1993, the Balkans
was slouching in one of the phone booths that gave pretty
little privacy, no more than a plastic shell around
the head, dialling the French embassy's number. It took
no more than a few seconds before someone picked up.
The unmistakable voice of Maurice. Dry, French, and
exhaling smoke. As always.
Maurice, Dan here. Can I have a word with Dima?"
Nothing else and Dan rolled his eyes.
he doesn't live here anymore."
brows shot up and he turned towards the wall. Out of
habit, his hand went to shield the receiver. "Why?
What happened? Did you throw him out?"
dry laughter on the other end told Dan he was quite
on the wrong path. "Non, he found himself a better
do you know where that is? A flat? Room? Where?"
Cross." Came the deadpanned answer.
... what? What happened?" Eyes wide now,
Dan wasn't sure if he was connecting the dots correctly.
I give you the phone number. D'accord?"
..." Dan quickly patted his short-sleeved shirt
down to find the obligatory pen and even managed to
pull out a dog eared piece of grubby paper. Noting the
phone number down, he stared at it. Unsure if he really
saw what he thought he was seeing. A slow grin began
to spread on his face. Could it be? Did he ...? Did
gave a huff of laughter. "You could pay me back."
grinned and rolled his eyes again, "how?"
meet in the usual bar for a drink and I'll tell you."
The grin was audible in Maurice's voice.
I right in assuming this 'pay-back' might have something
to do with you figuring out that I am gay and I kicking
my own arse for not having figured out sooner that you're
a worse opportunist than even a certain mate of Vadim's?"
possible." Maurice countered, not offering anymore
than that. "Saturday, same time, same spot?"
Dan grinned, "till then." He put the receiver
down and double-checked the number again. He knew that
number, he was damn certain but only one way to find
out for sure.
the number, he was listening to the ring tone.
this is Dmitri Starov, I'm afraid Markus isn't in yet,
but I can take a message."
the man I was looking for." Dan was grinning from
ear to ear.
right. Dan? How are you?"
I ask you that?" Still grinning like a fool, "Maurice
told me you shacked up with the Red Cross."
to speak ... but not the whole Red Cross, just a certain
representative. I guess I found my humanitarian bone
damn glad ... for both of you." Fishing for his
fag, Dan managed to light it, hold a conversation, and
smile at the same time. "You happy, Dima Starov?
Found your place to stay after all the wars?" Inhaling
smoke. "And stopped waiting for that bullet?"
laughed. "I didn't think they made men like him
... or maybe I was looking in the wrong places. Yes,
I think we are ... disgracefully happy. Thanks for,
err, inviting us both to dinner, the rest went very
guess that means you have both forgiven me for my attempt
at playing cupid, aye?"
yes, absolutely. Markus isn't the type that doesn't
forgive - and me, well I'll let you off."
Dan leaned against the wall, taking the strain off his
knee. It had become a habit by now. "Tell Markus
from me that Russkies are fairly easy to handle - as
long as you ply them with food, drink and sex."
sure keeps me happy. It looks like I'll be working again
soon, he's working on some solutions to the problem.
But it's not bad staying in the house answering his
phone calls and catching up on my reading ..."
grinned, "apart from being obviously stressed out,
you got time next month for an outing to the beach?
Both of you? Vadim's off to the States, would be good
to have some time away from the job."
What about a weekend? Markus is free on weekends, unless
some ambassador or other is inviting him for a party,
but he has nothing lined up on the last weekend next
organising his social calendar?" Dan chuckled,
"or you going along to all those functions with
let's put it this way, I'm starting to teach him the
meaning of the word 'no'. Seems everybody at his place
keeps loading him with work because he's a 'single'
while the other folks are married or partnered. He tells
me I'm not half bad as a PA." Dima huffed and Dan
laughed. "We're not quite there yet. With the functions.
That would make it very official, you know?"
that be a problem with the Red Cross?"
awkward than problematic. Their policies are ... very
egalitarian. That's Swiss for you. But we should be
sure of it before we make it that official. It's too
early, we're still at the beginning."
sounds good, though, the whole thing. 'Beginning' and
all that." Dan smiled, snipped the ash off his
yes. As I said, embarrassingly happy."
be best man at your wedding, you just wait and see."
think he's the type that would marry", Dima mused.
"I'll keep that thought."
but neither of you is Danish." Dan grinned, "they
have to change the law in our countries first, though,
but even so, you wouldn't see me dead being married."
Dan groaned for effect.
all respectability is lost on both of you", Dima
bastard." Dan laughed. "Looking forward to
seeing both of you next month. Take care."
too. Give Vadim greetings, I'll greet Markus. We could
meet up for dinner before that."
good, what about in a week? What does Markus' diary
be fine. Same place we met?"
Saturday in a week, same place. See you!"
was whistling on his way back to the room, and still
in a mighty good mood when it was tea time and he got
himself ready to queue for his food, but first waiting
outside for Vadim to return from his shift.
came back right after he'd signed the weapons in. Peeling
himself out of the armour on the way into their room.
"What's up?" he asked, unbuttoning his shirt.
He'd just quickly put on a fresh t-shirt before he'd
head to the mess.
invited to Markus' and Dima's wedding." Dan smirked
from ear to ear.
Vadim stared at him.
... that might be a little premature, but we are
going to meet them for dinner on Saturday. Dima made
sure there was a free spot in Markus' diary." His
grin hadn't diminished at all.
Dima." Vadim shook his head. "Good move. So,
he shacked up with him? That solves a lot of problems."
Dima. With a partner. It was hard to believe. Dima had
never struck him as somebody who was looking for that
kind of thing.
and if you ask me, it's the best decision he's ever
made. He was ripe for settling down. Over-ripe."
Dan got up. Holding a t-shirt in front of Vadim's nose.
grinned and took it. "There's something you can
do in retirement
hook up your friends and ex-lovers."
He pulled the fabric over his head and stuffed it into
up a matchmaking ex-soldier business? Great idea ..."
Dan rolled his eyes. "Let's get scran and we can
talk about it some more. I have the best ideas with
your cock down my throat." He held the door open
in an exaggerated gesture.
I need to fuck your throat harder then, so you can't
think." Vadim's eyes showed that that was a distinct
possibility, for later.
