man who was pacing the front of the hospital entrance
was deeply in thought, oblivious to the comings and
goings around him, and to the brilliant sunshine. Hands
in his pockets, he kept looking up occasionally, but
didn't seem to notice anything, despite his eyes scanning
the parking lot and the one-way street that led towards
the entrance barriers.
an hour later, a taxi drew up in front of the hospital,
and Vadim emerged. He was tired from worry and a night
from hell, plus the suitable amount of nightmares. Jetlagged,
too, but he almost welcomed the discomfort - it seemed
fitting that he felt like shit, too, while Dan was in
hospital. He hated hospitals, the smells, the light,
and he thought, how fucking ironic, that they were worse
for him than battlefields.
Duncan looked up, this time truly looking, and he smiled
as he held out his hand. "Good to see you. How
has the flight been?"
Vadim took Duncan's hand with both his and pressed it.
"Good to see you. Any news?"
since we last spoke." Duncan led the way towards
the entrance. "The surgery has been successful.
When I saw Dan he was still in the waking room, but
he should be out now." The automatic door opened
to let them through. "Just in case you might worry,
they always keep the patients for a little while under
observation. It's nothing abnormal."
Vadim forced himself to relax the shoulders, gazed around
in the reception area. "You think you can get me
through there?" He nodded towards the woman. "As
a friend of the family?"
have already spoken to them. They'll give you five minutes,
same as I had." Duncan turned towards her, smiling
brightly when she seemed to recognise him. The exchange
was fairly pleasant, but firm, and they were informed
that while Vadim would indeed be allowed to visit, visiting
hours were over for the morning and they would have
to wait for the afternoon slot.
guess they are not accepting bribes", murmured
Vadim, trying to hide some of the bitterness. He was
too tired to force his way in, damned civilization,
where force or bribes achieved so much less.
Duncan thanked the receptionist nevertheless, obtained
the information as to the first possible visiting slot,
and clapped his hand onto Vadim's shoulder. "We
have four hours and, if you excuse me, but you look
tired. I suggest going back to the hotel, you check
into your room, we have a quick lunch and you rest before
we come back. What do you think?"
Vadim was glad for the touch, and for a moment there
was nothing he wanted more than embrace this man, his
partner's brother who resembled him enough to soothe
him and keep him calm. It was the tiredness. The worry.
He felt weak and drawn. "A shower would be good
... not sure I can sleep." Not sure I want to try.
along, then. I've promised Mhairi to take good care
of you, and you can imagine what that means." Playing
at being light-hearted, Duncan joked, and yet - just
like his brother - he was a lousy actor. Doing his best
though, hiding his own concern behind a warm smile,
and Vadim wanted to help him with the pretence, to get
to any kind of normalcy.
and a lot of calories?"
pegged her perfectly. My car's in the parking lot."
They steered towards it and were soon off to the hotel.
As promised, or threatened, Duncan made Vadim have a
light lunch with him, and then left him to his own devices,
while he went to call his wife for the latest report
and to hear how their sons were doing.
didn't unpack the small suitcase, but managed to dredge
up enough determination to shower and shave, and then
called reception for a wake-up call later. He tried
to sleep, or at least rest with his eyes closed while
focusing on breathing. He drifted in and out of a leaden
half-sleep until the wake-up call, and while he was
getting dressed, three hours later, with plenty of time
to spare, Duncan knocked on the door of Vadim's room.
"Are you getting ready?"
Vadim opened, mostly dressed, just pulling down the
t-shirt. "Start to feel more human."
won't do to look less lively than the patient, will
it?" Duncan joked half-heartedly, waiting for Vadim
to get ready.
slipped into his shoes. "I don't want Dan to worry
... will be hard enough as it is." Like me being
away to shag another guy. Fuck.
brother's tough." Duncan smiled again, nodding,
as if telling himself the same thing over and over again.
"All of us McFadyens are." And their father
had died of cancer far too young, and their mother way
before that of a heart attack. "Dan will be fine."
my father used to say: we can deal with anything, but
not with weakness." Probably another literary quote
he'd never have located - and now never would, being
all but unable to read. Vadim took the room key, his
wallet and followed Duncan back to the car. "How
are the kids?"
well, they're doing fine. You really must come for a
visit when ..." hesitating, "when Dan's back
to being sprightly, this time with some fanciful engineering
works in his knee."
will be the question where to heal, Duncan. The Balkans
is no such place, and the farm down under isn't ready."
and you are always welcome on our farm. Don't forget
that. Dan could heal while being taken care of by his
family, I just don't know if we have the right medical
facilities available. He'd need physiotherapy, but perhaps
we could get that in Fort William."
got to the car and Duncan waited for Vadim to get in,
before driving them to the hospital, and parking in
the nearly full parking lot.
was glad when the receptionist let them pass with no
further problems, and not much later, he opened the
door to Dan's temporary room in the observation ward.
sight that greeted him was not all that different to
another sight, in another country, a lifetime ago. Machinery
and monitors, yet not as intrusive as they had been,
in that other life, only one drip and a few cables and
patches. Dan's eyes were closed, no tubes nor mask obscuring
his face. A face that looked perversely tanned against
the stark white of the bed linen, framed by hair that
seemed out of place with its barely tamed.
sight made Vadim pause, overwhelmed by the emotions,
the fucking memory, and he could almost taste curry
and feel starched civilian clothes again. Five years
ago. He'd won and lost Dan then, lost and won himself,
and how angry and cunning had the man been he had been
once - fierce, loyal, brutal, no remorse, no compromise,
whereas now he felt old and tired and mellow. In pain.
He moved towards the bed, placed a hand against Dan's
cheek, gently, as not to startle him, and touched his
lips to the corner of Dan's mouth. "Hey."
response was sluggish. Sedated, still fighting the last
vestiges of the anaesthetic, Dan's eyes opened groggily,
as if his eyelids were as heavy as lead. "Hey."
Dan croaked, clearing his throat as he fought - and
won - to keep his eyes open. Smiling a little. "What
a shit ... end of a beach picnic."
grinned and pulled the chair close, sat, and took hold
of Dan's hand. "Sorry I couldn't get in sooner.
I took the next flight, but the bitches were giving
eyes fluttered shut for just a moment, before jerking
himself awake once more. Looking at Vadim, studying
his face, but his thoughts remained sluggish, caught
in a morass he couldn't and wouldn't wade though. Surgery.
