returned with a bottle Jack. "Pay me tomorrow. I'm busy right now."

"Wanking?"

"Yoga."

Jean laughed and saluted with the bottle. "Too much information, mate." He was still chuckling when he rapped against Dan's door. "Hey, Mad Dog. I bring booze."

"It's open!" Dan shouted from the inside, sounding breathless. "Always is, dickhead."

Inside, there was Mad Dog, on his back on the floor, feet hooked beneath the metal bunk and doing crunches. Sweating like the proverbial nickname as he worked on his abs.

Jean glanced around, couldn't help but notice the tensing and relaxing of muscle under the dark, horribly scarred skin. Shit. Second guy that was nearly naked, as if to tease him with the fact that he saw some things. He did. Or maybe it was just about Mad Dog. He placed the bottle on what served as a nightstand, sat down and waited. Watching the tense shoulders, the curve of chest, pumping motions. Shit, he really missed Solange. He was getting too used to this.

Dan stopped soon enough, just flopped back down onto the ground and lay panting on the floor. The room looked empty, most of his stuff had already been packed up. The only remaining items were a table lamp that cast a yellow glow over his sweat-glistening body, and the pieces of furniture that belonged to the camp. Nothing else, except for a bergan stuffed to bursting and a sports bag. He was ready to move on, at least that's what it seemed from the outside.

"What's that?" Dan gestured with his chin to the bottle of JD. "Farewell booze?"

"Yeah." Jean gave a grin and indicated his arm, a white stabilizing bandage around the joint, but no sling anymore. "Farewell to the damned sling." He broke the seal of the top, offered the bottle to Dan.

"And here I was, believing I meant something to you." Dan smirked, then threw the back of his hand in an overly dramatic gesture against his forehead. "See if I care, eh?" He reached for the bottle, while still on the floor, lifted up and started to drink, every line, ripple, formation of muscle and sinew on his body a shimmering dark bronze statue in the low-level light.

Jean sat down on the bed and found it hard not to stare at the muscles. Tease, he thought. Only he didn't believe that Dan did it on purpose. Okay. I'm slowly turning gay. I was fine this morning under the shower, but this ... is a bit much. But truth was, Dan was sexy. Male, yes, but sexy.

"Cheers, mate, just what I needed." Dan wiped his lips then handed the bottle back. Scrambling up to sit with his knees bent, still on the floor, leaning against his bunk. "You heard? I'm off day after tomorrow. Went faster than I thought."

"Yeah. Lucky bastard. Getting out of this fucking desert." Jean took a deep swallow, glanced down at Dan. "I'll stay until this shit is dealt with." Indicating Kuwait and Iraq with a gesture. "And after that, Paris, the city of love."

Dan grinned, "You going to stay in France? Don't tell me you won't be itching to get back into adrenalin-heaven." He reached round and found his towel. Wiped his face.

"I want to spend a few weeks fucking my woman." Jean gave a broad grin. "Food, parties, proper drinking, sleeping long, more sex. Air-conditioning. And then I get bored and sign the next contract. That's the life, Dan. That's exactly the life."

Dan laughed and nodded. "Aye, I can see that. Sounds like heaven, except that it would bore me to death within days." He looked at the damp towel, "I must stink like a possum. Meant to have another shower."

Jean sniffed himself. "Don't let me keep you. I might join you." A wink. "So you get a vision of my straight ass. Something to think about tonight, huh?"

"Sure." Dan flashed his teeth. "Your ever so straight-as-fuck arse." He grinned, but then sobered for a moment. "Don't think I'm going to do too much of the thinking tonight. On a scale of one to ten it was a twenty-two pointer of a shit day." Paused, "Week. Month. Years. Life. Whatever." He shrugged, got up from the floor.

"Thinking is overrated anyway." Jean got up as well. "Let me get my towel. See you in the showers." He gave another grin.

