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Special Forces Chapter XXIX: Off Duty
 
 

September 1991, Thailand

Five 'o clock. Vadim opened his eyes to the grey pre-dawn room, felt Dan wrapped around him, Dan's face against his neck. Spooning. Dan. His. Life and living. Mission accomplished. He had him back. No more feeling hollow and empty and hurting, no more. Peace. Till death doth us part. He turned, looked at Dan sleeping there, and thought they should stay out of the wars, the Gulf, or whatever fucking place decided to blow up next. Stay the hell away because these wars were just inviting disaster to happen. They should try and live in peace.

He idly ran his fingers through Dan's hair, then turned some more and kissed him on the brow, nose, lips. "I'll go for a swim."

Hardly any reaction from Dan, just a nonsensical mumble, before he rolled into the warm space vacated by Vadim. Curled up into the thin bedclothes, his wild hair entangled on the pillows. Dark and silver streaks, barely visible in the murky light to come.

Vadim found the speedos, glanced back over his shoulder, but Dan was sleeping on, relaxed, except for one fist, the right one, that lay beside his head. Couldn't help but smile at the image, and more at the thought that Dan would be like this when he returned. Like he'd never been a soldier, just somehow had shed all military time keeping. He'd order breakfast on the way back.

* * *

When Vadim returned, the sun was lighting up the entire room, creating swirling patterns on the wooden floor, with the breeze blowing the light gauze curtains into the room. The smell of cigarette smoke was wafting across the wide open space, a sign that Dan was awake. Lying in the very middle of the vast bed, legs open, pillows in his back, and arms flopped by his side, lifting his head at the noise. His face was expressionless, until he caught sight of Vadim and his lips began to curve slightly, brighten, light touching his dark eyes, finally smiling.

Vadim shed the speedos on the way in, walked past to toss them into the bathtub and gather two towels, one of which he slung around his waist, drying himself with the other. "A penny for your thoughts."

"I've never seen the scar." Dan's answer came as swift as a bullet. Didn't move anything but his eyes that followed Vadim's movements.

Vadim paused, feeling oddly self-conscious about the scar. He knew at once which scar. The other scar Dan had given him. It had healed pretty well, all told. "I guess … you want to?" Cautious, not sure how to read Dan now. Didn't want to lie down and open up and get fucked. Not now. Too fast. The bitch that lay down at a mere gesture, ready to take it and get fucked.

I wonder if I can make a masochist suffer for real. Does this make you hard, Krasnorada? Should I be less gentle?

"Why not?" Dan smiled, confusion flickered across his face, before it was gone again and he pulled himself up to sit. As unselfconscious as ever. He held a hand out, palm up, open. Beckoning. "You were gone when I woke." His voice didn't hold accusation nor question.

"Yes, I was swimming." Vadim stepped forward, then lay down next to Dan, one towel still in place, but he let the other slip from his hand.

"No, really?" Dan rolled his eyes with a grin. "I wouldn't have noticed, with you all wet and in those things that are a mere excuse for swimming trunks."

"There will be breakfast in half an hour." Vadim turned his head, looked at Dan and smiled. Felt slightly reluctant as he took the towel off, still wanted Dan and always would, but at the same time that submission, that acceptance, just didn't come. Like his body had forgotten how good it felt. Like he was some weird kind of virgin again, reluctant, but willing.

"I missed you, waking." Dan turned his head, but remained on his back, merely lifting his arm to lazily run his hand down along Vadim's shoulder, arm, flank.

Vadim placed a hand against Dan's chest, saw the 'V' scar on Dan's arm when he moved it, and thought all will be good, we have the scars to prove it.

"How did it heal?" Dan murmured, as if reluctant to breach anything that touched the subject of Vadim's imprisonment.

"Took a while." Vadim felt that tightness in his throat again. "They gave me an examination after they brought me in. They were thorough." Bend over, bitch. They'd checked everything, every place inside and outside. As if he'd hide a gun in any of those unlikely places.

Dan twitched, had been too late to hide the reaction. "That means they saw … knew …" he shook his head, "Fuck, they knew anyway. That Colonel bastard told me about the camera." He wanted to shudder, instead just narrowed his eyes.

"Yes." The trial. The transcription, read out to him, to mock and humiliate him further.

What makes a man want to be cut? Explain to me, Vadim Petrovich, how you could possibly have wanted to be treated like that, used and abused and injured by an enemy?

"After the medical, they put me away for a few hours, and then warmed me up for the first … talk."

Dan's hand rested on Vadim's hip, a heavy, warm reminder. "Did they break anything?"

Vadim shook his head. "I wasn't raped." He felt himself choking on the next words. Couldn't say them. Couldn't.

"I didn't ..." mean that, Dan meant to say, but never finished the sentence. Waited instead, still, except for his fingers, curling and uncurling on the tautness of Vadim's hips. Waiting, for what, he wasn't sure, but for something that couldn't but should be said.

Vadim forced himself to breathe, keeping his eyes closed, body went rigid without him noticing, like bracing against a kick or punch. "… they said I'd enjoy it too much." He tried to turn over, lie on his side, wanted to get the words back, and couldn't. What a fucking faggot.

"Huh?" Speechless, Dan held onto Vadim's body, kept him from rolling away. "Fucking what?"

Vadim was glad to be held, pressed against Dan but couldn't look at him, wanted to die, or crawl away, hide.

You will never recognize yourself, Vadim Petrovich. Never again. If you walk out there to be shot like you deserve, they will only finish you off. Because I am here to kill you. You'll be a dead man walking. I will kill your mind, your soul, your emotions. You will never again function. Never again will you pass for normal or even human.

"He said … they won't put me into prison because I'd enjoy … too much. Nobody there … touched me. Same reason. Because … I'd like it."

"That's the biggest fucking load of fucking bullshit I have ever heard. Did you believe that shit?" Dan's fingers curled on Vadim's skin until his hand formed a fist. "I don't claim I understand much of what Maggie told me about isolation, but it's goddamned motherfucking torture, Vadim, it's not because you like it. Who the fuck told you that?"

Torture. Yes. Vadim forced himself to breathe. It was hard, but he remembered how to. "I'll … be alright. Don't worry. I'm better than I've been in ages." Vadim forced every muscle to relax, turned to look into Dan's face, hoped he'd not see disgust, and what he saw looked like anger and worry. "I can function. It's … just the shit they did … with my mind. I'm operational." And that means soldiering and sex.

Dan shook his head in bewilderment. He didn't understand, just that something had happened there, which was beyond his comprehension because it had dug so deeply into Vadim, it couldn't simply be extracted. He was angry, wanted to slam that useless fist into the bastards' faces, smashing the skulls of those who'd done this … this whatever it was, to Vadim. This thing he could not understand, far greater and worse than anything they'd ever done to each other.

He lifted his hand, forced the fist to relax and open, touching the ridge of Vadim's nose. Asking without words if they'd broken any bones. The physical realm he could understand, but the mind?

"The doctor says I'm in fairly good shape for a man my age." Vadim reached up and took the hand, kissing the wrist, while Dan felt like trying to hold onto a slippery fish. Vadim still had not answered the question he'd asked for the second time.

Dan would make it whole again, Vadim thought. Nothing he couldn't cope with as long as Dan was there. Just forget it. Just try and find his feet again, and these sudden attacks would cease. He'd sleep like normal, would be able to do everything again. Free. He'd made it, shown he'd made it, and had escaped. It would all be good. Better not talk about it. The doctor could give better explanations anyway. "I brought the phone number. It's over there." Nodding towards the table. "And I think I just heard our breakfast arrive outside."

"OK," Dan nodded, "I'll phone the doc, soon." He turned his head towards the door, the breakfast had indeed arrived. Still, when he watched Vadim wrap himself into the towel once more, letting the waiter in, Dan kept thinking. He'd still not seen the scar, not even any kind of 'close-up', as if the other somehow avoided the scrutiny - of body and mind.

Vadim stood there and watched the waiter set up the table outside, gave a tip, and they were left alone again with enough food to feed a squadron of soldiers. He glanced back at Dan lying on the bed. Dan, who wanted to see the scar, and who was watching him. "Just didn't want to be interrupted", he murmured, and came back to the bed. Suddenly nervous, he took the towel off again and sat down on the bed, while Dan moved to sit. Vadim lay back, pulled one leg up and stretched out completely, relaxing.

Dan suddenly felt a strange awkwardness, as if he had to reacquaint himself with the other's body, his physical presence. Seemed Vadim felt similar, or perhaps even worse, in ways he could not understand. Despite the night before, for one painful moment Vadim felt like a stranger to him.

Eyes on the scar, the one letter, the cut that said 'mine'. "Are you?" Dan looked up, merely touching the scar with his fingertips. Tracing the clear-cut lines.

Vadim smiled at him. "Yes." Opened his legs further, knew it was an invitation, had the feeling things would be easier if they did. Wanted Dan to know it wasn't really all that different now, the basics were still in place. Didn't want to be hard to get, or hard to keep, mostly, not with Jean and Donahue only too willing to snap him up. Dan had other places to go. Other people. The fingertip tickled there, and Vadim studied Dan's face, who smiled.

The smile spread from Dan's lips to his eyes, until all darkness disappeared from his scarred face. "I do really fucking love you, you do understand that, don't you? With bells and whistles and 'till death' and all that shit."

"And I love … you." Whatever's left of me loves you. It's all I have left, Vadim thought, but it's enough to get me to the end. I know it will.

Dan dropped his voice while scooting closer, almost covering Vadim's body with his own. Lying between the open legs, his hand still resting on the scar. "If I touch you, back in camp or wherever the fuck else, I really don't give a shit what anyone thinks."

"You're just itching to get into trouble with the CO, aren't you? You know they will talk about it."

Dan shrugged, a feat in his position. "The CO can't do jack shit to me. As much as the bastard dislikes me, he doesn't have a chance in hell he'll ever get me kicked out. Anyone else? It's not like I'm eating your face off in public. Neither do we go on out on duty together. That'd be fucking lethal." He lowered his head, lips touching Vadim's chest, kissing his way slowly across and down. "No masks, comrade." Murmured, "No lies."

Vadim looked down, following Dan's trail of lips. Fuck. He'd forgotten how fucking good this felt. "No … lies." Live as a 'couple' in camp. There would still be weird comments, that was the general tone and feel there, but apart from sneering and the odd comment, what could happen. They'd both stood their ground alone … would anybody dare to challenge them once Mad Dog and … the crazy spetsnaz were 'back together'? Vadim groaned softly. "Dan …"

Lifting his head from Vadim's body, Dan murmured, "Aye?" He had reached the abs, and his path downwards allowed no hesitation.

Vadim breathed hard, muscles tight, lines forming under Dan, his body responding without questioning, without second thought. "I … missed … missed this so much …" He let his head fall back, pulled his legs up and kept them open, in case Dan wanted to fuck him like this. He didn't mind. Would be good. Would be so good.

"You have no fucking idea how much I missed this, too." Dan barely more than whispered, before concentrating once more on his task of kissing every inch of the exposed skin. Taking the open legs for an invitation, even though he was not sure anymore if the old signs were still valid.

He took his time, because they had this now, finally: the greatest luxury of all. Time. Reaching the smooth skin, softest silk and warmth, with recoiled strength beneath. Lips and tongue tracing the lines he had cut, over two years ago, making Vadim groan, cock hardening, in full view of Dan, who suddenly stopped. Lifting his head and peering at Vadim's face from across his body. "I've always used protection since … just so you know. I'm still clean."

Vadim glanced at him. Strange to say that. Clean? Oh. The AIDS thing. That disease faggots and junkies got. Always used protection. Donahue. Jean. And whoever else besides. Would have preferred to not know, not be told. Never spared a thought for that. "Doc says I'm clean, nothing … nobody … after that."

"After me?"

"Yes."