... promises ..." Dan grinned and shut the door
behind them. It took all his willpower not to limp when
they made their way to the cookhouse, but he managed.
Saturday, Vadim led the way into the restaurant, and
spied the two men before any of the waiters had noticed
them. They were chatting, smiling, so obviously flirting
he was amazed that Dima could even look like that: civil,
happy. It was good to know he'd do alright.
touched Dan's arm, then indicated to the waiter he knew
where he was going, and headed towards the table.
looked up first, and stood up, smiling while extending
his hand. "Good to see you again." He had
a special grin for Dan, who shook his hand firmly and
pretended he hadn't noticed the wink. "What would
you like to drink?" After he'd shaken Vadim's hand.
about wine?" Vadim grinned. "Should last longer
than vodka, even though Dima can pack quite a punch."
Glancing towards the medic, who shrugged, grinning.
I'd go for the vodka." The devil-may-care grin
was back on Dan's features as he sat down. "You
never know what happens after a bottle or two or three."
bottles? These days I'd just fall asleep", Vadim
Losing the key qualification of a Russian officer there,
Vadim", said Dima.
laughed, "we're getting old, I guess, and the only
one here who is still more or less a youngster is Markus."
I?" the man in question smiled. "But after
three bottles of vodka I'd either be anyone's or fast
asleep as well."
one you'd prefer?" Dan grinned, hadn't expected
Dima's reaction which followed promptly.
latter. With me."
looked from one to the other. "Monogamy? Proper,
goddamned, motherfucking monogamy?" He gently nudged
Markus had the charming sense to blush, "I'm afraid
reached over and covered Markus' hand with his, pressing
it for a moment. "Old-fashioned proper monogamy."
glanced at Dan, brows raised with humour. "Congratulations.
Never worked with Dan, but both of you know that."
He waved the waiter over when Dan had a 'coughing fit'
which was a barely disguised outburst of laughter.
We got something to celebrate." Vadim ordered.
it's open for both of you, right?" Dima looked
between them. "Seems to work for both of you."
inhaled deeply and decided not to comment. He would
have said something along the lines of Dan finding far
more opportunities than he did, but something had changed
with Hooch, and he'd meet him very soon. It all seemed
complex in terms of emotions, so the simplicity of Dima
and Markus was appealing, but altogether unrealistic,
from his perspective.
of." Dan smiled, leaned back in his seat on the
bench. "I'm shit with the monogamy since Vadim's
return, so I can hardly ask him to stay at home and
mend the flowers while I'm out and about, aye?"
gazed into Vadim's face, who knew that the medic could
read him. Dima was perceptive, that made him so dangerous,
out in the field, and in really any social situation.
Perceptive and clever and very experienced. Plus, they
shared history. And these days, he didn't have the façade
to protect himself. "That's true", Vadim said,
only to say something. "We share, too. If and when
the opportunity presents itself."
afraid I couldn't do that." Markus chipped in,
looking up when the waiter arrived with the shot glasses
filled with ice cold vodka.
late to change that." Dan's comment was delivered
without much inflexion and little facial expression.
"Make the best out of any given situation is what
I say." His face broke into a grin as he lifted
his glass. "To Markus and Dima and old-fashioned,
proper monogamy. May it never get boring - and I don't
think it will."
raised their glasses and drank, while Vadim knew that
Dima had caught wind of what was going on. He stayed
non-committal, the topic of conversation soon veered
towards the menus, and then to Markus' work, and Vadim
tried to act perfectly normal. To his chagrin, though,
a couple of hours later, it happened that he was in
the men's toilet and Dima joined him.
comrade", Dima said, tone, choice of words, everything
exactly as it would have been in the eighties, in that
peered at him in the mirror. "Yes?"
you guys in trouble?" Dima moved closer, stood
within touching distance. "I don't mean your little
crusade a while back. I mean the rest."
inhaled and lowered his gaze for a few moments. "Life
isn't easy, Dima. That's our set of rules."
know you can change them. If he's fucking around ..."
you're not happy with it?"
just sex, Dima."
looked at him for a long time. "It's never just
sex for you, though. Am I wrong?"
You're right." Vadim shook his head. "Rules,
Dima. We're a different case."
reached out and took him by the shoulders, pulling him
up and back against him, which made Vadim look at himself
in the mirror.
not easy. I wish it was."
nodded, holding him in that weird backwards embrace.
"We're still brothers, Vadim. Whatever happens,
and whatever comes, we share something that nothing
can take away. I didn't help you once, and I hated it."
you could have done ..."
but still. I won't do that a second time. I owe you."
a friend, too. But ..." Dima inhaled, his grip
stronger now. "If I have to choose, I'm standing
with a brother."
smiled, touched against his will. Brother. The good
kind of family. "Thought you never bought the military
bullshit." Dima stared at him with an intensity
that was unlike him. "I won't do it a second time.
I'll be there. Whatever you need, whenever you need
me. I'll be there. As a comrade."
Vadim inhaled and touched Dima's right hand. "Go
back. Your husband-to-be might get the wrong ideas."
Dima let him go and headed back, and Vadim murmured
"thanks", which, he knew, Dima heard and acknowledged
before the door closed behind him.
looked up when Dima returned. "Has Vadim drowned?
Should I go and rescue him?"
grinned. "Don't worry, he's on the way back. And
no, it's not what you think, sorry."
do I think?"
leaned forward, mottled eyes gleaming with mischief.
"You wonder who gave whom a blow job."
tilted his head, suddenly serious for a second. "You
might be surprised, but not all of my thoughts evolve
appeared again, and settled back into his chair. "Okay,
I missed something?"
shrugged. "It's the obvious thought. Sorry if I
because it's me, aye?" Dan shrugged as well, fishing
for a cigarette but he already had a packet under his
nose. Markus' hand held it.
ready to order?"
cleared his throat and carefully selected his menu.
