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Special Forces Chapter III: Hatred and Hell
 
 

May-June 1981, Afghanistan

Skirmishes, Hind helicopters and plenty of firepower. The Afghans were still in the stone age, speaking from a military perspective. Vadim relished the slaughter. Come low over the hilltops, blow the shit up, then go in to kill the survivors. Men, women, children, fucking goats and sheep, nothing moved nor breathed when he was finished with a place. Tossing the poison canisters into their precious wells after the deed.

Those places would be forgotten, nobody would return there, and nobody could survive there. Another marking on the map: We encountered enemy forces, here, there and there, and he was being generous with the term 'forces'. Vadim drank moonshine, every now and then, there was no other way to wind down, no other way but to fall over from exhaustion after the slaughter. The occasional interrogation, their Afghani translator did a good job of not showing how much he was scared. Too bad he couldn't kill that fucker - he annoyed him, the polished Russian the man spoke, and then the Pushtu in the next heartbeat. The beast inside raged, and it was a lot of fun, the mindless raging and destroying, making sure these places, these people were wiped out.

Take the war into the mountains; create secure zones for transport, troop movement, and demonstrate superior strength.

One day they acquired a new target, another village, half nestled into a valley, and the military machinery once more sprang into action. Vadim took a sniping position, and everybody was ready for carnage. It grew on a man. It was better than being penned in at the barracks. He'd come to fight a war, not to jerk off in the toilets in Kabul.

Vadim signalled. The radio guy relayed the order.

Then, like something impossibly beautiful, and at the same time dreadful in an insectoid way, the Hinds closed in, gunships, flying tanks. Unleashed technological might. The village was protected enough down in the valley that not all rockets would hit. That was what gas was for, and Vadim's men.

Vadim remained prone, watched the stage play down below. Fucking place couldn't be reached with tanks. And those villagers were helping the enemy, providing food, water, and above all, rest. Courage. 'The partisan needs to swim like a fish among fish to thrive'. What the Kremlin was trying to do was to dry up the ocean. And this was yet another drop. Increasingly, his superiors were starting to get interested in intelligence. If he could provide any - and that was why he was here. Paratrooper Vadim Krasnorada. Directly reporting to the KGB.

Vadim's body armour constricted his chest, his heart beat so hard. Radio signals, his men advancing, quickly, everybody pumped up after the waiting. He was ready.

* * *

Dan had been training those goat-fucking losers, been fighting with the frustration of setting up a guerrilla force without the resources of an organised military machinery, but he thrived on the job. It was a challenge, and he fucking loved a challenge.

He'd seen what the Soviets had done in too many villages already. Not just killing the men, taking out the Mujahideen, he accepted that. Bloody necessities of war, just one of these things. Death and destruction. He'd seen it many times. Not so for those bastard Russians. They couldn't be satisfied with brimstone and fire, they killed every living soul. Women, children, poisoned the wells and slaughtered the livestock. He had seen the burnt earth, and the stench of rotting flesh remained in his nostrils.

Fuckers.

The last two days had been fairly good, at last finding an intact village, friendly to them and with drinkable water. They were cautious, staying inside the cradle of houses, watching the women and children and old men go about their work outside. At last they were able to get some rest, food, water, sleep. Dan had been going on empty for too long, stamina pulling him through, but his so-called freedom fighters hadn't been trained enough. Not yet, perhaps never.

Dan was scanning the horizon with binoculars, lying on the ground while smoking one of those Russian coffin nails that mistakenly labelled themselves as cigarettes.

Suddenly the shape of a Hind appeared, the sound travelling far behind. "Fuck!" Hissed, adrenaline shot into his body like a junky got his cocaine. This time it was for real.

Dan stayed on the ground, moved as fast as he could while ducking, relaying the danger the moment he was in ear shot.

"Russian attack! Get them out! Out!"

Villagers. Women, children, fucking peasants, none of them having a goddamned clue what any of this was about.

"No!" Dan was running, shouting. Rifle in his hands, safety off, ready to kill if those bastards ever dared to show themselves. "Leave here!" Knew it was useless, those fucking goat-herders would never understand the way the Soviets fought their wars. Human life? They didn't give a shit. Civilians? They were there to be used as target practice. Geneva convention? A fucking piece of fucking useless jokes. He hated those Russian bastards.

Targets galore, the women now screaming and screeching, running like headless chickens and black, panicking birds, with their torn wings fluttering frightened. Children crying, men shouting. Mayhem, panic and hell, he tried what he could to bring those useless peasants into some semblance of order.

Shooting, running, blindly reacting.

* * *

They swarmed like a poked anthill. Vadim trained his rifle on a woman - fucking black crows in their head-to-toe veils. Pulled the trigger. Legshot. They would try to save her. Bind the enemies' resources, even if this enemy didn't' have any. He found a new target, yet another one he'd wound, not kill.

They had killed Sasha. Vadim had received the letter a week ago, and it had been a bunch of fucking partisans. Sasha who had dared ask him something absolutely impossible, and absolutely human. And he had agreed.

He had agreed because he knew what Sasha had felt, and Sasha was a comrade, even more, Sasha. He knew what Katya went through, felt almost envious for the thing between her and him. And he wasn't sure which of the two were more important - his death had made Sasha larger, looming in his mind.

Please, we need to talk, Sasha had said. Vadim had feared he wanted to talk about that night, that fucking risk to bring him home, home to meet the wife, drink and eat together. Ended up in bed, a mass of limbs, a strange harmony, two men, his wife. Risky as hell, irresistible.

Please, Vadim, let her go.

The Hind closed in, fired the rockets. Reduce this town to rubble, then move in and kill everything. The ant hill was on fire.

You know I respect you. But I love your wife. I love her son.

The way Sasha did neither say 'my son', nor 'your son'. Whoever's son it was, ultimately, it was her kid, and Sasha would love him just the same.

Much better match than the spetsnaz and the fencer. Sasha was a pilot. He was far away from the worst of it. Far away enough to not get blinded by dust.

Please, Vadim, let her go. I'll owe you so much more than I can repay you, ever.

He squeezed the trigger, purely mechanical. Remembered Sasha's body between him and his wife, remembered every motion, every whispered word. One night, and then another.

He had brought Sasha home do to just that.

Sasha had his blood type.

The attack was like the fucking rifle range. Targets popped up, shoot, reload, shoot again. It was like shooting rabbits, only that these rabbits moved in straight lines. The village exploded, rockets sending fire and death, Vadim could feel the heat on his face, and it warmed him in so many ways. Sasha.

This is for Sasha, and our son. He bared his teeth, while his men advanced into the village to finish the job, his was to be overwatch, a remote killer, every bullet a hit, just like in training. He was a damn good marksman, his shooting much better even than the swimming or the fencing.

Legs spread to stabilize him on the ground, cover behind rocks, much better vantage point than anybody else had. The Dragunov vastly powerful, but exactly what saved the day over long distances; he preferred it to the other sniper rifles.

He didn't have time to watch them or wonder how and where to strike, he just did, took them down, one by one, especially when they came to help or rescue the wounded. Sniper games. Hurt one so they scream, and take out everybody that comes in to help. Like tying a bleeding sheep to a tree in a forest full of wolves.

* * *

Horror and death all around Dan, it was no good, they had all lost their heads when the children started dying, small heads exploding into blood, gore and splattering brains, sending the remaining Afghani into a frenzy of panic and shock. He had to leave them, their fates were sealed.

Crouching on the ground, Dan used every scrap of cover the barren ground could offer, scanning the slaughter and mayhem for the only one constant: the sniper. Tracing the path towards the cold-blooded marksman.

Dan moved, close to the ground. Rifle in his hands, snaking forward on his belly. The chaos around him was protecting him.

He stopped. Watched. There. The sniper had to be hiding behind the low formation of rocks. Dan turned sideways to reach the hornet's nest from behind.

Unseen, unheard, unlike the Russian killer.

He knew he was getting closer, could sense it, that goddamned sixth sense that had warned him that night in Kabul but he had ignored it. He didn't ignore it now and he'd take out that arsehole. If there was one thing he hated, one thing his comrades, mates and superiors were unified in loathing, it was those fucking enemy snipers. Humans were nothing but moving targets, a carnage that was going far beyond anything that made sense in a motherfucking war acted out along rules he'd never encountered before.

Closer, ever closer he got, finally reaching the rock formation, silently creeping behind. Heart racing, mind razor sharp, senses alert. Adrenaline coursing through his body, one false movement and the Russian marksman would be warned.

Another silent movement, slow, creeping, pulling himself closer, and then … immediate recognition.

"You fucking cunt!"

Anger exploded. Dan jumped onto his feet, swung the rifle, butt first. Movement, words, hatred, all in one heartbeat. No thoughts, just action. The sniper was in the process of turning, his hand going for the pistol at his side, but the rifle came down on the Russian's head before he could even taken another breath.

Dan wasn't thinking. Didn't have a fucking clue why he hadn't just killed the bastard when he had the perfect chance. Would have rid the world of some pondlife cocksucking piece of scum. Didn't know, didn't care, was only action.

The mayhem was starting to quieten down, no more lives left to kill. Dan's rabble unit of insurgents had been wiped out, and so had old men, young children and countless women. All of them. He didn't feel much for them, he was just doing his duty with goat-herders who had no meaning to him - expendable lives for all he was concerned, but he despised the Soviet war crime. Genocide. Fucking genocide.

He'd make the Russian bastard pay for this mess, but first he'd get the arsehole to experience the excruciating moments of fear, feeling the muzzle pressed into the base of his neck. 'Da-svi-da-niya, fucker'.

Dan didn't have much time, wasn't sure how long his enemy would remain unconscious, and how long it would take his comrades to look for him. Hastily checking the prone body for weapons, he grabbed pistol, rifle, knives that were easily found, secured them on his own person. 'Always prepared', and he grinned coldly to himself, while securing the cable tie tightly around the Russkie's thick wrists, arms behind the broad back, doing the same with the ankles. He couldn't take any chances, he had to get away for now.

Wrestling the lifeless bulk onto his shoulders in a fireman's grip, he nearly broke down, staggered, but sheer determination and something sickeningly cold-sliding slithering through the pits of his stomach kept him upright. He picked up both rifles and started to walk. Away, to a place where he could let lose that poisonous hatred and gain his revenge.

* * *

The Hinds touched down while Dan was escaping with his prize, more men emerged, some of them carried flamethrowers to wash the villagers out of their cellars and hiding holes under the huts and in the rock. Cleaning out some places with hand grenades, then continuing to kill the wounded, men, women, children. They worked quickly, knowing that news spread fast over the barren wasteland, somehow. None of them wanted to be there by nightfall.

Gathering what they could carry and their kit of course, the fact the Captain was missing became apparent. No trace from his position, nobody had seen anything, heard anything. The absence of blood and kit could mean he had changed position, or was simply gone. Some felt there had to be enemies around, and they were eager to get back into the copters. They sent out a search party, but evening fell, and with it the hollow, deep darkness of the mountains. Eventually, they decided there was nothing they could do. The Captain was gone.

* * *

Dan didn't have too far to stagger on, thank heaven or hell, the dead weight across his back was killing him. What irony.

Reaching a ragged rock formation that provided some shelter with its narrow overhang, he snorted at the sight of a dead tree, still strong. Perfect. Fucking perfect at last.

The enemy hadn't even twitched yet, Dan wondered if he had broken the Russian's skull, he'd be pissed off if he had, he wanted to make him pay and understand what it was like to die. Slowly. Inevitably, but not immediately. Hell, that bastard would see it coming.

Letting the heavy body fall onto the ground, Dan felt a twinge of satisfaction at the dull thud, doubtlessly causing bruises. He stored the rifles under the overhanging rock, then it was time to focus on that dead thing he had been carrying. A hunter, bearing the trophy home. Dan laughed, and it was an ugly sound.

Time to check over the unconscious man, he couldn't take any chances. Kicking the body until it rolled over onto the back, he patted the front down, checking inside every pocket. Packet of nuts in the first, the other brought a garrotte to light. He stashed everything in his own pockets, since he hadn't been able to take his bergan, only the webbing he was wearing on his body and that had to be sufficient to survive. Additions were welcome.

Found spare magazines, Dan slipped them into the pouch at the small of his back. Opening the Russkie's tunic, he found a map with some yet indecipherable Cyrillic code, and then a small item that made him frown. Carefully wrapped up, a pill. Sniffing the thin coating, he frowned even more. He wasn't going to cut the tunic and shirt off, they would come in handy for himself in the cold nights if he turned them inside out, the Soviet insignias torn off. Took the scarf off the thick neck before rolling the body to the side to cut the ties around the wrists. He had to be fast, pulled the clothes off the upper body, and found another knife, strapped to the shoulder. Dan smirked, refusing to acknowledge similarities between the Russian's penchant for knives and his own.

Red Army were Killers and Bad. British Forces were Defenders and Good. Or some such other shit that didn't have much meaning, just propaganda in a War that had been Cold for too long.

Dan's eyes fell onto the heavily muscled right biceps. Snorting at the shabby tattoo of a crude running wolf while checking the Russian's boots and, as predicted, found another knife. That was it, nothing else. Just belt, camo trousers, socks and boots on the man.

Dan dragged the man towards the tree, kicked, punched, pulled and prodded the heavy limbs into position, until he had the Russian half-kneeling under a low, sturdy branch. Propping the dead weight up against his thighs, Dan forced the arms high up between the fucker's back, the body trying to automatically fall forward, but he kept it in position while musing how long it would take the pain to wake the mind into consciousness. He worked fast. Pushed the arms back down, sturdy wood between biceps and elbows. There. Crucified on a beam.

Dan smirked, pulled the wrists together in the front as close as he could, using all his strength and forcing muscles, sinews and bones almost to breaking point. Man-made rope cut deeply into skin before he was content that the fucker was not going to move. He stood back and looked at his work, studying the picture and smirked. That's where the bastard belonged: on his knees.

"Wake up, Russkie!" Dan shouted, before delivering a kick to the bare chest. Dog tags jarring against bruises.

* * *

A tenseness and tightness that had to do with breathing. Vadim's shoulders were taut, hurt, his chest was constricted, his arms felt … bad. He opened his eyes, his skull was thudding with a dull pain, and a massive blow to the chest sent more pain through his body. His head jerked up, eyes opened, and he saw. Saw the reporter, merc, reporter, merc, whatever, hands raised in fists, just moving back from a kick or punch. Looked like kickboxing to him.

His hands were immobilized, he couldn't defend himself. Knees touched the ground. He coughed, tried to loosen up the tightness around his lungs.

Slowly, ever so slowly Vadim realized what position his body was in. He looked up again, to the dark-haired man whose face shone with hatred, and downright glee. The thoughts registered like dripping acid. No way to defend. No way to fight. He was somewhere else, he couldn't smell the smoke on the wind, couldn't hear the copters. Alone. His arms were starting to get numb, and he focused his attention on them, tried to take some of the stress off. And meanwhile, a nameless, unspoken dread crept up inside him. Focus, he thought. Focus on the situation. Focus on the captor. Thoughts of mutilation, death, more beatings, even, yes, castration. He'd seen all of those, on dead and dying bodies. It was a distinct possibility. After all those years.

Focus. Your mind can defeat itself.

He was alive. He wasn't severely wounded, only dazed, and there was one human factor in the equation.

But that human factor was the man whose body he had possessed, broken in, in a fit of vodka and aimless rage. Just for pleasure. The man who'd given him something he still, somehow, in an odd way, kept close. The memory of strength, and, ultimately, victory. Vadim looked at him, tried to judge the man's intentions, what he was capable of.

Everything.

Put yourself into his mind. Try to become the enemy and you will know. If he was this man, he would interrogate, then kill.

Interrogation meant he would eventually talk. Vadim's main enemy there was the dizziness. He needed to think clearly, sharply, fast, and flexible. He would talk. The other soldiers would come back and look for him, tomorrow. That meant twelve hours of torture. That was a very long time. Only, the enemy probably knew of these time constraints, too.

These twelve hours would be hell. The question was how he would get out of it. Would the merc kill him? He would. So, withholding information meant he would be kept alive. He turned these thoughts in his mind, tried to find other solutions, ways out. Truth was, he didn't want to die. Truth was, the man had every reason to kill him for what he had done. Would kill him for it.

Now, if he could accept the fact of his death - that he wouldn't see the next morning - if he could accept that and make it the basis of his actions. Part of him screamed in terror at the concept of death. He felt his breath accelerate, fighting off that wave of panic. Accept you will die, Vadim, he repeated to himself, and suppressed the thoughts of home that came up. It didn't matter where he died, or even at what age. All people die.

But not all people turn traitors before they do. He did know things, and above all, what his job was. And he needed to keep that secret. And that meant torture. And that, again, meant, these were the least painless, the most pleasant moments that he had left. And he cherished them.

"Awake at last?" Dan smirked, an altogether nasty look on his face. The handsomeness had vanished, hatred was turning teeth into fangs, high cheekbones into a glaring skull and dark eyes into empty, menacing sockets.

Hatred that had no name.

"Nice to meet you again, Russkie." He fumbled in a pocket, pulled out a battered packet of coffin nails, took his time to light a fag. Inhaling deeply, the smoke curled into the cool evening air, curb-crawling along the edges of sanity.

"I wish … I could return sentiment", said Vadim. Not nice meeting him. Less nice than the other times, and that included the meeting the grenade had cut short. He tried to sit up straight to get into any position that would take off even a fraction of that stress, but the truth was, his own muscles made it difficult. A skinny person would be far less uncomfortable.

"Para, eh? Sniper." Dan nodded, holding a conversation with himself. "I have to give you that, you're good. The way the brains of those terrified kids were splattering all over their dying mothers' burkhas, that was skill, really." Taking another deep drag, holding the nicotine deep in his lungs for a moment.

Vadim watched the smoke trail into the evening, wondered how many men he had shot that had lit up on guard. Sniper. The natural enemy of the common soldier. "Yes, sniper. Marksman. Different target, same skill."

Dan nodded, didn't try to hide the satisfaction at the Russian's obvious discomfort. Good. It was meant to hurt. Like he had hurt, like …

No. Nothing. Nothing had ever happened and he hated the fucking Russian for Nothing. Nothing but the war crime. Nothing but the unnecessary deaths during the slaughter.

Nothing else. Nothing.

There was a shift in Dan's facial expression, but he didn't notice. Too intent on studying the other and fighting his own thoughts. Cancerous thoughts, mutated cells eating away at others. The tumour had to be destroyed before it could grow any further.

"You should be proud of yourself and I guess you are." Dan shrugged, just a bloke chatting in a mix of English and Russian. Pulling on the fag again while his scraped fingers were searching in another of his parka's pockets.

Pride. Fuck him. Vadim would have been proud if he could have been positive these people had killed Sasha. He would kill a thousand people on the chance to get the one killer. Whoever the people were.

Producing a small, wrapped item, Dan stepped closer, holding the pill under the Russian's nose. He had to lower his hand, right in front of his groin, to be on the bastard's eye level. "This, though, tells an interesting story, don't you think?" Slow gleam of cigarette end turning bright red as he inhaled again, then let the smoke escape between the words. "Who are you really, Russkie."

Vadim looked at the hand, the pill he was supposed to take to evade capture. He stared at the man's crotch for a long moment, then at the hand. The packet. Wrapped against he humidity. But it might dissolve if he swallowed it whole. Nobody could save him, there was no hospital, not even a medic. He relaxed, looked up, as if to say 'I have no idea', then lunged forward, tried to snatch the pill with his teeth.

Dan's reaction was fast, a trained killer's split-second reactions that decided over life and death, and he laughed tonelessly as his fist closed and pulled away.

Vadim's teeth clacked empty, and at the same time, a tearing pain shot through his arms. He suppressed a sound of pain, breathed hard against it, against the stress that flared up. "Am...phetamines", he murmured. "Drugs."

"Try again, fucker." The fist that had pulled back was flying towards the Russkie's face. Perfect aim towards the nose, knuckles connecting with cartilage and bone.

The pain shot through Vadim's skull like a bullet, he felt the nose break, smelt blood, and felt it run out of his nose. He opened his lips, suppressing the pain, eyes watering, everything turned into a blur of tears, of throbbing red, metallic pain right between his eyes.

Dan shook out his fist, aching from the impact, while pulling a last drag from the fag in his other hand. He shrugged and looked down at the glowing end before moving his hand. "Try again."

Vadim looked up, saw the cigarette come close, tried to get away, but he could have been tied to a pillar of cement. His breath accelerated, fast, nauseous shot of stress, and he screamed from the pain as the cigarette was slowly stubbed out on his skin, with a sizzling sound of burning flesh and evaporating sweat.

