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Special Forces Chapter XXVIII: Rest and Recovery

August/September 1991, Thailand

The civilian clothes were the strangest thing about it. Vadim still had the set of clothes he'd bought in England to not stand out too badly, nothing special, dark blue jeans, a grey tee. Carrying a bag in one hand, determined to get anything else he needed when they'd arrive. The main things were passport and wallet, and that alone was enough. Beat the hell out of body armour and stuffed ammo pouches. He didn't wear the sunglasses, they reminded him of the desert, had even changed the watch - for the same reason. What he needed easily fitted into a light bag, no bigger than one used for fencing.

Waiting for Dan to show up, Vadim noticed how the other mercs noticed. Occasional stares from somebody who had never seen him in anything but camo, naked, or a towel. Krasnorada has a life, is what it seemed to say. Nevertheless, Vadim was strangely optimistic. Travelling wouldn't be too bad with Dan, he figured, would give them time away from all this shit here. Mildly optimistic. He didn't expect much, didn't expect anything to grow back, apart, maybe, from respect. Dan had made clear whatever he felt, he just couldn't, and Vadim knew his safest bet now was to find enough to live for, somehow, to make this worthwhile. Two weeks should be enough time to work out if there was anything left. At least no Jean, no Donahue, no duties. Repay Dan a small amount.

When Dan finally came out of his hut, whistling, he looked exactly as he always did. T-shirt, knee-length shorts he must have found in an army surplus store - at least this time not the cut-off ones, and desert boots. He didn't actually own anything else, had left everything that reminded him of the past in storage in the embassy. He wore an open shirt on top, in a non identifiable faded olive green with darker rectangles, where the torn-off patches had lived. And, of course, the obligatory shades. Bergan thrown over his shoulder, he had a water bottle clamped under his left arm, while the right resided in his shorts pocket. Grinning as he came closer, ignoring anybody else and their curious stares. "Ready for take-off, Russkie? Let's just hope I won't get shot down this time."

Vadim grinned. "Ready for take-off." Dan's 'traintracks' distracted him, the massive scar across his leg. He turned and headed towards the waiting vehicle that would get them to the airport. He wondered what the others thought, all this was too much out in the open, too visible, but that was the timing of the plane, and of the camp, and why should he care. It had made the rounds so often, the novelty had to wear off at some point.

Dan re-shouldered the bergan, lightly packed, there wasn't much he had that was even worth taking, and climbed into the Landrover. Opening the door to hang out at the last minute, shouting across the camp, "See you in two weeks, girls, keep your blue balls for me, don't think I'll miss your pretty arses!" Laughing his head off as he slammed the door shut, getting the driver to speed off with screeching tires.

There he was, then. Sitting in a Lannie once more, right beside Vadim. "Beats the last time, aye?" Dan grinned sideways, "no insurgents as far as I can see."

"And no stuck Yank pigs bleeding all over my camo", said Vadim, and showed teeth to take the sting out of the words.

"Fucking bastard." But Dan's grin bordered on tenderness. "The kid's surviving."

Vadim knew Dan had a tender spot for them. Well. Screwing with one of them likely did that. He shook his head, tried to not think of Donahue, nor how pretty the kid was. He stretched out his legs, used the space he had, but couldn't keep his eyes from searching the landscape. A habit. Professional paranoia. "Thanks for coming along, by the way."

Dan simply shrugged. "As I said, thanks for inviting me. It'll be good …." He paused, eyes behind the shades flickering off the other's face, fixed for a moment on the landscape that went past. "Good to be, away, you know."

"Yes." Very good to be away. He had to tread carefully; 'be nice' as Jean had called it. Be friendly. He'd make an effort. Vadim inhaled deeply, scanned the landscape, while his mind was thankfully blank.

Dan didn't say anything for a long time, settled back in the seat, the airport approaching. Just before they arrived, he said added, quietly, "Fucking missed you, but you know that."

Vadim gave a smile, didn't trust his voice to keep stable. Missing didn't begin to cover it. He nodded, throat tight, then got out to carry the bags again. Things from there went smoothly. A connection to Dubai, then with civilian airlines towards Thailand. First class - and all the privileges that came with it. Better than a Herc, and Dan, for one, enjoyed himself with the free drinks, the nibbles, the comfort of the extra cushioned seats, and the fact they treated him as if he was wearing the suits that the Baroness had him wear, although he looked as scruffy as an aging squaddie.

The moment they set foot into Thailand, Dan was taken in by the heat and the colours. Those damned colours that seemed to glow in the sun. Blues and yellows, greens from luscious vegetation, and even more blues from sea and sky. He hardly had enough time to look around before they were chaperoned into a waiting taxi to take them to their waiting bungalows.

Phukeet airport, and then a 50 minute commute in air conditioned busses to the Mukhdara Beach Resort. Secluded bungalows, two of which Vadim had reserved, and he couldn't believe how easy and how different everything was. From the small, oddly friendly people to the whole relaxed gracious place. "Well, that's it, then." Vadim nodded to himself, acting as if he actually had expected the photos to tell the truth. He hadn't, and it was hard to bear.

"Holy shit." Dan dropped the bergan right there and then, looking around the huge airy room of his bungalow. Two identical ones, with over-sized beds which were large enough for tall men like them. Everything light, made from warm coloured wood, open sky and the sea. "I'm going to get lost in here."

Vadim smiled, enormously pleased it had some impact on Dan. He crossed the room and opened the blinds, so that the ocean became fully visible. Palms. White golden beach, cast into dramatic light by the dying sun. "Just call them for food. There's the buffet somewhere ... near the central pool ... or order something to the room." He inhaled. "Think I'll start with a shower. See you later."

"OK, yes." Dan was too distracted to answer coherently. Everything was too big, too grand, and just about too much luxury. It had been fun in the plane, but this? Heaven and hell, he wondered if he should buy himself new clothes straight away, to fit into the décor, or if he should just run around naked.

Vadim headed to his bungalow, maybe, what, sixty yards away, and found a very similar place. Different décor, different wood carvings, the bungalow facing the sea at a different angle. He set the bag down on the bed, then headed into the bathroom - hardly smaller than the bedroom - for a shower. Feeling mellow and tired, and above all, not trapped for fucking once.

Dan in the meantime took a shower as well, fiddling with the plastic bag over his hand, at least they had renewed the sticky bandage and given him a few more to make sure the plaster wasn't going to come off. He'd been asked to check back that week, but heck, if that meant he'd have to stay in camp they could stuff it.

Freshly showered, wet hair tousled and body back in the other pair of shorts that he had taken with him, Dan found a shirt that didn't look too ruddy, but couldn't manage to fiddle the small buttons into the button holes one-handed. He had to leave it open, then. As long as he had his shades he could ignore any ill-disguised stares at his scarred stomach. He pondered going over to that buffet thing to catch food and booze, but mostly, he was bored. Already. Where to go and what to do? It was beautiful, peaceful, stunning in fact, but there he was, standing on the patio, staring at the sea and … everything was just so big and … empty.

Back in the other bungalow, Vadim slipped into the bathrobe, which amused him, because he was clearly too tall for it. They were generously cut, but it still looked like a miniskirt. He leafed through a short guide to the park, and apparently, everything was provided, and what wasn't would be at the drop of a hat. He opened the doors to the veranda, and glanced over to Dan's bungalow. Neatly arranged that he couldn't actually see what was going on. He frowned, thoughtfully, then headed back to Dan's place, walked across the white sand and rapped on the veranda door. "Dan?"

Dan turned, couldn't help the relief showing when he saw Vadim. Noticing far too quickly what Vadim was actually wearing - and that was damn little. Shit.

Vadim stepped in, showing Dan the leaflet. "What about ordering the tailor for tomorrow?"

"Why?" Tipping the shades up over his eyes, they balanced on Dan's forehead. "What for? Don't they have swimming trunks on sale?"

"Yes, but you travel just as light as I do. Having something to change into would be good." Vadim grinned. "Swimming trunks they should have in the tourist shop. I need some, too."

"Aye, but can't imagine I need anything tailored."

"It's not about needing." It's about wanting. As always.

Dan shrugged and grinned, while lighting a cigarette, "Fair enough, I go with the flow." Pointing at Vadim's attire, "you sure as hell aren't going to the tourist shop in that, are you?" Slowly walking around the other, as if checking the goods. He tried to crack a light-hearted joke, but all that came out in the end was a quiet, "never saw you in one of those." Not even in the hotel room, the last night. So many firsts, he hadn't realised they had a whole lifetime's worth of firsts - they'd never had the chance.

Vadim stood, felt his shoulders and back tense, like an inspection, funny, that, and funnier that he didn't mind. "I think I'll put on something more. Just didn't want to put the same clothes back on." He turned his head, and grinned at Dan. "You've seen me with nothing on. Does this look so ... ridiculous?"

"Actually, yes." Dan grinned, exhaling the smoke away from Vadim, without thinking. The habit had stuck, and the deep seated knowledge that the other didn't like the nicotine smell. "Maybe not if it fit, but this one makes you look like wearing a skimpy dress. Not a good look on a hairy bloke." Not that the legs he saw were particularly hairy, nor the arms, nor … oh shit. He hadn't seen the body for two and a half years. Didn't know if he wanted to - lest it felt like yet another sucker punch to the guts.

"Was good after the shower", Vadim murmured, and gave a self-conscious grin.

Dan grinned back. "Anyway, come shopping with me? Need something other than combat boots or flip flops and I guess the ragged old shirts I got aren't really for general consumption either."

"Yes. Let me change - will be one minute."

Dan took a deep drag, watching the smoke curl out of his nostrils, "and if I don't wear anything I'd probably make the food go off and the children run away screaming. What with the scars and all. I'm not what one could call particularly pretty." Unlike you, Vadim and your goddamned perfection, except for a word cut in blood and flesh.

Vadim shook his head, already retreating towards the open door. "Pretty is different", he murmured. "Pretty has no scars. You are ..." Jaw muscles tensed again. "Like the morning sky in Afghanistan. Not 'pretty'. Word's 'breathtaking'." In more senses than one. Choking, strangling, intense pain that forbid breathing.

