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Special Forces Chapter XXXXV: Live and Let Die

20 July 1992, The Balkans

Dan was leaning out of the open window of the Landrover, letting the minimal breeze cool the sweat on his body. Flimsy t-shirt rolled up to his shoulders, he adjusted the shades, before glancing at Vadim. "You think tomorrow's job will be just like today's job, which is just like yesterday's job?" Yawning, he reached for the lukewarm water, bottle squeezed between the seats.

"Let's hope so. No combat." Vadim wore shades, too, much better for driving, as the sun was belting down and exploding on every reflecting surface. He was sweating, even though he wasn't wearing any body armour. "But the Balkans are volatile", he cautioned. "Just when everyone thinks it might get better and people get some sense back …"

"Where, though, I ask you. I hear of shit happening, but all we see is exactly … nothing." Tipping his head back as he drank, Dan handed the bottle to Vadim, who rested it against the wheel, took a curve, then drank on the straight bit of the road. "I'd like to know what the fuck's going on here. I mean, I know what we're being told, I know what I hear, but what do we actually see? Nada. Bodyguarding for what?" Yawning again, Dan settled back despite the bad road, drumming his fingers against the outside of the vehicle door. "Oh no," he rolled his eyes and pointed forward, "not another road block with nothing to show for. Bastards."

Vadim gave a tired laugh, finished the bottle and handed it back. "Guess they have to spend the time somehow", he muttered, already fishing for the papers as he slowed down.

A couple of men with AKs stepped closer when Vadim came to a stop. Paramilitaries, not quite like the ones they'd met before, and Dan frowned, but said nothing, remained in his seat, watching them closely. Something different about them, something … and then he spotted the two Cs and the cross, which left him pondering.

The first man hardly glanced at the papers and shook his head, telling them in monosyllables, that there was no way they'd pass. No, and no again, waving his hand as well, while the other came closer, clearly menacing, the AK raised, while keeping the Landrover and the two passengers in check.

Vadim gritted his teeth, but then managed to get his papers back, and drove backwards turning on the narrow dusty road. "Don't like this", he murmured. "No bribes. That means it's a bit more serious than their usual dick-waving."

"Yep." Dan's frown had turned into a steeple between his eyebrows. "Bad enough to go insane with absolutely nothing happening, but this doesn't make me happy either. Suggest we have a wee gander, aye?"

"Same idea. Will be good to stretch the legs." Vadim drove on, making sure he was out of sight before the turned off the road into the trees, until they were protected from curious eyes. "My best bet is they're trying to shield the road right after that block, about two hundred yards down the road." He murmured, consulting the map. "Not much of a road, really, but there's a village down there. Here." Indicating on the map.

"Aye." Checking the map, Dan pushed the shades off his eyes. "Seems to be a fairly small place, but what the fuck would they want with that?" The frown wouldn't leave him, and with the shades back down again, he grabbed his armoured vest and the weapon. "I figure this is part of our official duty." He winked, but without humour, "recon for tomorrow's run, aye?"

"Oh yes. Very official." Vadim took the armour as well, got out of the car and got kitted up in no time, checking Dan's kit once Dan was fully dressed, who returned the favour straight away, then pocketed the map and grabbed his own weapon. "Let's go." They headed off, fast, using the terrain for cover and protection wherever possible, moving first parallel to the street and then up the side of the hill, well above the checkpoint.

Dan was slightly slower, the knee had been bugging him more lately, but he'd never uttered a word about it. Figured that ignoring the pain was the best way forward. Once they had reached the brow of the hill, vegetation was sparser, and they got onto the ground, just in case. Tapping Vadim's leg to get his attention, Dan asked quietly, "you think they got some illegal weapons stores down there?" Before crawling forwards until they had a fairly clear view of the village.

"Entirely possible. Ever since the story with the German King Tiger tank or whatever it was, I believe anything", Vadim murmured. Rumour had it that when the Serbs had attacked a village, the villagers had brought out a fully functional King Tiger tank the Germans had left behind sometime in the Second World War, and somebody in the village had kept it in working condition for all those years. And true to the doctrine of deterrence, the Serbs then left, not risking to find out whether the steel monster could still spit death and destruction. It was just one of those insane little stories that made Yugoslavia the madhouse it was.

What they saw, the moment they stuck their heads out enough to look down, though, made them freeze. Dan disbelieved his own eyes for a second, until he caught himself and got hold of the binos, checking. That's when he took in a hissed breath. "What the fuck!"

Zoning in on dozens of bodies on the ground. Dead. Some torn to pieces, others killed 'cleanly'.

Vadim's eyes narrowed behind the binoculars. It was strangely familiar, the obscene dance of armed men and unarmed people. The dance of flashes of guns, slow, almost agonizingly slow advance, no cover, nothing tactical about dropping bodies while walking. Walking the survivors into a corner, and rounding them all up. Men, women, children. No matter the age nor the gender.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!" Dan breathed out, guts clenching. No matter how many he'd killed, no matter how much he'd seen, this was … this was Afghanistan all over again. Cleansing. Mindless killing. Genocide. Just without the Hinds. "What the fuck's going on here?"

Vadim reached over and clasped Dan's shoulder. "Fucking the Geneva Convention up the ass", he murmured, but his own words rang hollow.

"What the fuck are we going to do?" Dan turned to glance at Vadim, but only for a moment, because he couldn't, just couldn't stop watching the evidence. What the hell were they to do indeed? What? What besides watching the survivors being rounded up, over a hundred of them it seemed, and the paramilitaries arguing amongst each other. Difficult to tell what they were on about, but Dan had a guess. "Looks like they can't decide if they should get rid of them there and then." His voice was without inflection. Not sure if he felt anything at all, anything beyond the horror. Had he turned old, soft, mellow, sociable and human since Afghanistan and the slaughter of the black crows and their children? He felt sick, a growing anger like a red-hot fist in his stomach.

