- December 1994, New Zealand
was actually dressed when they returned to civilisation.
Vadim drove them back, and eventually pulled up the
car before the house. Dan's Landrover sat there, and
he remembered guiltily that he'd left the car on the
road. He got out, walked towards the Lannie, but it
looked alright, the keys were in the glove compartment.
He then spotted a note at the door of the house and
went to pluck it off:
guys, thought you'd miss it. I towed it over. Allan."
was the sheep farmer that they shared the valley with.
Doubtlessly, somebody had come across the car in the
ditch and had rightly worked out whose it was. Despite
its sheer size and wide open empty spaces, New Zealand
was a village. "Allan got your car. Might want
to get him a bottle of that good whisky?"
damn." Dan rubbed his nose as he got out of the
vehicle and walked towards his own one. "Seems
I was bloody lucky." He flashed a rather guilty
grin and patted his trusted Lannie. As much as he loved
it, though, it was a pain to haul himself in. But once
inside, the seating position suited his knee perfectly.
"I'll get him that and a crate of lager. He's one
of them, you know." Them, the lager
drinkers, who - according to Dan's grousing - wouldn't
know a real beer if it bit them in the arse.
walked up to the front door then remembered he didn't
have a clue where he'd stashed the key, and waited for
Vadim, who fished the key out of his pockets and opened
the door. "I'll get our stuff", Vadim murmured,
and went back to the car. Dan watched him for a moment,
at first a frown on his face, wanting to help, but then
Vadim asked, while he unloaded the first batch of bags
in the corridor. "Coffee? Tea? I could use something
took Dan only a second before he caught himself and
nodded. "Sure, I'll make a coffee." Even though
he wasn't sure where the implements were, he thought,
and grinned ruefully. It took him some time in the kitchen
before he found all the bits and bobs and worked out
how the coffee machine functioned. Muttering to himself
about stupidity, idiocy, drinking too much bloody booze
and goodness what else, when Vadim turned up in the
doorframe. "How's it going, donkey?" Dan grinned,
switching to teasing within a heartbeat.
You're the stubborn bastard, not me." Vadim grinned,
a sunny, rare grin.
remember you calling me donkey once. Or was that pack
horse? Or mule?" Dan let out a laugh, and bugger
it all, things were so much easier taking the piss.
New territory, still, but getting there. "So, how's
it going, 'Light of My Life'?" Dan smirked toothily,
while pouring two mugs with coffee. He ladled the sugar
into his, pushing the other towards Vadim, who quirked
well, I think. We should have a shower or bath, relax
a bit, then maybe head over to Allan's and tell him
we found your car, maybe his wife feeds us cookies and
cake, as usual?"
usual? She does that?"
she does. If we give them some advance warning, she
might even put together a proper dinner."
a good idea, then. I got some whisky somewhere."
Diminishing the stash without drinking it himself would
be good. Sipping the strong brew, Dan leaned against
the kitchen counter top. "I'd say yes to a real
bath, and you could help me shave." He waggled
his brows. "Been forever since I properly shaved
the way you like it."
Vadim's expression turned speculative. "While I
kept mine up."
noticed." Dan grinned, "trust me, I noticed."
He opened the fridge to look for something edible, but
nothing tickled his fancy. "Bath straight away,
or do you want to call Allan first?" Dan flashed
a short, sharp grin, "in the meantime I could demolish
already demolished it. The painting got ripped."
Vadim shrugged, as if it didn't mean anything, a couple
thousand Kiwi dollars' worth he'd spent at an art fair
I didn't mean to. Just ..." Dan shrugged by way
of silent apology. "You know."
guess it could be repaired." Emphasis on the 'could'.
Torn like that, the value would increase by a lot less,
re-selling it right now would probably be pointless.
"I'll run the bath, call Allan, check email, and
we'll take it from there."
do you want me to do in the meantime?"
the rest of the bedroom?"
laughed, relieved. "I will." He took his mug,
and kissed Vadim in passing, as he walked past him.
took his own mug to the Jacuzzi, ran hot water, then
called Allan, who was relieved - in an understated but
heartfelt Kiwi way - that they were both alright, and,
sure enough, invited them over for the evening when
Vadim hinted that Dan might want to say thank you in
person. He then stopped the water, started the bubbles,
and poured a generous amount of bath foam into the water,
soon working up lots of white foam. He then went up
to check on Dan. "Bath is ready, and we're invited
for in two hours."
looked up from his work. "Two hours? Hardly enough
time for a proper shave, aye?"
that's when the lamb shanks come out of the oven."
that sounds almost better than the prospect for sex."
Dan grinned, standing in the middle of the room and
waiting for Vadim to notice the changes. He'd taken
the ripped painting off and had stashed some other objects
into a corner, same with a couple smaller pictures.
Leaving some others, more realistic ones, that he'd
rearranged on the now empty hooks. The bed had been
stripped and white sheets thrown over it, hiding most
of the leather and thus most of its designer flair.
His pillow was back on the side he'd initially taken,
and so was his clock.
took hold of two of the paintings. He could store all
this stuff in the guest room for the moment. "Fine.
If you like this better, that's fine with me."
do, and we can find a bed together." Dan smiled.
"I figure we could do with a balcony. What you
think? I could smoke a fag without annoying you."
mean, have one built?"
good idea or not?"
glanced out of the window. "Good idea. Just ...
one thing. If we have to buy the furniture again and
have things changed, there will have to be more conferences.
Work that we need to be suited and booted for, yes?"
I know. And don't forget the swimming pool. I guess
we also need to get more gym stuff." Dan shrugged.
"Shit, you know what I feel like? Like I'm about
to say 'I'll be a better boy from now on, dad.'"
Grinning, Dan took hold of Vadim's free hand, which
closed around his fingers, as easily and as confident
as if the last year hadn't happened. "I'll take
this job seriously and bear in mind what you told me.
I'll try to ignore arseholes of the likes of Nelson,
and I won't embarrass you anymore, aye?"
face twitched. "Nelson. Oh shit." He'd promised
to call, and there was still the contract.
bad?" Dan frowned. "Can't you just ignore
trying, but he's not getting the message
too important to royally piss him off." Vadim frowned.
"Listen, you might even end up enjoying the circus.
They are less sexy than the Americans fawning over 'Mad
Dog', but it can be fun. Seriously."
shook his head with a wry grin. "I take your word
for it, even though I'm not convinced." He let
go of Vadim's hand. "Anyway, you want to check
if that Nelson guy has contacted you? I'll be in the
Jacuzzi, naked and willing."
grinned. "Need a hand getting in? There's plenty
I might drown in the bubbles?" Dan shook his head.
"I'll manage, you deal with that fucker, I wait
Vadim was about to turn, then paused and faced Dan again,
pulling him close for a kiss, took his time, just a
gentle, perfectly normal kiss. Finally. "Be with
you in no time."
headed to the computer, logged on, watched the email
downloads, then checked on his phone. Fifteen calls,
all from the same number. The Colonel. Jesus H Christ,
as Hooch would say. And there were several emails. Plus
a reservation for a beach villa in Belize. The description
read great, chartered plane, all kinds of extras booked,
the sum was handsome, too, only that Vadim had never
actually agreed to spend
ten days with Nelson
read the emails that were as cajoling and ironic as
Nelson was. He did have a great, fluid style of writing,
and clearly the leisure to think about his words and
how to place them. He was already outlining Vadim's
future job, was making plans, introduced him - in writing
- to the main players so he knew what he had to think
of them. It was scary in a completely new dimension,
and Vadim put the phone down. He didn't actually want
to call him. The man freaked him out.
was stretched out in the Jacuzzi, looking up when Vadim
I'm pretty much married to the guy. He treats me like
his fucking property." Vadim began to strip and
got into the Jacuzzi. "If I'd known what
weirdo that is
fuck! What has he been doing?" Dan moved a little
to the side to make space for Vadim.
keeps calling, books holidays - in Belize - he booked
me for a conference in Rio
me, mind you, not
us." Vadim shook his head when Dan's face turned
thunderous. "I didn't encourage him. I never did
what I did. I didn't give him any reason
to expect anything more." Be in touch. That was
just a phrase and didn't mean 'I'm available, please
try and fucking control my life', did it?
treats you like his fucking property?" Dan's anger
was close to the surface, and as bad as that was, he
felt intensely alive. "If you belong to anyone
you belong to me, is that clear? I'm going to
rip that fucker's throat out."
gave a laugh. "I know you would. Shit."
will. You said it yourself, I'm still lethal,
and I'm starting to believe it."
but I don't recommend prison." Vadim leaned back
in the hot water, fully enjoying the heat and the way
it drained the strength from his muscles. "I'll
have to talk to him, but not right now. I need to think
something is off about
him. I'm not sure he gets a 'no'."
that case, I'll set the Baroness' bloodhounds on him."
think she could give us some help with that case? I
mean, he is important, he's good friends with several
of the important people, that is."
I pegged her right, she won't refuse to help, even though
I've been a shit friend." Dan took a deep breath,
forced himself to relax, and Vadim reached over to place
a hand on his thigh. "There must be some dirt on
that bastard. No one goes through life like that without
leaving some shit behind."
try it the civilised way first." Vadim leaned in
to kiss. "And - you should call her. Just to stay
will. I'll actually go and call everyone. I told you.
