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Special Forces Chapter XXXVII: Home Leave
 
 

March/April 1992, Scotland

Dan was uttering the occasional sound that hovered between a grunt and some other, unidentifiable noise, shaking his head in intervals. He'd been glued to the colourful catalogue in his hands for the last hour, since he'd chosen to be passenger for the first leg of the journey, until they hit the foot of the Highlands. Giving himself time to peruse the mail order mag the guys had handed him.

"I don't bloody believe it!" He exclaimed, while Vadim negotiated yet another tight roundabout on a narrow road through a busy village.

Vadim cast quick glances at Dan, but it was near impossible to make eye contact with him, and the images in the catalogue made no sense. Only that there was an awful lot of leather and metal involved. Vadim breathed a sigh of relief when they left the village - they were tiny affairs, but clearly dens of madness the way the Scots drove and walked and cycled with considerable speed, because they obviously knew their roads and assumed everybody else did, too. "What do you not believe?"

"The stuff you can get. It's … hell, don't know. Here I was, thinking that I'd seen everything and knew everything, but shit, I don't have a clue about nothing."

"Such as?"

Looking up, Dan grinned at Vadim. "The kind of gags one can get, restraints, shackles, collars, and best of all, harnesses. But the complete killer are the cock and ball 'toys', and the sheer range of dildos and what they call butt plugs. Some of them are even inflatable. Holy shit, the stuff one could do with all those gadgets …"

Vadim swallowed, remembering what they'd done with Martin and Gordon. And would do again, while Dan looked like he had a whole bag of inspiration right there on his lap. "Makes you wonder who comes up with all that stuff? I mean, are there people that design ... these things for a living?"

"Aye, and makes me wonder how I can get some of the stuff sent to me, for a private 'toys and games' without getting nicked in the process." Dan bared his teeth in a broad grin, before burying his nose once more in the catalogue.

"To the next merc camp?" Vadim couldn't help but sound alarmed.

"Where else?" Dan hardly glanced up.

"Dan, if anybody sees that stuff ..."

"Who on earth should see it?" Dan shrugged, but conceded after a moment, "well, time will tell. We aren't even sure where we'll go next." Which was a little more reassuring. At least, with Jean gone, it wouldn't be him that could discover anything by accident. Even though he strangely had started to like the man. It wasn't as clear cut anymore, especially when he thought of the way Jean had kissed him. Part of him regretted that Jean wouldn't join them on the next mission.

Dan looked up suddenly, spotting where they were. "Right, this is Tyndrum. We'll stop over here for a cuppa and a bite, because I'm bloody starving again. After that I take over and you can do the touristy thing."

"Actually look at the landscape, you mean?" Vadim spied what passed for a café of some description, and parking space in front of it. Switching off the engine, he stretched in his seat. "I could use a coffee or something."

Dan made a grand gesture, despite the small place. "Doesn't look much, but if it hasn't changed, and judging from the crowd inside I don't think it has, it makes a mean cup of coffee and particularly good burgers, fish and chips." Closing the car door behind him as he got out, "come on, or do you want to see me starve to death?"

"Yes, you're already wasting away ..." Vadim got up, then stretched across to hide the catalogue, which Dan had left open, right where he'd sat. Shaking his head gently, but amused, and there was always that gratitude that they could actually quarrel like an old couple.

The coffee was scorching hot and like tar, but the food was great, if greasy. Vadim went for the fish, and the batter was perfect. He was really getting into the fish and chips thing, ever since he'd tried it the first time. Once they were sated, they drove on, this time with Dan in the driver's seat.

They were passing through deep forest at first, a lot of it pine, all the time on narrow twisting roads, until they got out further into the open and the Highlands began to lay out their grandeur before them. Crossing a plain that seemed uninviting with its formation of low rocks, bogs and uninhabitable area, until they hit the hills and mountains again, driving past lochs and seascapes, with the mountains behind.

Dan was becoming more and more silent the further they got, but he was also smiling, every time he took a look at the landscape.

They stopped at a convenient spot in Glencoe, right in front of the 'three sisters'. "This is it." Dan said as he got out of the car, "one of the most famous areas. Glencoe. Scottish history and all that, but don't ask me, I was always crap at history. Just look at it. Look at the freedom, the height, the green and the clouds, and the mist." Smiling as he looked up and up, into the grey Scottish sky, "isn't it beautiful?"

"Mountains", said Vadim, as if that explained everything, and he was standing close, shoulder touching Dan's. "I'll need to read about your history ..." He suddenly frowned, remembering that reading was really no longer a thing he could easily do. "At some point." He looked around, taking in the rugged and strangely soft and gentle looking landscape, which was deceptive, likely, when one didn't have a car to get through it easily. Some of those slopes were steep and probably not easy to negotiate. Not quite a match for the Hindukush, though. "It's ... yeah. It fits you."

Dan drew in a deep breath, "this is my home, and yet it isn't anymore."

Vadim's arm went up to Dan's shoulder, squeezed it and held him close. "But you did miss it?"

Dan looked to the side, surprised at the close contact, smiling. "Aye, somehow, but if I had to choose between the Afghan mountains and the Highlands, I know what I'd choose." Fishing the packet of fags out of his jacket, he lit one.

"That's slightly insane, Dan." Knowing that it would be Afghanistan. Maybe for the scope. Or the incredibly blue sky.

"Guess it's something beyond the 'home' that's getting to me and that I'll never forget." Dan shrugged but smiled, smoking slowly.

Vadim pressed his lips together for a moment, struggling with a wave of emotion. "Yes", he forced out, and looked at the three mountains. "How far is it from here?"

"Less than an hour." Not taking his eyes off the majestic scenery in front of them, Dan continued to smoke quietly, until he finally tore himself away. "Guess we better get going, aye?"

"Yeah. Would be good to get there well before dark." Vadim walked towards the car.

"Easy, we'll be there by late lunchtime." Once inside, Dan turned to Vadim, with an expression more serious than usual. "It's the last chance for a while. Will you kiss me?"

Vadim ran his fingers up Dan's cheek, grabbed his neck and kissed him, gently, heartfelt, grateful for the gift Dan gave by being 'subtle' and act as if they were just 'mates'. He wished he could face Dan's family as his lover, but the thought made him nauseous with stress - that dark, anguished feeling of shame and wanting to run away, and there was no way he could face that. He didn't want to see them being disappointed in Dan, didn't want to be blamed, just couldn't deal with anything that was more problematic than, for example, Maggie's tacit understanding and Dr William's professionalism. But which family was professional about emotions and expectations? "Thank you", Vadim said, softly. "Thanks so much."

Pulling back, Dan smiled crookedly. "For what?"

"Just for bringing me here. You know, normal life. It feels good."

"Well … it's not quite that normal. I haven't been here for five years." Dan shrugged, the half-smile still in place. "But guess family never changes, aye?" He sat up, rolled his shoulders, before reaching for the key in the ignition.

"No, not really." Vadim didn't allow the thought much room that he'd likely never see his relatives again. Maybe that was the reason why it was so important that Dan got back in touch with his family. Projection, psychology called it. Projecting his own wishes onto Dan.

"Let's get going, then." Suddenly eager, mainly to get it done and over with. Five years, and Dan's brother had asked every single time they'd spoken on the phone or exchanged letters about his finances, when he would come for a visit again. And he never had. Not once. Now he was nervous, and a hundred other things.

"Anything I should know or keep in mind?"

"No, don't think so." Dan shrugged. "Told you all I know. There's my brother, Duncan, he's four years younger than I am. His wife, Mhairi, same age, I think, and their three sons. Can't remember their names, just that the third one was a latecomer and a baby when I visited last. That's it." Glancing over his shoulder, Dan navigated the car back onto the road.

"Right. That's easy enough to remember." Asking all the other questions didn't make much sense, and might even deepen Dan's discomfort. He'd likely get a good idea of the man and his family when he was actually there.

Driving mostly in silence, the radio had stopped receiving a while ago, Dan navigated the breathtaking scenery with ease. Very few dwellings and mostly hills, mountains, rocks, bogs, and ever more green-covered mountains. The occasional forest and impressive loch, and constantly up and down along twisty roads. Dan smiled occasionally, looking around himself, remembering how much he'd loved the Highlands, and always would. The mountains were in his bones and in his blood, even though it was a different, more majestic type of mountain that occupied his soul these days.

Vadim watched the landscape move past, roll and coil and twist, and then rise and fall again, the view constantly changing. Mountains moving closer and then retreating away from the road. A beautiful country.

"We'll be there in a few minutes." Dan pointed ahead, where a village began to become visible, along one of the more fertile plains. "That's where I was born." Smiling, "literally. My mother always told me I just popped out, before she could get through to the midwife. Ever eager, aye?" He chuckled lightly, overplaying a growing nervousness, as he drove into the village. Turning right, towards a large farmhouse complex, up in the sloping hills.

"I took longer, more than eighteen hours. Thick skull, and apparently I was quite large when I was born."

Dan shook his head, grinning, driving up a gravel path. "Doesn't surprise me." He shut up as they got closer to the gate, and stopped to get out and open it, while Vadim studied the farmhouses closely, trying to pinpoint every detail. Imagining what it might have been like, back in the days when Dan had been a kid. He imagined a somewhat wild kid with untamed, curly hair, the type that ran off into the wilderness if he couldn't get his will.

Returning to the car, Dan drove slowly through the open gate, the sound of gravel beneath the tyres alerting the family, and the door opened. "Damn." Dan murmured, and if Vadim hadn't known better, he'd thought Dan's hand shook, as he parked the car and turned the key in the ignition. "Best remember the story from now on." Dan said nothing more, took a very deep breath, then turned his head towards the window and opened the car door.

Vadim undid the seatbelt, stuffed the bottles of water they'd emptied into a plastic bag, along with the wrappers of Dan's snack and chocolate bars, and stuffed it under the seat. Then opened the car door and got outside, pressing the door shut.

The man who stepped out of the house was smiling broadly. Short, dark hair, a shade lighter than Dan's, and curlier. Not as tall, but not by much, difficult to tell from the distance, and stockier in built. Laughter lines in his face; a face that was weathered and a body that gave proof to a life working outside, no matter the season. The similarity was striking, though, good looks clearly ran in the family. Vadim watched both, Dan and Duncan, hand on the car roof, breathing in the cool, clear, pure air.

"Dan!" The man called out, his face morphing into the warmest grin Vadim had seen in a long time. A face that was more conventionally 'handsome' than Dan's, without a scar, but also without the strikingness of imperfection. Holding his arms out wide, he took several steps towards Dan, whose back was tense, and his own steps betrayed reluctance, or simply nervousness, but nervous? Dan? He didn't have a choice, though, when his brother wrapped his arms around him, and drew the older and taller man into a tight embrace, while laughing. Dan had hardly a chance to notice the woman who stepped through the open door, drying her hands on her apron, smiling, her long copper hair in a braid, and a kid beside her.

Another very good-looking person, Vadim thought. The kids had to be stunners. And again, he was reminded of his own family. Katya. The children. More than two years now. He wanted to be back in touch, he missed them, especially looking at Dan's people now.

"It's so good to see you." Duncan pulled Dan into another hug, and Dan could do nothing but return it, finally finding his own smile. Unsure footing, but he was not given a choice. "It's been too long, big brother!"

Vadim walked around the car to check that the doors were locked, then stopped. Up here? On a farm in the Scottish wilderness? Crime rate was probably zero.

"Aye," Dan pulled back, smiling, "it's been long." Turning his head, he saw his sister in law. "Mhairi!" He called out to her, waving, then turned round to look at Vadim, gesturing him closer. "Duncan and Mhairi, this is Vadim."

"Your friend?" Duncan smiled and stretched his hand out to Vadim, who took it. A strong, calloused grip, straightforward and honest. Mhairi came close as well, her kid, dark red hair and big eyes, running to and fro, staring at Dan and then at Vadim, as if they were aliens.

"Aye," Dan nodded, "my friend. Fellow mercenary, but we've known each other for longer." And how he hated every word, but he was going to pull this off. For Vadim's sake.

Vadim nodded. "Nice meeting you." He glanced at Dan, gave him a smile, but could feel the tension in him. Just how Duncan would react if he knew they were gay he couldn't guess, but chances were, that kind of thing had no place on such a farm. It was always the city people who didn't care about this. The smaller the settlement, the more it was important to be normal, Vadim reckoned. And he liked these people, his gut reaction was that these were good folks. He didn't want to cause any trouble.