"Yeah." Vadim shook his head. The banality. Arguing while the as yet survivors watched, sweating blood and piss. He closed his eyes for a long moment, hand still firm on Dan's shoulder. "We can't take them on. Too many. We're not equipped for it."

"Shit." Dan was sweating. The man who'd never been bothered by extremes of weather was dripping with sweat. Cold, clammy, and fuelled by a rage that would never know an outlet.

Suddenly movement, down there, and Dan adjusted the binos. "What fucking bastards!" Hissed between clenched teeth when he saw a sudden flurry of men beating with clubs and rifle butts onto the helpless civilians. Like animals, corralled and readied for the slaughter. When shots rang out, more bodies lay slain, and the beating continued, until the survivors were forced into waiting trucks. Limping, blood drenched, and separated into men, women and children.

Dan was breathing hard, rolling to the side when the trucks drove off, leaving some of the paramilitaries with a handful of civilian men behind. Obviously to clean the place and to dig a grave where no doubt those as yet survivors would vanish into as well. Despite his tan, the pallor was visible in Dan's face. "Does the UN know about this?" His voice sounded forced. "Shit, we have no fucking evidence."

"I'd be fucked if I knew what they know." Vadim inhaled deeply, tried to think straight. Bad enough they had no chance to do anything about this now. "We need to get away." He dug the map out of his pocket and marked the spot, the roadblock, and noted down the time and date. "We need to get back to base. Maybe they can send UN guys to check the village."

"Aye." Dan nodded hastily. "If I ever complain again that there's nothing happening and we are just waiting around, tell me to shut the fuck up."

"You didn't make this happen." Vadim gave a half-hearted grin. No, Dan hadn't, but he had. Not here, not now, but somewhere else, in a land that everybody had now forgotten about, where the sky was a unique shade of blue.

Dan looked at Vadim and nodded once. "No. But I didn't stop it either. I never stopped it." Not here, not there. Crawling backwards to get up and away as quickly as possible. He didn't have a clue what the peacekeeping forces could do, but they bloody well had to do something.

Vadim led the way, staying low, moving fast, finding the way back that Dan only had to follow. His hands in the gloves were sweaty. He wanted to do more than crawl away, there were lives being lost, and there was absolutely no way to stop that now. "They have to do something about it. This must be breaching contracts, treaties or whatever."

"Aye, they got to do something." Dan was limping for a few steps when they had reached the lowest area, but soon had himself under control. Damn the knee. "Let's get cracking. Not a fucking clue what they are going to do, but at least they need to know. Have to stop that happening again, and where were they taking them anyway? The main detention camp?" He got into the Lannie, leaving the armoured vest on. For safety, now that they knew what was really going on.

"No idea." They might just drive them somewhere better to shoot them. It was impossible to predict. What if the naysayers in the discussion won the upper hand on the way? These guys didn't have a master plan, no grand design. It was random. Vadim started the car and began to manoeuvre it back out of the woods, then, with gusto, turned it into the other direction and sped away, racing the way back they'd come, until they got to the other road, and, after a long delay that they owed to the fact this route went all the way around the valley, got them into camp.

Yet their discovery was not met with the reaction they had hoped for. Meticulous noting down, of course, but otherwise ... nothing. They had no orders to act. None that would mean interference. On the contrary, the peace keepers were strictly in the region to show strength - as deterrent - and to otherwise do nothing. Intelligence and careful noting of data, but that was it. They were not at war - even though the country was, according to what they had witnessed.

"I don't get that idea of deterrence", Vadim murmured, sitting in the Mess, having a very subdued meal. He should let it rest, but he could see in Dan's eyes that he was thinking about it, and in that case, it was better to bring it out into the open. "Deterrence means the enemy needs to believe you do something. We are clearly doing absolutely nothing. What's the deterrent value of that?"

"I have no fucking clue." The answer came too quickly, too violently. "What the fuck would you lot have done if they'd had fucking blue berets parading the fuck around in Afghanistan and do otherwise fuck-all?"

"Invite them for a drink, take the piss out of them, then send them home to mommy, drunk and dishevelled." Vadim gave a short, coarse laugh. "Or my Colonel would have mopped the floor with them, one way or the other. Or the politicians would have accused them of anything we could dig out on them. Or work with their backers. There are fifteen different ways to get rid of them that I can think of."

"Yeah. Precisely." Dan grunted, concentrated on the food with far more effort than necessary. Shovelling it down until he was almost done, suddenly raising his head. "Knowing you, you'd probably just fucked the pretty ones."

Vadim shook his head. "Couldn't do it. Not on the job. Not with any real danger involved." He gazed at the plate, thinking, for a moment, how these people had been dropped, then shook his head. But it wasn't that easy. They were here to prevent this kind of thing from happening, and it did happen, and nobody cared?

"Well, damn." Dan mopped up the rest of the sauce off his plate with a leftover bite of bread. "Nothing for us to do then right now. Just plan tomorrow's route and itinerary, and check the teams. Aye?"

"Yeah." Vadim reached across the table and took Dan's hand. "Let's see what else we can come up with, hm?" He gave a wink, and even if he wasn't in the mood for sex, it would take their minds off things. Things like dying and mass murder.

"Yeah, and I told you a couple of videos arrived that I ordered back when?"

"No?" Vadim glanced around. "What did you order?"

Dan's grin was back from gloom and reality to the irreverent man who'd waded in gore and came back mentally unharmed - and physically a ragtag of scars. "Let's just say … you'll like it. Want to watch? Right now?"

