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Special Forces Chapter XV: Enemy Mine
 
 

December 1985, Afghanistan

Almost six months in those goddamned mountains, and as much as Dan had become a part of their vast majesty, that half year of living constantly on the edge had taken its toll on him. Physically and psychologically worn down to the bones, he'd lost weight and was constantly exhausted. He'd never had to work on his own for quite so long, and no relief was in sight, nor the chance to ever let on how drained he really was. Always another path, a new group, and yet more 'what do you have us do, Daan. How do we operate next?'

He felt almost sorry for the Soviets who had been fighting this war since 1980, trying to develop a strategy to win this godforsaken squabble that cost them thousands of lives and millions of roubles. There could never be a strategy, fighting against at least six major Mujahideen groups, with several smaller ones that Dan knew of, and an uncountable number of minor private armies, there was no coordination of operations of any kind. No system to battle against, no intelligence to garner.

And in the middle of it all, him. Working on organising sabotage that was too alien to the Afghan fighters and had to be left to the Western soldier and his ever-changing troop of men that he kept training and re-training and mostly utterly despairing over.

They had been walking for hours, keeping close to a pass but always in cover after an ambush the night before, where they had lost two of their men. They had delivered the third one, who had been wounded, to one of the camps on route and left to be treated. To live or probably die, who knew in these conditions where gangrene was the cruellest killer - right after the Mujas' own sense of revenge.

Dan was wary, despite the exhaustion that caused his senses to blunt ,and a light-headedness from lack of food, he still had an unnerving sense of foreboding. Trudging along, despite his worries they were making good progress down the track, since the weather was for once playing its part. Concentrating on map and compass, to get them as quick as he could do the next camp while avoiding any more unpleasant surprises, Dan stopped dead when he spotted boot tracks. Could be some of the Mujahideen, but unlikely. Heavy treads, and a whole group of them, he was betting on a Soviet patrol.

Calling the leader of his troop, they discussed their options, deciding to divert their path and to make their way to a close by camp instead. Intending to wait out the next day, and whatever the Soviets might have planned since the latest offensives. Widespread, and solely aimed against the insurgents.

They carried on for a few more hours, the day turning into afternoon, remaining as quiet and devoid of any enemy as Dan could have wished. Nothing, except for some signs of boot treads and the occasional disturbance of the ground. They were getting close to the camp when the sound of rotor blades came into earshot. Dan hissed in anger, it seemed that every bloody thing that could go wrong was going up shit creek without a paddle, and they dove into cover. Staying hidden for at least twenty minutes, and well until after the helicopter had taken off again, directly overhead but without detecting the concealed insurgents. It became so quiet Dan was wondering if they shouldn't start up a brew when his fellow men asked if they could pray. It seemed safe enough, and he moved slightly away to allow them some privacy, while he chucked a handful of tea leaves in his mess tin, boiling water behind a larger piece of rock.

Dusk began to surround them, and after they'd shared some of the meagre provision of naan bread and dried fruit, washed down with tea, they set off once more, this time walking into the moon rise. Steel blue light soon gave the mountains the eerie vision of a deserted moon crater, yet Dan knew they were finally close to the camp, where they could replenish their depleted stocks.

No luck, though. They'd only managed to march for another half hour when Dan heard the sound of movements, rocks tumbling below. "Holy fucking mother of god," Dan muttered under his breath, too late to find any other shelter than some more of those goddamned rocks that would dig into ribs and freeze their bollocks off during the night. No choice, the Soviet patrol came closer with no intention to walk past, setting up camp in earshot. One wrong step, and one small stone to crumble, and Dan's Mujas would be minced meat. Communicating with his men by sign language, Dan got them to understand they had to stay where they were overnight, and they wrapped themselves into blankets. No longer than a couple of seconds and even the two that were meant to stay awake and share stakeout had fallen asleep, dead to the world despite Dan's attempts to shake those bastards out of their exhausted sleep. Keeping guard on his own. It wasn't the first goddamned time and it would be the last one.

It was well past midnight, after hours of silence, when Dan managed to wake the leader of his troop to get him to take over the watch. He didn't care for the silent squabble that went on between the others when they detected that none had stayed awake with him. Before his head had even hit his arm, curled up on the side with his rifle clutched in cold fingers, Dan was asleep.

He was woken far too soon, felt woozy and as if he could sleep for a lifetime longer, but the ice cold air revived him sufficiently to get going once more. Increasingly desperate for a cigarette, but the Soviets would catch a whiff and that would be the end of them. The patrol close by was breaking their camp as well, leaving into the opposite direction, which caused Dan to mutter a relieved "thank fuck". They waited, hidden behind the rocks, until the soldiers were long out of sight and the road was clear. Setting off slowly along the trail, Dan reckoned it would take them another hour before they reached the camp, if that.

He was concerned about being so far behind schedule, but it couldn't be helped and speeding up, now that the men were cold and starving, was not going to get them anywhere, except into a state of carelessness. Dan's feet felt dreadful, he couldn't even remember when last he'd got his boots off, let alone given the rest of his body a clean. It was like walking in a swamp of discomfort, but he couldn't have dared to dry feet, socks, and boots the night before. One thing to get caught out and having to fight and run for their lives, another to be barefoot.

They reached the entrance to the camp that was shielded by several large boulders in good time, but Dan frowned at the silence, and so did the leader. Not a sound nor anyone coming to greet or challenge them. Worse, there was a smell about the place that made Dan's stomach churn, reminding him of a nightmare he'd been trying to forget since it happened. No guards that they could make out, and a stench that increased with every step.

Keeping his eyes out for tripwires or signs of butterfly mines and other booby traps, Dan picked his way inside, despite the urgent sense that kept telling him to turn the fuck back and get away from the smell that became overpowering. The leader and everyone close behind him, Dan could hardly hold back the retching, hearing telltale sounds in his back, even before they reached the position where the guard should have been. He'd expected the sight, but when the heap of torn rags, smashed bones and putrefying flesh came into view, torn into shreds by scavengers, it still hit him with the full force of horror. Bodies, dead, rotting, the memory was hard to fight.

Forcing himself to go further, Dan was the first one to come across the small opening, where over a dozen of bodies were lying, rotting in a pile. Men, women, ripped apart by carrions from sky and land that had searched for food. Each corpse had been killed close to where they were lying, then left to rot. Dan felt bile in the back of his throat, wanted to vomit, but he forced himself to hold it together. Wouldn't do to show the Mujas what they'd perceive as weakness.

Checking the area and the opening of the cave, it soon turned out that all the supplies were gone. Nor could they dare to drink the water, possibly poisoned by the Soviets who'd wiped out the camp. When Dan took a closer look at the corpses, even though he wanted nothing but run away, it became obvious they had been rounded up and massacred. Shot at close range, a mass execution and war crime like victorious soldiers, guerrillas and any kind of fighters had been committing since time began. Dan frowned, but knew their worst concern was the lack of provisions for the living. The dead were gone, nothing anyone could do for them anymore.

Dan was still looking around for shells, with the other men back out of the enclave of rotting stench, when he suddenly heard shooting and the far too familiar sound of Kalashnikovs firing their rounds. "Shit!" He ducked, ran as fast as he could, his SA-80 ready. The sight that was greeting him was a mess: his Mujas and a small patrol of Soviet soldiers firing wildly. Some of his men had already fallen, but the patrol was at a disadvantage, without the shelter of the rocks.

He took cover where he could, bent on organising his men while shooting at the soldiers, when he felt himself under attack. Throwing himself to the side and behind a boulder, Dan yelled in pain when he hit the ground. Heart racing, the heated metal of his rifle against his skin and his knee in so much goddamned agony, he had to bite his lip to stop himself from screaming. As if hitting that bloody rock was his biggest problem.

He was counting the seconds, on the ground and too close to the butchered cam, barely able to bear the stench, but even worse were the screams that started the moment the fire exchange quietened. Fuck! He was pulling himself onto his knees when the shooting had stopped, the pain bringing water to his eyes. Crawling forward, he peered across the low rocks onto the carnage. "Fuck!" Again, this time hissed between his teeth. Mujas, Soviets, dead and dying, but when he stopped, his weight off the right knee, leg trembling and his rifle at the ready, he could see the bunch of survivors coming out from behind their rocks. Crying "Allah-u Akhbar" God is greater and all that shit.

Dan saw uniforms on the ground, Soviet special forces and their light, sand-coloured camo turning into rusty dark as blood drenched the cloth. Pulling himself up to stand, still favouring the left while cursing the goddamned umpteenth time he had smashed onto that particular knee, he immediately searched the corpses. Some of them still wearing those odd bush hats with upturned side that reminded him of Australian troops. Probably not even Russians, but those hapless men from Poland, East Germany and Czechoslovakia, that had been drawn into this godforsaken war by their Big Brother. Dan searched swiftly amongst the bodies for the telltale sight that he dreaded unlike anything else: blond hair, tall man, broad shoulders, eyes that would be closed never to open again, and body, hands, smell, and … no. He remembered to breathe when none of them was the one sight he had feared to encounter for more years than he dared to remember. No Vadim. Dan counted the corpses. Five ... six ... no, seven. Seven in all and he frowned. Odd number.

