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Special Forces Chapter LXI: Ghosts
 
 

March 1995 to January 1996

Just as Vadim had promised, they went to Kashmir that autumn, so that Dan could see the mountains again. This time from the safe side, but even though he could not stop thinking about the tea house in Kabul, wondering if it still existed, it was the past. Done and over with, just like the many safe houses they had used, every street corner, hidden market place and the hamam.

It was good to see the mountains again, and they spent three weeks touring the area. It had a strange effect on Dan, mellowing him, and while Vadim would never love mountains as much as Dan did, he appreciated the sense of freedom, calm, and simple satisfaction that they gave Dan. Finally, the loss was laid to rest. The loss of Dan's functioning body, the loss of who he had been all his life. Acceptance was finally there, and when they took a helicopter ride into the mountains, camping for a few days in the silence and majesty, before being flown back down, it healed the last ache in Dan's soul, and the last sorrow for the man and life he had lost. He was who he had become, a product of that past that was gone, and as long as Vadim was with him, it was all he needed to know.

When they got back, they threw themselves into the consulting work, making a name for themselves in the conference circle, and by the end of the year they had to reject invitations and job offers, or they would not have been able to spend time on the farm in New Zealand, nor visit their friends.

That year, Dan remembered Vadim's birthday, and the party took place in the famous grill in town, with beer and neighbours, and a lot of laughter. They'd been taken in and welcomed by everyone, and at last the farm was a true home. Dan carefully divided the gifts into those that could be shown and those that ... were only for their own eyes and for games they 'played', that night and many more that followed. Games that went deeper each time, and bound them ever tighter. Some of these 'games' they played in the bedroom, where the Maori carving told their story: two war chiefs embracing, weapons at their sides, both aroused and savage and proud. Vadim loved the carving with a passion and had paid the creator well.

They stayed on the farm for the Christmas holidays, and Dan joked more than once what a suburban couple they had become - if only they'd lived in suburbia. Yet secretly, despite his mocking of the peace and calm, he relished the simplicity of it all. Sitting on the patio after a good work-out, in sight of the old apple trees and with the view over the hills, watching Vadim when he came back from a run, and - more often than not - ravishing him on the spot.

By January they had the money spare to invest in a swimming pool, and they left the builders to the work while they headed for a conference in Europe, which promised a lot of kudos and not an unsubstantial amount of money.


February 1996, Lisbon, Portugal

The first two days of the conference had been exhausting, but immensely successful. The panel sessions had been well attended and in return, even Dan had to admit that he'd enjoyed some of the talks.

Vadim mingled with the participants, sharing a bit of wisdom here, a quip there, clarified a point he'd made, when he suddenly saw something. It wasn't so much seeing as feeling, a strange sense that the world wasn't right anymore, that something had happened, and he found himself staring at a tall, thin man who'd just entered the room. The man seemed as well-known to him as his own father, but in the split second that it took him to place the sharp features and the dark amber eyes - not a soldier, not an ordinary politico or adviser - dread came up, with the force of a geyser, bursting, hissing, a fear so pure that Vadim tasted blood.

The man's eyes met his, and he came closer, weaving his way through groups of talking people, and it felt unreal. A nightmare come true. Vadim stumbled backwards, didn't even realize he'd dropped his glass. Staring at the man, he felt his mind shatter. He was back there, a bloody pulp of what was left of the man he'd been, a prisoner, half-insane with deprivation, pain, and this man's mindrape.

"Mr Krasnorada."

The voice made Vadim sweat.

The amber eyes ate up his world, and when the man touched his arm, Vadim simply couldn't bear it - he wanted to strangle him, but he was too scared. Something deep inside allowed only one reaction, and he bolted, running, stomach heaving, and he made it into the corridor, blinded, confused, it was like any of those nightmares, only worse, and he went to his knees, retching.

"There, there, let me help you."

Konstantinov had followed him. Vadim didn't hear his own sounds of despair, hopeless, broken. He knew he wasn't in prison, yet with this man, he'd never be anywhere else.

"Please …"

"How does it come, Vadim Petrovich, that whenever we meet, you are on your knees? Are you feeling alright? I bet you don't. I bet I was with you all these years. You'd rather forget yourself than me."

Dan had been up to the rooms to take a couple of pain killers, and was on his way back to the conference rooms. Turning a corner, he stopped, taken aback at the sight at the other end of the corridor. It took him less than a second to realise who it was.

"Vadim!" Calling out, Dan picked up pace.

The other man looked up, looked at Dan, who met his eyes, then pulled back, his hands slipping from Vadim's shoulders, while he murmured, "you are an animal, Vadim Petrovich, and you know it."

Dan was confused, concerned, but thankful for this gentleman who seemed to take care of Vadim. He was about to say something, when he saw that Vadim was sick.

Vadim was retching, not in control of his body, too weak to escape, too panicked to think one clear thought. Only that: that Konstantinov was just as bad as he'd remembered. No embellishments.

"Vadim!" Getting down on the good knee, Dan was on the floor in front of him, hand on Vadim's shoulder. "What the fuck happened? Shit, Vadim, I get you a doctor."

"Get me … out." Vadim managed.

Konstantinov was standing there, watching. He did nothing but watch, and that already felt like being flayed alive.

"Okay, okay." Dan pushed himself back up again, taking Vadim's hand to pull him up. "Let's get up to the room and you lie down a moment. Must be something you ate." Dan shook his head with a frown, his arm around Vadim's shoulder when he stood. Turning towards the gentleman in his sixties, with the grey hair and amber eyes, "thank you for trying to help."

The man smiled - it wasn't a nasty smile, it seemed nice enough. "Entirely my pleasure, Mr McFadyen. Good evening." He turned and headed back into the main room.

Dan was surprised for a moment, then realised the man had to have seen his name in the program, and he nodded at him when he left.

Managing to get Vadim into the room wasn't easy, and it took them a while. Vadim was dripping with sweat when they arrived in the room; he was mostly dead weight, tensed up, heavy, like drunk. He managed to stumble into the bathroom where he vomited again, the retching and dry heaving painful now.

"What the hell happened to you?" Dan closed the door, following into the bathroom. "I call reception now. You're sick."

"No! No. It's … it's him. No." Vadim clung to the toilet. He felt sick. Sick in his soul, his mind, his body, everywhere. "Can't say … the name. It's him."

"Who?" Dan shook his head, nothing made sense, and least of all Vadim's reaction. Staring helplessly down, one hand on Vadim's shoulder, when it suddenly hit him. The last time Vadim had been that sick was in Rome ... stress. Mental stress. Nightmares. And ... "Fuck." Dan slumped onto the edge of the bathtub, immediately followed by a violent reaction, when he shouted. "Fuck!"

Konstantinov.

Back up again, he stood, from naught to rage. "I'll kill that fucking bastard." He was already turning.

"No! No, Dan!" Vadim's body still didn't react. He had to, had to stop Dan. "No."

"Why not?" Dan's voice came down like a whiplash. "What did he do, what did that fucker say to you?" Fists clenched, he was brimming with rage. All those helpless nights, waking from Vadim's screams, watching him suffer, and being able to do exactly nothing. The knowledge, buried far away, of being a carer rather than a lover, that knowledge that he didn't want to see, couldn't bear looking at, and it was all down to that torturous bastard. "Why the fuck not?"

"Can't … murder him. He won, Dan. Let's go away ... away from here. I'll be okay. Don't let him fuck you up."