"Beats the usual entertainment." Vadim gathered up the trays and carried them back to rack, then walked at Dan's shoulder to their room. Here, people knew they were 'an item', but it was easier than in Kuwait. People tended to mind their own business, even though Vadim missed the light touch of Jean - even if he'd never admit that. Besides, that place had brick-built low-slung buildings that housed two or three men rooms for the affiliated personnel like Dan and Vadim. Who, naturally, shared a room with its single beds pushed together. Two men staying in one place was too normal to be commented upon, and the camaraderie was far less evident than it had been in the Gulf.

Watching the porn, followed by the inevitable sex was enough to diffuse the earlier horror, which had had more impact than anything they'd seen or done in Afghanistan - because it had been unexpected. And because this was brother against brother and neighbour against neighbour. Not an enemy flown in from a foreign land.

They didn't talk about it anymore, and the next day went by as if it had never happened.

25 July 1992, The Balkans

Dan was on duty, watching some politician's back, while Vadim remained in camp, partially because he'd got a whole range of immunization shots. One thing the medical personnel amused themselves with when they were bored, he reckoned, and consequently he felt like he was fighting the onset of a flu or something. Tired, washed out, and they'd told him he should give his immune system a day off, which he did. Not quite voluntarily, especially with Dan out in the field.

Nevertheless, sitting on his bunk or sleeping was too boring, and he didn't manage to focus on reading. So he headed over to the phones, which were unoccupied - he could make five parallel calls as everybody else was out and about - or in the Mess, which he'd given a pass today. He had a notepad and a pencil, and made a range of calls with the phone cards he'd purchased, starting with one number he remembered, and then asking for numbers he should remember but didn't. He felt detached and unreal, until he heard a female voice answer the phone.


"No." The voice was petulant, annoyed that he wasn't who she'd wanted to call. He was taken aback for a moment, then smiled. "Is your mother home?"

"Who are you?"

I'm your father. Vadim smiled, shook his head. "Your mother, now."

There was an audible intake of breath, then he heard Katya's voice. "Who is it, honey?"

"He's not telling."

Vadim laughed, tonelessly, but covered the receiver. So petulant. She sounded just like an ordinary teenager. His leaving hadn't broken any spirits there.

"Hello?" Katya.

Vadim's grin faltered. "Hi. It's me."

There was no response, and then he heard Katya tell Anoushka to go, she was missing her lessons, then the door. A deep breath. "I'm sitting down now", Katya said. "Are you …?"

"In trouble?"

"No. But … yes. Are you?"

"Depends how you define trouble." Vadim put the pencil down and leaned back. "I'm in Yugoslavia. What's left of it. But it's not my kind of trouble. I'm just a mercenary here."

Hearing she wasn't going to ask or say anything, he gave a sigh. "I'm okay. I'm just a bloody coward. I meant to call you much sooner, but I just … kept pushing it away."

"Why? Why now?"

"Plucked up my courage, thought I could face it if you told me to put down the receiver and never again call you."

"That's why you didn't tell her it's you?"

"Yes." So I can be just a mystery caller and not the father who's not talking to her. Vadim closed his eyes. He really didn't want to fuck this one up. "I'm not giving you any more trouble, Katya. I already owe you too much. I don't want to make this worse for you. I want to be …" the man you deserved. You'd have liked to marry. "No more trouble for you."

"Don't be apologetic." Her voice was warm, like he remembered it, when they had whispered plans for the future, at night in bed, cuddled up, but chaste. Brother and sister. "It's good to hear you're alive, I've been hoping for that, for you. That you're alive and well."

Alive yes. Are you well? He could still guess her questions. "I'm doing alright. Starting to tire of the work."

"Yes, you're not getting any younger. Poor darling." Gently admonishing, her way of being tender, sometimes. "Did you get injured? What do you look like these days? I cut my hair. I can send you a photo."

"Just older. More tanned, I guess - we spent a lot of time in Kuwait." We. He winced slightly.

"That means you're not alone?" Clever girl. As fast to riposte as she was with the lunge. Her voice made him think of a kick-lunge, when she threw the opponent with a change in rhythm. What an elegant, tricky bitch she'd been on the piste.

"No. Dan … the man I met in Afghanistan … he's still around."

"Oh. That's good to hear." Her voice tinged with something, but it wasn't jealousy. Maybe something like surprise, expertly hidden. "And you are happy?"

"Hmm-hm." Somewhat non-committal, but it felt strange to talk to her about it. He'd have preferred if she hadn't asked. He really wanted to keep these two things separate. "The job's a bitch, but we earn double the money. Enough to retire in a few years. Do you … need anything?"

"No, we're fine, Vadim, thanks for asking, I appreciate that. But it's really time you look out for yourself. I'll get these kids up to be good adults, I've managed so far, I'll get them the rest of the way, too."

"I know you will." He was relieved. The kids were doing fine. He'd never have doubted that, but it was good to know it now. Katya was managing, she was doing fine. Another unbroken spirit. "You're living with Szandor still?"

"Not … quite." There was a ringing silence for a long moment. "I'm afraid, Vadim, that Szandor is dead."

"But he was …"

"Two years older than you, yes." Katya made a gentle sound. "It was an illness. A disease, and it went on for almost three years. In the end, it was pneumonia."

"Pneumonia? Of all things?"

"No, Vadim. He died of AIDS."