Blood and sweat ran over Vadim's face. This, he thought, is then the real deal. Torture. Not a simulation, not a course to determine how suitable he was for command. His head lowered, blinking away tears, watching how the blood trickled into the dirt. Nose one agonizing mass. And it was just a beginning. He had a cover story, but if he gave that up too fast, the merc would know that it was fake. He could only yield the information when so close to the breaking point that there was almost no distinction.

"Cocaine. Surface … analgesic. Just in case I get shot up." Vadim looked up. "No morphine." Body coiled, awaiting more pain from the merc. "I'm para. You fucking know that."

"You're as much a para as I am a reporter." The evening was getting darker, but never as dark as that coiled up hatred inside Dan. That thing he could not see nor understand.

Destroy. Deface. Dehumanise.

He had all the reasons in the world to hate that Russian. A sniper. A ruthless murderer. A liar. Watching the bleeding face dispassionately, Dan slipped the wrapped pill back into a pocket. His eyes were drawn to the angry red mark in the hollow of the Russian's throat. So many shades of red. Blood, swollen flesh, burnt skin.

"I know your name, your rank, your number." He didn't even bother to grab the dog tags. He knew, he fucking well knew. He'd done his homework before the press conference. "Sports hero Krasnorada." Dan snorted mockingly. "You're more than that and you will tell me before I kill you."

A shudder ran over Vadim's skin. Sports hero. It had been ages. He had only been a tool for the USSR to prove the fact that Soviets were better people. Worked harder, were more selfless, more devoted. Mentally and physically sound. If not for Boris, who knew. They might have won that medal.

Vadim shook his head, tried to think clearly. Swallowing hurt, the small dot of agony right between his collar bones. The pill was a giveaway. If the merc knew what it was - and he could certainly guess, not the least by how he had reacted at the off-chance to get to it - he knew what it was for.

Dan glanced up at the darkening sky; it would get freezing cold over night. "Let's face it, Russkie, you're going to die. The only question is how long it will take." He shrugged, "I have time." And he would make sure his enemy wouldn't be able to warn any possible search party.

That he repeated Vadim's own thoughts to him struck deep. Accept you will die, Vadim, he repeated, yet again. Accept that there is one thing nobody can win against. The one, last, worst defeat of every human being.

"You should have killed me when you had the chance." Dan threw away the comment.

Vadim craned his neck when his captor moved around him, stepping behind his crucified body, then felt a hand creeping along his jaw to cradle the chin. If the enemy took his head with his elbow, he could just break his neck. Vadim's shoulders tensed, and he could hear himself pant with stress. The hand felt good on his skin, menacing, but strong, and sure. He tried to shake his head, tried to purge the fear. Exist. Breathe.

"I was … drafted after my career was over. Shortage of men. I became officer. To pay people back what they have done for me. They made it possible." Official party doctrine. He was nothing special, just one that rose, briefly, carried up by the will of the people.

"You're a fucking liar." Dan shook his head in the other's back while cradling the face with his left. The other hand slipping into a pocket of the PLCE that was closest to his heart. How ironic.

He needed to know, there was nothing that held him back. Had to know the truth, to understand how it could have happened that he, Dan McFadyen, member of the Special Airborne Services, one of the top dogs of all males in the British Forces, that he, a man, not just any man, but the man, could have been overpowered, undertaken and abus…

No.

He had to know. Who and what was this Russian, the only one who had ever won the upper hand, and who … who …

"Who are you." Once more, so quiet now. Murmured almost. That dark voice as much a caress as the calloused fingers that lay in mocking tenderness against the chiselled jaw.

Vadim shuddered hard. The absence of pain made this erotic, he was beginning to listen, really listen to the madman who had captured him. Felt his weight shift, smelled his hand. Fucking insanity to feel anything, to not be stone, but it was the other way round. His body wanted to live, everything was intense, the voice, rough with hatred, the hand, strong, as strong as he remembered that body. He remembered that body.

"Who are you really, Russkie." Dan forced the head back, as far into the neck as it could go. The other hand holding something, its thumb pressing against the corner of the Russian's mouth. "Who are you."

"I swear, I am Vadim Petrovich Krasnorada. I can't fake my past. Can't fake what I did. I have thousands of witnesses." Vadim tried to see what it was, anticipated a knife, and tensed. Fear. The other would blind him, cut open his face. He shuddered, violently, felt his throat being stretched, and he looked at the man looming over him. His pulse raced, thundered in his throat. Vanya had died like that. Maybe even on his knees. "It's standard issue for my rank. They don't want officers to get captured. I'm supposed to kill myself. I'd rather kill myself than fall into their hands." 'Your hands', his thoughts corrected. The desperate need to live. His body was tense, nervously awaiting the next pain.

A shift of his body and Dan moved even closer to steady his hold. Cradling the head against his groin, looking down while standing. "That's bullshit." Softly, but he had to know. Didn't believe the Russian would be able to continue to lie to get out of this. On the contrary, he did expect him to say nothing but the truth when he was done. If he was ever done.

"You will tell me who you really are and what your job is. Your affiliation, your regiment, whatever you want to call it. You're not a para," Dan smiled, the expression so cold, it rivalled the freezing nights in the mountains, "you're too good to be a para." Strange compliment, but it seemed to make perfect sense to him.

Vadim closed his eyes. Oh fuck. What if the enemy knew? What if there had been a leak, a double agent, maybe somebody had gotten captured, spilled the beans. No. Fuck, no. What if they had intercepted communications. But then, there was no regiment, no codenames that were used, ever. Officially. Fucking spooks knew their business. He couldn't be the first one to break. The first one to confirm. He felt the man close, impossibly close, could smell him, feel the heat from his body. It was cold, the other man was warm, hot even.

The thumb began to force its way between Vadim's lips and the vice grip of his head between his body and hand made it impossible to bite. He couldn't close his mouth, that was how he breathed with the nose completely swollen shut.

Vadim struggled, threw his weight against the branch that held him crucified, but the hand was insistent, holding a rag stained with gun oil. A gag, to keep him from screaming. As if anybody would listen. Vadim recognized the smell, the taste, thought of the merc's body against him and improvised lube. Oh fuck. What if the enemy set this alight, burned his mouth, his face? The panic was so intense that his mind clouded. The fear blinded him, choked him worse than the thing in his mouth.

Your mind can defeat you, Vadim.

The fabric was being forced deeper and deeper into the mouth, down the throat. Pushing relentlessly, Dan counted on reflex and sheer brutal force. Obstructing the throat from the inside out.

Intruding. Entering. Forcing. Breaching a body.

Dan never realised he was getting hard.

Vadim tried to get what air he could, tried to hold his breath, his heart racing so fast, every fibre in his body in a state of fear that ate the oxygen. He struggled, the panic forced his heart to beat so fast and hard it hurt. He tried to swallow, nothing worked, and there was a wordless sound from deep in his throat as he wanted to scream. He stared at those gleeful eyes, and couldn't suppress the tears, his eyes watering, a normal response, but he felt pathetic, would do anything to be able to breathe.

Dan studied the man, the reactions. Noted every change, each sign. He had been well trained. 'Interrogation techniques', and he'd been on the receiving end himself. He knew what it felt like, experience made it all the better. He'd never thought he would excel in the subject so well.

"I make it easy for you, Russkie." Dan leant down, spoke close to his captive's ears. "You tell me the truth and I might let you live. You lie and you die." Knew the panic could make rational thought difficult. The body was so tense and tight against him, the Russian felt like a statue hewn from stone. Warm stone, hot flesh.

Another push, deeper even. Dan knew he didn't have much time left before the enemy collapsed. His fingers inside the heat of the mouth, moisture wicked up by the rag.

"I have heard enough about your so-called Spetsnaz, your Special Forces, there's no need to pretend they don't exist. Answer me, cunt, are you Spetsnaz?"

The panic overwhelmed Vadim, his throat hurt, stretched, raw, but nothing against the panic.

Spetsnaz.

It didn't matter, he knew. He fucking knew. His cover story. Spetsnaz. Yes. That word. Not the other. Vadim nodded, nodded on the verge of collapse, fought again, struggled to break free, not die like this.

True to his word, at least that - always that, Dan pulled the rag out of the throat. He'd seen men throw up helplessly at the speed with which the object was retracted, expected no less from the Russian bastard. His hand loosened the vice grip, allowing some movement of the head, the other hung by his side, gun cleaning rag discarded.

Vadim fought the rising bile helplessly, breathing, breathing in short hard gulps, trying to fight the nausea that came up from his body, welled up. No need to suffer, he let his head fall, freed it from the hand long enough to throw up the bile and what water had been in his stomach. He tried to wipe his lips on his shoulder, away from that touching hand.

Dan's legs were touching the other's back, those bound arms digging into his thighs, and he felt nothing at the confession. Nothing, until the flood of relief took him by surprise.

"Special Forces. Preparing the offensive." Dan nodded, his hand still resting on top of one overstretched shoulder. Something wrong, though, something nagging at is mind, a physical sensation that was lingering in his body. "Tomorrow you will tell me to whom you are attached."

There could not seriously be a tomorrow? Vadim saw no camp, no provisions, no water. No insulation against the elements. "105th Guards Airborne Division." It was close enough. Spetsnaz had moved in to secure the airport before the 105th arrived. And amidst those people, the KGB branch. Vympel. Fuck you. Don't even think the word.

"Airborne Division?" Dan shrugged, took a step back and the warmth of his body left, exposing the other's bare skin to the biting cold that was beginning to settle. "We'll see tomorrow if I believe you. That is," he stepped into the line of his enemy's vision, "if you are still alive."

Walking over to the bundle with the Russian's uniform shirt and tunic, he slipped into the latter, additional warmth against the elements. "There is a reason you are here and I want to know it."

Dan had some water in his PLCE, it would have to do. He'd gone without food for longer. Tomorrow; tomorrow he'd kill that bastard and then find his way out of the mountains.

"What … are you?"

Dan stopped when he heard the question, turned to look at the other. Pondering, judging. Hell, what the fuck did it matter. "I am SAS, cunt."

With that he turned and moved beneath the shelter of the overhanging rock, reaching for his SA-80 and all the additional clothing he could find. Ready to curl up and get some sleep.

SAS. Vadim felt his throat constrict with laughter, and knew he was being hysterical. SAS. The very model of the Spetsnaz. Why invent the wheel yet again. One special forces in the world that the Soviet Union coveted. SAS. Father and mother and sibling. As good as family. The model, the cast.

Vadim craned his neck to see the man, as the pain in his face, in his throat slowly subsided and was replaced with a dull throbbing. He couldn't feel his legs anymore. His shoulders tightened up, felt like they were twisted several times, and ever more. No way he could sleep. He didn't want to. This was his last night. Enough to think about. He didn't want to waste his time.

The first thing that felt really cold was the dog tags on his chest. A kiss of ice. Vadim breathed, stared off into the sky. So many stars. He wished he knew their names beyond the ones he could use to navigate by. Ursa major. Ursa minor. Big bear and small bear. He could read the time from them, how they changed position with the rest of the sky.

Dan fell asleep, reasonably sheltered against the cold, rifle clutched in his hand, lips so close he almost kissed the metal. Found some rest, but woke, too early, too dark. Alone with his thoughts and the human shape amidst the darkness, faintly illuminated from a sickle moon and an overwhelming abundance of stars.

Dan felt nothing, except for the lingering relief that the man who had overpowered him had been Special Forces. Spetsnaz, the best. The very best right after the SAS. He'd already forgotten the other Russian, the one he had killed. The fact they had been two and not just one did not matter. It had been this one, the still shape in a silent night, who caught his eye, back in that goddamned din in Kabul, and who had taken him by surprise.

He'd have to die. Dan knew his duty, understood the rules, but …

No words - no thoughts. He had to do it, remembered he wanted to. Yet executing one's fellow man was never an easy task. Perhaps he stalled tonight.

The cold grew worse, much worse. Moisture settled on Vadim, and he was shivering uncontrollably before the night was halfway over. The cramps in his arms and legs, and the stinging, throbbing pain everywhere kept him awake, and every now and then he managed to tear his mind off the pain and think of Sasha. And Katya. His family. The place in Moscow he had called home. His parents. Now that the SAS soldier was asleep, he could think of them, could allow them to be in his mind.

He regretted, mostly to have been captured, maybe to disappoint them. Most of all to leave them behind. If he was killed in action, at least Katya would get a pension, but it did not replace his salary. And money was tight as it was.

The pain became so bad he could hardly think. Every minute a bone wrecking cramp, he couldn't feel his legs, but everything he could feel hurt.

Vadim was ready to die when the sun came up.

Dan woke up when dawn broke. The Russian seemed to be alive. Good. He had the last of the water, then stretched while sitting, searched his webbing and reached for the compass.

"Fuck!" Hissed softly between his teeth. He hadn't noticed the compass was fucked. The map as useless as an embroidered doily on an officer's desk. The fucking mountains. He put the compass away, ignored the dread, he'd been in worse situations. First to deal with the Russian.

Vadim was being wrecked by cramps. Everything, his chest, his legs, his arms, his shoulders, he bit his lips to not scream, because he didn't want the other to wake up and put a bullet through his head.

He wanted to at least appear a little dignified. Breathing harshly against the pain, trying hard to suppress any sound. It gnawed on his body like a thousand hungry rats. Vadim wanted it to stop. More than anything. His body was cold, shivering, he was exhausted from the tension, the cramps and the shudders that his body had used to stay warm. Run down, worn out, cold, above all fucking cold.

He turned his head, saw the SAS guy emerge. He'd been right, all along. They were equals. Who had so far failed to kill each other. But this time, they were alone, and the other wasn't drunk enough to leave the killing to a comrade, like he had been.

Stupid fucking mistake. It all had been a fucking mistake. Jump him in the street and take him, take him, even though that had been the only thing he had needed, the only thing that could sate him and make him feel content. A mistake. Even though it had been the best fuck in his life.

Vadim laughed to himself, tonelessly, a small sound that failed to expand his cramped chest. "Good morning", he murmured. Vicious envy at the clothes, the gun, the fact the other could stand and even move.

Dan's brows raised while walking closer to the Russian, studying him with interest, like a professor would examine a bug.

"You got stamina." The words were out and with them a strange sense of respect for the strength of another, before Dan thought even twice. He frowned, a heartbeat off the track by that unexpected sensation. Then he shrugged, pulling the pistol out of its holster, checking the magazine. All without another word and with professional precision.

Vadim tried to pull himself together. He was in agony, but he couldn't allow the enemy to see that. Now, that was what the other had in mind. Take him out right now. Why the fuck had he even waited the night? He tried to straighten, and failed. Nothing obeyed him. The body the last thing to betray him, after his unit, his luck.

"So, Spetsnaz, ready to tell me your affiliation?" The weapon weight comfortable in Dan's hand. Familiar and deadly. He'd never executed a fellow man like this before. Cold blooded, calculated. But what did it mean 'cold blooded'? Anything out of the adrenaline insane hell of the battlefield could be considered 'cold blooded'.

It was a necessity. His duty. Despite the moment of confusion and uncertainty he had felt in the night, watching the dark shape, he believed he could lay the Nothing finally to rest, if he pulled the trigger. Dan raised his hand, almost gently placed the muzzle against his enemy's forehead.

What had the Russian said? One perfect memory.

Vadim's heart stopped as the pistol pointed in his direction, and it didn't beat when it touched his forehead. He stared at the enemy, denounced what he had thought for a hundred times during the night. He wasn't ready to die. Just cramps. They would stop, eventually. He didn't want to die. Couldn't just let go.

"105th Guards Airborne." Vadim suddenly laughed. "And you can't drink the water from the well. You can't drink any water from any village around here." He bared his lips, dry and parched, fuck, whatever. "There is water, but you won't find it." He raised himself up in a final gesture of defiance, and took the muzzle between his lips. He didn't trust that kind of shot. Through the roof of the mouth was more secure. That was how he executed.

Dan's eyes narrowed, lips tightened into a thin line. Fuck. Fuck! Anger flared the moment the realisation hit home. The fucking Russian wasn't lying. Poison, goddamned motherfucking bastards had poisoned the wells, wasn't the first time.

He'd been tricked by that cunt. Again. Once again taken out by surprise, he leant close, muzzle steady between those lips, his voice snarling in hatred. Defeat. The loss of his fucking victory.

"Then you will get me to the water!"

He'd never imagined he could hate the Russian even more than on that night in Kabul. Abruptly pulling the pistol out of the Russian's mouth, he flicked his hand and came crashing down against the temple.

Again.

Vadim felt nothing but relief. That meant he'd live. They'd both live. Then, again, a sharp pain, and the lights went out.

And on. Vadim woke up from vomiting, acid searing his raw throat, mouth, mingling on the ground with dust and stone. He saw the SAS guy pull his leg back. The bastard had kicked him in the stomach. No blood in the bile, the kick hadn't been hard enough to rupture anything. At least nothing so obvious.

He was lying on the side, he could feel his legs, even though the only thing he could feel was pain. His legs were tied with rope, a length of rope that would allow him to shuffle along. Not enough to run or kick. His arms were behind his back, wrists crossed, and attached to something. Something around his neck. More rope. What the fuck …?

Vadim groaned, spit out more bile. He felt dizzy with dehydration, exhausted, couldn't have been unconscious for long. Minutes, not hours.

"Get up." Dan's sharp voice spat out the order. His SA-80 trained at the man on the ground, the Dragunov rifle tied onto the webbing across his back. He'd had some of the nuts he had found in the Russian's pockets, but he was hungry, let alone thirsty. Couldn't be helped for now.

"Get the fuck up and find water." He could see the other struggle, studied him dispassionately like a bug, ready to be dissected. Anger emanated from him, it was obvious that all he wanted to do was put a bullet through the Russian, and instead had to depend on him.

Nothing in Vadim's body seemed to be able to support his own weight. He felt like he was broken in several places, but then, the parts of the machine that was his body realigned and started to fit together, muscles and tendons, prime shape was now merely workable. His stomach pressed up bile again as he staggered to his feet, his upper body agony, his stomach one hard, hurt, sore piece of shrapnel inside. Glancing at the man, Vadim didn't even know what he felt, maybe relief that the enemy hadn't killed him. But that relief turned to lead in his heart, a sinking feeling.

"No tricks, fucker, or I take you to the Mujahideen." Dan bared his teeth, smirked.

At all costs, no. He's fucking your mind, Vadim thought. He needs you as a guide, he can't deliver you into their hands. He nodded, kept his glance down, didn't want to show the man anything, nothing in his face, nothing in his eyes, sullen and stoic just like one of the fucking donkeys.

Dan wasn't taking the piss when he threatened his enemy to hand him over to the insurgents. Not if he tried to trick him. The Russian needed water, more urgently than he did, to lead him to a poisoned supply would be suicide -and since that fucker had been so obviously keen on living, it was highly unlikely.

Unlikely, but Dan didn't trust anything or anyone. Trust was to sleep with a knife under the pillow, that was the closest he would ever get. He intended to take the arsehole to the British embassy or perhaps the stupid Amerikanskis. One of them would make a P.O.W. out of the bastard, put him in front of a war crime tribunal and Dan would never have to hear of him again. That was, if he managed not to kill the cunt after all. A bullet through the Russkie's brain still seemed like a damn good option.

Vadim started walking. Knowing the direction, vaguely, as soon as he had gotten his bearings. The neighbouring valley to the one where they had attacked. He knew how the karez went here, had been part of the recce, and he had this habit to understand where the basic resources were. Bleeding, vomit, nothing to drink for about eight or ten hours. He'd need water soon enough.

Vadim found a rhythm, moving over the broken territory with his arms twisted and tied up, even worked out how to deal with the rope between his feet that seemed intent to catch rocks or make him stumble when he tried to fall into his normal stride. It didn't allow that, and that forced him to concentrate on the pure act of walking.

The sun came up and started burning Vadim's shoulders, collarbones, nose, his face, burnt down on his shorn head. He could really have used that rag now, but he was sure it would be declined. Sun burn, and worse. He grew a splitting headache over midday, and thought, but slowly, ever so slowly, reaching out to the next slow thought when he had finished the last one. The SAS guy could be played, he understood. He had already won in being alive this long. He could, if he did it right, find more ways to defeat him, to keep his own morale up, because that was the main challenge with the constant pain. Cling to small stuff. He needed that, to at least project a semblance of strength and determination.

The day wore on, Dan wrapped the rag around his head to protect himself from the sun and merciless heat, step after step, following the Russian. He had an idea where he was, not unknown to the region, but without the compass he was potentially lost if luck ran out for him. Wasn't bothered, though. He'd get to water and then back into the valleys. He'd live, but the enemy? Who the fuck cared.

