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Special Forces Chapter XXXXX: Old Dogs New Tricks

February 1993, The Balkans

"Hey, Dan!" One of the soldiers came running across the compound, waving to get Dan's attention, but the thick hat with its fur-lined ear flaps that he wore was muffling the sound. It was so cold, misting breath cut through words and speech, freezing every thought.

"Huh?" Dan finally caught on when his team mate slapped his shoulder and pointed across. "What's up?" Calling out towards the guy. Damn, he had been looking forward to a hot shower after his shift, a very hot shower, and a snooze, preferably with Vadim, for a special kind of heating up. But shit, he couldn't just ignore the guy.

"Phone call for you."

"Alright, coming." Dan nodded and waved, moving into a trot to keep warm. Concentrating on not favouring his leg too obviously, he couldn't be seen doing that or he'd be asked too many obnoxious questions.

A short while later he was in the post room, in one of the semi-private phone booths. "Aye?" Expecting his brother or perhaps Maggie.

"Dan? Is that ... you?" Crackling phone line, sounding like it would give up any minute.

"Aye." Dan listened for another heartbeat, then ... "Jean? Shit, is that you? Jean!"

"Thank fuck ... Listen ... line's shit. I can hardly ...stand you."

"Where the fuck are you?" Dan nearly shouted into the phone.

"…Africa. South Africa. We're out in the bush. I'll tell you later ... just ... good to hear you. I tried ... but you're ... to get hold of than the fucking ... President of ... States."

"I was busy with some fucking bastards who tried to fucking kill us." Dan laughed down the phone. "It's been bloody ages, how are you?"

"I'm good. Happily ... married. Listen ... I need to see you, okay? Can we just ... meet at some point? I'm done here in ... weeks, I can be wherever afterwards."

"When?" Bugger, the line was breaking up badly. "Can hardly understand you. When are you free?"

"... weeks. Got that? Four weeks. I'm free then. Where should we ...?"

Four weeks, damn, where did that get him to? Dan was frantically trying to remember his schedule and when he was due R&R. "Five weeks. Make it five. On R&R, then." And Vadim? Dan couldn't remember, not quite. "What about Italy?" The only place he could think of and that wasn't Hungary and neither too far away. Right across the Adriatic Sea.

"Five. Okay. What about Rome? Have a ... in Tuscany, that's close."

"Rome, yes. Call me again when you have a fucking line that works!" Dan laughed.

"Difficult enough to ... you." Jean gave a chuckle. "Fuck you too. I'll ... touch. Hear you soon!"

"Aye! Till then." Dan was grinning like a fool when he put the receiver down. Still whistling while making his way back to the accommodation block and towards their room.

Vadim was sitting near the oven, keeping warm, polishing boots and sorting through kit. "What's up?"

"You wouldn't believe who just called." Pulling the hat off his head, Dan started to peel himself out of the many layers of clothing. "Our very own Frenchman. And I don't mean the one with a rod up his arse." Grinning.

"I'd never have expected Beauvais to call you ... could only be Jean."

"Yeah, I know, I'm only good for a punch-up and a quick shag." Dan put on an exaggerated expression of woe. "But of course you're right, it's the elusive Honeymooner. He's in South Africa, somewhere in the bush." He was in his jumper, when sitting down to take off his boots. Was easier that way these days but he wouldn't admit to that. "We're going to meet in Rome in five weeks."

"We or 'we'?" Vadim gave the boot he was working on a critical glance against the light, then brushed it some more.

"Hm?" Dan looked up, quizzically.

"Just wondering whether you want to meet him alone."

"I hadn't even thought about that. Why?" Dan shrugged, put the second boot down. "Like you and Hooch?"

"Probably not exactly like Hooch and me." Vadim kept brushing the boot.

"What do you mean?" Dan leaned back in his chair and searched for a fag while wiggling his toes in the thick socks.

"Things are far more emotional between you and Jean. He has a serious crush on you, Dan. No surprise that Jean is far more attracted to you than to me."

"You're crazy." Dan gave a short laugh. "Crush? That's just bonkers." He lit his cigarette. "Besides, it doesn't matter." Dan shrugged, "makes no difference anymore."

"Why not?"

"He's married, huh?"

"And? He wants guys. Correction: He wants you."

"Bullshit. Don't you remember the stuff about forsaking all others? It's different now. He's married, and that's that. End of story. Besides, what's all that crush stuff about? He's just a friend."

"Ah. And you believe that?"

"Aye, of course I do." Dan's brows had moved up to the hairline. Blowing smoke away from Vadim.

"Fifty quid says Jean doesn't believe it either."

"What?" Dan stared at Vadim as if he had talked in Mandarin. "Fifty quid what?"

"I'm betting fifty quid that it won't be just friends."

"Bullshit." Dan snorted, "and I'm betting a hundred that it is." Looking for the ashtray.

"Okay. I accept the challenge."

"But we won't get to the heart of the matter if you do come with me, aye?"

"I'd think it depends. I could spend the time somewhere near Rome and leave you guys alone."

"That sounds really weird and fucking awkward." Dan found the ashtray, pulled it close and executed his cigarette butt in a brutal way. "Why don't you just come along or we forget about it altogether?"

"Okay." Vadim glanced at the cigarette butt and about how Dan ground it to pieces. "It will be good to see the Frenchman again."

"That's alright then." Dan grinned, back to his sure footing. "Let's organise the trip and forget about the bullshit of crushes and stuff." He got up, walked over to Vadim and ran a hand over the short-shorn hair, before stripping completely to take a shower.

March 1993, Rome

Dan stood in front of the airport building, glancing up at the bright sky through dark shades. Bergan over his shoulder, he was travelling light. Dressed in appropriate spring gear, the thick jacket he had to wear back in the Balkans was stuffed on top of the bergan. Waving a taxi down, he managed with a few words of Italian he'd heard or read somewhere, and a lot of gesticulating, to get the river to take him to the hotel Jean had mentioned. Right in the centre of Rome.

The setting breathed a deteriorating grandiosity, much like a formerly great hotel that was clinging on to the vestiges of a much more glorious past, and the pricing was steep, but not outrageous. Situated in a side-alley, surrounded by red and pale red and orange houses that reflected the light warmly, the Italian staff treated Dan with relaxed courtesy and informed him that "Signore Leclerc" was in the hotel restaurant.

