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Special Forces Chapter XXX: Rank and File

September 1991, Dubai

Dan's mood had been at its best since they boarded the plane. Not that it had been anything but glorious for almost two weeks, but he was positively glowing when he sat in his seat, popping peanuts, munching airfare plastic food, and guzzling a few miniature beers, interspersed with the odd G&T in the same minuscule size. Humming quietly to himself as he sat in his aisle seat, the one in the middle free, and Vadim at the window.

Vadim stretched his legs as far as the seat in front of him would allow, watching Dan. His. Partner. Comrade. Lover. His again. Still felt the touches on his body and couldn't help but wonder whether everybody on the plane, from the Captain to the stewardess to the noisy family in his back, knew what they were and what they'd done pretty much until the taxi had picked them up for the airport. He could reach for the earphones, or the magazine, but truth was, he wouldn't be able to concentrate with Dan that close. The seat between them very empty. More comfortable this way. "I can see you can't wait getting back into the desert."

"Not quite." Dan turned his head, grinning. He left the earphones on, the music quiet enough to understand every word. "It's just that I missed Maggie. Despite her goddamned interfering and the fact I wanted to rip her throat out at some stage." Flashing a toothy grin, he reached across the empty seat, taking Vadim's hand in his right. Just like that.

Vadim closed his hand around Dan's fingers and felt impossibly awkward when the stewardess walked past. She must have seen the hand. Feeling strange, too conscious. "You were … you are friends. We owe her a lot." He'd feel small under that woman's gaze, she never failed at intimidating him. He didn't know why, or how; maybe because she seemed to be a different kind of killer.

"It's strange, but it's true. She's the only friend - real friend - I ever had. Jean's a mate. Maggie, though … did I tell you she sent me on her own expenses to New Zealand?" Unaware of stewardess and oblivious to Vadim's discomfort, Dan caressed the other's hand with his thumb, while holding on tight. It felt good, that hand. Damn good in his own.

"No, you didn't." So, likely, she felt the same. Friends with that woman - it explained her continued protectiveness and even why she had given him a chance. Of course it did.

Honoured to meet the man that Dan loves.

"Aye, after I'd trashed my room in the embassy," unaware that Vadim didn't know that story, "she sent me off for three weeks."

"Three weeks off? You're going stir crazy after three days, Dan." And did Vadim want to know why he'd trashed the room? No. Dan losing control was always fearsome - and not something he wanted to talk about on a plane.

"Ha ha ha, very funny, bastard." Dan grinned and gestured to the stewardess, ordering another drink while holding onto Vadim's hand with the exact same untroubled attitude as before. Vadim gave her a dismissive wave, not looking at her. "Careful, or I might not take you to see the farm."

Vadim smiled; he could see Dan working on a farm. Outside, and at peace. Farmer stock. It was something he could do when not shooting people and getting blown up. "I'd … like to see it", he murmured. "We said next R&R?"

"It's a deal." Dan smiled, squeezing the hand in his own. "It's not a farm anymore, but the land belongs to it and, depending on how many more years of active service we can get out of our decaying bodies, I might even be able to afford the renovation of the house." Dan winked, "thank fuck I earn even more now than I did in Maggie's direct employ."

"I will have to … apologise to her."

"Why? I sure as fuck can't think of anything you'd have to apologise for."

"For slapping her hand away when she worked so hard to get me out?" Vadim glanced at Dan with a certain amount of irony. "Walking out of her party?"

"Well, as we've established by now, you weren't exactly yourself." Leaning across the empty seat, Dan lifted both their clasped hands and placed a kiss onto the back of Vadim's, exactly the moment the stewardess reappeared. She served the drink without the slightest blink of her eye, making Vadim tense and curse himself for his response at the same time. It still freaked him. Felt like he had to justify, explain, or better yet, be invisible.

"Besides, do you really think Maggie would have done what she did if she hadn't understood a lot more about why you reacted the way you did, than I managed to grasp? She wanted to search for you when you vanished, but I … I couldn't. Didn't want her to." Dan glanced away for a moment, before once again smiling at Vadim. Blinking into the brilliant sunlight that streamed through the aircraft's window.

"Maybe. I don't like people knowing me better than I do myself", said Vadim. That was indeed the biggest problem. Felt found out, caught, and outguessed. Like playing chess with his father. Always a humiliation.

"Welcome to my world, Russkie." Dan winked at Vadim, entirely oblivious to any darkness underlying the words. He raised his plastic glass, and took another mouthful.

Vadim huffed. "You are easy to read, though. Well. It used to be easy. But maybe I just lost my touch." Yes, my famous touch with treating people right. Leadership. Fuck all that.

"Aye, that's me. Roughie toughie squaddie with the intellectual depth of a shallow baby bath and the educational background of a hedgerow. I'm complicated, me." Dan laughed.

Vadim laughed, too. "Sorry, but that just about nails it." He grew a little more serious and whispered. "But you also have the heart of a tiger and the vastness of a mountain."

"Well …" Dan grinned while looking at Vadim, long and hard, forgetting to lower his own voice, "I take it as a fairly interestingly worded 'I love you, Dan, because you are simply goddamned motherfucking perfect'."

Bastard. Vadim's eyes quickly flicked towards the aisle and the other seats, but he hoped the business guy was too busy catching up with sleep. "No, true, you're not half bad, Mad Dog."

Dan grinned and shrugged. "I get along."

"Well, Maggie's your friend. This time, I'm not trying to extract from her your whereabouts, after all."

"You do have a history of that, granted." Emptying the plastic cup, Dan filled it with the remains from the can. "You'll like her, trust me. Maggie is a grand lady and the most straight-laced and trustworthy person I have ever met. Oh, and she likes you."

"She does?"

"Fuck, yes! Or do you really think she would have gone to all the trouble? She was in Dubai, as far as I know, when you called the embassy. So, that means she must have flown all the way to Scandinavia to meet you there. You really think she would have done that and everything else for just about anyone?"

"I don't know. I can't say we struck it off well from the beginning. She was generous, but very businesslike."

"She is always businesslike. That's just the way she is." Dan shrugged, emptied the last of his beer. It shouldn't take much longer before the captain announced the impending landing in Dubai. "You'll be just fine, trust me. I know for a fact she must respect you or she would have never trusted you to get through Selection. And respect, Vadim, that's the biggest thing you can get from anyone."

Vadim closed his eyes for a long moment. Respect was really the only thing that was still worth fighting for, that, and Dan. If he had respect, everything else was bearable. "I'll be on my best behaviour." He pressed Dan's hand briefly. Still felt he should explain and a long, serious, honest talk might clarify a few matters. Likely best when Dan was out of the way.

"Don't be," Dan leered at Vadim, "you being on your best behaviour might not be appreciated by Her Excellency. I'd settle for second best, if I were you. At least with the ladies." His chuckle was drowned out by the comm, announcing the imminent landing and the request to fasten their seatbelts.

Vadim shook his head. "On my best socially acceptable behaviour. Don't forget that Major Krasnorada was a bit of a poster boy at times. Decorative. I'll be decorative. And polite."

"You sure as hell were a poster boy, I'll never forget the second time I saw you, gleaming like a decorated Christmas tree. Remember? It was in that bloody hot hotel room in Kabul. Shame I hated you back then, we could have had some damn good mind-blowing sex with you on your best poser behaviour." Dan grinned while Vadim helped him to secure his seat belt, impossible with one hand.

"With a hippie reporter? Not very professional." Glancing out of the window, Vadim could see desert, and he already missed the lushness of Thailand. This was Dan territory, Muslim territory, and definitely not his home ground. He'd have to improvise here. The plane circled lower, then, soon, the wheels made contact with the tarmac, and the plane braked.

Not much later, Vadim plucked his bag from the conveyor belt and waited for Dan to get into the waiting queue, standing right behind him. Covering his back. It was perfectly natural. More natural than both their passports being dark red, emblazoned with the Arms of the United Kingdom and both declaring they were British citizens.

Outside customs, there was a driver with a sign that read "McFadyen & company". Not Krasnorada, which seemed an odd but very considerate touch.

Dan lifted his left hand to wave, plaster and all, attracting the driver's attention, who immediately sprang into action and escorted them to the car, before taking over the trolley with the luggage.

The car itself as plush and air conditioned as all the vehicles Dan had been used to while in the direct employ of the lady, and he settled into the cool, sand-coloured leather. After a moment of smalltalk with the driver, who assured them the ambassador was very well indeed, they drove off towards the embassy. Dan didn't take Vadim's hand this time, just rested his own very close to the other's thigh, respecting the country's habits no matter how much he wanted to touch and taste his Russkie in public.

Vadim noticed the lack of touch, but was relieved, because Dan too close meant it would be harder to get into the role he'd have to play, try and find his strength back, bolster himself so he wasn't as brittle as he felt most of the time, and especially when it involved people that were not Dan. Keep up the mask, a new mask, the old one was long shattered when they had taken it away and stripped him to the core. Remembered the doctor's warning again, about being careful and not taking any response for granted, while being aware of his own responses. He couldn't be a raving lunatic here, in the embassy. He'd show that their investment had paid off. He wouldn't act like a nutcase. If only he could remember how he'd dealt with civilians before, how to make smalltalk, how to pretend everything was fine. Well. If he was careful. He'd have to trust his wits.

They drove no more than half an hour before they reached high walls and lush vegetation behind them. "Ah, home sweet former home." Dan smiled and nodded at Vadim when the gate opened to let them through.

"Impressive", murmured Vadim, impressed at the luxury, the garden right in the middle of the desert, and Dan just didn't fit into the scenery. Unless he wore one of his killer suits. He smiled, suddenly. "Let's face the dragoness, then."

"And here she already is." Dan flashed a grin at Vadim before turning his head to look up to the building and there she stood on the porch, hands clasped, in the inevitable lightweight pastel coloured twin set and smiling. The car door was opened by a servant, and Dan couldn't help but smile brightly when he stepped outside and looked at her, waiting for Vadim to catch up, before taking the few steps to greet her. "Ma'm, it's great to see you." For a moment it looked as if he were going to hug her, towering over the petite lady, but the very last moment he took her hand and bowed down in an old fashioned and entirely uncharacteristic kiss onto her hand. Which made her laugh, predictably.

