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Special Forces Chapter XXXXVIII: Sticks and Stones
 
 

November/December 1992, The Balkans

Dan and Vadim hardly exchanged more than a couple of words for about an hour, conserving their strength, as they continued the half walk half jog that allowed them to do good time. Keeping them warm in the freezing cold without exhausting them. Except … but Dan refused to acknowledge how his knees were bothering him after an hour, and how the right knee was turning into agony during the second hour. He had some painkillers left, that would have to do.

Vadim kept back a little, every now and then turning to check. He didn't like running with his back to the open valley. Allowing Dan to set the pace, knowing Dan tended to be slower. However, when he studied Dan's movements, he could clearly see that the other favoured his good leg. Shit. That, too. "Give me the bag", he said, breath still steady.

"No." Dan turned his head, continuing the pace. Not breathless either, just as fit, but the goddamned pain was there. Nothing he couldn't ignore. "No fucking need."

"Donkey alright", murmured Vadim, just audible.

"Fuck you." But without the venom, "I'm …" Dan was about to add 'fine' or some other bullshit, when he suddenly stopped, straining to listen. He was certain he'd heard a sound, but nothing like an engine, more like … music? "What the fuck?" He murmured, glancing at Vadim.

Vadim paused, crouched to be less of a silhouette against the sky, breathing deeply, but also glad to rest for a bit. He frowned, not quite sure what he was hearing. Or rather, what it signified. "I think it's coming from three o' clock."

Dan threw the bag onto the ground and got the rifle at the ready, before moving down into the ditch, pressed against the frozen ground, peering onto the main road, while Vadim took position between some bushes, covered, rifle ready and aiming at the road.

The sound was approaching, and Dan closed his eyes to concentrate. No doubt. Music. Who the fuck would be crazy enough in this hellhole to drive around with music blaring out? And why … he suddenly waved to Vadim to come closer. "Fuck, I recognise this!"

"What is it? Folk song?"

Dan nodded, straining once more to be absolutely sure. "Some crazy fucker is blaring out 'On the Far Bank of the Pliva River', or however they call it. They changed the lyrics, but I don't get more than a few words. Doesn't matter, all that counts is that this is the new Bosnian national anthem."

"Is it just?" Vadim took the finger off the trigger. "What now? Will you sing 'We Will Rock You' or 'God Save The Queen' so they don't put a dozen holes in us when they see us?"

"That's the fucking problem, isn't it? Shit." Dan looked towards the approaching sound, then back at Vadim and his eyes flashed. "We need to stop them first, or they might not hear our melodious singing, aye?" Looking around, he pointed to the pile of dead wood in the ditch. "How long to get this onto the road?"

"Not long until you're in shooting distance. We might already be." Vadim cursed. "Would be nice to hitch a ride, but this …" is too risky, he thought, frowning. Where was a white flag - or a British flag - if one needed it. "Could fire a few shots in the air and hope they investigate before firing back."

"Let's try that, then. What have we got to lose?" Their lives, hell, but Dan trusted they'd be able to kill before getting killed, if they had to. "And we could win a vehicle, either way." He shrugged, took his position again, and peered over the edge of the road. The music was getting so loud, he wondered if those crazy bastards had a megaphone strapped to their car.

Vadim sighed, but aimed at a cloud in a trajectory that wouldn't cause the bullet to drop down on anybody's head, and fired two pairs of two shots, but remained in cover.

Dan followed suit, a short burst later, and the vehicle that came racing along slowed down, the music still blaring. It was so loud, the ground was reverberating around them. Dan let lose another couple of shots, and the vehicle stopped. Pick-up truck. What else. Couldn't see anyone on the back, but that meant nothing. Dan stayed where he was, kept the two guys in check that jumped out of the front, rifles at the ready, and he shouted at the top of his lungs, in his best drill sergeant voice, "Don't shoot! We're British!" Adding, for good measure, and despite the contrary, "We're English!"

Vadim just hoped that his looks wouldn't cause them to think he was just dressed up British, and let Dan have the lead. He'd dealt with insurgents and all kinds of irregulars. Watching as some guys got off the vehicle, thinking, for a long moment, they might have been wrong and these guys might be Serbs or whatever, who had merely tried to appear Bosnian so they could round up the rest and shoot them somewhere. That was when he told himself he was getting hysterical or paranoid, or both. He raised his rifle and stood up, absolutely hating to put himself at the mercy of these guys.

Dan saw what Vadim was doing, and he got up, hands in the air, rifle on show. "Don't shoot!" Thankfully the music was being switched off and the two guys didn't shoot, looking at them with facial expressions that instilled everything but trust. One of them was big, older, he'd been in the driver's seat, holding what seemed an AK, and the other was tall and thin, a young man, hardly more than a kid, but his rifle was rather different, at first glance the long barrel was prominent.

Dan made his way out of the ditch, struggling for a moment, when he threatened to slide back down on the icy ground that slushed vegetation into slippery pulp, when the thin guy said something to the bigger one, who called out towards the back of the truck, and Dan understood only a couple of words. "Come" and "English".

The next moment three heads lifted from the pick up, one of them a teenage girl, and another a boy who could be hardly more than sixteen or seventeen, but it was difficult to tell in a land where everyone had eyes as age-old as that of mothers who'd seen their son and daughters dying. The third seemed an old man, too frail to be fighting, and yet he held a rifle, aiming at them.

The young guy jumped off the truck, holding a rifle trained onto Dan and Vadim, when he addressed them in English. Accented, but better than expected. "Who are you? Why are you here?"

"British mercenaries", said Vadim, lowering his weapon very carefully and slinging it back over his shoulder. "We got lost. Undercover. You understand?" He tried a smile, tried to fit the pieces together, instead noticed the Dragunov sniper rifle in the lanky kid's arms and was stabbed by a moment of envy. He really, really liked that rifle. A fucking life-saver.

Dan looked from one to the other, nodding.

"We met some chetniks down the road." Vadim pointed at the village. "They didn't make it."

"Prove it?" The boy demanded, but Dan shook his head, laughing without humour.

"How? Unless you want to drive back there, there's no way to prove that the kit we stole from them wasn't ours in the first place."

"And they don't wear dog tags that we could have taken as trophies", Vadim added.

The boy frowned and Dan exchanged a glance with Vadim. "Your English is good." The kid pointed at Dan.

"That's because I am fucking British." Moving his hand to his jacket pocket when he suddenly had a thought, Dan stalled, made a placating gesture when rifles were getting too twitchy. "Hang on, just want to show you something." They nodded, the kid said something to the big guy, and Dan pulled out both his map and a couple of chocolate bars. British chocolate bars, Cadbury's dairy milk, couldn't get any more British than that. The kid's eyes almost popped out of his head at the sight. "See?" Dan held the front of the map up, printed in English, "and these chocolate bars, where would you get them here?"

The kid talked rapidly with the big guy, the lanky one added a few words as well, and Dan didn't understand anything, they were talking so fast.

"Okay." The kid finally said and the other two nodded. "We believe you." He was still staring at the chocolate bars and Dan smiled.

"Want them?"

Vadim gave a laugh, typical of Dan to make friends that easily, over a piece of sweets, as Dan generously handed out his chocolate, and even the girl came down from the truck. The rifle seemed far too large for her small frame.

"Can you take us a bit down that road?" Vadim asked. One of them had to remain focused. He pointed at the map. "We need to get back to camp." We shouldn't be here, he thought, but didn't want to tell them that. He didn't want to appear as somebody who'd prefer to sit on their hands and do nothing about the slaughter. Because, in his case, that simply wasn't true.

The big guy nodded, and the lanky one opened his mouth for the first time. "We go town." Pointing along the road. "Come. Come."

Dan looked at Vadim and nodded. The town they were referring to was fairly small and closer to camp. He pointed it out on the map, especially the bridge that connected the town with the hilly forests that stretched all the way down to camp. On the other side of the river.

"Aye, and thanks."

Vadim nodded. "That works for us." He moved to get their kit, slapping Dan's shoulder when he passed him, and loaded himself with both his own and Dan's kit. From the town, it shouldn't be difficult. The terrain was rugged, but unless something had happened to that bridge, it was all within limits, even if he counted in Dan's fucked knees.

Dan climbed into the back of the truck, where the old man nodded at him and the girl just looked, looked with huge dark eyes, and then the boy jumped inside as well.

"I'm Stjepan." The youth flashed a grin at Dan and Vadim, showing off his weapon, like other kids would show off their new walkman. "This is Sanya and over there is Uncle Bocic."

"Dan." Dan smiled a little, "and this is …" hesitating for a moment, realising that a Russian name wouldn't instil much confidence, "everyone calls my friend Rocky." Flashing a quick glance at Vadim, who nodded, stoic, but understanding. He was reasonably confident they wouldn't peg him by his accent. It took more skill at a language to place other non-native speakers.

Stjepan laughed, even though his eyes were never touched by any of these emotions. The music suddenly came on again. Earth shattering loud, but very different to what it had been before. Dan sat up, couldn't believe his ears and turned towards the driver cab. The big guy was looking at him, thumbs up, and grinning from ear to ear, as Jimi Hendrix blared out of what was, indeed, a megaphone strapped to the vehicle.

"'All Along the Watchtower'? Are you lot completely fucking bonkers?" Dan asked no one in particular, when the pick-up started, and he had to dive for something to hold onto, as the car shot forward with screeching tyres.

Vadim shook his head, for moment felt a chill when he remembered the stuff they'd pulled off dead turkeys in Afghanistan. Rock music, like this. Probably the same group or singer, even. He had never cared much for it, but the younger recruits had loved it. He shifted to cover the area behind them, figuring that was the most likely angle of attack.

Yet nothing happened, despite the insanity of playing music that loud, there were no attacks, no one on the road. Racing at top speed towards the town, the girl was drinking from a coke bottle. She offered some to Dan and 'Rocky', who declined. Dan, however, took a sip, the sugar and caffeine kick was a godsend, and then offered his precious cigarettes. The only one who declined was the girl, and despite Stjepan's age, Dan was the last one to argue the kid shouldn't smoke. Existing in a hell like this? Where father had turned against son and neighbours tortured neighbours? He'd hardly die from nicotine induced cancer.

Wedged into the corner behind the cab, Dan let his eyes wander along the hill tops, scanning for anything out of the ordinary, but nothing. Nothing at all, until they came closer to the town, and suddenly there was smoke. Dan prodded Vadim, pointing wordlessly to the signs of fire. Vadim shifted, narrowing his eyes as he peered into the distance. But it was a silent tableau - no way that they could hear anything, not against the music, when they turned a corner and it all became clear from one second to the next.

"Fuck!" Dan yelled, "are you fucking insane?" Staring at the kids, but there was no emotion in their faces, neither in the old man's. Completely stoic, as if they were already dead, or as if the roadblock, the armoured vehicles in the distance and the goddamned shelling that was bombarding the goddamned town that was goddamned under fucking siege was the most normal thing in the world. "Get down! Get the fuck down!" Dan threw himself flat onto the ground, as the pick-up truck raced towards the roadblock.

Vadim contemplated getting out right now, but figured they'd be dead anyway, unless they were incredibly lucky or the old guy knew something they didn't. He pulled in his head, braced, knew he didn't stand a chance of getting out unscathed at this speed. Heading for a direct collision, mind razor sharp and numbed at the same time as adrenaline kicked in. "Fucking bastards", he shouted, as if that changed anything.

Dan kept his head down, felt limbs close by, unable to figure out if it was Vadim or any of the others, as he clung to the side of the pick-up. Jimi Hendrix's guitar was screaming in his ears, the truck speeding along, dangerously veering from side to side, and he counted the seconds before the impact.

It was harsh, and painful. Smashing through the barriers, as bullets went flying, not any longer sure what were guitar riffs and what were fired rounds, the truck lost control, racing in a diagonal line towards a shelled-out building. Lifting his head, only enough to peer over the edge, Dan shouted "Fuck!" They were speeding towards a couple of burnt out cars, and there was no way the driver was still in control, if alive. But he couldn't jump out, he found his leg grabbed by the teenage girl, clinging to him as to life itself.

Vadim gritted his teeth, knew he had to do something, absolutely anything, and acted without thinking much. Sticking his head out entirely too far, he smashed through the separating window with his pistol and knocked out as much of the shards as possible, then reached in, stretching as far as he could to get to the wheel, steadying it, while at the same time using it to pull himself through the window that was never meant to allow passage to a large-framed guy in winter clothes. Hissing as he noticed he'd cut himself, but managed to get most of his body into the driver's cabin, kicking to get his legs in because he couldn't reach the brakes from his position, while the vehicle continued to race, because the dead guys' leg was on it. Vadim pulled the handbrake with all his strength, causing a grinding, screeching sound deep in the engine.

