was stirring his double espresso, unaware he had been
chasing the spoon around in circles for at least two
minutes. He tried not to check the door, neither his
watch. Staring into his coffee, as usual over-sweetened,
he started another forlorn round of stirring long dissolved
shouldn't feel so nervous, the way he was sitting there
was plain ridiculous. A man of nearly fifty-three, behaving
like a teenager on a first date. Good thing he hadn't
told Vadim how long he'd been standing in front of his
suitcase that morning, deciding in the end on customary
black jeans and one of the linen and silk mix shirts
that Vadim had bought him. It had even taken him a whole
shocking five minutes to decide on the charcoal coloured
on the jacket had been easy: black leather and from
a chap called Armain. Or Armani. Or Armand? Didn't matter,
all that counted was that Vadim had told him those clothes
made him look as hot as any middle aged man possibly
could. If it was good enough for Vadim, it was good
enough for him.
would it be good enough for Kisa?
was about to add yet another lump of sugar, when the
door of the ice cream parlour opened. He looked up,
and almost dropped the spoon. A girl came in, dressed
in black, weird 'straps' attached to her combat-style
trousers. Her dark hair had purple streaks and was done
up in some sort of explosion. Long, at least, so he
had an inkling that it was actually a girl, even though
that probably didn't count for much, either. What had
happened to his idea of a twelve year old kid? Black
eyeliner around her eyes, smudged, everything but expertly
applied, and those fingernails
when she came
closer he noticed the bitten and chewed, chipped-off
black polish. Holy shit. That couldn't be his daughter?
Not the pretty little dark haired girl with the huge
brown eyes and the impish grin?
She stopped in front of his table. "You Dan?"
looked up and nodded, remembered to stand up, a bit
laboriously, and had the intelligence to stretch out
his hand for a shake. He hadn't expected this
this strange looking kid. The last photos he had received
were about a year old.
I'm Dan. Hi Kisa." He had the urge to flee, but
she grabbed his hand and the firm but brief shake made
him look into her eyes. Stopped. Surprised. Despite
the black around them they were still the same eyes
from the photos.
would you like?" He remembered to ask, but felt
awkward. Trying to show her the menu, he knocked it
over instead. Stupid. She would know all about the menu
anyway, she lived close by, unlike him. He'd just flown
across the globe for over twenty-four hours.
OK." She sat down, all cool, despite her age, and
unlike him very much at home in that place. "I
order." While Dan sat down, she fired off a rapid
conversation to the waitress in Hungarian, with the
occasional quick laugh.
kept his left hand under the table, conscious of the
scars. He had noticed her initial stare at his face.
He couldn't remember if the recent photo he'd sent her
mother had shown his scar, hoped it had. Didn't want
to be regarded as a freak, not by this kid.
Daughter. His daughter. Holy fuck.
couldn't help studying her, the way her hands moved
while talking to the waitress, the ragged black nails
flashing in quick succession and then that laughter
again. She sounded like a kid who could be suspiciously
good fun, if only she didn't look like a bundle of rags.
she turned back to him, switching into English, which
turned out to be fluent and with a pleasant accent.
"You're Dan." She tilted her head, unabashedly
staring at him, she let her gaze wander across his face,
back down to the shirt and up again, left and right
until it ended in the centre. She obviously studied
the grey temples and silver streaks in an otherwise
dark and forever unruly head of too-long hair. "You
look nothing like a father." She stated her conclusion,
then rubbed her nose. "Nothing like my friends'
couldn't help but laugh. "What the fuck did you
expect me to look like?" Wincing. Damn! He hadn't
meant to swear.
laughed, sniggered even, seemed it was funny to her
that an old geezer talked that way. "I thought
men your age wore suits and tie and had short hair.
I expected you to be boring, not with a cool scar in
your face and a leather jacket." She spotted the
cane that leant against the free chair. "That's
more like it."
grinned, suddenly not feeling so awkward anymore. "You
think the scar's cool? It's old, I keep forgetting about
it." Yeah, right, as if. You'd been worried about
that all morning. Like the clothes and what he should
say or expect and whatever the fuck he was supposed
to feel and think and why on earth he'd ever agreed
to this in the first place. He nodded towards the cane.
"That? I have an artificial knee and it's easier
to walk with a cane, but bloody uncool."
shrugged, "my friends' fathers are totally uncool
to start with, but then they are at least fathers."
Another shrug, she twisted a strand of the purple-dark
hair around her fingers, stuffed it into her mouth and
chewed on it.
he could reply, the waitress arrived with a tray and
a glass of coke and a huge bowl of ice cream. Vanilla
and chocolate, dripping in sauce and crowned with whipped
cream, several chocolate fingers sticking out of the
top. Dan stared at the concoction. Perfect. At least
that kid had an eclectic taste: his own.
like one of those as well and another coffee. Extra
sugar." Dan pointed at the ice cream and the waitress
smiled, heading off to the counter. He didn't notice
at first how the kid was staring at him.
No, Kisa. Kisa, his daughter. Shit.
up? Are those ice creams reserved for kids?" He
rose his brows then finished off the coffee, now lukewarm.
"I happen to like sweets."
tilted her head even further, until her face almost
touched the table, dark hair and twisted purple strands
nearly falling into the whipped cream. He felt strange
being scrutinised by eyes that were so much like his
like sweets, too. My favourite stuff. Mum tells me off
for ladling sugar into my cereal." She shrugged,
then tucked into her dessert, "I don't care what
she says. I'm old enough to know what I want."
I guess you are." Dan offered a smile. Watching
her eat, he wondered if he'd ever looked like that when
wolfing down his food.
think so?" She frowned. "You don't know
that I know?"
course I don't know, I can only imagine. I don't know
waited a moment, but that was it. She was silently shovelling
the dessert into herself, hovering the whipped cream
down as if there were no tomorrow.
Now it was awkward again and Dan wished the waitress
were faster in preparing that goddamned chocolate vanilla
bowl. At least she'd provide a distraction. Was he now
meant to say something or was he supposed to wait? He'd
never had to deal with a kid; his nephews had never
required any work. Or perhaps he hadn't been there when
they'd been kids.
sorry." He finally offered an apology even though
he wasn't sure for what.
She looked up, the angry glare somewhat lessened by
a cream moustache. "Why would you be? If you were
sorry, then why didn't you ever want to see me?"
locked. Missile fired. Where was the eject seat when
one needed them the most?
Dan murmured, avoided her gaze, glad the waitress came
at last with the ice cream and coffee. It gave him an
excuse to remain silent while frantically trying to
think. Think, Dan! You had all the perfect explanations
and smoothly polished lies, ready for use. Why, then,
why did it feel all wrong? The bluntness, the open eyed
questions, the stare that was so frank he could almost
forget she was only a kid. Kid. Kisa. Why did I never
see you? Your mother stipulated she'd cry 'rape' if
I ever did. You were hers and hers alone, and I'd been
happy with that, never really questioned it. You've
never been part of my life, you couldn't have been.
