1992, the Balkans
was still freezing cold and Dan could feel the chill
to the very core of his body. Too exhausted, though,
to worry about hypothermia. Just walking, one limping
step after the other, his arm around Vadim, who was
leaning against him, arm pressing onto the wound in
night was turning towards dawn, but both men were too
weary to glance up, just kept moving. On and on, and
if they had to crawl, they'd do that as well. Thirsty
and hungry, exhausted and in too much pain to notice
the sound of a vehicle in the distance.
then something registered, and Vadim stopped, listening
to the sound of a car - jeep, he assumed. Shit. He only
hoped that this wasn't chetnik cavalry. "Off the
road", he said, bone-weary, but not quite ready
to give up.
Dan pressed out, too tired to move his lips much. But
he didn't argue, knew too well that what separated a
mere man from a special forces soldier: was to never
give up. "How the fuck
" but he was
already moving, hobbling, while yet still looking out
for Vadim, trying to help him towards and down the side
of the road, even though he could hardly keep balance.
grimaced, but truth was, the wound had worn him down
badly, mentally as well as physically. Wouldn't have
been an issue ten years ago. Fuck. He managed to get
down and lie flat in the ditch, peering at the road.
AK ready to fire, just in case, while Dan was still
trying to get down and didn't manage with that stiffened
knee. Pressing himself against the steep embankment
instead. Glancing down at Vadim, Dan grimaced. The vehicle
was getting close, he could feel the vibrations, and
when he looked up, he saw it coming towards them.
Landrover. Camouflaged. Military vehicle. Goddamned
Dan shouted, trying to get back up the ditch in time,
but there was no way he could make it, lifting his rifle
into the air instead, firing a round to garner attention.
Hoping it wouldn't be answered with fire instead. "Hey!"
The vehicle was coming to a halt. "Over here!"
pushed himself up and helped Dan up the ditch, while
every strain pulled with teeth at Vadim's wound. Their
side. Kind of. He grimaced again, holding his side,
and tried to stand on his own two feet. Securing the
AK, he slung it over his shoulder, studying the people
in the car with impassiveness.
couple of soldiers were jumping out of the vehicle,
and Dan was flooded with relief when he saw the flags
on their uniforms. British. Goddamnedmotherfucking Brits.
"You been looking for us?" he grinned at the
men, who were looking at them with undisguised curiosity.
McFadyen and Vadim Krasnorada?" One of the men
asked and Dan nodded.
the same. Get us the fuck out of here, will you? Vadim's
injured, and my knee's fucked." Vadim just nodded
to that. Too tired to feel much relief. Too tired to
feel much of anything.
man was pointing at the weapons, raising a brow. "I
believe we take those with us, won't we?"
They won't be missed." Vadim unslung the AK and
then the Dragunov, holding them in both hands, while
Dan did the same with his AK, while moving towards the
car. "How did you know where to look?"
got alerted that you were missing when neither of you
appeared for your shift. Yesterday morning, we were
contacted by someone from the outside, who was able
to give us additional information on where you might
have been seen last. We found a burnt-out vehicle, and
I have just been told that another wreck was located."
The man raised his brow again while the other soldier
took the weapons and secured them, then both of them
helping first Vadim and then Dan into the back of the
long wheel base Lannie. The benches were hard, but a
hell of a lot better than stumbling along the road.
"You will have to answer a bunch of questions,
you are aware of that? The loss of vehicles, acquisition
of weapons and a few other things."
grinned tiredly, "Aye, but you haven't answered
Vadim's question yet." Leaning against the back,
he looked with relief at the water bottle that was handed
to him, another to Vadim. "How did you know where
brow went up again, as the soldier laconically answered,
"Any organisation that isn't able to tap into underground
sources is worth shit."
grinned, tipped his head back and emptied a good portion
of the bottle. "In that case, got any first aid
on board?" The vehicle was setting into motion,
slowly turning on the narrow road.
opened the bottle and drank, shifting on the bench to
find a position that was the most comfortable. They'd
get debriefed to hell, but right now, he was too tired
to care. They'd be safe, and they might even get away
with it. The guy who wasn't driving joined them on the
bench, holding up the first aid kit. "I'll have
a look. You're worse off?" Nodding to Vadim.
shrugged. "Dan's knee, my side, but my wound's
open. Glass cuts."
alright. Nothing first aid can do anyway." Dan
guy made a gesture to encourage Vadim to show him, and
Vadim lifted the jumper and shirt, wincing at the dried
blood that had encrusted the cloth, ripping off, when
it was moved. Very carefully, the soldier uncovered
the wound, and Vadim just watched him, as he recovered
and bandaged everything again, sterile this time.
had his eyes closed, the now empty bottle between his
hands, seemingly asleep, when he suddenly opened his
eyes when the soldier was done. "Got anything to
eat with you?"
of Mars bars."
I have one? Bloody starving."
man flashed a grin and pulled two large chocolate bars
out of a bergan, offering one each. "I know you're
going to get grilled to hell, but I'm curious, what
the fuck have you been up to since you vanished?"
grinned and shook his head, hardly managing to tear
the wrapper off the bar with his frozen fingers. "Just
some car crash, RGPs, close encounter with fatal results,
and finally getting about a hundred civilians out of
a besieged town, while decimating a large group of chetniks
and their armoured vehicles in the process, and sadly
having to burn the town partially down to the ground
and blow a bridge to smithereens."
mention the snipers", said Vadim, tearing the wrapper
between teeth and hand. "Or Jimi Hendrix."
aye, Jimi, don't forget him.
The soldier asked, incredulously.
shrugged, biting half the chocolate bar off in one go,
gave a grin and let the sugar in the bar hit his bloodstream.
It was really too sweet and too much of it, and it would
only make him hungrier in the end, but for the moment,
this hit the right spot.
soldier turned his attention to Dan. "Any wounds
I should have a look at?"
I'm alright. Just fucked my knee." He shrugged
and gave a tired grin. "Just wake me when it's
time to get ripped a second one, aye?" Dan closed
his eyes and leaned his head against Vadim's shoulder,
no weight behind it, just careful.
Should be half an hour, forty-five minutes, back to
camp. If you're lucky you get treatment and maybe food
and even hot water and soap, before they start the ripping."
sleep?" Dan yawned.
should be so lucky."
But Dan grinned and kept his eyes closed. Didn't matter,
they were alive, and that was all that counted. Vadim
breathed laughter, leaned his head against Dan's and
lifted a hand to touch Dan's cheek, holding it while
for the first time in what felt like ages, properly
resting. "I love you", he murmured in Russian,
under his breath, and Dan smiled, said nothing, but
turned his head and placed a kiss onto Vadim's cheek.
He never bothered to check the soldier's reaction, but
there was no gasp of shock, so maybe he hadn't seen
or didn't care, or was too mortified react audibly.
the case, they were moving on at a comfortable speed
for a while, when Dan felt the vehicle slow down. "What's
up?" Blinking bleary-eyed. "Trouble?"
seem so." The soldier was immediately alert, peering
out of the car, his weapon at the ready. Defence, yes.
Attack, no. "There's a whole trek of people. Seems
to be refugees."
Dan was suddenly awake, even though his body didn't
want to move. "Let me see. Could be the townsfolk."
rubbed his eyes, then frowned, staring out of the car.
"If it's them, they made pretty good progress",
the people came into view, they didn't seem familiar,
maybe it was the different scenery, the different light,
different situation. But then Vadim spotted Stjepan,
and murmured. "Yes, it's them. Up there. The kid."
yes." Dan grinned like a lunatic, "and the
girl there, what's her name ... Sanya, it's her. They
made it!" His grin couldn't get any bigger. "Stop
the car, will you?" And despite the soldier's frown,
he got the driver to stop when they had pulled up alongside
the two kids.
Dan called out and a few faces turned. "You made
it. Where are you heading to?"
smiled, holding his hand out and into the vehicle, towards
Dan first, then Vadim, while being watched with hawk-eyes
by the soldiers. "Refugee camp." He squeezed
the girl's shoulder, and Sanya showed the first tentative
ghost of a smile ever.
glad you made it." Dan murmured, "I really
glanced at Vadim and her smile grew a little before
it died again. "You hurt?"
smiled at her. "Just a scratch."
is good." She nodded a little before her face closed
was amazed that she could care about somebody else in
her situation, and he desperately wanted to help, to
do something. Leaving them to their own devices didn't
feel right. But then, Stjepan had done a good job keeping
her together, and that gave him a little hope. Human
resourcefulness. He had nothing that he could give away,
no money, nothing that would help them.
you know anything about the boys who rigged the stereo?"
gestured with his thumb towards the front. "Yes,
they are over there. We didn't have all that many losses.
Not as bad as usual
soldier was motioning to Dan that it was time to move
Dan nodded. "Wish you good luck, okay? You'll make
smiled at them, hoped it looked natural and less strained
than it felt. And just hoping they were safe now and
would remain so. And maybe one day even put their lives
Yes, we'll be alright." Stjepan placed his hand
on Sanya's shoulder again, and he nodded. "We'll
make it. Better catch up now, though."
you better." Dan smiled, feeling woefully inadequate,
as if they were deserting those kids when they should
have picked them up, put them into a home and a school
and let them be what they should be: kids. Not soldiers.
Not survivors, but there was fuck-all he could do.
you." Stjepan called out, when the Landrover had
already started to move, rolling away from them. "We
wouldn't be alive without you!" Shouting after
the Dan and Vadim, who kept looking out, hands waving.
Vadim turned back - straightening because his side still
fucking hurt too much to stay twisted like that for
long. "I need
" Pausing, realizing he'd
spoken what he'd been thinking. Need to get in touch
with my kids. Sanya and Stjepan reminded him too much
of the children he'd left behind.
what?" Dan leaned once more against the side of
the vehicle, fishing in his pockets for a last cigarette,
but it was hard to do anything with those cold fingers.
shower, sleep, food. Not sure in that order." Vadim
didn't want to mention his family, not with the Katya
issue in the room. He didn't want to remind Dan, didn't
want to start a quarrel, he wasn't even quite ready
to face the fact that burning bridges had probably been
a mistake. Not staying in touch. It had started with
trying to get away from them so he didn't miss them,
just moved away until that old life had faded and lost
power, but then he had been ashamed and didn't want
them to see what he had become. Maybe, just maybe, they
could find a way that wasn't too painful?
couldn't agree more, but you heard what we've just been
told." Dan grinned tiredly at the soldier opposite
to them, "we won't get a chance to sleep."
