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Special Forces Chapter XLVI: Dirty War

November/December 1992, The Balkans

Dan figured the building had been a school or similar once - shelled until half of it had collapsed, and what remained standing didn't inspire confidence in the structure. He picked his way through the rubble carefully and as quietly as possible, finding relatively easy access once the rubble was left behind. That's when he slowed down, turning into stealth mode, all senses honed. The air still tasted of dust and he could sense Vadim close.

The cellar was still intact in one wing of the building, and that was where Vadim had been heading. There was a room that might have been a boiler room before the war, and Dan crouched behind a steel girder, the moment he saw a small light. Too insignificant to be seen from the outside, a tea light. There was a sleeping mat close by, a woollen blanket, and a man with his hands chained to one of the massive boilers. The light barely touched his face, he appeared worn, dusty, but above all, cold, forced into hardly moving.

Another man was crouched next to him, and Dan's eyes narrowed. That man was Vadim.

Vadim was feeding the man on the ground, canned meat and dry biscuits, and then water from his own bottle. The lying man ate everything Vadim gave him, clearly hungry, or just simply not protesting much, or resigned and knowing he'd need to preserve his strength. They didn't speak, but there was an odd sense of understanding between them.

The man moved his hand to indicate he'd drunk enough, and Vadim closed the bottle and put it down, then checked on the wrists, all in a perfectly calm, businesslike manner. Like keeping prisoners was perfectly normal.

"You okay?" Vadim asked, his hand now resting on the man's shoulder, then moved a few inches to his chest. He was speaking Russian.

The other man looked up, met Vadim's gaze, there was the beginning of a smile or grin, or similar dismissive notion, but then he pressed his lips together. "Let me go."

Vadim frowned, thoughtfully, hand moving across the man's chest, as if checking the pockets of his vest for hidden, illicit goods. "Anything else?" When no answer came, he shifted, packed the remainder of the food and the wrappers back into his bergan, silently watched by the other man.

"When do you plan to be back?" asked the captive.

"I don't know. Not long."

The captive shook his head. "Fuck you. You'll leave me here, right? Like this? Like the other days?"

"Nights. Too dangerous in the light."

"Fuck you."

"Yes. Fuck me." Vadim's hand ran up to the captive's face, his neck, searching, testing, but there was no response that Dan could see, then down towards his navel. Without a word, with no further comment or question, Vadim suddenly rolled on top of the other man, whose hands formed fists in the handcuffs, breath growing laboured under Vadim's weight.

Dan remained frozen, even if he could make a sound, he wouldn't be able to. Staring at the two men, seeing … what? Some kind of rape? What the fuck made it 'rape' anyway, but a set of chains and manacles was a damn convincing indicator for 'unwilling'.

Vadim was moving on top, hands on the other's ragtag uniform, pulling his vest free, baring skin, pulling flies open and apart, grunting with forceful grinding motions that made the captive's neck and throat tense visibly in the sparse light. A flash of skin, the scent of sex, Vadim grinding against the other's body, cock against cock, until he came, and remained on top for a while longer. Working against the other's motions, who arched, both hands clenching around the chain, so hard his veins stood out visibly. His groans tortured, losing, after his freedom, the control of his own body.

Vadim rolled off, leaving the panting man, put both sets of camo back in order, after using the scarf to clean himself and the other. "Sleep. Time passes quicker, then."

"Fuck you."

"Tomorrow. Five or six hours." Vadim stood, shouldering his bergan.

Dan felt bile rise in his throat as he watched Vadim disappear, pressing his body further against the girder, blending with the shadows.

Then Vadim was gone, and he was left breathing. Against the nausea and against the urge to run after him and kick the shit out of the bastard, hurting him until he bled, to make him talk, explain, any-fucking-thing, just as long as it took those images and thoughts away.

The lying man had turned his head, staring at the flame of the tea light, eyes catching the light. They seemed dark, mottled, and the dusty, tired face was as far removed from peace as was possible. Not resigned, just tired, and focusing on the flame. Knowing that the light would be gone in mere hours.

Dan waited a while longer, most of all to ensure Vadim would not return, not now, or he'd follow his urge all too efficiently. He finally took one deep breath, before stealthily crawling back the way he'd come. It would be no good to let the man - whoever he was - know that he'd been witnessing the scene. Once sufficiently far away, he turned again, this time picking his way through the rubble like a man who was cautious, but not overly worried about making a sound. He didn't have a plan yet, but he'd be fucked if he wasn't going to do something. Barge ahead, and think later.

The candle light vanished. A mere breath, the captive's body twisting, and the light was out.

Dan stopped, reached for his torchlight, and shone it around, as if he didn't know that someone was there. Randomly shining into corners and along walls. "Anybody in there?" Calling out in his broadest Scottish accent. No way he was going to be mistaken for anything but a Brit. Carefully taking a few further steps, avoiding tripping over the rubble, He knew he was getting closer, but deliberately walked a few steps away. "Hello?"

Not a sound. Not a breath, not a scrape of chain against boiler metal, no shifting of a body. Dead silence.

Dan glanced to the side where he knew the prisoner was, allowing the torch to glide over the still body. Stopping, light and man, and he turned, shining the beam of brightness right onto the still lump. "Hello there, you OK? You understand me?" Not quite naïve, certainly not trusting, least of all when he slipped a weapon out of its holster into his hand, but acting well enough. Moving cautiously closer, until he looked down, but could not be reached by a suddenly flailing arm. "Hey!"

The man's eyes opened. He might have preferred to be thought of as a corpse, but he squinted against the light, shadowing his face with his elbow. Hands still around the chain to suppress every sound of the metal. Face blank, trying to make out the eyes of his 'visitor'. Nodding, blinking like he'd been roused from sleep. "Are you British?" he asked, his English coloured with Russian. Not that most non-native speakers would be able to tell the difference between a Russian speaking English with a Russian accent and a Serb speaking English.

"Aye," Dan nodded, shielding the light away from the man's eyes. "What the fuck are you doing here? I'm going through all the buildings that are still more or less standing. Fucking boring task checking the ruins, and then bingo! There really is someone lying here. You sleeping rough? And who the fuck are you?" Sticking to his not yet existing plan, but whatever it was, there was no way he'd let on that he had anything to do with Vadim.

The man stared at him, then slowly nodded, as if understanding. "I'm trapped", he said, glancing at his hands. "Are you a mercenary? Somebody's bodyguard, perhaps? Or a journalist?" The man attempted a smile, somewhat sheepish. "Can you get the cuffs off?"

"Trapped?" Dan played as dumb as he could without looking unconvincing. Shining the light onto the chains, he let his eyes grow wide in surprise. "You're chained up, who did that?"

"I don't know. They didn't introduce themselves", said the man, maybe now slowly beginning to hope he might be set free. But cautious, watching every movement, and the gun. Shifting to lie on his side, peering up at Dan. "Are you a mercenary? British?"

"Aye." Dan nodded, put the gun away, making sure the other saw his movements. "I'm one of the mercenaries in the camp nearby." Getting to his knees, he put the torch onto the ground so it provided sufficient light, then patted the man down, as if checking for injuries. There were no open wounds, just the cold skin of having been in the low temperatures for too long, days, maybe. He smelled of sex, the lingering scent of Vadim still on him, and Dan paused, staying far too long, before he let go of the man.

"I'm alright. I'm not wounded. But I'm slightly dehydrated, and I should get out of the cold", the man gave a rational summary.

"Could you make out who caught you? There must be a reason why you are chained up?"

"I don't know. I honestly have no idea. I've been here for days, I don't know. Set me free, yes?" Indicating the handcuffs again. "I kept thinking the building would come down and bury me alive." Smoothly said, but there was something in the man's eyes that told Dan that indeed, that had been one of the lingering thoughts during his captivity.

"Aye." Dan nodded, looking around, "but you don't seem to be in too bad a condition. They fed you alright?" His hand came back down onto the man's chest. "By the way, I am Dan. Who are you?" Figuring that there was no way Vadim would have mentioned his name.

Hesitating, the man looked at Dan's hand on his chest. He was wearing a mix of various uniforms, some Russian, some from somewhere else, some civilian survival kit. No dog tag. "Dima." Choosing the nickname of Dmitri. "Friends call me Dima." Glancing up, as if asking Are you a friend? His eyes appeared dark green, with brown in them. He was roughly Vadim's age, the dust made his features appear older, washed out. "Let me go, please."

"I don't even know who the fuck you are." Dan left his hand on the chest, if anything, applying more pressure, as he leaned down. Too close, far too close to those strangely speckled eyes, but feeling strength under his hand. The whole man resisted, tightened, eyes narrowing.

"You could be a chetnik, Dima, and the moment I turn round, you blast a bullet into my back." He was metaphorically speaking, he saw no weapons near. "Why the hell would anyone chain anyone else up, keeping them fed and watered and a candle nearby, and a couple of blankets." He lowered even more, face to face, with barely a hand's breadth in between. "You tell me, aye?" Murmured, but he flashed a grin after that, his sunniest one, which almost touched his eyes.

Dima stared at him, and every piece of that harmless veneer vanished from him. His hands tightened again around the chains and he met the gaze, full on, not a challenge, but stubborn resistance. "If I was chetnik, the kidnapper would have killed me. If they were mercs. If I wasn't, and I was kidnapped by chetniks, I'd be dead, too. I'm a mercenary, too. Not a chetnik. I'm not a Serb."

"Then who captured and kept you?"

"I told you, I don't know. Could be your side. Could be chetniks. Could be anything." He kept his eyes on Dan's.

Dan smiled, sunny again, teeth and all, but he dropped the pretence for a second. "And why does it smell of cum around here? Wanking with hands chained to a boiler seems damn difficult to me." The grin was back in place immediately. "Or are we talking a great big kinky feast, here? In the middle of shitty Yugo-land?" And maybe, just maybe, what he had seen had been a game and not real. But Vadim … what had changed him back? Dan's dark eyes suddenly became hard and cold, the moment he thought of the bitch and how she'd destroyed everything, even from afar.

Dima stared at him, paler now under the dust. "Seems there was some kind of sexual encounter, then. Why? You interested?" He was tense, taut, hating every second of being helpless and Dan clearly not a friend.

Dan stalled for a moment, looking down into those strange eyes, until he finally pulled his lips from his teeth in an entirely humourless grin. "I might be the camp faggot, but I don't 'do' prisoners. Especially not if they are someone else's." He let go of the other and moved back, away from the light and out of the vicinity.

Dima's eyes stayed on him, not a muscle in his face had moved at the 'faggot', clearly focusing on Dan, every move potentially threatening. "Where are you going?"

"What, you worried about being left alone?" Dan's voice disembodied in the gloom.

"Fuck you", Dima murmured in Russian, more to himself. "No, why should I? I can feed myself, I can piss and shit in a hygienic manner, I have drunk so much water the last days I can last a week, and I enjoy lying in a shelled building that makes strange sounds every now and then. Nice and cosy and warm here, my socks are clean and fresh, my feet dry and snug. I can do my job and I'm not bored. You fucking joker."

"Then what is your job?" Dan hadn't moved, no sound in the rubble.

"I'm a merc. Speciality medic." Dima huffed. "Which, translated, means I know how a body looks that had a house fall on it. I am also fairly aware of exposure, and, of course, I know starvation and dehydration.

Dan let out a snort and turned back into the light, studying the man on the ground, who met the gaze, looked at him past his elbow that half-shielded his face - probably to give a measure of protection. "Despite being that perceptive, you still trying to tell me that you have no idea who captured you and then … used you?"

"He's a merc, too. No allegiance. Or rather ... British." Something made Dima's voice sound thick and almost emotional and Dan's eyes flashed for an unguarded second before he had himself under control again. "He's one of yours, then. Happy now? He keeps me here and alive, but that's it. If he gets shot out there, I'm fucked - terminally. So, yeah, whatever. Fuck me, kill me, leave me. You're just here to gloat or interrogate me. So, go ahead, kick me around a bit. Teach me you mean it. Break a rib or two. It's not much I can do about it. If you think I'm a chetnik, I deserve that, right?"

"You're Russian." Dan said, suddenly switching into Russian, while ignoring anything the man had said, "which makes me wonder why the fuck you are here. Don't tell me you had the orders?" Still speaking fluent Russian, getting faster with every word.

Dima frowned darkly, not used to be addressed in his own language like that. "I'm not cleared to tell you that. Remember? Soldiers are not supposed to give anything away that isn't their name and number."

"Aye," Dan switched into English, "but I'm not bound to any codes anymore." Back the next moment to Russian, "unlike the days in Afghanistan." Watching the man's face very closely.

"Good shot. You think I was one of the 'lost generation'?" Dima looked pointedly at his hands. "I'm old enough, yes."

"I think you might be." Dan nodded, "and that might be how you know that 'British' merc of yours." He shrugged, still sticking to Russian, it felt strangely good to use the language again. Fierce and primal, a reminder of times worse and better and entirely straightforward. Enemies. Lovers. Dust and pain and lust and love.