Dan went to his room first, getting rid of his bag and to take a quick shower, washing off the flight. He was back out in no time, hair still damp, dressed in fresh clothes. He'd managed to grab a combination of sand coloured trousers and black shirt that didn't clash - even without Vadim's help. Making his way to the restaurant, he was looking around for the telltale blond head.

Jean was sitting alone at a table, just getting served coffee in a tiny porcelain cup that couldn't hold more than a quarter of a sip, and he tossed it down, pulling a face of enjoyment and shock, then leaned back and pulled a cigarette from the pack next to him at the table.

Dan walked closer, keeping in Jean's back, while grinning like a fool. He didn't say anything until he was close enough to place a hand on the deeply tanned neck. "Holy fuck, you had too much time sunning yourself."

Jean looked around, no soldier's reaction, no tension nor whirling around. "Dan. Fuck." He stood, turning. "Sit down. Are you hungry? I just had something, but ... be my guest." He was tanned, no burn visible, hair paler than Dan remembered, which had also affected his eyebrows and lashes.

"You look good." Dan grinned, ignoring the rest. "Not like someone who's actually worked in South Africa." Sitting down, these days sitting had taken on a different quality. One that took the weight off his knee.

Jean grinned. "It's not easy working down there ... the place is too relaxed for my own good." He waved the waiter over and nodded at Dan, encouraging him to order.

"How have you been otherwise?" Dan didn't feel like concentrating on the menu, memorised the first thing he recognised, and put the menu down, looking at Jean. Shit, the guy looked good. So fucking good, all he wanted was to drag him upstairs and tear the kit off him. "Had a great honeymoon? Haven't heard from you in ages."

"Réunion? It's a dream. I'm not sure there's a more beautiful place in the world. Long flight, but once you get there ... it's great." Jean offered Dan a cigarette from his pack and pushed the lighter over. "Yeah, it's all going well, I have been fairly happy ... did this job mostly to do somebody a favour." He grinned. "What about you?"

"Well, nothing interesting, really." Lighting his fag, Dan sat back in the comfy chair. A bit low for a man his size, but positively luxurious. "I gained a two year old daughter by Vadim's ex-wife, and Vadim almost killed me for it. Then, together with Vadim, who was still hating my guts, found a camp that wasn't supposed to exist, saved a town and nearly died, but made up, blew a bridge into smithereens and sniped some bastards, before ending up in tatters. Both of us." He shrugged, "as I said, nothing out of the ordinary."

"Daughter?" Jean looked shocked. "What happened?"

Dan raised his brows. Typical Jean would pick out this snippet and none of the others. "Fucking ex-wife of a fucking bitch blackmailed me three years ago. Vadim was about to be executed, and I needed her to convince Vadim's father to deliver a coded message. To let him know I was alive." Dan shrugged, made a good show of not caring, while it looked very different inside. "I was a convenient sperm donor." He dragged in some smoke. "Didn't know I had a daughter until last October."

"A daughter with ... oh fuck. Not sure I should ask. Should I?"

"Aye. Vadim's ex-wife."

"Okay." Jean seemed unsure what else to say, then reached over the table and took Dan's hand. "You going to order some food? Otherwise, we could hit a nightclub, or maybe go up to my room?"

"Isn't it a bit early for a nightclub?"

Jean shrugged, then nodded. "Well, until we've found a good one ..."

Dan started to grin again, much more easy going this time. "By the way, before you wonder, my daughter is bloody good looking. For a kid, I guess." Dan leaned closer and winked, "she looks like me, aye?"

"If she's anything like you, she'll become a ball crusher and heart breaker."

Dan laughed, "leave the heartbreaker out, but I don't mind the ball crusher." A waiter appeared and Dan extracted his hand from under Jean's, ordering what he'd remembered from the menu. "It's been how long?" When the waiter had left.

"Eleven months and a week and a day ... or two days." Jean smiled. "Felt longer."

"Shit, almost a year." Dan shook his head. "A lot happened, but somehow ... you haven't changed." You're just looking about ten times better than I remember. "Guess I turned into a wrinkly old git, though." He flashed a grin.

Jean pulled on his cigarette. "No. Hardly a hair different. Nothing's changed. Just ... should have been in touch earlier."

"That's alright, you're a married man now, and I was ... well, kind of busy with assorted shit."

"That, too."

The waiter brought Dan's drink, then the food, while Jean watched him eat. "What are you planning for Rome? I was thinking: clubbing, wine, food, relax. Been here six hours, but I already love this city."

"I have no idea." Dan mopped up some balsamic vinegar with a piece of mozzarella cheese. "Can I just tag along? Vadim was meant to come with me, but he got the offer for a triple glory-shift."

"What's that?"

Dan flashed a grin. "They were desperate for a team leader and offered Vadim triple pay if he stayed on a few days longer, even though he'd been booked on R&R."

"Oh nice. Is he coming later?"

"Aye, he'll be here on Tuesday." Finishing off his plate, Dan emptied the wine as well. Pointing at empty glass and plate. "What would you say about taking your old mate to a place that's less dry?"

"Bar? I'm afraid there is no swimming pool here ..."

Dan laughed. "That'll do. Let's go, then?" He stood, looking down at Jean. "And how is Solange, by the way? And before I forget it, have you heard anything from Beauvais?"

"Solange is having a shooting somewhere. A bit different from my kind of shooting. From Thierry, nothing, but I haven't been home a lot. You seemed to get along really well."

"Yeah, and next time you can go for the black eye and nearly broken nose yourself." Dan laughed.

"And I thought you like to play rough …" Jean waved the waiter over and took everything on his room bill. "I'll get the jacket from upstairs ... want to come?"

"Sure. I'll have to grab my own as well." Dan followed Jean up the stairs, trying hard to suppress a slight limp.

Faded carpet led them all the way up to the third storey, where Jean began to fiddle with the keys, and then he unlocked the door to room 306. "Come on in."

Dan stepped inside, steering straight towards a chair in a corner. "Not bad either."