Except for money, but money didn't count. I never wanted
you. I hated your mother for creating you. And now you're
here and you look at me with those goddamned eyes, and
still haven't answered my question." She frowned.
"Don't you want to answer it or can't you? You
think you can't tell me the truth? You just didn't want
to have anything to do with me, is that it?"
it? Was it that simple? Oh, Kisa, you'll never know.
It's not that simple. Nothing ever is." Dan took
a mouthful of cream, then twisted one of the chocolate
sticks in his hand.
tell me why? Mum said you had a one-night stand, but
I found out that you'd known all along that I existed.
I found a couple of letters that had come back from
some place, what was it, the one before Serbo-Croatia."
Dan muttered. Land of horror and hatred, of mass
graves and wailing, and of kids like you, killing soldiers.
that one." She wiped her lips with her sleeve.
"I know I shouldn't have, but I opened them. They'd
been undeliverable. I opened them because mum never
told me anything about my father. She kept telling me
that she hadn't known you, a one-night stand. The best
that had ever come out of it was I." She frowned.
"There were pictures of me as a toddler. Short
letters that said a bit about what I was doing, nothing
else, but you knew that I existed and I know that you
knew all along. Then why did you never want to see me?"
same question again, and all Dan could wonder about
was why the hell Katya had kept those letters. He worked
his way through some mouthfuls of vanilla ice, while
sifting through all the optional lies he'd been fabricating
in his mind. One-night stand. Busy. Business. Didn't
know - that one was out - couldn't, the truth, but not
Shit, yes. Frankness pitched against frankness. If Kisa
was anything like him she'd want the truth and nothing
else. The truth, except for her conception. Some truths
were too brutal to ever be known.
that all your mother told you? I was a one-night stand?"
nodded, while drinking her coke.
the truth, but only part of it." Dan sat back.
Katya would kill him, but then, what did he have to
lose? "The truth is that you are 'a child of love',
as they say, but not of the love between your mother
and me, but between my partner and me." He paused
to take in a breath. "I'm gay. Vadim, your siblings'
father, has been my lover for twenty-two years."
Sometimes the truth needed a little help.
With the spoon paused in mid-motion, she stared incredulously
at him. "You mad?"
Dan sat just as still, "only gay."
the biggest load of lies I have ever heard!" Eyes
ablaze, she furiously glared at him. "That's not
possible. You think I'm stupid?" Her spoon came
down onto the table with a nasty crack, ice-cream sludge
splattering across. "I'm not a child anymore, I'm
nearly twelve. I know something about gays and they
don't do it with women!"
couldn't help but burst into laughter, admiring the
black-and-white view of her world.
can." How the fuck to explain things without going
into detail. He wasn't ready to talk about sex with
a kid whose image in his mind was of pigtails and impish
grin. "It happens. It did happen."
steep crease between her brows deepened. "Oh, really?
So my sister's and my brother's dad has been having
sex with you all the time and not with mum, right? And
you in return had sex with my mum, once, and why? What's
that got to do with lovers and love and everything else?"
She started to fume again, "what's that got to
do with me? Why did you never want to see me? You knew
you had a daughter!"
Too many questions and only one answer. The old whore
again. Truth. The one who'd brought him in and out of
trouble, and whose painted face had to hide the odd
sighed, then took a deep breath while his spoon came
down, hands resting on the tabletop. Both of them, side
by side. Looking at her, as calmly as he managed ."Kisa,"
not 'kid', and it felt right, "you are my daughter,
I don't doubt that for a second, even though I've never
been a father to you." He fixed her angry stare
with his steady own. "And since you are my daughter,
I figure that you'd appreciate the truth. All of it.
The whole story." Another deep breath. "Do
you want to hear how it all happened and why I never
tried to make contact?"
nodded, grabbed the spoon and shovelled the last of
the ice-cream down, then pulled Dan's bowl closer when
he gave it a push towards her. "Yes. The truth,
and don't you dare make it sound better."
shook his head. He wouldn't, but he'd sanitise the truth.
Corpses, death, hatred and desperation, these things
had nothing to do in her life.
of, I've actually seen you before, three times. I never
made contact and you didn't know who I was, don't think
you ever saw me." He shrugged, "Your mother
and I," the lies, they did come smoothly sometimes,
"we decided that it would be best for you not to
meet me. We were wrong, it seems, and I'm sorry for
gone back to the customary tilt of her head, quiet for
me tell you the whole story." Dan told her about
how he had met Vadim, sanitising every event as he went
along, two enemy soldiers, who did not kill each other,
instead began to fall in love. Condensing eight years
into a story fit for a Hollywood movie. No lies, just
the absence of some of the truths. He went on to talk
about Vadim's execution, how he had visited his ex-wife,
Kisa's mother, to get a message across to him through
his father, one that was about love. Their love. Vadim's
night, Kisa, your mother and I consoled each other and
it just happened. One thing led to the other, we were
both devastated about Vadim's impending execution, and
we ended up having sex." He could hardly believe
how smoothly this lie was slipping across his tongue.
"That's how you were conceived. Because of love,
just not between your mother and me."
have to talk to Katya to reinforce the story. A lie
that was destined to remain the truth and nothing but
the truth, for this one person. His daughter. He wasn't
a good man, but he'd be buggered if he let the kid get
man." Her eyes widened, the anger had turned into
fascination. "That's ... that's crazy. My friends
are never going to believe that. How cool."
Dan lit a cigarette like a dying man reached for the
sacraments. He'd expected anything but that reaction.
"You think that's cool?"
grinned, rage forgotten, and nodded vigorously, purple
strands flying all over the place. "My father's
gay and he slept with my mother because my sibling's
father is his lover, who was going to be executed by
the KGB. Wow!" She positively beamed, "that's
didn't even notice the swearing. Cool.
the whole thing was cool.
started to laugh, muttering about kids, the new world,
things he didn't understand anymore and the fact he'd
produced a female monster. One he already liked. A lot.
grinned, "you promised to tell me why you've never
seen me and why mum and you thought that would be best."
nodded, exhaled smoke away from her and reached for
the coffee. "OK, the reason has to do with my job."
He continued to explain what he'd done as a merc after
her conception, that he hadn't known of her existence
before she was two. He'd been in the Gulf at that time.
He wasn't sure if she understood why risking his life
every day would be a reason she shouldn't meet him,
but she seemed to accept the explanation and his apology.