Vadim couldn't speak. Thought of Szandor, the old-fashioned gentleman that had belonged into a French fencing salon somewhere in the late eighteenth, early nineteenth century, maybe. He'd always had something dandyish about him, tall, elegant, long, strong legs made for fencing. One of the first men who'd ever kissed him. The second man to fuck him. The first man who had allowed him to fuck him. Szandor of the noble brow, the aristocratic nose, lean, deadly, drop dead gorgeous in the white dress. The same man who had a way to salute you on the piste that breathed a decadent elegance that must have made any communist fencing bureaucrat apoplectic.

He cleared his throat. "Sorry. I … I just don't know what to say."

"It was hard on all of us", she said. "He'd have liked to meet you one last time, sorry to say that, that must seem cruel now. But he did care a great deal about you. I hope he felt I was there for him enough towards the end."

"Thank you." She'd been there, and he hadn't. Vadim rubbed his face. "Was it … very hard?"

"It wasn't pleasant. I think you might want to come and look at the things he left for you. If you want to and find the time. I'll keep them for you, if you'd rather not."

"Let me guess … the weapons?"

"Yes, and a box full of memorabilia. Some collector has been trying to get in touch, but I'm not selling it before you've decided what to do with it."

"Thank you." The blow resonated like a vicious hit he hadn't seen coming. And he'd only called to check on her and the kids. That Szandor was dead - that was something he could hardly grasp. AIDS. Holy fuck. His ex-lover. Courting death, until it got him. And he'd have thought being a soldier was risky - but being good-looking, gay, and easy to drag into bed was even riskier, apparently. The papers were full of people dying of the 'gay disease'. But Szandor? Of course, he hadn't been enough of a celebrity to get his own obituary anywhere where Vadim could have read it. "When did he die?"

"About ten months ago." Katya's voice was warm, mellow, tender. "During the night." She waited, but picked up that he didn't want to talk about it any more. "Is there any way I can reach you?"

"Yes. We have a postal address. I could call you … more often."

She smiled audibly. "I'd like that very much. What about this … you give me your postal address, and I'll send you some photos? I might even send you some of the letters I never posted. Silly me, it's a habit hard to break. I guess it was my way of keeping a diary - writing you all those long letters."

"A habit."

"Absolutely. A habit."

"I'd like that."

"Then it's sealed." Katya smiled again. "Should I tell the kids?"

"If you think that's … the good thing to do?"

"You are still a memory in this family, Vadim. We never decided you were dead. You were just far away, but never dead."

Vadim swallowed hard, felt his eyes blur and wiped at them. "Tell the kids. I might … come for a visit, maybe, but in the meantime, letters … letters would be good."

"You'll live to regret that, Vadim Petrovich", she joked, "There are so many letters waiting for you."

He thought it was banter. But she did speak the truth. He did live to regret that.

6 August 1992, The Balkans

They were glued to the television set. The Mess TV room was crowded, and deadly silent. Silent except for the voice of the presenter, talking about a camp that had been declared by the paramilitary as a prisoner of war camp, and was a kick in the face of the Geneva Convention and the International Committee of the Red Cross - and a place of terror to all inside.

"The men are at various stages of human decay and affliction; the bones of their elbows and wrists protrude like pieces of jagged stone from the pencil thin stalks to which their arms have been reduced."

Dan was pulling nicotine into his lungs, watching the pictures that did not hit him as much as some of the others - not after what he'd seen in his life - but which clenched his guts once more, the helpless rage returning, and with it the realisation he was human after all.

"There is nothing quite like the sight of the prisoners desperate to talk," the presenter went on, "and to convey some terrible truth that is so near yet so far, but who dares not." Images now flickering across the screen that were unlike anything any of the men had ever witnessed. Including Dan and Vadim, and Dan tensed in his seat. Metal crates, stacked on top of each others, and prisoners existing in hundreds in their own filth, which ran through the metal grids and dripped on skeletal bodies with vacant stares.

"Their stares burn, they speak only with their terrified silence, and eyes inflamed with the articulation of stark, undiluted, desolate fear-without-hope."
The reporter trailed off and let the images speak for themselves before carefully selected prisoners were allowed to talk - and yet didn't. They didn't need to, though, it was all too clear. This was no war. This was systematic killing, terrorising and torture.

Dan suddenly snapped, the sound of his fist hitting the armrest of his chair a sudden explosion in the silence. "Fuck!" Jumping up. "Fuck that!" When he stormed out with the air of frustration and utter, helpless rage around him, many eyes followed. They all knew what he'd been thinking and what he hadn't said, nor asked: why the fuck was no one doing anything about this?

Vadim was right behind, swallowing empty bile that kept rising in his throat. He'd grown up with images like that. The Glorious Soviet Army liberating the Nazi death camps. Very hard to resist the parallel, even though the Serbs had been the Brother Nation, and that alone made him angry, that these men had been allies, brothers, had a similar culture, a similar image of themselves. Slavs. But he couldn't even utter these thoughts anywhere here, where a Russian name conjured up the wrong ideas, even though people accepted he was on their side and for all intents and purposes a Brit. Only that he wasn't.

He reached for Dan's neck, pulled him close, in the middle of camp. "Dan."

"Fuck!" Dan was fuming, but the burning fire in his eyes had no outlet. "What the fuck is anyone doing about this? Why the fucking fuck does everyone sit here, unable to do any-fucking-thing?" Taking a breath that didn't reach his lungs. "Damn!" He was shaking with frustration. "I want them to give me some fucking orders to go out there!"

"We don't need orders." Vadim's words were cold, fully rational. "We're made for this kind of war, Dan. We've done it all our lives. We can give them a piece of hell back."

"What are you talking about?" Dan stared at Vadim, fists clenched.

Vadim opened his lips, then closed them, frowning, instead used more strength to hold Dan, trying to convey the meaning without words. Let's go. Let's kill them. Kill them all.