"Shit." Defeated, the rage was still there, but Dan's mind for once won over the instinct. Civilians. No more war, even though he felt as if the war was very much raging right now. A different one, worse, with his hands bound. A war where he wasn't allowed to kill the enemy. "How can that man freely walk around here, he is a goddamned motherfucking torturer!"

Vadim felt the sweat run down his body, and it was cold sweat, fear, terror, weakness. "Psychologist. He's … a psychologist."

"He's a fucking torturer! I don't give a shit what he claims to be." With no outlet for his rage, Dan hit the bathroom wall with his fist. At least the pain gave him something else to concentrate on. "You really want to leave?" Turning round, and seeing Vadim on the floor, nodding miserably, all he could was add, "Okay. I organise it."

"Thank you." Vadim rested his head against the wall, feeling the nausea come and go, unable to do much more than wait for his body to calm down. But his mind didn't. It was like his life had suddenly become the nightmare. Konstantinov was there, and he'd always be there.

"I'll be back as soon as I can. I explain to the organisers that you're ill. I might have to take over, but I try to get us out." Dan lingered for a moment longer. This was wrong. Horribly wrong, and he didn't have a fucking clue what to do about it. Except for revenge, but that was out.

"I can ..." But Vadim knew that he couldn't. He couldn't talk about disproportionate warfare while Konstantinov was anywhere close. He'd simply ... go insane? Again. "You know ... the stuff as well as I do. Maybe I got some ... food poisoning."

"Okay." Dan frowned, valiantly keeping the ever growing worry at bay. Wouldn't do to crack in the face of the old helplessness. "I'll be right back."

He made his way downstairs soon after, trying to find an organiser, or at least one of the admins, who could initiate a change in programme. The conference rooms were bustling, and after a while he had to admit to himself that he was far less searching for any of the organisers than for one particular man. A tall, grey haired man who should be screaming in terror, with hands around his throat, instead of walking around.

He found him, more by accident than design, in the hotel's restaurant, where Konstantinov was eating. He was alone and looked perfectly harmless, just finishing up a minestrone soup.

Despite his threats, his hatred, his sudden, all encompassing need to break that bastard's neck - Dan froze. He stood in the doorway, just one step into the room, staring at the man's back. Man? Beast. Torturer.

Torturer.

And it all came back. The heat of the sun in the Afghan mountains. The glint of steel in his hand, and the yielding flesh beneath him. Dark red blood that had bled out his hatred, and the screams in his ears. Then sobbing. A plea. To kill. Kill cleanly. Because he had been a soldier.

Not a torturer.

He suddenly felt a gaze on him from across the room, when Konstantinov turned. Looking at him with one slightly raised brow, as if the man tried to express amusement. But it didn't matter, nor did the hatred, and least of all the fervent wish to kill that beast and crush its bleeding face into the ground. Obliterated.

Dan met the look, his face hard, unyielding, unlike the flesh had once been. Unfeeling, unlike that day in the mountains. Unwilling to listen, nor see, nor breathe the same air as that thing.

He was Dan McFadyen, ex-SAS soldier, and he was not a torturer.

He turned and walked out of the room, tall, squared back, and even the limp was barely visible. He couldn't remember afterwards how he found one of the organisers, nor what he explained, he was only aware that he would take over the panel the next day, and that they would be able to leave after that.

With the taste of ashes in his mouth, which had nothing to do with any cigarette, he returned to the room as quickly as he could.

Vadim had undressed, showered, and was lying on the bed, the hotel room brightly lit around him. He wasn't cold, not hungry, wasn't hurting. Yet he knew Konstantinov was down there, somewhere. Accident? As KGB - or ex KGB, what was Konstantinov doing here? He wouldn't travel all that way to see him crumble? And why was there nothing he could do to resist the man? He knew exactly where the wounds were, and there was no forgiveness, no mercy, nothing. Konstantinov despised him like on the first day, and there was nothing that Vadim felt but dread.

"Vadim?" Closing the door behind him, Dan stepped into the room and sat down on the bed. "You feel any better?" What a pathetic, useless thing to ask.

Vadim turned to look at him. "Yeah. I was just ... shocked to see him." He sat up, leaning with his back against the head of the bed. "He's ... like he was."

Dan looked down at his hand for a moment, "I never asked. I never really asked what he did."

Vadim shook his head. "I can't. It was ... a matter of pride to him. He enjoyed it."

Dan slowly nodded. "Did you tell Dr Williams?"

"He knows. Bastard's been writing about torture for ... medical journals."

"What? You telling me Konstantinov writes about how to torture successfully? And that's getting published?"

"He makes it sound legitimate, Dr Williams said. But yeah, he's gloating about what he did to me. My mind." Vadim felt weak, angry, deep down, helpless. "Guess he was just checking ... whether the damage is permanent. Guess I made him happy."

"But he didn't win." Dan shook his head violently.

Vadim's face twisted with anguish. "Fuck, Dan, he broke me. Okay? All I'm doing is manage the fucking damage."

Dan twitched, had the sudden urge to shout at Vadim, shake him, try to negate anything he'd ever said, and most of all the poisoned barb that was still stuck in his mind: carer. But he did nothing, just swallowed hard, hiding the clenched fist. "You should call Dr Williams."

"I'm okay. I got this far. I can hold it together. I have to." Vadim was starting to sweat again and his heart had been pounding all the time.

"I could do it for you. We're not that far away from the UK, we could stop over." Dan leaned closer, reaching out to touch Vadim's face.

Vadim shuddered. "Maybe. Let me ... let it calm down, okay? I don't know why ... this cut so deep."

Dan's hand stalled, never touching. "Okay. Guess it's because the bastard's suddenly here." Not knowing what else to say, he stood up. "I'll stay here. You want anything? Anything I can do?" Feeling as useless and as inadequate as a rifle without bullets.

Vadim leaned his head back, baring his throat. "Stay close." He reached over and took Dan's hand. "Not in the mood for sex, just ... stay close." Because I can't lose you, he thought. I can't allow this to pull us apart.

"Fucking hell, Vadim, you really think I'd want sex right now?" Dan frowned, but toed his shoes off before scooting onto the bed. "Of course I stay. As long as you want me to, and as long as I get a bite to eat." He tried a grin, but it turned out miserable. Holding Vadim close, once he sat beside him. As close as he could, as if his arm around the other could ward off any evil.

Vadim leaned his head against Dan's shoulder. "Just ... because it takes my mind away from ... this." He closed his eyes, breathing against Dan's throat. "Room service. Menu is on the nightstand. We just call the kitchen and ... eat up here."

"Sure, anything you want." Dan sat, staring into the room, while holding onto Vadim. He didn't check how long they sat like this, but he eventually ran out of cigarettes to smoke, and the water bottle beside the bed was empty as well. He had to get up eventually, but not before looking at Vadim and placing a hand on his shoulder, then heading into the bathroom. He hurried and it took no longer than five minutes before he came back out. Freshly showered, still damp. He didn't ask for room service, even though he was getting hungry. A couple of chocolate bars had to do, especially since Vadim wouldn't, or rather, couldn't eat anything. He settled back in, under the blanket this time, resting against Vadim's shoulder while holding him close. With the light dimmed, Dan began to drift off, even though he'd meant to stay awake.