And I'll take the stick as it comes." Dan accepted
and returned the kiss. "As soon as it turns day
on the other side of the world ..." Murmured, Dan
leaned in properly. The lovemaking that followed was
tender. Starting to learn that it might not always have
to be about fucking, not even about cumming, and that
getting older was perhaps, at times, a good thing.
promised, Vadim helped Dan shave, and that turned into
a very different situation, where the need was back,
and the lust for the other's body. When they arrived
at their neighbours', they were both pleasantly exhausted.
Their company was appreciated, as was Dan's whisky by
way of thanks. Some young guy was also at the table,
wolfing down food, and from what Allan told them, he
was a very distant relative of his wife's, who was quarter
Maori. Vadim still wasn't quite clear on how the New
Zealand natives were organized, he only knew it had
something to do with their ships and ancestry that reached
past white relations.
boy was maybe twenty, tall and muscular, but looked
just like any other Kiwi; Vadim couldn't see any Maori
traits in him - unlike Allan's wife, who had dark eyes
and very curly hair and a darker skin tone. The kid
had just returned from the New Zealand Maori Arts and
Crafts Institute in Rotorua, as he proudly stated, where
he had studied Maori carvings, and he was planning to
make a living from that, somehow. He seemed very intense,
this tall, broad kid with the shoulder-length, wavy
brown-blond hair and the light eyes. Not one Maori trait
on him, yet he claimed a distant, very distant ancestor
had been Maori, which, apparently, gave him all the
credentials with the guy who had taught him carving.
Outsiders apparently were not welcome, unless they shared
at least a drop of that blood. Even if it was just a
droplet, like in this case.
Vadim asked to see some carvings, and they all headed
over to the outer farm buildings. When Allan had switched
on the light, Vadim could see a slab of wood that he
was working on, carving out ornate lines and patterns
- he could already guess what it would look like. The
kid then seemed to thaw, stroking the lines with his
long, powerful fingers, speaking about traditional designs
and that it took him anything between a month and three
months to finish a piece like this, keeping his eyes
on the wood like that was who he was talking to.
glanced at Dan, then moved closer. "What does my
art budget look like?" he asked, softly, more a
joke than anything else.
haven't got a fucking clue." Dan murmured, turning
his head to smile at Vadim. "No idea about money,
but I wager the art budget for this sort of art
is substantial." He winked, giving Vadim's shoulder
a quick squeeze.
smiled. He wasn't quite sure how to act, chances were
that people were relaxed as always and knew that Dan
and he were a gay couple, but he didn't want to make
the kid feel uncomfortable. "Do you think you could
do something for us?" he asked.
young carver looked at him, then Dan, and nodded. "Of
course. Traditional, or more modern? Or should I come
over tomorrow and you tell me what you want for your
house? I could draw you a couple designs."
smiled. "That works for me. I don't want to distract
you from this, but this is an opportunity I can't pass
on." He didn't realise immediately that the word
'opportunity' held a double meaning these days, and
he shrugged and grinned, while Dan let out an ill disguised
cough, and they returned to the house for desserts.
came home quite late after an evening that Dan enjoyed
more than he'd ever thought. Having just that: a life.
being filled with good food and being rather tired,
Dan sat down that night in his study. Not to dwell alone
and drown himself in booze, like he used to, but to
do his round of calls. His brother first, and it was
easy - easy because Duncan made it so. Dan was on the
phone with him for close to an hour, and he didn't care
how much it cost. Duncan asked many questions, and Dan
told him everything. Told him what had happened and
the truth of it all, as much as he could understand
it himself. Told him about his plans and what they were
both doing. Ending with the promise that they really,
truly and definitely, would fly across soon and visit
for a holiday.
the phone call to his brother Dan sat for a while, smiling
and shaking his head, wondering where the hell Mad Dog
had vanished to. "I'm getting fucking old,"
he murmured to himself with a rueful grin.
on the list was Jean. Dialling the number and hoping
that Jean was either home or that Solange knew how to
took several rings, but the house was huge, and eventually
a voice answered in French: "Yes?" Jean. Himself.
fuck." Dan took a fortifying breath. "Jean?
It's Dan ..." waiting to gauge the reaction.
good to hear from you. How are you?"
huge wave of relief washed over Dan and he relaxed back
into the seat. "Living, as opposed to alive. Listen,
I've been a really shit friend, haven't contacted you
in a year and I'm sorry."
can say that again
lit a fag, "how are you? How is Solange?"
the moment we're both here, she's done shooting and
out of a job. No, that's
not strictly true, I turned one down when things got
bad, and I'm not sure when I can go out there again."
do you mean, when things turned bad?" From relaxed
to alert within a second.
thought I'd told you." Jean said, voice betraying
a little strain. "Pascal? Released from prison?
Two months ago."
No, fuck, I didn't know. What the fuck happened?"
Sitting up straight now, Dan took a deep drag from the
cigarette. "I'm sorry, I don't know anything, I
wasn't really ... with it. Shit."
I'll start at the beginning, okay. Give me a
second." Jean took a sip of something, might be
wine or something stronger, it didn't sound like something
to do with thirst. "Pascal
after he got
back from the last job, he went to meet his girlfriend
or whatever, and trouble was, she was already with some
other guy. So, he walks into this bar, sees them together,
puts two and two together and loses it, completely.
From what I heard, he was on the guy like a rabid dog,
took out several of his teeth, very nearly kills him
before the rest of the bar or club can react, his ex-girlfriend
screaming for help at the top of her voice, stupid bitch,
and the flics arrive and get him. The police. Needless
to say, they aren't MPs, and he gives them a run for
their money. He's a menace to society, gets locked up
for aggravated assault - only thing that helped him
was that he was piss drunk when it happened."
Dan was shocked to the core. "That's not like Pascal."
But what was? What the fuck did he know about him? He'd
been making fun of the guy and he had liked him, but
otherwise? "And now? How is he?"
dead." Jean's voice choked. "Sorry. Give me
Dan almost shouted into the phone. Jumping up from the
chair, he clutched the phone. This couldn't be. All
wrong, fucking wrong.
breathing was forced now, and it took several long,
anguished minutes before he could speak again. "He
went to prison. Bad place, but
you know, not
undeserved. It's not like the taule, where Legionnaires
get straightened out. That was a bad place, I'm not
even sure what happened exactly, only that he must have
started with drugs. Hard stuff. Some guy works out he's
ex-Legion, tells somebody else who's ex-Legion, the
story somehow gets to the Legion, then back to other
ex-Legion boys. To me. It's 'Jean, you got some time
on your hands, he's your friend', so, I drive there
with another friend and pick him up, from the prison
gates. He looked
he looked like he was already
dead. We put him up in a nice flat, but he's not there,
like a goddamned junkie, then we work out
what's wrong, with the marks in his skin and the fact
he's not doing anything. So
we decided to fix
him. I swear that was what it was, what we'd planned,
and we do it the Legion way." Jean was openly crying
hand was shaking as he stood in the middle of the room.
The full force hitting him. Other veterans. Other soldiers.
Lives destroyed, lives lost. Lost in a world that wasn't
theirs and that they had no place in anymore. A place
he'd found - and nearly lost - with Vadim. His family.
His friends. Fuck. He'd been one of the lucky ones.
Forcing himself to calm, he lowered his voice. Tenderness,
for the man who was crying on the other end of the phone.
"Take your time." Not asking anything else,
just waiting for the rest of the story to unfold. "I'm
here, Jean." I am now.
Jean swallowed something again, a drink, or just the
pain. "So, we put him through the cold turkey stuff,
we were there all the time, through all that
Pascal wasn't himself. He was
and screaming, he was like a wild animal. How much he
hated us, that he wanted to die
" Jean choked
up again. "As we thought the worst was over, he's
all placid and good, almost
almost there, we
let caution slip. We were just so goddamned relieved
it was over. Next thing he does is
the flat and
it's the top floor
through the window. He was alive when he was down there,
broken in too many ways. Didn't
speak when I got there, just looked like
he was glad it was over. Died in the ambulance."
Jean's voice was so broken he was almost impossible
to understand, and he seemed to realize that, and paused,
struggling to recover his voice. "Rumour has it
the bitch told him she'd been pregnant and had killed
but it was a lie. She didn't. But he
didn't believe me when I told him. He said why the fuck
would she lie."
didn't say anything for a moment, just couldn't. Pascal,
it seemed like a month or so ago, when he'd been at
the wedding, and they'd taken the piss out of the man.
Pascal. Damn. "I am so sorry." Dan's voice
was as dead as the cigarette ash on the floor. "I
am so sorry I wasn't there, but I am now. Is there anything
I can do? Meet you, perhaps?" To be the fucking
friend that he hadn't been.
yeah, that would be good. Won't be working for
a few months, I could
meet you somewhere. I'm
sure Solange would be good with that."
any time. You go talk to Solange, and I check with Vadim
what sort of jobs we have lined up. We'll make it soon,
aye? I promised my brother we'd show up around Christmas
or New Year, we could combine that."