"You fucking lunatic!" Dan forced out, but he knew just as well, that Vadim's crazy stunt was the only chance they had not to get turned into a mess of splintered bones and torn flesh. The truck was veering from side to side, the movements getting more extreme, and it hit the second of the burnt-out cars, the impact enough to make it lose balance. It had slowed down enough to topple over, almost in slow-motion, sliding along the frozen ground on its side, the bottom of the vehicle towards the attackers on the hill, and Vadim was tossed against some of the remaining shards, twisted and turned and bit back a scream - pain, confusion, whatever, he couldn't allow that to affect him.

Dan held onto the railing, as he yelled to the others in the back, "Get out! Get the fuck out!" But the girl didn't react, clinging to both of his legs now, making it impossible to move while the old man was thrown out, and Stjepan jumped, immediately rolling behind cover.

Vadim managed to carefully squeeze free - not into the cabin but through the cabin out of the window, and fell to the ground, in pain, rolling over and readying the rifle. Hoping he wasn't cut up badly, not that the adrenaline would allow him to feel anything much right now. He was in cover, protected by the car, then shouted, "Sitrep?"

No answer, while Dan pulled the girl up and out of the way, propelling her into safety behind the same rubble that the boy had jumped behind. Finally able to move. He looked around himself and found the old man on the ground, blood coating the white hair, his eyes wide open, staring at nothing. "One dead." He jumped out, ensured he took everything with him, while Hendrix kept singing and playing. Why wouldn't that goddamned music stop? "Kids alive." Staying behind cover of the truck, he crawled towards Vadim, and his hand descended onto the other. Heavy. Warm. "You?"

Vadim nodded. "Might need patching up." He glanced up. "Let's go. Out of the fucking kill zone."

"Aye." Dan nodded, "but first …" He moved towards the cab, before Vadim could protest, reaching inside and switching the damned radio off. Only then realising that the lanky kid was still alive. Holding his arm and moaning in pain. "Shit." Calling towards Vadim. "Help me to get him out."

Vadim got to his feet, then noticed blood running down the insides of his camo - predictably. He'd cut himself somewhere in the waist area, left side. Fuck. "I'll get the door, we'll lift him out together." He climbed the side of the car, wrenched the door open, expected a bullet for his misplaced bravery, but none came. He helped Dan lift the kid out, like they'd rehearsed the motions a hundred times, one holding when the other let go. Vadim tensed when the exertion hurt, making the cut open and gape, and he just hoped that no shit had entered the wound. How clean had the glass been? And how deep had it gone?

They were quick, functioning like a well oiled machine. They got the kid behind the barriers, Dan carrying the sniper rifle across his back, when he finally took a moment to look up and around. Stjepan was beckoning to them from the gaping door of what looked like a former department store. Now bombed and shelled, burnt in several areas, but the writing above the now boarded up windows still spoke of the delights of consumerism inside. If only. Dan nodded to Vadim and they hurried inside, leaving the worst of the danger behind them.

It took only a second after they'd laid the lad down in a corner, before Dan drew up to his full height, yelling at Stjepan, "what the fuck were you thinking? You fucking idiots! Fucking damned stupid killers, you …" Finding himself presented with half a dozen rifles, safety off, pointing at both him and Vadim.

"Shshshsh, Dan, easy." Vadim raised his hands and thought, how ironic, getting shot now would be really funny. "Easy." Squinting into the dark, trying to make out who might be in charge - not fucking easy when nobody wore uniforms or any kind of tassel. "We're British mercs. We got lost. We mean you no harm." Raising his arms, he could feel another trickle of blood run down his side. Gaping again.

"Shit." Dan frowned, but raised his hands as well. "You listening? We're not your damned enemies and we sure as fuck didn't mean to get into this bloody situation." Looking at Stjepan with such intensity, that the boy turned to the others and spoke to them, rapidly. Dan hardly understood a word, but the body language was non-threatening, and there was eye contact. The guys finally lowered their weapons, nodding slightly, even though there was no way they trusted the two strangers. Too obvious in their faces, but who was to blame them.

Stjepan came closer, nodding. "It's okay, they believe you, but they ask what you are doing here." Dan glanced at Vadim, nodded slightly, saying without words that he was going to deal with it. And he did, telling the kid what he needed to know, all the parts of the tale that were true but did not discriminate them. He saw from the corner of his eyes that a couple of women were dealing with the lanky kid's arm which appeared to be broken or shot. Stjepan relayed the tale to the others and the wariness gradually vanished from the faces, until they nodded at Dan.

"You got to answer me a question now." Dan was still just as pissed off. "Why the fuck didn't you tell us? Taking us into a besieged town? You are a fucking bunch of bastards!"

Stjepan shrugged, proceeded to take a pouch of tobacco from his jacket pocket, rolling a cigarette. "We need help."

"Really? And what the fuck do you think we can do?" But Dan didn't wait to hear the answer, when he caught something in the corner of his eyes. Vadim. His jacket. Vadim … and blood running down into the BDU's. "Fuck!" he left the kid and turned to the other.

Vadim gave a pained smile. "Yeah. Fuck." Now that the adrenaline was beginning to turn stale, the pain came in. It wasn't too bad, he kept telling himself, couldn't be bad, or he'd be losing more blood. Probably looked worse than it was. "I'll be okay. Just help me to patch that up, will you?" He moved away from the door, put the bergan down. "Light. You have to check whether there's any fibre or other shit in the wounds. And whether it's deep. I can't tell."

"You don't need to tell me." Dan sounded gruff, hiding the concern. "I survived a few years in the fucking mountains, remember?"

"Yeah. Just …" Covering that I'm nervous, Vadim thought. Stick to the rule book, do what's drilled in.

Looking around, Dan noticed an old fashioned full length dressing mirror that must have been in one of the changing rooms once. It tilted and was only half shattered. Going to retrieve it, he manoeuvred Vadim into a corner, close to a shot window, the mirror in tow. "Don't tell me about windows and danger. We need fucking light, you said so yourself." Positioning the mirror so that the daylight reflected at maximum impact, illuminating as much as it could in a fairly large spot.

Vadim stripped out of jacket, vest, shirt, undershirt, baring his upper body to the cold. Checking himself by slightly twisting and prodding at the cuts, before Dan slapped his hands away, which made him huff with laughter.

Vadim figured the belt had prevented him from getting cut up more, but there were several deep scratches along his side, a darkening mark on his ribs - but he could still breathe deeply, so didn't think any bones were broken, just some more or less serious bruising. The most worrying thing was a deep gash in his side, the source of most of the blood. Keeping his back covered, not allowing anybody to see the scars. The alphabet looked too Russian. "Just clean it and sew it up if it's deep. I got bandages." Reaching for his pocket.

"So do I. You just fucking sit still and stop moving." Dan frowned, the best way to keep himself from worrying. Worrying about what? Vadim catching an infection? Vadim catching a cold? Vadim hurting? Vadim getting shot, or Vadim … shit. Always Vadim, but he'd known that all along. Crouching down beside the other, he took his gloves off to check the wound. "I need something strong. Alcohol."

Vadim nodded towards his shoulder bag. "There's a flask of vodka. As always. Never leave the house without it." Voice slightly strained.

"Aye. One of the few things you damned Russkies ever did right."

"Careful", Vadim murmured. "Don't need a lynching on top of this …" Glancing over to the Bosniaks.

"Shit. Yeah." Dan murmured, then rummaged in the bag, pulling out the flask. "You know as much as I do that this will hurt like fuck. Then again it could be worse. I could have to suture it."

Vadim grinned. "Will hurt like a bad fuck. Good fucks hurt in a good way."

"Kinky bastard." Dan growled, but there was something in his voice that was everything but annoyed. Caring. Damn. Fishing in his own pockets for a pack of tissues, Dan leaned close and poured the vodka along the cut, making Vadim tense, hiss and groan. Dan caught the overspill with a tissue, wiping the blood away. Cleaning and sterilising in one go.

"Bad news. It is worse and I have to stitch it." Dan looked up, dark eyes in pale ones. No joke, no banter. "I'll be quick. It's not the first time I've done it."

"Yeah. I figured. Just make sure there's no broken glass in there. Fuck. Where's Dima when you need him?" He shook his head. "He'd tell me to shut the fuck up and stop mewling."

Looking up, Dan's eyes were once more on Vadim. Needle and thread in his hand from his own first aid belt kit, his eyes as serious as before, and his voice calm. "He's in the French embassy."

"What?" Vadim looked up, meeting Dan's eyes with intensity that might be anger or pain. "You took him? Fuck. And I thought …"

"Aye." No more. Not the hundreds of words that needed to be said. Just Dan's eyes and a look that met Vadim's. No point in hiding.

"Okay." Vadim suddenly gave a nod, all that stuff made sense. Dan had followed him, found Dima, brought him away. Played him. He grinned sharply. Dan rarely fooled him, but he'd fooled him about Dima. And Dima, the bastard, had obviously taken the opportunity, and likely fooled Dan into believing he was an innocent, a tourist in this war. Clever bastard. "That's one thing off my mind." Leaving fifteen or so others.

"For now. Unless your friend doesn't stick to the little lie I concocted." Dan shrugged, finally took his eyes off Vadim's face. "Now sit still and stop mewling."

Vadim gave an involuntary laugh, but held still, watching Dan suture him, the needle threading in and out of his flesh, left and right of the gaping cut. Fast, efficient, clearly not the first time he'd done that. Vadim held his breath to make things as easy for Dan as possible, forced himself to take the pain, just accept it, watching the stitching with clinical interest, jaw muscles tight and teeth grinding.

"Done." Snipping the thread off, Dan reached for the sterile bandages, pressing a large pad onto the wound, gesturing for Vadim to take over the pressure, and he did, noticing his hand was cold and sweaty, but steady. "Not as good as a surgeon, but it's not that I haven't scarred you before." Matter-of-factly, while unrolling an elastic bandage to hold the pad firmly into place.

"First time you close the cuts, though." Vadim gave a small smile. He'd like to rest, but if he interpreted the sounds outside correctly, the war there objected to him having some painkillers and a nap.

Dan looked up again, stopped for a moment what he was doing. "Aye. But it seems we're not very good at closing wounds."

"And I'm better at dishing them out than taking them", Vadim murmured, face dark. "I'm such a nutbox."

"I don't argue that point." Finishing off bandaging Vadim's waist, Dan tied the ends securely. "But there's a fucking war out there, and if I'm not mistaken, we'll be minced meat in this place in, ah, a day or so? Happy prospect, eh?" Fishing in his jacket pockets, he pulled out his painkillers. "Here. They should work. Take two."

Vadim frowned, glancing down at Dan's knee. "I'll be alright. Makes me sleepy, I don't like that."

Dan shrugged and ignored the glance, took a couple of painkillers himself, washing them down with a mouthful of water from his bergan, while Vadim stood, slipping back into his clothes. He was getting fucking cold and sharing warmth with Dan wasn't an option. "Urban warfare. My favourite", he murmured, listening to the sounds outside.

"Best get the intel, then." Dan stood up as well, scratching the stubble that was irritating him already. "Hey!" Calling out to Stjepan, "you wanted help? You better tell us what the fuck's been going on here."

The kid reluctantly moved towards Dan, nervously rolling another cigarette, the rifle slung across his back. "Didn't do it deliberately."

"Oh, really?" Dan snorted.

"No!" Frowning, one hand smoothing the frazzled ponytail in his dark hair, "didn't know you were on that road, but ... we need everyone we can get."

"To do what? Die?"

"No …" Stjepan looked around him, furtively, before hardly meeting Dan's eyes. "This is my home town." Quietly.

"And that means exactly what to us?"

"That you'd be just a fucked without us, somewhere on the road, than you are here?" The kid lifted his chin defiantly.

Dan shrugged, "at least we wouldn't be sitting ducks."

"Whatever." Turning away, Stjepan lit his cigarette. "But we wouldn't be, if they didn't hold the bridge."

"What?"

Vadim nodded. "The bridge. If they can shut it down, they might be safe. At least, killing them would be a hell of a lot more inconvenient - until summer, of course."

Dan's head whipped around, he hadn't expected Vadim to stand behind him. Where had his senses gone?

Vadim frowned and looked at the kid. "Is that it?"

Stjepan nodded, but then stalled. "Almost." Truth dragged out like the smoke from his cigarette. "They say we won't hold out any longer than another day, unless a miracle happens. But we can't cross that bridge, anyone who tries gets shot down."

