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Special Forces Chapter XXII: War Junkie

January 1991, Saudi Arabia

Dan had been in the camp for two weeks, sharing accom with the Brits who were stationed in Eastern Saudi Arabia, close to the Persian Gulf. Just like everyone else he was going stir crazy, the waiting for something to happen was getting on all of their nerves.

He wasn't even part of the gang, didn't belong to a unit nor regiment, wasn't a member of the British Forces anymore. Instead he had special permissions and passes and was regarded as the odd one out. Merc. Dog Soldier, or PMC, as they were starting to call the glory hounds. The weird one; the old one; the one where no one knew why he was there, who'd given the clearance and who was behind it all. His employer? Dan never answered, just shrugged and cleaned his weapon. Truth was, he'd be buggered if he himself quite knew why he was there, other than that Maggie had wanted him in the Gulf and that the British High Command for Operation Granby was fully aware of his presence and the reason for it. Which was? He didn't have a fucking clue, just kept his profile low and beasted his body. He could be found in the gym tent every free second, and if he wasn't lifting weights, sparring, or running, he was sometimes seen talking to the older Forces guys. Mostly Sergeants and WOs, rarely an Officer. He still regarded them as poncy wastes of space.

He hung onto his water bottle like an alcoholic to his booze, smoking fags, and shoving mountains of chocolate and anything sweet down his gob, while being eager to get out and do something - anything, as long as it gave an adrenaline kick and got him into the heights of danger and sheer survival that were the only thing that could make him feel alive.

A forty-one year old geezer, ancient by Infantry standards, but hell, he'd show them he was insane enough and physically fit for two. Not just buttfucking mad - also motherfucking good at what he was doing. Scarred, reckless, without scruples nor fears. A man who had no emotions left, nothing that could disturb a mission, thus focused on the task unlike anyone else. A tough bastard.

The moment it all blew up, in the early hours of January 17, he was called into HQ and finally briefed by the British Commanding Officer. If the necessity arose, the allied command would use him and a few others for the most sensitive missions, the ones that were crucial and yet in the current political climate couldn't be executed by official troops.

Dan grinned, nodded, hoping those necessities would arise soon, even uttered an "Aye, Sir, about bloody time." Then spent the day getting his kit ready, waiting for orders. He'd be on stand-by, whenever he was needed.

Dying to survive.

February 1991

Dan was wearing polarised shades, despite the murky light in the makeshift pub or 'bar' as the yanks called the place in the compound. He always wore his shades, no matter when nor where, even at night. The other guys had been taking the piss for the first few days, but he either took no notice, or grinned, or shrugged, or simply delivered an un-pulled punch so close to the pisstaker's nose, the guy would recoil and shut up, knowing a quarter inch closer and he'd be coughing blood into the sand.

Mad as a hatter, a fucked-up nutter, or, as some had begun to call him in the few short weeks he'd been there, a mad dog. 'Mad Dog' Dan. He could live with that. Question was, for how long. Live, that was. He had promised the Baroness he'd stay out of suicide missions, but it was all a matter of definition. He called them challenges, not death-traps, and that was that.

Dan walked up to the bar, nodding in greeting at some of the guys that he'd got to know over the past weeks, and ordered a beer. Or whatever this Budweiser piss was meant to be, which came in pathetically small sized bottles. He turned to face the room and leaned against the bar, always preferring to have barrier in his back and be less of a target. Old habits died hard, and he'd be damned if he went down in a puddle of booze instead of combat.

Watching the rag-tag of patrons, some of them battle-worn bastards like himself, others fresh-faced soldiers, but mostly guys who'd seen their fair bit of combat. A multi-national crowd of those lucky enough to get enough time off and permission to get themselves a non-alcoholic drink. Except for the PMCs who didn't wear anyone's flag, they drenched their thirst with the measly excuses of booze that were available, since the place had special permission from the government. The guys with bottles were the mercs, who, like him, were as hooked on the adrenaline thrill, out of Infantry, Marines, Para or Special Forces. He wasn't sure for whom they worked, similar to himself, but he sure as hell didn't give a fuck anyway.

Guzzling down some of the foul lager, he looked around the room. Still hadn't had a chance to let off steam, stuck on the ground while tension grew, coiling in the pit of his stomach, with every day of air strikes and nothing noteworthy to do. Couldn't call the jobs 'missions' they sent him out to, didn't deserve the terminology; just tasks, partly under - mostly friendly - fire, never sufficient excitement. Never enough to sleep nor to finish the numbness with a spark of something that resembled feeling alive. He needed action. Ground action, right there in the middle of things. Dan knew the Americans had done the recce, but Operation Desert Sabre was still waiting in the wings.

Waiting … for something-anything that cut through this goddamned morass of an utter absence of feeling.

Another gulp of the cold bear's piss that labelled itself 'beer', before lighting another fag, continuing to watch the patrons. He nodded to a guy he'd bunked with, exchanged a few words, 'mate' here and 'yeah' there and an 'aye' and 'fucking hot' on top of it, before he settled back to smoking. Trying to dispel the tension, but not finding any damned outlet willing to take the full force of the strain. Wankers.

The door opened, but Dan didn't bother looking up. Would be just another git, considering himself lucky to have got out of the boredom behind the lines, either waiting impatiently for the combat stress right in the middle of the battlefield - or with shit in their pants. He guzzled his Bud, smoked his cigarette and minding his own business, leaning against the bar. Tense as a coiled spring, but seemingly slouching.

The newcomer marched up to the bar, Dan caught the motion from the corner of his eyes, but the shades were hiding most of the guy. Made out the attire. Yank. Standing right beside Dan, too close, into his personal space, and demanding a large coke with a jarhead's unmistakable drawl. Dan knew what kind of arsewipe it was the moment the fuckwit opened his over-confident gob. He could read the fucktard like an open book and tension increased a notch. The yank's elbow almost touched Dan's arm, but he didn't budge, just smoked his cig and took another swig from his beer. Not much bothered him these days, except for that damned boredom.

"Hey, buddy, what the fuck are all those fucking faggots doing in here?" The guy sneered to the bartender, his voice cutting through the general noise of the jam-packed place.

The bartender shrugged, "what faggots?" wiping a glass, while Dan listened. Fingers tensing around the bottle. His head lowered, eyes shielded behind the shades.

"Brits." The yank boasted. "They're all faggots." He smirked, knocking back the coke, demanding another.

The atmosphere in the place changed, a sudden aggression as several of the British soldiers pushed their chairs away, standing up.

Dan grinned to himself, slowly raised his head and pushed his arm against the idiot's elbow. Too close quarters, but exactly what he needed. Perfect. Just perfect, he hoped that arsewipe would bite.

"You got a problem with fags, yank? I'm a fucking fag. Got a problem with me?" Dan bared his teeth in a dirty grin. "Not just a Brit, but a full-blown shit-stabbing fag." He didn't bother pushing the shades off his eyes. "Want me to spell it out for you, dickhead? Got. A. Problem. With. A. Fucking. Fag. You. Fucking. Arsewipe?" He put the bottle down on the bar and turned to face the braggart.

The whole place fell silent.

"You want to get your teeth kicked in, asshole?" The yank's head had turned an interesting shade of purple. "I suggest you fuck off, back into your camp." Seemed he hadn't swallowed the bait, yet. No reaction to the 'faggot'.

"What, sissy, want me to sashay off? Frightened?" Dan's smirk showed teeth, each and every one of them. Noticed the other Brits from the corner of his eyes, even recognised one or two of the soldiers. They stood, waiting, ready, but fuck, he didn't want their intervention.

He pulled the shades off, neatly folded them, still grinning into the yank's face, while stepping closer. "Got a mouth bigger than your courage? Or dying to get that mouth of yours stuffed with a juicy cock?" Stashing the shades in his shirt pocket, he wiggled his hips in a lewd gesture, licking his lips exaggeratedly before making smacking kissing noises.

The yank's head had grown redder, close to exploding, shaking his fists. "I warned you, dickhead, you're getting it."

"Go on, then, or are you just a big girl's blouse?" Dan suddenly shoved his palms hard against the braggart's chest, watched him stumble backwards. "You want to mouth off, or are you frightened all of a sudden? Worried the faggot could get your pretty hair out of order, or you might break a nail?"

He didn't get another push in, when the yank finally got the message the faggot really was a faggot and threw the first punch, so angry he was almost foaming at the mouth. Angry and bloody careless, piece of cake for Dan to dodge the straightforward right fist. "Ooohhhh," Dan squealed in a high-pitched voice, "the big brute's getting angry, eh?"

"I'll fucking kill you!" The yank threw another punch, lower, but Dan blocked the fist, delivered one of his own, only clipped the bastard, who laughed, streetwise enough to retaliate with two hits in rapid succession. Hitting Dan, this time, and he felt pain exploding behind his eye, on his chin and jaw. Yes, fucking yes! That was what he wanted, adrenaline, anger, pain, and a whole fucking lot more. Only now starting to feel alive.

"Oh dear, that almost hurt …" grinning, Dan shook the hits off, ignoring the split eyebrow and the fact he'd felt teeth rattle in his mouth. "Guess I've got to get to business, now." He pulled back, delivered a no-holds barred punch into the yank's guts. Nice, low, and the man doubled over with a grunt, holding his middle, unable to breathe.

