next two days saw Dan reaping the rewards of his iron
constitution, his body fighting an infection that never
fully materialised. Remaining silent with gritted teeth,
visions of death and destruction, and pretending to
be fine. He smirked and swore with the other guys, just
like he'd always done. Taking a shit was the hardest,
even the coke he had managed to get on the black market
wasn't enough to blind the agony. Biting into his sleeve
when he had to take a dump, almost choking on the fabric,
just to keep quiet in the rickety shelter that served
as the loos. Got pissed as a newt the third day when
they allowed him twelve hours off duty. Booze and mates,
the only way to exist.
handed the camera in to develop the pictures, got back
images of Russian soldiers, drunk, out for trouble,
sating their appetite for destruction. Searched amongst
the nameless faces until he found the one. Tall, blond,
and a fucking bastard, destined to die. His research
was legitimate, setting resources in motion and the
bloodhounds onto the trail of the 'Soviet Hero'. He
soon got what he wanted: Name, rank, and more beyond.
Vadim Petrovich Krasnorada. Paratrooper in the 'Glorious
get the man, sooner or later, to obliterate the memory
week passed, a body managed to heal untreated. Dan coped
until he got his next briefing. Another task, another
mission. Another fucking press conference.
stuck to the disguise of a messy-haired leftover-leftie
hippie reporter with suicidal tendencies of covering
every war torn scrap of shitty country. A far safer
look than the close-shaved, military appearance he could
have mustered had he been in uniform. Instead wearing
a crumpled mix of army surplus kit and civilian clobber,
all sweaty and dishevelled, the standard outfit of any
was late, deliberately so, had lingered outside and
missed the Big Heads' arrival. Couldn't give a monkey's
arse about the speeches, was more interested in scrap
heaps and garbage, Kabul's stinking debris surrounding
the conference hotel. He was blending into the crowd,
except for his height and built. The accent fake, doing
a passable job as Canadian press by hiding his native
Scots Highland accent, smoothed down by years in the
entered the lounge, quickly checking over the assembled
press, seated like sardines and frying in hot air. Remaining
in the back, he stood close to the doors, casting his
gaze to the front.
freezing. Couldn't believe his eyes.
didn't flinch. Nothing. Just a twitch of his hand. Yet
the recognition hit him square in the chest with the
full force of a punch that wasn't pulled. Hatred surged
and pooled in the pit of his stomach, but he forced
himself to stroll casually towards the centre of the
room, leaning against the wall. Watching.
was dressed in his uniform; ranks that were real, unit
symbols that weren't, the whole regalia of a para captain.
He had polished the star on the peaked cap, then made
sure it had exactly the correct angle. Wearing uniform
was a bitch in Kabul. He was sweating, but he was a
military advisor, and that meant keeping up appearances.
Just another trick in the book.
was not an invasion. It was brothers helping brothers.
He remembered the party line, remembered what they'd
told the conscripts, about building schools and getting
Afghanistan up to speed, developing it, and, of course,
defending it against the West, most of all against the
Americans, who, whenever they meddled in Asia, made
things even worse. And that meant something in this
didn't host press conferences in run-down hotels in
central Kabul. The place swarmed with soldiers on security
detail, and more officers, more senior than he was;
he was mostly here for the cameras anyway. He knew the
spin doctors pissed themselves with glee that at his
presence. His job was to look imposing and reassuring,
maybe answer a question or two.
room had been packed since before the conference started,
and the Afghani politicians looked exceedingly uncomfortable
in their ill-fitted suits. The General was there and
looked hung over, eyes red, meaty face profoundly dispassionate.
Vadim had positioned himself near the Soviet flag, which,
symbol of symbols, seemed very red near the Afghani
flashed. It was a mob with a hundred heads, hundreds
of lenses, and he thought what fucking madness, to expose
himself like that. The usual stuff: We're friends, united
in a big, happy, socialist dream. A new order, marching
towards peace. No talk of confrontation, no talk about
how they showed muscle in the face of the West.
cameras flashing. Some reporters noted down everything,
others, a lot of long-haired khippies who looked
worse for wear probably because of the lack of air-conditioning
here, didn't bother writing. Those were the smart ones.
They were bored by the party line and waiting for Questions
a decidedly non-Soviet pastime.
had been staring off into the distance, eyes unfocused,
deeply bored, yet he was not supposed to move a single
muscle. He was decoration, and decoration didn't move.
The crowd was one stirring, restless mass of shifting
bodies. People heading for the toilets and coming back,
or drinking water, some were eating, some fanned themselves.
A lot of layered movements, following no order, no necessity.
People moved because they were people. The constant,
restless shifting of the herd.
memory of a different crowd: Thousands of people, flecks
of colour in the stadium. The sound they made. The roar
that almost made his heart stop when he had heard it
the first time.
blinked and forced his attention back to the present.
Began to look at the crowd, singled people out, assessed
them, didn't bother to store the information. Had no
value. But then. Right in the centre at the back. A
eyes narrowed. Was that possible? Just as he had convinced
himself that the man had been anything but press. He
had put up too much of a fight, stayed operational all
the time. Fought too hard. His stomach muscles tensed,
and he knew it was him. It was like ice on his face.
A shock. His eyes scanned the man for weapons, no way
he was a reporter.
very moment the man raised his eyes, made momentary
contact and smirked briefly. Even across the distance
there had been a flash of recognition.
inhaled, kept breathing steadily. Fuck. Alive. It had
been dark, right? That man shouldn't have been able
to recognise him. He'd worn combat gear without most
of the weapons, fairly casual. He was polished now,
himself to follow the line of questions, Vadim feigned
interest while he could feel his blood surge. The colours
in the room became brighter, much like on drugs. This
was hardly the place for it, but his instincts came
man had looked at him. What, six yards away? Close enough
to feel him, not nearly close enough. Vadim remembered
the smell of Vanya's blood, and how hot the man's flesh
was, how desperate. Square jaw, dark eyes, tousled hair.