Hour after hour, Dan watched the forcibly short steps that rarely faltered, somewhere in the back of his mind the professional soldier admired the other's stamina. The way the Spetsnaz managed to keep himself from choking for such a long time spoke of superior mental and physical strength, but then Dan knew about it, didn't he? Had tasted the physical power.

Dan's face was closed and angry, deep in thoughts while marching on, when the Russian suddenly stopped.

Body functions. Vadim really wished there weren't any. Not when his hands were tied up. He turned around and looked at the man who seemed just as dizzy as he felt. His shoulders were killing him, but he knew what would happen if his strength waned. Choking, unconsciousness, probably a hard fall, again, and more pain. Definitely humiliation. He swallowed, felt the parched throat. Maybe another hour. Almost expected a rifle butt, a fist or a kick. He was not supposed to stop. "I need to piss."

"So what?" The fucking Russian had to be joking. "Just piss already." Just like this, into the trousers, and why the hell not.

"Listen", the English was unwieldy in Vadim's throbbing brain, while he tried to appear less stoic, less stony. "I need to piss. Just untie me for second, I won't run. Fuck, I can't run." He had worked so hard on the words on the way here. There were plenty of good, pointy rocks on the ground. More than he would need. "Come on."

Vadim lowered his gaze, appearing, hopefully, meek and cut to size, like he had learnt a lesson. This last fight could well end badly, but better try it now when he had still a little strength left - and while he knew where he was.

He only received laughter as an answer. It sounded dry and scratchy, Dan hadn't had much more water than the Russian. Only a couple of mouthfuls. "How fucking stupid do you think I am?" Dan stepped closer, pushed the muzzle of the rifle deep into the other's stomach. Slowly, for once, not hitting nor kicking. Not yet.

Vadim inhaled sharply as the hot muzzle touched his flesh. Thought for a blinding moment he'd shoot him in the guts and let him die slowly, really slowly. The fear was back, acid on his brain, eating. He closed his eyes, tensed his muscles, ridiculous protection against a high speed bullet.

"I tell you what, Russkie. I tell you what I would do in your situation." Dan's lips were chapped, despite the rag, his tongue felt swollen in his mouth, and the voice was rougher. "I would try to get my hands free, grab one of those damn sharp rocks over there, and attempt to knock my captor out."

He grinned, baring his teeth. "I'm SAS, you are Spetsnaz. How much fucking chance is there that you aren't planning to do the exact same fucking thing? No," the rifle slipped, pushed against the metal plaque of the belt, forcing it downwards, "you piss without your hands."

Vadim felt the muzzle pull against the belt. The star on it showed his allegiance, clearly, and below that … the Brit could shoot him in the groin. No need to ever piss again. He tried to control his breathing, but he was already panting like a dog through his mouth. No go through the nose. "Listen." That bit came out too fast, and Vadim wrestled the fear for a long moment. "Don't be complete bastard." He looked into the man's eyes.

Dan's eyes narrowed, looking straight into the other's. He remembered them to be icy blue, too pale, too striking. He hadn't forgotten them since Kabul. Now one was half swollen shut, the other red and bloodied, and yet they still were this same motherfucking piercing colour.

Vadim continued, "Last time I pissed my pants was basic training. And I hadn't slept for week. You're soldier." He noticed he'd slipped the articles. Still speaking English. Both languages waltzed through his overheated brain and whirled around so it was impossible to tell which one it was. English. Articles. Restricted sentence structure. "C'mon."

Yes, he was a soldier, Dan hadn't forgotten it, but what was the other? "Why the fuck would I grant you that dignity?" The sun-heated metal pushed further down.

"You said, I'm Spetsnaz. Yes, I am." Vadim inhaled deeply, fought the fear and nausea, his body, the weight of his arms. "You did enough already. How much do you have to defeat me? Are you that scared?" Fuck. Too far, too much. Far too much.

"Scared?" Dan's anger exploded across his face, driving the rifle home, deep into the abdomen, but the lack of distance kept the worst force away. Physical violence always the first reaction. "You fucking piece of shit!"

Reaching behind the Russian's neck, he grabbed the short rope that connected neck and arms. "The only reason you cunt are alive is the water. Make no mistake, shithead, I rather die myself than let you go." He stepped closer, body to body, gave a sharp, brutal pull on the rope, watched it dig deeply into the throat.

Vadim inhaled sharply, the pull made him sway on his feet, machine less balanced than it had been. The rope dug in, burnt, burnt, blurred his vision. That bastard was fucking strong, and he couldn't help it, but the strength did something to him, he was on the receiving end this time, and he needed to remember what that was like. Could have been like. He tried to focus his eyes as his body screamed at him for lack of oxygen.

"Please", his lips formed, soundlessly. Just that. He couldn't say more. It had been ages that he had actually meant it when he pleaded.

Just that one word, where endless arguing would have achieved nothing, but that one, simple word. "Fuck." Dan hissed, anger defeated. He let go of the rope and eased the pressure behind the rifle. "Fuck you, Russkie." The words lacked most of their earlier venom.

"Shit." Between his teeth, Dan didn't want to do this - could not do it. Put the rifle down, no way the bastard could trick him right now, he'd beat the shit out of him before the Russian could try anything. Fiddling for a moment with the square belt buckle, he knew them by heart, just like his own uniform's except for the insignia, but it didn't make it any easier. Those goddamned hooks were meant to be opened by the wearer.

Vadim shivered, shivered badly as the SAS soldier unbuckled his belt. In this situation? Leave him like this, punch him again. His stomach was tense, pattern forming through the skin. The pattern he had taken so much pain to develop. So much time. Discipline. Crunches until he couldn't breathe, with weights, without weights, tilted, straight, dangling from one of the metal bunk bed, bringing his torso up, agonizingly slow. A knife hidden under his crossed arms, just in case anybody chose this moment to start a fight.

Too close, too fucking close and Dan smelled heat, skin, blood and pain. Pain, yes, could smell its essence, it crept into his nostrils, dried blood, sweat and bile constricted his parched throat even further. This could be him instead. It had been him. Kabul.

Calloused and scraped fingers managed to push buttons through their holes, his movements full of disgust. He dropped the camo trousers as if they were contaminated, didn't care that they slipped down the hips, stopped at the knees, threatened to pool around the tied ankles.

Vadim couldn't even look down at himself, the shoulder held him in that awkward position, his own body defying him. In other circumstances … he had needed help dressing and undressing when his wrists were broken, both at the same time, fucking nuisance. Absolutely nothing he could do alone. He didn't mind the helping.

"You must be fucking joking." Toneless, Dan stared at the briefs, but fuck, couldn't say the words that were on the forefront of his mind. 'I'm not taking your motherfucking cock out! I'm not touching your dick, arsehole.' Couldn't say them out loud.

Fool, eh? You'd be a fool, Daniel McFadyen.

Damn. Had to get this over quick. Handling another bloke's cock? He wasn't a fucking fag, wanted to burn all shit-stabbers, to bash every cocksucker's brain in. Like this one. Shit-stabber. Fucker. Rap …

No. Nothing. Fucking faggot arsewipe of a Russian cunt had done Nothing.

Dan didn't notice that he had stalled for an obvious moment, staring unmoving at the bulk in the briefs. Grabbed the waistband at last, pushed them down with one angry movement, forced to take hold of the cock with his hand to free it sufficiently.

Exposed. Vadim tensed up more, wanted his hands free, to cover, to protect, to dress. The touch made him nervous, not exactly something he wanted to think of up here in the mountains, tied up and beaten as he was.

Nevertheless. He'd had him. They had been closer than this, much closer. It couldn't get any closer than inside that amazing, struggling heat. Vadim's body reacted to the memory, and Vadim fought hard not to smirk.

A tiny victory, almost inconsequential, but he knew the man was fundamentally honourable. Empathic. Which meant he wasn't ignorant to what he was thinking - or thought Vadim was thinking - and also meant he had a weakness he could exploit.

"That's it, pizda." Dan grabbed the rifle, stepped back, avoided to stare at the Russian's exposed groin, moved into his back instead. "Piss, cunt."

Cunt. Pizda in English.

Don't care about it, Vadim. Don't let them ever tell you what you are feeling keeps you from winning.

So long ago, it had unnerved him, scared him. Vadim had known he wanted things that made him disgusting, despicable, made him the worst curse that the other boys could imagine. He doubted they knew what it was they cursed. The treasure of feeling, the one place in his heart where he wasn't the Soviet Union's property, wasn't the young model athlete. Not propaganda poster material.

He'd been fascinated by the stories he had heard from other athletes. About people who did this quite openly, blatantly, still nervous, but no longer scared out of their minds.

Sasha. He followed the SAS soldier with his eyes, turned his head. Saw that that man was far more unnerved than he was. 'I may be a faggot, but I held your life in my hand', he thought. 'And that is what counts'.

He shook his head, then focused on pissing without hitting his trousers.

Gave the SAS soldier plenty of time to study his backside, the straining, twisted arms, legs apart as far as the rope allowed, for a secure position despite being dizzy as hell, ass tensed, round, his skin paler past the belt line, but still tanned enough to betray he did catch some sun every now and then.

From swimming. Whenever he could. The parallel dimples over his ass, lines of muscle that ran from his hips to his groin, strong legs with blonde hair, the body the cameras had liked so much.

Vadim remembered the snide remarks, had read the newspapers, haltingly, he didn't trust his English, a lot of people laughed when he spoke. They said he sounded endearing. Insecure. He was nervous about mingling with the others, only relaxed when he could focus on what he knew.

"… and Krasnorada perches on his horse like a swimmer. Or should that be a wet Siberian tiger cub?"

Ha, fucking ha. They all knew he'd been part of the swimming cadre, and then reassigned, because Vadim was never fast enough to compete with the fastest. And that was it. The fencer that should be plowing water, the rider that didn't ride a wave, but a horse. Only with shooting and running did the comments subside a little. He was fast, and accurate.

The cameras, however, loved him. Even Vadim's coach had shaken his head. "Cameras become you. You're already booked for a bunch of interviews." And you haven't even won anything yet, was what Vadim heard, but nobody spoke.

More opportunities to speak halting English. Cameras. People handed Vadim free stuff so he wore them, clothes with labels, mostly. People sent him letters. They could write pages and pages about how he looked on the TV screen.

Vadim laughed dryly. Those people should see him now. That thought went deep, and he cursed his vanity. It didn't matter. The SAS soldier would end all that with a bullet. Unless he could twist him around enough to survive this.

Vadim glanced over his shoulder. "Nurse. I'm finished."

Dan didn't answer. Hadn't heard and paid no attention, thus didn't kick nor hit at the mockery of 'nurse'. He was still standing, just like before, staring at the back of the Russian. He was thirsty, dizzy, perhaps that was what had torn down any defences he'd put up before.

The arse. This ... this ... this perfect smooth-round-strength shape that tapered into waist, back, up to shoulders. Broad. Tense now, muscles bunching, relaxing, cording again. Skin sunburnt and pale alike, stretching almost flawlessly over hard expanses of muscles, bones, sinews and flesh.

No reaction, for too long. He didn't have a clue how long it really took before he caught himself with a jerk.

What the fuck? What the bloody goddamned motherfucking fuck had he just been staring at?

Bastard!

Dan said nothing, realised he didn't have any idea what the Russian had mocked and stepped back towards him, with obvious distaste grabbing the damp cock. Distaste. Disgusting. Tried to stuff it swiftly back into the once white briefs, failed. Had to pick up the waistband first, handle the cock once more, while the rifle was secured under his arm. He hissed a curse through his teeth.

The question, to Vadim, was what was more tantalising, the rifle within kissing range or the man standing right before him. Seemed the Brit grew meek, or it was disgust, and more. The 'more' caught Vadim's attention for a moment, and he tried not to flinch as he was handled like that. He could hardly expect that guy to treat him nicely and maybe suck it. That would be asking too much. He breathed laughter at the thought, nostrils widened and he controlled the laughter, but not the grin. "Thanks. Now I take you to water."

Vadim began to march straight away, the small rest hadn't really refreshed him, not nearly as much as his enemy had done with that little show of nerves.

Dan was once again walking behind the Russian, carefully checking the terrain. Not for a moment trusting the apparently weak state of his enemy. No matter how much it seemed the Russian was in a useless condition, it could well be a ruse. He'd certainly use any trick he could if he were in the fucker's position ...

Vadim walked on, climbed another saddle of another fucking mountain, and crossed the line in his little internal map. This was one of the killing zones. Cleaning. Nobody was allowed here who was not Soviet or affiliated. He recognised the characteristic structure in the rock - the covered karez tunnels. Underneath ran water, a couple yards down in the rock. Vadim walked on, then stopped. "Lift that cover. Water's down there." Nodding at the ground. He could almost smell it.

Dan looked around, taking in everything. Formation, location, smell even. He might need this knowledge in the future. Without a word moving towards the cover, he was thirsty, but he'd let the Russian drink first. The water could be poisoned, after all. Kneeling down beside it, he checked on the enemy before lifting the cover and motioning the other over. "You better be right."

Vadim was grateful he could drop to his knees. A goatskin bag on a rope, that was how they got the water up, and he could hardly wait, then forced himself to discipline. Fuck. Not going to get overly excited. I'm fucked up, but not that bad yet. He checked the surroundings, no poison canisters, no dead animals, they probably hadn't poisoned the water. Not his people.

The bag came up, spilling water, and Vadim bowed down, lips almost touching the ground to drink. Like an animal, but that really didn't matter now. His arms killed him, but it was water. Forcing himself to drink slowly, the water was cold, fresh, tasted of stones, of the whole fucking landscape.

Dan was watching the Russian, rifle always trained on the man. Helpless or not, he wouldn't trust him for one second. The water was going down, and then he waited. Nothing. No sign of poisoning. He was desperate for water, finally, after several minutes, reaching for the goatskin and drinking in large, thirsty gulps, but stopping himself after half a dozen. It wouldn't do to get sick, not with that cunt nearby.

Vadim waited, watched the SAS guy drink. Among comrades, he knew one of them would joke by faking stomach cramps, but the other was so unnerved he would shoot him. Besides, nothing to gain by it.

Dan closed his eyes for a split moment, just relishing how the water ran down his parched throat, loosening the swollen tongue from the roof of his palate and quenching a thirst that had started to become debilitating. He kept the Russian in the corner of his eyes while refilling his bottle. He'd have to allow that bastard to drink some more. Wouldn't do if the arsewipe died before he had taken him to another waterhole, on the way back out of the mountains.

Vadim leaned against a rock, he wanted to lie down and sleep, without his arms being twisted out of their sockets, they hurt so much he wished they'd stop, forever, and his strength started to wane. He could feel the rope dig into his throat, and he knew he couldn't hold out forever. Soon. He leaned his head against a rock that provided a little shade. Rough, hot, dry. He could feel sweat trickle down his face, down his back. He was dizzy, and everything hurt. His nose was a dull ache that the tried not to think about.

The SAS guy was just pulling up another bag of water, to refill his bottle, when Vadim heard the familiar heartbeat of a copter. Hind. With more speed and energy than he would have believed possible, he crossed the ground between himself and the SAS guy and …

Dan lifted his head at the sound, was about to grab the rifle, but he was too late, tricked again. He saw the Russian coming towards him, couldn't take a grip on anything and lost his balance when the fucker jumped into his back, both feet forward, and he fell into that goddamned hole while howling in anger.

Vadim hit the ground hard, but what utter satisfaction as the fucking enemy vanished down the hole. He forced himself up again, began to run, trot, move out onto open ground, could see the copter now, was pretty sure the copter pilot saw him as well, tried to shout for him, saw the copter come in low, circle, to check the ground for danger, then gained altitude and moved away.

Vadim stood there, dumbstruck, and couldn't believe it. Just simply did not believe the pilot hadn't seen him, or thought it was too dangerous to land. What a fucking coward.

Dan, though, had fallen into the tunnel, but instead of endlessly falling to be smashed into blood and gore on the bottom, he hit the wet sand soon. Very soon. He could see the light at the top and the sand leading towards it, even though right now he was stuck in the water.

"Fucking bastard!" Dan yelled, out of his mind with anger, not even taking the time to check over himself nor to ascertain the situation. Fucker, bastard, bloody hated cunt of a Russian piece of shit. He'd get him, the son of a bitch couldn't get far, and when he got him, he'd destroy that shithead forever.

Vadim looked back to the hole, saw his rifle lie there, but impossible to do anything with a sniper rifle when he was bound. All he could do now was kick and headbutt, and he had a feeling that wouldn't be enough. He looked up the mountain, the rocks and crevasses. If he could hide there long enough. If the SAS guy lost him somewhere.

He could die. He could run into Mujahideen, he could fall and break something, or die of exposure. He started to run as fast as the rope between his legs allowed, stumbled more than once because fear took over. He wouldn't make it, wouldn't find a hiding hole in this merciless landscape before the SAS bastard had freed himself. Shit.

Vadim found something that looked like a mining shaft that had long since been given up, crawled into it as good as he could, hoped the other wouldn't see him. Slim chance. Everything hurt, his shoulder felt worse than before, the side he had landed on, a splitting pain that slowly rose into his awareness. He clenched his teeth and forced himself to breathe steady.

Dan was strong, and angry. So angry, he didn't feel any pain from the impact, couldn't see the bleeding fingers and didn't give a shit about anything but getting out of that hole as fast as he could. He climbed, pulled, pushed, and soon, his head emerged from the hole. Nothing. Of course not. The fucker had tried to escape.

"I get you." Dan hissed, grabbed rifles and water bottle, found the other's footprints immediately. Dripping wet himself, he followed some of the steps while scanning the landscape. Where the hell could the fucker be? Easy. He smirked, started to run, saw the heavy boot prints that had disturbed the ground, followed it to a rock formation, close by. It was all so obvious, he had to laugh.

Vadim saw the shadow of the man fall over the tunnel. If he had had any chance. Any chance at all, he'd use it. He couldn't even kill himself, no poison, no gun, no way to die in this rotten place. It was cool in here, cool and dark, his skin felt raw, half cooked, and there was absolutely nothing he could do. He'd given it his best shot, and the game was over.

Everybody dies, Vadim.

But not from the hand of a fucking enemy. He thought of mutilation, of a gun in his mouth, could almost taste the metal. The SAS guy would do it, this time. He shook his head and rested his forehead on the dusty ground, resting for the moment.

Let's be over with this, he thought. Let it just end. He didn't doubt the bastard would come and get him, or point a rifle down and shoot him in the hole like a rabbit. He was fucked, completely and utterly, and all he did was fight off the sense of defeat.

"Hey, cunt!" Dan shouted, rifle aiming at the hole where the boot prints ended. "Get your fucking arse out of there or I come and get you."

Vadim crawled back out. Every movement agony. The only good thing was it would end soon, now. He remained on the ground, didn't have the strength to move. He awaited the shot, the boot, the knife. And tried to not be scared to die.

"You Russian cunt." Dan repeated quietly, an odd sense of calm, the most dangerous stillness before the tidal waves of anger would break lose. The rifle was directly aimed at the captive. Still, Dan did nothing, watched the enemy crawl on his knees. That's where the bastard belonged. Death was too good for the Russian.

"You've tricked me thrice." Dan's brows raised, the first change of expression, he started to walk towards the man on the ground, stopped right in front of him. "Get up, arsehole."

Vadim looked at the dusty boots and expected one to kick him in the face. Nothing he could do about it. He might as well die on his feet. Unless the SAS guy meant for him to get up only so he could kick him down again. There was no dignity in dying, he thought, but he could look him in the face. Then again, he didn't want that bastard to be the last thing he'd ever see.

He started to move, rolled onto his side, got one foot on the ground, then pushed himself up, face twitching with the pain. He swayed on his feet, felt dizzy, nauseous, badly sunburnt. Vadim looked into the dark eyes, steadied his gaze on them. Tried to show no fear. One last act of 'fuck you', really.

Dan waited with sickening patience, until the Russian finally stood on his own feet. Barely an arm's length away, but the distance got shorter when he took another step.

"I should have killed you." He shoved the rifle into the bastard's guts, the movement deliberately slowed down.

"I should have cut your fucking ears off." Another push, this time faster, somewhat higher.

"I should have stuffed them down your throat to stop you screaming while I cut your fucking nose off." Again, faster, then once, twice, thrice sharp and vicious stabs. "But it's never too late to start!" The rifle was flung into the sand, a fist followed, a boot, knee, fists again; punching, kicking viciously, beating the shit out of the body, intend on destroying that arsehole.