The things the place did best - everything that was
grilled and spicy, whereas Dima stuck to today's special.
was more careful for the rest of the evening. Vadim
could tell the difference, Dima rebuffed wasn't quite
the natural Dima, and he clearly kept his fastest responses
in check, being far less spontaneous in his ripostes
and jokes than normal - until more alcohol entered the
equation and by then Dan was well on his way through
a bottle and more himself.
you believe it?" Dan grinned into the round, "Vadim
really is going to fly to America in three weeks. Who'd
have thought they'd let him in. Big bad Russian and
all that." He grinned, letting Markus refill his
the cold war is well and truly over", Dima commented,
which made Vadim laugh.
guess. Unless they let me in to be able to grab
me and ask some questions while they're at it."
you are looking forward to it?"
read about the place, I know some Americans
certainly going to be interesting."
especially with that particular American he's going
to visit." Dan nudged Vadim, grinning, and clearly
felt Dima's eyes on him again, that same perceptive
expression. Fuck him, Dima was far too clever for his
own good. "American special forces", he said,
as if that explained everything. "The people you
meet in the Gulf."
everywhere else." Dan quipped, glass once again
on his lips.
grinned. "Yes, there's still regimental pride."
and that appeals to Vadim." Dan leaned his head
across to touch Vadim's shoulder. He didn't notice how
Markus was looking first at him, then at Vadim, and
then ostentatiously busied himself with the wine.
shrugged and grinned. Hooch wasn't a matter of regimental
pride. He was the same kind of man, special forces,
tough, hard, physically perfect, mentally alert, the
pinnacle of soldiering. Never mind the humour, the need,
and the fact he had culture. Not sure what to say, discussing
Hooch didn't feel right, it was his thing, strangely
private, intimate, even. He didn't boast about 'conquests',
certainly not when they came that close to the heart.
straightened back up, grabbed his glass once more and
tipped it back, all of it. "Yeah." Slammed
it down onto the table, the mis-coordination of someone
who'd had too much drink. "And he's in love with
him." He then shrugged, leaned across the table
and looked for the waiter. Clearly worse for wear.
turned his head, alarmed by the words and the reaction.
Shit. Back to square one. In front of
yes, he knew he could trust Dima, and Markus was harmless,
but, shit, it was none of their business. A quick glance
to Dima told him that Dima had finally pieced the story
together. Didn't even know how to limit the damage,
fix the conversation after this. It made him look bad
- exposed him. "It is not the same thing, Dan,
as I keep trying to explain."
whatever." Speech slurred, Dan flashed a grin and
shrugged again, as if nothing meant anything. "You
enjoy yourself, you deserve it." Smiling brightly,
Dan flagged the waiter down, focused on getting more
debated with himself whether he wanted to get a taxi
now, or get Dan to follow and get them both a taxi.
Leaving him could be bad, would make him look worse:
guilty. He shook his head. "Let's go back, Dan.
We have to get up early tomorrow." Not strictly
true, but a way out.
Dan wasn't looking at Vadim, talking to the waiter instead,
when Markus looked up, after a glance at Dima, and jumped
into the breach.
I have to be out early as well. Must admit I could do
with going back. Do you mind, Dan? We just postpone
the next bottle, until we head to the beach. Is that
an idea?" He yawned for good effect, even making
it look natural.
turned his head and looked at him for a long time, slightly
swaying. The last of the vodka was finally kicking in.
"Aye ... if you think so?"
Dima stood first. "I'll get the jackets."
He headed across, while Vadim waved the waiter over
much later, they were out on the street, Vadim waiting
for the taxi, Dan beside him, while Markus and Dima
waited with them, for courtesy. Vadim met Dima's eyes
for a long moment, and thought of the brief talk in
the toilet. Brothers. On one hand, he was grateful for
the unexpected loyalty, on the other, it almost felt
like a small wedge that Dima was driving between him
and Dan, professing his loyalty to one, but not the
other. He couldn't quite place the eerie feeling, only
that he didn't like it.
July 1993, Colorado USA
had promised to pick Vadim up at the airport, just in
case there were any problems at immigration. He had
supplied him with details of where he was going to stay,
who had booked it, for how long, how he'd get there,
and his own address, including the phone number of his
newfangled cell phone.
was slightly queasy about entering the country, didn't
like people looking at him, because some part of him
always feared retaliation. But the Americans didn't
appear to look at him any different to anybody else
entering the country. If they noticed the Russian name,
they didn't show it, and Vadim was through immigration
with none of the expected problems. Once through, Vadim
shouldered his bag and walked into the airport hall.
Hooch. He spotted him right away.
was standing at arrivals, leaning with his hip against
one of the barriers, and looking every inch alert -
to the eyes of someone who knew him - and relaxed to
saw Hooch see him, then smiled at him and strode out
face changed into a smile, and he reached out to take
one of the bags from Vadim's shoulder. "Hi, buddy.
Good to see you." He touched Vadim's shoulder in
a firm grip, a little too long, perhaps, and squeezing,
before letting go. "Everything's set up, just get
into the car." Pointing towards the exit and the
car park. "Did you have a good flight?"
could do with some exercise after this."
sure I can arrange that."
grinned, fished in his jacket for sun-glasses as they
stepped out of the building, and put them on. "Brilliant
weather", he commented. "How have you been?"
They reached a large 4x4, shiny and black, over the
top and entirely American. "Looks like I'm off
to warmer climes in a month or two." Hooch threw
the bag inside, waited for Vadim to do the same. "And
to get bored in the Balkans", Vadim smiled. "Theoretically,
the place provides much entertainment, only you're not
really invited to the show. So, it's a lot of waiting."
Unless you go out and hunt your own, he thought, grimly,
still proud of the dozens of men he'd killed. "I'll
tell you the story", he murmured.
Hooch got into the driver's seat and navigated them
out of the parking lot.
Mog." Hooch glanced across and shrugged. The US
engagement there was no secret. Passing through the
barrier, he drove out of the airport and towards the
open road. "Matt's currently in Monrovia, he's
just qualified as a PT instructor. Last I heard he's
wringing his kit out in the 'sauna' over there."