He liked the face, good features, cheekbones, chin,
nose, all well-defined. Judging from his built and stance,
the man knew about potential, about discipline. Knew
about war and struggle.
he knew it had been him. How on earth did he? There
were plenty of captains. Lots of men that were even
bigger. Vadim's chest expanded, as if to take in more
air as he returned that gaze. He should have undressed
him, he reflected. But he had been too drunk. No way
to take time. No way to savour the full potential of
that body. Bottom line: What a waste.
mind the bastard had killed Vanya - and deprived him
of his favourite toy in the absence of real game, plus
forced him to answer questions why on earth comrade
Ivan had been mugged and killed alone in a dark alley.
Resistance fighter. Low level insurgents. Sad, sad story,
but it reflected badly on Vadim as a superior.
time. One of Afghans allowed reporters to speak. One
after the other.
watched the man raise his hand, just like any reporter
who wanted to ask a question.
last it was Dan's turn to join the circus of lies.
directed his eyes once more onto the medal-gleaming
piece of Russian shit. Making certain once and for all
the bastard had recognised him. That, and more. A promise,
a deadly one.
Krasnorada", tiny pause, he had done his intelligence
homework and he cherished the power that knowledge brought,
"with all those reinforcements streaming into Afghanistan
and, specifically, Kabul, and with numbers daily rising,
how can you reassure the population that there will
be discipline amongst your men and safety for the civilians?"
smiled, a moment of sarcasm, shared between hunters.
game had just begun.
the man said his name, Vadim could feel tension in his
shoulders. What the
He guessed they had given
out his name, as in: Your questions will be answered
and then a long list of names. Spin doctors.
The English language had articles, he tended to forget
that; not enough practice, and the language lessons
had long since stopped. "We understand there is
concern among the population." He knew the General
approved of the turn of phrase, the fact he didn't say
"I", but "we". He knew his doctrine.
"And we assure you that the soldiers are well-disciplined
and are well-aware of their mission to forge iron bonds
of eternal friendship and mutual support with the Afghan
A complete un-answer.
smirked, this sort of answer had to be expected. "Thank
you, Captain. I am confident your reassurance extends
to everyone, not just the Afghanis."
slouched back against the wall, feigning renewed disinterest
while he could hardly wait for the conference to be
over. He had to shadow the bastard, needed to know everything
he ate, where he shat, whom he fucked.
gave a curt nod, as if it was beneath him to correct
himself and extend Socialist goodwill to the rest of
the world. It was about competition, and not about world
peace. Fuck that.
last the reporters left him in peace. To them, he toed
the party line, and tearing into a henchman when the
General was in the room wouldn't do. There were some
reporters from other brother-states, and they asked
all the right questions. They had official approval
to be here, and they made the most of it.
eyes moved across the crowd, but couldn't help resting
on the relaxed tiger. The looks, the power. He wouldn't
mind a repeat performance. He wouldn't mind wrestling
the man, fighting him. With a knife, without a knife,
epee, fencing, whatever.
waited until the conference was over, everybody important
ushered out, the press types mingling a bit. Keeping
his eyes on the man, who did not hurry to get out of
the boiling room. A quick glance. General, senior officers
- they couldn't wait to get out of here. He made a half-assed
excuse, then moved towards the man who had stayed at
the back throughout the remainder of the conference.
Careful. He had a pistol. But the main deterrent was
that there were still press people around.
slowly straightened from his slouched position when
the Russian came towards him. Raised his head until
it was level, his face showing nothing. Empty stare,
only a man who had himself under as much control as
he did could be devoid of any expression when faced
with his rapist. But then Nothing had happened. Nothing
kept his hand close to his thigh, at the place where
one of the knives was hidden. He'd come prepared; had
made a mistake one week ago, wouldn't make another.
Dan mocked in a deceptively soft voice, "Well,
well, I didn't know they trained up Russian soldiers
as circus ponies?"
is 'Soviet'", said Vadim, more in a reflex. He
stepped close enough to talk, and far away enough to
see any movement that came from the other man's centre.
Shoulders moved first in an attack, it took a master
to hide it.
Russkie, who the fuck cares." Dan delivered the
casual insult with a grin that never reached his eyes.
pony. Vadim lost momentum. He had felt more like
a potted plant, or a Christmas tree in that show, but
he liked the voice. Americans sounded as if they were
talking around a hot stone, every sound washed out the
same, but there was structure in this man. "You,
also, seem to be man of many talents."
shrugged. Alert to the n'th degree, but only his eyes
showed it. Awake and ruthlessly willing. "Talents?
Yeah, I'm not just a good photographer, pretty good
writer, too." Playing dumb, but with little effort.
Neither of them was stupid, hunter and prey, roles undefined.
For a moment Dan's nostrils widened, wondering if he
could smell the Russian's blood, long before he'd smashed
the bastard's face in. He'd taste it one day, had to
remain patient until then, he'd get his prize when the
time was right. Shifting slightly, he bent one leg and
casually pushed the sole of his boot against the wall.
Appearing relaxed, but able to propel himself off that
wall in a split second.
stood tall, could feel his blood pounding. The aura
of danger, of challenge, the man was giving off heat,
heat of a kind that pulled him closer, into danger.
He stood his ground, but felt how his body heated up.
One thing to get hard from a scuffle in a dark alley;
one thing to do it because he was half drunk and bored
to random violence. Another to look the man in the eye,
in broad daylight, with press close enough to enjoy
an inexplicable stabbing between an American reporter
and a Soviet military advisor. No, Canadian. Not American.
Tree leaf, white, red, not the star-spangled banner.
be alone. To allow the fire to flare up, no holds barred.
Vadim wanted to press him against the wall, turn him
around, fuck him again. Harder. Longer. And again. Until
both their bodies couldn't take any more, and then cut
smiled coldly at the tell-tale silence, a truly nasty
expression on his face. "All on your own, Captain?
Don't you Russkies always turn up with a second in command?"
The serrated blade of Dan's verbal knife sliced leisurely
through the sticky air.
recoiled. Vanya. Fuck him. He'd lost a man on a private
hunting expedition. Vanya had born the brunt of the
fire, the raging torrent, Vanya who fought and resisted
and still sucked him like his life depended on it. Gone.
Off to Russia. Vadim tensed, just as if the attack had
been real rather than words. This was getting too close.