"And it's good to see you, Dan. All relaxed and tanned, almost in one piece, and happy."

He grinned and finally let go of her hand which he'd held for a while. "You don't look a day older, Ma'm. As elegant as ever."

Chuckling, she shook her head with the bomb-proofed coiffure, where not a hair was stirred with the movement. "The likes of us are preserved, my friend, until we fade away one day, but I do believe, if you dug up my father, he would still look the same as on the day of his funeral."

Dan laughed out loud while she turned her attention to Vadim, who took a halting step forward. Ashamed for his weakness, but reassured at the ease with which Dan acted. Dan, his shield and protection. Dan, his reason for being here, in too many senses of the word.

She was holding her hand out to Vadim, smiling warmly. "I am very pleased to meet you again, Mr Krasnorada. Very much so."

He took the hand, briefly closed his own around it, gentle like to a child. "Ma'am. And I am pleased you … will see us. The invitation came as a pleasant surprise." He hoped he'd done this right, chosen the right words. Glanced towards Dan, and back at the lady. "Never mind you saved Dan from an agonizingly slow death of boredom in that Thai paradise."

Dan laughed, shaking his head and she smiled. "Dan does not look very bored to me. On the contrary, I don't think I have ever seen him quite so upbeat since he started working for me." Dan was making discouraging noises, waving his hand about, as if to stop her from talking about him as if he were invisible. She ignored him, with the most polite and charming smile.

"Well, I do hope, Mr Krasnorada, that I can offer a small glimpse of your paradise lost for the last week of your well earned rest."

Vadim paused, feeling tension creep up in his chest. Wrongly chosen words? He hadn't meant to criticise her. Or was it just light-hearted taunting? He couldn't tell. Couldn't decide, both seemed likely. But the situation was still friendly. "Dubai is certainly an interesting place - if less intriguing than our hostess." Politicians and chess players. All he could try was call it a friendly game and know when he was outgunned in terms of power and likely in terms of intellect, too.

Stepping aside, she made an elegant gesture towards the open doors. "Please, gentlemen," her choice of words made Dan chuckle again, he hadn't been a gentleman since the day he was born. "My staff will take you to your room, I have taken the liberty to have the master guest room prepared. Do revive yourselves and I will see you for refreshments on the patio, whenever you are ready."

"Thank you kindly", said Vadim, inclining his head, and allowed the person from her staff to take them upstairs, walking shoulder to shoulder with Dan. "One thing, Dan. If I say something wrong, let me know, yes?"

"Of course, but what do you mean?" Dan took the shades out of his hair where they had sat entangled in the dark mane. "Unless you call Her Excellency an overbearing nincompoop," or a fucking liar, as he had done, on the day of Vadim's 'death', "you can't say anything wrong. Don't worry so much, Vadim. This is not a test, this is a holiday. Selection is over and you've made it." He smiled as they were let into a vast room with queen sized double bed. Easily big enough for two tall men who would not enjoy twin beds.

"It's just … difficult. I don't want to make any mistake, and I might not realise if I said something wrong. I want … this to work." Vadim set the bag down and gave the room a long, searching look, checking for the usual. Escape routes, windows, cover. Only then taking in generous space, muted colours, all very classy. 'Posh' the Brits called that. Expensive, and not understated.

Dan grunted exasperatedly at Vadim's searching look. "If my successor is any good at his job there's nothing to fear here. You're in an embassy, Vadim, an!" He smiled, "not a goddamned hotel room in bloody Kabul." Tilting his head, Dan watched Vadim for a moment, who looked back at him.

"Yes." Secure, embassy, no Mujas, no spetsnaz, no interrogator, no regular or irregular army. Somehow, though, this was not Thailand, this was closer and more tense. "Stupid habit."

"I need a shower, are you going to wash me?" The member of serving staff was just leaving, when Dan smiled, "besides, I rather like your hands on my body."

Vadim glanced at the door that closed. Well. Two men, one bed. That had clued the staff in already. No reason to hide, not here. Or, maybe a reason, but no need. "Yes, of course. Can't have the plaster get wet." Vadim pulled his shirt free and slipped out of it. "And it saves time."

"True, so get a grip on, Russkie, and get me naked." Grinning from ear to ear Dan stood with his arms outstretched, waiting for his 'personal service' to get him out of shirt, trousers and canvas shoes, and to get soaped up in the marble-tiled bathroom.

Vadim smiled, slipped out of his shoes on the way to Dan and began to undress him. Shirt off, unable to resist, placed a kiss between Dan's pecs, while his hands went for the belt and buttons. Just meant it as tenderness, not as a prelude, just to breathe in his smell and warmth in this clear, crisp, air conditioned room. Slipped the trousers and underwear off, and helped Dan step out of it.

The water had the perfect temperature, and the huge marble bath seemed more private than the connected room. The shower could have housed a platoon of soldiers, and none would stay dry, the water came in like thick, hot, soothing rain. Glass and marble and mirror misted over while Vadim cleaned them both up, soaping Dan's body, then his, and found himself embraced, one-armed, with Dan somehow managing to keep his plaster dry, as he kissed his way down, getting to his knees. There was something about water running down Dan's tanned shoulder and back that Vadim would be forever unable to forget, realising too late what Dan was planning. "But you can't … do that here, and … the lady is waiting …"

"Watch me do it", Dan said dryly, and Vadim felt he'd protested enough, no, already too much, without sense nor reason as Dan took him deep and made him come, after a long while, right there in the heat and steam but with an odd feeling of familiarity. Whatever the place or situation, that was something that had grown back. Old comrade lust, and their bodies knowing each other perfectly well.

When Dan came back up his plaster had turned rather damp, but his grin was that of the cat that had got the milk, and the cream on top. "Feeling anymore mellow? Hm?"

"… aye." Some kind of tension busting.

Dan was kissing Vadim's jaw line, then along the shoulder, before stepping out of the spray and into the steamy room. "If you ask me, that was just what the doctor ordered and I am sure Maggie won't mind waiting a few minutes. Especially since she is always busy anyway."

Vadim huffed. "Well, certainly not my doctor … but yes." He reached for the towel, astonished to find it huge and warmed up and soft when he unfolded it. "Come here. How do we get the plaster dry again?" As Dan turned to face him, Vadim couldn't take his eyes off that half interested cock, or rather, it took him a moment longer. He wrapped Dan in that big towel, drying him quickly, then opened the door. "Sit down on the bed." He only grabbed another white warm towel and slung it across his hips, allowing his body and skin to just dry. Would only take a minute, and he loved the chill from the A/C.

With Dan seated, Vadim took hold of his knees, opened them, lifted the towel and went onto his knees to suck him off, too, enjoying how quickly Dan responded. It was true, they probably had time, and Maggie wouldn't sit there waiting for them. Thankfully, Dan didn't grab his head, didn't force him to take him deeper like he'd sometimes done - and Vadim had liked that, back then - but this one was gentle and slow and considerate, on safe territory, trust and understanding and the lust everything but aggressive.

Dan flopped into a boneless heap on the bed when he had cum, lying on his back, legs still open, arms stretched out wide, and simply breathing with closed eyes while shivering luxuriously in the cool air. "Want to sleep now." Mumbled, he was listening to his heartbeat while it returned to normal.

Vadim rolled his neck, caressing Dan's legs. "Five minutes rest, soldier." He smiled, then stood to return to the bath to drink water, several handfuls of it, and towel off the remaining dampness from his skin. "Your traditional tea time is when? Four? Five o' clock?"

"Urgh." That was all Dan was willing or able to give. Lying crucified on the bed, he was still flatlining when there was a knock on the door, a voice asking to be let in to bring water for the gentlemen and to see if they needed anything. Dan just about managed to flick the towel back over his groin before he called out to come inside. Water bottles were delivered and the member of staff vanished before Dan did even so much as stir.

Vadim stayed in the bathroom, unpacked the bag with his various personal effects, one of them the salve he used for the scars on his back. Always a bit unwieldy, but he didn't want to rouse Dan, and he wasn't sure he'd be successful, either. Took care of those patches of fucked-up skin, then got dressed. He stepped outside, unpacked Dan's bag, and chose some of his clothes for him. "Come. We should get dressed and presentable."

"Damn." Dan muttered, managed to open one eye. "Do I have to?" But of course he did and he sat up, stretching slowly while scratching the scars across his abs. "What is it going to be today, eh?" He grinned and started dressing from the pile, his back to Vadim as he kept bending over sans towel and with absolute intent. "Am I supposed to be wearing the linen suit and if yes, which colour?"

"The lighter one." Vadim shook his head, tried not to stare at Dan bent over like that, the bastard, he'd show him later, tonight, and that thought made him smile.

Dan pretended to grouse, while preferring to be told what to wear, at least that'd make sure Vadim didn't raise his brows at him, and it took the painful task of having to think about something as deadly boring as clothes. If it were up to him he'd live in camo trousers and army boots.

"Right, I'm done. All yours and Maggie's. Do I meet with your approval?" How on earth he managed to make the freshly laundered and ironed clothes - by room service in Thailand - look simultaneously rumpled, scruffy and sexy as hell, was a mystery.

Vadim stared for a few moments, then shook his head. "How she could have worked with you around …", he murmured and checked himself one final time in the mirror. The Thai tailor had done excellent work - Vadim loved that suit.

"Oy, Russkie, you're being an irreverent wanker." Dan slapped Vadim's face playfully, which made Vadim tense harder than absolutely rational, but he was too mellow now to think much of it. An unwelcome reflex, nothing else.

"I was good at my job and she did have suits made for me. I think she kept them here. Got no way to store them in camp." Dan fished for his fags and lighter.

"So, you're rather a merc than her bodyguard?" Vadim frowned, thinking that through, while ushering Dan towards the door.

"In many ways, yes. It's more my kind of life. This, here, was far too cushy. Not enough adrenaline. Except for that bloody bomb, and that was too much adrenaline for my taste."

"We shouldn't keep her waiting. Lead the way. I have no idea where she'd have tea."