Mhairi laughed at her son's antics, "Donald, this is your uncle Dan, last time you saw him, you were but a wee baby." Her Scottish accent melodious but thick, different to Duncan's and even Dan's, who'd lost a lot of it over the years, anyway. Vadim had to concentrate to understand both Duncan and Mhairi, but he assumed he'd just have to listen for a while.

The kid finally stretched his hand out, and Dan shook it. "You really have grown since I last saw you." He grinned, and his family laughed, but then Donald spotted something, pointing his finger at Dan's left hand.

"Look! Look, mum!"

"Donald!" Mhairi chided her son, but then she, too, saw the scars. She smiled a little, but her smile was strange, as if she had seen something she did not want to be part of. "That is very rude, Donald, you never point at people."

"It's alright." Dan shrugged, "I know I'm not a 'pretty face' anymore." Conscious, all of a sudden, of the scar in his face, and all the other manifestations on his body. His smile faltered, and he couldn't even touch Vadim to draw support. Vadim's jaw muscles tightened at that look in Dan's face and he drew a bit closer, a familiar distance, but not intimate. Pretty enough for me, he'd said, but that was out of the question, unless he spoke Russian.

"Oh, Dan." Duncan reached out and took Dan's left hand, giving the scarred but functional mess a squeeze. "is that from the bomb that had you in hospital for so long?"

Dan nodded, "aye." Shrugged again.

"Well, then it's extra good that you are here now. Alive and healthy, as far as I can tell, and hardly looking a day older." Duncan winked, then grinned at Vadim with a conspiratory nod, to which Vadim flashed one of his rare bright smiles. Gratitude more than humour.

"Liar." It was easy to find his laughter again, and Dan thumped his brother's shoulder.

"I have been called worse."

Mhairi stopped the banter by ushering them inside. "Come on in, I have cake and coffee waiting, or would you rather like tea?" Smiling at Vadim, "and if you are not into sweets, I can make some sandwiches."

"I ... thanks. Coffee and cake would be perfect." Sweet tooth running in the family, clearly, but Vadim didn't want to draw her attention away from her brother-in-law and her kid and husband.

Duncan chuckled, "You have to excuse my wife, she believes that food is the answer to everything. Don't you, Mhairi?"

She laughed, a warm and friendly sound, "but I am right!"

Dan glanced at Vadim, then smiled, "and you can't tell, none of you lot look overfed to me."

"See?" Mhairi waited until everyone had entered the large kitchen with the substantial table in the middle. All wooden furniture, some of it old, but a top of the range kitchen arrangement along the sides. "Listen to your brother, he knows that I am right."

"You sure as hell are, if you feed me with that." Dan pointed at the plates of cake and biscuits, grinning happily at the sweets. "I am anyone's for a piece of cake and a good strong coffee."

Vadim laughed and shook his head. "Not something we got in camp. Thank you kindly." He sat down with the rest of the family, while Mhairi poured them coffee. Vadim had managed to sit near Dan, as if by accident, when his family likely had the older and better rights to him, but Vadim thought it might not be too obvious.

"So," Duncan waited until everyone was seated and slices of cake had been distributed onto plates. "Here's to my brother's health, to a rare family reunion, and to the pleasure of having a friend in the house as well." Raising his coffee cup, he winked at his wife, "or should we drink to that with a dram?"

"In the early afternoon?"

Dan grinned and nodded, trying to sway the opinion, and Mhairi conceded, getting up once more to fetch a bottle of whisky.

"After all, we don't call it water of life for nothing, don't we, Dan?" Duncan grinned and poured the drams.

"We call it 'little water' ... similar thought", said Vadim, curious about what Dan and Duncan doubtlessly considered 'the real thing'.

"By the way," Mhairi commented, "Graham is in school, he'll be here later, and Euan is in College, he stays in Fort William."

"I have too many nephews, I can't keep up!"

"Only three, now don't make such a fuss." Mhairi smiled, nodding to Vadim, who smiled back. "but no girl, how I wished for a girl, but I guess those days are over. Donald, here, was rather unexpected as well." She smiled and ruffled the boy's hair.

"I have a daughter", said Vadim, remembering Anoushka. Shit. He needed to get back in touch. Before he lost them forever.

"Girls are boring!" Donald piped up, causing Dan to almost double over with laughter, but he got himself under control again, and Duncan handed the drams out to the adults.

"Once again, to family and friends." Raising his glass.

"Family and friends!" They repeated in unison, and Duncan added, "Slainte," before the whisky ran down appreciative tongues, with Vadim mimicking the others, finding himself enjoying the company and finding it far easier than he'd expected.

"Enjoy your meal." Mhairi smiled when they began to tuck in.

"It's a beautiful place you live in", said Vadim, to be the good guest. "Dan kept talking about it, but seeing it is something else entirely."

"Aye, we are lucky to live here, it's a good place with good people." Duncan smiled and Mhairi nodded, while Donald was wolfing down his cake, not interested in the adult conversation.

A conversation that went along easy lines, some banter, and a lot of pleasantries.

"So," Duncan sat back, "indulge my curiosity, Vadim. Where do you come from?" He smiled as Mhairi cleared up the table. The family seemed to be stuck in fairly traditional gender roles.

"Moscow. I used to be Russian, but I have a British passport now." Vadim smiled, as if there was no darkness hidden in that. He wasn't sure how politically aware Duncan was. "I met Dan in Afghanistan, while I was still an officer in the Soviet Army. Military advisor, I oversaw part of the Afghan army at that point." Mixed lies with truth, like sand and concrete. "Dan and I both went to the same tea house, not far from one of the market places in Kabul. Being both foreigners, we struck it off well after we got through all the mistrust and stereotypes." He looked at Dan. "And stayed in touch ever since."

Dan sat stiffly, his posture betraying the tension, doing anything to avoid looking at Vadim. "Aye, you could say that's how it was."

"You never really told us what you did in Afghanistan, Dan." Duncan smiled, pouring more whisky into their glasses.

"Couldn't." Dan shrugged, "still can't. It's classified. Sorry, Duncan."

"Well, for once, he learnt Pashtun", Vadim attempted to diffuse the tension. "He's a language talent. His Russian was much better than my English."

"He always was." Duncan smiled, "the only subject in school, our mother used to say, that he was good at."

"Bastard." Dan groused but produced a smile. "I was also good at PT."

"That's alright, then." Duncan raised his glass, "your history is a good story of friendship despite the political situation. Good thing you didn't shoot at each other by mistake." He chuckled, didn't realise that his joke made Dan's skin crawl. "Is that right?"

"Aye," Dan nodded, "that's right." Couldn't look, wouldn't, stuck to his whisky, staring at the golden liquid as if he could find the secrets of the world in it.

"Well, Afghanistan was a much more complex place than the TV reported", Vadim said smoothly. "It wasn't all out slaughter all the time. Nobody wages a full-out war for ten years. A lot was just spending the time, and doing our duty."

"Glad to have you here, now." Duncan smiled at Vadim, "it's good to see you here now, in my kitchen, no matter what you folks used to do. Not that I would know, because Dan never told me anything about his life." That stung, and Dan buried his nose in the whisky glass.

"Thank you, I do feel welcome." Vadim felt a little guilty for lying to good people. It was the truth as they could understand it. A satisfying story, with just enough truth in there to not completely mislead them, but the truth was classified.

The lie, though, killed Dan, but he emptied his glass and murmured, "to friendship. Of lions and tigers."

Vadim swallowed. "Yes." Dan looked miserable, but they'd started this now, and they'd have to get through with it. As much as it made Dan or Vadim cringe inside. Shit. A pleasant meeting overshadowed with whitewash. But he hadn't been Interior Ministry for nothing. Not much of a politician, but a good operative. He'd hidden his emotions for so long - it was still second nature.

"Hm?" Duncan looked up, "what was that?"

"Nothing. Just … nothing."

"Well in that case, shall we have a look at your rooms? Euan's is empty now anyway, and there's the guest room, so there's plenty of space upstairs." Duncan got up from his seat.

Vadim waited for Dan to get up, left him the place right behind his brother who lead them towards the rooms. Murmuring under his breath, in Russian: "I read you, tiger." The least he could do, but Dan shook his head, didn't acknowledge anything else, just walked behind his brother, up the stairs and across a spacious landing. The house was fairly old, rebuilt in the nineteenth century. If they had one thing, then it was space.

"You always have been good with the numbers." Dan nudged his brother, "I'm impressed with the work you've done to the house. You must have invested a lot."

"Aye, it's worth it." Opening the door to a comfortable looking room, decorated in teenager style and obviously Euan's. "I'm a family man, Dan, always have been." Duncan smiled.

"And I'm not," Dan stood in the doorframe, open coffins be damned, "and never have been."

This put a dampener onto Duncan's smile, but he squeezed Dan's shoulder. "We're all different, aye? You've always been my hero, and when I was a boy, I wanted to be like you."

Dan's smile was wistful. "I'm glad that you are not."

This tightened Vadim's guts, and he'd have killed to be able to hold Dan, or at least squeeze his shoulder. But that was family territory. He wasn't Jean, who could be all touchy-feely and still look straight.

Dan stepped inside the room and looked around, leaving his brother somewhat bewildered and in thoughts. "Looks great, very comfy, say thanks to Euan for lending me his room."

Duncan nodded, silent for a moment, before picking himself up, "along the landing is the guest room. Vadim, I hope you'll sleep well in here."

Vadim cast a long glance at Dan, masked it by looking around in the kid's room, but Dan averted the glance. "Yes, thank you." He followed Duncan, keeping up a smile he didn't quite feel. Had to focus on Duncan's kindness, to push the fact away that, yes, they'd sleep alone, despite promises and declared intentions.

Dan stayed in his room for a while longer, his window looking out over the village and the mountains close by, just about catching a glimpse of the loch in the distance. The sight made him smile and he drew in a breath, once more fortified. Looking around him, he saw evidence of a life he knew nothing about. A seventeen year old boy, named after himself, and what had he ever known about his nephew? Fuck all. Avoiding family, avoiding any close ties, but now … perhaps he was getting old. Perhaps that's where the strange ache came from, or perhaps having friends now, close friends, had changed his whole perspective. He shook his head and cast another look towards the loch.

"I'll be outside, smoking a fag." Dan called across the landing and made it down the stairs. There was a bench at the entrance, and he sat down, lighting his cigarette, when Donald came skipping past.

"So," the kid stemmed his hands into his hips, "you are my uncle Dan. Why have I never met you?"

"You did," inhaling deeply, "but you can't remember, you were just a baby."

"But why did you never come for a visit? I didn't even get a single Christmas present from you, and that's unfair!" The lad pouted.

"Aye …" Dan smiled, "I guess it is." Exhaling the smoke, he was scrutinised by the kid.

"So, why are you here for a visit now?"

"Because I don't get shot at on a regular basis anymore?" Dan offered, and the kid's face turned into a comical expression: eyes open wide and mouth an 'o'.

"Is that true?"

"What, the not getting shot at or the getting shot at, at all?"

"Uhm …" eyes narrowing, Donald seemed deep in thoughts. "The shooting?"

"Oh that, yes," Dan grinned, "that's true. Didn't your dad tell you what I did for a living?"

Nodding vehemently, Donald came closer. "You were a soldier. Special Forces, mum and dad told me about it. Was it dangerous?"

"Aye, but it's OK now."

"Tell me more?"

"Well …" drawing out the anticipation, Dan found himself easily captured by the kid, "guess I could." Patting the seat beside him, Donald jumped onto the bench, and Dan leaned back, smoking.

"You want to hear about the jungle, the mountains, or the desert?"

"Jungle!"

"Alright, then," Dan grinned, started to talk, and that was what he was still doing, half an hour later, when Vadim came out to search for him. But Vadim stopped in his tracks, listening to Dan telling stories that must sound like great adventures to the kid. And because it was just a kid, Vadim touched Dan's shoulder and leaned in. "Duncan was looking for you."

Glancing up, Dan followed the motion by instinct, about to reach and touch and kiss and … caught himself at the very last second. "OK, I'll be right in." Nodding to his nephew, "you know what, you should ask Vadim to tell you some stories. He was a soldier, too."

"Strictly speaking, we're still soldiers. It's not that big a difference between a mercenary and a soldier - only that mercs are far better paid." Vadim sat down on the bank, leaning forward to look at the kid.

"Really?" The lad's eyes were growing bigger again, "tell me!" Settling in for more stories, his uncle already forgotten. Dan got up, shook his head with a grin and headed inside. "Duncan?"

Dan's brother came out of the lounge, holding a couple of drams in his hand. "Care to join me in front of the fire? Mhairi's busy cooking and I thought we could have a quick look at your finances."