Vadim tensed against the onslaught, tried to at least stay on his feet, but the pain just took him, and he fell again, couldn't catch himself, didn't have the strength, just went to his knees again and onto his front, trying to take the worst blows with his muscles, but felt his strength lacking, deserted. He wasn't Spetsnaz, all he was, was flesh, pain, agony, fear and pain, and the same again. And over again. Just hoping it would end, at some point. Like a worm in the dust, feeling blood run from his face. He didn't have the strength nor the air to do much more than grunt, panting, lips open, kissing the fucking dirt.

Suddenly the punches and kicks stopped. Dan breathed hard, a rattling sound hissing through burning lungs. It was hard work to beat a man, as tough as the Russian, to death.

"No." Dan reached down, arms underneath the chest, grabbed sand and dirt, then bleeding flesh, pulled the heavy body upwards. He was getting splattered with the other's blood, but didn't care.

Vadim didn't want to be that close, every square millimetre of his body hurt, he thought about internal bleeding, hoped it would happen soon, he had heard it didn't hurt much to bleed to death.

"No fucking way, Russkie." Dan pulled until the body was upright, leaning against him, one arm steadying the bastard. Violent mockery of an embrace. "You won't die yet. Fuck you, Russkie, I'm not done with you yet. You cunt deserve worse."

Blood running down Vadim's nose, his chin, somewhere on his scalp, he smelled the blood and the dust and the heat. He managed to scream with pain, his shoulder felt hot and distorted, the shoulder he had fallen on, strength gone, he was strangling himself, hoped that the burning sensation at his throat would stop, heard the threat, and wanted to disbelieve it, but the stories he'd heard about the SAS, and their private little war.

Better believe it. Think. He's killing you, and he'll do it messily.

Nothing he could offer, nothing he could bargain with, that man was about to kill him, really meant it. And all that because of what he'd done.

Dan grabbed the rifle, started to drag the body back to the water hole, didn't give a shit if the other was passing out or not, just handled the man as if he owned the mass of bloodied flesh, muscles and bones.

Vadim remained limp, hoped he'd pass out from lack of oxygen, he was halfway there, everything danced around him, a hectic flickering that might be anything, probably was his eyelids.

All because of the rape. That kind of hatred could only have one single reason. The one mistake.

"Don't", Vadim breathed. Had no idea which language it was. "I do whatever. Don't. Just … do what I did … and we're even. Whatever. Just stop … hitting me." It didn't terrify him. The thought felt rational. And Vadim remembered the man had been hard when the whole fucking torture started. He knew the feeling. Beating another into submission made him feel that. He had done it in the barracks, and assumed it was the same everywhere else in the world.

He could survive that. He couldn't survive what the SAS guy was doing right now. It might cool the anger. Repay in kind. It was only fair. Vadim slumped to the ground, smelled the water close.

Those words. Words that blinded Dan in rage; blazing terror of a Nothing he had fought so hard to forget. Words that brought alive a beast he'd never encountered before. Blood-red haze descended upon his senses and he snarled, out of his mind. "What?" Voice harder, sharper, staccato of words; disgusting words again. Reminders.

"What the fuck did you say?" Started to shout, the voice of a man who had learned to give orders, let alone follow them. Follow his own, calling for mindless revenge.

"You fucking cunt!" Kicked against the body on the ground, aimed at the kidneys. "I'm not like you, fucking fag, shit stabbing bastard, goddamned motherfucking cunt!"

Knelt down, knife was in his hand, in front of the Russian's eyes, before Vadim could take another breath. Cut the rope around the throat, forced the arms into the front. They were useless by now, knew the enemy couldn't move them, the pain of trying would kill him first.

The worst thing was to be free, even just for a moment, and nothing Vadim could do. His shoulders were absolute agony, one arm just fell on the ground, like dead meat, the other - was then pulled, fuck, that hurt. He could breathe, suddenly. Wrong thought. Wrong offer. Had been worth a try. Fuck.

Dan used fast, efficient movements to tie the bound arms in front to the thick beam that held the goat bladder water bucket. Snarling with anger, unintelligible words of rage. "Bastard!"

Tied up, Vadim brought his legs together, to protect himself from the kicks, if anything, felt a sweaty hand between his shoulder blades, one knee in the small of his back, and thought for a strange moment he'd been wrong.

"I'm not like you!" Dan shouted.

The blade sank deeply into the flesh of the shoulders. The blade of the knife cooled - Vadim felt the blood run before he felt the pain, and it was hot and cool at the same time.

"Fucking cunt!"

The worst thing was, this could indeed take a long time, thought Vadim, then the pain hit home, and it wasn't just a superficial cut - that one went deep. The pain was glaring, bright, a horrible thing inside him, a caged monster. He screamed, voice and throat raw.

Dan's breathing came ragged, short-sharp bursts of air that never reached his mind, burning deep in his lungs. "You're a cunt and the world will know it."

Insanity in those words, precision in the cutting. The knife lifted, then blade touched skin again, this time moving from dry heat into thick blood. Another line, amidst the screams, cutting the next part of the first letter of 'pizda'.

Cunt.

He cut, slowly, deliberately, concentrated on nothing but skin beneath the blade, under his knee, against his hand. Blood mingling with sweat and sand, while he murmured quiet words now and then. A flick of a blade, another move, and yet another line. Cyrillic was oddly suited to cutting words into human flesh.

Just one way to deal with that pain. Screaming. Screaming because it was tearing him apart inside, Vadim could feel the blade go deep, he could feel the fire, his own blood run over his back, pool in the hollow curve of his spine. The terror was complete.

The scream turned into sobbing. Ages since Vadim had cried like that, with pain and fear. Basic training. Spetsnaz training.

The belt, too far down, and Dan's knife cut through that as well. Leather, flesh, no matter. Didn't have to cut off the trousers, unlike …

Flesh, heat, blood, pain and power.

Unlike ... Nothing.

Buttons gave, slipped out of holes, when Dan pulled hard on the garment. Exposing that arse he had stared at earlier, and hating the other even more for it. Hated the stare, the heat, the goddamned body, the Nothing.

Cut the last letter, moved across the small of the back, towards the muscled flesh, noticed the fine down of blond hair and the way the muscles twitched, the perfection of smooth lines. The lack of any softness on that body, no curves, only hard, sharp angles and hardened planes.

Dan's hand moved downwards through slippery blood, to the small of the back, red-coated fingers pressing down into the muscled flesh. Staring. Forcing. Knife moved slower. Minute-deliberate cuts.

Vadim's mind was spinning, felt like it was breaking, glass, stone, no more. He tried to move, all he could do was squirm, then a moment's pause. His ass tensed, his legs tensed, he knew the knife was poised to … poised to … go there, the blade there would finally kill him. After what would be the worst pain of his life.

Vadim was panting so hard he was dizzy with oxygen, completely exhausted, mind frozen in terror. The SAS guy would fuck him with a knife.

What a way to go.

Think.

Can't.

Think, damn you.

Just can't.

Vadim shook his head, hit his forehead on a rock, felt more blood, wasn't sure where all this was coming from. Quivering mass of terror.

"Cunt", Dan murmured, knife blade slipping further down, poised to cut.

"Kill me", Vadim whispered. Russian. He had no thought left in English. "Kill me … like soldier. Don't. I'm … soldier … don't… want … can't … go like … this. You SAS, not ... bandit. I have family." He felt the tears run down his face, thought of Katya, the kids, fragile, so fragile little heads and faces. He tried to stop the tears, hoped the bastard didn't notice that he cried like a child.

Dan's mind registered one word. Soldier.

Soldier.

Kill me. More words.

Soldier.

Hand stilled. Knife poised. Stared at his own hand pressing down on the smooth flesh. It shook, hadn't noticed before. Shook violently, from sounds and movements that felt like white noise amongst the word that kept echoing through his empty mind, bolted down with insanity and rage.

Crying. Sobbing.

Soldier. SAS.

For Queen and Country.

"Oh God." Whispered. Where was the rage? 'Kill him. Kill the liar. Kill him.'

"You lie." Dan's eyes transfixed on poised knife, couldn't tear them away from the carnage. Trail of blood, fascinating to watch it move slowly, just as deliberately as his blade, move towards the cleft and trickle sluggishly down and vanish.

Something between his ass cheeks. Blood. Running down like the kiss of death. Vadim screamed again, this time in terror, not pain, felt how his mind slowly moved away from the broken mess that was his body, his pride, his honour, his life.

"You can't have a family." Dan's voice without inflexion nor emotion. Lie, what a lie. Screaming silence inside, inferno of 'soldier, soldier, professional soldier' and 't.o.r.t.u.r.e.r.'

"You're a fag." You, not 'Russkie', nor 'bastard', nor 'cunt'.

'You'. Soldier.

There was something bordering calm. It would still happen. Vadim felt filthy because he'd told the enemy about Katya. His family. His little dream out there in Moscow. A life he couldn't lead. Had failed to lead. "Give me … a bullet. I … will even pull the … trigger, just … not like this. Give me a clean death." How other spetsnaz would laugh at that idea. Clean death. It was still splattering his brains out.

Katya. If only I could have been … that other man. More like Sasha. Vadim sobbed again, bit into his shoulder to suppress it. "For my … family. She'll want to know … how I died."

"You're a faggot." Repeated, Dan shook his head, couldn't be. Impossible. "You're a liar."

It had already stopped to matter. Family? No consequence, just that word, that one word that was reverberating in every corner of his being. Soldier.

He was torturing a man not information, duty, nor reasons. But for ...

Words failed. Just the one. Soldier.

"No." Dan murmured. Oh fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. War crimes. Unit. Regimental pride. No. Just no. He'd become as bad as the other, stooped to the bastard's level.

Blood began to dry on Dan's fingers. It kept oozing, just like that thought, the memory, this knowledge. Noticed his body at last, aware of the unbearable. Hardness where it couldn't nor shouldn't be.

Torturer.

"No."

Dan's hand trembled, couldn't let the enemy see this weakness. Lowered the knife, wiped it to clean the bloodied blade, before fumbling with unsteady hands, slipping it back into its sheath.

So easy to make things undone, just clean the blade and sheath the knife. No. Not easy at all.

Dan didn't say another word, left the man on the ground, couldn't bear to look at the dying, bleeding mess and went to pull up water from the well. Not a word. Couldn't speak, unbearable that voice of his. It wanted to scream 'Torturer!' at him, and 'Criminal!' 'Tribunal and Dismissal!'

A disgrace for the unit and the British Forces.

For Vadim, it had stopped. The SAS guy was going to get the pistol. A wave of relief flooded through him. He had thought about dying, and always believed it would be quick, a bullet to the head. Like a light switched off. A sharp pain, over. It would be like that, in just a minute. Maybe he gave him a gun, maybe would help him hold it in his hand. He might be able to squeeze the trigger. Tension left him again. At least it was over. Nothing or nobody to thank for, maybe Katya. Her memory. The kids. The pension would be hard, it was already pretty tight with his normal salary. But she was strong and tough, she would find a way. He only regretted that he had made it so much harder. And that just after Sasha, she would lose him, too. Two blows. So close together.

Vadim lay on the ground, felt the sun burn down. Wondering idly why he had hated this country so much. It provided air to breathe, and blue sky, and ground on which to lie. It wasn't so bad.

Dan came back with the water. Vadim glanced up as the boots scrunched close, saw the dusty leather, the thick shit-kicker soles. Squinting his eyes to look at the man, who avoided to meet his eyes.

Not looking, just not looking, thought Dan. Soldier. It's you who are the liar.

What beautiful brown eyes, thought Vadim. Kindness. Now they weren't enemies. Vadim was so grateful he almost cried again. It was so simple to be happy, finally at peace. Just hand over your life, and accept death. He felt he had realized something impossibly true and profound, something he needed to share, and he looked at the man and smiled. It wasn't about forgiving or asking forgiveness, it was about the simple kindness to no longer hurt.

Dan tipped the open water bottle towards the Russian's bleeding lips.

The touch at Vadim's lips seemed strange, unexpected. He shook his head. "No. It's alright. It's all good now."

Dan didn't understand the ramblings, didn't matter. Glanced down at what he had tried to avoid seeing at all costs, noticed that strange look on the bruised and bleeding face. A smile? Oh fuck.

The bottle pushed against the lips again, but no reaction. Reluctantly slipping his hand beneath the head, Dan lifted enough to force bottle and water between the lips. He'd seen it before, half-unconsciousness and delirium. They'd drink eventually, reflexes and instinct to survive were stronger. Greed to live. He'd read it somewhere at some stage or maybe he was only imagining it.

Dan waited until sufficient water was swallowed by reflex, then grabbed the goat skin bucket, poured the cool liquid across the back. Odd. How the sand and dust was forming intricate patterns when mingling with the blood. Shit, no bandages. Grabbed his own rag that shielded against the heat and sand and unwound it, shaking out the dirt. Would have to do - would have to live.

Soldier. The word kept creeping up on him, gagging his senses in a stranglehold of guilt.

Soldier. Not torturer. Wages paid by the crown, tax payers' money. All that shit.

Rag folded inside out, covering the back of the head to shield from the sun. Dan could see clearly the word he had carved into the flesh.

Pizda. Cunt.

Then it was hidden beneath the fabric and away from his gaze when he turned, fumbling for cigarettes and matches, staring across the mountains, his back to the enemy he had slain.

"Fuck." Fag between his lips, match came to light with a hiss, pulling a drag deeply into his lungs. Soldier.

The Russian had to live.

* * *

Cool. Wet. Shade. Water. Of all things, Vadim missed the water most. He just lay on the ground, his whole body one throbbing mess beyond pain, fire, pressure, swelling. It didn't matter. He could rest now. Sleep. He moved his head to find an area on which his head could rest that didn't hurt, to the side of his forehead. Felt water and blood run down his sides, pooling around him. But no more. He would go to sleep now, and not wake up again, most likely. That was alright. That was probably the best way to die. He closed his eyes, and relaxed, relaxed all the tensed, torn, bruised muscles, let his breath flow freely, and sunk back into darkness.

There was a memory, or a dream. He smelled water, disinfectant, remembered being cold and wet and glowing with exertion, rubbing his arms to get warm again after the training. He was dry by the time it was his turn to head into the masseur's office, apart from his hair, which needed cutting. Then, warm hands on his body that took the cold and the tension away, a low voice that told him to relax.

They didn't speak much, Vadim was too busy soaking up the feeling of being thoroughly pampered, of somebody knowing exactly where he needed that firm touch. Sometimes with a little pain, when he was too tensed to let go. When he had been defeated again, or couldn't get what he wanted.

Those hands started at his toes and ended with his head, and the smell of oil and leather enveloped him. A very special warmth. Often, he grew hard. The masseur pretended not to notice. Vadim thought maybe it happened to the other boys as well.

One day, those hands spent much more time on his ass, thumbs working on the place between them, and then sunk into his body. Vadim hardly dared to breathe while the fingers sent shivers through him, slow, and then faster, and the shudders blended into one, and he bucked against the cushioning until he came.

He was mortified and mellow at the same time, and the masseur turned away from him as he told him he was finished. He could hardly focus on the training, listened up every time somebody mentioned the masseur's name, but nobody seemed suspicious. Vadim couldn't await the next time, and the man did this again.

Whatever they do, Vadim, never believe what you feel makes you less able to win. It's simply not true. Just a whisper against his ear, and in that moment Vadim understood what he felt.

They shared a secret, in this place where none of the boys managed to keep a secret for long, where everything was poked and prodded and forbidden, and Vadim felt guilty and excited and even thought he was in love.

* * *

Dan stood in the waning heat, blowing the cigarette smoke in front of him, blurring the endless landscape of mountains, rocks and desert. Patches of dried grass, shrubs and the occasional dead tree. His back away from the other, he knew the man had to live. He didn't give a shit about the Russkie's life, but he gave a great deal about what his death would mean, what he had done. If the Russian died, he'd be a murderer, not a killer.

Had long accepted that killing was his job, 'defence' they said, but when it came down to it, the SAS training had made him into a killer. Fine. That's what he did. For Queen and Country and the Glory of the British Special Airborne Services. He had proven to be tougher than the Royal Marines Commando troops, fiercer than any infantryman and more resilient than anyone else in the goddamned Forces.

Interrogation techniques, survival on insects, snails and roots, the whole fucking hog and all the trimmings. 'Interrogation', not torture; torture for no other reason than revenge.

"Murderer," he murmured with disgust, taking a last dreg of the fag, flicking the butt behind him. "No. The bastard has to live."

Soldier. You're a soldier, Dan. You're the best.

Not for a second thinking that far as to what the hell he'd do with his enemy even if the man survived, but he'd decide on that later. Right now it didn't look too good, he'd been bloody thorough. He knew the power behind his boots and fists, and the knife? Flesh cut open like a ripe tomato. Dan wondered how many bones he'd broken. Nose, clearly; ribs, surely.

He was in for the long haul. Best organise something to eat and a disguise for the Russian. The fucker would be minced meat with extra curry flavour if an Afghani passed the water hole and realised who the messed-up man was.

Dan's stomach was growling, he'd long emptied the packet of nuts. Water more important than anything, but he needed shade for the Russkie, shoot a goat and get a fire going. He took a deep breath, then turned around towards the man on the ground. First things first. If the bastard had any chance to survive, he'd better make it the best one.

Gathering some of the dried grass and patches of moss and yellowed undergrowth, Dan started to lay out an area near the water hole, large enough for the Russkie to lie on, providing some form of cushioned protection for no doubt broken ribs and bruised flesh.

Walking in ever increasing circles, Dan found enough larger pieces of wood to construct a makeshift shelter over the natural overhang of rock that provided protection for the water hole. Only one piece of fabric that would do: his own parka. Couldn't use the Russian's uniform tunic, too dangerous in case Afghanis passed during the day, best roll it up and use it as further cushioning. Hiding the Dragunov rifle, making sure it was out of reach and out of sight, he wondered about security. No way he'd leave the Russkie unbound, even in this stage, but the need for a man more dead than alive to be trussed up as he was right now? Bullshit.

Dan knelt down beside the other, reached for the waistband of the trousers and pulled them further up over the exposed arse. Didn't look, didn't want to see, but unable not to notice with utter clarity how the rag had been soaked with blood already. "You'd better be tough, Russkie, or you haven't got a fucking chance in hell and I won't let you fuck off and die." Murmured, since the man was unconscious.

Then checking over the rope, untying it from the beam, but not yet undoing the wrists nor the ankles. He was about to try and lift the limp body, when his eyes fell on the shoulder.

"Fuck." Muttered, Dan hadn't noticed the strange angle before.

Vadim realised he was raised up, he could feel part of his body leave the ground, then something constricted him, like somebody standing on him, weight and pressure, and then he was awake as the pain in his shoulder became unspeakable. There was a sickening sound, a feeling like something ripped his arm clean off and took the whole shoulder up to the sternum with it.

He screamed again, surprise and pain together much worse than just the pain, then dropped to the ground again, no, was let down. He panted, fighting the pain and the fear that returned with the pain. Staring at the SAS soldier, wondering what next.

Then, slowly, it dawned on him his shoulder had been dislocated. That explained the pain there. And the guy had put it back into its socket. He lay there and didn't dare to move, felt nauseous and hungry and sweaty and battled the pain. No gun. No knife. The man tried to help? Why? Vadim looked at the enemy, tried to guess, then felt the darkness well up again. Last thought was somehow unpleasant, but it slipped from his mind.

Dan caught the brief inquisitive look, remembered how the other's eyes had been pale like a block of ice, see-through transparency against the blue of a winter sky. They were darker now, and he couldn't understand for all the money in the world why the fuck he remembered the fucker's eyes so vividly. Never mind.

The man was slipping away, made the whole lot easier, and he lifted the limp, heavy body with a groan, managed to get it over to the makeshift resting place and lowered him down. Leaving the rope around the ankles the way they were, but he undid the boot laces and pulled them off, wouldn't do to have the Russkie survive only to have his feet rot away, unable to get him to ... yeah, where to? Time would tell. The ropes somewhat loose now, he didn't figure the man was up to running away, thus re-bound the wrists as well, leaving a modicum of movement. The shoulder would hurt like fuck, but that would be nothing compared to the broken bones and the cut-open flesh.

Then up, securing his parka as windbreak and shelter, it would keep warmth in from the fire he was about to make. It would have to be small, but enough driftwood to keep them going for the time they'd have to stay. Cut short only by the man's death, if it happened. The option remained bloody likely.

It would get dark and cold soon, time to find something to eat and Dan walked off, his own rifle under the arm to find and shoot a goat or anything else that provided food.

When Vadim awoke the next time, it was from fire. The warmth that was different from the feverish heat that possessed his body. The smell of something edible. The fireplace carefully shielded.