Finally finding his squashed cigarette pack, he just
about managed to fish out a last, crumpled fag, and
lighted the sad excuse for a nicotine fix. "Never
mind, I'll probably fall asleep during the grilling
a nap right now, hm?" Vadim placed his arm around
Dan's shoulder to pull him close again and make him
lean against his shoulder, closing his eyes now, too.
They'd done good. However this little odyssey had started,
in the end, it was mostly a victory.
Dan smiled, smoking with closed eyes, until the fag
almost fell out from between his lips, and ended beneath
the boot of the soldier who said nothing, and just extinguished
soldier's voice pulled Dan back out of his slumber,
and hell, it was hard to open his eyes. Feeling each
and every of his years, and a body that had been on
the line for almost all of them. Ten years ago he would
have bounced back, but there wasn't any margin left,
Dan turned his head to Vadim, murmuring into his ear,
"and what the fuck's our story?"
gently touched his head to Dan's, speaking Russian,
if reluctant. "Simple. I headed out because a civvie
contact told me about that camp. And I wanted to verify
it. I'll still get a bollocking, but it's not 'criminal
Dan smiled, so tired his brain took twice as long to
digest everything, but at least his Russian didn't fail
him. "And I followed you because of partnership
problems. Wanted to have a chat with you, get it out
into the open, make or break time. That'll get me a
bollocking, too, for unprofessionalism, but at least
it's a reason." Adding, even quieter, "it's
not even far off the truth." If at all.
reached over and took Dan's hand. "Sounds believable
to me." Make or break. That fucking close again.
Dan switched to English, "it is, except for the
black and white." Too cryptic. "Don't forget,
whatever we did, it was in self-defence. Otherwise we'd
get into deep shit." Dan squeezed Vadim's hand,
smiling, as he pulled back a little to look at him,
once more talking Russian. "You can't get rid of
me that easily, but we do have to have a chat about
your tendency of violence. Hit first, talk later."
He pulled a toothy grin, as much as he managed in his
exhausted state. Ignoring the soldier who was loudly
clearing his throat.
huffed laughter, then looked at the soldier. "Excuse
me", he murmured, voice slightly slurred with the
exhaustion. "Haven't had much chance to talk, lately."
okay." The man nodded, studiously avoiding to look
at the combined hands, though, and the heads touching.
"I'm just not
used to this." Making
a sweeping gesture as he grimaced a smile.
I can imagine. But indulge us. We've been through a
lot, and pretending to be straight isn't that easy right
now", Vadim said.
Repeated, then offering, "been in shit once, myself.
didn't pursue this further, even though he saw a million
openings - but he didn't have the perseverance right
now, nor the belligerence. And he was only mildly astonished
that he didn't feel any shame or darkness, but maybe
those were numbed by the tiredness as well. Instead
he gave the man something of a tired smile and a nod,
just grinned and closed his eyes again, just glad he
didn't have to let go of Vadim's hand. Too tired to
comment, too bone weary and, yes, unspeakably glad to
be alive. Simple pleasure, and the most profound of
stopped for a moment when making their way through the
guard post, and finally they were back in camp. Dan
took a deep breath and braced himself to get up, his
swollen knee stiff and unbendable. "Best get out,
aye? Need some help?"
okay." Vadim pulled, then pushed himself up. "Come
on." He climbed off the vehicle, then offered Dan
a hand. "Lean on my shoulder." He saw others
gathering, small groups. People were curious, of course,
and the camp grapevine was ever faithful. They didn't
make a huge show out of it, but they were watching.
didn't have to help Dan, because a medic came already
running, a couple of nurses on his heels. Unfortunately,
the CO was right behind them. "You need a stretcher?"
The doc was calling out, but Dan shook his head.
just a fucked knee. Someone lend me a hand?" Not
yet letting go of Vadim, though. "I'm not the one
who needs stitching up."
CO stepped close - jaw tight and eyes narrow, giving
both a once over that showed resentment rather than
concern, thought Vadim. Coolly, like he'd had a lot
of time to put together the sentences, he said: "Krasnorada
and McFadyen grace us again with their presence. How
Sir, and if you'd seen the blaze and heard the explosions,
you could have had the pleasure of getting a glimpse
of us last night." Dan just about managed to get
to the ground, letting out a groan when he landed. Too
tired and too deadly exhausted to give a fuck. Except
for Vadim, looking out for him, but the medic was already
taking over, ignoring the CO, while asking Vadim where
he was injured.
pointed at his side and was made to sit down, the doc
examining the wound right there and then.
CO looked at Vadim, not a muscle in his face moving
as he saw the wound being uncovered and the medic's
glance towards him. Then back to Dan, who was leaning
heavily against the vehicle.
report. There were a lot of inquiries, and I need answers
right now. What happened?"
followed Vadim, two nights ago, because of
deliberately hesitating, "problems in our partnership.
I wanted to clarify things once and for all."
the CO's credit, he didn't blink. It was the most open
secret in the camp, but the CO must have long decided
that it was none of his business, not unless those two
men had another bust-up in the open. Very much the 'I
don't want to know' approach to gay mercenaries.
paused, just as deliberate, "oh, and sorry for
the vehicle, if we hadn't shot mine off to hell we wouldn't
be here, alive." Dan shifted, while a nurse was
checking him out, moving arms, prodding ribs, but he
was fine until she got to the knee and he yelped, getting
himself under control, though. "We made it to an
abandoned village, seemed to have been forcefully emptied.
Killed a couple of guys in self defence, kitted ourselves
out, you'll find the weapons were handed over to the
guys who picked us up." He didn't move when his
trouser leg was cut off, displaying a grotesquely swollen
knee. Since the CO was obviously expecting him to go
on, so he did.
found transport on the way, turned out they were Bosniaks,
but the crazy bastards took us right into a besieged
town. We just about made it into one of the buildings
during the attack. Realised that we'd never survive
another night, not with the strategic importance of
the bridge, and the way the town was crumbling. Not
many able fighters left. So we came up with a completely
fucked-up plan for an attack, and won. It was all defence,
though. Of course." He shrugged, "simple as
that. Molotovs and shabby tanks don't go well together,
and Vadim here, he's a sniper par excellence. We got
a Dragunov off one of the wounded guys, burnt down some
buildings for light and distraction, got them to pull
all their resources to the front where we attacked,
and killed the chetniks like goddamned rats. Meanwhile,
the old, young, and infirm of the town made it across
the bridge. The remaining fighters followed in the end,
and we blew the bridge up, which we had rigged up earlier.
Vadim, here, had to get the manual detonator in."
Deliberately avoiding the mention of Jimi Hendrix. Too
weird was too weird. "You know the rest. We are
alive, got picked up, and really are sorry for those
vehicles of yours, but
"glancing at where
they were working on Vadim, getting him ready to be
taken inside and properly stitched up, "but not
for the rest, aye?" Adding, because he was still
the irreverent bastard, "and you'll be pleased
to know we sorted out partnership problems."
CO looked at Vadim, then stepped closer to Dan, speaking
so quietly that only Dan heard it. "There are reasons
why most professional armies do not run the risk of
admitting women into combat roles", he stated,
as if making an observation about some long bygone battle,
and Dan blinked, once. Slowly, dangerously, and he was
about to ask what the fuck he'd meant with that and
if he was seeing any women around there, when the CO
turned, wisely, and glanced at Vadim. The medic was
just pulling up a syringe with some clear liquid, doubtlessly
right. That's what happened."
medic cleaned a spot of skin with some alcohol and gauze.
Why did you leave camp?"
heard a rumour from ... a contact. About ..." Vadim
hissed when the needle went into his biceps, and then
gave a suppressed groan when the analgesic took that
grinding, twisting pain away. Something to shoot a wounded
horse up with. "A camp. A concentration camp. Like
they use." Vadim let his head falls back, finding
it hard to focus. "Down the road, up that mountain.
I can show it on the map."
camp?" The CO purses his lips, then decided that
he wouldn't get anything else out of Vadim, instead
returned his attention to Dan. "Can you show me
the location on the map?"
Dan's eyes were still narrowed, if the exhaustion hadn't
taken over, his anger would explode any second. "If
you get one, because I can't fucking walk ... Sir."
Hissed, but the tiredness took the worst sting away,
and he resented that.
CO extended a hand and one of the men handed him a map.
The officer, then, undaunted, stepped closer, folding
the map out to display the general area where Dan and
Vadim had been.
needed a moment to concentrate, the squiggly lines were
blurring one into the other, but he found his bearings
after a moment, following the map with a finger until
he stopped at the spot where the RPG had hit Vadim's
vehicle. "There. We were on top of the hill and
if you look down here
" pointing westward,
"there it was. And that's why the fuckers were
so adamant to kill us. We'd seen something they sure
as fuck didn't want anyone to see."
have that investigated."
medic cleared his throat. "I'm taking Krasnorada
now, Sir." He received a curt nod, while the nurses
helped Vadim get on the stretcher. The medic stepped
to Dan and had a closer look at the knee. "I want
an x-ray of that", he murmured. "And you're
not walking. Nowhere."
me," Dan grimaced, "I'd rather not."
He stood and waited, leaning against the vehicle and
watching Vadim being taken away. "But, just in
case, you think you got some of those happy shots for
medic looked at him. "Hm. Maybe you deserve a small
mercy." Not even glancing at the CO, but the words
clear enough. "This is bad, McFadyen."
will see you after you've cleaned up and had some rest.
And I will hear the full story. Dismissed." The
CO turned around, heading back to where he'd come from.
medic prepared another syringe, tapped the bubble out
and, very carefully, administered the shot into the
swollen knee, while Dan breathed very, very quickly
and shallow through his nose. "Don't move. I want
you in the hospital as fast as possible."
didn't mean to shot it into my fucking knee!" Grimacing,
but soon he could feel
nothing, and he stopped
complaining. "Hospital? That's bloody miles away."
Dan frowned, imploring the medic, "can't you just
patch me up for now and let me have some scrubbing,
food, water, and rest and not even necessarily in that
order, before you ship me off to the hospital? I'm fucking
falling over in a second. Been out there forty-eight
hours or thereabouts." And he missed Vadim, needed
some time with him, just to sleep and hold, without
anyone shooting at them.
medic frowned. "Okay. I'll bandage this to give
it some stability, you'll keep it cool, foot up, and
if I see that foot touch the ground - or anything else
- for a moment, I'll have you medevacced. This knee
looks like it's coming apart, and if you want to ever
use your leg again, I'd rather not take the slightest
risk. Do you get me?"