Drugs. His knee. And what the fuck it all meant. "You
couldn't have done anything anyway."
but still. You only ever get fucked up if I'm not around
..." Vadim leaned down to kiss Dan's hand. "Duncan's
here, too, and he's taking care of everything. Don't
worry, it's all taken care of." Or will be, with
a few phone calls and after doing the paperwork.
matter." Dan's eyes slid off Vadim, randomly towards
a monitor, then the glass of water on the nightstand,
away from there again, closing once more.
I'll be there as often and as much as they let me, okay?"
..." Dan kept his eyes closed, even though he battled
falling asleep again. Knew he wasn't supposed to sleep.
"I really fucking hate hospitals."
get you out as soon as possible. I promise. We'll find
a good place for you to heal up."
didn't answer for quite a while and the five minutes
were up, when he opened his eyes at last. "Did
you have fun?"
inhaled deeply. "Yeah. Hooch ... sends greetings,
too. I ... I won't do that again. It's too dangerous.
I don't want you to wait for me, or think I ... I wouldn't
come back. Okay?"
blinked sluggishly. "Didn't think you wouldn't
come back." Pausing, he yawned and tried to stretch,
forgetting - with the analgesics - that he'd just been
operated on, and he grimaced, lying very, very still
after that. "Should I have?"
of course not. But I still feel like shit. I don't want
you to think that. Ever."
feel like shit. Leave that to me."
Vadim smiled, a weak smile. "I love you."
Dan could answer, a nurse opened the door.
Krasnorada? Visiting time is up. You may come back tomorrow,
if you wish."
pressed Dan's hand firmer, then got up and touched his
cheek. "I'll be back tomorrow. You get better.
Sleep off the operation."
and tell Duncan he should ask Mhairi to send down some
of her millionaire shortbread. They won't let me have
will." Vadim pressed Dan's hand again, then glanced
at the nurse, and, very reluctantly, let go of Dan's
hand to leave the room. It hurt. It fucking hurt, every
time, leaving Dan like this, and he struggled for his
composure before he wanted to face Duncan again.
was sitting on one of the shabby plastic seats in the
waiting area, looking up when Vadim arrived. "How
as bad as I'd feared. Drowsy."
it's the painkillers I reckon. Let's hope he'll remain
get out of here." Vadim almost fled the hospital,
feeling only slightly better when they were outside.
"I'll have to make a lot of phone calls. We have
contracts ... and all that. Have to call his, well,
our friends ... and there's my contract. It's good I'll
be busy." Vadim wasn't sure whether he made much
sense, because he hadn't had time to think any of this
through yet, but it would be just like back in his active
duty times ... improvising, working with what he had.
this mean you will have to return to the Balkans?"
Duncan was driving them to the hotel.
hope not, but all that stuff needs to get sorted. No
way I'm going back, I'd get my head blown off - I'm
just not together knowing Dan is here in this state."
Vadim frowned. "I'm done with soldiering. Have
been for at least ... two years, but I think it was
was quiet for a good while, until he pulled into the
hotel's parking lot, switching off the engine. He turned
towards Vadim in his seat. "And Dan? Is he ready?"
That's the problem. And we will have to find a new job
... we don't have enough to retire, at least not without
the trimmings, and if we have to pay for private healthcare
in New Zealand or here."
frowned. "If there is anything we can help you
two with, let me know. I'd hoped Dan could use the houses
he'd bought and was renting out for his retirement,
what with the Highlands picking up the tourism business,
but ..." too late recognising what he had said,
Duncan caught himself with a visible blush and smiled
to diffuse the subject.
nodded. "That's a quarter of a million we are lacking
now ... and I have nothing to my name, which doesn't
make it better. No way around it, we'll have to work.
It's not like we don't have a few contacts."
mind, as I said, you are both most welcome at any time
and if there is anything else I can do, just let me
appreciate it, Duncan, but you're doing enough already."
rest of the day was fairly subdued, and they decided
that it would be best if Duncan visited his brother
the following morning, because he had to drive back
to Scotland the same day. It was impossible leaving
the farm on its own, and he had to return, every hand
was needed every day, nature did not suddenly stop existing,
just because its humans were troubled.
had been moved into the normal ward, and when Vadim
visited that afternoon, there was nothing but flimsy
fabric partitions between each patient with eight in
a large room. Vadim sat down and placed a packet of
shortbread on Dan's stomach. "How are you feeling?"
Dan grimaced, "but don't tell Duncan."
lips are sealed." Vadim reached over to hold Dan's
hand. "I'll do my best to get out of my contract
... I have to call the Baroness, discuss the options
with her. She set us up in the job, maybe she knows
the best way out. I won't go back to war, Dan."
fucking won't either." The frown in Dan's face
showed lines etched into the skin. Lines of pain. "I'm
a fucking cripple now."
inhaled and looked at Dan's leg for a long moment. "We
were getting too old anyway." Not sure what else
to say. The career-ending wound. If only he had received
it, and not Dan. Although it could be argued that his
broken mind was just such a career-ender, or maybe his
humanity. "We'll be alright."
I can't fucking work anymore." Dan tried to keep
his voice down, while the intensity increased.
this kind of work. Doesn't mean there's nothing else.
I'll talk to the Baroness. Don't worry about the money.
I'll handle that. You just get better."
don't want another job. I am only forty-four
and this is all I've ever done and have ever been. Don't
you understand that?" Dan shook his head, as if
cutting himself off. "Doesn't matter. You go sort
the contracts. Not that I'm useful for anything right
now anyway. I'll just do this healing shit."
wasn't sure what else to say. Mind still reeling from
the new situation, Dan's bitterness, he wasn't sure
how to take that. "Let me know if you need anything.
I'm in a hotel close by, I'll come as often as I can."
told you, there's nothing you can do while I'm in here.
You better sort things, aye?" Dan's face had closed.
"And as for what I need, I haven't got pyjamas
and they don't appreciate their patients naked. And
nicotine gums. I am going fucking insane without fags.
They said it'll be some days before I can make it into
the smoking room. Don't need anything else." For
a moment glancing at his hand in Vadim's.