Make it soon. Just call me when you've worked something
out. I'm here. The cellar and swimming pool and all
that is pretty much finished, too."
you want to see me alone?" A lot unsaid, and it
wasn't about sex.
Vadim if you want to, that's fine. I'm good with anything.
If you want to stay for Christmas, that would be great
too. Just ..." Jean made an almost comical sound.
"Let's just meet, okay?"
we will. I get back to you tomorrow, I send you a mail
when I've figured out what Vadim has planned work-wise.
You go and talk to your good lady." Dan was still
standing in the middle of the room, eyes closed. "Take
care, Jean." His voice had turned soft, "I
mean it. You take care of yourself and of Solange, and
allow her to take care of you, too. I'll be there soon.
"Thank you. Thank you, Dan. Good
your voice. Call me, whenever, I'm here."
was there with two steaming mugs of tea when Dan opened
his eyes again and switched the phone off. "Bad
just nodded. Reaching for the mug, he curled his hand
around the heat. "Pascal is dead. Suicide."
He shuddered violently, spilling some of the tea. "Fuck."
Vadim closed the distance, set the tea down, hands on
looked up, glad when Vadim took the mug out of his hand.
"Jean's in a bad way. Really bad, never heard him
that shaken. I'm worried, Vadim. Because I ... damn."
Leaning is head against Vadim's shoulder, and Vadim
embraced him, held him, just that. "I need to see
him, and Duncan. Any chance we can get across over Christmas
and New Year?"
drive into Palmy tomorrow and see what flights they
have. I wouldn't mind seeing Duncan, and Jean, too.
And their families."
about work? Anything booked? I haven't got a clue."
not going to Rio, and that's really the main one before
Christmas. The whole thing starts again in January,
and if you want more time in Europe, I can do the talks
and you take care of our friends."
Dan lifted his head and smiled. "We'll do that.
We could fly across as soon as possible. The way Jean
sounded, the sooner we head off, the better. We'll book
tomorrow, aye? And I do some more emails and phone calls."
and I'll go to bed, because it's been
a long day for me. You might find me lubed up and on
you might find me falling asleep." Dan flashed
a tired grin.
was grinning as he leaned in for a kiss. "Give
be with you as soon as I can, just can't stop now. Have
to try ... have to talk to people." Kissing back,
Dan finally settled in the chair once more, leg raised
and resting. Tea nearby, he started to call. Meticulously
keeping track of time zones, he went through the list.
The baroness, after all, because how could he not call
her. Talking to her for a while, he said a lot more
than he'd ever meant to. She had that effect, and since
he'd once cried in her presence, there was nothing he
did not trust her with. Talking about the past year,
Vadim, the house, his daughter, his life, his friends
and the loss. Nelson, too, and she promised she would
look into this. He knew he could count on her, the way
her voice had hardened into crystal sharpness. He knew
he could count on her, the way her voice had hardened
into crystal sharpness, and despite the distance they
trusted each other. It was over an hour when he put
the phone down again, yawning, but he wasn't done yet,
would at least have to leave messages if he couldn't
get into contact.
to send email, he worked through the list of phone numbers,
contacting Markus, and with Markus Dima, talking for
a while, and he ended up smiling. Especially when Markus
mentioned something off-hand, that got Dan to think.
A thought was slowly forming in his mind that might
become the basis of an idea. An idea about people, friends,
veterans, mates, safety and understanding.
Matt, the kid had him laugh within a few minutes, and
Dan decided not to tell him anything about the darkness
of the last year. Sticking to the excuses, and enjoying
the banter. Light-hearted, each word made him feel better,
and part of a network, with an understanding that only
the same irreverence born out of a similar job could
bring. Sometime later, when Dan was about to sign off,
he asked Matt to tell Hooch he should call Vadim.
hold of Beauvais was the trickiest bit. But he felt
it was paramount that he tried. For Jean, to keep him
safe - unlike Pascal. It took almost an hour of internet
searches and phoning from one place to another, when
he finally, on a crackling line, had the Capitan on
The line sounded like it could go any minute. "Speaking?"
McFadyen here, best man at Jean's wedding. You remember
me?" Stupid question, but fuck he couldn't assume
anything. Least of all that Beauvais wanted to
do." A small pause, maybe slightly guarded, like
the man was. "And you remember me. I hope you are
okay." Yes, he was. "Out of the job, had to
get an artificial knee, but I'm alright. That's not
why I call." The line was bad enough that he didn't
have time for beating around the bush. "I'm calling
about Jean. I'm worried about him. Pascal is dead. Awful
story. Jean tried to help, but failed. I've been out
of touch for a year I ..." frowning, "was
not a good friend. The legion is the family, aye? Can
you help? Have an eye on him somehow, have someone contact
him. Vadim and I will be flying across as soon as possible,
but it's not the same."
down." Beauvais spoke that like an order, then
remained silent while thinking.
" Dan hissed his retort, but swallowed
the rest of what he wanted to say. That tone brought
his hackles up, but he wanted the man to do something,
and thus he shut up.
at home? I'll make some phone calls. I can't be there,
I'm in Chad, it's busy, but I can find a former Legionnaire
or two to keep an eye on the boy." Sounding almost
he's at home."
I'll tell them where to find him. Shame about Pascal,
he was a good one. No wonder Jean takes it hard."
much for the safety net." Dan snorted, suddenly
bitter, but what the fuck had he expected? His own reaction
was tainted, and he knew it. Because he'd almost been
do what we can. If he'd sought help, people would have
tried to help. Was it suicide?"
Threw himself out of a window." The bile was rising
in Dan's throat. "Was still alive when Jean got
bad news", Beauvais sounded thoughtful. "I'll
take it from here. Thank you for calling. Somebody will
be with Jean very shortly, I think I can find someone
Jean knows, that might help."
you. It's appreciated. Jean means a lot to me."
Adding, a heartbeat later, "as a friend."
know. He's my friend, too. Different story, but
took in a breath, "Beauvais, if you ever need anything,"
no hesitation this time, "call us." He proceeded
to give the number. "Until then." He switched
the phone off, deeply in thought. It wasn't enough.
Not enough to have to actively seek help. There was
the pride, and pride was often all that still mattered.
He knew that too damn well.
right now that was all he could do, and if he didn't
get any sleep he would be useless for anyone. Popping
a pill on his way to the bathroom, just to ease the
discomfort, he was soon showered and padding quietly
into the bedroom. Trying not to disturb Vadim, who lay
in bed, on his belly, naked, covered up to his waist,
face hidden away in the cushions.
sat down on the bed, on 'his' side, which had never
become nor really been his, and looked down. Vadim lay
almost in the middle, proof to his own absence in the
bed, but he would change that. Leaning down, he placed
a light and careful kiss on the bit of face that he
could reach, before trying to get under the covers and
to fit onto that narrow strip of bed that was free.
He didn't mind, on the contrary. Smiling to himself
when he squeezed in, touching Vadim almost all the way.
His hand came to rest on the bare back, with scars and
smooth skin under his fingertips, and he knew that it
could have been different. Hair's breadth for him. No
shifted, half-turned, looked at him, eyes blurred with
sleep, and smiled, then turned around to make room and
offer his back for spooning, soon drifting away completely.
held him close and switched off the light. He was one
of the lucky ones, and he almost hadn't realised it.
next day, they drove into Palmy to check for tickets
and do some food shopping, before Dan called Jean to
set dates, then the travel agent to go ahead with the
young carver arrived in the afternoon, in time for tea,
while Dan was in the garage, working out on the exercise
bike. The young man had brought a folder with patterns
he had drawn or copied. He had a great appreciation
for Szandor's sword that sat on its stand, and Vadim
watched him - after his permission - take it and examine
the work and the balance. Vadim had decided he liked
the young guy, even if he made him tread carefully about
the fact that he and Dan shared a house and were clearly
- well, clearly to anybody but the most innocent onlooker
- an item.
what do you want?" asked the carver after some
chit-chat and after Vadim had looked at all the patterns,
intrigued by the spirals and the ancestor figures and
the magic of making something so artful and attractive
out of a slab of wood.
of those panels", Vadim said.
room?" The carver was getting up, expecting to
be brought there.
paused for a second. "Bedroom."
inhaled, but assumed that it was important, somehow.
He led the young guy up the stairs and opened the door.
"We're getting rid of the paintings, and it's going
to hang there. I thought." Pointing to where the
large acrylic painting had been.
carver nodded, doubtlessly seeing the fact that two
people slept in that bed. "Modern or more traditional?"
shrugged. "I have no idea."
figure with the face tattoo."
war chief?" The carver smiled. "You were a
would make it two war chiefs. In one panel." The
carver nodded to himself, walked back downstairs, back
to his folder, where he pulled a pencil from his pocket
and a worn piece of paper, quickly sketching the bare
minimum - a panel, more or less square, with two humanoid
figures taking the centre, spirals just hinted at around
them. The kid worked, fully concentrated for a little,
until the figures seemed entwined, like in a dance,
or a fight. Or indeed, Vadim thought, sex. He glanced
at the carver, who looked back at him.
inhaled. "That looks good." He wasn't sure
what to say, what to ask.
are from two different tribes, you'll be able to see
that from the tattoos in their faces, when I'm done.