Dan frowned. "I get you, okay? Just slap something
on that lets me have a shower. I stink like a skunk
and I'd really like to wash the shit off my hands that
probably came from a few bodies."
medic sent a nurse to fetch crutches, then set to work
right away, stabilising the leg, then stood up, gathering
his stuff. "Right. Off you go. I'll check on you.
Your partner should be stitched up by now, I'll have
him delivered to your room."
Dan smiled, didn't take more than a couple of minutes
before the nurse came back with crutches. "Guess
we can manage the rest ourselves."
call the hospital and I'll see you once you've rested
- and reported." The medic watched Dan make a couple
of measly attempts at moving with the crutches, but
turned away when Dan got the hang out of it within a
over to their accommodation building, Dan had rarely
been so glad to be back in that place. He got inside,
and onto a chair, starting to peel himself out of the
soiled and torn, as well as cut-off clothing, which
could only be burnt. The absence of pain was utterly
luxurious, if only someone could carry him to the showers
he managed on his own, and with a towel around his hips,
shower gel dangling from his hand and on both crutches,
he made his way half asleep across the hallway to the
washing area, where he stood for an eternity under the
hot spray. Leaning against the tiled wall and simply
enjoying the heat and being clean.
a little later, Vadim was led back to the hut, sporting
a stark white bandage around his waist. Still incoherent
from the painkiller, but cleaned up a bit as if one
of the nurses had had mercy on the man - or considered
all the dirt to be a problem. He had a blanket over
his shoulders and they got him to sit down on the bed,
took off the boots and helped him get into bed. They
should be in the sick station, both of them, but maybe
the medic had acknowledged that they'd get more peace
and quiet and sleep in their own quarters.
dripping wet, Dan made his way back, finding a stack
of sandwiches in front of the room, and fresh water
bottles. Laboriously getting inside, food and all, he
smiled when he saw Vadim on the bed. "Hey, Russkie,
glad to see you. Hungry?"
moved his head and looked at him, blue eyes glazed.
"Not sure. Don't feel ... a thing." Thinking,
very carefully, through the fog in his head. "Maybe.
I should be."
and don't tell me you're still wearing something, hm?
Are you?" Hopping over on one leg, Dan somehow
managed to get the sandwiches and the water step by
step across. Finally flopping onto the bed himself.
Still damp, but he really couldn't be bothered. The
blankets would do the trick.
looked down at himself. "Yeah. Trousers. What's
left of them. But no socks." Smiling wearily, welcoming
Dan when he lay down next to him. "Tomorrow. Yes?"
First, we'll get rid of your trousers, because you'll
be uncomfortable otherwise, and then you'll eat at least
a couple of sandwiches, okay?" Adding, while already
working on the fly, "for me?" Pulling every
string, but hell, they'd both not eaten for too long,
and those painkillers seemed to have a remarkable effect
on Vadim. "And then we sleep. Sounds like bliss,
right?" Pulling on the trousers to get them off.
managed to muster enough focus to lift his hips and
help with getting undressed, but was clumsy, and only
with supreme willpower managed to get the trousers and
pants off. Underneath, at least, he was fairly clean.
"Just ... water." He murmured, reaching for
the bottle, and managed to drink something, but spilled
almost as much. "Fuck", he said without passion
or conviction. "Whatever they put in me, I ..."
am in a very happy place." Dan chuckled tiredly,
and gave up trying to feed Vadim with anything.
hold of the blankets, both on the one bed, it would
have to do for now, as long as he didn't touch Vadim's
bad side. Tucking both of them in, he stuffed his face
with a handful of sandwiches, while watching Vadim,
eyes closed, expression growing evermore slack, before
he found a comfortable position. As much touching and
as close to Vadim as possible without hurting, and within
seconds, Dan fell asleep.
had no idea how long he had slept, when a low-level
sensation of dulled ache began to invade his senses.
On top of that an irritating itch from a three-day stubble,
and the mild feeling that he needed to piss. Most of
all, though, he became slowly aware of the absence of
danger. Muted voices from outside, the warmth of blankets
and a comfortable room, even though there was little
space where he lay, until he was awake enough for the
realisation that he was not alone. The bulk of heat
beside him felt good under his hand, and before he could
try to move closer, he remembered. Everything. With
growing clarity, including Vadim's injury. He breathed
in deeply and stayed where he was. Not moving was the
best idea right now, anyway.
his eyes, though, but it was fairly dark in the room,
the only light coming through the window from the outside
lighting of the camp. Watching Vadim's profile for a
while, he smiled. Simply content to be alive, safe,
and most of all, to be with Vadim - without anger, hurt
and accusations between them.
Vadim awoke. No start, no slow drifting, just awake
from one moment to the next. He must have slept well,
he felt rested, unlike in those nights when the dreams
haunted him and made him wake leaden and tired, and
without hope. Feeling Dan close, he turned his head
to regard him. "How long have you been watching
idea." Dan smiled, "but I'm gagging for a
fag, so I guess it must have been a while." Letting
his hand stroke along the good side of Vadim's chest,
then down the arm. Relishing in the simple pleasure
of touch. "How do you feel?"
good. My side hurts a bit, but as long as I take it
easy, it should be okay. What about you?"
thousand times better than in the morning. Except for
that damned beard." Dan chuckled quietly. "But
I can't be arsed to get up and shave. It's too comfortable
here, and I'd be surprised if they left us in peace
till the morning."
time is it?" Vadim reached over to touch the stubble
and felt the tightness in his side. The painkiller was
wearing off. "Feel like I've slept twelve hours
straight." He leaned over to kiss Dan, one of those
small, gentle kisses that were more about being alright
than ravenous desire.
idea, hang on
" Slowly rolling over with
a grunt, Dan fished for his watch, eyeing the wardrobe
where he kept his fags, but getting up was too much
effort, even for a nicotine addict like him. "After
seven. We did sleep something like ten hours."
Reaching to rasp his fingertips over Vadim's stubble,
less pronounced than his own, he grinned. "I could
help you shave, if you help me in return? It's not that
we haven't done that before
are days when I wish we shaved electric and that electric
shaves were actually any good", Vadim murmured,
but grinned. "Okay. Give me a second. Just mustering
my resolve." Reaching for the edge of the bed,
he pulled himself up to put less strain on his side,
but it still hurt, and rather badly. "Where's that
medic with his horse tranquilizer
" Dan put a hand onto Vadim's shoulder, "I
could ask for some pills. Besides, we need food. If
I hobbled out, you could get mentally ready for a sponge
bath and shave near the sink." He grinned, "or
we just stay here a little while longer and I hold you
for a bit, because it's so fucking good to be able to
turned and smiled warmly. "You're not walking with
that leg, Dan. I'll do that. And maybe they'll leave
us in peace for a while longer, but I get the feeling
the CO will want to talk to us soon and I'd rather be
shaved and dressed sharply when he does." Reaching
over again to cup Dan's cheek. "If I'm wrong, we
can still 'cuddle' until they come and get us."
sighed and frowned, everything but happy about that.
"Don't you think they'd have already got us if
they wanted to talk to us tonight?" Sitting up
in the bed, he muttered. "You're running away."
was about to get dressed, but paused at that. Had he
misread Dan? It happened, still did, sometimes. Always
focused on duty, especially during the last weeks. He
didn't feel like he was running. He'd focused on the
basic needs first. Food, medicine. "I'm not."
sure? Because I've lost the ability to know lately."
Dan pulled in a deep breath and shrugged. "Never
mind. Blame the painkillers, lack of sweets, not enough
nicotine, and too much Hendrix. I just wanted
he trailed off and shrugged again, grimacing this time.
"Needy bitch, eh?"
shook his head. "Not at all." Kneeling down
beside the bed, because that way he didn't have to bend
his torso. "Just
thought fix the pain and
hunger first." The 'first' sounded ominous in his
own ears, and he grinned. "But if you want to talk
first, I'll just get my ass into bed again and we talk."
narrowed his eyes, then kneaded his brows in a concentrated,
unwittingly comical fashion. "Damn. That would
make me a bimbo." Frowning with an almighty crease
between his eyes. "No, it's alright. My beard itches,
I'm famished and the sandwiches are dried out, and I
need a fag. Just as long as you get your arse back here
as soon as possible, aye?"
won't be long." Vadim reached for his trousers,
then noticed their state and got up to find fresh clothes
in the locker. Underwear, new clean camo, clean, dry
socks. He moved carefully and deliberately, but the
wound was well padded and the bandage tight enough to
help a bit. He slipped into trainers and a grey t-shirt.
"Anything you want before I get food, water and
painkillers? If they don't shoot me up like that again,
I'll likely even find my way back."
ha, very funny." Dan sat on the bed, blankets off,
looking for the crutches. "Just get me a flask
of coffee, and make sure it's not the usual stewed shit."
Finding the crutches that leaned against the bed, Dan
got up, on one leg, standing in all his bearded, naked
glory. "Bugger, I should call Maurice."
watched him, and didn't want to go, instead wanted to
help Dan get sorted. The knee looked horrible, swollen
and discoloured. It had never looked anything like that
before. "I'll go get the stuff. Shaving kit, too.
Phone calls are down the list, though, let's fix ourselves
leave Dima without any idea what the hell happened to
us?" Hopping over to the wardrobe, Dan found
the fags first, before taking out a pair of shorts.
Hopping back again, he sat down, got a cigarette and
lit it, then put the shorts on. First things first.
taken. I'll be back in fifteen." Vadim headed out,
hurried over to the medical facilities, where he managed,
barely, to fend off the medic on late duty, who insisted
that he'd come back later so he could have a look at
how the wound looked, and managed to get painkillers
off him - again having to promise he'd bring Dan over
as soon as possible, as everything was set up the next
morning to get Dan to a hospital for x-rays. He then
managed to get a tray of food from the mess, as well
as coffee and water, and brought all that back in just
over fifteen minutes. "Hey Dan, breakfast."
was still sitting on the bed, blanket over his shoulders,
smoking his third cigarette in a row. "Hey,"
grinning, "interesting time for 'breakfast'."
meal after waking up is breakfast in my book."