Jean grinned, closing the door, then leaned against it, back pressed against the door, knees somewhat bent and apart, regarding Dan for several long moments. "What are you in the mood for?"

"Going into town, aye?" Dan sat down, stretching out his long legs. "Was your own suggestion." He grinned up at Jean.

Jean paused, then, still grinning, and moved away from the door. "Just need a change of clothes. Hope you don't mind?" Already baring his chest, just as tanned as his face and neck; muscles and tendons shifting under the smooth skin as he moved. Wearing not even the wifebeater he'd famously worn in the Gulf.

Dan tensed, pushing himself against the chair and swallowed. Fuck. He wasn't saint material. "You seem to have had too much time for sunning on your hands." Forcing himself to look away, he was laboriously searching his shirt for his packet of fags instead.

Jean turned, slipping out of his trousers, bending down, then straightening as he stepped out of them, then underwear and socks. Naked, and tanned without a line there. He'd had a lot of time tanning himself in the nude, too. "Can be a good place for a vacation", he stated, not hurrying to get dressed again.

Dan looked up and his hand got stuck in his pocket, touching the cigarettes but forgetting to pull them out. "Shit." Breathed out, catching himself when he finally managed to take his eyes off Jean once more. "Seems so. Did you go to a Nudist beach or what?"

"Just a secluded beach." Jean grinned. "Seems you appreciate the view?" Moving closer.

"Yeah." But Dan wasn't looking. Leaning forward instead and rubbing his bad knee. "Didn't you want to go out?"

Jean moved even closer, his leg touching Dan's knee. "You okay? You didn't get shot in a bad place or something?"

"Shit!" Again, this time with more feeling. Desperation, almost. "You're married, Jean, you forgot that?" Looking up and fucking hell, what he was confronted with should require a license. Too deadly. "Married, aye?"

"I don't forget anything." Jean raised his hand slightly, and sure enough, the ring still sat there. "Is that the only reason you're not looking at me?"

"I'm ... looking." Dan swallowed hard. "Damn." Shaking his head.

Jean crouched, placing his hands on Dan's knees. "Is it because you met her?"

"It's different." If it hadn't been so real and difficult, Dan's expression of despair would have been comical. "She's ... she's so fucking trusting, and damn ... I like her, and it's not ..." Shrugging with defeat. "Fuck."

"Just tell me what you're taking away from her if you sleep with me now, Dan." Jean tried to meet Dan's gaze.

"I don't know." Throat suddenly dry, Dan stared at Jean like a snake at its charmer. "But I would feel like a lying shit when I meet her next. You're supposed to be hers, and she believes it." Moving his head a fraction closer. "She has no idea ...?"

"No. She has no idea." Jean reached for Dan's face. "Leave any guilt to me, okay?"

"And what would that make me?" Dan frowned, while wanting nothing but to lean into the touch.

"Don't know … You're my friend, Dan. You and Vadim share … lovers, so why are you hesitating? I don't get it."

"Because I've never had sex with anyone who was married and whose ..." A twitch in his face, and then, "oh shit." Vadim. Married.

"You sure? Because if they are not wearing the ring, you can't tell. Guess how many I had who, next morning, would get the ring out of their purse and put it on? Definitely a couple there."

"No, not sure." Dan grimaced, "Vadim was married. With kids."

"There's your precedent. So, what's the problem?"

"I'll lose a hundred quid?" The grimace was back, and Dan's hands wanted to move to that glowing, tanned skin on their own.

Jean blinked, then laughed. "I can give you the money back. I made a killing in South Africa."

"Very funny." Dan pulled a face, but that damned laughter was too infectious. "Vadim was betting fifty quid we'd have sex and I offered him a hundred because I didn't believe we would. Thought we'd just be friends now." Mates. Nothing else. Carefully avoiding any of the other things that Vadim had said. That would be too weird.

"You bet against sex with me?" Jean was laughing hard now. "Fuck. I call that self-defeating strategy."

"You're a fucking cocky bastard, you know that?" The corners of Dan's lips twitched, making his righteous anger seem less convincing. "I was damn set to do the right thing, aye? And that after not having seen you for almost a goddamned motherfucking year!" Dan glared at Jean, "and if you laugh any harder now, I'll have to cut you to size, Frenchie. Married or not."

Jean raised a hand and stepped back, fighting hard for control. "Alright … okay." Moving back just a little more, he kept grinning. "What's the plan? Sex now or after we come back? Or in a nice location somewhere in the city?"

"You are giving me such a bloody come-on and then you ask me if I want to wait? You must be fucking kidding me." Dan groaned and shook his head. He should have just forgotten all about this marriage thing. Would have saved him a lot of trouble.

"Just making sure." Jean stepped closer again, opening his arms, still grinning, but Dan merely looked at him and did exactly ... nothing. Nothing but giving himself the time to have a really, really good look. Only his voice betrayed how he was affected. "You sure you don't want to get fucked?" A man had to try.

Jean shook his head. "No. I'll call you if that ever changes, okay?"

"Yeah, alright." A wicked grin suddenly jumped into Dan's face. Sharp, toothy and all. "There's a phone over there." Pointing across the room.

"Thierry clearly loved it, Vadim does, too, but I don't. Not even very curious, honest."

"You sure?" Dan kept grinning, even broader if possible, as he pushed himself off the chair. Taking a couple of steps towards Jean. "Really sure?" Another step and ... standing so close their bodies almost touched. "Absolutely, totally and completely sure?" A sudden, small movement, enough to push against Jean, towards the bed.

Jean nodded, emphatically, and got on the bed, stretching out. "If I see you get lube I'll be out the door …" he warned, still grinning and motioning Dan to get closer.

"I thought you'd locked it."

"No, it's still open. But closed. No room service at this hour."

Baring his teeth in the mother of all grins, Dan suddenly moved, fast, and was on the bed in the next second, straddling Jean. Looking down, the grin vanished, as if a light had been switched off. Suddenly serious. "Really thought it was over when you married." Quieter, face down, hands on either side of Jean's head.

Jean lifted his upper body to meet Dan, kissing him on the lips. "No way. You got Vadim and I got Solange, but no way."