Dan stared at him, silenced by a few words, forgetting the fag that burnt between his fingers, even forgot to breathe. He remembered. Remembered everything, no matter how hard he'd fought to forget the memories. Too painful. You are, and then Vadim had stalled, beautiful. Beautiful. Lapushka. And every touch and kiss still echoing in his body. He watched Vadim leave without another word.

"I'll pick you up. Two minutes." Somewhat hurriedly, Vadim retreated to his bungalow, cursing himself for saying that. Jean called it 'flirting', but it was gut-wrenching, really, speaking his mind when he had very little hope of getting anywhere near what they'd had. Not that it had to happen, nor that it was even very likely: whores were easy to come by - he knew the stories from Jean's crew - youths, children, even, both genders, and a couple very odd combinations if he trusted the stories that floated around camp. Finding something to blow steam with was easy, and if he didn't want to go out hunting, there was always the number of porn channels. But of course, he couldn't help feeling that most poisonous of feelings, the one that had been almost worse than the isolation, that small, resilient hope that Dan would one night be drunk enough, so he had a chance. Even if it was just that night, or the holidays, before they'd return, and Dan would also return to Donahue and Jean the bastard, and maybe get posted somewhere else. It was nostalgia, thought Vadim, shrugging into his clothes and giving himself a last glance in the huge mirror with the carved wooden frame. He didn't look like a civilian at all, the tightness about his features, the unblinking, impassive gaze, like a soldier on parade. There was still the nagging hope.

Dan was standing on the terrace, smoking, already on the second cigarette. Staring out over the beach and its sun drenched beauty. Sky and sea, more blue than he could ask for, and yet it would never compare to the endless skies above the unforgiving mountains in Afghanistan. Breathtaking. Beauty, that's not what he was. Beauty was what he remembered - Vadim.

"There you are." Dan turned when he heard the other approach, tried a smile, but the light-hearted fun was coming harder. "I tried to close the shirt, but the damned buttons are a nightmare one-handed. You either help me, or you'll have to go out with me scaring children away."

"You'd find children are far tougher than you think." Vadim stepped closer, into Dan's personal space, close enough to smell him. Keeping his eyes on his hands, not on Dan's skin, not on Dan's face, not the throat that moved when he swallowed. Closing the buttons. Remembered Katya dressing him, a few times, brushing over his shoulders. Odd tenderness from one so tough. The thought helped doing this.

"Let's go, then."

Dan nodded, said nothing, the lump in his throat made talking difficult.

The shops were open late, Vadim couldn't see any opening times, small wooden huts with reed roofs, stacked in gaudy colours, as crammed and colourful as he had expected. Diving gear, bright shirts, bracelets, card and board games, drinks and snacks, and so many things that Vadim's eyes needed several minutes to take them in. Sort information that was important from information that wasn't. A tiny Thai woman gave them a bright smile, and Vadim had the feeling the smile for him was brighter, which was strange.

"Can I help you, gentlemen?"

Dan hadn't noticed her, he was staring at all the stuff on display. Just like super markets back in Blighty. Too much, and the choice was getting annoying. At least when it came to food he just grabbed anything, and he figured he'd do the same with clothes. What else could he do, since his staples at the Army Surplus shop weren't available in this place and they didn't seem to have straightforward denims, either.

"Uh …" Dan stammered and shrugged. Eyes hidden behind the shades, desperately trying to pick things out. "I need something to wear." Something - anything. What did it matter, unless … "I haven't got a clue. Shirts, shorts, swimming trunks, some kind of shoes. Just stuff." He shrugged.

"Of course. If you would follow me, gentlemen." Assuming, unspoken, that Vadim and Dan belonged together. She led them deeper into the shop - it was a smart design where the small huts were interconnected and the actual shopping space filled several of them, while it looked smaller and picturesque from outside. Here were actual clothes, leisure things, mainly. Shirts, shorts, swimming trunks and bathing suits, security belts and neck pillows, and she stood there, smiling, ever so willingly helpful.

Vadim decided finding trousers was the main issue, and spotted some light trousers that were suitable for jungle expeditions but also looked presentable. "What's your size?"

"I have no fucking clue." Dan stood stunned like a nun in front of a nudist club.

"Hmm. Think you should be close enough to mine." In trousers, anyway. Shirts would be slightly wider on Dan, but still fit nicely. After careful consideration, Vadim handed Dan a selection of colours - tan, sand, grey, olive. "Try these. I'll have a further look." He glanced at the shop assistant, who gave him a little bow, lingering a very polite distance away so she could help when necessary.

"OK." Like a meek raw recruit who was all too thankful to obey orders, Dan vanished behind the curtain of one of the changing booths. Stepping out with the sand coloured pair of trousers on, which fit perfectly, the grey ones over his arm. Looking around for Vadim, who came back with more garments, which made Dan roll his eyes.

Vadim had found jeans - dark blue and indigo, and those colours worked well for Dan, too. Checking the prizes, all seemed fairly affordable anyway, and he spent some time rifling through clothes, selecting those he would want to see on Dan.

"I don't like grey." Shaking his head, Dan held the pair out to Vadim. "Shit colour."

The right shade of grey would be great with that darkened skin, thought Vadim, but that thought ceased when Dan, standing like a very awkward mannequin, lifted the shirt above the waistband. It seemed to say: Look at my scars, and I'm sure you're willing to suck me off now. Lacking, as usual, underwear, and the trail of dark hair was visible.

"OK? Didn't bother with the button. Too awkward with just one bloody hand." Dan's voice sounded long-suffering, even though he'd only tried on one pair. "Are the others the same size? In that case I'll just buy them. I hate shopping." There was a definite whine creeping in.

Vadim took the pile of trousers and handed them to the shop assistant. "Shirts." He'd found some he liked, T-shirts, undershirts, proper button down shirts. "Put on just one and get the ones you like the colours of."

"Cheers." Dan grinned, relieved, managed to wriggle out of his shirt without having to negotiate the buttons, and tried one of each of the items on, except for undershirts, he refused to wear such things. Wifebeaters belonged onto the legionnaire, he'd stick to t-shirts. Picking the same colours as for the trousers, with the addition of charcoal. Arguing with himself it wasn't really grey, when several blues caught his eye, and he held one out to Vadim to add it to the pile. "Here, that one as well." It was a special blue, lapis lazuli. The same colour as the string of prayer beads, left with the Baroness in Dubai. He'd chucked them into the bin in his room, before he'd left to catch that Herc.

At socks and underwear, Dan protested, claiming he wouldn't need more than a couple of pairs anyway, refusing to wear such things as briefs, let alone boxers. Vadim then investigated about a different set of shades. The ones Dan wore still made him look like a merc, reminded him of 'Mad Dog'. Too utilitarian.

Dan shook his head, "What's wrong with mine?" He liked them, they'd survived sand, heat, brawls, fucks, halo jump and helicopter crash, yet he grudgingly chose a pair that made him - in his opinion - look the least like a pretentious twat, failing to realise they gave him a rather sophisticated air, which Vadim relished.

Piling everything up, Vadim pulled his wallet out and flicked it open. It was a new thing, the credit card still stuck to the black leather. "I'm paying this. All inclusive, yes?" While the shop assistant folded everything and explained there was laundry service available and lovely tailors that would tailor suits, linen, wool, cashmere, whatever they wanted, and they were happy to come out here.

"What?" Dan came to the checkout a moment later, wearing the sand coloured trousers and a khaki shirt, the new shades over his eyes, while the transaction was already underway. "I thought I'd pay. I wouldn't have chosen such a fucking great pile if I'd known you paid. Besides, when should I wear all that stuff? Sure as hell not in Kuwait."

Vadim shook his head. "I said all inclusive. You can always throw the stuff away when you're done with it." Doubting Dan would lug the clothes around the world, but that was no reason to not get them. Watching the shop assistant deal with his credit card. As good as cash. Covered, with credit.

"I could get used to this", Vadim murmured. "And don't worry, I'll get my stuff tomorrow morning, before breakfast." Feeling oddly happy about how easily some problems could be solved, and about Dan's new looks. And the fact he could pay him back - if just a little.

Looking over the pile Dan sighed, pointing at it, "You know what's missing? The swimming trunks. And shoes." God, he bloody hated shopping.

Vadim grinned while the shop assistant wrapped the purchases up and took the number of the bungalow. Everything would be delivered. "Back over there." He pointed in the direction where he had seen the trunks. Not sure he wanted to see Dan that exposed. Yes, he did, of course, but seeing a body he wanted and couldn't have ...? "Or do you absolutely need help?"

"No, I'll be fine." Dan shrugged, wandered over, "I'll just pick some, they should fit, but what about shoes? I don't care what I wear, but figured these flip flops are falling apart."

"I care what you wear", muttered Vadim under his breath, then louder: "Let me have a look." He headed towards the area of shop, ever shadowed in the most friendly manner by the shop assistant who had taken a liking to him - or the credit card, which made more sense - and went through the shoes. Sandals, trainers, light loafers, nothing great, but better than military boots. He selected some for Dan, knowing he wore two sizes smaller than Vadim's 'paddles', as Katya had called his feet semi-affectionately. Found a different design for himself, and they did have his size. All that went on the pile as well.

Dan picked two pairs of swimming trunks at random, all in black. One was shorts and the other a briefs style little thing. He had no idea how comfortable any of them were.

Vadim waved the things over and paid again. "There. Kitted out for holidays." He'd do his shopping without Dan. More time, more calm, and too much of Dan's attention made him wistful.

He left the pile with the shop assistant, then looked at Dan. "Have a walk towards the buffet? I could use some protein."

"Sure." Dan left his battered flip flops on the pile, refusing to throw them away, and slipped into black canvas trainers, liked the fact they had an old fashioned feel to them and a round white logo on the side. On top of that they turned out to be rather comfortable. "I'm looking forward to check out their cocktail and dessert menu." He grinned while walking beside Vadim, couldn't help but looking at him, now and then.

"Cocktails is a good idea. I think I'll get wasted today. And sleep long." Ultimate luxury for Vadim: being in a state unfit to fight, and breaking through the five o' clock waking. He'd wake up, unless he drank too much, but he would just turn round and sleep on. Decadence.