Vadim pulled a box with kit closer, to double as a table,
and put the food and drinks down. Fishing the painkillers
from his pocket, he added them to the ensemble. "Doctor
says two of those with food for you." He sat down
next to Dan and ran his hand through Dan's hair, who
looked up, smiling.
already better, but would be much more so if we could
get the beds back to how we had them before I got that
damned letter. No idea how either of us is going to
move it. Perhaps if we shuffle together?"
that should work. Get rid of the kit in between, and
all that. I can try when you make that phone call. And
let Dima know I'm pleased he's okay."
do." Dan reached for a sandwich, the cold meat
sliced thickly, and the cheese generous as well. He
poured a couple of mugs of coffee with his free hand,
then remembered the fag still between his lips and he
grinned, getting rid of it. "Not just a needy bitch,
a greedy bastard as well."
been two days from hell." Vadim reached for the
coffee, which had the right temperature and seemed suitable
to take the rust off any kind of kit.
could say so, but seems it was also the best two days
in a long time. After all, we got back, are more or
less in one piece minus the odd injury, spotted an illegal
camp, helped save a bunch of people, burnt down a town,
and got back together. That's not too bad in my books."
Speaking with his mouth full, Dan devoured the sandwiches,
washing the bites down every so often with some coffee.
"And I liked your story of why you got out there
in the first place. Will stick to it. Hopefully we'll
get out of this with a major bollocking but without
too much trouble."
grinned. "Good story, eh? I bet he doesn't imagine
in his wildest dreams that I could still lie in that
state. Ageing faggot and all that."
burst into laughter, almost spraying breadcrumbs across
the makeshift table. "Damn right."
finished one of his sandwiches and felt nearly human
after emptying the first mug of coffee, too. "I
won't tell him who my contact is, and I guess he won't
ask. And if he does, fuck him. It makes the most sense."
all, you could always tell him you only know your contact's
fake name, would have been too dangerous for your contact
if he asks me what kind of contact, I'll tell him it's
a native I have sex with. And obviously I wouldn't ask
huffed a laugh then pulled the blanket closer around
him, settling back after finishing off a large pile
of food. Coffee in his hand, Dan grinned. "You
want to ask me anything about Dima?"
everything. You followed me, and that is how you found
I took him to a safer place. One that couldn't collapse."
Dan raised his brows over the cup of coffee. "I
figured that no one ever looks at anything close by,
and so I used the bunker near the camp." He shrugged,
"at first I kept him there, for a night, but with
blankets, food, torch, all the necessities. And no shackles
," raising his brows once more, "didn't
know you were quite such a kinky bastard."
Dan chuckled lightly to take the sting out of his words.
"Anyway, when I went back the next day I had come
up with an idea to get him into the French embassy to
safety, and Maurice, surgeon mate of mine, was going
to pick him up. I left the door open, told Dima whatever
happened someone would come in the morning. That was
the night when I followed you, and obviously, it wasn't
I who picked him up, but Maurice must have done it."
tied him up to protect him, weird as that sounds. I
didn't want to kill him accidentally when I
out to fight the bastards. I was trying to find a better
solution, but I had no idea what I could do so I kept
him like that. So
what do you think of him?"
a good guy who ended up with some real arseholes for
some fucked up reasons."
laughed. "That about nails it. Damn. Tell him I'm
sorry when you talk to him?"
don't you talk to him yourself? He's your former comrade,
I've only known him for a couple of days." Unwilling
to mention anything else.
But I'm thinking I'll let him cool off for a while."
Vadim had another sandwich, and poured himself more
coffee. "That whole thing, between us
Trailing off to invite Dan to talk first.
us, as in you and I?" Dan put the empty mug down.
You and I." Vadim watched him, intently. "And,
I guess, Katya."
Dan's reaction was sharp. "Don't mention that bitch's
name." He shook his head vehemently. "I don't
mind you mentioning Kisa, though. Can't hate the kid,
not her fault, and fuck, does she look like me. Not
a blond and blue-eyed Krasnorada, aye?"
gave a sigh and ran his hands over his face. "She's
still my ex-wife and Anya's and Nikolai's mother. And
of Kisa. I don't want you to
disgrace that, was the thought he had, but it was that
painful, uncomfortable feeling of two people hating
each other that he still cared about.
a fucking selfish bitch who blackmailed me to do something
when I was fucking vulnerable and that was so fucking
painful at the time, that it still haunts me. And then
the fucking gall to tell me I'm a fucking sperm donor
with no fucking right to ever see the 'product'. I had
hoped it would never happen, that I wasn't fertile or
what-the-fuck, but she's here now. I have a daughter,
because I was used." Dan shrugged, agitated, but
trying to keep himself in control. "Fine, so I
was used, get over it, McFadyen, but then you come along
and beat the shit out of me, not even giving me a chance
to explain what the fuck had really happened. Just expecting
that I had betrayed you. So, no, Vadim, stuff it. I
Do. Not. Want. To. Talk. About. This. Bitch. Ever. Again.
Did I make myself clear?" Reaching for his cigarettes,
Dan's hands were everything but steady.
I won't mention her." It seemed callous even by
Katya's standards, if this was true, and Vadim's head
spun from the information, and Dan's clear anguish.
Letting the uncomfortable silence drag on, with no idea
what to do now. "What's the plan? How do we
deal with this?"
shrugged, his hand visibly shaking as he lit the fag,
calming, though, when he inhaled and blew out the smoke.
"I guess we don't. You just try and never again
not give me a chance, and I
" he shrugged
again, his most frequent gesture in this conversation.
"I set up a trust for Kisa. The bitch is not to
touch it, it's for Kisa's education or for whatever
else she might need the money for when she's eighteen.
I hope she'll turn out cleverer than her
pausing, inhaling deeply, deeply, before finally settling
on a word, "biological ...." but then he stopped.
things. Don't call her 'bitch' in my presence. Call
her what you will when I'm not around, but don't make
me listen to you ranting about her. I owe her that much.
Second, if you think you'd have been too stupid for
higher education, think again. You have a good mind,
Dan. You weren't so fucking sexy if you hadn't."
Fuck you." Dan shook his head and kept the burning
fag between his lips, snatching the crutches to get
she deserves being called that, but
try and understand
me? I was married to that woman. We have two
children. She always made sure I'd be secure. Like a
good comrade, or a sister, or a good friend."
I understand you." Hopping on the crutches to the
wardrobe, pulling out training bottoms and sweatshirt.
"I always try to fucking understand you, but I
guess I don't. Guess you're just too goddamned complicated
and I'm just too bloody simple. So do me a favour, and
whatever." Dan hopped back with the clothes
under his arm.
That's 'fuck off' then." Vadim remained sitting,
rubbed his face again.
it's not." Dan turned round, too fast, losing balance
and falling back onto the bed. "It's about asking
the same fucking question in return. Try to understand
me? Or have you never considered that I might need to
be understood, because I am too fucking happy all the
fucking time? Because I'm old Dan, and old Dan didn't
go through all the shit you went through, and what old
Dan did go through, old Dan's happily dealing with,
because he's just a happy-go-lucky Scottish peasant
" Vadim gave a pained smile. "Guess
I just thought you were so much stronger than I am."
don't know, Vadim. I don't know what 'strength' even
is. Who is stronger? No fucking idea. We're different,
but stronger? I don't know. All I do know is
this thing fucking hurt! And
shit, why the fuck do I have to even say it? Fucking
damned hate having to admit to this shit."
reached over and took hold of Dan's neck, pulling him
close, moving close enough to kiss him. "And all
I know is that I can't lose you. I need you. You
keep me together. You keep me going."
a big fucking lot of responsibility, isn't it?"
Dan's dark eyes were vulnerable, "you need me,
or you love me. Which one is it? And is there room for
understanding me as well?"
both, Dan. Not either or." Vadim touched his face
to Dan's. "And I'll try harder, understanding you."
usually not that difficult." Dan murmured, cigarette
forgotten in his hand, burnt down to the filter, but
reluctant to move, even though he didn't know what else
moved to touch his lips to Dan's, tilting his head with
his hand, urging him to open up and pressed in harder,
needed that feeling now, that want and need. The fact
there was the desire that had been the basis of everything,
much before any feelings or thoughts had become important,
complicating it all. "I missed you, Dan. Everything."
why the fuck do you throw it away that easily?"
Murmured, lips open and against Vadim's. Always willing,
forever responding. Not much that could stop the need
of many years.
welcome to my world."
pushed Dan back to lie on the bed, moved carefully on
top, making sure he didn't touch Dan's leg, even fleetingly,
and kept kissing, hands running over Dan's body. "But
Dan's brows both shot up. "What does matter,
Vadim grinned, hand going to Dan's groin. "I guess
we're forbidden any strenuous activity
about a non-strenuous blowjob?"
how are you going to manage with your stitched-up side?"
Dan frowned, "don't want you to hurt yourself,
even though I'd be the last man on earth to say 'no'
to a blowjob from you."
grinned. "I'll be alright. And since anything else
appears to be out
" He moved back, kissing
his way down to Dan's groin, until he knelt on the floor,
shoulders keeping Dan's knees open. Needed to show how
much he wanted, and wanted to make Dan feel good. He
took Dan's cock, which appeared barely interested right
now, but he was determined to change that. And change
it did, perhaps not as quickly as it might have, ten
years ago, or in a different situation, but the interest
was there, without fail.
reached for Vadim's head briefly, touching the short
hair, before lying back down again and closing his eyes.
A luxury, right now, and it was about much more than
'just' a blowjob.
took him deep once he was fully hard, forcing his throat
to accept the intrusion, bringing it all the way. His
eyes closed, he concentrated on nothing but the heat
and holding his breath, both hands resting on the bed
and steadying himself as he brought his head down, and
up, and down again, slow, controlled, but as deep as
by sounds that grew ever more urgent, and Dan's body,
shuddering beneath him. Thighs muscles trembling, as
if Dan was under a great strain, and his breath coming
in ever more desperate gasps. It was not quick, nor
fast, but when he finally came, he arched up from the
bed, and Vadim's name was on Dan's lips. A strangled
sound, and an orgasm that took him with abandon.
bore down against the arching body, allowed the cum
to shoot down his throat, swallowing purely by reflex,
and then, when Dan had relaxed and fallen back, slowly
pulled back, cleaning the cock and sucking on it some
more. Licking it while it was still hard, then rested
his head on Dan's hip, pulling the discarded blanket
closer so Dan wouldn't be cold. "You okay?"
yeah." Dan breathed out, grinning with closed eyes,
fingers reaching to stroke Vadim's short hair. "But
isn't it your turn now?"
worry about me. I'd rather not have an orgasm with that
wound if I can help it."