"Fuck." Dan let out, heartfelt. "Frying pan into the fire."

"It's a kill zone, from what I've seen on the way in", said Vadim, anger carefully guarded. "Wasn't much, didn't have the time to get a feel for the place." His lips tightened. "I need to borrow that rifle. The Dragunov." He pointed to the kid with the broken arm. "And we might have to hold out till nightfall. But we can deal with that bridge. The C4 you have should be enough to blast it away." He looked at Dan. "Fancy some dirty spec ops stuff that's against the rules of engagement, deep in enemy territory?"

Dan lifted his head, thinking, judging, already going through all the options available to them. When he met Vadim's gaze a slow and utterly dangerous smile was spreading across his face. "What do you think I've been doing most of my life?"

"Hm. Wait. Maybe dirty spec ops stuff that's against the rules of engagement and deep in enemy territory?"

The kid seemed confused, when Dan laughed, but Dan waved him off to get the sniper rifle for Vadim, explaining how 'Rocky' had been a sniper, back in the days, and how this really was the best idea of them all.

"Right." Dan sat down in a corner, shielded away from the rest of the men and women. There were more people than they'd first thought.

Vadim started to clean the Dragunov. Just like the AK, the Dragunov was a fairly forgiving weapon, sturdy as hell and reliable to boot, but he had no idea through whose hands the rifle had passed and he was giving it a good clean, taking it apart and wiping it all down, scraping away dirt and grime like in the old days. Calmed his mind, cleared it, made life look simple, mechanical.

"Been thinking about this shit." Dan was spreading out some of the food. All they had left was a handful of sandwiches, and the precious water. "I'd like to kill the whole fucking lot of those for getting us in this situation, but that won't do. Second best plan is, what do those bastards outside expect the least?"

"A counter-attack?" Vadim glanced up while his fingers connected the first part to the second, a gentle, soft, tender click announced that the Dragunov responded to his care. "My guess is, they have a sniper or two. I can probably deal with the bastard. If you don't have artillery or air support, get a good sniper to take out the enemy sniper. I can do that. Not rocket science, just a waiting game."

"Aye." Dan grinned, as feral as in the days of Mad Dog and his suicide operations. "They don't seem to have the heavy guns out, either. I saw armoured vehicles and RPGs. There's shelling going on and possibly some light tanks from what I can make out. Nothing serious, eh?" He laughed, entirely humourless. Handing a sandwich to Vadim, who placed it on a thigh and continued putting the rifle back together. "Nothing I haven't dealt with before." In Afghanistan. On the 'other' side. "If we draw their attention to this bit …" Dan made a swift sweeping gesture in the grime on the floor, a defence line, the front of the town, a hundred yards away from where they were, "they'll be forced to take their focus off the bridge, and voila, Bob's yer Uncle."

"And how, short of calling in the cavalry, are you going to do that? I mean, sending the poor bastards out to attract the sniper so I can spot him is not one of the options …"

"Good old Molotovs." Dan smirked, biting into his own sandwich, which tasted like cardboard. "Remember the 70s? All those damned hippie protestors? Throw a Molotov at a vehicle, and if you feel really lucky, add some soap powder to it, and it'll stick, drawing out any rat. They open the hatch and wham you splatter their fucking brains like you splattered those villagers', back in the mountains." Glancing around himself. "Let's face it, there doesn't seem to be anything worth saving in this place. So, burn the front," making dots along the line he'd drawn with a finger, "here, here and here, will get them really confused and worried." He was chewing for a moment, before his eyes lit up, even more feral than before, "and the fucking idiot with his music? How much, you think, would those bastards appreciate a dose of ear-drum splitting Hendrix? Mighty confusion, aye? While we operate under cover of the noise."

Vadim grinned. "Beats flanking them and killing their guards and as many as possible in the dead of the night until somebody wakes up and we end up lynched. Not by much, mind you, but at least we won't be cold."

Dan snarled, his grin was so nasty it hardly resembled a human emotion. "And in the meantime? We get the survivors across the bridge. Leaving plenty of time for us to head over ourselves and then blow the bridge up." Shoving the rest of the sandwich into his mouth, his last words were mumbled. "What do you think? Now they just have to buy it."

"I'm game. I don't mind taking the survivors with me on the way out. If they join us, cool, if not, nothing we can do. We can't force these guys. Fuck, we likely can't even protect them once we got them out. Or what do we do with the poor fuckers?"

"What we do with them? That's not the question, because we need them." Dan washed his food down with a couple of mouthfuls from the precious water. "You never had to work with a bunch of ragtag, unorganised individuals before, did you? It was all orders, conform, duty for you, but we can't send out cannon fodder this time, we haven't got any. We have to convince these people here, because we need them. This is not a one-man show, not even a two-man one. We can't do it alone, as much as that might irk."

"Oh fuck", groaned Vadim. "Okay. Okay. You've done this job, and yes, I've tried to bring some skills to a bunch of goat herders, but that was the Afghan secret police, and those guys … were a different kettle of fish. And besides, I didn't like that part of the job very much." Another piece of the Dragunov clicked into place, and Vadim checked it, making sure everything was in the best order possible, all moving parts smooth and well-greased. "I just won't let this place kill me. Whatever it takes."

"That's my intention as well." Dan grinned, "so, we are clear, I convince them and you stand behind me, running the show together, aye? I can't do it without you, I'm not a fucking sniper, never was, just a good shot." Dan shook his head, "and you got the discipline, while I got …" he flashed another feral grin, "something like 'creative chaos'." He was repacking his bergan, glancing over to Stjepan, who sat crouched beside the teenage girl. His sister? Who knew, but whatever had happened to that girl, Dan was wondering if her eyes could be anymore dead even if she lay buried beneath the ground.

Vadim merely glanced at the girl - it just wouldn't do to think of his Anya, or go all soft and mushy and fatherly, because, yes, fuck, father was a word that bit too fucking deep right now. "You convinced me."

"Aye, now we just got to convince them …" and with that Dan stood up and walked over to the kids, followed by Vadim who felt his wound. It would get a lot worse before it got better, but he was, above all, operational.

Stjepan looked up when Dan stopped in front of him. "We have a plan."

The kid frowned, "Yeah? To get us all out?"

"Yeah." Dan echoed, " it was you who thought 'we need help' was a fucking good excuse to get us into this shit. Why the hell did you even go back? This is insanity." Making a sweeping gesture towards the outside.

"Our families are still here." Stjepan pushed his lower lip out, to all intents and purposes sulking, and looking no older than the sixteen or seventeen that he was. "At least what's still left of them."

Dan glanced at Vadim for a moment, who gave the smallest of nods. "Okay, and how many people are still here? In all?"

"About a hundred?" Stjepan shrugged. "Most of them are elderly or kids. Everyone else has been fighting, was shot, or was pulled out before the chetniks came."

"Where are they hiding?" Dan looked around, couldn't see any of those Stjepan described.

"In the cellars. This town is old, despite the buildings here. It's middle ages in the centre, and most of the buildings have cellars that are connected."

"Are they now …" Dan glanced at Vadim again, a small smile spreading across his face when an idea came to him. "So, that means you can move around the town without having to surface?"

"Not all of it." Stjepan shook his head. "The buildings at the waterfront are destroyed, no exit there. Some parts, though, yes. It's a bit like rats in a tunnel." He shrugged, fishing for his tobacco.

"Rats in a tunnel." Vadim gave a grin. "Best piece of news I've heard all day. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" He looked at Dan, who smirked back at him.

"Vietnam, eh? Buildings, not jungle."

"Exactly. Urban combat with tunnels. I love it already. And that's why they didn't take the city yet. They're not risking losses. I think … I'm dying for a proper tour of this place."

"Sounds like a good idea, right after I've explained our plan."

"Plan?" Stjepan got up slowly, lighting his thin stick of a cigarette, while Sanya remained sitting on the ground, pretty much as before. Her facial expression never changing.

"Aye. What's the last thing those bastards out there expect?"

Stjepan shrugged, "no idea?"

"Attack, of course. They think this place is just about to fall, and you know this is true as well as they do. How much longer can you hold out? What about your ammo, food, water, the wounded?"

"We would have taken them out, but we can't!" Stjepan frowned, reacting as defensively as if Dan had accused him of anything. "The chetniks have the bridge under control. Day and night, everyone who tried to cross it got shot, and those who tried to swim to the other side, never made it. The currents are too strong."

"Aye, but they haven't destroyed the bridge, right? Even though they could. If they can snipe anyone who's on it, they can shell the whole construction."

"They need it."

Dan grinned, and it was a truly frightening smile. "Exactly. That's why we have to get their attention away from the bridge."

"But how?"

"As I said, by attacking them from the front."

"You are insane!" Stjepan looked at Dan as if he'd sprouted a second head.

"Maybe, but … Rocky and I here, are both ex-SAS. We're the best chance you've got, and if you don't take it, you'll be dead by morning, together with everyone in those cellars, once the town has been taken. Or do you really think the chetniks are going to take them to a safe place?"

Stjepan said nothing, but his facial expression spoke volumes, looking across to the teenage girl for a long moment. Finally shaking his head.

"Right." Dan nodded. "Now that we understand each other, you got to convince the others. In the meantime we'll figure out the details of the plan."

"What details?"

"You think we just go out there and shoot at their goddamned tanks? Hardly." Dan let out a sound, close to a laughter but none of the humour. "Just trust me, We've got it all sorted."

"Okay." Stjepan nodded once. "I'll talk to them." He was off within the next moment, over to a group of men.

Dan turned to look at Vadim, lowering his voice, as he grinned wryly. "Guess I better come up with the plan now, aye?"

Vadim gave a smile. "A map would be good. A tour, too. We should have the afternoon and evening for the decisions, plans, and preparation." Glancing around again. "I'm in the right mind to draw them in and slaughter them in the tunnels."

"That's suicidal." Dan frowned, then scratched the stubble on his jaw. It itched, and it was more than just a beard shadow after a day and night. "Then again, it might be a last resort."

"Yeah. If we can't make it out."

Dan walked back to their bergan, sitting down and waiting for Vadim. "We have to disable their tanks first. Fortunately they are shitty little things, nothing like ours, and no way they are airtight, so drawing them out with smoke and fire should work." He gestured behind him, outside to the wrecks in the street. "How much petrol you think is left in those? There seemed to be quite a few and not all were burnt out." Flashing a grin, "and I'd wager there's some soap or washing powder still flying around, same for bottles … and rags should be in plenty supply."

"Yeah. And we can move around looking for that stuff without drawing the sniper's fire. Unless you want me to try and locate him and shoot him while you gather the ingredients."

"You think it's only one? I don't. Still, damn, getting to the cars means we'd have to be moving in daylight. If you could …" Dan pondered, didn't finish the sentence while drawing idly with his fingers in the dust on the ground. "My plan is to get everyone who's fit enough to gather the supplies, using those cellar systems. If there are about a hundred people left, they can't be all too young or too old to siphon petrol, find soap powder, gather bottles, fill them, and stuff them with rags, ready to be thrown when we've drawn the tanks close. But we need a distraction for our movements …" Dan sucked on his teeth. "Of course, we'd have to rig up good old Jimi, from as high as possible, directing the sound at them. There must be some sort of equipment left in this place that isn't shot to pieces. Speakers, anything. This was a department store, after all. That should bloody well distract and confuse those bastards."

"Yes. And they can't cover all the town. I don't think it's a dozen snipers - their priority is the bridge, obviously, and if they can take pot-shots at people moving through the streets too close, excellent. I'd love to see a muzzle flash so I can pinpoint at least one of them."

"That's sorted, then. I draw one of them out, you kill him. Easy." Dan let out a huff, but he was deadly serious. "That should worry them, make them even more ready to send all they have when we attack." A slow grin began to spread. "We need light. If we burnt down the corner buildings, encouraging the fire to spread along the front row, but keeping the second one free … that should give us enough time to confuse them completely, and enough light for you to shoot them like rats when they get out of their smoking tanks in blind panic. I've seen it before, it worked with you lot, why not with them."

"Yeah. Reduced visibility and the slow movements. Tanks in cities - bad idea." Vadim grinned. "I can do that. No big deal."

"I bet once they start dropping they'll get their artillery all the way to the front, leaving the bridge alone, and the people can leave under cover of darkness. Their town burning in the front, while we cover up any suspicious sounds with the music. That tape must still be in the truck."

"Yeah. Let's get it when it's dark. We can rig the front row buildings with petrol and gas and whatever they have. To keep the fire where we want it. Determine which area we're going to burn to the ground."