"This is odd." Dan gave another glance, "walking like this," he peered, "in broad daylight, and no one there to threaten either of us." He could get used to this, if only … if only he'd have a fucking clue who Vadim had become. Was this man beside him still the man he had craved and loved? Yes, and no. And it drove Dan slowly mad.

Vadim grinned. "Wait till we get to the buffet. But yes, guerrillas and bombs are unlikely." Still, part of him expected something, anything, some primal part of his brain was always tuned into his environment, expected sudden movements, and checked passer-bys for concealed weapons. Paranoia was a habit. He saw access routes, fire corridors, escape routes, and noticed and evaluated cover.

"Any ..." Vadim paused, and the sentence 'any plans for tonight' didn't come out. Drink, eat, sleep, that was the plan. Anything beyond that was none of his business. Frowned, looking to the side to hide the sudden insecurity. "I hope you'll enjoy this place." Whatever you do, have fun.

"Aye," Dan grinned, "I sure am determined to, and think you've got an excellent idea. Getting pissed on cocktails sounds just brilliant. Race you down and up the cocktail menu?"

Vadim nodded. "But we have wildcards, just in case one of them is really horrible." Knowing Dan's taste for sweet stuff, Dan would be fine. He himself wasn't too sure, even if he had no idea what the vast majority were.

They reached the buffet area, where just about everything imaginable was spread out. Small tables scattered on the patio, all in view of the beach and the sea and the spectacular sunset that was beginning to approach.

Vadim looked at the piles of lobster, ice sculptures, daintily carved carrots and melons that looked like exotic plants, and prepared fruit he had never seen in his life. Nowhere. No magazine, no nothing. Just completely alien. "Let's grab some food, and then get wasted."

Dan grinned, snatched a plate and started on the seafood end. After the first helping he went onto the chicken and other winged birds, and the third round dug into the meat selection. Only nibbling on the odd piece of fruit, he preferred dead animals, as he lovingly called his platefuls. Vadim mainly stuck to fish and lobster and seemed almost guilty at the amount of lobster he ate.

Ravenous, Dan stuffed himself, ending up at the dessert bar, and heaping a helping of each of the delicacies onto his plate, as if there was no tomorrow.

They sat on one of the small two-person tables, candles and flower arrangements between them. The spectacular sunset bathed beach and sea in a fiery glow, and the gentle sound of the surf was lapping against the sand. It was fucking picture postcard perfect, so good, that when Dan sucked on the double-straw in his garishly coloured and decorated sixth cocktail, he took the shades off. Looking at the man opposite to him, who licked some lobster juice off his fingers. "Another first." He smiled, busied himself with his drink.

"First what?" Vadim wiped his lips with the back of his hand, then saw another tourist look disapproving at him and took up the cloth napkin to wipe his lips again.

Dan was licking some running chocolate off his hand, that was threatening to make its way into the cuff of his brand new shirt. Lapping with his tongue at the sticky sweetness. "Eating, like this." He rubbed the last bit off with his napkin. "Eating outside. Just this …" he put his spoon down, looking at Vadim for a moment, "together. Not having to hide." That was it, that was what kept getting to him: they didn't have to hide, they could just be.

Vadim looked down at the lobster mass grave. "And not being ashamed." He paused, curious how that feeling had crept into his life, but then it hit him, and he shook his head.

Dan's head shot up. "What?" His stance suddenly changed, alert, uncomprehending. But he should, really, shouldn't he? Understand. He knew what they charged Vadim with in the end, but he just couldn't go there.

"I mean … I'm not … a traitor, you are not collaborating. There is nobody who … will fuck us up. Still, we …" manage quite nicely on our own, fucking us up. "… have reflexes, yes? It's too deep."

"Of course you are not a traitor." Dan's hand clenched into a fist, involuntarily. The booze was keeping him somewhat mellow, but hell, he couldn't just let this slip past. Shaking his head, "you are right, though, everything is too deep. You are, I am, we are. You're in my bones, my blood, and in my being." Covering any other thoughts by quickly turning round and waving to a waiter, ordering two more cocktails of whatever was next on the list.

Vadim watched the waiter clear away the plates and the last big glasses with their remaining fruit peel and residue of sugar, and some mint leaf amidst melting shards of ice. "I …" He looked up, then shook his head. "Shouldn't make this mistake. I shouldn't. I should fucking … keep things … civil. Normal, but … I can't keep it up." Muttering under his breath, while Dan looked at him, alarmed, yet Vadim's thoughts went straight to the tongue. "You're the only thing I … miss, the … one thing that makes sense. If you … can't … can't stand me anymore, that's … alright, if all you want to do is fuck, that's alright, if all you want to do is talk, yes, but … more difficult. You call the shots. You call all the shots. Your decision. Your call." Vadim felt his chest was too tight to properly breathe with. "And I fucked it up again. Bravo, you stupid fuck." Groaning.

"Oh shit." Dan's hand surreptitiously opened and clenched, needing to feel the polished wood to gather his thoughts. Damned cocktails, they made everything so much brighter, and muddled the words at the same time. "It doesn't work like this." He hardly noticed the waiter who put two more glasses down, neon red this time. "I can't just fuck around with you, it would finish me off. Didn't you listen to what I told you on the rooftop?" He felt desperate, no matter how much he understood - or tried to - Vadim's own desperation.

Yes, but it didn't make any sense. Wanting and not wanting, hating, loving, it was all a mess and Vadim was unable to think clearly, not with all the contradictions, not with Dan being there and not being there. The past, fucking past, and the inability to start over or break it off, trapped in stasis like insects in amber. Vadim bit his teeth together. Still some kind of no. He wasn't good at it, and he had ruined the evening, the meal, the plan to get pleasantly drunk.

"If I touched you, that'd be it." Dan shook his head, "Damn, how the fuck am I going to make you understand?" Pleading, almost, "You are everything, don't you get it? You are the Afghan mountains, the damned red dust, the endless sky. You were my home, and more often than not, also my reason. You are unlike all the others, unlike anyone I shag, because when I touch you it's not just a touch, it's eleven years of heaven and hell."

The others. And again the past. Vadim wished it had never got that far - they'd just met, different circumstances, indeed nothing but two men with a taste for other men, strong ones, without all the shit, the darkness, without the guilt and shame and debts. Only then he would never be able to compete with guys like Jean, or Donahue. In the looks department, and in the charms area, he was pathetically outgunned by either of them. "You are same", he said, tonelessly, felt like he was being choked, and noticed he'd dropped the article.

Dan looked down onto his hand that had flattened on the surface, palm pressed against warm wood. "I told you I love you and that's why I hated you; only you could bring me that far." His voice quietened, "I'm not even saying it is your fault. I realise that there is too much I don't understand, and that's why I need to get to know you. Who are you now, Vadim? I want to know you, I need to understand."

But I don't understand myself. I don't know how and why I broke and why I just don't heal. I don't get what they did to me, and what I allowed them to do. Understanding was impossible. How did Dan expect to work him out after all this?

Leaning closer, Dan's voice had softened to almost a caress, "Give me breathing space, and give me a chance." His smile bordered on sad, "that's why I came with you, hoping that here, away from everything, we can scrape the shit back together."

Time. More nights, more longing, more of that aching, empty, pointless pain. "You have time." Two weeks. Pathetic. It wouldn't work. But then, a week could be forever, if spent alone in the mountains. Torture only took a few hours. Who are you, Vadim? I have no idea. "They just ... fucked me up worse than I ever was. This is ... not me. This is my broken bones."

"I am beginning to see that." Dan said quietly, "but I haven't had a chance yet to really understand. I was too hurt and too angry; I was too blind."

Vadim forced himself to breathe, looked at the cocktail, and swallowed dryly. He wanted to be safe, and sitting here exposed didn't work. He should be scurrying for safety, and knew that no hotel room was big enough that he wouldn't feel trapped. One thing he could do to not feel himself that badly right now. Go swimming. Escape into the ocean. He was drunk, but not too badly. If he could walk, he could swim. "You have time. I'm sorry. Was a mistake, bringing it up."

Dan shook his head but said nothing, didn't know what. He'd verbalised his thoughts best he could, but even the thoughts were confused. What he did know for certain was how hard it was to sit that close and not to touch, while all he wanted was touch. He settled back in the chair again, tried another smile at Vadim, before sampling the cocktail. He'd get drunk tonight, come what may.

Vadim nodded at that smile, didn't have enough control to return it, and stood. "Thanks for the company. I ... appreciate it." Sounded wrong and formal, but he needed the distance now, and could only fall back on his manners. "Jet lag. I ... should lie down." Placed his hand flat on the table for a heartbeat when Dan nodded. "Give me a call when you want. Good night."

He moved away, forced himself into complete stoicism on the way to the bungalow, where he shed the clothes, again sickeningly pulled towards the mirror, looking at himself when he undressed. Didn't look broken. Nothing showed what was going on inside, only that haunted, pained expression in his eyes. "Fuck you", Vadim muttered, and meant the torturer, and himself.

Then he headed out onto the beach, kept his shorts on, he didn't want to expose himself completely, bad enough as it already was, and headed into the ocean that lapped at his feet, ankles, knees, thighs, warm and alive. Much, much better than he remembered it, and he dove into the waves, the moon bright enough to find his way and tell land from sea.

* * *

Dan watched Vadim retreat until he could not see him anymore, then emptied his glass in one go, before starting on the one Vadim had left, while ordering another. The sun had long set and the terrace was aglow with the light of candles in coloured glasses, creating jewelled patterns on the wooden decking. Dan sat, his shades back on, looking out over the beach and the ocean, listening to voices around him and the sound of the surf, the one constant amongst the chaos. Sky, sea, and yet he was missing the mountains.

At some stage, a lady came up to his table. A tourist like him, smiling and asking if he minded company, but while he tried to be polite as he declined, Dan couldn't bear to sit and attempt small talk, least of all when there was no chance of suitable sex afterwards. But even sex seemed stale. He wasn't sure if right now he'd want to fuck around with Matt or Hooch, not even Jean. They all had either someone or no one, black or white, and not this fucked up sense of longing, need, and equal measures of dread.

When he was drunk enough and the coloured lights began to swirl with the rhythm of the ocean, he made his way back to the bungalow. Couldn't help but look out for Vadim, or at least light from the windows, but saw nothing. Perhaps it was simply too late; the night, the time and their lives.