The surviving insurgents were swarming over the soldiers' corpses like big-arsed flies that hung like grapes on legs of mutton, down in Kabul, and before Dan could hobble closer, an onslaught of fresh blood hit his senses. Hearing angry cries and torn-out words that he hardly understood in their rapid succession, he made out 'revenge' and 'enemies', but when he got close enough he recoiled at the sight. Nothing had prepared him for that, not in all those years, and he should have known better. Knives tearing into uniforms, slashing bellies open so that hands dove into blood to tear out the guts, while others gauged out the eyes of the dead. Not his world. No, fuck, no! Not his goddamned world and not his men and neither his culture and least of all his religion. No gods, no beliefs, and Allah is greater, let's rip open some Soviet corpses, scattering their remains in revenge, to obliterate their existence.

"Shit," Dan muttered, what the fuck was he going to do, try and stop these frenzied guys? He could understand their hatred, caused by the equivalent of his mates rotting away in a heap, but fuck, he wouldn't have torn out the guts of those who'd shot them. Did that make him any better? Probably just … different. Fuck. Limping along, clenching his teeth and avoiding the sight, Dan spotted an arm, lying closer to an outcrop of rocks furthest away from the frenzy. The eighth one? He'd better check, could be a trap, and he ignored the agony in his knee, crouching to move closer, rifle at the ready.

The moment Dan reached the soldier he knew the guy was not dead. Eyes twitching, moaning, blood on the uniform and the arm at an unnatural angle where the bullet had shattered bones. "Oh fuck." Dan groaned, getting himself down to the ground, kneeling beside the guy and patting him down. Weapons out of reach, he took the chin and turned the face towards him. A kid. No more. Cursing this fucking war and its hapless conscripts.

The wounded arm twitched, fingers moving without intention, as the patting down registered, and the good hand reached for the ground, touching dust and stone, seemingly looking for the rifle. A cough awoke the soldier further, tore him back to the surface as the cough became dry and painful. Eyes opened, a light, indefinite colour like a greyish green, blood shot and reddened from too much dust and wind.

"Shit." Dan murmured, glanced backwards to where the cries of revenge were ringing across the mountain and into the sky. "Why the fuck aren't you dead." In Russian.

The coughing didn't stop, and with superior effort, the young man turned onto his side to spit dust out, reaching for the canteen at his belt, then paused.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck." Dan murmured, a litany of desperate swear words, glancing backwards again. They hadn't been detected yet, his bulk shielding the kid soldier from what was going on with the corpses of his comrades.

The soldier's eyes returned to Dan's frame, travelled up to his eyes, not comprehending. Then widened as some kind of realization hit him. He looked towards the canteen, but didn't move a muscle, trying hard to suppress the coughing reflex, as if the slightest sound, the slightest movement could kill him.

That look of realisation was all Dan needed, it told him that if the kid survived he'd be fucked and the Soviets would have their proof that a Brit was operating in the region: training and guiding the insurgents. If the kid lived … but there was no other choice. Was there? "Wait," Dan continued to speak Russian, went for the canteen on the belt, rifle across his protesting knees, unscrewed the bottle to let water pour past the chapped lips. That arm looked nasty, but nothing a fairly healthy young man couldn't survive. Survive. Live.

Fuck.

"Why the hell did you lot come back here?"

The young soldier forced himself up on an elbow as he drank the water, reaching for the canteen to hold it himself, drank, deeply, and only stopped to fight that cough. Another twitch of the wounded arm, and the soldier looked at it, only now realizing that, indeed, he was wounded. He dropped on the ground again, hand going towards his pockets to find bandages. Well-drilled responses, and paused again, looking at Dan, checking his hands for weapons, then decided that Dan didn't mean to cut his throat right away. "I need to cover that wound." The Adam's apple jumped with a forced swallow. The Russian was accented.

Dan nodded, acted on instinct, but fuck, where was the point. What was he going to do with him? Reaching into the pockets he pulled out a bandage, applying the shell dressing as fast and efficiently as any medic would. At first, the Soviet soldier watched, then he relaxed and turned his eyes back on Dan's face, like the patient reading the diagnosis from his doctor's eyes. "Thank you." A faint smile, common courtesy for basic help. "Where's my unit?"

Dan hadn't quite finished yet when one of the Mujas, hands dripping in blood, came up behind him, staring wild-eyed and in the fury of bloodied aggression down at the Soviet soldier, whose head jerked up, eyes widened at the sudden appearance. The Muja shouted to the others in Pushtu that there was another one, a last one, and the final one to become nothing but dust. On instinct, the Soviet soldier reached for the AK that was too far away to reach. "Oh scheisse."

"No!" Dan had just about finished off the bandage and raised his arm to shield the kid. "He's alive." As if that mattered, fuck! As if, indeed. He'd be better off dead.

"Not dead yet." The man growled, and others of Dan's small surviving group of insurgents came up behind him. "Dead soon. Go out of way, Daan. Is ours."

"No fucking way." Snarling, Dan reached for his rifle, knew damn well that threatening all of them would just end in blood - his own one, but he drew his upper body up and his shoulders back, to be as imposing as possible. He'd worked with a few of them for a while, but most of the guys were new and he hadn't connected yet, his position of authority still shaky. "What the fuck do you want him for anyway?" He knew, hell, he knew. The knives in their hands spoke volumes.

"That guy's still alive, you are not going to cut him open and gut him!" Dan's left hand on the soldier's chest, pressing down on the body, as if holding him back or reassuring. Dan didn't know, because what did he reassure him of? To live? He couldn't. The soldier held his hand strongly, as if to push it away or hold onto it, eyes on the rifle, eager to defend himself.

"No! There is no fucking way I'll let you do that." Dan's hand curled tightly around his SA-80. "It might be your custom but it isn't mine and you'll have to fight me for it."

"Wait!" Dan held up the rifle, despite the determination and glaring anger that stared into his face. No way he could overwhelm all of them, but he'd make a damn good shot of it if he had to. "He might have information. I'll get it out of him. I speak the language."

The young soldier kept staring at his AK, as if force of will alone could move it. Clearly only picking up on the aggression in the air, not what was being said, still holding Dan's hand. "Let me get the rifle", he murmured, as if not doubting for a moment Dan didn't mean any harm.

Dan stared at the young man for a second, before realisation dawned on him that the kid believed he was there to defend him. That thought tore deeper into his own guts than the knives of the Mujas could. "No." He shook his head, then turned his attention back to the men who seemed to wager the chances of getting any information out of the soldier.

In the end they nodded. "For now. Give you half hour, Daan, no more."

Dan nodded. Half an hour. What the fuck would it matter anyway, and he didn't even know what he was trying to do, but he couldn't allow the kid to be tortured and torn apart alive. No one deserved that, least of all a kid.

"OK," he returned to the soldier when the others went away to deal with the corpses in ways Dan didn't want to know. "I got a reprieve." All in Russian, before he raised a bow, "but you're not Soviet."

"No, no I'm not. Heavens, no." The soldier glanced past Dan, then looked up to him again. "And you aren't Pashtun." He paused, then shook his head. "It's alright. No question. I don't want to know. Nicht wirklich. Can I have more water? I'm … German."

Dan nodded, reached for the water. What did it matter that he shouldn't give him water after the blood loss. What the fuck did any of that matter? Not his war. Not his people. Not his problem? Still, he handed the canteen to the young man, the rifle all the time trained onto him. "I need information. It's the only way." He remembered some words of German, one of the many languages that floated in his brain. "Wichtig. Information. Muss haben. Soviet troops, where and what? I need to know something, you understand?"

The soldier took the water and took another swallow, only coughing now and again. He seemed genuinely surprised to hear his own mother tongue, but the rifle brought the point home that this, after all, was not a friend, and the beginning smile faltered. "Yes, I understand. You are to interrogate me? What happened to my unit?" He took another swallow of water, eyes kept on the rifle.

"Your unit is dead." Dan shuffled to the side, cutting off the young man's view best he could.

"Dead." The soldier dropped his arm with the canteen and shook his head, not believing it could go that fast, last he remembered, they'd been alive. "I … will talk. Of course I will. I'm no hero."

"I need to know about plans, about landmines, troop movements. Anything you know."

"Plans … mines …" the soldier was repeating it to memorize the question, struggling to keep up.

Glancing over his shoulder, what Dan saw turned his stomach, but his face remained expressionless. "I can't promise you anything except the one thing, I will not let you fall into the Pashtun's hands." He wondered if the kid knew what that actually meant.

"Oh Gott." Toneless. Another, desperate glance at the rifle, as his eyes suddenly darkened with the realization. Interrogation, then death. "Can I have … a hand grenade?" Lots of Soviet troops pulled the ring on their own hand grenades to evade capture. He didn't have any on his gear, obviously. "Don't …" Stalling again, confused.

"Fuck, I'm trying to keep you from them, OK?" Dan felt a creeping desperation that was eating into his bones, travelling through his blood. "Forget the shit about hand grenades, just show me on the map." He'd seen the glance to the rifle and kept it safely out of reach while fishing for the map then spreading it out. Trying to keep the kid from the rage of the Mujahideen, yet he couldn't keep the young man from himself. He suddenly felt so goddamned tired.

"OK. Map. Yes." Now there was fear in the young man's eyes, fear that would make him obey, and fear that chased away the pain at least for the moment. "I'll show you. You don't need to torture me, okay? I'll tell you the truth. All I know. I do everything you say."