Dan moved his head, hair sweeping across skin. "I never had anyone before you." He chuckled softly, lowering his head once more and looking, really looking at that cock before his eyes. Appreciating the sight and inhaling the scent. "Perfectly monogamous." Murmured, before tasting skin, hot-smooth hardness and precum once more. After so long, Dan groaned when the taste hit his palate and the feeling of perfect fit, as much as absolutely knowing Vadim. What would create the greatest lust. Which movements, touches, how his tongue slid, his hand steadied and stroked, his teeth gently scraped, then harder, steady, and it all came back to him, each and every tiny detail. They were inextricably intertwined, how could they ever have believed they could be parted. Even death was not enough.

Vadim moaned, louder than he used to, thoughts wiped out at that feeling he'd remembered, but was even better now. Dan sucking and teasing him, better if that was possible, the same relish, the same devil may care heartfelt intensity that had never failed to blow his mind. He didn't care who else Dan had had, like this or any other way, because Dan wanted him back and was willing to keep him, and fuck everything else, there was a solution, no problem, none at all. Every motion made him groan and hiss, eyes closed, knew the sight would drive him insane, the sounds Dan made and the sensations.

Dan took his time, reacquainting himself, indulging himself with taste, touch and sound. Cocksucker, that's what he was and what he wanted to be, but no one other than Vadim could get to all his senses to deeply and completely.

Vadim was panting by now, thrusting up, a sheen of sweat on his body, which just reacted, just moved with no interference from his brain whatsoever. Reaching blindly for Dan's shoulders, just touching him there with his fingertips, groaning and allowing the sensations to wash through him. He'd do anything. Confess anything, commit any crime.

Dan finally raised his head, lips and tongue moving up the length of Vadim's cock, his good hand closing around the shaft, strength pitted against lust. "I want to fuck you, Vadim." His voice was rough with need, "is that OK?" Didn't know why he felt he had to ask, never had before.

Vadim opened his eyes, looked at Dan, his wet lips close to his cock, still, that strangely serious expression in his eyes, asking something, and Vadim felt so motherfucking grateful it sent shivers up his spine. "Please, do."

Begging for it, are you, Krasnorada? Like a good bitch?

Vadim shuddered, came up, took Dan's shoulders and pulled him closer. "Do it. Don't ... make me beg."

"Beg?" Confusion, but then Dan forgot all about the thought, when cock touched cock, and everything was different all of a sudden. Not just a body, no mate nor friend, no casual encounter, nothing and no one like this. This familiarity, this knowing. This owning.

Bodies touching, Dan's knees between Vadim's legs. "Shit," he murmured, "where is the lube?"

Vadim gave a breathless laugh, Dan across him like this, the sight of his cock, heavy and hard and veined, and he found it impossible to speak. He glanced around, didn't see the lube, not right away. "Try … nightstand", he whispered, couldn't resist and came up to nip Dan's throat, grinning.

Dan nodded, but the nightstand was to his left and his hand was still in plaster. "Damn." Rolled over and off Vadim with a grunt when he hit the fading bruises, until he could rummage in the drawer with his right. Finding the tube of KY, kept it between his teeth. He needed his hand to touch Vadim, run fingers down a shoulder and back to the flank, the lube landing beside his head. "I want to fuck you like I did in that cave… Been dreaming about that. Remembering. Everything, every goddamned little thing."

Vadim nodded, rolled onto his side in front of Dan, craned his neck to kiss him, hand touching Dan's leg, firm grip as if testing the muscle underneath. Suddenly had the strange feeling Dan didn't do this to any of his other lovers - not this spooning, not fucking them slowly on their sides. Couldn't imagine either Jean or Donahue like this, but of course he might be wrong. "So have I … everything. You were … are worth that … that fucking, stupid war …"

You are worth everything, Dan thought, but couldn't say it. Felt his throat suddenly constricted. Worth that ex-wife of yours, worth a smashed room, worth suicide missions, worth hatred and hell and worth all the money and more. Said none of it, instead moved even closer, handed the tube to Vadim, his own palm open. "Help me?"

Vadim nodded, flicked the cap open and squeezed a good amount of that stuff into Dan's palm, then put the lube down near the pillow, and lifted his leg, which exposed the scar there. He swallowed, curved his back to give Dan a better angle, just falling back into it, wanting Dan and what he'd do. "Good … good I found you in the desert", he murmured to cover the moment of nervousness. Been a while. Fuck.

"Aye .. . damn good thing." Dan rubbed the cool gel all over his cock, before swiftly but thoroughly working it between Vadim's cheeks, stalling a moment to relish the sensation of his finger sliding unhindered through the readily yielding muscle, making Vadim push back against his hand.

"There was a time …" Dan murmured close to Vadim's ear while his good hand worked him open. Insistent, gently, yet unrelenting, and Vadim's breath went harder, lips open, trying to speed things up and be ready.

"A time when I couldn't … even … wank …" Drawing in a deep breath, Dan found it hard to hold himself back like this. "Too painful, then … but not now …." One finger was met by a second, the third almost there as well.

Vadim nodded, sex had become impossible, some point he didn't even feel any arousal, or anything but dread, and the wanking in camp had been nothing but some kind of waste disposal, a vaguely embarrassing function of his body, nothing more. "Not … a virgin. Just … do it, like you … ah, did." He glanced over his shoulder, leaned back to rub his head against Dan's for a moment. "Come on."

Dan shook his head, though, and smiled. Tender, despite his flushed face and almost feverishly gleaming eyes. "It's been so long." Murmured, while his fingers pulled out, before pushing back, three this time, making Vadim groan and buck back, unable to control the building lust that washed away what disgust he'd felt at the thought. Disgrace, shame, filth. None of that, now. Not now, not right now.

"No one else, like this. No one else …" Dan did not finish the sentence, kissing the back of Vadim's neck instead.

He'd been right. Not Dona… Matt, not Jean. Vadim shook his head, banished the thought, wanted more of that, deeper, harder, wanted to feel thrusts and Dan's length sliding inside and out and accept him as deep as he could, with as much force as he could. Dan's fingers stretching him and teasing, slicking him up, a slight burn, but no discomfort. Last man touching him had been the doc, and he didn't count. Just clinical. "Same … here. I'm … clean." Healthy. Functional.

"I didn't mean that." Dan's voice barely a murmur, as his lips curved into a smile in the back of Vadim's neck. Fingers at last replaced with the tip of his cock. He didn't know where in heaven and hell he took this restraint from, just that it was of utmost importance he didn't rush anything. Had to draw out, relish and engrave in his mind forever each and every endless second. "I meant … not like this." And he pushed forward, stretching, demanding, moving until he felt yielding and acceptance - agonisingly slow.

Vadim's lips opened wider, a choked sound came out, feeling this, so damned good, just so good, his body responding on its own with his mind still outside like a guest that was not allowed in. Lost the thread of conversation, just felt the slick heat and the stretching and Dan moving inside him, hand reaching behind him, trying to pull Dan closer and deeper, but most of all touch and feel him. Dan. Dan like in the cave, Dan like in those days when there had been nothing to fear and nothing to regret. Dan was everything that mattered. Struggled hard to think, but couldn't, just felt the warmth and the skin and Dan's strength and control. "I'll … beg … before … this … is over", he murmured, "but … I don't care …"

"You'll never need to beg with me. Never." Dan found it hard to talk, consumed by the sensations. All feeling concentrated in his cock, flaring from the centre throughout his body and mind. Synapses firing lust across his brain until he was hardly able to think at all. Nothing but Vadim's body, Vadim's heat, Vadim's scent. Eleven years reduced to a blur of memories and emotions. Nothing else mattered but the here and now. "Whatever you want …" words tumbling, while his body took over. The good hand roaming across muscles and skin, until they found Vadim's cock, curling around it. Could feel every vein beneath his calloused palm. "Whatever … wherever ... I'd do it for you … no begging … ever …" His body was rocking into the other's. Smoothly and steadily, their bodies combined, and his stroking in sync with the same perfection.

No begging. He didn't need to beg. No humiliation, no submission, no shame, no disgrace, not even when Vadim could think clearly again, not in his memory, not when they'd both be mercenaries again. Vadim closed his eyes, one hand rested on Dan's wrist, moved with it as Dan brought him further, stroked him, no begging, just equals as they'd always been, sometimes at each other's mercy, but never less than themselves. "I … know", Vadim breathed, flexing again as the lust built up further, but he took over Dan's rhythm, trusting him so completely that he wouldn't beg, knowing Dan didn't want that and would just listen to it anyway. Knowing he didn't truly beg, not on his knees, not for his life, not for his pride, but whatever he'd say would only truly be 'I love you more than I can say, than I can even think and what you give me takes my breath away, but breathing is overrated when I can kiss you', and he suddenly smiled, while he could hear his own groans, sensuous, and, he thought, damned sexy, as they had to be. Dan sexy as he was, doing sexy things, himself, in prime shape, and they were a feast for the gods, and no shame whatsoever. "I love you", Vadim muttered, barely coherent.

Dan was smiling, at nothing and no one and both of them. At words and feelings, and the sheer utter perfection of everything. Shifting his body, the angle of his hips changed, and his entrance became deeper while the speed increased slightly. Still as intense, and just as perfect. "Never stopped …" loving you, wanting you, even when I was about to kill you and hated your guts, your very sight. Picking up speed and strength once more, his thrusts still as smooth and controlled, but deeper and harder. "And always will." Breathlessly murmured, Dan's eyes closed, starting to fuck in earnest, with all his strength, yet the strength remained controlled by their position and by everything he felt. No wild, insane coupling of greed like the night before, but years worth of emotions expressed in lust, moving further towards orgasm.

Vadim wanted nothing more than change position, himself pressed into the mattress, or on his hands and knees, this slow, drawn-out love making wrecking him from the inside and outside, stripping everything away. His pretences, the bitterness, the darkness, and for a while even the interrogator's voice. Just emotion and feeling, and he glanced over his shoulder, too close to see anything, but felt Dan's hot breath against his ear and neck, and every thrust that went right through him, up to his chest and his throat while tension built up. At least that was something that still worked, and something he remembered and that had been nothing but good, and Dan finally there where he wanted him, where he remembered him, and where he fucking needed him. Relief so powerful it hurt as his body tensed, close to orgasm, but never able to get there on its own, always needed Dan's help to get him there, his groans sounding desperate now.

Close, so damn close, Dan could feel nothing but the pressure building, almost unbearable in his cock and balls. He shifted once more, angle steeper, and he sped up, increasing strength. His hand remained in the same rhythm, same sync with is body's thrusts. "Aye …" whispered, without thinking nor seeing, "I'll take care of you." His hand gripping tighter, harsher, his strokes as demanding as his thrust, now.

Care. Overwhelming gratitude as Dan took him over the edge, and Vadim's fingers dug into Dan's hip as he felt himself fall, pressing back, tensing as he just let go, coming with breathless groans, into and against Dan's hand, against his body. Absurdly surprised at the depth of emotion, the intensity, the clarity as if the darkness didn't exist, as if everything was still clear and simple, and for a long moment it was, just him and Dan.

Dan followed almost immediately, his whole being had just waited for that moment when he could finally let go. Felt his cock clench, deeply embedded in the powerful body that was all his, and his alone. That very moment, there was no past - no future, just present. He felt himself drained of more than just total ecstasy, his entire being crushed and elevated at the same time. Felt emptied of every memory and emotion, like an infected wound: drained of everything that had turned bad. Finding himself with eyes scrunched shut and his arm wrapped and holding tightly onto Vadim. Emptied so much, there was nothing left but a shell, like it had been before, the day of Vadim's execution. But this time it was not pain that filled the empty shell, but feelings, flooding back, bringing knowledge and realisation. Here, and now, and his once more. Vadim. Forever and always. Vadim. His.

And Dan cried, helplessly, while his good hand clawed at the other's body, his body pressed so close, as if he was trying to crawl inside.