I let you off this time."
grinned and climbed back on the bed to lie next to Dan,
moving close enough to hold him and again touching head
to head, the blanket over them. They were silent for
a very long time, their breathing in sync, just lying
and relaxing, until Dan asked in a quiet voice, "if
you ever go to
Hungary, would you
you look at Kisa for me and would you take some photos?"
He opened his eyes, heads still touching, and he smiled
thought about this a lot, hm? The trust, the photos
" hesitating, if he weren't
so weathered, the heat that Dan suddenly felt in his
face would show on his cheeks. "I never expected
I guess she is
almost, because damn, this was hard, it was completely
unknown territory. "Guess she is
of me? One that's not fucked up. That lives on when
I'm long dead, that will hopefully one day fall in love
in a nice little place with a nice little partner and
lead a nice little life. One that has never killed,
and shit, if I believed in anything, I'd pray for this:
one that never will kill, and then wonder one
day, what it said about her that she couldn't feel remorse
for any of the lives she'd taken. Perhaps I just hope
and I know how fucking stupid I sound now,
but, well, that maybe she can be all that is good
in my legacy, and none of the crap."
smiled fondly and pressed Dan closer for a long, heartfelt
moment. "Sounds like you do feel remorse, though.
Or at least assume you're guilty in some way."
don't know, don't quite understand what it is, but the
kids in the town
and then my brother and his
family, even the guys in Glasgow
I look at those
civilians and I think shit, if only they knew what I've
really done, and how I did it, and that I did what I
did without any emotions. It was and is a job, and I
still take a life if I need to. I mean, we just did,
out there, and yet, fuck, what does that make me? Not
really something I want to think about, certainly not
from the point of view of a civilian." Dan smiled
wryly. "I guess it's best that Kisa will never
know me. At least she'll never find out, and neither
can I fuck it up with her."
thought similar things about my kids. That they were
I've done right." Vadim
kissed him again. "I'll have a look at her. I should
check on Anya and Nikolai, too."
and you do know that it's almost December, and what
the exact date?"
Not sure, the twenty-seventh or something. But surely,
you must know what December means? You were home for
Christmas at least sometimes while your children were
young, weren't you?"
of course. Christmas. I thought you meant your birthday
in two days."
Dan frowned, "forget that, not important. I never
remember it anyway and I've never celebrated it, or
can you imagine a birthday cake up in the mountains,
with a bunch of Mujas singing 'happy birthday'? No,
I'm more interested in Christmas. Don't know, it's just
strangely special, after all."
think our Christmas parties in the Soviet Army were
a hell of a lot nicer than the deal you got. And we
could try to get time off, especially since you are
out of action with that knee anyway. Book a place that
some log cabin. A fireplace."
Dan grinned. "I thought you hated snow." He
chuckled for a moment. "You really think so? Somewhere
that doesn't have anyone shooting at us? Damn, sounds
like a fine idea to me, I'd just have to find a Christmas
present somewhere and fuck, that'll be the cruncher."
be happy with a Christmas blowjob and a pair of socks."
Vadim laughed. "I don't understand why people think
socks are a crap present. Those people were never on
the last pair when doing some hardcore tabbing."
laughed out loud. "You can have a blowjob anytime,
Christmas or not, and I still know which are your favourite
socks, boots, and even your damned underwear size. I
think you're onto something here
we could go
to Austria, it's just round the corner. A week, just
you and I, lots of food, and if my knee weren't so fucked,
some skiing. Sledding might have to do."
Vadim grinned. "Salzburg, then, I heard it's good.
I'll head out and book, okay?" He pushed himself
up again. "Seriously, Dan, I want to go on holiday
after this. We fucking deserve it."
you won't get snowy alpine huts in Salzburg. You'd have
to look for something in Tyrol." Dan grinned, poking
into Vadim's good hip. "Not that I care, though,
as long as it means we are away from everything. I don't
even mind self catering. Right now I just can't stand
the thought of being in a hotel and lots of people around
me. Silence, snow, Alps, sound like bloody bliss to
short: mountains. Okay."
... I seem to kind of like them." Grinning, Dan
sat up as well. "I'd even tag around with you for
a couple of days so you can see the 'cultural sights',
if I get the rest in a solitary hut after that."
about getting shaved and grab another bite in the mess?
Should I help you get dressed?"
Dan scratched the thick stubble in his face that began
resembled a beard far too closely. "Help me shave.
I like that."
grinned. "I'll do that. Let me get a bowl with
hot water and a bunch of clean towels." Giving
Dan a shave and then Dan shaving him, life seemed alright
for a while again.
CO was, according to rumour, too busy to get the detailed
briefing now, and Vadim hoped he did something about
that camp, but the info probably had to filter back
up the ranks again. So, after the shaving, they sat
in the mess and had food, at their own leisure, with
some of Dan's mates checking whether he was okay and
Dan explaining, that no, he hadn't been shot in the
leg, and the rumour that had spread around camp was
false. Holding his mug of coffee, Vadim reflected that
Dan didn't seem to have any lovers in this camp - at
least not so far. They were all mates.
went back to bed after Dan had called Maurice, getting
Dima onto the line as well, and staying far longer than
intended, to explain what had happened. Twenty minutes
later, he hobbled back into the room, to grab another
shower, determined to help Vadim shower as well, no
matter what anyone might think about two men showering
together. They managed somehow to push the two beds
close again, and not all that much later, they were
both asleep. Resting uneventfully until the early morning.
got ready with plenty of time, hoping to spend it mostly
in the mess over breakfast, but the CO had different
plans and they barely managed to get a fry-up down their
necks - at least Dan did - before they had to go off
to get grilled properly for a couple of hours. Finally,
the medic came to the office, insisting that he would
have to check Vadim's wound and that Dan had to get
ready for the hospital. For the first time ever, Dan
was actually glad to have to go to a hospital.
was taken in a military ambulance, just as white as
all the other vehicles, and examined thoroughly. Too
thoroughly for his taste, including shots of some nasty
looking liquid into his knee before scans and x-rays,
but finally he was done. Sitting in the waiting room
while gagging for a fag, he was called inside at last.
of his knee - a ghostly outline of bones against dark
- were on display against the backlit white boxes adorning
the doctor's office. The man was relatively young, dark
hair combed back, and the white lab coat hung from his
shoulders in a way that suggested profound weariness.
"Mr McFadyen? Please, have a seat." He cast
another long glance at the x-rays, as if making absolutely
thanks." Hobbling to the chair, fairly clumsy on
those crutches, Dan glanced up at the x-rays, unable
to read much into it, other than that it was a mess
of black and white. "Everything okay?"
I ask for how long have you experienced discomfort in
I had a bit of surgery some years back, but it was fine
after that. It's only recently been painful. For about
half a year or so."
the colleagues tell you to take it easy with the leg,
or did they tell you, you were as good as new? In the
latter case, you have the grounds for a lawsuit."
I was in a military hospital and was meant
to get a desk job after that. But I refused and left.
I, well, I still functioned and did a HALO
jump as well as a thousand other things. I'm something
like a PMC, but not quite as private."
explains what I've seen. High strain after that first
operation? Sustained for years? I hope you at least
cut back on the marathons." The doctor sat down
and leaned forward. "To be honest, you will have
to undergo surgery again. Back then, techniques weren't
as advanced, and we wouldn't make some mistakes anymore
that were state of the art back then."
do you mean? Just some surgery and I can continue my
job? And what would the surgery entail?"
should have taken that desk job, Mr McFadyen. The only
thing that we can do now from a medical perspective
is a full knee replacement. In other words, an artificial
knee, which will at least allow you movement with little
discomfort, and retain the mobility of your leg."
Dan sat up, ramrod straight. "No way! I can't let
you do that. Or are you telling me that they are so
good these days that I'll be as good as new and can
continue my job for a while longer?"
doctor shook his head. "The artificial knee is
not as good as a natural one, not nearly. Placing it
into your leg is not a small operation. It's
a rather serious and long operation."
have to understand, doctor, that my job is all I am
and all I know. If I have to retire, that's it. I'd
retire, and I'm only in my early forties."
do understand." The doctor's air of weariness only
deepened. "And I wish I could tell you anything
else, Mr McFadyen. But you already got more out of your
body than you should have. Your knee is coming apart
at this stage. The problems you are having now will
get worse, and there is only so much painkillers can
and I'm assuming you already used painkillers
to keep going?"
Dan conceded, and yet was not ready to give up. "Can
you not help me keep going a little longer? Just a few
until I have sorted my affairs. I bought
a farm in New Zealand, it's dilapidated, but work is
going on, while I keep doing my job here."
afraid not. I'm sorry."
leaned forward, meeting the doctor close up. "Isn't
there anything? Just for a while. I promise, I'll do
what you tell me I have to do, when it's time, when
I have everything sorted."
doctor gave a sigh. "You are gambling away your
long-term health. Your knee may hold up a little longer
- but I'm expecting months rather than years - the swelling
might come down, it might all settle back to before
it was that made it flare up like that. I assume, using
the right drugs and a lot of rest, you might be able
to hold out for a few months, but that's ethically a
very grey area, and I absolutely and totally don't recommend
you are not saying that it is impossible?" Dan
brushed some errand strands of grey-streaked hair from
his eyes as he looked up. "Doctor
Anything? I need to get my life in order first."
doctor closed his eyes, seemingly defeated. "I'm
saying that by accepting long-term consequences, you
might go on without the proper treatment for a few months."
do accept this. I have to." Dan smiled with relief.
"I've always accepted consequences in my life.
If anything, then that. And what can be worse than having
an artificial knee? If I keep going for a few months,
I can at least sort my life." He nodded, sitting
straight. "So, then, what do I need to do right
now, and is there anything I can take for the pain?"
knee will have to rest a lot. The swelling has to come
down by itself, and I'll prescribe you something to
give it some support. You may grow dependent on the
drugs, and they are likely to interfere with your concentration
and suitability to do certain types of work. The best
thing will be a lot of rest, and absolutely no strain.
And we'll have to carefully monitor the status of your
knee. I'm not happy with that Mr McFadyen, and I ask
you do to whatever you need to have done before retiring
as soon as possible. I might be mistaken about the military
profession, but you're gambling with your life and that
of your colleagues."
would never do that. I give you my word, doctor, if
I feel my ability to function is jeopardised, I will
immediately stop and 'retire', as you put it."