He fell asleep on top of the bed, naked, sprawled across, not anymore noticing the itching beneath the plaster cast, and hardly neither the one feeling that had been increasing steadily since they'd boarded the plane: desire.

* * *

Dan slept long the next morning, was neither woken by sunshine streaming into the vast room, nor by an attempt to deliver the clothes Vadim had bought the day before. Not even by birds chirping as if there was nor tomorrow, and neither by hunger, thirst nor heat. Booze was a great tranquilizer and he'd done his best to kill himself off.

When he finally emerged into the sunlight, smoking a cigarette on the veranda, he blinked into the light, despite the shades. Half-woken himself by a shower, he wore the new swimming shorts from the pile that had waited in front of his door, and a t-shirt over it to avoid curdling milk and blinding innocent children with the scarred look of his body. Feet in brand new flip flops, the old ones reluctantly discarded at last, he pondered to search for brunch himself, ask for room service, or get down to the beach to soak in the sun and do just about nothing, or to try and see if Vadim was around.

He was cursing himself when, predictably, he went for the latter and was calling out Vadim's name from the veranda.

Vadim was still in bed. He had managed to sleep through the five o' clock threshold. Doors and windows were open, a gentle breeze coming into the bungalow, making palm leaves rustle outside.

Dan calling his name got him awake instantly, and he cursed himself for not having followed his original plan to go shopping before Dan would, most likely, appear. Then again - no schedule, no fixed times, no deadlines. "Come on in." He got out of the bed, grabbed the pile of clothes on a carved stool and vanished into the bathroom, earning himself a perplexed look from Dan, who didn't get the haste.

"Bored already?" Vadim called, starting to get dressed. Knew his body would betray him if he was too close, and he wanted to keep things ... less intense. And showing Dan what lying semi-awake and somewhat lonely did to his body, with blood in the wrong parts, would be a great way to 'be friends' for the moment.

"Why?" Lighting another fag, Dan scratched his stomach, looking for somewhere to sit and settling on the bed. Drawn to the tumbled sheets, still warm from the body, and still harbouring the scent.

"Just ... asking."

"Wondered if you wanted to go for brunch, didn't expect you to be still in bed."

"Took me a while to fall asleep. I was swimming."

Dan's hand kept gliding over the sheets, "I won't be able to do much other than lying around on the beach, anyway." Smiling to himself. "Woe is me and all that."

Vadim checked himself in the mirror, tried a number of different 'positive expressions' - grin, smirk, smile - then opened the door. "Well, there's a number of activities. You don't have to get fat and lazy here."

Dan grinned, "wouldn't mind a bit of the 'fat' thing. It's a hell of a job to keep the weight on." Fuck, that reminded him, he'd forgotten to take his pills, two days in a row.

"Well, you certainly gave it a go yesterday." Vadim stepped out and gave positive expression number three: a smile - which faltered a little with Dan sitting on the bed. Would love to kiss him and get him to stretch out, with him on top. "I was planning to get the whole full body traditional Thai massage."

"Sounds good to me," Dan turned his head to look at Vadim, smiling in return. "Unless they go heavy handed on the bruises." Fag between his lips, he used his right hand to swiftly lift his t-shirt, showing off the truly spectacular arrangement of blues, greens, yellows, purples and browns. "Think it'd do that stuff any good? I look like a human camo pattern."

Lines of muscles, and scars, and ... well, more colours than was painless. "It would. There are few things in the world that a good massage can't make better." Vadim grinned, and his grin broadened suddenly. Afghanistan. Mass grave. And 'massage'. Too precious an opening to not use. "Of course, the Thai girls have much smaller hands."

It took Dan a second to cotton on, but when he did he almost choked on his own fag. Dropping the shirt back down, he didn't know what to do with himself. "Aye." The most intelligent answer he could find, "guess so." He remembered to take the cigarette out of his mouth, gazed at the growing ash, and got up. Flicking the ash off was a great excuse to get onto the veranda and away from the memories. As if. "Food first, then. Massage after that, and whatever those Thai girls can come up with."

Vadim kept his features carefully neutral. Embarrassing Dan, even if it was just an attempt at banter, wouldn't get him further. "I need to buy a few things … clothes, so if you want to start with breakfast, I'll join you in a few minutes?"

"Sure, I'll see you later, then." Casting a swift smile at Vadim, Dan headed off to the buffet area, where he started a long and complicated meandering pattern through all the delicacies that were laid out amongst fresh flowers, crushed ice and beautifully carved fruit. He was taking his time, working his way through plateful after plateful, as if he were a hoover. Never satisfied with enough food, yet never gaining weight.

Vadim forced himself to go to the shop, where the little Thai woman tried her utmost to help him without being pushy, and he found himself relish the kindness that was both completely innocent and heartfelt - without the trace of idea what he was, or who he was, or what he was capable of doing.

It might be like that one day, he thought, when retiring. The old men in the Moscow Metro, some of them had been killers once, killing Germans, but now they just were old and spent and some of them kind, but no one thought of them as killers anymore. Or maybe in a place as far removed from everything as Thailand. A country without Cold War, and without the memory of one.

He bought what he thought he needed, rather one shirt more than too few, swimming trunks as well, clinging things that traced the lines of his hips and sat there like second skin. Dark blue, two of them, because he liked the cut, and a somewhat more daring one with far less cloth and far more expensive. Now, that was displaying the wares.

Dan was getting dreadfully bored with looking at the scenery through his shades, when he finally caught a glance of a tall, blond man. Strange, how suddenly something jumped from stomach to throat, his insides entirely occupied with churning over while gazing at Vadim.

Vadim found Dan almost immediately and headed towards his table. "This place available?"

Dan's face broke into a grin and nodded, while pointing at the bag Vadim carried. "Took an awful long time to buy very little. Anyway, what is it?" Trying to take a peek.

Vadim shook his head. "Just swimming gear." Keeping the bag covered when Dan shrugged. "I thought about a swim after the massage. If I can get up again. You're finished already?"

"I'm stuffed full, you better play catch-up before the little Thai girls get their hands on us."

"Good idea." Vadim left the bag with Dan, didn't think he would actually check it, and gathered a pile of bites - some of this, some of that - before returning. "Not a real English breakfast, hm?"

"That's probably a good thing. After all, if you can't have square sausage and black pudding for breakfast, then you shouldn't bother." Dan grinned, lit a fag, but kept it out of Vadim's reach and blew the smoke the other way.

Vadim shook his head. Square sausage? What was that supposed to mean. And pudding. Typical of Dan to start breakfast with a dessert.

"How long did you swim last night? I checked if there was light when I got back, but your place was dark."

"I don't really know. A couple hours?" Yes, the moon had been somewhere else when he returned, and he remembered nearly crawling through the surf, deliciously exhausted."I tend to lose track of time. Like in the athlete school. You were finished when the coach said 'finished'."

"The coach ... that's not the masseur, is it?"

"Oh no. No." Vadim laughed and shook his head. "The coach was a bastard. He said we'd become proper swimmers, or drown. We were young enough to believe him."

"How young were you anyway? And how the hell did you get into swimming, or sports, in the first place?" Dan was leaning closer, beginning to realise there were whole worlds worth of information about Vadim he didn't know.

"I was good at sports in school. And there were … head-hunters around. I don't know how exactly all that worked in my case, but they offered us a 'special school', 'special training', and the potential to join the official team, while still finishing school properly. Well, I trained to become a swimmer. And I was then later mustered for the two years military service, and kept up my training - becoming spetsnaz and an officer was a way to combine both. Many Soviet athletes had a military background, it was their idea. But I wasn't good enough, overall. Not as a swimmer, anyway, and the Pentathlon team … well, you know the story. But I was an officer, and spetsnaz, so they sent me to Tadjikistan, later Afghanistan."

Dan listened attentively and nodded occasionally. He wanted to ask questions about Vadim's family, and most of all The Bitch, but he couldn't, lest his painful secret should ever come out. "Aye, and that was that, then. We started our story eleven years ago, on a goddamned horrible night in Kabul."

A small smile ghosted across Dan's face, twisting the scar into darkness. "I never asked … but is it correct that you were taken out of Afghanistan the very same morning of the kidnapping?" Two and a half years in blindness.

Vadim put the fork down, didn't want to eat with that subject between them. Would only taste ashes and dust, anyway. "Yes. Straight to Kabul airport. Rushed out of the country, left with what was probably the very first plane leaving. I couldn't see anything."

Dan nodded, his voice lowering, as if using too much volume would make the past even more unbearable. "I thought so. I just about made it to the embassy, but we could not find any trace of you anymore, and I wasn't able to get out of the compound." He had just about finished his fag, lighting another. Taking a deep drag, Dan stared at the smoke. How apt, it all curled in tendrils into nothing. "They had KGB killers in the hotel."

Vadim looked up. "They were comrades. If you killed them, you killed men that were trained …" along the same lines as I was.

"If they lived I wouldn't be alive." Dan looked at his hand that was holding the fag.

"They deserved what they got. If I'd had any chance to kill any of them, I would have." Vadim rubbed his neck, remembering the horror of being dragged around half the world only to enact some petty revenge for a crime he'd never committed. Pure spite. No justice being served. Just because they could. Just the KGB saying 'fuck you' to the Interior Ministry.

"I have always wondered for how long they had known. The whole setup …" Dan trailed off, it made him sick to think of the camera, of others dissecting the pictures like vultures. "Fucking film." Murmured.

"Yes. Might have been my superior. Might have been somebody wondering … I have no idea. I was careful. Maybe they didn't expect us in that room, or were spying on you as the head of security. They never told me …" Of course not. Keep the interrogated guessing as much as possible.

Dan shook his head, "I don't know, have no idea. Maggie was the only one who knew about us, but fuck, she'd go down with the Titanic if she had to." He shrugged, inhaled the smoke, "I just don't know." It took him a while to get up the courage to ask, and Dan's voice was getting flatter. "So your … father told you the 'story'?" He swallowed, and a thought crept into his mind. If it was too hard for him to talk about this, how would it be for Vadim? But there was so much that had never been said, how could they go anywhere if they were stuck three steps behind?