"On the patio, you'll like it there. Lots of shade." Making his way downstairs, Dan nodded to a couple of people he remembered and exchanged a few words. Crossing the large hallway, he pointed to a door off to the side. "That's my old room. Bet my successor's in that now. Was rather nice, all mod cons."

"Mod cons?"

Dan grinned, "own bathroom, hi-fi, stereo, satellite TV, all that techno gadgetry. I love that stuff. If I ever get to spend my old age on the farm, I'll have it equipped with techno gadgets everywhere." He shut up when he spotted her ladyship sitting under an umbrella, close to the ornamental pond and water feature, bent over some papers.

"Ma'm?" He called out quietly and she turned her head, smiling at them when they stepped into the gleaming sun.

"Please sit down." She gestured to the two empty chairs at the table. "Just a moment, I am having the afternoon tea brought and my papers taken away. It is a good excuse for a little break."

Vadim waited for Dan to sit, then sat down on the other chair, and remembered to smile. Didn't know what kinds of things her papers and her signature influenced and set into motion, but assumed they were important.

"Do you mind?" Dan held the packet of cigarettes up and she shook her head, giving permission. The table was being cleared and a trolley with tea, coffee, water, fresh lemonade, and a selection of finely cut, triangled sandwiches, as well as small cakes was brought.

"Thanks, Ma'm." Dan lit his fag, inhaling deeply. "Tell me, how have you been? You look very well, I assume my successor is a good man?"

She chuckled lightly, tut-tutting in his direction. "You are being rather pre-emptive. It is my prerogative to ask these questions first." Gently mocking, "but first things, first. Mr Krasnorada, would you like tea or coffee?" She didn't have to ask Dan, was already pouring his favourite cup of black coffee over three lumps of sugar.

"Coffee, please." Vadim noticed he was holding the armrests, and forced himself to relax in his chair. No sniper. No landmine. Nothing. He felt more relaxed than before the shower, but some tension always lingered. Knew it was her job to ask questions, her right, too, and found some strange security in the lightness that Dan handled the situation with. "Thank you, Ma'am." He received his coffee, but didn't drink just yet.

"Please, help yourself to sandwiches or cake." She nodded to Vadim, holding the cup of coffee out to him. "Milk, cream and sugar are on the tray." She smiled, "I don't think I have to guess too much what Dan is going to choose."

Dan grinned, "any strawberry tarts?"

"In fact," she pointed to a lidded, double-walled bowl, "I had some strawberry tarts and whipped cream made just for you."

Dan's delight was evident, and he began to pile the sweet treats onto a plate. Vadim smiled, watching him. Dan and his simple pleasures.

"Well, Mr Krasnorada, now that Dan is out of action for at least five minutes, until he has cleared out all of the cakes, would you be so inclined and indulge my curiosity? How have you been faring since the rescue of the American helicopter crew and our own 'cheeky Brit'?"

Dan was shaking his head at her description, mouth full with tart and extra double helpings of whipped cream.

"Most certainly." Vadim paused, but nothing in her speech nor manner caused tension, not an interrogation, nothing but interest. Not a battle, not a test. "I fared … well, all told. Getting the c…" no, not comrades, "the boys back was a little adventure, but at least it wasn't patrolling duty. After the debrief we were sent out for R&R and it was lucky that Dan had time at the same time, so I booked the place in Thailand."

"I am glad to hear." She smiled, sipping some tea. "When I heard from Dan that he was in Thailand, I remembered that lovely place. I have been there a few times, but never for a holiday, perhaps I should remedy that." Daintily picking up a millionaire shortbread, she bit a piece off the sweet caramel and chocolate while Dan listened, working his way through the cakes.

"I wanted to go somewhere with beaches and the ocean up close. I … like water." What a stupid thing to say, Vadim thought, and suddenly understood that she put him at ease while asking the easy questions and making him relax. "Of course, I owe you a great deal, and one of those things is an apology for my behaviour."

"Do you?" Her brows rose in genuine surprise. "I cannot recall an event that required such a necessity?"

Vadim again couldn't tell whether she was being generous by forgetting or whether she actually didn't remember. He glanced over to Dan as if the solution was somewhere there, then back, felt strange again, like the only one who didn't speak any proper language. "Your help in getting me out was not … met with the proper mindset", he murmured, keeping his voice level. "I was unable to adjust. That is not … an excuse. I am aware that I acted like … in a way that didn't look very grateful."

She was taking another sip of her unsweetened tea and held the cup for a moment at face level, regarding the tall man opposite to her. She smiled, said nothing for a while, before placing the china back onto the saucer and leaning slightly forward. "Mr Krasnorada," her voice sounded gentle to Dan, who sat straighter, more alert, not knowing what to expect when she continued, "I would like you to understand that I am fully aware of the reasons for your behaviour in Finland. In fact, I have been berating myself ever since that I had not noticed, and that I had not taken more measures to ensure that you felt safe on your return. Making you join a dinner party, and to all intents and purposes, forcing you to interact straight after your release was an inexcusable mistake on my part."

Dan forgot to chew, with half of a strawberry tart still in his mouth. Vadim looked stricken, eyes wide and almost unfocused, staring straight through her, then slowly blinking, frowning, and looking at her again, gathering his thoughts, but they moved away and blurred whenever he reached for one to form words with.

She continued, folding her hands in her lap. "I should have known, Mr Krasnorada, because I should have gathered more information on the subject. I should have asked for expert advice, and as a result should have followed my own advice, the one I gave Dan on the night, to give space and time and not to exert any pressure at all, least of all the one of expectations. Unlike Dan, who understandably was most keen to be in your vicinity, I should have ensured that you had space and freedom for acclimatisation. But I did not, and instead made you meet the people who had worked on ensuring your freedom. This, Mr Krasnorada, was an unforgivable mistake on my part. I have been subjected to reproach, rightly so, from a dear old friend of mine, a friend you will have met … " she paused a moment, having lost Dan completely, but from the reaction in Vadim's face it was obvious the other knew what and whom she alluded to, "I have to apologise to you, and not you to me."

The doctor, her friend. Vadim could just imagine Dr Williams shake his head and chide gently, in that cultured voice, with regret, not anger, and that sharp intellect that seemed to have seen and thought and experienced all there was about human frailty.

She smiled, holding her hand out to him, "I am glad I have the opportunity now to ask you to accept my apology for a very foolish and selfish motion. I am sorry, Mr Krasnorada, I should have known better."

Every word went through his skin. How could she know what he'd felt - or not felt - like. Could it have been that simple? Simply allow space, and he'd been able to feel again? Somehow, Vadim doubted that. Her hand. Vadim took it, and it seemed inappropriate to sit, so he stood. "I … there's nothing to apologize for. I … am glad you … gave me a chance. And I owe you my freedom. My new start. That's more than I deserved." He swallowed, feeling his voice go rough.

She, too, stood, as she shook his hand. "Thank you, Mr Krasnorada, and I believe I have to apologise for another weakness of mine. I was very, very angry on Dan's behalf, and I should have felt less protective and more professional, and thus should have welcomed you back and offered you the deal in friendlier tones than I did."

That made Vadim smile while he could feel his hand sweat, and he broke the touch. "If I'd have had any b… guts left …" I'd have managed to keep some face. He suddenly understood that she did regret, genuinely regret the things that had made her such an imposing figure - somebody whose orders he had followed like a whipped dog. Much more goodwill towards him than she had shown. "… still, I owe you this new life, and while I … have not exactly been a model prospective citizen, this country will never have to blame me for anything." Adopted country. Hers, and his. Not enemies, and maybe friends, if it would go like that. He saw the possibility, suddenly.

Dan finally remembered to swallow, murmuring half to them and half to himself, "What did you do while I was gone." But he did not expect an answer and neither did he receive one.

"I am glad, Mr Krasnorada, I really am, and I am certain that you are and will be an asset to our country. And I am thankful that you accept my apology, and for seeing both of you together, after all this time."

"Thank you, Ma'am." From the bottom of my heart.

She nodded at Dan and Vadim before sitting back down, smoothing her skirt as she did so. "I would not dare believe that I can even remotely grasp what both of you went through, but perhaps everything will turn out the best way it possibly could in the end, however much and however long it takes."

"I've got Vadim," Dan smiled, took the other's hand and pressed it hard, "that's all I need and wanted, and on top of that we are getting shot at from the same side now. Seems like luxury to me."

Vadim laughed, pressing that hand and sitting down, too. "And you stopped collaborating with the bastard towelhea… irregulars." Vadim pressed his lips together for a moment. Not merc lingo, even though it was a reflex. "We're an unlikely pair, but so be it", he murmured and looked at Dan. "Stranger things have happened."

Dan looked at Vadim, wide-eyed, when the words registered with his mind. He swallowed hard. The price he had paid had been worth it. "Lions may die, but friendship doesn't." Murmured, not audible to the Baroness, who sat smiling and sipping her tea.

Vadim leaned in to murmur into Dan's ear. "Not friendship. Love." But my father wouldn't have appreciated that - I still understood.

"I know, and it was what I meant." Dan murmured back.

Vadim glanced at the Baroness. "Forgive me. It's a bit like being drunk, with Dan my poison of choice, obviously. I guess I'm just overdosing at the moment."

"Quite rightly so." She took another bite of her caramel shortbread, "and please do not think that I wish to put any claims onto your time. I understand you will be very busy with duties when you return to camp."

Vadim smiled, felt like he was finding his feet and strangely liking this prim and proper lady, now that there was nothing more to fear. Only now did he realise the weight of fear on his shoulder that had been lifted. Apologies and explanations were magical. They changed everything. "Please, claim our time whenever you can fit us into your busy schedule. I can see how much Dan enjoys talking to you - and the strawberry tarts that come with it. And, of course, I'd be intrigued to hear whatever you'd be willing to share about Dan. There is much I don't know."

"No way!" Dan exclaimed but she just laughed, and he wondered how young this laughter sounded and how rarely he'd heard it outside of their private conversations. He wanted another cake and had to let go of Vadim's hand to do so, the awkward movement watched by the Baroness.