Feeling Dan shudder and the tension that didn't leave him, Vadim glanced over his shoulder, feeling and hearing the odd pattern of breathing, and what seemed like despair to him, the sounds wretched. Suddenly realized just how much he'd fucked up Dan, and felt a wave of tenderness come up that took his breath. Moving, separating only to turn around and grab hold of the man, feeling him tight and close and helplessly crying. Small sounds for such a powerful man, and Vadim swallowed hard, pressing the other man to him, knowing nothing really could stop that and all he could and wanted to do was hold Dan through this, help him deal with the pain. Fingers running over his skin, feeling tears himself, an echo and a shadow of Dan's. Feeling so fucking sorry for having got Dan this far and breaking him up so badly. "Shit, I'm sorry. I'm so very … very sorry", he murmured into Dan's ear.

Dan shook his head, repeatedly, trying to say 'no, not your damn fault', but he couldn't get a sound out, let alone a coherent word. Couldn't stop those motherfucking tears either, completely helpless and resigned to whatever they were doing to him. 'They': tears, emotions, and two and a half years of shit, but he had no idea why he just couldn't stop. Just couldn't. No chance, and when he finally gave in, the tension flew out as his body capitulated to tears and old, so very old pain. Sobbing like a broken child, while memories were fading. Death, fear, blackmail, hopelessness and hope. They became nothing but past.

Vadim's tears were silent, just running from his eyes into Dan's wild hair. Hardly painful, they came, and went, bringing an odd sense of relief and cleansing, but most of all regret as he held Dan, stroking his back and shoulders, thought they'd rushed it, should have been more careful, and at the same time felt like things could be good again. Not just sex, not just friends, but something similar to what they had been, plus comrades. Finally on the same side, their own side, with nothing else to fall back onto.

It took a long time before Dan calmed, and he never realised he had fallen asleep in the other's arms. Utterly exhausted. Vadim rolled onto his back, shifted Dan to lie on his shoulder, could still feel him inside and listened to the rustle of palm leaves, eyes half closed. It could be good again. All they had to do was stick together, whatever came - Jean, Yank, whatever. They were far away, and they weren't important, not when Dan had cried like that, and Vadim felt embarrassed and proud and full of regret - too many shifting emotions to examine that feeling.

You will see that some people might react strange to things you do or say, Mr Krasnorada. Guilt will only deepen that gap. They are entitled to their responses, some of which might seem strange to you. It won't be your fault. Don't take them personally - trauma quite significantly shifts our perception of self.

Dr Williams.

"I'll try", he murmured, looked to the side at Dan's eyebrows, smooth forehead, looking relaxed and peaceful, and looked down to Dan's scarred hand, partially in plaster. It would be good. It would be a battle fighting it out, but they'd win this. They'd leave the past behind and use what they'd left. All of it.

* * *

When Dan woke about an hour later he stretched his muscles and moved his arms and legs long before his mind was engaging. Pure luxury of not having to be awake from one second to the next. Even though he was still half asleep, his mind knew that no danger was near, and his body revelled in slowly returning to the surface. He felt warmth - human warmth. Skin, and arms, a body that was hard and smooth and simply perfect. Held, resting, and lips close to skin, as he breathed in the other's scent. Dan's lips curved into a smile while his eyes were still closed. Moving his head a fraction, his wild hair brushed across Vadim's chest. "Mmmm …" Dan almost purred, completely at peace and more relaxed than he could remember. Except for his eyes, they felt somewhat swollen, but it was of no importance. What had been, had been, and he felt no shame for the display of emotions. He had merely functioned, and functioned well, until now, and from now on he could live again.

"Any chance for breakfast? Am famished."

Vadim twisted a bit, rolling onto his side to kiss Dan's forehead - that was the only bit of his face that he could reach without moving too much. "The food is still there", he murmured and smiled, running a lazy hand through Dan's hair. Soft. The length made that hair too soft to keep his hands away. "I might dredge up enough strength to … get up and feed you", he murmured. "Depends on the incentive."

Laughing, Dan rolled over onto his back, able to twist his head up,peering at the other. "And that would be? Let me think … sex?"

Vadim grinned. "Not just yet, but … yes." Predictably starved after steaming alone in his tin hut. Remembered Dan's skills too well, going savage or skilled or teasing, slow, harsh, enthusiastic.

Dan rubbed his eyes, still swollen. "The coffee's cold, though, aye?" Adding, while pulling himself upwards to half-sit. "I have no idea when I conked out nor for how long." It didn't matter, and he shrugged while searching one-handed for his packet of fags.

Vadim reached and found Dan's shorts, pulling them closer so Dan could get to them. "We have time. I think … a bit more than an hour." He rubbed his face and yawned, stretching. "Plenty of time, though. My next treatment is at twelve, that gives me time for breakfast."

"Treatment?" Finding his fags, Dan fished one out and lit it, all one handed before picking the shorts up with his toes and with a deft flick catching his foot in it. He grinned while inhaling the nicotine deeply. "What's that for?" Smoke curling out of his nostrils and mouth.

"Yes. Massage, exfoliation, and epilation …" Vadim smiled. "Mostly treating the scars, though, and the girl yesterday said that some parts of my spine are locked and that I should go for the full treatment and bring time." He shrugged. "Guess they know their thing better than I do."

"Scars? Sounds good, you think I should do the same?" Dan looked up while the shorts kept slowly sliding down his lifted leg.

"Absolutely. If nothing else, it feels really good."

"OK, book me in for the whole hog as well. Oh, and are we ordering more tea and coffee?"

"Just a moment. " Vadim nodded, rolled over again to reach for the phone, ordering another set of tea and coffee to their bungalow. Turning back towards Dan. "Should be here in five. I better get dressed - at least shorts."

"Damn right, that's what they were for." Grinning, Dan kept the burning cigarette between his lips while reaching for the shorts. Struggling one handed, he ended up laughing, while lying on his back like a stranded beetle, the twisted shorts somewhere halfway down his legs.

Vadim grinned and bent down to take hold of the shorts and pull them up. "Lift yer arse, soldier boy", he mimicked one of the PT instructors, and pulled them up for Dan. Even zipped him up and closed the button, leaning down to kiss the mess of scars peeking out over the cloth. "Can't wait to peel you out of those again", he said lowly and flashed another grin, getting one in return. Then found his own shorts and slipped them on as well, managing to be partially dressed at least and not entangled with Dan when the Thai waiter appeared and served the tea and coffee pots. The young man didn't move a muscle in his pretty face, even though the situation was absurdly clear, and Vadim marvelled at the way everything seemed normal here.

"Well," Dan remarked when the guy was gone, "they are rather stoic, aye?" Remembering the 'ladyboy' bar, and the fact he'd been told there was nothing one couldn't get for money in this country. Even things that made his stomach turn. "Stoic, or polite, or plain and simply incredibly tolerant."

Vadim shrugged. "I like them for that. Seems to create less trouble."

Dan reached for his clothed crotch, scratching vigorously, before he swung his long legs over the edge of the bed. "You do realise we haven't even showered yet, aye? Feel a bit of a sticky mess and bet you're not any better, but food first …" a thought suddenly occurred to him as he stood. His eyes lighting up. "A bath! We've never had a bath together and I've got addicted to bubble baths. Back in the embassy."

Vadim gave a laugh. "Sounds good. Jacuzzi? There was the hamam in Kabul, but that was different." He watched as Dan padded over to the trolley that held the breakfast and now the fresh tea and coffee, pulling it towards the bed.

"Breakfast in bed, Monsieur?" Moving into an exaggeratedly deep bow, Dan lifted the first of the covers off the food. "Would you like me to feed you, Monsieur?" He grinned before letting himself fall back onto the bed.

Vadim smiled and reached out to touch Dan's side again, feeling mellow and tender and like he couldn't touch and hold him enough. "Yes, why not? If you want to?"

"Only if you do the pouring of tea and coffee. I don't trust my hand right now, too much sex, you know." Dan waggled his brows, grinning.

Vadim smiled. "Then let that hand recover some." He leaned in to kiss, a short, gentle touch, then began to sort the cups and prepare tea and coffee. Black coffee with sugar for Dan, more sugar than seemed right, while he stuck to black coffee. Too many tea jokes, too much history. He offered Dan the cup, and sat down on the bed, pulling one leg up.

Sipping the hot coffee, Dan let the over-sweetened concoction roll slowly over his tongue, savouring every mouthful. "Since when do you prefer coffee?" Pointing at Vadim's cup before putting his own down, picking out bits of different breads, toppings and fruit to place on a plate.

Vadim glanced up. "Too Russian; I'm trying to break the habit." Carefully dropping the definite article into the sentence. Just keeping away from anything that reminded him of the state that had fucked him up, and its people, that had allowed it to happen.

"Hm?" Dan looked up from what he was doing, studying Vadim for a moment. He had to learn to decipher the other anew. Signs and signifiers, unknown and waiting for him to make sense of. "You could drink your tea with milk," smiling, "that's a very British way to take tea. Or you could have Earl Grey. You can't get anymore English than that." Moving the plate onto the bed and scooting closer to Vadim.

Vadim shook his head. "Not sure I'm ready for that habit." British passport, and as British as blinis, and vodka, and Siberia. Not very. The only place where he fit in was gone, and the place that saw some worth in him was so very alien to him, and he shared that sentiment. "Coffee is fine. Smells much better than it tastes, but the smell is very good."

"Well, in that case, I let you test out if the food smells better than it tastes. And, of course, if you can figure out what it is." Dan grinned, gently poking Vadim's chest with a finger. "Close your eyes and open your mouth."

Vadim smiled. "Don't make me guess." Felt oddly embarrassed about it, and relished the weird tenderness - a strange and new situation. He opened his lips to invite the bite of food.

Dan chose some lightly toasted white bread with butter, a smidgen of cream cheese and freshly smoked fish on top, holding it to Vadim's lips. "It's pretty straightforward." He grinned, couldn't help but laugh. "Nothing 'straight' here, eh?" Murmured, while preparing a bite for himself.

"Hmmmm … no. Try as I might, I can't come up with anything straight, not after …" you fucked me like that. He let the words trail off, thought Dan probably could hear the complete sentence. The bite was moved between his lips, as if to tease, bread and faintly salty slick fish, something like cream came out at the sides as he closed his mouth.

"And? Don't tell me you don't know what that is."

"A second."

Dan was chewing, too, while watching the other's face. Every movement of those jaws, the dark blond lashes fanning over high, Slavic cheekbones. The closed eyelids, fluttering, as if Vadim was forcing himself to keep them closed. Watching the throat as it swallowed, the strong tendons and muscles, and the scar … his scar, right there in the hollow. All Dan wanted was to forget about the food despite his stomach's rumbling, and to dive into Vadim instead. "You're so fucking sexy." Reverent, his voice was barely more than a rumble.

Vadim's eyes opened, licking his lips to make sure he had the whole thing. "Well, tastes a bit like you. A bit salty, and like more. A lot like more." He ran his finger across Dan's lips, pretending he was wiping crumbs off, but of course he wasn't, merely wanting to touch, so he knew that he was allowed to touch again, that it was his right again, that he had been accepted again and would be, in future. In camp. He wouldn't lie there with his heart and mind torn open, knowing Dan was with somebody else … or even preferred being alone to being with him.

"There's a lot more where that came from." Dan smiled against the finger on his lips. "Both food and me." Catching the tip of the finger to suck it into his mouth. His dark eye alight and smiling all the time.

Vadim stared at Dan's lips and his finger, and suction, heat and wetness made his guts tighten in a good way. Just barely breathing. Dan playful. Dan sexy. Dan teasing. Mad Dog Dan. "I … we … breakfast?" Knew he made no sense, but didn't care.

"Aye …" Dan reluctantly let go of the finger. His voice husky, it seemed that anything took his mind from no-matter-what right to sex. Or had it ever been any different? With Vadim? "Considering I'm forty-two and not a spring chicken with endless orgasms anymore …," he swallowed, his body trying to contradict his own words, "and fucking hungry … I guess ... breakfast …." But he made no attempt to actually get to the food, despite the loud rumbling of his stomach.