All Vadim could do was sit there, eyes half-closed, staring into nothingness. Like the darkness in the Lubyanka. Endless nights spent standing, chained up, hurting in every muscle, every bone from the beatings. Wanting to meet Konstantinov, because Konstantinov talked to him, acknowledged that he was a person. Despite the poison, the accusations, the way the man had skilfully dismantled his mind, dug at his secrets, and pulled them out of his mind - each and every one of his monsters. He knew he'd have nightmares. And he knew they'd be the worst he'd had in ages. And he couldn't give up control, just couldn't face the nightmares. He got up, waking Dan in the process. "I ... can't sleep. No way. Just can't."

Awake from one second to the next, Dan had been worried enough for the old instinct to function. "We could ... I don't know, talk? Or take a bath? Maybe you'd be tired enough then?"

"Don't want to. He'll be waiting there." Vadim shook his head. "Did you ... did you ever dream of me, right at the beginning? Nightmares, I mean?"

For a moment completely taken aback, Dan stared at Vadim, before he caught himself and shook his head. An aborted movement, no more. "I can't remember." Yes, he could, but he didn't want to, but he added, quietly, "for months afterwards I caught myself suddenly feeling a stab of panic, if I saw a movement in the corner of my eyes, or an unexpected touch. I was like a skittish horse, but I hid it."

"He didn't rape me. But he's in my head. He's right there, and he did that on purpose. He said he'd always be there. Well, maybe he did rape me. My mind. Sometimes I can forget that, but other ... other days, I can hear his voice, and then I think I'm going insane."

"The mind is worse." Sitting up now, Dan lit a cigarette. "I think he did rape you, your mind ... something tearing into you, violating who you are." He stared down at the glowing end of the fag. "I just don't know what to do about it, how to help."

Vadim swallowed. Rape. That was what it felt like then. Dan had nailed it, and Dan knew what he was talking about. "I can't ... I want to kill him, but I can't ... no way I can face him again. He makes me sick, takes everything, I just can't."

"You don't have to. We're out of here once I've done the panel. You just stay in the room and we'll get an earlier flight back home. The bastard won't reach you at home, aye? Too far away."

"Don't think he knows where we live." Vadim got back onto the bed and rubbed his face against Dan's chest. "I feel like shit. He's just ... an old man. Why the fuck am I so scared ..."

"I don't know." Dan's voice was quiet, "I don't know because I don't ... don't understand. Bloody peasant, eh?" Self-deprecating, as he stroked Vadim's back. "I just don't understand."

"And I can't explain. I can explain what he did, but not what it did to me. Beatings, interrogations, isolation. You know all that. I do. I know it was just that, but it scares me still and I really don't want to remember. It's ..." Vadim shrugged. "Having been there. Two years. Losing my... myself."

Dan nodded slowly. He felt out of his depth, but he was used to that. "Why don't you call Dr Williams?" Quietly, again, while stubbing out his cigarette.

"I can deal with this. I don't need drugs. I can live with this. I don't need ... I just want to forget it happened." And I don't want to lose you, Vadim thought, but couldn't say it.

"Okay." Dan knew he was pacifying Vadim too quickly, but he was so far out of his depth right now, he'd never been so far from the shore before. "Why don't you just lie back down and I hold you. You can put on the TV if you want to, and just stay awake. I'll catch a wink or two, so that I'm not a complete zombie tomorrow at the panel."

"Okay." Vadim lay back, checked the time. Agonizing quarter past two. Long, long hours to go. And even while his eyes were burning and he felt sore and tired, with his stomach full of acid and his throat raw, it was so much better than closing his eyes and giving in to Konstantinov.

* * *

The next morning, quarter to ten, Dan was in the conference room to prepare for the lecture and the following discussion. He'd got it wrong, he was on his own. No panel discussion. He didn't like giving presentations, wasn't fond of standing there on his own, without back-up, but he knew the material, even though he'd always left the finer points and the more intricate argumentation to Vadim. Vadim, who was in their room, upstairs, with dark shadows under his eyes, which were visibly burning with tiredness.

Dan hoped the questions wouldn't be too tricky, and that his guts would simply carry him through. It was five to ten when he had finished checking that his presentation was running smoothly and the data projector was in focus, when the first participants were sitting down. His back to the audience, Dan picked up the notes from the briefcase, shuffling through them, and at two minutes to ten he turned around.

He almost froze again. There. How could he not have been prepared for this. Of course. The bastard was probably hoping to dance on Vadim's grave. He got him instead, Dan McFadyen, the bait, the weapon and the evidence at the same time.

Third row, the outmost seat, a perfect place to survey most of the room, and the speaker, of course. A man, grey hair, amber eyes. Distinguished and smooth on the surface, a beast underneath.

Konstantinov.

During the presentation, Konstantinov had his arms crossed, touching his chin thoughtfully, like he was weighing and considering every word Dan said, and the way he said it, down to his softened Scottish accent. Every detail was under scrutiny, every time Dan halted or spoke too fast, when he chose to move the presentation on and whether his trail of thought was there all the time. The man was watching him with an intensity Dan wasn't used to anymore.

He had to fight not to be irritated by the scrutiny, and it took him at least halfway into the presentation before he regained his equilibrium, by using an old trick. He imaged the man to be one of his poncy officers, way back in the old days, who would sit like that, trying to take a man apart during debriefings, especially those men, like himself, who were quicker with the weapon than the mind.

Dan finished the presentation on guerrilla warfare on a calm note, and the chair invited questions.

Konstantinov allowed a few questions before he raised his hand just to shoulder-level. "Vadim Petrovich Krasnorada ... is he unwell?"

Dan was prepared, he knew the moment the beast had appeared that he'd bury his claws into his prey. "If you have any questions for Mr Krasnorada, I am happy to relay them." Dan managed a smile that never touched his eyes.

"There is a matter of counterterrorism that I'm greatly interested in, from a psychologist's viewpoint. If you had caught a terrorist ... or a traitor ... or a double agent ... what would be your recommended cause of action?"

"That entirely depends on the circumstances." Dan retorted, no hesitation. Inwardly feeling a knot of hatred twist his stomach, but he fell back onto the man he'd once been. Remembering, using the strength, the training, the tactics, while showing no feelings. "Are you referring to the context of this talk: guerrilla warfare?" Traitor. The word was stuck in Dan's mind, reverberating. Traitor. Perhaps this man was far more dangerous than he'd thought - perhaps this beast had any means to get his hands on Vadim. The USSR was gone, but the men in the grey suits were still there. Still in power.

"Yes. If you were the occupying force, and you took control of a collaborator who has been aiding the guerrilla ... what is your recommended course of action?"

"First of, I would ensure that the evidence is substantial, non negotiable, foolproof. Not just an isolated incident that lends itself to interpretation." They weren't taking about guerrilla warfare anymore, but about a war of a very personal kind.

"Assume it is. And assume that some of your most loyal men died to provide the evidence."

"I would recommend to ascertain the reasons why." Big words, echoes from those who'd used them before him.

"Surely, if the traitor was part of the military, his motives wouldn't matter?"

"Why would they not?" Dan let his brows rise as he leaned against the podium. Casual, seemingly relaxed, as if he wasn't on razor's edge. "Or would you be too frightened to find out that you didn't have your machine as much under your control as you believed?"

"You are implying a fault in discipline. Now, if you ascertained the reason and these were personal ... emotional, even, how would you go about dealing with him?"

"Who said it was a him?" Dan smiled, glanced into the round as if he were amused, while he actually wanted to be sick. Bile in his throat, choking on the 'him'. Yes, him. Only one.