For now. No doubt she'd come back to the whole thing
later, he had a feeling she wasn't someone who'd ever
that why you have the scars?" She pointed unashamedly
at his face, then reached for his left hand. She took
it, pulled it over and studied the ugly mess. Functional,
but by no means pretty.
stared at his hand in hers. She had long fingers, a
narrow hand. The female version of his own, and she'd
probably be tall when she was fully grown. Her mother
was tall herself, lithe and slender, and he was strong,
but tended towards the wiry, if he didn't work out extensively.
If he wasn't mistaken, the kid would turn out to be
a stunner. He could already imagine the trail of broken
he nodded, "got the scar on my hand from a close
security job. I was protecting a lady ambassador in
Kabul, in 1988. Was a car explosion, tore my guts open
as well, but before you ask," he held her back
with a grin, "I'm not going to show you those scars.
Not dropping my trousers in a café."
grinned up into his face, and he smiled back her. Completely
smitten. These eyes, despite the dreadful makeup. Those
hands. 'Lapushka', how fitting, a kitten's paw. Kisa,
kitten. Apt for the tiger's daughter. Dan wondered for
the if the story he had left for Vadim's father to tell,
had anything to do with the choice of his daughter's
glad I finally met you."
nodded, still grinning, "I'm, too. You're cool.
Wish I had met you earlier."
we fucked it up." He didn't realise he was tilting
his head just like she had done, earlier.
a lot to swallow right now. That's the craziest story
I've ever heard and I'm right in the middle of it."
She let go of Dan's hand, looked at her watch then out
of the window. "Mum's picking me up, she's probably
already waiting. You have an email address?"
grinned. "Of course, I'm not that old. Here,"
he reached into a jacket pocket, "take my card.
It's my private email address and my private mobile
number. Don't give it to anyone else, OK? Not even your
mother. It's just for close friends."
that's great. I'll send you a mail. I want to ask you
a lot of questions, but have to go now." She stood
up, too fast for him to do the same. "Bye, Dan!"
She was out of the door before he could stub out his
leaned back in the chair, closed his eyes for a moment,
to sit and think. He finally took a very deep breath,
before searching for his phone to send a text.
Force of nature. What the hell else had he expected.
moment the mobile phone vibrated in his pocket, Vadim
got up and began heading for the ice cream parlour.
A press of a button retracted the lens, and the small,
sleek, silver thing transformed into a silvery cube,
which fitted neatly into his inside pocket. The wonders
tell Dan of the quick series of photos later. Only Kisa
had really been on them. Dan still had his instincts,
and had been invisible from the park opposite the ice
cream place, and in cover behind a concrete pillar.
checked the text before crossing the road. "Were
done", it said. Dan never bothered switching menus
for the apostrophes. Dan's irreverent nature of course
extended to his own language. Vadim stuffed the phone
back into his pocket, knowing full well that Dan could
see him by now, log before he entered the cafe. He walked
towards the table, where Dan was still sitting, grinning
like a fool that had just been laid. Only that he didn't
tend to grin that much after sex.
I can see you're in love", murmured Vadim. He looked
up to the waitress who had given up preening behind
the counter and was now preening with a pad in her hand.
Dan's charms. "Ah." Eyes narrowed to make
out the words on the blackboard behind the counter,
but nothing he could understand. "Tea. Earl Grey."
He turned back to Dan. "So. As bad as expected,
simply continued to grin. "Bad? You have no idea.
She's a terror." He ordered another coffee by pointing
to the one he'd already had. "I need you to talk
to her mother, though. It's urgent. She needs to know
the new party line." He reached out and touched
Vadim's hand, never noticing the disappointed look on
the waitresses' face. "I told Kisa the truth. All
of it, and she thinks it's rather cool. To quote her:
'to have a gay father who slept with her mother because
of her siblings' gay father's execution, who is the
lover of her father'. Or something like that."
gave a dry laugh, thumb moving to hold Dan's fingers
that lay across his hand. No thought went into it.
FUBAR." He pondered the request for a while, then
nodded. "Katya will respect that. She is a very
reasonable person." He could sense the thunderstorm
gathering around Dan, and waved it away with a hand.
"In her way. She did a good job with the kids,
you know. Much better than, uh, we could have. I mean.
I did try to be a father back then, but it didn't work
out very well." He listened to himself, astonished
just how insecure he sounded.
shook his head, then reached for another fag with his
free hand, the other resting comfortably in Vadim's.
"We never got a chance to be fathers, for different
reasons." Lighting the fag, "OK, so I would
have been crap at it, but there's no one to prove otherwise."
He shrugged and pulled in the first deep drag of nicotine.
can give her a call. Or would that be a meeting? Maybe
in a restaurant?" Keeping all options open.
guess I really have to meet Katya, aye?" Dan glanced
at Vadim. "She needs to know urgently what I concocted
regarding Kisa's conception, or the 'Truth As The Kid
Knows It' will get blown." Dan nodded his thanks
when the waitress brought their orders, and took a sip
after adding a double portion of sugar. "I told
her we 'comforted' each other because of your impending
execution and that's how it happened, even though I'm
gay. Child of love and all that stuff." Another
sip, "at least the last bit's not a lie."
I think after all that time ..." Vadim glanced
at Dan and decided it was not nearly enough time, there
was still anger in Dan's eyes. Let's talk about this
again when the sun has burnt out. "Okay. I'll give
her a call. She might want to meet." He squeezed
the lemon slice with the metal thing that was designed
for it, watching the juice vanish in the tea.
Dan smiled and let go of Vadim's hand.
see if I have her number." Of course he did. Vadim's
phone was brimming with contact information and he never
deleted a contact. He fished it out of his pocket, and
thinking of it, put the Sony camera on the table as
well. "Photos of your girl." Nodding towards
it, while fiddling single-handedly with the phone. The
buttons were getting smaller every year. "There."
There was only one 'Katya', just the first name, the
last name felt always awkward on her or even the children.
Strange. He looked at Dan. "Right now?"
reached for the camera, cigarette dangling from the
corner of his mouth, while he peered at the display.
"Yep, right now. It's important she gets the 'facts'
right before Kisa goes bonkers on her." He was
flicking through the pictures, grinning at the mess
the kid was. The dreadful clothes, ratty nails and awful
hair, and that unspeakable eyeliner. He studied one
photo in particular, which showed her laughing, holding
his fucked-up hand in hers.
nodded and pressed the button. Once to select her name,
second time to dial. Waited.
course, she had his number, too.
fine. How are you?"
I need ... a bit of sleep, jetlag. Hardly know what
date it is."
gave a short, toneless laugh. "Touché."
This was her way of telling him she knew he didn't call
for kindness or concern, but that he had a request to
make. "How are Nikolai and Anoushka?"
can send you their phone numbers."
would be good, thanks." She was slipping away,
mobile, evading effortlessly, and he felt like a lumbering
idiot. "Listen, Katya, we would like to get together
for dinner, after I've slept off the worst." He
gave Dan a quick glance again. "Dan ... has come
up with a story for ... Kisa." Your daughter who
is not my blood, and not even mine in any way. Could
that old jealousy still be around?