"As in, I patched him up near Salang Pass one fine, dusty afternoon?" Dima grinned, sharp, white, flawless teeth, if not for two eye teeth that were crooked.

"No, not quite."

"Listen, you don't get a word from me unless you've untied me. Simple. You want information, I want my freedom. You either give this to me, or you break the words out of me. I'm gambling. You probably have the stomach to do that, but just telling you what you want to know without getting anything out of it for me is shit. Do you agree?"

Dan laughed without humour, and yet the sound was dark and strangely enticing. "I'm ex-SAS, mate." Switching back to English, "I have the stomach for a hell of a lot of things, including carving 'cunt' into the back of that captor of yours." He shifted his weight, leaving free range for his right arm.

Dima fell silent, eyes narrow, and there was something in his face. Shock. Maybe disgust. But he did understand. Understood the implications, suddenly understood the connection: SAS, Vadim's scars, Afghanistan, mercs. No longer daring Dan. Instead, realising something of the scope and the meaning. "Okay." No humour, no lightness, no challenge left. Mind working on the information, but he seemed to withdraw suddenly, build up his defences, maybe his courage.

"I see." Dan nodded, could indeed see a lot of things in the man's face, who was bolstering himself for the worst. Torture, execution, whatever else. As a medic, he would know a lot about what could be done to a human body.

"But if you think I leave you here in this rat hole, you're damn wrong." A twitch of Dan's arm when he leaned further down, and Dima met his gaze, remaining calm. "And I think you don't know anything of the real story …" Dan's arm suddenly moved, faster than Dima could have predicted, his fist connecting that precisely with the other's temple, it knocked the man out in the next instance. Dima's elbow relaxed, head rolled to the side. Out like a light.

"And what the fuck do I do with you now …" Dan murmured, glancing around. He'd have how long for this? Had got a bit rusty in kidnapping and other extortion, but it had to be like riding a bike, aye? All he could think of was the next small step ahead and that he had to get that man out of this unsound building and away from Vadim - whatever that meant and whyever he felt it was necessary. Trying to think of a suitable place, he shook his head at every idea that came to his mind, until he finally grinned. That was it, the only place, he'd just have to carry the guy for a while. Aching knees or not.

Dan quickly went through his pockets, the rifle beside him on the ground, took his scarf off and cut it into strips, quickly blindfolding the man. Wouldn't do him any good to have ideas of where they were heading. He just had to break the chain, and the rifle was the only way. Standing. Aiming, thankful the man was still out, even though he started to twitch, Dan fired a round into the ground, which split the chain and freed the captive.

Dima came back round, the gunshot tore him out of what might have been sleep, and the first instinct was to get away, roll away, reach for a weapon, all of these. Frantically scrambling before he realized that he couldn't see, then reaching for his eyes.

"I wouldn't do that." Dan's voice cut into the blindness, and Dima stopped. "I still have the rifle in my hands and it's trained on you. You want to take the risk?" He waited a moment, but Dima shook his head. "I'm going to take you to a safer place, you want to walk or want me to carry you? I can knock you out again, no problem. Your choice." His voice sounded almost entirely uninterested.

"Out of the frying pan ..." muttered Dima and raised his hands, while getting to his feet. "I'll walk. One headache's bad enough."

"Good choice." Moving into he man's back, Dan picked up the torch, slung the rifle across his back, and guided Dima across the rubble with his hands on his shoulders. Shoulders that were stiff, and Dima was slow to respond at first, but eventually he took his clues from Dan's hands, following the motions.

Making their way to the outside eventually, despite several times of almost tripping and catching Dima when he lost balance, and every time the medic cursed. Strings of curses that almost seemed to mean nothing, more a habit than actual anger.

Dan manoeuvred them to the Landrover that had been parked out of sight, and opened the door of the passenger seat. "You manage to climb in?"

Dima reached out and found the door. "Why don't you just let me go? Why all the hassle? You keeping me for later?"

"I'm keeping you out of shit until I know more." Helping the other to climb in, Dan was quickly in the driver's seat. Reaching across Dima's lap to close the door. "As I said, I bet you don't know the story." Starting the engine, he murmured to himself, " I'm not even sure I know it either." They drove off into the night, towards the direction of the camp.

Dima shook his head, but he seemed glad he could sit and move, and while Dan drove, he massaged his shoulders, rolling them and kneading the muscles, working the ache out of them. "You said 'faggot' ... are you his lover?" Dima turned his face towards Dan. "He told me he was homosexual."

"And that was a surprise to you?" Ignoring the first part of the question.

"Yes. There wasn't even a rumour about him. Never. Not that I checked on that, but soldiers talk when they wait, and we waited a lot in those days."

"So you did work together with him? Spetsnaz medic … I wonder if I ever came across you."

"I doubt it. One of us would have died. Turkey."

Dan shrugged, "you wouldn't have known when I was really close." His face hidden in darkness, while driving towards the abandoned bunker close to the camp. Hiding the man under everyone's nose - and most of all Vadim's - was the best plan he'd had in a long time. Not that he felt like any plans lately, but what the fuck. It had to be done. "Congratulations, seems you didn't count as suitable material, then."

Dima laughed. "It would have been too fucking risky. Out on patrol? With the fucking team leader? With comrade captain Krasnorada? Oh please."

"You have no idea." Dan's face had turned grim, lips pressed together, as he accelerated into a corner, tearing the Lannie around that fast, it threw his passenger against the side of the vehicle. A moment later and he slammed the brakes, which made Dima shut up, and brace himself with his arms.

"Right." Turning to the man, who listened attentively, face remaining a studied mask. Despite his best attempts, Dima knew Dan hadn't become some kind of buddy. Still very much an enemy.

"You got two choices again. Walk with me, quietly, and lay low in a safe place, while I get provisions, or make a ruckus and face whatever shit someone like you might face around here. Up to you, but it looks like I'm your best chance at the moment."

"What about option three: let me go?" Dima inhaled. "Why keep me as a captive at all? Especially since you don't 'do' prisoners?"

"I don't 'do' prisoners as in: I don't fuck them. Got that? But that's all." Turning the ignition off and pocketing the key for now. "Letting you go is not a fucking option, because I have no fucking clue why you're here. Getting an idea who you are, but that's not enough, mate." Switching once more into Russian. "This is a shit place, even good old me is getting that. And letting an unknown factor loose into a pile of shit is not a good idea. Got it?" And he needed to know, had to … why? Because hurt ran as deep as blood and lust, but nothing ever reached as far down as the love. Battered, broken, full of anger, but he'd been through too much to give up on it. Not yet.

"Then let's do the torture bit and be done with it", said Dima, climbing out of the car. "I can't tell you, and you need to know. I call that a conflict of interest. Or is it that you weren't aware of me? And you are still his lover? You are both here, that's not a coincidence. I don't think it's jealousy. Just because there were sexual acts committed ..." Dima shrugged. "What's the problem?

"You're one smart motherfucker, aye?" Back into English, hopping from language to language with an old, worn-out ease.

"I got top scores in the IQ test, 'mate'. Medics are smart people. We have to be, because apart from the soldiering, we actually need to know how the human body works. And that's one complicated machine."

"You'd be getting along just hunky-dory with a friend of mine." Jumping out of the vehicle, Dan swiftly stood once more behind the other man, hands on his shoulders. The muscles under his hands tensed. "The problem is I don't know what the fuck is going on, other than blood soaked kit and shots in the distance." His fingers tightened in the shoulder muscles, which tensed even more, and Dima tilted his head, as if to listen very closely for whatever Dan would say next.

"He's killing them. The chetniks. He walks like death and cuts their throats." Dima said quietly.

Dan's hands twitched, until they were digging in so hard, they had to be hurting. Giving far more away than ever intended. The pause too long, too silent. "And you, did you consent?" Voice dropped, body tense.

"Consent? To them getting killed? Fuck, no."

"Aye." Fuck, wrong question, and he'd lost the slot, impossible to pursue. "Move." Gruffly, as he pushed the other forward, none too gently, making Dima curse again as his foot hit a stone and he nearly lost his balance, but caught himself.

Walking in silence towards the half overgrown entrance of the small concrete bunker that was entirely stable, with the iron door still intact. Dan had been there before, recced the area, a mere stone throw away from the camp. Yet the air slits would be too small to allow any sound to travel far enough.

Once inside the building, Dima tensed again and walked slower, doubtlessly hearing, that the building he'd entered appeared sound-proof. Expecting the worst. It was a good place to shoot somebody. He was sweating, but silent, likely clinging to what life he had, or remembering, or that hyper focused sensorial overload that undermined his will.

Dan stopped. The bunker itself was small, no more than a square room, with some daylight through slits, which provided fresh air. "Home sweet home." Dan's calm voice a mockery of his thoughts. What the fuck was he doing? But could it be any fucking worse than a fucking madman out on what seemed to be a killing rampage? What the fuck had happened to them, where had the 'honeymoon' on Thailand vanished to, family and friends in Scotland and France, and their home-to-be in New Zealand? Was it all the bitch's fault?

"I'll be back in an hour." Dan didn't bother to take the blindfold off, as he slipped out of his heavily padded winter jacket. "Here." Draping it over the other man's shoulder, "and I wouldn't try screaming, it won't help." He turned towards the heavy iron door.

Dima's hands, still shackled, went up to take the blindfold off. He glanced around, then at Dan, but shrugging into the jacket that was still warm. "One hour? Don't get killed." Captivity of a different kind, but at least he could see, and move, and was reasonably warm. Looking tired and worn after the battle with his own fear, and after escaping from the other place.

"It's too close to get killed." Dan flashed a humourless grin before he vanished into the darkness, the iron door shutting firmly behind him, wedging it shut. Running back to the vehicle, he huffed against the cold, then drove back into camp. Counting on Vadim still being out, he signed the Landrover in and made his way to the cookhouse, blagging his usual bag of sandwiches at this time of night, with the leftover dessert on top.

Stash under his arm, he made his way to the room he 'shared', and the lights were out. It had to be true, then, and he was going to find out what the fuck was going on with Vadim, after he'd delivered the goods. Rolling up the couple of extra blankets, Dan grabbed his bergan that had his sleeping bag in the bottom, and stuffed it full with the blankets, food, a couple of water bottles, a torch and a stash of batteries. Rummaging around until he found spare shaving kit in a tin, soap dish, towel, and pulled out some old BDUs that Vadim particularly disliked on him because they were too worn, and a pair of socks, t-shirt and thick jumper. Holey but functional, and his old paratrooper smock as well, which was warm but faded so badly it hardly showed the camo anymore. As an afterthought, taking a third bottle as well, securing the whole lot on his back. He had to be on foot, couldn't risk signing the vehicle out again, and he went for his second jacket, even better padded than the first. All the shit that Vadim had made him buy before they'd gone to this damned country was coming in handy now.

More jogging than walking towards the gates, he avoided anyone's questions by making some stupid arsed jokes of a sweetheart in town, and while no one believed him, he made his way through without any further ado, and was on his way to the bunker, no more than seven minutes away on foot. Once he arrived, he pulled the door open with all the swiftness and simultaneous care that a vertical coffin demanded.

Dima looked up, bleary-eyed, where he'd slept, huddled in a corner, but stood immediately, surprised at seeing Dan return - and laden with kit. "Okay. Explain. What's going on? What the fuck do you want?"

"There's obviously a reason why the hell Vadim locked you up." Throwing the bergan onto the ground, Dan pulled out the goods and laid them out. "And I'm going to find out what the fuck's going on." Most importantly, he pulled out the heavy tool he'd taken from the Landrover. "You're a medic, aye? You tell me why the fuck he's behaving like a madman." Brandishing the tool, Dan pointed to the cuffs.

Dima nodded, moving closer. "Madman? He's very much like I know him ... okay, changed in a few ways, darker. But he's always been fierce. Ten years ago, though, he wouldn't have killed that side."

Placing the man's hands down to have leverage, Dan slipped part of the tool between metal and wrist, applying sudden pressure, with Dima helping as best as he could by offering resistance. A few groans later, the metal had snapped apart. The cuffs had never been particularly safe in the first place. "Does it matter in this godforsaken place who to kill? Right now one side seems worse than the other, but give them a chance and it's turned tables."

"That's ... true."

Dan set to work on the second cuff. "And which side would he have killed? Mujas and Turkeys, just a shame he never killed this one here."

"The side he was ordered to kill. Of the old unit, only I'm still active. One of us got his legs blown off by a mine. I stabilised him, but with the missiles hitting our helicopters, they had to bring him out by truck, a dozen wounded in a car, across the mountains, and I don't know whether he made it to Kabul. Well, I do know, because he's never been in touch. I hope sometimes he was just too ashamed of losing a good half meter of height ..." Dima shook his head. "Doesn't matter. We're all just meat."