A fascination for a strong body did not go together
with the same man having killed Vanya, and no way to
prove it. He needed a fuck. Or a fight. Both. If only
he could have both. "My second is inconvenienced."
And grinning a double grin, festering blue and green
in a hot metal tin in storage at Kabul fucking airport.
He would probably explode before touching home soil.
Dan smirked, the sense of revenge was coiling in his
stomach like a lazy snake, sunning its smooth muscled
length in the glow of hatred. "I'm sorry to hear
That grin was not sorry and his dark eyes were cold.
Eyes of a professional killer.
glanced at his watch, pushed himself slowly away from
the wall and shrugged. "Look at the time, I got
things waiting. Well, I hope your 'inconvenience' won't
be too much trouble." Shouldering his bag, the
Canadian flag grubby, but still prominent. No one wanted
to be an Americanski these days.
sure we'll meet again." Dan's voice had turned
even softer, smiling sardonically. A promise, a threat?
Or just a platitude.
wanted to hit the other, wipe the grin off, then realized
that the bastard had turned the tables on him.
didn't step back, followed the man's motion and almost
got chest to chest with him. Smelling distance. Close
enough to feel his heat, and remember. "I do not
want to keep you longer than necessary", Vadim
said in a low voice. "I am sure your mission is
important. More important than indulging me. And yes,
we will meet again. I have feeling I know exact place."
Eyes narrowed with challenge. Dangerous. Fucking dangerous
to return to the scene of crime.
ugly smile faltered for a moment. The bastard had come
physically too close. The same scent again, the same
heat. "Do you? Really?" He got himself back
under control and his dark brows lifted. "Good
for you." Yes, he knew the place, too, and he would
be there, tonight.
turned to walk away after the Soviet Captain had pulled
back into a safe distance, leaving a throwaway comment
in Russian, "Until the next time, Russkie."
A dangerous game, his Russian accented but fluent. Cat
- mouse, tiger and moth. The dance in the flame had
snarled. The man was full of surprises. Special Forces.
He had to be. Mercenary, most likely, because there
were no western troops in the country. And that made
him an enemy. He would do nothing forbidden. Meet with
an enemy, trying to capture and interrogate. He'd return
sated, with knowledge. And ash on his skin.
left the hotel, walked into the glare of the sun. He
was sweating, he needed to find a way to get rid of
the tension. But then, he needed the tension for tonight.
He knew it was too risky, and he should rig the whole
place. Hide weapons. Prepare the arena. Vadim couldn't
wait to get out of that fucking dress uniform. Back
to basics, strength pitted against strength, skin to
skin, mad, intense, snarling rage and power. Intoxicating,
just the thought of it.
got a lift back to his camp that didn't officially exist.
How he needed to smell that bastard's blood; hear the
rattling breath of death; feel the steel drive into
muscle and flesh. Tonight the Nothing would be wiped
would go back to Kabul and into a rat infested alley.
Better equipped this time and with a deadly purpose.
picked a fight just for the relief it brought. They
knew he was tense, and somebody said something about
Vanya. Something that implied that Vanya had been too
fucking drunk to see what was coming.
legit thing to say. And absolutely legit to fly off
the handle at that. Vadim dropped the long bar of the
weights, just dropped them, the cast iron hitting the
concrete with a metal thud, and Vadim was already in
fighting mode, just blindly attacking the lieutenant
who thought he was tough.
it was a bunch of other junior officers that pulled
them apart - after the lieutenant had been losing. Up
to that point, people were too busy betting on the outcome.
He snarled, then left the other, blood and death in
his gaze, but of course not for the hapless comrade.
He wanted to run down a wall, wanted to take the energy
and do something with it, something outrageous, tiring,
satisfying, something as real and cruel and intense
as he could possibly do.
no showers. Hard to clean himself with a rag and a little
water, shave, too. His hands were shaking, as if he
was on withdrawal or dehydrated. He tried to find a
moment's peace, tried to jerk off, but just couldn't
take the spike off. Not enough. The physical reaction
happened, sure enough, but he was on edge, worse than
getting shot full of drugs before a competition.
country got to him, and the memory of the one perfect
moment, equal powers hell bent on destroying each other.
He left the barracks as soon as he could, wore his camo,
and a pistol, knives. Yes, the AK too, but didn't really
expect to use it. He didn't want to make too much noise.
It was, strangely enough, also about restraint, cleverness,
about control. And that was what was driving him insane
was settling and the approaching night saw Dan dressed
in trademark camo trousers and army boots. Shirt and
jumper thrown over it, wrapped in a well-worn dirty
parka. It got cold at night in this hell-hole, and he
had covered his head and part of his face with a dark
rag. Not only to protect from the dust, as was the custom
amongst the local men, but to disguise his features,
no matter how dark they were.
the time he arrived in the city night had fallen. Dan
was cautiously circling the scene of crime, before silently
pulling himself up a wall. The bird's track across the
roofs, the safest option at night.
yet but wary of the Russian who had arrived at dusk,
hiding in an alley with camo paint smeared over the
pale features and darkened hair. Vadim was climbing
up a ladder after checking the surroundings for booby
traps, while Dan was still waiting for what felt like
an eternity. An impatient man, he had learnt patience
throughout the years. Stakeouts for days and nights,
often impossible to move nor make a sound.
was checking the surrounding buildings, roofs, windows
- shit holes that contained the rotten dregs of human
life in a city of fucking dust. Finally sliding down
through the roof into the abandoned building where a
scent hit his nostrils. Sweat and blood, death and decay,
bringing back memories of a physical pain he'd never
believed he would ever encounter.
air was dusty, laden with threats, but the dark rag
around his head made him breathe in his own sweat, not
the putrid air. Dan went to crouch motionless in a corner,
hidden in darkness and blending into the shadows.
focussed, all senses alert. He knew the bastard would
come, counted on it. For reasons he could not decipher,
but it didn't matter jack shit to him why the Russkie
would be drawn back and right into his extinction. All
that mattered was his own reason. Revenge. Inflicting
pain and ultimately death.