Dan nodded. "Seems you have more experience in that. I leave the buildings to you. In the meantime …" he pondered a moment, "I got to rig the bridge with the C4. If we don't blow it up after we're all across we won't make it very far. Just trying to figure out the best time. I need light, but so does the sniper." But of course, that was it, "unless we combine those two. Thoughts?"

Vadim frowned. "Draw their fire and kill them. So you … stand a chance with that bridge." He rubbed his face. "They'll likely notice some activity here, means the snipers will be watching. But I need them to fire so I can take them out. We need something that draws their fire."

"Here in the front or near the bridge?"

"Depends where the snipers were active before. I'd need their pattern. Hey, Stjepan!" He stood and walked over to the youth, who turned towards him and away from an ever growing group of men. "Tell me everything about the snipers on the other side. How many did they kill? Where? What time of day? Can you show me?"

"Not sure, but …" Stjepan looked over at Dan, who remained sitting in the corner, going through the plan, step by step. They only had one chance to get out, and a handful of untrained people to execute the plan.

"Won't you tell us your plan first? Ivo can show you," pointing to a man who seemed to be in his twenties and who nodded at Vadim. "He speaks English, too, but most of the men said they won't do anything that crazy unless they know what exactly your plan is. How are you going to attack them? That sounds completely insane."

"Ever heard the term disproportionate warfare? We'll do that. Guerrilla tactics, if you like. We'll build a trap and hurt them. When they move in to crush us, we'll hurt them more, confuse them, and get you people out. But first, I need to deal with the snipers. And that means, I need to know where they are. To do that, you need to show me their work."

"Okay …" Stjepan looked more intimidated than convinced, when Dan came sauntering over.

"Rocky is right, and you better do what he tells you. If he says he needs to see the sniper's activities, then he does." Dan smiled, back to easy-going, friendly Mad Dog. Soothing frayed nerves and knitting a troop together, like he had done, back in another country and life. "In the meantime, I explain my plan in detail. I do it once, because we are running out of time, but then I need to get everyone to gather here, who is capable of moving around. Everyone, you get me? Except for those who are too old and infirm, or too young, or wounded. We'll only make it if we all pull together. Is that clear?" He was still smiling, but there was no room for debate. "We got to start now, so I suggest Ivo goes out with Vadim, who then deals with the snipers, while we start with what I've just explained." He looked from one of the men to the other. Drawn faces, hardened, no hope in their eyes. "Any questions?" Silence, until a voice piped up from the ground. A girl's voice.

"Yes. I … I do."

Dan turned towards the teenage girl, Sanya, nodding to her with a smile, as she stood up. Still no expression in her face. "Go right ahead."

"Can I help killing them?"

Dan glanced at Vadim for a second, because he had suddenly lost his voice, and no idea what to answer. The way she said it, the way those dead eyes looked at him, that way spoke too much of what had happened to her and he felt his throat constrict.

Vadim looked at her, and the thought of Anoushka was there, but only for a moment. They should have killed her when they'd done whatever they'd done. He didn't even want to speculate. Vadim gave her a nod. "You will help killing them. Every little thing we do will help defeat them. It's clockwork. Every piece helps move another piece. If the machine works and we can do that, we will win. And survive. We will hurt them, and we'll kill several of them, but most of all", he gave a grin, "we will make them very, very afraid."

She nodded with absolute seriousness. "Good." Then she crouched back down on the floor, leaning against the wall.

The atmosphere had somehow changed, because the young man, Ivo, stepped forward without being prompted again. "Show you." He said to Vadim, while the others turned to Dan, who started to explain exactly what their plan was, with Stjepan translating.

Vadim gave Dan a long glance and a wave, picked up the Dragunov, then followed the young man. It was as he'd assumed. Moving carefully through tunnels, with Ivo pointing out where some of the victims lay in the snow, blood sprays visible that had frosted over and, most crucially, bullet holes in walls and pavement. Something of a map formed in Vadim's head.

He took position in one of the houses, perching in a window close to where two of the victims had been felled, and scanned the enemy position through his own sniper scope. He was relatively sure what area they were roughly in. Two snipers, if he wasn't wrong, with overlapping areas that they covered - the entry and middle of the town, and he assumed one was considerably higher than the other, judging from the angle that his shots came in. Both snipers had to be in touch to coordinate - probably by radio - or there might be a conflict of which of them would shoot if something went on in their respective kill zones. That factor was hard to determine, and guesswork alone, but he assumed the one on higher ground was an old hand, always going for the perfect shot, while the other was brasher, probably younger, and less well-trained, less disciplined, because it was him that had made a lot more holes into the pavement and walls than in people. Maybe the brash sniper was younger, had to prove himself - too eager to show his worth, his shooting was more machismo than military. The old hand needed to go first, the other one could be made to make a mistake.

Vadim nodded to Ivo. "We're going back."

"Are you not shooting?"

"Pointless. Won't be able to see them. They need to shoot first. But that's just a waiting game. It all happens here." Vadim tapped his temple. "Like chess playing, you know?"

Dan, in the meantime, had managed to convince the assembled men of his plan, and they'd gone out to gather everyone who was able bodied enough to help carry out what needed to be done. When Vadim returned, there were about fifty people in the back of the department store, getting divided up by ability into groups. Dan was sending the first ones off to scour the remaining houses, ruins and cellars for anything soapy, preferably washing powder, and to find bottles and rags as well. A group remained, including Sanya and Stjepan, who were willing to do the far more dangerous task of siphoning the petrol from the car wrecks.

"Found out what you were looking for?" Dan turned towards Vadim, a couple of lads standing close to him.

"I'm considering whether I kill the bitches or try to just cripple them." Vadim glanced around. "One of them is good. The other's just a good shot." He began to walk, thinking, expecting Dan to follow him, and he did, after signalling to the lads to wait a moment for him. "The young guy operates the front of the town, that way." Vadim pointed. "If we get one of the mannequins through the tunnel into this house, that window, and open the shutters, it will be irresistible to him. He'll shoot. If I'm in the house there", he pointed again. "I can locate the muzzle flash and see him take out the mannequin. I'll shoot him once he moves … even if he's just going for a piss or a hot tea. I'm thinking I could shoot him in the legs. That could upset the old guy, further up the mountain, and he'll try to snipe me. Now, if we rig a sniping position and fake a muzzle flash … or something, like a glint he can see, he'll try to shoot me, and I'll be able to locate him, and take out that bastard, too. It's not … very sophisticated, but the best I can come up with, right now."

"It sounds like a brilliant plan to me." Dan grinned, waving Stjepan over. "Time to get it in place straight away, because we can't siphon the petrol before you haven't at least taken out the closest sniper." Turning to the kid, he explained to him what Vadim needed, a dummy, dressed up, and taken to the house Vadim had indicated. Stjepan nodded, and waved to another couple of guys to help him.

"You take Rocky with you, and set everything up, while I get those two clever clogs over there," Dan pointed at the two lads, "to rig up the speaker system. They claim they know how to do it and that they know where to find usable batteries."

"Of course - in the cars." Vadim tipped his head in a mock salute and Dan grinned. "Operation Sniper Duel has a 'go', then." He gave a laugh and nodded towards the kids. "And now we'll kill a man who thinks himself a god."

Vadim knew about the god complex of snipers - he'd done it often enough. This was a young god that still got very excited when pulling the trigger. He helped the kids carry part off the mannequin to the house, watched them dress it, as he peered through the shutters. The angle was right, he was sure.

"Okay. When you open the shutter, do it from here." Vadim kept against the wall, indicating a very careful motion to push the shutters apart, with a discarded broom stick. "Don't expose yourselves. Not even for a second. The shutter movement will wake him up - if he sees anything that looks human - any shape, he'll fire. You guys got watches? Check the time. And give me thirty minutes before you do anything. Okay?"

They nodded eagerly, showed him their watches, and he made sure they actually ran, and found an encouraging, 'fatherly' smile somewhere, knowing they trusted him to take out the death from afar. There was something grim about it, though. These kids had grown old before their time, and what should have been a kid's game was now war. "Good. After the shot, stay exactly where you are, I'll pick you up and we return together."

Vadim then headed off, out of the building, through the backyard, found a window that had never had any shutters. He pulled two tables close, ignored the devastation inside, and lay flat on the tables, legs spread, rifle against his cheek, peering through the scope. Waiting. Breathing. Twenty minutes gone. Reaching with his mind to the young man he'd kill, trying to prompt him to move. Scanning the mountain opposite, where, somewhere in the snow, in the undergrowth, the sniper had to be, alert, waiting for his shot.

He breathed, slow and steady, damned cold. Twenty-seven. He blinked, forced himself to focus, but he covered the whole area. Twenty-eight. Vadim smiled to himself to relax, imagined he was a tree, with roots reaching for the stone beneath, taking root in the hill, deeper and deeper, imagined his breath flow.

A shot rang out, the flash almost directly opposite. Vadim peered through the scope. And a second shot, from the same location. He saw him, saw something move. He'd likely been covered under a white plane or something that blended into the snow, but here he was, the shape of a man, head, shoulders, rifle. Vadim's eyes narrowed, but he continued to watch, saw the enemy move, raise the rifle - likely a Dragunov in these parts - and get up. Damned difficult shot, but Vadim's finger touched the trigger now, found the point, then, calm, collected and deeply focused, he tapped the trigger, twice. His vision blurred, he didn't have a spotter to confirm the kill, didn't matter, because the snow showed the man in stark contrast, still moving, squirming, blood gushing around the snow. Likely screaming, but Vadim could only imagine the scream. Too well. Thigh wound. Godhood had ended.

He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them to check the mountain, maybe the old guy lost his composure now. Nothing. No movement. Instead, people came rushing up the mountain. Three. Vadim gave a grim laugh, and picked them out like deer, the snow offered very little protection. First one received one of the cleanest head shots Vadim had ever achieved, the next one rushed for cover and was hit somewhere in the chest, the third dove for cover behind a tree, and Vadim could imagine the pure terror that had to course through the chetnik's veins. He reloaded, adjusted the rifle just a little, getting a better feeling, and placed a bullet at the guy's feet, right next to the tree. The man lost his courage, went for a mad dash, and was struck down like lightning by the next shot.

Meanwhile, Dan had sent the kids off to scour the department store, and anywhere else they could think of, looking for cables, speakers, and electrical equipment. He'd been adamant that they were not to venture outside, but stay within the cellar system. He had only been drawing up plans and positions for about twenty minutes, when they returned, arms full with car batteries, rolls of cables and everything else he could have dreamed of. "Where the fuck did you find that?"

The lads were looking at him with undisguised pride at their resourcefulness. "Milan's uncle had garage." They even produced a soldering iron and Dan began to grin like a lunatic once more. Just what he'd needed.

"In that case, I let you get on with it. You know what we need, loudspeakers. I'll get the megaphone and the cassette player from the car, plus the tape, when Rocky's dealt with the snipers." It was hard at first to remember the false name, but became easier with every step towards the attack. Easier, but also more anxious, as he kept listening for sound of shots outside, and heard them, waited, trusting Vadim's skills. He'd seen those skills in action, on the other side, now they would work for their own.

The lads scampered off again, hastily talking to each other, and Dan wondered for just a moment if they were friends, or brothers, cousins, or maybe simply two of the last few survivors.

Vadim, upstairs, heard another shot, and the wall next to him had grown a hole. He rolled off the tables, which made his fresh wound protest, and he cursed. The old hand. A friendly tap, just to keep him on his toes. The other sniper had shown him he knew from where he'd shot, but couldn't get him from that angle. Good. Vadim gave a short laugh. "Damn, comrade. I'd love to play with you. Guess I will."

Dan finished his work, drawing out the positions, when the first scouring-hunters were coming back. Some laden with bottles, others carrying bundles of rags, and yet others brought remains of broken-up furniture. The second group, armed with bowls, bottles and tubing, was eager to go out to the car wrecks, but Dan held them back. Explaining they were not going to venture out before Rocky had returned and declared the area as safe as possible. He, however, was not listening to his own advice, and when the two lads returned, carrying every speaker they had been able to find in the short space, he explained to them where he needed the music system to be set up. After telling the others they'd need a lot more burning material, he flashed a grin when he told them he'd be outside for a second.

No one reacted, because he was at the doorframe before anyone cottoned on. The truck was close, all he needed to do was crawl or sprint to it without getting shot. Easy. Shit. No more than a couple of steps, but he knew the score. Still, if he waited it might be too late, darkness would come soon, and he could possibly help draw out whoever Vadim still needed. He got onto his knees, then further down, and belly-crawled across the frozen ground. His jacket as non-descript as the ground, concrete and dust, debris and dirt, and he'd just have to trust.