Dan took hold of the crutches and got up. "Thank
you are bound to silence, aren't you?"
doctor looked gloomily at the images of Dan's knee shot
from various angles. "Yes, of course. Full confidentiality."
you." Dan smiled, ignoring the disapproval, and
hobbled out of the room, where he was taken in by a
nurse who strapped up his knee and prepared painkillers,
as well as sorting what would be necessary to help the
knee recuperate - as much as it could, before he was
driven back to camp.
Dan returned to camp he was as cheerful as ever. The
doctor's words carefully stashed away to be ignored.
A large pack of painkillers in his pockets, he hobbled
straight to the phones to try and organise a cabin on
short notice. After an hour of what seemed like endless
phone calls, he had achieved the impossible. A family
had had to cancel their booking for a cabin up in the
Tyrolean Alps, and they could have it for a couple of
weeks if they wanted. He was looking for Vadim to tell
him the good news, a triumphant grin on his face as
he hobbled across camp, starting to get the hang of
was just cleaning all the pairs of boots, shining them,
and going through their combined kit for holes and pieces
that needed to be replaced. Ever conscientious. Looking
up and then getting up when Dan struggled with the door,
helping him through. "What's the news?"
got us a cabin! Hail me, the victorious hero of more
phone calls than I ever want to do in my life again."
Dan let himself fall down onto the bed. The way they'd
strapped up his knee made it all the more awkward.
thee, great white cabin hunter." Vadim put the
other boot down, checking if he had done the whole lot.
Indeed. Stowing the kit away. "Out on the next
quite. We got it over Christmas and New Year, because
a family had to cancel. We should get a plane for the
week before Christmas. Makes it something like three
weeks. Gives us enough time to heal and go see everyone
we might need to see, aye? I'm sure we'll get the time
off. We are completely useless right now anyway."
Jean? Your family.
" Shit. My family. Our
family. Vadim's brow darkened. He should talk to Katya.
He really should. Or maybe let it settle. But it wouldn't
hurt to hear both sides of that particular story.
" Dan sighed, shook his head once and
rubbed over his face with the heel of his hand. Vigorously,
as if to get rid of cobwebs. "I meant people around
here, Dima, Maurice." Tilting his head, "Duncan
and Mhairi invited us, but it hasn't been long since
we were visited them." And how was he going to
deal with the other family? Vadim's. Not his. Just a
frowned. "Hungary is a risk. But
friend left me something. He's dead. Szandor. A
swallowed and nodded, looking down at his fucked hand.
"I met him."
did? Of course. He was alive then. Shit."
he was in the training hall. They
they were fencing."
Lifting his head to look at Vadim. "What did he
wanted to say 'the gay disease', but it seemed wrong,
callous, and fuck, Szandor had meant much to him. "AIDS."
Dan frowned, "reminds me how fucking lucky we've
" Vadim inhaled deeply. "You
know that, don't you? That he was my lover, during the
was him?" Dan sat up straighter, fishing for a
cigarette but then remembered how much Vadim disliked
the smoke in the room he slept in. "Good choice,
even though I didn't take all that much notice on the
smiled fondly, remembering what had been enclosed in
the will. "He left me his weapons. Just what am
I going to do with an old-fashioned Toledo blade? I
can't even wield it properly. And customs will look
at me funny. I have no place to hang it and storage
these things shouldn't get boxed away and forgotten."
course you've got space. We have space. Just
store the weapons until we're ready to move to Kiwiland."
Dan smiled a little. Just thinking of the few days in
Hungary was painful, but what was it again about festering
wounds? "I also saw your
Vadim rubbed his face. "She looks a lot like me,
she did." Dan remembered how shocked he'd been
to see her, every bit reminding him of Vadim. Dan looked
away, and towards his kit where he'd safely stored the
followed the gaze. "Show her to me again."
only caught a glimpse the first time." Vadim looked
Dan in the face. "Come on."
before you hit me like a rabid dog, but Dan discarded
the thought. Done and over. Past. "Okay."
He leaned across, rummaged one-handed in the pile of
kit. Knowing all too well where it was, he found the
pictures in their shredded envelope within a second.
"Here." Handing them over. He'd looked at
them many times, but would never admit he'd memorised
studied the shots for a long time. Katya's way to have
children. Undoubtedly, she was cute. A very cute toddler,
and very much like Dan, somehow, eyes and hair and maybe
features, even if they were yet too soft and unfinished
to say. "Congratulations", he murmured, trying
to keep the tone light. "I mean it."
think so?" Really wanting a cigarette now, Dan
was studying Vadim very closely. "But it doesn't
mean anything. You know I'll never meet her." He
took hold of one of the photos, looking at it. "You
got to do it in my stead." Not taking his eyes
off the photo for a long while. "Would you?"
Finally looking up and at Vadim.
do that when I pick up the swords." Vadim reached
over and touched Dan's shoulder. "You go to Jean,
I'll handle Katya."
work. Jean's not in France." Dan shrugged, "how
long did you want to
" see your family, "go
a weekend. Flying in, meeting, one night in a hotel,
out the next morning."
come with you. Didn't see anything of Budapest. I could
well, do some sightseeing." And he'd always
been ever so interested in cultural heritage. "As
long as you'll sleep in the hotel with me."
Sample the local men, eh?"
ha. Let's just stick to food and drink." The cigarette
pack had somehow found its way into Dan's hand. "Can't
say Hungary is my favourite place to go to, so don't
try your luck." He carefully put the pictures back
into the envelope.
closed the distance, then kissed Dan's neck. "Okay.
Budapest. Where else?"
know. What about we see how we're healing up and decide
when we're off?" The envelope went back between
his kit and Dan turned his head to look at Vadim, a
comically pained expression in his face. "And if
I don't get a cigarette soon I might just die before
we get a chance for R&R."
Vadim stood to stow away the boots and the rest of their
kit. "Go on, then." Only too glad that they
could banter about it, the lightness was back, they
were comfortable with each other again.
The relief was genuine, and soon enough the smell of
cigarette smoke filled the room as Dan lay back on the
bed. Smoking with his eyes closed, the crutches beside
him, and very intently not thinking of some things and
thinking of others instead. Smiling, because his world
was back in order.
the time of the plane touching down at Budapest airport,
Dan was dying for a fag and increasingly silent. The
banter had stopped a while ago, and he was holding onto
the beer in the miniature glass, while looking out of
the window, across Vadim. The knee continued to be bandaged
and he still had to use a crutch, thus sitting at the
aisle to stretch out his leg. He'd been popping peanuts
and studiously avoided to think.
weather was glorious, just like it had been when he'd
visited Hungary for the first time. 'Visited', not quite
the right word. He'd been a desperate man, almost three
years ago. A man who'd been ready to beg and had in
return made a deal with the devil. Just that the result
wasn't his burning soul, but a child he'd never meet.
Hell would have been easier, at least he didn't believe
in that shit.
ever been here?" Dan finally broke his silence
as the plane rolled towards its parking space.
Not planning to stay for long, either." Vadim wasn't
quite sure about his emotions in this case. Anger and
determination, that was what it seemed like, a touch
of nervousness, and curiosity. All together a mix that
was pretty hard to keep apart or analyse. Regret, definitely,
that he hadn't been in touch earlier, hadn't said his
goodbyes to Szandor.
nodded, crumpling the empty packet of peanuts in his
hand. "I assume you've planned when to see
your family?" He'd never asked, had simply assumed
Vadim had somehow contacted his ex-wife to arrange the
In the evening."
I assume you'll meet them where they live?"
are living in Szandor's house. He left it to them. Apparently,
it was renovated and Katya is running it, renting parts
of it out and so on. Suits her." Vadim inhaled
deeply. "Not looking forward to this
can imagine." Reaching across to squeeze Vadim's
hand. "I know where the house is. We could walk
there this afternoon, just have a look around. Then
you know where to go in the evening."
Vadim was holding Dan's hand in both his. "Damn.
I don't know." Wish Szandor was still
alive? Yes. Or wish this wasn't so complicated. "Guess
you would have liked him. I suppose he was on the 'camp'
side, but that wasn't how I saw him."
smiled. "Aye, but it's too late now. We just have
to concentrate on the living." The plane had come
to a halt and the passengers were starting to look for
their bags in the overhead holds. "Let's just get
this done and over with. Think of the cabin in the snowy
mountains." He flashed a grin to keep this
as light-hearted as possible.
groaned. "As long as the heating is working
He grabbed his bag, helped Dan to get the smaller backpack
on and waited for him to get hold of the crutch, and
they headed for customs and immigration. A while later,
they dropped off their belongings in the hotel, where
Vadim had a quick shower and got dressed again, casual
but expensive, checking himself in the mirror. "It's
fairly close. Fifteen minutes on foot."
it twenty with that bloody crutch of mine." Dan
was coming out of the bathroom, towelling his hair dry.
The swelling had subsided somewhat, but the knee still
didn't look right. "Want me to wear anything specific?"
He hadn't packed his bag, as usual.
in the suitcase will do. I like the cashmere jumper
" Vadim sat down in the stuffed chair and
watched Dan get dressed, who dutifully got into what
Vadim suggested. Life was so much easier that way.
again, I guess I'll get a taxi. Twenty minutes in that
and in the meantime I'll quickly check with reception
if something I'm waiting for has arrived." Hair
still damp, but dressed and shaved, Dan got hold of
the crutch to make his way downstairs.
Vadim let him go, though, and while Dan was downstairs,
he ordered a taxi for 'in fifteen minutes', and also
called Katya, telling her he'd just arrived and they'd
meet in two hours, as planned.
was back in five minutes, carrying a large envelope
in his hand. "I knew I could count on him."
smiled when he closed the door behind him. "Here."
Handing the envelope over to Vadim. "Can you give
" the bitch "Kisa's mother.
Duncan set up the trust for me. I'll be paying in monthly
until she is eighteen, or until she will need it, or
until I'm dead. Whatever comes first. It's for
her education, stuff like that. Duncan didn't ask too
many questions, but I guess I'll eventually have to
tell him." Sitting down to take the weight off
his knee, "face to face, preferably."
Shit. She's Duncan's niece." Vadim looked at the
papers without actually seeing anything. "I'm sure
she'll have everything she needs. Katya wouldn't
treat her own daughter badly. But it was Dan's daughter,
know." Agreeing with this, if anything at all.
"But the kid might need something one day, and
money is all I can give her. Let's face it, even if
I were not forbidden from having contact, what would
I be? An uncle? A father?" Dan snorted without
humour, "I'm not father material. I'd fuck her
up. She's got the chance, maybe, to be what's good.