The ghostly shuffle of dry wind, but Dan's senses made
out the systematic presence of a human. A faint scuffle,
even an expert recce could not disguise the sheer bulk
of a heavy body. The Russian cunt, no doubt. His personal
enemy. He would let him come close, willing him nearer,
the knife firmly in his hand. He'd always preferred
the up-close and personal blade; bullets were for wusses.
had moved away from the hole in the ground, crouched
near it. The darkness could hold a platoon of men. Eyes
getting used to it. He wished he was a cat, a lion,
an owl, or, indeed, a bat, one of the various unit symbols.
Recce. Move silently, see and hear everything. Even
if bats were technically blind. He could feel his throat
vibrate, as he sensed like a snake. The instructors
had told him to trust his guts, see with his mind. Sometimes,
the animal part of his brain picked up things that the
human part discarded as white noise. He was wide open,
feeling out into the darkness.
place hadn't changed much, as the darkness seemed to
become less dense. Vanya's blood had to still be here.
Over there, where he had died. Some specks on the wall
opposite. Cutting a throat was a messy business.
moved deeper into the room, still crouching, to be as
little of a target as possible, moving his feet carefully,
not shuffling, not grinding bits of rubble into the
ground. Old trick, Vadim reached for a piece of stone
or dirt, and tossed it into the corner, where it rolled,
clattering. 'Where are you?'
senses were so overly alert, he felt his nerves strumming
against the confines of his spine, burning lines inside
the marrow of his bones, mixing with the white noise
of the blood in his ears. There. A sound. Blood and
bones, sinew and flesh; tonight he'd cut him open.
home, Russkie." Dan whispered in Russian.
lips twisted into a smile at his native language. He
had trained this one well. He already spoke a civilized
language. Something strange and arousing about the fact
that the man spoke at all. Like speaking during sex,
when every word was more intense and went straight through
the skin. He knew where the other was now, eyes found
the silhouette, broken up, of course, and he straightened
a little, as if in greeting. His body shivered from
the voice, it was like breath on his face. Or in his
neck, and he was still so far away. Hard to guess, but
he'd say about two and a half yards.
own voice similarly low. "Your Russian is not bad.
You haven't lived in Russia, but you had good teachers."
It was the salute just before fencing. He could be terribly
old-fashioned against an equal.
chuckled softly, an eerie sound in the darkness. Deceptively
gentle and strangely amused. Then a soft shuffle, and
his body melted in one smooth motion out of the shadow,
into a square of moonlight from a window that gaped
torn and wide open like an eternally screaming mouth.
all the confidence only a justifiably arrogant motherfucker
like him could muster, Dan casually pulled the rag from
his face, revealing teeth, gleaming in the dull light.
A grin like a baring of fangs. "I'm afraid they
couldn't have taught you much. Haven't you ever
heard of the first maxim? Never leave a comrade alone,
dying like a bleeding pig."
studied the way the moonlight traced the man's cheekbone,
line of ear, the darkness of hair. Stubble. Firm, strong
skin he wanted to sink his teeth into. Wanted to draw
blood. Vanya. He missed the things he could do to him.
Their silent communication. "If he had followed
orders, he would still be alive." The absolute,
shocking truth. Instructors had stressed the point that
sometimes, some people were too fucking stupid to survive.
Like people going out of their way to find danger. It
was possible. And because of that possibility, it was
be so sure he would still be alive, Russkie." Smooth
words, soft voice. Dark as a caress, hiding the venom
know my name." Vadim moved closer, made sure the
light didn't interfere with his vision, but also allowed
the man a closer look at him. No dress uniform this
time, nothing hid his features. "And I know what
did not move nor react, only his head followed the movement,
studying the other. Almost same height, same built,
same muscles. One dark, one blond underneath the camo
paint. His own body slightly less bulky and perhaps
half an inch shorter, a negligible difference. Watching
the Russian dispassionately. Just a man, a man who had
done Nothing and would die for Nothing. Yet he could
not help being struck by the eyes, glowing in impossibly
pale brightness in the darkness of the room.
smiled, the only movement in a statue-still body. "I
know your name, your rank, and probably your number."
Dan knew a lot more, only that afternoon some of the
requested research had come back. A sports hero, a pentathlete,
well-well. His brows raised, once again the amused chuckle,
as if they were having tea in Ascot on the lawn. Civilised
conversation, not two deadly enemies; two beasts on
the prowl. "You know what I am, Russian cunt? Go
ahead. I'm all ears."
voice. The kind of voice Vadim could listen to, whatever
it said. Even better when it was a challenge. He had
the feeling the man was not reluctant to start, it was
more like he thrived on the same energy that coursed
through himself. He knew, he could taste the quality
of time. It made him ravenous with desire, the same
dark flood he had unleashed before. But this time, the
tiger knew what he planned.
saw how the silver light tore one side of the face out
of the darkness, the rest remained in twilight. Perfect.
'Don't move', he thought. 'Stay there, right here'.
Magnetic fields, pulses he could feel everywhere in
his body. It was an effort to breathe. He shook his
head, even at the insult. Enough to draw knives in the
barracks. It seemed like twisted tenderness to him,
especially with that voice. Like Vanya sometimes called
him bastard when he had jumped him and fucked him in
you are', thought Vadim. A merc. A soldier. He was the
heat Vadim wanted, needed, to burn, to turn the world
into ash. He was the glint of a blade at midnight. Vadim
breathed laughter. "You are a memory. A perfect
raised one brow, higher than before. Perfect dark arch,
one side of his face illuminated by moonlight. "What?"
The Russkie was fucking insane. Then sudden anger, the
smooth amusement gone in a flash. Perfect memory?
Perfect fucking memory of fucking what? Of the Nothing
that still burnt deep inside? That perfect fucking violent
memory. Dan's eyes caught fire, even in the low quality
of grey-dead light, the burning was overwhelming. Anger,
to much anger waiting to be unleashed, but he had to
can stuff your memory down your own throat, motherfucker."
Even when snarled, Dan's voice retained the darkness.
No softness, now, but the pulsating energy of hatred
and anger. "It's the last thing you'll take with
rule, Vadim thought. If you fight, don't talk. The shift
in the man's voice gave away the shift in his intention.