The soldier forced his body onto the side and stared at the map, concentrated, trying to find the pass, the exact location of the village. It took him a while, fear and blood loss and pain making an ordinary task challenging. "Give me a moment … it should be here somewhere." Speaking, as if to appease Dan, to prevent blows or, worse, torture. "There. This is it." A dusty finger pointed at a place close to the village. "This is where we were set down. And this is …" The finger slowly tracing a somewhat haphazard line. "… where we were going. We didn't expect to encounter anybody here. We're just a patrol. We thought you'd long gone. We radioed for the Hinds, but I don't think they got a clear signal." He glanced at Dan. "We were to keep taps on movement in this area, but we didn't expect you to be still here. But with the Russkies, one hand doesn't know what the other is doing." Bitterness at the obvious mistake.

Dan's eyes narrowed at the mentioning of Hinds. If they did get a signal they'd be really up shit creek. This just made the situation even worse. A fucked-up situation that was already nothing but a pile of shit. "I'm not here to torture you, you understand me?" The information, though, was useful.

"Yes. Yes, of course." Eagerness to appease the captor, definitely not going to protest or give as much as a word of protest.

"I'm trying to …" fuck, what? "do something. I'm not your friend, hell no, but I'm not one of them either." He glanced back at the Mujas who had dragged the disembowelled corpses onto a pile, and he smelled the first signs of burning. Smoke beginning to curl up above the all empowering stench of blood.

"Okay. Whatever you say. I'm just … rattled." In the same tone as if he'd say 'don't worry, I'll be alright.' Justifying, apologizing.

"Oh shit." Dan murmured to himself. Shit and derision. That kid was going to get tortured and killed just like all of the Soviet POWs, and there was nothing he could do about it, and since when did he even want to do something about it? He'd been dragged in far deeper than he ever wanted to be. Six years and he just couldn't stand it anymore.

"Listen to me, whatever happens, you stay dead quiet." Pushing the soldier's body back down. "Verstanden? Only chance to play dead."

"Ja, verstanden." The body protesting the push, but then he lay down, still looking at Dan, now with a hopeful expression. Forced his body to relax, and kept his eyes open, not trusting enough.

"Hey!" Dan called over in Pushtu, the corpses burning, catching onto the flames. "We have to get going, I found out they signalled the Hinds and your damned fire is going to show them exactly where we are." Dan didn't even blink, hoping they'd swallow his bluff. "Get your stuff together, we have to get moving, there's nothing left here. The soldier's dead."

They were looking up, a couple coming closer and all Dan could do was turn his head and hiss to the enemy soldier, "I try to leave you here. I try. Trust me. I won't let them get you." Whatever happens, and he'd promised it before. Almost six years ago, to a man he'd tortured and who had been running for his life.

"What's … your name? Won't tell. I won't." Another long glance, but the soldier was young enough to trust, and his words were just a toneless whisper.

Dan shook his head, "No. Can't." No way, no names, and thus no meaning. If he gave his name things would become too real.

"Then let us have the body." The Mujas protested. Their hatred had not abated, not even with the corpses alit, but Dan shook his head, answering in rapid Pushtu, "There is no time. No need. Come." He stood up, wanted to scream when his knee protested, instead picked up map, rifle and the soldier's AK. "We have to get going. Come!" Standing in front of the kid, shielding best he could. This was insane and he knew. If the Soviets had proof that all they'd ever guessed was nothing but the truth, he'd be hunted like a rabid dog. But Dan was exhausted and so goddamned motherfucking tired of all of this shit, the only thing that suddenly seemed to matter was to save one measly life amongst the hundreds that had died around him.

"No." They refused to agree, and Dan drew himself up even taller, standing with shoulders squared, towering over most of the other men. But he was hungry, just like them, and he'd lost too much of his bulk. Weary and his bravado worn thin.

"Dou you want to be gunned down by Hinds? Don't be stupid." Gesturing to the pile of burning corpses. "You got what you wanted: revenge."

Nothing, though, could sway them, their comrades had died, turned into festering corpses in the camp nearby. All of Dan's remaining men were standing in front of him and he could feel their anger. One false move and it was him who'd have a knife through his bowels.

"Will you get the fuck going, now?" Angry, scowling at them and taking a couple of threatening steps forward. "If not, you can do what you want and I'll leave on my own. I don't give a fuck if you survive."

"We don't need you, Daan. Not anymore." The first one tried to push Dan away, but he stood, legs braced, and despite the knee his balance was solid.

"Don't be stupid. Leave the soldier's corpse alone. You've had enough blood, haven't you?" He barely finished his words when another man shouted, "Death to the infidels!"

No one had listened to a word Dan said, pushing against him, too many of them, and they forced him out of the way. Short of starting to shoot, Dan didn't have a chance. He stumbled and despite shouldering into a couple of the Mujas, they barged past, and he crashed into the rocks, cursing loudly.

He saw knives flicking, blades catching a glimpse of light, and hands tearing at the soldier's blood drenched uniform.

"No!" Dan shouted.

The soldier fought, one handed, kicking where he could, kicking with all the strength he had left, fighting like an animal, biting, the pure stress of combat and the pain wiping the fear away, wiping everything away until he was only struggling flesh, breath going ragged, and fast, fighting on his back for all he was worth, not even cursing, not screaming.

"Fuck you!" Dan yelled, "fuck you and your fucking world!" His rifle butt came crashing down on first man, then a second, in rapid succession, knocking them out of the way to make himself a clear space within the ring of rags. Drab coloured deadly carrion, tearing at their prize, devouring the still-living flesh.

He heard a scream, the flurry of motion, saw one of the knives flashing downwards and towards the soldier's guts. Before the blade entered, Dan had his pistol out of the holster and in his hand, aiming at the kid's head. "I'm sorry." In Russian, and he caught a glance from those panicking eyes, pulling the trigger. Once. Twice, and a third time. Three clean shots where one would have been sufficient, straight through the skull, smashing the young face with hardly any beard yet, and splattering the brains the moment the blade sliced into flesh. Too late for pain. The soldier was dead.

Dan stood for no more than a second. Shocked to the core and unable to understand why the fuck this one life and death had rattled him, but he had no more time to dwell when the angry cries turned against him. Fists pummelled into his body, face, and blades flying towards him. Heartbeats before his training kicked in, and he defended the attack. Felt knives cut in his back, warmth and pain on his arm, and he fought and kicked, punched, until he managed to get his rifle back up. Shooting into the air, he yelled at the top of his lungs, "You want to fight for Allah or die for him? You choose!"

They stopped. Thank fuck they had enough sense to stop trying to tear him apart, and Dan managed to get out of there and away. Unhindered, as if something had suddenly turned them back towards the corpse itself, and like hyenas they tore into the young man's body. Dan turned, couldn't watch, felt sick and didn't understand why. He'd seen worse, done much worse, oh yes, much worse, but that kid's face, the greed to survive, and the sheer insanity of it all, it was getting to him. Just like the stench of burning flesh curled into his nostrils.

He went back to his bergan, fairly safe in the knowledge they were not going to attack him again. Yet the atmosphere had changed and they wouldn't trust 'Daan' like they used to. Finding the bandages, Dan wrapped himself up best he could. Crouching as far away from corpses and Mujas, one hand pressed against his knee and another holding his face. His head felt heavy and just as weary as the tiredness that had crept into the rest of his body and finally into his mind.

Six months, and how much longer before he could get back to wherever and who and what and why, and …

He'd forgotten.


March 1986, Afghanistan

The wind was even colder than the freezing ground, howling day after day, while he was still stuck in this mountainous hell. This winter, his goat herders said, was far harsher than any they could remember. It should be spring right now. Yeah, right, as if he gave a flying fuck anymore, each day was just about survival. Surviving and killing - killing to survive.

Dan had done more of his fair share in both, and the last nine months had taken their toll. Physical, and mental. He felt bone-weary for the first time in his life. Day in, night out; the extremes of weather, the hardship of the terrain. The death, and the dying. Scraping for food and water, sleeping in caves, no more than holes hewn into earth and rock, and, if lucky, the luxury of a flee infested tent. All he could dream of sometimes was a bed, a proper, soft, big feather bed. If he ever got out of the mountains he would buy himself one. Queen size, at least. Just for himself. Then again, what did it matter, where would he want to go.

Afghanistan had swallowed him whole, perhaps she would never spit him out again.

Dan was tired from the constant cold that was freezing a man's brain and sapping his strength, aggravated by climbing for hours and walking for days, just to reach that cave. The cave they'd stayed in, two years ago, after the massacre. Dan snorted to himself, trudging on. He didn't even know if he hadn't misunderstood the encrypted message and there might be no one and nothing waiting for him.

He cursed the rocks beneath his feet, making his steps unsteady. His right knee hurt constantly these days. Arthritis from wear and tear or too much cold. Deterioration sped up by injuries like that night in Kabul: explosions, insurgents, and a fall from a collapsing building. It didn't matter. He'd laugh about his own failing body if he had any breath left in this motherfucking altitude that robbed his air and dulled the senses. He felt like he was aging fast and his body was getting ready for the scrap-heap. Funny, really, at the ripe old age of thirty-seven.

It had taken Dan longer than it should have, forced to trek the long way round, too many possible traps on the shorter, straightforward path. Couldn't touch the main road if he wanted to stay alive. He'd be a prize to behold if a Soviet patrol should catch him, or a merc, for that matter, anyone who had an interest in his head, and that would be quite a few by now.