Managing to get the second cuff off, Dan placed the tool far enough away so it couldn't be used as a makeshift weapon. "He was more than meat." He shrugged, but the casual attitude was not convincing. "Anyway, I got you clothes and water, and enough food to last. You find a sleeping bag and extra blankets, torch and batteries. Got you my old safety razor as well, you look like shit and frankly, you could do with a wash and a change of kit. I'll be back tomorrow after night shift." Stashing the tool back in the empty bergan, "and I need my jacket back, too obvious otherwise." He held out his hand to the other man, who didn't make any movement, instead looked at him with those mottled eyes.

"I can see you've given this quite a bit of thought, 'mate'. And that does take care of me ... all basic needs met, for the moment, anyway. But why you're doing this escapes me. You have good reason to think I'm a chetnik, and I can't prove otherwise ..." leaving that deliberately ambivalent. "And now you keep me like a guest almost, a guest that can't leave because your side would take him prisoner and do God knows what with him. Okay. That's the bottom line. Why do you do that? Why do you feel responsibly for Vadim's 'prisoner'?"

Dan's hand fell back down to his side. "You're not chetnik. You worked with Vadim, back in Afghanistan. A spetsnaz medic."

"That's a good working hypothesis."

Dan shook his head slowly. "I'm forty-three years old. Perhaps I'm just sick and fucking tired of deaths that are too damned pointless. Perhaps I just dabbled too much in the civilian world, friends and family and all that goddamned shit that I had always tried to stay clear of before, to make it easier to walk back into the shitholes." He shrugged, strangely uncaring about anything he admitted to right now. "And let me tell you that, you chose the worst possible affiliation at this moment in time and place, that you could have possibly chosen."

Dima nodded. "I'm forty-four, for three weeks yet." He was silent for a while, mulling it over, or just allowed the words to settle. "Random acts of kindness, then. That's as good an explanation as any other." He reached over and began to idly rifle through the 'gifts' Dan had brought, spread out the blankets and sleeping bag, every motion smooth and rehearsed a hundred thousand times. Dima pulled the tin closer, while Dan just stood and watched, strangely reluctant to leave, as the other poured water in the tin and washed his face, and, as there was plenty of water, his short hair, too. The original colour must have been dark brown, but it was shot through with so much grey it was more salt-and-pepper. "You know", he murmured. "I'd be glad for some company. Being a prisoner is boring as hell, and my head hurts."

"Aye." Looking around, Dan settled on leaning against a wall. The dammed cold seemed to freeze up his joints. "I got painkillers in the inside pocket of my jacket." Adding with a dry huff that harboured some hints of humour. "The one you are still wearing and which is getting wet right now."

Dima grinned and slipped out of the jacket, brushing the water aside with his hand, like he'd smooth a kid's school uniform. "Painkillers? Your knees are that bad?" Casual, while he dried his face on one of the blankets, and then ran a handful of water over his stubble.

"Fuck you. You medical types are all the same." Dan groaned and rolled his eyes. "I'm alright, I can keep going for a while longer. It's just the damned cold." He shrugged and almost believed himself. Had to, no other option, was all the life he knew and had and ever wanted. No. Wrong. Had wanted Vadim, but … not go there.

"Yeah, cold makes it worse. I know. I am getting arthritis in my fingers. See?" Dima held up a hand. "The way some of the joints are swollen? It's an inflammation. Great fun."

"Aye, I can imagine. Must be shit as a medic."

Dima felt around his face, and shaved, guided by his hands and experience from too many wars, clearing the grey and brown stubble out of his face, cheeks first. He glanced at Dan before he got to the chin. "'Dima' is for Dmitri, by the way. I figured you probably know that, speaking Russian as well as you do."

"Aye, but good you remind me, was starting to wonder if I'd caught the name right." Tilting his head, Dan watched the blind shaving effort. "I'd offer to help in the awkward places, just depends on how paranoid you are."

Dima laughed wryly. "It's messy killing somebody with a safety razor, and you stand to gain nothing by soaking your blankets in blood." He swiped the razor in the water, then offered it, dripping, to Dan.

"Trust me, I had much better reasons to kill the man I shaved than I have now." Tipping the other's face back with the tips of two fingers on Dima's chin, Dan concentrated on the task.

Dima tilted his head to make things easier, looking past him, the specks in his eyes had a strange copper colour. No visible tension in his body, no mistrust, just calm. "Oh? That's the usual treatment for your prisoners?"

Dan chuckled dryly, but his gaze got caught in those weird eyes for a moment. "It was, once upon a time, something as crazy as over ten years ago." Cleaning the razor before starting again on another part of the throat, taking his time to run the razor along the skin.

Dima kept his face straight because of the razor, but his lips twitched. He had very different features to Vadim, less Russian, in a way, and less handsome.

"Been a while." Dan murmured, as he continued his task.

Dima raised his chin to allow Dan access to his throat once more, swallowing only when Dan had lifted the razor to swipe it in the water. "Shaving, or something else?"

"Everything." Dan finished his task, turning Dima's face left and right, satisfied with the result, he dropped the razor and let go of the chin. "Done."

Dima wiped his face on the towel, then looked at Dan, a much different man to the dusty guy Dan had knocked out, meeting at least some very basic standards of hygiene. He stood, then began to undress, peeling the dirty, grimy uniform off his body, with the same ease as if he was changing in the barracks, among dozens of comrades. He was more stocky than the athletic Vadim, the same salt-and-pepper tone on the hair on his chest and the glory trail. No tattoos, no dramatic scars that became visible, just one on his belly that was likely ancient, and in the same location where everybody had it who'd got their appendix removed; a good, healthy body. He washed with just a few handfuls of water and soap, keeping clean, devoting the proper attention to the task, while Dan simply stood and watched. As much interest or as little as watching his team mates shower.

"Keep your old shit, you never know."

"Yeah, I'm just sick of the smell." Dima glanced down at the pile for a moment, then continued with the task, in silence for a while, before speaking again. "Vadim Petrovich had the reputation for being a hard bastard, the kind that doesn't go native. He hated the Afghans, while other officers would strike a truce or sometimes found a way to coexist. Good leader, inspiring. Great personal courage, cunning, and clever enough not to speak his mind. I've seen many soldiers get sent to the army psychiatric ward for speaking their mind or, God beware, protest against an officer. Vadim Petrovich was clever enough, never got involved in the politicking, always keeping his own counsel. I sometimes thought he was too perfect, like he was compensating something, you know what I mean? But up there, you couldn't mistrust somebody for too long. The mountains don't allow that. They make brothers out of men. Or, in some cases, more." Dima rinsed the tin with a bit of water and straightened.

"Were you?" Dan's face still as neutral. "More?"

"No. I didn't guess he was that way ... inclined. He got the regular letters from his wife, I knew he had kids, and he was my superior officer. But I heard stories, a while back. About his trial. In fact, my superior officer asked me whether I'd noticed anything untoward. As if I'd be a witness against him." Dima shook his head. "The functionaries didn't get it. The soldier thing. Vadim Petrovich could have done far, far worse things, and I wouldn't have spoken about it. He was my superior, and I always felt loyal. After seeing other superiors, how they'd scheme and bribe, dodge the unpleasant parts of their duties, I couldn't possibly have given them something to beat him with. That is not how it works."

Dan smiled briefly. Loyalty was still something that meant the fucking world to him.

Dima reached over to begin dressing in the clothes Dan had brought. "But since you were asking, yes, the sexual encounter was with Vadim. There was another one, back in the farmhouse, at night, two or three days back."

That hurt, but Dan wasn't going to show it, or at least he tried. But did it surprise him? No. The bitch had done good work, had destroyed everything. He wondered if she was happy now. "So, you never knew that Vadim was gay? And what the fuck did they tell you about his charges?"

"I just thought they were trying to destroy his pride. If you make something like that stick, it's like a bad smell, no way he could wash that off. Spetsnaz. Such a male thing, being tough and all that. I remember thinking that it must be something personal when they used that angle. They tried to destroy his reputation, his friendships, the same loyalty that was still holding things together. Seems it worked with several others. If they'd have taken too much of an interest, they would have risked their own reputation. When he was charged, I was shocked, but I had some personal matters to deal with ... my brother was dying at that time. It's not an excuse, or maybe it is. Moscow was a long way away." Dima slipped into the warm jumper and draped one of the blankets around his shoulders.

"Aye." Dan said dryly, "guess no one could spare the time, back then." He turned away, busying himself with his empty bergan because fuck it, he wanted to strangle that man. Taking a moment to get over the urge.

"And I didn't want them to look too closely at my life."

Without lifting his head, Dan's voice came from the corner, still busy with whatever non existent content was in his pack. "And what would they have found?"

"A lot of one night stands with men." Dima looked up, with irony. "I thought he was innocent, but I was guilty."

Dan straightened, turned to finally look the other in the eye. "Vadim was innocent, he never divulged any information to me and neither did I to him, not through nine years in that dusty hell. But he was 'guilty' for … aye, for what. Sex? Love? Lust? What-the-fuck-ever." Dan shrugged, was hard to keep the façade up. "With me."

"I figured. The only way to see anything going on in your face is to speak about him." Dima gave a smile, and Dan shook his head. Guilty as charged, but he'd known that all along.

"Guilty or innocent …" Dima mused, "that depends a lot on many, many factors. It's what they thought, they set the rules. Sleeping with men was wrong and illegal, I thought he hadn't broken that rule or law, but I had. So I did worry about myself first. Plus, I thought he'd get protection, so when he was actually found 'guilty', that was when I was getting really worried." Dima sat down, put fresh socks on and his face betrayed that simple pleasure of having clean, dry feet again.

"Aye, I guess that must have been worrying." Dan was leaning against the wall, " I was out of the Forces by then." His face twitched, "would have given everything I had to get him out, in fact I did, but I guess it was too late." Pushing himself off the wall, he put on a fake grin. "C'est la vie, eh? And isn't it ironic that you shagged blokes but never realised Vadim would have been fair game."

Dima studied Dan closely. "He sometimes had that expression in his face, a strange kind of smile, too, like somebody has who's fallen in love. I misinterpreted that. And it's nothing you'd talk about to him. He didn't talk about that kind of thing."

Dan suddenly laughed, dry, and humourless. "You might even have been only a few steps away, when I fucked him right on patrol. Up there in the fucking mountains."

Dima inhaled sharply, what that thought did to him was anybody's guess "You fucked him ... I can imagine that. Strange. I'd have never thought he'd let a man do that, but I was wrong about other things. Well, I didn't. It was a hand job on the farm."

"Which farm? Is it where he 'found' you?" Emphasis on the one word, and Dan knew he'd given too much of his hurt away, the way his face was trying so hard to keep neutral and so utterly failing.

"Yes. He walked right in, I saw him first, and I swear to God, he lowered his gun - not in greeting, but to not shoot me. I didn't get that part, not at first, but I told the other guys that he was a friend, just like me. I vouched for him. They accepted that, I guess they didn't want to piss off the medic by shooting his old comrade. That night, we caught up on some stuff, and I ... I was curious, and I guess I made a move. He'd changed so much, and not at all. Next thing I know, next morning, I'm tied up like a goose and Vadim stands in the room, covered in blood. I knew he'd killed each and every single one of them. In their beds, on guard, playing cards. He'd killed the whole band. Fifteen men in total."

"Fuck!" Dan moved away from the wall like a bullet. Hands clenched into fists, he was strumming with a sickening energy he couldn't dispel. "When was that?" Concentrating hard to string logical words together, his dark eyes so intense, they could belong to a madman.

"My best guess is about three days ago. My only thought was, how lucky I was to be still alive. I was scared of him. Then him messing with my head, keeping me in that boiler-room ... and then what he did, the ... well, sex. Like he meant something else, but he never said it. And then you, and my fucking head still hurts, well, and that's the whole story. What you wanted to know."

"But what you don't know is that Vadim is fucked up alright. You're a medic, how much do you know about trauma? He was tortured by the KGB, and he's ... functional, more than that, he was ... was ... fuck!" Dan slammed his fist into his own thigh.

"Stop. Slowly. Give me the story slowly."

"Something happened, beyond my control, and he's gone off the rails. I only found out when I discovered the blood soaked kit. He won't talk to me, won't touch, won't …"


Dan shook his head. "No." Won't nothing, nothing … as bad as it had ever been. Worse. "I need to find him and stop this madness. I know his shrink, I got to get him to that guy. He's in England, but …" Shaking his head again, fuck. "I just got to find him when he's out there, and confront him."

"Calm down. Breathe. Trauma, you say? We called it 'nervous breakdown'."

"Nervous breakdown? After almost two years of torture? You must be fucking kidding me."

"Yeah. The beauty of Communist logic. I could tell you stories ... and maybe one day I will." Dima thought for a while, then looked at Dan. "Vadim Petrovich having a 'nervous breakdown' is a really bad thought." He inhaled deeply, then rummaged through Dan's coat pocket, checked the label of the painkillers and swallowed two pills dry. "I'll help you stop him." Pausing, incredulous at his own words. "That should be the best thing for him. My guess is, he's running away from something. Coping by not coping, you know what I mean?"