They are both armed with great spiritual power. See
nodded, then smiled. "You do know what you're doing,
That you're takatapui?"
word didn't sound nasty, and Vadim shrugged, not quite
sure. He'd come across that before, that some Maori
used words of their own language when they talked about
concepts that English either didn't have or that required
more importance and gravity than English had. "Takatapui?"
heterosexual." The carver said it like
it was perfectly natural.
That's us." Vadim didn't see any flinching, and
thought, how extraordinary. He didn't get any vibes
from the young guy that he was similarly inclined, but
he'd just said this word that didn't seem negative at
carver worked on the background, not looking up. "Who
were your ancestors? Your family?"
don't speak much to my family."
carver looked up, studied him, and Vadim was now far
more willing to see a shadow of Maori traits in him.
Maybe the slant of the eyes, the cut of the nose. Or
his general height and width. And Vadim thought, that
this guy was looking back to hundreds of years of history,
ranging from which ship had brought his ancestors here,
back to a time as primitive and primal, and as honourable,
maybe, as fierce, to today, where his people were called
lazy bastards that took the social benefits and were
too stupid to hold down proper work. This guy knew about
dishonour, and kept every droplet of Maori blood alive
even though he could easily fit in with the colonists.
think of something", the carver said. "Most
will be traditional, but I'll try and find a new take
on it. Okay?"
long will it take?"
work on it over spring and summer. Allan said I can
stay with them - he has a good place for a workshop,
I just get a decent sized kauri slab and get it ready."
Vadim had another look at the sketch, and it seemed
there were other figures in the background of one of
the figures, while the other half seemed filled with
waves and spirals. He couldn't wait to see the finished
charge what it's worth, okay?
carver smiled and shrugged. "You'll see it when
it's done. We'll talk about the money then. But a reference
would be great, maybe you know some other people that
like 'ethnic crafts'." He said that without bitterness,
a kind of amused pride instead that made Vadim like
him even more.
the end, he was really glad that the painting had been
November, New Zealand
was half asleep despite the sunlight that filtered through
the thin curtains. Arm thrown over his eyes, he was
taking up most of the bed. He'd went to sleep late,
having searched the net for far more interesting places
than he used to frequent, and had barely noticed that
Vadim got up.
had prepared breakfast - the full English - and trusted
in the smells to travel upwards before he came up with
a tablet where the food was piled, orange juice and
coffee. And there was a long, ominous box he had under
his arm, wrapped up like a birthday present. Because,
yes, he hadn't forgotten.
arm still across is eyes, was sniffling like a rabbit
when Vadim stepped into the bedroom. "I'm not dreaming
this, am I?" He sounded mostly awake by now, daring
to blink at Vadim with one eye. "Death-defying
special." Vadim grinned and set it down on the
shit, how did I deserve that?" Fully awake, Dan
flung his arm off and scooted up the bed, grinning at
Vadim, who placed the box onto the bed as well. "And
this arrived just in time, too."
let you guess."
giving world class blow-jobs, which you've missed enough
to give me a present for?" Dan pulled the tray
closer and revelled in the long-lost sensation of being
famished. "And fuck, if I had known you are such
a good cook I'd have kept you for myself in a cave somewhere."
Grinning from ear to ear while tucking into the first
bite of bacon and egg, followed by cholesterol-laden
worry, I won't be opening a restaurant anytime soon."
Vadim sat down, watching Dan. "I'll let you eat
first, but then you open the present."
I get it, a present." Stuffing himself with
sausage and thickly buttered toast, Dan was about to
wash it all down with black coffee, when he suddenly
stalled. Looking at Vadim, wide-eyed. He tried to say
something, but had to chew and swallow first. "You
mysteriously aged one year over night. No idea how that
fuck." Putting the cutlery down, Dan looked from
the present to Vadim and back again. "How the hell
did you manage to remember that? I sure as fuck
didn't." But the grouching barely hid the genuine
surprise and deeply pleased grin that tried to break
just three sets of two-digit numbers, Dan. Doesn't make
me a rocket scientist." He wasn't sure Dan still
remembered his date, though. But that didn't matter.
He'd just gently remind him when the 15th of August
I'm shit at that. Dates, anniversaries, special days
... you got to remind me of Christmas, at times."
Dan put the tray aside, still half-full, and reached
for the present. "Let me do the maths ..."
fumbling with the paper, "shit, I'm forty-five!"
Looking impressively shocked, Dan started to rip the
paper off, but stopped mid-way. "That means ....
damn. You already are forty-five, aren't you?"
Will you still continue dating me?"
it's too late to decide otherwise, aye?" Dan cocked
his head, suddenly serious. "I missed your birthday
ignored it last time."
I won't ignore it next time."
motioned towards the long box. "Come on."
alright." A long, narrow, dark green box came to
view, which didn't give any clues. Prying it open, Dan
shook out the contents, and with a faint sound something
slipped out of it. Long, elegant, and positively decadent.
Finest, polished wood and exquisite silver, which topped
the graceful cane. Dan stared at it while turning it
slowly in his hands.
took the measurements from your old cane and faxed it
over to the UK. They had a specialist there."
..." testament to what I am now, "
Turning it once again, Dan let his fingers stroke over
the smoothly polished wood. Perfect, so perfect. How
could anything for a cripple be so goddamned perfect.
"It's ..." unlike me.
something to support the weight a bit if and when you
have to stand for a while." Vadim looked at the
cane and smiled. It had turned out exactly as they'd
promised. "Could just as well make it a bit nicer,
fuck." Still stroking, cool silver and warm wood,
"must have cost a fortune." Dan was torn between
a hell of a lot of emotions. He smiled, an entirely
overwhelmed expression in his face, "you sure it's
not too sophisticated for me?"
shook his head. "No. It's simple enough to work
with whatever you're wearing. Nobody sees it's silver,
unlike they look closely, and
" He shrugged.
"It goes with the suits and with whatever else.
The beauty is in the simple things here. And since you
keep saying you're a simple man
that mean I'm beautiful?" Dan found the banter
again, always the safest avenue, and winked.
laughed. "Yes. That means exactly that." He
leaned over to kiss Dan on the lips, who was grinning
like a fool. "Happy birthday."
you, too, just bloody belated." Patting the space
beside him, Dan put the cane down and picked up the
food again, before it got cold.
appreciated." Vadim sat down on the bed, stretching
more surprises for today?" Diminishing the bacon,
eggs, sausages and bread once more. "Or is what
you've decided with the sculptor not all that secret?"
working on a design for a panel that goes on the wall.
strange", Vadim murmured.
How?" Mopping up some of the egg yolk with a piece
asked about my ancestors." Vadim shrugged. "Strange.
Asking about family like that."
Finishing off his plate, Dan had the rest of the coffee
and orange juice and put the tray to the side. "Who
are your ancestors?"
I'd have to ask my father about anything beyond my grandfather."
Vadim shrugged. "We're not in touch."
you like to be?" Letting the question hang in the
air, Dan knew enough to suspect the answer. Arm moving
around Vadim's waist and pull him closer.
shook his head. "Why should I hurt him more? We're
not compatible. It's not working, Dan. I tried. He tried."
but I don't get that hurting thing." Slipping a
hand underneath Vadim's shirt, Dan was doing his best
of wandering up and across. "You are who you are.
You're not hurting him by who you are, on the contrary,
he's hurting you by not getting it, that you're not
his. That you're your own guy." He shrugged, adding
a second hand, which worked on the buttons.
I don't need a father anymore. Probably
never needed him", Vadim murmured darkly. "Sounds
I always stuck to 'father types' that
were stronger than he ever was." And how did I
the spetsnaz Colonel?" One brow raised, Dan rolled
over and on top of Vadim's thighs. "Or the doctor?"
Pushing the shirt apart.
looked up. "Yes. Figures of authority. I know the
Colonel was a bastard, but I respected him in ways that
I never respected my father. No, fear. Respect and fear.
I guess you could say he fits the
type, too, but in a very understated English way."
He grinned. "But I can see you have something else
on your mind
if you are interested." Dan lifted his head. "I
might not be a father figure, but I'm still the best
cocksucker in both hemispheres, and it is my
birthday, after all."
laughed. "You are just the right age. Honest. Not
too young, not fatherly, just right for me." He
bent forward and reached for Dan's cock and balls, stroking
them. "All yours
didn't take more than a grin before Dan leaned down
and with gusto and greed, proceeded to spend a long
and utterly skilled time on tasting, licking, sucking
and taking in Vadim's cock. Because it was his, perhaps
not his alone, but his. And the affirmation couldn't
happen often nor intense enough. Vadim in turn dropped
all thoughts, all banter, and fully took anything Dan
gave him, the pleasure, the game of need and desire
that was playful these days, they knew each other so
well and it was a lot like coming home, being home,
as long as Dan was like this and not the bitter stranger
he'd resented for so long.
spent the day on the farm, with a quality that was special
and kept reminding Dan that it was actually his birthday.