Because she will ask."
like a temperamental little thing." Vadim thought
he could hear her voice warm slightly. Maybe. They needed
to meet. See what was still there, make it friendship,
if they were lucky, build on their mutual goodwill.
"You were consoling each other. That's the story,
not much to it." Only it was about my death and
you fucking got Dan to do this, and it still feels like
treason. "She knows about me, too. About ... how
I live." Gay lovers, sharing a woman under the
strangest circumstances. "Maybe, just stick to
the story. We don't have to screw up that little lady,
paused, waited for a long time. "You can pick me
up in two hours. There is a good restaurant just down
"Sounds like a good idea. See you later."
ended the call and exhaled. "So far, so good."
was still studying the same picture, engrossed in the
photo, while listening to every word. He turned his
head to glance at Vadim. "So far so good?"
won't fuck it up. Whatever you think of her, she's not
a devil. She is just protecting." Her kid, after
all, for twelve years. He could just hear her voice.
Her children. She had raised, clothed, and fed them,
and he was pretty sure it had not occurred to her that
Dan could possibly be genuinely interested in his offspring.
sipped his tea. Thought, how the fuck had he ended up
in a position where he tried to defend his ex-wife from
his partner. She deserved all the trouble she got into
with Dan, just for the thing she had done, and at the
same time, he was the only person who understood them
both. And knew they were not compatible. Strange then,
that they'd been the two people in the world he'd genuinely
loved. "She said restaurant in two hours. We'll
pick her up." And that will be tough enough. "Are
you sure, Dan?" He looked to the side to meet Dan's
I am," Dan's eyes narrowed, "It's been thirteen
years. I'll be civil." He ran a hand through his
hair, brushing some wild strands of dark and grey out
of his eyes. "Whatever happened thirteen years
ago, it doesn't matter anymore. It's about the kid now."
it's decided, then." Nice restaurant, and two volcanoes
left and right, one able to poison everything with as
much as a rumble, and the other able to do the full
set earthquake, lava, and spitting stones. Wonderful
pics, by the way." Dan suddenly commented, as a
peace offering. "We could make it back to the hotel
for an hour's kip. That is, if you want to sleep. Personally,
I have different ideas."
looked up, smirking. "I think I would like a bath
or shower, but the exact circumstances are open for
debate." Hot water, and Dan's groans echoing off
the marble tiled walls.
grinned, "I'm opting for bath, can't risk losing
my balance in the shower, bash my head, die of a cracked
skull and bleed to death in a fancy hotel bathroom instead
of gloriously going down on a battlefield."
laughed. "But you'd go down 'loved'."
waved the waitress closer and paid for the lot, amused
by the moustachioed blokes on the forint notes. He gave
her a hefty tip, more out of can't-be-arsed than deliberation
and she smiled at them, without the preening but no
less interest. Dan reached for the cane and the jacket.
on, then, let's hurry. An hour isn't anymore what it
used to be." He laughed over his shoulder, "and
certainly no longer capable of twice in sixty minutes.
Sir." The thought made Vadim smile. He wondered
whether his younger self would have been able to imagine,
even begin to grasp all the things that had happened
in the meantime, that he'd end up living with the enemy,
who was now by far less an enemy than the state he had
killed and suffered for. He'd always thought he'd die
before he could feel the abuse of his body as clearly
as he did. The lower back, the dislocated shoulder,
but both less visible than Dan's problems.
walked Dan towards the big BMW, he liked the heavy,
solid European cars; that one clung to the road like
a tank, dark blue, fit for a diplomat, and cost more
per day to rent than he'd made as a Soviet soldier in
a month. Another reason to embrace capitalism. The thing
unlocked when he pressed a little button on the keychain,
and he allowed Dan to get in first, knowing he'd be
offended if he helped him. Lowering himself into the
car, he felt the gentle vibration of the machine. Enough
horsepower to get a rush, several times over.
hotel was close enough, ten minutes, they had stuck
to the main roads, and Vadim even switched off the classical
CD on the way. Dan couldn't stand the 'noise' of the
Firebird suite. And that was one of the more accessible
things Stravinsky had done. Like all the best things,
it was an acquired taste.
lift of the hotel reached right into the parking lot
underneath, nice, modern, plenty of investments going
on in this city. When the lift doors closed, Vadim grinned
at Dan. "Any plans apart from taking a perverse
pleasure in my tottering flesh?"
actually have a bath?" Dan didn't want to think
about the impending meeting. "No other plans."
He grinned, licked his lips before leaning in and kissing
Vadim. A few seconds before the elevator doors opened,
enough time for a miniature snog.
managed to pull apart before they arrived on their level,
with Dan grinning his particularly wicked grin, and
made their way to the penthouse suite they had booked.
The bath was run soon, the tub a brand new installation
amongst marbled and polished perfection. Round, vast,
enough space for two tall men. Hot water that soothed
aches, eased jetlag, and most of all, took the weight
off their two bodies.
bath turned predictably into what Dan had planned, a
feast of water, heat, steam, and two bodies rubbing
against each other; of hands and hardness and of skin
sliding against skin; of tongues and teeth, kisses and
bites, and of the unparalleled moment of toppling over
the edge and into orgasm.
minutes before they had to leave, they finally got out
of the bath, and swiftly rubbed lotion into each other's
scars. Dan laughed, as usual, making stupid jokes about
getting old disgracefully.
decided to wait for Vadim to put out clothes onto the
bed for him, which would guarantee that appreciative
look that he'd learned to like and seek. Once dressed,
he grabbed his customary shades, still wearing them
at the slightest chance of sun. Wallet packed, room
keys in his hand, he stood at the door with a wry smile.
"You do realise that this is a more dangerous mission
for me than the HALO jump in the Gulf?"
grinned. "At least you are much better dressed
now than you were then." A slap between the shoulder
blades. Let's go, comrade. "Pilots get lost all
the time, anyway. The moment they're grounded, they're
fucking sitting ducks", he murmured, remembering
his own rescue missions, and the bloated, booby trapped
mess that was usually at the end of the rainbow.
had reception get a taxi, and when they were standing
in front of the house. She'd rented out Szandor's house
and moved into a smaller place, but it was still stately:
a light grey, spacious villa that looked like it needed
a paintjob in case one got the vines off first. He quickdialed
Katya's number. "We're downstairs."
flicked the phone shut and looked at Dan, knew he might
not want to be touched now, but felt like stroking his
side. Felt like lying down and having him rest at his
shoulder, no thought, no word, just existing without
heat, without dust, without a clock ticking in the background.
stepped out, just closing her coat, charcoal grey, blonde
hair done up with two long, vicious looking ivory and
mother-of-pearl inlaid pins. She looked at them, gave
a smile. "Good to see you both could make it."