"I know too well what you mean. After all, I'm the one who didn't know what the fuck to do about his nightmares." Dan looked away, rummaging in his pocket for fags, offering them to the other, almost in an afterthought, and Dima pulled one free, nodding his thanks.

"He'll return to where he left me, unless he gets shot first. I could talk some sense into him? One spetsnaz to the other? Or we bundle him off to that 'shrink' of yours. Vadim, in this state, is not fighting fit. He might think fighting is what he wants to do, and sanity and war don't really match at all, come to think of it, but there's normal insane and insane insane. And that calm maniacal way he stood there, the blood running down his chest ... that's something I don't want to see again. That's something that I don't want to see him do. He always was a decent human being, a good officer. He's not coping." Dima frowned. "Thinking about it, I'm not quite sure about ..." He shook his head. "We all go insane, definitely in this war."

"About what?" Dan focused only onto the one thing.

"My own sanity, but never mind." Dima nodded pointedly at the cigarette. "Light?"

"Ah. I see." Dan nodded, lighting first the other's fag, then his own. Pulling the nicotine deep into his lungs. "I got to do this myself. Facing him. But whatever happens, you won't rot here. I'm beyond that shit, aye?"

"Well ..." Dima didn't look happy about it, but he accepted it at face value. "You going to tell somebody I'm locked up here, then?"

Dan nodded, "I will. Chances are, though, that someone will investigate this place anyway, too close to the camp, but I'll tell my surgeon mate. He's French, a bastard, and works for the French embassy in Belgrade. Only happy when the shit really hits the fan." Dan huffed dryly, "but we have to find a good story for you, or you'll get fucked sideways after all. You haven't told me, why the fuck are you here anyway? And why on that most unfortunate side of all? Don't you give a damn about what the fuck's happening here? No one in their right mind can turn much of a blind eye." Adding, while taking another drag, "least of all a medic."

"I've seen it. This war isn't easy. It's not easy at all ... I was sent ... here, and while certain, more legal, factions were sitting tight and the whole place goes to hell, some people go out there and fight. They do other things, too, but they also fight. I was getting stir-crazy, so I sought them out and ... joined one of the bands. It's keeping people alive, that's my job. Soldiers. Or irregulars, many are just civilians with a rifle. I don't buy their reasons, but there are many reasons for this. Cleaning up a mess by removing the people. It's not unique. It happened in other places. We did very similar things in the South of Afghanistan, against the Pashtuns. Their kishlaks, their villages ... There were campaigns to clear certain areas. It's everybody locked in a struggle to the death. But there is no white or black here. It's all grey. And I'm too busy to think much. When somebody gets shot or blown up, all I'm thinking is to plug the holes and remember who has what type of blood, and patch them up so they make it to a proper surgeon or hospital. That's all I'm doing. It's easy to lose everything else."

"And you still do this shit despite your age?"

"It's the last one. This war. But I'll finish it. I don't quit."

Dan blew the smoke across the small room, eyes wide and dark, and entirely too intense. "You haven't seen enough of it yet? Have you seen them rape, bash heads in and watch the half-dead corpses crawl and wail, while they laugh and piss on them? Have you seen them slaughter families, and torture kids and women and boys, just because they bloody well can?"

Dima inhaled and looked away. "I'm usually not ... directly there. I don't watch it if I don't have to. I can't help them. There's nothing I can do. I have to concentrate on the stuff that I can do."

Dan shook his head, chucked the cigarette butt onto the floor. "Whatever. This place fucks anyone up."

"You should rest", murmured Dima. "Get some shuteye. You're quite clearly exhausted."

"Don't try to bullshit me. I'd still kick anyone's arse if I had to. Exhausted? You have no fucking idea what exhausted really means."

"I don't?" Dima shook his head. "If you've kept a man alive for two fucking days after digging a bullet out of his perforated guts, we talk exhaustion again. Bastard."

"Well, maybe you do." Dan shook his head once more, but stooped to get his jacket. "I'll be going after Vadim tomorrow night. Will get you food and stuff in the meantime. If I don't return … just wait for the cavalry, aye?"

Dima's hand closed around Dan's wrist and he pulled him closer. "Don't ..." He shut up, looking angry, at the same time clenched his teeth hard and let him go, like something hot or dangerous, unable or unwilling to complete the sentence.

"Don't. Fucking. What?"

Dima shook his head. "I should have brought something to read", he murmured, not meeting Dan's gaze.

"Liar." Dan commented, almost kindly. "And I don't fucking read, so tough luck, but at least there's a packet of tissues in the jacket pocket so you can shit." He was about to turn, when he suddenly stopped, remembered, and looked at the other with an odd intensity. "If I don't come back … remember one thing: you're a Soviet soldier, you were sent here, you were captured but you don't know by whom." Dan shrugged, when Dima looked incredulously at him. "unless you're desperate to get back to Mother Russia, you stick to that story." Shrugged again, "anyway, if you don't stick to it my mate can't help you. Remember that? You got to be official."

"In short, I have the choice between deserting and ... being tried for war crimes? Is that it?"

"Don't be stupid. No one needs to know what the fuck you actually did. You think Vadim's going to blow the whistle on where and with whom he found you? Mother Russia sent you off to this hellhole, and you did what you could, saving lives, no idea for whom, and then you got kidnapped and mistreated, and fuck, you have no idea by whom, either."

"That's ... a nice, clean way out." Dima was sceptical, but thinking about it, beginning to think, and he'd have hours and hours more to think about it.

Looking around the room, Dan pointed to his kit, "and if it's my mate who is going to 'find' you, get rid of my crap, will you?"

"Sure. I don't know why, the stuff could be anyone's, but sure. No problem."

Dan nodded, "I'll be back tomorrow. Swapped the nightshift with the day shift, but Vadim doesn't know. We share a room, but …" Dan shook his head, "doesn't know anything anymore, I guess. If I'm not back the night after, you'll be picked up, I vouch for that. Just stick to the story." With that he moved to the door, wielding it open, to slip through.

Dima followed to the door, but stayed out of threat range, seemingly torn for a moment, his face somewhat pinched, but compared to how he'd been found, this was a massive improvement. "I'll stick to the story", he said, by way of goodbye, then turned away, not wanting to see or hear how the door would be closed or wedged shut.

* * *

Vadim woke after a leaden sleep that had eventually felt like it had grown more and more fitful. Unconscious like a stone, then the feeling of being trapped asleep, and he awoke without feeling rested, well before he had to. For a good half hour, he just couldn't get up, just lay there, staring at the ceiling, thinking and feeling nothing but the vague desire to sleep on, but this time, maybe, rest.

Eventually, he got up, shaved, showered, dressed, boots, breakfast - or rather, the first meal of the day; as expected, Dan wasn't in yet, and he had plenty of time, so he hurried to make it to the shelled building, grabbing more water than he needed, another 24hr MRE, and soon picked his way through the rubble, torch light dancing in front of him. The place smelled of a human being, that stale smell that just stood out despite the dust and the oil and grime; strange, really, it reminded him of his training, when he'd learnt to trust those senses that civilians rarely used - smell, taste, touch.

Coming closer, he softly called out Dima's name to not startle the man. No answer. Asleep? Vadim came closer, turned the last corner, light hitting the general area where Dima had to be - and wasn't.

For a long moment, he didn't comprehend what he saw - or didn't see, but there was no Dima. Vadim knelt on the ground, saw a broken chain link lie next to the boiler. Nothing had been taken, the blanket was still there, but cold. No other trace. There was one bullet cartridge, but no blood. He checked that again, but it didn't smell of blood, either. So the chain had been shot through. Dima hadn't been killed. Or, correction, hadn't been killed here. It was impossible that the medic had freed himself. Otherwise he'd have done it long ago. Dima wasn't one for waiting. And he'd likely, in this weather, would have taken the blanket.

Vadim stared at the place, fought rising bile at the thought that somebody had taken Dima away and - judging from what was going on in this crazy place - killed him. Chetniks? Mercs? Who else was here, close enough, who else did this kind of thorough scouting. Dima gone. Vadim felt his hands clench into fists, his mind was a jumble of thoughts that didn't want to calm nor settle.

Couldn't matter. He had to work. Officially, Dima wasn't here, had never been here, that meant that he couldn't look for him and try to find the body or track him. Maybe they had shot him upstairs? He walked back out, went through the part of the school that was still mostly stable, all the places where he would have shot a prisoner. No body. No smell of blood.

He checked the time. He'd be late if he didn't head back now. Gritting his teeth, he stopped the search and headed back. Being late could lead to questions he wasn't prepared to answer. But work was hell, he found it hard to focus, kept thinking of Dima pressed against him, his cock sliding in and out of his hand, how they'd touched with ease, but nothing more, a friendly handjob between comrades. The thought that Dima was dead was unbearable.

* * *

Dan had returned to the camp and the room he shared without sharing, at exactly the same time that he would return if he were on shift. Vadim was gone, as expected. He wasn't sure if Vadim was deliberately avoiding him, or if it just happened. More bearable that way, perhaps, but it never stopped hurting like a motherfucker, every time he stepped into the room and the beds were pushed apart - as far as possible.

He took a shower, smoked a fag in the room, despite or because he knew how much Vadim disliked the smell of nicotine. A petty gesture, and Dan felt even worse for it. He was trying to sleep for a long time, knowing he'd have to be alert at night, but the thoughts were chasing one another in his head, hardly able to relax enough to drop off. With the noise of the camp, he gave up around lunchtime, got into his clothes to eat in the cookhouse with several others, and pondered if he should go and see his surgeon mate, but decided against it. Looking dead tired on his feet, he managed to share a few jokes with some of the other guys, before heading back to his room to try that elusive sleep thing again.

On his bed, smoking another fag, he pulled out the photos, the ones that had caused the whole damned shit he was in, but he couldn't stop looking at them. Strange, how he didn't feel any anger towards that impishly grinning kid, while he hated the mother and would gladly rip that bitch's throat out.

Dan eventually rolled over, the blankets above his head shutting out the light, he kept thinking of the notice to send to Maurice, to make sure he'd understand, without cocking it all up. At some stage, without having found the solution, Dan fell asleep.

* * *

Vadim opened the door. First thing, the smoke. Cigarette. He shook his head, but that thing that was building up inside, that fear and worry and nervousness, the need to find out what had happened to Dima - the smoke seemed trivial compared to that. He dropped his kit, knew Dan was awake anyway, so he didn't try to be very silent about it, no way Dan had slept through him entering the room, but there was no stir. Vadim didn't rummage around for the shower kit, instead found the black camos and changed, swiftly, efficiently. He needed to go out and try and find Dima. Or tracks of him. Or any sign, any message that he'd left behind, wittingly or unwittingly. Maybe he hadn't checked the place enough. His face was dark with anger and worry, and as always, he avoided looking at Dan. Last thing he needed was a set of questions he wouldn't answer anyway. He didn't have to justify himself. What for?

Dan remained silent and tense beneath the blanket. Wondering, knowing, yet saying nothing. He had an idea where Vadim was heading to, but he remained under the blanket and did nothing. Too hard to talk to that stranger, who had barely any resemblance to the Vadim he loved, not even to the man who had stepped out of a car in Finland. Least of all to the man around whom he'd slept wrapped every night.

Waiting in silence, hardly breathing, until Vadim left the room, and even then he stayed still for a while longer. After ten minutes, and no Vadim returning, Dan sat up and the first thing he did was light another fag. He had to find a way to let Maurice know, but damn, he still didn't have a failsafe plan, despite the promises to the Russian medic.

Couldn't be helped, and that meant he wasn't able to follow Vadim that night, instead he was going to take supplies to the bunker. Wondering, too, how long it would take anyone else to find the bunker, its entrance hidden beneath some bushes, and if, once they had, they would check it out. He had to be realistic. It wouldn't take too many nights for Vadim to find the place, if he continued looking.

Best to get out there, and Dan got ready, kitted himself up as if he were going on duty, and headed towards the cookhouse. Ladling extra portions onto his plate, which he slipped into a carrier bag, he got some sandwiches made, picking up chocolate bars from the shop they had access to, and whatever else he could think of and might be useful. He even blagged a flask with coffee from the kitchen maid, who kept flirting with him, despite knowing he would never be interested. Packing his bergan once more, Dan headed out of camp and towards the bunker. No weapons this time, only his trusted knife but he didn't have a chit to get himself clearance that night, and he couldn't afford to draw attention.

He was soon at the bunker, calling out Dima's name before pulling the door open.

Dima made an affirmative sound, and repeated it in case the other hadn't heard, but continued to do his press-ups. The boredom was bad and had been bad, but at least he could move, and that meant exercise. Having arranged the insides of the bunker as much as possible - one corner for hygiene, another for the human waste, another to sleep, and this one was the exercise area. Almost as good as a nice flat. He kept pushing, lowering, pushing up again, shirt in his back had a dark sweat patch, and raised his head when Dan entered and closed the door behind him. Doing a few more until the burn set in, then smoothly pulled his legs under himself and straightened.