"How is your wrist, Dan?"

"Fine." Quickly swallowing a bite, he nodded.

"I am glad to hear, but I have arranged nevertheless for you to see my personal doctor. Judging from the state of the plaster this might be quite a good idea."

Vadim smiled, now reaching for some of the sandwiches, getting hungry from looking at them.

"Whatever you say, Ma'm." Dan's exaggerated sigh went well with the mock resignation on his face.

"You keep this up, my friend, and I shall make you wear a suit. There are plenty of yours still in the wardrobe and you do not look as if you had lost or gained any weight."

"You wouldn't make me …."

"Try me, Dan." Her Excellency winked at Vadim in an almost conspiratorially manner while Dan huffed something unintelligible, before hovering up the last of his cake.

"That would be cruel and heartless, Ma'm." He finished his coffee, looking at her over the brim of his cup, all beaten dog with an added dash of dark-eyed puppy, wagging its virtual tail.

"Well, Mr Krasnorada," she turned her attention to Vadim, "wouldn't you agree that Dan might be able to cut a good figure in a suit - if he practised a little more?"

Vadim smiled. "I remember an evening when he was quite dashing in his James Bond look." He looked at Dan, giving him a mocking smile, remembering, however, how he'd been stretched out and 'taken prisoner'. Ah, nice thoughts, and he should better think something else. "Of course, Dan's fashion sense reminds me of a long string of traffic accidents. Riff raff camo as he played the reporter, unshaven, lice infested in local 'garb' in the mountains as the mentor to 'freedom fighters', and, of course, all manner of guises, including that of a big influential NGO."

"I have you know, Ma'm," Dan interrupted, "I was cutting a rather convincing figure as a member of the Red Cross." He wagged a finger in front of Vadim's face before looking back at her, pleadingly, while she laughed. "And, don't forget that I was actually washed when I was in my Red Cross get-up. Hair and all, shaved as well. Honest."

"I talked about fashion, not your grooming. The story of your grooming would be the equivalent of a small sized genocide, not a traffic accident."

Dabbing the corners of her eyes with a napkin, the Baroness was still chuckling. "I have to admit, Mr Krasnorada, that in contrast to Dan, you actually manage to make a suit look good and remain good looking, even after wearing it for more than five minutes."

Vadim reached out to touch Dan's shoulder. "He's not making a great effort, but I'd like to see him in a nice suit again. For several reasons."

"I can just imagine those reasons." Dan muttered, but damn, he remembered that night, too, and how he'd had to explain the stains on his smoking in a very creative fashion. He quickly had to cover his groin with a strategically placed elbow.

She smiled, looking from one to the other. "And what would those reasons be, if I may be so curious?"

Vadim paused to sip his coffee, winning time. Damn. Reasons. 'Because he looks great and imposing and I'd love to suck his cock while he wears a four figure suit' wouldn't be a good answer. "One is … it makes him uncomfortable, which I find endearing. Second - Dan is turning a little too old for the jeans look. Third - I'd be a barbarian if I didn't prefer him in a well cut suit, and fourth - because it's very easy on the eyes. Very easy indeed. There might be a fifth reason, but I'm not sure I quite remember. Dan?"

Cruelty sprung into Dan's eyes, under the highly amused look of her ladyship. "Could the fifth reason have anything to do with James Bond and a certain evening in Kabul, or is that not correct anymore, since you have learned to use the article in English?" His grin was toothy and evil. If he was to suffer, Vadim should as well. Besides, he couldn't remember when the Baroness had ever laughed that much.

"I think James Bond has something to do with it." Vadim shook his head, but pursed his lips. "And the articles just happened when I went through Selection. Granted, it took some rethinking of how I speak English, but I think I usually remember."

Dan grinned and shrugged, looking at the Baroness while pointing at Vadim. "Can you tell me why I wanted that man back? I am being mistreated and taken the mickey out of." Remembering not to use swear words, at least for a while.

Tears of laughter were still gleaming in her acutely intelligent eyes, there was something else as well. Relief, warmth, and the profound pleasure of witnessing two people at light-hearted banter, where there had been nothing but darkness before.

"Well," she smiled at both, "because you love him."

Vadim nodded. "Listen to her. She knows her stuff." Giving a wink, and siding with the clear and easy winner in the conversation. Apart from that, teasing Dan could lead to the most interesting payback, and that was always a plus.

"I guess …" Dan heaved a sigh, "maybe she's got a point."

"In that case," Baroness de Vilde stood up from the table, readjusting the pearls that got caught in the buttons of her twin set, "I shall leave you two gentlemen to your afternoon tea. Please do feel at home and ask for whatever you might wish. Dan knows this place and its ins and outs. Oh, and if you would like to take a swim, please feel free." She smiled, nodding to both. "I am afraid I have an appointment, but I am sure you can entertain yourselves."

Before she left, she did the most shocking thing Dan had ever seen her do. She winked at them, with a facial expression that bordered on mischievous.

* * *

They spent that day in the city proper, with Vadim making purchases against Dan's protests that they didn't need any of the things, or that he was bored of shopping, but Vadim decided to blow what was left of his pay cheque, and he enjoyed torturing Dan. He had no idea what to do with the clothes and gadgets - he didn't actually have a place to live or store things beyond that tin hut, and part of him told him he should stay Spartan and not keep anything there that he couldn't afford to lose.

Maybe there was a way to put those things into storage. He had no idea what to do otherwise, but enjoyed too much to try things on and have them if he liked them, not heeding Dan's groans and general anguish. Dan had dragged him to Dubai, he better coped with it.

That evening, it was dinner with Her Ladyship, the smallest of circles, as if she still felt guilty about that other dinner, and Vadim found himself appreciating that concern more than he liked. Wasn't ready to be too close with anybody but Dan - or other people he considered safe, especially after a long, tiring day and in surroundings that invited too much thought. Too much memory. He drank wine and sherry and could just hear the thoughts hanging between Dan and Maggie, so he placed a hand on Dan's shoulder to tell him he'd retire, and thanked the Ambassador for the lovely evening.

He was actually tired when he walked upstairs for a quick shower and then to lie down in the huge bed, feeling a faint breeze from the A/C stir the air. He couldn't read, but he could listen to his own thoughts, which eventually stilled amidst memories of expensive jewellery, amazing suits, and the wealthy and relaxed, if somewhat pompous attitude all around him. He was clearly a guest, but he felt welcome.

He was half asleep when Dan joined him in that bed, and felt Dan's lips on his neck and throat, only half waking when Dan's hand went all over his body, and tonelessly groaning as Dan fucked him again, gentle but intense, and made him cum while he was still inside. Dan slept spooning him from behind, the good arm wrapped around him, with his hand on his abs, and Vadim felt himself lean back and be completely at peace.

* * *

Dan was deeply asleep in the middle of the night, exhausted from a day of travelling, running errands, a good meal, damn fine sex, and a heart-to-heart talk with the Baroness. He slept dreamlessly, while wrapped around Vadim, clinging to the reassuring body heat and the deeply subconscious knowledge that he was holding his lover.

Sleep had him dragged under, until something stirred his unconscious mind. Not awake, but movement entered his thoughts. His body jerked by an outside force, and a sound that began to penetrate his sleeping mind. Yet Dan merely moved closer once more, pressed his body against Vadim's back, his arm tightening the embrace. Immediately falling back into the deep sleep, when the body in his arms stopped the movement and went rigid.

Restriction. Trapped. Sudden fear, overpowering sleep. Couldn't move a muscle. Darkness. Isolation. Not one conscious thought, but all pervading dread. He knew there was something, something outside, but knew nothing else, only that he couldn't move. Vadim fought the paralysis that held him in shackles, in chains, stretched out. He tensed, violently, every muscle in his body vibrating with the effort to shed sleep and its hold, and he heard the sound coming from somewhere, somewhere close, didn't realise his mouth was open, and his own throat was choking on the sound. A low, deep sound, more groan than scream, sleep deafened, sleep dulled, as his elbow suddenly moved, torn free, felt the constraints move and shift, almost free, and suddenly remembered something - madness, insanity, pain, but above all, fear so astute it made his heart race and his blood freeze. He awoke with a scream, pushing away whatever was there.

Dan woke with a start, disorientated, darkness surrounding him and wild thrashing. Arms, legs, a body pushing against him, away, forceful, flailing and the sound his sleeping mind had discarded was turning from terrified groan into something entirely inhuman. He did not know where he was at first, nor why, nor what, and instincts kicked in, throwing himself off the bed to get out of the way of the flailing limbs, before he registered what was happening. Hitting the floor hard, he woke fully as the most horrifying scream tore through his senses. Blindly scrabbling for his weapons before his mind caught on where the fuck he was. "Vadim!" Dan shouted, fumbling for the light, his hand shaking.

Vadim tossed the covers away, couldn't stand anything close, couldn't be touched, and was conscious enough to fall silent. Wiped his face, hand came away wet. Tears. Sweat. He had no idea. Could have been blood. Where. Not the hole. Not the tin hut. Had no idea where he was, felt lost, disorientated, like somebody had transported him in his sleep and left him. He couldn't make any sense out of it. He stood, needed to stand, needed to be off the bed.

Light flooded the room when Dan managed to find the switch and scrambled to his feet. Staring wide eyed at Vadim, breathing hard. "What the fuck happened?"

Vadim stood, breathing heavily, holding his sides like he could feel punches and kicks, heart racing so hard it felt like he'd throw up. Wrestling the fear. Almost tore the blinds off as he fumbled for them to open, frantic, needed air, needed, above all, space, mind still blank.

Dan took the few steps around the foot of the bed and stopped close to the other. His good hand on Vadim's arm, trying to calm him, with Vadim close to punching him. Could Dan not see he needed fucking air. Grew only more frantic, more nauseous as he had to struggle against Dan first. "Let me …" speaking Russian, didn't notice, didn't make sense, only tried to get the windows open.

"What the hell happened! Talk to me." Wrapping his other arm around the broad, shaking shoulders, Dan did not understand what Vadim was trying to do, nor how, nor why. Nothing made sense. Vadim's skin was pale, cold and clammy when touched, and Dan could feel the heart racing beneath his hands.