She looked at them, face friendly, neutral maybe, and
Vadim gave a small sigh of relief that was barely noticeable.
Five seconds and counting, and none of them had ripped
out the other's throat.
nodded at her, studying her appearance. She hadn't changed.
"Been a while."
gave a smile and a nod, and there was a strange motion,
as if Vadim and her wanted to exchange something, like
a hug, a touch of the arm, but they didn't. Vadim looked
down, feeling awkward. "I'm
he murmured. "Is the restaurant anywhere near?"
he not feed you well?" she asked, still smiling.
"I'd have thought he does. You look good, Vadim."
gave a quick grin, flattered, then placed a hand on
Dan's arm. "You do, as well." He nodded, indicating
she should lead the way.
twitched. "I don't fucking cook." Murmured.
Feed him well. What the fuck did she think he
was, Vadim's maid? Oh, wait, he remembered. Of course
he did. 'You are his bitch', she had said, thirteen
gave a laugh. "Before you ask, Katya, he doesn't
grill, barbeque, fry or bake, either."
laughed, too, shaking her head. "That means you
poor men must be nearer to starvation than you look.
Or have you learnt to cook, Vadim? The man who couldn't
made him so attractive back then was that he had an
endless supply of energy bars. Can't look at snack bars
these days without remembering why I got him."
Vadim leaned against Dan for a moment, while walking.
rolled his eyes, "Next time you want to chat about
my merits over my head, do that while I'm actually not
there." Grumpy. "You did have a taste for
those fucking disgusting peanut butter bars, Russkie."
was peanut butter?" Vadim leaned in closer to Dan's
ear. "It was peanut butter on top of the salt from
your body that did it," he whispered, hardly more
than a breath.
held his breath, trust Vadim to get him to think about
the wrong things at the right time or vice bloody versa.
Concentrating on walking, the safest bet.
the Italian place is really just around this corner."
Her heels tack-tacked on the sidewalk as she moved a
little forward, allowing them to fall behind.
the restaurant, a slightly greasy looking young man
welcomed her with kisses left and right, and tossed
random Italian words like "bella" into the
quick conversation. "Amici", the deal. They
got a nice place slightly remote between potted ferns.
The Italian helped her out of her coat. A lighter shade
of grey underneath, a cashmere jumper and a long, classic
wool skirt. She didn't wear the lapis - Vadim had feared
she might, might make a statement that would hurt Dan,
or set them on edge. Instead, it was amber in silver,
an elegant pendant with an amber drop between her collar
bones, and a matching ring.
looked around, the place seemed nice enough, and Italians
usually served mouth watering deserts. He took his jacket
off and hung it over his chair, then leaned his cane
against a potted fern and sat down. He probably should
give being civil a try. "You haven't changed much,
studied his hands while Katya gave Dan a smile, and
lowered her gaze for a moment, much like a fencer lowered
the blade after the fight. "I am lucky that cosmetic
surgery works so well." Light-hearted. "But
thank you. You seem
comfortable." The flicker
of a pause indicated she wanted the word to have several
layers. "It is good seeing you like this."
The "you" held both him and Vadim.
comfortable." Dan found a small smile somewhere.
"It's been a bumpy ride." It was his turn
to stare at his hands, the right covering the scarred
left one. "I got to talk to you about Kisa."
had to order drinks first, Katya ordered the wine, going
with the waiter's suggestions, but her attention was
mostly on Dan. When the waiter left with the order,
Katya nodded, taking up the conversation again. "Kisa
- yes? Isn't she wonderful? Admittedly, a little unconventional,
but I've been told being a nonconformist these days
is a sign of intelligence and willpower." Her bemused
tone left no question as to who thought that of herself.
slight irritation in Dan's voice, "she is. She
is quite remarkable, from what I could see in an hour."
He turned his head, away from her, staring at the plants
for a moment. "Look," returning his attention
to her, "I need to talk to you. I told her the
truth." His right hand dropped off the table, reaching
for Vadim's thigh. Resting there, touching, connecting.
"I told her about our lives." He tilted his
head, "she thought I hadn't wanted to see her."
nodded. "It's the basic human question. Who am
I, where am I from, and, of course, where am I going."
cleared his throat, tensing his thigh to respond to
the touch. It was a way of saying everything was alright,
the situation under control, and that he was there.
"I'm not sure this is a philosophical question,
Katya. It's pretty real." Without looking at her,
but the brow dark.
acknowledged that, then focused her attention on Dan.
"Firstly, teenagers tend to over dramatise. But
of course, she's not the kind that would accept anything
but 'the truth'." A quick blink. "I guess
I didn't think it through, or what are you aiming at?"
frowned. "I'm not aiming at bloody anything."
His hand on Vadim's thigh clenched into a fist. "I
know jack shit about teenagers, kids, toddlers, babies,
and if I had had any say in it I wouldn't have ever
had any." A miniature twitch in his body betrayed
his tension. He wanted to hurt her, accuse her, ask
her what the fuck she had been thinking and that he
had been hating her guts since then, but he fought with
himself. What the hell would that achieve. "It's
not the point." Shaking his head. The fist relaxed
a fraction. "The point is that we have to stick
to the new party line."
eyes grew steel, one thing to accuse her, another to
regret Kisa's existence. She was ready to defend, deflect
the blade, and go for a deadly riposte. More than ready.
She shot Vadim a glance, who didn't look up, but saw
the movement of her head in his peripheral vision. As
far as Vadim was concerned, he was just listening, impassive
on the outside, alert on the inside. More a referee
than an ex-husband or lover.
said we had been consoling each other. And that she
knows about your lifestyle."
lifestyle." Dan's voice was growing dangerously
intense, "that lifestyle that made me tell
her that she was a child of love, just not between her
mother and me but between Vadim and me." The tension
was back, the fist knuckle-white.
make me sound like a surrogate mother." She shook
her head, speaking on, allowing him no pause, speaking
firmly and cool, like she had gone through this in her
head often enough to know the lines by heart. "What
I was referring to with 'lifestyle' is that you form
part of a gay couple with Vadim." Acknowledging
something just as ancient as that other grudge. She
spread her fingers on the table cloth. "I wanted
her, and the exact circumstances don't matter much now.
It's been thirteen years. She will be around when we
are gone, and we don't have to leave her with that burden.
It wouldn't be fair."
exact circumstances do matter. They matter because
Kisa must never know them." Dan hadn't relaxed
the tension, every movement and facial expression were
showing Vadim how close Dan was to attack. "Seems
we agree on that one."
dropped his hand on Dan's hand. Thumb on one side, fingers
on the other, a firm presence that was not restricting.