"Aye." Dan nodded, took one of the glasses. Had feared worse, a 'talk', perhaps, about where he'd been and why he had never visited, and why he hadn't been able to make it to their father's funeral. And, and, and. So much guilt. "How does it look?"

"Not bad." Sitting down on the sofa close to the fire, the papers were strewn across the low table. "Would have been much better if you hadn't sold your properties, but you just wouldn't listen to me."

"No, and it was the best thing I've ever done." Making a negligent gesture across the papers. "It was a matter of life and death and the money saved a life. That's what matters."

Duncan looked up from the papers, "whose?"

Damn, it had to happen one day, but they were friends, weren't they? Vadim and him. Mates. Yeah, right.

"Guess …"

"Hm? Who do you mean?"

Dan just smiled, and took a sip of his whisky. "Would you not want to save the life of a friend?"

"You mean …"

"Aye, Vadim."

Duncan's face broke out into a warm grin. "Dan, thank goodness, you finally put my mind to rest. I've been worried since I had to sell everything, that you'd been conned."

Dan laughed, even though this truly was no laughing matter, and of course they had all been conned, one way or the other. "No, it really was to buy Vadim's freedom, or, rather, to 'influence' them to make the right decision."

"Who is them?"

"Guess again."

"That can't be, you really mean the Soviet Union?"

"Aye, exactly them. The KGB."

"And why?"

"They needed a scapegoat." Dan shrugged, one way of putting it, "so they claimed he had committed treason, through his friendship with me."

"And?"

"What and?" Dan's brows rose.

"I believe he never did? Because you wouldn't be friends with a traitor?"

"No … I wouldn't." Dan smiled wistfully, "and you are a very clever man, little brother."

"Aye, right." Now it was Duncan's turn to laugh. "But how did you even get to negotiate with those people? Didn't think you just pick up the phone and phone the KGB."

"Not quite." Dan smiled once more. "I have a friend, my former employer, I told you about her. Baroness de Vilde, HM ambassador of Britain. She did all of the diplomatic stuff for me."

"Blimey, Dan, you do move in circles I only ever hear of."

"And that's good so."

"Why?"

"Because you have a good life. Don't change it, don't wish for anything else. If I …" Dan shook his head before taking another sip. "No, I was never cut out for your kind of life, all I ever wanted was adventure, and that I got plenty. But what you have, that's the real thing, you know? That's the good stuff."

Duncan looked at his brother, a strange expression on his face. Green-grey eyes resting in dark ones. "You think so?" Quietly.

"Aye," Dan nodded, "it's not for me, but I do think so."

"Tell me about your life." Duncan leaned forward. Paper and finances forgotten. "Tell me about yourself." His face illuminated by the fire, casting a warm glow and spreading heat across both men. "Please, Dan, tell me."

"What do you want to know?" Dan swallowed, the whisky suddenly burning in his stomach.

"Anything, really. Tell me about your job, whatever you are allowed to tell. Tell me about your friends, about anything at all."

"Anything?" Dan mused, but discarded the thought. No, he couldn't. Couldn't tell his brother who he really was, because he had given his word. All he could do was tell him about everything outside, but not what really mattered, the one single thing. Who he loved. His friends would have to do. "Alright, I'll tell you."

And he did, as best he could, giving his brother some idea of his life, without lying, without distorting the truth, by simply omitting. Trying to make him understand without ever saying so, why he couldn't have been a better brother, son, or uncle, and that he was sorry.

* * *

After he'd satisfied the kid's immediate curiosity, Donald stormed off again, and Vadim stood, slightly wistful at the thought that he'd spent far too little time with Nikolai. Nikol' had always been a reserved child, calm and silent, and he probably had never quite got his share of attention with his older sister far better at endearing herself.

He headed back inside and heard sounds of cutlery and crockery. Following those into the kitchen, where Mhairi was doing the dishes, while something bubbled in a pot and there was heat from the oven, too. The kitchen smelled delicious, herbs and molten or melting sugar. She turned around when he moved towards her, careful not to startle her.

"I would ... like to help", Vadim explained. "I don't want to be too much trouble, and besides, Dan's talking to his brother."

She smiled at him and moved out of the way, pointing to the dishes that were neatly stacked on the rack. "But it's really not necessary ..."

Vadim gave her a smile. "I won't break anything. I've done this before."

She laughed and handed him two kitchen towels from a drawer, both neatly folded. "Just put them in the cupboard." Vadim was reaching for the first plate when she asked: "You said you have children? I know I am nosy, but how old are they?"

Vadim looked up, and he hated the fact that he had to do the numbers. "Anya is thirteen, and Nikolai's eleven."

"Oh, that can be a difficult age", she said, smiling. "Teenagers are a wee handful for a few years."

"Yes. I mean, I guess, they ... live with my ex-wife." He saw her face express a strange kind of sympathy, like, yeah, a divorced man had to be unlucky, or broken, but truth was, he did miss Katya and the kids, maybe them even more.

"Are you still in contact?"

"That's difficult with my job", said Vadim, placing the plate into the cupboard, on top of the small pile of neatly arranged plates. So much care and work went into this kitchen.

"Did your wife marry again?" Mhairi looked almost apologetic for her curiosity.

I don't know, thought Vadim, and felt guilty again. He should keep track. He shouldn't just pretend he was alone in this world, with no connections or obligations. But part of him had always assumed that his attention wasn't necessary and probably unwelcome, too. Or maybe he was just a coward, had evaded and ignored. "If she has, she didn't tell me." He could read in her face no judgement, no criticism, but still that vague sense of compassion for somebody who didn't have a wife, no contact with his children, and probably no proper home. And she was right on all counts.

There was a sound from outside, the door opening, and she heard it too, because she tilted her head and smiled. "That will be Graham."

* * *

It was time for dinner soon once the middle son had come home, vanishing into his room after greeting Vadim, the stranger, and his uncle, just another stranger. In the typical surly teenager manner, he dragged himself upstairs and was not to be seen until it was time for the family and guests to congregate around the large table in the kitchen.

The meal was tasty and the drinks were complementary, while the conversation flowed easily. The way Duncan sometimes looked at Dan, with an oddly tender expression, seemed proof that their talk had been good for him.

"So," Duncan smiled warmly when the boys cleared the table and Mhairi brought the dessert in, "now that I know a bit more about that brother of mine," he winked and Dan grimaced, "when are you finally going to find yourself a nice wife? No man should live without a partner!"

Vadim's jaw muscles tensed again, noticeably, and he glanced into Dan's face, seeing that pained expression that some people might mistake for exasperation. Duncan obviously was only concerned, but they did keep prodding at the whole thing, and Vadim hoped that Dan had enough self-control to crack a stupid joke or some other way deflect that attention.

"Duncan!" Dan drew in a deep breath. "I told you and father years ago, that I was not the marrying type. Have never been, will never be, and there won't ever be the pitter-patter of tiny feet, either. I'm not the husband type and I am even less the father type. I haven't got a shred of a family man in me. That's you, Duncan, and that's good so, but I'm forty-two now, I'm not suddenly going to change." Adding, with an attempt of a smile, "aye?"

"Aye." Duncan smiled in return, but he was prodding at this like a kid on a loose tooth. "But what about a girlfriend, maybe?"

Vadim wanted to step in, but he knew that he really couldn't say anything. He was a friend. Friends didn't evade personal questions for each other. It just didn't work like that. But it wasn't necessary, because Mhairi called "Duncan!" from the cooker range, thankfully saving Dan, who was starting to look rather uncomfortable. Vadim gave him a small smile and decided to thank Dan for his restraint later. 'Mad Dog' would have just stood up to it, fuck the consequences. But Dan endured this - and Vadim knew it was really only for his sake.

Mhairi turned around, "That's no way to treat your brother. He's our guest and it's entirely up to him what he does with his life."

Duncan ducked his head with a broad grin, whispering across the table, "I've been told off, the Missus has spoken."

"I heard that!" She called again, laughing, getting back to the table with a large tray of dessert glasses, filled with Cranachan. Which, Vadim found out, was some kind of sweetened cream with raspberries, with oatmeal on top, and a generous shot of something alcoholic.

"That's delicious", Vadim volunteered to draw the conversation back to the food.

"Uh-huh!" Dan mumbled, mouth full with the cream and fruit. Safest option was to keep eating so he wouldn't have to talk.

The conversation from then on went along safer lines, about the kids, their schools, about the farm and the harvest, the village and who was still alive that Dan knew from his childhood and youth.

A few hours later, the kids had already gone to bed, the evening was winding up in the lounge, in front of the fire. Vadim sat with his legs stretched out, head leaning against the side of a huge chair that easily accommodated him, drowsy from the food, the warmth, and possibly the alcohol. Listening, taking in these people, and every now and then, his guts tightened at the thought of his family. He envied Dan these people, the re-growing closeness, the ease to be in touch and exchange.

"Where are you heading to tomorrow?" Mhairi asked, turning the whisky glass in her hand. "Are you going to visit the Isle of Skye?" She was smiling.

"Not sure, we haven't actually planned anything. Do you recommend Skye?" Dan grinned, at least he remembered that much, his sister in law came from Skye, he'd even managed to be at the wedding, a long time ago.

"Of course I do!" She laughed and waved at her husband. "Go and pick up the route book, we should help those two see the most beautiful places in the next few days." And Duncan did, coming back with a large tome.

"How many days do you have?"

"At least five … or we could rearrange the meeting with friends in Glasgow. They invited us for the weekend," said Vadim.

"Aye," Dan nodded, dead-pan, not even a twitch gave away the sort of 'friends'. "Five days sounds good. Too much scenery and I might go berserk."

Duncan laughed, opening the book.

"Then let's have a look and find a good route for you." Mhairi put her empty glass down, leaning forward over the low table. "We probably have a few recommendations for B&Bs as well and we could phone some up tomorrow, if you like."

Dan glanced at Vadim, who nodded, and Dan agreed. "Good idea, haven't been here for so long, I could do with a tourist guide."

And so it went, the rest of the evening was spent in companionable ease, looking over maps and guides, pictures and descriptions, and getting an itinerary together that would take them across and up the Highlands, and finally back along the East coast, to spend one night in Edinburgh, before heading down to England, and visiting Dr Williams.

It was fairly late, much later than Dan's family usually went to bed, when they broke up and headed upstairs. Good-nights were said, and Dan stood in front of his door, trying not to glance over at Vadim's door.

Vadim, too, stood inside his room. He'd pulled the door shut behind him when they'd bid him good night. A friendly room, the bed easily large enough for him, and he found himself staring at it, imagining the cool linen, and no body next to him. No Dan around him. Fuck. This was difficult. Far worse than he'd expected. He pushed the bag towards the foot end of the bed and opened his door, a relatively loud sound. Hoped Dan hadn't closed his door yet. Vadim peered outside.

Dan was still in front of his door, his hand on the handle. He turned his head at the sound and smiled at Vadim, a strange smile, more tired than sad. "Good night, lion." He said in Russian. "Sleep well."

Vadim opened the door a little further, listened whether he could hear anybody else. Eyes on Dan, his lips pressed together, especially at the sound of Russian. "I'm such a fucking coward", he murmured in Russian. "Shit. And they're good people."

"It's alright, maybe later." Dan looked across the landing, smiled once more. He was hurting, but he figured he actually deserved to feel like that. Guilty, on too many counts. "I'm having a quick shower," in English, "you need the bathroom now or later?"

Vadim followed the gaze. Yes. He had to assume somebody was still awake. Unable to speak clearly, not even in Russian because it might not be what was proper and inconspicuous. "Go … right ahead. I'm just leaving the door open, don't like closed doors." In English, connecting one careful word with the next one. "Are we on our way tomorrow or do you want to spend another day with them?"

"We should head off or we won't have enough time to get to see the Highlands and Edinburgh." Dan took a step inside, "good night, Vadim." In English as well.

"Good night." Vadim swallowed, lowered his head, went inside. Feeling the loss of proximity, the motherfucking distance like a boot in his guts. He sometimes felt Dan was too close, especially when they slept in the heat and Dan's skin on his skin made him sweat worse, or when Dan was always, always, touching him … that feeling was rare, but he'd lie if he didn't admit that it happened at times, but right now, Dan not being there was far, far worse. He sat on the bed, rummaged through his bag, found a fresh set of clothes that he set out on a chair for tomorrow. Waiting for Dan to get finished in the bathroom so he could brush his teeth.

Retreating into the room, Dan stared at the floor while undressing, he took the big towel that lay ready for him, and headed back to the bathroom, with the soap bag in his hand.