Every muscle inside Vadim clenched at the touch, could absolutely not stand being restricted, being touched, feeling anything on his wet skin. "Don't … please. Don't." Knew, however, with the certainty of a condemned man that his wishes didn't matter. That he was, ultimately, powerless.

"Don't what!" Dan's thoughts raced, lost in confusion, but he did take one step back, let go of Vadim. Felt tension, sweat, desperation in the other, the scent of … fear. "What the fuck is going on with you!" The helplessness gave an aggressive edge to Dan's voice.

"Don't … touch me." Vadim blinked as he realised what he'd almost said. Don't hit me. He expected punches and kicks, couldn't face Dan, Dan, who'd never hit him, not now, and still somehow, was afraid and didn't know of what.

Holding his hands up in the age-old gesture of peaceful intentions, Dan took another step back. "I won't touch you. It's OK. Won't even come close. I'm sorry, Vadim. Won't touch you. OK?" He had no idea what he was doing, just that he had to calm Vadim, no matter if what he said was the exact opposite to what he wanted to do. Hold, touch, and stop this madness.

"O…kay." Vadim stared at the window, but suddenly at a loss. Realised, as his mind caught up amidst the racing heart and the nausea clenching his guts. "Just … nightmare." Admitting defeat. It was back. He groaned, wiping his face. Nothing new. He was dripping sweat. Again.

"OK." Dan kept his hands where they were. Nothing was OK, though, nothing at all. "Nightmare." His thoughts were racing, he didn't want them to make sense, but they were starting to come together. "How often? It's …" puzzle pieces suddenly fell into place, "they told me, back in camp, that you were screaming at night. Is it the same nightmares?"

Vadim swallowed, kept half an eye on Dan and half on the window. The acute panic had blunted, instead, shame began replacing the dread. Regret. "I don't know. I can't remember. Just … can't remember." Wiped his chest, came away with what felt like a handful of sweat.

Dan had no idea how to handle this, had to act on instinct. He nodded, gesturing to the blinds but did not move any closer. "If you want to open them, there are a couple of buttons. Push the black one for the blinds and the other one releases the lock for the window." He took a further step away, until he could sit down on the edge of the bed. Far away enough, he figured.

Vadim looked at the window, reached for it, but his hands shook badly, and he was rattled. Wasn't sure he'd understood the explanation. Buttons. He stepped back, shook his head. "It's … alright." Windows. Dangerous. But not here. No sniper. No camera. Windows were not dangerous unless he was on duty. But it was deeply ingrained, part of him, like the pigments of his skin.

"Want to tell me what you remember, if anything?"

"I don't remember. It's just … emotions. Nothing hunting me. It's not falling. It's … just bad." Switching back to English in mid-sentence, brow dark with concentration. So, he screamed in Russian. Well, that at least made sense.

"Do you want to take a shower, maybe? You look cold. But anything, really. Up to you. Anything."

"Just … calm. Quiet." Vadim stood there, breathing, waiting for his heart to return to normal, but it took forever, like he'd just run a marathon. "Just … understand I'm awake."

"OK." Dan nodded, things were even less OK than before, but he needed time to make sense of any of everything, and most of all this helplessness, which he didn't know how to deal with. So he sat, quietly, until the minutes passed by and he could not bear it anymore. Needed to do something, so he finally got up and to the tray with the kettle, preparing everything to make a brew. Busying himself as he would have done in the Afghan mountains.

Vadim watched Dan's motions, managed to sit down and place his hands on his thighs, suddenly exhausted. Tea. Brilliant idea. Like the doctor. Nothing a good tea couldn't make better. Nightmare fading, and the fear remained an astute memory, but would be gone tomorrow. "That's the … trauma", he murmured. "Stress reaction. It's …" my broken mind. "… a recurring condition. I'm sorry. It's not … I can't control it. It just happens. Sorry I woke you."

"No, that's alright." Dan was just glad Vadim was talking to him. The kettle boiled and he poured a couple of cups, carrying them over to the bed. Handing one to Vadim, who took the tea, mainly to hold it. Comforting.

"Can I sit next to you? I won't touch. Promise." Dan felt like a right idiot, so utterly out of his depth.

Vadim gave a tired smile. "It's okay. I'm calming down." Reaching out to touch Dan's shoulder, briefly, still didn't want an embrace or anything quite that close, but could touch Dan, at least. Fuck. Touching his lover. Another thing that Konstantinov had broken. That hurt and went deep, and Vadim was surprised how much that did actually hurt. Dan meekly staying away, and him wanting Dan there, at arm's length, at least for a little while.

"Is there anything I can do?"

"Just … be there when it happens?" Vadim swallowed hard. "Fuck, I hate this, but … seems I am a nutcase. Sorry, Dan. I hate this when it happens. But being alone is … far worse." Lying awake at night, feeling tears run down my face and knowing you won't touch me because you hate me. That's far worse.

"I'll always be there. Always. I have no intention to spend my nights apart from you. Ever again. As long as it's in my power to do anything about it, I will sleep beside you. You understand?"

"I do. And that's … good. It is. It wears off. It might … stop one day. This can't go on forever, can it?" Can it?

Dan managed to smile a little. "No, it can't." As if he had the foggiest idea, but by all that was fair and right this shouldn't go on forever. "Remember the bullet? You won't get rid of me, you'd have to kill me to do so."

Vadim smiled back. "And if I leave, just shoot me. It's a deal." And it makes a lot of sense, because without you, my life will be just a nightmare, and nothing else.

"I will." Dan smiled, nothing but utterly serious. Sipping his tea, he looked straight ahead, at the drawn blinds that were bathed in golden-warm light from the table lamp. Sensing the body beside him but not touching, not daring to. Remembered the Baroness' words, 'give him time, Dan, time and space'. He would, even if he didn't believe in 'and they lived happily ever after'. It was a lie, just as much as 'love conquers all' or the ever present 'love heals all wounds'. It didn't. He knew that now, and accepted it. It just didn't, and in the end, they were two naked men, sitting close, and unable to touch.

How he fucking hated the past that night.

* * *

Late the next morning Dan took off to the Baroness' doc, reluctantly, even though sometime that night Vadim had calmed down and went back to bed. After a short while rolling over and grabbing Dan to sleep once more wrapped around.

He was going to be out until after lunch, meaning to get into the city centre on a minor shopping spree on his own, which had nothing to do with Vadim's earlier one. It was all 'manly man's' shopping instead of painful agony.

It was late morning, a couple of hours after Dan had left, when Vadim heard the sound of the Ambassador's steps along the poolside.

He raised a hand and lifted the towel, wet to cool his face. Found it hard to cope with the heat that seemed oddly more intense than Thailand, even though he was lying in the shade and had just minutes ago climbed out of the pool. Wearing his swimming trunks and a towel over his groin, he looked to the side, and, recognizing the feet, took the towel off, dropped it to the ground and sat up. "Ma'am."

She smiled at him, inclining her head. "Mr Krasnorada, I was wondering if you were so inclined as to take some refreshments with me? I realise I am a poor substitute for Dan's charming presence, but I can offer cold lemonade and fruit to combat this heat."

Vadim gave a smile. "Most certainly. Before I fall asleep and bake to death." He stood, shaking his heat-dazed head, then tied the towel around his hips, for modesty's sake, and hoped she wouldn't see his back. Or at least not speak Russian. Not exactly a view for polite society.

"Excellent." She smiled and clasped her hands before retreating along the pool, expecting Vadim to follow. The same table was laid out that had been used the day before. Comfortably in the shade and with fans blowing a gently cooling breeze. Freshly pressed lemonade stood in a jug that was frosted with condensation, as well as bottles of mineral water and a pot of tea, together with fruit, cut into bites, and the most classic of all nibbles: cucumber sandwiches.

"Please, do take a seat." She indicated the chair opposite to her as she sat down. "Juice, water or tea?"

Vadim settled, his gaze resting for a moment on the sandwiches. It was the first time that he didn't read about them, but actually saw them with his own eyes. "Water will do, thanks." Wasn't sure whether he should serve the drinks, felt out of his depth and decided to let things happen.

She nodded, filled a glass and handed it over, while smiling. "There certainly is nothing better than pure water, but I do admit to a weakness for fresh fruit juice." Leaning forward a little, as if conspiring, "especially with a dash of brandy in it."

"Used to be tea with a shot of vodka for myself, but it's too hot for that." Vadim grinned. "Ah, that's much better", he murmured as he took a deep swallow from the glass, feeling the cold water run down towards his stomach. "I'm hoping I don't keep you from any important work?"

"Not at all." Sipping on her own juice, "I was hoping you had some time for a light snack. I was looking for an opportunity to tell you how delighted I am that you are here - with Dan. I just hope it is not too boring for you here in the embassy." Gesturing to the nibbles, she took a sandwich herself.

Vadim shook his head. "I've served in an Eagle's Nest. I don't know boredom." Don't think isolation cell. Don't think hole. Think Afghanistan. Afghanistan is safe. "And besides, I was curious. Well, in a way, I still am. You're the only one of …" He paused, but saw in her face that it would most likely be alright. "… Dan's friends I've met. The others are … well, mercenaries. One cannot expect too much of that ilk, I suppose."

She chuckled lightly, while elegantly making her way through the sandwich. "You struck me as a man, unlike Dan, who has a love of literature and, perhaps, the other fine arts. Am I right or am I wrong?"

"Yes", he admitted. "Don't tell Dan, but I even like ballet." His father would smile now, if there was pride left in that old man. Pride when his only son had turned out to be a faggot. Defective. A Soviet, and a henchman for a regime that he despised. Failed him twice. "I had a lot of time to read … our classical writers, of course, but I very much appreciate English for its simple elegance. Much easier to learn than Russian."

"I must say, if I may," she smiled, "that your English has improved in leaps and bounds. You have certainly mastered the language since I last spoke to you." Diplomatically leaving out the circumstances and anything else.

Vadim nodded. "I guess that's because I think in English these days. It makes the language flow differently and feel more natural." Every now and then, Russian thoughts did crop up, mostly when he was alone, or suddenly confronted with Russian, but other than that, he stuck to English. It gave him more control.