"Sure. See you in a sec." Dan waved the other off, took hold of the soap bag and wandered off, while Jean headed towards his place. Got the washing bag, towel slung over one shoulder, headed towards the showers, heard one of them was running, saw Dan already under water, steam rising. He stripped as well, started the shower right next to Dan, let the water run over him, and glanced at Dan's body before stepping behind the partition. Yeah. Definitely turning gay there. Shit. Friend and sexy. Didn't really go together, only that he had already kissed this man, had felt him come against his body, had come against him, clinging, relishing in the rock-steady strength. Dan had something about him that allowed crashing and being weak without threat. Fuck, am I falling like a girl for the strong shoulder? More like a brother, a comrade. He gathered a handful of shower gel, liked being this close to Dan, liked to watch how he washed himself. His hand found his own cock, getting hard from the closeness. Jean leaned against the stall with his good elbow, began to stroke himself.

Dan's head poked out of the stream of water, looking pointedly at the job Jean was doing on himself. "I reckon you fancy a hand." Lifted his eyes away from the cock and towards Jean's face. His own, though, not quite interested.

Jean glanced around. Showers. Shit. The best way to ruin his reputation forever. Pascal - or anybody - blundering in. It aroused him, strangely, the open space, the possibility to get caught. Had played those games with Solange. Night clubs, dark corners, toilets, cars, parks. Few suitable places in Paris they hadn't tried out. "If you ... have a spare one." He moved closer. "I didn't plan this, honest ..."

"Seems I do have a spare one." Dan lifted his hand, waved it about. "Got two, after all." He leaned against the corner of the thin partition wall, grinning. He had nothing to lose. No reputation, no face, no nothing. They stood close, both touching the wall, both a step out of the actual shower spray, and Dan reached for Jean's cock. "Guess going to me knees," starting to stroke, expert touch, strong fingers, "would be a touch too much," harsh grip, demanding. He was a bloke after all, and fuck, he loved cocks, even though his own right now was only mildly interested, "but you could always claim my throat raped you."

Jean's hands reached blindly to Dan's chest, slid down the wet skin, felt the muscles vibrate, while his body was begging, craving the touch, the attention, the fucking strength. "I ... won't claim a thing ..." he said, breathless. "Can't claim ... I don't want this." Shit. The other's cock, right hand squeezing Dan's balls, moving to stroke the other, giving a helpful hand, more coordinated, stronger. Still felt a little tension in the elbow, sore, whatever, fuck, the heat and strength and Dan reacting to his touch, some odd compliment, and Jean liked that. Liked the thought to think he aroused the other, a game, light-hearted fun, trust.

Aroused, yes, Dan closed his eyes for a moment, while stroking the other, stepped closer. No way they wouldn't get caught if someone entered the showers now. He was stroking Jean faster, harder, while stopping the other's hand on his own cock, instead moving it to rest on his hip. Jean glanced up, questioningly, not quite selfish enough in his need to not care.

"Not young anymore ...," Dan was breathless, but just not enough, the edge was missing and he knew he wouldn't make it. "Been a shit day …" doubling his effort on Jean's body, using every trick of the trade while grinning.

Jean was a lot of things, but not as straight as he claimed to be. The way he arched into Dan's hand, took hold of muscles and darkly tanned skin, gasped and breathed under strain and stared at Dan's body, spoke volumes. Perhaps not gay, but sure as fuck not just straight either. Making far too much suppressed noise when cumming, for someone who just happened to need a helping hand.

Jean came, shuddering, watched intently by Dan, then rested his weight against the partition, catching his breath. Then, quickly, glanced around again, and gave a throaty laugh. "Fuck. That's what happens when I want to chat a bit." He gave his body another quick, final rinse, switched off the water and angled for his towel. "You sure you're okay?"

Dan grinned, had given himself a quick rinse as well. "Sure am." Turning the water off he reached for his towel. "Didn't know you were a kinky motherfucker who's into public places."