Vadim gave a laugh. "Chicken no, cock yes." Loved the ambiguity of the word, while Dan chuckled at the pun and Vadim wondered who had ever decided to call the male part the same as a male chicken, but would ask about that later. He reached up to bring a tray of food closer, not too bothered to place it on the plates first, instead took it with his fingers and offered Dan some rolled-up cold cuts, and pieces of fish, and fruit, all in a mix that he thought worked well in succession while he got fed by Dan in return. "You're different from Kabul, too, you know that?"

"Hm?" Chewing, Dan tilted his head, looking up in surprise. "What do you mean? I thought I was back to what I was like those months before ... ah …." Trailing off, "you know." Deciding to quickly go for another mouthful of food instead of talking. The balance act on rope or thin ice was not over yet.

"Hard to put into words … seems you've grown into the boots you were wearing then. No doubts. You're not much of a doubter anyway, but now you look like you never were. All balls."

Swallowing his latest mouthful, Dan looked nothing short of utterly confused. "I don't get what you mean." Then shrugged, "I just got older." Offering a smile.

"We both did." But it looks good on you. You wear it with a cool and confidence that makes my heart thump in my throat. How can I not want you like that? How could I not feel anything?

Dan just smiled brighter, offering another mouthful of food to Vadim's lips. "I reckon we have a fair few more years in front of us and that after all this shit we deserve each of them." Leaning down to take some more fish and fruit from the other's hand, "unless one of us, or both, get KIA, we'll just keep on living. Together. But I don't think we will. Got it in me waters, you know." Tapping the side of his nose.

Vadim took the bite, chewing, and pushing away the thought of death. Working on different teams was really the only thing they could do to keep the job running, because he knew with absolute certainty that Dan would always choose him, no question, and the CO knew that too, and thus kept them both from making that decision, ever. And this meant it would be one of them that got KIA, and the other would go on. They'd managed once before - if it ever happened, it couldn't be worse than the last two years. "We are too good to let that happen. And, all told, we are fairly lucky, too."

"Aye, damn lucky in a sea of shit." Dan laughed, washing the food down with the rest of his coffee, before he turned more serious. "No, you are right, we have been damn lucky, all considered. It's a miracle we are both alive and that's worth for something, isn't it?" Picking up a piece of honey smoked fish, he looked at it for a while, pondering, before he grinned. "By all what's right I really shouldn't be alive anymore. Just look at this ragtag bag of scars." Stuffing the fish between his lips, he lifted both his arms as if he crucified, offering himself for inspection.

"Yes, you attract pain", murmured Vadim and bent down to kiss Dan's abs, back up to his pecs, to his shoulder, the scar. "Pain, and more pain …" He wanted to kneel and give Dan a blowjob, just compare tastes and sensations.

"No … you're not pain." Not anymore, "and it seems …" Dan's breath hitched, "that you're pretty much attracted to me."

"Can't … think anything else, sorry." Vadim looked up and smiled. "Do you … want me to …"

You were nothing but his bitch, and you made yourself that willingly.

"… give head?" Seemed the best term to what it was, less crude, maybe. Vadim didn't know why it jarred him, only of course it was on his knees and part of him wanted to be there, and another part shied away.

"Hm?" Again, that confusion, as Dan felt a strange twitch inside. "Why do you ask?" Since when, and how, and why, and … the thin ice felt like breaking underneath.

"Don't want to distract you from breakfast, but it's …difficult." Difficult to not end up in bed all the time, pretending things were normal and they'd do things slower, not rushing, but Vadim was head over heels and wanted to touch and keep and confirm, over and over, that the old vows and promises were valid again. Still held true.

"Oh …" Dan started to smile, felt himself slipping across the ice instead of breaking through. "I just wondered, because you asked, and you didn't use to."

No, I sometimes did when the mood struck me, or when there was a knife, or pressure, or hands around my throat. Vadim watched Dan lean towards the plates, hastily stuffing himself with a few mouthfuls, chewing while grinning.

"You can do with me whatever you like." Swallowing quickly before managing to pour himself another cup of coffee without spilling too much and ladling the sugar in, as Vadim went down onto his knees between Dan's legs. "Don't ask, just do, and if I don't like it," Dan grinned, then washed down the food with the whole cup, quipping his lips, "I'll just punch you." He laughed and winked, "gently, that is."

"I wonder how much is gentle …" retorted Vadim, and then thought he did wonder how much was gentle these days. They'd gone from brutal to savage to passionate, and he wasn't quite sure where they'd end up. "… or how gentle I want you to be." Slipped out, not on purpose, surely not, not with the trauma and the doctor telling him to be extra special careful in his interactions with people, even those he knew, as he could take nothing for granted.

"Don't give me ideas." Dan grinned, reaching to place his hand on Vadim's shoulder. Just resting and feeling the heat of the skin beneath his palm. "Or, at least, give me some time to reacquaint myself with you, the 'vanilla' way. Then we'll see from there." He chuckled while leaning forward, resting his lips on the top of the other's head.

"Vanilla?" Vadim's hands rested on Dan's thighs, and he opened them. Running his hands towards Dan's knees, knew the scar and its place, remembered it from long ago. A different man, a different Dan.

"It's something I heard the guys talk about." Dan lifted his head, watching the progress of the other's hands. Whenever he was touched like this, no matter by whom, he wondered every time what the hell anyone saw in him: a worn-out battle-scarred old war horse with no other talents than waging war. "They were boasting about their birds, back home, and how some of them took it up the arse and wanted it rough, while others were into cuddling and missionary-style sex, and the guys called that vanilla."

Cuddling and missionary style. Vanilla. Okay. Strange. Vadim suddenly smiled. "But I take it up the arse. So vanilla between men is different?"

Dan snorted, throwing his head back, hair whipping around his face as he laughed with abandon. "Guess us blokes haven't got much option, aye?" Vadim shook his head, but he was grinning. Dan's laughter finally quietened down to a chuckle. "Now, what about a bath and, or, your proposition?"

"A bath is always good ..." And you. The way your skin tastes when it's wet. "And, not or."

"That's alright, then, because I guess we both could do with a bath, even though I'd lick every crevice of yours, would bite every inch of skin, and suck every part of your body - washed or not."

Vadim shook his head. "Bath. I prefer you clean. Had too much Afghan dust between my teeth to be into not-clean."

Dan nodded, holding his hand out to Vadim to pull him up, despite the prospect of a blow-job. "Let's get the bubbles started, and I'll let you play 'u-boat and torpedo missiles'." Grinning like a kid, his dark eyes flashing with delight and his whole face relaxed. They had time, for the first time ever. Truly time. They'd deal with the past later.

* * *

In the bathroom, which was as big and as airy as the whole bungalow, Dan sat down on a cushioned stool, eyes fixed on Vadim. "Guess it's your task to run the bath water." He grinned broadly, while waving his plastered hand around. "Big bubbles, if you would."

Vadim sat down near the tub and stretched to reach the levers, sealing the tub with a twist of that, and starting the water with a twist of the other. Running the water over his hand, choosing a good temperature, then reached into a little woven basket at the side to add bath oil - it said something about Tahitian monoi oil on the little bottle - and turned to face Dan. Looking at him in wonder, and a relaxed happiness that felt alien but too damn good to disturb.

"What, why are you staring at me?" Eyes sparkling with mirth, Dan pointed impatiently at the bottle Vadim was holding. "You think bubble baths aren't manly?"

Vadim pulled off the cap, and peeled off the foil seal. "You could wear a dress and like chocolate and you'd still be manly." He glanced up, keeping his face impassive.

"I do like chocolate, as you damn well know, Mr Peanut Butter Energy bar, and I am Scottish, and thus prone to one day proudly wear my national attire: the kilt." Dan tried to look stern and menacing, but could not hide the grin all too well. "And if you ever call a kilt a 'skirt' or a 'dress', I am going to fucking strangle you."

Vadim poured the oil into the bath, watching it form a glistening film on the rapidly rising water. A nice, clean scent rose with the steam. "If you do it tenderly …" A quick glance to Dan.

"Hmm … that means not the way you used to do it to me, aye?" The memory brought heat to his face, and Dan's lips parted for a moment, transfixed on the way muscles shifted over tendons and bones in Vadim's body. His breath hitched. "But is there … any other way to strangle?"

Shit. The teasing - flirting, Vadim heard Jean say - went right inside his body again. Vanilla. He had the vague idea that strangling wasn't vanilla. He took pains to put the cap back on, fitting the little bottle back into the woven basket. "Well, dropping the garrotte and using … hands would be ah ... a start."

"Does a neck cloth count as a garrotte, though?" Dan's head tilted, leaning closer. "You used to use one."

"I … did." Breathing grew a little harder. "I liked", breath, "that power." The power to let you breathe or gasp for air. The power to kill you. Or let you live. The feeling of controlling your body. And at the same time, that cloth was part of the uniform, had been used to stem blood flow, or support a fucked arm around the neck, or any of the one hundred uses that a piece of cloth could have during a war. Strangle his lover.

Dan's breath caught once more in his throat. "And I … goddammit, I liked it." Felt as if his voice had suddenly turned rusty for no reason. "Was the only way I could let you. You know." Didn't know why words got stuck, nor where hesitation came from. Had to physically jerk himself upright, to finish. "Only way I could let you fuck me." Past, or still present? He wasn't so sure anymore.

The only way I could let you fuck me. Vadim nodded, inhaling deeply, felt regret at that, the thing he'd done that made Dan resist him at every turn, certainly his body, a deep terror he had started himself, and that would always linger like a nightmare, like the taste of rotting meat. Vanya had paid with his life, and he, too, in a way, if less literally. He stared into the water, and thought again of Dr Williams who'd warned him to be careful, question every reaction that was too dark, too violent, too bitter. Might all be perfectly harmless. Still, it remained rape, a crime, and what the fuck had made him do that? What was that thing nesting inside his heart and that made him force and violate and fucking revel in it?

My best guess is, Vadim Petrovich, that you are punishing yourself for your debased urges.

Konstantinov.

"Vadim?" Dan leaned forward once more, reaching out to touch the other's thigh, whose reaction once more felt alien. "It's okay, Russkie. It's a long time ago, doesn't matter anymore." When Vadim looked up, Dan smiled, did his best to, at least. Steered his own thoughts away from lust; the deep, dark coiling lust that was fed by blood, pain and aggression. "It's okay."

Russkie. All wrong, for a moment, and then Vadim felt the touch and thought of the roof in the merc camp and what that touch meant. Covered Dan's hand with his and pressed it, glad for the touch. "Do you … ever feel like punishing me for that?" Because if Dan didn't, why should he? Or what else had he done that deserved punishment? Or had Konstantinov created that doubt?

"Don't you think I have already done that? Eleven years ago." Dan kept his hand in Vadim's and stood up. Reaching to trace with the fingers of his left hand across the scarred back. He lowered his head until he was eye to eye. "You bear the scars of my revenge." His voice had softened, "and I wear mine. We're quits. It's done and over, a long time ago."

Vadim leaned forward, cheek against Dan's scarred stomach, just touching it with half his lips, half his mouth, while Dan continued to caress the broad back. The warmth of Dan's body, the trail of dark hair - what was left after the scarring. "I sometimes don't trust my mind." That was it in a nutshell. "I'm thinking, and then I'm thinking that's wrong. And then I think that's wrong." Vadim inhaled. "He screwed me up", he murmured.

Dan froze for a heartbeat, before the slow meandering of his fingertips continued. "Who is 'he'?"

The other man who tortured me, thought Vadim, and dug his forehead deeper into Dan's body. He remembered kneeling at the man's feet, remembered being patted like a dog. He jerked up, needed to see, see it was Dan, and hated himself for that same instinct. "Not … a lover." He tried a smile but nearly lost it, his face twitching. "The man who … made me sign the confession. He screwed me up. Like he said he would. He said so from the start." He wanted to stop the words and wasn't sure he could.