"Have you ever read the works of our great bard, William Shakespeare? If you are interested, I have the complete volumes here."

"It wouldn't hurt brushing up on Shakespeare. He was translated to Russian, I read a few of the plays … my father had an extensive library. I used to prefer the darker plays, the tragedies. Titus Andronicus, Macbeth, and some of the others that were bloodthirsty. The Merchant of Venice?"

"Ah, yes, what genius and what brilliance. Demanding the pound of flesh, with words and sentences concentrating on the impossible and making it believable to the audience. All human, each and every of the motivations, all so very human. Power, pain, greed, anger, revenge, and finally mercy." Her gaze slipped away for a moment, towards the beautiful vegetation. She leaned back in the chair. "Sadly, I have not been able to read the great Russian authors in their mother tongue, only in translations."

"Great thoughts translate into any language … much of the beauty gets lost, though." Reading Bulgakov in English was probably a real pain. Somehow, that was a difficult thought. As if he was losing something when he kept to English. Something that had to do with beauty.

"In that case, please do help yourself to my library. Sadly, Dan never did, and that with his aptitude for languages. But if he were a bookworm, then he would probably not be who he is." Her warm chuckle made light work of whatever lay beneath her words. "And I believe that would be a shame."

Vadim nodded. "Thank you kindly, Ma'am. I don't read much these days, but maybe I find the …" strength, "calm to have a look." Inclining his head. "Dan never struck me as a man of theory or great thoughts, even though that is … uhm, not very flattering. Maybe he'll find access to it one day, but I wouldn't bet a paycheck on it."

She laughed quietly, shaking her head. "I can see, Mr Krasnorada, that you do not hold out much hope for him." She folded her hands in her lap, eyes sparkling with mirth. "Or can you truly imagine Dan sitting and reading 'Love's Labour Lost', 'Paradise Lost' or 'Sons and Lovers'? And I am only alluding to native English works." Leaving forward, she took her glass, taking a delicate sip, smiling.

Hope. What an odd thing to say. "Dan prefers the mountains to paper. And the desert." And skin, he thought, suddenly. Dan was a man of real things, of things outside his head, outside himself. "Like a mystic, looking for god, in an age without gods", he murmured.

Placing the glass back down, she leaned forward once more, this time to look at Vadim, with that same smile on her face. Warm, a smile not many ever saw. "You really do love him, don't you?" the Baroness said quietly.

Vadim blinked, then looked to the side, without seeing colours and patterns, but it helped him find words. Speaking about love without cliché, without borrowing somebody else's well-worn words that were maybe too comfortable, that was the true challenge. "Dan changed me in ways that stripped the man away I wanted to be, and the man I was made to be, and the man I was expected to be. He skinned me alive, and left only … somebody who", he breathed, but barely, "… can live and die now, like a human being, not an automaton, not somebody else's creation. Dan took my fear of death. I can't die now. I know that I'm immortal."

"Immortal?" She said quietly, sitting still. "Your soul? Your being?"

"I don't believe there's anything like a soul. But I believe that most people are asleep. They aren't even aware what they are, or that they are alive. And we are all scared to die, so when it happens we scream for our mothers and clutch our guts because we're scared. I'm not. I'm not afraid of death. The only thing I'm afraid of is losing Dan." But if that happens, he thought, Dan might just keep the promise and kill him on the way out.

She nodded without saying a word, her eyes on the man before her. Eyes that were clear and deeply intelligent, probing in a tender way.

"I'm not sure it makes sense. But death isn't bad. It's the fear, and just the fear. So when you lose that … it's like death doesn't exist anymore. It stops having an impact."

"But if he left you, what then? Could you exist without him?" Her words came quietly, their meaning veiled.

Vadim inhaled. "Somehow I did, didn't I? I promised him to live. And there are … people that might miss me if I killed myself. Family. What's … left." His brow darkened. "I think they would … be there if there was nothing else left."

"Ah," she exhaled quietly, "this is why." She shook her head in a near aborted movement before fixing her gaze once more onto him. "In prison, did the promise sustain you?" Straightforward, and to the point, but with the most careful tone and voice.

"I'm not sure." Vadim felt sudden tension rise. "A … wide black river with … just one floating log. Yes, and no. It was too easy to … lose sight of." And lose all strength to think, and make decisions, and do anything but simply endure, drawing breath after breath like an animal.

"I am sorry." She said after a pause, with the same gentle voice. "I did not mean to upset you. I guess …" hesitating, so very much unlike her, "I guess I simply care about you, Mr Krasnorada, even though I do not know you very well. No, not at all."

Vadim paused and met her gaze, wondering why on earth she cared, and even said that to him. Crossing lines. Strangely, he didn't mind. She was Dan's friend, and that brought her close. He suddenly smiled, one of those strange bright smiles that he'd almost forgotten how to smile. "I think you do know me. Better than my superiors ever did. You've seen me … begging, and hurt, and helpless, and insecure. That's … a lot more than most people have ever seen me be."

"You do have a very valid point." Inclining her head, she smiled. "I have never, though, seen you anything but strong." Adding, because anything but the truth would not do, "except once. And even then, Mr Krasnorada, I believe that even then you showed strength. Walking away was - what I then thought - the coward's way, but in retrospect I was very much wrong."

Vadim frowned. "I don't understand."

"Well," she shifted in her seat, "if you had stayed I dare not think what might have happened, because of our inability to understand. As I said to you before, I apologise for having dragged you to that dinner reception, probably the worst I could have done."

"Please. It's forgiven and forgotten."

Nodding to herself as she gathered her thoughts. "And yet you healed enough to have the strength to face your demons - or whatever you might wish to call this - and you sought contact with me. More so, you succeeded in what was clearly not 'just' a physical challenge, but most of all a mental one. Selection, Mr Krasnorada, as you must know best of all, is essentially more about the mind than anything else." Pausing, she leaned back in her seat, and her smile was somewhat melancholy. "And of course, owing to my meddling presence the first encounter with Dan was anything but pleasant. Yet, somehow, you got through it all. You and Dan, and here you are."

It was all true, challenges, and how lucky he had been in the end. "No. It … took a while before we even spoke to each other without shouting." Or snarling.

Another pause, tinged with a mild chuckle and a shake of her head, "love conquers all? I wouldn't have thought so, to be honest. I am a realist."

"Love can be like a commanding officer … it's unfair, random, cruel, but it gets you through the war, somehow, gets you where you have to be." Vadim smiled again. "I read that some goddesses are both goddesses of love and war. I think that's about right." He gave a short laugh and shook his head.

"But what does that make the gods, then?" She leaned closer.

"I don't know ... I'm pretty much an atheist. Probably the only thing I share with my father." He frowned, felt it was strange to bring the old man up in conversation.

Her eyes flickered across the way, towards the entrance to the patio, as she sat up with a smile that made her almost look youthful. "You don't even believe in this one?" One hand lifted, elegantly, to casually point towards the man who was stepping through the door. Shades, knee-length shorts, shirt, and brilliant white plaster. Plus a carrier bag in his hand.

Vadim suddenly smiled, turning to look back. "Some god of war and love you are, Dan." He chided, laughing. "Let me take that." Moving to take the bag off his lover. Partner. Reason to live.

"Huh?" Dan's brows crept over the top of his shades as he reached the table. "What are you talking about?"

"Everything and nothing, really", murmured Vadim and briefly touched Dan's shoulder, while Dan allowed him to take the bag. It was quite heavy, full of techno gadgets and goodies.

Dan found his manners again as he greeted the Baroness, who smiled at him. The sun caught a glint of something he was wearing around his neck, as Dan sat down in the empty chair between the two. "Left anything for me? Especially now that I seem to have become a god?" He grinned at each of them.

"Accept our humble offerings", Vadim said, gesturing at the food. "Good hunting?"

"I'd say so." Dan held up his gleaming white plaster, "I got a fresh makeover in the bargain." He leaned closer to the Baroness, grinning as he pushed up his shades so he could look at her with his own eyes and no barrier in between. "That doctor of yours, Ma'm, he is a very thorough fellow, aye? And there I was, thinking he'd only check my wrist and not all of the rest of me. Inside and out."

To her credit, the lady did not even try to argue. She merely chuckled lightly as she shook her head. "You have to forgive me, Dan, but I cannot stop taking care of those close to my heart."

Dan smiled, reaching for her hand with his good one and placing a light kiss on top of hers while his shades fell back over his eyes, spoiling the scene somewhat.

She seemed mildly surprised but merely smiled before gently extricating her hand and standing up, smoothing her skirt. "I think it is time for me, my dear friends, to leave you to your well deserved holiday, while I take care of some business. I shall see you tonight for a light supper, if you don't have any other plans."

"No, we'd be delighted." Vadim indicated a bow and smiled, glancing sideways at Dan. "It's a rare delight to see Dan behave so well, too. Please."

Dan managed to murmur "fuck you" with nothing but the corner of his lips, as she laughed lightly.

"In that case, gentlemen, I shall see you at 6:30 PM tonight." She nodded to both of them, "until then." With that she left, her heels clacking along the stone-tiled ground.

"You bastard." Dan grinned the moment she was out of earshot.

Vadim raised his hands, professing innocence. "Why? She obviously enjoys your company, and I obviously enjoy seeing you struggle with the assortment of cutlery. Everybody wins."

"Aye, except for me." Dan managed to put on his best pout cum distraught face as he settled back into the chair, while hoovering food off the plates. "Besides," chewing while talking, "I have you know that I bloody well know what cutlery to use when. I realise you think I'm an oaf, but I'm at least a well trained one." Shutting himself up with another mouthful.

Vadim paused and looked at him, blankly, trying to understand whether he'd gone too far, didn't know whether this was an accusation of arrogance, or ... whatever else. "Oaf?"

"Aye, oaf, as in simpleton, dunce, blockhead, uneducated bozo, stupido, and totally unsophisticated idiot." Dan started to laugh.

"A peasant." Vadim smiled, finding Dan's laugh, again, infectious. "Country bumpkin."