I'm not going to bring what's bad into the equation."
This seemed like the beginning of some very complex
wrangling. Vadim wished Katya had just grabbed some
guy off the street that night. Any guy but his guy.
"I'll tell her. You sure you don't want to come
would really not be a good idea." Dan was still
smiling, but the smile did not touch his eyes. "I'll
just have a good meal and will look for a pub, bar,
whatever they call it here. I'll be back before midnight,
If you do find a native, leave me some." Vadim
grinned and leaned over to kiss Dan.
laughed shortly. "I will."
have a look at the area. The taxi should be waiting."
got up, and they were soon in the taxi, heading once
more towards the building Dan had been to before. He
felt suddenly as if a great weight crushed down on him,
until he turned his head and saw Vadim, reaching for
his hand to press it almost painfully. "It's different
this time." Murmured, "you're here now,"
and he smiled.
pressed his hand, too, then looked at the building where
the driver stopped. He told him they'd look for a while,
in fact Vadim wanted to give Dan a chance to decide
whether and when he'd seen enough. The building was
in excellent shape, bright, restored, spotless. Vadim
had known that Szandor hadn't been exactly poor, he'd
never struck him as one who was economically disadvantaged,
but being faced with the reality of it was something
could walk into the city centre. It's not far from here."
Dan offered, "I was in a hotel, that
it was very close. No need to have the taxi waiting."
Getting out of the car, Vadim paid, and Dan stood and
looked around. Breathing in the ice cold air, and taking
in the building. "It certainly has improved."
Half-turning towards Vadim, who placed a hand on his
the way. It's my first time here."
really want to get too close to the building. Someone
might think we are loitering." Vadim's closeness
made it easier, reminded him that this was not about
death and it was not three years ago. It was about life,
rather. "I never explored the ground, shall we
have a walk around?"
nodded and remained close, following Dan and taking
the area in. It reminded him much of Szandor - just
imagining him living here. Somehow old-fashioned but
open, friendly, and very attractive.
was a small piece of woods, more like wild parkland,
and voices came from the area, not far away. A narrow,
pleasingly winded path lead towards the crop of trees.
"It's rather nice here." Dan admitted. "Guess
it's a good place to grow up in, aye?"
Decent part of town, seems friendly enough
There were kids playing in the woods, with one boy holding
the hand of a walking toddler, and Vadim recognized
both immediately, while Dan hadn't quite caught on.
The other kids weren't his, no Anoushka - well, she
was probably getting too old for those games - but there
was Nikolai, and the toddler, that was Kisa. The kitten.
Vadim stood, watching, silent, studying the boy who
seemed self-absorbed and not withdrawn at all now.
finally got it when the kid turned. Dark hair whipping
wildly around her face, she was laughing, and almost
toppling over when she tried to run, over-excited. The
boy held her, security, care, and an obvious tenderness
for a kid ten years younger than him and looking everything
shit." Dan whispered, hands almost shaking when
he patted his stylish outdoor jacket for cigarettes.
" and he couldn't
say it. Too unreal when confronted with the living proof.
reached over and touched Dan's arm. Of course Nikolai
wouldn't recognize him, to his eyes, they were just
boring adults, probably. And he felt strangely reluctant
to talk to him. Why tear him out of his games and caring
for his sister? Less pain this way. "She is very
a bugger." Dan tried to grin, but
faltered. "She'll be making her mother's life hell."
she brought it upon herself."
fuck. You could say that." Tearing his eyes away
from those kids, Dan glanced at Vadim, tried a smile.
That one went better. "Well, are we kind of related
legally. I don't even think there's a word for that
'relation'." Vadim studied Nikolai for a long moment,
but didn't want to attract attention. Eyeing young boys
was not exactly something he wanted to be seen doing,
even if it was completely innocent.
it's too fucked up to have a name." Dan lit a cigarette,
before putting his hand back into the pocket. The kids
were wrapped up warmly, but he wasn't wearing gloves.
"Best we leave." A long, last glance at the
toddler, who was running full force into the older boy,
laughing and squealing as she did, and screaming with
delight when he picked her up and swung her around,
playing 'plane'. "I hope she'll have a good life.
She looks like she might take it by the horns."
With that Dan turned away.
reached over, touching Dan's arm again. It hurt. It
hurt that neither of them could just walk into the kids'
lives, and that was probably for the best.
on." Dan smiled, a brave effort. "We're both
fucked up. At least we're not fucking up others, aye?"
back on the path they had come, they took a walk along
the back of the house, before they headed into town.
Even though Dan was slower, he was okay, the painkillers
doing their job, and the knee was still holding together.
They had enough time for an ice-cream and cake and coffee
in a café, before Vadim eventually had to head
back, and Dan went further into the centre of town,
looking for a restaurant that served local food and
had decided against flowers, he didn't want to send
the wrong message. He'd discarded the thought of keeping
it civil, like a potted plant. He had decided against
a book - he hadn't read anything recently, therefore
he was in no position to recommend a book, and he wouldn't
have trusted anybody else's recommendation. Not with
Katya. Like in fencing, everything came down to the
moment when the blades lowered after the salute and
the distance was no longer neutral.
rang the door bell, then calmly climbed the stairs,
aware of everything, the paint, the high ceilings, the
fine plasterwork, the ordered, clean touch. The door
opened once he arrived on her landing.
looked lethal. Still. Very straight, shoulders squared,
facing him full on. If she'd slid down one foot to begin
claiming his space on the piste, he wouldn't have been
surprised. Her hair short, accentuating her jaw line,
features not sagging. She'd kept well, like no time
had passed at all, but she was wearing her hair in a
new cut, and had applied a little makeup. The dark blue
jumper made her look pale and icy, and she wasn't wearing
any jewellery, not even a watch. Trousers, no skirt,
she liked the freedom to move her legs, to run if she
had to, to charge, if she had to, no doubt.
How nice." She sounded like he was a neighbour
who'd come round semi-unexpectedly. Katya opened the
door further, allowed him to pass through, bidding him
to follow into the living room.
flat had a good view over the roofs of the old city.
The leather couches were new, everything was meticulously
clean, ordered, like she liked it. Nothing of the children.
She'd decided to face him alone.
was the flight?"
leaned back, regarding her, as she sat there, opposite
on the single-seater. Hands in her lap, betraying the
tension of a coiled cobra. "It's the war that bothers
us - transportation is no big issue."
war?" Then she opened her lips, understanding.
"You're not talking about the mess in the Balkans?"
He inhaled, then focused on taking things slowly. The
way she was anticipating, she was in the defensive.
As the attacker, he could take his time. And he was
reasonably sure that she had nothing to strike back
at him. "The Balkans are going to hell. That's
not a war. Not like I know it." He leaned back,
rested his arms on the back of the sofa. Knowing what
message his body language sent. "You used me to
knew he would be in the same location as you."
well, he got the photos. Now all I'm wondering is whether
you achieved your aim - whether we have to acknowledge
you scoring a point, or not. From the way it felt, it
sure looked like an attack."
brow darkened. "You think?"
you or did you not tell him to never get in touch to
see whether he's a father or not?" Vadim leaned
you?" Vadim's voice was cold. "I was, as you
remember, rotting in a KGB prison while these things
transpired, so I want the story from you."
cobra swayed. He could see her shift in her seat, coiled.
Not sure from where the attack had gone. He'd caught
her off guard, even though he'd been sure he'd sent
a message with his body language. No embrace, no kisses,
no gifts. It should have clued her in that he wasn't
here to congratulate her on her fine children. Three,
just tell me the truth." He leaned back, using
his body to lie to her. He'd learned a thing or two
in interrogation and during his time working with the
Afghans. If he could deal with boneheaded Pashtuns that
flew into a rage when they felt their honour impinged,
he could deal with her. "Did you tell him to never
be in touch? Because she would be your child, not his?
Right?" He'd also learned that saying 'yes' for
somebody being interrogated was always easier than saying
Vadim nodded at that, leaning back some more. "I
thought so." Inviting now her counterattack, blade
lowered, but he could easily block her even so. Offering
her an opening didn't mean it was a real opening.
was really just one thing I wanted from him." She
stood. "Do you understand?"
understand. Now, between us, that was love. Even though
I was never the man you'd wanted me to be."
turned around, ready to strike, and Vadim raised a hand,
vaguely touched that she moved to defend him. His image.
The man she'd married versus the man that now sat in
front of her.
I am Anoushka's father. And even though I
it very hard to be in touch, she's still somewhere there,
in the background. Something of me, outside of me. Are
those her awards? Fencing?" He pointed at the sideboard.
nodded. "Lefthanders have it easier."
smiled, fleetingly. "Yeah. As I said. When we made
her, that was love. Whatever I feel, and however it
turned out, but I loved you then, and I loved you as
my wife, and then, later, as somebody very close to
me. You and her, and Nikolai. Now, Nikolai, he was certainly
also conceived in love. Sasha loved you, you had a crush
on him, and so did I. Love, lust, the whole complicated
thing. And it's good that something of Sasha survives.
Your memory, mine, and his son, whom I love like my
own. Even though, again, I'm nowhere near the father
he deserves. But I know you're doing a great job bringing
them up. They'll be good people, Katya."
are you aiming for, Vadim?"
your unguarded left hip, Mrs Lefthander, as always.
You defend too high, sometimes. Kisa. You made Dan give
you Kisa. You used him. Now, to an outsider, it looks
like you've always used your men to get the children
bared her teeth, getting angry. "You
said, to an outsider." Raising his voice, speaking
loud and sharply. "Hear me out."
she pulled back, staring at him, guarded now, realising
how much she was in the defensive and trying to find
her rhythm back.
I know that's not true. Because I know what I felt and
what Sasha felt and what you felt. Now, Kisa. She's
a completely different case. You never used Anoushka
against me. Granted, Sasha didn't live long enough,
" Vadim had to swallow, the anger
was constricting his throat. "Why the fuck
are you using Kisa, from the night she began to fucking
now, all the way, to hurt her father? Because you know
that men aren't made from fucking stone." He'd
never cursed in front of her, cursing wasn't like him,
and he could see her being unpleasantly surprised at
his coarseness, the vulgarity. Soldier. "You know
exactly what I felt, or Sasha felt. Sasha begged me
to let you go, and I would have. I would have let you
go, and my daughter, so you could be happy. Why the
fuck do you try to break Dan? Is there a last axe you
have to grind with me? Because you know that he'd be
there, with me, fucking hurting because of what you
did. Why, Katya? You can't even see him suffer. Is it
enough to imagine him in pain? For what?"
could think he got me into prison. Truth is, I got myself
there. And he got me out of it. He'd been keeping me
together, Katya. He's keeping me sane. He's there when
I wake up screaming at night. He's there to guard my
back against the savages down in the Balkans. The Gulf.