"KGB?" Dan moistened his suddenly dry lips. The running water forgotten, the bathroom was filling with steam. The heat oddly soothing. Dan lowered down, despite stiffness and lingering bruises. Getting onto his knees to be close. Figured, instinctively, that nothing else would do.

With an effort, Vadim met Dan's gaze, felt tense and scared and knew at the same time he was perfectly safe. Knew he was going through something, but this time, Dan was right there with him. He just didn't know whether that made it easier or not, dealing with it. The dread, yes, the shame, no.

"That man, who made you sign the confession. Who …" broke you, "said he would. That was that man's job, aye?"

"Yes. Konstantinov. That's his name. What the judge called him." Speaking the name felt surreal. He hadn't even told Dr Williams the man's name.

"He was a professional, then." Dan's voice lowered even more. The rare, rumbling depths, reserved only for a few occasions. "A professional, like us, just that he wasn't trained to destroy bodies. Was trained to destroy minds." Tilting his head to look at Vadim.

"I know, but …" My brain knows, but nothing else does.

"Shit, Vadim, if such a man was out to destroy you, goddammit, he had to succeed. With anyone. It's a testament to your strength that you signed so late." The hand in Vadim's back had stilled, but contact remained. "But that doesn't make any of it any better, aye?"

"No. He knew me. He knew what I was thinking, feeling, have … ever felt. Digging around in my past, my crimes, my weaknesses, the people I was ever close to."

"But did he also dig around in the good things? The love, the caring, the fact you would have torn yourself apart for your family - and that you almost did?"

Vadim gave a wry smile. "He was less interested in that … he made it all sound like it didn't matter." Insinuated I'd raped my own son. Sasha's son. Our. Whatever. Nikolai. How was he? Better now? Katya would protect her kids with her life. "Sometimes it just feels like he peeled the flesh from my bones. He skinned my soul. And I don't even believe in a soul."

"Nor did I." Dan murmured, "until I met you." Studying the other with dark eyes, "don't you want to seek help to sort things out?"

Vadim shook his head. "Dr Williams put me back together. He said it might decrease in intensity, but most only learn how to live with it. He said I'm coping well, all told."

Dan nodded slowly. Had to take Vadim's words for what they were, but a slither of doubt lodged itself even firmer in his mind. "I wish I could understand all this. I did read those articles on trauma that Maggie gave me, but I don't think I understood the stuff. I'm … I'm not a brainy man, but shit, I'm here. Whatever happens. I gave you my word by accepting the bullet, and I'm not going to break it. Ever."

Vadim pulled Dan into a tight, powerful bear hug, hearing the water gargle into the sieve that prevented spill-over. "You wouldn't. Just … don't pity me, okay?" He felt ridiculous asking that, and even worse for how it sounded in his throat. "Act like I was alright."

"I should punch you for asking that." Dan murmured, "or did I ever ask you not to fucking pity me for that rag tag body of mine?" Casting a glance at the dangerously high water level, he couldn't get himself to give a damn. "Mmmm …," his low voice rumbled, "seemed we are making a perfect pair. My body's fucked and your mind's knackered. Together we should be unbeatable."

Vadim breathed laughter, and was so grateful for Dan just taking it in stride, like he'd taken everything in stride. Courageous Dan. Mad Dog Dan. Dan McFadyen, SAS, merc, survivor. He felt oddly proud for having Dan, and proud of Dan, and thought, yes, they could tackle that shit together. Not the worst they'd gone through. He slowly relaxed, willed himself to relax; it was less difficult now. "Let's keep the thought with the strangling, but … not just yet."

"Aye," Dan grinned, his normal self returning: irreverent and easy-going. "I'll keep the thought, beside all the others. I have a whole damn bucketful of thoughts." Glancing once more to the side, he heaved a deep sigh before straightening up. "And if we don't do anything about it, we'll be drowning soon."

Vadim grinned. "I can swim. To Olympic standard. Maybe not to compete, but this small thing will not drown me." He reached over to pull the lever that stopped the water, feeling strangely better, like he'd bandaged a wound. It hurt like fuck and was still bleeding, but there was always something reassuring about being patched up.

* * *

After a long bath in the overflowing tub, talking about nothing darker than SAS Selection and their respective youths in their home towns. Vadim rubbed Dan dry once more, who was chuckling at the care and relishing the touch. They had just about time for lunch and Dan opted for a snack at the buffet, keen to call Dr Williams, while Vadim booked him into the same beauty treatment. A treatment Dan had no idea about, except that it was about dealing with scars.

When Dan returned, after a phone call that had lasted three quarters of an hour, he was quieter than usual, and somewhat absentminded. Smiling at Vadim, he shrugged when asked how it had gone, needing time to digest the information. He wasn't stupid, not even slow, but by no means an intellectual. Dan's intelligence was practical, coupled with sheer bravado to survive - and an astonishing depth of emotion. And he wasn't going to forget a single thing he'd been told.

* * *

In shaded huts right at the beach, a tiny woman handled Vadim's body with a mix of skill and effectiveness that awed him, and he relaxed into her stretches, just going with what she did, as every motion and every strange position seemed to loosen him up more, and he lost track of time. There was no muscle in his body that she didn't somehow work with, she even pulled his toes and ears, and Vadim could just feel parts of his body he'd never been conscious before. Felt warm and good and taken care of, no urgency in anything, he learnt to trust her fingers, and elbows, and feet - something he hadn't expected. Maybe because of Dan, maybe because of the sex and the worry that had left him. He could feel the vertebrae shift and slide into position, his 'locked' back relaxed, and he closed his eyes, just allowing her to handle him.

Dan lay right next to Vadim, separated only by a paper thin partition. The combination of gentle breeze, soft rustling of palm leaves, the scent of oil the woman was using, and her skilled hands that carefully worked on his bruised and abused body, had sent him off into such a peaceful state, he had fallen asleep. It was pure bliss, lying prone and snoozing, while she worked on his back and legs. Dan smiled to himself in his slumbering state, as he felt something warm glide over his skin, covering his thighs and arse, and he subconsciously parted his legs a little further, just to feel the luxurious warmth that spread all over him. Face cushioned on his arm, he let out a soft sigh, completely at peace with himself and the world.

Until ... a sudden, almighty pain ripped all the way up from his knee, along the thigh and across his buttock. Dan jerked up, pulling the bruises, and screamed blue murder. "Fuck!"

At that, Vadim reacted without thinking. Age-old reflexes that had been honed by words like "incoming!", or screams, or just a comrade going down with a headshot. He rolled off the table and went for cover before he even realized anything, putting the fear of god into the little Thai girl who jumped back, a shocked expression on her face, hands raised and speaking something, but he didn't know one word of Thai. Half kneeling, half crouching, Vadim peered past the massage table. "Dan?"

"Oh shit, shit, fucking goddamned, bloody shit!" Dan was cursing, curled up on the table. Holding simultaneously his bruised side, his hand, and arm and leg and arse, and just about everything else. His own Thai girl had pressed herself into a corner, looking absolutely terrified, with two long white linen strips in her hands, coated with sticky wax.

"What the fuck was that for? Why the hell is she skinning me alive?"

Vadim glanced around, then saw that his own Thai girl had been preparing the same stuff for him, and he couldn't help but laugh. "Hot wax. It's harmless."

"Hot wax?" Dan managed to sit on the table, peering over the partition to try find Vadim, who had decided that there was no RPG incoming and that it was safe to stand and walk over to Dan, who was staring at his naked body far too blatantly.

"But why is she doing that? It hurts like fuck." Dan frowned, but when he realised that the girl looked petrified, he raised his hands, trying to placate, apologising time and time again while nodding. Trying to explain without being able to talk the language that he was sorry and it wasn't her fault. Even though he still didn't have a clue why the hell she'd done that. "Did you book me into a torture chamber, or what?"

"It's hair removal." Vadim tried to control the laughter, but it was just too funny, Dan sitting there in all his injured pride, flabbergasted that this could and actually did hurt. "You wanted the whole hog. My wax is just being heated."

"But I didn't know what 'the whole hog' meant! I thought it was massage and stuff." Eyes narrowed, Dan pointed accusingly at Vadim. "You did that deliberately, didn't you? You bastard."

Vadim laughed, but raised his hands. "No, Sir, I didn't. I booked the same treatment twice. I didn't think it … would have that effect." Trying again for the straight face approach, but it was funny. Dan's wool clinging to the waxing strips, and the girl still out of reach and not getting what the problem was. "It'll be better once you get used to it. I guess you were just startled."

"There is no way I am going to get used to this." Dan huffed, shaking his head for emphasis. "That's it. Never again. I'm dark skinned and dark haired, and most of all, I'm a bloke. Blokes have hair, especially dark haired ones."

"But she started." Vadim waved for Dan to get up, and walked around him, seeing the patch of reddening, hairless skin the Thai girl had cleared. "Well. It's a bit irregular, but I'm sure the other mercs in camp won't mind the patchy look."

"What the fuck do you mean?" Dan's brows raised as far as they could go, trying to twist backwards to see what Vadim was referring to. Didn't manage, though, his ribs protested.

"There's a patch of hair missing already. If you leave it like that … well. It's not the best look in the world." Vadim reached for a mirror and held it down beside Dan's tortured backside. "See what I mean?"

"Oh … fuck." Dan breathed out in heartfelt misery, as he saw the extent of damage. "I look like a fucking idiot."

"That's about right", said Vadim, but smiled.

Frowning, Dan turned back to Vadim. Would have crossed his arms before his chest, if it hadn't been awkward with the wrist in plaster. "Alright. I got it. I have to get through with it. Just one thing, she's not going to go anywhere close to my cock and I shave my nuts anyway. Pubes are out. Is that clear?" He raised his brows again.

Vadim grinned. "Explain that to her. I'm not giving you the treatment." He shook his head, thinking how Dan could even make such a situation into something it hadn't meant to be. "Hope you don't mind if they get rid of mine, though", he said, winking, and turned to lie down on his side of the partition. It was hard to relax as silent laughter kept coming back. Oh Dan.

Dan was about to huff an answer, but shut up and pressed his lips together instead. Okay, he'd been caught out, well and truly and 'insult to injury' came to his mind. He sighed when the girl was looking at him with wide eyes, and proceeded to explain in simple English what he wanted. She began to smile, as if nothing had happened, and kept nodding, especially when he promised not to scream again. With heavy heart and shitloads of trepidation, he lay back down on the table, prone once more. Cursing himself for not having noticed what the 'whole hog' entailed. Was just pain and he'd had plenty of that, but goddammit, this was a pain he could do without. "Blokes are hairy." He muttered to himself, completely ignoring how he liked a muscular smooth body, and most of all Vadim's, before the torture started once more. Suffering with gritted teeth through the ordeal that seemed to go on for an eternity.

Vadim kept his mind firmly on the far worse stuff he'd been through as he was getting waxed. He liked the warmth of the substance, less when it cooled and tightened, and the ripping felt like a layer of skin was taken off as well, but he relaxed, knowing it was worth it, and also knowing that the speed she did it with was the real mercy. Every now and then chuckling when he heard sounds from beyond the partition, and determined to make it worth Dan's while … once all witnesses were gone. Thoughts came back of Dan hairless in the hamam, taste and texture of smooth skin, and he smiled, content, and with a good dose of humour.

Dan had rarely felt that much relief, when she was finally done, rubbing some gritty oil all over his body, and gently massaging it into his tortured skin. It felt strange, he had to admit that, strange and good, if what she was vigorously rubbing in would have been less exfoliating. He didn't utter a sound, though, just let it all be done and over with, starting to relax a little when she wiped off whatever she had worked in before, only to finally start massaging warmed oil into his skin. Now that was better! After ten minutes, Dan was ready to grudgingly admit it felt good, and after twenty minutes he was inclined to forgive Vadim. When she finished after half an hour he was once again so mellow, he would have fallen asleep had she not signalled that they were done.

Dan sighed and smiled, nodding his thanks and taking the offered towel. Fluffy, big, more a sarong than anything, he wrapped himself into it, before trotting over to Vadim's partition.