Vadim was about to pack the rifle, when he saw something move down below. What the fuck? He cursed, tried to get a better look at what was moving, thought it was somebody crawling. Fuck. He took the rifle, raced upstairs, looking for a window that faced the right direction. Breathless with tension, he knocked the glass out of one, only to find his vision blocked by the roof. Fuck. Stay down, he thought. Get the fuck away. Hoping he'd seen this wrong and it wasn't Dan. His plan gone to hell with this. Fuck. Fuck! He climbed out of the window, moved onto the roof, exposing himself, yes, what the fuck, down on his belly, gazing out, saw something move up on that hill, and had hardly lined up the rifle when he snapped a quick shot, to draw the sniper's attention if he was unlucky, or wound him, if he was lucky, but at least draw him away from Dan.

A shot rang out, a roof tile exploded at the same time, next to Vadim's shoulder, and Vadim moved the muzzle, a fraction of a degree, and shot, almost blind. Awaiting the impact any moment, imagined a headshot like a quick burn and then darkness. He didn't breathe, awaited his death, tried to see the other man, vision blurred with stress and sweat running in his eyes. Nothing. No burn. No darkness. No exploding tiles. Then, he made out the rifle, and behind it, the slumped form of a man. Not shooting. He didn't move, didn't squirm, didn't fire anymore.

Vadim rolled over onto his back, slid down a little, hoped that he hadn't been wrong, but the stress came in full force. He moved a little to the side, peered again, located the man, and shot him once more. No movement. Corpse. "Fuck me", he muttered. "That was … lucky."

Dan had heard the shots and remained absolutely still. When nothing more happened he moved again. Still nothing. Not a sound, and he increased his speed, feeling the perceived safety like a dram of whisky warming his belly. He was at the truck, squeezed through the window, and ripped out everything that he needed. Using the all-tool he always wore in his belt kit, he got the stereo out, pocketed the tape, and proceeded to unscrew the megaphone, while sweating in the cold. It took no more than five to ten minutes before he crawled back out again. Crouching, waiting, but nothing happened, and he legged the two steps across the pavement and back inside, laden with everything he needed.

Vadim, dizzy with rage, climbed back into the room, down the stairs, so angry he felt his pulse painfully in the cut in his side, and he ran down, moving like during an exercise when every step, everything was timed. Rushed out and into the other house, up the stairs to get to the kids, who stared at him when he suddenly appeared. "He's dead. Let's go." Only then did he see the mannequin, cleanly executed in head and torso, plastic twisted in the summer dress she wore. Realized it must have scared the kids shitless to see the mannequin being shot like that and toppled, the force kicking the figure over a yard back and to the ground. "Let's go!", he repeated, sharper, and drove them before him as he stormed back, seething with rage.

Dan had made it inside, handing the treasures over to one of the lads. The kid vanished with everything they needed, and Dan turned to his bergan, fishing for one of his few remaining fags.

Vadim came back in, seeing Dan in the corner, starting to smoke. He mustered enough control to hand the Dragunov to one of the kids, wordlessly, then crossed the distance to Dan, who was looking at him, smiling, but Vadim was in so much anger he didn't know what he was doing. He wanted to attack Dan, punch him, kick him, make sure he was alright, instead, he pushed him towards the wall with both hands against his shoulders, and Dan was far too taken by surprise to react in time. Losing the cigarette out of the corner of his mouth, as he was pinned effectively against the wall. "You stupid bastard!" Vadim shouted at him, switching into Russian. "You bastard almost got me fucking killed! Is that your solution to the problem? Getting me offed?"

"What?" Eyes wide, Dan stared at him, uncomprehending. Not even getting at first that Vadim had switched to Russian and that a couple of the men across the room had looked up.

"Moving? In his fucking kill zone? I wasn't ready for the shot. I wasn't fucking ready, and you move right into his area, you stupid fuck. Bastard almost got both of us, if I hadn't drawn his fire. The shot was this close. Closer than you are now." Vadim was staring right in Dan's eyes, seething with rage. And Dan stared back. Dark eyes transfixed in those pale ones.

Dan didn't move. Didn't shout. Didn't fight, just moistened his suddenly dry lips. "Don't speak Russian." Quietly. No more. Immobile. Wanted to say a lot more … and couldn't. Too sick in the stomach. He couldn't even find a quip. No 'but it worked', and neither rage to counter the fury.

Vadim slowly closed his eyes and hung his head, defeated by the calm, that sick feeling to his stomach, touching Dan and being so fucking angry and scared, as the fear suddenly overwhelmed the anger, and he shuddered, feeling cold.

"You want to hit me again?" Dan murmured, still not moving. "You want to get it out of your system this time? You want to punish me for …" he hesitated, closing his eyes, not giving a fuck where they were, who was there, and what the hell had happened. And he finally said it, because it could have been too late already. "… for a betrayal I never committed?"

Katya. Dan. Dan and Katya. Vadim wanted to move away and keep touching Dan, wanted to claw into him, wanted to be held, wanted to break his neck and just rest his head against Dan's shoulder. "Don't … not … not now. You did it. You both just did it. You were … fucking my wife while they broke my mind. Katya always had to have my men …" He swallowed, shaking his head. "But you … why did you do that?"

No movement. "Because she blackmailed me." Facts, how pitiful they sounded in the grey light of day. "The price to pay for delivery." Breathed in, eyes still closed, "the story. Your father." So much more to say, but when it came down to it, what else was there? "She needed a sperm donor. There and then. And I had come begging for a favour." The hardest thing he'd ever done in his life, but that, that was classified information. Finally a movement. One shoulder shrugged, when Dan's eyes opened and he whispered, "fucking Krasnoradas and just taking what they want. Aye?"

Vadim coiled back like hit in the face, staggering, the sparse words suggested the story, and the last thing a punch to the gut. Rape. What he'd done, what Katya had done, what they'd both done. To Dan. He stood there, breathless, wordless, unable to absorb the shock, mind just blank with fear and nausea, and he noticed he was shaking. Bonkers, going insane. He shook his head, tried to force himself back towards a place he could deal with, felt helpless like he'd just awoken from a nightmare. One of the bad ones.

Dan was looking at him. Silent for a long time, until that shoulder shrugged once more. "It doesn't matter. Not now." He wanted to say 'you never gave me a chance', but he didn't. All that had been done had been done, and everything that needed to be said had been said. Accusations were pointless. "All that matters is to survive." Still just looking at Vadim, Dan offered a small smile. "And I'm sorry. I guess I was too fucking cocky out there. Not used to working as a team."

Vadim nodded, dumbstruck, inhaled deeply, then managed to think clearly enough to sit down in the corner, reach for one of the water bottles, and drink. Trying to wash away the taste of stale adrenaline and bitter fear. "Just … stick to the plan next time", he murmured, voice raw.

Dan nodded, the spell broken when Vadim moved away and he stooped down, looking for his fag that had rolled to the side. Relighting what was left, he inhaled deeply. "Time for the troops to siphon the petrol?"

"Yeah." Vadim looked at the other people, who regarded him with more hostility now. And wasn't that ironic. "Wounded the first sniper, killed three guys that were trying to help him. I doubt he'll live, unless they get him out. Thigh wound. Looked nasty. The other one is dead."

Dan nodded again. "Damn good work. I get them to get going now." But Stjepan stopped him before he reached the group.

"What's wrong?" Stjepan glanced at Vadim. "Problems? Did he speak Russian? We don't understand, thought you were English?"

"We are." Dan didn't even twitch at the lie. Neither of them was, technically. "It's a long story, and we really don't have time for that. Just … we have a lot of history. Many years." Turning his head to glance at Vadim, still in the corner, Dan managed a small smile to calm the kid and the rest of them. "We saved each other's lives, just that out there, a few minutes ago, he saved mine, because I was a dumbfuck."

Stjepan's brows creased, the last word didn't seem to make sense, but Dan just slapped his shoulder. "Don't worry. All that counts is that he's killed both snipers and a few of the others, so we can go out and continue. Let's get as much petrol as we can, but be careful. Doesn't mean they haven't got anyone else who could blast you to kingdom come." Nodding towards the outside, "besides, the last thing you want is for them to get an idea of what we are planning, right?"

Stjepan nodded. "I understand." Even though he didn't look as if he did, but it was of no consequence as long as he did what needed to be done.

"Off with you, then. I'll rig the bridge in the meantime."

Vadim raised a hand. "Dan. Wait till it gets dark. Or rather…" glancing out of the window. "Darker than this. If they have a decent shot or two, they can still take you out, and I …" am shaking. "I'll cover you. But wait."

Dan turned back, regarding Vadim for a moment. "I've done scarier shit than this." Looking through the window, nailed shut, with several gaps in places, but he always stayed just that step within cover. Force of habit. "If it is too dark I can't do it. I need to get into the foundations below, or it won't get destroyed." Shaking his head, "I have one stick of C4, if it isn't just right it does fuck all." He turned back to Vadim, regarding him for another moment. "What do you suggest instead? Rigging the buildings for burning? You can do that without me. Checking the sound system? The lads are working on it, and we can't work on the Molotovs before the others return."

Vadim nodded, hands closed into fists, because he didn't trust them to be steady. Which was scary. He wasn't sure he could shoot now, and he knew he had to pull it together. Dan did it with his fucked legs all the time, so why couldn't he? "I'll have a look at the buildings. Got an idea for the layout. There's some wood around, broken-up furniture. It should burn well. If I take that … that first shooting position, I should cover you when you do the bridge." He slowly got to his feet again, jaw muscles tense. "Coming down", he murmured. "Getting there. Just … needed five."

Dan looked behind him, but everyone seemed to be busy. Then back at Vadim, and it finally dawned on him what he was actually looking at. "Got a moment spare?"

"Sure. Not going anywhere."

"Good." Walking a couple of steps away, Dan looked behind him, expecting Vadim to follow, as he picked his way through the rubble into the next room, smaller than the first, and then another, which led to what he'd been looking for. Back in the far corner were what had been changing rooms, and he steered towards the furthest one, which luckily still had most of its door. Holding it open for Vadim.

Vadim walked through, hands still clenched, tension around his shoulders, neck, back, and he moved against the wall, looking at Dan. Expecting anything. More nasty revelations, a full blown attack, a heart-to-heart talk, as English-speakers called it.

Dan closed the door behind them, the stall was small, just enough space for two large men to turn. Facing Vadim, he looked at him for a moment. "There's something I really fucking missed in the last weeks." Cocking his head, he let out a small huff. "In fact, it's two things, but I really don't think it's the time and place for my usual favourite."

Vadim raised his head, looked at him squarely, but calm, on the outside at least, lips moving into a small smile as he gazed at Dan, who stepped closer, resting a hand on his shoulder, then another. Pressing in, a mirror image of earlier, and yet nothing like it. "But somehow …" Dan's voice had dropped, "I think I missed this even more. Must be getting old." He let his head move forward, until his lips touched Vadim's, and his own opened, inviting in return.

Vadim's hands moved to Dan's waist, pulled him closer, lips opening as well, hands flat against Dan's back, inviting the taste and smell. Dan. Had missed him too much, despite the anger that had kept him away, that had even kept the need and lust away. "I …" pulling his lips away a bit, breaking the kiss, "can't see … can't see you die, okay? Don't take any more needless risks. I can't see it. Don't make me."

"I can't not take any risks, though." Murmured, Dan smiled, so close, Vadim's face was a blur before his eyes. "But I give you my word I won't die. Just won't. Okay?" Kissing once more, didn't matter that they were scratchy and stubbly, hadn't changed their clothing for too many hours and the only water that touched them had gone down their throat. Didn't matter. Just Vadim. Too long, but it was all good now. Had to be. After all, the truth was an old acquaintance of his. "Just promise the same."

"You fool." Tender, and Vadim took the back of Dan's head and pressed him in, hugged him tight and reassuring, breathing deeply and relaxing in that hug. "We'll go on R&R after this. Talk … talk about things. Only if you want."

"Depends on where we're going and how much talking you want to subject me to." Dan chuckled, burying his face for a moment in Vadim's neck. "I'm inclined, right now, to let you choose the destination."

"Somewhere without snow, and with as little people as possible", Vadim murmured and kissed Dan's neck, throat, running his fingers through that long hair. "Sorry for … being such a bastard, lately."