Vadim looked to the side. Sun, beach, tourists checking their cameras, smiling Thais. Not Moscow. Not the Lubyanka. Not trapped, beaten, fucked up. "He did." His father. Tears of shame for the man, tears of sorrow for the son. Vadim struggled. "It was … relief. They were fucking with my head. Getting confirmation you'd made it … I thought I was ready to die … when I heard you'd made it."

"I …," what, Dan. Are glad that the father told the story? Thankful for The Bitch that she had kept the end of the godforsaken bargain? "I wanted you to know that I loved you." Funny, swallowing had become nearly impossible. "It was … the last thing I could do, when …" you were about to die and I was screaming inside, ready to give up living and instead just exist. "I could never thank your father." Barely above a whisper.

Vadim closed his eyes. "I knew. At some point … all I did was hope you'd … go on. You know. Find … somebody and live." He inhaled deeply. "My father asked me what it meant … why I …" was crying like the most wretched soul on the planet. "I told him it means that … if they kill me, that's the price to pay. I never believed in anything he believed in, all his ideas about Russia's true soul … he was disappointed I was unprincipled, with no higher aspirations in life. He said I was a true Soviet, and that was not … a compliment. I told him I finally knew what I wanted, and had for a while." Vadim swallowed. "He asked me whether it was correct that … I'd, you know. Had sex with an enemy. Whether it was true. That I'd lied all the time."

Dan didn't want to interrupt, hardly dared to move, let alone make a noise. Waited until nothing further seemed to be forthcoming before he quietly asked, "Lied?" Vadim's family? The wife? That life that had nothing to do with him, Dan, except for those dreadful hours in Hungary, one and a half years ago.

"Lied about … Katya, and who I was." Vadim kept his eyes in the distance. "I told him yes. I'm a liar, a faggot, a killer, a war criminal … and not the good man he tried to make me. That I didn't have his convictions. His faith. That all I had was my … emotions." Vadim shook his head. "He said he couldn't understand how I could shame him and my family in this way … on top of all the others. But that he'd forgive me … I'm his son, whatever I do."

"Shame?" Dan felt cold anger creeping up on him, from behind and right through the heart. "What fucking shame? The fact you fucked me? Loved me? Wanted me? Or the fact you are gay? I remember distinctly you told me once, a long time ago, that that was just the way it was and I shouldn't get uptight about it." Or maybe he just imagined it, probably, but what the hell did it matter.

"That I admitted to being gay. Publicly. I have no idea what it meant to my family. There were … lots of emotions involved. Spite. There is no free press. Not even the other Afganets got involved, or the 'peace activists'."

"You are not a war criminal, Vadim. You're just fucking gay, that's hardly a crime." And they would have thrown him out of the British Forces, dishonoured, if they'd ever known. "Whatever lies are on a piece of paper with your signature, I know as much as you do, that you never committed any crime. Not with me anyway."

Vadim looked up. "No. The other things I did. A disgrace to the Soviet Army and my fellow officers."

"'Other things', you mean the sex? And raping silent conscripts wouldn't have been a disgrace?" Dan's eyes were on fire, but hidden behind the shades.

"No. That was one of them. One of the crimes." Or a few dozen. He had no idea how many. Couldn't remember. They'd been just bodies, not even numbers. Something he had committed because he was gay.

"What were those crimes? I want to know." Demand even. Needing to bloody well understand.

Vadim shook his head. "Fighting the war the way we did. The conscripts were just tools. The murders, the assassinations, the … meatgrinder. The beatings. The fact we put these children into this place and watched them get … fucked up."

"And your family? They used you as much as you used them." What about them, what about the fucking Bitch whose head Dan still wanted to rip off.

"That's too simple, Dan. Family sticks together. My children. My father. His family, cousins and uncles … It's all connected, all one. It's not about using, it's about helping."

"Then, answer me that, how much did you help them, and how much did they help you in return? It's damn easy to be self righteous when you get money sent from the fool out there in hell."

"It's my duty as the son and husband to provide if they need something. My father raised me. I owe him respect, as much as we disagree on politics. And there were good things, too. He taught me a lot. It's family, Dan. The money doesn't matter."

"Fucking bullshit!" The cigarette long finished, Dan's fist slammed onto the table, causing some of the patrons to glance over, perturbed. "A man fucks a woman." Or vice versa? Not go there. "A child grows in the woman. The child is born. And the child is supposed to be bloody thankful for that? So, would it have been better if you had topped yourself, way back, when you realised you were gay? Because then you wouldn't have brought the dishonour of having a homosexual son, cousin, uncle, father, goodness what into the family?"

Vadim swallowed. "This way I could belong, Dan. It was my shot at a life. Something more than killing people. Be … respected. Have a part in something." He shook his head. "They would have never known about me, if they … if the KGB hadn't decided to make this agony. They tried to kill me in all ways. Even in … the hearts of my family. Of course they asked what they had done wrong. How they could have helped me."

That shot right into his guts and poured acid in Dan's heart. Agony and killing in all ways, in his heart as well? "Who asked, your family? Your father? Your … ex-wife?" He could hardly say the word.

"My father. Katya knew. Katya always knew. She was the only one who knew. Played along for the family, too. Hers, and mine."

"Hers, as in her children?" Too thin the ice, and Dan shook his head. No, not this subject, and he looked at his hand, flat on the table now.

"Her parents. She fooled everybody." Vadim shook his head. "I just hope it didn't catch up with her. But she should be safe."

Dan shook his head, couldn't go on. Not this subject. Too close, and far too personal. He looked up and shook his head again, like a wet dog. "Anyway, the Thai massage?" Yes, he was a coward for changing the subject like that, but there was too much he had to think about.

Vadim nodded and stood. Relaxing would be good now, just maybe drift off to sleep, and forget all that. At least for a little. Until he could face it again. They headed towards one of those reed covered huts, carved, golden shimmering wood, where the Thai girls awaited them.

Just a little later, Vadim was flat on his back on a wooden massage bed, a towel wrapped around his waist, and smelt oil and something more aromatic, herbs, flowers … sandalwood? He had no idea.

Dan was lying close by. Two of the four massage beds were unoccupied, and they were alone, both stripped, and lying down. Dan had his eyes open, watching the girls, the shades still on his face. They hadn't reacted much to the sight of his torn body, the politeness impeccable, and nodding with understanding smiles when confronted with the bruises. Dan was trying hard not to look at Vadim, too great the temptation, but eventually, while they were working on him with skilful hands and warmed oils, his head fell to the side and his eyes drooped onto half-mast, unable to stop looking. The body, just as he remembered it, yet different to the thin and pale man who had come out of the woods at the Finnish border. No, not thinking about that night. If he did, he wanted to carve the loss into Vadim's flesh and he'd done that before. A decade ago.

Vadim relaxed almost immediately - and it was very different from the massage he had known. The small girl used her whole body to work on him, moved him around, at some point she was using her feet, standing on him, and he groaned when something in his lower back moved into place, a locked vertebrae, most likely, or something about his hip bone. After that, he was hers.

They were a lot gentler with Dan, working gently on the bruises and giving his body the symmetry back that his muscles had lost when he got battered in the crash. He couldn't help but relax until he fell asleep, lying on his front, and snoring quietly.

* * *

The rest of the day was spent with doing 'the touristy thing' as Dan called it, taking a ride inland to look at temples, statues, and whatever else was considered to be worth gazing at, until Dan had enough after a few hours. His attention span clearly overstretched after the third temple and the umpteenth sculpture of smiling gold. When they got back, he opted for an afternoon on the beach, lying in the sun and sipping more of those sweet cocktail concoctions. Soaking up sun while covering up the worst of his scars, while Vadim went out into the ocean once more, swimming.

That night, at dinner, Dan had made an effort after his shower, and dressed in something other than shorts and flip flops. Instead he had gone raiding the pile and pulled out a pair of khaki jeans, more or less blindly searching for a top, deciding on a sand coloured shirt, and went for the Chucks once more. He even stopped for a moment to look at the mirror before heading out to the buffet area to meet Vadim. He even took the obligatory shades off, once he had reached the table.

Vadim was wearing a pair of light trousers and an open white shirt which showed his skin was reddened, but not burnt yet. Another day like that, and he would, so he planned to have more 'treatments' as they called it, massage, waxing, he might even take part in a couple of the classes, meditation, and yoga, which seemed to be a very fashionable thing to do. He looked up from the Thai interpretation of a Caesar's salad. It was already easier to be around Dan - no awkward formality. It just seemed to fall back into ways he knew - or at least could deal with.

Dan smiled, grinned at the reddened skin, remembering all those times Vadim had complained about the sun, back in Afghanistan, then sat down. He wasn't going to skirt around the subject tonight, and when he tucked into a bowl of shrimps, he launched the first attack. "I think it's time we find out what on earth happened in the meantime. For example, I'd like to know, how the fuck did you actually get here? I mean, how did they put you back together? You look like you used to look, not the pale skeleton from over half a year ago."

Vadim put the fork down and reached for the water, drinking a huge glass of cold water, gathering his thoughts. "I think it's the baroness who's to blame. I had some ... trouble in Sweden, and somebody there convinced me to ... face my past." Vadim grinned, shaking his head, when Dan rolled his eyes. "Or something. To deal with it. I ... found her and was in touch, to ... let you know, and maybe find a place to live, somehow. She was far more generous than I hoped, and gave me a ... chance to live. Passport. Something to do. I was trained with the Royal Marines, and passed SAS selection. Wasn't easy on these old bones. Apart from that, I improved my English, too."

"You fucking bastard!" Dan exclaimed with a grin. His equally surprised and impressed expression contrary to the words. "You passed selection? At forty-one?" Shaking his head while muttering, "only you, you butt-fuck crazy Russkie."

"I had a head start over the kids, though. I know survival. The interrogation part, that was hard. But they prepared me well: Medical supervision, diet plan, counselling. A very nice older doctor made sure my nutbox of a brain complied. Training was hard enough to forget a great many things ... not thinking is a luxury. Be all you can be, isn't it? They got me back into ... well, almost back into what I would have been like if it hadn't happened. I hoped they would send me where you were ... to ... apologize. To ... tell you I'm fucked up and that's why ... I left you. I just couldn't walk, let alone ... run, I could feel nothing. I didn't feel myself. I couldn't even think, really, wasn't the ... wasn't me. And I hated ... myself for having ... these problems. I kept thinking of the bullet. Would be a great deal ... less difficult."