Jean laughed. "But I am. Into public places. But a mercenary camp is a new one." He towelled his hair and stepped into his trousers, then slipped the wifebeater over his head, let it hang out over the BDUs. He glanced at Dan's body, as if to check, seeming vaguely guilty. "I think we have some Jack left in your place. I can restore my reputation when you're gone."

Dan laughed, fastening he towel around his hips and reaching for soap bag and customary shades. Sure, it was dark outside, but he slipped them back over his eyes nevertheless. His too-long hair glistening dark with specks of grey at the temples, as drops of water caught in the artificial light. "JD sounds good and to be honest," he delivered a reckless slap onto Jean's backside, "I could do with some company tonight."

Jean stared at him, then laughed, surprised by a touch that was fine among mates in camp, banter, but Mad Dog's banter had a couple more dimensions to it. "That's alright, then." Is it? Yes. Spending time with Dan was always a good option, and especially in this odd mood. And he did understand that Dan might not want to be alone. Not after Krasnorada's latest shit. He followed Dan to his hut, waited for him to close the door, still feeling the good, warm tingle in his body. Relaxed.

Door closed and for once locked, Dan pointed to his bunk, gesturing to Jean to sit down. "Wonder where they'll take me." He shrugged, he didn't have a say in where they'd send him anyway. Getting the steel mugs, he poured two generous measures of Bourbon, handing one to Jean. "Here's to a new job in a new country with hopefully good mates." But he didn't want to go, did he? Shit.

Jean raised the mug. "To plenty more fucked-up places that pay good money." He grinned, and drank, then studied Dan's face. "Just remember April and Paris, okay?"

Dan emptied the entire contents of his mug, glanced at Jean over the rim before walking to the bunk and sitting down next to him. "April. You serious about the wedding?" Realised what he had said, smiled. "Not the wedding, but about me being there."

"You're not getting cold feet, are you? I'm getting married, not you."

Dan grinned, "just making sure. Best man and all that shit. Guess I'll have to wear a suit, eh? Holy crap." He leaned back against the wall, smiling when Jean leaned in to kiss the corner of his mouth, checked his reaction to that, but didn't get any, apart from a somewhat stunned stillness.

Jean paused to give Dan time to push him away, which didn't happen, then kissed him fully on the lips, broke the kiss only to grin. "I'll leave you my numbers. Just get in touch when you feel like it."

"Is it tradition in France, or something like that, to kiss the Best Man?" Dan pushed the shades from his eyes, let them rest on one finger, on forehead height.

Jean shrugged, pulled his lips between his teeth to lick them, then gave a grin. "You didn't strike me as a traditional person."

"I'm not, especially when it comes to wearing suits. I'd rather get a kilt." Dan raised his brows in a toothy grin before letting the shades drop back over his eyes. "But the things I'll do for your laydee."

Jean moved forward to take the shades off Dan, dropping them on the bed, looking into his eyes. "Yeah, it's better you're leaving. Two more weeks like that, and I'll start shaving my legs and wearing skirts." He raised a hand before Dan could burst into laughter. "Yes, I know. You like them male. Just making fun."

"Actually, that shaving legs bit is damn male." Dan grinned once more, teeth and all. "Or so I was told. Olympic swimmers and that jazz. Besides, nothing wrong with skirts, or are you trying to tell me a proper Scotsman in a kilt is not the very symbol of manliness?"

Jean laughed. "You guys are fucking weird. I start to get my own theories about why you don't wear anything underneath, and why it's skirts. Lifted faster." He winked and Dan grinned, commenting idly, "good reason, then, to get myself a kilt. In fact, would your lady accept a kilt as suitable evening wear? There's a McFadyen tartan." Dan trailed off, musing, while Jean leaned back, stretched, relaxing, placed a hand on Dan's back, between the shoulder blades. "I'm still wondering what makes you so sexy. Can't say. Really, I don't get it."