He was finally getting closer to the cave, felt being watched, but sensed no danger. Wondered tiredly to himself if he even really cared anymore. Life. Death. The latter meant no pain and no toil, and finally sleeping.

Up in the cave, Vadim pulled back inside, secured the Dragunov rifle, and tossed some tea leaves into the metal mugs. Lemon was hard to come by in this country.

Dan made it to the plateau at last, saw the entrance, walked right towards it. Took less care than he used to, too weary. If he was going to be ambushed from anywhere, then so fucking be it. Ducking his head to step inside, he spotted the Russian immediately and grunted something akin to a greeting, watching the tall shape move in the low light. Funny, how the roles had changed. Nine months ago he had provided a bergan, full of everything the Glorious Red Army could not get, now it was he who was left with nothing. Dan shrugged the rifle strap off his shoulder, then worked his arms out of the heavy backpack that contained all of his worldly possessions. Had retained his sleeping back, blanket, clothes on his body, ammo, rifle, pistol, knives, but not much else.

Vadim pulled the fur hat off and tossed it onto his kit. Dan made a few noises - shuffling, mostly. Welcome home. He smirked. A fine housewife he made, tea and beef jerky, and a cold cave with a small lantern. Technically, he didn't need more. He was reasonably sure this place was no longer used as storage. The dushmans had stopped using the path down around the mountain.

Dan let the pack slip off his back, where it came to the ground with a thud, while continuing to watch Vadim. The movements, sight and sounds. Couldn't grasp how it could all be so familiar, yet seemed a lifetime away.

Vadim turned, and Dan's gaze fell onto the Russian's boots and their unmistakable 'M' stamped into the ankle. 'M' for 'Matterhorn', just like his own. Seemed he had chosen the right size, after all. Back in Blighty, in a place he could hardly remember and which had finally lost all connection to himself. Nothing left. Empty.

"Got some hot water?" Stretching up to full height, Dan felt every bone protest in his long abused body. It was good to move the muscles, though, easing off from the long trek. He was insane to have made this journey; insane or … he wasn't sure. "Haven't shaved in days."

Vadim placed one mug on the ground near Dan, then placed his own not too far away. "No cream." It was a private joke. Lemon, cream, sugar … a semblance of civilization. He nodded towards the kettle. "There's more. I found water." It was amazing how much water actually did exist in Afghanistan without making even the faintest appearance. He had developed a sense for the water, the hidden streams running underground from the glaciers to the lowlands.

Dan nodded then bent down, groaned, but soon replaced with a guttural, low sound of pleasure as the heat warmed up his hands and the hot tea slowly rolled over his tongue and down his throat. "Good stuff." A compliment from a Brit. "Even without the cream." Grinning tiredly.

It was almost comfortable in the cave. Sheltered sufficiently from the cold and the constantly howling winds, the small fire had been able to warm up the air. Dan tried to estimate how long his Russkie had been here, waiting. The time it would have taken a small fire to warm the cubic metres of air, and if Vadim would still have been here had Dan not managed to get there in slightly under three days.

Vadim sat down, held the mug carefully on the rim, watched. "Rough going", he commented to nothing in particular. His gaze fell onto the rifles, and with a scowl, he placed the desert scarf over them. A bundle of death. He shook his head, then concentrated on the heat and the occasional sip. Allowing the other man time to arrive, every now and then glancing at him. He didn't want to stare, had to get used to Dan once more. Especially after his enemy had sent off another dozen tin caskets with comrades in them.

Dan moved his fingers after warming them on the mug. They were getting stiff lately and he couldn't wait for summer. Overuse, the medic had said last time he had managed to see one, wear and tear. Fair enough. Overuse of body and mind - the Afghan mountains could do that to a man.

He unwrapped the obligatory rag around his head and face, revealing not only the thick stubble, but also a new scar. It hadn't been there nine month ago, in the grimy and overheated hotel room in Kabul. Running from his left cheekbone to the corner of his mouth, he had been lucky, the knife hadn't cut deeper, the perfect curve of his lips was still the same. Dan didn't seem aware of the scar, hadn't seen himself in a proper mirror for too long. Forgotten about the angry cut, unless it itched.

The wild dark hair had grown long, reaching beyond his neck, but it didn't bother him. He'd chop some of it off if it started to annoy him, that's what knives were for, after all. That, and killing - and sometimes cutting flesh into scars that formed meaning.

Dan took the parka off, then the second scarf around his neck, followed by the three layers of jumper, vest, then shirt. Thick flannel, it didn't matter what it was nor what it looked like, as long as it kept him warm. He was down to the t-shirt, before searching for the soap bag in his bergan. All of his clothes were stained, but they didn't smell of anything other than wood smoke and he didn't seem dirty, knowing the secret of keeping clean with a handful of water, vital for survival and health.

Rummaging in the almost empty soap bag, he found a small piece of soap to lather and use for makeshift shaving foam, and his last, blunt razor. It would have to do, he'd get new kit eventually. Maybe. Or he'd end up with a beard like the goat fuckers.

The t-shirt, now, discarding it on the pile. Dan's body had changed. He had lost some of his bulk, replaced by longer muscles, betraying the strength of a runner. He had become leaner, built for defence, even though he'd been behind some of the worst of the attacks. A grubby bandage was wound around his right biceps, and a couple new scars had found their way to the back of his shoulders. It could have been anything: shrapnel, grenades, splinters and rubble, even a fall on the rocks themselves. Who knew, who cared.

Crouching down in front of the fire and the tin pot with its warm water, Dan seemed oblivious to Vadim, solely intent on trying to see his face in the back of the mess tin since his mirror had broken two months ago. He washed his face before lathering and rubbing the soap into the dark stubble, then swished the razor in the water, about to start the laborious task of shaving in the buckled metal of his eating utensil.

Vadim set the empty mug down, and came over in a crouch, placing his fingers around Dan's hands, and pulled them down, away from that face that had seen more than enough abuse already. The scar. It changed that face, made it look far more sinister. Character. He took the razor like from a child's hand, then cupped Dan's chin in his hand. "You look like walking tree", he said, disapproving. His own head was still mostly shaved, he found it practical that way, and he hated not being shaved. More hygienic anyway. He raised Dan's chin, placing the razor to the side of his throat, smirking as he could see the moment of tension. He'd use a much sharper knife to cut him. With this thing, it was impossible. Nothing more than surface cuts - and that was something Dan had managed completely on his own.

Crouched close, Dan felt claustrophobic for a moment, yet they'd been much closer - impossibly close when inside the other's body - but nine months in the mountains had gotten him used to more personal space than he had ever wanted.

When Vadim finished and put the razor down, Dan looked at the face before him, unsure at what stage in the last six years he had stopped wanting to smash it in with fists and boots, or bloodying the features with blades and punches, to destroy that goddamned perfection. Familiarity. Interesting, an idle part of his mind was musing, perfection. That was it. His eyes got drawn to Vadim's lips, he'd split them but never kissed them, and he simply leaned forward. His own lips touched the other's before Vadim could react. Dan parted his own, a fraction, needed to taste, feel, invite in return.

Vadim felt his breath catch in his throat. The touch as normal, as sane as he had thought it could be, possibly.

Dan's voice was rough and low, murmuring against the other's lips. "I hate you, Russkie." No. He didn't, but he couldn't find the right word for this. This feeling. Hatred was the closest he could get. The alternative was still unthinkable.

Vadim inhaled, exhaled, deeply, to clear his mind. Too many strange thoughts. Too much thought what this pledge meant. If anything.

Dan hadn't kissed anyone in so many years, he couldn't remember. Had forgotten the intense sensation of heat flooding from Vadim's mouth, the simple pleasure of lips touching-moving against lips, and the new sensation of stubble. He'd never kissed a man; never in his whole life. Except … a kiss of death six years ago. Another first and last and always for Vadim. A rape - a kiss. And wasn't it ironic.

Kissing. He'd forgotten. Fuck, how much he wanted to remember.

Vadim placed a hand against Dan's chest. Not just some guy. Not the handsome Hungarian fencer that kissed him despite the fact Vadim had defeated his team member that very day. He had still just kissed him, the rest was history, as they said.

This was Dan, Dan who seemed like a skittish horse when the silence moved away from a silence between men who didn't speak much to a silence that did hold words. He expected Dan to laugh or hit him, maybe, some kind of joke. He narrowed his eyes, looked at him, and saw the weariness. Dan was defenceless today. No armour. No knife. Dan would still fight, but he had nothing to expend, nothing to give. No extra round, no spare magazine. Dan was spent in a way that felt unnatural. He wanted to say something, something about not minding, not caring, not worrying. He thought Dan might think it was reluctance. It wasn't. He just couldn't breathe. He put a hand against Dan's neck and pulled him forward, tilted his head, rested his forehead against the other man's. He needed to find words, fall back into breathing properly, but it was like he was diving and still hadn't broken the surface. He wanted to offer food, warmth, more tea, then realized he was stalling. Didn't find any smart words, not in English, not in Russian. It didn't disturb him. He had accepted it long ago. "You're one brave man, coming into lion's den", he murmured, and meant something entirely different.

"No." Dan shook his head, not much of a motion, reluctant to move away from the close proximity and the simple but deeply profound gesture of foreheads touching. "You don't understand." Murmured, too close to see those ice blue eyes, his sight blurry. "I can't remember." He knew how to kill and how to fuck. He couldn't remember tenderness.