"I'm assuming, as part of the military, it would be a male, but you may assume that traitor to be a female, if you prefer."

"We are, after all, in the nineties." Some of the people in the audience were chuckling at the mild joke, while inwardly, Dan's anger and anxiety rose. He'd just manoeuvred himself into a trap, a trap in which this bastard implied Vadim - and there was no way they were talking about anyone else - was 'female'. Dan remembered all too well that last night in Kabul and the tape, while knowing that he was no intellectual match for this man in a verbal sparring. If only he could get his hands around the throat, but ... he'd walked away before, and he would walk away again. "In answer to your question, I would suggest to weigh carefully the pros and cons of the situation. Calmly, and with an eye on nothing but the greatest advantage, if you must. Are you inclined to go down the path of revenge? Or are you determined to enter negotiations with the other side - if there is another side." It was hard to stick to this fanciful language, "or, indeed, are you willing to forego any of those steps and simply look for your personal gains? Say, for example, a quarter of a million pounds, perhaps." He managed a laugh, which sounded convincing enough for a few people to laugh in the audience, who got the 'joke' all too well. The Cold War hadn't 'ceased' that long ago, after all.

"A very interesting question. Would I not attempt all of these, plus make an example of the man - or woman - and also teach her - or him - a lesson about loyalty? After all, they are not exclusive of each other, and it would be largely a matter of timing."

"Then ..." Dan leaned forward, even producing a wink into the audience, "then you really are a master of your persuasive profession ... and don't require my expertise. After all, I was a soldier." Not a torturer. "I fought with bullets and knives, not with persuasion, and I killed cleanly." He smiled, yet he felt sick, but his tanned skin did not show the pallor and his hands remained steady. Training, control. The audience was silent for a moment, until they finally applauded, finishing a session that had nearly cost Dan's soul.

Konstantinov smiled, even raised his hands to clap them together, once, twice. He could have been in the audience merely as a way to allow Dan to look good in their spar - but the truth was far more sinister than that. When people got up, shuffled out, some talking, others approaching Dan to ask a question or shake his hand, Konstantinov remained sitting there for longer.

Finally everyone left, even the last ones, after Dan had answered all their questions. He picked up the briefcase with the notes and stooped to get the cane before heading out. Looking stoically straight ahead and towards the door, and yet the man remained in his peripheral vision.

"I can only hope that it was worth it for you," Konstantinov said, softly, thoughtfully.

Dan stopped, turning slowly, measuring the man with dark eyes that betrayed nothing. They were alone, but he kept his voice low. "No, you don't."

"No I don't what?"

"You don't hope for anything for my sake. Spare us the pleasantries."

Konstantinov didn't move, didn't shift. "We both know what it costs you to keep your promises. I can only hope that Vadim Petrovich returns enough on that emotional and financial investment."

"Do we?" Dan's brows rose. "Do we know what anything costs me? You might call yourself a psychologist, but I doubt you are a mind reader." His distaste was all too evident.

"Experience." Konstantinov smiled thinly. "Case studies. Histories. Projections and outcomes."

"Of course. How could I forget. You pride yourself on these. Which makes me think that you certainly don't hope for anything on Vadim's behalf, either."

"There is nothing to hope for him. There is only one likely outcome, with a few variations."

"This is where you are wrong." Dan straightened up and a slight smile crossed his face. It almost touched his eyes, but he didn't allow it to, lest the thought and the emotion got tainted by the presence of the beast. "As I said to your Colonel when I killed him, I love Vadim." A small shrug of his shoulder. He knew he sounded naive, but he did not care. "You'd be surprised what that means, but then, how would you know." How would this bastard know what he was willing to do, what he had done, what he'd been living with, against, and for, and what he would give in the future. There were no limits to the price he'd pay, and that was something this man would never comprehend.

"That means two things ... either, you are very much like Vadim Petrovich, in which case you deserve the pain. Or you are truly in love, in which case it is regrettable that you have to suffer so much. It takes a courageous man to love." Konstantinov stood. "Thank you for the presentation, I found it very enlightening."

"So did I." Dan's face was stoic once more, as he fought with a surge of anger. He turned without another glance nor word, and walked out of the room, not bothering to keep the limp in check, because such a minor irritation truly did not matter. Not with a beast like that.

He was soon back in the room, calling out for Vadim, who had been watching TV and was lying on the bed, in his bathrobe, freshly showered. "What happened?"

"Nothing. It was a good presentation." Dan was a shit liar, but damn, it had to do this time. "I even remembered to talk like Maggie." He put the briefcase down and sat down on the bed to lean closer. Now that he knew, now that he finally understood what it did mean to love, the anger, the hatred, and even the helplessness had lost some of their sharpness. "How are you?" He smiled slightly, placing a kiss onto Vadim's lips. "Ready to head home?"

"More than ready." Vadim yawned. "I could try to sleep. Maybe just for an hour." He placed his forehead against Dan's, but the terror was still coiling inside. Maybe he'd lose the man's shadow once he was at the far end of the globe.

"Or we could grab a taxi now and head to the airport. There's a flight in four hours, we could spend the time in the lounge or do some shopping." Anything, anything to get away. Even shopping.

"Yes." Vadim looked up as if he'd never have thought of that idea, then got dressed. They packed and checked out, and it felt like flight, but Vadim breathed a sigh of relief once they were in the taxi, heading towards the airport, which felt like a shelter.

* * *

They got through check-in relatively painlessly, heading towards the lounge, where Dan was hoping to get some food. Skipping dinner the night before and with lunch on the fly, he was already famished. With two hours to kill he opted to get himself some proper food.

"I'm off to find a fry-up or something. You hungry?" Looking down at Vadim who had made himself comfortable in one of the club chairs.

"No, I'll just close my eyes for a bit. Get me some nuts or dried fruit for later." Vadim leaned back, head resting so he was baring his throat, and arms crossed over his chest.

"Sure, and some peanut butter energy bars." Dan grinned and made his way back out, to forage for food that would satisfy his appetite. He went looking from vendor to vendor, until he settled on a grill, after buying Vadim's nibbles, and had steak with potatoes and salad and a quite drinkable beer.

He cursed himself mildly when walking back, that he'd forgotten to take his cane. When he got closer he heard crashing noises and somebody screaming in pain. Forgetting about the knee, Dan started to run as fast as he could and soon burst into the lounge.

Vadim was kneeling on top of a security guy and somebody else was cradling what looked like a dislocated shoulder. Vadim was wild-eyed, face twisted into a monstrous grimace, and he was snarling. Security began to pile in, the man underneath Vadim was shaking with terror, and tried to break open Vadim's grip around his throat.

"Vadim!" Dan shouted. He was close with only a few strides, but he didn't touch him. Too dangerous. "Vadim!" The same voice he'd used in Rome. "Listen to me!"

Vadim's white knuckles relaxed, and he let go of the man, shaking his head like he'd woken from a nightmare - only then did security move closer, and somebody said something about "police". Vadim was breathing hard, positively panting, sweating, pale, drifting slowly back to sanity.

"No, please!" Dan cast a frantic glance at security. "Don't come closer." Yet he did, carefully. Recognising the physical reaction, and the smell of stale sweat, cold panic. All those nights of terror, he'd never forget a single one of them. "Vadim, listen to me." He placed his hand on Vadim's shoulder in a firm grip. "It's alright. Listen to me. I'm here." Trying to hold off security with a pleading look, he had to concentrate on Vadim first and foremost.