Vadim jumped back, feeling the other's blade rip through
the air and slice across his chest, just catching the
shirt. 'Good one', he thought, that guy knew how to
fight. He pulled back, one hand sliding to the sheath
against the small of his back. If he could incapacitate
him. Once more. If he could only taste all that strength
just once more. That had to be a mistake, fighting meant
being willing to kill, but a dead body could offer only
relief, never strength. Before he fucked a corpse, he
preferred his hand. Much saner option, too.
And I'm your memory, too", Vadim snarled, waiting
for the next attack. "You won't forget me. Never."
laughed coldly. "You're Nothing, Russkie. Nothing."
He didn't want it to be over soon, he could have killed
the man before he had ever entered the building. More
deaths from his hand than he cared to remember and none
of them meant anything. Except this one.
eyes taking in the movement of the Russian's hand, certain
it held a weapon. Dan guessed the movement that would
follow, judged the distance and his booted foot sped
upwards, straight towards the other's chin, before he
could use the weapon for a sufficient attack. Hell,
yes, his body was a killing machine, and not a victim
too much into the attack, while part of Vadim's mind
was not in it, and he pressed into it, overbalancing.
He had anticipated a lunge, and wanted to meet it half
way, playing strength against strength. The kick hit
him in the face, rattled teeth, bruised his lips and
split them in several places. That man had a talent
to make him bleed. Vadim staggered back, trying to catch
his balance, and wasn't quite sure where the knife was,
but he tasted his own blood. That sobered him for a
heartbeat, just in time to hear, close, a sound that
turned his blood into acid. The whoosh of a rocket propelled
everything paled against this threat. "Incoming!"
Vadim shouted, and dove.
Dan almost missed the sound in his moment of triumph.
His head flew round, body ready to follow, but nearly
too late, and he was thrust backwards with the full
force of the impact, losing his balance but throwing
his body weight into the movement. The building a sudden
hell of deafening sound, dirt, mud-bricks and wattle,
like projectiles of destitute.
hit the ground, almost hit his face again, covered his
head and neck and felt the explosion wash over him.
Deafened, ears ringing, the world turned into one high-pitched
sound and clouds of acrid dust. Stuff rained down on
him, that explosion must have taken the front of the
house clean off, and the whole structure could just
simply collapse right now, burying him in a pile of
was choking, wrapped in a cloud of dried goat shit,
he landed on something hard and yet soft and yet hard
and ... his head knocked sideways, hitting a wooden
beam. He was disoriented, blinded by debris and dust,
desperately trying to breathe before knocked out for
a moment, sprawled on top of this something ... something.
thought a beam was coming down, and tensed, using every
muscle in his body as brace against the weight. His
ears rang, painfully, the dust bit into his lips, he
moved only a bit to pull the scarf before mouth and
nose, still choking on the dust. Vadim wrestled the
panic, couldn't hear a thing, expected the ground to
give way, but it was impossible to say, or see, or even
guess what had brought the attack. No surprise, this
was Kabul, and there were insurgents. He only hoped
it was more or less unintentional. He coughed violently,
felt close to retching.
stinging, watering to wash the dust out, and with a
groan he could feel, but not hear, Vadim checked around
with his hands. A boot. For a moment he thought it might
be his, and that meant his boot was touching his hip.
panic was back. No pain. But they said it didn't hurt
at first. Fuck.
wanted to scream, then, breathing harshly, and choking,
he forced his mind to work. Fuck it. Panic now, and
you are fucking dead. Think of fucking Vanya.
turned around, tried to move under the log, assess the
damage and his position, he felt like he was in water,
needed to work out where the rest of his body was, relative
to the other parts, and finally understood that he was
in one piece. Fucking piece of engineering genius. Small
wonder he was shit at demolitions, unless it involved
rigging a hand grenade.
rolled, feeling the weight on top of him shift and could
feel it had a pulse, that it was choking, and that it
was his enemy. Vadim wiped the tears from his face with
his arm, and forced himself to breathe as little as
possible, tasting nothing but blood, dust and all the
shit his body came up with to cleanse his mouth and
nose. Spit, more blood, tears.
reached up for the other body, felt his chest heave,
and despite the situation, that weight and that closeness,
fucking dangerous as it was, he was hard, he was alive,
and the guy's leg pressed against him just right. He
had hardly enough oxygen to think, let alone straight,
as if that ever had been an option, but the lack of
air made his body tingle. The enemy was so fucking close.
Maybe wounded, maybe unconscious. Clearly alive. He
took the leg and pressed it against himself, baring
his teeth at the feeling. Fuck, yes. He didn't care
about control just now, he wanted, needed to take advantage.
hands moved to the other's belt between their bodies,
pulling it open. Hump him, anything, just needed to
purge that madness. Starting to pull down those trousers,
moving underneath to get some friction. The very fact
he was still alive and all the stuff that was pent up
inside made him insane with need. He was aware what
he did, but he didn't care.
was still caught in darkness, but started to fight for
air, lungs hurting like fuck. Dark and gone, and who
was he and what the fuck, and choking, retching, fighting.
Unable to breathe, Dan forgot about the Russkie; about
explosion and insurgents; about anything at all. Nothing
mattered, except for the burning, blinding fire of pain
in his lungs. No oxygen, couldn't gasp for air, couldn't
get anything in nor out of his goddamnedmotherfucking
lungs. Couldn't orientate himself, couldn't see nor
hear, nothing but the deafening sound in his ears of
explosion, hammering heart and screaming lungs. Fuck.
he could feel manhandling, unable to fight it. That
fucking Russian bastard!
to eye and face to face, staring straight into the ice
blue insanity. The sensations of hands on his body,
once more roughly handling him. The same shit again,
violent grinding and pushing against him. That was it,
enough to give a surge of strength and the pain in his
lungs exploded as he bucked upwards, throwing himself
away from the other. Dan opened his mouth and drew in
a breath, forcing in more of the fucking dust, before
breaking down on his knees, convulsing violently, throwing
up shit from his lungs and crap from his stomach. Coughing
up dust and hatred while thrashing wildly, arms flailing.
went right after him, wanted to finish it, grab the
man, have him, take him, rip him apart, fight. Just
going straight after him, keeping close, not allowing
any distance, no respite from the intensity. No way.