"That must be the understatement of the year." Dan figured he could either make things as grave as they really were, or take the piss with that stone dry humour of his. No point, right now, to prod at wounds. Dima. Katya. Betrayal and accusations. And when it came down to it, he would never throw the first stone, he certainly wasn't to turn into a self-righteous prick. "I figure it's because my daughter is prettier than your daughter." It was the first thing that came to his mind and as crazy as it was, he just said it. Tentatively grinning at Vadim. The irreverent squaddie lurking beyond the surface, and Mad Dog just about to stick his head back through.

Vadim slapped Dan's shoulder and moved away. "Babies are always cute - and … I haven't seen Anoushka in a long while."

"Well, I will never see mine." Dan readjusted his jacket.

Vadim studied him. "Do you want to? And - why not?"

"Because she'd cry 'rape' if I did." Noticed too late what he'd said, Dan countered immediately with a shrug. It still hurt, like fuck it did, but hell, there was no time, and he was glad for it. Better to fight for survival than dwell on the shit. "Anyway, don't want to think about it now. Take me on R&R, aye? Back to where we were before, or a similar place. Sea, sky, sun, and sex 24/7. Deal?"

Vadim nodded, thought what the fuck had Katya done to Dan, seemed she'd covered all her bases. That was very much like her, actually, she'd fight tooth and nail if Dan would try to claim the child. Or just his rights as … father. The thought still made him reel, but he found it less alien, less painful than before. Or maybe he was just numb from his 'duel'. "Make that 12/7 - getting old."

Dan let out a short laugh. "Okay, I let you off, but only if you agree to 16/7. Eight hours of sleep should be plenty."

"You're driving a hard bargain. But yeah, eight hours should be enough … and we can take the sex slow, I suppose."

Shifting towards the door, Dan knew they had to get out there. The rumblings of the shelling would start soon, and if they were right, the chetniks would try and take the town that night. And succeed, no doubt. Unless they attacked first. "Last kiss before the 'fun' starts?"

"Aye." Vadim moved in to kiss him again, and this was one of their old kisses, tender, lips open, leisurely, with just enough longing to show through, but tenderness above all. Complete ease, and Vadim broke into a grin. "Let's go, before they see their heroes are gay."

"That would not be a good idea. You do remember the whole thing about this shit here?" Dan winked, "five hundred years ago? Turks and all that? Bosniaks, chetniks, Muslims, Christians, genocide, and what have you? Those out there might belong to the 'let's stone those gay bastards' faction." He flashed a nasty grin, without a trace of humour. "But I'm still going to save their arses, because that girl, Sanya, well …" he trailed off and shrugged. "Let's just say, I've done worse for less reasons."

Vadim laughed. "Aye. Funny, really. Dima had some good words for why he was with the Serb brothers, but if the tables were turned and they'd slaughter Serbian civilians …" He frowned. "I don't understand this war, Dan. That's really the main problem. I don't see the point. Why they are doing this, and the way they are doing this, and why nobody does anything …" Again, he ran his hand through Dan's hair. "But doing this here … is very satisfying."

"What, the hair ruffling?" Dan grinned, "and for the records, I don't understand this shit either. It's like they were looking for an excuse to take up in arms. 'My lands. No, mine, originally yours. No, ours.' Five hundred years, used as an excuse for slaughter? Bullshit." He shrugged, "I think I stick to the hair ruffling. At least I get that."

"Sometimes history is just an excuse for incompetence at getting along with each other." Vadim kissed Dan's brow. "You know, it's childish to stick to grudges in the middle of all this, aye?"

"Frankly," Dan smiled, taking any sting out before it appeared, "I don't think you quite have the right to hold any grudge, except for …" he shrugged, "right or not, who the fuck cares, aye? We just need to get out of here alive."

"I meant, generally." Vadim gave him a long glance and smiled. "Let's go and get them. Bastards don't stand a chance in hell."

"No," Dan laughed, walking out of the stall, "not a chance at all, and if no one has ever told you that you are a fucking maniac then something's wrong." Dan fished for another of his precious cigarettes.

"The word they used was 'hero', Dan. Which comes down to the same thing, I guess."

"Aye, and most heroes are dead. Damn lucky I was never a hero, right?"

"The Yanks and the Baroness might call you that."

Dan pulled a face between a wry grin and something indecipherable. "Anyway, it'll get dark in about an hour. I go check the rigging of the sound system. You going to set up the 'torches'?"

"Aye. Will do."

They parted when they got back to the main ground floor room, and Dan climbed up the stairs to check on the lads who'd been working tirelessly. They proudly showed off the system with speakers against every open window, carefully placed so the opponents wouldn't have seen the moment. They urged Dan to try the rigging, and he was amazed to hear 'Foxy Lady' on the lowest setting, ready to get blasted across the land. Confident that this part of the plan was working out well, he returned to the ground floor, where the second group was beginning to trickle back in.

Vadim ventured out to inspect the buildings, and, with the help of some of the men, prepared the houses on the other side of the village to be burnt - gathering broken furniture, duvets, firewood, carpets, and other stuff on big piles, setting everything up so they could burst into flames within minutes. There had been no sniper activity, he was assured, when he kept looking back towards where the chetniks camped, and they regarded him as a hero, not knowing that it was a whim of fate that it wasn't him who'd done the sniping on the other side.

Dan was setting the remaining volunteers to work, making them measure petrol and soap powder, filling the bottles and stuffing a rag into the bottle as wick. Once he was content that all was working the way it should, he rounded up the men who carried weapons, checking over the amount of ammo they had. Telling them to be prepared, and to check and re-check their weapons while making themselves acquainted with the plan he'd drawn out, and which was relayed to every man and woman.

He was getting kitted out, when Vadim returned. "Everything sorted?" Dan looked up while strapping his belt kit on, and moving the weapon over his shoulder, the C4 and the detonators safely stashed in his jacket pockets.

Vadim nodded and was about to wind a rag around his head to hide his pale hair and part of his features. "Aye. When do we start?"

"I need you right now. Have to get the explosives onto the bridge. Thank fuck it's a fairly modern steel construction. Gives me something to climb on, aye?" Dan grinned, "thought you could keep the uglies from me, if need be, but I sure as fuck hope no one sees me doing my acrobatic tricks, or the surprise effect is shot to shit."

"It's madness, Dan, you know that."

"Yes, I know." No grin, for once he was serious, but the next moment Dan was back to being the irreverent bastard. "But who else could do it? And how else could it be done? Seems that today is the time for some 'heroic' bullshit after all."

Vadim nodded, numb, mute, because the only thing he could say was 'I'll go insane if you die', and he lowered his gaze, forcing himself to breathe, focused on the dull throbbing pain from the cut in his side. Dan was still alive. He'd made it. He would make it. And he couldn't distract Dan with the dark flood of fear that welled up inside again.

"Okay, that's settled then." Dan nodded, flashed another grin that he didn't feel, but fuck, he'd gone through worse shit. "I get someone to lead us through the underground. Now we just have to hope that they take the bait that we'll throw to them, so that my brilliant plan is going to work and they focus all of their artillery and heavy fire on the front of the town." He waved over to Stjepan, who sorted a guide for them. "Good thing their tanks are shit, aye?" Dan glanced at Vadim as they descended into the first cellar to get across town towards the riverbank. "The Molotovs should get them out of their tin cans like rats being smoked out of a box."

"Aye. And the town should limit visibility and movability." But even then, taking on a tank was madness.

They were walking for about fifteen minutes, Dan and Vadim taking turns marking the way with chalk they'd found earlier, and Dan was carefully taking note of the time. They reached a door that would lead them outside and right to the banks. All they had to do now was hope the night was falling swiftly, and no one expected movement right where they were. It was impossible to cross the river, the waters had taken too many lives and the swell was treacherous, so they might not be watched. Carefully and silently creeping outside, their guide had the order to wait for them, Dan glanced at Vadim and nodded. Wherever he chose to take position to check out the bridge, Dan would trust in him and his ability as a sniper.

Vadim gave a hand sign, 'all clear', then looked around for a good sniping position to cover the bridge, setting up the old friend Dragunov in one of the buildings, pulled away from the window, so the rifle's outline wouldn't betray him. He settled, careful not to disturb the wound, but whatever he did, any motion hurt. At least he could hope that two snipers was all they'd had.

Belly-crawling towards the bridge, Dan remembered all those attempts of his to get the Mujas to do the same. No, they'd always refused, rather let themselves get shot than letting themselves get 'humiliated' by crawling in the dust. He did, though, and found nothing humiliating about slithering through the frozen mud and across the icy ground. Trying not to think of how many chetniks might be out to spot him, instead trusting on his outfit, dirty camo, thrown together, and soiled by their escape and their fights. And relying on Vadim, once more on Vadim.

Vadim spotted Dan's movements when he got out into the open. The crawling man in his crosshairs, he couldn't help but think that on the other side, another man might be seeing the exact same thing - crosshairs and all - and that one finger was all that separated this precious, vulnerable body from death. He let the sights trail up, towards the dark where the chetniks were, trying to spot any movement, any reflection, any cigarette being lit and giving a position away. Every now and then checking on Dan's progress.

Dan made it to the foundation of the bridge without any worrying sounds, nor movement from anywhere. Sweating, despite the cold, adrenaline coursed through every part of his body and mind, like a man on speed.

"Well done", murmured Vadim, seeing Dan at least partially in cover now from the bridge, but at the same time more exposed than ever, because the bridge would be protected, if there was any sniper left. Dan was in his kill zone, and Vadim knew exactly that any sniper worth his salt couldn't possibly miss this shot.

Dan had to ignore the fear and the knowledge that any second he could be spotted. Entirely possible they still had snipers covering the bridge, but he had to pretend that it wasn't the case, or he'd shit himself. Literally.

Climbing up the steel girders, he gritted his teeth and ignored the pain as much as a possible sniper. In fact, if he wasn't doing right now what he did, he'd probably piss himself with laughter at how much he was ignoring. Still, he made it halfway up, trying to judge if he had to climb anymore, when he froze, clinging to a girder, listening to a noise he couldn't categorise.

Vadim saw movement. Damn. Staring through the scope, he saw people move about, and they seemed to prepare to get going. Which meant they had no idea that Dan was where he was. He forced himself to breathe, watching the vague motions that seemed to have a purpose. But they weren't moving yet. The assault wasn't happening, and he would only guess if he'd shoot now.

Out there, Dan forced himself to breathe and to remain absolutely still, until the noise ceased, and he checked his watch, fingers stiff and aching from clinging to the frozen metal. Gloves or not, his body felt its years, and he cursed himself more than he cursed those damned chetniks. If only someone back in camp, or anywhere else, actually gave a shit. But no time to think about that, he had to get one level higher. Forcing himself to climb once more, he reached the most promising place for the explosives, right beneath the surface of the bridge. Hidden from view from the top, but visible to anyone from the side, he concentrated on getting the C4 pliable in this goddamned cold. Forced to take his gloves off to knead the plastic explosive, he used his thigh muscles to stay safely on the metal, freezing his bollocks off on the icy steel in more than just the proverbial sense. Finally able to fix the plastic explosives into place, he set the detonator, checking the radio control device that he'd taken from the dead chetnik. Confident everything was set up perfectly, he glanced towards Vadim's direction.

He'd made it so far, now he 'just' had to make it back.

Vadim kept his eyes on Dan, because the chetniks clearly had something else on their minds, and he allowed himself to watch Dan work on the charge, high above the freezing cold water. Then back to where the chetniks were getting ready to move. He wanted to kill every single one of them. Anger, hatred, but above all, protectiveness tightening his throat.

Dan gathered all his wits about him once more, concentrating and focussing on nothing but the stealthiest descend he could manage. Moving slowly, using mostly his upper body strength. At long last making it down to the ground, he once again lowered himself onto his belly, crawling back the same way he'd come.

Vadim trailed his movements for as long as he dared, scope then moving back to the chetniks, then back to Dan, who moved with utmost caution, skilful, slowly, controlled, every movement where it had to be. Vadim swallowed, but forced himself to concentrate, just in case something went wrong, but nothing did. For once, it was either luck, or the fact Vadim really had killed their only two snipers, or the chetniks were just too damned busy organising their final attack to take the town.

Dan made it back to the door, which their guide opened, and for a while, he remained on the ground inside the building, head against the closed door, and just breathing, eyes closed. This shit had got more to him than it would have, ten years ago. Suddenly it was about more than just his measly little life. It was about his lover, his family, his friends … damned be the baggage of a fulfilled life.

Vadim came down the stairs once Dan had vanished from his view, and he leaned the Dragunov into the corner, then offered Dan a hand, pulling him up to stand. "Get up." Vadim opened his parka and placed it around Dan's shoulders. "They are getting ready. So should we."