It took him longer than the usual ten minutes, too deep in thoughts, and too much not wanting to return to the room on his own, despite the pledges they had given each other. When he finally returned his hair was still damp, clinging to his neck, and he had the towel wrapped around his hips. He was about to shut the bathroom door when the landing light when on, and he was faced with his brother who let out a sound of shock, as he stared at Dan's body, eyes and mouth wide.

A sound that made Vadim get up from the bed, move towards the door, silently, listening to work out what it meant. Standing in the shadow of the open door, invisible from outside.

"Oh Dan …" Duncan brought out at last, while Dan stood, frozen.

"What's wrong?" Trying to keep his voice down, but the way Duncan stared at him, Dan wanted to shake him and shout at him, to stop that horrible look in his eyes.

"You …" raising his hand, Duncan pointed at Dan. "Your ... your body. You …" Swallowing when he looked up, he shook his head.

"What?" Dan hissed, hard to keep quiet, "what the fuck's the problem?" Raising his arms, wide, turning once on his own axis. "Have I sprouted horns?"

Vadim felt his hackles rise. He knew the answer before Dan had cottoned on. Your body. Dan had, like in camp, not dressed after the shower. And he'd been right - there were people still awake and watching in this house. Familiarity, not surveillance. A family where people didn't have dirty secrets.

"Your scars." Duncan whispered, unable to take his eyes off the horrible mess that Dan's body was in - to a civilian's eye.

"What about them?" Tension slammed into Dan. He'd never bothered about them, never cared, nor had any of his lovers, least of all Vadim. "I told you I wasn't a pretty face anymore." Defensive.

"I never knew ... never understood …" His brother stammered, took a couple of steps closer. "I am sorry, Dan, but I never realised how close you must have been to death with that bomb, and … " making a weak gesture along Dan's body, "all the other injuries. Your job … I never got it. I just felt left alone with everything here, while you didn't live up to being my hero, because you didn't seem to care."

"No, I didn't, and I did." Dan answered quietly, hardly above a whisper himself, "but I never said I could, nor that I would. I'm not a hero, I'm just a bloke, who couldn't … I just couldn't let my family get too close. Couldn't allow it, couldn't bear the thought if the next time the bullet …" never finished the sentence, instead shook his head, looking straight into his brother's eyes. "I was a coward, Duncan, and I am so very sorry."

Duncan shook his head. "But I do realise at last, that none of us would have ever understood what you were doing, and I don't think we ever will understand."

"You don't have to, I don't expect you to."

"But …" Duncan interrupted, not getting far when Dan raised his hand.

"No, you don't." Dan smiled, a rare, very serious, and melancholy smile. "I was a coward for never coming here, for never being a part of the family. It was easier to do my job that way, and that was bloody selfish. No family, no home, no …" hesitated, couldn't say the word 'wife'.

"You are no coward." Duncan took the last two step towards Dan, and pulled him once more into a bear hug, completely catching Dan by surprise. "You are my brother."

They stood, with Dan dropping the soap bag and slowly raising his arms to hold his brother in a tight embrace, while Vadim moved to the side, silent as death, stepped into view, but still inside his room. Seeing Dan from the side, and half of his brother. Silent, watching, unable to support, and witness to an oddly intimate moment. Envious for a moment, then he shook his head and stepped out of sight again, silently moving. Feeling deeply, that whatever this visit did to Dan and him, it was important, and right, and a good thing.

* * *

The next morning, they had a late breakfast in the kitchen, after Duncan had already done a full morning's work and the two sons were off to school. A complete Scottish fry-up, with Dan's fabled square sausage, black pudding, potato waffles, fried bread, eggs, buttered bread, and lots of bacon, which Dan wolfed down in his usual starvation manner, complimenting Mhairi all over again on her excellent food. Vadim ate less, it was even more food than they usually got in camp, but he tried a bit from everything and found the fare agreeable, especially late in the morning. No way he'd be able to eat this earlier, and he enquired what things were called and got a quick primer of Scottish food.

Duncan had joined them for a second breakfast, and there was the sense of greater ease around the table, with Duncan now and then looking up and smiling at his brother.

It was almost twelve when they said their good-byes, and Duncan making Dan promise that he wouldn't wait another five years before the next visit. When they finally got into the car, Dan sat in the driver's seat, looking at the key before turning round to Vadim all of a sudden. "Give me a few moments. I have ... forgotten something inside."

Vadim nodded. "Sure." Not questioning for an instant.

Dan smiled, looking at Vadim for a moment longer than usual, then headed out of the car, closing the door behind him. He stepped towards Mhairi and Duncan, who were laughing at him, expecting he'd forgot something. Vadim could see from the car how Dan went inside, and all three vanished from view.

Inside, Dan asked his sister in law if he could 'borrow' his brother for a moment. Confused, but smiling, she nodded, and Dan manoeuvred the surprised man back into the lounge, where he closed the door behind him.

"What's up?" Duncan asked with a smile.

"I got about five minutes, no more, and five minutes for telling you what I have to tell you is a bloody short time, but it doesn't work any other way."

"What?" Duncan laughed, shaking his head in confusion. "You speak in riddles."

"Aye." Dan nodded, "I always have, have all my life and have since I came here this time. All I told you, Duncan, everything was true, but it wasn't all of it. The reason why I am not married and never will? Why I haven't got a girlfriend? I'm gay, Duncan. I'm sorry, I …"

Duncan stared at him, not uttering a sound.

Dan ploughed on, time was running out. "I want you to know, because you told me you needed to know who your brother was, and if I didn't tell you who I love, then how could you ever know who I am?" Taking a quick, deep breath. "Vadim is not just my friend, he is my lover and has been for twelve years. But Vadim, he ... I think he hates being gay. I think if he could, he'd take a pill and become 'normal'. He was so afraid, Duncan, about what you'd say, about coming here as a gay couple, and shit, I don't know how you lot react, it's difficult with families, isn't it? And ..."

Dan would have barged on, one word chasing the other, if his brother hadn't grabbed his arms.

"What?"

"I'm gay, Duncan." Dan got out, "and I'm so sorry for not being who you want me to be."

"What?" Duncan repeated, with increased sharpness. "You're sorry? For what?"

"You said I was your childhood hero," Dan felt and sounded deflated, "and childhood heroes aren't … gay."

"That's all bullshit." Duncan shook his head, holding onto his brother. "You can't come here and drop this bomb onto me in the last few minutes before you have to leave."

"I am sorry … but I had to. Vadim ... I can't do this to him, I promised him I wouldn't tell anyone. He wants nothing more than to be normal, to blend in, and being gay ... it's … you don't know what happened to him and why he was imprisoned."

"The KGB? Was that it? Because of …" his brother caught on all too quickly, "twelve years! You were in Afghanistan at the time."

"Aye." Dan nodded, didn't know what else to say. "We were."

"But … Dan?" Duncan tried again while Dan slowly extricated himself out of his grip.

"I have to go. I am sorry." Couldn't repeat it often enough. "So sorry. I really am. I would have told you straight away, wanted to, but ... I love him, you see, and … I couldn't."

"Love …" Duncan stared at Dan, unable, it seemed, to form a coherent thought. "I've always been worried about you, that you'd be on your own, that you'd end up lonely, that …"

"I'm not, aye?" Dan took a step to the door, trying to smile. "I'm not, and I'm ... I'm sorry." He stepped through the door, turned, and walked far too fast towards the entrance door.

"But you can't just leave!" Duncan called after him.

"I have to! I am sorry …" And with that Dan was out of the door, almost running towards the car and pulling the door open, he into the seat, slammed the door shut, and started the ignition, like a chased man. The gravel was crunching beneath the tyres as he turned the car far too fast and drove off.

Vadim was about to say something, something like "so, you found it?", but Dan drove as if he really wanted to get away as soon as possible. Vadim frowned, regarded Dan from the side, but the pinched expression on his features and the tell-tale silence in the car after a few hundred yards told even him that something wasn't quite right. He waited for Dan to tell, but was focussing on the road with a concentration that, above all, told Vadim that not only wasn't something quite right, but Dan tried to ignore something very hard.

"You're not a great actor", murmured Vadim, gently, and touched Dan's thigh.

"What?" Dan shook his head, as if trying to make it all go away by simply ignoring it. Rock and a hard place, and he'd done what he had to do. He had broken his word to the most important person in his life in the process.

Vadim regarded him, suddenly unsure if he read Dan right, again hearing Dr Williams' advice on mistrusting anything that didn't make sense, when his emotions and his mind were at cross-purposes. But he'd have thought he could read Dan by now. Only, Dan didn't react as expected. He watched the landscape whiz past, but kept his hand on Dan's knee, feeling Dan's leg tense when he moved the foot.

"What's wrong?"

Damn. What to answer? Nothing? Bullshit, and he hated lying, the whole reason why he'd done what he'd done. What then? Barge right ahead, no other option. "I fucked it up." Dan kept his eyes glued onto the road, driving far too fast for the tiny twisty lanes.

Vadim frowned, attention divided between the mad driving and Dan who was putting on his best Mad Dog act. "Calm down, first of all. It can't be that bad."

"Yes it is." Dan spotted a lay-by sign a few hundreds yards ahead and he slowed down all of a sudden, manoeuvring the car into the parking space. He switched the ignition off and turned to face Vadim. "I broke my word."

Vadim shifted in his seat to look at Dan. "Okay." His blood ran cold. He knew what Dan meant, all of a sudden. A falling out? The way Dan looked, very likely. Of course, Duncan, nice as he was, probably had reacted in the foreseen way to getting exposed to Dan's need to proclaim his orientation to everybody who wanted - or didn't want - to know. "Did he … did he ask?"

"No ... not at all." Dan shook his head violently. "I just ... I had to tell him, you understand? All that shit, all my life, me being a coward, not having contact with my family, making it easier for myself, and then he wants to know who I am, and I tell him, as much as I can, and he calls me his childhood hero and all that crap, and I … I kept lying to him, you know? By not telling him who I really am." Shaking his head again, "I am so sorry, Vadim. So, so sorry. I did not lightly break my word, but I had to. He had to know or I'd just been giving him even more lies."

Vadim remembered the two men in a tight embrace, the way Duncan's voice had sounded at the impact of Dan's scars. Oh fuck, but he did have a right, didn't he? Didn't he deserve the truth? Even if it hurt? Courageous Dan. Again. Fucking again. Dan just had to barge right through everything. "It's okay. He's … he's a nice enough fellow." Even if he is disgusted at what we are. It was fair enough. Live and let die. It was Dan's family, and Vadim would very likely never see them again. "If that's what you had to do, it's alright."

"I did. And I'm sorry. I really am." Looking down at his hands at the steering wheel, Dan sounded defeated. "And the worst is, I ran away from him, didn't give him any time. He told me he'd always been worried that I would end up alone, and that I couldn't just leave him. He wanted to talk to me." Adding, even quieter, "what a shit brother I have been all of his life."

Vadim reached over to touch Dan's face, tried to turn it to look at him, saw that deep, sad expression in Dan's dark eyes, and felt his own throat go tight. "We … can just turn around. The Highlands can wait, you know. What … whatever he says. You only have one family. One brother. I'd … be proud to have a brother like that. Or like you. You're good people, Dan."

Dan tilted his head, forehead resting against forehead. It had been a long time since last he'd hurt like that, and this time he was the culprit. "I don't know what …" What to expect, what to say, what to do. "I've steamrollered him. How fucking selfish of me."

Vadim smiled tenderly, ran his hand through Dan's hair, fully focussed on the other, while the shame continued to tighten his guts. "Okay. What about this … you calm down, he calms down, we go on towards that first bed and breakfast, and just call him. Keep it nice, ask how he feels, whatever, and if there's stuff to talk about", like being gay, "you meet him tomorrow or so."

Dan nodded, felt ridiculously taken care of, and the sensation struck him as the most alien one he'd ever experienced so far. It was a good feeling, and he smiled crookedly. "Can we … maybe not even go that far? Can we just call him from the next village?"

"Yeah. Come, move over, I drive. I think that's fifteen miles or something. According to the last time I checked the map."

"Thanks." Dan looked at Vadim. "And I'm sorry, aye? I hate breaking my word. It's just not me, and I wouldn't have told him, believe me, if … you know, Duncan …" Dan shrugged helplessly, before getting out of the car to change places.

Vadim walked around the car, too, meeting Dan behind the boot, and pulled him into a tight embrace. "Nothing to be sorry about. It's happened and we now just see what we do with it." The nausea was still there, a different kind of fear, but he probably would never have to face Duncan again. This was between the two brothers, and even if Dan had screwed it up, at least the cards were on the table now.