I'll get you some stuff." Vadim stood, hated leaving,
but he had to do things, shopping, phone calls, talking
to the Baroness. He pressed Dan's hand again, murmured
that he loved him, and then set out to do what needed
he drove the rented car into the town centre and got
several bags of things - clothes, pyjamas, t-shirts,
jeans, a jacket, underwear. A pharmacy was next, he
got nicotine gums there, and then to an electronics
store, where he bought a Discman and a pile of CDs that
he knew Dan liked, then a pile of magazines, chocolates
- all of which he handed over next time he was allowed
he called the Baroness and reported to her, she'd already
heard and had kept herself informed, promising help
regarding the contract. A day later she called the hotel
room and told Vadim there would not be a problem. What
he was intending to do? And whether he had thought about
consultancy, something they'd mentioned before and had
talked about, the last time they'd visited.
said Vadim, he was ready for that.
would arrange everything that was necessary, but he
would have to fly to Budapest to meet her, since she
was currently in a particularly fragile situation that
required her continuous presence. A fact that would
sadly not enable her to visit Dan, but she would stay
in contact via telephone, once Vadim had organised and
paid for phone access for Dan's bed, something that
Vadim would do the very next day.
asked whether Vadim believed he could leave Dan alone
- who might be in the good care of his family - for
talks and further negotiations. Adding, that if he thought
it necessary to move Dan to a private hospital, at any
time, then she would see this was arranged - and neither
man should worry about the costs.
mentioned that to Dan, who didn't like the idea, and
the NHS doctors were reluctant to let him go just yet,
stating that, in case of emergencies, this was the best
place for Dan to be.
was adamant, after a phone call from Her Excellency,
where she explained the situation to him and the possibilities
she could offer, that Vadim should visit her straight
away. Pointing out that there was nothing he could do
anyway, while Dan was healing up, and so Vadim then
organised whatever extras were offered in the hospital,
and flew over to Hungary, to meet the Baroness in person,
and discuss the next steps with her. The new job would
entail a lot of 'networking', meeting people, being
pleasant and serious at the same time, and Vadim realized
this was political to the extreme, the art of manipulation
more than his experience and the mind he had - it was
about whom he knew, who liked him, and who would pay
a lot of money to hear his opinion, who thought him
'relevant'. She arranged a few contacts, who they met
for lunch, or coffee, important men who made decisions.
He wouldn't have been surprised if he had met the MI5
or MI6 agent again whom he had encountered in the club
back in London, so long ago. He was now dealing with
a similar type of man.
men treated him as if he was important, because to them
he was useful, and thus he was important. Treating
him with respect and interest, and engaging in discussions
on a level removed beyond recognition from dust, pain,
blood and gore, and the terror of battlefields. Talking
about tactics and logistics, about experiences from
one who had been there and who was able to transcend
that knowledge into transferable levels of higher cognition.
It was the officer they talked to, not the grunt, the
man who'd run a sizeable operation in his time, partially
under the most dire restrictions and circumstances.
Above all, they applauded his resourcefulness, his ability
to 'think outside the box' as they called it, and Vadim
joked that outside the box meant outside the coffin.
stayed longer than initially intended, after talking
to Dan on the phone who claimed he was fine, that there
was nothing that Vadim could do, that Duncan would come
and visit when he could, and that nothing was really
happening anyway. Dan reassured him that he was just
okay without him, that the new job was be more important
and Vadim should grab the opportunity when it arose.
An opportunity that took Vadim away from Hungary to
the US and then back to Europe, extending the initial
preparatory tour of making contacts and connections
until a month had passed. A month in a world he'd never
been part of before. He'd enjoyed himself. Meetings
in air-conditioned elegant rooms, starting to understand
how the white, male, old, heterosexual posse worked,
an old boys' network, with all-important cross-references.
If he dropped the name of one guy, he made friends and
engendered goodwill, far more than he'd anticipated.
And, strangely enough, he genuinely enjoyed the meetings.
August 1993, England
progress had improved at first, with physiotherapy working
on moving his artificial knee, and getting him to walk,
but the pain did not diminish. After a couple of weeks,
his condition started to deteriorate, with the pain
increasing. Not only was every step agony, each movement
was turning into such a painful experience, Dan had
to force himself to comply with the exercises. Until
eventually his knee swelled up more than it ever had,
with shooting pains up the thigh and into the groin,
and down to the foot. The NHS doctors were clueless,
trying different methods of therapy, and upping the
dose of painkillers, which only worsened his overall
had lost his appetite, gaining dark shadows under his
eyes, and lines etched into his face and a tiredness
and fatigue he could not shake.
never said anything, though. Not to Vadim who called
regularly, neither to the Baroness, nor to his brother,
who could not visit again until a month later. Pretending
to all who called, including friends like Jean, Markus
and Dima, and mates such as Matt, that he was just fine.
Perfectly fine. Nothing but fine, and that he was still
in the hospital not because of any problems, but because
it was easier that way with the physio.
Duncan finally arrived, he almost staggered back out
of the room, hardly recognising his brother. Dan had
substantially lost weight, the forever-hungry man hardly
taking a bite, and he looked shockingly ill. Just that:
ill. Gaunt and drawn from the ever increasing pain,
and a passiveness that might have come from weariness
and fatigue, or from something Duncan could not put
his finger on. And still Dan lied, even to his face:
he was fine. Goddamned motherfucking fine, and
it was just taking longer and why the hell anyone bothered
anyway, since it did not matter.
didn't witness how his brother shouted at the doctors
and nurses, nor did he find out that Duncan was told
he had to leave the premises after his outburst, and
he was definitely not aware of the string of telephone
calls Duncan was making, until he finally had Vadim
on the line.
was standing in a phone booth outside the hospital.
"Where the hell are you?" Still shaking with
anger, and a not considerable amount of guilt, Duncan's
knuckles were white, he was holding the receiver so
Vadim was alarmed, suddenly. The Baroness had this number.
"En route to catch my flight back to Heathrow.
What's wrong with Dan?"
don't fucking know." Duncan was swearing and agitated.