He grinned, and when they hit the road the full majesty
of the landscape became apparent.
leaned back, took the sunglasses off to regard the range
of Rockies - that was what they had to be, the way they
filled the horizon. "Somalia, then. Another place
full of fun and joy."
but it doesn't matter. One's like the other. What matters
are the people." Glancing across, "right?"
shrugged. Did they? Stjepan. Sanya. In a way, yes, they
mattered, but it wasn't the reason he'd done it. The
only people he'd done it for was the Soviet - Russian
- people. He wasn't like Markus, who served, he assumed,
some ideal of humanity; he wasn't like Dima, who enjoyed
the split-second decisions that had to be made under
fire, both hands in some guy's abdominal cavity, fishing
for bullets or torn arteries. Dan saw it as a job. To
Vadim, it went deeper, was a calling, perhaps. It called
to the predator inside, the man who'd lived and breathed
to compete. Competition who'd shoot whom, like sniper
games. The civilians rarely figured. "All just
humans", he murmured, non-committal. Narcissist,
Konstantinov had called him. All that mattered to him
was he and himself.
More than that." Hooch leaned back in the driver's
seat, sticking to the speed limit. All he had to do
in the automatic was to keep the vehicle on the road.
A road that went straight on through the most breathtaking
landscape with clear blue skies above and a majesty
that could rival - albeit very differently - Dan's beloved
was like taking him back. Mountains, open sky, the clear,
dark blue. Vadim couldn't help but smile at the irony.
Mountains, a man, and himself. History repeating. If
he'd allow it to. Only, it was Hooch who'd get tortured
up there, there would be a lot more sex from the very
beginning, and, he assumed, no scars, as always, playing
as safe as possible. Thinking about Dan's jealousy,
the hurt reaction. He didn't want to hurt Dan. But Dan
had put him through the very same thing with Jean, the
jealousy, and with Matt and whoever the fuck else. He
deserved some space, didn't he? It wasn't like Hooch
was anywhere close to falling for him - the comradeship
and the need to have these things done didn't add up
to 'love'. It wasn't black and white, it was a world
they got up to the cabin Vadim was pleasantly surprised
at the rural comfort. No electricity, but gas cooker
and lamps, and running water. The cabin was spacious,
clad in warm, honey-coloured wood, and the furniture
was wooden as well. It seemed handmade and well done,
everything sturdy and simple yet colourful, what with
the woven rugs, the quilted bedspreads and flowers inside
let Vadim settle down, then showed him the 'toys' he
had brought, a selection similar to the first one, but
with added twists and new items to explore.
first day and night was spent allowing Vadim to deal
with his jet-lag, and for the two men to become comfortable
with each other again. Something that happened as if
they'd never been apart. Friends that were close the
moment they met, and the first sex was 'fun', a Hooch
used to call sex without pain, with the understanding
it would change the next day.
next morning, Hooch told him what he wanted. Being hunted.
He'd vanish into the forest, and Vadim would track him.
He wanted it to be as real as possible, a true challenge
to Vadim's soldiering skills, and Vadim was confident
enough. He'd trapped chetniks, he could deal with one
man. He liked the idea, liked the fact it was gloves
off, full-out sex, the prisoner game. The mountains
were the perfect backdrop to it. Nobody around for a
hundred miles. Just enough space for him, Hooch, and
July 1993, the Balkans
had been away for three days, when Dan was standing
at the gate to the camp, waiting to be picked up. True
to form, Markus' car approached at exactly the correct
time, and with him Dima. As promised, they were picking
him up for a day at the beach - one of the few areas
that was deemed fairly safe in a country where nothing
at all was safe anymore.
day was brilliant, with blue skies and sunshine, the
heat begging to be enjoyed in bathing shorts in the
water, not in body armour and certainly not in an armoured
vehicle without air con.
took them an hour to get to the spot, and while Dan
got out of the car to look around, already in shorts,
t-shirt and the obligatory shades, Markus was heaving
out basket after basket of picnic food, helped by Dima,
who looked like the very image of healthy and civilian,
a far shot from the dusty haunted man Dan had met.
to the beach, the stones over there provide a bit of
cover from the wind", Dima said, taking a couple
of baskets from Markus and carrying them down, while
Markus locked the car. Dan picked up another two and
shook his head.
how many people did you cater?"
blame me, my cook went a little overboard." Grinning,
Markus shouldered the rest of the items.
do you say? Nice spot, or nice spot?"
looked at Dima and nodded. "Can't fault it, and
it seems to be free of AKs. Which, in my books, is a
bloody big bonus."
Markus chuckle behind him, Dan followed Dima, carefully
picking his way through the rocks. Uneven surface was
the most difficult kind, but he'd be buggered if he
let it on. Figuring that that overly perceptive medic
had noticed anyway. "By the way ..." stepping
over a couple of puddles, filled with sea water and
algae, "did I behave like a right idiot, the other
mean, in the restaurant?" Dima motioned him further,
picking his way through the rocks towards a more cleared
area. "Vadim seemed to not appreciate the topic.
" he shrugged. "I don't mind. Lucky
me, I'm an outsider enough that I can see both views."
just had too much to drink." Dan shrugged, glanced
behind him, but Markus seemed to be occupied with balancing
the luggage in one hand while fishing for a cigarette
with the other. "I'm okay with it. Really."
you don't mind me asking, but why is that? Is that because
you are okay, or because monogamy bores you,
or because you want other guys. And lots of them?"
Dima grinned to maybe take the sting out. "I mean,
having been one of them, I think it would be a waste
of sexual talent
but I'm also Vadim's old comrade."
stopped when they had reached the spot. "Okay with
what? Vadim having sex with other men? Aye, I am
okay with that. Sex doesn't equal love, after all."
He shrugged, turned round to Markus who'd managed to
light his cigarette and was putting the basket, the
towels and blankets down. "Markus, did you think,
when I had sex with you, that I loved you? And in return,
did you fall in love with me?"
looked at him, about to say something when Dan turned
towards Dima, "or Dima, did you suddenly fall in
love with me because I had sex with you? Did you think
I loved you because we shagged?"
I never did. Before." Dima glanced at Markus, who
grinned at him warmly, and smiled. "But it can
happen. Some people fall easily, others fall hard, but
there's always the potential to fall. And you think
that is what happened to Vadim. He's had sex with this
American. Oh god, the irony, and deep solemn
thinker that he is, it was more than he could chew,
because no way I believe he was actively looking for
it, if it is really what happened, not with your history
and now Vadim is all conflicted about what he
wants. Is that the story?"
a nutshell." Dan unfolded a chair and sat down,
fishing for his own fags. "But it's not all."
else?" Markus was sitting as well, rummaging in
the picnic baskets.
the Delta, gives him something that I can't. He gives
him the old Vadim, the darkness." Dan looked out
over the sea, the coming and going of the waves. The
sound was ridiculously peaceful in a country torn by
civil war. "Hooch ... he looks a lot like me. Ten
years or so ago." Lighting his fag, Dan looked
down at his scarred hand, before he shrugged into the
old Vadim", Dima echoed. "Now, that's a tough
one." He looked to Markus. "You need to understand
that Vadim is very different from what he once was.