Relief washed over Dan, and thankfulness. For the understanding, and for much more, for which he didn't even have words. "Thank you." Murmured, he lifted his head away from the embrace and smiled, "you're not half bad, Russkie, you know that?"

Vadim gave a short laugh. "I think it sometimes takes me a while, but I end up making good decisions at some point. Pretty much when I have exhausted all other options." They were completely alone on the road, and Vadim moved to kiss Dan, whose chuckle was silenced by the kiss, which lasted until the sound of a car coming around the closest narrow bend was pulling them apart.

"Let's go, then?" Dan asked, nervous as hell.

"Aye." Vadim got in the driver's seat, waited for Dan, and followed the car that had passed them, staying right on the heels of what was clearly a native driver.

The road followed along the beautiful shores of another loch, twisting and winding through forest on one side, water on the other, and majestic slopes of the Highlands behind it all, but Dan didn't have eyes for any of it. It didn't take them long, lucky not to get stuck behind a lorry, before they entered the village. Soon enough they spotted a public phone right next to a café.

"Can we have a cuppa first?" Dan's fingers were suspiciously tightly curled around the handle of the car door.

Vadim stretched his back and rolled his shoulders, just tension haunting him in the usual places. "You mean, maybe even a strawberry tart?" He locked the door and pocketed the key. "You think they have this 'short bread'? I liked that."

"Aye, they must have. We are in Scotland, after all."

The café had a gift- and a book shop section which Vadim browsed briefly, but it was really no point buying books when he couldn't properly read, least of all a history of the general region. The café also had a gallery, and it sported not only shortbread, but several other variants, but no strawberry tarts. Dan went with chocolate and caramel shortbread instead, and an extra large mug of black coffee, which he over-filled with several spoonfuls of sugar. Vadim took the coffee as it came, black, strong, and no sugar, taking the occasional bite from a piece of shortbread with the coffee, finding the combination of sweet and bitter just right.

They'd sat down for a few minutes Dan thoughtfully working on his sweets, before he spoke again, a frown between his eyes. "What if he doesn't want to talk to me?" Stupid question, really. If he didn't, he just didn't, but for some reason it wasn't that easy this time.

"Then you call him again in a few days. He's family. And his sons … you know, they should have an uncle."

"Oh hell." Dan sighed, "I really am not getting out of this family business anymore, am I?" Offering a crooked smile, "and that after all these years of doing my best at being a complete fuck-up."

Vadim smiled at him over the coffee. "You have a family, Dan. That's good. And your brother seems a lot less complicated than, for example, my father. It's just … you know, nobody's fault, really. And staying away out of habit is stupid."

"Aye, I know that now." Dan sighed and shrugged, finishing off his shortbread. "But what is your father like?" Stalling, perhaps, but genuinely interested.

Vadim shook his head. "My father. Well, he's a lot like me, only smarter. Terrific chess player, he's read every single book he owns, and knows many, many more books. I have the looks from my mother. My father … he's big into arts, ballet, modern painting. If he feels like it, he can tell you story upon story about the past, which composer knew which artist, which officer's wife followed her husband to Siberia, which young noble bled to death in the snow after a duel. He's full of stories, and when I was a kid, I found it hard to tell the difference between things that had happened two hundred years ago and what happened yesterday. He always said Russia was so much richer before Socialism happened, how the dreams got perverted … he used to be political, but when he was young, that was very, very dangerous. He … disagreed with my choices. He didn't want me to 'become involved' as he called it. He didn't mind the military - he did mind the ministry. He said I shouldn't turn into one of the faceless people who keep the machine running. He very much disagreed with the Soviet machine. He said I was being instrumentalised and that I was stupid for embracing that. I guess he was right on that count. It should have given him satisfaction to see me … in prison. But it didn't. And I thought, well, 'you hated so much what I was, can you accept me now?' Of course, he couldn't. As smart as he is, he never understood … he didn't get what I felt. Well. It's a generational thing."

Dan had leaned closer throughout Vadim's talking, until his hand came to rest on one wrist. No more. "I would have thought your father was a monster if he had felt any satisfaction, seeing his son in prison. After all, you are still his son, aye?"

"Yes. And he did tell me the story. But I don't think I can rebuild anything there. At least there's still family to keep an eye on him. He's not alone. But I think there's nothing we can repair. There's just no basis. That's different with you and Duncan. Your brother clearly cares about you. A great deal."

Dan smiled a little, didn't, couldn't comment on the 'story'. His secret, how it got to Vadim, and a secret it should remain. Giving that wrist one squeeze. " I guess, listening to you, that I should get up now and drag my sorry arse to that phone box. Right?"

"Right. I'll get another coffee. Take your time."

"OK." Dan stood up and left the café, straight to the phone box. With the usual handful of change in his back pocket, he dialled the number that had never changed since his childhood. Feeling a fist deep in his guts, twisting and knotting his insides.

"Aye?" None other but Duncan himself had picked up the phone.

"It's me." Dan winced at the idiotic opener.

"Dan?"

Was there hope in that single word, or was he deluding himself, trapped in wishful thinking? Or was it anger and possibly disgust and he just couldn't read his brother's voice?

"Aye, it's me." Closing his eyes, desperately trying to think. "Listen, Duncan, I … I'm not that far away yet, and ... oh shit." The day he was going to be a man of clever or even just smooth words, that day the earth was probably going to open and swallow him whole. If only. He wouldn't mind right now. "I'm sorry."

"Aye, you've said that before. About ten times or so."

"Shit." Dan murmured, and louder, "but I am. Shouldn't have dumped all this crap on you."

"Well, from the little I know you, you've never been the most diplomatic man, but I'd always figured it was one of your more charming features."

Dan listened up, hoping, almost praying, that he detected a smile in the voice.

Duncan continued when Dan remained silent, not trying to apologise again. "What are you actually sorry for? For being best known for your absence in our lives, or for getting yourself almost killed far too regularly and too spectacularly, without us even realising how close we were to losing you, or for turning up here, making me want to hold you and keep you so that you goddamned motherfucker won't be able to leave before we got to know each other properly? Or are you trying to tell me, you sad son of a bitch, that you are sorry for being gay?"

Dan stood tense as a rod, closed eyes had opened wide, and he was staring outside, not seeing the mountains nor the beauty around him. His brother had sworn. Like a trooper, even, and he'd never heard him do that before.

"So? Which one of them is it?" Duncan demanded.

"All of them?" The last time Dan had felt so small was when he'd just joined the Forces and been made to scrub the toilet floors on his hands and knees.

"If you really mean that, Dan, then you are insulting me and all of your family."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, that if you really are sorry for being gay, then you don't bloody know me."

Dan shook his head, but said nothing. No, he didn't know his brother, did he?

Duncan continued. "I told you, didn't I, that I was always worried you might end up alone. It seems you won't, and that is a good thing. It's not what I would have expected and I'm the last not to admit that it's … strange to accept you're together with a man …" Duncan paused, "and it's probably odd and awkward and embarrassing and goodness what, until we get used to it," he took a deep breath, "but Dan, I told you I hardly know you, so it's not really a shock, aye? Because how can it shock me if I never got a chance to really know you in the first place?"

Dan swallowed. "Guess … not that much?" Managing to feel even smaller, by now reaching the stage of scrubbing the loos in the barracks with a toothbrush.

"Aye, you got it. Not." Duncan took a deep breath, and this time, Dan was certain he heard a smile in the voice. "And now, Dan, now I need you to know that I am damn glad you called, because I was about to get into the car and try and catch you on your way, and just think how awkward that would have been."

Dan smiled into the receiver, a wave of relief washing over him. "Don't thank me, you have to thank Vadim. He was the one getting me to do the right thing, and that even though he is still mortified."

"You think he wouldn't want to come back?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, Dan," Duncan emphasised Dan's name as if speaking to a small child, "that you're going to turn round and come back home and have a good chat with us, or just me, or whatever you feel comfortable with. You said you've known each other for twelve years. You must have been enemies, but have you been lovers for that long? And when did you realise you were gay? I remember you having girlfriends all the time. And what about the KGB thing you were talking about? And, and, and. I want to know more." There was no doubt, now, that Duncan's voice harboured a smile. "Being part of a family means sharing. Aye, Dan?"

"Aye." Dan smiled. "I'll talk to Vadim, but I think we might just be coming back."

"Do that." Duncan paused and added with a softer voice, "my brother."

With that the line went dead and Dan looked at the receiver, before replacing it gently. Hands in his pockets, he made his way back into the café.

Vadim had been staring out the window, forcing himself not to watch Dan, didn't want him to feel even more uncomfortable, and instead regarded the greenness, the strange landscape that always changed and still remained very typical, in a way. He'd got himself a sandwich and had eaten half of it, not really tasting anything, apart from the fact that the cheese was fairly strong and salty. "Well?" Looking up, when Dan sat down, but Dan didn't look bad, seemed it had gone well. Dan wasn't a great actor, by any stretch of the imagination. "What's the plan?"

"Would you mind going back?"

"Right now?"

"Uhm … aye?"

That meant he was supposed to come back, too. Wasn't it? Vadim nodded, didn't want to make this worse for Dan, but the nausea was back. He didn't want to face Duncan on a bad day - his feeling was that Duncan wasn't quite as bad as Dan in temperament. The man seemed sweeter, calmer, but Vadim dreaded the expression in his eyes. "You sure I should come along?"

"Aye, he emphasised that me having a partner is a good thing, but that it would take some time to get used to the fact that that partner isn't a wee lass, but it didn't seem to be too big an issue." Dan smiled. "If I am going to be part of the family, then you are part of the family, too."

"Oh shit." Vadim rolled his eyes. "That's what I get for encouraging you. More family." He stood up, though, dug for the keys, and led Dan out of the café, hand on his shoulder. "Let's go, then." Fighting his own nervousness. He could keep a low profile. Hopefully Duncan wouldn't ask just why they had lied when he was in the same room. Oh damn.

"Does that mean you volunteer to do the driving?" Dan cocked his head in his typical way. "Or are you trusting me not to bugger it up too badly, despite having been family-whacked?"

"No, I'm driving. I was actually trained to drive properly."

"What, and you think I wasn't?" Dan pulled a face, "arrogant bastard." Grousing good naturedly, while Vadim opened the door for him.

Vadim got in himself, and just a little later they were on their way - back exactly where they'd come from. Vadim focused on the street, the car, frowning as if against the sun, but in truth because he was concentrating hard to keep the fear at bay. He liked Duncan, and that would make it worse to look into his eyes.

It didn't take long before once again Dan got out of his seat and opened the gate for Vadim to drive through. Gravel quietly churning beneath the tyres, while Dan walked up to the door, which opened before he reached it.

Duncan stood in the doorframe, smiling, one hand in his pocket. "Heard you coming up."

"Aye, hard to sneak up on you." Dan felt a combination of awkward and a thousand other things, but Duncan laughed.

"You were SAS, I'd expect better from you."

"I'm old now. Belong to the scrap heap."

"You don't look it." Duncan was opening the door wider when Vadim got out of the car and walked towards them.

"Dodgy knees, aye?"

"Aye." Duncan's eyes seemed to smile more when Vadim came close.

Vadim glanced up, meeting the eyes. To his immense, if cautious, and so sceptical relief, he didn't see anything in them that would feed the fear. He tried a cautious smile. "Thanks for having us back", he said, muted.

Duncan stretched his hand out again, exactly the same way as he had done the day before. "I am honoured to welcome my brother's partner, and do excuse us, if we just, well, have to get used to some things."

Vadim took the hand and held it, meeting the gaze, noticing again the similarities between Dan and Duncan. "That's … well, it took some years for … us." The 'us' loaded with all that past, all that history, their reluctance, and the rocky road that had brought them there.

Duncan's smile was even warmer than the day before, "Aye, but I'm afraid you have to live with the 'family treatment' now, not just the 'visitor' one."

Vadim swallowed hard, thought, shit, family, and he hadn't realized how much he'd missed to be anybody's family. Or have family. He did have family, and he should get his own affairs sorted, too. Put his life back in order. "Seeing Dan, that can't be too bad", he murmured. "Apologies for the confusion. I guess I … made Dan put up a smoke screen."

"It's alright." Duncan's grip was strong as he shook Vadim's hand. "As long as you two are going to tell us a bit more about your lives." Letting go of Vadim's hand, he took Dan by his shoulders. "Twelve years. War. Enemies. Bomb. KGB. Gulf. And that's only naming a very few facts that I know of." Ushering both of them back inside, they heard Mhairi calling from the kitchen.