Dan swallowed, put the fork down, wiping his greasy fingers. "And here I was yelling at you, calling you a fucking cunt and being ready to smash your face in, even wanting to kill you. All because I was so goddamned hurt." He dropped his gaze, taking in a deep breath before looking back up. "I am sorry, Vadim. I did not … could not understand."

Vadim lowered his gaze and felt his throat constrict. If he wasn't careful he'd start crying, and he just couldn't. "It's alright. I fucked it up, too. I should have stayed. But I just couldn't feel."

Dan dropped his eyes once more when Vadim looked away, staring at the other's hand, which lay curled into a loose fist on the table. His own so close, palm flattened, all he wanted was to reach out across the few inches and touch. But he couldn't, knew what would happen if he touched Vadim. He'd never let go again and he didn't quite dare yet. "I don't know … what that's like. It's hard to understand ... to understand you. What I can do, what I can't; what you feel, what you can't stand, and why … you scream." If he touched, would it all cease to matter? Trying to catch Vadim's eyes, and Vadim seemed reluctant, no, ashamed to meet his gaze, on the verge of turning away.

"I don't remember when I wake up. Only ... hazy things, like ... fear. I fear going mad. I fear nothing's real, and I'm still in that ... box."

"I wish I could tell you what I felt since you were taken."

Vadim nodded, silently, fighting that wave of nausea and pain, the darkness that welled up. "Yes."

Yes? Dan frowned. Yes. This time, that meant a 'no'. "OK." But it wasn't. None of this was, neither he nor Vadim nor the whole situation. If only he could free himself from this man, but he had drunk the poison, all those years ago, and he would never be able to wash it out of his system. Best face it, Vadim was in his bones, his blood, his thoughts and his heart. The crucial question was simply 'how', not 'if'.

"I guess I … get some more food." His plate still mostly full, Dan stood up and turned away.

Vadim suddenly reached out and put a hand on Dan's arm, trying to hold him back before he turned away. "I just ... feel guilty as fuck." He stood while Dan stared silently at his hand.

Sitting there, eating, Vadim couldn't manage. He wanted to run, to swim, to exert himself. "And I shouldn't be ... jealous. I wanted you to find somebody else. Now that you have ... I should be glad for you. No use trying to force anything."

"I haven't 'found anyone else'. What the fuck makes you think that?" Vadim's hand on his arm felt like a searing presence. He wanted to claw at it, take it, hold it and press it against his skin. Did nothing instead. "I'm blowing off a bit of steam with some guys. Hell, how many blokes did you fuck with, raped conscripts excluded, with whom you were nothing but mates?"

"Four." Sasha, Vanya, Gavriil, Platon. But Sasha had been far more interested in Katya. Platon had been the only one with whom he'd spend any significant amount of time - up to the point that Platon's comrades had thought them friends. That memory didn't hurt, didn't trigger shame, it was just there, with a faint bit of regret, didn't really touch him. "But Jean is better for you. Or the Yank. They don't hurt you."

Dan's voice was getting angry, "where in all the fuck's name did you get that idea from?"

"I have eyes. And there's always the bullet, Dan. It's not just words. I have no idea how much it cost you. I guess it was worse for you ... all I had to do was ... somehow get through it."

"What?" That was it, and Dan exploded. Shook the hand off his arm, and caused several of the tourists to turn their heads. "Are you fucking mad? Don't talk to me about suicide, you bastard. Don't you dare take yourself out of the gene pool, not now, not again. And what if it was 'worse' for me? Who knows, I don't, and we will never find out. I wasn't tortured. Fuck, all that matters is that you are alive. Remember the bullet? The one that you gave me on the roof? You'll live, you understand? Fuck you, to all hell and back, you'll bloody well live!"

Several people had dropped their forks and knives, and conversation in their immediate surroundings had stopped. Vadim was too stunned to do or think anything.

Dan even forgot his shades when he stormed off, towards the beach, fuming with frustrated rage.

* * *

Dan was roaming the beach in moonlight, until he had calmed down enough to gather a coherent thought. He couldn't understand that Vadim just wouldn't get it, that no matter what he said, the other would only understand a strange gobbledegook, some weird-ass transliterated meaning that kept coming back again and again to 'you are a failure you lost him you hurt him he doesn't want you' or similar shit. It was like speaking in an alien language that no matter how hard Dan tried, would only ever translate into something negative.

How could Vadim misunderstand everything? Words like 'I love you and always will' or 'if I touch you I am lost, I want you I need you', and 'they are buddies, the sex means nothing except for fun', how the fuck could they all end up translated into something Dan had never meant and did not even understand. It hurt, and he was helpless, but when it came down to it, he knew he would never be free from Vadim. He could either make this hell, or take at least what he could.

Dan finally made his way into town, found some night clubs, tried a pussy one first, then ventured into a 'ladyboys' one, not quite sure what on earth that meant, only to fend clusters of beautiful 'girls' off, who, no matter how male they were beneath, did not spark his interest in the slightest.

It was well into the early hours of the night, when he returned to his bungalow, with several drinks inside, but no closer to clarification, let alone a solution.

* * *

Vadim sat on the veranda - not his own, but Dan's. Simply because he couldn't really observe Dan's bungalow from his own veranda. Dan was gone when he'd checked, and Vadim assumed he would be back. He hadn't checked out, hadn't been on any transfer buses or taxis to the airport. For all their unobtrusive near invisible service, these Thais sure saw everything.

He had tried to read, but couldn't concentrate. It was like the words went right through him, like concentration failed, his mind didn't grasp the words, and he didn't want to read something that didn't require attention, so he sat on Dan's veranda, watching the oddly luminous surf lap at the beach, and the stars above. Didn't feel hungry or thirsty, just sitting there, shorts, shirt, swimming trunks underneath just in case he needed to escape into the ocean. What he liked about the ocean was the fact that it was the direct opposite to a wall. Or a room. It just went on, for as far as he could reach, and further.

He heard steps.

Dan had just lit another cigarette, the sizzling sound of burning tobacco and the smell of nicotine preceded his arrival. Walking up the couple of steps he stopped dead, seeing a shadow sitting in one of the chairs. No, not shadow, too light the hair, and those eyes reflected the starlight.

"Hey, Russkie." He murmured a greeting.

Vadim turned his head to face Dan fully, then smiled. "Hey, Dan. You alright? I couldn't sleep." Hey, stranger, fancy meeting you here. Any plans for tonight? If it only was that easy.

"Aye." Blowing smoke into the air, Dan looked at those eyes and the smile. There was no escape, that was it. He'd better accept it. "Been to a couple of clubs. 'Ladyboys' are a strange thing." He shrugged, leaning against the railing.

"Are they?" Vadim had no idea what they were, only knew that Thailand catered to the most bizarre appetites. He studied Dan, thought it didn't matter if he'd visited a whore, didn't matter at all.

"Aye." The Dan fell silent, smoking, until he finally offered some more of an explanation. "They look like beautiful girls but are boys. Not my type. Boys do nothing for me, only men do." Another plume of smoke, "real men. Even Jarheads don't quite cut it. Too young."

Vadim smiled, again. He couldn't imagine Dan with a boy. Let alone one in female dress. How weird was that? Something one wanted dressed up as something that one didn't want. "Donahue? Very young." Conscript age, slightly more than that. Not very satisfying, but he had been able to make do with it. Or Platon. Yes, they could be young, but they had to have courage and willpower and they had to be smart.

"Matt. His name is Matt, and he's been gracious enough to still talk to me, but I don't think he'll ever go for the tall blond Slavic types." Dan shrugged, and somehow he didn't care anymore what he was saying. Didn't matter, did it? Since whatever he said was misunderstood anyway. "Still, the kid taught me a lesson."

"He did?" Vadim paused, wondering what that lesson could have been. Faltered, and finally asked. "What did he teach you?"

"That sex can be fun. Just that: fun. No more, no less. No strings attached and no hidden depths. Just plain old fun with someone who doesn't own your body and soul." The fag was almost finished, he chucked it over the railing into the sand. "You should be thankful to him, actually. Because frankly, he came at the right time. I had just got myself into the habit of suicide missions and fights with really bad odds against myself. Seeking every scrap of fucked-up adrenaline I could find, when he showed me that there's something else worth living for." He shrugged again, "Fun. Sex. Laughter." Fishing for his pack of fags to light another, "friendship."

Vadim had his elbows on the table, lowered his head to rub his neck with both hands, kneading there, and felt uneasy. Thankful to the Yank? But Dan bent of self-destruction? Didn't like either thought. "Look, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that, not the way I did. He … was fairly tough, for one his age. I felt … almost sorry for him. I know what it's like to be … scared." He frowned, darkly. "Especially if he's good for you." That was the most he could do.

"It doesn't really matter if he is good for me or not. What you did was serious shit. Full stop. To anyone, unless they deserve it." Dan shrugged again, quietly smoking. "But I understand now that you weren't - or are? - yourself. So I guess that's OK, then." He fell silent.

Vadim found it hard to decipher the last sentences. As if Dan was excusing what he had done with the fact he was fucked up. "I always … accepted my consequences", he muttered. "That's part of my fucking problem." Marriage meant sticking to the family. Officer meant integrity. He shook his head and stood. "This … is far worse than SAS selection. Like I have to … pass some kind of test and don't even know what the scoring system is. I'm trying to be honest. I want to pass. I want … I want you to respect me." He heard the last words ring in his ears and shook his head. "Anything I can do, anything at all, I'll do it. I'd kneel, I'd beg, I'd die for it. I'm even fucking living for it." He shook his head again, felt helpless nausea where he would have felt rage, once upon a time.

Dan stared at Vadim, cigarette forgotten between his lips. "You really want to die, do you?" His voice sounded like ashes.

Vadim shook his head. "Only some of the time. I want to live like a human. That's what I want. I want to be respected. I want to find some way to live with myself. But most of all, I want you."

"So do I." Dan's quiet voice hardly cut through the sound of the surf, despite the stillness of the night. "But I'm frightened as all fuck."