He has mellowed a lot. I couldn't tell which I'd prefer,
the Soviet officer in all his glory, or the
we've come to know in this part of the world. I could
deal with him, back then, he wasn't all that scary to
me, but he
had his moments."
looked thoughtful. "I would not want to judge either
way, bearing in mind that I don't know Vadim well to
start with, and have no idea what he was like before,
but I'd be scared stiff thinking how he might have been."
natural reaction, the scared stiff bit." Dima looked
at Dan. "You feel like you're getting replaced
by the younger guy, then? Vadim's moving on, or rather,
returning to what he was
don't know. Replaced? Perhaps. But ... how could he,
I mean, they have no history." Inhaling smoke,
Dan's face didn't let on what he was thinking. Not the
pain, not the worry, nothing at all. "Or perhaps
that is it. Perhaps I remind him too much ..."
Shaking his head slowly.
what?" Markus asked. "Of the man he once was?"
Dan shook his head again, "of what was done to
him by the KGB. The captivity, the torture." Looking
out over the waves again, "his ex-wife certainly
thinks it is all my fault."
you think she has a point?" Dima frowned. "Or
it wouldn't stick. Whatever she said. Maybe she is jealous,
too. Maybe he's moved on from her, and she does everything
to hurt the rival. There are lots of explanations. From
my perspective, something went really deep and now you're
doubting things. Re-evaluation. What it all means, how
it all happened. Maybe?"
Dan looked down at his hand again. "Maybe I just
think that if someone falls in love with someone else
than the love he might have had for the first one isn't
worth as much as it was before." He pulled on his
cigarette, then stubbed out the butt on the rocks.
remained very silent, but reached out to touch Dima,
looking at him for a moment. Dima took his hand and
think, personally, that we can't make judgements like
I'd take anything in its time and what it
meant back then. And with your history, it's clear you
guys both risked everything and did everything for each
other. I think Vadim would still die for you, even though
he went on his own little crusade, even though he was
a scary bastard in Afghanistan. We're people, Dan. We're
more complex than black and white. Vadim certainly seems
to have some shades and colours there that
defy all rational analysis." Dima inhaled. "But,
if you think he's fallen in love, then there's three
things: one, accept it and live with it
seems unlikely. Two: Wait till he's decided who he wants
he might work out it's not all that serious,
or three: force him to make a decision and to not see
this American again."
let out a soft huff of laughter. Not entirely without
humour, but certainly with a lot of wistfulness. "Three
would be a killer, and he never forced me to make a
decision either, so it's a no-go. Besides, I don't believe
in it." Glancing at the two men's combined hands,
he smiled. "One, you're right, complete no-go,
too. I thought I was okay with it, hell, I would have
been okay if he'd just gone out and have sex and enjoy
himself, like I do, but this ... this is cutting bloody
deep. Especially with a man who's damn similar in some
ways to my younger self, and so extremely different
in others." He looked up, from one to the other.
"I guess it is two, then. Not much I can do until
he's made up his mind, aye?"
not really, I'm afraid. Apart from giving him space
and not pushing him away further. He's in no great situation,
either, I imagine."
to Dima, he's a wise man." Markus smiled.
biased. You are clearly biased." Dan countered
and Markus let out a laugh. Another shrug and Dan stood
up. "At least I can stop moping and go for a swim.
Anyone care to join me?" He was already pulling
the t-shirt over his head.
help get the food out first", said Dima.
problem." Dan made his way across the rocks, careful
to balance, but it was tricky in the flip-flops. If
he took them off he might cut his feet, thus he kept
them on until he got closer to the water, then left
them there, before he threw himself into the waves.
It was good to feel the fresh sea water, taste and smell
the salt. While nothing would ever come close to the
Afghan mountain air, the sea would always be a friend,
even though he'd never love the water as much as Vadim
did. Swimming for quite a while, Dan got out eventually
and looked across, shaking his head with a grin when
he spotted Dima and Markus oblivious to food, sea, Dan
and anything else, lost in what seemed to be a rather
Dan called out, waving, "is that resuscitation
or are you force-feeding each other?" He was still
laughing when he got the flip-flops back on and made
his way back. Dripping wet, eager to get to his towel,
he sped up across the slippery rocks.
start to feel like one of the parents of a young family",
groused Dima. "Honest, honey, I thought the kid
with the two men, Dan was shouting a particularly kind
insult as he took a larger step, then a half-jump across
a patch of algae, and he slipped. Balance gone, he hadn't
seen the puddle, glistening amongst the rocks, but tried
to stop his fall. "Shit!" he exclaimed, as
he lost his footing completely, the flip-flop fell off
and his left leg slid to the side, foot catching in
a crevice and he crashed down onto the rocks with his
screamed, the sound torn from his chest when the bones
and cartilage let out a horrendous crunching sound and
the pain was unbearable.
was on his feet instantly, running, far more nimble
than his body let on. Full medic mode in a heartbeat,
before Markus had even managed to pale at the sudden
scream. Dima was there in a moment, cursing in Russian
as he touched Dan's shoulders. "Calm. Breathe.