Vadim bared his teeth, kept Dan in exactly that position, hand tensing. Soldiers that suddenly went strange, that suddenly had this 'What the fuck am I doing here?' thing written all over their faces. It happened. Stress. Doubts. Sometimes, they were just homesick, if judging from his own experience. He could deal with the stress. It meant breaking people, but he could. And homesickness was an interesting concept.

Two weeks when his mother died, her legs swollen and inflamed, then she just went from bad to much worse and was dead. He barely made it to the funeral. And stood there as the family mingled, kisses, hugs, the wailing. They found it hard to kiss him in that full dress uniform, the formality. He struggled to shed it once they were all together, cooking, talking about things, never anything political. His father had been somewhat critical, in private, always only in private, and Vadim had always felt that could destroy his career. Luckily, his father never tried to organize anything, and kept silent, unless with people he trusted. Now that Vadim wore the uniform, the sardonic comments and puns stopped. His father knew how to use language. But he kept silent during the uncomfortable week they spent together. He tried to help the old man back on track, but he had the feeling he didn't actually need somebody to carry out the old wardrobe and fix the massive bookshelf, but somebody to talk to. Only, you didn't talk to KGB. And his father was everything but stupid.

After this, he had felt numb, put it down to the fact his mother was dead. The practical, down to earth woman he owed his looks to. He had changed sides, that was the feeling. Somehow, somewhere, he had become 'one of them', the hero turned spy, intelligence officer, fighting a war nobody understood in a country that nobody cared about.

"Tell me, what do you remember?" Get him to talk, Vadim thought.

"I don't want to talk." Suddenly resistance against Vadim's hand. Dan's neck muscles tensing. He didn't know the words and he didn't want to search for them. "I just want to feel." But no, not right, that wasn't it. "I want to feel human."

Anybody else, and Vadim would have taken the mug, pushed it into his hand and told him to drink his fucking tea. Human. Two arms, two legs, one head. Capable of speech. An animal that changed its surroundings and adapted.

He let go of Dan's neck, then, without thinking much, took his face into both hands and kissed him. Just like that, like the Hungarian fencer. No fear, or misgivings, body to body. Fairly chaste, as the thought of passion seemed far away, of teasing and arousing. Smelling the soap, the damp skin from the shave, and the long hair. Tasting what amounted to bitterness, he thought, like tears.

That was it. Simple. Profound. Dan's own humanity lost and shot to pieces in a war that wasn't his own. All he ever had been was a killer, but right now he was more than that. Dan remembered to be human at the kiss, and the Russian's tenderness hurt like a motherfucker.

He didn't touch Vadim at first. Did nothing but part his lips. A rare moment of passivity in a man who would still fight and kill within the next heartbeat, if he had to. Parting his lips, he closed his eyes, just for a moment. Couldn't stop that odd, bitterly lost sound that escaped from somewhere deep inside.

Reacted, at last. Dan opened his eyes, despite being that close, tilted his head and breathed, moved, demanded to taste. Vadim's stubble rasping against his lips when the kiss turned real; sensing scars on the other's lips, his own somewhat chapped in places, in others smooth and warm.

He'd dehumanised the Soviets, their allies, even the Mujahideen he was supposed to be organising against the invaders. He'd taken humanity from the corpses - and in return those dead eyes, maimed bodies and rotting flesh had stolen his own.

This man though, those eyes, lips, hands and body, this man was alive, causing an onslaught of sensations when tongue met tongue, entering the body without force - unlike their cocks.

Vadim tasted of tea, vodka, survival and strength.

Vadim parted his lips, almost surprised at the tongue. It seemed unlike Dan, somehow, to kiss him like that. He ran his hands down Dan's face, to his shoulders, enjoyed how the muscles shifted, how the man breathed, and felt himself press into the kiss. Demanding more, much more as it struck an inner cord, somewhere down there, and reminded him of lust and greed. He thought he shouldn't be wanting this, but the kiss was sensuous, tender, and after all the months it was impossible to pretend that he didn't want this, this and more, because they both could have been dead, and not met here.

He pulled away for a moment, breathing hard. "You need to rest up", Vadim said, softly, in Russian, and nodded over to the improvised bed. It would be pretty damn tight, he had done what he could, but there was only so much possible. He was here as a sniper, not as a hotelier, after all.

Dan let out a strange sound when the connection was severed. Anger, frustration, the dark-coiling fear of something he refused to acknowledge: rejection.

"What?" He felt abandoned. He'd kissed, he wanted more. Wanted something he couldn't understand and was told he wouldn't get it. Felt like a fool. "I don't fucking need to rest up." His body tensed.

Vadim turned back to face the other. Studied him in the gloom of the cave. Like the two first men on earth, or the last, and it was fucking insanity they were enemies. When they weren't. Dan had shed his camo. He opened the shirt, eyes on Dan's, the undershirt, and then, almost in an afterthought, but it wasn't, it was reluctance, the dog tags. He felt tension, wasn't entirely sure about the rules right now.

Dan's eyes widened suddenly. That one movement he'd never seen, never expected. The dog tags. That one last piece of identity that Vadim wouldn't shed - unlike himself, who had been forced to lose his a long time ago.

"You fucking well do need rest." Vadim stood and went to the cave opening, crouched to set up the tripwire and the caltrops on the way in, then returned. "We have time." For once. Maybe a day or two. Hoped the offer made more sense to Dan now. That he understood what he was offering.

Not the reaction Dan had expected, but he had no energy to query. Just sat, watching the other. Studying the uniform that should make him shoot Vadim on sight, instead he was as familiar with it as he was with his own - more so. Hadn't worn the British camo for too long, had touched and smelled the Russian's far more often.

His own attire, for too long, had been rags and dirt, hardship and weariness. He wasn't fighting for Queen and Country, he was doing a job that had lost all connection to himself during the last nine months.

Dan couldn't suppress the wince when he moved out of the crouch. His knees hurt more than he could deal with, but no chance to give in to the pain. Undoing the laces of his well-worn Matterhorn boots, he shed the socks as well but not the trousers. Not yet. "I'm fucking tired." Not just 'been a long trek', or any such shit. Only the bare bones of truth. He was tired. He had lost his way.

Dan stood up, forlorn in the cave and looked at nothing.

Vadim undressed completely, got rid of every last shred of Red Army. Sharing warmth, yeah right, meant skin to skin. He stepped up to Dan, and took a handful of his far too long hair - fucking disgrace to any army in the world. Pulling him close, to look him in the eye, before Vadim moved towards the makeshift bunk, nothing more but the mat and a couple of blankets, his bergan serving as part insulation, part pillow.

"Get your ass down there."

Dan raised his brows, said nothing. Exhausted. "Bossy Russian cunt." Murmured, with a surprising sense of fondness. Trust Vadim to set the anchor and hold onto the lost frigate. He sat down on the makeshift bed, his movements stiffer than they used to be. The mountains took a lot out of a man and it was a miracle he had survived - his scars and the fairly fresh wound told the story.

"We'll see who's the cunt", said Vadim. He'd get what space Dan didn't use. Which meant precious little, unless they both rested on their side.

Seeing Dan move, there were thoughts of infection, disease, broken bones, things only old people got, but then, the knees, that was a para thing. He knew the future held that in store for him as well. Athletes and soldiers asked more of their bodies than those could deliver forever. He crouched, waited for Dan to lean back, then lay down as well, half covering the other with his body, and the blanket.

Dan couldn't remember when he had been able to settle down and seek sleep without being alert in some parts of his mind. Shuffling back in an attempt to leave enough space for the equally large body, face to face. It felt warm. Smelled familiar.

"You'd make a bloody great wife for someone." Dan chuckled tonelessly.

Wife. Vadim peered at Dan. At least nothing like devochka. He really didn't like that word. His hands found the belt buckles, opened it, the metallic sounds were odd in the cave, opened the buttons and slid the trousers down the still body, lips brushing Dan's pec, the warm strength that rested within. He moved down, pulling the trousers with him, undressing him like he should have done that first time.

It struck deep, that word, somehow. Wives waited at home and reared children. Sometimes, they sent letters, and received letters in return. "Don't get your hopes up, I'm on top."

Dan frowned, didn't understand Vadim's reaction. "Holy fuck, Russkie, take it a notch down." Wife, to him, was someone who stood for stability, for coming home, for dealing with all the shit he was not able to deal with. For providing a Real Life and not this insanity. Wife - an unattainable idea that only existed in men's imagination. Mother and whore, yeah, fuck that.

"You can fuck me all you like, I'm too exhausted to fight." Dan had never been that honest. Rarely been that acidic, either. "Does that make you happy?" Shit choice of words, knew it the moment they were out. Fuck, he'd forgotten to be himself.

Vadim tossed the trousers away, paused. When, how, and why had the rules all changed?

Dan - weak, irritated, sounded as if he was hurt, worse, far worse than the scratches. He was tempted to fuck him only to check whether he could reach Dan's strength, fan it into something to keep him going. There was no answer to that. Happiness was far away, relief was the most he could do.