"What?" Dan turned his head, laughing with ill disguised surprise. "You're fucking bonkers. I'm a worn-out, aging, scarred-as-shit battle horse who's well past his sell by date."

"Then why do you make me hard? Not because I like scars." Jean seemed thoughtful. "Not even because you're gay and a cheap source for sex. Well, cheap is relative, you know what I mean. Plenty of guys who worship the ground under your feet. The younger ones, but I haven't heard any stupid stuff from my own crew about you."

"Worship? Don't be stupid, Jean, it's just the sandbag tall-tales of past glories and a few stunts I pulled while here. Suicidal tendencies seem to lead to an interesting reputation." Dan reached for the shoulder strap of Jean's wifebeater and let it bounce against his skin. "Perhaps you just happened to have found out with me that you happen to be a bit more bi than you thought. That," Dan smirked, "and I'm a fantastic cocksucker."

Jean laughed. "You are. Easily up there with the best of them." He ran his hand over Dan's neck, shoulders, a reassuring, firm touch. "No idea. You're ... the first guy I do this with. You know, on purpose. Sober. My idea." He shook his head while Dan laughed.

"On purpose? So you've ended up shagging guys before, aye? Claiming every time that you were drunk, after all, and it wasn't your fault." Dan leaned into the touch, rolling his neck.

"Not ... quite. Had a guy rub against me and ... was sucked off, but that was different. Can't say it was memorable." Jean shrugged, dismissively. "Ah, I'll survive this. I'll think about it some other time. I mean, you went from straight to gay. Things change, eh?"

"They do, fuck, yes, they do." Dan suddenly moved, pulled his legs up on the bunk and twisted until he let himself fall back, lying half across Jean's thighs, head in his lap, grinning upwards. "Admittedly, I had been a right arsehole towards women before and a bastard gay basher, so I guess it wasn't really a surprise that I hated what I was and what I didn't want, but thought I had to want." He paused, stretched his legs out, added with a somewhat confused laugh, "or something like that."

"Makes sense to me. Makes perfect sense." Jean placed his hand on the other's cheek, stroked along the jawline, causing Dan's eyes to close, while he let out a contented sound. Jean continued, "You should find somebody to love. Your body, looks and pay check? Plus uniform? There must be hundreds of guys wanting to get into your pants. Hell, I want to get into your pants. Take a couple weeks off and look for something, I'm pretty sure if you allow it to happen, it will."

Dan opened his eyes again, smiled wryly. "Love? There's just this one little problem, you see. Sex, lust, fucking, no problem, friendship and fun neither. But love? I'm afraid that one's been done and over with." He looked at Jean in a strange way. "I'm not exactly young anymore and neither gay mag stud material. Even if I were, that love thing, can't say it's quite done and over with." He pulled a face when he realised what he'd said. "Bugger, guess I'm contradicting myself here."

Jean looked at him, quizzically, and shook his head. "Oh damn. So, bringing that fucker a loaded gun is not an option, either. CO wasn't really helpful, he said that guy is my responsibility, I'm his team leader. I told him he's a loose gun, and I told him about the screaming at night, but it doesn't look like we can get rid of him."

Dan raised his hands, palms up. "I don't want to know. Not my responsibility anymore, alright? I've said my farewell and that's that. He's been my responsibility for too long. Guess I'd forgotten that it's supposed to be a two-way street and not just a one-way bumfuck."

"Yeah, sorry. Shouldn't bring it up. The CO just pissed me off." Jean's hand moved to Dan's chest, the other kept stroking his jaw and throat, veered off to touch the neck every now and then. "Some R&R would be good. Been to a brilliant place in Thailand before I came here ... mostly for windsurfing. It's not the usual tourist trap, more a place where rich Thais go on holiday, too." Jean grinned, the thought of that place put him into a sunny mood. "Perfect place to relax and think, get shitfaced and laid, and whatever else you want. Stoned, too, and the food is great and not too expensive. I can show you some photos, I have some in my place ... tomorrow, after breakfast."