He lay still, noticed his hands and feet were bound, but had no strength beyond working that out. Saw how the SAS guy's skin turned red in the firelight. Dark eyes and hair. The thought grew into a suspicion. He tried to open his lips, felt they were dry, and tried to clear his throat. It took a while, he just didn't have much control.

Dan was turning over the piece of goat meat that was roasting on the fire, concentrating on the flames, not the man. He'd cleaned the back again, poured some water down the other's throat while he was out, careful to use reflexes and not choke him, then washed out the bloodied rag and covered the back again. Every time he lifted the cloth, 'pizda' was staring at him.

Cunt.

"Why?" Vadim's original question was longer, something about Mujahideen, and bounty, but it was too much. Not that he expected an answer. He might be back in the dark place before the SAS guy answered. If he did.

Dan frowned. What else did the fucker want? Nursing, food, water and now conversation? He had even placed the Russian's uniform shirt and tunic back over him to ward off the cold - inside out and hiding the insignia with dog tags tucked beneath the throat, and he'd be fucked if he knew what he himself was going to use at night. He was unharmed, though, and the enemy had nothing left to fight. The cold would kill the bastard this time, and that just wouldn't do.

Dan didn't react at the question, tested a strip of the meat instead, tore it off when it was sufficiently cooked and stuffed it into his mouth before turning while chewing, walking over to the Russian. He crouched beside the head and wordlessly offered a small strip of meat, pushing it against the lips.

Vadim watched, smelled the meat, and yes, that meant he was supposed to live. Which was odd. The bounty counted for his head, he knew there were bounties around on any Russian soldier. Officers were quite valuable. But he also knew that it didn't matter whether the head was still attached. Maybe some kind of hostage situation.

He wished he'd be high-ranking enough that the KGB would actually do things to get him out. Maybe they even would. But they wouldn't like the fact that he had been interrogated. He opened his lips and took the hot meat, manoeuvred it between his molars and very slowly chewed. His jaw ached like he had been chewing steel for several hours. Looked up at the man, expected, deep down in his guts, more pain. He had looked at him with a mixture of lust and dark pleasure, then respect, then fear. It all mixed now. He realized why he had chosen this one in that night in Kabul. Drunk as he had been. Adrenaline-crazed to boot. Bored and vicious. He swallowed the meat, felt how even that hurt.

"Vadim … Krasnorada. I … am from Moscow." If he was a hostage, there was one duty, and that was to stay alive. He had tried to escape, often enough, he reckoned. Now it was about working within the confined space. And that meant to get into the head of his captor.

Dan shrugged, just tore off another strip of meat for himself, then for the Russian. Spoke at last. "I know who you are but I don't give a shit." Now, strangely relaxed, his voice fell back into the smoothed-down somewhat guttural accent of the Scottish Highlands. A voice that was dark, warm even. He'd caught many girls with it in his time. That, and his smart-ass grin, the self-assertiveness and that killer-body.

"Don't ever make the mistake to think I give a flying fuck about your life and who you are." Pushed the meat against the lips again. "But you'll live." Took the last bit of meat and chewed on it before reaching for the water bottle on his belt.

Vadim carefully chewed. It was hard and required a lot of concentration to not chew on his tongue. Took forever before he managed to swallow. Listened to the strange intonation, different from what he had been taught, and couldn't place the man.

"No. No more mistakes", he murmured, half closed his eyes because the lids were too heavy. "If … you go into the village. They often have food … hidden away. Check for … cellars. Small … cavities. They … store stuff in all … kinds of places. Don't touch the water."

Vadim rested from that again, felt the chill of the night. "I think I will be … worse in a bit." He could feel heat, and sweat, and knew his body was gearing up to fight infection and blood loss. That was how it was. "Her name's Katya. Daughter's Anoushka. Son's Nikol'." Nikolai. Anya, and Katarina.

Fever. Of course. Expected and dreaded, but if anything, that man would pull through. Dan listened to the ramblings, even though he didn't want to. Not much else to do, face to face with another man. Whatever those names meant, they meant nothing to Dan. Daughter, son, wife, whatever. How could he? How could that fucker anyway? Then why had he done what he did and … no. Not go there. There be dragons, but there should be Nothing.

Dan put the water bottle to Vadim's lips and let some of it pour into the mouth, waiting for him to swallow.

Swallowing again. Vadim knew he had to, and knew it was better, the more it improved his chances, but it was hard work, and he'd rather just drift away.

Fishing in the back pocket of his webbing belt, Dan pulled out a small tub with white pills. Penicillin. His last ones. He was taking his chances. "Take that." Pushing a couple between the other's lips, while noting what he had said about the villages. Tomorrow, not now. Now he was starting to freeze.

Vadim woke up a bit more, mistrustful, then remembered it didn't make any difference. He opened his lips and took the pills, swallowed them dry, which took even more effort. Half formed thoughts in his mind, one clouding the other. Spetsnaz. SAS. Family. He started to shiver, felt every sore muscle in his body protest. Opened his eyes again, didn't want to slip away, now that he had a small hope, he had something to lose.

He tried to move his hand, of course the left one, to touch the other man's arm, squeeze it, but was too weak to lift the hand much and there was still the rope.

Dan saw an abortive movement in the other's hand, but took no further notice. Trickled more water between the lips to help wash the pills down, and the more water the man swallowed, the better the chances. Simple equation and even simpler reasons why.

Live, or I will be a murderer.

Watching the Russkie rapidly descend into unconsciousness, Dan turned to stoke the fire. Despite the shelter and the small source of heat, it was beginning to freeze as it always did in these goddamned mountains. Peering outside and into the sky, he wondered when he had stopped being amazed at the vastness of the night sky in this country, and the incredible clarity of the stars. Perhaps he had forgotten about it when the killing started, the fighting and scheming, or maybe since that night in Kabul.

Didn't matter. The stars would remain and he was nothing but a human who had to eat. Seating himself down to roast another bit of meat, he had to keep going or the goat would be off come the heat of the following day.

Two hours later and as much food down his neck as he could manage, Dan kindled the fire again and set up meat in a circle around the flames, positioned on spikes to keep it roasting for the following day. Tired and exhausted, he was freezing cold and glanced over at shelter, man and coverings. Damn.

He drew in a deep breath, watched it exhale in curling steam into the crystal coldness of the night and shrugged. Couldn't be helped. Moved over to the Russian, lay himself down on the patch of padding. If he kept his guard and never turned his back, the other shouldn't pose a danger in his condition.

Moved closer, as close as he could and draped the tunics and every scrap of fabric he could find over both of them. Fuck. How bloody ironic. Mortal enemies sharing body heat. He'd laugh if he could find it funny.

Dan fell asleep within a heartbeat.

Vadim woke up because he was burning, felt like somebody poured fire down his throat. Fitful sleep. He felt worse than before, headache was back, sunburn in all the places that weren't black and blue.

He wanted to beg for water, then noticed something close. Somebody. He didn't feel the cold, he was sweating, but it was feverish heat and nothing cooled, not the night, not the sweat.

Saw the man up close, eyes closed, face relaxed, no hatred, no fear, no anger, no nothing. Just a man asleep. He couldn't help noticing the man was pretty. No, wrong word. Stunning. He tried to laugh, but didn't have the strength. Stunning alright. Smashing, even.

He peered at him sideways. Close, brushing him, preserving heat. He could study him all he wanted. And how stupid to even notice how attractive the other was. You thrive on pain, he thought. Vadim, you are insane. Look what he did.

But he understood. He understood why, and he knew that he himself wouldn't have shown any of what the other had. No mercy. The pain and weakness raging in his body.

He looked at the other, ignored the thirst, tried to move his left hand. Worked. All five fingers. That was a start.

That movement was all that was needed to enter Dan's sleep, alerting his mind. He'd not still be alive if he hadn't got an ever vigilant sleep. Dan's eyes opened, his face turned from one second relaxed to the next awake. He said nothing, his mind still clouded with sleep. Dark brown eyes face to face with pale ice blue. There they were again. He'd laugh once more that he noticed, but it still wasn't funny.

The face in front of his was bruised in grotesque ways, one eye almost swollen shut, the other looking straight at him. Black and blue, dried red of blood and grime and dust.

His brows raised, but he did not move.

Excellent reflexes, Vadim thought. Instincts. He just barely managed to shake his head. Being so close without hitting or kicking him must be bad for the SAS guy. Bad feelings. Bad memory. He tried to moisten his lips, wasn't sure what he would say, or could say without losing the remainder of the other man's good will.

"Just woke up", Vadim said. "It's alright."

It was. Vadim had got used to the pain. He'd live. What for - he didn't care right now. I really like your eyes, he thought. Now, that would kill him. But he did. Irony. That he noticed these things after he'd had that body, noticed eyes and hair and that long, thin nose that looked like that man had gotten through basic training without breaking it. "I owe you", he murmured.

I owe you? Dan's brows rose even higher. "You're talking bullshit." His own voice had the thickness of someone who'd just woken from a deep sleep. It's alright? Just as ridiculous, but it would do. "Water?"

One-syllable communication when he didn't want to talk at all. Not with this one, it made the Russkie too human instead of a mass of muscle, skin, bones and flesh.

Vadim nodded. "Yes. Water." Difficult to keep the eye open. So many things to ask. Who are you? Where are you from? The other would never give up that advantage, if only psychological. No, every advantage. He couldn't care right now. He glanced up.

Dan reached behind himself for the water bottle and moved to sit on his hips. Unscrewing the top he took a swig himself before holding it once again to the other's lips.

"Stars, eh?" Vadim grinned a little. Milky Way. Stars, stars, stars. "Moscow, no stars."

"I told you before," Dan frowned, "I don't give a shit who you are, where you're from, who your family is, is you even have one, what fucking stars are in whatever motherfucking country and least of all who you've fucked with or not." Dan had no idea where the last bit had come from, and didn't notice it either.

Vadim drank, heard the tirade, acknowledged it. He tried to get as much water down as he could, and the thirst began to grow a little less bad. Still not great, but he didn't want to have to piss. Certainly not. He was about to say something more, something like an apology for keeping him awake, then thought it didn't really matter. Relaxing again, feeling the sweat bead on his body. Lying awake, feeling the fever rage inside.

Dan was cold, tired, but at least not hungry. "You'll live, but that's it, and if you don't shut the fuck up that's getting less likely by the minute." Taking the bottle of water away.

"I understand." Vadim felt as if backhanded, the man slipped away like a fish in a pond. It was important that the SAS guy saw him as more than just an enemy. An enemy he kept alive, but there had to be more, and that was work, but Vadim had to do it. It would improve his chances of survival and maybe even escape.

Dan nodded, had an idea that the Russkie did anything but understand, but didn't matter right now. He put the top onto the bottle after a swig for himself and lay back down, shifting close to the sweating body. He'd feel uncomfortable if he didn't know about necessity and if he hadn't slept arse to arse or chest to chest with gangs of squaddies before. Die of cold or push your body into another man's and have a groin rubbing against your back and be snugly warm. No contest.

"Sleep." An order, not a request.

Dan slept until dawn broke, fairly undisturbed, as if his subconscious had adjusted to the shifting and tiny movements of the feverish man beside him. It was expected. Pouring more water into the Russian the moment Dan woke, he refilled the bottle after taking a piss nearby, his back to the other.

Checking on the cuts, another wash of Vadim's back with cold water and then some more of the meat to chew. Small bites, he almost fed the man like a child, but everything Dan did he did with obvious reluctance. Live, yes, wanted him to live? In too many ways no.

He left the Russian with the goat skin bucket full of water beside him, and the tunic once more rolled up and stashed beneath his head. Every bit that clearly marked him as a Soviet soldier was hidden away. He'd have to take the chances that no one would stop by and realise who the sick man was, but he had to be off to scour the mountains and climb down into the next village. A few hours trek and he found what he was looking for. Primitive huts burnt down, deserted and laden with the rotten stench of animal corpses. At least the humans seemed to have been buried. Digging inside the huts, he soon found what he was looking for, burdening himself with every tin he could find, dried fruits, some dried meat and a wooden tub of what seemed to be animal fat.

Up in the mountain, Vadim was waiting, drifting in and out of sleep. Realising he was alone, and thirsty, he managed his one triumph in that day. Drink from the bucket with his own strength, nearly toppling it three or four times, his back a bushfire of pain as he collapsed, nearly sobbing with frustration. Couldn't move.

Couldn't get away. Ate two bites of meat he had found close enough to reach for and eat. Took forever. Covered his head as good as he could, the sun hated his fair skin, people like him should stay wrapped up to the tips of their nose and then some.

Vadim stared at the ground, tried counting to see how bad it was, lost track of his numbers, drifted off again, woke, and the shadows were long and deep, and he forced himself to drink more.

Dan found his way back to the water hole with experienced ease, orienting himself at the sun and the rock formations, grabbing fire wood on the way and by the approaching evening, with an hour's time to spare before darkness, arriving back at the makeshift camp with his burden.

Putting everything down beside the now burnt-out fire, he rekindled it first, using some carefully stashed embers, before walking over to look down at the man. Wordlessly studying the sweat gleaming side of the face and neck, thickly muscled arms and then the expanse of back, hidden beneath the rag that protected the open wounds.

He didn't know if he felt hatred anymore. It was more the sensation of a most disturbing lack of anything.

Nothing.

When Vadim awoke next time, the SAS soldier was standing there, watching him like a dying animal. He looked up, answered that gaze. Good you're back, he thought, but knew saying it wasn't welcome. The other man didn't talk. Not to him, anyway. "I'm … prisoner, yes?" English.

Good question. What was the man, this Spetsnaz soldier? Dan shrugged, "I guess." Did it matter? He didn't want it to matter. The Russian was his responsibility for now and that was bad enough.

Checking the surroundings, Dan saw the bucket had been drunk from, the bits of meat were gone. Good. Reaching into his pocket he got a handful of dried fruits, soft bits of sweetness, and placed them into the Russian's left hand. Understood that the right would be useless. He had a fair idea from experience of the pain and complications of dislocated shoulder and broken ribs.

He turned away again, to sort the foodstuffs he had found, before refilling the water bottle and opening one of the tins. Spam. This time Dan did laugh. A private joke that tickled his humour from a distance and time faraway. Shaking his head while letting out that laughter, belly deep although short, and sounding as relaxed as if he were down the pub with his mates.

Vadim looked up at the laughter. Surprising, but the other man wasn't as dour as he made out. The sound felt good, assured him he'd be alright, because this man had more feelings than anger. He wanted to ask what was funny about it, then had the feeling that that question would stop the laughter and all humour immediately.

Dan got some of the meat out with his knife and cut it into small pieces. Grabbing the tub with animal fat he knelt down beside the Russian once more, placed the tin with the cut-up spam in front of his hand. "It's good together with the fruit."

Vadim glanced at the meat. Protein. Good idea.

He moved again, and halted the instant the man lifted the rag to study the wounds. Vadim's shoulder blades moved as he felt tension again, and he forced muscles to move that were cut. Vadim pressed his forehead into the ground and tried not to think, not to feel. He had no idea how bad it was, only that it felt very, very bad. And it scared him. Not knowing.

Dan's eyes narrowed at the angry red lines that spoke in Cyrillic words, drawn with dried blood. Cunt. Yes, Dan knew. All too well. "Eat now, it'll hurt later." Uncovering the tub, eyeing one of the worst bruises over the ribs, slowly pushing into it to check if he could feel any bones.

The pain was immense. Another touch that hurt. It was probably gentle, but it caused agony, Vadim could feel his own ribs move in ways they shouldn't. That was why breathing hurt. He had wondered what the noise had been. That was them breaking.

And yet. Pain. Touch. Something got confused in his mind, something about that man touching him. When Vadim dared to breathe again, he looked at the other. Wanted to be sarcastic, congratulate him on reducing him to this in only a few hours. Couldn't dredge up the feeling for it. Punishment for what he had done? Then it was punishment for both of them, and that didn't make any sense.

"I wish I could offer you money." In Capitalism, everything had a price, and nothing value.

"What for?" Dan didn't look up, watched his hand instead, fingers slowly moving across the ribcage. Yes, broken, damn, but he'd expected it. Knew his own strength, was glad at least for the bones remaining in situ. Wondered for a moment why he was glad, shook his head. At least he wouldn't be a murderer if the Russkie survived.

Vadim tensed at the probing fingers, by instinct, hit his forehead against the ground. Fuck. That hurt. Breathing uncontrolled, panting again, he tried to slow it down. Don't panic. It's just pain. It's cleaning up after all the fun you've had.

"I told you, you live." Leaning over the other, Dan's hands were moving more carefully up and down both sides of the chest. Massive chest. Strong, hard, and lacking even the slightest hint of softness. He moved his hands up again, then down, lingering at the waist. Not thinking, just checking. Once more up, slowly. Sensation of skin, hot and smooth, over muscles. Slowed and marvelled, not thinking, never thinking. Stayed, felt, remained too long.

The hands felt soothing now, calming, and Vadim was stupidly grateful for that touch. Tried to relax. It wouldn't help if he freaked every time that man checked his wounds. There would be a lot of that.

Dan suddenly caught himself, looked up, met the Russian's eyes at last. "I don't need your money even if you had any."

"It's not … about needing, it's about wanting", said Vadim, and paused, because those words ran too deep. He didn't actually need to jump anybody, hadn't needed to ambush this man. It was all about wanting. Money, sex, combat. He closed his eyes, hoped the other wouldn't notice. The kind of sentence that got people hurt even more.

Dan's hands stopped, he tensed, but said nothing. Peering at the cuts, he tilted his head to glance down towards the trousers. He frowned. The last letter was reaching below the waistband, he could already see the fabric rubbing against the angry welts, it would make healing impossible. Shit.

"I broke your ribs." Matter-of-factly. "Your legs, you feel pain?" His hand rested on the waistband with its cut leather belt. Reluctant to push the trousers back down, equally hesitating to let go.

Dan didn't like being confused.

"Yes. The spine is alright. I can feel and move my toes. Just not the legs." Because that would mean moving a muscle in my back, and that hurt really badly last time I tried. Vadim snorted laughter. "I'll tell them I fell off a mountain this time." Laughter again.

"No one is going to believe that story." Dryly. Dan's words belied the carnage across the back. "No one."

Vadim shook his head. "Guess not. But I'll cut the doctor's balls off if he writes anything else into my file." At worst he could bribe the doctor.

Dan snorted, then pushed the camo trousers down, half-way over the arse. Stopped. Hand still poised on the fabric. He exhaled one breath louder than he should, caught himself staring for a moment. Holy shit. The sun was low in the sky, hitting the smooth flesh at an angle that made the blond hair shimmer golden on fairly pale skin. Perfection.

This very moment he hated the Russian again.

Getting bared again, this time, without the knife. Vadim paused, listening, every sense alert. Resisting? No. He didn't even know what to expect. Or maybe … Maybe. He didn't believe the other capable of doing that. Not casual, not like this. Fat. Muscles. Cramps.

"Eat." Curt, almost angry, Dan nodded at spam and fruit. "I found a tub of fat, it'll do to stop your muscles from cramping, but it'll hurt like a motherfucker." He shrugged, turned away to tend to the fire once more, leaving the back and arse open to the air.

Vadim reached out with his hand and began to eat the fruit. Raisins, apples. They made him actually hungry, and he didn't have to chew them much, just swallow. The meat didn't offer much more resistance, and he concentrated on getting some calories inside.

Having his own share of some fruits and more of the goat, Dan chose the tougher foods, keeping the easy options for the other. Caring? Bullshit, being realistic.

Returning after food and water, he watched the Russian swallow the last bits, before handing him the water bottle. Figuring he'd manage on his own by now. If not? Tough shit, he wasn't the bastard's nurse. Almost murdering him, torturing the man for revenge didn't make him detest the fucker any less. Straddling the Vadim's legs, he lowered himself to sit on the thighs, reaching for the tub and slapping some of the fat onto his hands.

Sitting on him. Vadim couldn't crane his neck - just didn't want to risk it - not enough to look at him. His legs, thighs, ass, everything tensed, partially to support that weight. The weight. The fat was a good idea, good solution, but he was sitting on top of him, and Vadim could feel how much he would have liked that if the man had actually been open about that possibility. No, wrong. Part of him liked that weight on top. Period.

"If I don't do this now you'll be screaming by tomorrow."

"I have a feeling I'll be screaming anyway", Vadim murmured in Russian, and inhaled deeply.

"I guess you will." The dry voice again, in Russian this time, but forever matter-of-fact. Dan moved his hands, avoided the cuts, believed that air on the wounds would be better than anything, and fat would not stop an infection. Water, air, and covering them from the worst. That would have to do. The grease could come later when the cuts had closed. No, instead his hands moved along the sides, not too much pressure, just enough to tend to the bruises, mindful of the fractures. He had no intention to dish out agony, even felt the need to avoid it.