He lay down, looking at Dan, saw the bandage stand out against the dark skin. His fault, maybe. With the new set of rules, banter turned serious too soon. Only too aware English didn't quite carry what he wanted to say. Or not say, by saying something else. He found it hard to look at Dan's face in the gloom. He wanted to turn him over, rest on top, maybe lie side by side and put an arm around him. Just to share warmth. And say things neither language allowed.

Dan closed his eyes, listened to the silence. Lying on his side, tense at first, until it slowly dissipated, along with thoughts that swirled in slow, lazy circles through his mind. "I haven't suddenly turned into a whiny bitch, Russkie." Voice dark and low, "I guess I simply came too close to the grim reaper a few times too many, even for my own liking."

Vadim placed a hand on Dan's hip and moved closer, touching him all the way, not looking at him, but at the dark hollow between Dan's head and the ground. He understood the body, he didn't always understand the man that lived inside.

Tension smoothed itself out of overused muscles as Dan shuffled closer, a simple task in the confinement of their two bodies. Silence tried to settle, but his tired chuckle chased it away. "I remember my first kiss. It was a fucking disaster."

Vadim's fingers moved up the side, a slow, deliberate movement. He tried to remember his first kiss. Ah, yes, a cousin who had been smitten with him. They had sworn to marry. Nothing disastrous about it, only that he hadn't kept the promise.

"I'm here", he said, tonelessly. Hoped it held as much as it should. Talk, no talk, kissing, heart baring, warmth, rest. Maybe Dan had meant that with the whole wife thing.

"So you are." Dan answered, forgotten that oh-so hilarious story of his first kiss. Didn't matter. Not any longer. Silence, then, amidst the quiet sounds of two men's calm breathing.

"Funny," Dan murmured at long last, "it's another first today." He paused, "You seem to be the one for firsts," his breath caught, "and lasts and always."

Vadim stopped breathing. He reached out, on instinct, needed to say something and had no words for it. Instead, he kissed Dan again, nestled the man's head against his shoulder. Fuck decorum.

"I have few bad habits", he murmured. "I'm not good man, Daniel. But I get by."

"Only my mother called me Daniel." Small smile against Vadim's lips, "when I was in the dog house." Dan was tired, yet he kissed. Taste and smell familiar - comforting - home.

Not the time for jokes, they'd long passed the need for them. Bare bones and laid open, bleeding.

Enemy mine amidst friendly fire.

* * *

It was dark in the cave, pitch-black before his closed eyes. Dan couldn't remember why he had woken, no dream to disturb his sleep, no sound, no fears nor danger. He felt warm, unfamiliarly comfortable, and it took him a moment to understand where the heat was coming from. The faint sound of regular breathing close to his ear, and a body pressed to his. Skin on skin, the memory of the kisses lingering.

He smiled, to no one or nothing in particular, while opening his eyes. Picking out Vadim's shadow and shape in the faraway glow of the dying fire. Home. His only home. An 'enemy' in a wilderness of insanity. He'd become a friend across the trenches.

Slowly running his hand from where it rested on Vadim's hip up the ribcage, and around to the back. Calloused palm and scraped fingers meeting muscles on their way. Damn good. Familiar, yet he would never tire of discovering this man.

Wherever he was, it was a good place. Vadim stretched under the touches, knew they were good, welcome, the rasp of a hand he knew. Strong and rough. Lapushka. Wolf's paws. Cat's paws. Paws.

Dan smiled again, his lips touching the other's, and he parted them with his tongue. "Hey, Russkie," Murmured, invading-inviting, "wake up or you'll miss the show."

Vadim kept his eyes closed, opened his lips, teeth, welcoming the tongue, tasting Dan, that taste of sleep and early morning. Hand ventured out to bring Dan closer, front to front, one leg hooked over the other man's thighs as if he was going to roll on top.

"Show?" He repeated. Whatever Dan was talking about. Not quite that awake yet.

Dan chuckled against Vadim's lips. "Forget it, I'm talking bullshit." Pouring all of his attention back into another kiss. An intimacy not only re-learned but never mastered to start with. He'd never get enough, now that he had tasted the addiction. Another one, and he'd never again be free of his Russian.

Dan finally pushed the leg off, hooked his own around Vadim's instead. Rolled him over and came on top, pulling himself up to sit and straddle. As he looked down at the face in the shadows, Dan could only see the gleam of pale eyes.

On his back. Vadim grinned, liked the way Dan did something unexpected. No protest, no sir. Inhaled deeply as he felt the weight in the right place, hardened right there, placed his hands on Dan's thighs, stroking them, not truly sleepy now, more lazy.

"Tell me, Russkie, have you ever 'made love' in your long fuck-career? You know, the kind women like." Dan's fingers and palms stroked across Vadim's chest.

Vadim looked up. "You mean the kind that hurts like bitch?" He nodded. "Yes. First one. First man, first …"

Love. Oh shit. The slow, deliberate fucking, the kind that made him crazy, touched his soul, his mind, purified and elated, cleansed him. Not that there had been much to cleanse, not back then.

Uncomprehending, Dan lowered his head, trying to make out details in the gloom. "Hurt like a bitch? Why? Never had that one." He shrugged, remembered sex with bodies that he had told himself he wanted, could still get off on, if he had to pay a whore for a blowjob. But those bodies had never fulfilled the deepest desire that sat at his very core. Not for thirty-one years.

"First love? Who was he?" Dan pulled the blanket up over him and Vadim both, a tent in the darkness, its sturdy poles two men.

Vadim struggled for words. Who? His occupation. His name. He knew almost nothing, apart from the things the man had said to him, nothing about his past. He should try and find him, ask questions he hadn't had a mind to ask. "He was team masseur." It sounded stupid, he thought. "Knew me better than I did myself. He … ah." Exhaled. "He seduced me. Not … not in bad way. I wanted … wanted him."

Or maybe he made you want him. Entered you and fucked you with his fingers until you wanted more, and more, and took his cock. Vadim flushed, growing harder, breath going harder, too.

Dan could not read the thoughts but felt their physical reactions. "Interesting memory, you seem to enjoy it. Here I was, thinking young Soviet athletes didn't engage in such filthy activities." He grinned, baring his teeth. "No offence meant."

"I'm not offended." Vadim grinned. "He was good at what he did." Oh yes.

"I envy you." Dan confessed, "I got pissed, I fucked holes and usually those two went together." Leaning down, he gave into the sudden urge to suck on the spot he had marked, six years ago. The scar of the cigarette burn, in the hollow of the throat.

Vadim moved his head to the side. "I was kid. Never knew what hit me. To be 'degenerated' and 'pride of Soviet Union' makes for some … interesting things."

Dan lifted his head once more, faces so close, his vision was blurred as he grinned. The mention of degenerate and Soviet Union in one breath was an evil temptation to laugh, but he didn't, holding it inside.

Vadim was stroking the hips, the stomach, tracing the lines as Dan tensed. "I was just damn lucky." Reached up to lay his hand flat on the sternum, let it mould itself to the slight curve. "Never … been in love, then?"

The hands on Dan's body, fingers that traced muscles, sinews and bones, were simultaneously welcome and distracting. "No, never been in love." Never thought about it, either. "Never had the time, the space, the understanding." Tilted his head, wasn't quite sure what he had actually said. "It's … strange." What, to be in love? How do you know, Dan, how do you know? He dove back down to the neck, burrowed teeth and lips into the spot where shoulder and throat met, could not bear to dwell further on the question.

Groaning, Vadim closed his eyes, felt the teeth go right to his groin, the shifting of the other man was good, intense, and he dug his fingers into Dan's neck, free hand sliding between their bodies to lightly touch his cock. He wanted more, wanted it all the way, but was perfectly willing to go as slow as Dan wanted. He had been seduced. It was good, one of the best memories he had. But when he compared the masseur and Dan, then Dan was more intense. Different, very different. He had felt small and strange with the masseur. With Dan, he felt strong, powerful, at peace.

"Yes, it's very strange." Loving you. He had known. For a long time. Somebody who could reduce him to reckless need, somebody who matched him stride for stride, knife for knife. Blow for fucking blow.

Dan didn't want to think, least of all examine, this 'thing' that he used to call hatred. Couldn't dwell upon it, he had to go back into the mountains, killing, hunting, planning, destroying. Too soon, always too fucking soon. Another night, another day, and off once more. No time to try and understand.

Or perhaps he was just a coward?

His body moved down along Vadim's, up once more, sliding muscle against muscle and hardness against hardness. Nothing soft between them, nothing gentle and sweet. None, until now. Tenderness.

Dan's quiet voice was close to Vadim's ear. "Do you have any of the lube left that was in the bergan? I lost the Vaseline and almost everything else that day I gained the scar." Lube, Vaseline, anything, didn't matter. "I could do with something," Dan grinned in the dimness of the cave, "for you."

Vadim paused, then felt his heart race at that grin. Shouldn't be so fucking needy, shouldn't look forward so much to getting fucked. It didn't matter. "Sure …" He stretched to find the opening of the bergan, dug a hand in (no, you didn't plan this, didn't plan any of this at all) and found the lube.

He dropped the lube on the ground beside them, turned his head to face it, then looked at Dan from the corner of his eye, grinning. "I guess you are making assumptions." That assumption is you enjoy getting fucked, Vadim, and that is a fact.

"Maybe," Dan smirked, reached for the lube, "or maybe I'm just an ever hopeful bastard." Lying on his side, he stuck the tube under his arm, felt the strange need to warm it, had never bothered before. "It's cold, don't want to freeze my bollocks off. Turn round?"