"Coffees? I am just making some food, but you guys start chatting, I'll bring something along."

"Coffee would be great", said Vadim, following behind Dan, feeling slightly nervous and insecure still, mostly because this was now completely new territory, with that knowledge hanging between them. The whole, gruesome story. He settled down at the table, watching Dan and Duncan. Duncan, who didn't seem to have the nasty or brutal side that Dan had had as a soldier, just a perfectly nice guy, somebody who, in a way, was still innocent, but that didn't diminish him. The word 'civilian' could mean something good, and pure, and something that should be protected, Vadim reflected.

"So," Duncan leaned forward in his seat, hands folded. "How did it all begin? And don't you tell me that it is none of my business, because you're both family, and thus it is my business." He looked positively like a spitting image of Dan when he smirked for a brief moment, showing all his teeth, before tilting his head, ready to listen.

Dan looked at Vadim, then back at his brother. "Well."

"It started when we invaded Afghanistan, we being the Soviet army", said Vadim. "Helping brothers, or taking control of a sovereign nation, depending on whom you believe. We were enemies; me and a comrade roughed Dan up a bit," the rape certainly not something he'd admit, and he looked at Dan, asking wordlessly whether that kind of whitewash was alright, and Dan smiled slightly. For anyone else the gesture would look like agreement with a memory faded and past. "Dan killed that comrade, and he managed to work out who I was. He captured me one day in the mountains, but he didn't kill me, instead … paid me back. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, blood for blood. I … was fascinated, and … attracted", Vadim felt his throat grow tight, "and I think surviving up in the mountains together did blur the lines between fellow soldier and enemy."

Duncan had moved even closer, bent over his own knees, looking from one to the other. His gaze was intense, "what are you actually saying here?"

Vadim inhaled, but couldn't form words, struggled with translating soldier concepts into something civilians could understand.

Dan moved into the breach. "Violence, Duncan. I'm afraid we didn't meet under a full moon with roses and a bottle of wine. We were set on killing each other. Just … that it didn't work out like that."

"But what did you mean with payback? And ... why did you kill that man?"

"Why does anyone kill in a war?" Dan said quietly, looking away at first, then back at his brother. "I am not a nice man, Duncan. Not even a good one. I did what I did because I am who I am: able to do the job." He shrugged, and when he smiled it was guarded. "Don't make me try to explain, Duncan. Please don't. We were enemies in a war …"

Duncan nodded, his eyes on Dan, and it seemed what he saw convinced him to back away, offering a smile in return. "Aye," quietly, "I guess I wouldn't understand anyway." He looked at Vadim, his first question hadn't been forgotten. "Payback?"

Vadim nodded. "We were drunk that night and itching for a fight. Dan was out alone, in civilian clothes - he was posing as a reporter, and the Soviet army doesn't like reporters. Vanya and I ambushed him and … roughed him up. Dan killed Vanya in self-defence. In turn, when he captured me, he gave me the beating of my life." Vadim gave a dry laugh. "If he'd not needed me to find water for him, I'd have died there and then."

Duncan looked at Dan, a strange expression in his eyes, but Dan's face had gone from guarded to closed, not allowing anything to show.

"Guess I ... was asking for it." Duncan said, made a movement with his hand, as if trying to brush all of it away. "Fast forward, aye? So, how did you figure out that you were attracted to each other?"

"Oh," Dan laughed suddenly, a single dry sound, "that was easy. Vadim just shot me in the shoulder."

Duncan's expression turned almost comical.

"I think we give the saying 'love hurts' a completely new dimension", said Vadim, laughing. "Shit. It … I don't know. Dan ended up between me and a target … or rather, between one of our targets and us … but I recognized him and dragged him away while the fight was going on. I was about to shoot him, because I … wanted him and I thought he didn't want me … so in my messed up head I thought I should kill the bastard, but on the other hand, he did keep me alive in the mountains and didn't hand me over to the rebels … and he needed an alibi for surviving while the rest of the guys were dead, so I had to shoot him. Shoulder seemed like a good option - serious enough, but not crippling and likely not deadly. And I … yeah, I said something half-insane, I guess, I don't actually remember, but I kissed him and I told him he could meet me in the tea house near the market. When Dan had healed, he did turn up. We … took it from there."

"Aye," Dan grinned, still guarded, but mellowing, "that shot probably saved my life, to be honest, but then we did the life-saving a few times after that."

Vadim smiled, "We didn't talk much at first, I guess, but we slowly understood each other."

"You ..." Duncan was rubbing his forehead, as if trying to force understanding through his skull. "I'm not quite sure if I can quite follow you, but I can tell you one thing, my life is nothing compared to yours. Met a girl, fell in love, married, had kids. That's me." Shaking his head before looking up at Dan.

Dan moved along on the sofa until he sat thigh to thigh with Vadim, taking his hand, and feeling Vadim's fingers half-close around his. "You're the lucky one, Duncan, in many respects." Glancing at Vadim, before nodding at his brother. "No, we didn't talk much. We didn't for several years, but we kept meeting. In the tea house, or under completely ludicrous circumstances. Like that time in the middle of a ferocious winter, in a cave." He glanced at Vadim, then shrugged. "We had safe houses, and we were careful … and one day, without realising it, there was a lot more than the physical stuff." Dan looked down at their combined hands for a moment. "And, I guess, I realised at some stage I was gay."

"When did you realise?"

Dan shrugged, "a long time ago, during a night in London. I'd been with a girl I'd picked up, and things hadn't gone quite so well." Dan had the decency to wince, "I was a bastard back then, and I'm afraid to say, if I had a daughter, I'd cut any guy's balls off and stuff them down their throats, if they dared treat her the way I treated my shags." He grinned a little and shrugged when Vadim looked strangely at him while his brother's expression varied between shocked and amused. "Don't worry, I did learn a few things about myself in the last twelve years, aye? Anyway, I remember a cheap bar, yellow street light, and how I pissed myself laughing when I realised what a fuck-up I was."

Vadim raised an eyebrow, wondering about the exact time and moment; things he hadn't known, hadn't been told. "I … was always that. I married, but … well. She was like a sister." Is, Vadim, is. Damn, Katya. "I was attracted from the start. Dan less so."

"I remember …" Duncan nodded, looking at both of them, eyes flickering to the combined hands, then back into their faces. If it was difficult for him, he didn't allow it to show. "I remember that something was different when you came to visit us before father's death. You were on long-term R&R, I think, because you had been wounded."

"The Mujas?" Dan mouthed to Vadim, questioning.

Vadim nodded. "Go ahead."

"Aye." Dan looked at his brother. "That was in '84, wasn't it? I had been wounded, that's right, but I never told anyone what had happened. Been caught in an ambush, the Soviets flattened the village I was holed up in. I got a flesh wound in the thigh, and a bullet ricocheted off a rock and grazed my temple." Dan lifted his hair and pointed to a faded scar that vanished into the hairline, invisible without pointing out. "Thing was, they thought I was dead, which was lucky for me, because if the Soviets had realised that I was a turkey …" catching onto Duncan's confused look, Dan explained, "a turkey is a Western mercenary, but then, of course, I was much worse. I was in a country, as a member of the British Forces, without being supposed to be there. All hush-hush, all top secret. Well, it still is, and it's all I can tell you."

Duncan nodded, listening intently.

"Unlucky for me, though, was the fact that I'd come to lie under a few Muja corpses and got chucked into a mass grave."

Duncan sat up, alarmed, when Dan continued, nodding at him. "Aye, it was as bad as it sounds." Glancing at Vadim, because the next part he didn't know, no clear memories, and definitely none he wanted to remember.

"It wasn't my unit that did the flattening, only to be clear. I came in to make sure some of the bandit leaders were, indeed, dead. Of course, I assumed Dan would be in the area, but I was surprised to actually find his kit, and later, the body." Vadim remembered the nausea, the pain only too well. "I made sure he made it. He was pretty shaken, mentally, and I didn't like the look of the wound."

"I guess that's a perfect example of understatement." Dan grinned wryly, "I was completely out of it, but that's all I want to remember, trust me."

Vadim nodded, "That was a generally pretty bad year ... all told. Apart from the fact that I realized how much things were blurred and how much I cared for this particular 'turkey'. Dan is rarely helpless, but those days, he was. I made sure the wounds were clean and he'd come round ... but I had to leave, because as free as I was - as an officer and as special forces - even I couldn't loiter around without a mission for too long."

"Aye, and Vadim had clued on much earlier onto what I kind of felt but didn't know." Tilting his head when Duncan looked at him with confusion. "I'm not clear, am I?"

"Not really." Duncan shook his head. "You were distant when you came back, I remember you sitting here with dad, joking, but you weren't really there."

"No, you're right. My mind was in Afghanistan. I guess I was with … with Vadim, just that I hadn't quite realised what I felt. That came over a year later, after a particularly and incredibly shitty year."

"That's the one when you didn't call nor wrote?"

"Aye, sorry." Dan looked at his hand in Vadim's and shrugged once more. "Told you, I was a crap brother, but that year I really couldn't contact anyone. I was in the mountains, and you could hardly call that civilisation."

Vadim nodded at that. "Yeah. We weren't in contact for months and months, close to a year, from what I remember. I was quite busy during that time, too, but there was no way to reach Dan ... the country is too vast, and I guess he couldn't make it to the tea house where we used to leave messages. It was a particularly bad time, we were getting close, and at the same time, further apart. It wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't cared about him so much at that stage."

Duncan smiled slightly, nodded to himself.

Dan looked up. "I guess that's when I finally 'got it'. Wasn't even a heart stopping revelation, it was just there, and wouldn't go away anymore. It wasn't convenient sex, not after six years. It was love, and it is still is."

Vadim tightened his grip and smiled softly.

"Looks like it." Duncan smiled, leaning back in his chair.

"I don't know when I realized," Vadim said. "I knew I cared, from fairly early on, but it's hard to tell understanding, friendship, comradeship, and love apart. It just blends. Apart from the ... physical side. We ended up talking after ... well, the sex, and, strangely, we'd keep each other going, even though we were still enemies at that point. When the war drew to a close, we ... well, that was tough because we knew it wouldn't go on like this forever. That retreating would mean the end. The Brits stepped down their involvement, too."

"Was that why you left the army after your surgery?" Duncan looked from Vadim to his brother.

"Aye," Dan nodded, "they didn't want to send me back to Kabul, and there was no way I could not see Vadim."

"Wish I had known that back then. I couldn't understand why you threw away a golden handshake and a full pension. Not after what you'd done for the country."

Dan shrugged, his fingers tightening around Vadim's. "Not sure if I did anything for Queen and Country. I did it because I'm an adrenaline junkie."

"Yes, Dan never struck me as particularly political", murmured Vadim. "Very unsatisfactory to discuss politics with him."

"But then? After that? You worked for the embassy, I do remember how your wages hiked up."

Dan grinned, "they still aren't too bad."

"No, certainly not compared to mine." Duncan laughed, "but I rather not put my life on the line, and least of all when a bomb is involved."

"Aye … there was that." Dan said quietly.

"If it's any consolation, my wages at that point were still not great, not when exchanged into pound or dollar", Vadim murmured.

Thankful for Vadim to turn the sudden gloom away, Dan leaned into the sofa. Looking up when Mhairi came inside with a tray of coffee and mugs. "You go on, I am terribly busy in the kitchen, and I'm sure Duncan will tell me everything important later." She smiled and left the room as quickly as she had entered it, while Duncan leaned forward to pour the coffee.

"It didn't just go on from there, though? What happened with the KGB?"

Dan looked at Vadim, and Vadim started to speak.

"Yes ... by that point, we had something of a routine. I was stationed in Kabul and helped organize the withdrawal, Dan was in Kabul guarding the lady ... so we met a lot, regularly, Dan had even rented a place. Maybe we were too sure of ourselves, but somehow, they caught wind of it. I worked for the Interior Ministry, the KGB were our rivals, and it might have been some kind of rivalry thing, like making an example of me, but we were set up ... just before I left for Moscow again. They bugged our hotel room, and, well, just the fact that Dan was British, and I was meeting a Brit, and, of course, that I was gay, was enough to get me accused of treason. They grabbed me off the street, flew me to Moscow, and I faced the judge. They threw a lot of different accusations at me, treason, selling arms to Afghans, and other crimes. Some stuff stuck, and I was convicted."

Dan's face had darkened, and he didn't touch the coffee, sitting tense, while realising that they'd never talked about it. Never dared to touch the wound, that didn't feel as if it had ever closed.