"I just got thrown out of the hospital for yelling
at the doctors. I don't know what's wrong, no one does,
but my brother looks like ... like a very ill man! And
the bastard has lied to us all the time." Duncan
slammed a fist into the telephone book. "I am going
to get him out of there. Those incompetent Sassenachs
are killing Dan before they find out what is wrong with
him. Fuck." Vadim didn't doubt for an instant,
and again, he felt that sickening feeling. He hadn't
been there. Instead had met 'security consultants' that
worked for America's weapon smiths - huge corporations
that lived in glittering skyscrapers. He had at least
managed to very politely decline the offer of two weeks'
holiday on one CFO's Texan farm. "I'll call the
Baroness. She offered a private clinic. We move him
out of there - with or without his consent. I'll make
the call right away."
and make her call him, because, I'm afraid, in this
country you will need the patient's consent and if that
stubborn blockhead is not going to want to do anything
about his state, then someone else has to make him do
it." Duncan was breathing hard. "I don't know
why he has been lying, but I am going to find out. I
should have been here, forget the farm, I should have
noticed. I am his brother!"
I'm the guy who plans to grow old with him, Duncan."
Vadim had already opened the calfskin suitcase and taken
out his phone book. A glance found the folder that held
all the business cards he'd collected over the last
few weeks. Fifty, maybe sixty names on which to build
another career. His third. Or fourth? "I'll keep
you in the loop. Calm down. I'll be back tomorrow, and
then I'll do my damned best that he gets proper treatment.
I'm not worrying about the cost
I have the feeling
we'll do better than ever if this is taking off."
Maybe not yachts, Texan farms and private golf courses,
but they'd be rubbing shoulders with these guys and
their trophy wives, sure enough.
don't worry about the cost, I only worry about my brother.
You understand that?"
do. Fuck, I do." Vadim rubbed his face. "Thank
you for calling me ..."
else. Vadim, you are Dan's partner." Taking a deep
breath, "I see you tomorrow. I will try to get
back into the hospital for now."
hung up and stepped outside, staying in the humid summer
air for a long time until he had calmed enough and gathered
himself. Once more the level headed man who would apologise
for his behaviour to the hospital staff, no matter if
he believed they deserved an apology or not, just to
placate them enough to see his brother again. Which
he did that same afternoon, talking to him for a long
time, but Dan kept slipping away, falling asleep, and
Duncan ended up sitting quietly beside the bed, worrying
with each breath.
called the Baroness on her private line, gave her a
quick update on what was happening over in England,
and the briefest of summaries while some guy from the
hotel was already collecting his suitcase. The taxi
for the airport was waiting outside - but he looked
and lived like a businessman, and they'd never rush
him. "I'll call again after I land in Heathrow",
he said, then called Dan's number, who barely roused
when the phone rang and Duncan picked up instead.
getting taken care of. She'll call right away."
make sure that he is awake. He's got trouble keeping
his eyes open, it's like something is eating him up
from the inside." Duncan put the phone down without
waiting for an answer, proceeding to shake Dan awake
instead. He had just about managed, and Dan looked at
him bleary-eyed, when the phone rang again.
you." Duncan pushed the receiver into Dan's hand.
was nothing for a long time, nothing but a voice on
the other end, which spoke very precisely and with an
authority that Duncan could sense even though he did
not understand the words.
Ma'm." Dan finally answered, then nothing again
until finally, "yes, Ma'm, I'll sign." A few
short moments later and Dan hung up, looking at Duncan.
do you mean?"
you brought in the fucking cavalry."
I had to."
you are not, and you know you are bullshitting yourself."
The cussing got Dan's attention. "You are clearly
in pain, no matter what you claim, your knee is swollen
like a balloon and you look damn sick." Duncan
shook his head, leaning over his brother. "Have
you looked at yourself lately?"
Why should I? No particular chance for some entertainment
in this place, is there?"
you should be walking around by now. Not lying here.
I don't care the doctors say that the x-rays show no
anomalies. I don't care about blood works or anything.
You will get to another hospital to get properly
checked out, do you understand me?"
stared at his brother and a ghost of a grin unexpectedly
crossed his face. "Never considered you to be a
learned from the best." Duncan rose both his brows.
"After all, my very own brother was in the SAS."
so. Oh, and Vadim will be here tomorrow, I just talked
Duncan stood up, shaking his head. "I don't know
what's up with you apart from the obvious, but it'll
be okay soon. Right?"
Dan shrugged, settling back in the pillows and closing
his eyes. The conversation was over for him, leaving
Duncan on his own.
finally went according to plan, thanks to Her Excellency's
inimitable organisation skills and her unmistakable
authority, and when Vadim landed the next day, getting
into a taxi from the airport, Dan had already been transferred
to a private hospital with excellent reputation. He
had been through extensive tests of every nature imaginable,
and was lying in a single room, in an environment nothing
like any of the NHS hospitals. Friendly paint on the
walls, art prints, private bathroom with fake marble,
and all the trappings of a hospital discreetly masked
while still being efficient - with an outstanding staff-patient
had got the address and number from the Baroness, and
merely checked into a hotel close by for a shave, shower,
and a change of clothes. He thought Dan wouldn't appreciate
him in the business suit, and he went with the designer
jeans and t-shirt instead. He was soon on the road again,
this time to the private clinic. He'd managed to nap
a little on the plane, so he was reasonably fresh. He
didn't notice Duncan in the cafeteria area, and it didn't
take much convincing that he wanted to see Mr McFadyen
- he supposed the Baroness might have made clear that
he was to be admitted to the patient.
it was a shock to see Dan - this time he looked almost
as bad as back in Kashmir. Dan was asleep, and despite
the relative cheerfulness of the pale yellow bedding,
he looked gaunt.
are they doing to you, Lapushka", Vadim murmured
and sat down, setting the bag of gifts down on the nightstand.
Leaning back, he stretched out his legs, and studied
Dan, who was surrounded by more creature comforts than
last time but looking far worse, which seemed like a
one disturbed them, and Dan slept on for a while longer.
The room was silent except for faint noises from beyond
the door and Dan's regular breathing. A shift in that
pattern indicated that he was waking, long moments before
he stirred. "Hey ..." groggy, Dan slowly opened
leaned forward and took Dan's hand. "Hey, sleepy.
Just got back from the Windy City. Brought you some
stuff." He lifted the bag and sat it down on Dan's
going to do much with it for a while." Dan pulled
his hand back out of Vadim's to reach for the glass
of water on the nightstand. His other arm had a couple
of IVs in elbow and back of hand.
helped him with that glass and let Dan have his fill.