Vadim closed his eyes, the terrible tension in him slowly leaked away, breath went shuddering, while his victim crawled away and was helped up by somebody. Coughing and shocked, staring at the madman in the middle of the room.

Vadim looked around quickly, as if he was expecting an enemy. "Nightmare?" he asked. "Not ... it's real."

"No, it isn't. Listen to me, Vadim. It's me, Dan." Getting down onto his good knee, he needed to make Vadim see, had to make him look at himself. Both hands on Vadim's shoulders now, he felt the tension brimming and the uncontrollable tremors beneath his hands. "You're in Lisbon airport. We are about to fly back home to New Zealand." Dan saw someone come towards them, and he shook his head, trying to keep them away. How the hell would they get out of this mess? Vadim had just assaulted a civilian. If that shoulder was dislocated ... oh shit. Surely the police was already on their way.

Vadim nodded slowly. "I dreamt. Somebody ..." He frowned, not sure he knew what had happened through the haze and the sheer overwhelming terror. "Attacked me. I think."

"No one attacked you. You must have fallen asleep, perhaps someone touched you." Dan let his hands wander to the back of Vadim's neck, applying a reassuring pressure. "Sit down, okay? You got to be calm now. I'm here, I'll help with the explaining." Dan was too shocked to know what he was doing. As usual, reacting by instinct, and all he could hope for was that he was doing the right things.

Vadim nodded and sat down, looking confused, then looked at the man he'd strangled and the other guy whose shoulder looked horrible and who was brought outside. People kept staring at him, while Dan pushed himself back off the floor with considerable effort, then stood beside Vadim, his hand on his shoulder. That was when the police arrived.

"Please," Dan greeted them, raising his hands in a placating gesture. "Would you listen to me first? I can explain. Do you speak English?"

"Yes, senor." Both cops nodded. "What happened here?"

"I don't know all of it. I wasn't here. You have to ask the witnesses, but please, believe me, Vadim is not a homicidal maniac." No? Fuck! "Vadim is my partner. We are both veterans, and Vadim ..." searching for an explanation, word, anything that could describe ... and then he got it. Of course. "Vadim suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was a Prisoner of War." Slight lie, a white one. "Something happened at the conference we spoke at, something which triggered the trauma. Please, I need to get Vadim to ..." and he knew, all of a sudden, "his therapist. Dr Williams. Please let me call him. Please." He had never in his life begged like this, and couldn't have done it for himself.

The policemen talked among themselves, while Vadim sat silent, staring ahead, not reacting to anything, not even when Dan asked him quietly what had happened, the mobile phone in hand. He had Dr William's number, and there was nothing else he could think of to do. The police officers continued to debate, one seemed to be reluctant, but at some point, the first man nodded and stepped back to talk to a witness. "Well, senor, it depends on whether they will press charges. We need your details, and you will likely have to compensate."

"Of course. I understand, but may we leave the country?" Glancing towards the airline personnel, he wasn't even sure how to get Vadim onto the plane after this serious incident.

"It is likely you will be banned from using this airline," the cop said, helpfully. "Could I have your passports, please?"

"Yes, of course." Fuck. But the inconvenience paled in comparison to the magnitude of what had happened. Konstantinov. He wouldn't let that bastard win. He just wouldn't. He'd never gone down without a fight and he wouldn't this time either. "Vadim, where did you put the passports?" It had always been Vadim to take care of such things.

Vadim patted the inside of his jacket and pulled them out. "I'm sorry", he murmured, seemed far calmer now, more there.

"It's okay, it's not your fault." Dan said quietly, "but you have to tell me what happened." Holding the passports out to the cops.

"I must have fallen asleep. I don't remember. Just ... wanted to kill." He shuddered, but kept his voice down. "Rage. Shit. I could have killed someone. I ... nearly did."

"I know, but you didn't." Murmured, Dan watched the police officers run checks on their passports. One of them nodded when Dan held up the mobile phone, to indicate he wanted to make a call. "I call Dr Williams now, okay, Vadim?"

"Okay." Vadim inhaled. "I'll get some water. Just from over there." He nodded towards a water cooler, then got up, and when he moved, people gave him a lot of room. He stood silently in the corner, drinking water, one plastic cup after the other. Only keen eyes could see that his hands were shaking.

Dan was praying that Dr Williams was available, only letting out his breath when the phone was picked up.

"Dr Williams? Dan McFadyen here."

"Mr McFadyen?" The voice at the other end sounded surprised.

"Doctor ... I am sorry to call out of the blue, but I really haven't got time for pleasantries right now." Talking quietly, Dan turned away from the people. "Something awful happened. We are at Lisbon airport, in the airline's lounge, and currently apprehended. Vadim attacked two innocent people, he must have fallen asleep, I wasn't there." Bitterness in his voice, anger at his stupidity. He should have taken better care. "We were at a conference, doing our job, and Vadim saw Konstantinov." Almost spitting the name out, but quietly enough so that Vadim couldn't hear it.

"Konstantinov?" The voice at the other end betrayed Dr William's shock. "Konstantinov is in Portugal?"

"Aye, in Portugal, at a conference. Approaching Vadim, and gloating." And I wanted to kill that bastard. "Vadim ... lost it. I don't know what to do, Doctor. I might need you to speak to the officials. I want to get Vadim home, but it seems they won't let him onto the flight."

"Of course, Mr McFadyen." Dr William's voice had calmed and was once more back to its distinguished Englishness. "Could I have a word with Mr Krasnorada?"

"Aye ... just a moment." Dan held the mobile out to Vadim, nodding to him and waving him over.

Vadim crushed the plastic cup in his fist, which was enough to make some people step back even further, like he was a tiger that had just growled. He took the phone. "Yes?"

"Mr Krasnorada, this is Charles Williams. How do you feel right now?"

"Doctor." Vadim felt embarrassment about all, and some relief. "I feel ... like I'm trapped. I didn't do it on purpose, I was startled ..." And how pathetic are you that you're making excuses? "Angry. Ashamed."

"I understand, but please don't blame yourself. It is an episode that was triggered by the sudden confrontation. I will have a word with the authorities, if you'd like me to and if I can be of any help."

"Yes, sir." Vadim closed his eyes briefly.

"You have my number." The offer open, honest, given with a gentle but firm voice. "Please call me as soon as you feel able to."

"Yes, sir, I'll call you once ... we're out of the airport." Vadim handed the phone back.

Dan took it and exchanged a few more words with the doctor, before walking over to what appeared to be the person in charge of the airline, trying to sway them to take Vadim, after all, and of listening to Vadim's doctor, who could explain the situation and that no harm would come out of this. The man talked in hushed voices with the Doctor, and the main point seemed to be whether Vadim would turn violent again, which, apparently, the Doctor could not guarantee.

When the manager handed Dan the phone, he shook his head. Explaining that in the circumstances he could not let a potentially dangerous passenger on board, and that the doctor could not guarantee that such behaviour would not happen again. Furthermore, on top of the possible charges and the compensation money to be paid, the airline would press for compensation as well with a lifetime ban for the perpetrator. Dan could do nothing but nod mutely. He wouldn't let the beast win, no matter what, and whatever price he would have to pay, he'd pay it.

After an eternity of form filling, with their names and addresses lodged with several authorities, they were finally let out of the lounge and back into the main airport building. Having been blacklisted, they had to wait for their luggage to be unchecked and brought out once more.