Dan stared at him for a long time, until he finally shook his head. Lowering his voice, aware they were in the middle of camp. "That's vigilantism, Vadim. We've been soldiers …" not killers, he wanted to say, but it got stuck in his throat. "We can't do that."

I'm a soldier. Words that, once upon a time, had saved his life. Vadim's face twitched and he looked towards the camp gate. It would be so easy. Operating behind enemy lines. Not with those kids, but alone. Wolves. Hunting. He shook his head, rested his forehead against Dan's. "Maybe we should leave", he murmured. "We're wasting our time here. They don't let us off the leash."

"But what are we going to do if we leave?" Dan murmured. "We haven't got enough money yet for the farm. But … if that's what you want, shit, I'd leave. This place is …" He trailed off, shaking his head.

Vadim moved closer, embracing him, holding him close and tight, not caring for a moment if anybody saw it and what they were thinking. Dan was right. They couldn't just walk out of the job. "If it's too … much shit for you, Dan, we go. Okay? We find some other place. Somewhere where we can actually do some proper work." Whatever that was.

"No, I'm okay." Dan grimaced. "What about you?"

"As long as I have you, I manage. Whatever. Anything." Vadim ran his fingers through Dan's hair, kept holding him like that, tried to fuse their strength, Dan's with his, his own with Dan's. Hard steel, soft steel. Combined, they were a weapon to behold.

Dan smiled, didn't think about anything else that moment than Vadim, and how they'd been the lucky ones so far - despite everything.

11 September 1992, The Balkans

The letters came. It was a brown padded envelope, and it was full and heavy with paper. Vadim took it with him to their room, sat down on the bed and reached inside, making sure he'd get the whole lot in one hand. He didn't want it to spill over, then put the envelope to the side. Letters, individually sealed and dated, like she did, so he knew in which order to read. Laid out much like chapters in a book, ordered, with their own internal logic that he could only grasp when he followed the rules. Her neat handwriting. He checked the dates. One every few months. Twelve months ago, one every week. Szandor's dying and death. Vadim swallowed hard, wasn't sure he wanted to confront that, didn't know whether to follow the rule or leave those out that he knew were bad.

He sorted the letters on one pile, ordered by date. Old ones on top, new ones below. The photos showed the kids. Fourteen and twelve years old. Anoushka was growing up to be a beautiful girl, just like she had been beautiful as a child, even as a baby. Silvery blond hair, fair, pure complexion, teeth white and straight. The very image of health, and he smiled when he saw a semi-formed frown that made her face darker than it should be. One photo showed Anoushka, flushed and victorious in fencer's kit. The second and third 'winners' framed her, and Vadim could see that they were positively intimidated still. Or maybe they had just been soundly beaten - or he was imagining things. He knew for sure that Katya wouldn't have sent the photo if Anoushka hadn't won. A family of winners, at all costs. It would certainly build her character, he thought, especially dealing with setbacks and superior forces. At that age, it did no harm to feel invincible. Quite the opposite.

Nikolai. He looked so much like his father that it was painful. The shattered body of a pilot, smashed against Afghan rocks. Disfigured, dismembered by wild dogs, both humans and animals.

A certain sweetness about him, deep thoughts, a withdrawn boy, lanky and clearly not at peace with himself, or anybody else. Vulnerable. Vadim tried to divine what he was like. His father had had an infectious, open laugh, the easy charm of a pilot, removed from the dirty war below, a rider on the flying steed, coming in to punish and rescue. Nikolai had nothing of that, he seemed honest, but not open, and he, too, would be growing up to be attractive, if very differently from Anoushka. She'd break hearts, he might just mend them. But there was little else. Nikolai clearly didn't like to be photographed.

Vadim placed the photos back into the envelope. He couldn't carry any of those with him, that would look funny, and, besides, in Yugoslavia, he didn't want them that close. And he could hardly pin them to the wall, either. It just didn't feel right. He didn't want to remind Dan of the time Before. In a way, this was a new life, keeping visible tokens of a past - that was a parallel present - didn't feel right. Maybe one day. Maybe it was easier not to be reminded every single day. He didn't see any photos of her, though. Maybe she had sent it right away and didn't have any photos on hand that showed her with the new haircut. That would be very Katya.

He looked at the pile of letters. That would be the hard work. Part of him feared it. It took him forever to read, and often enough he didn't grasp any of the meaning at all and had to read a simple text several times. These letters had meant so much. His protection, his connection, the reminder that there was a world that was not Afghanistan. Wasn't madness and heat and the insane need to take, plunder, destroy. Humanity could be letters. Vadim groaned and got up. He'd take this slow. Be careful. Her letters always had an effect, he'd have to be careful with the dosage.

23 September 1992, The Balkans

Dan was standing outside in one of the few relatively dark corners that weren't awash with the constant floodlights. The night was blissfully cool, and he leaned against the outside wall of the accommodation block, smoking. Yet there was nothing tranquil about it, nothing at all, because the sounds in the night were everything but peaceful.

He shook his head, as if to clear his ears and mind, but the sounds were still there, and would haunt him throughout the night. In his dreams, during waking hours. He wasn't the only one affected, he knew that, and he nodded to one of the British soldiers who walked past and whose facial expression was as clouded and angry as his body language was tense. They'd all suffered the sounds - and the helplessness.

Dan looked up when a shadow darkened the corner of his eyes, and he smiled at Vadim, but the smile never reached his eyes. "Guess it's better to watch a video, aye?" Stubbing out the fag as he turned towards Vadim, "and make sure it's loud."

When they walked inside, the screams of the girls and women were still echoing in his mind, and his fist remained clenched for a long time to come.