Vadim stepped closer, raised a hand and covered most of the distance with that. "I won't leave. I won't kill myself. I won't harm any of your friends. I'll stay with you for the rest of my life, however much is left. All … all you have to do is … respect me … and take me back. We can … work with the rest."

"I do respect you." The burnt-out fag long discarded, Dan stood motionless. Not even daring to blink. "I only lost respect in between. When you tried to make me kill you, and what you did to my mates, and … and the fact you had left and come back," hastily adding, "but I understand now. Well, I try, I do." Yet he still didn't move, not one muscle. Tense and rigid as a statue.

Vadim nodded, painfully, dropped the hand, which didn't want to become a fist. No anger, just darkness, and nothing to get him through that. "Respect's a start", he murmured and forced himself to smile, and it was a gargantuan effort to not just break down and cry or beg. "It is something", he repeated, as if to convince himself.

I will teach you the true depth of shame, Vadim Petrovich. I will break you in so many places that nobody will recognize you - and then I will break you some more. And even if you get out of this place alive, you will have to live with what I left of you. I'm convinced you can forget the scars on your back. But you will never forget what I will do to your mind.

"I'd be the same, in your place. Likely worse." Vadim glanced out over the sea to try and chase away the memory. "The doctor said it would be hard."

"What 'same', and what am I like?" Dan's eyes followed the hand that had dropped, still lingering, "and what did that shrink of yours mean?" Why was it that all he wanted was to have that hand back on his arm? Oh, yes, he remembered. That goddamned love thing, and not to forget the desire. That one would never wane.

Vadim shook his head. He didn't want to accuse or beg. "He said … alienation. That's what happened. I … lost touch. With everything. He said including myself. He said it would be hard to … even pass for normal, and harder to find a way I can live with this."

"Did he also say what to do? I mean, is there anything others can do? Anything I can do?" The frozen stance suddenly unlocked, and Dan was able to move. "Tell me, is there anything at all I can do? That fucking helplessness is killing me." And that was the crux, wasn't it? He was faced with this stranger, who was so obviously hurting, and he couldn't reach him. He had lost the ability to read Vadim.

Vadim shook his head. "He called it trauma. I have his phone number. Maybe … call him. I told him about you. Us." The 'us' seemed almost reaching too far. There wasn't really an 'us' - apart from the time they'd shared just before the arrest. Living like people. "He said … it's complex."

"OK," Dan nodded, clinging to this as if it meant a lifeline, "I'll call him. I want to know, I need to know, because I need to understand. If there is anything to read, to learn, I'll do it. Heck, Maggie gave me stuff, tried to warn me and make me understand, but I fell into all of this as naively as a goddamned stupid-faced fresh recruit." He unexpectedly took a step closer, invading Vadim's space, who inhaled sharply. Dan, so close. "Anything, Vadim, do you understand? I'd do anything."

Dan so close, and out of reach, but eager, and close. Vadim nodded, throat tight, wanted to touch him again, and knew it wasn't welcome. "I have the number in the bungalow. I'll bring it over." Didn't move, just stood there, didn't increase the distance. "He's a good man. Wise."

"I'll call him tomorrow." Too close, because it wasn't close enough. "Tonight …" Dan trailed off, unable to stop his hand from moving. Not much, mere inches, but his fingertips found their way, connecting with fabric, warmed by the skin of Vadim's chest.

The sensation amplified into a rifle butt, a punch, a bite. Vadim closed his eyes and inhaled, expanded his chest. First willing, purposeful touch in what was forever. Couldn't beg, couldn't … didn't want to ask for more time, or grant more time. They'd had mindblowing sex while hating each other's guts. That at least was something he could rely on … his body understanding Dan's. "Your call", croaked Vadim. Please say yes.

"You have to understand, Vadim," Dan's voice had dropped to a whisper, yet the intensity increased. "What it means for me to touch you." He couldn't stop it, though, simply couldn't. As much a victim of his hand connecting, seeking, palm pressing against solid muscle, as a victim of fists, knives and bullets.

I understand. I do. And how could a simple touch make him sweat? Vadim opened his eyes, saw Dan, the intensity in his eyes that didn't accept any maybe or perhaps. Do or die.

"I asked you, on the roof …," inhaling, for Dan, such a simple task seemed painfully difficult right now, "if I touched you, will you never leave me again? Because I won't. There is no way. Whatever happens. You're mine, and I wouldn't survive it any other way."

"I won't leave you. I'm yours. Body, heart and mind. Everything."

"Oh fuck," Dan breathed out, tilting his head just a little bit, just that perfect angle. This was Vadim. No Frenchman, no Yank, but his Russian. Eleven years, more pain - and more pleasure - than should fit into a lifetime. His lips touched the other's, and it was like every feeling under the sun had gathered to form a supernova. The touch was like searing agony, stabbing through mind and heart.

Vadim reached to touch Dan, elated and surprised, for once there was something that he hadn't messed up completely, and had hardly believed possible, but Dan was always difficult to predict, always stronger, and better, and fiercer than he was given credit for. Fucking SAS. Made to excel, and he smiled against Dan's lips, the tenderness nearly breaking him.

"Can't believe you are alive," Dan whispered, before his body took over, and lips parted, tongue seeking entrance and heat, as it had done, so many times before, since a goddamned cave in the motherfucking mountains.

Vadim opened his lips, it was almost too much, too intense, but exactly what he'd wanted, only more intense than his memory had yielded, or it was the time, or whatever, and he leaned into the kiss, hands on Dan's shoulders, arm, running down to his flanks and pulling him closer.

Dan wanted to cry out, or scream and yell and destroy with fists and boots. Anything, anything at all to break through the onslaught of emotions, but all he had was his lips, two arms, and one hand. Tongue, teeth, as well, and the most intense sensation of feeling, physical, mental, gathering deep in his guts, spreading and searing through his body, travelling across blood. 'Vadim', it hammered through his being, 'Vadim. Alive. Vadim.' And he was lost. The kiss taking on intensity within nothing but heartbeats, as he tried to swallow sounds, bite down on taste, and crawl right into the other's body. Taking possession. Owning. Wanting.

Vadim moaned, pressing against Dan's body, desire flaring up, worse, more intense than he remembered, the 'tomorrow' digging with sharp claws under his skin. Tomorrow. This was more than he had hoped for, more than one night, more than trying out each other's bodies, but actual planning for whatever future they might have, and no more longing and separation. Hand against Dan's neck, fingers splayed to cup the back of his head. Smelling him through flaring nostrils, lips open, hungry for tongue and touch and everything else. The bed seemed too far away. He had no idea how to get there.

Two and a half years of pain and hope, fighting and loss. Love, longing, hatred and confusion, all culminating in this, right now, touch, scent and taste. Tearing at fabric, clawing at Vadim's body, knowing each angle and plane, re-mapping the terrain while desperately trying to feel more. Wanting to rip the other open to envelop himself within skin and flesh, until their hearts beat in sync, inseparable. The sounds he made were full of distress, it was too much, wanting everything at once, and couldn't ever get enough.

Vadim slid his hand between their bodies, pulling at the buttons of Dan's shirt, damn near ripping a few off, only broke the kiss for a moment to concentrate on one button that seemed especially resilient, then kissed Dan's neck, the side of his throat. Slipping the thing down over Dan's shoulders, who stood transfixed, near trembling, kissing the taut, curved flesh there. The pale, round scar. The one where he had gambled Dan's life on the chance trajectory of a bullet.

Discarding the shirt, he kissed downwards, Dan's chest, his warm smell hitting him in the pit of his stomach, and he went deeper while Dan shuddered, hardly keeping himself upright. Kissing the bared scars over Dan's belt, jagged lines of flesh, a trail of dark hair pointing him into the direction.

If you had the chance, Vadim Petrovich, would you like to suck me off.

Vadim gave a small start at the memory, suddenly, the torturer teasing him.

Dan felt the jolt beneath his hand, against his skin, "What? What's wrong?" Rough voice, his hand roaming where it could, he was bereft of lips, teeth and tongue, trying to tug Vadim back up.

"Nothing", murmured Vadim, "important." He straightened again, met Dan in another fierce kiss, pressing him against himself, the naked skin tantalizing, warm, smooth, powerful. How much he'd missed that, touching somebody like this, without reservations, with nothing but trust and need. Pulled his own shirt free, wanted to feel Dan closer, and pulled it over his head. "Shouldn't be rushing it, but fuck, I want to rush it. Badly."

"I …" Dan stammered, couldn't bring his tongue to form words, "I … bed … you …." He was trying to walk while kissing, cursing his broken wrist and the useless hand, stumbling as he went backwards, desperately clinging onto bare flesh.

Vadim nodded, exactly what he felt, wanted, and the beds were great for sex. Plenty of space. He followed, pushing Dan almost; thankfully, the huge room was mostly empty, or they would have stumbled. Towards the bed, opening Dan's belt, the button, wanted to bare him, touch him, kiss him, suck him, just wanted to see and smell and fucking have him again.

Dan's calves hit the bed before he realised he'd made it inside. Wasn't paying attention to sight nor sound, just the sensations of skin against skin and Vadim's hands on his body, his own clutching at flesh and muscle. The trousers were sliding down his hips once they'd been opened, and he let himself fall backwards, trousers at ankles, feet still in the canvas trainers. "Fuck." He was working on Vadim's shorts one-handed. "Help." He couldn't get their clothes off fast enough.

Vadim grinned, sharply, helped Dan with it, opened the shorts and pulled them down with the swimming trunks he wore underneath. No swimming tonight. Maybe later. Afterwards. He knelt down, pulling the shorts over Dan's shoes, who watched, then opened the laces and pulled the shoes off, just dropping them, and kissed Dan's knee, moving up to his thigh.

Stretched out Dan was too tempting to resist, sliding on top while kissing his way up, staying away from Dan's cock for the moment, skin on skin, chest to chest, kissing and devouring Dan's lips, tongue, feeling the hard stomach shudder and breathe against his cock.

"Oh fuck." Dan groaned out, tried to dig into the bared flash, as if he could become one and feel Vadim forever. Trying to hump their groins together, like a goddamned teenager, ready to cum at the lightest touch. His hand roamed, wanted both, but had to make do with five fingers instead of ten. Used his lips and teeth instead, breaking the kiss only to move down the throat to suck hard at the burn mark. Unashamed of the needy whimpers that came from somewhere deep inside of him.