A fact that was emphasised at night, when his brother
called, and the Baroness, as well as - of all people
- Matt, who let out a barrage of age-related banter,
before handing the phone over to Hooch, who drawled
out a few words, before Dan held the phone towards Vadim's
glanced at him. "Yes?"
That was all Dan said, before buggering off and into
the kitchen, to wolf down the leftovers of the rather
generous amount of strawberry tarts.
Hooch's voice, unmistakably.
glanced after Dan. "Hi. How
how are you
Here for a few days. Better than camp." A pause,
the sound of shuffling, Hooch moving to another room.
"How are you, buddy?"
Dan and I just worked some things out. I'm
he's pretty good, too. The knee screwed
him up a bit, but I think he's finding his balance back."
Matt told me he tried to contact Dan." A pause,
another sound, before Hooch stilled, then. "Any
chance to meet?"
swallowed. He wanted the man, still. It was easier ignoring
that when Hooch wasn't there, when Dan filled up his
life, his needs
Hooch. Fuck. He'd promised he'd
not do that again, promised not to fall for anybody
else. It wasn't just sex, it was a real thing, a connection,
a feeling, a need, something deep and fairly strong.
Dan didn't love Jean, but he
have to ask Dan. We're
we're heading to Europe
in a little, have to check what the plan is."
pause, before Hooch's voice was heard again. "Listen,
buddy, I understand ..." Leaving the words standing
between them. "Dan's more important. Things really
alright with him? You got your priorities."
closed his eyes. This hurt. Unexpected how much it hurt.
He closed the door, dropped his voice to a murmur. "You're
too deep inside me, Bozic. I can't
I can't love two men." There. Out. "I'm sorry."
Just that, nothing for a long time, except for the sound
of rustling, shuffling, and then a cigarette being lit.
"I didn't ..." Hooch never finished the sentence.
Changed it instead to "how do you know my name?"
passport. Your jacket. Sorry. Old habits." Vadim
breathed deeply. "Won't tell anybody. Your secrets
are safe with me."
know my name, Hooch."
but is it a secret?" The sound of smoke being exhaled,
"what you feel. Is it?"
knows, or guesses. I
the three of us, now. That's it."
..." never spoken the affirmation that Dan knew.
Hooch's voice softened, "but what do I do with
closed his eyes. Yeah. Pushing that onto the other man.
What could Hooch do with it? Answer: 'I don't' and hurt
him, maybe lie? Say: 'I do' and make the situation even
more impossible? Selfish, stupid, short-sighted, huge
mistake. He felt a shudder rise from somewhere in his
body, guilt, shame, pain, a deep horror that had only
been sleeping. He couldn't lose Dan, he couldn't hurt
Dan, yet he wanted this man, loved this man, could easily
fall completely for him. Mad, stupid lust, friendship,
and screw up everything he had, everything he wanted.
I don't know. I've never been in
I have no idea what to do."
He'd been there, pretty close to 'there' anyway, when
telling Katya he was leaving. Hurting one person he
loved for another.
the sound of inhaling, then exhaling, slow and steady,
a long pause. "I don't." Softly, carefully,
and with a rare tenderness.
We're friends." It hurt, yes, on some level he'd
known, but that didn't change his feelings. "It's
it's good you don't. I mean it. It's
whom?" Exhaling, then a rustling sound as Hooch
extinguished his cigarette.
Vadim was listening to everything, every breath, every
small sound that betrayed anything.
three?" Fingers moving along the receiver.
Vadim muttered. "Easier for all of us, then."
... you want to meet me, or want me to fuck off?"
I want and
what I can do
is two different
" Vadim rubbed his face. "I want
to meet you. And I
can't meet you, because
point is, what you really want. Not what you can't.
And not what you should. What do you want."
Pausing, "who do you want."
not the point
If I'd always do what I wanted
" Vadim groaned. "I want you. I fucking
do. But I'll get old with this guy, and Dan
hurts him. That's the bottom line. I can't, Hooch."
love Dan. I don't claim I know about love, but you love
love him. And that means I can't hurt him. It's not
about me, or you, it's about him." Vadim swallowed,
shook his head, forced himself to breathe. Fuck, this
was a complete pain. Just remembering Hooch's grins
or the way he grew peaceful when he'd been thoroughly
abused and hurt
Hooch wrestling and fucking him.
"We're friends." Just my feelings are in the
way, and Dan's feelings, too.
After a moment. "Won't meet then. I understand."
Slight pause, ominous to Vadim's mind, who half expected
a "Fuck you, too", now, because that was what
their whole connection was, wasn't it? The sex, maybe
the ease, but what was there that went beyond
what they'd had. Then, Hooch said: "but we stay
in touch. Alright, buddy?"
We do. Take care
and be safe." He felt like
a liar, knowing Hooch wasn't safe when he was getting
his fix elsewhere.
do my best." There was a smile in Hooch's voice,
before the line went dead.
switched the handset off and leaned against the wall.
It hurt. He hadn't been in touch because he'd have left
Dan at a drop of a hat. He'd been that close, and if
Hooch had offered
anything, an alternative, regular
sex, being close, he wouldn't have been able
to resist. Good thing, he'd been busy the last months,
always claimed to be busy so he didn't have to think
about it. Still, it hurt. His heart felt raw, like scraped,
skinned, seared, it hurt. Not having the thing he wanted,
not being loved by the man he loved, having to say no
for the sake of something bigger and more important.
He opened the door and walked back down to replace the
stood in the doorway from living room to hallway, looking
at him with a slight smile on his face. Illuminated
from the back, clear-cut silhouette of sharp angles
and chiselled features, framed by wild, greying hair.
Still dark, still stunning, yet lined.
smiled. "I'm not meeting him. We'll be friends."
still didn't say anything, just nodded, the smile still
there, then turned and walked through the living room
and onto the patio, all the way through the French windows.
Looking out over the old orchard and the mountains when
Vadim got to his side, reaching over to take Dan's hand.
Worth it. A thousand times. Any sacrifice, from the
small ones to the big ones, and Dan turned his head,
looking fully at him, while the smile grew. He didn't
need to say anything, didn't have to voice the "I
love you." It was there, unsaid, yet outspoken.
years. They didn't come cheap.
1st December 1994, United States of America
he unlocked the door, the first thing Matt saw was the
flashing red light of the answering machine. Dropping
the gym bag, he picked it up, listening to the recording
for no more than a couple of seconds, before he handed
the receiver over to Hooch. "For you."
raised his brows, then listened, frowned, while Matt
stood for another second, before turning and heading
to the bathroom. They'd been to the gym, with Hooch
using the one in Matt's camp, and they were both drenched
in sweat. The story of Hooch being the ex-boyfriend
of Matt's sister, who had dumped him but the two men
stayed friends, had been swallowed hook line and sinker,
and nobody queried the visits.
Matt came back out of the bathroom, still damp from
the shower, he knew immediately that something was wrong.
As if he didn't know.
to this time?"
gave a small smile and shrugged. Some things were so
classified, it didn't matter that Matt wasn't a civilian.
nodded, tried a grin, didn't quite succeed, then pulled
in a deep breath, letting it out to mask a sigh. "How
..." Fingers on the towel around his hips, Matt
stepped closer. "They're organising your flight?"
of time." Matt started to grin and Hooch rose a
think I never fucked you." Stepping closer, Matt's
fingers loosened the towel.
brow was joined by the second one, both raising higher.
corner of Hooch's lips twitched. "Yeah?"
grinned. "Think it's time."
..." the smirk that grew out of proportion on Hooch's
face was only cut short when a naked Matt pushed him
against the front door. Hooch let it happen, and let
a lot of other things happen after that.
was good, damned good. It would have to get him through
6th December 1994, in the sky somewhere close to
was yawning when he woke again. He'd managed to snooze
for a couple of hours. Glad they had the money - even
though it was prohibitively expensive - to fly a class
that offered enough space for his legs. He'd be in utter
agony by now if he would have had to sit with his knees
bent. Rubbing his eyes, he stuck his head out from under
the blanket and looked across to the neighbouring seat,
studying Vadim's face, half turned away, in three-quarter
was a steep line between Vadim's eyebrows, and his sleep
might have been mistaken for deep thought with eyes
closed. He lay there, one shoulder covered by the blanket,
the other bare except for his shirt.
pushed himself up and across, to be able to lay his
head lightly on the bare shoulder. Just being close,
inhaled deeply, half sigh, and turned his head. "Hey.
night, midday, evening, who the fuck knows." Dan
grinned tiredly, lifting his head to take a better look.
"I think it won't be long, a few hours or so?"
so." The stewardesses began to make preparations
for breakfast, and Vadim got up, still dazed and wanting
the flight to be over. "How are you feeling?"
just apprehensive and bloody stiff." Dan sat up
straight, then peeled himself out of the reclining seat
to try stretch his leg and stand for a while. "I
just don't know what to expect with Jean."
stretched and sat up, rubbing his face. "I wouldn't
know. I've never seen him out of his balance ..."
Dan sighed, stretched from head to toe and walked a
few steps to and fro, before sitting back down to talk
without being overheard by everybody. "Anyway,
guess I just have to wait and see, aye?" He took
in a slow, deep breath, keenly feeling the urge for
reached out and took Dan's shoulder. "Take as much
time with him as you need. I can even get that lady
of his out of the house."
think that would be a good idea?"