"And now?" Dan smiled a little at Vadim, at least he tried to. "I could give my brother a ring, perhaps stay for a while on the farm? There are always trains if we have problems with airlines right now."

Vadim nodded, his face betrayed the tension. Humiliation. Shame. "He shouldn't have fucking touched me," he said, but sounded miserable. "I wasn't in control. I was ... asleep. I didn't ..." He exhaled and rubbed his face. "Scotland. Good ... good idea."

Dan stood close, briefly touching Vadim's face. "He won't win, okay?" Murmured. "You just have to find your control, and Dr Williams ... he'll help, aye?" Nodding slightly, he had to believe it. Had to trust that despite all those years of merely functioning, there had to be a solution after all. More than simply keeping the status quo. "Let's get to Scotland, then."

After a phone call to his brother, which took no longer than five minutes, and a brief explanation, they headed across to the BA desk, where they thankfully got a flight out to Glasgow later that day. Arriving late at night, they got a hire car and Dan, who'd been sleeping on the plane, drove them up into the Highlands. It was worth navigating through the night rather than staying in yet another hotel room. Vadim especially seemed anxious to get to familiar surroundings, and the further they got into the wilderness, the more he seemed to relax.


February 1996, Scottish Highlands

When they arrived in the early hours, both Duncan and Mhairi came out in their dressing gowns, insisting on making them comfortable, which included food and whisky, but when Duncan asked Dan to explain, he told him he couldn't, not yet. He had to be on guard duty, he called it, and that he had neglected it, but would never again.

Early that morning, after just two or three hours of uneasy sleep, Vadim called Dr Williams. He was nervous and felt even more ashamed than at the airport, like he'd been lying to the man whenever he'd said he was okay.

The voice on the other end sounded as ever: cultured, calm, and with that unmistakable upper class accent. "Mr Krasnorada, I am glad you called."

"Dr Williams--I ... am asking about your offer. About ... fixing this. The ... therapy." It would be just another form of torture, with all the dangers involved, but he felt he'd run out of strength. He'd been lying to himself, and to Dan, about his sanity. It was and always would be fragile. For Dan's sake, and his own, he had to try it at least. "Whatever you think needs to be done, I ... ask that you do it."

"'Fixing' things ... I am afraid it is not that easy." The voice was compassionate but firm. "I must ask you, you really are certain this time?" the doctor paused for a moment. "It will be a long process, but I believe that you have the strength and the stamina to get through it." Another pause, then, "it would take at least three months, three very intensive months, and regular check-up sessions afterwards. I have retired from the Forces, Mr Krasnorada, and I would gladly take this time."

"I'll pay whatever it costs. We're financially comfortable, I ... just don't want to go insane."

"Goodness, no, Mr Krasnorada, you misunderstand. I do not wish to gain financial advantage from this, my interest is purely medical, and my reward will be to help a patient. No, what I was trying to say was that the therapy is intensive and long-term, and, this is the most important point, I do believe that it should take place away from any of your supports. Especially your partner."

"Alone?"

"Yes, alone." Dr William's voice kept its same quality of understanding and firmness.

The thought was terrifying. Who'd wake him up when he was screaming? Then it hit him. Carer, not lover. Dan had become the man who'd wake him - and hold him - after these nightmares. "I ... see. I still ... want to cover the cost. I don't want to cost you anything, sir. Please."

"That would be agreeable." There was a faint hint of a smile in the doctor's voice. "The next question is, where this will take place?"

"We have a ... a lot of space in New Zealand. If Dan agrees ..." Three months, kicking Dan out of the house. "I would have to ask him, but there's the farm. It's close to Palmerston North. A long flight, but it's ... well, it's New Zealand." Which meant it was beautiful, the most beautiful place on earth.

"And Mr McFadyen?"

"I'd have to ask. There's always spaces to rent, too. Wellington, maybe, which is close."

There was a silence at the other end for a moment. "However you decide, I am happy to make the travel arrangements. Perhaps you could call me back once you have received an answer."

"Yes, sir. Thank you. I ... will call you back." Vadim put the phone down, then rubbed his face. Three months. He headed upstairs and back to their usual room. Dan had been still in bed when he'd gone downstairs, and that's where he was, burrowed into the blankets . "Dan?"

There was movement inside the blankets and a pillow was lifted off a bleary-eyed face. "Aye?"

"Doctor Williams. He says he has time for therapy, estimates about three months." Vadim sat down on the bed.

"Oh ... that is good." Dan forced himself awake, then pushed up until he sat, looking for his cigarettes on the nightstand. "Three months? Hell of a long time." He smiled, feeling guilty for a moment for the relief he felt. Relief that someone else, a professional, was going to take over. Someone who knew what he was doing.

"Yeah. He said ... I should be alone." Vadim winced. "It's part of the therapy."

"Alone?" Lighter forgotten, the cigarette remained unlit. "What do you mean?"

"He said I should be without my usual support." Vadim swallowed. "That means, you might have to do something else. Visit friends."

"Three fucking months?"

"I don't like this, but ... if that's part of the therapy. I want to get sane, Dan. So I don't embarrass you or wear you out ... I don't want to be a nutcase you have to watch 24/7."

"First of, you are not a nutcase, and secondly, you don't embarrass me." Dan frowned, remembered the cigarette at last and lit it. We both know what it costs you to keep your promises. Fuck you. Fuck you, Konstantinov. Dan took a deep breath and remembered that he'd pay any price. "Okay." He lifted his head. "If this is what you have to do, then this is what you'll do. You fly back home, with Dr Williams, I stay here. Travel. Whatever. Maggie, Jean, maybe a conference or two." He shrugged, trying to make light of the dread.

Vadim took his hand and pressed it. "I'll call. Could ... use the farm, or the nice apartment in Wellington we rented when we went there last time. I ... want to put this behind me ... the nightmares, the ... fear. I want to be free in my own head again."

"Use the farm, it is big enough. You go and call, okay?"

"Okay." Vadim went back downstairs and called again, to confirm. He felt his pulse hammer in his throat, when Dr Williams said yes, he could meet him as early as he wished, and they agreed on a flight back to Auckland from Heathrow, which Vadim booked the same day, sending Dr Williams the details straight away.

Dan said very little throughout the day, keeping his thoughts to himself until Duncan finally collared him and Dan tried to explain what had happened and what was going to happen. Separation. Three months. He was nauseous at the mere thought of it. Three fucking months. It'd be worse than the nine months in the mountains. Duncan was supportive, listened, and offered Dan to stay with his family on the farm as long as he needed to.

Vadim stayed for another four days, before it was time for him to take a flight to Heathrow, to meet Dr Williams on the way out. Dan had remained quiet, but as attentive as he could ever be, but during the nights he felt unsure for the first time. Wanting Vadim, needing his reassurance, or whatever else sex was meant to be, but he didn't dare to initiate it.

During the last night, Vadim lay at his shoulder, wide awake, worrying, but he knew it was for the best. It had to be. He'd have to take the risk. "I'll miss you", he murmured. "Already do."

Dan craned his head, catching a glimpse of the blond hair. "It's going to be hard as fuck, but it's not about me." Murmured, reaching out to caress Vadim's shoulder. "It never was."

Vadim closed his eyes. "I'm sorry. I ... want to fix this so ... you don't have to do all this anymore. No longer be ... anything but my lover and partner."