The other was in no state to fight, but he would resist.
Vadim grinned, still hardly breathing, he was a swimmer,
he could control breath.
was still mindlessly retching and thrashing blindly,
even vomited which should get anybody's mind off fighting.
Vadim grabbed him anyway, crashed into the ground on
top of rubble, which hurt in several places, then a
completely instinctive, no way that was planned, meditated
or anything, punch hit him right in the groin. The force
enough to stop breath, stop heart, stop all thought.
Fighting what was not pain, but the fucking sky coming
punch didn't register in Dan's oxygen starved brain,
still blind, struggling to survive, frantic gulps of
dusty, at last stale air getting back into his lungs.
Finally breathing, painfully, doubled over on his knees
in the rubble.
Rubble. No one touching him. No force keeping him down.
was still coughing, eyes watering, hardly able to see,
but there, a shape writhing in pain on the ground. Increasing
sight with every lung wrecking cough, wiping a sleeve
across his eyes, he was smearing blood, sweat, tears
and dust into a camouflage of pain, and then yes. Fucking
bastard!" Hardly human sounds, scratching-croaking
from shit-filled lungs and tortured vocal chords, but
Dan staggered to his knees. Full-on hatred for the curled-up
man on the ground, he could hardly keep his balance,
but the strength he managed to get behind his first
lunge was born out of seething anger.
you! Fucking Russian cunt!" Dan kicked towards
the bastard's ribs, once, twice, harder, kicked his
army boots with a ferocity born out of greed for revenge,
putting all his weight behind the attacks.
tensed his body, tensed what little wasn't taut, and
needed to get away from the rain of kicks, as they pierced
through his consciousness. The man could kill him right
there. Getting up was impossible, as if every tendon
in Vadim's body had shortened, halved. He sometimes
fucking did this himself, sometimes pulled a guy up
by his shoulders, tripling the pain. He saw the ripped
open wall, decided he could easily make that fall, but
needed to move at least another three yards.
would have laughed if he had had the air in his lungs,
watching the motherfucker getting smashed like a beetle
on its back. This satisfaction was better than any dripping
cunt he'd ever stuffed, and more intense than any fuck.
saw the boot coming for his face, and with more strength
and control than he thought he'd had, moved. It made
him almost scream with pain, but while he suppressed
the sound, Dan was howling in agony when the Russian's
boot impacted with his shin. "Shit!" He flew
backwards, managing to curl up just enough to prevent
the worst damage when hitting the pile of rubble opposite
the torn open wall.
shook his head, fuck, it hurt, but he had to continue,
had to kill, to maim, to bring pain to that cunt, and
how fucking good it was, how all-consuming, he'd never
felt anything like it. He needed to smash that face
in, so badly, he could feel the need in his throat.
It tasted of blood and sweat, of anger and hatred. He
was crawling on all fours, needed to obliterate that
fucking face, cut out the goddamned eyes, smash in those
mocking bastard lips! With a hoarse cry Dan lunged forward
again, throwing himself onto the other, managing to
straddle the bastard.
first punch slipped its aim, hitting Vadim's jaw, but
the next ones came in rapid succession, hitting that
mocking face as often and fast and hard as he could.
Intend on smashing the nose, maiming jaw and cheeks,
and tearing open those fucking lips and blinding-bright
eyes, turning them into a bleeding pulp.
couldn't find enough breath, his ribcage hurt, even
though that pain was nothing near the pain that was
searing his groin. The weight was too much to drag with
him to the hole in the wall, he needed to get away,
absolutely needed to retreat, because winning wasn't
even a possibility any more. There was a cold, white
blue feeling. Fear. Fear so intense he hadn't felt it
in a while. Especially as a somebody caused it, not
a something. It was like drowning, drowning with his
hands tied on his back.
defended against the blows as good as he could, but
he was too sluggish, too damned hurt to threaten his
enemy's life. Knife. Where was the fucking knife? The
enemy rolled over him like a tank, the fear became madness,
struggle again, fuck the pain. He could hurt later.
Vadim's hand found a piece of rock, nice, sharp, pointy
end, and, gripping it like a caveman that had just invented
murder, brought it down with all the force he had left
on the enemy's kneecap, twice, and hoped it was the
kneecap, rewarded by a howl of pain. Blinded by the
blows to his face, another jab at the tense thigh muscle,
suddenly free, and with an effort as if he had to lift
a car, pushed himself up, and began to crawl, belly
crawl over the rubble, towards the torn-open wall.
looked like a dragon had taken a bite right out of the
side of the house, and before Vadim could even consciously
decide whether he could risk the fall, not that there
were any other options, the much tortured floor gave
way and he fell, hitting the ground so hard he almost
patter of feet. The next thing he could see with his
blood encrusted half-blind eyes was a bunch of goat-fuckers
moving up towards him. And he knew with absolute certainty
that those were not the guys that had invited them into
pistol. No strength.
had forgotten everything but the utter satisfaction
of smashing in the chiselled features of this fucking
face, until pain hit like a steel rod through his kneecaps,
and he screamed like a wounded animal. Losing balance,
tossed aside, he held his knee, his thigh, curled like
a maggot, barely noticed the other crawling towards
the opening. Both worms, both lost in pain. Then nothing.
to fight the pain that was consuming him, throbbing
in legs, joints, everywhere in his body alike. Some
parts on fire, others dull and torturous, but then voices.
Steps, Sudden kerfuffle. Shit. Insurgents? Fucking goat-fuckers?
That Russian bastard was his. His! No on else's. He'd
kill him, maim him, destroy him and he'd laugh while
towards the open wall, Dan didn't lose balance, gripping
with torn and bloodied hands on wooden rafters that
stuck out from the tormented building like an old hag's
rotten teeth in a collapsed mouth.
The Russkie wasn't going to cut it. Afghans. Four of
them, no fucking chance, the hated bastard lay helpless
on the ground.
off!" Dan shouted, "his death is mine, fuckers!"
He let go and jumped onto the street below, hardly keeping
balance at the impact with his knackered knees.
the curses, the rocks they picked up to pelt him with
- a fucking stoning like in the fucking Middle Ages
- and all Vadim could do was wish he had his pistol,
or could properly move. His ribs were on fire, he felt
completely fucked up, couldn't even scream, only felt
blood run from his face, blood and spit, both eyes starting
to swell shut. If he didn't get away soon, he was dead.