Duncan put the coffee pot back onto the tray, captivated by each word. "But …"It seemed he couldn't bring himself to ask a question. "They …"

"Lies." Dan said quietly, but with intensity. "That was all lies. Everything. Except the one truth, that he did have sex with me, and is that treason? Is it?" He leaned forward, both hands tensing, one in Vadim's, the other on the table, clenching into a fist.

"No, not treason, but illegal", murmured Vadim. "They needed a scapegoat, and that was me ..."

Dan looked at Vadim, then back at Duncan. "And that morning Vadim was kidnapped? They set killers onto me, a whole goddamned 'army' of spetsnaz." Suddenly the good natured, easy-going guy with warm brown eyes was gone, replaced by a fierce man, whose eyes had hardened to near black, and a ferocious grin gave his brother a glimpse of the killer Dan had been, still was, and would never cease to be. "I nailed the fuckers. Knives, pistols, machine guns, and hand grenades, and the bastards were dead or dying. I made it out of the room, but I cut my leg in the damned window, left a trail of blood, and the greatest bastard of them all, the man who'd been Vadim's Colonel, caught me out when I tried to escape via the deserted kitchen."

Vadim looked at Dan. The Colonel. That felt like ice in his guts. The Colonel. The man he'd been afraid of, the man who'd intimidated him with just being there, with just a glance, with just silence, or even a word of praise. Nothing the Colonel had done that didn't seem like barbed wire, nothing that didn't cause fear or terror of some kind.

Duncan was listening in something akin to shock, not a muscle twitched in his face, as Dan carried on.

"They had set it all up, no staff in the hotel, and they'd filmed everything that had happened in our room. For evidence, you see? What damned evidence did they get, you wonder? No lies, no treason, just two guys being desperate, and wasn't that all forbidden. Hell, yes, and that's what they made stick, and that's what that Colonel took personally. How dared I 'use' one of his own men, and how I would suffer for it, how he'd take me out and got me to Moscow, where they'd torture every tiny scrap of secret out of me, until I confessed to anything they wanted me to, no matter if truth or lies, because it wasn't about truth at all, it was all about revenge." Dan paused, lips pulling away from his teeth, his whole body taut, as his eyes gleamed with a fearsome triumph, while the feeling in Vadim's guts was bad, a tension that had morphed into nausea, which made him visibly cringe. The thought of it. What could have happened to Dan. The Colonel had had a fearsome reputation. Vadim didn't doubt for a moment that the Colonel would have honoured those promises.

"And you know what? That Colonel was nothing but a homophobe, and he forgot to check the one place where he sure as hell didn't want to touch me … I stuck a knife into his guts when he thought I was as good as dead." Lowering his voice, Dan hissed, "and before he died he asked me 'why?' and I told him because I love Vadim."

There was absolute silence in the room, it seemed as if Duncan wasn't breathing, until he swallowed hard, his face pale and his voice unsteady. "Dan … please don't …" But he never finished what he wanted to plead for, instead tried to reach for his mug but his hand was shaking too hard.

Every muscle in Vadim's body fought the churning nausea, but he still managed to breathe. "You ... killed him? He's dead?"

"Aye." Ignoring Duncan, Dan turned to Vadim. "The pig is dead. Bled to death on the kitchen tiles of a hotel in Kabul. Killed by a faggot." He snarled, "not the type of heroic death the bastard anticipated for himself, aye?"

Vadim felt close to throwing up, surprised himself at the violent reaction. Breathing was hard, his face was cold, lips numb, his stomach pressed up bile that sat like a fist in the back of his throat. "I need ... air", he got out, stood, and left the room. Managed to get out of the door, the bile brought the flavour of coffee up, a wretched combination.

Dan sat, completely at a loss, hardly hearing his brother's quiet words. "Dan … what did you do? Was that necessary?"

"What?" Turning his head to look at Duncan.

"Did you have to tell us that?"

"Yes!" With sudden sharpness, Dan uttered the one word, getting up. "I had to. And there are many more things that I have to do or say, which wouldn't meet with any decent man's approval."

"Well." Duncan breathed out, clearly rattled, "perhaps you should go and look for Vadim?"

"Aye." Dan was out of the door as fast as he'd jumped up, looking for Vadim outside.

Vadim leaned against the wall, face raised, breathing, fighting hard to breathe regularly, calmly, but the nausea was still there. That horrible pressure and a sense of dread, of fear, and he wasn't surprised to find that he was sweating. Seeing Dan come outside, he gave a pained smile. "It's ... alright. Just the trauma. I hope. Shit." The Colonel dead. His sick fascination for the man, the fear, the hatred all mixed up with the knowledge he'd never be able to take revenge, or face him, never would have to face him again. "Didn't ... didn't know that. Dan. He'd have done that. He'd have done ... what he said and worse, you know that? I was ... scared of that man ... pretty much all the time. And you killed him. Fuck, you killed him ..."

"Scared?" Dan's eyes widened, "but …" and then it hit him, yes, from the few moments he'd had with that man, the anger, the hatred, the aggression and the sinister bravado, he could see how dangerous the Colonel would have been. Dangerous and insane. "I think I understand." Taking a step closer, an arm's length between them, and Vadim reached out, because even if he vomited across Dan's shoes, at least Dan would be right there, close enough to touch. "I have no doubt he would have done what he 'promised' me he'd do, and he very nearly smashed my brain into a pulp, he had a good go at my face." Dan grinned lopsidedly, but his eyes never caught the fake humour.

"Then, how ... how?"

"The only reason why I managed to kill the bastard was because I outwitted him. I could understand too well how he was thinking, because I had been a homophobe, just like him. A long time ago. I kept the knife right beside my cock, and that was it. Not bad for a peasant, aye?" Trying the weak humour again.

Vadim nodded, still pale, sweating, wondered why the fuck he didn't just let it go, why he still fought to keep food and drink and everything inside. "That ... certainly makes the world a better ... place."

Dan nodded. "You want to sit down?"

"Yeah." Vadim sat, heavily, on the steps. Head lowered, staring at the ground in front of his feet, little stones and little bits of green, and part of Dan's leg.

Dan stayed close, sensing eyes on them from the house, and the expectations as well as the disapproval. Feeling the growing urge to get away, just walk, up into the hills, on his own. Just to go into the mountains - but the mountains here were not Afghanistan and never would be. "You look like shit."

Vadim laughed, a short, wretched sound. "Feel … like it, too. Sorry. Don't know … what's wrong with me. I just feel … not good."

"Want anything? Or just want to throw up? Usually helps me when I feel queasy." Looking around, Dan pointed to the corner around the house. Away from prying eyes and into the bushes.

Vadim shook his head. He'd eventually probably have to do it if it didn't get any better, but he didn't want to admit defeat yet. "I'll be fine. Getting better."

"Want to take a few steps?" The mountains were starting to look like an increasingly attractive alternative, as Dan's sense of inadequacy grew. Vadim nodded, stood, and walked beside Dan. Slowly, feeling numb and unsteady and completely focused on keeping his food inside.

Dan murmured, "I really fucked this one up, didn't I?"

Vadim shook his head. "No. It's our fucked-up life, Dan. The fucked-up job. My fucked-up mind." He let his head fall back, looked at the sky, up the mountains, stood there, gazing, one arm coming up to Dan's shoulders, and Dan held him, figuring that the mountains from the bottom weren't all that bad, after all. As long as Vadim stood beside him.

"I guess I blew it with my brother, though. What a fucking stupid idea to tell a civvie about what I've done in my life."

Vadim grinned. "He'll get over it. With a few illusions less, I guess. But he'll get over it. He'll get over the fact you're gay, too. He's making a big effort, you know."

"Yeah, he is, isn't he?" Dan tilted his head until it touched Vadim's, which made Vadim's eyes close, and, strangely, some tension left him, like he was only anchored in three places - where he touched Dan, and the soles of his feet.

Dan fished for a fag, lighting and smoking it in silence. Quiet for a long while. "You think he wants to know the rest? You know ... the really shit part of the whole story."

"I'd give him time to digest the whole lot." Vadim brought his face closer, touching his lips to Dan's, feeling better now, much better, almost ready to go back in. "Only if he asks. If he feels he can take it."

Dan nodded, relishing the kiss. Tender, light, and he smiled. "You're better than the mountains, you know." Murmured against Vadim's lips.

Vadim grinned. "That's coming from the expert on mountains. I'm flattered … let's get back in. I'll ask for a whisky, that should help. Your brother has some good stuff in the cupboard. And good looks run in the family."

"They do?" Dan's brows raised, but a sparkle of mirth was hidden somewhere. "If that means you fancy fucking my brother, I'll fill you in."

Vadim laughed. "No, I just noticed. I prefer them willing these days, you know." Another kiss, and he moved back towards the house.

"Lucky me." Dan murmured to himself, following Vadim.

Mhairi was standing in the door frame, drying her hands on her apron. She smiled at them, and maybe, Dan thought, everything was just going to be fine.

"Come on in." She called out to them, "you must be freezing." Looking Vadim up and down, she shook her head. "You look terribly pale. Would you like a camomile tea?" There was warmth in her voice, and even more warmth, when she took Vadim's arm, gently pulling him towards the kitchen.

"Well, something warming would be good."

"You need some Scottish TLC."

Vadim gave a laugh. "If that is the translation for whisky, I'm all for it."

Dan watched her, nodded towards Vadim, and couldn't help smile at her motherly behaviour.

"Dan?" Duncan's voice was suddenly close, as he leaned in the door frame.

"Aye?" Dan turned, facing his brother. Facing him in more ways than the obvious.

"Care to continue your story?" Duncan's smile was small, but there, and Dan wondered if his brother even knew how to smile falsely.

"Don't think that's a good idea without Vadim." Glancing backwards, towards the kitchen," Vadim's being fed tea by Mhairi."

Duncan nodded, beckoning Dan closer. "Granted, but come and sit with me anyway, will you?"

Nodding, Dan followed, once more back into the lounge, where fresh coffee and freshly baked shortbread was waiting.

"I'm sorry." Dan ventured before he even sat down.

"What for this time?"

"For …" Dan made a slow, sweeping gesture across the room, "for everything. For being ... who I am?" Realising it could only be a question, since he had no idea what Duncan was thinking.

"I don't think I can make any judgments on that." Duncan poured another mug of coffee, even remembering the spoonfuls of sugar. "I know nothing about your job, your life, and certainly nothing about who you love." Adding, while stirring Dan's coffee, "but what I've seen of him so far, he seems like a damn fine guy."

"Thanks." Burying his nose in the hot mug, Dan had no idea what to say. "It wasn't … easy."

"No?"

"No." Dan glanced to the door, hoping he wasn't going to be left alone.

Less than ten heartbeats later, Vadim appeared in the door frame, followed by Duncan's wife, who had laughed off all attempts at helping her carry the tea and the whisky, and Vadim sat down next to Dan, while she served. Seeing Dan thoughtful and somewhat subdued, Vadim gave him a bright smile, before looking at Duncan. "My stomach was acting up a bit, but seems the clear air can fix almost everything."

"Aye," Duncan smiled, "you're in God's own country, after all."

Dan mumbled something intelligible, but Duncan and Mhairi ignored him and whatever he might have said.

"Dan hinted that things became very bad after Kabul?"

Dan sighed, sat close to Vadim and clung to his coffee, while eyeing the dram that Duncan was pouring out. Helping himself to piece after piece of shortbread.

"Yes. As I said, my own side kidnapped me from the street, bundled me into a car and brought me back to Moscow. I was charged with treason. It's complicated. I was working for the Interior Ministry, which has a bit of a rivalry with the KGB, as I mentioned. Foreigners are less aware of the Interior Ministry, but it's like ... all security agencies. They are rivals for money, resources, attention, and power. The KGB held me, and the Ministry was ... unwilling or unable to get me out. I was charged with treason, sabotage, a dozen things. But to prepare me for the trial, the KGB broke my mind, my will to resist. I spent a lot of time in solitary confinement, which was worse than the beatings." Vadim took a sip from his tea to arrange his thoughts, while Duncan and Mhairi sat still, on the edge of their seats, just looking at him.

"Meanwhile, Dan was, of course, worried for my life and safety ... they made him believe I'd been executed. They did ... I went through a mock execution. Dan's friends in high places, however, they bartered for my life. To cut a long story short, two years later, they released me in Finland. The Iron Curtain had come down. The Soviet Union was falling apart, and I was no longer their problem. But my mind ..." Vadim tapped his temple. "Something in there wasn't quite right. When Dan got me back, I wasn't myself. I was unable to cope with anything. My mind was frantic, but unfocussed. It was like I'd gone insane."