Dan grabbed his shirt, hauled him close and up, pulling the guy into a head butt that smashed the nose, grinning with satisfaction at the scream. "Time to suck my cock, fucker." He snarled, finishing the yank off with a right elbow to the side of his head. Legs giving up, the man crumbled to the floor, stopped in mid-motion when Dan took hold of the collar, keeping the yank's bleeding nose at crotch level, thrusting his hips once, twice, into the man's face, before finally dropping him like a sack of potatoes.

"Well, that was that." He turned, wiped his hands, as if nothing had happened, despite the other Americans in the joint but the Brits were in the majority. Searching for his beer bottle on the bar while fishing for the obligatory shades and ignoring the stunned silence. Dan was about to order another Bud, when he suddenly had two bottles shoved into his hands. One right, one left, and hands clapping his shoulders, with laughter of "well done, mate," and "you're fucking crazy."

Dan just grinned and shook his head, adjusting the shades. He said nothing before guzzling down half of one of the beers, hardly taking notice of his opponent who was helped up by some others.

"Fucking great joke, mate, the 'faggot' thing." One of the Brits laughed.

"Not a joke."

"What?" The guy was still laughing. "Taking the piss, aren't you."

"Nope." Dan smirked, proceeded to finish the first of his beers.

"So you really are a faggot?" Another guy piped up from behind Dan's shoulder.

"Abso-fucking-lutely right." Dan added after he'd wiped his lips with the back of his hand, turning round so the bar was once again in his back. Still grinning, this time he pulled his lips away from his teeth. "Got a problem with that?"

Silence all around him, despite the dark shades in the already murky place, he could read what was going on behind some of the faces. Disgust, anger, surprise, amusement, and most of all the rather fresh memory of the way he'd just turned the yank braggart into a simpering puppy with its proverbial between its legs.

"You got two options, guys." Dan lifted his chin, back slightly arched, both hands on the bar counter. Seemingly relaxed, but he'd be off like a bullet within less than a second. "You can either drink a beer with that aging faggot and forget about the fact that I shag blokes, because the small matter of who or what I fancy has not a fucking thing to do with the rest of me and most of all my job, or you can get yourselves ready for a fight because if you want to show that aging faggot that you're ten times more of a man than that boasting yank with the broken nose, you'll find yourself being used as a mop with which I'm wiping the floor." A feral grin flashed across Dan's face, "Aye, damn, I almost forget the third option, you just ignore everything and simply avoid the aging faggot and pretend I don't exist. What's it gonna be, mates?"

The silence continued, until one of the guys, a Jock like Dan, started to laugh his head off, taking a step forward and thumping Dan on the shoulder. "You're fucking priceless, haven't laughed so hard since Saddam got his knickers in a twist. At least you're a real Scotsman and that braggart's got some dandruff in the teeth." Calling out to the barman in the broadest Glaswegian accent, "get that man his beer!"

This broke the ice, and the ensuing commotion of laughter and beer bottles clinking allowed those who wanted, to slink away and ignore the prat, and some others to turn away with distorted faces of seething dislike, unable to do anything about it. Yet.

March 1991, The Persian Gulf

"McFadyen," the CO stood straight in his uniformed glory, name tag, stripes, crowns and all, "have you ever done a HALO jump?"

Dan grinned, baring his teeth. He stood with his arms crossed before his chest. No longer bound to standing at attention and catering to those goddamned poncy overblown egos. "I was in The Regiment, Sir. Of course I did."

A dozen jumps, a dozen measly fucking crazy bastard jumps amongst an endless string of normal ones. Still, he remembered the thrill of High Altitude - Low Opening and the maddening surge of adrenaline as his body had half-frozen with the air rushing by until he'd almost lost consciousness.

"Good." Sitting down, the Officer indicated a plastic chair in front of his desk. Dan took the invitation, a rare honour to be asked to sit, it was a well-established fact that the commanding bastard hated his guts.

"We need a man with enough balls and experience to jump into Iran." The Officer's expression turned outright nasty. "And you seem to have the balls at least, you've been brandishing them around in camp, after all."

Dan merely grinned again. Wasn't going to take the bait. "If you say so, Sir, but why Iran and why HALO? This doesn't make sense here."

The Officer glared, seemed eager to start a fully-blown tirade, and Dan expected to get a proverbial second one ripped, but the man visibly bit down on the intense dislike he'd never made a secret out of. 'Mercenary faggot' had been one of his kinder descriptions.

"Mr McFadyen, as even a man like you can imagine," The Officer continued and Dan let the insult slip by without comment, "jumping into Iran, right in front of everyone's noses is not a particularly clever idea."

"No?" Dan shrugged, "would have thought they had enough of Saddam and his cronies after years of being at war with Iraq."

The Officer's frown was growing steeper by the second. "Mr McFadyen, you'd be well advised to listen before rushing to conclusions. This is a most delicate situation."

"What, Sir, too delicate for SAS or Delta?"

"Yes! And you should bloody well know that!"

"Should I?" Dan smiled ever so sweetly, "and what about other PMCs? Surely, there are armies of private military contractors swarming across the country by now." Dan blinked straight into the other's scowling face. "But what do I know, I am not a member of the British Forces anymore, thus hardly privy to all the ins and outs in camp."

"Cut the crap, McFadyen!" Thoroughly pissed off, the CO was fuming. Dan just grinned, slouching in his chair while revelling in knowing the man needed him. McFadyen, the 'faggot'.

"You know damn well, McFadyen, that certain operations require extraordinary sensitivity and should not be carried out by military personnel, and you happen to be the only one here at this moment in time with the required experience, so stop taking the piss. We have a window of no more than twenty-four hours according to intelligence, and there is no time to get other trained personnel here before the window of opportunity closes."

"Which opportunity, Sir?"

As much as Dan disliked that gay-hating pompous bastard, he could do with a hefty dose of adrenaline that went beyond bar fights.

"Now we're talking." The CO rifled through a stack of papers on his desk, pulled out a couple of photographs. "This opportunity." Pushed them in front of Dan's nose. "Ibn Al-Jazaal, one of the highest ranking generals. He has been spotted in a town close to the Iraqi border."

Dan peered at the photo, saw yet another bushy moustache, black hair and dark eyes. Good thing he'd learned to distinguish Middle Eastern features, back in Afghanistan. "Unless I'm mistaken, he is the one linked to the Iraqi's stupid-arsed stunt of flying their remaining air crafts to Iran." The Officer nodded and Dan raised a brow. "I gather it's also the same man who has been accused of war crimes, such as murder, torture and genocide?" The Officer nodded while Dan continued, "and who has been pursued by the combined Allied Forces but without success? And, who managed to escape and hide somewhere in Iran, even though one would assume that this was the last place an Iraqi general would want to go to?" Dan flashed a brief smirk, "Is that the man, Sir?"

"The very same."

"I guess the 'window of opportunity' is that this Ibn chap has been spotted, aye? And of all places in Iran, which sounds a rather unlikely choice, despite that air force exploit, unless he's more clever than we thought."

The CO just nodded.

"And you need someone to go and extricate good old Ibn, preferably alive and without getting caught himself, while being unable to offer anything but covert military assistance from a distance, while that someone is in the country."

"That was the plan, yes." The man's annoyance was almost palpable.

Dan was starting to really enjoy himself. "And you haven't got anyone insane and experienced enough, and, of course, not a member of the British or Allied Forces, to attempt this mission with a fair chance of actually being successful. Is that right, Sir? No one …, "Dan smirked, teeth and all, "except this aging fag."

"Goddammit, McFadyen! You had to rub it in again, didn't you?" The CO's fist came slamming down onto the desk, fuelled by Dan's impetuous grin.

"Apologies, Sir." Dan didn't mean it, and it was bloody obvious. "But I am right, am I not?"

The CO glowered. "Yes." Snapping, "feel free to gloat. You're the only one currently available with enough experience, who speaks the lingo, knows the terrain, has done a HALO jump before and thus is able to get into Iran without stirring up a fuss. Who is used to operating on his own, has even a vague chance of getting back out of the country alive and, hell, you're the only one who can get away with going native." Growling, the Officer added, "and by God, I wish I didn't have to ask you."

Dan crossed his arms, if possible at all, grinning even wider. "I'm glad to hear. I was getting cabin fever." The plastic chair squeaked as he shifted his position. "That mission sounds just like the thing I am going to enjoy."

The Officer was rolling his eyes. "Enjoy?" He huffed, "You are the most obnoxious person I have ever met. If I had been your OC I'd busted your arse out of the Army and into Collie. But you'd probably enjoyed prison too much."

Dan shrugged and kept grinning. Wasn't giving a shit about the insult, preferred to start figuring out his chances instead. "Thankfully, Sir, I am not under your jurisdiction and never have been and am thus not imprisoned. Instead ready to pick up dear Ibn and deliver the parcel right into your hands. Ready and rolling for interrogation."

As pissed off as the CO was, he could do nothing but glare.

"Well," Dan unfolded his arms and leaned forward, "let's get down to business, then." Turning from sneering bastard to fully-fledged professional within an instance. "I gather you want me to get on with it as soon as possible. Twenty-four hours, aye?"

"Yes, I want you out there before dawn."

"And the equipment?"

"Is being put together as we speak."

Dan nodded, "We've talked about getting in, anything planned for getting out?"

"You'll be on your own," the CO's gaze had become intense, leaving the dislike aside for a moment, "but preferably with your target."