I'm there." Firm, secure touches. "Don't panic.
not fucking panicking!" Dan pressed out between
his teeth, sick with the pain, he wanted to tear into
something, shout, yell, curse, and groaned out instead,
moved stones to the side, one hand then on Dan's leg,
soothing, no pressure, like he was dealing with a panicking
animal. "We'll get you to a hospital. Can you stand
on the other leg?"
don't know. Don't fucking know!" But of course
he was already fighting to get up, even though the pain
was nauseating. Every new pain was a fresh memory, and
the old ones had paled.
hold of my shoulder." Markus' voice, he'd made
it across and was on Dan's other side.
nodded to Markus, took hold of Dan's other side, firmly
supporting him, as they very carefully made their way
back to the car, evaluating every step like on a minefield,
with Dan hopping on his left leg. Another trip-up could
be potentially disastrous. They managed to get to the
car, where Markus helped Dan inside and Dima returned
to the beach to grab the stuff - moving quickly to gather
the baskets and everything else, cursing inwardly for
not having anything with him that could help Dan right
but with that kind of injury, he wanted an
x-ray, and, besides, he wasn't a proper doctor.
he returned, Markus had helped make Dan as comfortable
as possible in the back seat. Leg stretched out, and
towels rolled up for support. "He won't give me
my fucking painkillers!" Dan hissed at Dima when
just don't know if I should." Markus looked at
Dima for help.
to a civilian, but in this case
" Dima nodded
and went through Dan's stuff to check the prescription,
then counted him two pills out and handed them to Dan.
"No need to make you suffer worse on the way to
bastard." Dan groused, but it was the pain speaking.
He swallowed the pills dry and pressed his head back
against the backseat window.
inside, Dima took the steering wheel after a short query
from Markus, who explained to him the fastest way to
never made a sound except for an occasional suppressed
groan, for the entire hour it took to get to the hospital.
arrived at the main entrance, after somebody had tried
to dissuade them - until Dima had stated in no unclear
terms that this was an emergency, and he vanished
inside, to return only five minutes later with several
hospital staff and a trolley. Between them, they got
Dan out of the car and onto the trolley, and got him
inside, while Dima stayed around, trusting Markus to
find a parking place and join them later.
the time Markus arrived in the ward, Dan had been wheeled
to an orderly, and was already on his way to be x-rayed.
They hadn't let Dima follow Dan, and Dima was sitting
in the waiting area, looking up when Markus arrived.
Dima leaned back and shook his head. "Shit. I knew
this was coming, but it's bad all the same. Plus, not
sure how to get in touch with Vadim. If this is what
I think it is, he should be in touch."
ask Dan when he comes back out, he must have a phone
number." Markus frowned, sat close to Dima, and
from his thoughtful expression it was obvious that he
was thinking of ways to help. The machinery that was
at his disposal wasn't made for such situations and
could not offer direct help, but it might come in handy
took a long time before Dan came back out. Over two
hours, before he finally returned in a wheelchair, leg
elevated and knee tightly strapped up, holding a large
envelope in his lap. His face was closed, showing nothing.
"They can't do anything here. I need to get back
to Britain." His voice, too, devoid of anything.
nodded. "I'm sure we can arrange that." Looking
at Markus, who was far better at organizing stuff than
course, I am sure I can get you onto the next possible
flight. Where to?"
Dan didn't answer.
me have a look?" Dima took the envelope out of
Dan's hands and pulled the foil out far enough to have
a look at the knee, examining it against the light in
the corridor. He winced when he saw the x-ray. Nothing
should look like that, it was all wrong, the knee looked
like it had pretty much disintegrated. He stuffed the
envelope back. "Do you have a phone number for
Vadim? I'd call him."
They are in a fucking cabin in the fucking Rocky Mountains.
No fucking phone." Pressed out, "he said he'd
call in two days." Dan suddenly shook his head,
violently. "I'll be okay. Been doing this shit
on my own before." His fist clenched in his lap,
"take me back to camp, aye? Need to organise some
get back into the car", Dima conceded, and they
got out of the hospital and carefully manoeuvred Dan
back into the car. On the way towards camp, Dima asked:
"How long do you need to organize your things?
That knee won't get any better." There was no space
for positive improvement. None.
know. They told me." Dan looked out of the window,
shutting up, clearly not venturing anything else.
reached out and touched Dan's shoulder, looking at him,
but wouldn't deny it. It was definitely over, and what
that meant for Dan was anybody's guess. "We'll
organize the flights and pick you up - what do you think?
Tomorrow? Or later tonight? Can we do that?" Looking
Markus was driving, his face concentrated, working out
solutions. "I can get you on a flight early in
the morning. There is one going to London Heathrow,
and I am sure I can sort out the paperwork. Okay, Dan?"
He glanced to the backseat, but Dan didn't answer. "I
assume you need to get to a hospital?" Still no
answer and Markus looked at Dima. "I can help with
that as well, perhaps."
Dima gave him a smile. "Do you know anybody in
the area? What about Scotland? You're Scottish, so
maybe get treatment there? Do you know anybody in the
didn't seem to listen. No indication, no sound, nothing.
Whatever they asked, whatever they said, he didn't react.
Not until they got to the camp. "You haven't got
security clearance. I'll manage." The hospital
had given him two crutches, and Dan was fighting his
way out of the car with them. Not accepting help.
Dima got out of the car. "We'll call you about
the flights. Meanwhile
" He shrugged. "Call
us if you need anything, okay?"
thanks." Dan nodded at him and Markus, barely accepting
that Dima helped him sling the bag across the shoulders,
then hobbling on his crutches through the gate, not
* * * * * *
sat in one of those very American 'diners', having just
demolished what amounted to the worst nutritional sin:
a stack of pancakes with tangy syrup, but he'd always
wanted to try those, having known them only from TV,
and all washed down with coffee that wasn't great, but
very strong. He asked for a phone and the booth was
indicated to him. Quickly doing the calculations, it
would be late morning over in the Balkans. Calling the
camp, but the answer there was confusing - confusing
and alarming, so he dialled the other number he'd taken,
just in case.
voice that answered the phone spoke English, with a
Germanic accent, and was obviously in a hurry. "Hello?"
Vadim here. How are you?"
Sorry, I was just ..." a loud rustling sound was
heard, then a clunk, and Markus seemed to settle. "We
were waiting for your call."
Dan? Dan is back in Britain? The people
in camp said he left a couple of days ago and has flown
back to Britain. What happened?"
afraid he had an accident. I mean, not an accident,
but we were at the beach and he slipped. He ... the
knee's bad. Dima saw the x-rays and he told me the knee
is practically shattered. Nothing that can be done."
Markus lit a cigarette, Vadim could hear him inhale.
"I organised a flight out for him the next morning,
and as far as I know he got into a hospital in Southampton.