"You'd make a good wife." Dan commented dryly but with an unmistakable grin on his lips. "I fear this place still needs some more homely touches, though." He put the bergan down, once again full to bursting, as if he expected Dima's stay to continue for a while longer.

Dima looked at the bergan, then back to Dan. "You mean because I'm organized and tidy?"

"Aye, or because I'm just a sucker for cracking stupid-arsed jokes."

Dima looked around, then back at the bergan. "Change of plan? How long are you keeping me like this?"

"I have no idea, but I figured you'd be stir crazy by now anyway, so I got you some stuff." Pulling out several used carrier bags, "figured you needed something to get rid of your shit." He grinned, "literally."

"I figured ..."

Chocolate bars, sandwiches and water followed, then the hot food, still warm. Dragging a shaggy pillow out of the backpack, Dan flashed that odd grin again, "while I doubt you'll be hugging it, thinking of me, I had a spare."

Dima shook his head, but smiled. "I'm not really a hugger."

Dan grinned, "doesn't surprise me." Feeling strangely relaxed around that man, who he didn't know at all. The last of the goodies were a couple of newspapers he'd got from the shop, a packet of fags, and finally a bottle of Vodka. "And don't accuse me of being stereotypical."

"Vodka is great. You can disinfect just about anything with vodka." Dima nodded, exhaling deeply. "Nicest jailer I've ever had", he murmured, grinning, and ran a hand over his hair, smoothing the short hair towards his face, the most Russian of all haircuts.

"I'm keeping you out of shit." Dan watched the movement of the hand, then back to the bottle. "Frankly, I don't know what the fuck to do with you, not with Vadim around. I'd take you to the authorities to try and get a working permit, just as I explained yesterday, but …" he shrugged. "Things aren't that straightforward with Vadim around, and I don't understand jack shit anymore when it comes to him. He fucking ..." He suddenly shut up and shrugged again. "Whatever. You want some? Guess you won't get deadly killer germs by sharing a bottle of plonk, aye?"

Dima had listened attentively, and it took a second before he reacted to the question. "You're welcome. HIV isn't really an issue when sharing vodka, and apart from that, I'd be more worried in your case because I've actually dealt with a lot of corpses. There's stuff living in my skin's flora that can be really unpleasant. It happens, part of the medical profession. And not an issue unless we should have messy sex. And I don't do messy. Too much risk. I've seen too many infected cocks in my life to ever get frisky under unsafe conditions. Syphilis isn't pretty, you know?"

Dan laughed out loud, unscrewing the bottle. "First, I was amongst rotting corpses, buried beneath them, until Vadim pulled me out, half-dead and more than three-quarters insane. Second, I keep getting myself tested and condoms are your friend, aye? Third, who the fuck said we'd have sex anyway? Not on my agenda, forget it." He shrugged, put the bottle half-way to his lips, "and fourth, haven't had syphilis nor any other shit and no intention to do so in my old age. Fleas and nits were enough. Cheers." Tipping his head back to down a rather large mouthful of vodka. Shuddering when he was done.

"Nice war story." Dima stepped closer to take the bottle from Dan's hand, as easily and calmly as if they were friends. "You go off to war to experience things, something out of the ordinary, and then you can't tell the stories because people wouldn't believe it or are disgusted."

"Aye, and when you tell them to the younger kids, they just want the boring old fart to piss off."

"That's clearly your decadent Western youth ..."

Dan flashed a grin while Dima drank, deeply, eyes closing briefly, and remaining standing right where he was, in touching distance, then handed the bottle back, giving a grin that revealed once more those crooked eye teeth. "Actually, I went because I was sleeping with the son of somebody important and people were starting to ask questions. I'd done my two years, had begun to study medicine, then dropped everything to reenlist. They called it patriotism. I only wanted to get away from a pair of hazel eyes."
"So, you gay? That simple? And you worked with Vadim and neither realised you could have had a safe shag?" Taking the bottle, Dan downed another shot. "Damned unlucky."

Dima sat down and started to examine the food, trying the selection, then settled on the sandwiches for the moment, eating slowly, thinking, and then responding: "Do categories like 'gay' actually help organize our understanding of human sexuality? I've had women, too, but there's less opportunity in my line of work, and apart from that, I'm not too sure these days I accept that category. If I say I'm gay that means I cannot be aroused by women or anything else, right? Is that helpful? I don't think so. Arousal is a fairly complex thing. Many people masturbate when they're bored, not because they're aroused."

"Shit, you have to pull that deep-thinking crap on me, don't you?" Despite his words, Dan grinned and shrugged. "I don't care. I have a friend who's straight, he thinks, but that's bullshit. He's all sorts of things, not just one. I used to shag girls, way back, the first thirty-two years of my life. Nowadays?" Dan was about to say 'no', but then he remembered the picture of a kid with his hair and his eyes and who knew what else. "Not by choice."

"You're spot on. We're all kinds of things. We're sexual creatures. There's hormones, and situational stimuli, and the mind that can give us all kinds of troubles. Healthy men can stop getting aroused by a thousand factors, and sometimes we get turned on by things that wouldn't have interested us a while back. It's fluid. 'Homosexual' or 'heterosexual' doesn't help at all. I sometimes have the feeling that these terms are political more than medical." Dima poured himself some of the steaming coffee, regarding Dan over the rim of the cup as he drank.

" It's all about what you consider yourself to be." Dan shrugged, downed more of the vodka, before handing the bottle back, "but labelling helps. Makes it easier somehow, at least for me."

"Well, if it helps you, I'm 'mostly gay'." Dima continued, "Vadim ... was, most of all, my superior officer. Yes, I find him attractive, and I think I always did, on some level, but I didn't constantly think of having sex with him, because he was my officer and we had a lot of other things to worry about. Even if I had known, I wouldn't have moved on him ... it's too complicated, too many problems. Nevertheless, he aroused me." Dima regarded Dan, drinking again. Not wiping the bottle before drinking, either.

"You could say that. I didn't have a choice, though." Dan looked towards the 'sleeping place', eager to sit. The cold was getting into his joints.

"Do sit down. My 'house' is your house." Dima glanced at him. "No choice?"

Dan looked up, while sitting down, not the most elegant of movements. Not in this cold anyway. "Let's say it just happened, aye?"

Which narrowed things down, really, but Dima didn't blink, just paused, looking at Dan's movements while he sat down. He moved closer, into the space he began to call 'the bedroom' in his mind, and settled in next to Dan, offering the bottle and unwrapping another sandwich. Eating it with a few large bites, chewing, then swallowing. "Part of what I like about my job? I never know what happens next." Leaning back, placing a hand on Dan's shoulder, a firm touch meant to calm. "It's all about going with the flow. Feeling something alive respond, weaken, or become stronger as a result of something I'm doing."

"Like feeling me up?"

"I'm not hearing shouts of indignation", said Dima.

"Aye, but if you were thinking about sex, forget it. Last thing on my mind." Dan cast a grin over his shoulder, the vodka was kicking in, and fuck it was good. Similar to sitting and talking to Maurice, but with a more comfortable component. Maybe it was the 'Russianness'. Taking another mouthful of vodka. "It took us a few years of fucking before we realised the love thing." Dan shrugged, twisting, to hand the bottle back.

Dima ran his other hand up Dan's back, a firm touch, like checking the position of the spine and vertebrae. "Was that a shock or a pleasant surprise?"

"Both, but then again, as far as I remember I was weary as death by the time I 'got it'. Kind of made sense, then. Only took us six years of shagging at every possible opportunity, before we kissed." Dan huffed and shook his head. "Nothing's easy with that bastard." He wasn't really that different, but couldn't be arsed admitting to it.

"I imagine. Vadim would wear his mask, and I can't imagine falling in love with him would be easy on the best of days." Dima continued to touch, slow, firm, conscious motions. Back, shoulders, then to the neck, massaging it, stroking, matter-of-fact, somehow, while Dan remained silent. Nothing he could add, because he'd lost Vadim to a distance he couldn't breach. Never a chance, not given one, and assumed the worst. As if. But he was no fucking victim and he wouldn't bloody talk. The truth was a whore, after all, he'd learned that some years ago.

Dima ran his fingers into Dan's hair, splayed fingers cupping the back of Dan's head, as if supporting a weight that was growing too heavy. His other hand back to Dan's shoulder, and Dan couldn't help but allow himself to relax a little. "Are you trying to seduce me?" He craned his neck, searching for the other's face.

Dima gave a laugh. "'Seduce' is an interesting word ... what about 'arouse'?"


"I think you could use some relaxation ... You're tense and exhausted, you probably haven't slept much, and you don't seem to respond to much else."

"Aye," Dan huffed with dry laughter that was lacking in humour, and took a deep breath. "What would you be like, if your lover of twelve years, after more shit than 'normal' people can imagine, turned into a raging madman. Twelve years, including two and a half years apart with torture and prison and mock execution. And after that, more love and lust than you can shake a goddamned stick at, sleeping every night curled around and close. And that lover beats you into a pulp and almost kills you when he loses it, because his ex-wife sends you a pic of your two year old daughter you knew nothing about, because the bitch blackmailed you into fucking her as a convenient sperm donor, when you came to beg her to deliver a last message to your lover before he was executed. And now he goes round as a killing machine, refusing to even look at you, let alone touch you, because he never gave you a fucking chance, and because he believes you committed the greatest betrayal against him - while in reality you were fucking used by a fucking cunt, who'd be pissing herself with laughter if she knew what's going on now." Dan let out a breath he didn't have spare. "So, what would you be like? Guess you'd be tense as well, aye?" He didn't give a flying fuck that he'd spilled the beans, because he couldn't hold that shit in anymore. Should have called Maggie, or Jean, should have talked, should have …

Dima moved against him, body to body, one hand on Dan's chest, the other still on the shoulder. "Let go. Don't think about it." His lips suddenly connecting to Dan's neck, who huffed at first, then almost jerked when Dima's lips opened to bare teeth. The little bite gentle, tender, a slow, sucking half-kiss, moving up the muscle towards Dan's ear, "let it go, just for a little while. Doesn't help if you break under that strain. That helps nobody ..." hands moving across Dan's chest, firm, almost like a massage of his pecs, and Dima's voice became husky. "... won't help you sort the situation out. That kind of mess needs a clear, rested mind."

Dan's head came up, looking at the other. "And what's it to you?" Not quite there yet, not quite ready to lie down and bare his throat. He'd been fucked up too badly since that letter arrived.

"You might be saving my life", said Dima, not looking at Dan. "You got me out of that hole, you gave me back most of my dignity, and I get the feeling you're a decent guy."

"Forget about the first," Dan's voice sounded rough, "the second's up to you, but I go with the third as a good reason." He lowered himself down to the ground on the blankets, forcing some of the tension out.

Dima smiled down at him, got on top, over Dan on his hands and knees. Kissing his throat again, teeth scraping against stubble, and he sat down on Dan's groin, shifting his weight back on top of Dan as he lowered his head again to suck on the beginning of a shoulder. "Relax. I won't run away ... yet." A crooked grin, teeth tracing Dan's jawbone now, breath touching Dan's cheek.

"No need to … run." It had been too long, over a month, and Dan was only now starting to realise how pent up it all was, the need to be touched, aroused, to be close. Most of all to Vadim, but anyone else would do. Anyone with an ounce of compassion. "I'd let you go anyway. Just a matter of … time. Safety." Dan moved his head to the side, the jacket in the way, jumper, shirt, all that damned fabric.

"That's good to hear", said Dima. "Had that feeling, but I like to hear it." Only now realizing he'd craved reassurance, too. Hands moving to Dan's shoulders to push and then pull off the jacket, keeping it close as something that might serve as a pillow later. Teeth and lips alternating, on Dan's throat now, the soft flesh between throat and chin, while his hands unbuttoned the shirt, opening it to the navel, then pulling it off, too. No reaction to the scars even though he could see them, must have felt them, not even a dry comment about the operation or the skill of the surgeons that had kept Dan alive. "Relax", he murmured again, "let it go. We store our memories in our bodies. Breathe and feel what I'm doing ..."

Dan shivered, had to be the cold that suddenly hit his skin, while his chest rose and fell with every breath, taut skin and scars across his abs fluttering with the air being pulled into his lungs. "You're a damn sight different to my surgeon mate." Murmured, but it felt good, fuck, yes, and he hadn't realised how starved he was. Hands forming into fists, as if they didn't know if he should touch or not.

"I'm no better than average", Dima said, grinning, lips moving to Dan's chest, to his left nipple, again teeth, gentle, then opening to scrape over the muscle. Kneading the flesh for a moment, breathing against it. "I'll take off your boots, now", he announced, went down towards Dan's feet and opened the laces, working swiftly, then carefully pulled the feet free. No haste in that, only consideration as if Dan had a hidden wound that he didn't want to touch or open.