You might have to fuck him to remind him of a few things
Dan nearly jumped out of his seat. Nicotine withdrawal
and an uncharacteristic directness from Vadim were a
combination that was hard to stomach. "Ha ha, Russkie,
don't give me a heart attack." Dan shook his head,
"besides, Jean's precious arse is a no-no, and
even my charms won't change that."
has no idea what he's missing." Vadim grinned,
a playful glee that betrayed he'd been coarse to shock
bastard." Dan murmured with a grin.
sex should be a nice distraction."
don't think he'll be in the mood ... and, damn, I'm
not going there this time for sex, aye? Just to be a
friend. That's what Jean needs if I'm not mistaken.
That's what I needed, too. You just happened to be my
lover as well."
his lover, too, Dan. And it might be exactly what he
needs." Vadim shrugged. "Take his mind off
wouldn't call myself his lover. It's a bit ... much."
seemed thoughtful at that. How weird, with the sex and
the friendship ... granted, Jean wasn't as important
as he was, but he was, technically and literally, Dan's
lover. It had been going on for years, they were friends,
they got off together. "I just wonder how much
of a crush he did have on Pascal."
Dan looked up, a puzzled expression on his face. "You
think so? Well he did make some weird comments, back
in the Gulf ..." Mulling it over. "Damn, that
would make things even harder, wouldn't it?"
shrugged. "I don't know, but I think so. That was
just something I've been thinking about. What if. But
you know him better than I do."
not sure that I do. We haven't been doing much of that
talking thing. He's always been smooth, easy-going,
fun." Dan shrugged, "I admit it, you've accused
Jean of being shallow, and I guess that's what we've
inhaled deeply. "He's hiding. Jean is a creation
of himself. He has no past, no roots, no nothing. His
Russian is from Moscow, I ... think I could pinpoint
him, but he's acting as if he'd never been anything
else. I find it hard to respect a man who doesn't look
himself in the face." He looked closely at Dan.
I believe he has a damn good reason for it and just
might simply be envious of the ease he does things with.
Plus, he's not fucked up like me, ten years younger,
and ... I guess a great kisser."
rolled his eyes. "Oh no, not that one. You sound
like me when I worry about Hooch."
don't have to worry about him anymore."
won't be any more sex. We'll stick to being 'friends'."
Dan frowned, "why?"
close to the bone."
of me? Because of my worries?"
Because he's too close to the bone and because you worry,
and you ... I guess you were right to worry, too."
in that case ... not having sex won't make the fact
go away that you are in love with him." Dan kept
his face fairly expressionless. "Do you think you
can love more than one person? I always thought that
having sex with lots of men is okay, but that love can
only be for one."
shook his head. "I love you, Dan. Nobody else.
It's too easy to fall for him, so I won't. No sex. He's
not like the guys we had together, that's just physical."
what is Jean, then? He's not just physical to me, he's
my friend. Or do you think I would otherwise fly across
the globe to visit him when he's in a shit place?"
Dan was genuinely puzzled.
nodded. "Maybe you are just different. But ...
if Solange wasn't there and he was gay ..." Pausing
to give the old joke a little room and Dan didn't fail
to grin, "and interested ... what would happen?"
The answer came quickly. He was utterly convinced of
it and didn't need to think about the how and why. "You
wear my scars and I wear yours. How could anyone ever
be a threat?"
looked into Dan's eyes and knew that stopping sex with
Hooch had been the right decision, because Dan completely
believed what he was saying. Jean didn't rank anywhere
near. He nodded, glanced up to the approaching stewardess.
Dan smiled, pushing the seat upright. "Time to
get some scran down our necks." The conversation
had ended, and he was happy about it. No resentment,
no residues of lingering disbelief, nothing.
had their breakfast as they continued to fly across
Europe, getting closer to France. Eventually, they approached
Paris Charles de Gaulle and touched down. Dead tired
on their feet and completely thrown by the change in
season - cold, dreary and wintery instead of spring
to early summer - they booked into an airport hotel
to get some proper sleep in, before heading on with
their hire car. A 4x4, because the seats were straight
and more comfortable for Dan. The next morning they
set off to continue their journey to Burgundy.
arrived late lunchtime, and the 'castle' came into view
amongst the grey clouds and the backdrop of stormy weather
with threats of more rain or sleet.
were three cars out there, a white convertible with
leather seats, a heavier-going 4x4, and a beaten up
brownish Volvo that had seen better days. When they
got out of the car and towards the door, it was a stranger
that opened, mid-thirties, sun-bleached hair, weathered
face, pockmarked but seemingly friendly. "Yeah?"
Jean around?" Dan offered a smile. "Or Solange?
They are expecting us. Dan and Vadim."
yes." The man, who had to have been Jean's comrade
at some point, opened the door further. "Come on
in. They are both there. And another guy, from the village."
took the bags and followed, only to find the ex-comrade
take the bags from him. "I'll bring them upstairs,
the room's been prepared. Jean says you know the place."
we do. We were here for the wedding." Dan looked
around, "where are they, living room or kitchen?"
room. Fireplace. Want some drinks? I was getting something."
whisky if you got some." Dan nodded, then headed
straight towards the living room, remembering the night
Vadim had fallen asleep in front of the fireplace, while
he'd 'fought' with Beauvais. He waited for Vadim, smiled
at him, before they stepped through the door into the
was leaning back, holding a glass of wine, legs up on
the sofa, looking relaxed, but pale, even in the light
from the fireplace. Solange was sitting there, too,
and glanced up with a smile, while Jean was listening
to a young guy who was breathtaking - strong, earthy,
dark wavy hair, and he was talking animatedly in French,
as if trying to convince Jean of something. At that
moment, Jean looked up, too and looked at Dan, and a
sense of relief washed over his face. He put down the
wine glass and got up.
..." Dan smiled, eyes first on Solange, then on
Jean, as he stepped into the middle of the room. It
had been too long, and what shit way to meet again.
"Good to see you."
Jean didn't seem to know what to do with his hands all
of a sudden, and he looked at Vadim and gave him a smile,
too. "You guys look well-rested. Well, apart from
the flight, I guess. How ... how you been? Oh, this
is, ah... Frederic, he's a vintner. Brought us this
wine. Want some?"
Dan grinned and suddenly it all came back. The ease
of knowing where to go and what to do and he nodded
to Frederic, and cast a brilliant smile at Solange.
"Would you excuse me while I am terribly rude and
take Jean outside before properly saying hello?"
He even indicated a bow to Solange, "with your
permission? I have to show Jean something."
smiled. "If I get to keep Vadim?"
gave a soft laugh. "Yes, why not."
smiled at Vadim, and there was an understanding that
no one else in the room could grasp. Clapping his hand
on Jean's shoulder in a matey gesture, he guided him
towards the door. "We'll be right back." Steering
him outside, he murmured. "Where to?"
... small house in the garden." The place where
they'd celebrated the stag night. Jean led the way,
the door wasn't locked, and it seemed to have become
a place for guests, just in case they ran out of space
in the main building. Jean flicked the heating on. "Thanks
for ... coming."
Dan didn't know what else to say, didn't think he needed
to, really, because all he could do was be there. "I
wanted to properly say 'hi'."
nodded, gave a smile, was 'acting normal', but there
was considerable strain and exhaustion visible. "Sorry,
I'm not at my ... best at the moment." Pressing
his lips together, he shook his head and moved closer,
towards Dan, within touching distance. "Had a rough
know. Fuck, I do. I really do." Leaning the cane
against the wall, Dan stepped closer, opened his arms,
bodies touching. "Can't say I can change it, make
it better." Arms going around Jean, holding tight
and strong. "But I can be here, aye?" Softly.
nodded and gave a small sound, shuddering, face buried
in Dan's shoulder and neck. "The cops seemed to
think ... I killed him, but they can't prove shit. They've
been all over ... his friends ... said it ... had to
be a Legion connection, somewhere, so some ... showed
up here and asked question. Whether I'd kidnapped and
imprisoned him. And why."
Heartfelt, while holding Jean close. "What did
they come up with?"
got it ... spot on. They knew it was me and ... a friend.
But they can't prove it. Said I'd feel better if I'd
turn myself in." Jean shuddered violently. "Doesn't
bring him back, does it?"
did nothing." Dan frowned, pulling his head back
to look at Jean, who kept his face hidden. "It
was not your fault. You tried all you could,
all you knew, and fuck ..." Dan had to pause
for a second, "it was suicide, Jean, suicide. Something
I was fucking close to, too." Feeling how Jean
clutched him closer, like a drowning man at that confession.
"Something that can happen ... like ... "
trailing off, Dan shook his head, "something that
no one can stop."
was fucking Pascal. Suicide? I don't get it. I don't
want to get it. Fuck. I'd have done anything ..."
to me." Dan pulled back again, "do you listen
to me?" Shaking Jean. Once, twice, until Jean finally
looked at him with a pained expression. "It happened.
You were too late. You were too fucking late.