He didn't move any other muscle, focused and aware like
omit that in my autobiography, then", she said
lightly, but with a layer of strength underneath. "It's
not like I tell my children the whole story."
glanced up. "What did you actually tell Anoushka
war hero who turned to drink and violence. They heard
the same story as everybody else. And apparently you
were bisexual. Like your daughter, come to mention it."
She smiled, with the irony of it.
leaned back, shaking his head.
brood of killers' kids. Dan dropped his head back into
his neck, the corners of his mouth twitching, this was
too fucking insane.
is Vadim's official story. Why we are divorced. What
he did. We know why he did it, but it's nothing you
can cover up." She sighed, as if not quite understanding
what the fuss was about. "I never mentioned your
sexual orientation, though. You were a one-night-stand.
Two children and a marriage are more difficult to explain."
She looked at Vadim. "I didn't mean to upset you."
of course not." Vadim felt never threatened, between
them it was something of a ritual, like fencing. Not
about scoring points, but sparring. "Apple and
smiled. "You could say that."
you think she's happy with it?"
too busy for much of a private life. A workaholic. ER.
Emergency room. She says she likes the excitement, but
her working hours are atrocious."
looked from one to the other, and felt like the proverbial
fifth wheel. He closed his eyes, thought of the mountains,
the sky, their house in New Zealand, the Jacuzzi and
the way Vadim sighed before he dozed off in the warm
water. Always water.
nodded. "I'll see if I can meet her." It sounded
vague, however. He wasn't much of a father, and she
wasn't much of a daughter. Trying now
drinks arrived, the waiter took the orders. Vadim went
for a salad first and marinated chicken, always concerned
about nutritional value, melon and ham to finish, his
hand still on Dan's. "As long as they are happy",
asked for whatever they had with the most calories and
went for the maximum fattening choice of their pasta
with every cheese and cream under the sun and a pile
of seafood on top. "What if Kisa wants to see me
gave a delicate shrug after ordering swordfish. "If
you can make the time, why not? I don't think you'd
harm her, and there is no point fighting over her like
an estranged couple."
don't want to fight." Dan shook his head, exasperated.
"What the fuck makes you think that." He hadn't
been so frustrated with anyone or anything since keeping
a gaggle of Yank kids alive in the desert. "I was
just asking for permission."
seemed a touch surprised, but then remembered, and glanced
quickly at Vadim, then back. "Oh. I was missing
something there, I'm sorry. If you want to stay in touch,
and visit her, you're welcome. When she's old enough,
she can visit you. Frankly, I didn't think you'd be
interested, but if you are
no, I mean as you
are interested, you're welcome."
seemed thoughtful, questioning without speaking a word.
Dan dropped the word like a gauntlet. "You didn't
think I was interested." His hand came off Vadim's
thigh, back onto the table. Both of them, in plain sight.
Flexing and tensing. "You are fucking surprised
that I am interested in the kid who happens to be my
daughter? Fathered because you forced me to, because
you're a fucking selfish bitch who got what she wanted.
And before you go all self-righteous on me, I do not
regret that the kid exists, don't you ever dare accuse
me of such shit." He growled, dark eyes blazing,
not letting her get a word in edgeways. "You might
want to think about the fact that I came here to talk
to her after I had been told you'd cry 'rape' if I dared
to contact her, and isn't that fucking ironic."
eyes narrowed, aggression meant counter-attack, swift,
without thinking. Turned tables, the mask of civility
shattered. She was unbalanced, thrown back by the sheer
force of his attack. Overrun. "There is no way
either of us can prove either story after all that time",
she said coolly, jaw muscle tense. "I tried to
be civil, Mr McFadyen, after I had been lacking in civility
when we met the first time. And I understand there is
resentment, but that is over, it doesn't matter anymore,
not to me. You feel used? Fine. You were used. You were
a soldier, that shouldn't be anything new for you, either.
All your lives, you have been nothing but tools. But
for once, it was not about destruction. Face it: You
cannot keep a foetus in an ammunition pouch. And as
much as you and Vadim might try, there are a few things
only women can do. Szandor would have obliged me, but
he was HIV positive then. You seemed healthy and fit,
and I hated you for having brought Vadim into prison.
For breaking a man I spent years defending. For wasting
his life, his career, and breaking his heart."
She stood, standing very straight. "Fight me all
you like, Mr McFadyen. Go right ahead. I'm ready."
can defend myself", said Vadim, face oddly calm.
He placed a hand on Dan's arm, fingers curling, as if
to physically hold him back. "If I don't hate him
for it, you have no right to." He shook his head.
"Nobody wants to harm Kisa. Dan least of all."
you hear what he said?"
he says is he fucking cares." Vadim sighed, shaking
his head. Too much going on in his head right now, what
she had said and what Dan had said, and he tried to
translate. He should have stuck to guns.
looked up and in the eye. "How can you be so self-righteous.
You asked me to be here." Sharp emphasis
on each pronoun. "I came to talk to her, to be
what she wanted. And you
didn't finish the sentence, one of his mobile phones
started vibrating, a buzzing sound from one of his jacket
pockets. He padded the jacket down, found the right
one, looked at the display and seemed confused for a
was about to launch into another series of attacks but
stopped before she had done more than open her mouth
and narrow her eyes. She looked at Vadim, accusingly,
who sat there, shaking his head.
Dan didn't look at either of them, pushed the chair
back and stood up. "One moment. I'm in a restaurant.
didn't pay any attention to either Krasnorada, only
to the mobile in his hand, as he made his way towards
the corridor that led to the toilets. He smiled, lowered
his head, then chuckled. All low-key, unlike himself.
He nodded, then grinned, then shook his head, his face
turning serious, but ended with another chuckle. His
lips moved, talking, before he pressed a button on the
mobile and looked for a moment at the sleek, black thing
in his hand.
Vadim nor Katya spoke, but they looked at each other,
Katya almost daring Vadim to accuse her, Vadim as impassive
as he'd been for most of his active service. Face unreadable,
light blue eyes cold.
straightened, put his mobile into a trouser pocket,
and walked back to the table. He stood behind his chair,
looked from one to the other. "Kisa asked if she
could see me tomorrow afternoon. She wants to 'show
me off' to her friends and asked me to meet her at school.
I said yes, provided her mother allowed it." He
looked at her. "Do you?"
inhaled deeply, but remained standing, seemed to debate
what harm it could do, another long glance exchanged
it", said Vadim in Russian. "Don't screw it
finally nodded. "If she wants to." Her voice
hinting why on earth anybody would want to meet Dan
anyway, but that she was powerless. She looked at Vadim,
with that 'here you are' glance that Vadim acknowledged.
nodded, glanced at Vadim, then took his jacket, turned
and walked away from the table. Leaving food and Russians
are you going?" asked Vadim.
meant: leave me alone, I need to think. This would have
made Vadim nervous, only a few years ago, and there
was still a hollow feeling when Dan decided he needed
time off. These days, he could be sure Dan would return.