17 October 1992, The Balkans

"Hey, Mad Dog!" One of the guys was calling out from the admin block, cigarette in the corner of his mouth.

"Aye?" Dan stopped walking, had been in the process of rubbing the remains of his fried breakfast off his sweater, eyeing the egg yolk with distaste. "What's up?"

"Letter for you." The chap was waving a brown, battered looking A4 envelope.

Curiosity piqued, Dan gave up on the egg and turned 90 degrees to march up to the admin HQ instead. "Can only be from my brother." He shrugged, reaching for the envelope.

"Don't think so," Blowing cigarette smoke in Dan's face, the guy dropped the letter into waiting hands, "funny stamps."

"Trust you bitches to snoop around." Pulling lips back from his teeth, Dan mock-snarled.

"Don't get your heckles up, diva." The guy laughed, rolled his eyes and spat the end of the fag to the ground, "that weird-ass stamp is too obvious even for you lot."

Dan made a rude gesture in front of his groin. "Wanker." Half-heartedly. He liked the admin guys, and the continuous banter between 'fags' and lower end of HQ had established itself like a comfortable custom.

"Not that funny anyway, it's …" Dan turned the envelope, peering at the stamp, he could make out a bird and its nest, which looked like an eagle, but also the word 'Magyar Posta'. He shook his head, snorting. "Bullshit, that's a stamp from Hungary. It's for Vadim. You lot are such dickheads you got it wrong again. Do I look like a Russian hunk?"

The guy was fishing for another fag, couldn't get the cigarette fast enough out of the packet when Dan had already snatched it, under no more than eye-rolling protest. "No, but like an aging pimp."


"With pleasure."


The guy lit Dan's cigarette after lighting his own. "It's your name on the envelope, mate, despite what you're going to tell me in a second, yes, I do know how to read and write."

"Yeah, whatever." Dan took a deep drag, keeping the smoke in his lungs until he spotted the tell-tale blond head turn round the corner, straight out of the Mess.

"Hey, Vadim!" Calling out and waving the envelope, before he'd even looked at it properly. "Got a letter for you."

Dan could see that Vadim would rather have gone straight to the toilet blocks, but he approached anyway, nodding at the admin guy who seemed to suddenly have something important to do, retreating back into the low building, leaving Dan and Vadim alone.

"For you." Dan handed the envelope over, but it took less than a glance for Vadim to hand it straight back.

"Your name."

"Huh?" Fag secured in the corner of his mouth, Dan finally took a proper look. His name, no doubt. Daniel McFadyen. Dan frowned. 'Daniel'? Who the fuck … and Hungary? The frown deepened, he knew only one person in Hungary, and that couldn't be. He hadn't heard from the bitch since January 1990, no reason why now. "Makes no sense."

Looking at Vadim, who shrugged, Dan wiped his nose with his sleeve, skilfully avoiding the burning cigarette. Autumn was getting cold in the Balkans and his nose kept running. "OK, let's see, then." Turning the letter in his hands, "no sender. Ach well, only one way to find out."

Dan ripped the letter open, but his finger slipped and he tore most of the envelope in two, scattering a few pieces onto the ground. "Shit." Mumbled, they both knelt down to catch the three pieces of paper before they got blown into a puddle. One white, two …

"What the fuck?" Dan picked up what seemed like a very short letter and one photo, the second photo ended in Vadim's hand. Standing back up, Dan stared at the photo, uncomprehending. A girl. A toddler, no more than possibly two. He had no clue. Grinning impishly into the camera with her dark hair wild and lose, in long curls, with dark eyes and a few freckles on her nose.

"What …? Who …?" Dan stared, turned the photo, another angle, but always the same face and same grin, shook his head again. "Who the fuck?" He felt his hand slapped, the one that held the letter, reminding him of its existence. Casting his eyes over the few lines, he froze.

Mr McFadyen,

I think it's only proper to inform you about my daughter Kisa. She is a healthy, happy child with a temper that appears altogether un-Russian. These were taken on her second birthday on 13 September, a bright day for all. You can see her presents and a friend in the background. I am not sure how much of an interest you take in this, without whom this would not have been possible. I will keep you updated, just in case you do.

Kind regards


"Oh fuck." That was all. Frozen with shock. "Fuck."

Vadim frowned, looked at the photo. Katya sending this to Dan? But realization hit him like a sniper's bullet. Heavy calibre, right to the brain. Immediately shutting him down, off, and he knew in all clarity, like a dying man, what had happened. Katya. And. Dan.

"You bastard", Vadim snarled, the anger so pure, so red-hot, so darkly pleasant, something that burned everything else away, something strong and hot and all-consuming. Rage. His fist went right into Dan's face, who didn't have much time to react, taken by surprise. Elbow following as Vadim went close quarters, knowing instinctively his bulk and strength were his advantages. Had always been.

Dan lost balance, pain exploding in his face, chest, and he lost his grip on photo and letter. Stumbling backwards, too shocked, too surprised at the violence. Grunts of pain, unable to think, understand, nothing at all. Reactions delayed, never got his defence up fully, he crashed to the ground, on his back, below Vadim.

Lying bastard. Lying cheating fucking bastard. Vadim's mind was empty, there was no horror that this was Dan, and what he was doing to him - punching and kicking him like his worst enemy - no reasoning beyond the feeling he'd been massively and unforgivably betrayed.

Dan shouted Vadim's name, once, twice, and then nothing but groans when his survival sense kicked in, but too late, he could do nothing but protect himself best he could. Getting in the odd punch or kick of his own, but his defence had been weakened from the start, and his mind was reeling, unable to find one clear thought, while his body could not grasp what was happening to it, could only rely on the most basic instincts of fighting to survive.