"No, don't do it because of me. Do it because of yourself. That's the only reason that counts." And the beast won't win. "Just ..." Dan trailed off, couldn't put his worries into words. Would he still be wanted when he wasn't needed anymore?

"Just?" Vadim turned his head to kiss Dan's temple. "If anybody can fix me, then Dr Williams."

"What ..." Dan hesitated once more, feeling like a right idiot for thinking this, but he'd learned the hard way that shutting the fuck up wasn't going to help. "You said once that you don't know any more if you love me, because you need me. What ... what if you ... I mean ... fuck!" He huffed with frustration, "this is hard, I sound like a right fucking idiot."

"It's just ..." Vadim inhaled deeply. "Like I don't feel very much these days." A feeling of separation, distance, aloofness, most of the time. Definitely to everybody else, like there was a big sheet of glass between him and the world. Dan got through there, often, but other times, he felt like he was watching himself go through the motions. Like it wasn't real. "I hope he can fix that."

Dan craned his head to look at Vadim, caressing the back of Vadim's head, fingertips carding through the short hair. "I hope so, too. Whatever happens don't forget I love you, aye?"

"Of course not." Vadim's lips moved down the side of Dan's neck, to the collar bone, the hollow of the throat, and, by reflex, Dan bared his throat. "Don't be afraid of this. We'll be good."

"Can I tell you something?" Dan murmured, eyes closed, concentrating on the feeling of Vadim's lips on the sensitive skin. Three months. Three fucking months. "I'm so glad that Dr Williams ... that he ... takes over. And I feel like a right shit for that."

Vadim paused when Dan's words sank in; too busy with his nightmares and pains to realise how much it took from Dan. "I'll make it worth it for you. I promise. I'll be stronger."

"You don't need to make anything up to me." Dan let out a soft huff, "You're not a 24/7 patient, aye?" A pause, a breath, "and I love you. It's that simple. I pay any price."

"I ... love you, too." Vadim shifted his weight on top, legs left and right of Dan's torso, his weight on the legs as he slid down Dan's body, kisses trailing, but he stopped to lick, too, tasting Dan's skin, feeling the shuddering breaths against his face.

"Would you make love to me?" Dan's voice was barely audible. Odd words, request, and question.

"This night has to last me a while", Vadim smiled, moving deeper. "I can sleep on the plane."

"I can sleep for three months ..." Dan trailed off, torn between closing his eyes and concentrating on nothing but the sensations, and propping his head up on a pillow and watching Vadim, to take in each sight and sound. The latter won.

There was no urgency, Vadim was more concerned with taking his fill than make Dan cum. It was stroking and teasing and licking, tasting Dan's cock more than giving him a blowjob, not finishing the job in any case, deliberate and intense, stoking the fire very slowly and with all the restraint he'd learnt over the years. In the end, he fucked Dan, pausing when he felt he was going too fast, and returning to kisses and touches and gentle promises until Dan had recovered enough to fuck him. Three months. Half the planet apart.

That night, they did not sleep, but held each other, each man lost in his thoughts, and each with his own worries.

* * *

Vadim had checked in for the long flight via Dubai; with his boarding pass and passport in a thigh pocket - he was wearing casual clothes for the flight, and that meant outdoor trousers, shirt, and a light jacket - he went through security and then headed for the lounge. He'd used up most of his air miles to upgrade again - using the flights to conferences to make his private flights more pleasant. In the business class lounge, he located the doctor right away. He was reading, and it was almost strange to see him in a civilian setting, but not unpleasant. He fitted in there, a friendly older guy who seemed thoughtful, polite, and fairly unremarkable.

Vadim headed towards him. "Dr Williams. I'm glad you came."

"Mr Krasnorada." Dr Williams smiled and stood up. "So good to see you." He shook hands, then indicated the seat beside him. "I believe we have another couple of hours to 'kill'."

"The joys of long-distance flights." Vadim settled and stretched his legs out. "Greetings from Dan, by the way. He's staying with his family in Scotland."

"I am glad to hear. I must admit, I was a bit worried." Folding the newspaper he had been reading, the doctor placed it in his lap.

"He'll be fine. He has many friends all over the planet ... they should be able to keep him busy for three months."

"I guess 'busy' is an interesting word." The doctor smiled slightly, then turned his head fully to look at Vadim. "And how do you feel about it?"

"I just want to be sane again", Vadim said. "Whatever it takes. Meeting … him again I thought I would just go insane or die."

The doctor nodded slowly, before taking his specs off to polish them with a handkerchief he produced from his blazer pocket. "Understandable." Nodding once more, he turned his head to look at Vadim. "You see, when you experience a traumatic event you have three choices: first of, die, which is highly unlikely because the physical entity aims with every fibre towards the main genetic goal of staying alive. Secondly, to go insane, or, since the second option is not an option either because the mind protects itself as well as the body, the third option, which is to dissociate. However, when you learned to dissociate, your mind disconnects from your body. What I mean with this is, that your mind and your thoughts disconnect from your feelings. For all this time since the trauma, you have been 'living in your head,' experiencing life intellectually, not emotionally." He put the specs back on, giving an understanding smile. "Your unexpected encounter with Konstantinov threw you out of your ability to dissociate, and thus you experience the fear of going insane."

Vadim nodded, feeling a slow darkness creep up. Disconnected. The glass wall. The darkness, kept only in check by willpower and discipline. Tension, inside and outside, wrapping steel around a vessel that was under pressure and had many, many cracks already. Keeping it together so he could do his job, be functional. Lately, though, the cracks had been widening. "It doesn't help I'm an atheist, doctor. Other men kid themselves that there will be something else after death. The end of suffering means the end of everything else. Anything that is me. I'm not … ready to give up."

"Good." The doctor nodded once more, the smile still in place. "I am glad that you say this, because, sadly, too often the ultimate step is suicide, if the sufferer does not seek and receive help." Those grey eyes, wise and kind, rested with an intelligent scrutiny on Vadim. "The next three months will be very hard. Do you realise that, Mr Krasnorada? Are you aware that you will get much worse, before you get better?"

"I'm an ex-athlete. I know suffering." Vadim met the gaze full-on, open and determined. "I have staying power. I can do this." If I could live with Konstantinov in my head for the last years, I can go through everything.

The doctor shook his head gently. "This is not about staying power, this is not about control. This is about the exact opposite. You will break down, you will be sick, and you will be weak. You will cry and you will shake, and you will wish that you had never started this journey to recovery."

"But there's no alternative."

"You are right, there is no alternative."

Vadim inhaled deeply and lowered his gaze for a moment. "Unless I go insane, or kill myself. Rock and a hard place. I will go through this."

"I believe in you." The doctor reached out for the lightest of touch on Vadim's sleeve. "Will you be alright for a moment? I need to head to the gents."

Vadim nodded. "Of course, sir." I believe in you. It touched him, strangely. The man had been nothing but kind to him, yet, he knew the darkness inside, and didn't shy back.

Dr Williams stayed for a short while, and on his way back, he took a bottle of carbonated mineral water from a tray. He sat down once more. "I believe it would be beneficial if I tried to explain to you why you reacted as violently as you did, in Lisbon airport." Pouring himself a glass.

Vadim pressed his lips together, but nodded. He'd been startled. Somebody had touched him, and his soldier reflexes had gone berserk. That was his explanation. It didn't account for the hazy feeling, of being in a dream and having no control. "That's another reason. I don't want to end up in prison if I happen to … kill."