Vadim just lay on his side, trying to work up enough tension to get up, all covered in warm towels, while the girl started to clean things away and gave him time to slowly drift out of that delicious stage of utter relaxation and weightlessness. He glanced at Dan and struggled to sit up. "I think I'll sleep for a few hours", he murmured, and stood, shedding the various towels and tying one around his hips as well.

"Mind if I join you?" Dan grinned, "after a fag and a drink."

Vadim smiled. "Won't be able to fight you off", he murmured, thanked the girl with a bow, and began to make his way towards the bungalow. "Apart from that, I'm really curious what you look like under your skirt."

"You did it." Dan said gravely, and stopped dead in his track. "You said the word. The forbidden word." If only he could remember what he had threatened Vadim with, should he ever say it. Oh, strangle. That was it. Damn.

Vadim paused, smiling, arching an eyebrow. "I did. But I didn't think a towel qualified as 'kilt'."

"It might. Technically, it well could. After all, it is a true Scotsman wearing it."

"That means - hypothetically - that if I ended up in that discotheka, and I'd move as random and accidentally as any other drunk tourist, it would be pure-blooded Trepak? Good to know."

"You're an insufferable arsehole, Russkie, you know that?" Dan tried hard to suppress his laughter as he started to walk again, "luckily for you, I am too strung out after the 'ordeal' that I shall leave the punishment for another time." He flashed a grin as he shrugged. "And as for what I look like under the towel, if you don't know that by now, I have no idea where you've been for the last eleven years." He grinned once more. They had almost reached Vadim's bungalow, and he headed straight towards it. Didn't care where they ended up.

"Let's say, I'd like to refresh my memory."

"In that case, you can order a couple of drinks and I check if there's any rugby on the telly, while lying around naked and more or less decoratively. Means you can 'refresh' your memory of what a bloke looks like under a towel." Dan winked and looked around for his packet of fags, which he had strategically left in Vadim's bungalow.

"You watch rugby?" That was just one of the puzzling strange sports that the British were so fond of. Not that he'd had much time to watch it himself, looked much like American football to him, and he didn't get what was so interesting about it.

"You don't? I would have thought it might be one of the things you'd picked up by now. Real men. No padding, and more or less a free for all. Big, heavy, muscular men, all piling into each other." Dan grinned while lighting his fag, inhaling the first drag with pure bliss. "I used to play it myself, back when I was younger."

Vadim closed the door behind them and went to the fridge to check what was left. "Hmmm. If you sell it like that. The boys in the barracks talked about rugby a lot. Mostly about the English side. Andy defended his Welsh honour, and the Scots their side."

"But of course, and in the world cup, if us Scots got thrown out, I'd cheer for the Irish before I'd cheer for the English." Dan grinned. "Got to have national pride."

"That's what Andy said about the Irish and the Scots."

Dan pondered, while smoking. "Don't think Russians play rugby, or do you?"

"I don't think so. Not to my knowledge, at least. Hockey, and ice hockey, but I wasn't very good at that." Vadim peered into the fridge, but found nothing that tickled him. "I think I'll get that assortment of freshly squeezed fruit juices again. What do you think?"

"If those juices have vodka or similar in them, I'm all for it." Dan sat down on the bed but kept the towel on.

Vadim smiled. "I'll call the bar for some of that, too."

Dan grinned and nodded, before scooting back on the bed with the TV remote in his hand, ready to channel-surf.

Just a little later, room service arrived with what was pretty much a mobile bar with properly cooled vodka, several jugs of cooled fruit juice in colours ranging from the pale rose of watermelon to the rich tone of mango, and Vadim tipped the guy, closing the door again. "Right. You'll waste a perfectly good vodka with fruit juice?"

Not having found what he was looking for, Dan switched off the telly and put the remote onto the bedside table. "Depends on the make, and to be honest, feels like luxury to have a vodka and orange. Not bad, getting plastered on long drinks, instead of downing illegal moonshine." He grinned. "Are you going to mix one for me or do you refuse such a vile task?"

"Vile?" Vadim glanced up from the assortment of liquids. "I think I've done worse." He reached for the glasses - and they were already sugar-rimmed. How strange. He opened the vodka bottle, poured two fingers, and asked, with just a hint of revulsion: "Ice?" Then filled the glasses up with mango juice, when Dan shook his head.

Dan patted the space beside him. "You wanted to have a kip, didn't you?"

"What's a 'kip'?" asked Vadim, before he consented to anything that carried an unknown risk.

"I keep forgetting that you don't know all slang words yet. A kip is a snooze, some shut-eye, a slumber. A kip is a quick nap. Sleeping, but not for too long."

"Ah. Yes." Vadim handed Dan a long drink and mixed his own.

"Cheers." Dan took the first sip with relish. "And what was it about this refreshing of memory?" He gazed straight at Vadim's groin, "I wouldn't mind a refresher myself."

Vadim sat down, drank half the juice, then found the knot that kept the towel together, opening it. His skin was still red, and tender, and he looked at Dan, pointedly. "Now yours."

Dan's eyes widened at the sight of the completely smooth and hairless groin. Thighs. Chest. Legs. Everything. "Ah, damn. I knew there was a drawback." Putting the glass down, so he could use his good hand, Dan lifted his hips off the bed and slid, pushed and shoved the towel down and open. "Don't laugh."

Nothing to laugh at. Smooth - the trail up towards Dan's chest was gone, everything was gone but for neatly kept pubic hair, legs bare, only now revealing completely how toned and strong they were, as the lines and shapes of muscles underneath became more visible. "Should have you photographed … I doubt you'll let this happen again", murmured Vadim.

Dan blinked, surprised at the reaction, but then why shouldn't Vadim like on him what he liked on Vadim? "Well, if you want to, you can get a camera. Suppose I could pose for you." He flashed a grin. "And you are right, this is not going to happen again. Especially not this!" With that he rolled himself over, lifting his perfectly smooth arse a couple of inches into the air.

Impossible to resist. Vadim set the glass down and moved with enough speed to keep Dan from turning or defending, even though Dan yelped in non-too convincing protest. Getting on top of Dan's legs and between them, Vadim dipped low to lick him, prying the cheeks apart with his thumbs, with Dan too surprised to react at all. Finding the hole and, without much thinking, pushed his tongue in, while one of his hands went for Dan's balls.

"Holy fuck!" Dan bucked up and towards the tongue. Entirely unexpected, the sudden onslaught of sensations was too much to deal with. But he remembered, the next moment, when Vadim's tongue moved and pushed, fucking him with wet and heat, causing his cock to harden the same instant. Remembered a hamam, heat, shaving, Kabul and an enemy's mercy.

Vadim gave a short laugh at the cursing, and pushed Dan's legs further apart with shoulder and elbow so he had better access to his balls while delving as deep as he could. The musky taste, Dan's taste, but above all, the smooth surface against his cheek and shoulder, and arm, and knowing how sensitive it was right now. He delivered a playful slap to Dan's muscular ass, which had an unexpected violent reaction, when Dan's body jerked, despite bruising and all. The sounds Dan made were almost too loud in the wide, empty room, while Vadim went on to fuck him with his tongue, turning and twisting inside, probing against the muscle.

Driving Dan into incoherence, with a sensation so rare and new, it was unlike getting fucked and yet the good things about having something inside his body were all there. That, and more. The tongue invasive but not intrusive. Its movements unpredictable, while Vadim's hand was kneading his balls. Occasionally brushing his cock. "More!" Dan pleaded breathlessly. Needed more friction, wanted more sensation. Wasn't above begging, not if it meant his cock would get stroked; not if it got him higher and further.

Vadim leaned into Dan, hand moving over to his cock, thick and heavy, stroking it in time with his movements, tight, strong movements, pumping Dan with the only intention to get him off because his tongue was tiring and he loved the sounds Dan made now.

Rewarded with erratic motions, and even more urgent sounds, Dan was pushing into hand and tongue. Caught between the two, he bucked and shuddered, letting out a stream of curses as he tensed, then let lose, cumming into hand and sheets while pushing back, back, towards that tongue, until he collapsed with a groan.

Vadim let him go as Dan fell back on the bed, loosening his jaw and grinning. His own desire less urgent, something that didn't demand release right now. He wiped his hand on the sheets and sat up to reach for his glass, finishing the rest of the drink, while studying the smooth behind, bottom, thighs, all as perfect as if arranged for a photographer. "You think it was worth it?" he asked.

"Uh … what?" Dan's brain hadn't clued on yet. Short-circuited from his orgasm.

"Shaving." Vadim ran his hand down Dan's back, tracing the spine under the bronzed skin. "Worth shaving if you …" he paused, then thought, what the hell, he could call it what it was, "have your ass eaten?"

Dan grumbled something beneath his breath, while stretching into the touch, cat-like. "Aye," he turned his head, one-eyed glancing up at Vadim, "but that wasn't shaving. I wouldn't mind shaving, not for …" he started to grin, one-sided as well, "for 'having my ass eaten'. It's just damn difficult to shave between the buttocks. On your own …."

"I'm willing to help. You know that." Oh yeah, because shaving, stroking, fingering would all lead to sex anyway. Any excuse, any opportunity.

"Let you shave my arse?" Dan pondered less than a second. "Deal." The grin grew, baring his teeth. "And while we're at the 'ass eating', do you want yours to be eaten?" Surprising himself with that, had always figured it was pretty … yeah, pretty what? Disgusting? Ridiculous. He'd swallowed Vadim's sperm and blood, and that had been damn good.

Vadim swallowed. "If you … want to." He'd liked it when Szandor had done it. Damn, the Hungarian had shown him a few interesting tricks, but that was ages ago. What, fifteen years?

Dan lifted his head, grinning fully at Vadim. "Fair's fair, aye? Just can't promise I'll be as good as you. Haven't done it yet." He scrambled onto his knees like a man with a purpose. "But remember our old motto? He who dares wins." Reaching for his vodka and mango, Dan finished the glass before pointing to the sheets. "Best get into position, soldier-boy."

"Boy?"

"Well, okay, man, then." Dan grinned.

Somewhat dubious, Vadim got onto hands and knees, debating with himself whether he should tell Dan that it wasn't about fairness or pay back, but then thought that Dan always recklessly barged on, whatever happened, and he'd find it out himself whether he liked it or not. "If you happen to think it's not your kind of thing, you don't … have to", he murmured.

"I know that." Dan delivered a light slap onto one smooth cheek, then shifted until he knelt between the open legs. Marvelling at the smooth flesh beneath his eyes, hands, and … tongue. "You also know that you are fucking perfect, don't you?" Running his right hand across skin and hard muscles, before fingertips lightly touched scars across the broad back.

Vadim shuddered. The scars. In Dan's eyes, they doubtlessly were part of that perfection. Like a signed piece of art. "Good for the camera", he murmured, closing his eyes to concentrate on the sensation.

"Fucking perfect." Murmured once more, before Dan leant down, kissing his way from the base of Vadim's spine, down the cleft, then back up and across the buttocks, all the time caressing the smooth thighs, which opened further. Dan's tongue trailed a moist path down to Vadim's balls, spending his time sucking and laving, rewarded with heavy breathing and sighs. Lifting his head, Dan rested his good hand in the cleft, feeling the heat beneath his fingers. "I won't ask you to stay smooth like that." His voice had dropped, had become husky. "But if you did, fuck, Vadim, no one and nothing could be more perfect, and hell, your cock looks fucking great like that. Even bigger."

"Was … planning to. I like it like that, it's more sensitive."

"Good …" Dan smiled, before lowering his head once more. Vadim was still far too coherent for his liking. Twisting his head to counteract for the fact he only had one good hand and couldn't pull Vadim's buttocks apart to get better access, he pushed his face as close as he could, until his tongue found what it sought. Slipping between and inside, coaxing, demanding, making Vadim groan suddenly, as the massive body shuddered.