"Sounds good." Dan yawned, looked at the ceiling. Quite comfortable in his position, too comfortable perhaps. It would be hard work again, getting to know guys and starting from scratch. Hell, he didn't expect to ever find anyone again to shag with. Not like that. Not that easy. And sure as fuck not two at the same time. "Stay a moment? Have to grab a chance while I still can, aye?" Dan smiled and closed his eyes, expectantly waiting for some more of that caress, but hadn't counted on the fatigue that was starting to drag him under.

Jean grinned. "I think you're falling asleep", he muttered under his breath and kept stroking Dan's chest, but reduced the touch in his face. Solange hated it when he touched her face when she was falling asleep, or was asleep. He waited until Dan's breath deepened and slowed, the remaining tension leaving his features, then shifted the body to pull his legs free and pushed Dan back into position on the bed so he could sleep. Sleep was a good idea, but short of lying on top of Dan, there was just no space for him, and the implications were too complicated. Spending time together - yes. Sleeping together - better not. It wasn't quite worth it.

Silently, he padded out of the tin hut for a sleeping place with a little more space.

Dan never even half-woke when shifted, just snuffled and rolled over to curl up on his side. One more night, then a day, perhaps another night and then the Gulf would be a memory. Like Afghanistan. The mountains. The endless skies. Like heat and dust, cold and thirst. And like Finland on a frozen Christmas night.

One day Dan would be nothing but memories of a tall-tale past.

* * *

Pascal, of all people, kept an eye on him. Vadim found himself sneering at the thought. Team leader, yes, superior in no way. If he planned to blow his brains out, Pascal sure as hell would react too late. He wouldn't see it coming, despite expecting it.

Vadim forced himself to concentrate on work. That was the only reason why he got up, why he convinced the medic he could see with his banged-up eyes. Dan avoided him. He avoided Dan. He went through the motions, his heart wasn't in it. Not easy to do anything.

He felt removed, detached, too far away, things were around him but never sunk in, unless it was potential danger, which he spotted. There was no fear. The next two days, he volunteered with a raised hand to check things, to do anything. By all means and purposes, he was the stoic Russian who didn't care enough to take pleasure in fights, to be thirsty, to talk, or to be scared.

He had achieved it finally. He had bled dry. Had taken a lot of time, but he finally was only a mind and a body. He worked, replenished calories and water, and slept, to get up for work again. It was a soothing existence. Finally some kind of equilibrium, only two days after being suicidal.

He'd live for a few more years, he figured, save up the money, then die - whichever way, and ensure the money returned to Dan's account. He didn't want to owe him anything, and definitely not hundreds of thousands of pounds. Houses. Assets. It was the only way left he could get even. He was left with a debt and he planned to repay that. And after repaying, he'd do something else. He didn't really know yet.

He was dispassionate about life or sex or comradeship. Finally bled out. He couldn't cry anymore, couldn't confront Dan, could only feel the time running out and no way to stop it. Dan would soon be gone, vanished, and there was no way to hold him back. The emotions didn't matter. He'd won so many battles, he had lost their war. The masseur's encouragement was all bullshit. He had lost because of his feelings. They had made him weak, had fucked up his life. Good that the feelings were gone now. Tugged away, at least. He'd take them out so he could feel enough pain to pull the trigger, but for the moment, he existed. Focused on what needed to be done. Life in prison. Focused on taking every moment by itself and surviving that. One breath at a time.

Jean returned to duty on the second day, and Vadim kept volunteering. He had the feeling Jean was too willing to get him into danger, and felt nothing because of it. Maybe it was a small mercy, maybe it was spite. Maybe it was some twisted kindness. The legionnaire kept things strictly to business, and Vadim knew nothing but business. He was as much a person as the jeep.

A tool, content in being a tool. It kept the muzzle pointing in the right direction.

 
 
Special Forces Chapter XXVI: Local Hero
 
 
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.

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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 27 July 2007