Always thirsty. "It's just some music and a better
and some sweets. I didn't have time
to do much proper shopping."
must have been a bugger, aye?"
with so many meetings in the day, the last thing I wanted
was see more people or make more decisions than what
channel to watch in the hotel bed."
you told me it was going well. Looks you'll have a business,
then?" Dan handed the glass over, empty now, and
Vadim refilled it and put it back on the nightstand,
closer to Dan this time. "I'll be back under the
to fix what went wrong last time? Fucking
butchers. If I'd known, I'd have moved you out there
right after that first operation."
it's an infection. Don't know if that's the first lot's
fault, but the joint has to come out. I get a new one.
They do some scary shit like sandblasting the bones
where they are infected. You know, the stumps."
A mien of disgust ghosted across Dan's face before it
was replaced once again with the expression of nothing
- and tiredness. "They said it should be alright
after that. Eventually." He shrugged, "guess
I should be thankful there's an ER close by, in case
these ones here fuck stuff up, aye?"
reached up to touch Dan's cheek. "Infection. That
explains a lot. Fuck. If I wasn't so worried I'd get
really angry that you just didn't tell me. But I guess
like a fucking donkey
your way, or no fucking way at all."
sound like Duncan." Dan grimaced and shrugged at
the same time. "I don't want to talk about it,
okay? I just want to get this fucking surgery done and
over with. They said in the best possible case it'll
be a couple of bloody months before I can properly walk.
That is if they catch the infection completely."
We'll just have to have patience, then."
pointless for you to be here all the time, though. Nothing
you can do." An echo of everything he'd been repeating
before. "You should do up the house or something.
Or more of that new work of yours."
the farm needs some attention, too, but the last
call I got sounded pretty good
all making progress." Vadim
leaned close. "I missed you. You'd have been bored
stiff meeting those guys, but travelling alone is simply
not the same
looked at him, a question in the forefront of his mind,
but he couldn't ask it. "Guess you'll just have
to get used to it." Attempting a smile that never
quite reached his eyes, to take the sting out.
inhaled, shaking his head. "Don't worry about it.
I'll set everything up. It's just a lot of flying around
and humouring the money boys."
you'll be good at that." Dan added after a moment,
glanced up, raising his eyebrows questioningly. Impossible
to say whether it was banter or
it didn't ring
true for banter. "The Americans sure like the rank,
even though I can't legally use it
matter, you never were anything else." Dan blinked
sluggishly, rapidly fading once more.
sure that's a compliment", Vadim murmured under
his breath. "In any case, sleep a bit, I'll be
back later. I'm still on Chicago time." He stood
and kissed Dan's lips. "I'll be back after a nap."
Dan closed his eyes, the bag with gifts still untouched.
"See you later."
Vadim went outside, Duncan was waiting for him, smiling
slightly. The worry was all too visible, though.
he tell you surgery is scheduled for tomorrow?"
Vadim glanced over his shoulder, back to Dan's room.
Frowning darkly. He felt anger rise, but put it down
to being tired and jetlagged that Dan rubbed him entirely
the wrong way. "What time?"
Duncan shook his head. "He's a stubborn old mule,
gave a small laugh. "Yes. You think I can see him
before they take him into the theatre? I guess I'll
have to ask staff. People here are nicer than what you
get when you don't pay. Capitalism, eh?" He shook
I am sure that's fine. They don't seem to have strict
visiting hours. Shall I have a word with them?"
would be good. Now
Dan's sleeping, can I take
you to dinner?"
idea I have heard in a while." Duncan smiled. "Mhairi
keeps telling me I have to make sure Dan eats well to
'put the meat back onto his bones'. Bless her."
" Vadim took Duncan out to dinner,
finding a good restaurant, and spending the early evening
with good food and conversation, catching up, and Vadim
felt very at ease with Duncan, which was understandable,
with the similarities. It was good to spend time with
somebody he'd known before, he could let his guard down
a little, wasn't buying or selling in this instance,
just food and drink and chatter.
night, Dan lay awake. Despite all the medication, the
exhaustion and the weariness of a body having fought
an infection for so long. Lying in the dark and staring
at the faint light that came from behind the curtains.
He was frightened. More frightened than ever before
in his life, and he had no one to tell. Because he couldn't.
Nothing to say, because fear was not supposed to be
in his vocabulary - not in a situation like this. Passive.
Used up. Useless.
had gone early to bed, got up early, body obedient because
it was important, more important than being tired, then
took a taxi back to the hospital, and visited Dan. But
Dan remained withdrawn, tired, defensive, and Vadim
swallowed most of what he'd wanted to say, tried to
project confidence instead, and being there. Dan was
just stretched, he was - understandably - in pain. Nobody
was their best in that state.
the operation, he went to have breakfast, read - well,
tried to read - the paper, but the situation in Iraq
seemed to get worse rather than better. Clinton was
clearly not having any of the towelheads' bullshit.
Vadim remembered conversations about Clinton and Bush
senior, from guys who'd shaken their hands - and sold
them bigger and better guns. A bigger nightstick for
the world cop, the only remaining superpower. The men
he'd met had discarded any talk about eternal world
peace, just because the former Soviet superpower was
withdrawing troops from its previous European real estate
didn't mean that the weapons manufacturers wouldn't
make any money anymore - quite the contrary.
came in an hour later, he'd seen his brother the night
before and knew that the surgery would take several
hours. They waited together, sharing the load of worry,
while there was nothing they could do, with everything
lying in the skilled hands of the surgeons.
around mid-day they called Duncan in, and, as the brother,
gave him the good news that all had gone well and Mr
McFadyen was in the waking room, under observation.
He would be allowed a short visit later.
when they went to visit, Dan was even more tired than
before, drowsy and clearly in pain, despite the medication,
and all he wanted was to sleep.
didn't get much better, even though he was healing well
this time and three days later, when Duncan had to leave
for home, Dan had gained colour, but no words. Still
withdrawn, and sullen. Having lost the mischievous gleam
that had always been his own. Duncan chalked it up to
the harrowing experience of the last months and left
for Scotland with promises to be back as soon as possible,
and the promise from Vadim that he would take care.
Dan healed and his body fought the infection successfully,
he never changed. Doing what he was told by the doctors,
nurses and physiotherapists, otherwise watching TV or
listening to music while staring at the wall or out
of the window. Never calling anyone, and giving monosyllabic
answers when someone called, and not being anymore open
with Vadim either.
didn't like to admit it, even to himself, but dealing
with Dan was near impossible. There was only so much
confidence and strength he could show, when nothing
ever came back. He was looking for excuses, why he had
to get going again, why he couldn't just wait for months
in that hotel, visiting at least once a day. The farm.