"Have you ever been close to attacking your partner?"

Vadim stared at him, but then realized he had. The need to get away. Rome. When Dan was getting too close and he couldn't bear it. "Sometimes, he didn't give me … space." Vadim kept his gaze on the ground. "After the nightmares, it's hard to have anybody close." Hitting him in the Balkans … that was a different matter. That had had nothing to do with Konstantinov. "It's … a tightrope. Aggression, yes. Quite a bit of it, but it's … fear, terror, I need space, and sometimes he cornered me. He's changed that, but at the beginning …"

"Did you ever explain that you could not bear the closeness? You see, the relatives and loved ones of PTSD sufferers and trauma victims do not know how to deal with their loved ones, who are suddenly different to what they used to be. Many state that they don't know this person anymore, and they don't know how to get close, how to make them see that they are still loved. As a consequence, there might be the attempt to get physically close when the mental closeness is being rejected." Dr Williams took a sip of his water.

"I think, I …" Had he? Vadim paused, thinking, trying to remember. He had no idea what he'd said and just imagined, what had been thought or actual words. "Closeness … sex, if you will, used to fix everything. If I'd told him to not touch me …" he'd have gone to Jean. The thought bit deep. Somebody who was comfortable with touch all the time, who sought it, who'd never say no.

"Did you fear that if you told him he would have taken it badly and possibly even left you?"

"It was the only thing that always worked. Different form of communication. Even when we weren't … partners. It goes too far back." I wanted his touch even when I hated him. When he hated me. Konstantinov had gone deeper than that, right to the core.

"So you kept quiet and went along." Looking at the water in his hand, then back at Vadim. "Did this ever make you resent him?"

"Yes." Vadim felt a pressure on his chest. He had. No doubt about it.

Dr Williams merely nodded, quiet for a long time. "I believe, when you can, you should explain this to him. What do you think?"

"I think Dan wouldn't understand it, and it would hurt him." Vadim shook his head. "He's … very much about what you see is what you get. I'm not the same … he wouldn't get that all these … emotions are at odds with each other."

"Well, we shall see, then. After all, this is all about you and no one else." The doctor smiled. "Not your partner, not your friends nor family. Only about you." Finishing off his water. "What I mentioned earlier, the sudden aggression and the over-reaction, are you familiar with the three-cup model?"

"No, sir."

"You, I assume, like many other sufferers from PTSD struggle to understand why you tend to become disproportionately aggressive at small things. For example, you might get disproportionately aggressive when someone walks too slowly in front of you, or a stranger looks at you, or, perhaps, a sudden noise, an unexpected touch and a joke that does not seem funny to you. The reason is quite simple. Imagine three cups. Everyone constantly deals with things that we call 'good stress'. This can be simple tasks and chores as washing the dishes, going to work, getting up early, shaving. Now imagine this first cup. It has a small amount of 'good stress' in the bottom, and everyone has this." Dr Williams put the empty glass onto the narrow table beside him. "Imagine the second cup, and you see it fill with a certain amount of 'bad stress'. These are the things that go wrong. For example, the car doesn't start, the train is missed, money is tight, the partner does not do what one wishes and one gets upset. Everyone gets such bad stress. As you can picture, there is still a lot of space in the cup and thus the person who does not suffer from PTSD is unlikely to have their cup overflow and fly into a rage. Most people can take a lot of 'bad stress' before they are being pushed over the edge. Does this make sense so far?"

"Are you saying my cup is already full and then something comes in from outside?"

"Indeed, you got it straight away. What you have in your cup is a large amount of 'PTSD', which contains all of your trauma and more. While there is still the 'good stress', and you have been admirably functioning, there is very little room for the 'bad stress' to fit in on top of the PTSD. Therefore the control needed to deal with the constant threat of overflowing is great, and this is why something seemingly small and insignificant can make a PTSD sufferer 'fly off the handle' so quickly. A little 'bad stress' makes the cup overflow and the person flies into a rage."

Like Dan having slept with Katya. "Yes. I've done that …" And how good it had felt, going on that killing rampage. To let the beast out and revel in destruction. "I did … some extreme things in the Balkans. When the cup overflowed."

The doctor nodded. "I think we should be lucky that you are here now, safe and sound. It could have had worse consequences." Nodding to an attendant who came past, he got a couple more bottles of water, one with and one without fizz. "I'd also like to explain the kind of therapy we will work on."

Vadim nodded and motioned for him to continue.

"It is a combination of CBT and Exposure therapy. Or rather, Exposure therapy is part of CBT and CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. What this means is the following: the events are not necessarily what traumatises someone, but the views that the person is taking of them. The implications of this are that situations, like real world objects, are better viewed from certain angles than from others. CBT takes the stance that people have a degree of choice in the point of view they take. Does this make sense?"

"I … think."

Dr Williams handed Vadim one of the bottles, and opened his own. "What this means for practice is that CBT emphasises the importance of breaking out of negative chains by changing thoughts and actions."

"Okay. So working with the rational mind, emotions, and the body to get this under control."

"Yes, and since we are dealing with emotions, we can only break the cycle through a rational approach." The doctor took another sip of his water. "The next thing you need to know about is Exposure therapy, which is the largest part of CBT, and the most important one to deal with the trauma healing process." He turned his intelligent eyes onto Vadim. "Do you have 'blackouts' or memory losses from your time in prison?"

"It's hard to remember all of it. It was very monotonous. I was left alone most of the time, but then there were beatings, and interrogation, and …" Humiliation. "He toyed with me. A few things, scenes, conversations we've had … more beatings. I …" Vadim frowned. "I don't know. I couldn't tell. How do you remember two years?"

The look on Dr William's face was compassionate and knowing. "I understand, and the Exposure therapy is doing exactly that: helping you to remember. You are an intelligent man, Mr Krasnorada, I believe you can imagine that remembering will be extremely painful. Still, it is vital for the healing process. Talking and writing about the trauma, about each incident and its effects are absolutely critical to the recovery of lost memories and to be able to piece the whole picture together. If you try and block memories when they arise, the more you think about them. In a nutshell, Exposure therapy is a deliberate method designed to expose the mind in controlled doses to your past trauma, which you experience as intense emotional fear. It is aimed at teaching your body that it no longer needs to be disturbed by traumatic memories, as they are just memories. Exposure therapy is a learning strategy designed to separate then, the past, from now, the present."

"Does that mean I get Konstantinov out of my head? He'll be gone?"

"It means that you will be able to see what he did as a part of your past. As something that happened, but that no longer happens. In that sense, yes, he will be gone." Dr Williams was about to say more, when the attendant returned, to tell the waiting passengers in the lounge that the flight was ready for boarding.

Vadim nodded, took his bottle and jacket and stood. "That would be good", he said. At least he could deny Konstantinov room in his head. His voice. You will never forget what I did to you, Konstantinov had said. You'll never be able to pass for normal, or human. "That's a lot of things to think through."

"We'll have a lot of hours." Dr Williams smiled, picked up his hand luggage and stood as well. They got into the plane and seated in the comfortable business area, to get through an uneventful but terribly long flight, during which Dr Williams explained some more and asked a few questions. The flight was too long anyway to keep an intense conversation; instead, Vadim slept and read, and worked a little, answering letters, which was slow, diligent work.

 
 
Special Forces Chapter LXII: Reconnaissance
 
 
Warning for Readers

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

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

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

 

 
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Published 24 February 2009