"No problem, I drive anything." Dan shrugged, his own eyes narrowing.

"Without a key?"

Dan flashed a smirk and raised his brows. "I'm an ex SAS blade. What do you think."

The CO looked at him for a moment, then pulled out some papers and a map. "You don't want to know what I think."

Dan shrugged with a lopsided grin, "let's start the briefing, then. No time to spare for pleasantries."

Suicidal Mission. Lone operation. Behind the lines. No backup until whenever they could arrange a rendezvous point. HALO jump. He hadn't even done a standard one in years and his knees were thoroughly fucked these days. His chances weren't the best and the adrenaline would be lethal.

He couldn't wait to get out there.

* * *

Dan was standing at the edge of the airfield, looking towards the black sky. At least a couple more hours before dawn and he had hardly managed to get any sleep at all. No time, and, if he were honest with himself, too many nerves. It would be just about turning light shortly after the jump, if all went well. A night jump was even more dangerous, but the risk of detection was less. Despite the cool of the early hours, he started to sweat, the multi-layers of thermal underwear beneath the jumping overall were roasting him like a foil-baked potato whilst on the ground. Yet it would save his life, keeping his body from freezing to death in sub zero temperatures, while plummeting through the sky.

Dan was strapped into his harness, carrying his helmet in one hand, with goggles and gloves stuffed inside of it. He frowned at the sky, wondering for no more than a second if he was either too fucking insane, or simply didn't care anymore about his life, or, indeed, if he enjoyed this shit far too much and always had, and had missed danger - with a capital D - during his job for the Baroness more than he had thought. Fiddling subconsciously with the fixture on the strap across his chest that meant life - or death, connecting mask with oxygen bottle and both of them with the aircraft oxygen console.

He moved one leg, annoyed with the tightness around his knee, both of them strapped up with bandages that provided casing, designed to keep his knee caps in place, while his feet were boiling in specialist boots that were meant to protect his ankles from the impact. He'd hoped so, anyway, but the worry was less oppressive than the weight of the parachute on his back. Rigging carefully stashed, canopy perfectly folded, and he'd just have to hope to hell and back that he'd make it down in one piece. If any of his equipment was going to fail, he'd be toast and Ibn would have a happy Ever After.

Either way, he'd hurt like the motherfucker despite protective clothing, precautions, and sheer and utter bravado, and yet he couldn't wait to get up into the air.

"All right?" The voice behind him brought his head round. Dan nodded at the approaching two men: pilot and co-pilot.

"Aye, as ready as I'll ever be." He grinned, got a shoulder-slap by the co-pilot in return.

"Let's get you up there, mate."

Dan uttered a sharp "Aye!" picked up his backpack, which would be strapped to his legs. He'd checked and re-checked the contents, native clothing, inconspicuous bag, belt kit, couple of 24 hour survival rations, map, as much water as was feasible to carry, personal radio and a selection of weapons. He knew exactly where every single item was stashed.

Checking the harness once more and going over webbing's fastening, Dan had made sure he could survive out there with nothing but his belt kit and trusted knife, even if he lost the bergan. His hand patted the bailout oxygen flask, strapped to his left thigh, as he trotted behind the crew. He'd have to get through at least twenty minutes of pre-breathing before take-off, and once he'd boarded the Herc, he got himself geared up, dropped the bergan and helmet on the floor beside him.

Getting himself hooked up to the plane's oxygen console when the last safety check was finished, the jumpmaster inspected the breathing equipment, before Dan sat down with the mask in front of his face. The 100% oxygen was flooding into his lungs, creating unbidden memories of helplessness in a hospital in India, but he fought to instantly discard all thoughts. He needed to be sharp; needed all his senses and every ounce of strength, cunning and fitness that his aging body still possessed. Fighting fit, but no longer young - twenty-one years too late for the foolishness of youth.

He sat on his bergan, legs crossed, while the oxygen flushed the nitrogen out of his blood. No way in hell was he going to end up with the bends like a scuba diver.

Checking and rechecking himself and his kit through the next half hour, the Herc finally roared to life and before long they were steadily climbing towards the desired height of 30,000 feet. Dan checked his automatic opening device once more, knowing it was his last defence should anything go wrong in the air, such as getting into a spin which could cause him to blackout. All seemed fine, and the adrenaline was starting to course through his system. Not much longer and he'd be on his own again. To prove once more what he was capable of: defying death.

The interior of the Herc was just as noisy and cold as he was used to, in addition to being dark. Only the red tactical lighting was on, and he huddled into himself, remembering the exhilaration of jumping from high altitude and the dangerous moments of possible giddiness and memory loss, which were the last damned thing anyone would want when plummeting to the ground at 120 miles per hour. He'd be dead within forty seconds of coming off oxygen and with that insane falling speed he'd barely have three minutes flying time.

There was no way he was underestimating the dangers. Mad Dog, perhaps, but not an idiot and Dan was determined to get through with this mission, no matter the cost. He would show that bastard CO what a faggot was capable of doing, and he'd come back with Ibn in tow.

Dan was pulled out of his reveries when the loadmaster waved a card into his face, giving the order to get ready. He immediately got up, strapped the heavy bergan onto the back of his legs, while he went through the safety checks one last time. The Hercules was still climbing, and Dan sat back down once more.

Finally, the tailgate was released, and with the ice cold stream of air the noise increased to deafening levels. Dan stared at the open tailgate, focussed, concentrated and waiting for the green light. Despite his twenty years in the Forces, most of which as part of the Special Forces, he couldn't help the sweat, adrenalin and the fear building up. In fact, he figured while he was staring into the darkness, that he wouldn't be alive if he hadn't respected fear. What distinguished a frightened coward from a frightened soldier was courage: the courage to go in and do it, despite and even because of the danger and fear.

Dan disconnected his oxygen line from the main supply at a signal from the jumpmaster, switching over onto his own oxygen bottle. He was lucky, it went without a hitch and he stood up. It was bloody black and freezing outside and he was about to jump into this hell. He had to be mad. A strange grin crossed his face as he readjusted his goggles and helmet, smoothing the gloves firmly onto his hands. Finally! The red light went on and he moved forward, towards the rear of the tailgate. His goggles were misting up within seconds and he could hardly see what was in front of him. Two seconds, one, and ... green on!

Without the slightest hesitation, Dan threw himself out of the plane.

His goggles froze up the very moment he launched himself into the sky, and he was spinning so violently, not only could he not see anything, he was getting rapidly dizzy. The bergan strapped to his legs dragged like a heavy sack of potatoes, and he felt as if ice water was being sprayed into his face. Just another second of dizzying freefall, and his protective gear was covered in sleet while his goggles were completely blinded by ice.

Dan spread his legs, attempting to steady his fall, worried he'd be drifting too far off his target, and simply riding out the spin, while trying to glance at his altimeter, which went through zero once, then twice, and he figured his AOD should be opening just about now, at 3,500 feet. He felt it pop off that very moment, and the canopy deployed with the familiar pull. Before he knew it, he was gliding down through the dark sky, feeling himself pass through warmer layers of air and steering to a suitable landing place once he got further down.

The ground came faster towards him than he had hoped, and even though the landing wasn't too bad, Dan lost his balance at impact, which rattled his knees. At least he had the presence of mind to let himself roll onto the other side of the bailout bottle. Lying there for a moment, just breathing, while listening to the canopy fluttering to the ground, and then nothing. Stillness. No one except himself and the sounds of the night.

There he was. Iran. And about to do something neither side would find acceptable.

Swiftly checking through his body, every bone and joint seemed to be in working order, before patting himself down. His goggles were filmed with ice and his jump suit covered with sleet, and he groaned as he sat up.

"I'm getting too old for this shit." Murmured to himself, he had no time to lie around aching. Gloves, helmet and goggles came off before he got onto his knees, pulling on the rigging lines to gather the canopy. He wouldn't need the parachute anymore, on the contrary, he had to hide all his gear. He stood, got the webbing off and undid the straps for his bergan, in complete relief when all of the heavy weight fell off his body.

The parachute gathered, he spread it out and dropped his jumping gear into the middle. Undid the wrap around his neck, then stepped out of the military jumpsuit, throwing it onto the pile before undoing his boots and pulling the thick socks off, finally climbing out of the normal jumpsuit he'd worn underneath. Boots and socks left to the side, he wiggled out of a turtleneck sweater before reaching the last layer, the thermal underwear. Discarding that as well, thrown on top of the pile, Dan stood in his skivvies. Time for a change of identity, and he'd be buggered if he couldn't fit as much into an Iranian marketplace as he had fit into an Afghan one.

Rummaging in his bergan, all done with speed but avoiding haste, which would make anyone clumsy, he pulled out the kit that would get him through this mission. Stepped into a pair of BDUs, rolling them up to knee height, securing the hem with a couple of safety pins. Then t-shirt, flak vest over it, throwing the long native gown on top of it all, hiding the Western gear. Dan smirked a moment to himself at the almost white material. Nightgown, just where was his night cap.

Fixing the kit belt securely around his waist and strapping all his weapons to his body, until everything was effectively hidden, he slipped barefoot into the sandals, stuffing desert boots and socks into a heavy-duty shoulder bag that someone had found on the market, together with a shawl, which he wound around his head. He had no mirror, but he'd done this often enough, back in Afghanistan, that his haphazard job looked more convincingly native than the most thorough attempt could have been. That was it, time to fix the personal radio so that he could hide both radio and battery, the size of two bloody heavy house bricks, in his voluminous shoulder bag, slung across his back, and almost as comfortable as a bergan.