Odd up-tilt at the end of his sentence, not a demand but a request. Kept the other in the confinement of warmth underneath the blankets, hands on Vadim's hips, urging him to turn around. Wasn't quite sure what he was doing, didn't know where he was going, just followed his instincts for once.

Vadim arched an eyebrow in a mock 'Oh yeah?', then, as if he was royalty, lazily, moved, facial expression as if he was doing Dan a massive favour. Wanted to feel him inside, without appearing too fucking eager. Then again, what did it matter? He could be needy. No witnesses, and Dan wouldn't mock him for it. Or maybe he would. But he'd keep his mouth shut. No reputation to be lost. He pulled one knee up, to make things easier. "Not rocket science", he murmured.

"No." Dan's hand slapped the knee back down. "You got it halfway right but not quite." No, Dan? And how would you know? When had you ever tried this position? A lifetime ago, in a soft bed with pink plush hearts and a stack of teddies. He couldn't remember the girl, but had memories of the sensations. Slow, deliberate, intimate in ways he hadn't used to engage in, but she'd caught him out in the morning with pert buttocks and a face he thankfully could not see.

"I want to take my time. Too wrecked, still, to be vigorous."

He pulled close, moulded his body against Vadim's back. Groin against arse, thighs touching back of thighs, knees in the crook of knees and chest along the length of the scarred back. Embracing the other, holding tight, Dan's fingers fanned across Vadim's pecs.

Vadim gave a surprised snort of laughter, but then lay back, feeling Dan shift and move and get close like that, like an extension of his own body, warmth kept between them.

"Better." Dan murmured, lips and tongue tracing lazy patterns across Vadim's shaved neck. He felt himself grow hard, but he had time. For once, and he would cherish it.

Vadim sighed at the touch in his neck, the breath against the side of his neck, and pushed slightly back as if to close a distance that wasn't there. One arm to rest his head on, the other hand took Dan's hand and lazily moved it across his chest, tensed the muscles to show off if anything, slowly moved that hand down to his stomach. "What if I say please?" He asked in Russian.

"It wouldn't have any effect." Dan chuckled in his softly accented Russian. Allowed his hand to be moved, then took over once more, splayed his fingers across the abs. Tried to shift and squirm to get his cock between Vadim's thighs without the help of his hand, laughing quietly at his useless attempts.

"Could either do with a little help or my hand back." He couldn't remember if they'd ever laughed or joked during sex.

Vadim laughed, raised a leg and let go of the hand to reach behind him for Dan's cock, stroking it a few times, good size, good, heavy, hot cock, moved back, back arched, placed it between his legs, trapped it between his thighs. "You finally making me your bitch, soldier?" The coarse military slang slipped from his tongue too easily, but then, Dan would understand the meaning if not the exact words. He glanced over his shoulder, smirking.

"You've been my bitch since you've become my cunt, fucking Russkie." Dan grinned but couldn't help groan and shudder visibly at the touch.

Vadim laughed again. Dan tough-talking. He loved it, Dan using that offensive word in a way that was never serious, even though he had that joke written all over his back.

Dan managed one-handed to squirt the warmed substance onto his hand, lubricated himself, then rubbed the remainder into the nearly smooth, muscular arse, before slapping the leg down once more.

"No, it'll work. Just let me." This time he guided his own cock, the position not allowing much leverage nor entrance at all, cock merely teasing.

Vadim opened his lips at Dan's hand between his cheeks, the warm, slick touch, which catapulted him back to a lot of good sex and no bad sex at all. He lay still, as that was obviously what Dan wanted, even though it would not work, feeling pressure, and closing his eyes, part hoping Dan would still manage, he was hard, of course.

"You'll want some leverage", murmured Vadim. "Not … quite like with girls."

"Don't think I can even remember girls." Dan chuckled, a partly frustrated sound, at having to admit defeat. "Was a good idea while it lasted." Slightly breathless, his voice had turned into the husky rumble that could turn Glen Coe into a puddle.

Dan pushed Vadim's leg up a little, but not as much as before. Manipulating the body, finally able to do more than tease, he concentrated on the position and closed his eyes, relishing the indescribable sensation of breaching slowly through the muscle, gently coaxing Vadim to accommodate his cock instead of battering down and fucking him raw. "It's …," his hand took hold of Vadim's thigh, their bodies so close, not an inch of skin that was not touching, "… a damn good idea now."

Vadim stopped breathing as Dan finally got it right, cock between his legs, slicked up, mounting pressure, and he pressed against that, half-expected Dan to enter quickly, that was what he thought he wanted, but no such thing. Instead the slow way, and it made his hands clench into fists. Yes. Yes please.

His back curved, like an animal getting mounted, tensed in all the good ways, fucking gentle, hardly any different from fingers, much more contact, much more than he would have expected, and he loved this. Loved Dan taking control, mind threatening to go completely blank. Couldn't push back much, Dan's weight kept him pinned. Control.

Vadim was breathing hard, could feel more cock enter him, Dan was taking his time, as if he was expecting resistance or bolting or wanted to drive him insane. Maybe he was nervous. "I'm alright", he murmured, felt his voice go rough. Expected more force.

"I know you are." Dan murmured, his hand had found Vadim's cock, gripping hard and squeezing a moment, and yet when he turned to stroking the movement was as slow and deliberate as his body, which was rolling with lazy waves of low-level constant lust.

"You're more than alright." He realised he was rambling on, had entered a space in his mind and body he'd never been in before. Aroused and arousing, but slow and tender, taking his time tenfold.

Dan's other arm trapped beneath Vadim, enough movement for the hand to stroke the chest, revelling in the soft skin and sharp angles. "An enemy, in every military sense and some personal ones as well." Dan paused, concentrated on the slow thrusts that were merely small, smooth movements. He felt connected, more than just his cock inside the Russian's body, more than words and more than touches. "You conquered me, got to this Special Forces bloke well and truly." His voice husky and low. "You could betray and kill me now and I wouldn't give a shit as long as you'd stay close until I died."

Excruciating. Vadim was still waiting for the force, the attack, revenge for the thing he'd done, it would even that score at last, after all that time. He expected pain, would even welcome it if that was what it took. Instead those sliding motions, reaching deep inside, deeper than he had thought a cock could reach. "Couldn't … betray you", a small protest, the words breached his silence, groans coming out with it as well, as he tried to move, to greet, to welcome, to get the other to fuck him hard, but there was precious little he could do, even that hand on his cock was controlled, and there was not enough room to move.

It dawned on him that Dan wasn't nervous. Dan was just being in control, of himself, and that meant of him as well. "Dan, fuck", he breathed, and that was more pleading than a curse. Eyes closed, focusing on every motion, every breath of the other. Could feel him up to his throat, could feel Dan's pulse inside and against his back. "I … stay as … close as I can." Because I fucking need you. Another deep moan, they just slipped out, no need to stay silent, no fierce pounding, no suppressing of pained groans, nothing, just this slow, deliberate way to move.

"Good," Dan ignored the pleading, the attempts to speed up. "Because I won't let you leave." He didn't control his words, only his body and that of the other. He felt as if he could go on like this for hours, floating in that space of slow-simmering lust and permanent arousal.

He shifted slightly, one movement of his hips and the angle changed, allowing his cock to slide in deeper, but never faster. His hand retained the same rhythm, but added strength to the touch. "Your body … feels like an extension of mine." Murmured, his eyes had closed, there was nothing in this cave but safety, darkness, warmth beneath the blankets, and their bodies. Lust was mounting, slowly and steadily, like a tender kiss that grew into deep throated need.

Vadim groaned again. Fuck. This was getting … serious. Whatever it was Dan was doing, it just went better. He wanted to spread further, push into that hand, felt spread out and taken and fucking taken care of, no need to strain or fight or beg, just two bodies moving close, connected with flesh and sweat. His hands were fists, he reached behind himself and touched Dan's flanks, wanted to urge him, but more than that he wanted to touch him. Forced himself to breathe, to try and relax, join that impossible calm that was Dan, used to the frantic way to do this, that this made him feel raw and helpless. "Feels, good", he whispered in Russian, tried to put into words what he was feeling. "Very good." Few men had ever fucked him. None in the army. Too many knives involved, too much kicking and punching. This was closer to the thing the masseur had done to him, a timeless place with no urges but the ones that his body brought to the massage.

"Yeah …" Dan breathed out, it was good, damned good, unlike anything he'd done before. Every now and then a new chapter continued to open, and he couldn't imagine he'd ever stop discovering something new and good and so very much wanted. Not with this man, with Vadim he'd never stagnate. "Love your body." Rumbling voice, barely above a whisper. He moved the other's leg a little, just enough to alter the angle again, entrance now steeper, sharper, deeper as well. "Need your body." Uncensored words.

"You … have it", whispered Vadim, shuddering hard as something changed again. Driving him up the walls. For the fact Dan spoke of this as shitstabbing, he was great at it. He tensed, his body trying to come, but not quite there, not quite enough intensity to lose it, and he tried to relax, focus on the other, not himself, but it grew more and more difficult to have a single clear thought.

He was all body, all want, truly a bitch right now, yes, if that gave him this kind of feeling, yes, whatever. You have it, all of it, body, strength, desire, all of it. Close, but not quite there. Not his decision, for once. Moaning, he tried to move with Dan's body, not silent for once, ashamed of the sounds he made, sounded needing, craving, desperate.