"Shit ..." one last time, heartfelt, and Dan was all over Jean. Lowered to kiss, balancing on his thighs, both hands finally connecting with that glorious, tanned skin. Touching, open-mouthed kissing, the hunger increased with each moment. Hadn't realised how much he'd missed this. Missed Jean.

Jean pulled him close, pushed one knee between Dan's legs, and returned the kiss, then managed to roll over, getting Dan below, hardly breaking the kiss or the touches, starting to undress him.

Dan never stopped touching Jean, too hungry. He'd held back and now the lust was there in full force, but Jean smiled at him, running his fingers over Dan's face, through his hair. Taking it slow where Dan, once skin touched skin, wanted to cum, surprised at the slowness, but he went with it. Jean's body clearly needing Dan, but he was held back by something, as if he didn't want to rush it, instead caressing and kissing, while Dan eventually closed his eyes and the urgency went away. Yet the lust and arousal remained as Jean kept shifting weight and positions, sometimes on top, sometimes lying face to face on their sides.

Dan opened his eyes when they lay pressed together. Breaking the kiss, he looked straight into blue eyes, blurry from being so close. "You missed me?" Murmured.

"Was going mental", Jean answered. "Tried everything to make it easier, but hell … it just wouldn't work …"

Dan lifted his hand, caressing the face before him, felt a strange tender ache where he'd never felt it before. "I'm just too irresistible, aye?" Barely more than a whisper, as his hips rocked closer, creating friction against their trapped cocks.

"I never tried … that resisting thing." Jean smiled, moaning, moving against Dan, too, breath going faster. "You're just … special."

"Me?" A short, breathless laugh, Dan took hold of Jean's hip, to increase the intensity.

"You. Who else?" Jean rolled his eyes, but was holding Dan tight, breath turning to panting. "Who the fuck else … don't have … that many … gay special … friends …"

"So ..." with a swift movement, Dan rolled them over, until he came on top. Thrusting his hips down, using strength and need. "Guess you ... didn't have anyone ... else?" Down again, twisting his hips, making Jean arch and groan, move against him as much as he could.

"Just … Whores. No…body special."

"Men?" Breathless, Dan sped up, the friction intoxicating. Not getting there, not by a long stretch, but relishing every moment of heat, strength and lust.

Jean's eyes opened, he bared his teeth in a half-grin. "A couple … drunk, you know?"

"Yeah ... damn good excuse."

"They certainly thought so …"

Dan mirrored Jean's grin, suddenly lifted to sit, straddling Jean once more, scooting up the body. Jean's cock touched his cleft, and the grin was still there when Dan looked down, breathlessly murmuring, "if you had lube … and you didn't run away ... you could fuck me."

"Nightstand. Condoms, there, too. Yeah, I planned this." Jean nodded over to the nightstand.

"Bastard." Dan let out a laugh, leaning across to get the items. "And I thought I'd be sweeping you off your feet with that." The condom was rolled over Jean's cock, swiftly, lube, cool, coating and plenty, when Dan raised one brow, flashed a grin, lifted and turned around. Back facing Jean. He leant forward, presenting his arse, neatly shaved, and spread his knees further. Pushing his lubed finger through the ring, loosening his muscle, fucking himself.

"Shit!" Jean muttered, staring, the need growing frantic. He tried to wiggle free to get back onto his knees and fuck Dan in that position. "You tease …"

But Dan half-turned and swatted Jean's hands away, adding a slap on the chest when he still tried to move. "That's my show." Using his thighs to keep Jean from turning, he lowered down once more, adding a second finger. Pushing in, with a mix of recklessness and lust. Dan rested his forehead on Jean's shins, and used his second hand to stroke Jean's sheathed cock leisurely, while fucking himself faster.

Jean groaned. "Mercy? Please? I was just … taking it slow because I missed you … no need to torture me, right?"

"You want to be those fingers?" Dan's husky laughter was all too audible. "What about a third? I could do with yours ... your cock can come later."

"Fuck, Dan …" Jean reached up, took some of the lube and warmed it briefly, legs still immobilized by Dan's strength and weight. He pushed two fingers into Dan's ass, mimicking the way Dan had fucked himself, same speed, then working from there, shifting as he added a third one, which caught Dan by surprise. Head pressed down, arse lifted high, knees opening and sliding away from trapping Jean's legs, allowing more access as his eyes closed and his arms spread. Hands sliding along the bed sheets, Jean's cock neglected, fingers twisting into the fabric when the third finger was deeply embedded. He moaned, suddenly wanting more, needing more. Needing to be filled. Stretched. Centred. It had been a while.

Jean fucked him with three fingers, moving them against each other, trying to find the spot and sticking with it, teasing Dan with near-misses and then rewarding him with more intense stimulation, causing Dan to shudder, and to zone out further and further.

"There are … things … that are much better real than wanking", Jean murmured, when Dan pushed back, demanding. "Like this …" Jean's free hand moved towards Dan's cock, slowly pumping him in time with the movements from his other hand, trying to get Dan off by fingerfucking, the other hand just assisting with it, not driving. "Not something … I could imagine … in such detail."

Dan was too far gone to comment, or to even realise what was going on, except for a groaned out "more!" as he craned his head back into his neck, panting. Muscles coiling beneath smoothly tanned and scarred skin, body wiry taut.

Jean sped up, had to use more force, shifted the angle, giving Dan more, more brutal, faster, pumping his cock hard, himself reckless with need, using the strength of his shoulder and arm to give Dan more. He wished he had a dildo or something, maybe something larger, longer than fingers, but maybe … next time. He grinned at that thought.

With a groan Dan's body shuddered, tried to push back and into those fingers. On the edge, mind gone, body still demanding more, but his voice hardly functioned. "More!" Barely audible amongst the sounds he was making and the loud breaths.

Jean barely managed to move enough to add a fourth finger, moving on instinct rather than what he thought Dan wanted, but at the same time felt that desperate need and wanted to give Dan whatever he desired.

That did it, it was enough to send Dan over the edge. Filled, stretched, taken again, and centred with that hand on his cock. Yet everything different, another man, and still the same, and he came with a shout, lifting off Jean's legs, to crash back down, shuddering.