"Fuck … forgot … forgot how …" Szandor drove me insane with this. Vadim couldn't suppress the sounds, didn't want to, this was great, just hoped Dan didn't mind, didn't stop.

Dan didn't find scent nor taste in the least offensive, couldn't understand why he'd never done it before. Trying to emulate Vadim at first, remembering what had felt best, until he forgot about any of that and just trusted his instinct. Harsher, harder, pushing himself to the limit, as he always did. He tongue-fucked Vadim, while stroking the cock in sync. Not caring if his neck was aching, or his tongue got tired. He wanted to do this, and as intense as he could manage.

Vadim bit his lips, head back in his neck as he arched and pushed, just reacting to what Dan did, no force, just that fucking tenderness, that trust, that being one. Hand stroking him just right as he climbed higher, and faster, body tensing as he came, spilling over Dan's hand, stomach, breathing hard and sweating, then fell to the side, not eager to lie in the wet patch he'd created. "Wake me … in a week … or so."

Dan chuckled, wiping his lips and stretching his tongue far out, wiggling it, as he massaged his jaw. Lying down beside Vadim, he groused with a grin, "leave me some dry space as well." Pulling Vadim closer, they lay face to face, kissing tenderly. "Don't think I'll wake you. Think I'll join you instead." Dan was still grinning when he drifted off to sleep, holding onto Vadim, their bodies cooled by the breeze.

* * *

One day turned into the next. Sun, smiles, beach and sky. Touching and holding, laughing, caressing, spending time to just sit and talk, or drink cocktails in the shade, and enjoy the buffet. And sex. Shagging like rampant eighteen year olds. Starved for physical contact and each other's body, they were insatiable.

One morning during the first week, Dan came triumphantly back to the bungalow they were now sharing, waving a bag around. He'd had a brainwave: found sturdy plastic bags, elastics to hold them closed, and most importantly, surgical tape, to seal the bags over his plaster. It was finally time to get into the water.

Watching Vadim fix the bag, Dan was blowing smoke away from the other, while musing. "You realise I've never seen you swimming. Not since a few seconds on a tape, a long, long time ago."

Vadim checked whether he'd properly sealed the protective cover, then looked up. "And you thought 'what a bastard, he is probably shot full of chemicals', eh?" He'd been nothing but a kid back then, oblivious to the world, of what it meant to fight for his country, and sadly, horribly in love with the wrong thing, and encountering the right thing at night, at the hands of that Hungarian fencer.

"No, I was thinking 'I'm going to destroy that fucking cunt for what he has done'." Dan shrugged.

Vadim nodded, smiling wistfully. "My technique is probably shot to bits by now."

"At least you have a technique." Dan grinned, inhaling smoke. "I just swim. Used to be fairly fast, but only because they taught us that if you don't move forward, kit and all, then you're fucking dead. Makes you swim faster, I tell you." He winked, knowing that Vadim's combat training wouldn't have been much different. Possibly worse, if anything, a different attitude towards the soldiers.

Vadim laughed. "Aye. I got a lot of shit for having taken part in the Olympics. 'No points for style, Vadim Petrovich'. Ah, well. Doesn't matter. I always liked swimming, though."

"I prefer running. And climbing. But then you've told me often enough I'm stark raving mad for missing the Afghan mountains." Dan winked again and took a step backwards, checking the bag. It seemed perfect. He was dressed in the swimming shorts that covered at least some of his scars, and slipped the shades back over his eyes. Towel under his arm, he was as ready as a man could ever be. "Lead the way, I haven't had a swim in the sea since forever. Dimly remember it used to be fun."

Vadim headed down towards the beach. The surf was far down, as the tide was out, with manageable waves licking up to the beach, leaving a wet shadow on the brilliant white sand each time they retreated. The sound alone calmed Vadim, deeply, nothing quite like it, he could listen to that forever, not thinking just standing there and watching. He dropped the towel on the beach, shed the sandals, and walked towards the water, until it reached his toes. Glancing to the side, watching Dan, and feeling the sun beat down on his head and shoulders. "Don't tell me you'd prefer Afghanistan to this?"

Dan stood with his feet in the water, eyes narrowed against the glare of the sun, he hesitated before turning towards Vadim, smiling and shrugging his shoulders. He didn't answer, for once figured it was wiser not do. "Race you!" And he suddenly broke into a run towards the water, laughing aloud.

Vadim grinned, and ran, too, sprinting, running with long jumps as the water got too deep, and dove under once it reached his hips, in a smooth arc diving beneath an incoming wave, then swam, propelled by his feet and the occasionally, almost lazy stroke, to launch himself back up into the old, favourite butterfly stroke. Breathing when he broke the surface, arms and whole body working to cover distance, coming out of the water, and sliding back underneath, his body remembering, having never truly forgotten. He probably wasn't as precise or powerful anymore, but he'd never lost the pure pleasure of swimming.

Dan, on the other hand, was just throwing himself into the water, to swim in any style that came to his mind. On his back, then going under once more, laughing and spewing sea water, when making mighty splashes. Calming after a while, he started to tread water and look around for the other. Spotting Vadim, he watched the powerful strokes, the elegance. If anything, age had matured his style, a pleasure to watch and Dan grinned to himself as he enjoyed the view.

"Hey, Russkie!" He called out at last, waving his bagged arm in the air. "You still look like a pro!"

Vadim heard Dan just as he was diving down, and switched styles in mid-motion, coming up and looking around, seeing the waving arm. "Water's gorgeous", he shouted back, feeling the salt on his skin, tasted it, too, and he wiped his face with a wet hand, then swam back towards Dan, waves carrying him easily. "You okay with that bag?"

"Aye, no problem." Dan threw himself backwards in an arch, splashing under the water. His legs paddling wildly in the air, before he twisted himself around, under water, swimming the couple of strokes towards Vadim, and coming back up right in front of him. Touching. He was laughing and shaking his wet, wild hair like a dog. "Go to admit, there's something to say about the sea." He pushed himself up and wrapped his legs around Vadim's hips, grinning.

"Something to say? You could write a novel about the sea." Vadim gave a laugh and twisted a bit when Dan used him for support, and increased his swimming a bit to carry both their weight. "But you're clearly not SBS material."

"SBS? Who the fuck is that? One of your depressing Russian authors?" Dan let himself slide down, but only to drop back into the sea, twist around, and come back up in Vadim's back. With his good hand hanging onto one shoulder, while floating lazily.

Vadim followed Dan's movements with his eyes, himself swimming in the same place. "Special … Boat … Service. The other special forces of Britain."

Dan started to laugh so hard, his whole body was shaking and he almost lost his grip. "Damn. You caught me out there. But they're a bunch of pussies anyway." Huffing with another burst of laughter.

"And apart from that, the most depressing book I've ever read was British."

"And that would be? The Financial Times?"

"Book, not newspaper. No. It's called 'Nineteen-Eighty-Four', and it's about a man called Winston Smith, who ends up …" Destroyed by the Party, "loving Big Brother."

"Aye, I remember the title. We had to read it in school. Is a hell of a long time ago, though." Dan let himself drop back down, leisurely paddling alongside Vadim, with no effort at all. Just floating. "It had rats in it, didn't it? I thought it was cool, when I was a lad. They found his greatest fear and thus the perfect torture." The moment the word was out, Dan winced. Engage mouth first and then brain, as usual.

"Yes, the rats bit was intense." Vadim gave a slightly pained smile. "What struck me was the beauty of the language, in stark contrast with there being no hope. No refuge in the past, no hope for the future. The human mind and imagination shackled, and how could a British writer write about that."

Dan just looked at Vadim, while floating in the water. His eyes narrowed for a moment, which gave him an expression of a man who was either thinking hard, or about to take a crap. "That went right over my head." He finally admitted. "But I think I remember that Orwell wrote the book during the war, or right after. I Britain in the war was a shit place to be." He shrugged, "mind you, all of Europe was. Probably all of the world. Guess that, and the Nazi shit, made him write what he did. All dark and full of terror. And, hang on, aye, I remember something about a book, a diary, and a hair, carefully placed inside. That struck me as totally crazy back then, that they even replaced the hair. Holy shit, sticklers to detail, I tell you."

Vadim inhaled. "I could tell you some stories like that from the GDR … the German Democratic Republic. Their secret service was like that. Germans. They always do everything to perfection, even the spy business."

"Aye, I know. They told us all about them in the Forces. Cold War, enemy number one and number two and all that shit." Dan shook his head, while moving his arms to stay afloat, peering up at the sunlit sky. "Ah, damn, I'll get back to the beach, I think there's water creeping into the bag. See you later?"

"I think I'll have a quick swim further out, just a few minutes." Vadim moved closer for a kiss, unhurried, unhidden out here in the water, then allowed himself to fall to the side, diving, and went for a fast, short swim that made his body buzz in all the good ways, while Dan swam back to the shore.

* * *

Deep in thoughts, triggered by memories of an all too recent past. Dan was lying on the beach, towel across the scars on his abs to protect the sensitive skin, otherwise roasting himself. He looked up through his shades when Vadim approached.

"Been thinking about what you said." Dan smiled and patted the large towel beside him. "All of the squaddies who got stationed in Germany, having a jolly good time with bratis and beer, knew that they were meant to hold up the evil comrade USSR for three minutes. That was all they'd have, knowing they'd be run over. But those three minutes were enough to get the nuclear missiles out of the ground, 'hidden' all over Germany, poised towards the enemy." Dan huffed a dry and humourless laughter, while Vadim sat down. "What a simple black and white world, aye? And how bloody lucky we were that it never happened. It's too late now, they've dismantled most of that shit by now, and they're far too busy in the Gulf and other places."

Vadim nodded. "A mad world. I remember thinking … thinking about that whole nuclear business, about the fire and the storm and what happened in Hiroshima. I'm not sure I ever fully understood what it meant or would have meant. I wanted a heroic war, something like Kursk, or Stalingrad, or the battle for Berlin. Thinking that those missiles would have wiped out armies … and I had small children. I wondered whether the Americans would bomb Moscow first, and turn my family into shadows of ash against the wall of our apartment."

"People in Britain were just as scared." Dan nodded, "and definitely in Germany. All those peace protests and anti nuclear weapons marches. I used to think they were pathetic, and that they should stay home and be thankful that we were protecting them, but I guess I didn't think very much in those days." Letting himself roll onto his side, Dan looked at Vadim. "You think it's over now? I don't. I just think they are looking for the next big enemy. No one seems to be able to live without their black and white. Wonder who the next one is. Everyone against Saddam?"

"America won the race. My …" nation homeland whatever "The old enemy is going to its knees, but Russia is proud. She may rise again. With everybody declaring independence, there's always a chance for civil war. And there are the Chinese, biding their time, they look back on a long history of cunning. Saddam? He has that convenient likeness to Hitler with that very unfortunate liking for small black moustaches, but it's a small country. Last time the West had to fear the Persians was during the Roman Empire. I'm not sure."

"But they've got oil. Control of the oil fields is all that counts. Or do you think anyone went into Kuwait and Iraq to save those 'poor' people? Bullshit. The Allied Forces did that as much as the Soviets intended to save the Afghans." Dan watched Vadim rub sunscreen into his fair skin.

"There's plenty more oil … but yeah, I guess the Americans will be getting discounts for their … humanitarian efforts." Vadim shook his head. "Some people say it's the end of history, but, honestly, I don't think having just one superpower is a good thing. Who keeps them under control?"

"I think that all superpowers are shit. All wars are crap, and there are no winners. Just old battle horses like you and I, who devoted their life to the fighting." Dan quirked an altogether weary grin. "We are all losers, Vadim, but in our small worlds, we can be winners. You and I, we are winners. Of the hardiest kind."

"True. But I'm betting we will see the Americans swing their big dick just for the hell of it. Winning the Cold War must go to their heads. Their history is too short to learn the true price and responsibility of victory. And I, for one, would rather cut my throat than work for them."