He still wanted to follow. Every time. Mostly to not
be left behind. But he knew that was a response from
the trauma, and natural for him. "See you at the
hotel, then." Vadim looked at Katya. "And
you are not leaving me with three dishes and the wine."
Less of an invitation, more a gun drawn and pointed.
"Because we need to talk, too."
sat down again, her attention now on her ex-husband.
"Okay. Best we get it all out on the table."
missing pieces of the picture. About Anoushka and Nikolai."
And later, about Kisa, but wine first. Fencing was the
art of deception. Make the opponent believe he's doing
what he wanted to do and made you do what he wanted,
when it was actually the other way round. With Katya,
this would be interesting.
soon cursed himself for having left the cane in the
restaurant, but the taxi driver understood his limp,
his gesturing and a few words of English, to take him
to a sports shop in the centre of Budapest where he
could get a walking stick.
sat in the park for hours, watching the swans, geese
and ducks in and around the pond, while eating ice cream,
cakes and drinking coffee, then walking the streets
as much as he could. Ending at night in one of the small
bars they had found the first time he had stayed in
Hungary with Vadim.
pub was populated with men his age and older, and they
communicated in a mixture of silence, beer, cigarettes
and English and Russian and playing pool and darts.
night he simply was an aging man, like them. No past,
to Katya, Anoushka was working in ER now, her desire
to be a neurologist or cardiologist blown apart by a
stint in the ER unit, where she enjoyed fighting death
every night, deal with torn bodies like a combat medic,
and saw the most gruesome things that could happen to
a body. She said it made her feel alive, and when Katya
relayed that information, Vadim felt a strange moment
of guilt. Did blood and genes actually transfer character,
too? He wondered whether his daughter resented him for
having taken lives. Like she tried to get as far away
from him as possible by doing the exact opposite
was travelling a lot, he sometimes called or sent a
postcard. He had 'straightened out' - Katya never mentioned
what his troubles had been - and now did technical installations
and maintenance. Katya said it had to do with oil rigs,
and the photo she produced showed a dog-tired, but smiling,
rugged good-looking man who seemed at least ten years
older than he was. Stubble, and his father's freckles.
The background was metal, crammed, desolate, and whoever
had shot the photo had no idea about focus. Nevertheless.
He was damned handsome, better than his father, and
he could just have been one of the young security contractors
- aka mercs - they had encountered during active service.
children had been brought up, grown up, finished their
education, moved, studied without him. Fallen in love,
wrestled with life, like everybody had to, found a job,
doubted, but still lived. Getting in touch now, at this
late stage, would be pointless. I'm your father, I never
bothered, too busy killing people, and by the way, did
you ever wonder about me? He'd grow old, and eventually
leave them what he had owned, the stuff that didn't
go to Dan, and they would sell it and go on with their
lives, because he didn't matter to them, either.
shook his head, gave her more wine, listened like he
had very rarely listened to her. They had poured out
their hearts in letters, she more than he did, and even
her letters had been a study in deception. The KGB had
always been too close, everything important needed to
be said without words. He didn't believe for a moment
that they hadn't been spied upon, everything filed away
in the many darknesses of the KGB headquarters.
talked more about Szandor. He'd read the story in her
letters, but she repeated it. That nobody knew exactly
when he had got infected. It could have been one of
the international tournaments, sometime in the early
eighties. Szandor had no idea how many he had infected
had withdrawn during his last few years, met a partner,
much younger than himself, who couldn't bear him dying,
and who had left him when Szandor's health took a dip
for the worse. It left Katya at his side, who made sure
he saw the doctor when he was due, and who got him in
and out of hospital and was there when he died.
know, I hated him, too", said Katya, very calmly.
"I thought it was just pure luck he didn't infect
you." She reached out to touch and press his hand,
and he nodded, thought what a rotten way to go, for
one so elegant, so deadly, and so swift. Nothing money,
willpower or training could have averted.
looked up, wanted to pull her hand back, but he held
her tight. Looked at her free hand, the wine glass was
close, she could throw that at him. He very softly shook
his head. "Don't, Katya."
I do." She showed teeth, white, straight, she had
had something done to them, but he couldn't pinpoint
the change. She had had her teeth fixed, her wrinkles,
her whole life. He did believe that there was an official
biography. Katya had reinvented herself. A dragon from
He kept her hand, and to everybody else it had to look
like flirting or an old couple. They both had their
masks on in public.
of what he did to you."
shook his head. "That is a matter between us. I
gave him worse." He laughed. "Oh, much worse.
Do you think he could do anything to me without having
to pay the price? It was I who started it. I took his
life apart. His soul. His mind. That man is my creation.
This is the man I have created in twenty-two years,
from the first night to the last one."
inhaled sharply. "And when you came home to Moscow?"
The scars. Those are his."
day when you told me you needed to leave? That was because
broke you, Vadim."
smiled. "No. That was the war. That bitch took
everything. Without him, I'd not be sane. I wouldn't
even be alive. I might be a danger to everything. I'm
not like Szandor. I don't need your help, Katya. I don't
need protection from you anymore, I am fine. I know
who I am, and what I did, and I'd do it all again. From
the first night to right now. If you hate him, you hate
the thing that kept me alive, not the thing that broke
me. I'd hate to just leave now, because I respect you,
and we have a lot of history. Dan's my life, and I will
defend him, just like you think you need to defend me.
It's really quite simple." He stood, releasing
her hand only then.
are you here?"
I love that man. I did what I could for you, the kids,
the rest of life that I have left, is
for Dan. I'd do all the things I've done for you or
Russia, for him now. Kisa means a lot to him, and he
is vulnerable there. That's why I am here. To tell you
I will not allow you to harm him just because you can,
and ask you to let sleeping dogs lie. It's hard enough
for him as it is."
are a lot tougher, Katya. I'm not worried about you."
He reached to touch her shoulder with his fingertips.
"Please. Let's be friends. I know how generous
you can be. Come on."
your friends are my friends. Will you have
an eye on Kisa?"
nodded, then stood up to go pay the bill. He walked
her home, declined the tea - it just wouldn't be proper,
they both needed time to think - but kissed her forehead
when she stepped closer. "I wish I could have loved
you the way you deserved", he murmured in Russian,
and felt the old pain flare up. Being not enough, defunct.