Jean lay back, running both hands across Dan's heated flushed skin, stroking and caressing, allowing him to calm, and most of all take his fill and enjoy the fact that Dan was finally here, with him, and what a difference that made.

Eventually, Dan moved, until he lay side by side with Jean. "Sorry." Quietly, with a grin that was too sated and relaxed.

"Sorry what?" Jean turned to face him, smiling. "Sorry you enjoyed yourself?"

"Yeah ...." Dan smiled, giving his face an entirely innocent look, despite twisted scar and all. "Sorry for not having got you off yet."

"That's fine, don't worry." Jean moved to kiss him. "Bullshit, don't think that's your priority … we have all night, as long as you have …"

"Not going anywhere, unless you want to wine and dine me."

"Yeah, later …"

Dan grinned, his hand blindly reaching for Jean's cock, still sheathed. "You can fuck me, if you want." It would be uncomfortable, but he didn't care right now.

"Or you suck me off … if you have enough breath left?"

"If you promise to take me out to some pasta and red wine? Of course!" Dan winked, got up with some exaggerated groans and protests of creaky joints, and onto his knees. Flat palms lightly pressing onto Jean's abs. "Lay back and think of La Nation." With that he lowered his head, rolled the condom back off and threw it behind him, before taking the first taste with his tongue, non-verbally protesting about the rubber taste.

"Prefer … thinking of you", Jean groaned, watching him, hypnotized - another thing that was much better than the memory or his imagination. Fingers going down to caress Dan's shoulders, when Dan began in earnest. Using every skill and every trick in the book of a self-professed cocksucker who loved nothing more but the taste, the scent, the feel of the hard flesh invading his throat, while his tongue and teeth played with the shaft, crown and slit, then all the way back down again. In ever increasing intensity, and never with less than utmost concentration.

Jean's body tensed, gradually, every muscle coming out in stark relief as he began to lose it. Not wanting any control, instead moaning and groaning just as loud as he pleased, getting so desperate he almost burst into laughter, realizing how fucking needy he was and that Dan was merciless at teasing him. The pressure becoming laughter, which didn't prevent him from getting incredibly close, until Dan managed to reach behind himself, enough lube still behind his legs to coat a finger, and when he sucked down hard, all the way to the base, he pushed the slick finger deep into Jean's arse, his throat constricting around the intrusion.

Jean came with a suppressed shout, finger and throat, the kind of stimulation that didn't leave him a chance. Relieved when the pressure went off, shuddering and squirming, then he relaxed. Enjoying the come down, which he shared with Dan lying close, arm thrown across Jean's chest, breathing in the scent of sex and male. And friend.

"Cigarette?" Jean murmured eventually.

"Insatiable." Dan chuckled, but rolled off the bed and onto his feet. Knee buckling for a split second, before he had himself under control and forced some balance. "Guess you want me to light it, too?" Sitting back down, he flicked the Zippo, grinning.

"Perfect service." Jean took the cigarette between his lips, where it hung precariously, until he got enough control to move closer to the lighter. "Not sure I have the energy left to go clubbing. Give me a little."

"I'm not really the right age group for clubbing anyway." Dan flashed a grin, lit both their fags and settled back after a quick clean-up with the sheets. "Just take me out to a restaurant, ply me with pasta and wine, then stick your fist up my arse and I'm anybody's." He laughed.

"Whole … fist?" Jean coughed in surprise. "Shit. And I was getting worried about the stretch."

"Perhaps there are some things that you don't know about me, after all." Dan stretched out, leisurely smoking his fag. "Once upon a time ..." he trailed off, chuckling.

"I'm freaked out by the size of a cock, and you …"

"I've done that about a handful of times in my life." Dan shrugged, "and it takes a bloody long time. So, you wouldn't have got far."

"'Handful'." Jean couldn't help but laugh, still moving to cuddle and stroke and kiss. "Sorry, nice pun …"

"Yeah, yeah, you just take the piss and see where it gets you." Dan grinned. "But apart from that, tell me about those guys that 'happened' when you were drunk."

"Whores. I paid them. It was … easier?" Jean kept looking at Dan. "No strings. Just … wanted to try whether it works with just men. Not … friends, nobody I have any kind of connection with. It does. I wanted to work out how 'gay' I am. Guess the proof of the pudding is the eating."

"And does that bother you?" Dan blew the smoke to the ceiling.

"I got off." Jean grinned. "That's the main goal, right? I mean, they were rent guys."

"The gay thing, you idiot." Dan laughed, "since you've enjoyed the pudding ..."

"Well, that's not breaking news for you, is it?" Jean made an 'innocent' face. "Just wanted to know whether I can have sex with a guy that's not you. I can. That means …" He stopped himself, frowned. "Means … it means I can get off with other guys. But I prefer you."

Dan was laughing harder, the concentrated frown tickled his fancy. "I would have thought you'd realised that when you fucked Vadim and Beauvais."

"Yeah, them. But you were in the room, too, so that's different."

Stubbing the cigarette out, Dan propped himself up on his elbow, laughter turning into a smile. "Solange ..." But then he shut up, figuring it would be a damn stupid thing to mention the once-male.

"What about her?"

"Nothing." Reaching out to let his hand slide from Jean's shoulder to his neck, resting there. "Just a fleeting thought, of no consequence." Leaning forward, he captured Jean's lips with his, murmuring, "of far less consequence than this right now."

Jean grinned, returning the kiss, playful as he always was. "Don't feel guilty. Just don't think about it."

Dan whispered, when he parted his lips, "got to get my hundred quid's worth ..."

Jean gave another laugh, until the kissing stopped that, turning tender and heartfelt, slow, deliberate, taste mingling. They were sated enough to do nothing but touch and kiss, almost lazily moving and re-acquainting with each other's body and taste for a long time, until eventually, Dan rolled onto his back, head turned to grin at Jean. "What about that wining and dining?"

"Cool. I'll take you to the L'Archetto - it's near a touristy spot, but a friend recommended it highly. Said the pasta is great, pizza less so. Let's get ready. But I need a shower first."

Jean headed straight to the showers, then came out naked, but mostly dry. He got into casual but stylish jeans and a tight, expensive t-shirt that traced the lines of his upper body well. Stuffing the wallet into his pocket, he looked at Dan, who'd just come out of the bathroom, still towelling his hair. "Ready when you are."