You did anything you possibly could, but you have no
idea what might have gone on inside Pascal. None. We
don't understand the ones closest to us, even the ones
we love, the ones we sleep beside every single fucking
night, how the hell did you believe you could know what
was going on inside Pascal?"
nodded, but he was so visibly in pain that the rational
mind clearly was not in charge. Wordless, fingers digging
into Dan's arms, shoulders. "So ... fucking senseless",
he said, toneless, face distorting again.
It was." Holding close again, pulling Jean against
him, whose fingers dug deep into muscle, like a feral
animal. "It was."
stayed there, face once more against Dan's neck. He
was vibrating with pain, rock-hard muscles that somehow
absorbed most of the agony. "Don't ... don't leave
... not like this, okay? Dan?"
won't. I won't ever. You get that? Not ever." A
vow, with more meaning than perhaps even Jean could
understand. "I'll be here, right here, no matter
where, but always for you and always your friend, no
matter what." Waiting and holding, while soothing
those muscles. Trying to coax them, to relent the pain
and bend instead of break, but perhaps it wasn't time
yet. Jean exhaled, a pained sigh, and he pushed back
to kiss Dan on the lips, still in that embrace, now
face against face, about to say something, but he seemed
not to know what it was.
simply opened is lips, allowed anything to happen that
Jean wanted. A receptacle, trying to absorb some of
the pain. Jean took Dan's head in his hands, kissed
him more deeply, but pulled away again. "Too ...
suspicious", he murmured.
Dan smiled. "Let's get back then. Maybe later?"
inhaled. "Yeah. I'm ... I don't know what to think.
Not sure what I'm feeling ..." He glanced back
towards the direction of the house. "And Frederic
keeps working on getting that vineyard. I ... don't
feel like I can make any kind of decision. I hardly
get what he says."
don't you forget about all this shit for a while? Tell
him to come back later, it's a really bad time right
now, and give up all decision making for a while? Give
us a couple of weeks, we have time, just stall everything."
nodded. "Okay. Guess I ... liked his nice brown
eyes too much."
Doesn't surprise me."
shrugged, giving a tired grin. "I'll tell him to
leave. You have a few weeks? That ... sounds good. Fuck,
I ... missed you."
back now, even if it's on the other side of the world."
would be nice. Solange ... she's really flustered, too,
doesn't want to work while I'm here."
here now, we'll take care of you." Dan pulled a
gentle grin. "We won't let you do anything stupid."
nodded and took Dan's shoulder, pressing it. "Go
back? Before Vadim has scared the vintner off. How's
Alright." Dan smiled. "He's really been getting
into the conference circus shit. Loves the stuff."
Dan led the way. "It's good, because if he didn't,
we wouldn't be able to afford our expenses."
to hear." Jean again touched Dan's shoulder, a
similar ease and familiarity as he'd always had, but
it was covering up the things that were really going
on. He returned to his couch, close to Solange, and
some nibbles and drinks had found their way to the table.
Frederic had been talking to Solange, the Legionnaire
had been talking to Vadim, carefully, guarded, but friendly
Dan wanted, though, was talk to Jean. Really
talk. Couldn't be helped right now, though, and he sat
down next to Vadim, after properly greeting Solange,
and had a couple of glasses of wine. He sat close, but
wasn't obvious, for whose sake even Dan didn't know.
Perhaps the Legionnaire's and ultimately Jean's. He
was tired, the journey still in his bones, but when
the Legionnaire got up to go to the kitchen and get
some ice and vodka, Dan followed.
Legionnaire was standing with his back to Dan, front
towards the fridge, looking around, easy and confident
like a man with few cares in the world.
Dan had made enough noise not to startle the man, who
gave him a glance and a friendly raise of the eyebrow,
took the vodka out of the fridge and gathered some water
You're Scots, right?"
and you? Can't quite place your accent." Dan smiled,
took the glasses to help carrying.
The man grinned. "Been around, guess the accent's
broke into a fully-blown grin. "Looks like you're
as much of a 'peasant', as I am." He winked. "I
was Royal Scots, then SAS. I assume you're legion?"
regular forces, but I wanted more action."
get more than in La Legion." Dan grinned. "Still
yeah, I'm just on R&R, have three weeks to kill
and thought why not visit Jean in his little house.
So, you're Regiment? Nice one, mate." The man paused
for a second when grabbing the bottle. "Ash."
and I'm retired now." Giving a wry grin. "Ice?"
hands free." Dan shrugged with another grin, but
went over to the freezer anyway, setting the glasses
back down. "Afraid my balance is shot to shit,
you better carry some of the glasses." Digging
into the freezer, he found the bag with ice cubes, adding
a handful each to a glass. "I assume you are acquainted
with Capitan Beauvais ...?"
yes. He called me ... we go way back, what, five years?
Before I signed up for another stint." Ash grinned.
"He's a motherfucker, but not a bad one. You're
a friend of his?"
quite call it friend, but aye, we met at Jean's wedding.
Good man, just a bit of a rod up his arse." Dan
grinned, "he wasn't too impressed when I told him
that. I had a black eye for days, thank fuck his jaw
wasn't any better."
laughed. "SAS must have been good for something.
Getting one in on him must have been bad for his ego."
gave as good as he got, and he did catch me by surprise,
so all was well." Dan bared all his teeth. The
memory of quite how Beauvais 'got one in', was
seriously classified. "Anyway, I called him about
Jean, and it's good to see you here. I'm damn worried.
The job might not do the shit to us, but being out of
the job can."
for a mate." Ash shrugged, like it was no big deal
to sacrifice his R&R to keep an eye on Jean. "Wish
I could help more."
I know. But I'll do my best, too. Have a heart-to-heart,
stuff like that. Perhaps you might want some days in
the neighbourhood to actually get some R&R on R&R?"
The Capitan said I was just holding out until you guys
arrive. I can piss off back to Corsica, too. No problem."
you prefer. But we're ready to take over if you're happy
with that." Picking up the rest of the glasses.
"Time to hit the vodka?"
Freezing my nipple off." Ash gave a laugh and shifted
the ice-cold bottle just a bit.
Dan made his way out of the kitchen door and back into
the living room. Handing out the vodka, with Frederic
saying his goodbyes, and only the four of them remaining,
once Solange had bid them good night. Four men, all
soldiers, at one time.
poured himself a generous amount of vodka, drinking
quite fast, with Ash almost matching him. Drinking games,
getting pissed, that seemed very much what he'd expected
and what he could deal with, while Vadim mostly watched,
drinking in measured sips. Talk was about anything and
everything, stupid pranks from army days, but Jean didn't
talk about Pascal, instead, it was about the Legion,
Kuwait, the desert. They danced around the subject,
but it wasn't an elegant dance, more a deadly one, and
neither Dan nor Vadim could stay awake any longer, and
they made their way upstairs. At least knowing that
Jean wasn't alone, with Ash still there. It was barely
half an hour later when they were both asleep.
noticed the movement first, somebody was in the room,
somebody who locked the door behind him. All he could
make out was a silhouette of a naked man, and it could
have been either Ash or Jean, and the thought it might
be Ash was captivating, because the man had a body to
die for, from what he'd seen, at least, and he didn't
come with any of the baggage.
man moved close to the bed, and Vadim half-turned onto
his back. Suddenly, the other body was on top of him,
and he recognized Jean by smell and taste as he kissed
him, but it wasn't raging passion, more one of those
intimate, gentle, good kisses that Jean could dish out,
as he moved over, rolled, and ended up between him and
Dan, facing Dan, on his side. Vadim's hand moved towards
Jean's groin, and sure enough, despite all the alcohol,
Jean was half-hard. Well, quarter-hard, there was certainly
life in that cock.
...?" Drowsy, Dan had been in deep sleep, and was
only now catching on that the movement wasn't just Vadim
turning in his sleep, nor that the body that pressed
against him was the one he'd been holding when he'd
fallen asleep. "What the ..."
sleep", Jean murmured, reminding Vadim very much
of a kid climbing in to mommy and daddy because of nightmares
or something similar. He made some space, but had to
lie very close and on his side or he'd fall out of bed.
Dan had shuffled up all the way and claimed all the
space. Which, of course, pressed him into Jean's ass,
and Vadim felt himself harden. He stroked the other's
body, flank, towards his cock, balls, rolling them in
his hand. Sure enough, Jean reacted. He was drunk, but
do you want?" Murmured, Dan's hands soon joined
Vadim's, exploring the body he'd got to know well throughout
the last four years.
pressed up to Dan, Vadim's hand was more insistent,
more aggressive, taking his cock hard and pumping him
until he moaned. Vadim moved his cock between Jean's
ass checks, which made the ex-Legionnaire stiffen. "Just
..." Jean groaned as Vadim's thumb went across
the tip of his cock. Losing words.
you?" Dan finished the sentence. Pressed close,
only enough space between his body and Jean's for Vadim's
hand to continue stroking, ever more insistent. Dan
angled his head a fraction and captured Jean's lips,
swallowing a moan, as he coaxed those lips apart. His
tongue followed, and Jean kissed him, tongue and lips,
opening wide. Hands roaming wherever he could reach,
the touches were firm and reassuring, adding to the
lust that Vadim brought. Vadim pulled Jean's hips back
a little, paused just long enough to find some of the
lube that he'd unpacked, and Jean shuddered hard as
he applied it to Jean's crack. He knew Jean wouldn't
resist much if he'd fuck him now, he knew he had him
right there, where he'd had Platon and Vanya, both needy
enough to allow him to do anything. Vadim would have
killed to fuck Jean, Jean on hands and knees on top
of Dan, their cocks rubbing with every of his thrusts,
fucking both men at the same time. He teased Jean's
hole, who jerked like he'd never been touched there
jerk brought Dan's head up, and he broke the kiss. It
took him a moment to catch on, and he lifted his head
enough to look at Vadim, cradling Jean's face and head
in the crook of his neck. "No." Murmured,
the shake of his head minimal. "No."
bared his teeth, desire told him one thing, Dan another.