Thankful for the additional warmth, Dan nodded. "Give me a sec." Looking for the water bottle on his belt kit, he fiddled in his coat pocket for the pain killers, and swallowed a handfulNot giving a shit for once, what Vadim saw or not. "Best get running, then. Took us fifteen minutes to get here, bet we can cut it down by half."

Vadim glanced at the water bottle Not happy about seeing that, but he'd always known that Dan's legs were giving him trouble. He just hoped they wouldn't give out in this war. After that - they'd need to think about how to fix this problem. "Sure. You lead." He slapped Dan on the shoulder, because he didn't want anybody to see an embrace or a kiss, and he needed to stay focused in any case.

Nodding, Dan took a deep breath and glanced at their guide, who was already moving forward. Falling into a jog, they made it through rooms, upstairs, downstairs, all by the light of torches, and as fast as they could. The painkillers were not working yet, but the adrenaline was, and at some stage, while crawling through a tunnel of rubble, Dan gave the parka back to Vadim. "You'll need it. I'll be moving about."

"I don't stand a chance resisting, now, do I?"

Dan smiled, shook his head, before they picked up pace again.

Vadim slipped back into the parka; he wanted to give Dan warmth, but again, cuddling was not what their charges expected. Damn them. And then it struck him that keeping up appearances - something that he'd always wanted, and therefore always made him feel weird and exposed when Dan blew their cover or too clearly showed they were gay - that he didn't want to do this anymore. He wanted to be able to do what he pleased. Even, no, especially before heading off into battle.

They were back in the main room of the destroyed department store in under ten minutes, and the atmosphere that greeted them was one of fear.

Dan frowned, waved Stjepan over, explaining to him that he had successfully set the charge, and that the young, the old and the infirm, and anyone else who couldn't or wouldn't fight, were supposed to gather in the cellars. They should stay close to the river bank, waiting for the chetniks' movement, and cross the bridge once the guards had been drawn away from the bridge towards the attack in the front, gaining a headstart to the fighters.

Dan got to the bergan and their kit, strapping it onto himself, while Vadim did the same, before he gathered everyone around him, once more going over the plan. They had to wait until the moment the chetniks attacked, and not a second before that. The two lads were then to fire up the deafening music that would disorient the attackers, while masking any movement on the ground. That was when those volunteers who had signed up for the dangerous mission, were to hurry to the designated buildings and set them alight, thus providing illumination. The rest, the most courageous of them all, were to throw Molotov cocktails onto the advancing tanks, to force the crews out of them once the fire stuck to the metal and smoked them like kipper. Vadim, their sniper, was to pick the escaping men out in the light of the burning buildings. Meanwhile, everyone with a rifle and ammo would fight out in the front, to draw the chetniks away from the bridge, so that the young and infirm could leave the town. Finally, once the fighting was over and they had all crossed the bridge, Dan would destroy the construction and render pursuit impossible.

It was madness, and at the same time the soundest plan that might actually work. The two snipers' deaths would have made the chetniks angry, worried, or maybe extra careful. In any case, it wouldn't be easy, and they could only hope that the bastards took the bait of the crazy attack: in their anger, their bravado, or in their fear.

Vadim went through his pockets again, checked the rifle, but it was clean and functional. "Right. Everybody in position." He looked at Dan for a long moment and smiled. "Let's crush the bastards."

Dan stood in front of him, rifle in his hands, adrenaline pooling in his guts, then rushing through his body, and he smiled back, taking one step closer, until he could hold Vadim by his shoulders, and lean in for a 'brotherly' kiss on each cheek. "I love you." Murmured when his left cheek touched Vadim's. "Whatever happens." His right touched, and then his left again. "I'll always love you." Vadim looked positively stricken, dumbfounded, unable to respond, yet there was a nod, with lips pressed together, and jaw muscles taut.

Dan stepped back, turned towards the assembled men and few women, boys and girls, and nodded.

"And now, we wait. As Rocky said, everyone to their positions. The signal is the music, and there is no way you'll miss that." Gesturing to the two kids who had their orders, and who immediately ran upstairs.

"I'll be in position." Vadim left the building, struggling with the emotion, fuck, Dan kissing him like that had shaken him, deeply. He'd needed that touch, that oath, that everything, but couldn't have responded any other way. Not in Russian, not in English. Couldn't have just held on to him for a moment longer. He wanted to hold him, fuck him, be fucked, he wanted to rest at Dan's shoulder after sex and think nothing but that they were both alive. Fuck the war, fuck the past, fuck the money. He found himself a good position again and peered over at the chetniks. Yes. They were rolling. Time for the final battle.

Downstairs, Dan was leaning against the wall, looking outside through the carcass of a once grand doorway. He was smoking a cigarette, carefully shielded from view, eyes peeled on the movement. Any time now, any time … and there it was, the telltale sound of a shell before impact, followed by the first explosion.

"Now!" He shouted, even though knowing the kids on the top floor couldn't hear him, but the others did, and as promised, the very next second there was an almighty noise. Guitar riffs screamed through the ruined building, from the top of the roof and screeching across the freezing night. The first riffs of 'All Along the Watchtower' were belted out through dozens of loudspeakers, fixed all along the roof and the destroyed windows of the top floor.

Dan grinned fiercely, sucked in a deep lungful of smoke, before he threw the half-smoked cigarette onto the floor, discarded as much as the last sane thought, before the old junky got hit with the full force of his drug again. Danger. Action. And the ultimate fight for survival, this time with the most unlikely allies.

Waiting for the moment when Hendrix's voice cut in between the fanatical guitar, he yelled at the top of his lungs, "Move! Move!" Gesturing for the first section of his ragged troop to make their way towards the buildings, and to set them on fire, while he waved at the row of men and boys, including Stjepan and Sanya, who were holding the bottles, filled with petrol and soap powder. Bags, makeshift hold-alls and improvised bandoliers held their ammo of additional Molotovs.

Dan glanced outside, could sense more than see the confusion. The tanks seemed to slow their approach, before gathering speed again. He couldn't hear anything above the noise of voice, guitar, drums and howling riffs, but he moved to stand in front of 'his men', the fierce grin back on his face, shouting at them so they'd hear his words. "I'll cover you!" And so would the few remaining others who had rifles. He could see the fear in their faces, and at the same time their determination. Make it or die. He'd been there too many times before, and when he could feel the vibrations through the frozen ground, he knew the tanks were there and the moment had come, the attack began.

Dan could see from the corners of his eyes how the brightness outside from the fire was growing, and he knew it was time.

"Now!" He yelled, and grabbed the one Molotov he'd kept for himself, lighting it as he turned. Knew that no matter what, he had to take the first step, and he threw himself outside, rifle in one hand, Molotov in the other. A shadow, coming out of the building, lobbing the burning fuel straight onto the first tank, before he raised the AK and fired a round, while throwing himself to the side and into relative safety.

That was their plan. Out, aim, throw, getting into cover to arm again, and once more.

He could hear the voices behind him, shouting, screaming at the top of their lungs, to give themselves and each other courage, as they piled out, following his example, covered by automatic fire, as much as anyone could cover those moving, soft targets.

Light. Fire. Unsteady light. Vadim had to force himself to hold fire until the tank crews exposed themselves, and they did, once the first tank was burning, the hatch opened and the enemy started to pile out. Vadim let them, allowed the first guy to set his feet down before he shot him in the head. The second came out; reload, hit. Slumping to the ground with a good part of his skull missing, he was just a human-shaped piece of darkness in the flickering light from the fire. The next one came out, yet another hit. He fired with all the precision he'd ever trained to have, calm, steady, fire, reload, every bullet hitting true, while the tension in his body grew, like he was expecting a miss, or another catastrophe. He pulled the trigger, and hit another one who had made it to a corner and had been about to fire, blindly. Downing him, too. And what a satisfaction it was.

On the ground, Dan couldn't look out for anyone, just hoped the screams he heard were not of his troops, but that of the chetniks. Seeing the tank crews get out of the burning vehicles, engulfed in flames and black smoke, he noticed them getting picked out one after the other, while corpses began to pile up along the length of the front of buildings. The flames were still rising, consuming everything in their way and burning with impossible heat; thawing the ground and turning the night into an inferno of death.

The whole madness of this insane war of brother against brother culminated in the burning town, where flames were moving with ferocious appetite. Jumping out of control, as much as the chetnik attack had lost any semblance of order, scattered by a plan that brought together impossible resources, to fight a battle against every damned odd.

Dan was shooting at an approaching group of soldiers, watching the bullets hit flesh, and he felt nothing. Nothing, just like he never had, even though this time, for the first time, he felt responsible for 'his' troops, unlike the Mujas. But for the lives he took? Nothing. Couldn't afford this luxury, just as Vadim couldn't, who kept picking out every movement and each enemy.

Finally there were no more tanks nor soldiers coming, and Dan pulled back inside the building that was nothing but a crumbling ruin now, close to collapse. "Back!" he kept yelling, trying to get the surviving fighters' attention. "Cellars! Into the cellars! Get to the bridge!"

Vadim took a few moments, precious time passed, but he couldn't spot any more enemies, which was either really good news, or the most dangerous stage. He lifted the rifle, slung it across his back and got the decrepit old AK out. Close quarters with a sniper rifle just didn't happen. Carefully moving from building to building, the air was an inferno of heat and smoke, biting like acid into his lungs. He was careful not to offer a silhouette or any kind of target, another moment when killing the enemy snipers first had paid off.

The fire had spread, creeping towards the edges of the department store, and still the music was howling, guitar riffs tearing into the night and its dark sky, illuminated red, orange and yellow, as if hell had become manifest on earth. The heat was becoming unbearable, and yet Dan stayed, waited, no way he'd leave before Vadim was back, and he yelled for any survivors to get their arses into gear and into the cellars, while he checked whatever he could reach, encountering enemies, and thinking nothing, absolutely nothing again, as he cleared his way in close quarters. Knife, when the rifle was too far a range. AK, when they moved in the distance, until not much was left. They'd taken out most, and he moved once more back into the building, which creaked with heat and distortion. "Vadim!" Yelling into the smoke, coughing, before he managed to get his jumper in front of his mouth and nose. "Vadim!"

Vadim headed back, giving up cover to run at full force, dashing, only hoping nobody saw him nor took time for an aimed shot. Moving like a rabbit, cutting corners where he could, dashing this way and that, painfully aware of how exposed he was. Every sudden motion pulled on the sutured wound, the threads that held it together felt like they were tightening and digging deeper into his flesh. In truth, though, he knew it was the strain he put on the wound that made it try to re-open or tear, and he didn't want to imagine the swollen bleeding mess under the bandages. Heading back to the department store when he heard his name. "Coming!" he shouted, going straight towards the voice, coughing when he swallowed smoke. "Get moving!"

Dan nodded, awash with relief, but no oxygen left to answer, and he reached out for the shape in the thickeing smoke, catching hold of Vadim's arm, and holding onto. If they lost track of each other now, it would be fatal.

Making his way as fast as he could downstairs, to the cellars, fighting for air, coughing, only slowing for a second to glance at Vadim when they'd hit the cellars, the first chalk sign in front of them, and the smoke above. The music was dulled down there, but even so, Dan could hear how it was getting distorted, and soon it would stop, when the flames had taken over this building as well. "You alright?" Breathless.

Vadim leaned against the wall, coughing hard, but nodded, pressing Dan's hand in what he hoped was a reassuring gesture. Wiping tears off his face, he nodded again. "You?"

Dan nodded as well, clinging to Vadim's hand for another moment. "No injuries. How's yours?"

"Only hurts when I cough." Vadim grinned, listening and tried to suppress the coughing.

"Then don't cough!" Flashing an irreverent grin, but the concern too obvious, Dan pulled on Vadim's hand. "We have to get going, they should be across the bridge by now, and if we don't blow the fucking thing up, there's nothing stopping any surviving bastards to pursue all of them. Aye?"

"Aye." Vadim kept his breathing shallow to not trigger another bout of coughing, and followed, holding the AK in his free hand. Moving as fast as possibly, trusting Dan to lead him, who was pulling Vadim behind him.

"I promise you I'll spoil you head to toe when we get back, if you hurry up."

"Just spend some time on my middle when we get back unscathed."

"Which middle." Breathing was easier now. Two aging men, determined to survive against all odds, injuries, knackered, or not. "You mean your cock?" Dan cast a glance to the side, grinning, as he made his way across one cellar and towards another door. The chalk signes leading a way, without fail, towards the river.

"Both middles. If you must ask." Vadim gave a grin, following, hearing thankfully nothing up front nor behind, nor, for that matter, above.

"I'll happily take care of your rear middle, when I've … " grinning, Dan pushed the last door open, which led the back out into the ice cold air, "recovered myself. Not a spring chicken either."