The ruckus alerted a team of other mercs who came running and it took five men to pull Vadim off Dan, and even they struggled. The frustration in camp often gave way to violence, so people reacted immediately, and once Vadim knew he was bested, he stopped and got to his feet. Several guys now between him and Dan, who'd scrambled to his feet, refusing help. Face bleeding, bruised, dark eyes betraying the shock that had rendered him numb, incapable of reacting. No feeling. No understanding. Just pain. Body … his mind hadn't grasped the full extent of terror yet.

Vadim stared at Dan, rage still burning in him, his knuckles hurt, the anger pounded like a red flood against his throat.

"Vadim! Fuck!" Dan managed, tried once more, emotions in such disarray, not a thought left. No sense of reality. A bad dream, a nightmare in broad daylight. This couldn't ... didn't …. Ignoring the men around him. The stares, the questions. He had no answers.

Vadim switched to Russian, immediately, code reasons and all that, breathing so hard it took him several moments to put together syllables and words. "You bastard fucked my wife!" he snarled, noticed his error, "Ex-wife, whatever! You bastard did it!"

Dan jerked, as if he'd received another punch. Fuck, since when had he turned into a victim? Since his goddamned world had collapsed and become a nightmare, a few minutes ago. "You don't understand!" Wiping blood out of his eye, spitting blood onto the ground. Russian, too, the switch came without thinking. "Listen to me!"

"There's nothing to understand. You fucked my wife, while I was fucking dying. And you thought I wouldn't find out? Fuck you." The betrayal was worse. Both. It wasn't just jealousy, he could deal with that, he'd proven that over and over. It was the fact it was Katya, his past, his children, and Dan had just broken into that world and … fucked around with it. His world, his anchor, at least back then. And that Dan had become one of Katya's men - that was even worse. Again, sharing. His lover and his wife, and now this. A child. As if to mock him and remind him he'd never been much of a husband, not much of a father, not even much of a lover. Katya had taken something that had been his, alone, his, and the barrier between old life and new life had been torn down and created … what? Pain.

Mouth open, Dan paled beneath tan and smears of blood. You fucked my wife. No sound came out, as an ice cold fist slammed into his guts. While I was dying. I know. I remember. And it killed me, too. He stood frozen on the spot, no more words, no attempts. She'd done it. She'd won. He felt so sick he wanted to throw up, and it wasn't because of the kicks and punches.

Vadim hadn't given him a chance.

"Leave me the fuck alone", Vadim roared, unable to contain that pain, and he forced his way through the other mercenaries who tried to hold him back, but he would have none of that.

Dan didn't move. No reaching out, no calling Vadim's name. Nothing. You fucked my wife. He shuddered, stared at Vadim running away. No chance. No questions. No chance for explanations. Believing he'd done it. Betrayed him. Expected the worst, convinced he was a traitor. Twelve years … and nothing.

No chance.

He shook his head violently when some of his mates tried to talk to him, and pushed them away when they grabbed hold of his arms. Didn't want to hear them, no voices, no well-meant taking him to the medic to patch him up. No queries, couldn't bear it. Just alone. Leave me the fuck alone. He could do that. Mind reeling, world shattered, and Vadim believed he was a traitor. She'd won. He hoped she would rot in a hell he didn't believe in.

He looked around on the ground, gathered the letter, muddy and torn, then found the photos. Dirty, crumpled, and he straightened them, wiped the specks of blood off the kid's face with his sleeve. Still in the front of the admin block, the mercs and soldiers were starting to scatter, when he ignored each of them.

Staring at the picture of the girl, he couldn't grasp what he saw. A child. Laughing. Dark hair, dark eyes. A girl. The kid that had destroyed his world.

He hated the mother. Hated that bitch with more fervour than he'd ever hated anyone. Even Vadim. Back when … no. Not going there.

He hated the bitch but he could not hate the kid.

His daughter.

* * *

Vadim received a major dressing down just two hours later. The CO, his own nerves clearly frayed by the images of a reality outside that none of the soldiers could actually deal with, coldly told him his punishment, after he'd asked whether Vadim had, in fact, without provocation, attacked a fellow soldier. A fellow soldier. The word the CO did not use was 'partner', or 'lover', but Vadim knew exactly what he was thinking. That their kind of bond could only lead to this kind of quarrel. That two gay soldiers would always turn against each other, and be not only a nuisance, but a liability. Not professional. Emotions had no space in places like these, least of all two faggots punching each other up.

Vadim took the pay cut stoically. He was really expecting, hoping, to be kicked out. Only so he could go outside. And. Do. Something. He had nothing left to lose, nothing but the pain. He remembered he'd been in that kind of mindset before, one hundred percent soldier, zero percent human. He knew how effective he could be. What a force. And there'd always been something that had held him back. Doubts. A family. A man he'd meet as a lover. Very rarely had these been there and not impeded him - when they had paled, or he'd been so tired that he couldn't feel them, but right now, they were gone. Now all that baggage had fallen off him, he was free to do whatever he pleased. And that gave him a sense of purpose, cut loose the chain that had grown into his flesh so deep he'd really believed it was part of him. It wasn't. He was free.

He acted properly repentant, which meant he kept silent, didn't protest, just accepted that bastard telling him he'd expected him to be more professional and he'd hoped that would be the last time.

Vadim saluted, and went back to his room. Their room. Pushed the beds back to where they'd been at the start, took the envelope with letters and photos, his own beginnings of letters he'd never finished, and burned the lot outside, where nobody could watch. Let it go up in smoke, Szandor's death, the stories from school of his kids, the local fencing association stories. It was soon gone. The last of the photos that browned and crumbled to ashes was a photo of his other cuckoo's child, Nikolai, whose withdrawn, sceptical and soft face seemed to say: I knew it wouldn't last, so I didn't smile at you.