He would have to oversee the farm getting finished,
would have to remain in touch with his new contacts,
because in the world of business, regular catch-ups
showed and confirmed interest and importance.
he attended an event in London, and another one in Barcelona,
returning to Dan every time and for several days, then
finally told him that he'd fly out to Palmerston North
to make sure the house was making progress. He was hoping
Dan could recover there, in New Zealand, but they'd
need furniture and he wanted to arrange for their stuff
to get shipped over from storage as well.
didn't react much to that, and Vadim put it down to
him being tired and recovering. But he was relieved
when he could leave and was looking forward to getting
the house up to specs, not having to pretend and not
having to struggle to get closer to Dan - something
that was impossible, as Dan was simply not allowing
him closer anymore.
November 1993, New Zealand
months had passed since the second surgery, when Dan
was finally able to endure the long flight to New Zealand.
He'd spent a couple of them in a rehab centre, despite
Duncan's determination to have his brother close, to
but Dan had refused. Claiming a host of unfeasible excuses
why it was impossible. In the end, Duncan conceded and
he and Mhairi visited a couple of times, but it was
difficult to interact with Dan, because he hardly talked
and preferred to sit in the nearby pub, downing a few
pints in a corner. Alone. On his own, except for the
regular phone calls from Vadim that never lasted more
than a few short minutes. The silences tended to stretch
for too long and they'd become uncomfortable.
shut out everyone, and in the end hardly anyone called
and even Jean's attempts at conversation had petered
out. He was somewhere, he'd said last time, and something
about Pascal, but Dan hadn't listened and hadn't cared.
He wasn't aware of anyone's worry, shut in his world,
a world that didn't become any bigger when he was pushed
out of the plane in a wheel chair. Preferential treatment
of a kind that he loathed, but it was easier that way.
was standing, though, on his own feet and a couple of
crutches, when he came out of the gates in Palmerston
North, hobbling into spring. Lighting a fag the moment
he was outside of the building.
stood in the first row of the parking lot, maybe five
metres away from the door. He recognized him immediately,
of course, even against the glare of the sun, and he
took off his sun glasses. Dan. Finally. He left the
door open and headed towards him. "Welcome back",
he said, nodded to the young Kiwi who'd been carrying
Dan's suitcase, and took it from him. "How was
the flight? I always find the last leg really difficult."
especially the leg." Dan rolled his eyes
but smiled a little, and still made Vadim wince. Shit
choice of words. And the retort took any other words
from him, made him self-conscious and ill-at-ease. Like
he was with their phone calls.
was still pale, but no longer gaunt nor ill-looking.
Thin, and having lost a lot of his muscle definition,
but he'd been diligently following the physio, merely
because it was less hassle to do what he'd been told,
rather than to think. His hair was short, it was easier
to keep it clean that way, since taking a shower had
been a major undertaking and getting into a bathtub
was right out. "Been a while, aye?" His voice
was quiet, and despite an initial urge, he didn't try
to touch Vadim.
and months." Vadim tossed the suitcase into the
back of the Landrover, then opened the door for Dan.
"Don't worry, you can rest once we're there. Bed's
made, everything's ready and waiting." His project.
The house. It had kept him busy, and he had got on well
with the workers, well enough to go out drinking with
them a few times, which helped when he needed to get
stuff done. The 'Palmies' as he called them were a friendly
lot, and they clearly preferred somebody who could hold
his own in a pub to a guy wearing suits and cufflinks.
Vadim carefully kept the two lives apart.
drove out of Palmerston North, back to the farm, while
Dan remained silent most of the time, occasionally glancing
across. The hills green, dotted with sheep, a few cattle,
some horses, down into the valley where their 'farm'
was. Everything was new. The bridge over the little
but vigorous streamlet, the gravel, and then the house,
top to bottom. Not a piece of wood that hadn't been
checked, the whole second floor was all new, the foundations
had been fixed, the electricity, cable, they even had
a small generator, in case something went wrong. New
Zealanders believed in being self-sufficient - small
wonder, living at the end of the world as they did.
The first word for a long time, while Dan pushed the
passenger door open, struggling with the crutches to
went around the car and took out Dan's suitcase. "Let
me know if you want anything changed." The three
steps that led up to the house proper had a flat ramp
at the side. Vadim had expected the worst. And it had
been convenient when the heavy furniture arrived.
can do fucking steps, you know." Dan commented
with a side glance, as he finally managed to get himself
out, walking walked towards the front door. He was still
heavily dependent on the crutches, but he had less of
a limp than a need for balance. It would take several
more months, they'd told him, before he could think
of walking without them. It was a labour to get up the
steps, though, but he was determined, and made it to
was glad he didn't have to meet Dan's gaze as he could
concentrate on opening the door. The limping, the vitriol,
the acid. Each one bad in its own way. Had he really
looked forward to this for so long? Worked his ass off
to finance this, worked long hours to fix the house,
done every tiny bit, every decision, what wood to use
for the floor, what furniture went where, patterns,
colours, each and every fucking decision because everything
had been supposed to be perfect when Dan finally - finally!
- arrived. In his house. Their house. He opened the
door, let Dan walk in first and followed with the suitcase.
"The bedroom is downstairs, though
want to change that, we can have the guest room downstairs
and our bedroom upstairs. Whatever you like better."
Dan wasn't listening. He stood in the entrance hall,
staring straight ahead, then slowly around himself.
Walking on and into the vast living room, his eyes fixed
onto the massive paintings. Huge swirls of colours and
... whatever the fuck else. Things he could not identify
and made no sense to him. He turned, still not acknowledging
Vadim, made his way to the next room, the kitchen. Then
to another, the downstairs loo and so on, until he stood
at the foot of the stairs. Nothing was like he'd imagined
it. Nothing like he'd wanted it. It was ... Vadim's
house. He knew it that very second, but he also realised
what amount of work had gone into it. For whom, though,
for him? Nothing ... nothing was him. It all was Vadim.
Perhaps that was the way it should be. All Vadim.
... different." Dan finally managed to get out.
"You put a hell lot of effort in."
Vadim swallowed the emotion. Disappointment. Not understanding.
His mind's eye had played out this scene differently
- ranging from serene to laughing and happy, but this
was an anticlimax that he felt like a sucker punch.