And wherever else we go. We're soldiers, still. Mercenaries.
We put our skin out there, our hearts, minds, whatever
we are, and we already go through so much shit. My mind's
broken, and Dan's body is starting to come apart, and
all we want is to gracefully retire and make it out
alive, and then you use his child to hurt my partner?
The man I depend on for my sanity? That's low, Katya.
That's off target, and you know it. And I know it, because
you've never done anything this ignoble and downright
wretched before. I know. I know you're made from steel
and bone, and I've always respected you. But hurting
Dan like that? Kicking a man who has never done you
any harm? Not a nice thing to do, Katya." He looked
at her, and she was pale, taut, angry, shocked.
waited, breathing, knew he'd let his anger out, too
much of it, likely. Truth was, somebody had had to say
it. "I said my piece." Inhaling deeply. "I'm
sorry this meeting didn't go as you wanted. I truly
stood, and closed the jacket.
you not want to see the children?"
shook his head. "I'm dying to, but I can't. I'd
be looking at them while Dan looks at the photographs?
No way." He glanced around. "Where's Szandor's
the kitchen. The rest
is there, too."
you." He found the kitchen, where, wrapped up,
the unmistakable shape of the sword rested on the table,
next to it, a neatly packed box. Vadim opened it, saw
it was photos and documents. He took both, placed the
envelope Dan had given him where the box had been, then,
without looking back, left the flat. On the next landing
in the corridor, he felt a wave of nausea and regret,
but it had been the right thing.
she thought she could hurt Dan, now, he could hurt her
back. She'd given him the weapons for it, too.
got a taste of her own medicine.
went back to the hotel. He had no idea where Dan was,
and simply assumed Dan would come back eventually. He
changed, had a long, hot shower, then decided he was
too angry and did his isometrics, pushups, exercising
in the hotel room until he was sweaty and tired. He
had another shower, took his time with a shave, then
watched TV in the bathrobe, lying on the bed. The sword
and the box untouched next to him.
wasn't long after, barely ten, when the door opened
and Dan slipped inside. He stopped, a look of surprise
on his face, which immediately turned into a smile.
"Didn't expect you back, yet." He was carrying
a bottle of Hungarian red wine under his free arm.
switched the TV off and sat up in bed. "And I thought
you'd learn Hungarian in a few hours and bring back
two young, Hungarian hunks to share."
sorry, I wasn't at my best tonight." Dan closed
the door and leaned the crutch into a corner, holding
up the wine. "But I got some plonk, will that do?"
Sitting down on the bed. "How ... did it go?"
made a non-committal gesture. "We had a bit of
a fight, but I won."
cocked his head, said nothing for a moment, fiddling
with the bottle instead, to get the seal off. "Should
I ask about what?"
a matter of character, the past, what we thought of
each other, what it all means." Vadim shrugged.
"I gave her something to think about. Somebody
had to do it."
Dan nodded, looked around the room and spotted the minibar,
which - he discovered after rummaging around - held
a corkscrew. "Did you see your kids?" Kid.
Strictly speaking, or should he say 'did you see the
Apart from seeing Kisa and Nikolai when we saw them,
Dan nodded again, found a couple of glasses and poured
the wine, all the way to the brim, despite knowing better.
Holding one out to Vadim, who took it.
don't know what to say and I don't know if I should
ask." A small smile quirked one corner of Dan's
lips. "Doesn't happen often, aye?"
okay. It really is. I told her that I know what her
game is with you and that I disapprove. Then I walked
out. But I left the envelope."
Dan took a sip. His eyes betrayed his surprise. He'd
forever be shit at poker. "What game is she playing
with me?" And if she was, how could he break the
bitch's neck without hurting the kid? Unlikely.
working hard to hurt you. Probably me. I'm not quite
sure which of us two is collateral in this."
going to fucking kill her if she hurts you!" That
came out, hissed, before Dan managed to engage his brain,
and he stuck his nose into the wine. Shit.
moved over to place a hand on his shoulder. "I
just told her I know what she's playing. I hope she
has the good grace to change her game now that I've
called it. Maybe. Maybe not. But I refuse to see my
kids when you can't see yours, and that's a promise."
shook his head. "No, Vadim, that's crap. You hold
them hostage for the shit the bitch is pulling. It's
not their fault, aye? Nor Kisa's." Drinking the
wine down as if it was water.
she holds Kisa hostage." Vadim shook his head.
"I'm not going to pretend with her. She changes
her game, then I will. I'm done being manipulated. I
let her live her life, right? Why the fuck does she
have to interfere with ours?"
what good would it do if she let me see Kisa? What would
I tell the kid who I was? A nice uncle?" Dan shook
his head, "no. Leave the kid with her. Whatever
the fuck her game is, however much she hates me, I figure
one thing she'll do right, and that's bringing the kid
up." Couldn't bring himself to call Kisa 'his daughter'.
Surreal, far too surreal.
She'll do that." Vadim tried to not sound too weary.
Dan had a point. They had no room in their lives to
be fathers. And yet, maybe Katya would come round to
do the decent thing. "Well. And I got a sword now."
sword?" Brows raised, Dan poured himself more wine.
"I thought you already had one anyway." Waggling
his brows in a feeble attempt to make a saucy joke.
a historical blade." Vadim pointed at the wrapped
package. "He wanted me to have this. He won it
in a competition, I think. Or somebody gave it to him
as a present. I don't know the story behind the blade.
And that's strange, because he wanted me to have it,
and I guess it was important
but I don't know
why. What went on in his head that he wanted me to have
it, and have this, of all the things
You mean Szandor? I met him ... very briefly."
said. Shit. He must have been ill then." Vadim
shook his head. "Makes me feel a bit guilty. Getting
this and having no idea why."
it come with some explanation or paper?" Dan looked
around the room, before settling his eyes on Vadim.
opened the box yet. Didn't want to do it alone."
it's the blade he used when you two met?" Offering
a smile, "some folks are that sentimental, you
know." Oh so inconspicuously playing with the chain
round his neck that held the bullet. He'd been wearing
it again since they'd survived the 'adventure'.
smiled. "He didn't run around with a historical
blade." He reached for the packet, pulled it onto
his lap, and began to tear the wrapping, freeing the
steel. It was slightly oiled, well kept, a blade that
had been used for fighting, no doubt, not just to show
off with. The basket intricate, darkened steel, with
silver wire and etchings.
beautiful." Dan sipped his wine, watching. "Like
you." Fuck, and where had that stuff suddenly come
smiled. "Interesting theory."
I don't know. I don't know this Szandor. I saw him for
a couple of minutes - you were his lover. So I guess
you should know better."
but what you said. Maybe he thought the blade was me,
that simple." Vadim wrapped it up again and placed
it on the chair near the bed. "You would have liked
him. Maybe not as a lover - too camp - but an honourable
man. I remember
he had a sword bag for his training
and sheaths for them. And I remember something
was written on one of the sheaths: 'Never draw me in
anger, never sheathe me in dishonour'." He shook
his head. "And I thought, fuck, how archaic. How
should have had something like that." Dan shook
his head. "on our knives, rifles, pistols, garrottes.
But we didn't."
think it would have made a difference? I'm not sure.
Modern war doesn't allow for honour. All you can strive
for is decency. And I guess this was about duelling,
and duelling was always different from war. But I thought,
this Olympian athlete, he really believed in the old
archaic gentleman duel. Not modern at all. Not about
winning. About doing it right."
what's different, then, to heading out into a desert
to save a bunch of yanks you can't stand in the first
place? You think that's not trying to do it right?"
was because I love you, Dan. I've done a few right things.
Some good." Vadim opened the box, apprehensive
of what he'd find, and felt something heavy shift inside,
between the papers. Reaching for that, he realized what
it was before his fingers had even touched it. "Oh
got hold of the ribbon and pulled the medal free. That
did it, his eyes suddenly began to water. Silver. Men's
looked at Vadim, then the medal, and he smiled. Putting
the wine down, to reach out gently. "He really
was in love with you at some time, aye?" Softly.
Vadim closed his fist around the medal, feeling it cool
and heavy in his hand, as he fought the emotion. A punch
to the guts. A powerful impact. "He knew how
fucking disappointed I was. Back then. Oh fuck."
said nothing, just let his hand rest on Vadim's shoulder
and waited, offered. A presence, like he'd always be
there, no matter what. As long as no wedge of hatred
was ever pushed between them again.
tried a smile, and breathed, relaxed, accepting the
gift, the thought. Both gifts. "I should
find his grave. Tomorrow. We have time before we have
to be at the airport."
and for now, would you mind if I get you out of your
clothes and wrapped myself around you? It's medicinal,
you know? For your stitches ... and my knee ... and,
I guess, all the rest of us."
reached over to Dan's hair, taking a handful and kissing
him. "Let me put the box away, and get out of the
bathrobe." That he did, and not much later they
lay under the covers, side by side, touching, caressing,
until Vadim rolled over to sleep on the side, and Dan
right behind him, spooning.
had been glued to the window, half-way leaning across
Vadim's lap, marvelling at the picture-postcard perfect
beauty of the Austrian Alps. The weather had remained
glorious, and during the descent into Innsbruck airport,
they could not have wished for more of a view. Glittering
snow, a brilliant sky, and the mountains a breathtaking
back-drop. Nothing like Afghanistan, and yet something
about the majesty, which pulled on Dan's heart, settling
a strange ache, which was good and welcome.
explored the capital of Tyrol for a couple of days,
getting the necessary supplies and a winter-equipped
4x4, before driving through thick snow into the mountains.
cabin was luxurious, the brochure had not promised too
much. Allowing space and comfort, and all the mod cons
that they could have wished for, including a generator
- just in case. At the same time there was a rustic
feel about it, everything wood and warm colours, and
Dan felt at home immediately.
settled in straight away, enjoying the first night -
Christmas Eve - in front of the fire. Listening to the
crackling of the burning wood, while enjoying a glass
of 'plonk' as Dan called it. The night was silent, every
sound of the surrounding nature muffled by the gentle
snow fall, and if they did not know better, they would
have believed the old adage of Peace on Earth.