* * *

When Dan finally returned to the room - since he had nowhere else to go - he'd been cleaned up. The dark bruises vivid in his face, and the split at his brow kept together with butterfly strips. He froze when he opened the door. The beds - pushed apart. He'd have thought he was prepared for anything by now, but the sight slammed into his guts like another fist.

Vadim was sitting on a chair, polishing the boots, cleaning his whole kit, it smelled of boot polish, soap, and metal. While it was a ritual, part of everyday duty, Vadim was fully focused on the task, didn't look up, just worked through the leather of the boots to keep them waterproof and in fighting condition. Precious little else they could do. Aching inside, though, it fucking hurt, but he was good at keeping a straight face, just pretended the muscles in his face were not connected to anything else.

Dan's mouth opened, old habit, but no sound came out. No word of greeting. Everything he might have wanted to say was silenced by traitor, liar, and no chance. He walked over to the bed that he assumed was 'his', and the fist in his guts was churning his insides. Beds. Not bed. One bitch had destroyed that and he couldn't see a way out. Too hurt to try and explain, too proud to talk, and too shattered inside.

He turned his back to Vadim, carefully placing the photos amongst his kit. He'd destroyed the letter. Nothing in there he wanted to ever see again. Not the bitch's writing, not her words. September thirteen was all he needed to know, and Kisa. 'Kitten'. Lapushka. How fucking ironic if it didn't hurt so much. Taking his muddy and bloodied clothes off, he reached for towel and soap bag. He needed a shower, had to ease the soreness and ache and had to try to wash away what could never be cleansed. No chance. After twelve years. Assuming the worst and proving that no matter what, the ex-wife, the bitch, was more important than him. She'd won. Well and truly, at last.

He was out of the door without a sound.

Vadim looked up when Dan was gone. Being in the same room was hard. He didn't want to see him, hear him, smell him, ever again feel him. Stupid fucking need. Sex. Men made themselves fools for sex. Gave up their honour. Gave up everything. He shook his head, stowed away the kit. He'd have to arrange something, so he took a wad of money and went to the NCO who planned the shifts. The staff sergeant had already heard the story, and it didn't take much convincing to be put on opposite shifts. Vadim was fairly sure the man had no idea how serious it was - he played along to "give both of them space", as he called it, and Vadim took the boon that came for free. It was understood he owed him, but that was fine. As long as they would spend as little time in the same area as possible. Bad enough he couldn't ask for different accommodation, but he left that move to Dan. Dan was the man who made friends and who found other lovers, like Jean. Tough luck, no Jean in sight in Yugoslavia.

When Dan returned to the room Vadim was out. Better that way, it hurt less. Mind numb, he couldn't get one single coherent thought, let alone string several together. All of this had to be a nightmare, couldn't be true, utterly impossible that Vadim would have done that, would have condemned him like that. Like trash. Worth nothing. Twelve years just gone.

He dressed, had to somehow get ready for nightshift. A couple more nights of that, how the fuck was he going to function though? Beside Vadim? But even on his own, how was he going to keep himself from getting killed, because he just couldn't focus? Damn. He was a soldier, still. Mercenary, PMC, whatever. He was still a professional. And if he got killed … right now, what did it matter? Wouldn't make things worse. Perhaps in the light of the morning, but at the moment, it seemed a damn viable option, and he didn't care.

Managing to get some food down, Dan smoked fag after fag, popped a couple of painkillers the medic had pushed into his hand, and then it was time to get kitted out and back onto shift. But when he got into the Landrover, one of the other mercs was standing there, claiming he had taken over the shift and that Dan had been put onto permanent night shift. Dan just nodded, didn't ask questions, didn't complain, didn't give a damn. Figured it was easier to work with anyone but Vadim, and existing at different times without seeing each other.

That night, he hardly talked and he did his job. No more, no less.

* * *

Vadim found a new rhythm, a faster rhythm. Doing his duty, he was silent, the type that did the job by the book. There was no sign of fraying about him, and people seemed to believe that. Running security, showing weapons, guarding compounds, watching the blue berets do nothing but show off their pristine uniforms below haunted eyes. Vadim wasn't haunted. He was possessed.

The area around them swarmed with irregulars. The same men who killed and murdered and raped and tortured, living like wild dogs off the land, feeding on human flesh and blood. Breaking the soul of a people, shattering a land so it would never grow together again. They feared nothing. They ruled the land by force of arms, by force of brutality, and that reinforced their fearlessness. The feral dogs feared nothing.

Vadim wore black camo on his hunting expeditions. He went to bed like anybody expected, waited for the camp to calm down and Dan to leave, then got dressed again. A boring, pointless day gave way to the thrill of the hunt when he put on the unmarked black camo, ammunition, knife, garrotte, gloves, something deadly or useful in every pocket. Getting out of camp was easy enough - he knew the routines, he was an insider. Any insider can fool the system. He'd fooled the Soviet Army for years, deep in enemy territory. This wasn't so different, now.

He followed the noise they made, waited in the dark for them to fall asleep. Took out their guards, then killed the sleeping men. For I have become death, the destroyer of worlds, he thought, smiling, after he had done the work. Killing sleeping men was easy. Just the finale to the stalking, the watching, fanning the flame of anger inside and getting ready. Feeling alive inside while he hunted, and calm, focused, centred, after it was over.

He returned to camp past midnight, slept for four or five hours, then did his day shift. He couldn't go out hunting every night, but he made it a priority to go out at least twice a week. Leaving bodies behind when he'd found peace.

Special Forces Chapter XXXXV:I: Dirty War
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 14 August 2008