He was already halfway there. And one thing they had
told him: Don't let the Afghans get you alive. Stoning
was apparently one of the nicer things they did with
the enemy, and even that fucking hurt.
Son of a dog, dog, swine ...
hitting, less painful than the blows he'd received just
a minute ago. Vadim spit out a mouthful of blood, and
began to crawl, favoured his left side, because something
was seriously wrong with the ribs on his right side,
every movement, every breath was fucking agony, and
he didn't even want to check his teeth.
he started to move, they began kicking him. Always count
on the enemy being cruel. Somewhere, he heard shouting,
then he grabbed one filthy skinny brown ankle, pulled
the Afghan towards him with what strength he had left,
had the holdout knife out and sliced through the man's
Achilles heel. Take that, goat-fucker.
answer was a howl, and Vadim hoped it would attract
attention from a Soviet patrol. He would get shit from
them for the rest of his posting here, but fuck, did
he want to see some MPs or just a bunch of groundpounders,
fucking conscripts would do, as long as they were fucking
armed. He kept the foot in his grip, and stabbed it,
piercing the bastard's foot with so much force that
the blade hit the dirt road underneath.
yeah. And if he had to fight with his teeth, he would.
He fucking would.
would take him alive.
panted, worried, would he fall over or would his knees
hold up. Thighs in agony, kneecaps on fire, fists bleeding,
he had to grab the next best wall to steady himself
for the time it took to catch his breath. Immediately
scanning the surroundings. Fuck. It was dark, too much
movement, too many men and one body crawling on the
ground, but then ...
howl of pain. That Russian fucker wasn't dead yet. Good.
time Dan hadn't come without a weapon. Not the rifle
he would have preferred right now, but a knife and a
pistol was better than nothing. He reached for the pistol
in the bulky folds of the grubby parka, aimed at the
Mujahideen guerrilla closest to the Russian bastard.
He wasn't supposed to kill them, but he'd be fucked
if he let them kill his prey. That Russkie was his and
one being stabbed still screaming, another one shot,
letting out the cut-short sound of a man dying, hot
square where it killed the fastest. Dan didn't bother
with the one that the Russian was dealing with, he trusted
the motherfucker to know how to kill - even when left
crawling in the dirt.
more, and he almost laughed when one brought an AK-47
out, as he threw himself behind a pile of rubble. "That
Russian fucker is mine!" Crawling towards them,
unseen, ignoring pain and exhaustion, keeping up his
speed, he could see the one with the automatic close
enough and smirked. The throwing knife was in his hand,
whistled through the air and embedded itself in the
Afghan's throat, before he even bothered to think about
what he was doing.
task: take out those men between him and his ultimate
target. He was damned good; he was fucking SAS.
left. Thank fuck for their poor equipment and the lack
of suitable weapons.
was reacting with only his brain stem clear and intact,
everything else hurt too much. The adrenaline helped
him deal with the pain and stun, his whole body felt
one bloody, bruised, screwed-up mess, and he still wasn't
home. The guy with the AK shot in some other direction,
had sense enough to not shoot his still squirming friend
with the unpleasant hole in his foot, who would find
it very hard to get up. Now, or even ever.
pulled himself along the man, an obscene crawling/mounting
motion, rested on the squirming body and punched the
knife straight into the Afghan's neck, from the side,
then fumbled around for a gun, and found something even
better. He pulled it off, counted, cooked the fucking
grenade, because he was just that side of insane, because
it was Russian make and therefore the timer was everything
but reliable. It was like holding a world in his hand,
death, madness, and the inevitable hammer of a Norse
god. He sweated like an animal, then tossed it amid
the enemies, and rolled off the body he was lying on,
pulling it between himself and the grenade splinters.
Another deafening sound.
rained down around him. Just stuff. Smell of dust and
explosion was deafening, Dan felt it was almost worse
than the RPG, thank fuck he had been behind cover. He'd
laugh if his ears weren't ringing so loudly and if he
weren't covered in fucking debris again, this time with
the added pleasure of scraps of flesh and bits of bone
raining around him. That Russian cunt was even better
than he had thought. It would make his revenge that
was peering out from behind the rubble, he scanned the
alley, but none of them was alive. Except for that big
pile of blond arsehole over there, but he wasn't going
to allow him to die. Not yet. No fucking way.
didn't have much time, patrols would soon be there and
he couldn't get caught. No Soviet soldier would buy
the pretence of a reporter, not the way he looked; not
in the middle of carnage.
was breathing, gathering strength for the escape. Hoping
the merc would lose interest, was too wounded to give
chase, and maybe, maybe, attract some positive, helpful
attention. He could use backup, now. His eyes felt sore,
were throbbing, and he could feel the blood run out
of the corner of his mouth. He just turned the head
enough so it could drip out. He didn't have enough strength
came out from behind his cover, limped as fast as he
could to the Russian, who sensed something draw close,
a motion from the corner of his eyes. The merc was still
around. Oh fuck. Vadim had tricks up his sleeve, but
he was exactly one trick short. The merc shouldn't be
able to walk, he thought, with misgivings. He should
be just as fucked up as he was.
smirked down at the bleeding mess, half-covered by the
dead body of the Mujahideen. "Good." He delivered
another kick, not giving a shit that his fucked knee
was trying to kill him. He needed one last time the
satisfaction of destroying that face, directing the
force of his boot against the jaw. "You're still
force spun Vadim's head around, his neck protested,
one of five hundred voices in his body, riling against
what had happened and that he hadn't taken more care.
The pain was blinding. He wouldn't fucking give up.
He wouldn't fucking pass out. Stay there, he pleaded
with himself. Stay focused. Couldn't hear a thing.
turned, the sound of soldiers on patrol coming rapidly
closer. Even in Kabul it wasn't a daily occurrence that
grenades were thrown in the streets. He sneered, once
more in Russian, "Until next time, cunt."