Dan almost did a double-take as he grinned from ear to ear. "Are you out on the pull? Or looking for some more hustlers?"

"You think I'm dressed to pull?" Jean laughed. "Try live with a model and try to not get given lots of branded clothes. Good luck."

"In a couple of sizes too small?" Dan smirked, before getting back into his old clothes.

"It's the current fashion, apparently."

Dan stood, lifted his arms, as if presenting himself. "Do you want me to change? Beside you, I must look like something the cat dragged in, but I guess I should be used to that by now."

"No, you're fine. Want that pasta or not? It's a fairly intimate little place, no place to show off. Too small."

"Sure." Dan plucked the shades from his pocket and was good to go. "You really are certain about not looking for company, though?" Still grinning broadly as they descended the stairs towards the hotel lobby.

Jean turned his head. "Addicted to threesomes, are we?"

"Not really." Dan simultaneously slipped his shades on and stepped into the blinding sun, "but I have to take my chances while I can."

"That a yes?" Jean grinned. "No idea how you go about finding male hookers around here. I suppose the hotel staff could help, if we need it."

He headed outside and led Dan towards the Fontana di Trevi, as he explained, where locals and tourists were both sitting, talking, taking photographs. Pointing towards a small alley close to it, and then to an unassuming, even shabby front that could have belonged to the dingiest of bars. They were surprised to find a small, whitewashed restaurant inside. The few tables upstairs were occupied, but there was a cellar, too, and down there it was cool and pleasant, with an Italian waiter just now making fun of a gaggle of Japanese tourists.

"So, tell me," Dan asked when they had been seated, shades now on the table top, "how long are you going to stay in South Africa? And anything lined up after that?" He was stretching out his leg, as inconspicuously as possible rubbing his knee to ease the stiffness.

"Maybe a couple months, two, three … depending how things go. I got nothing lined up, so I could spend the winter working on my little house. Lots of stuff needs doing, it's a never-ending work in progress. Sometimes I wonder why I started it at all."

Dan nodded, "I feel your pain, even though the farm is progressing nicely, according to the latest photos we got. Really have to fly over again to check on things." He shrugged, "but with the Balkans being everything but rosy so far, Kiwiland was the least of my worries."

"Balkans? I'm staying away from it. Too close to home, in too many ways." Jean plucked the menu up from a plastic stand and flicked it open. "Plenty of spaghetti … look at that, spaghetti with vodka cream sauce. Fuck. And I thought it was all about tomatoes …"

"I'll have whatever has the most cream and cheese in. Can't have me keel over with exhaustion aye? I'm already close to starvation."

"I try the vodka one. I'm curious."

The waiter spoke rudimentary English, almost comically rudimental, and the food was indeed excellent - huge portions that went rather cheap in the end, even including wine it was hard to spend a fortune in this place, with a great chocolate cake for Dan and strong coffee for both of them. Afterwards, they wandered the streets of Rome, stopped at an ice-cream parlour near the Pantheon that offered at least seventy different flavours, then, by following a long circle route, they got back to the hotel, where they somehow ended up in Jean's room.

* * *

The next three days were spent exploring Rome the way Dan liked: restaurants, cafes, bars, lots of spring sunshine and very little cultural exploits, except for the people with whom they interacted. No museums and not many ruins, and Dan enjoyed himself tremendously with Jean as company. Ending - predictably, together in bed or any other convenient place, such as a dark alley late at night, which was Jean's idea. Taking advantage as much and as often, and as intense, as they could. As Dan kept pointing out, he had to get his hundred quid's worth, a comment that never failed to make Jean laugh.

Jean was in one of his sunniest moods, obviously happy and content with his life, his work, his home, his adventures, and most of all his wife. There seemingly was no darkness about the blond legionnaire, careless, young, and sometimes ridiculously exuberant, which was quite different to spending time with Vadim.

They both went to the airport on the fourth day, and Dan greeted Vadim with a face-splitting grin and a bundle of pound notes, which he held out without a word. Exactly one-hundred.

Vadim took the money, glanced at Jean, who started to laugh, and then back at Dan. "Safe bet. That was almost too easy." And that was that.

"Yeah, damn, guess I should have known." Dan shrugged, pushed his shades into position and pulled Vadim into an embrace which could be construed as an intimate friendship one. Vey Italian, and very intense. The embrace of Jean and Vadim less intense, but still tight, friendly, with Jean murmuring something into Vadim's ear that made him smile, unexpectedly.

They took Vadim back to the hotel, where Dan had made a point of tidying up the double room he'd been occupying on his own, making space for Vadim's kit, and they even managed to get out and about - sightseeing, this time with some added culture, before indulging in pasta and wine, and ending up - equally predictably - together in bed. According to Dan it would have been unfair if Jean was left out, who would have had to sulk in his room, alone, and they had to make sure he was thoroughly tired out by the time he left to head back to his own bed. Which he was, even though it turned out to be - probably just as predictably - Dan who was the most thoroughly fucked, sucked, stroked, used and tended-to one. A fact he mock-submitted to, and ended up sprawled across the bed, fast asleep, before Jean had even left.

Just then, another weird kiss happened, again of Jean's devising, and Vadim couldn't help but thoroughly enjoy it, this display of tenderness and trust. With Dan asleep, that was just something between them. "Why?" murmured Vadim.

Jean grinned, tiredly. "Just so. Stop thinking about it." Kissing him again, and then getting out of the bed, dressing in his t-shirt and shorts, rest of his clothes over one arm, when he left. Vadim didn't hold him back - Jean didn't seem to expect him to.

Early next morning, Jean's flight left for France.

* * *

They stayed a couple of days longer, with Dan happily doing his rounds in the local outside swimming pool and gym, an awfully exclusive place which he used thoroughly in those hours while Vadim was indulging heavily in 'the cultural crap' as Dan called it mockingly. And while Vadim explored the thousands of years of history and beauty, Dan sunned himself and worked out, until they met in the early afternoon in a cafe, both content with their day's exploits, and both sated, with different focus.