Vadim groaned, hand and knees taking some weight off Dan, too close to the edge of the bed. "Move … move up." Nudging Dan with his knee, who slid upwards, keeping over him, savouring the sucking kisses against his throat. Fuck, how much he wanted to feel him, around him, inside him, taking his breath, everything, if only he'd stay, if only they could stay together, wake up like they had done far too rarely. Sliding down again, pressing against Dan's groin, thrusting against him.

The enemy's bitch. I can't believe how you could fall so low. That how you made major, Vadim Petrovich? By taking every officer's cock?

Dan relished the weight on top of him, could feel more that way, felt Vadim was truly there, not just his torturing imagination. "Alive …" murmured against Vadim, "alive …" skin under his lips, "alive!" Breathless while clinging to the body on top, devouring.

Vadim closed his eyes, concentrated just on the body underneath, the gasps, using more weight and strength, too impatient, too needy to make it last, or go about it with any kind of restraint or finesse. Just pushing and sliding, increasing friction with every motion. Could feel his own sweat in the warm evening breeze, the hot, needing body, Dan breathing, Dan's heart racing, his breath catching.

You've always used your beauty, Vadim Petrovich, just like any whore that ever lived. For your advantage. For your own, selfish ends. I never thought Vympel trained honey traps, or did they send you to London to suck some degenerated politician's cock and make photos of it?

Dan stopped to think, was nothing but a body, hands, skin, and most of all cock, engulfed and enveloped by heat and scent, just Vadim. Forever Vadim, nothing but Vadim, and two and a half years of agony, terror, loss and hatred, were gone, erased, washed away with the crashing surf that went from cock to mind, and all through his body. He came against Vadim, didn't know he was yelling his name, as if trying to fix the moment of complete ecstasy. Never to let go again.

If I touched you, would you never leave me again. And when I cum against you, I make you mine.

Vadim dove into another deep kiss as he felt Dan come, thrust harder against Dan's shudders, forced the torturer out of his mind, only for a little while, managed to not see himself through the KGB's eyes, but Dan's, and that was enough to get him there. Feeling tears in his eyes from the intensity, the tenderness of it, the abandon he'd thought he'd lost. Cumming hard, every muscle in his body taut and shuddering, pressed in deeper, harder, then, slowly, relaxing. Wanting nothing but to fall asleep on top of Dan.

Dan said nothing, just couldn't. Only holding, arms wrapped around the other's body, breathing hard. Wasn't enough, and he moved his legs, lifted, bent, until he could wrap them around Vadim as well. Didn't mind the weight, it was reassurance. Enveloping, keeping. "Mine". Whispered hoarsely.

Vadim opened his eyes as Dan shifted and clung to him, and gave a tender smile, one reserved for his children, and now Dan. "Always." Sometimes, life could be so simple. Dan made it simple, just bulldozered through all the shit, never compromising. "Till death doth us part, as they say." Only too likely in their career.

Dan saw that smile, a smile he'd never seen before, and something shifted inside. Opened, melted, and gave way, like a knot unravelling, and a pain simply dissipating. He could feel tears creeping into his eyes, and he didn't even care. "Aye," he smiled back, crookedly, "you want to marry me, Vadim Petrovich Krasnorada, and make me an honourable man?"

Vadim's smile turned into a grin. Don't be fucking stupid was not the answer, suddenly. "You are an honourable man already", he murmured against Dan's lips. "Honourable, and loyal, and courageous. But you're not pregnant, so no reason to marry." Keeping on the safe side. "Even if I would."

"Damn," Dan tightened his hold and rolled both of them onto their sides, lying on his good side. "And here goes my plan to snatch a big fish to provide for me, so that I can retire." He grinned, and even that was tender. The urge to cry was passing, but emotions remained on the surface, raw and bare, despite the joking.

Vadim laughed. "Yeah. Like this merc's pimp." Touching his chest. "You'd have enough pretty mercs for a stable, but that's not how it works." Joking, lightly, and Dan's dark eyes lit up, he hadn't known how much he missed this rare side of Vadim.

"I want you with me, Dan, out there. Through good times and bad times."

Dan smiled, shifting his arm that was trapped beneath Vadim, drawing lazy patterns on sweat damp skin. "I'll never let go again. I hope you realise, you're in it for good." He flashed a grin, "Still, I'm sure I'd look pretty in a dress," chuckling, while his lips moved in light kisses along Vadim's face, re-acquainting himself with every shape. "I've got the legs for it."

Vadim rolled his eyes, but stretched his throat to get more kisses there. "The legs, maybe, but not the shoulders."

"I'll wear a cape over it." Dan's low laughter made the skin beneath his lips shiver. "As long as you carry me over the threshold of our tin hut."

Vadim laughed. "You crazy fuck." Touching his forehead to Dan's. "I do hope there will be more than one of those for us, one day."

"What, tin huts?" Dan's grin mellowed into a smile, softening his features until even the scar in his face seemed to blend into the tanned and stubbly skin. He stretched his legs, making a face at the sticky dampness between them. "We need a shower."

Vadim nodded, rolling over on his back, stretching his arms out over his head, but Dan's hand never lost contact. "Think we both fit, or should I swim a little over there?" Pointing vaguely towards the ocean.

"No, you're not leaving." Dan's expression grew more serious, "you've got to understand what you got yourself into, here. You'll stay. I won't let you out of my sight if I can help it." Dan realised how fucked up that sounded, bordering on mental, but he didn't care. "The shower's big enough."

Vadim turned his head to grin at Dan. "Aye, if you say so." Too relieved, relaxed and happy to worry about the possessiveness. He didn't mind. He didn't want to leave, either, not now, not ever. He got up, then padded towards the bathroom, followed by Dan. Deciding against the full bath, or the Jacuzzi outside. A quick shower would do it. Vadim checked the water temperature, and the shower was like hot rain, plenty of space for two men.

"I can't be bothered with the plastic bag." Dan watched Vadim, already under the spray. "If I hold my arm outside, will you wash me?"

Vadim wiped the water from his face and grinned. "Come on, then." Stepping to the side, offering a hand to steady Dan. Reaching for the shower gel and squeezing a good amount into his hand. Drawn to how the water made Dan's dark skin shine. Both hands on his chest, soaping him up, watching the suds run down the smooth skin and over the scars, over the cock, down his legs. "Oh fuck. Can't say how … how much …"

Dan was watching intently, each movement, every facial expression. "How much … what?" Water was running over his face, through wild hair and into his mouth. Trickling off the tip of his nose and gathering close to his chin, dripping like tears and rain alike.

Vadim ran his hand over Dan's hair, smoothing it back out of his brow, taking a handful and closing his fist, then stepped closer to brush him. "… I missed you. I wanted you. How much you … make me feel again."

Dan smiled, the first word and thought that was coming to his mind seemed not to make any sense. "Ditto." His 'harem', his mates, the fights, the games, the laughter and sex, the fist fights, and even Jean, nothing reached him as deeply as Vadim. "One touch from you …," water coated his lips, gathered in thick drops on his dark lashes, "makes me feel more than a whole goddamned orgy."

Vadim grinned and kissed him again, feeling, for once, perfectly normal. Not two mercs, not two killers, for once he could imagine they were perfectly normal guys that had fallen in love. Pulling Dan's head back to nip at his jaw, his chin, the lower lip. "Keeping me around for tonight, stranger?"

"You fucking bet on that." Dan grinned with closed eyes, head tilted back, trusting completely, enough to blind himself despite strange surroundings. Another first, the shower, the R&R, together - in a place that didn't know who they were. No past, only present and perhaps, at last, a future. I love you, he thought, and revelled in the luxury of not having to rush.

Vadim grinned, running teasing fingers down Dan's flanks, to his ass. Dan had an ass to kill for, all taut muscle and curves, slick skin, and only reluctantly breaking the touch to get more shower gel. Washing Dan's legs, and back up, cock and balls, licking his lips as he did. Tried to keep the interrogator out of his head, this time, but the man lingered. "For fuck's sake", he muttered silently, exasperated.

"Hm?" Dan was jerked out of his silent enjoyment, thought he'd heard or felt something, but perhaps it was just the water running past his ears. "You alright?" With those hands on his arse, cock and balls, though, how could he gather a coherent thought.

"More than alright." Vadim shifted Dan's body to wash away the soap, then got some more of the gel to wash himself down quickly. He'd just forget the interrogation. He'd just forget the man. Forget the accusations, the cutting of his mind, the vivisection of everything he was. He had Dan. He'd won, in the end.

Reached out to switch off the water. "What about room service, and some more … frolicking on the bed?"

"Aye," Dan grinned, convinced he must have misheard. "Haven't really eaten much and I could do with a cold beer. They got some funky brands around here, had a few in the ladyboy-bar." He stepped out of the shower, dripping wet and standing with arms outstretched, as if waiting for personal towel service.

Vadim reached for the bathrobe and put it on, but left the belt open, then got one of the massive towels and flicked it open, looking bemusedly at Dan's cocksure posture. He couldn't help but flick the towel across Dan's ass. "I think we can do something about that."

"Hey! You bastard." Dan jumped at the towelled slap. "I have you know that I've started and won fist fights for less than that." Flashing a toothy grin, as long as Vadim was there, close, what else did matter?

Vadim laughed, and then proceeded to towel him down. Some orders were easier followed than others, and he loved showing Dan just how much he wanted him, enjoyed him, his presence. He put the towel to the side and ran a hand down Dan's cheek, but couldn't speak, and didn't want to, really, felt too raw already.

Food was quickly ordered - a plate of cold bites, various kinds of meat and fish and fruit, all washed down with a selection of beers, while Vadim had water. Lying stretched out on the bed, naked, the food within reach, Dan always touching, and then, finally, falling asleep, almost wrapped around him.

Vadim took the beer bottle and pulled it slowly from Dan's hand, put it down on the ground, and shifted to find a good position, staring up at the ceiling.

This, then, was bliss. He had forgotten what it felt like, this sense of completeness.

Special Forces Chapter XXIX: Off Duty
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 5 October 2007