He let go, just pushed his cock between Jean's cheeks,
sliding there, wrong angle, but still nice, but didn't
get enough friction like that. Jean held onto Dan, kissing
his neck, throat, shoulder, as Vadim shifted again to
place his cock between Jean's legs, pumping him with
returned to kissing, demanding and giving Jean the edge,
while Vadim's stroking had become almost brutal, but
Jean needed that extra to get off. The booze had dulled
his senses. Jean came first, against Dan's body, and
Vadim again changed the angle, fucking Jean's closed
legs with a savage need that rocked Jean with every
thrust, until, he, too, came with a loud groan and bit
Jean in the shoulder for added need, and part frustration
because he'd much preferred that tight ass.
against all odds and unlike himself, had not cum, and
had no need to. Holding Jean tight, bodies pressed close,
he was kissing Jean's lips, face, neck, until he trailed
off. Breathing. Caressing the sweat-damp skin.
kept kissing, but the alcohol made him drowsy, and he
slowly drifted off, cuddling up and still in a mess.
Vadim stroked the sweaty ass, but grinned when he noticed
there was hardly a reaction in him. "How do we
get him into the right bed?"
question is rather," Dan whispered, "what
the fuck were you thinking?" Caressing Jean's hair
with an oddly protective gesture. "Oh, and don't
forget to clean him up first." Dan rolled his eyes.
gave a short laugh. "You don't want to know what
I was thinking ..."
Vadim got up, headed into the bathroom and soaked part
of a towel with warm water, cleaning himself and then
Jean, who was, by now, blissfully asleep.
what about me?" Dan had rolled onto his back. Sticky
with Jean's cum.
wiped him down, too, then kissed him, deeply. "Not
interested at all?" he asked.
worried." His words surprised even Dan himself.
"That's not Jean, and you, Russkie, you would have
taken advantage of that." And yes, he was pissed
off about that. "Don't you see he's fucked up?"
think a good shag won't make it worse. Probably better.
Very likely better." Vadim glanced at the sleeping
man. "He came into our bed, and whatever his intentions,
that wasn't completely innocent."
but you don't know that he really doesn't want to get
like he's straight."
sat up and ran a hand through his wild hair. "If
anyone ..." looking up, his expression was almost
angry. "You're just fucking greedy."
laughed. "Maybe." It wasn't all sun and light
what he was feeling for Jean. In a way, it was payback,
he wanted to get Jean to lose it, to want to get fucked,
wanted to humiliate him and fuck him raw. Plus, Jean
had fucked him, so it seemed only fair. And thirdly,
Jean wouldn't have fought back. But yes, he'd wanted
a brutal, intense fuck from the guy, and nothing much
You don't give a shit, do you?" Dan frowned, standing
as in ... good luck."
much for friendship."
do we get him into the right bed? Move him to the couch
and act as if he'd fallen asleep there?"
really piss me off right now, Russkie." Dan was
pulling on his dressing gown. "Anyway, we can hardly
put him back into Solange's bed."
she'd get the shock of her life." Vadim stood,
too, rolled his shoulders. "I'll carry him, you
open the doors." He pulled Jean closer, who softly
protested, then loaded him onto his shoulders in a fireman's
grip. "I swear he got heavier", Vadim murmured.
Or he was getting older. He straightened with the load.
shrugged, opened the door and led the way to the living
room and the white leather couches. The fire was still
burning in the fire place, albeit low, and there were
lowered Jean onto the couch closest to the fire, got
a pillow under his head and pulled one of the blankets
up to cover him with that. Jean looked more peaceful,
more vulnerable now, and he felt almost sorry for the
fierce urge to hurt him. He'd never really understand
how Jean managed to set him on edge like that - he guessed
it was envy and jealousy.
he's taken care off. Let's go to bed."
I'll be up shortly." Looking at Vadim, Dan clearly
expected him to leave.
shrugged and headed back upstairs.
beside the couch for a while, Dan finally sat down,
looking into the fire. One hand on Jean's blanket-clad
body, the other toying with a poker. "I'm sorry."
He finally murmured, turning towards Jean. Leaning down,
he placed a light kiss onto the face, and murmured once
more, "so fucking sorry. At least it isn't too
late ..." Jean's hand moved, touching Dan's cheek,
but nothing more, he was probably not even aware of
last Dan got up and made his way back upstairs. Silently
cursing the stairs. He shrugged out of the dressing
gown once he had closed the door.
glanced up and lifted the blanket for Dan to crawl under,
which he did, silently. Lying on his back and staring
at the ceiling.
was now awake, too. Feeling the silence, possibly brooding,
anger. "He'll be okay. He's going through a rough
patch, but he'll be okay."
just don't get it." Dan turned his head to look
at Vadim. "I really don't. The man's fucked up.
Drunk. Not himself. And you want to fuck him? Because
he's not going to say no? Bloody hell, Vadim, that's
low." Dan shook his head. "I know you had
your differences in the past, all the way since the
Gulf, but would you do the same if it were Hooch and
could take it", Vadim murmured. "So that's
not really the same thing. I didn't think about it.
And I didn't do it."
Hooch could take it. I bet Hooch can take anything.
And if Hooch's mate threw himself out of a window, that
wouldn't affect him, aye? Because Hooch is different.
Hooch isn't such a soft shite as Jean, no?" Dan
realised he was getting into a rage and shook his head,
taking a deep breath. "Fuck. I'm rattled. Have
you got any idea how close I must have been to offing
myself? Because I don't have a clue."
all had people die. Hooch's team mate had been killed
when we met in Berlin." Vadim reached over and
touched Dan's chest. "There was a kid
driver, he got shot in the throat in an ambush. Nothing
anybody could have done. Platon. Good boy."
were both killed in action." Dan frowned. "And
that makes you think less of Jean, somehow? Enough to
figure, hey, he's out of it, so let's fuck the guy?
You didn't do it to me in the cave ... would you do
it now, because I turned out to be a weakling? Because
I couldn't deal with having lost who I was? Is that
why you were embarrassed?"
pulled his hand back. "Guess I shouldn't have come."
He got up, reached for his briefs, pulled them on.
your solution is to run away and sulk?" Sitting
up as well, Dan reached for his own trousers. Vadim
wasn't going to get away this time.
fucks people up, Dan. It's nothing new. It's what we
sign up for when we do this job. Comrades die, lives
get lost, people break. It's natural. It's the price
we pay for killing."
the price for doing the job is to get fucked up? That's
not good enough." Dan frowned. "No, not good
enough at all."
shook his head. "That's why the Legion keeps an
eye on its people. There are veteran organizations.
Even the Afghanets have organized." He was getting
angry himself, a low-level resentment that drove him
what did they do for you? Huh?" Dan stood, "besides,
what good do they do if you actively have to seek help?
What about pride? What about not realising you need
help? What if not seeking help is the last and only
thing that remains? Because if you did, then you'd really
prove that you've become weak and useless?"
please, I'm tired and jetlagged and I don't want to
discuss all this right now. I want to fucking sleep."
was about to say something, but didn't, just shook his
head and buttoned the trousers, reaching for his jumper.
groaned, felt that he'd get chased wherever he'd go
to find some rest, because Dan just wouldn't let it
go. He pulled a T-shirt on. "I'll sleep on the
other couch." He grabbed his pillow and
headed towards the door. "Won't touch him."
stay here." Dan sat back down to pull on socks
and tie his shoes. "I need to think. I need to
..." go into the mountains. "I'll be outside."
I'll just get something to drink, then." Vadim
headed into the kitchen.
watched him leave. Sometimes he wanted to kick Vadim,
or punch his face until he actually listened, or behaved
like ... aye, what? He wasn't sure, but felt that Vadim
continued to be a slippery fish. Evading wherever possible.
He shrugged in the end and put on his thickest parka,
gloves, hat and all, and even took the cane, just in
case. Cigarettes stashed in his pockets, he slowly made
his way down the stairs.
cold and damp outside hit him like a thick blanket,
and he inhaled deeply. He didn't know this place all
that well, but he hadn't been an ace at orienteering
for nothing, and France was a piece of cake compared
to the Afghan mountains. That comparison made him laugh,
and he set off into the night. Deep in thought while
letting the darkness, the silence and the solitariness
soothe and guide his thinking. Short thoughts, like
he'd once said, but many short thoughts could create
a great long whole.