Leaning forward, avoiding contact with the back, Dan worked his way up to the shoulder, before moving down along the arms, then back to the shoulder. He had no illusion how much more pain he was causing. He knew better though, if he didn't work out the muscles now, they would seize in later. He took his time, ignored the reactions and concentrated on nothing but the body.

This goddamned body.

Seemed his hands were destined to bring nothing but pain.

Vadim pressed his forehead into the ground. The pain was nothing like the one he remembered - even though it was hard to remember the whole size of that fucking monster. But it was still pretty bad.

If this hurts, breathe with me.

He forced himself to exhale when the SAS guy leaned in, and inhale when the pressure left. His body remembered that much. Of course, his shoulder felt no better, probably even worse. The way he'd been tied up - not good. And all the punches and kicks - he tried not to remember. Instead exhaled when it hurt, groaning in pain, that was permissible, no screaming.

He was close enough, but he didn't. Had some guts for a change. Spetsnaz fucking joke. His drill instructors would tell stories about Spetsnaz that had rather been torn to pieces than scream. Vadim wasn't that calibre. Those stories stayed in the barracks, like all the other fairy tales. Spetsnaz don't feel pain, and Baba Yaga is your dad.

He wondered for a fraction of a moment why the SAS guy wanted to spare him more pain. And the weight on top. Reassuring. Painful, but reassuring.

Surprised at the silence, only some groans. Dan couldn't help but feel respect. Didn't fight against that feeling, had long ago accepted the notion of respect - even for an enemy. When it came down to it, they were all just men.

One a rapist, another a torturer.

No! His hand dug into the shoulder much harder than before, then eased again, grunted softly. Had to focus on what he was doing, couldn't let thoughts interfere again. Just looked at the body before him, ignored the sight of the cuts, instead worked on the arms, the neck, the shoulders. Took much longer than he had intended, but time didn't matter. Darkness was falling, the shelter illuminated by the flames of the small fire. Still his hands moved, smoothed, wandered over skin and muscles.

Vadim concentrated on the hands until there was nothing else but the weight and the hands on his skin. Breathed against the pain, focused on it, taking it in. Accepting.

It got better. Much, much better. His body remembered all the important things about relaxing, about calming and resting after exertion and fear. The weight shifted on top, he slowly relaxed his legs, ass, felt the man move, slightly, leaning into the motion. He was far from skilled, but all the bits were in place. Strength, and knowledge of the human body. Knew where the muscles were and how to reach them.

The Brit didn't stop after the pain had turned to a dull, if angry glow, his shoulder, the ribs. No longer the muscles themselves. They were soothed, returned to their places, how they were meant to be.

Dan was aware of hardness and sharp angles, no smoothness anywhere, just contained strength. Hands slowing, the movements more deliberate, less focussed. Just touching, new sensations. Dan had never felt a man before. Not in this way.

Smooth-sliding up one arm, following biceps and triceps, dipping into the hollow of the elbow. Gliding along sunburnt skin, covered in blond hair, finally ending up at the ropes that held the pronounced wrists. Then back again, once more and ever more again.

The massage went on, sliding over Vadim's skin, strong hands, calloused, short fingernails. Vadim felt his body welcome that, felt a slow, careful desire, even though that was madness, not for this man, not in this situation. But something about it aroused him. He closed his eyes and only opened them when the SAS guy spoke.

"I cut your back." Out of the blue and in Russian. Quiet, dark voice, somewhat rough. "It says pizda."

Pizda. For a moment, Vadim didn't care. He was alive, in one piece, scars meant nothing, not even when they formed words. But that word.

It would be hard to explain that. To anybody. Doctor, anybody who could see him under the shower. It meant he had been defeated and allowed this to happen. Somebody had done it to him. He kept his forehead on the ground, felt … felt again, humiliation, shame, self-pity. Explain that away? How? He nodded, feeling numb, but on a deeper level, things weren't all that clear. Being called a cunt and … that.

"Yes." Accepting that as reality.

Silence. Dan didn't know what he had expected, but not this. This lack of anything. Hands slowed, more, then more. Stopped.

Crackle of fire; howl of a forlorn hunter somewhere in the night.

"Why did you rape me." Silence inside.

Vadim tried to move, no, merely shifted, he couldn't actually get out of it, and he didn't want to. Why. He could have fucked Vanya. Or anybody else. Plenty of opportunity. He thought of an excuse, but before he could even start putting one together understood that the question was deeper. Why him? Or was it why rape?

He clenched his jaw muscle, thinking. "I was …" No, the beginning of an excuse. I was drunk, I didn't think about it, I needed to break something. "Because … you looked like you had a fight in you." Very close to the truth. "I needed a fight." Excuse again. Justification. "I wanted you." Truth. I want you even now, damn it.

Nothing for a long time. No sound, no movement, no reaction except for a narrowing of Dan's eyes, and then they closed for a long while, but the other could not see him.

Movement at last, a nod that was transmitted to where their bodies connected, and then Dan's hands left the oily shimmering skin. The weight lifted, the rag was put once more across the back and then the tunic to provide warmth.

Dan never looked back at the other, pulled the Russian's shirt over his own head ,on top of his jumble of clothes, grabbed his rifle and walked out into the night. Fuck the freezing cold, he didn't care.

Out of sight, swallowed by blackness and stars, the sound of a match being lit, and the smell of cigarette smoke wafting back into the shelter.

Then nothing.

Vadim raised his head and peered into the darkness. He expected a shot. There were a few recruits - conscripts - that killed themselves. Sometimes it took the tough ones, and the ones that had seemed so fragile suddenly grew steel around their souls. He half expected the other to kill him now, but he had had no lies, no cover story. It was either making excuses, or saying the truth. He doubted he could have gotten away with excuses. He listened into the night.

Nothing he could do, but wait for the other. Who had still covered him again, made sure he got through the night. He felt something strange, worry and compassion, oddly enough. This whole thing had screwed him over, but he had achieved his objective. His captor had opened up. He had opened up. That was why it was so difficult. He had to let down the mask and be a person. He waited for a long time, then thought the SAS guy had gone, just walked off. He might be able to stand tomorrow - provided he could get through the ropes. But walking or marching? Out of the question. First step would be to try and find the rifle - any weapon. So he could defend himself.

He looked out into the darkness again, but the other could be anywhere. He woke up because of thirst and because he thought he had heard or noticed something. But nothing.

He had to have fallen asleep again, for in the morning, when Vadim woke, a man was moving about in the camp, tending to the fire while eating out of a tin, crouched on the ground with his back to the other.

A short while later Dan stood up and walked over, more fruit and a different type of meat in another tin, placed them down on the ground.

"Drink." Dan pushed the water bottle into the Russian's hands.

Nothing had changed. Nothing had ever happened that night in Kabul.

Nothing.

* * *

Vadim slept a lot. But sleeping meant he didn't have to move. He slept when the SAS guy wasn't there, and even slept when he was around. Always watching the other when he was awake. Not that there was much to watch. The other man ate, did the camp duty stuff, and cleaned his weapons. Even the Dragunov. It felt strange to see the man handle the sniper rifle. Vadim had always considered that weapon to be much more elegant than any assault rifle, sleek, elegant killing power. His rifle. He could shoot with most things, enemy weapons. The first time he had captured an antique 19th century Enfield he had amused himself with that. Amazing that the Afghans still shot with that kind of weapon.

He watched the man wash, watched how his shoulders shifted under the filthy shirt, firm, round muscles. Dark skin. Saw him fill up the bottle and take the rifle and vanish in the mornings when it was still relatively cool. When he was gone, he started to try out his body, tensed every muscle, began to work on it again, arms and shoulders, stomach, chest, tried to keep everything else to a minimum. He was still hurting, badly, but he needed to move, if only a little.

In the night, they were sharing warmth. And having rested all day, Vadim found it hard to sleep. One side was cold, the other warm. He could smell the man, his skin, his hair, and it was strange getting used to having him around. Always watching him with thoughts that had nothing to do with the war, or indeed, escape or weakness. He knew he was being unprofessional about it. He imagined touching him, imagined their bodies even closer together. He'd turn around if it took that, allow him to press up against him, give him a hand job. Fuck. The same man who had tried to kill him. He was in no state for sex, but that didn't mean the thought couldn't creep up on him. And he knew he was no longer that man's equal. He'd be the bitch, but it didn't matter. He still wanted him.

They didn't speak. The other only spoke when absolutely pressed, and Vadim was never quite sure what to say, if anything. He concentrated on healing.

Eventually, he could crawl again, then sit up, survey their little mountain kingdom, and spend days staring out over the mountains, thinking. Working on excuses, worrying about capture, being a prisoner. He was not ready to accept that. The British weren't in this war officially. Even the Americans weren't.

He wondered about the laws. This was an internal affair, there was no way they could try him for this. No proof of anything. The government in Kabul wouldn't try him for this, and wouldn't help anybody who tried. Moscow wouldn't probably even answer any request like that. And the KGB might bargain to get him out. As long as the superiors of his captor played by the rules, he was untouchable.

It was a different matter with the Mujahideen, as they called themselves. Warriors of God. Oh please. If god existed, he wouldn't certainly need a band of ragtag goat-fuckers to sort out his stuff. Bandits, pure and simple. They saw a vacuum of power and tried to fill it. Physics, nothing more. Jihad all you like.

But he was worried about the ways they would kill him if they could get their hands on him. Savages. Savages that had a mission from god, and he was a servant of the devil. Nothing like religion to make people unreasonable.

Some days passed, and Vadim began to get up and walk a little. Stretch his legs. It was more staggering than walking, but if he rested every now and then - and usually quite soon - he could walk. Careful to hide the progress as long as possible. He was in no state to try and cover the fifty or sixty kilometres that he was away from the nearest Soviet outpost he knew. Even like this, he needed to be lucky and walk into a patrol.

As much as Dan had refused to interact with the Russian, it was hard to battle physical familiarity when sharing warmth with another body night after night. He had no choice, had to be sensible. Kept the man under guard while pressed close to him, gained warmth and thus remained with his strength intact. It would have been foolish to fight the cold on his own. Physical contact at night as selfish as the need for the Russian to live. At least Dan kept telling himself that.

He hadn't failed to notice some of the other's progress, the way he moved was less stiff, the way he handled his food and lifted the bottle. He'd have to tie him up more securely soon, but felt reluctant still. As long as the broken ribs had not healed there was no way the man could run nor fight.

Dan had made up his mind during the long days of hunting and gathering firewood, had found a solution to his responsibility. Get rid of the Russian. Get back down into Kabul under shelter of night and hand him over to the American embassy. They were still there, in a highly secured pace, but he knew he would get into it, and he could make sure the Russian would keep quiet.

Not the Mujahideen, he couldn't hand the man over to them. What would be the purpose? To keep him alive, just to die under even more unspeakable torture? If there was anything worse than what he had done, the fanatic goat-fuckers would know it. Jihad, indeed. Fuckers. He did a job and his duty by training them, but he couldn't give less than a shit about their motives.

Finally, Dan could hold off his grooming no longer. His face itched with the thick beard stubble, cursing his dark complexion. Some men shaved every other day, he used to do it twice when in uniform. Even he could not stand his own smell anymore. Personal hygiene as important as cleaning one's weapon - and that of an enemy - and he'd been forced to neglect the former.

Dan waited until the sun had gone high and the mountains were once more baking under its merciless rays, before he got up and brought the goatskin bag out of the water hole. Stalling for a moment, a thought crept into his mind, what if that shit-stabbing bastard was going to stare at him? So what. More men had seen his body than he bothered to remember. No crumb off his plate and nothing to see what not all of his mates had seen before. Communal washing, pissing and shitting, who gave a fuck.

That cunt was different, though?

No. Nothing different. Nothing had happened. If he turned away now, hididing from the Russian's view, he'd admit weakness; defeat.

The shirt was already off, and Dan pulled the filthy t-shirt over his head. He felt self-conscious for just a moment, before discarding the thought. What the fuck, indeed. He was just a bloke, with a body like everyone else's.

Throwing the t-shirt onto a pile with the equally grimy shirt, he stretched, before bending down to unlace his boots. Unaware that his body was nothing like anyone else's, only few looked anything like him. Leaner than the bulky Russian, but muscular and strong. A powerful black tiger. Smooth skin, naturally dark, betraying some Italian ancestor, and perhaps some Arabic or Asian genes thrown in as well. Who knew who had fucked whom in the past

All the while the Vadim was leaning with the good side of his back to a rock, aimlessly playing with a piece of stone, rubbed it clean with a thumb, looked at it closer. Ammonites. He remembered school. All this stuff must have been sea floor at some point. As much as he missed the sea, water, all of this had once been covered with water. Afghanistan had been ocean floor. He looked up to share that bit of wisdom, just saw the other strip.

Oh fuck. Vadim dropped the pebble. He'd been right about the other's body. Right from the start. He should have taken more time. He probably wasn't as obsessed as him with weightlifting, that man still looked like an athlete.

Stepping out of the boots, Dan held his breath when taking off the socks. Fuck, that stink could kill a man, but he'd just have to do his best. As long as they kept dry he'd be alright. He stood for a moment, barefooted and just in his combats, running a hand through his unruly hair. Right. Water. Washing then trying to shave with whatever he could find. That would be his knife and the remains of the animal fat. Oh joy.

The Brit was planning to get cleaned up. Vadim could feel his own hair and stubble, resented that, he much rather be completely smooth, and when he was gearing up for the Olympics, he had been, and it was a bit of a habit. No beard, ever. His skin didn't like the shaving, but it liked a beard even less. He watched the preparations. And how exactly did the other man plan to shave without a mirror and without cutting half his face off? He smirked, and got up to shuffle over.

"What about a deal. You shave me, I shave you." Doubtlessly, with the knife in the other's face, the other would probably point a gun at his head. Vadim didn't mind. Actually, he enjoyed that kind of stand-off.

Dan was about to throw the bucket of water over his head to wash the dust and loose dirt off. He laughed, once again that careless sound that didn't seem to have a place in these mountains, right beside an enemy. "Yeah, sure, fucker."

He tipped the water bucket, shuddered under the onslaught of cold water over his head, swore under his breath. Damn, the Russkie had a point, but he could manage with peering into a tin or using the surface of the water, or … oh fuck. He really did hate it when the arsewipe had one over him.

Dan came back up, shaking his head like a dog, with water flying everywhere, running down his face and small rivulets making their way along his chest and back, reaching the waistband of the camo trousers, creating an odd sensation. He should really get those off, give himself an all-over scrub as best he could and wash his kit to get it dried in the sun. Yeah, fuck the shit-stabbing fag, he didn't give a damn. Really. Not at all.

Dan fumbled with the belt, bog standard army issue, by far not as fancy as the Russian buckle plate with polished star, undid the buttons and let the trousers unceremoniously drop to his ankles, stepping out of them. He didn't care. Not even when the skids followed. No, not at all. Why would he?

Leaving the Russian standing where he was, Dan grabbed the goatskin bucket-bag and trotted back to the water hole. Stark naked. "Want me to sponge you down as well?" Snorted over his shoulder, "or will a towelling and blow-dry do?"

Vadim breathed, but only just barely. Odd, this challenge. Naked skin gleaming, a body like he had imagined it, and then wet. Water. Life. Blow-dry. Blowing would be fine, thank you. Glancing down at himself, tried to think of something less appealing than digging his teeth into that dark skin and the round muscle.

"Only if you must", he answered, and grinned.

Vadim noted mentally how the man seemed to be reluctant, even after helping him to piss, eat, after washing the worst blood off, after feeding him and ensuring he was warm. He still minded. Probably because that entailed a knife. He followed to the water hole, ten yards or so, and felt exhausted when he got there. He'd cancel the next marathon.

Vadim smirked again, studied the other's backside, smooth muscle, nice, no, better than nice ass, could see his cock move. Showering with comrades was nothing like this. He just about managed to not care when in the communal shower. He still noticed the other guys' bodies, and he sometimes selected a target from the ones he especially liked, but this guy was different.

Closer.

Dan fought off the urge to look behind him when the Russian followed, hairs in the back of his neck standing up, but strangely, not the sixth sense of danger. Something else, indefinable and unknown. Had the instinct to turn round and let his fist fly lose once again, stopping that face from smirking and the mouth from talking. Forced himself to ignore the urge, the Russkie was still bruised and swollen enough.

"You'd be the first enemy that ever got shaved by Spetsnaz, and not in the way we mean 'shaving'." As in, cut throat.

"Hoo-fucking-ray." Dan shrugged, pulled up some more water, turned to face the Russian and it was his time to smirk. "And you're the first Spetsnaz who had cut the word 'cunt' across his back by an SAS soldier." He tipped the water over his head again, standing upright, cascading over his entire body, washing away sweat and dust, grime and anger.

Vadim pressed his lips together, anger, and, yes, humiliation. That was true. And then again, that man was the first SAS that had been raped by a Spetsnaz. Even better. Spetsgruppe Vympel. KGB strong-arm. "You can't win this", Vadim murmured, darkly. "So, stop it." Regimental pride, whatever. Only the fact that he'd have the scars, and they proved exactly that he had been at the mercy of somebody else. The spooks would love that.

"Fuck you, Russkie." Dan spit some water to the ground, wiped a hand over his face and slicked the wet hair out of his forehead. "You bear the scars. You're visible, and if I wanted, I could 'win'. Right here, right now." Dan's eyes narrowed, a dangerous look of distaste and something more, deeper, darker. "But I'm not like you." Spit out the last word, "Shit-stabbing faggot."

Vadim shook his head. Oh yes, you are exactly like me.

Dan turned, crouched to get more water, but out of easy reach of any attempt to kick, all the time the Russian in his vision, his body was tense, obviously ready to fight, but then he turned without another word and walked back out into the sun, to where the knife and grease tub lay. Reaching for his pistol, stashed away in the Russkie's neck cloth, protected from dust and damp. He cocked it, safety off, pointed it at the Russian, sharp gesture of his chin.

"Alright. You shave." Dan had just entered a dangerous game, but he couldn't stop gambling.

Vadim followed, then reached for the grease and the knife, checked the sharpness of the blade. He'd have to be careful, but it should be enough. Again able to kill, if he wanted. But right now, he wanted to get closer. "Sit down." He knelt down, opened his knees to have a firm position, motioned the man closer. Could study his features, now in the sunlight.

Dan knelt, even moved closer, close enough to be between the other's knees. Too close. Far too close and what the fuck had he gotten himself into? He forced the swallow back down, refused to show his tension, but couldn't quite manage to relax his body. Raised the hand with the pistol and pushed it beneath the Russian's throat, level with the cigarette burn, right in the hollow.

If the fucker cut his throat, he'd still have time to pull the trigger. Dan was self-conscious, naked, fought down the urge to jump up, thought of all the times he'd shat and pissed together with his mates. It didn't matter. Was just the same. Only a body, like everyone else's.

The sun was cruelly belting down onto Dan's naked body, but his dark-toned skin greeted the vicious heat as if it were a welcome friend. Glowing like burnished copper, turning his wet, dark hair into gleaming quartz.

Vadim squinted, wondered where to start, then decided on the left cheek. Grease. Heated skin, stubble, the man's hair was wavy and wet, glistening in the sun. Wet skin and wet hair. Something amazingly attractive about it. He placed the blade on the skin, eyes narrow with concentration. Started near the ear, did notice the curve of his neck, the tan. He should be wearing dog tags. A slight smirk. Scraping the hair off, slowly, deliberately, the whisper of blade against skin. He knew about the pistol, and that made it almost better. Almost.

Glint of steel against that dark skin. He took the man's chin in his head, tilted it to the side to follow the jaw bone, then wiped the grease on his trousers, high on his thigh. He didn't want to move out of this.

Dan tilted his head when the blade began its journey, brown eyes fixing on narrowed ice, the sensation against his skin had a strange effect, almost relaxing. Minute movements, tiny increments of released tension, as his head began to simply move with the hand that guided his chin.

Fuck. This was good.

Dan could smell fresh sweat and the heat of the other's body, scent of sun burning on glistening skin, and his eyes dropped away from the face, watched the movement of the shoulders. Muscles rolling slowly beneath smooth skin, sunlight gleaming off nearly white-blond hairs, almost a girl's. Dan blinked slowly, lazily.

Nothing like a girl.

Vadim felt the other falling in stride, stopping to resist him on some level. The way, maybe, he breathed. Down the trace of stubble, down to the cheek. He broke contact only for a moment to rub some more grease onto the face, cheek and chin, but he'd save the chin for later, shaved the cheek, neatly traced the line of bone. Moved the other's head to the side, more grease, shaved the other side, jaw, cheek. Instil … trust.