Vadim pressed his forehead against the bergan, breath going much faster now, still unable to come, even though every movement inside was now torture - strength, but no speed, no real force, instead a constant pressure.

"Dan …"

Please. Make me come. Don't stop. Don't you ever stop.

"No …" Dan's breathing was ragged, could hardly hear himself over the pounding heartbeat, "Not yet. Not ... yet. Need to feel … more. Need more."

But his body had different plans, took over and increased the pace a fraction. Still slow, but the strength and force of his measured thrusts were growing, while his stroking remained the same. "Always feel more ... always … always you …."

Vadim cursed, he was barely coherent now, how the fuck was it possible, how could Dan unravel him so fucking completely, his body tensing, nearly convulsing, every thrust touching something raw and primal. He wanted to come, needed to come, but he couldn't come from being fucked alone, and the hand denied it. Couldn't move enough. Couldn't beg, instead moaned against the ground, lips open, eyes shut. Fingers clawing at Dan, forming fists, hitting that torturing flesh, but with no real strength at that angle. Couldn't bargain, couldn't force. Trapped, under control. It made him tense again, body trying desperately to push for orgasm. No. Not enough. A groan of frustration and lust, not quite forming Dan's name.

"Shit …" Dan breathed, incoherent, sensations centred in his mind, not just his cock. They were more than merely bodies. Sounds, feelings, steady rhythm, slight increase of pace and pressure, so close, his body and mind at the edge of letting go. "You …" just you, always you. My Russian cunt, my enemy, my comrade, my prisoner, my gaoler and my life. Words, unthinking. "Love … you."

Vadim's head was swimming, all thoughts bleeding into the one need, Dan, coming, and still not enough. Those two words making his mind spin and blur, worse, much worse than anything else. Love. Love you. Couldn't answer, didn't have the control to do more but groan, with an urgent need that was turning painful. Still couldn't come, tried to push against the hand, begging, no pride left, no reservation, just needed, needed.

Couldn't hear his own groans echo in the cave, mind screaming for release, knew he'd do anything, absolutely everything for this man, suck him, kill, kill himself, run away, be something else, anything else, everything just blurred, darkness, a place inside that only held him and Dan. Nobody else, nothing else, no time, no place, no affiliations, no past, no future.

At last Dan's need matched Vadim's, his hand matching the strokes, faster, harder, still tender, but more pressure and friction. Lost, and yet completely there and with the other. No one else, only this Russian, that man, the darkness and light, hatred and love. Mirrors of each other; each the same, and both the opposite.

"Shit …" again, same word, no meaning. Breathless exclamations. "Shit, shit, shit …" Closer, more, too intense, Dan suddenly toppled over, came without warning, release had crept on him with sudden force, drawn out, different. More intense, all encompassing, he felt as if a sob was being torn out of his chest. Shaking, holding, feeling and needing to feel. Seemed it never stopped, went on forever.

Vadim came the moment the grip tightened, incoherent pain and tension of orgasm, tightening, clenching, breathless, or he might have screamed, shouted, just sounds coming out, deep from his throat, raw, nothing like Russian or English or any other language. Came, helpless, feeling gratitude, vulnerable, Dan inside as his body clenched, convulsed, and felt the other following, felt his cum inside, that feeling, understood why he'd rather fought and kicked and pulled a knife to allow this to happen in the army. Because he could be like this, could be completely helpless, at another man's mercy, bared to the soul if there were such a thing as a soul.

Panting and groaning, eyes shut, Vadim could feel the sweat burn on his face. "Don't … move", he whispered. "Stay." Let me feel your weight. Let me feel you inside.

Breathless, Dan could hardly speak, arms holding tight, crushing the other if Vadim weren't so fucking strong himself. "Won't ... go anywhere." He'd stay in this cave forever, he'd forget about the world outside, about killing and surviving, duties and missions, Mujahideen, insurgents, and the British Forces alike. Immobile, feeling himself softening, heartbeat slowing, breathing with the other. In sync. Lovers.

Vadim slowly relaxed, strength and tension just bleeding out of him, nicest way of bleeding, this. His hands left and right of his body, leg straightening a little, hands close to Dan's arms, sated in ways that would have made him uneasy if he hadn't been completely safe. Remembering those words. Love you. His lips moved into a smile, relieved, glad, no, worse than that. Better. I do, too. Shit, I do.

Dan did not realise he was nodding off, despite the wetness. Wrapped around and inside Vadim, he fell asleep.

* * *

Dan had woken an hour later, his bladder full and his groin a sticky mess. Still half asleep, had managed to scramble up and piss outside the cave, shivering in the cold of an approaching dawn. Grabbed some water and a rag on his way back into the warmth, cleaned himself down, did the same haphazardly for Vadim.

He was asleep again only moments later once he had moved to his favourite position, as close as he could to Vadim's back, their bodies touching all along the way and his arms wrapped around him. Sharing heat. He slept, undisturbed, slowly waking when his mind registered the other's awareness.

Dan yawned, burrowed closer, rubbing his face against Vadim's back and shoulder, the fresh scar across his cheek was itching like hell. Murmuring, "If I offered you my body in unspeakably deprived ways, would you get up, stoke the fire, boil water and toss some tea leaves into a mug for me?" His lips curved into a wide grin, Vadim didn't even have to see the smirk, could feel it forming against his skin.

Seemed that Dan McFadyen was back.

Vadim groaned, words registering, especially offered and body, and tea. He turned to glance at Dan, and saw the grin. "Yeah, sure." He reached for his BDUs, put them on, covered his shoulders and a fair bit of his head with one of the blankets, after all, one lost most heat via the head, and slipped his feet into the boots, without lacing them up.

He went to the fire, added some more wood, poured water into the kettle, and went through the motions of making tea. Found some beef jerky as well, and had brought enough to share it, as well as dried apples and pine nuts.

The memory hit him. That slow, nice fuck. Shit. The same man who had been bitter and tired when he had come here, the same man who could still cling to concepts like enemies and hatred? He shivered, remembering what he had felt. How willing and eager and how much tenderness.

Dan yawned, sleepily watching Vadim. Hair tousled, growing down his neck, almost a mane, he kept brushing it out of his eyes.

Vadim waited for the water to boil, measured the tea leaves with his fingers, the sugar as well, poured the water, stirred with his one spoon, and returned to the 'bed', crouching and offering the mug, reaching behind to offer breakfast. Dried beef, apples, nuts. "What deprived ways would that be?"

Dan reached for the mug with an expression of thankfulness. Tea, warmth, breakfast. Sex. What more could a man want. "Don't know," sipped the first mouthful with a sigh and a grin, "is there anything we haven't done?" Took some of the food, chewing.

Vadim crouched, balancing the hot mug between his fingers. "I think we did lot. Well. Guess we're in for boredom, then. More of above." He laughed. "Has been while since you smashed my face in, actually. Or held knife to my balls."

"Too mellow to get worked up enough to smash your face in." Dan grinned, popped another handful of nuts. "Knife and balls can be organised, just give me some time to wake up properly." He sipped his tea cautiously, didn't fancy burning his palate this time, looking back up at Vadim from under the unruly mane.

"I could let you fuck me with your beloved sniper rifle, but frankly, I'm not half as much into gun kink as some civilians are." Laughing, Dan lifted the blankets and sleeping bag to offer the comfort of warmth.

Vadim swallowed. "Tell me you're joking." He took the blanket off, spread it again over the one on the ground, kicked his boots off and slipped underneath. Warmth. Amazing how much of a difference that made. "Rifle? No way."

Reached out to touch Dan's face, then decided against it, too weird, and touched the shoulder instead. "Guess I could live with boredom. Breakfast, security, and fucking like we are, and have. You on top one night, me next."

Dan chuckled, finished the tea and the last of the food, burrowed closer, body to body, sharing more than warmth, his hand coming to rest on Vadim's hip. It felt comfortable there. "You sure you wouldn't keel over with boredom after a while? A life without regular adrenaline kicks? Can't imagine." Closing his eyes for a moment, the laughter drained away and his voice quietened. "I don't think we'll make it that far." He left the thought standing between them. Long pause, "but you never know, eh?" Smiling, because there was nothing else to do. They all hoped that the next bullet wasn't meant for them.

Vadim placed his hand on Dan's. A life outside war, outside the army. How the fuck did civilians pass all that time, anyway? Couldn't be all Sundays, at the Moscow zoo, with loud children. "Don't know, could be worth try. Lots of books left to read, I guess." He pulled the other closer, rested his head against Dan's, felt his breath. "Dying would be too easy."

"Not sure. Sometimes I wonder if dying isn't easier than living." Dan smiled wryly, closed his eyes and remained silent for a long time to come. Simply existing, the greatest luxury of all.

"But in the meantime …," he finally turned his head to face Vadim, lips touching skin, "let's make the best out of being alive." Half an inch closer, and he kissed the other's temple, lips ghosting along skin when Vadim turned to face him. "How did that kissing thing go again?" Dan smiled, lips against lips, parted, first touch of tongue, taste, and he forget all about dying.

One more day and one more night before the cave had to spit them back out into a world of grenades, bullets and knives.

Until then, they took what they could get.

 
 
Special Forces Chapter XVI: Red Cross
 
 
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 25 January 2007