"I've got news for you." Dan laughed dryly once more, before holding his good hand out for a squirt of lotion, gesturing to Vadim to turn over so he could rub it into his back. "You already are working for them. Or what else do you think Britain has become since the 80s? Uncle Sam's spit lickers."

Britain as an extension of the USA. Vadim had thought that was just grim joke, or Dan had the same kind of black humour, or it was, indeed, the truth. The old link between motherland and colony, but these days the Brits were the dog that was wagged by the tail. It grated, grated to think that was where, ultimately, his money came from, and it was their cause he furthered. Funny, really, one day he'd been glad to be alive, and the next he started to worry whose agenda he killed and bled for. "Ah fuck."

Dan shrugged, "I don't care. One government is as corrupt as the other, one country is as shit as the next. I just do my job, cling to the good people, and fuck my way through life. I got you, what the hell else do I want? I got money, am alive, and all of that against all odds. And …" Dan leaned closer, hand on Vadim's shoulder, "and I got a farm on the other end of the world. In New Zealand. Away from all the shit."

"A farm where? All I know about New Zealand is that they are famously nuclear free."

"North island." Dan grinned, excitement springing into his eyes. "I haven't been back yet, too busy, but I bought the farm with shitloads of land for a pittance. Bought it when Maggie sent me off on R&R after your …" hesitated, "your mock execution. It's dilapidated, but fantastic. You got to go through a valley to get to it, and it has an old orchard and views of the mountains. I fancied it as the place where I wanted to retire when I am finally fucked up. And now, aye, would you want to retire there with me? A Russkie in New Zealand is nothing special. Apart from the Maoris they come from everywhere and no one cares. Great people, as far as I could make out."

"You do see us sitting together on a porch looking out on the mountains, holding hands when we're old, don't you?"

"Aye, I do. But don't forget the booze and a fag in that picture." He leaned so close, he could kiss the back of Vadim's neck. No people anywhere to be seen.

Vadim couldn't help that smile and felt his heart tighten with a painful tenderness. "Shit. Dan. Even if I had any other place to go … I wouldn't."

"That's settled, then. You and I, like a bloody conventional couple, are going to retire on the farm. Next R&R I'll take you there. But for now, what about a bit more sunning, before going back to the beach, or, if you fancy, back to the bungalow for a nice slow fuck?" He was grinning from ear to ear.

"Good idea, and then we go back and change the covers - or fuck in your bungalow while the room service takes care of my bed." Vadim lay down, confident, smiling to himself as he thought about that. Retiring at the end of the world. It didn't get any further away than New Zealand. Impossible.

* * *

The next days and nights continued in the same laid back and relaxed way, filled with never-ending sun, sky and water, and sex. Every time of day and night, whenever they could, whenever they wanted, with no one there to frown nor interfere. No one cared, no one raised a brow. The Thais always smiled and the other guests did not care much about their fellow holiday makers. Enjoying every moment, right into the middle of the second week.

That was when Dan came sauntering back from the reception area. Shades over his eyes and the shirt hanging loose. He grinned at Vadim as he climbed the steps to the veranda. "We just got us an additional week's holiday in a nice, sunny climate."

Vadim put the book on the table by the side, still not much use reading, but he thought he was making progress. He looked at Dan's scars that were not completely covered by the shirt. He'd said he'd wanted to make a phone call and pick up something from reception. "Yeah, will be good to leave this chilly, dark place." He gave a grin. "What's up? You bored, and hired us out to Monrovia or Sierra Leone?"

"Aye, right. I'm bored, can't you tell?" Laughing and rolling his eyes, Dan flopped himself into the other chair, legs stretched out, slouching. "I just called Maggie." He lifted his good hand, produced a bag he'd been carrying behind his back, and handed it over to Vadim.

Vadim's stomach tensed as something cold in the bag touched his heated skin when he peered inside. Two very large tubs of particularly exquisite ice cream, happily melting away. "Strawberry and …" He glanced up. "Not peanut butter. You're merciful." He inspected the packs and found plastic spoons attached, then handed Dan the strawberry one. Felt too warm to try and tease Dan with the cold, but, he thought, that was something he'd try remember. Walnut and Belgian chocolate. Not bad. "Maggie?"

"Well, Her Excellency." Dan winked, "she invited us to spend the last week of R&R in Dubai."

Vadim laughed. "Seems you need towelheads around you. Dubai?" But of course, it was about meeting 'Maggie'. He'd rather not. Every time he'd met that woman, he'd felt miserable, small, powerless, guilty as sin, or a combination of some of those. Something about her always put him on edge - and of course she only helped him because of Dan. Gratitude, most likely, or just the fact Dan made people generous and pleasant. Some of the time.

"Dubai." Dan nodded, balancing the ice cream on his knee while tugging in with relish. "It's the Las Vegas of the Muslim world." His speech got slurred when a particularly large spoonful of cold ice cream played havoc with his teeth, sending jolts through his palate. "Gambling, boozing," he grinned and nodded, emphasising, "oh yes, boozing, if you know where to go. That, and beautiful ladies." He laughed, as if that interested either of them.

You're trying to sell this to Jean, or to me? thought Vadim and didn't like the pang of jealousy that went straight through. "Well, should have more action than here." He didn't want to keep Dan in a place that bored him for too long, even if that meant hearing Arabic again, the mournful call to prayer, naan and whatever else his mind connected with Muslims. Still didn't like them. Precious few people he actually did like, reflected Vadim. "Should we book accom, then?"

"She said we can stay in the embassy if we like, or get a discount price in one of the luxury hotels. She happens to know someone whom I happened to know as well, who …" Dan winked.

"As long as we can be 'unnatural' and they don't stone us, I'm game." Vadim peeled the lid off the ice cream, and opened the little plastic thing that held the spoon.

"Embassy, then." Dan nodded, shoved another mouthful between his teeth, ignoring the consequent jolts of pain. When it came to sweets, he'd rather suffer. Especially when it was strawberry flavoured. "I'll give her another tinkle tomorrow."

"They should have done my background checks already." Vadim scraped some of the solid ice cream up and then gathered some of the molten stuff clinging to the side of the tub.

"From what I understand, they did your background checks to and fro, up and down and thrice sideways." Dan grinned, then took his time with the next spoonful. Musing around a mouthful of creamy vanilla, "I have a few things to pick up from the embassy." Catching a drop of melting ice with his tongue, causing Vadim to stare at him, mesmerized, and imagining cold kisses on heated skin. That was exactly what he'd do.

"You see, there were some things I told her to throw away but she didn't. She kept them for me, and, damn, I'm bloody thankful for it. Couldn't tell her that, of course."

"All your books?" asked Vadim, by way of teasing.

"Arsehole." Dan said with a grin, "no, the lapis lazuli beads." He'd never kept anything, had never clung to material possessions. Except for those prayer beads.

Vadim glanced up, an almost stricken expression ghosted across his features. Thrown away. Glad for it. He shouldn't dig for it, shouldn't ask, didn't quite know how to react. Be glad Dan wanted them back or wince at the fact they obviously meant so much that Dan hadn't wanted them anymore. "The tasbih", he echoed.

Dan stopped eating, suddenly aware of Vadim's reaction. "I'm sorry." Shit, that expression, of course! Why had he told him? Hadn't been necessary, but damn, he usually opened his mouth and started to engage his brain after the words were out. What wouldn't he give for the lady's diplomatic skills. "It was just, you know …" no, Vadim didn't know, "I was just so goddamned hurt. But I'm glad, very glad, that she kept them for me. She must have known … better than I did at the time."

Vadim smiled. "Well, I wouldn't have gone to Kabul and got you a new one. No way in hell."

"I would." Dan glanced at his melting ice cream, "I'd give a lot to see the mountains again."

"You can take the man out of the mountains, but never the mountains out of the man", Vadim murmured and smiled. "Wherever you drag me … Dubai, Kabul, it's alright." Apart from one place he'd never visit again. Moscow. But Afghanistan was still there, the black flies, the dust, the hidden water in the moonscape. The chaikhana. The building, reduced to rubble, where they'd 'met'. Other couples had a bar, or a flat. They were cursed with Afghanistan. When he thought of the mountains, he remembered the cuts in his back, how he'd screamed in that vast place, with no hope of escape or rescue, death imminent, and the heat of a body in a cold cave, a smell and movements in the dark, and the too strong, too bitter black tea.

"Perhaps one day." Dan trailed off, then tipped the tub to his lips, drinking the remains of the ice cream. Wiping his lips with the back of his hand, he set the empty tub down onto the table between them. Determined, as if ending a conversation that had never taken place in the first instance.

"Before then, though, we've got another three days, the sun is shining, the water is lapping, the ice is melting, the Thais are friendly, the beds are beckoning, and if you ever sneakily get me to have my arse waxed again, then the Russian is dying." Dan flashed a grin. "Unless, of course, you can convince me otherwise."

Vadim laughed. "Too much pain for your taste, eh, Dan? SAS roughie toughie squaddie not up to the pain?" He put his feet down and leaned forward. "Well, I prefer less hair between my teeth, and you've already agreed to shaving. That an incentive?" He gave a fierce grin, amusement and arousal mixing at the thought, the exact mix that lead to wrestling and a 'who wins fucks'.

"Oh, really?" Dan's brows shot up to his hairline, baring his teeth in a feral grin. "You're only saying that, Mr Big Soft Extra Groomed Poof, because I have a hand in plaster. You wouldn't dare otherwise." Smirking, he pushed the shades up, until they sat on top of his tousled hair. "I've fucked up bigger guys than you, I have you know."

Vadim laughed. "That's not the issue. Doing damage is one thing, dealing with pain is something else." He stood, moved over to Dan and felt the gaze on him. The speedos were highlighting his body, as he pretty well knew, and he wanted nothing more than feel Dan's hair against his abs. "Not sure 'soft' is the right word", Vadim murmured, "but poof, aye."

Dan looked up, all the way along the body. He'd be close enough to hook a finger into that skimpy piece of material, slide it down and … he grinned. "Does that mean you would want me to suck your cock?"

"How can you … tell." Vadim reached for the sunglasses and put them on the table, running his fingers through Dan's hair. "You eating always gives me ideas."

Dan moved his head forwarded, nuzzling Vadim's cock through the thin fabric. Mouth curving into a grin at the growing reaction he could feel beneath his lips. "I'd say you're pretty obvious about it." Murmured against the increasing interest, "even for someone as un-subtle as me."

Vadim's chest and stomach muscles tensed, and he leaned forward, bringing his cock closer against the lips. "Can't help it", he murmured. "You're just too good at doing this." He smiled, wanted to be taken to bed again, here in this place where nothing seemed to matter. They weren't a 'pair of faggots' here. Unlike the merc camp. Unlike any other place in the world, except for a cave in the mountains. But bringing up retirement wasn't a good idea. Dan seemed to enjoy it too much.

"Guess I have to drag you inside in that case." Dan lifted his head and eyes. "Even the Thais would be pretty pissed off at a public display." He winked before grabbing Vadim's arse with his good hand, pulling himself up from the chair and sliding along the other's body, until they stood with no space between them. "You think we'll manage to spend the last three days in bed, fucking our brains out?"

Vadim nodded, pressing against him. "Yes. Seems like a … good idea. Best one you've ever had." And if you fuck me hard enough, I might forget the torturer. For a while. A little while. You inside me will remind me why being a bitch and a faggot feels good, and why I lost my pride for this feeling. He swallowed hard, forced Dan into a kiss, hating his own thoughts, the shame that had a hold on him these days, the echoing voice of the torturer there, like the man was watching him, recording everything he did and felt. The need to feel Dan, and being called a masochistic faggot for it.

"I have my moments." Dan murmured, grinning, pulled into the kiss. He could feel tension in Vadim's body, but ignored it. A figment of his imagination. Vadim was willing enough for sex at any time, instigated often enough. The niggling worry was all in his mind, they just needed to reacquaint with each other, body and mind.

He pulled Vadim with him, inside.

 
 
Special Forces Chapter XXX: Rank and File
 
 
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 2 November 2007