Limping as fast as he could into the opposite direction
of the patrol. Getting away, back to camp and some medic's
attention. His OC would welcome the information about
hoisted Vadim up, he felt hands, and then he felt a
car around him. He thought he saw Soviet uniforms, then
he let his head fall back.
the adrenaline started to wear off, Dan became rapidly
aware of the real extent of the pain his body was in.
Didn't matter. He had to run, getting back to camp wasn't
the easiest of tasks, but he managed to find transport
with some witless goat herders. Whatever they really
were, he looked down on those leathery Afghanis, all
goat-fuckers and dimwits to him. He couldn't give less
of a shit about any of them, but then he didn't give
a monkey's arse about the whole conflict, even genocide.
He did what he did and he was goddamned motherfucking
good at it.
this time, though. Would have been too fast and damn,
that Russian was good. Seemed the Soviet paras were
at least as good as their own, if not better. As good
as the SAS, though? Shit, that had to be seen.
arrived back in the 'non existent' camp before the light
of dawn. First a debriefing, then a medical check-up.
He'd never get it the other way round unless they'd
declared him dead. At least.
had already had the debriefing with his direct superior,
and was sitting in a plastic chair beside the operating
table, just in his skivvies in the medic's tent, slightly
better equipped than the rest. One arm on the table,
cleaned with spirits and numbed, while the doc was suturing
a cut. He'd managed to miss in the adrenaline rush that
one of the explosions had cut his arm far worse than
he had thought. In the other hand a bottle of whiskey,
the paint-stripper kind, swigging mouthfuls while chatting
away with the medic about the joys of rear action with
a willing bird.
sudden presence entered the tent while he was in the
middle of describing that enormously fat arsed bitch
he had fucked on his last day in Blighty. The presence
coughed and stood with his brows raised. "Staff
Sergeant McFadyen, I am duly impressed." The upper-class
voice and demeanour of one of the most senior ranks.
shit. Holy shit, but in fact, also fucking funny. At
least in Dan's world.
He couldn't stand up but saluted with the bottle in
his hand, hit his jaw instead, right at a tender spot
and cursed under his breath. He was officially off duty
right now, was drowning the aches and pain legitimately
with booze, but the failure of proper decorum could
still bust his arse. Even his. As unlikely as it was.
"My apologies, Sir."
There seemed to be a slight hint of amusement in the
cultured voice. "McFadyen, I need to talk to you."
eyes narrowed, this was a novelty. Something big and
something different and something entirely suicidal.
"Of course, Sir. I should be stitched up in a few
Colonel nodded, "See me in the Captain's tent."
Sir." Dan raised his brows and shrugged his shoulders
at the doc, when the top dog had left. He didn't have
a fucking clue what that one was about, but he'd find
out. Best get another swig down his throat before it
all became official once more. He needed action, not
mouthfuls of cheap whiskey later, Dan's arm had been
stitched up and bandaged, struggling one-handed to get
back into his clothes. Not uniform, no need to, not
here, not right now, no matter the decorum 'Her Majesty's
Men' usually preferred. A pair of clean trousers and
a polo shirt later, he turned up in the Captain's tent,
where they were already waiting for him. A Colonel.
He had been right. This was the big one.
sit down, McFadyen." The cultured voice again,
and he did as he was asked to. Not that he had an option.
"You have shown considerable skills and knowledge,
and we are aware that you are the most experienced personnel
of the Special Forces when it comes to this kind of
mountain region and, I must add, to this kind of warfare."
brows rose but he said nothing. At last, at fucking
last someone was putting into words what he'd known
long ago. Goddamned 'Friendly Brothers', yeah right.
Those bastard Russians wouldn't know what a brother
was if he fucked them right up the shitter.
don't want to talk around it but I'm getting straight
to the point. We want you to link up with the Afghan
Mujahideen resistance movement inside Pakistan, and
then return, if need be, to the Afghan mountains, to
make an assessment of what training and material help
brows rose even higher. Surely, that was the greatest
fucking lie of 'straightforwardness' he had ever heard.
"Sir, with all due respect, are you saying you
want me to round up Mujahideen insurgents, train them,
equip them and organise them to fight against the Red
Army? I assume the West is less than happy with the
way the Soviets are piling into Afghanistan."
perfect example of what no-nonsense and straight to
the point really was. The Colonel nodded slowly. To
his credit he didn't allow himself to be visibly taken
aback. "Yes." At last to the point. "These
are your new orders. McFadyen, you will be flown into
Pakistan in ten days' time and in the meantime, you
will stay here. Is this understood?"
realised he had one chance, just one, to refuse the
duty. It was asking a lot, even for someone from the
SAS, but he'd be shot to hell and back if he'd rejected
such a chance. "Yes, Sir. Understood." He
one spanner in the works, one thing that pissed him
off - he'd miss his chance to destroy the fucking Russian.
had part of his revenge, it would have to do.
woke up due to the absence of pain, then stared at the
white wall, feeling blissfully unpained. It was still
all make shift, gear hadn't all arrived yet in sufficient
quantities, then again, there was not a flood of wounded
were some guys parading around. Afghani politicians,
he gathered from the way they acted as if they were
still the bosses in this blighted country. Vadim got
to shake a hand, mumbled something, was patted on the
shoulder. Poor man had walked into an ambush. Let him
gear people didn't like the fact that he had lost the
assault rifle. He couldn't remember where it was gone,
and they took it out of his 'pay'. Which meant that
back home, his family would be in trouble.
day, a medical officer showed up. "You are one
lucky comrade", he said, clearly avoiding the 'bastard'
or whatever he wanted to say. "Found something
in your uniform."
glanced at him, tired against the afternoon light. "What?
A pack of weed I go to the brig for?"
doctor shook his head, stepped closer and dropped something
onto the bed sheet. It was a lump of reddish metal,
and Vadim recognized the shape.
molar. This is gold." The doctor grinned like Vadim
had managed to somehow rob a bank while unconscious.
Teeth were flying everywhere in an explosion. They sometimes
had to be peeled out of the living flesh. The thought
that one dead insurgent had tried to bite him and failed
even in this made Vadim laugh. "Yeah, thanks."
gold tooth. What a twisted reward. His family would
freak if he sent them that.
week later, there was a blue ribbon for the Christmas