She had been his match, all those years ago. "This
old man needs some sleep now. Jetlag."
pressed his hand with hers, then the tack-tack of her
heels as she walked towards her door. He waited for
the light inside, then turned around, standing on an
empty, deserted street. Nothing to the left, nothing
to the right. He checked his mobile. No message. Sent
a quick text to Dan: Where are you?
few minutes later the answer arrived. 'pool & beer
go 2 sleep old man'.
grinned, didn't confirm, knew he didn't have to, walked
down the street until he found taxis, and was brought
back to the hotel. Sat at the bar for a little, listened
to piano music while thinking, allowing the vodka to
calm him and make him tired. He then walked up the stairs,
began to lose the suit when the door had shut behind
him, started to run a bath, switched on the TV, found
a talk show for the comfort of human voices, and had
the peanuts from the mini bar. He had a good, long soak
then wrapped himself up in a big bathrobe, lay on the
bed and rested. And fell asleep, listening to voices
on the TV.
few hours later, at five hundred hours, Vadim's mobile
body was too confused to keep to the old routine of
waking at five. But he smirked when he saw the time
on his watch. "Yes?" Sitting up. "Dan?"
voice harboured a grin and tiredness. The good kind
of sleepy. "Fancy breakfast with fresh bagels,
coffee and tea, while looking over the city and watching
the dawn spectacle? If yes, grab a taxi and come to
the Castle District and get yourself to Fisherman's
Bastion, it's off Trinity Square."
I'll be there." Vadim dialled reception, ordered
a taxi, found his comfortable clothes, a big jacket,
boots, wallet, key card, returned to the room to pick
up Dan's cane then went downstairs, greeted the visibly
tired driver and gave him the directions. Dan sounded
fine, peaceful. He got out of the taxi, eyes scanning
the surroundings, waiting for Dan to notice him, or
maybe give a sign.
a small pressure point in Vadim's back. Too much like
a muzzle. "You're getting old and careless."
Dan chuckled, holding the cane in one hand, two large
bags with breakfast, fresh from a baker in the Old Town,
in the other. "There's a good place over there."
He gestured with his chin to a low wall that ran along
the ramparts, spotting his own cane in Vadim's hand
and he smiled. That special one, warm and deep. "Thanks,
smiled, that smile was like an embrace under the covers,
both half asleep and so aware at the same time. He stepped
in and ran his fingers down Dan's cheek.
my life. It's really quite simple.
now you have two."
one you gave me for my birthday is a thousand times
better." Dan was still smiling, the right thing
at the right time. They had come far.
took the bags, walking close, no rush in the world,
he was too tired for that, too much at peace. "Enjoyed
a bit sore, but that's probably from the pool."
Dan chuckled, exchanged the walking stick for his cane
and leaned against Vadim for a moment. No one around
at this time of day, the world still belonged to them
alone. "Been a good night, aye. What I needed.
And yours? Did you talk?"
placed an arm around Dan's shoulder, moving close enough
to smell the smoke and beer on him. My creation. My
life. Nothing to regret. Fags and beer, perhaps a whisky,
mixing with Dan's own scent.
we talked. You can see your daughter whenever you like.
As often as you like. It's the kid's decision. She won't
interfere. No more shit to put up with, I promise."
He touched Dan's arm and led him to the indicated place,
sky beginning to glow brightly over the city. "Katya
needs to understand that hating you on my account
pulled himself up on the wall, waited for Vadim to sit
down beside him, before taking one of the bags and retrieving
the Styrofoam cups of coffee and tea, rummaging for
the sugar sachets. He was surprised at how good it made
him feel to know that he could see Kisa without interference.
His daughter. Holy fuck, his own daughter. He grinned
to nothing and no one in particular, before returning
his attention to Vadim.
hating ... it actually leads me to a question I should
have asked you long ago." Pouring sugar into a
cup of coffee, he had forgotten the stirrers, his finger
would have to do. Paused. "Do you believe I destroyed
said that", murmured Vadim, took the cup from Dan's
hand and folded his hands around it. "It's not
true. And it is. Difficult." He frowned. "You
destroyed the lie. The mask. Vadim Krasnorada, Soviet
citizen, Spetsnaz for the fucking Interior Ministry.
"Yes, you did." The assassin who sneaked into
London to kill a sleeping, unarmed dissident and destroy
a family, just out of spite. "That's not me. Should
have never been me. Not the way I felt. Few people get
a second shot at trying to be what they are. I'm lucky.
I'd be trapped if you hadn't done the things you did.
You tried only once to destroy me. And that
He paused for a moment. Hated that memory, hated the
way it had weakened him with the KGB. "was well-deserved."
He shook his head. "I mean, it was paypack, that
one. And you still
turned around and did the
smiled, tired and a little melancholic, watching the
flawless early morning sky play a game of light and
shadows in Vadim's face. "No, it wasn't payback."
He paused, searched for the right words. "It was
more than that, worse. It cut me open, laid me bare,
because it showed me a misconception of myself. Taught
me what I was capable of, and how thin the line is between
human and monster." He slowly reached for the second
bag, fishing for a warm bagel. "Torturing you
I am not sorry for what I did, but I do regret it. The
only thing in my life that I've ever regretted."
Dan looked to the sky and across the city. Beauty laid
out before them, a waking place of history and life.
nodded. He had one major regret. And couldn't, because
that was how it all started. He couldn't have picked
Dan up in a bar. Hey stranger, we're meant for each
sometimes think I don't deserve all this," Dan
mused, "you, the farm, friends, a purpose. To be
alive, to have that second chance you talked about,
instead of having died a drunken ex-soldier who everyone
had forgotten. And now ... Kisa. No matter how she happened,
it's a fucking miracle that she exists and I very much
want to get to know her." He smiled at Vadim. "Guess
the whole thing settles the question if there is a God
and divine retribution. There isn't. Or I wouldn't be
so goddamned content right now."
smirked. "I never believed in God. That gives us
the right to do what we bloody well please." He
angled for a bagel as well, finishing it in a few hasty
bites that told him how hungry he actually was. "We
paid for it, anyway. Each other, definitely."
took a large bite from his own bagel, sipping coffee
while chewing. "I guess when it comes down to it,
I'd do it all over again."
shook his head. "The whole shit again? You silly
bastard", he murmured, leaning his head sideways
against Dan's, content and at peace. "What about
enjoying being retired and fucked-up too much to do
anything even if we wanted?" A mock punch that
wasn't more than half a slap. "Next wars aren't
ours. Even though the Yanks are making noises about
this 'War on Terror' all the time. Doesn't look good.
One moment, it's the end of history, now every Muslim
is a suspect. Middle East. Former Soviet sphere of interest.
Looks like it's all going to hell in a handbasket."
well," Dan let his Scottish accent come to the
forefront, leant his head against Vadim's. "Wake
me up when the wars are over, aye? This worn-out 'tool'
is comfortable just sitting here." He fell silent,
wars were over, and he was glad about it