Dan checked over the equipment once more, damn glad they hadn't provided him with the bog standard radio, too heavy to carry on a mission like that and the standard issue British kit would have been too dangerous should he be detected. The high tech version for Special Forces was considerably smaller and lighter, even though it still weighed more than the water bottles he was lugging around. He fiddled with cables and headpiece, stashing them away securely, then bundled the canopy up with its treasure, and threw the bag over his shoulder. He stuffed as much of the parachute into the camouflage bergan as he could, before dragging it to a spot close by that offered a drop and enough stones and debris to pile on top of the gear. If anyone ever found it, they'd be none the wiser and he'd be long out of the country by then.

Only then did he switch on the radio, the headset haphazardly close to ear and lips, hindered by the rag around his head, and waited for the static to clear before making his announcement. "Calling HQ." Waiting another moment, relief ghosted across his face when he heard the confirmation from the other end. At least the technology worked, what a miracle for the usual British crap, held together with sticky tape and spit. "The eagle has landed. About to fly out of the nest." Once more awaiting conformation, he nodded to himself and checked his watch that was hidden beneath the long sleeve of the gown. "Roger. Over and out." Hiding the radio inside the bag, he slung the whole heavy thing across his back before glancing at the sky that began to turn light. "Let's go get Ibn." Muttered to himself in broken Arabic, then set off towards the town where he hoped to find his target.

* * *

Marching at a fast pace despite wearing nothing but sandals, Dan was covering the terrain in under two hours, getting towards the town in the cool of the morning, just as the muezzin called the faithful to fajr prayer. He hid in a derelict shed near the outskirts of the town during prayer, couldn't afford to get caught wandering around as an able bodied man, if he wanted to pass as a native.

While sheltered from prying eyes, Dan checked out the radio and contacted HQ. Voice low, using a few chosen code words that let them know he was close to the town and about to go in. Careful not to give away his position nor intention for any prying ears, should the communications line get compromised. Waiting his turn after shutting down the comm link, Dan emerged from the ruins into bright sunlight.

The town had come to life, bustling with activity, and once he'd reached the central market place, the world was bursting into colours, smells and sounds. Dan felt himself teleported back to Afghanistan and into Kabul, but the closer he got the more intense the stink became. He wasn't sure where it came from, guessed a combination of rotten vegetables, open air butcher stands, raw sewage, and burning waste. Yet despite the stench he didn't twitch a muscle and walked stoically on. Severed sheeps' heads to his right, laid out on a cart; baskets with fruit of every colour; crates and boxes overflowing with vegetables; animal carcasses laid out in the sun and attracting thick, black flies that made an incessant noise; freshly caught fish, gutted in another corner, and casks and barrels of spices and dried herbs and powders, masking the stench the further he got into the market and towards the indoor part, which offered shelter from heat and blinding sun.

Dan sauntered around the stalls, on high alert while keeping a low profile. Eyes cast down, darting around from beneath his lashes, as he checked out his surroundings. The dark shadow of stubble on his deeply tanned face helped with the illusion of being one of the natives, same with the clothing that hid anything Western beneath their folds.

He knew that he was in the right place, the Brits' informant had been adamant, and since he had nothing else to go from, all he had to do was be there and wait for the target to arrive. When, however, within the next twelve hours, that was anyone's guess. Insh'allah.

Weaving his meandering path from stall to stall, Dan moved further into the bowels of the bazaar, stopping at a cloth merchant's stall that sold brightly coloured and intricately patterned traditional clothing. Getting his bearings, Dan feigned interest in a particularly gaudy headscarf, bright red with gold coins around the edges, fondling the fabric to bide his time while communicating in monosyllabic replies with the merchant, to steer clear of the danger of giving himself away by his accent.

Sudden motion in the narrow passageway between the stalls, when a group of men came through, all of them dressed native with several of them talking, while the man in the middle walked purposefully and in silence. Dan barely twitched when he recognised his target. Ibn Al-Jazaal, without a doubt, he had memorised the photos all through the night. But who the fuck were all those other guys doing there, surrounding him? Bodyguards, Dan thought with a frown while trying to hide his facial expression by rifling through the headscarves. The stall holder had noticed, though, taking the frown for a complaint about the price of the fiery red headscarf, and lurched into a lament of falling prices, hungry children, demanding wife, scolding mother-in-law and wouldn't the customer make up his mind already, he'd even be willing to haggle the price. Dan shook his head while keeping track of the target's progress from the corner of his eye.

He left the stall without a sale the moment he almost lost Ibn's entourage from his sight, followed by angry shouts from the merchant, but he paid no heed, instead following his target plus cronies while keeping a safe distance. Watching them pass through the rug-hung curtains that closed off the back part of a carpet stall, Dan stopped close by, glancing around and finding to his relief a tea stall, conveniently nestled in a nook no more than a few feet away.

Dan ordered tea in the same carefully economic style, sitting and soon sipping the hot and overly sweetened dark brown brew, just as he had done many times in Afghanistan, while monitoring the entrance without appearing to do so. Leaning forward after a while, he pretended to look through his bag, while checking on the radio. Too dangerous to activate it there and then, he'd have to wait for a more convenient moment and just see how things went until then. Nothing he could do except continue observation while sipping tea and waiting, appearing as relaxed as someone who had no worries and nothing else to do than drink tea in the market.

Dan sat there for the good part of two hours, going through several teas and handfuls of accompanying sweets, beginning to worry if somehow he'd overlooked a secret back entrance and he'd missed Al-Jazaal's exit, when his target reappeared, still protected by those bodyguards.

Dan observed from his seat, masking his interest behind the raised tea glass, then emptying it, with deceptive leisure, before throwing some money onto the table and taking his leave. Following at a distance, he had to concentrate on appearing unhurried and unconcerned while keeping tabs on Al-Jazaal.

Once he'd left the bustling market and turned a couple of corners, Dan came to an abrupt halt at the end of a narrow street, suddenly confronted with all of Ibn's men. All seven of them, standing in groups around three cars, seemingly debating something. Dan spotted one head through the window in the middle car: his target.

Dan slunk back into the shadows of the next alley, watching and straining to listen. He only managed to catch snippets of the conversation, their Arabic too fast and too far away, but from what he could make out they were deciding who should take the front and rear vehicles. Dan nodded to himself, he would bet those guys were ex Republican guards, Saddam's very own and very best soldiers, who'd managed to flee together with Al-Jazaal. They seemed to be on their way 'home' whatever that meant, but clearly fitted into plan and movements that he'd been briefed with by the CO. Twenty-four hour window, and someone, somewhere, was going to pick Ibn up in a few hours, probably around dawn, if Dan didn't find a way to grab him before that. Preferably without getting riddled with bullets or perforated with blades in the process.

Dan frowned when they seemed about to get into the vehicles. If he didn't get himself some transport in the very near future, something like two minutes tops, he'd probably lose the target for good. Not only had it been too risky so far to kidnap Al-Jazaal from within the midst of his bodyguards, but simply impossible. No, he had to bide his time and wait for another chance - within the next twelve hours or so, and only if he could get his arse onto a set of wheels and follow those cars.

Shit, if he didn't come up with something in the next … fuck, the men were moving now, getting into the cars. Dan was looking around, desperate for any kind of transport that was faster than a donkey and his cart, when he heard the tell-tale puttering of a motorbike coming closer. Just in time, even though it sounded asthmatic and slow. Keeping one eye on the cars that had started their engines and the other on the advancing sound, Dan slunk further back into the shadows.

There! The motorbike came into view, two men sitting on it, one dressed native, riding piston, the other in westernised clothing, laughing and chatting while turning his head backwards towards his passenger, trundling along in barely more than swift walking speed. Two. Damn. Dan had to be quick or his target would be irretrievably lost, plus if he got caught in Iran, there'd be far too many questions and none of which he wanted to answer.

When they got to his level, Dan jumped out of the shadows, swinging the heavy shoulder bag as a makeshift weapon, he knocked the passenger off the bike. He was fast, too fast for the rider to call out for help, when the next second the man had a fist flying towards his head, hitting the right spot on the temple which knocked him out cold, slumped on the bike. The engine was still running and the machine bucked, but Dan held it in a vice grip. "Get off already!" Hissed beneath his breath, he delivered a kick to the unconscious driver, finally getting him off.

He saw the cars had moving off from the corner of his eyes. No more time. Hitching up the native dress until the BDUs almost showed at the knees, he swung one leg over the bike, praying he hadn't forgotten how to ride it. Old bike. Ancient. Vibrating beneath and between his legs, and when he glanced down he almost laughed at the make: an old British classic, so old it would be a rare catch, back in Blighty. He didn't give a damn, though, as long as it was faster than a bloody donkey … Forcing himself to remember all he had ever learned about motorbikes, it felt a lifetime ago, the last time he'd been on a one. Letting go of the clutch, Dan revved up the tortured engine and managed to keep his balance as he sped away, as fast as the old lady allowed, while the two men on the street behind him began to shout - but no one was there to listen.

He was pushing the bike as much as he could, following the three cars that he could just about make out in the distance. Readjusting his shoulder bag in mid-ride when it threatened to slip off and entangle in the spokes, Dan opened the throttle fully, finding his bearings once more, as it all came flooding back from his youth in the Forces. Whoever had come up with the proverb it was just like riding a bike - impossible to forget - had been damn right.