Okay. Okay. He'd just have to accept that. Dan was tired.
But there was the creeping dread that it wasn't that.
That living together would be just like the phone calls
had been. He'd assumed Dan just didn't like to speak
on the phone, or didn't want to communicate with anybody
else in the room, a nurse, a visitor, a doctor. But
he knew that he'd been closing his eyes against the
simple truth that he was fooling himself. It wouldn't
be different. Would their lives now really become like
those phone calls, but 24/7? "If you want anything
" but he didn't finish the sentence.
no, it's okay. As I said, you really put a lot of effort
in. Didn't realise you had so much taste. Should have
known, you always knew what to make me wear." Dan
tried a smile, pointing to another room. "What's
bedroom. The guest bedroom is upstairs."
The frown was back between Dan's eyes. Steeple and severe,
together with the lines etched into his face from pain
and illness, it made him seem older than he had ever
appeared. Harsher. Harder. "You think I'm too much
of a cripple to get up the stairs?"
" more convenient, Vadim wanted to say, but
the accusation in those words got him by surprise. Again.
Every reaction of Dan so far had caught him by surprise.
Curious, that. He shrugged. "Not carved in stone.
You can have it wherever you want." Vadim took
a step back. The 'tour of the house' was turning into
a nightmare, and he wanted it to be over with. Actually,
the thing he most wanted was to take the car and go
on an extended, four hour drive or so to clear his mind
and let Dan do the tour of the house alone. But how
to get out of the situation? 'Shit, I forgot to get
milk, I'll just head out to Palmy?' That would only
win him an hour.
said nothing, just walked on and opened the door to
the bedroom. Stepping inside he almost recoiled physically.
What greeted him was a room he couldn't have imagined,
even if he had tried. Sure, it was manly, if there was
such a thing, certainly not cluttered, but the bed was
a monstrosity made from leather and so goddamned stylish
it belonged to someone who wasn't even remotely related
to him. Yes. Exactly. To someone like Vadim. Stylish,
elegant, with class. Unlike him, but then he was out
of a job without any hope to ever be back in it. He
was done. Service over. Usefulness had ended.
painting above the bed made him stare in disbelief.
Huge, blue and red shapes, and ... just that. Colours.
Shapes. He didn't have a clue what the fuck they meant
and it was motherfucking ugly. But didn't matter. It
was Vadim's taste. Vadim's house. Vadim's effort.
felt like a visitor, entirely out of place, and that
was the only feeling he'd become accustomed to over
the last months. Out of place and out of purpose.
... on which side do you sleep?" He finally managed
to get out.
the moment, all over the place. I start left and wake
up right." Vadim shrugged, hands in his pockets,
leaning against the door frame, working on excuses why
he very urgently had to drive to Palmerston. "Do
you want to unpack the suitcase, or have a shower and
a nap? The jacuzzi is at the back of the house, just
down the corridor, then left. There's also an outdoor
shower, we used that when working on the house. Very
practical if you don't want to stomp the dirt through
didn't answer Vadim's question, but he didn't want to
repeat himself. Dan was not even paying proper attention,
unless there was something that set him off. Welcome
home, Dan. I only waited for you for six months or so.
upstairs apart from the guest bedroom?"
studies, the guest bedroom, big bathroom, and some storage
space. There's a small gym in the garage, too."
nodded. "I'll look at the upstairs later. Going
for a shower." Jacuzzi was out, too difficult to
climb in. "Been a long flight." And he was
far more spaced out on painkillers than he was willing
to admit. He turned before Vadim could say anything
else, heading through the living room and towards the
back of the house.
didn't turn his head to look at him, instead closed
his eyes and leaned the head against the door frame.
Bad start, or just simply bad? He wasn't sure. And why
was he just taking that? Because it had surprised him.
He shouldn't give Dan any more openings, or riposte
right away, not remaining caught out on the wrong footing.
No way. And when had it been last that he'd thought
along those lines in regards to Dan? There was also
the matter of Dan's birthday, soon, but right now, he
didn't have any desire to plan for that or find presents.
It felt stale and painful. He headed back into the kitchen,
to fix a salad. Keep himself busy, even if it was just
cooking or being aware of the other man in the house.
And dreading what the next hour, day, night - night
- would bring.
next hours were spent within the same stilted atmosphere.
Dan did not talk, lay silently on one of the black leather
couches in the living room, smoking, and trying to stay
awake, while drinking whisky that he'd bought duty free.
A packet of pills beside him on the table, he'd never
inspected the upstairs, despite his earlier claims.
had eaten the salad standing in the kitchen, he'd asked
whether Dan was hungry and all he'd got was a non-committal
murmur. He was out of his depth, had no idea how to
connect or what to say. Conversation topics had run
out already - months back, probably even before the
second surgery, and Vadim had no idea with what to fill
the time. How. How to live with somebody with whom he
had nothing to talk about. Nothing in common. Not anymore.
heard Dan get up off the couch, struggling with the
crutches, long before he turned up in the kitchen door.
Standing straight, but his weight was clearly supported.
I should try to sleep. Jetlag and all that shit."
gave a nod. "Sure. Take your time. Always takes
me a while to get used to the time shift. And the different
seasons. You'll have your birthday in spring, not in
shit, never celebrated it. No need to start now."
Birthday, what for? New years? New beginnings? All Dan
could see was an end. An end to all he'd ever been,
ever done, ever been good at, and ever wanted. An end
And never mind my birthday, thought Vadim, and shrugged
again. That had been in August, and Dan had had other
things on his mind, too. Another topic down.
I take the side closer to the door, aye?" With
that Dan turned and made his way to the bedroom. A bedroom
that wasn't his. Let alone theirs. It was ... Vadim's.
A Vadim he hardly recognised, or perhaps he just couldn't
recognise himself anymore.
Vadim said to Dan's back. Whatever. Sure. Fuck you.
He shook his head and decided he really needed a run.
"I'll go off for some exercise, shouldn't be more
than two hours." Run where Dan couldn't follow
him. It was cruel, most likely, but running would help
- would put him back together, stop the thought, smoothe
stopped, in the middle of the hallway, but he did not
turn. "Sure. Enjoy." That was all, and he
walked through the door.
later that night, when Vadim finally joined Dan in the
bedroom, Dan was still awake, merely lightly dozing.