Dan hadn't been touched like that in ages. Wrong. Couldn't remember. Wondered if anyone had ever been that …That what? Determinedly intimate? He'd shake his head, or shrug his shoulders, if he didn't have the blade close to his lips, and if he simply didn't lack the will to do anything at all.

To relax, even just for a few moments, had been impossible since he'd come to this motherfucking country. Ridiculous to do it now, his throat and face under an enemy's blade, his pistol shoved into the groove of the same enemy's throat. Yet relax he did, gave himself over to the steady change of movement, blade, fingers, grease and the comfort of all encompassing heat.

You're fucking insane, Dan!

Who cared. Closed his eyes for a moment, bloody suicidal, didn't give a shit. Just a moment, this one precious moment, and allowed his body to give in and react to the rare physical comfort. He was getting hard, and for once, he just didn't give a damn. He could always kill the fucker later.

He'd never gambled in a more dangerous game.

The next bit would take longer, and take more concentration. Vadim carefully worked around the round, broad chin, doing small strips of skin every time, only stopped to wipe the blade on his trousers. Then raised the other's head and placed the blade on his upper lip. The curves there, the way the man could sneer and mock and … other things. He forced himself to breathe, and shivered as the blade touched the other's lips.

Vadim was hard, aroused, didn't take much in the last days. This man did it, did it just like his favourite memory. Vadim would have killed to touch those lips, instead finished the upper lip, and wiped the knife again, changed the grip, relaxed his wrist.

Saw the man's small dark nipples, hard, no water left on him, and he clearly wasn't cold. It turned Vadim's own arousal into lust; he was perfectly capable of exploiting a moment like this, a reaction like this.

Had to be the knife. They both liked the control it brought, the dangerous possibilities. Vadim took a bit more grease and began to prepare the throat, the sides thick with muscle, but a long neck, powerful, maybe slightly too long, definitely how he stretched it now.

Tilted the head back and began to scrape up, starting at the sides again. Shifting his weight as Vadim paused, bringing one knee between the other's legs. Close enough to brush against. Feigning ignorance.

Dan parted his lips to let out a breath that seemed to be heavier. Telling himself he was fucking insane, a bloody nutcase, but still bared his throat and closed his eyes again. What if the Russian used the knife to cut his throat? He had plenty of reasons, hell, if it were him, he'd kill a fucker like himself in an instance. He wasn't suicidal, never had been, had just a bloody great big screw loose right now. So big, he had to have lost his senses, because he shuddered when the knee brushed his cock, breathed out "Oh fuck …" instead of shooting the wanker.

Vadim felt it go right through his body, those two words. There was still the pistol, and the things people did when they came, he'd heard a story about a rape at gunpoint, and the stupid soldier had pulled the trigger when he came. Almost funny. Almost.

He inched closer, offered more friction, his free hand - fucking right hand, and it still hurt to move that arm, only it was the greased up hand. Moved and found the cock, heavy and hot, silky. Good moment to pull the trigger, Vadim thought, idly stroking the other man. He wanted him. Truth. He himself looked like warmed-up death, felt exactly like that, but he had always and would always want. This. Man.

Dan's thought went into a frenzy.

Shit. Oh shit. Fuck. Goddamned motherfucking shit and damn and fuck and …

Litany of swear words in Dan's mind, jumble of thoughts, just sensations. Too much. That hand knew what it was doing. Fuck the man, destroy that cunt, the Russian knew too much. Too much to live and tell the tale; too much and more than he himself had ever known. Ragged breath, Dan tipped his head back even more, pushed the muzzle of the pistol harder into the throat. Simultaneous actions, dark mirror images of insanity. Wrong, goddamned wrong and much too right.

Muscles tensing, pronounced ropes beneath sweat gleaming skin, and more feeling, every stroke. Much too much, far too good, couldn't … mustn't …

"No!" Dan's head moved like a sprung coil, eyes open, body ready for flight. "I'm not like you." Thick voice, breath heavy. "I'm not."

Pushed the knife away from his face, then the hand, slapped it away with the pistol. Loss of friction, bereft. The hardest thing he'd ever done. Should have pulled that trigger, a week ago.

Vadim looked at him, dropped the knife, knew the other was in a mind to shoot or fuck him or both. And how sick of him to find that arousing? He'd been in this country for too long. Too long in the army. It made sense in the army, it didn't anywhere else.

"I'm not like you." Dan repeated his prayer. "I'm not a fag."

I'm not I'm not I'm not I'm not I'm not …

Dan got up, too fast. Almost an escape.

"No, you're not", Vadim murmured, finding it very hard to speak. "Not a weak-ass sissy boy like me." He laughed. It wasn't funny, not with what he wanted and couldn't get. "Vanya wasn't, either. Man you killed. We would fuck, but he wasn't … homosexual." Vanya much preferred women, but he got hard in a fight, and he enjoyed struggle. Had.

Looking down at the Russian, Dan hadn't noticed he was aiming the pistol at the other's head. Repetition of another time. He got the sarcasm, narrowed his eyes, brows furrowing, sharp dark shapes and lines in his sunburnt face.

"Then he was even more of a sick fuck." He felt nothing for the other man's death, nothing but a memory of satisfaction. That 'Vanya' had gotten what he deserved, erased out of Dan's mind. Another dead body, stacked up amongst nameless, faceless others.

Women. Girls. Remembered their bodies, just as nameless and faceless as the men he had killed. Fuck a cunt, blow a brain; shoot your load down a bird's throat, cut a man's windpipe. It made no difference, it had no impact. But this had, and Dan sensed a truth he would kill for, if it were spoken out aloud. He wanted that hand back on his cock and it did matter. It had impact. And he fucking hated that man.

"I'm not like this 'Vanya'."

Too close to the truth.

On his knees, pistol pointed at his face, and Vadim was hard. Nothing new there. It became a bit of a habit. The only new thing about it was that he found defeat almost as arousing as struggle. Or victory, for that matter. He liked the rage, the confusion. If he had been into mindgames right now, he would have fulfilled another objective. The enemy was confused, conflicted, had been pushed out of his stoic equilibrium, and was confronted with reality. Reality as Vadim could present it, anyway.

The other man wanted to bolt, but he probably wanted to get off even more. Vadim raised his hands, universal sign of defeat, and giving up. "Nothing sick about getting off", he murmured in Russian. "Do you believe I would tell anybody? I'm your prisoner."

He just about managed to keep the smile away. Hoped the term 'prison' in that would strike a chord, the one that said revenge and situational homosexuality. "It won't matter. It won't matter if you make me suck you off." He closed his eyes for a moment. "You got the gun. You got the rules. Simple."

"You really are a sick fucker." Dan's eyes widened, suddenly understanding the situation. Perhaps not with all its implications, hidden meanings and ulterior motives, but he got the message. Too loud, too clear, and shook his head. "No."

Wanted, wanted, needed, wanted too fucking much.

"You want me to force you." He took a step back, the pistol was still aimed at the other, but it had no meaning. This was going over his head, the whole mess of fucked-up men. Just this snake-sliding promise in his mind, words slithering around in his brain, repeating their poisonous pledge. As irresistibly snake-like as the hatred had been.

Suck you off. Suck you off. Put those lips around your cock, let you fuck my throat and suck you off.

"You cunt want me to make you."

Vadim inhaled. The man kept dodging. Kept moving away. He didn't care about the force, this one or any other. It wasn't desperate measures. It was something he wanted and something that would fulfil an objective. Crawl into the man's mind. Into his fucking pants. His body. Now, this was starting to become a mindgame, and he could tell that the other didn't get it.

He remained on his knees. "No. I want to go home after this." A half-smile. "But that gun could make sure I'm not going to bite." His body open and vulnerable, tense. Hard. "Or that knife." A glance towards the discarded weapon. "You just gotta love that control."

"No." Dan's anger was rising, the aggression of a man who found himself out of control. He wasn't up to this shit, had never been a man of anything but actions. "Sick fucker." Frowned, felt taken the piss out of, confused, belittled, because he didn't understand. Just one thing his body was still getting and clinging to with desperate greed, and that was this man's offer.

Suck you off.

But that wasn't what rooted Dan to this spot. It was far more, ran much deeper, and the only weapon he had was this one stubborn word. "No." No rifle, no pistol, no blade could stop him from falling prey to … to what? "No."

Forced himself to turn away, stalk over to the water hole without another glance back. Wanted to shout with frustration for having torn himself from that poisonous promise. Got water, scrubbed his face, washed his body, anything, everything, like a well-oiled machine, while every fibre of his being was screaming in protest.

Had to get rid of that Russian. Get back to who he was before. The man he was familiar with. Himself. Before. Before what?

Who did he hate now?

Vadim shook his head, then lowered his hands and put them on his thighs. Never mind his own desire. The only thing he could force was a stand-off, and the other pulled away too soon.

Remembering the other's face in his hand, the way that throat, the jugular had pulsed under the knife. He would have come right into his trousers. Vadim was that fucking close. He lay down, exhausted, felt his mind return to blunt waiting, all the knives and edges hidden, snapped back to stoic acceptance of the fact he was a prisoner, and he couldn't … then again, this kind of manoeuvre took longer. He needed to be patient. No defeat yet. It would give the other something to think about. Next night. Sharing warmth. He was pretty sure the other would remember. And the night would cover them both. Much easier to lie to yourself when it's dark.

Vadim rested, allowed his body to relax again, waited for the arousal to subside. Wouldn't do to show him that now. The other was too close to rage, and that meant kicking and punching and hitting. And he was just about to make progress.

When the sun was past the mountain range, Vadim stirred again, and decided to wash.

Undressed, slowly, carefully, could feel his back and the wounds, one line of … letters, that word. Only glad that sometime in the last days, the other had taken the rope off. He could walk. In theory. Hands tied, but rope long enough to help himself. Ease the strain on the shoulders. Just the way he was tied up told him the other didn't consider him a direct or very serious threat. Then again, he wasn't.

Staggered to the water hole and reached for the rope. He wouldn't ask for help. But he needed to clean himself, and wash the remainder of his clothes. The stones kept the heat, it might be enough for them to dry if he started now.

Then again, sharing heat was much more effective when both were naked. He couldn't help but smirk at that.

Dan had washed his kit and laid them out on the stones in the sun, but hadn't put them back on except for the trousers. Still damp, but a damn sight better than being naked. Something uncomfortably vulnerable about nakedness right now, not something he usually felt, blamed the bloody Russian.

He glanced over when the other made his laborious way to the water, then returned to his task of preparing the excess meat he had shot the day before. A tin of unidentifiable vegetables and a rabbit would make the day's feast. The meat was lacking salt, but it would have to do, at least the tinned veg were in some sort of brine. Letting everything heat up on the small fire, he walked over to his clothes to check if they were dry. Once the sun had set, they would get damp in the coldness of the night.

"Damn." Dan muttered, they were still rather damp. Nothing like putting wet clothes on one's body when it was freezing cold, eh? Bloody stupid! If he hadn't wasted time with that fucker, they would have dried. Glancing over to the other, he watched him trying to wash.

Massive. That was the word that came to mind when looking at that body, even though Dan was a broad, tall motherfucker himself, there was something different about the Russian. What had the files said? Olympian pentathlete.

Go figure.

Gazing back out over the setting sun, bathing the mountainous region in a disgustingly picturesque burst of colour, Dan called over to the Russkie. "Hey, cunt, what about that shave." He didn't give a flying fuck about the bastard's discomfort, but fleas or nits in a growing beard while forced to share body heat? No bloody way.

Vadim looked up. He used his left hand to wash, the right just didn't want to do it, just knuckles on the ground, not even stabilizing much. His shoulder was a mess of dark blue, purple, even black. Left hand.

Remembered Katya. Left-handed fencer. Pristine technique. Out of the top ten fencers in the world, more than half were left-handers. Vadim never got his head around where she would attack, it was fighting a mirror, disconcerting. That was why he had married her. And the thought he could still try and be … what he was not. She guessed it, even then. They had ended up in bed with another athlete, male, and everything followed logically from there. Alcohol helped. Being out, free, unleashed.

Vadim shook his head, proceeded to wash the dust off, the dirt, bowed his head to wash his hair. Too long. Heard the dog tags jingle as he stooped forward. Looked up again. "Sure." Half a smirk forming. The knife to his skin? The man wanted to see him horny and defenceless. Alright. Maybe that would push him over the edge. Maybe that would finally break through the defences.

Dan gestured towards the fire, no point not to utilise what little warmth it gave when the sun was setting. There was still enough light for at least another half hour. He once again prepared the knife, grabbed a rag he had lifted from the destroyed village, and got the remaining fat.

"Kneel." Pointing to a space beside the fire.

Vadim got up, laboriously, also took so much strength. Hurt in his ribs, hurt in his back, only his shoulder didn't mind unless he moved the arm.

He walked towards the fire, knelt down again, felt the warmth. Knees open, bound hands hanging down between them, protecting his groin. Just in case the other felt like he should kick him. Looked at the man, then lowered his gaze.

The very image of a docile beast.

Dan didn't like that. He frowned, it felt wrong. Shook his head once, said nothing. Took a slab of grease and grabbed the man's chin. Yanking it upwards, angry. Annoyed that he should play the docile prisoner. Preferred to deal with the Russian as the bastard, the beast, not the victim.

Strange thoughts.

Dan rubbed the fat into the blond stubble. Took his time, thorough, would be difficult enough to shave like that. Smoothed his calloused hands over the angular planes and sharp jaw line; up to the high cheekbones and down the soft tissue of the throat. Heated skin against his hand, reminded him of the night, the massage and the question, several nights ago. And an answer that made a painful amount of sense.

He took the knife, tilted the head to the side and began the blade's journey, like the Russian had done, near the temple, working his way downward, intermittently wiping the blade on the rag.

Everything else vanished when Vadim felt the blade. Yes, he had manoeuvred himself into this situation, the other did exactly what he had planned. For the objective, and his own needs. Moved his head willingly. And what if the man decided to cut another word into his flesh? What if he decided to render him unfit for service? It would only take a short stab to the eye.

Vadim held his breath, looked up into the other's face. The focus. And the strange introspective expression. That didn't happen a lot. The man was thinking. Something vulnerable about it. The knife scraped close to the jaw line, towards his jugular. He remembered Vanya's wound. He had had plenty of time to look at that wound on the way back. Strength, determination, and skill. Vanya had bled out like an animal.

Vadim swallowed, felt his body respond to the danger. Anything could get him hard now, and definitely that closeness. Vulnerable himself. Still somewhat in control. Because he was working towards an objective. Open him up.

Concentrating on his task, Dan didn't even try not to think, he didn't tend to focus on several things at the same time. Too damn straightforward, one of his Officers in Command had once said - too bloody perfect for this job, the Board had agreed. Not officer material, but a Special Forces soldier par excellence. He did the dirty work, turned elaborate hopes and plans into reality. But fuck, he wasn't an intellectual.

Moving below the jaw line, the blade meticulously shaved off stubble, never nicked the skin. Dan's gaze fell down, away from the face in his hand, and he stopped the motion of the knife.

He stopped short and frowned, an expression of deep thinking, of trying to understand. "What the fuck is it with you?" Pointedly staring at the hard-on. "If I cut your throat, would you come?"

Vadim's nostrils flared, then he was gulping for air. Trying to understand the question. Oh well, there probably was a reason why the SAS guy had looked down there. Sex and Death. No, lust and death. Dying. He felt the tension, wanted to bare his teeth in a grin. Bit back the smartass comment, discarded a 'Maybe. You want to try?'

Don't provoke him. You are not a threat. Remember. Don't threaten. He had no way to cash in on any threat. That was not the objective.

"I lied." Vadim looked into the dark eyes. "I used … Simple Past when I told you why. It is not Simple Past. Simple Present. Not 'wanted'. It's 'want'."

"What?" Dan's frown deepened, he had the vague sensation that he was being taken the piss out of again. Didn't like feeling stupid, hated confusion, and this goddamned bastard was confusing the hell out of him. "What the fuck are you talking about?" Hand still poised, grip on the chin intensified. Fingers splayed, cupped closer, subconsciously increasing contact.

Vadim breathed hard. The grip on his chin. The knife close. The enemy flustered yet again. He briefly closed his eyes. "It's quite simple." Breathing again. He expected another explosion, like a dog that had been kicked too often. But he couldn't afford one of those ribs to go into a lung.

"I am … homosexual." The English word the closest to the Russian one. "Or let me rephrase. I'm queer. Gay. I indulge in indecent acts with other men. I'm quite fond of shit-stabbing. I have sucked men off. Mostly, they suck me off. You, whatever's your name, I don't think you'll ever tell me, but it doesn't matter, you are dangerous. You've given me fight of my life. Beating of my life, too, but that's part of deal. You are … fucking attractive. You are naked, I am naked, and that's whole thing. Nothing complicated about it."

There was no doubt that Dan had just received his plain answer. No doubt at all, no ambiguity and not a margin for uncertainty. It was exactly the kind of answer he preferred. Straightforward, black and white. Dan listened to each and every word, remained still and silent. Scrutinised the other, studied that man on his knees. Long, drawn-out, worrying moments of silence, and then he suddenly burst into movement, and sound.

The sound of abandoned laughter, he was almost pissing himself with it, laughing so hard, he did well to let go of the chin, or his hiccups of hilarity could have cut the throat involuntarily. Just laughing, not even hysterically, simple, straight-forward laughter. Shaking his head in the end, like a kid that couldn't stop laughing, a boy unable to get to grips that others might not find it quite so impossibly funny. In fact, he didn't even know why he was laughing so hard, but it all made sense, and the sense was insanity.

Vadim moved his head away at the laughter. Prepared to be finished off, bullet, now, the final conversation stopper. The man was going insane, or maybe it was the pressure that finally broke. Which was a good thing. Like opening up a festering wound. He waited, patient, but no shot, no explosion.

Dan calmed to be able to speak, "Tell me one thing, Russkie. Just one more." His chuckles hadn't completely subsided yet, "Would you do it again, if you could?" He was sobering along the words, until he finally stopped even the last of his smirks, and turned serious. "Tell me, would you rape me again if you had the chance?"

There, the word again, dredging the Nothing out of Nothing. Strange, it had become easier. As if dealing with somebody else.

The question. The fucking question. Oh indeed. Yes, he would, thought Vadim. He would take more time, maybe wreak less damage … mostly to be able to do it again, and again, feel that submission, the other mind at breaking point again. Wouldn't order him to be shot. Wouldn't share him.

But violence? Yes. Fucking him? Absolutely.

Vadim looked up, felt the other's seriousness settle on his shoulders, a weight being lowered down. Yes was the wrong answer. If he wanted to screw with this guy's mind, an apology, or maybe regret would be in order. Only he did not feel enough inside for an apology, not enough guilt. He had done worse than that.

And it remained the perfect moment. The moment of complete and utter clarity, of urge and instinct and knowledge. Battle of wills. "Yes. I would. Differently, but I would. If I could have you, I'd take you." So much for the mindgame.

Now Vadim was losing control.

Strange, really, for Dan this was once again the perfect answer. Truth, cutting to the bone and sharp like iron spikes. Simple and crystalline truth. He didn't like dealing with anything else. He nodded and said nothing for a while. His usual habit. Think first - speak later, and more often than not, don't speak at all.

"You know, Russkie, you're a goddamned fucking wanker and I hate your guts, but I give you that, I appreciate your honesty." A long speech for him. "I can't stand liars."

His hand went back to the chin, as if nothing had happened in the last five minutes. The knife was back, poised at the last remaining patches of stubble. The blade moved down once more as he tilted the Russian's head, while he was thinking again, or just concentrated on his task, like earlier. "Best make sure you never get the chance again, eh, Russkie?"

Nerve. Fucking nerve. Spine, guts, all the qualities that Vadim respected. Stupid. More than respected. Next objective: Get him to use his name. He needed to take control, win the initiative, at least part of it. "Name is Vadim." Almost defiant again. He figured he would be quite pissed off at that nickname 'Russkie' if he had been Bielorussian or even Ukrainian. "Don't give me the chance. I guess that's your safest bet, yes."

Dan shrugged, another one of his habits, finished the last bit of stubble, then moved the head up and down, studying his work before letting go of the chin, wiping the blade with the rag. "I don't care what your name is, Russkie. To me you're a cunt."

The light had been getting dim and Dan glanced out at the horizon where the sun had vanished behind the mountains. He could feel the chill starting to creep towards them, but shit, his kit was still damp. Pointing at the fire where the veg with the pieces of rabbit meat were boiling away in the tin.