The road was winding its way through a landscape of dried out semi-desert. At least it was still mild in February, as opposed to the sweltering heat of summer, and the bike was doing its best to keep up with the cars, while Dan carefully kept his distance to avoid being detected. He was partly cursing the flat plateau that stretched all around him and offered no notable cover, but without the lowland terrain he'd probably have lost his target by now.

Dan was forced to slow down when the moment he noticed the cars had lost speed and were turning towards the right into an area that was less open than before, with several low-level rock formations. He wouldn't be able to drive much further, couldn't take the risk of being detected. Slowing down and keeping a low profile, Dan got as close as possible, when he realised the cars had pulled into a sort of compound, or whatever the shabby cluster of buildings could be called. A one-storey building, white washed and mud built, with several small outhouses and what appeared to be stables, now deserted and in a state of disrepair.

Switching off the engine as soon as the cars had stopped, Dan moved immediately behind an outcrop of rocks, throwing the bike down. He was still a long while away, could barely make out the individual men, but if he was going to get any closer, he had to do it on foot, and bloody carefully so.

Setting up the radio on the relative safety of his hiding place, he contacted HQ, quietly reporting his whereabouts and his intention, being fed back that the latest news from their informant within the country emphasised he had to strike before the morning. Al-Jazaal would be taken to a safe place in the early hours, whatever that meant. Dan frowned to himself, acknowledged the message and settled behind the rocks for a while longer. After some time it became clear that the target had no intention of leaving the compound, at least not for the night. It would be far too dangerous trying to get any closer in daylight, thus there was no point in being any more uncomfortable than he had to be. Getting some of the rations from his pack, together with the water he had been carrying, Dan kept as hydrated as he could and was not going to go hungry either.

Settling into observation mode, he used the small binoculars he'd packed, keeping the house under surveillance. Nothing noteworthy happened, except for the regular appearance of a man, usually a different one, making their way over to one of the small wooden outhouses, remaining inside for a minute or two before reappearing. A pattern seemed to emerge and Dan grinned, no doubt he'd just located their loo and he started to whistle under his breath when the target himself came out of the main building, accompanied by two of his bodyguards. Al-Jazaal seemed to be agitated and shouting at them, waving his arms to shoo them away. The next moment he got into the hut, on his own, with the two men slinking back into the house and not reappearing. The target made his way back into the house after a while, on his own.

Dan watched and wondered. If he was to have any chance … it might just as well be the shitter.

The long hours of the day passed uneventful, as he stayed hidden behind the low outcrop of rocks, keeping the compound in focus and biding his time. It was getting towards dusk when he finally made a move again, checking in with HQ first. "Eagle going in. Target in cross-hair. Extraction imminent before zero." The acknowledgement came swiftly, together with an evaluation of his coordinates.

He'd be on his own, but they'd pick him up at a yet unknown rendezvous point, if he made it.

Changing out of his native clothing when the sun began to set, Dan pulled down his BDU's, getting rid of the safety pins, and shook his head once his hair was freed from the scarf. Taking off the dusty sandals, he couldn't wait to get his feet back into socks and army boots, at least he knew how to run in them. Properly dressed, the native kit stashed in his bag, he looked down at himself. No way he would be mistaken for an Iranian now, weapons, kit, clothing all too obvious, but he'd have to be quick and rely on his wits, more than the deceit or disguise. He had a plan, ludicrous as it might be, but it might just work.

Dusk was settling in and darkness advanced rapidly. With the darkness Dan approached as well, making his way closer towards the compound. Moving behind cover as much as he could, then getting down onto his knees and crawling the rest of the way until he was near enough to make out some of the voices from inside. Throwing himself down the moment a strip of light announced the door opening, Dan hardly dared to breathe, keeping absolutely still behind a straggling patch of dried grass, praying he was invisible. The man who came out went to one of the cars and it took an eternity before he vanished in the outhouse to presumably take a piss, finally returning back into the main building. Only then did Dan dare to belly-crawl closer, towards the dilapidated barn whose ruins would give some shelter.

The later it got the colder it became, but Dan had survived the freezing winters in the Afghan mountains, he wasn't going to be thwarted by a measly February on the Iranian plains. Keeping watch, alert despite the encroaching tiredness, he began to see a pattern that continued on from the day. It was obvious that the guards had no intention of letting up on their watch and go to sleep, but what about Al-Jazaal himself? Dan was wondering, he had not seen him for at least two hours and the night was moving on.

He didn't dare contact HQ, lest even a whisper alerted the men inside. Besides, he couldn't be sure what kind of equipment they had. Despite the run-down building and the wrecked looking cars, he wasn't going to take any chances. Thus staying crouched, keeping movements to a minimum, just enough not to seize up in the cold and to stay functional.

Keeping track of time and movements, he had been hiding for several uneventful hours when it got towards 1 AM and the door of the main building opened again, with none other than the target stepping out. Carrying something under his arm with a couple of his bodyguards following. From his vantage point Dan could clearly see and hear them arguing, deciphering some of the heated interchange that came down to the one thing: Al-Jazaal was not going to be escorted to the outhouse loo but was going to have his privacy and the guards should not be so annoying or they'd find themselves back in Iraq and in the hands of the American swine.

Interesting. Dan grinned, it was obvious to him that with whatever he had rolled under his arm, and it looked remarkably like reading material, the guy was up to spending some time in solitude on the shitter. Most likely having a good old satisfactory dumb before the early hours of the morning when they were meant to move on and thus out of reach of the Allies.

As expected, Ibn was eventually left alone, with the two guys vanishing back into the main building. That was Dan's cue. He moved silently out of the ruined shed once the target had locked the door behind him, crawling over to the cars. He wasn't sure how much time he had, but was betting on at least five minutes. No man, no matter which colour or creed, was ever going to take a dump without sufficient leisure, certainly not when carrying reading material.

Checking the cars over, he swiftly ascertained their state, deciding which one was the best of the lot, while praying the guards had done their job properly and left all of them filled nicely with fuel. Trying handles and boots - unlocked, he grinned triumphantly to himself. Bloody stupid bastards were far too smug, unable to imagine someone was after them and had gone to the length of checking out their hide-out. In Iran. Of all the impossible places an Iraqi ex-general could go.

Deciding on the largest of the vehicles, the one Al-Jazaal had been riding in, it had a voluminous boot and seemed the best kept of the lot. Dan crawled over to the others, meticulously slashing the tires, one after the other, even though he would have much preferred disabling them by cutting the wires off the alternator or slitting them off the spark plugs, but he didn't have the time. Most of all, he couldn't take the chance to make any noise by opening the bonnet.

Satisfied that all vehicles were sufficiently disabled except for the big galleon itself, he stopped, looked around, ensuring no one was listening nor watching, then crawled back, this time all the way to the shit-house. Adrenaline surging, his heart was hammering just like in the old days when he was out on his own and fighting to survive the impossible: in the midst of Russian gun fire or between warring Afghan tribal lords. Or, indeed, in Northern Ireland, back in the seventies, or Belize and any other shitty place Britain had ever sent him to. Alive, that's what he felt: alive. Despite or because of the danger.

Silently drawing himself up to full height, if any of the guards stepped right now out of the building he'd be toast, but this was his only chance and he'd bloody well use it. Peering at the lock, a brief smirk crossed his face, and his favourite knife was in his hand without a sound. The latch was nothing but wood and the crack in the door large enough to slip the blade through. A rickety piece of shit for a crappy shithouse that housed one of the biggest pieces of shit.

He had one try, and if he fucked it up there was no escaping. Taking in a deep steadying breath, Dan slid the blade with his left into the crack of the door, pushed it upwards and the latch out of the way. The door sprang open, he tore it wide ajar, the same moment his right fist connecting hard with the target's temple. Al-Jazaal had looked up in shocked surprise, mouth open, but never managed to get a sound out. Dan pulled back when the man slumped forward, steadying the descent with his left hand, knife still in it, and delivered another punch with his right for good measure. Wouldn't do if the bastard woke up too early. Breathing hard, Dan was moving swiftly. One sound, a few seconds delay and he'd be so fucked he wasn't going to be able to keep his promise to the Baroness.

Ibn had his trousers round the ankles, sandals on his feet and the long shirt hitched up. No time for niceties, Dan simply dragged the unconscious body upwards and hoisted the dead weight over his shoulder in a fireman's lift. Suppressing a groan as his knees wanted to buckle under the strain., he turned, hurrying over to the car that he'd left in working order. He let the body slide down to the ground behind the car and pulled cable ties from his belt kit, binding Al-Jazaal's wrist tightly behind his back and lashing his ankles together. It was bloody dark, the only light came from moon and stars, but Dan managed to gag the man with a part of the headscarf he still carried with him in the shoulder bag. Looking down at his bundle, then at his watch. No more than one minute had passed since he'd opened the shitter and knocked the target out cold. If he were lucky the building stayed quiet until they'd hear the noise of the engine.

The boot opened without a hitch and barely a sound, proving to be as large as he'd hoped, and nicely empty. Dan stooped and picked up the trussed-up body, wrestling it into the car as fast as he could. Closing the boot before he threw the shoulder bag inside, Dan hurried to get into the driver's seat. He was racing against time. Any moment the guards could come out to look for Al-Jazaal, and he hadn't even started the damned vehicle.