Dan felt almost ridiculous, so passive, just letting it all happen, where Mad Dog would have quipped and joked, would have taken and given and not just accepted. Breathing heavier, his eyes still open, goosebumps on his skin from the cold.

Dima set the boots aside, before he came back up, eyes for a moment on the scars, but again, no reaction, instead went back to Dan's pecs, exploring the muscles, stroking, biting and kneading, handling the body with all the care and skill of a man who knew how the perfect machine worked and was fitted together. "Trust me with this ..."

"Trust you with … what?" Dan's voice had turned husky, and he lifted his head, trying to meet those mottled eyes.

"I don't know ... there's still something holding you back." Dima touched Dan's closed fist to illustrate, then moved further down, to Dan's abs, where he did the same, teeth tracing the ridges of muscle, while Dan drew in a shuddering breath, consciously relaxing, forcing his fists to uncurl and some of the tension to dissipate.

Dima closed his eyes, trusting his intuition, while his hands caressed Dan's flanks. He opened the belt, then the buttons, pulling the BDUs down, and then over his feet, undressing Dan completely, socks and all, despite the chill, until Dan lay there for inspection, no insecurities, at least not that, a ghost of a smile crossing his face. "Afraid I'm not a spring chicken, but I guess you've seen worse bodies …?"

"Much worse. And spraying their blood into my face." Dima came back up, grinned, pulled one of the blankets closer, next to Dan's hand, who got the hint and pulled it across himself, losing his grip on the blanket when Dima took his cock between his lips. No teeth this time, just the sucking, gentle, sensuous, no deep throating, no fucking, just teasing the head and taking him in.

"Shit." Breathed out, Dan managed to pull on the blanket once more, until it formed a tent over both of them. His hand moved, touched the greying head. Just a touch, no more, equally careful. "Is this a mercy fuck?" Something soft in his voice, perhaps gently amused. Feeling an odd sense of trust towards this unknown Russian, and more of the tension was leaving his body.

Dima stopped for a moment, came back up to look Dan straight in the eyes. "Touch me, that should answer that question." Pulling the t-shirt over his head, then straightening, the blanket falling off when he braced his knees, opening his own belt, his arousal visible in Dan's washed out BDUs. "And contrary to what people think, too much compassion doesn't actually help in my line of work."

"Makes sense." A smile started to grow on Dan's face, which turned into something entirely different at the sight of the cock in front of him. Reaching to push down the trousers, his hand touched corresponding hardness to his own, making Dima's eyes light up and open his lips. "Keep that thought, though, I like to repay in kind." The grin that settled on Dan's features was warm, and yet mirrored his arousal. "I'm afraid I'm quite keen on cocksucking and haven't had it for a while."

Dima licked his lips, swallowed, speechless for a long moment, then went back down to nuzzle Dan's cock. "Won't ... swallow. Can't risk that. Okay?"

"Okay." Dan nodded, feeling at ease. "No problem." Pulling the blanket across them once more as Dima took Dan's cock again, allowing some saliva to run down the shaft, to smooth things for his hand that began to pump Dan. Slow, intense, skilled strokes, the hand more than the mouth, which concentrated on the tip, exploring it with his tongue, sliding into the slit and then around the crown. Eyes closed, small groans escaping when he breathed beneath the blankets, air warming, legs open, and half-dressed.

Dan's eyes closed at last, his hand loosely on Dima's head, sliding off to the shoulder, still connecting. More passive and more relaxed than he had been for a long time, even before the disaster. It had never been his strength to just accept and enjoy, but something about this man made him lie back and allow the lust to rise and pool. Breath quickening, the muscles in his thighs tensed under the strain of ever increasing heat.

Dima took him deeper to only pull back against the suction in his mouth, pushed deep, then slowly moved back, sucking hard, his shoulder under Dan's hand shifting, moving with every motion, body tough and powerful, and the man clearly enjoying sucking Dan's cock. His arousal noticeable in the shudders going through his body, and the sounds he made, wet sucking noises that alternated with moans. Going faster, harsher, needy and hungry, then managed to get Dan's cock into his throat.

That did it for Dan, had been so close, those noises one of the sexiest things he'd ever heard, used to Vadim's usual silence. The suction and heat, the closeness increased all of a sudden, and he pushed against Dima's head to warn him. Dima did pull back, almost reluctantly, and Dan tensed, taut, body rigid, before he let out a groan, deeply felt and freeing itself from the depths of his chest, as he came with relief. Dima felt him cum against his chest, hand continuing to milk Dan, his head resting on Dan's stomach, kissing the scars there, then looked up, and lay down at Dan's side, his bare chest against Dan's, hard cock against his hip. Looking at him attentively, until Dan turned his head after a while of allowing himself to come down. He smiled when he opened his eyes.

"Guess it's your turn now." Reaching out of the blankets, Dan felt for his shirt to wipe them down.

Dima grinned. "You told me to keep that thought, which ... makes me a bit desperate." He rolled over on his back, looking at Dan, who quickly wiped the cum off. Dima stroked himself, slowly, almost matter-of-factly, if the lust hadn't been written so clearly across his features. "I didn't have anybody sucking me off in ... forever …"

"Best make it worthwhile, then, aye?" The old gleam was back in Dan's eyes, the glimpse of Mad Dog, and he rolled over onto all fours, took hold of his own BDUs on the other man, and pulled them down, making him lift his hips, until they went below the knees and down to the ankles. Not bothering with undressing him fully, he straddled one thigh, then got the blanket over both of them once more. Bending down, Dan lightly slapped Dima's hand off his cock, who gave a laugh at that, to take hold himself, fingers curling around the hard flesh, perfect pressure, while his tongue and lips explored the head. Teeth scraping lightly, adding to the sensations, as he took in more and more of the head, sucking for a moment, making Dima squirm with pleasure and need. Dan suddenly came back up and grinned down at the other man who was beginning to zone out, and didn't grasp what Dan was murmuring. It didn't make sense, but then Dan lowered his head once more, and steadily, without letting up, took the cock down his throat. All the way, eyes closing with concentration, knowing how to fight against the gagging reflex, and how to add pressure when he went down, and how to suck hard and demanding, when going back up again.

Dima gave a desperate sound, a long, deep groan, tensed up, pushing his hips up in a reflex, every muscle strung taut as he gave after just a few of these motions, unable to warn or say anything, just swept away by the sensation, and Dan swallowed, as always, the old reflex. Sucked hard, sucked the other dry, then slowly came back up the still hard cock, felt it twitch between his lips, as he cleaned it with leisurely swipes of his tongue, finally letting go of the head, after a last swipe across the slit. Palms on Dima's thighs, one on each, he looked down at him, grinning like the proverbial cat. "Just a shame you were so quick, eh?" Teasing in the gloom of the blankets beneath the torch light.

Dima breathed hard, meeting Dan's gaze, then gave a smile, contented and flushed. "Didn't ... expect that. If you ... give me a bit to recover ..." He pulled the pillow closer and lay there, shuddering every now and then, then reached for Dan's hand to pull him down, and Dan followed. "Shit ... I really didn't expect that."

"I have to ask the question, then, what did you expect?"

"Not that skill." Dima exhaled slowly, eyes closing again. "It's ... usually hand jobs or what do you call it, body against body, for me ... last guy that tried to blow me couldn't get me off. Poor bastard was getting flustered." Dima smiled, pulling Dan closer, offering his shoulder to lie on, and the offer was taken up. Too gladly, but the sex had made Dan mellow and relaxed, at last. Could feel how damn exhausted he was. The last month had been more strain than he'd tried to acknowledge. He was scrabbling around for his jacket, pulled it close and found his fags and lighter.

"Hasn't happened to me since my first blow job." Dan chuckled, "couldn't get Vadim off, but the next time we met I taught myself by trussing him up and holding a knife to his balls. Guess I've been going strong ever since." He winked and held a cigarette out to Dima, before lighting both.

Dima laughed. "Vadim probably enjoyed that - a lot."

"You do know him." Dan glanced across to the other with a twitch of his lips.

Dima lay smoking for a while in silence, inhaling the nicotine and feeling the heaviness and relaxation, despite the chill, and that strange trust - not captive and jailer, not by a long shot. He reached for his t-shirt to keep warmer, while Dan threw the second blanket over them, the chill of the ground kept off with the sleeping bag beneath them.

Dima settled in again, stretched out. "And to think that in that hellhole, you found each other and Captain Vadim Petrovich Krasnorada was fucking with a turkey, that's a good irony. I like that. I appreciate that kind of humour."

"Yeah …" Dan drew out the word while blowing the last of his smoke towards the ceiling. "There were times in my life when I could have pissed myself with laughter about that." Wryly, Dan pulled a grimace and stubbed out his fag. "Anyway, the real irony must have been right in front of your nose. Did you ever notice your Captain turning up with really good kit? Western stuff? Including medicine and medical supplies? And did he claim he got it from a turkey?"

"Yes, he did." Dima laughed. "Only the turkey was still alive. I thought he got it from raids or maybe some killing on the side. There were times in the south when I had to raid trucks with the others to get medical supplies - can you believe they shipped a lot of our supplies in glass containers? While everybody else used plastic and foil? Glass!" He shook his head.

"Aye, but on the other hand, my country sent me out to train and organise the Mujas, all hush-hush, to fight against the big bad USSR in the cold war, and it seems now that I indirectly trained up a fucking bunch of fucking 'holy warriors'. How is that for stupid?"

"It's short-sighted in the extreme … and helped to plunge that place into chaos." Dima shook his head. "That was your job. It's the people giving the orders that shouldn't be able to sleep at night. Or humans are truly just wolves. But there was a lot of generosity, too. Vadim gave me quite a bit of his stuff, every time I got him for a direct blood transfusion. I figured he'd be clean, and he's got a very common blood type. Plus, he could take it. Some guys just cannot deal with seeing their own blood, but Vadim never gave me any trouble. I sometimes called him my walking blood bank." Dima laughed and shook his head, and even Dan couldn't help but chuckle. Strange, and oddly soothing, to hear about Vadim from a time long gone.

"Somehow," Dima continued, "that was a different kind of war. Maybe I was more innocent. I don't know. It wore me down. The whole thing. The insanity. The good people that broke and the bad people that remained bad. The guys that died under my hands. Once, I had to get out and look for a guy who'd got a direct hit from a mortar. There wasn't anything left. Not enough for a two hundred shipment ... that's what we called the coffins. We ... I put what was left in an ammo box. No kidding. There wasn't enough left. Not even for a second ammo box. Just ... evaporated. Bodies turned to nothing. And I thought what kind of pain is that, when your whole body gets turned into that in the blink of an eye? I spoke to a man who answered me a question I was always thinking about - how long does it take you to feel the pain when you're shot? Answer: five seconds. Where do I know that from? Easy. An artillery officer was checking the time, counting, to calculate the distance of the enemy's fire positions. He was counting when he felt the impact, thought it was a stone, but it had taken a chunk out of his shoulder ... quite the romantic wound, only that he lost his arm from an infection in the hospital. He was counting, and it's exactly five seconds. So I thought the poor ammo-box kid can't have felt any pain, because he didn't live for five seconds. But I'm not sure." Dima almost forced himself to stop speaking, shaking his head, trying to dam the flow of words.

"Hey," Dan said softly and turned onto his side, propped himself up on his elbow, to look down at the other man. "I can give you that answer. From experience." Odd, how a stranger had become so familiar in no time. What had happened to him, was it nostalgia of old battle horses, or were they just so fucked up from everything they had seen, and done, that comradeship came easy - because it was necessary for survival and sanity? "When this happened," pointing to his abs, "and the shrapnel tore me apart, I felt nothing. I had no strength, and all of a sudden, I lay on my back. Couldn't move my hand," he lifted his left hand, the scarred one, "because it was stapled to my guts, but I felt nothing. Couldn't hear the noise, the shouting, the friend above me. Nothing. I became unconscious before the pain ever hit." A white lie, towards the end, but he only dimly remembered there was pain before he blacked out, just that last moment, and that it had been unspeakable, but what it was really like, his brain had cut out of his memory. "He wouldn't have felt the pain, trust me. There would have been nothing left to feel it with." He smiled a little.

Dima nodded, taking the scarred hand into his. "I always expected I'd get shot, but it never happened. I was out there in the fire, dragging bodies to safety or cover or even both and fixed them best I could. And I always felt that pressure … it's the pressure of waiting. There's a bullet for you, and you know it, but you don't know when. Only that. But it didn't happen, and this is my last war. If the bullet doesn't get me here, I will never know what it's like and the pressure will never come down. Do you understand what I mean?"

Dan closed his fingers around the other man's - stranger's - but not anymore. Understanding that could only exist between men who'd seen the same. "I do understand. It never got me either, and I've got away so often, ending up like a scrap heap of scars, that I wonder if I'm being kept together with rubber bands and spit."