They decided to travel through the country after that, to spend their nearly three weeks of R&R in Tuscany and surrounding areas. Before they headed off the next morning with a rented car, Dan was sitting in their room on one of the two chairs, the telephone on the table. Smoking a cigarette, he was deeply in thoughts.

Vadim returned from the bathroom after a spot of shaving and grooming, towel wrapped around his hips. "What's wrong?"

"Not wrong, just wondering." Dan looked up, stubbing the cigarette out in the ashtray. "Do you think I should phone Duncan?"

"Sure, why not. I'm sure he'd like a regular catch-up."

"Aye, he's been asking me when we come for a visit. Told him on next R&R most likely." Running a hand through his wild hair, Dan stretched out his legs, eyes on Vadim. "I just wonder ... should I tell him about Kisa? In a way I think he's got a right to know. He helped me set up the trust - without asking questions - and she is, after all, his niece. On the other hand, he'll never see her, so where is the point?"

"Are you going for the all-out story or a sanitised version? It's a blood relation, but ... not easy." Vadim leaned against the wall.

"No one will get the all-out story." Dan frowned, "just as little or as much as no one will ever get our complete story."

"What do you want? What's your gut feeling?"

"I am not sure, even though somehow I think that he'd want to know. Remember when he asked me to tell him about my life and then he asked us to tell him about ours? I think he wants to know who I am, who we are."

Vadim nodded. "Then tell him. It'll explain the trust, and much else. Depending on how he takes it, you can add more. Having a child in a country far away. That shouldn't shock him too much."

"I don't want to lie either, though. Any idea how I can come up with a sanitised version that is still the truth?"

"What about - it just happened? You were ... both ... mourning. Afterwards, you felt guilty or something, both you and her, and that has spoilt the whole thing and turned it bitter."

"I don't feel guilty." Dan shook his head, the frown deepening. "That's the last thing I want him to think." Running the hand through his hair again, "Fuck."

"What about ... she met some other guy who doesn't like you or want you around?"

Dan heaved a sigh. "Don't know, doesn't feel right either. Maybe I just pick up the phone and wing it?"

"Or that." Vadim smiled and stepped closer, placing a hand on Dan's shoulder, gently massaging the tight muscle underneath.

"Alright, then." Dan moved his head for a moment, so that he touched Vadim, before reaching for the phone. "Here goes nothing."

Vadim sat down on the bed, watching, being there, hoping that his presence wouldn't make things more difficult. "Give him greetings, and to his wife and kids."

"Aye." Dan smiled at him, then dialled the number and waited for the ring tone. Partly hoping that no one was home, and mostly cursing himself for those cowardly thoughts. His brother had to know, but how was he going to tell him ... he'd just have to go with the flow.

"Hello?" It was Mhairi's voice on the phone.

"Hi Mhairi," Dan smiled at the phone, concentrating. "How are you?" Exchanging a few pleasantries and telling her where they were, how nice Rome was, that they should visit, too, and that Vadim was sending his best wishes, looking forward to the next visit when they were on R&R again, and so on and so forth. Eventually, after a few minutes, during which she gave a quick update on the family, including the boys, Dan asked if he could talk to Duncan and she laughed, because she had expected him to ask anyway, pleasantly surprised that he had chatted with her for a while. She sent her best wishes back to Vadim and went off to get Duncan.

"Well, that wasn't so bad for starters." Dan murmured towards Vadim, hand over the receiver.

Vadim grinned. "No, sounded pretty natural."

Before Dan could say anything else, his brother picked up the phone. "What a rare honour!" Duncan laughed into the phone, mocking, "what do you want me to do for you?"

"Hey!" protesting, Dan grinned, "just because I phone you doesn't mean I have a job for you to do. What happened to me, your brother, phoning you, to say 'hello'?"

"What happened? The fact that you never do that?"

Dan could hear the amusement in his brother's voice. "Damn, do I have to say 'gotcha', now?"

"Possibly, depends on if you want me to do something or not."

"I don't actually." Dan fished for a cigarette, glancing at Vadim, before concentrating once more on the conversation. "But do you remember the last job I asked you to do?"

"Which of the many ..." Duncan groused, before he added, "the trust? Aye, why? You never told me what it was for ..."

"And you never asked." Dan quickly slipped in.

"I figured you'd tell me if you felt you should."

"Aye, thanks for that." Smiling, Dan lit the fag. "That's why I should tell you what it was for, or rather for whom."

"Go on." Duncan seemed to settle in, while Dan glanced at Vadim again. He took a deep breath, trying to figure out how best to breach the subject and decided to just barge ahead. He wasn't born for diplomacy and would just fuck things up if he tried.

"It's for my daughter." Dropping the bomb.

"Your what?"

"My daughter. Your niece."

"My what?"

The incredulity in Duncan's voice almost made Dan laughed, but he bit his lip. While it felt hysterically funny it wasn't funny at all.

"Your niece. Kisa. She is two and a half years old." Ignoring the sounds Duncan was making, Dan kept ploughing on. "She is the child of Vadim's ex-wife and ... well, obviously, me." Dan cringed, even forgetting to smoke his cigarette. Looking across at Vadim as if searching for help, when the sounds from Duncan became louder.


"Girl. Kisa. Two and a half. Lives in Hungary. Born to one Katya Krasnorada. Your niece." Dan took another deep breath, averted his eyes from Vadim and added, with a vibrating intensity in his voice. "I was the sperm donor."

"You what?"

"Oh hell, Duncan, can you say anything other than 'what'?"

"No." Came the voice from the other end of the phone. "I can't. Holy shit." Swearing, it always caught Dan out when his brother did that. Reserved for special occasions, and no doubt this was one of them. "But you're gay."

"Aye." Dan sighed. "That I am."

"And what do you mean with 'sperm donor'? Artificial insemination? And for the ex-wife of your partner?" The incredulity in Duncan's voice was growing again. 'Partner' was the most natural part of the whole thing, it seemed, the only bit where he didn't appear to stumble in disbelief.

"I know." Dan groaned.

"You know what?"

"For fuck's sake, Duncan," Dan raised his voice, "anymore 'what' and I am going to bloody well scream!"

"I'll bloody well join you then, won't I? Because your whole bloody story makes no bloody sense, does it? Or what would it sound to you if I told you anything that farfetched?"