The belt kit proved once again his life saver, something he had learned from a battle worn sergeant in The Regiment when he'd been nothing but a young grunt, Dan searched for his all-tool, a handyman's sturdy version of the Swiss army knife. He knew in theory how to get the damned car started without a key, and was fumbling in the dark until he found the plastic panel. Levering the screwdriver into the panel, he broke it off, wincing at the noise and sweating despite the cold. Feeling around, he found two screws and undid them in haste while cursing under his breath when he slipped twice. Pulling the tumbler out, he stuck the flat headed screwdriver inside. Now came the hard bit, he didn't have a crowbar with him and his knife had to do, as he pulled on the ignition, using the handle as leverage. Employing all his strength, he finally managed in what felt like an eternity to pull down hard and the ignition fell to the floor. Dan turned the screwdriver in the tumbler and with a triumphant, "fuck, yes!" the engine started.

That was it, the noise would get them out of their hiding, and now he had no more than split seconds to get out of their range of bullets once the door opened. Revving up the engine, Dan turned with screeching tires, kicking up dust. He saw as clearly as day in the glare of the headlights, how the door opened and several men came piling out. Shouting to each other, barely heard above the noise inside the car, and raising their weapons.

Dan pushed the accelerator down to the floor, the pedal almost going through the metal, and the car shot off. Fast despite its size, with the cargo in its boot. Racing away from the compound and along the small dirt track, Dan kept his head as low as he could when the bullets came flying. Hitting the car, possibly entering the boot, but he couldn't hear muffled screams from inside and even if, at least he got the target alive, whatever happened to him from 'friendly fire' wasn't really his business.

He had to get to the rendezvous point, somewhere at the coast of the Persian Gulf. No way could he try and get out of the country by crossing the border, HQ had set up a plan to pick them up by chopper.

Dan was driving like a madman once he had reached the main road. Not too worried about the target, since he heard the man kicking against the boot, probably hoping to open it from the inside and throw himself out, but no fucking chance. Not with Dan speeding along the dusty road in the darkness of the night.

He was making good progress, disabling the other two vehicles had paid off, because he wasn't followed, and even if the guards managed to get their hands on a car, it was unlikely they'd catch up any time soon and they sure as hell couldn't count on help from the native population.

Dan activated the radio while driving. Fiddling one-handed, eyes always peeled on the blackness in front of him and constantly checking the rear view mirror, he called HQ. Announcing the mission had been successful, the target extracted, and he was on his way to the rendezvous point, no more than an hour away. The disembodied voice in the ear piece of his headset acknowledged his report, as they tried to ascertain his exact location before finalising the pick-up by helicopter. Right at the Gulf and as close to the border as they dared.

Driving on, Dan still couldn't quite believe his luck, but nothing happened. Nothing except for every mile racing by, getting him closer to the coast, until finally saw the coast. As agreed, he alerted HQ to be ready with the chopper.

He'd hardly stopped the car when he heard the well-known noise of rotor blades coming closer and Dan got out, opening the boot, to find a bound and gagged man with his trousers around his ankles and the shirt ridden up, twisted in the confined space and glaring with utter rage at him while making noises into the cloth in his mouth. Dan sneered, the nastiest sort of grin he managed as he shrugged, pointing to the helicopter above. "Time to go 'on vacation' Ibn. They say the U.S. of A. is a nice place to be this time of year."

He was still grinning when he heaved the struggling man out of the boot, waving into the search light of the chopper before the equipment was lowered and he strapped the trussed up bundle into the straps. He watched them hoist the target inside, before the bird lowered further, one of the marines inside held out heir hand and Dan grabbed it, being pulled inside as the helicopter went off again.

"Welcome on board, Mad Dog." One of the marines grinned, helping Dan scramble to a crouch from where he had lain flat on the metal floor.

"Aye, kind of glad to see you lot." Dan laughed, and his first action was to search for his shades, slipping them on despite the darkness. Jesus fucking Christ, he needed a fag. Glancing over to where they were dealing with Al-Jazaal, he shrugged once more and scooted back to sit against the wall, as the bird made its way back through the night. Back into Saudi Arabia and back into camp, where he'd sleep for as long as they'd bloody well let him - after one of those damned debriefings that the wanker of a CO would be adamant on.

* * *

As predicted, Dan spent the rest of the night and the early hours of the morning in debriefings, being grilled by the CO and his cronies, while struggling to stay awake, until they finally let him off with three days paid extra leave, which he decided to spend sleeping, working out and sleeping some more. Oh, and drinking in the bar.

The story of his crazy stunt was spreading like wildfire when Dan was on his way to hit the showers in the morning, and he could hardly get on with all the shoulder slapping from well meaning lads - mercs and soldiers alike, who were queuing up for breakfast. The ones who hated his guts and would have liked to show the faggot a hard wall in the face, kept quiet to the cries of "well done, Mad Dog," or "you fucking lucky bastard!", and "good one, mate."

At last, when Dan managed to get through the crowd and into the shower, they left him alone and he managed to sleep the entire day long into the afternoon without so much as waking once.

He spent the early evening in the bar as one of the few who could legitimately indulge in booze and had a hard time not to get too pissed with all the free rounds. Dan called it a night, early on, wondering if that meant he was getting old: too tired to get rat-arsed after nothing but one measly mission.

He was grinning to himself as he walked along, on his way back into camp for another round of mercifully dreamless sleep, not paying any attention to the shuffling sounds behind his back.

"Hey, buddy?"

Dan stopped, turned, raised his brows above the shades and looked at the man who had come up to him. Made an inventory of the guy within a split second. Yank. Jarhead. Typical stupid buzzcut. Buff. Young. No older than twenty … one or two. Fucking good looking if he were into kids. "What the fuck do you want. A broken nose?"

The guy raised his hands, took a step back. "Hell, no. Just thought I'd, you know, catch you. I was in the bar. Saw you."

Dan's brows rose even higher. "So, you wanted a chat with the aging fag, eh?"

He didn't expect the yank's answer and neither the broad grin. "Yeah, buddy, that's exactly why."

"Aye?" Dan didn't try to hide the surprise, even gave the kid the honour to push the shades off his eyes, securing them in the tangle of his dark and grey-speckled unruly mane. "Guess you best tell me why."

The kid nodded, looked left then right. "Can we go, like, somewhere else to talk?"

Grinning, Dan mimicked the yank's furtive glances. "You worried to be seen with me, is that it? Think I'm contagious?"

"No. Sure not." The kid shook his head, held out his hand. Good, strong handshake when Dan took it, mildly surprised at the formalities. "I'm Matt. C'mon buddy. Can we talk? Over there." He gestured to a secluded corner right behind a couple of generators.

Dan shrugged, returned the firm handshake and nodded. "Sure. I'm Dan, but I guess you know that."

They started walking, Matt grinned, glancing sideways at Dan. "Sure thing. You're Mad Dog. I already heard of your stunt in Iran." Once they'd reached the generators, shadows engulfed them and they were undisturbed.

"That's great," Dan leaned against one of the camo-netted metal boxes, "but you're not here to talk to me about the HALO jump, are you? Could have done that in the bar."

Matt slipped into the narrow space between Dan and the next generator, bodies almost touching. "You're right. Wanted to talk to you about …" paused, and caused Dan's brows to creep back up towards the hairline. "… about, you know, what you are."

"What, gay?"

The kid nodded. "Yeah."

"Why?" Dan knew all of a sudden, still asked. Wasn't an idiot but not a charity either.

"Cause …," silence, then a loudly swallowed gulp, seemed the yank was desperate enough to continue, "cause I'm, too. Just can't say it, can't come out of the closet, or I'm thrown out of the Marines, OK?"

"And?" Dan crossed his arms in front of his chest. "What's that got to do with me?"

"Cause you're gay? And so am I?" Dan's answer apparently unexpected.

"And?" Dan insisted. "What does that mean?" He was enjoying himself entirely too much. Revelled in the stunned silence, could hardly hold back his laughter. Old geezer - fit lad. Surely the spread of cards was laid out to give only the one reading: him gagging for it. Perhaps he did, but he wasn't going to tell, and the yank was squirming far too prettily. "Want me to jump your bones, kid?"

More silence, audible breathing in the dimness, then finally a flash of teeth and a slightly unsure grin. "Yeah. You game?"

"Depends." Dan smirked, watched the fish dangling on the hook and thought it was a damn good catch. Out of the blue, bloody unexpected and all the better for it. The catch was fairly tall, definitely just as broad as he was young, and if the other yanks he'd seen were anything to go by, the kid would be a beefy prize to behold. "How desperate are you?"

"Listen, buddy, I've been here for weeks, haven't seen my boyfriend back home for four months, seem to be, like, the only gay within the entirety of Iraq. Have to lie about my sexuality and watch straight porn with the other guys, bored to death of damned pussies. How fucking desperate do you think I am?"

"Very." Dan commented dryly, pushed forward and pinned the kid between generator and himself. Ground his hips into the other's groin. Far, far too entertaining. Seemed he got lucky tonight. Mission and sex. He'd won the jackpot.

Matt groaned, silenced himself, grabbed hold of Dan's hips, pushed hard. Dan was somewhat surprised at the reaction, but sure as fuck didn't complain, letting himself be pulled closer.

"So, seems you want to get off." He chuckled, relishing the sense of control, while the kid was losing it. Had been a long time since he'd been on top of that age-old game of bodies against bodies. "How much, kid? Enough to risk it here, in camp?"