"But it's a solid enough design." Dima touched the scars briefly, just acknowledging them.

"It still functions." Dan smiled crookedly, "but to seek that bloody bullet, that is bullshit. You want to die, Dima? Seems to me you take the stuff you've done too seriously for that, and that you're a damn good medic. A bullet would cut that short, aye?"

"Not seeking it. I'm expecting it. I was scared of dying, until I told myself that if I … if I keep in my head that we'll all die, if I keep death in my mind, that means I wouldn't be so surprised when it happens. And after that, it's almost … waiting for it. And I do wonder if that's the sane thing to do."

"Doesn't sound quite sane to me, even though it's not crazy either." Dan pointed vaguely with his chin behind him. "That mate of mine, Maurice, he's as mad as a hatter, but they tell me all medics and surgeons are."

Dima grinned. "I tell you what's insane: I figured, after this, I'd go home and finish my studies at university. Become a proper surgeon, or a doctor, or a vet, delivering cow babies."

"Cow babies! Sounds like just the perfect thing for you, after all the bloody battlefield work." Dan grinned, taking the piss. "I bet you'd have a field day."

"You're the second guy after Vadim calling me a damned peasant from the Urals. Yes, it's true. I'm from a village that isn't even on any kind of map. And, yes, we can read in the Urals."

Still grinning, Dan rolled back over, "I bet it isn't as small as the village that I come from, in the Scottish Highlands. I'm a peasant through and through." Stretching his toes and relaxing once more. "By the way, been thinking, and I found the solution to you being here and getting out intact. I'll tell Maurice about you, and he can pick you up tomorrow night. That way you're in the safety of the French embassy before Vadim even returns, and he will take care of you. He's mad, but a good guy."

"Embassy. Doesn't get safer than that. And beyond that … I'm not even sure I want to think that far. Will they send me home? What happens then?"

"I have no idea. Maybe, if you don't want to go home, you could apply for asylum. Britain takes anyone, Vadim's a fine example." Dan winked, and it hardly hurt at all to say the name. "Or you could stay a while, work as a nurse, and pick up the limbs that Maurice drops."

"Question is, can I work? And what to do with my time. My life. If I'm not going back to university. I don't know."

"Sorry, but I don't know either. Just a thought and just a start. Got to start somewhere, aye?"

"I … I'll think about it. I don't really have much family concerns left, but I'm not getting younger, and … the way Russia has changed …" Dima frowned. "I'm not sure I understand what's going on anymore, whether this is just a transition, the start of something new, or just chaos and madness."

"Can't tell you, but the way the world's going at the moment, its focus won't be on Russia." Dan shrugged. "I didn't keep up with Mother R, because Vadim refuses to even just speak Russian, most of the time, and seemed happy he was adopted by …" He trailed off, this really was getting too painful.

Dima nodded. "That must be bad for him … he always believed in the people, at least, and I always took him for a true believer, which … well, you didn't speak about politics that carelessly. Not in those days. I'll need to talk to Vadim, but later. Maybe I can get him to talk." He winked. "Worked with you. Now … will you stay here for a bit longer and rest up, or are you leaving again?"

"I think I just stay." Dan turned his head and glanced at the other. "If you don't mind? Been a while … and I could do with …" Damn, he sounded like a sap, so he just grinned crookedly. He missed Vadim, missed the touch, missed everything, but perhaps at this moment, he missed contact most of all.

Dima nodded and reached down to pull up his trousers, closing the buttons and the belt, and shed the boots after that. He stretched out and looked at Dan. "Yeah, in terms of heat, a human body is the next best thing to a boiler …" He ran his fingers along Dan's jaw line, then rested his head against Dan's. "It's a bit strange for me, I tended not to stay around till the next morning … but there's no need - no point - in leaving here. That's almost relaxing."

"Besides, you could claim that I forced you, because I locked you up."

"Yeah, I'm an abused prisoner - that's absolutely clear."

Dan grinned and shuffled back onto his side, head cushioned on his biceps. "Just kick me in the nuts, by the way, if I forget that you are you and start all the stuff that I'd do with Vadim - before he turned into an insufferable arsehole and raging madman, aye?"

"Depends what that is …?"

"Well …" Dan exhaled noisily, "that would usually be snuggling up in spooning style, and shagging in slow-mo from behind, when waking up with a hard-on."

"You can have the spooning, but I don't get anything out of getting fucked. I tried it a few times, but it's just painful. Apart from messy, and usually not too safe. I stopped trying that."

"Well …" Dan realised he was starting to repeat himself, "it's safe if you stick to just one, who sticks to just one, too. And the rest with condom." He shrugged, "you asked, so I answered." Grinning, "and messy is relative. Granted, shitting cum isn't my favourite hobby and Vadim's neither, but he likes getting fucked and that suits me just fine. I'm not into it myself that much, just sometimes, when the situation is right …" And involves strangling or fake abuse, or … but Dan figured it really wasn't the best idea to tell that to a medic, or anyone else for that matter. "Whatever turns you on, right?"

Dima nodded. "I'm the last guy in the world to say something's wrong. Well, who knows, maybe I'm relaxed enough in the morning to take it." Giving Dan a wicked, teasing grin. "As they say, at night all cats are grey, body is body, and if I turn you on, that's nice."

"We'll see," Dan grinned, "I don't mind." And he was actually far more tired than he should have been, but the few hours he'd got during the day had been anything but refreshing. "Spooning, then? With a stranger?"

"Maybe you'll tell me your name tomorrow", Dima said and rolled over onto his side. "Then we're not strangers anymore."

"I haven't yet?"

"No. Except for 'Dan'. But you only know my first name, too."

"Oh fuck." Dan moved closer, until his front touched the other's back, and it almost hurt like fuck, but it hurt so good, this make-believe, and especially when Dima reached behind to place a hand on his hip. He inhaled slowly, the back of the head before his eyes was grey, not blond, but the body felt good in his arms.

"I am Daniel Ewan McFadyen. Scottish. Ex-SAS, ex-bodyguard, still a merc."

"Nice meeting you." Dima patted Dan's hip. "I'll tell you the rest of my name over breakfast."

"Aye," Dan yawned, now that the tension of weeks had been drained temporarily like puss from a wound, he was rapidly drifting off. "That you do."

* * * * * * *

A few hours later, in the early hours of the morning, the bunker was pitch dark with the torch switched off. Dan half-woke, comfortable in the warmth of another body. Skin to cloth, the solid feel of muscle and bone beneath his hands and against his chest, groin and legs, he was shifting to get even closer. Murmuring something without forming words, he felt relaxed and content, reality forgotten. Shifting his hips again, mere increments, until his cock slipped in the crevice between thighs, and despite the cloth it felt so damn good, like it had always done, every morning when he woke wrapped around Vadim.

Dima noticed the shift - he'd slept light due to the presence of another body that disturbed him, at the same time it was damned nice to have somebody close for longer than it took to overcome the tiredness after comedown. Faintly remembering who it was - Dan, SAS, heartbroken Brit who clearly, in every breath and every thought, missed Dima's old comrade and superior: Vadim. A man who had never appeared as being made for romance or love and least of all with another man. He leaned into the touch, the insistent but gentle pressure. He moved his hand in between their bodies, touching the thigh, balls, the hard cock, offering his hand without speaking.

Dan murmured something again, the words too slurred to make sense, as his mind remained in the make-belief for a while longer. Moving into the hand, at the same time his own slipped beneath the other's t-shirt, felt warm skin, and rested on the waist, without demand, pulling the hips closer, towards his cock.

It felt good, being touched and getting aroused. In the dark, no questions, it meant nothing, just arousal and an odd tenderness. Dima was wide awake, his free hand went to the belt, just to go skin on skin, to free his own cock. Opening the buttons one-handed while offering tightness and resistance to Dan's cock, stroking slowly in that slightly awkward position. A case of morning wood, but sex was sex was sex, and he liked this man - not just a mercy fuck even though that did play a role, it helped calm him down and maybe help with that pressure.

Dan's mind was waking more, the arousal stoked by the stroking hand, and he sensed the movements more than he noticed them, as the trousers were pushed down awkwardly, and Dima was forced to let go for a moment, to get the BDUs past his hips, while Dan's hand was pushing the t-shirt up, baring expanses of skin, before pressing in once more. Burying his face in the back of the other's neck, only then did he understand fully, when the scent was all wrong. No, all different, good still, but the body in his arms and against his chest, and pressed into his cock, was not Vadim. "Uhm …" was all he managed to murmur, as his senses struggled to form a coherent picture.

Dima felt the sudden confusion, the pause, and reached to find Dan's hand, pressing it for a long moment to his abs, wanted the hand, the man, tensing his stomach muscles against the hand, and sliding it down to his hardening cock. Hoping Dan would get hold of it, read that he wanted him, even make himself believe that he was somebody else. Breath catching a bit in his throat.

Dan's hand closed around Dima's cock, his own trapped between their bodies. "I know you're not him." He murmured, the words remaining in the darkness of the room. Spoken, impossible to take back, and he wouldn't want to.

"And ... I know you know", murmured Dima, tensing at the touch of that strong hand. Cock hardening fully, very much what he wanted, and he smiled at the situation, that damned anticipation that he felt with every new lover, to an extent, but this wasn't a faceless guy for a quick release. For once, he knew his name, his past, his lover. His own private war. He was aware that he was only a substitute, and compared to Vadim, he'd always lose out. He didn't have that chiselled beauty, nor that ruthlessness.

"I still want you, though."

"You convinced me", Dima said dryly.

"Aye, but you told me you didn't do fucking." Rocking into the other, giving his cock more pressure, while stroking Dima's in sync. Slow, unhurried, as if they had all the time in the world.

Dima paused for a long moment, and just the size of the cock in his hand gave him an even longer pause. "And you really like the fucking bit?" Thinking, what the hell was he doing. "If you ... do it safe and ... don't go in too deep ..."

"Aye, I really do like it, but I don't have to, you know." Dan smiled in the back of Dima's neck. The darkness impenetrable, but the smile was audible in his voice. "A handjob will be fine, and I don't even know if I've got a condom in my wallet, or anything for lube …" Not sure who he was trying to convince, especially since he was already trying to figure out what they could use safely.

"As long as you're not acting like a battering ram", Dima murmured and Dan chuckled.

"I'm usually a bit sexier than that."

"I figured ..." Dima wouldn't go out of his way to convince Dan, and knew he was being generous here. Had tried it a few times and it hadn't been as good as the other stuff he did with men, and hygiene was an issue, always. Never mind the health risk. "No condoms here. Vadim didn't take my kit when he brought me to that other place."

"Okay, can you reach the torch?" Reluctantly letting go of Dima's cock, Dan pulled his jacket close.

Dima let go, too, feeling around for the torch, and connecting soon with its cool metal. Switching it on, he shielded the light, handing it over to Dan, then slipped out of his trousers and rolled over onto his back, watching Dan rummage around through the many pockets of his thick winter parka. Producing his wallet, Dan found a couple of condoms and grinned. Good thing he'd never got rid of them.

Dima was watching him, thinking that getting fucked was unpleasant, sometimes it started nice and got bad, mostly when they used too much force, and went in too deep and too fast, and he wasn't the guy who told them to stop, a matter of pride, he figured. None of those guys had ever mattered anyway, he just wouldn't see them again, or make sure that fucking was a clear 'no'. Why Dan, then? Maybe because he liked the man and because he believed Dan to be 'safe' - the kind of guy who took care of somebody else's prisoner wouldn't be the guy that fucked him painfully. And maybe because the whole thing was already extraordinary and easier than most other one night stands he'd had so far.

Dan was still looking through one of the last inside pockets, when he let out a small grunt of triumph, producing a miniature tube of KY. "Didn't even know I still had it." Sealed and unused, albeit battered. "Must have been in there since forever."

"Like a good boy scout, always prepared ... but you know what, I always have a pair of sterile plastic gloves on me ..."

"Don't ask me what that makes me think of …" Dan smirked and pushed the jacket away, then turned the torch, so that there was light in the bunker, but no more than a dim glow. He tore the foil packet open, before rolling onto his side, smiling at Dima. Relaxed, as if he had known the other man for years, and not just a few hours. But Dima was a link to the past, to Vadim, Afghanistan and the mountains, and whatever was painful about it all, above else, whatever had been good remained in his memory, and somehow this man was part of that. "Best roll back over to your side." One hand on Dima's shoulder, the other holding the condom with care, "you don't want me to go too deep and it can't happen that way." And he'd only ever fucked Vadim like this, but somehow … somehow, despite all the pledges to the contrary, it seemed right and good and fitting now.

Dima glanced at the condom as if checking it was still sealed, then did roll over, more self-conscious now in the light, but Dan was a sight to behold, and he wouldn't have minded looking at him for a while longer, that strong, dark-haired body. "Okay." Nervous, but hiding it well, a dozen thoughts racing through his mind. About pain, of course, but maybe he'd just been really unlucky? Many guys loved this. Most gay guys appeared to prefer taking it, which suited him fine, usually.