"Exactly." Dan thumped Vadim's shoulder in a mock punch. "That's me. Peasant. Straight from a small village in the Scottish Highlands. As sophisticated as a bullet, I am."

Vadim smiled. "There's much to be said for simplicity." Leaning closer, then moved the chair so he could be close enough to feel Dan's heat, hand on Dan's chest, and he leaned his head against Dan's. "It's effective, healthy, and natural. And very often, I don't want rhetoric."

"Guess I'm lucky then, aye?" Dan murmured, paused, glancing towards the carrier bag. "Mmmm … lucky enough for the special purchase that I bought today?"

"Special purchase?" Vadim straightened again and stood to bring the bag over, handing it to Dan. "What's that?"

The bag on his lap, Dan rummaged with his good hand until he found what he had been looking for. "Well …that would be this, then." Pulling out a large tub of Vaseline, he grinned, somewhat crookedly.

Vadim glanced around, but nobody was there to take offence at the possibility that these tall military gentlemen might possibly indulge in physical acts that required Vaseline. "Here?" He cleared his throat. "In our ... quarters?"

"Aye, here. Where else would you find that much privacy and safety?" Pushing the shades off his eyes to let them sit atop his wild hair, Dan cocked his head. "In fact, do you actually know what I bought this for?"

I can guess. Vadim glanced around again. "Somehow, I think it's not what I think it is? Correct?"

"That entirely depends on what you are thinking." Dan smirked.

"I guess something that we haven't done here … so far." As if he stood any chance to say no. As if he wanted to say no.

"I'd say it's not just something we haven't done so far here, but something we haven't done. Full stop. Not ever, since …" Not ever that I remember it. Not truly.

Vadim glanced over his shoulder. "What is it?"

"A large tub of Vaseline." Dan stated the obvious, deadpan.

Vadim groaned. "Yes. I mean what is it we haven't done?"

Now, finally, it was up to Dan to falter in the midst of his usual cockiness. Swallowing first, he grinned, almost as bright and toothy as ever. "I thought …" glancing behind him to check no one was in earshot. "It's been so long. That ... well," grinned again, before he dropped the Vaseline into Vadim's lap. "Remember the cave? One of many, but you brought me back from the dead."

The dead. A pile of dead. A fucking mass grave of dead Mujas. Vadim knew exactly the moment Dan mentioned it. Breath catching.

"I ... I want you to do the same. I want to know. And, damn, want to feel you." Adding with an almost defiant jerk of his chin, "aye?"

"Aye." Not thinking. Not actually remembering where he'd learnt that and how Dan had reacted, but caught up in Dan wanting that, wanted to … be …what? Helpless? Vadim took the Vaseline and dropped it into the bag. "Let's go upstairs …"

"Uh …" looking up, Dan shook his head, with an almost comical expression of deepest regret. "Fear we can't. Remember, light dinner? At 1830 hours?" Adding with deeply felt conviction, "fuck!"

"Shit. True." Cancellation was not an issue. So, again, it would be a shower, rest, getting dressed, and then some time with Dan. Likely the whole night. No problem, there were no duties, they had time, and he could savour it. Let Dan savour it, mostly. "Well. We just … keep that thought."

"I'm not going to survive that." Dan's hand twisted into the carrier bag on Vadim's lap. "Shit. Can't we go upstairs for a quickie?"

Vadim smiled. Anticipation was a dish best served … well. In several courses. "We shouldn't ruin it with a quickie", he murmured into Dan's ear. "I'd love to, but I'd rather take my time."

"Aye." Dan swallowed, staring straight ahead. "What the fuck have I actually asked you to do?" Murmured, as if talking to himself. About to bolt, he suddenly stood up from the chair, nearly knocking the china dishes off the petite table.

Vadim quickly reached out to steady the table and then stood, grabbing the bag. "Never mind, Dan. Think of something else. I'll take care of the rest." It was about taking care. Taking care of a need, a desire, a wish, his lover, his life. The sudden wave of tenderness hurt like a bitch and made his voice fail. Seeing Dan flustered. He placed a hand on Dan's shoulder. "Trust me with that."

Dan stopped in mid motion, looking at Vadim with a seriousness unlike himself. Looking for a long time, until he slowly pushed the shades up, baring his dark eyes. "OK." Just that, and a corner of his lips twitched up in a smile, entirely self conscious. "In that case, what are we going to do until dinner? I'm horny as hell. Have been all day long. Can't stop thinking. Wondering. Imagining. And haven't got a fucking clue, why."

"Swimming, or a shower?"

"With that goddamned raging hard-on?" Dan snatched with his good hand for Vadim's, briefly pressing it onto his crotch, earning an affectionate squeeze. Wearing briefs for once, which hid the obvious beneath those baggy Bermuda shorts.

"Well … It's reasonably cold water." Vadim smiled. "Just love your skin when it's wet, did I ever tell you that?"

Dan widened his eyes in mock surprise. "Do you?" Moving closer. Too close, in fact. "You'd think after eleven years I should be able to remember if you did. Seems I'm an old man, booze and sex have eaten my brain."

Vadim stood his ground and nodded, meeting Dan's gaze. "I don't mind repeating it, though. Ever since the hamam, I love how your skin looks when wet. I like the smell of it when it's wet, and the taste."

Dan smiled. "Aye, I remember the hamam." Lifting his hand to Vadim's face, fingertips touching the well-known planes and angles. A touch as gentle as a first-time lover's, and he leaned in, a touch of lips on lips. Chaste in its simplicity. If it was witnessed by others, Dan did not care. "Best wrap up my plaster cast then," he murmured, "right, old man?"

Vadim smiled, wanted to hold Dan, but just squeezed his shoulder. "Yes. She did notice you ruined the other plaster." He gestured towards the exit. "Let's head upstairs."

Dan nodded, and followed Vadim.

It was hard not to jump the other's bones, once they were in the room, but as much as Dan tried to make Vadim forget his resolution, as much did Vadim remember. They never made it into the pool, the large tub in their private bath a more convenient alternative for Dan's plastered wrist, and a more comfortable one as well. Dinner time arrived, and by then, Dan wanted nothing but wolf some food down and take Vadim upstairs, or run away and never mention this idiotic notion of his again. One of those two, but really not the third option, which was sitting nicely at a beautifully laid out table, making conversation with a cultured lady, while indulging in exquisite food and sipping wine. Sipping ... not so much in Dan's case, who was indulging more in the plonk than in anything else.

Vadim caught himself smiling. If he hadn't known better, he'd had thought Dan was nervous. Or maybe he was. Dan certainly didn't drink quite that fiercely, normally. He laid a solid foundation himself, though, eating with a good appetite, and only drinking enough wine to be slightly on the mellow side. Chatting about this and that, as if part of his mind wasn't occupied by the thought of Dan. Dan on the bed, spread out. This was probably what a real honeymoon felt like - the whole world just focussed on one thing, two people, them, and nobody else, and Vadim tried his best to not be rude and mask the extent of his focus on Dan. Spreading out the anticipation, but also genuinely enjoying the company. An odd mix of emotions, sharp and crystal clear, this was really happening, and he savoured being able to feel that and to be so aware of himself - and Dan.

Dan was going through the wine at a rate of knots, getting rather merry and shutting up except for the odd comment. Still shovelling the food down as if there was no tomorrow, but his alcohol consumption caused even the Baroness to raise a brow with an amused smile. No comment, though, she remained as discreetly quiet about the odd behaviour, as she remained pleasantly engaged in conversation.

Dan began shifting in his seat, fingers toying relentlessly with the stem of the glass, and his face betraying a slight flush, while his dark eyes seemed unfocused on anything outside, drawn into his own thoughts. Thoughts that he didn't know what to do with, and couldn't explain to himself why they had become so important, and why he had to act on them. Curiosity killed the cat, most likely, or simply an affirmation, fully, completely, and utterly unmistakably, that Vadim truly was back. That he would stay, was his, and nothing and no one could come in between.

Eventually, desert was over, and the Baroness excused herself, maybe to leave them to their own devices, or maybe she was actually tired - Vadim found it impossible to tell. It felt early to him, and he stood and smiled and thanked her for the company and the meal, while Dan did his best to be polite as well. Once she'd left the room, Vadim nodded to Dan, smiling. "You think you can walk, or do I have to carry you?"

"Uhm …" Weaving a little, Dan looked at Vadim with a drunken smile. Drunk … but not piss-drunk. "Can we take the bottle with us?" Pointing to the three quarter full bottle of wine beside him.

"I don't think they count them here."

"If …" a tiny hiccup forced Dan to pause, "if I stagger too much, you going to carry me over the threshold of our room?" Baring his teeth in a broad, clumsy grin.

Vadim laughed and extended a hand. "Come on. I'm sure you'll manage."

Dan clamped the bottle under his arm, took Vadim's hand, and let himself get dragged onto his feet, where he swayed for a moment, before he had himself back under control. "Am not a lightweight," murmured, "just … damn. Booze seemed like a bloody good idea."

Vadim shook his head, chuckling, and manoeuvred Dan up the stairs, with plenty of patience, and interrupted with the occasional re-fit of his arm under Dan's shoulder. "No, not a lightweight", he conceded.

Once in the room, Dan flopped onto the bed, just about managing not to spill the red wine. The bottle ended on the floor, in dangerous proximity to his feet. Legs open, arms in his back to support himself with his good hand, looking up. "I'm so fucking tired of these nice clothes." He shook the mop of dark hair and grin upwards at Vadim.

"Are you?" Vadim leaned down to move the bottle away from the feet and out of reach, supporting himself on one knee. "Tired of the shoes, too?" Unlacing them, and pulling them off the heels, one by one, setting them to the side. He pulled the socks off and slid his hands up the backs of Dan's feet towards his calves. "Hmmm. I think I'll let you off then. You've been all cooperative today."

"What do you mean?" Dan smiled drunkenly. Lifting his legs, just a bit, to allow further access, demanding more of the touch. At the same time sliding backwards, until he almost lay on the bed. Peering at Vadim, "cooperative in what?"