"Yeah …" Matt breathed, husky. "You have no fucking idea how desperate I am …" Pushing against Dan, fumbling for his belt, all the while trying to reach the evasive face and find Dan's lips to kiss.

"I do, kid, I do …" Dan moved his head and turned his face away from the searching mouth, away from a kiss. Shades slipping off and falling with a faint clatter into the dust, as he found and conquered Matt's exposed neck. He was shoving against the other's groin, crushing their cocks. He'd done it many times before, yet it was all different now. Not thinking, just revelling in having made it out of a suicidal mission, celebrating life by pressing against a muscular body. Young, alive, fucking perfect, and suitably strong. Good.

He felt on top and clearly in charge, as if disconnected from his own body, watching both of them and listening to the kid, who was rapidly losing it. The yank threatened to make too much noise until Dan pushed his arm into the kid's face. Winced when teeth bit into sleeve and biceps, but at least the groans were muffled.

It was too fucking easy, almost like playing a cheap arcade game. Pushing all the right buttons and stroking the cut cock, while rubbing against his own, both in his right hand, while grinding into the buff body that willingly moved with him, against and together. The kid hadn't lied, was too bloody desperate to last long, and Dan enjoyed that knowledge. Cool, superior, in charge and in fucking control of himself and the other's body. It felt good. Easy, a kind of sex he'd never had.

He grabbed the back of the yank's head the moment he felt the convulsions starting to wreck the other's body, forced the face against his chest, arm, sleeve, and all, muffling any sounds the kid might make, before closing his eyes for just a moment and simply letting go, allowing himself to come with an almost completely suppressed groan. Controlled, measured, but a bloody lot of release after pent up months of shit and nothing; anger and blood; numbness and pain.

Still listening to the kid's panting when he had himself back under control, he kept the head pressed against his chest. Murmuring, lips touching the shaved skull, "Better, kid?"

"Yeah." Breathless, the yank made no attempt to move. Neither body, spent cock nor head. "But I'm not a kid."

Dan chuckled quietly. "Sure you are. I could be your daddy." Letting go of the other's head, watching it come up, grinning at him.

"Want me to call you Sugar Daddy, not Mad Dog?" Matt smirked, drew in a shuddering breath, obviously enjoying a last moment of aftershocks.

Dan clipped the shaved head with the palm of his hand. "Don't get too cocky, kid."

Matt sniggered, stretching in the confines of their bodies. "Guess I just did. 'Cocky', that is." Looked down between them, wiggled his hips. "Urgh, shit. I'm sticky."

"Want me to call your nanny, kid?" Dan laughed under his breath, careful to keep the noise down, as he stepped backwards and into the other metal box.

"Bastard." Matt was wiping at his trousers.

"Yep, that's me." Dan didn't care about the cum, just tucked himself in and closed his belt, would deal with the trousers later. "I resemble that remark."

"Yeah ..." Sound of metal and rustling of fabric as Matt put himself back into order. "Guess they're right, you know, calling you Mad Dog."

Dan had stooped down, searching for the shades that he'd lost. "Guess they are." Glanced up, suddenly found himself face to face with the yank again, who was crouching beside him, the shades dangling from his fingers.

"Lost something, old man?"

Dan sneered, took bait, shades and taunting, and slipped them back onto the top of his head. "Cheers, kid. Good thing you children are still playing hide-and-seek."

Matt was laughing, just as quietly as Dan earlier, then stopped, his hand suddenly on Dan's shoulder. "Seriously?" paused.

"Seriously … what?" Dan queried, marvelled for a moment at the sheer untainted freshness of that face before him.

"Seriously, like, can we meet again?"

Dan nodded without a second thought, surprising himself. It had been easy, painless, the most light-hearted bit of sex he'd ever had in his life. No depth, no feeling, just a few words, a lot of grinning and a body that ground itself against his own. "Sure."

Matt nodded, relieved. "When? Where?"

"I know where to find you." Dan grinned, stood back up, time to get some sleep. "In the nursery."

"Fucker." Matt retorted, but Dan was already leaving, and his subdued laughter was heard all the way to the gates of his camp.

* * *

Dan made an effort in the following week to actually greet the guys he knew and who weren't avoiding the maniac self-confessed fag like the bubonic plague. Nodded to some, chatted to others, and his efforts at being matey paid off when ten days later his beefy jarhead reappeared. Matt looked even more like a kid in the murky light of the bar, especially when Dan pushed his shades up to study the yank for a moment, before letting them fall back down over his eyes and getting a fresh drink from the bartender.

Walking over, he nodded to Matt, then indicated with his chin towards a corner, to have a word. No one noticed, Dan had been talking to most guys at some stage or another, him chatting was a normal thing by now. Mad Dog had got friendlier, but he'd never lost his bite.

"Still desperate?" Dan murmured when Matt was close enough, before chugging some beer.

Matt grinned, nodded, scratching the back of his neck. "Fuck, yeah." Nursing a bottle of coke. Nothing but coke, and not even the full-fat variety.

"OK. I got a safe house."

"In Saudi Arabia?" Matt almost snorted the last mouthful of his drink back out through his nose. "How the fuck did you do that?"

Dan tapped the side of his nose, grinning. "Resourceful. Besides, I went through nine years of shagging in Kabul and the Gulf can't be as tricky as the Afghan mountains, but that's another bedtime story. I gather you're off duty tomorrow morning?"

"How do you ..." Matt trailed off, faced with Dan's full-toothed grin. "Course you'd know. Bastard. Mad Dog and all that shit." He nodded. "Where?"

Dan turned away, pretending to get bored having a half-arsed conversation with that fresh-faced yank kid. "Here." Ended the motion with a piece of paper slipped into the other's hand. "See you at 1000 hrs. Sharp."

"Yes, daddy." Matt grinned, stuffed the paper into his tunic and would have earned himself a clip over the head again, if Dan didn't have to avoid the sort of familiarity that could rouse suspicion.

Dan raised the middle finger of his scarred left hand, mouthed 'fuck you', then turned and walked back to his customary place at the bar. Finishing his Bud then heading back to his bunk to get some shut-eye for the night. He slept without waking for once.

* * *

1003 hrs and Dan heard a light rap on the door of the building he'd found in a slightly more up-market category than the rickety pieces of muddy shit that he'd used in Kabul. Build from brick, it housed a fully grown bed instead of a rolled-out bergan and even had extra space that was used as loo with a sink. Positively luxurious compared to the shitholes of his past, but back then his bones hadn't been creaking, his body hadn't protested and his … no. Not going there. Refused to think of the past in any more broader terms than 'back then'.

"You're late." Dan opened the door, alert but not wary, watched the yank slip in and look around till he found the Brit standing in his back.

"Bang." Dan said casually, a finger posing as a gun, grinning. "You got a lot to learn about healthy paranoia."

"Fuck you." Matt retorted, went straight to the bed and sat down.

"No, that's wasn't quite my intention."

"No?" Matt looked up, fingers on the buttons of his tunic, "what did you have in mind, then?"

Dan shrugged, walked over, pulled the only chair in the room close until he sat opposite to the yank, watching him undress. "No plans. Just things I don't do and others I do do."

"Such as?" Matt glanced up from the bed, "in case you wonder, I'm clean. Can show you my latest test."

"Aye, that's OK. Same here." Dan watched him through the customary shades, grinning and nodding, amused at the speed with which the kid was getting himself out of his tunic and t-shirt, sitting bare-chested on the bed while reaching for his boots to unlace them. And what a chest it was. Fuck, so young. Unflawed. Not a goddamned scar. Too healthy, too … normal. But it would do; would do just nicely.

"Anyway, what do you do and don't do, man?"

"Guess you'll find out." Dan grinned, evasive, stretched his legs out and crossed both arms over his clothed chest. Watching the show before him while he felt remarkably at ease. Saw the boots come off, then the socks, the camo trousers remaining, or 'pants' as the yank would call them.

"Are you going to undress?" Matt stood up, hands on his belt, looking down at the sprawled man on the chair. "Show me the goods. Is only fair, buddy."

Dan laughed, shoved the shades off his eyes and chucked them on top of a rickety table behind him. "That'll do?"

Matt rolled his eyes, but kept looking at the freshly bared face for a while longer. "Dunno why you cover them up." Muttered to himself while stripping out of the trousers and standing in his briefs.

Dan said nothing, his brows raised at the murmur, then shrugged and started to take off his own boots, then socks. Was a good boy, remembered the correct order. He glanced up. "Afraid it's damaged goods, kid."

"Yeah, yeah, sure, old man." Matt grinned, fingers beneath the waistband of his brief. Dan saw the kid pull them down and step out of them, before his shirt covered his eyes for a moment while he pulled it over his head. Then bent down to undo belt and slip down trousers, while the jarhead was fumbling with the pile of his clothes, bent over the bed. Firm arse in his vision. Smooth, damned perfect as well, and Dan almost forgot to step out of the trousers that pooled around his ankles. Holy shit, he didn't quite know where they made those kids so buffed-up fresh-faced flawless, but he didn't complain.

He was naked when he came back up, slumped himself once more onto the chair, as sprawled as before, and watched Matt turn. Presented with the full view of a nicely sized cock. Dan hadn't had a cut one before, in fact he hadn't ... not go there.