"I guess it's my turn now to tell you to relax, aye?" Dan chuckled low, and Dima gave a small laugh that indicated just how much Dan had hit the nail on the head. Dan's voice was soft, as one hand roamed across and down Dima's side, then to the front, finally taking the softening cock into his hand, stroking once more, which returned the cock to full hardness, and made Dima breathe faster.

"Besides, if you don't like it, just tell me and don't be as much of an idiot as I usually was, and suffer through it." Dan kept murmuring, arousal in his voice, and a genuine warmth. This man made him feel comfortable, and he wasn't going to analyse it any further.

"Stop reading my mind", murmured Dima in Russian, but laughed.

"Guess we are just too similar." Dan grinned while rolling the condom one-handed onto his cock. Preferred sex without it, but hell, he wasn't going to argue the point, ever. He believed in risk on the battlefield, but not in bed. "It's not very clever to 'just take it', a friend and lover once said, and you know what? He was damn right." Scooting closer once more, the lube in his hand, twisting the cap off with his teeth. All the time stroking, in the same, unhurried pace.

"I'll ... let you know." Dima moved one knee up a bit, figuring it would be easier for Dan to reach his ass, "if I ... don't get anything out of it." Which was likely. A very tight muscle, not actually designed for this kind of thing, his own inexperience, Dan's size, and previous empirical data. "Thanks, by the way, for not fucking me when I was chained up." Needing to say anything, something nice.

Dan froze in mid motion, a moment of tension, "I would never, you understand, never rape anyone. Okay?" Murmured into Dima's ear, with too much intensity, but then the tension flowed out again, and the movements continued, as if nothing had ever happened.

"Okay." Dima didn't mention what Vadim had done. Not exactly rape, he'd been hard, Vadim, too, but he'd have preferred to be free, have his hands free, most of all.

Dan squeezed the lube into his hand, he coated his cock first, before it became warm enough to be worked between Dima's buttocks, slow, but deeper and deeper, until one finger slipped through the ring of muscle, without resistance, and Dima kept breathing evenly, to not allow any resistance to build up.

"And by the way, I have time." Dan smiled, "I won't flag that quickly." True to his word, he continued to stroke, while working the lube in slowly, now and again entering with one finger, eventually a second one.

Dima relaxed, allowed all that to happen, didn't mind the intrusion, but that wasn't the challenge. The challenge came with the size and the depth. Right now, it felt good, slow, considerate, loosening him up. "Yeah, I guess we used to rush it ..."

"That can be good, too, but not now." Dan replaced his hand and his fingers with his cock, guiding himself and rocking forward. Tiny movements, but not letting up, convincing, rather, than forcing the resistance to yield. He sounded a little strained, from holding himself back, when he let out a breathless laugh, "I do some kinky shit at times, but I wouldn't just ask anyone to strangle me while fucking me raw."

Dima laughed, that sudden laugh betraying his tension. "Asphyxiation is ... a major turn on for the body ... God had a laugh when he built that feature. I mean, you get hanged and you have a hard-on?"

Dan chuckled, while stroking a little faster, and Dima pressed back, like he'd get rid of waste, his body slowly accepting the intruder, fat head, the stretching noticeable, a slight feeling of unease, but Dan managed to enter, slowly, ever so slowly. "Sounds like ... you have some great sex ..." Dima knew he was just talking to talk, communicating while talking about something completely different.

"Aye, and I'm not doing too badly right now." Dan's voice sounded husky, as he entered further, forcing himself to hold back. For some reason it was of paramount importance that this man was going to enjoy the fuck, and from what he gathered, it would be the first time he'd like it.

"Thanks. Not too bad ... on this end, either ... Talking about kinky ... most ... irresponsible thing I've ever done was sex under the influence ... that's the upside of being a medic. You know exactly which substance triggers which button."

"And what did you take?" Dan pressed the words out, as his cock was finally in, as far as it could, without being too deep. The angle prevented the penetration to go any further, but he shifted slightly, before pulling back out, only half-way, to try and hit the right spots. His hand moved down the shaft of Dima's rock-hard cock in synch with his own sliding back into the body. A slow rhythm, perfectly aligned.

"Any... ah." Dima went rigid, the sound made it impossible to determine what had just happened, whether it was pain or pleasure, overstimulation or just something too right. His muscles tightened, and he suddenly appeared helpless, responding to something. "Do ..." Not making sense.

"Aye." Dan grinned, "I do." That was it, and he'd keep this up, even if it cost him his sanity. Rubbing his face against the back of Dina's neck, who moved without intention, just moving with him, against him. Dan's skin started to gleam with a sheen of sweat, while he kept the angle exactly as before, kept the strokes, too, and continued the rhythm, while Dima lost all control, all will to resist, all thought. The same pace, for a long time, making Dan's balls ache and his body tremble with the sheer effort of keeping himself back to give as much as he could, and yet he got a damn lot out of it. The helplessness of Dima's body, the sounds and the harsh breathing. The scent of fresh sweat and the shudders beneath his hands. Speeding up when he heard Dima whimper, and Dan closed his eyes, concentrating on the lust that had been burning for too long, and the way he felt his cock being gripped in the tight heat, as he moved faster, with more intensity, the grip on Dima's cock strong and demanding now, slicked with precum.

Dima couldn't decide whether to press into the hand or back against the cock, never mind that decision had never before occurred to him, always the hand. The stimulation getting too intense to bear much longer, feeling like his whole body was no longer in his control, arousal and reflexes and instincts taking over, and the need growing out of all proportion. Building and building until his body tensed, nearly spasmed, orgasm so fierce it felt like a cramp, and he came, moaning, pleading, incoherent and unable to make any sense of his feelings, which seemed suddenly bared and raw and open and so fucking tender.

Only then did Dan let go of the control, concentrating on himself at last, on the feeling in his cock, his balls, with his hand, now, coated with Dima's cum, flat against the shuddering abs, and he sped up, as much as he needed to bring himself over the edge, cumming with a groan and a sensation of gratitude, tenderness, trust, and friendship, and a thousand other things, towards this man he hardly knew. He remembered to pull out carefully, and took the condom off, knotting it up to drop it to the ground, as he rolled over onto his back. His body drenched in sweat, but his hands still connected, urging the other to move with him, who responded without thinking, and offering his shoulder this time. Dima accepted the offer, moved up to him, sweaty body leaning against his. Dan said nothing, just lay and breathed and grinned from ear to ear.

"Well, I'm glad we tried", said Dima after he'd caught his breath, in a dry, understated tone as if he was being generous. He lifted his head to look at Dan, who grinned at him, teeth and all.

"Aye, it was okay." Drawing out the last word, "and you seemed to just about bear it, as well."

"Barely." Dima rested his head again, enjoying the scent of Dan's skin, the heat, the comedown. Who'd thought there was proper, good, wholesome sex to be found in a war zone? "How long can you stay?" He asked against Dan's neck.

Dan lifted his arm and peered at his watch. "Another hour. I have to be back at the time I'd return from shift, or Vadim might get suspicious. He doesn't know that I'm off for a few days." Searching one-handed for his fags, he pulled two out and lit both, before handing one over, which was placed between Dima's lips, and Dima rolled over on his back, one arm supporting his head. "So what's the plan?"

"Today I'll have a word with my surgeon mate. He'll pick you up tomorrow night at the latest." He had a plan, but he couldn't risk telling anyone about it.

"Okay. And I'll stick to the story." Dima gave a quick grin, hardly more than a flash. "I was thinking I could probably escape out of here, I'm pretty good at moving behind enemy lines, and in this damned country, everybody is an enemy ... at least of somebody else." He inhaled the nicotine deeply. "I just can't get locked up. Waiting is hell for me."

"If you escape, what then? I can leave the door open, no problem, but where's the point? The embassy won't lock you up, they'd probably send you back home, unless you find a good reason to stay." Blowing smoke to the ceiling. "Or are you too much like me and what you're doing now is all you've ever done, and you're actually addicted to this adrenaline shit, even though everybody tells you you're too fucking old and knackered?" Dan flashed a grin, but it wasn't entirely funny.

"The medical professions have plenty of adrenaline. I don't have to get shot at to be happy. It's enough to be able to bring somebody back from dying." Dima grinned. "It's just that Russia is not a great place to return to, at the moment. I have two good ... well, bad hands, I can make a living elsewhere. And what's the 'Motherland' anyway? I did the numbers - I've spend more time away than in the country. But I'll need a job. There's no way I'm living off somebody else's mercy."

"In that case, what qualifications would you need to be able to work as a civilian medic? Or even a paramedic, or a nurse to start with. As a paramedic you'd race around a city, first line of defence. If you're lucky you can even get onto a motorbike. I saw that in London the last time I was there."

"No idea. I don't know how the system works." Dima grinned. "Motorbike? Beats rushing out of cover dodging bullets by a mile."

Dan stubbed his cigarette out. "You just need a reason why you ask for asylum …"

"That's the problem. I wouldn't be Spetsnaz if I hadn't kept my head down, politically. On what grounds did they take Vadim in? Political prisoner?"

Dan slowly turned and craned his head to look at Dima. "Something like that. I just wouldn't recommend what happened before that. Besides, maybe you don't actually need asylum anymore, maybe just a working permission. I haven't kept up with the way the world's been going."

"Maybe I have to give some guy at some embassy a blowjob." Dima laughed. "Or bribe somebody. I don't know. I'll see it when it happens. I just don't want to go to prison and I don't want to be dependent on anybody. You're already helping a lot, and I'm already feeling a bit queasy about that. If it fails, I can always just escape and find some other way. That's what I'm trained to do. Common sense."

"Why would you go to prison?" Dan's brows rose, "no, don't answer that question. Depending on what that chetnik band of yours did, I rather not know. The less I know, the less they can ask me."

"That's best. I didn't fire the bullets, but ..." Dima shrugged and stopped.

"No. Don't." Dan pulled in a deep breath. "And I guess I have to leave soon. Besides, you're getting sticky."

Dima glanced down and reached over to wipe himself down somewhat, then decided hygiene was important and got up to wash, feeling very much that he'd been fucked, and began to eliminate the traces with a few handfuls of water, while Dan was dressing. "Whatever you're doing, Dan, be safe", he murmured as he was starting to dress. It was too cold to lie bared between the blankets. "It would be nice to see you again, even after I got picked up. Not just for blowjobs, maybe to have a tea and trade stories? And why does that sounds like I'm not meaning it ..."

"Well, are you meaning it?" Dan glanced up from lacing his boots.

"I had too many one-night-stands where I said something similar. I guess it's the routine that makes it sound fake." Dima frowned. "And this is not a 'oh, honey, but you were special' story, it's ... it's just that I actually like you."

"That's alright then, because if I've learned anything in my life, then it's that: mates and friends are damn important. Without them you're fucked up." Standing up, Dan's movements smoother now that he'd been lying in the warmth of their bodies. He shrugged into his jacket and stepped closer, standing face to face, and he grinned, switching to Russian. "Must be the Russianness, but I like you, Dima WhosnameIstilldontknow, and I'd like to drink a tea with you, or a vodka. And talk, or have sex again." He held out his hand.

Dima took Dan's hand with both his. "Starov. Dimitri Starov. And I'm not officially here, because why should anybody help our brother nation, the Serbs, against the heathen ... whoever else lives here ..." Dima shook his head.

"Pleased to have met you, Dimitri Starov." In Russian, switching back to English, "does that mean you are as officially here as I was in Afghanistan?"

"It's how Russia works - they make it sound like they thought it was a good idea, but it was pretty much a marching order. Other people fight here just for fun; I've met several that work as perfectly civilian people, like painters and bricklayers, and they just get an AK from somewhere and go off to slaughter people. I don't understand this war, Dan. I really don't."

"I don't claim I understand any war, but this one … I don't get it." Dan shook his head. "Maybe I have seen and done too much in my life. Maybe I am too old, or maybe I've become too soft. I don't know, but what I've seen here …" He shut up and shook his head again. Then he simply leaned forward and kissed the other, germs be damned. Dima seemed genuinely surprised, kissing was clearly not part of his 'usual routine', but he didn't shy back, just seemed surprised, but not unwilling, as he placed a hand against Dan's neck to kiss him for two seconds longer, and reluctantly let him pull away.

"I leave the door open. It is up to you what you do, but I'd be happy if you didn't run. Maurice will pick you up, I guarantee you that."

Dima nodded. "I'll give it some serious thought. Take care."

"You too." Dan took his bergan and the torch, cast a last glance at the man in the shadows, and pulled the heavy door open, leaving it ajar, just as he'd promised. He believed in this man, and he didn't know why, but he knew he had to leave the decision to Dima.

Special Forces Chapter XLVII: Still Standing
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 22 August 2008