"Well …" Dan murmured, looking down at his hands, smoothing the scars on his left, over and over again, until he suddenly looked up, straight at his brother. "Vadim left. Just walked away, on the night he got out. We fucked it up." Too late realising he'd used bad language, not giving a damn right now anyway. "'Worried for Vadim's life and safety' is an understatement. I went insane in my own way during those two years." He shrugged. "Maybe that was the problem, maybe we should have understood better, but when Vadim left I … lost it."

Duncan looked from one to the other, but the non verbal encouragement did not yield any results. "What do you mean?" He had to ask at last.

"I mean that I had the ambassador send me to the Gulf, just at the time before all hell broke loose. I was more than happy when I got the chance to go on a suicide mission."

Dan's brother sat up even straighter. "You did?"

Dan looked at him, fair and square. "No, not if you had asked me. I am good, I knew I'd make it."

Vadim looked at Dan, reaching for his thigh, pressing it, close to the knee. "I, on the other hand, just walked. I guess part of me remembered that I should keep walking. I guess it was my feet taking over. I ended up in Sweden, and I got charged for breaking and entering. One of the cops liked to be clean in his paperwork, so he worked out who I am ... or rather, was, and got in touch with the consulate, but the Russians didn't know me. They just denied my existence. I had no papers. So this cop - Manke - he cut a deal with the people into whose property I'd broken in, and they gave me the chance to work for the compensation. That was a fairly good time, all told. My mind settled somewhat, and it occurred to me, a bit later, I should get in touch with Dan, to explain why I did what I did. But I had no phone number or address ..."

Dan looked at Vadim with undisguised intensity. He hadn't known, had never asked and just like Vadim, he was discovering truths that he'd never been privy of before.

Vadim took another sip. "Obviously, everything would have been different, if, for example, Dan had given me this address and this phone number and had been in touch with you." He glanced at Dan, from the side, who cringed, and buried his face in his mug and another piece of shortbread, while his brother frowned.

"I got in touch with his boss and we made a deal. I was going to prove I can still function, and she would take me on as a merc, too, with a British passport. So, they sent me first to the Royal Marines, and later to the SAS to get tested. They got me back up to specs. Half a year had passed between Finland and when they did put me on a Herc and flew me into the Gulf, too."

"Aye, and then I told him to fuck off and that I would kill him if he came close to me." Dan continued, his eyes straight on his brother. Taking the expected disagreement on the chin.

"Why?" Duncan looked from one to the other.

Dan said nothing at first, just looked at Vadim, finally answering quietly, "because I hurt like fuck." Turning his head towards Duncan, glancing at Mhairi as well, "and I told you, I'm not a good man."

"Two and a half years", said Vadim. "That's enough time to break any man." Vadim reached for Dan's shoulder and squeezed it. "It took a while to remember all the good things. I provoked him, to get a reaction. Dan was hitting it off well with some other guy, somebody less screwed up than I was. Am. And I thought, that's it, he found something better, somebody who won't f... screw him up so bad. I pulled some stupid stunts, up to the point that Dan requested to be transferred. But fate is a cruel master, and Dan's helicopter was shot down over the desert. Me and that ... other guy fell over ourselves to get Dan - and the Americans who'd travelled with him - out of there."

Duncan almost jumped off his seat. "What? Helicopter? Shot down?"

"Aye." Dan glanced at Vadim once more, but this time there was no help forthcoming. "Sorry, didn't tell you about it. Got shot down by insurgents, with part of the Yank crew half-dead, and had to get them out of the desert." Slipping his hand across Vadim's back, giving a squeeze. "Russkie here got us out, together with the help of a friend. A friend that … well, let's say Vadim and that mate weren't best buddies. But anyway … got a Yank medal out of it, and so did Vadim and the friend, and all the kids of the crew survived. So all's good, aye?"

"Aye?" His brother asked incredulously, coffee and tea forgotten. "I wonder if hearing all this is worse than not knowing what you are up to and how you'll almost get yourself killed the next time."

"Sorry." Dan murmured, felt chastised and looked the part, too. "These things are not …" he shrugged.

"Don't be," Mhairi cut in, unexpectedly. "Whatever happened in the past is the past, aye? Right now you're here and it's lovely to have you in the family." She made a point of nodding both at Dan and Vadim.

Vadim smiled brightly and nodded back. "He's watching my back and I'm watching his - that's better than being out there alone. It's a dangerous job, Duncan, yes, but we're trained to deal with it. We're good at this. We've done this kind of thing for close to twenty years now, and, personally, I think Afghanistan was worse than the Gulf. We won't be doing this for very much longer - a few years now, then we should retire." Vadim glanced at Dan, smiling. "Even if Mr Indestructible here denies it, he gets older, too."

"Nah," Dan picked up again, jumping at the chance to protest loudly. "I got a few more years in me. Only the knees are dodgy, but they're going to hold up. Willpower, you know."

His brother didn't look too convinced, and Mhairi smiled. Suspiciously, Dan thought, in the way she'd smile at one of her children.

"How much longer do you want to do the job?" Duncan asked, "Your finances are getting healthy again, I wouldn't have thought you needed to put your life on the line for that much longer?"

"I like the job," Dan frowned, "it's what I've done all my life and what I've always wanted to do. It's who and what I am. I'm a soldier, or a merc, not a civilian."

Vadim gave a short laugh. "Five years, I reckon." He glanced at Dan, first time he'd set the deadline, really, first time he'd spoken it. Five years. The world could blow up badly in that time, with tensions breaking up that the Cold War had kept together. "If you consider my income, too, we should be able to get cushy in those five years. That's the positive side - what we earn, we can spend, no kids to feed or make sure they get a good education."

Dan frowned but said nothing. Five years? He didn't want to think about it, so he only shrugged, reaching for the last piece of shortbread. "Well, guess we won't manage to produce kids, no matter how hard we tried." Mumbled, not paying attention to anything but his coffee and his biscuit. Missing how Mhairi turned beetroot red and his brother didn't seem to know what to do with himself.

Vadim shook his head. "well, my kids are taken care of", he murmured, also to divert attention away from the uncomfortable topic of sex. "And your brother is continuing the family ..."

"Aye." Dan looked up and nodded, completely oblivious to the discomfort he had caused. "That he does." Smiling at Mhairi and Duncan, who caught themselves quickly.

"So, now you're together and working in the Gulf." Duncan picked up the thread. "Any idea where you are heading next? It can't remain a hot spot down there forever."

"Yes, it's already sizzling out." Vadim shrugged. "I guess we should get in touch with the Baroness about that? Where she thinks she needs us, I suppose."

"Aye, I don't really care where." Dan put the empty mug down. "I don't mind the heat nor the cold, unlike Vadim, here." Grinning, he leaned back. Exhausted, the day had been more of an emotional rollercoaster than he'd bargained for. "I'm Mr Indestructible, after all."

Duncan smiled, "Well, Mr Indestructible, are you going to stay here for another night? You're most welcome."

Vadim glanced at Dan, who smiled, slightly tired. While Duncan had taken everything in stride, he wasn't quite sure he wanted to get to the moment where it would be clear Dan and he would sleep in the same bed. Under this roof. He felt uncomfortable at the thought, and he didn't want to make this an issue. At all. "I think we have a bit of distance to cover, really. There's the itinerary we worked out last night. Dan wants to show me Edinburgh, and we're meeting some more friends ..." Vadim met Duncan's gaze. "We'd love to, but I think we should better be on our way ... and rather return more often?"

"That is a deal, then." Duncan nodded and smiled, and so did his wife. "You are always welcome here, both of you. Our home is your home, don't you ever forget that. Whatever happens." He nodded once more, emphasising his point.

"Thanks," leaning forward, one hand on Vadim's thigh, Dan smiled, "I'll remember that now, and I promise, it won't be five years again, but we will have to go to New Zealand first."

"I'll let you off." Duncan chuckled, as Dan stood up, followed by Vadim. "But you promise you'll be here after that, maybe you could even make it for your birthday."

"Birthday?" Dan was taken aback, couldn't even remember when the heck his own birthday was. "Aye …" Vaguely.

After all that time, Vadim realized, he had no idea when Dan's birthday was. And neither had Dan, probably. No, they'd never talked about that. Had never spent so much time together that it mattered. "That's a good idea", Vadim said, somewhat belatedly. "Maybe stay for a long weekend?"

"You're most welcome to stay for as long as you like." Duncan held his hand out to Vadim, while Mhairi pulled Dan into a hug. "We are looking forward to seeing you again, any time you can. After all, we need to get to know the two of you."

Vadim shook the hand, and drew closer to murmur into Duncan's ear. "Can you believe he never told me when his birthday is?"

Duncan laughed, murmuring back with a glance at Dan, "I'm not surprised …" Stepping back, he turned to Dan to pull him into a hug, while Mhairi treated Vadim with the same physical warmth.

After more good-byes and promises to return as soon as possible, they were once more escorted to the car, with Duncan and Mhairi waving at the gate, while Dan slowly drove the vehicle off the grounds and towards the road.

"Well," pulling in a deep breath, "that was that."

Vadim grinned. "It wasn't as bad as expected, all told." He placed a hand on Dan's knee. "So, when is your birthday?"

Glancing sideways while navigating the narrow road, Dan shrugged. "Sometime in November. And yours?"

"August 15th. That makes me Leo." Vadim grinned. "Do you really have to check your passport?"

"Hm." Dan grumped, "I don't do birthdays, they're pointless, but if you really want to know, it's twenty-ninth November. You know the year, you're as old as I am." Glancing to the side again, going steadily North, "actually, that makes you older than me." Dan flashed a grin.

"True. It would get quite crowded on the birthday cake." Vadim laughed. "Damn, we are getting old, aren't we? But birthdays are good excuses for a party. Look at Jean, he knows how to throw a party. Any excuse - he takes."

"Aye, but I never had a birthday party, so I wouldn't know." Flashing another grin. "And that also means that apart from a few piss-ups when I was young, I never celebrated my birthday since. Never had the time nor knew anyone who would have given a damn about my birthday, so I'm actually not going to be forty-three at all. I'm probably around twenty-two."

"... and dating a guy almost twice your age ..."

Dan burst into laughter, "Aye, but you've kept quite well, all considering."

"Thanks." Vadim grinned and reached for the map, glancing out of the window for a moment, comparing street signs at the side of the road with those on the marked route. "And if we're lucky, we'll get to the B&B before midnight."

"Should be earlier, actually. Scotland isn't all that big. Best small country in the world, you know."

"Well, I was calculating in the fact we might want to stop at some places and admire the view. Or something like that."

Dan grinned. "What did we actually book. Single rooms or twin?"

"Twin. The place doesn't appear to have singles."

"Good! At least something is working out smoothly, aye?"

Vadim grinned. "Our improvisation so far isn't too bad, though."

"Let's hope our luck holds up."

Dan's wish was being granted, the journey through the Highlands ended each night in a B&B or small hotel that didn't happen to have two single rooms. The owners invariably apologised profusely for having to let two grown men sleep in a twin room, but Dan only smiled and shrugged, reassuring them that it would be no bother, while Vadim kept his face carefully straight.

Each day they drove across majestic countryside. Crossing over to Skye, exploring hills and sweeping valleys, rugged mountains and breathtaking lochs. Until they finally reached Edinburgh, the country's capital with its stunning architecture, its posh hotels and bars.

It was in the Scotsman hotel, overlooking North bridge and parts of Princes Street gardens, that the concierge apologised for having made the mistake of booking a double-bed suite, and Dan smiled sweetly, explaining that no, it was exactly what they had booked. Making Vadim cringe inwardly, but the staff there took it in stride, like it was the most natural thing in the world. No moment of hesitation, not even a blink.

They spent a day and two nights in the city, making it up to the castle, but this time, Dan remained a tourist, showing Vadim the breathtaking view from the battlements, instead of trying to figure out if anyone was still in the garrison, whom he knew.

Vadim didn't tire of exploring the city on its many levels, up and down narrow staircases that were squeezed in between ancient houses that didn't allow any light in, pausing in small cafes for cakes and tea or coffee, thoroughly exploring the city in the short time they had.

And for the first time in his life, even Dan enjoyed the old elegant lady, no longer feeling like an outcast, a peasant, who didn't belong.

 
 
Special Forces Chapter XXXVIII: Unknown Shores
 
 
Warning for Readers

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

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

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

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

 

 
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Published 1 May 2008