It was the only one that could do the surgery as soon
felt his stomach churn, the pancakes in there felt as
heavy as the same amount in cement. "Oh
damn." Practically shattered. Fuck. The
knee. The bad knee. "I'll be back over right away
I'll take the fastest flight out. Do you have
a phone number at the hospital? How is he
wasn't talking." The worry was audible in Markus'
voice. He hadn't liked that fact and it showed. "Do
you know if he has any family close? He wouldn't even
answer that." The sound of smoking again.
he has family up in Scotland. I'll call his brother.
Maybe Duncan can help."
... that's probably furthest away." Markus sighed,
"I have a phone number for the hospital, but I
have no idea when they will operate on him. Dima told
me he thinks the only way is an artificial knee."
operation, yes?" That was the worst.
A pause, then, "artificial knees are pretty good
these days, but it's the end of a lot of things. Running,
climbing, that sort of stuff."
cursed himself for having left, but fuck, he couldn't
have known. "Give me the phone numbers. I'll be
back as soon as possible. I'll
do what I can."
Markus sounded hesitant.
realise it is not my business, but before the accident
happened, we ... Dan and Dima talked. He's ... whatever
... whatever you decide ..." Markus was clearly
uncomfortable talking about this private matter, but
he seemed rattled enough to feel the need to say it
closed his eyes. Dan had discussed the whole thing.
Not enough that he'd done that in the restaurant, no,
they'd discussed it further. How bad did that make him
look? Leaving Dan in an hour of need because there was
Hooch? Fuck that. The thought alone made him angry,
nauseous, helpless. "You mean, decide between Hooch
and Dan?" Hooch the man that was helplessly tied
up in the cabin up the mountain, and Dan, who'd suffered
a career-ending wound and lay in a hospital, completely
Markus exhaled noisily. "Whatever you decide to
do." A pause, then a small sound. "Sugar!"
The most cursing that Markus allowed himself. "I'm
sorry, I should have shut up." A faint rustling
sound. "Will you accept my apologies for meddling
in affairs that are not mine but that of friends, and
take the phone number instead?"
it's just not easy at the moment."
Vadim inhaled deeply. "Listen, I should make preparations
to come back
I'll give you a call once the flight
is sorted, and I'll call Dan right away. Thanks for
looking after him when I was gone, okay?"
welcome, and I will tell Dima that you called."
ended the call with a bad feeling in his guts, dread,
memories from another hospital and Dan shot to shit.
Promises, back then. Now, years later, he had to stand
by his word, he had to. It made him feel helpless, just
like last time. He'd be there. No doubt. He dialled
the number Markus had given him, waiting for reception
to pick up.
were soon on the line and asked what they could do for
him. And when he told them, they flat out refused to
give any kind of information, to, as they put it, unauthorized
users. Vadim was stunned, but realized, yes, he wasn't
family; he was nothing. To all intents and purposes,
Dan was none of his business. He shuddered, couldn't
think straight, didn't argue, didn't reason with them,
just put the phone down, utterly stunned. He'd forgotten
about the civilian, straight, heterosexual ways to deal
with people like Dan and him.
needed a few moments to calm down, then called Duncan,
who was astonished first, then delighted, and then alerted
when he realised why Vadim called. The alertness turned
into worry when Vadim explained to him what happened,
and Duncan promised to find out immediately at the hospital
what was going on, and to call him back, straight away.
Duncan hung up after Vadim had found the number of the
took about half an hour before the phone rang again.
"Vadim?" Duncan's voice was faint on the crackling
I'm here. How
what does it look like? What's
are getting Dan ready for the surgery. He was lucky,
one of the surgeons who's an expert on knee replacements
has a slot free. It's all happening much faster than
expected. He is currently being prepared."
And I'm not there. "I mean
I am in the wrong place." He remembered how much
Dan hated hospitals, and by now it felt like madness
that he'd left without a direct phone connection at
all. Fuck. "Thanks. I
I don't know. I'll
get a plane back, I'll be there, but
they won't let me through. Can you
can you help
let you through?" Duncan sounded incredulous.
course not. I'm a stranger for them. The gay thing doesn't
exist, and certainly doesn't mean I have any right to
disturb a patient." Vadim felt the bile rise. "Sorry.
headless at the moment."
I can't get away from here immediately. Mhairi isn't
too well and the farm, I can't just leave it, aye? When
do you think will you be able to be in Southampton?
You are in the Balkans at the moment, aren't you?"
visiting a friend in the States. I'll take
the next flight back. Could you call and I check with
you? I'm absolutely taking the very next flight to the
How many days? Two?"
make sure they let you through and I will be there as
well. I should be able to get down there in a couple
of days, too. Call me anytime, in the meantime I'll
organise everything with the hospital and keep checking
up on Dan via phone. I'll speak to you soon, Vadim.
Take care." The line went dead.
you." Vadim sat down, placed the phone back and
ordered another coffee, then, after the first mouthful
decided that the coffee would kill his raging stomach,
and ordered tap water. Shit. What a fuck-up. He paid
his food and drink and went to Hooch's car, and drove
back. The roads were mostly empty, he was lucky that
there was hardly anybody on the streets, because he
drove like a sleepwalker. When he was back at the cabin
he could barely remember how he'd got there.
unlocked the door, walked into the bedroom, where Hooch
was trussed up, blindfolded, and waiting for him. Vadim
stroked his face, then cut the rope that held the whole
bundle together, and Hooch collapsed. Muscles refusing
to comply. Trying to get Hooch out of the 'scene' as
gently as possible, but he was in no mood to continue
the game. He'd be shit, as upset and confused as he
was now. "Hooch. I'll have to go back", he
murmured, stroking the man, not yet taking the blindfold
was struggling to get his thoughts together, to surface,
and he attempted to lift his hands to get to the gag,
but his arms, too, didn't comply. Not yet. He managed
to nod, though, while breathing sharply and harshly
through his nose.
lay down on the bed, right next to him, stroking him.
When he felt Hooch was starting to come round, he carefully
took the gag out, ever so gently, and got up to head
to the bathroom, returning with a warm, wet washcloth
and a towel to clean Hooch up a little. He massaged
the strained shoulders, the arms, then lay down beside
him to warm and reassure him, to 'cuddle', even. "I'm
sorry", he murmured. "I made a call, and something
serious has happened over in Europe. Dan is in
will replace his knee. I need
to get back."
took in a deep breath, body wrecked with shudders. "Dan?"