"Shit!" Matt exclaimed, staring at Dan's naked body. "You didn't exaggerate. Holy Christ, you got a fucking impressive collection." Pointing at the scars, most of all the large ones crossing Dan's abs. "Time for an inventory, buddy."

Dan laughed, shaking his head. "What's that, eh? Your idea of foreplay?"

"Call it what you like." Matt stepped closer, cock at Dan's eye level, who enjoyed the view. "Let's start on the top. Face?" Index finger running along the knife scar that crossed from left temple to the corner of Dan's mouth.

Dan was still laughing, but his head stilled at the touch. He couldn't help being drawn into the light-hearted banter. Unable to remember when last he'd laughed like that, not even grin, other than smirk or sneer. He'd been in a damn dark place despite his promise to the Baroness. "Bloody Afghans. Thought I'd eyed up their women." He pointed at another knife scar on his biceps. "Got that at the same time. Took some convincing to calm them down." He grinned, couldn't help himself again, the way the kid was throwing his head back and laughing at his explanation was goddamned infectious. Didn't point out the collection of thin knife scars in his upper back and on top of his shoulders. Hardly noticeable, even though he always remembered that young German soldier's face when he caught a glimpse of the white lines on his skin. Not go there.

"Fucking ironic." Matt sniggered.

"Guess so …" Dan hadn't ever really thought about it, and now that Matt pointed out the obvious, he felt a wave of hilarity roll up from deep inside. They'd almost killed him during those nine months in the mountains, because they'd thought he had impure thoughts towards their women. Back then he should have pissed himself with laughter instead of kneeling in a cave and letting an enemy shave his face.


"And this one?" Matt's finger rested on the neat round scar at the left shoulder.

Dan frowned. "Bullet. Close range. In an odd way that bullet saved my life." A Russian cunt. A raid on a house and a chance to get out alive.


"What?" Matt stepped even closer, made his way between Dan's legs, who felt invited to grab the smooth and muscular arse with both hands, rather enjoying himself while copping a feel.

"Never mind, kid, long story." Squeezed the buttocks, elicited a squirm that made Dan chuckle. The yank's growing interest was undeniably obvious, right there in front of his face.

"Fair enough." Matt moved his hips until his cock brushed Dan's lips, while his hand ran up and down the other's left arm. "I've seen that one before." Fingertips bumping over the V-shaped scar on the biceps. "Thought, like, whoa, what a strange motherfucker. 'V' for victory."

Dan shook his head, caught the tip of the cock with his tongue a couple of times, with utmost deliberation. He grinned, despite the memory, focussed on marvelling at lack of foreskin instead. "Not for Victory, but it's an even longer story." Snatching a taste, "let's just say I'm a kinky motherfucker."

V. For Vadim.

"OK." Matt grinned, looked down, stooped, and ran a hand between Dan's pecs down to the heavily scarred abdomen. "I bet that one's a fucking big story."

"Bloody well is. Car bomb while I was guarding the British ambassador in Kabul. Tore me into enough pieces to have me in ICU for weeks. The hand's a result of that as well. Fucking arsewipes."

A hospital in India. Darkness, fear and pain, and then a promise. A promise that couldn't be kept.


"Shit, man, you've been around. No wonder they call you Mad Dog." Matt squirmed closer to touch the scar on the thigh, his cock brushing against Dan's cheek in the process. "That one?"

Dan rubbed his face against the hard flesh, chuckling at the eager jump and the groan that followed. "That was a scary one. Flesh wound, Soviet patrol. They thought I was dead, covered in blood and shit, and left me lying under a pile of Muja corpses."

"Fuck! How did you get out?"

Dan tapped the side of his nose, grinned. "That's my secret."

I can read you on my skin.

Matt laughed and Dan could feel the vibration of that laughter run through his own body before the yank was about to turn to the other side to try and find more scars.

"Nuh-huh." Dan stopped him, steadied Matt's hips with both hands, while shaking his head. "Enough foreplay. Time for business."

Matt didn't manage to answer anything resembling speech before his cock vanished between Dan's lips, being pushed further in and down the throat. He didn't say anything either a few minutes later when all he could do was groan and mutter nonsensical sounds. Sometimes his eyes closed, head fallen into the back of his neck, rhythmically riding the sensations; other times his head fell forward, eyes open, staring down at the way Dan's checks hollowed before pushing forward, swallowing as much of the length as he could. Matt's hand tangled in the dark hair, almost losing balance a couple of times, bracing his legs further while losing himself amidst moans and shuddering tremors.

Dan bloody well enjoyed himself. In fact, hadn't enjoyed himself that much since ... since he didn't want to remember. Sucked that fresh-faced buff-bodied jarhead with the same enthusiasm with which he had tasted the Russian's cock. Used the tricks he'd acquired in all those years, blowing the kid's brains out while giving him the blowjob of his young life.

He was rewarded soon enough, with a spectacular show of orgasm, convulsions, breathless groans, and trembling loss of balance. Followed by buckling knees and completely spaced out keeling backwards.

Shit, that was good. Dan grinned and wiped his lips, watching the yank collapse on the bed behind him. Bloody hell, he'd missed that, could get used to this again. The taste, the feel, plus the whole hog of light-hearted ease.

"Anyone out there?" Dan smirked at the kid, who took a moment to come back round to the land of the living. What a way to spend an off-duty morning.

Matt groaned, waved a hand at Dan, then scrambled into a semblance of sitting. "Guess so." He grinned as stupidly as only a young guy could. From one ear to the other. "You're kinda good at that."

Dan laughed, slouching even further down in his chair. "Cocksucking fag, I know."

"You wanna fuck me now?" Matt's lingering breathlessness gave his voice an interesting shade of husky, even smoothing his accent. Dan figured the kid should always talk like that and he'd be quite willing to do his occasional damnest to make sure it happened.


"Why?" Matt's disbelief made Dan chuckle and shrug. "Don't get it, thought that's what you wanted."

"Why?" Dan mimicked Matt's question, grabbed the plastic water bottle close to the bed and had a good swig before handing it to the kid.

"Cause that's what guys do. Especially older ones." Matt chugged down half the bottle in one go, wiped his lips and grinned at Dan. "Why you laughing?"

"Because I figure you're buying into that sugar daddy shit a bit too much."

"Hm." Matt huffed, put the water safely out of reach, ran a hand over his shaved head. "Then what do you want? I'm pretty easy."

Dan laughed, "I got that. The 'easy' bit."

"Should I be, like, offended now?" Matt grinned with teeth and all, leaning forward and getting hold of Dan's hand. With the surprise on his side he managed to pull him out of the chair and over to the bed, where Dan let himself fall down onto his side. Torso on the bed, legs partly on the floor. Sprawled once more.

"Your choice, kid, but if it were me, I wouldn't be offended." Dan wanted a fag, glanced over at the bergan, so fucking far away, couldn't be arsed.

"OK, buddy." Matt's hand wandered across Dan's chest, then up, and down again, ending on the scars. Suddenly grinning, he leaned forward, intending to kiss. His lips touched Dan's for a mere split second, before Dan turned his head away.

"Hey," Matt frowned, "what's up? Just want to make out." He tried again, got the same reaction. "Fuck that," Matt pulled away, rolling his eyes. "I'm not a fucking whore."

"No. You're not." Dan paused, "but perhaps I am."

Matt's frown smoothed and he started to grin. Seemed nothing could piss on this guy's parade for long. "What do you mean? You got cooties?" He smirked, "go on, how many blokes did you have? See if you can freak me."

Oh shit. Bull's eye. Dan felt like an idiot for the sudden embarrassed squirm that set in before he could stop it. "Well …"

"Yeah?" Matt sniggered. "Twenty? Thirty? Fifty or even a hundred? You're old enough to have fucked yourself through a whole regiment."

"Aye …" if his face was going to flush now, Dan would kill that kid. Seriously. "Guess I could have."

"And did you?" Matt prodded him, then poked Dan's chest when he didn't get an answer. "Did you? Did you?"

"Not … quite." Dan sighed, no point in further evasive action, he could tackle the junior marine and punch his lights out, but what a waste of muscles, skin, body and opportunity that would be.

"Oh fuckin' hell, man, you gonna tell me how many or not?" Another poke and a double effort prod, and Dan relented.


Silence. Open mouthed disbelief.

Dan sighed, nodded, scratched his groin. "Aye, you heard right. One."

"Uh … why? You're, what, forty-something?"

"One. Forty-one, mate. Too old to be a monogamous prick. I know, no need to say it."

Matt shook his head. "You really are fucking mad. But whatever has rocked your boat, bit too late now, buddy. For the monogamy." He pointed at Dan's face with a huge-ass grin. "You tell me why we shouldn't make out."

Dan shrugged. Why. Why the fuck shouldn't he? "Guess there's no reason, really."

He had just about spoken the last word aloud when he was grabbed and drawn into a full-blown snog with the enthusiasm of a twenty-one year old. Dan barely managed to catch a breath here and there, assaulted by lips, tongue and teeth, while chuckling in the back of his throat. Damn, the kid was a good kisser, and he allowed himself to just enjoy the ride, which eventually took him to use those condoms after all and shag the delicious arse of his baby-yank.

Special Forces Chapter XXIII: Longitude
Warning for Readers

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

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

By accessing this work of fiction you hereby indemnify the authors against all claims and actions whatsoever arising from reading the work of fiction.

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


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Published 30 May 2007