"Yeah. I can see where you're coming from." Breathing more deeply now, the smoke acrid in his lungs, but the cold air was damn nice. Vadim glanced around, trying to get his bearings.

"Over there." Dan pointed to the bridge, a shape of black in the night. He could just about make out movement on top of the bridge, but no sound. Whoever it was, they were careful. "Best cross the damned thing and hit the detonator." Getting moving again, falling into a trot that favoured his good leg, Dan kept glancing at Vadim, keeping pace, even during the steep climb towards the bridgehead.

Vadim followed on his heels, almost literally. Climbing, the cold hitting the stress hitting the adrenaline hitting the pain, one blow after the next, and he had to fight the dread as it welled up, almost worse now that the main battle was over. As if they couldn't possibly hope to make it. Had he ever felt like that before? Had that Spetsnaz captain felt this way? He couldn't remember.

But Dan kept climbing up the steep path, and he kept moving, and kept looking at Vadim, waiting, urging, walking beside him, before him. One more step, just another, until they made it onto the main bridge, and found the road clear. No one behind as far as they could make out, and no one in front anymore. "Come on." Dan was breathless, heading towards the other side, the wild waters gurgling in the steep gorge below.

Vadim kept his eyes on Dan and moved forward, and upward, and finally breaking into a trot across the bridge, hoping that everybody else had already made it, the plan had worked flawlessly up to now. "Getting there … almost done", he murmured. "And then you'll have the doc look at your knees."

Dan glanced to the side, grimacing. "Yeah, yeah, if you get yourself stitched up properly, I will."

"Because I won't carry you there." Not the way my side fucking hurts, Vadim thought, but bit back the complaining.

"Very funny, arsehole." They'd made it, reached the other side, and Dan grinned at Vadim, teeth and all.

Glancing quickly over his shoulder, Vadim crouched down behind an outcrop of rock, resting, if only for a few seconds. "Blow the bitch up, then let's go home."

"Okay, even though 'home' is relative. Any idea how far to the camp?"

"Not a clue. Would have to check the map and compass …"

But what did it matter right now, all that did matter was the radio controller in his pocket, and Dan took it out, checking the device. Nodding to himself when everything seemed fine. "Right, then, you better duck." Vadim rested with his back against the rocks, keeping his head down.

Moving behind an outcrop, Dan counted from three to one and hit the button. Waited. Counted the ten seconds of safety delay, and …

Nothing.

"Fuck!"

"Detonator fucked?" Vadim glanced to the side. "Any other way how it can be blown up?"

"Aye, shit. There was a second one, manual, but it means getting across, sticking it in and setting it manually then run back." Once again with heartfelt frustration, Dan hissed, "Fuck!"

Vadim glanced over the bridge. "Listen, Dan, I'll do it. I'm the faster runner. I know where the package is. You just … lie here in wait and make sure they won't take pot-shots at me, yes?"

"No, you can fucking forget it! I know what I'm doing. I set it, remember? No fucking way." Holding onto Vadim's arm. "Besides, I'm not a sniper, never was, I'd be crap. No, I go."

"Dan." Vadim covered Dan's hand on his arm with his hand. "With your legs? Whoever does it needs to be fast. I'm faster than you, easily. Shit." Taking the sniper rifle off, he pushed it into Dan's hand. "There. You know the Dragunov. It's a good rifle. Easy to shoot, reasonably accurate …" Fishing for the remaining bullets and pressing them into Dan's hand. "Need to be quick. They'll soon get the fact everybody's out of their rabbit holes."

"I can't do it." Dan looked at Vadim. "Don't …" But emotions meant nothing, and all that counted were facts. Reality. Sense. "Don't get caught." Dan murmured, before he took a quick breath, fished the detonator out of his jacket pocket and handed it over, then grabbed the Dragunov, fingering blindly to check the bullets. "I got you." Heart hammering, feeling sick for the first time in his life. Not fear, no, worse. Worry for another, which tried to make him scream 'no!' and to shit himself, or to vomit, but he merely nodded, got into position on the freezing ground, on his belly, gloves off to sense the trigger, aiming. "I got you. Be fast."

Vadim smiled, moved in close, already steeling himself for the run of his life, and quickly kissed Dan on the cheeks, left, right, as he looked up. "You'll make it up to me", Vadim murmured, feeling apprehensive, but the detonator in his hand was a good feeling.

"I will. Whatever happens." Dan managed to bring out, sweating despite the cold, but his hands were steady and his body descended into a calm he did not feel.

"Just cover me. Don't watch me, watch them." With that, Vadim dropped the AK and his webbing, the parka, everything that could slow him down now, then he set off, running in fast, easy bounds that nevertheless hurt his side, almost crossing the bridge, well beyond the middle, then rushed over the railing, as fast as possible, using every skill and every reflex drilled into him when he'd been beasted on a million assault courses throughout his life. He located the package and the faulty detonator, then stuck the manual into the cold, resisting mass of C4. Inconspicuous, and yet powerful enough to not only blow him, but this whole structure into smithereens.

Vadim was hanging across, low down, about to set the timer, when a hand grabbed him from behind, a voice shouted, and cold steel was pressed against his head, as he was pushed down, down, onto his knees. The man kept shouting at him, in a language Vadim did not understand, but he did not need to get the words, their meaning clearly focused in the muzzle against his head.

Vadim switched to Russian, hoping the chetniks understood the language. "There's a bomb", he brought out, trying to sound exasperated and angry, certainly not caught in the act, but the man didn't listen, wouldn't, no matter which language he spoke. Too rattled, possibly wounded, and out of his mind.

Vadim's fingers were reaching for the timer, but not quite getting there. He'd set it to five seconds. He knew that was too short to get away. But the objective meant everything, and he had nothing to lose, not right now.

A few hundred yards away, Dan was lying utterly immobile, thoughts frozen, even the fear had ceased, because it was too overwhelming to deal with. The horror. The utter terror to see the worst he could imagine: Vadim. On his knees. Muzzle against his head, and an enemy behind him. The Dragunov. The scope. Darkness and flickering lights in the distance. No night sight, no sniper experience, and Dan's blood ran cold, freezing everything that remained, even his heartbeat. Finger on the trigger, moving the scope a fraction. One chance, just one, and if he didn't get the bastard right into the head he'd still have time enough to kill Vadim in reflex. Praying to gods. Anything. Anything and everything he'd never believed in, just … please.

He pulled the trigger.

A crack. A shot. For a moment Vadim wondered whether it was wrong that men couldn't hear the bullet that killed them, then, he recognized the Dragunov's bark, and he moved. Moved to be a bad target, then heard the clutter of the AK, which, thank whichever god of war was being merciful, didn't spray him with bullets. Good, solid, reliable AK, and he stretched, setting the timer, quickly, fingers cold and sweaty, slippery with stress. Thirty seconds. He could hear shouts from the distance, saw the boots on the ground twitch as the man died, and he turned on his boot heel, and legged it. He ran so fast he didn't have time to breathe, in huge, bounding, powerful movements, pushing more with strength and determination than natural speed. Adrenaline so severe he didn't feel his side.

Dan had several shapes in the rifle's scope and he pulled the trigger into the moving shadows. Again and again, until he ran out of ammo, only then looking up and seeing Vadim running. He wanted to shout out his name, got onto his knees, tried to stand up, but too late, when an almighty explosion rocked the ground and tore the steel construction apart. Fire, blast wave, pushing into Vadim's back, so close to the other side, but not close enough.

The impact took Vadim's breath first, he jumped to cover more distance, the horror of shrapnel all too real, then losing his footing, sailing through the air and hitting the side of the mountain with his full weight. His vision blurred, pulled together into what seemed a tunnel, then came the pain, and it came full force, a grinding, twisting, merciless pain in his side. Vadim didn't move, couldn't breathe for several long moments, then reached out with a hand to push himself up, but he could have tried to lift a car. Too heavy, too much strength, he hardly managed to place the arm into position. Fuck. Pain. He could move his foot, barely, but the pain was bad.

"Vadim!" Dan managed to shout, slung the rifle over his shoulder and ran down the embankment, towards. Too steep, and he lost his footing, slipping, and crashing down. Falling, falling, trying to scrabble for anything to stop the descent, but when his knee impacted on the frozen ground, he screamed in pain. Didn't matter, though, needed to find Vadim, had to know … and he was there. Lying still. Dan crawled across, blinded from the flash of the explosion and mostly deaf, hands scrabbling on Vadim's clothes. "Vadim!" Touching, frantic and out of his mind.

Vadim nodded, reached for Dan's chest, managed to focus on him. Thought fuck, Dan looked pale. "Okay. I'm … okay."

"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" Dan's hands were almost tearing on Vadim's clothes, skin, anything he could reach. "Don't you ever fucking make me do this again!" Rattled, like never before in his life.

"Not … planning … anything … like … that." Vadim knew he had to get up, had to move, and tried, they still had a long distance to cover, the villagers. He turned, and there was a nauseating ripping feeling in his side. He groaned, feeling more blood run down. "There … that was the stitches … Help me up."

"Shit." Struggling out of his jacket, Dan pressed it against Vadim's side. "I get yours. Up ... there." Damn, and the riverbank was steep, but they had to get going, and he couldn't stop touching Vadim. Offering help, when he could hardly walk himself, the knee stiffening up already, but nothing was more important than getting out of there. "Take my shoulder, step by step. We'll make it, aye? Nothing's broken?"

Vadim looked up, then clenched his teeth, jaw muscles tight. He needed to get up there. Seemed impossible from down here, but he did, small, laboured half-steps, Dan providing most of his support, and Vadim hated having to use it, but truth was, he wouldn't have managed alone. "Bones … all in place. It's … the soft bits … I'm worried about."

"We'll get that sorted when we are back. Just don't bleed like a damned pig, aye?" Breathless, each word pressed out between clenched teeth, they made tiny step after tiny step, clinging to frozen grass and crawling upwards. Dan almost broke down when they finally reached the top. The clothes were still there in a bundle, weapon, too, and the bridge was gone. A gaping hole where it had been. "Come on … get dressed." Dan got out, didn't try to get onto his feet, just crawled over to his bergan, rummaging frantically for anything he could use to bandage Vadim's wound. "It'll be dawn soon, and I haven't got a fucking clue what's on this road."

Vadim steadied himself against the rocks, just so, because he wasn't sure he could get up again if he lay down. Locating his kit, he struggled with the webbing, the parka, and the two rifles and got kitted up again. They'd have to go on. Somehow. Maybe the pain would leave at some point. At the moment, he was dizzy with pain and stress, and possibly blood loss. "No problem."

"No. No problem." Dan turned around, his jacket soaked with Vadim's blood, and he shook his head, then bent down and pulled his jumper over is head. "Here. Use that. Haven't got a fucking useful thing in that damned bergan." Bundled up, inside out, it made a tight compress. Handing it over, Dan got into his jacket, bergan, AK, then squinted his eyes into the darkness ahead.

Vadim knotted the whole thing in place, just covering the wound, knowing his body was begging for rest and food and water, but there was nothing he could do, but keep going. He'd been through worse. Right? Right. He'd survived, having been tortured and beaten within an inch of his life. Granted, he'd been more than ten years younger. Tightening the compress as much as he could, using the webbing to keep everything in place. No use giving in now. He'd come too close with that muzzle against his head. "Good shooting", he murmured.

"Fucking goddamned luck and not a damned fucking thing else!" Dan burst out, before getting himself under control. "Take my shoulder as support, we'll keep going. Bound to hit something at some point." Realising that if he didn't get Vadim to move right now, he might never move again, and that was absolutely no option.

Vadim looked up, smiling. "We did … that before. Back in that hell of mountains. I fucking hate mountains." But he began to move, dazed enough that Dan had to guide him.

"Aye, and I remember it. You saved my life back then, seems you've made it a habit of yours." Trudging on, the limp pronounced, Dan had given up trying to bend that knee, stiff as a damned rod, and if he glanced down, he could see the swelling, hardly fitting into the dirty BDUs. Didn't matter. He had to move, not only his own life depended on it, but Vadim's. And that was what mattered, more than anything else.

And so they walked, the town's survivors too far advanced, they never met anyone. Step for step, two shattered men, stubbly, dirty, blood smeared and smoke blackened, weary and dead on their feet, with a couple of hours of sleep in the last forty-eight, and yet they kept moving. Despite the pain and against the exhaustion.

One man supporting the other. One foot after the other, until the night turned into dawn.

 
 
Special Forces Chapter XXXXIX: Peace on Earth
 
 
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 12 September 2008