It took him a while to clue on. Thoughts sluggish, and
his voice raw and abused. "You got ... to go."
Lifting his head towards Vadim, despite the blindfold.
He started to have control over his fingers again, and
they scrabbled for Vadim, touching his chest.
placed an arm around him, holding him tight, chest to
chest, and just having somebody close felt good while
he was worried witless - at least it felt like it, fear,
guilt, nausea. Waiting several minutes, then he took
the blindfold off. "Are you okay?"
..." breathed out, Hooch's eyes were disoriented
at first, slowly focusing. "But are you?"
the moment, I don't know, I really don't."
took some effort to lift an arm, but Hooch managed.
Strength would be returning eventually. "What happened
to Dan?" The arm came down on Vadim's shoulder,
its weight reassuring.
tripped and his knee
the bad one, apparently
sustained some serious damage. He needs a replacement,
and he's going under the knife right now."
I'll help you get a flight. Just got to ... got to get
my body under control." Hooch offered a half-smile.
nodded, held him tight. "Fuck." Changing from
the one who controlled and punished to the one who needed
somebody close, right now, needed reassurance, closeness,
needed the touch. "It's the end of the line for
him. I kept saying
kept telling him I wanted
to quit, and he always fought it, but fuck, that's it
now. He's forced to quit now."
bad." Hooch's voice was gravely, and he could hardly
hold onto Vadim, but he still managed to convey his
understanding. "Help me get into a bath?"
Vadim stood, headed into the bathroom, ran the hot bath
that should relax Hooch's tight muscles, and helped
him get up, steadying the man and helping him to get
into the bath, where he helped to stretch and massage
the muscles. He had to force himself to focus on Hooch,
had to push all thoughts of Dan away, at least now,
in the aftercare part, where much depended on him reading
the body right. But fortunately the body was tough,
incredibly resilient, and Hooch was coming back to functioning
much quicker than he usual. Clearly forcing himself.
was more or less functional an hour later, dressing
after downing a litre of water, topping up with a strong
coffee that Vadim had brewed. Vadim drove the car, Hooch's
muscles were still too sore, but when they checked out
flights in the travel agency in town, Hooch appeared
as normal as anyone could, at least anyone covered in
bruises that were cleverly hidden beneath the casual
Hooch was negotiating flights to Britain, using all
of his considerable persuasion powers, Vadim was on
the phone to Duncan. Nothing new from the hospital,
still the same, and even Duncan wondered if he was being
fobbed off by nurses who were too stressed to actually
deal with a request for information.
wasn't straightforward when he called the camp, either.
Vadim's contract was still running, and he was forced
to fall back onto the Baroness, but he didn't have her
phone number, could only refer to her, but right now
couldn't reach her. No matter, though, he wouldn't go
back to the Balkans, was going to Britain instead. When
he met Hooch again, after endless phone calls, Hooch
was holding a ticket out to him. The next morning, the
earliest possible flight, to London Gatwick.
you." Vadim's head spun - all the implications,
all that work, and legal things and medical things and
the worry. "Should we
find a hotel near
the airport? Think
you can spend the night with
me there?" Which amounted to: I don't want to be
alone. Unlike Dan, of course, and the guilt was back
eating at his guts.
Hooch smiled, touched Vadim's shoulder. "Let's
pack up, and head to the airport. I take you to the
did exactly that, and while Vadim didn't manage to push
Dan completely from his mind, he was less frantic, even
managed to sleep after giving and receiving a blow job,
not because he felt like sex but because he needed to
get tired, somehow, any way that worked. He finally
managed to sleep for a few hours, even if that sleep
was restless and sweaty, but at the very least he didn't
next morning Hooch did as he'd promised, he was seeing
Vadim off at 6 AM, even waiting until he had gone through
had been six days since Vadim had seen Dan last, and
it would take at least another one before he could gain
access. It all felt bleak, depressing, dark. He was
helpless, condemned to just wait it out, not knowing,
with no way to check while in the air, and he didn't
know how to face it. But it had to happen one day, they
had both seen it coming. Dan had ignored it, and Vadim
had allowed himself to be fooled. And nothing could
bring that back. They hadn't actually planned for retirement,
which meant a lot of work still ahead, a completely
new life, a new routine would have to be found, a new
way for everything. Vadim sat there, looking at the
clouds underneath and wished he could have had this
differently. That Dan had retired out of his own free
will, and not been forced. Even now that he'd got what
he wanted - this had indeed been their last war - now
he wished he hadn't, but only for Dan's sake.
July 1993, Southampton, United Kingdom
the hospital, Dan was sitting in a wheelchair, leg raised
and immobilised. He'd been prepared for surgery, face
stoic, not a muscle twitching, and he'd hardly spoken
a word. Couldn't ... just couldn't. Alone, and so goddamned
frightened, the fear was knotting his stomach like nothing
had ever done before. But he wouldn't show it, wouldn't
admit to it. He had no one to admit it to anyway.
in the hospital gown, all prepped, he was looking at
you have any other questions, Mr McFadyen?"
studied the man in his green shrubs. Questions? What
was left to question? The valium was putting a veil
over everything, and yet the fear was still there.
I be a cripple?" First words spoken in a long time.
McFadyen, I would not use such a word. Of course you
won't be. There is a lot you will be able to do. Sports,
such as cycling or swimming, but of course not breasts
strokes, have been known to be very beneficial. The
modern medicine ..."
Dan cut in between. "I want to know if I will be
a cripple or if I will be able to do my job."
job, Mr McFadyen?"
I am a soldier. Ex-SAS ... I am ... a mercenary now.
am afraid ..."
what? I want you to tell me here and now, once
you've cut my bones, ripped out the destroyed joint
and put that fake one in: Will. I. Be. A. Cripple. Or.
Not? Will I get back on duty again?"
you put it that way ..." The surgeon was clearly
uncomfortable, especially when presented with Dan's
the answer is ... no. I am sorry, Mr McFadyen, but you
will never go on active duty again."
Dan and Vadim's story continues in the Veterans