"It'll be freezing soon and my kit's still damp. It'll do as cover though, on top of yours." Adding after sheathing the knife and moving it well out of the Russian's reach. He sat on the ground, warming his toes on the fire, reaching for the tin, and placing it between the Russian and himself. "Eat."

Vadim wasn't hungry. He could feel his strength sap away again, like a tide. He was either fully there or lethargic. Now the tide turned towards lethargic. He was starting to be cold, and he rubbed his face, used the remainder of the grease and rubbed it over his face, felt the sunburn bite, his shoulders. Didn't need his skin to dry out and go even worse. "Have yours."

He pulled his legs up to place his elbows on the knees, leaned against a rock, careful not to touch any of his wounds. Looked at his wrists that looked more raw than they felt. He'd been tied up for a week. And the stronger he got, the more likely it was that the other would do bad stuff to his shoulders again. He missed running. Fencing, too, the white, clean, precise, tactical sport. He'd had enough shooting recently to last him a while.

Vadim looked at the other man, the steaming food, rubbed his face against this upper arm, skin taut and burnt. The man would sleep close again. Of course. "You guys. You are the fathers of spetsnaz. Did you know that? The Kremlin wanted something like you, and it created … us."

Dan started to tuck into the food, chewing the bland meal with gulps of fresh, cool water in between. He'd run out of cigarettes two days ago and would murder for a strong coffee and a fag. Fag. He got one. Right here beside him.

Turning his attention to the other, Dan nodded, chewing on some rabbit. "Sure I know. They didn't get it right, though. They turned us into killers and you lot? You're murderers." Washing the food down with some water.

Killers. Murderers. Probably a linguistic fine point. "We operate behind enemy lines. The rules are different there. We do what we do to get the job done. We are fighting irregulars here. They don't wear uniforms. Even you are not officially here."

"You're strange, you Russians. You don't give a shit about human life. Kill one, ten or ten thousands, even of your own people. It doesn't matter to you, you just throw more lives into the machinery. As long as you reach the objective." Dan had finished three quarters and pushed the tin over to the other. This time he didn't offer but ordered. "Eat."

Lives. Sacrifices. Strange that the other would talk about Russian lives. Not the village. Any of the villages. "It matters. Do you think we don't feel pain? We have families. We are not assembled like tanks or planes. We are people. If you had fucking attacked Germany and gotten your act together, you and those American cowards, we wouldn't have lost millions of soldiers. Truth is, we won big war, every square inch of our soil drenched in our blood and that of enemy, while you waited. Glorious British Empire. Kept back and let Russians do fucking job. You thought every Russian dead soldier is one you won't have to fight. If it hadn't been for us, you bastards would now speak German."

Vadim stood up laboriously, felt the pain. "And you call our sacrifice … what? Inhuman? Machine-like? We do this to build better world, where people are not exploited. Your system is enemy, and you're poisoning rest of fucking world." He knew he was raving, but that particular itch had been with him from childhood. The main thing he had against Europe. That man wasn't responsible. He shook his head. "Our leaders aren't perfect. Of course they aren't. But we are people."

"Fucking hell, you have a chip on your shoulder the size of your beloved Mother Russia! Have they indoctrinated you that much with their party routine and political bullshit? What are you, Russkie, eh? KGB? No, can't be, you're not smooth and slick enough for that. "

KGB. That sobered Vadim. That one thing the other should never know. He was more political than a normal soldier, even para. Part of a select elite.

"You think you are better than us?" Now it was up to Dan to stand up, face to face with the other, there was less than an inch of difference.

Same height. Same built. Two worlds apart.

"You and your bloody glorious Soviet Army, you went and destroyed those villages, but oh no, not cleanly, fuck no, you poisoned the wells, you killed the children, you murdered the women, and why? Because you don't give a shit if it's in the way of your political target. Fine. Accuse us of crap the Brits might have done over thirty years ago, but you better face the present, if you want to compare." Dan stepped closer, face to face and eye to eye. Neither of them giving in. "You can accuse the British Forces of being stupid for trying to avoid the loss of civilians, I would probably even agree with you, but you say your villages and families make you people, and I say, trying to spare lives makes us humans."

Vadim frowned, "The difference between civilian and guerrilla is AK. These villages are in our security zones. They need to leave, they don't, we kill them and make sure they will not return. These villages feed and shelter enemies. And if killing a thousand of them means I get my men back alive, I'd kill two fucking thousand."

Dan glared at the other, tried to stare him down like one prize bull another. Two alpha males before the fight. "You want to know why I didn't cut your balls off, stuffed them down your throat and watched you die? You want to know it? I don't give a shit about you, Russkie, family, kids, wife, village, country, beliefs, sexuality or not. I don't give a flying fuck. I saw you take down the village, I watched you bring out the mothers by splattering their children's brains into the dirt. You call yourself a killer? I call that a murderer, and if you had died under my hands, cunt, I would have been one of you. And that's why you live - no more, no less, no other reason. I didn't continue because you asked for the mercy to die as a soldier; because you called to me as a soldier, and that's what I am." Dan snorted, so angry he didn't realise he was probably giving the longest speech of his entire life, eyes ablaze, fists clenched, every muscle in his body tense and pronounced.

Because you asked for the mercy to die as a soldier.

Vadim stood his ground against the anger, was confused by the backlash, these were more words in one go than he'd heard from this man. Showing, clearly, that he wasn't stupid. Not nearly stupid. Surprise, or not. There was more beyond that animal cunning every special forces soldier worth his salt possessed.

And yes, that one moment, no, during the whole last part of the torture, he had asked for mercy. Bargained his pride away and got his life out of it. He wasn't the type that would die just because propaganda told him he should rather die than betray his pride. Ultimately, a failure, and a victory. Vadim's eyes were narrow. "I have an obligation. A duty. I have received my orders, and nothing will stop me to fulfil those."

"I understand." Dan snarled, barely brought his teeth apart. "You're 'just following orders'. I congratulate you, comrade, you will go far. The perfect soldier." He snorted. "Just a shame you're a sick bastard who's ruled by his cock, isn't it?" Short, stab of laugh, this time sharp, cruel. "That fucking cock of yours gets you killed one day, and if not that, then it'll get you into shit so deep, your 'obligations' won't get you out of it."

Ruled by his cock.

Vadim swallowed, sobered up more, felt those thoughts move into the back of his head. Sick bastard. Now, those were proper insults. And they actually went through his skin. "I'll execute the next one myself", he snarled, "don't you worry about it." Oh fuck. The words were out before he could keep them in. He moved back, away from the fire, not turning his head, and walked over to the bit of bed the other had built. Sickened by the thought he still depended on him.

Dan took the last words, kept them in the back of his mind. 'Next time'. So the fucker would be out again, raping and killing another. Fuck. By granting mercy because of his selfish need, he'd created a monster. No, not created. The Russian had done that himself, long ago. Dan took a deep breath, inhaled noisily, forcibly unclenching his fists. "Eat now or I stuff the food down your throat. You'll live, until I've taken you to the embassy, and after that, good fucking riddance, Russkie. May you never see me again, but if you do, watch your goddamned back."

Embassy. That meant enemy's hands. The other had finally given away his intentions. Vadim needed to get away, somehow. Needed to find his own people before that happened. He sat down, heavily, tried to lie on his side. Ribs or shoulder didn't allow that, whichever way he turned. He felt every stone dig into him like a muzzle.

Dan looked at the leftover food, debated if he should make the threat real, decided he couldn't be bothered. The enemy was strong enough to survive by now, best he stuffed the veg and meat down his own throat instead. It took a few minutes and he had finished the rest, gulping some more of the water.

Vadim was on his stomach again, resting his head on his hands. So much for trying to get into the guy. So much for using his superior education and intelligence. He'd blown this. Breathing deeply, trying to force himself to sleep, or, if that failed, to act as if he was sleeping.

Dan seriously, deeply and utterly, resented having to share body warmth with the Russian that night. Pissed off there was no alternative, even if his kit was dry, he'd spend one night freezing out there in the mountains, he didn't want another one. Best to see the arsewipe as a useful source of heat and forget that he hated his guts.

Grabbing the bundle of clothes he walked over to where the Russian was lying, starting to drape bit after bit over him, before lying down himself, as usual, on his side, facing the wanker. Facing, but closed his eyes he didn't want to see that face. It had been too much, testing the resolve of even the strongest man.

Dan didn't know nor cared if the Russian was asleep, shuffling close, despite truly loathing the contact, he was falling asleep quicker than he had thought. His waking mind despised the closeness, but his body didn't.

Vadim couldn't drift off to sleep, even mentally exhausted as he was. He needed to get out of here, needed to get away from that man. Wanting him, desiring him, even, still, but he had heard the warning shot. He turned his head and looked at the Brit.

Watch your back.

Indeed. The anger was back, that told him he was on the mend. He'd gotten too close, up to the point where he saw things he'd rather not. Degenerate. Pervert.

Don't think you can't win because of this.

No. Quite the opposite. He knew people would have expected him to fail, and that made it impossible to accept defeat. Even if his talents were actually limited. He was good, but not exceptional. Hard work, dedication, but he didn't have that edge. That was why they had finally given up on him, and didn't send him to the next Olympics. He could have competed, maybe, won respect, looked good on camera, but not won a medal that time. But the fact they hadn't wanted him in Moscow. In his own country, his own city.

This man made him feel that defeat. He would need to get away, tomorrow. Maybe the day after that. He would have to risk it. Find his boots. Without water, without food, through territory that was as difficult and hostile as it came. He'd try it anyway. Better to die trying it than be delivered into the enemies' hands.

He was back at square one.

Dan was asleep. The sleep of the righteous? Fuck knew. He never remembered his dreams, wouldn't this night either. He twitched, muscle spasms when slipping into deep sleep, almost violent movements, then they ceased. Breathing deep and regular, his face relaxed, smoothing the lines of wind and sun, softening the curve of the lips. No more anger, just a man, asleep, not thinking.

Small sound, then movement, shuffling closer. Head seeking heat, burrowing into the crook of Vadim's neck and shoulder, a hand reaching, moving, then resting on a bare hip.

Stillness again, peaceful calm.

Insanity.

Vadim was even more awake now. Bastard probably thought he was a girl. Nearly twohundredandtwenty pounds of girl right there. He sneered, and closed his eyes. Fuck you. I'm still running tomorrow. And you'll have to kill me to stop me.

Unaware and uncaring, Dan slept throughout the night.

* * *

The next morning was like all the others before. Dan had moved away from the other's body during the night, thus never knowing how he had been sleeping. Water, food, getting his kit on and grabbing both of the rifles, he was off once more to shoot something to eat. They were starting to run low on meat.

This time, though, he bound the Russian's ankles again, had seen him move the day before and was already pondering to take more drastic measures, but then there were the ribs and the shoulder. But in the end, what would it matter? Bloody bastard would be taken back to Kabul no matter what.

Vadim tried not to show the frustration when the other bound his ankles again. Those knots were a bitch, but if he worked hard, he could free himself. He would have to get out of the camp. He put on his passive act, was docile, like he was exhausted. Keeping his strength, his hatred as fuel inside.

Dan didn't speak that morning, seemed he had used up his contingency words the day before, enough for weeks to come. The morning was still cool when he made his way back out of camp, scouring the mountain for a goat, rabbit or other unsuspecting provider of protein.

When the other left camp, Vadim started looking for his rifle. Couldn't find it, and gave up. Another piece of kit he'd lost. They sent him out, and he came back with only the uniform on his back. No knife to sever the rope.

Anyway. Vadim needed to get up the mountain, cross it, and that would be hard work in his state. Couldn't even put his clothes on, his hands still bound, but grabbed his scarf and tunic. Managed to pry the knot loose that fastened the rope between his ankles, found his boots, then began to walk up the mountain. Step by step. Willpower against weight and wounds. He should have been wet with sweat, but the sun took it before it even cooled. Fucking desert. Nothing to take, nothing to carry it with. No strength to carry anything. On the way up, he more often than not bent over and using both hands, preventing him to fall. He needed to attract attention. Out into the killing zone.

He could still see the campsite when he doubted the first time he could do it. Everything hurt, breathing, most of all, and he was so unsteady he risked falling with every step. Broken terrain, stones, some so loose he felt like walking on snow.

Resting when he had walked for an hour, starting to feel despair. No challenge at all if he had been alright. Fucking walk in the park.

Vadim walked on, saw a trail snake around the mountain on the other side. What passed for a road in this place. He should avoid it, really, but chances were he might walk into a patrol. And he could see far enough to get off the trail when Afghans showed up. At least he hoped. He nearly collapsed again, but made it to the trail. Towards the territory the Soviets occupied. Controlled area. He walked on, concentrated on every single step, then just walked on because he couldn't pause and risk not being able to get up again.

Meanwhile, Dan was lucky that day and returned two hours later with a rabbit. Returned to an empty camp site, no Russian, no shelter, nothing left except for a length of rope that had once tied the ankles together.

"Fucking bastard!" He shouted, threw the rabbit down onto the ground, ready to storm off to catch that wanker. Once again, he'd been tricked. The Russkie couldn't be far, in fact, how the fuck was he even going to make it?

One thing the bastard had, that was stamina and courage, and Dan could respect that, even if he wanted to rip his throat out right now.

Then stilled. Let his eyes wander across abandoned campsite, old bloodied rags and finally the mountains for a moment, began to grin, then smirk, at last laughed out loud with relief. This was it. The shit-stabber wasn't his responsibility any more. What a bloody convenient solution. Let him die of thirst, break down in the mountains and crawl in the sun until the fucker was done and over with. Dan didn't have to give a shit anymore, the Russian was out and on his own. No Kabul, no embassy, no annoying bastard he had to keep as prisoner.

"Thank fuck." He muttered, started to pack what few items remained, the Dragunov rifle across his back, his own SA-80 in his hands. He was done. That was it. No need to ever cross paths with the fuckwit again. The bastard would die and it wasn't his fault nor his responsibility.

Dan grinned when he refilled his water bottle, scanned the horizon before making his way down the mountains. He knew his path by now, he'd get back to the villages, then eventually into Kabul. He was long overdue a stint of R&R in Old Blighty. Booze, laughter, mates and pussies.

The thoughts of a long fucking session, ramming his cock like a piston into a willing bird who thought he was a demigod because he was in the Special Forces, those memories made him quicken his step and in good time, marching down the mountains.

Along the trail, Vadim crouched as he saw people. Not a patrol. Those men didn't walk in formation, or any sense of order. He squinted, could distinguish ammo belts crossed over their chests, and one dragged a trail of donkeys behind him. Low tech solution to a low tech problem. Vadim broke off the trail into the rocks, crouched, moving as fast as he could. He was dusty alright, what he wore did provide some blending into the terrain, but not much. Found a crag to press into, behind more rocks, a formation close to the road, but he couldn't get further away. He could only lie flat on his stomach and hope they didn't see him.

Vadim could hear their chatter. Always chattering. His command of their language was limited, even though he was probably able to tell them to stop firing, lay down their arms and surrender. That was about the extend of it.

He heard them come closer. Shuffling, sounds.

Congratulations, Vadim. You located their camp site before they did.

Dan heard voices before he crossed the outcrop of rocks, knew there was a trail behind it, leading into some of the villages closer to Kabul. He couldn't quite make out what they were saying, realising it wasn't Pushtu, but he'd just about scrape by in Dari. A knack for languages, one of the things he'd never struggled with.

Best not let himself be seen before he could figure out who they were. Good chances he might even know them, or at least, they would have heard of him. 'Daan', the infidel with the tactical knowledge.

Dan slipped onto his knees, proceeded to crawl closer, until he could see the men and the camp they were setting up. Fucking beards and rags, they all looked the same. He had to take his time to figure out who they were. Barely a stone throw away and he let himself down onto his stomach, sliding forwards and closer to the camp. So close, he could hear every word.

He kept his head low while searching with his hand for leverage to pull himself closer, when he grabbed hold of something very much unlike a rock.

Leather. Fabric. Strong bone and warmth beneath his hand.

"Oh fuck." Breathed out, lifted his head a fraction, heart racing in those moments he knew decided over life and death, until Dan recognised the body before him. The bloody Russkie.

He dropped his head back into the dirt and started to laugh in silence, body shaking soundlessly with the laughter.

Being pinned down and laughed at was bad. The combination especially. Vadim was sweating so hard he feared they would smell him. Highly unlikely, but it was enough if one of them stepped outside to take a leak. Without a weapon, nothing he could do. He checked the other over. One of the rifles, or the knife, and he'd have a fighting chance. At least that. Let me at least have a fight before they kill me.

Don't lose it, Vadim. Don't you fucking lose it.

"Your friends", Vadim breathed.

Dan pulled himself closer until he lay face to face, the indication of a shake of his head while pressed into the dirt. "Not sure yet. If not friends, certainly no foes," whispered quietly, "at least not for me."

Dan craned his neck to check the Afghanis, trying to figure out which one of the bearded wonders was the leader, and if he might know the fella. "Whoever they are, you're fucked." He looked back at the Russian, breathed the words with greatest caution, and he actually frowned.

Vadim nodded, felt the sweat run down his face. "Give me that gun." He indicated his hip, meaning of course the gun in the SAS guy's holster. "Only need one bullet." Breathing hurt. Lying still hurt.

"Bullshit." Dan whispered close to the Russian's ear, his lips almost brushing it. Smelled the sweat, understood the reference. "Didn't keep you alive for this. You're a cunt, but you're my cunt."

Dan smirked, cut short at the faint sound of helicopters on the horizon. Still far away, but it could only mean one thing: Hinds. Approaching from behind.

"How fast can you move?"

Vadim craned his neck, fucking hurt again, but he could see them move in. Patrolling, probably. If he was really lucky, loaded with paras. And medics.

My cunt.

He stared at the man. The whisper set him on edge, gave him goosebumps all over his arms, the way it felt even in his face. "Right now? Like a fucking horse." He glanced at the mudjas, who, over their chatter, would soon hear the copters as well. "If I don't make it …"

Nodded towards the Dragunov. Accurate shot at almost a mile.

Dan nodded, looked into those pale eyes for just one moment. With complete sincerity and lack of any anger, amusement or aggression. "I will. I promise they won't get you."

Craned his neck towards the Afghanis, then back to the terrain. "Crawl back, use the rocks, I'll distract them."

No further words, no time, and nothing needed. When it came down to it, they were brothers; brothers of a special kind. SAS and Spetsnaz, a family of its own. Dan slunk forward, shouted out in a mixture of Pushtu and Dari, "Friends! I am Dan, you heard of me? Don't shoot, I'm your friend."

Lifted from his lying position when he had their attention, stood up slowly, lifting the rifle high into the air. Made sure he wasn't a threat, and at the same time, creating much movement and distraction as he could, stepping towards them, when one of them seemed to recognise him.

He could be loud, the boisterous foreigner, the infidel commander, and he was all of that right now, to perfection. Their attention was on him, and part of his was on a man he could not see nor hear, but whom he would shoot in the back if he was detected. It wouldn't be murder, it would be a mercy killing.

Vadim was crawling back like a snake, a snake that sweated and could hear the blood thunder. In the cover of the rocks Vadim began to crouch, half-sliding down a ravine, then ran, ran faster than he could have believed possible just an hour ago, running towards the distant thud-thud of the copter, hoping against hope that the pilots would touch down.

He ran out into the open, nearly fell again, felt the Dragunov like a stare into his back. His own rifle. Don't think, run. Dodging, mostly because he was unsteady and didn't know exactly where he was going, waving the fucking dust scarf. A fold of the rocks shielding him, he hoped, from the bandit campsite.

The Hinds hovered, oblivious to the camping rebels, and Vadim could see with utter clarity how the gunner operated the front MG. Fucking bitches, they had to recognize his fucking uniform. He fell, then felt wind and dust whip all around him.

The Hind touched down, the most beautiful sight in the world. The stark insect grace of the 'hunchback', as they were affectionately known. Not a pretty copter, but few matched it in firepower. Vadim reached out, covered his face with his arm, breathed through the fabric.

A strong hand grabbed his arm, pulled, and he almost screamed as he was forced to stand. Paras.

"Captain Krasnorada", he said, was dragged into the machine, where he collapsed.

It was too late when the insurgents realised how close the Hinds had come, too late for them to stop the touchdown in the distance. Dan was pushed aside when chaos erupted around him, and he stood still, watched the helicopters with the Dragunov in his hands. His fingers smoothing over the barrel, caressing the trigger.

He let it relax in his hands, shouldering the weapon when he made out a man being pulled inside the one that had touched down. "Da-svi-da-niya, Russkie." Muttered to himself before he turned away.

 
 
Special Forces Chapter IV: Home Truths
 
 
Warning for Readers

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

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

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

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

 

 
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Published 13 September 2006