He'd had enough whisky to dull his senses, but never
enough to knock himself out, and he'd got used to that
much medication, that it wouldn't dull his mind enough
to sleep. Not now, not with the jetlag. Not in a stranger's
bed in a stranger's room in a stranger's house.
was Vadim who tried to instigate sex, and Dan reacted,
as if this was something he ought to want, and that
he should have missed. The kisses were awkward, the
deep feeling lost or merely hidden beneath all the pain
and sorrow and all the fear - all the unspoken words
that were kept inside, eating away at the soul. But
that was nothing compared to the true extent of the
disaster, when Dan could not perform. Did not function,
could hardly 'get it up', and could not cum. Failed.
Emasculated. Unable to perform. No man anymore.
despite Vadim's insistence that this was a passing fluke,
that Dan was overly tired and the medication had to
have played havoc with his system, Dan said nothing,
just believed what he knew and what he felt in every
fibre of his being: he finally belonged to the scrap
pulled back, then, struggled with his own desires, but
troubled like that, and that awkward
silence where something entirely else should have been.
He decided to give Dan time, let Dan make the next move,
when Dan was ready, healed up enough, when Dan had settled
the feeling, the voice he heard in his mind, said different
things. They were done, it was over, together with the
wars and adventure. The pain had given way to a worse,
deeper, darker pain. Over. Not even the failsafes worked,
not even the visceral connection that had carried them,
always, from a time where they'd hated each other. Hate,
love, shame. And now indifference and isolation. Chained
to a man; imprisoned.
November 1993 - November 1994
never made the next move. Not the following night, not
the one after, neither the one after that. Not even
the next week nor the following month. And Vadim got
the message, lay on his side of the bed and eventually
made sure he only went to bed after another serious
bout of exercise, a lot of running, usually taking care
of any wayward need under the shower, with no faces,
no memories, no fantasies attached to the purely physical
friction. A need that approached embarrassment, their
sex life was dead and remained dead, and there was nobody
else - Palmy had nothing like a gay scene he could make
out. Wellington was different, but Wellington was several
hours' drive away.
did the physio, exercised exactly as he had been told,
but that was all. It was difficult to get him to eat,
he mostly didn't feel hungry, and he only managed to
keep some of the weight he needed by his liking for
sweets, and the booze that he drank. More often than
not forgetting to take his medication, most of all the
supplements he was supposed to be taking since the bomb
had torn him apart.
did his best with the cooking, with running the farm,
the house, their lives while Dan was still healing.
He'd promised he'd never leave Dan, and if that meant
he'd be his valet and cook, well, that was part of the
parcel. Not that he had many other options, not that
he wasn't resigned to the fact that he couldn't just
leave Dan. He owed him, his life, his sanity, and a
quarter of a million pounds. The farm was in Dan's name,
too, and leaving Dan meant to leave the life he'd worked
towards. He'd promised and sworn he'd never leave him,
forever. And Hooch
had Matt. He didn't want to
interfere with that, and he just knew if he met Hooch,
everything else would break. Vadim pressed his lips
together when his thoughts returned to that. Had sworn,
promised, never meant to leave. If they couldn't be
lovers anymore, they could be partners. Business partners,
sharing a house.
didn't even react much when another letter arrived from
Hungary, with even fewer words, but with a new set of
photos. A couple from Kisa's third birthday, another
few of her with friends. They always only showed Kisa,
though, never anyone else from the family. Dan stashed
them away in the study that he soon took over, ordering
and installing technical gadgets that allowed him to
spend his time watching the news channels, and getting
onto the internet. Something he started out with, because
it seemed the only thing of interest, and despite the
slow modem that would not even always connect, he quickly
got addicted to being online. Newsgroups, forums, email
contacts. All connected to war zones, crisis areas,
battles and fights. Military and PMCs alike, rebels
habit and an almost unhealthy interest in that which
he had once been and could not be anymore, which served
him well, though, when he joined Vadim in the tours
of the conferences. By that time he had managed to reduce
the crutches he needed to one, and the limp was getting
less pronounced, but still clearly visible. He hated
the job. Loathed the conferences, despised the men who
made him feel as if he was an inferior being, who clearly
didn't belong into those circles: an impostor in a tailored
suit, and with a body that was everything but functional.
he was good, and as much as he hated the work, he was
sought after for his insights and expertise, particularly
regarding the training and fighting he'd done in Afghanistan.
A good speaker in any round table discussion - as long
as he was sober, which happened increasingly less, which
embarrassed Vadim to the bone, but he couldn't just
kick Dan out of that new partnership. First, they needed
the money, second, it kept Dan busy. He wasn't quite
ready to try and arrange some events where he didn't
have to drag Dan along.
autumn in New Zealand was almost over and the land was
heading into winter, Dan mostly spent his days and nights
in one of the pubs in Palmy. He got on well with the
locals, even though he didn't communicate much with
them either. Still, a man after their heart. Rugged
and hands-on, just that he did not believe anymore that
his hands could do anything useful. He didn't talk about
his past, didn't want to be reminded. Dodged phone calls
from old mates and good friends, pretending to be fine,
sticking to email where he could. Sporadic and lying.
Fine, he was fine. He lived, aye? He existed.
was in winter when he took to sleeping in the large
leather chair in his study, full of beer and liquor,
with the door locked. Just so he was away from what
he'd lost. Away from Vadim, away from the man who had
meant everything for so many years of his life - but
then he'd had a life. All he had now was being alive.
spent the winter working. He'd subscribed to academic
journals and had entered exchanges with those who wrote
them, sometimes trying his hand at a piece of analysis
himself. The careful, methodical work suited him, even
if his lack of concentration and ability to read for
long stretches slowed him down considerably. He used
the winter to catch up with the pile of journals and
letters that had arrived during spring and summer, planned
the next round of meetings, and exercising like a man
possessed to dull all other emotions. He couldn't allow
himself to slip, had to remain busy, had to do things
or he'd just find a good length of rope.
spring arrived once more, Dan had finally discarded
the last crutch and had learned to walk without it.
Visibly favouring the leg, but he managed stairs and
everything else that he had to. Managed the old and
battered Landrover he'd bought, and managed to exist.
Co-exist. With that stranger he'd once loved, but he'd
lost himself and he did not recognise Vadim either.
strangers, both hurting, and one of them trying to pretend
he was already gone.