Vadim smiled and slid his hands further up, towards Dan's belt and button, opening his trousers and then pulling them down when Dan lifted his hips, slowly, with ease and consideration. "Wearing nice clothes … behaving well … not trying for a 'quickie' if we've decided to do something else … and generally being good company. A bit silent, and a bit drunk, but those are minor glitches."

"Eh!" Dan complained, "you make me sound like a naughty boy who behaved kind of OK for once, which makes you sound like … my daddy?" The toothy grin crept back into his face, lighting it up, lines, eyes, scar and all. Sitting half naked, his bare arse on the cool bed linen, an awfully nice sensation. "What kind of daddy are you, though? Or ... a granddaddy?"

Vadim laughed. "I guess I'm an evil daddy. Because I plan to take full advantage of you." Just joking, nothing of that actually went deeper than the joke, no reflexes, no thought of the title of older soldiers, no thought of his kids. This was only between him and Dan. He stood and pulled the jacket from the other's body, propping him up, handling him like a wounded or unconscious man, then slid in behind Dan to unbutton the shirt.

"If that's your evil side, I could get used to it." Dan grinned, eyes closing. Pure luxury of complete trust. Enough trust to … but he'd rather not think about it, and yet he still wanted to do it. This strange yearning to find out what it had really been like, and to know once and for all, if he could truly lose himself like that. Fully. Utterly. Without any reservations. His cock made itself known at that thought, nestled in the neatly trimmed dark curls, it started to show an unmistakable interest. "Vadim?" Dan craned his head to catch a glimpse. Pleasantly floating, the wine was doing its work and smiling came easy. "If I don't like it, it's no prob, aye?"

Vadim embraced him from behind, chest against Dan's back, just dropping the shirt to the side. "Problem?" The actual meaning filtered through, soaking part of his mind like water. "No. Of course not. Just tell me to stop. No problem. None at all." Suddenly wondered whether Dan would say anything, or just be reckless like he had been, years ago, when Vadim had fucked him, as a challenge. I want to know whether you can fuck me without raping me. "I'm not …" like that anymore, he thought, but it wasn't quite true. There had been the attack on Jean. He frowned, thought but Dan was different. If it was about feelings, everything was different. "We're trying it, if it feels wrong, we stop."

"Aye." Dan smiled, leaning back into the embrace. "That's alright, then." And it was, because Vadim wouldn't think him a wuss and maybe, maybe he didn't really know what he wanted anyway, but hell, he was going to do it. Even if he didn't know why. Pulling one leg up on the bed, knee bent, he let himself fall back, closing his eyes. "I could do with some seduction, Russkie." Murmured, his grin flashing through the strands of wild, stray hair. "You know, that seduction thing?"

Vadim smiled, again felt that intense tenderness that could be a pain, or better, an ache. He shed his own jacket, shirt, shoes, then rolled onto his side, stretched out very close to Dan, hand idly tracing down the other's chest. "Not sure I'm any good at that", he murmured, softly, fingers tracing the lines of Dan's pecs, down to the sternum, then circling the nipples, shifting closer again. Strange, really, because he had no idea how it worked. It had been fierce, often a struggle, or had just happened, a touch that wasn't pushed away, a mutual deal to get off. Knowledge more than guessing, daring, stalking.

"Mmmm ... you're doing just fine." Dan murmured, eyes still closed as he stretched himself out, arms, legs, as if the bed, the man and all of the sex in the world just belonged to him, and him alone. "I don't even crave a fag all that badly right now." Flashing a lopsided grin, he searched blindly for Vadim's neck, pulling him down into a kiss.

Vadim smiled, returning the kiss, rolling on top and still keeping his weight on his knees.

"I feel like a fucking virgin." Dan broke the kiss at last, face flushed, eyes not quite focussed. The alcohol was mellowing everything, sight, sound, and most of all barriers. "Just a damn lot more willing."

"I can tell." Vadim pulled the bag closer that had been sitting innocently near the pillows, and fished out the Vaseline. He set up the tub close by, pried the lid off, and slid down Dan's body, rubbing his face against Dan's cock, breathing against his groin. "I'd suck you, but that would take the fun out of it …"

"Aye …" Dan shuddered at touch and words, "but I want to know." Why? Not sure, but he remembered keenly the tongue in his body, and dimly, the other sensation, the one that had once pulled him back from insanity. He wanted to know, and wanted to let himself go. Completely. His legs opened further, knees falling wide open on each side, and he felt a stab of lust at the way he bared himself. No one, no one else would ever get him to do this. Not even Jean and his light-hearted ways. No one, except the first one.

Vadim remembered the way Marc had lain there, and he reached for one of the pillows and tucked it under Dan's ass, supporting it and changing the angle of the hips. "Right." Taking a dollop of the Vaseline, he smeared it across Dan's hole, smiling as his fingers circled the area, smoothing the jelly, warming it, and sliding it inside the heat, just a digit of two fingers, probing and testing.

"That's … not bad … for starters." Dan breathed out, closing his eyes. The world was spinning, but the wine wasn't to blame. "Don't know when I started to like having things up my arse." Murmured.

Vadim grinned at him. "Things? I mean, we had cock, tongue, hand …" Figuring that talking would make it easier to see when he crossed the line to pain. He gathered more Vaseline with his free hand, and pushed the two fingers deeper, moving them in and out and apart to loosen Dan up. "What other things, Dan?"

"Ah …" breathing out, Dan's head moved back in his neck, as hidden tension relaxed away. "Not …really, but been thinking of dildos. Want to ... to try them with you. More than just the candle." Hips moving in tiniest motions, working with, not against, those fingers.

"With me or on me?" Vadim watched Dan, studying how his body tensed, but in good ways. Dan was opening up, ready for more. He pulled a third finger close, fingertips in a triangle, and worked his way in again, adding enough Vaseline to make this fairly easy, but had to move in increments because Dan was tight, but not tense. The body just needed to yield, needed to accept.

"On you." The response was immediate, but when another finger was added, Dan's brain seemed to have a different idea. "Both. Want to … to feel. You … me …" The wine was of no importance anymore, only those fingers counted, moving, pushing gently, probing further. Opening him up, making him accept their intrusion. Wanting it. Asking for more, as his hips lifted on their own, trying to push deeper.

Maybe he'd get to fuck Dan more often? Maybe? It was still mostly the other way round, even though Dan didn't resist quite that much these days, didn't seem quite that reluctant. "Yeah. We … have time." Leaning in to kiss Dan's knee, Vadim pushed deeper, small finger nestled with the others, thumb close, too, and as he felt the resistance grow, he twisted in a circular motion, and managed to slide deeper.

Dan groaned, turning his head. Eyes closed, he was entirely one with the sensations. Didn't need to remember the way he had felt centred, pulled away from the insanity; could feel it right here, in his very middle. Lifting his knees further, his body wanted to do this while his mind remained quiet, submitting to the body. Trying to find leverage, he was holing his knees up with the good hand, trembling with the effort.

Vadim reached up with his free hand and placed Dan's legs on his shoulders, carrying the weight as Dan relaxed with a sigh. "Calm. It's all good", he murmured, kissing the left leg as he moved his head to the side. Twisting the arm slightly to get deeper - this was the line of knuckles, the fingers and the thumb, and he hardly got anywhere with this, so he pulled back again and began to work, feeling himself sweat with the concentration.

Unaware of the time, the way minutes were turning into an hour, while his body began to open up fully, Dan's lips were parted, letting out low, guttural moans. Nothing had ever been like this, deep inside, touched, as if he had nothing to hide, as if every secret was now Vadim's. His cock hard and strong, weeping, he didn't try to stroke himself, didn't want. This was time - time outside of everything else. Time to ground himself and Vadim, time to be one. Giving away the most precious gift he could: his endless trust, and every secret of his body.

At some point, the resistance just softened, and Vadim was amazed how easy the rest of his hand slid into the warmth, the heat, the powerful tightness, his fingers curling up as if by their own volition, forming a relaxed fist, tight, taut muscle all around. Vadim tried to move his fist, a few times, just to see what effect it had on Dan.

Incoherent sounds that had no meaning, except for lust, and Dan truly had lost himself, and found. Didn't know where he was, nor with whom, nor even who he was himself. Didn't matter. Names, who cared. Just the way his body had separated from his mind; and the way his lust stretched endlessly across hours, well into the night. His body covered with a thick sheen of sweat, he hadn't opened his eyes for an eternity, hadn't spoken a single meaningful word, and yet the sounds that came from his throat, his chest, were constant. The deep colour of his cock and balls, full to bursting, turned almost purple, as the night wore on.

Vadim smiled, felt strange, looking at Dan's blanked, ecstatic face, the way he squirmed on the bed, the breathing, those incoherent, nonsensical, low sounds. He moved his hand, slowly working deeper, and back, trying out which elicited more or a different reaction. He reached for Dan's cock, but dipped his hand into more Vaseline before that, then took hold of it, just stroking the underside, careful not to do too much, not quite sure what Dan felt and how much might be painful.

Dan's whole body shuddered, uncontrollably, and his stomach muscles, beneath the scars, contracted so hard, his breath became desperately harsh. Good hand clenching into a fist, his head was rolling from side to side, while panting trough parted lips. Chest heaving, sweat gathering between his abs, tears were running from the corners of his closed eyes, when suddenly, as if hit by a thunderbolt, his whole body tensed, lifted, arched as if frozen in electric shock. He came, hard and high, and he screamed, overwhelmed. Too much, all too much, and all too good, when he finally crashed, and crashing hard. Barely conscious.

Vadim remembered that much - to pull free while Dan came, easing out slowly, but without lingering, didn't want to turn any of this into pain. He gently lowered Dan's legs onto the bed, reached for a towel to wipe his hand and the Vaseline off Dan, and got off the bed, his back creaking from the slightly awkward position and the added weight. He walked around the bed, then lay down right next to Dan, pulling the light covers up, wrapping Dan into them and holding him, kissing his neck, the side of his throat.

Dan never woke up, not then, neither through the night. Sleep, dreamless, and never letting go of Vadim. One, at last.

Special Forces Chapter XXXI: Back to Base
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 26 November 2007