"I'd tell you to fuck off and spin your fairy tales somewhere else?" Dan deflated, shoulder sagging and he exhaled, looking forlorn at the cigarette that had burnt down to the filter, forgotten between his fingers.

"Aye. Exactly."

For a younger brother, Dan felt, Duncan clearly had the upper hand right now, if not always - and with ease. But he said nothing.

"And that's why I think you should start from scratch again." Duncan continued, "or would a simple interrogation be easier?"

"Guess so." Dan looked at Vadim, facial expression pained and he shrugged.

"Right, then. When did it all happen?"

"A bit over three years ago."


"In Hungary."

"Why? And don't come back to me with that 'sperm donor' thing. I do remember, from what you and Vadim told me, that three years ago Vadim was imprisoned. Your story doesn't make sense."

"But it's the truth. Just not ... in the way you imagine."

"Then tell me. Tell me how I should imagine gaining a niece without knowing about it, from a brother who is gay."

"Just because I'm gay doesn't mean I don't function." Quickly adding, "with women."

"I get that, now tell me how it really was. Or I'll hound you with that question until your last days."

"You have a sadistic streak, Duncan, you know that?"

"Takes one to know one."

Dan looked up, visibly jerked. "Ouch."

A pause, before Duncan conceded, voice softer than before, "I'm sorry, Dan, I'm just ... it's hard to digest, aye? Give me a chance, give us a chance, we're your family and thus hers, too. I think we deserve to know the how and why, don't you?"

"Aye." Dan answered quietly, eyes on Vadim. Looking, intensely, when he took a fortifying breath. "I tell you the how and why, then."

Vadim stood, placed a hand on Dan's shoulder, but just for a moment. He didn't want to hear it. If Dan remained this brutally honest, he really didn't. He headed into the bathroom and closed the door to get dressed. A little later, without stopping to listen, he left the hotel room.

"I went to Hungary to see Vadim's ex-wife. I needed her to convince Vadim's father to deliver a coded message. Before ... before the execution." Dan was looking out of the window but didn't see anything. Not even the brilliant sunshine. "Vadim didn't even know that I was still alive. I figured they would have told him they got me, killed me, anything, really, to break him." Which they did, in the end, but except for a shudder, invisible to his brother at the other end of the phone, Dan didn't allow himself to let anything on. "Thing is, though, Vadim's ex-wife ... well, guess you could say she blames me for everything. The fact that Vadim was imprisoned in the first place, and probably for her well-laid plans not working out. I messed it all up, didn't I?" Dan trailed off, pausing long enough for his brother to interject.

"Did she tell you that?"

"Aye. And somehow, with a part of me, I can't blame her. The other part ... three years ago, knowing that Vadim would be executed, I wasn't in a state to deal with her ..." hatred, "attitude."

"Then why ..."

Dan interrupted immediately, "... did she want me as a sperm donor? Not sure." He shrugged, "revenge? Taking something from me that Vadim would never have? I have no idea. It was all too twisted to make sense to me back then. I guess she just wanted another child. She told me that an artificial insemination had failed, I guess I was simply convenient."

"I don't understand how she got you to comply, though." Duncan's voice was soft and Dan sensed the warmth, without noticing it consciously.

"Blackmail. That simple." When Duncan gasped, Dan continued, "remember, I needed her to do something for me. Convince Vadim's father to give him the coded message when they allowed him to visit his son before ..." the execution. He'd said it too many times, and he couldn't say it another one. The dread was coming back up, like bile, like something rotten that he'd eaten and that would never quite digest. Remembering what it had felt like, the utter desperation and the pain. It was all over now. All over ... and yet every time Vadim screamed in the night it got him right back there. But he refused to acknowledge it.

He'd been silent for too long, and Duncan asked quietly, "and in return she wanted you to donate for a child?"

"Aye. Just ... it wasn't a sample."

It took a moment for Duncan to settle in, but when he seemed to understand what his brother was implying, a softly exhaled, "oh God, Dan!" came through the phone.

"I told you, I can function with women." Dan murmured, shaking his head. "I didn't know that it was successful until a few months ago. She sent me photos and a letter, telling me I had a daughter." He paused, adding, "funny, that, because she'd told me I wasn't allowed to contact her if it was successful, and that she'd claim I'd raped her, if I did."

"Oh my Holy God!" Duncan exclaimed, and before Dan could react, Duncan's voice became intense, and so full of feeling, Dan wasn't sure how to decipher it. Anger? Sorrow? Understanding? "Dan, I wish you were here and not just at the other end of a phone. I really would like to see you, talk to you, ply you with whisky and for Mhairi to feed you with her cooking. And give you a goddamned big hug!"

Dan smiled, touched by the sentiment. "It's alright, even though I can always do with the whisky and the food." And the rest, if he was honest. "I'm okay now."


"Well ... we were in the Balkans when the photos arrived. Vadim ... I'd never told him."

"Oh goodness, and how did he react?" The emotion was audible through the phone.

"Badly." Dan smiled wryly, to no one. "Let's just say, it was a rough time." Some things, he figured, should remain classified. There was no need for his brother to know.

"And now?"

"He's alright, now. He understands that I didn't ..." did what? "Betray him." What a silly little word for such a heartbreaking pain. "We even went to Hungary together, and he had a word with his ex-wife. He delivered the trust that you set up for me. Oh, and I saw Kisa, but of course she had no idea who I was."

"What is she like?"

"Beautiful." Dan smiled. "Looks a lot better than I do."

"That's easy." Duncan chuckled warmly.

"You bastard." Thankful for the light-hearted diversion, Dan smiled.

"Well, she is a few years younger than you, aye?"

"And has no scars. I know, I know."

"I didn't mean that." The warmth seemed to have become part of Duncan's voice now.

"I know." Dan answered, softly.

"Are you going to fight?" Duncan asked after a pause.

"For what?"

"To see your daughter."

"No." Dan shook his head, looking at his scarred hand. "I was thinking about that, and talked to Vadim. What good would it do? The whole thing is a great big mess, and you don't know that woman, she's ... fearsome?" The sound at the other end indicated that Duncan thought something very different about her. Very much less flattering. "She'd fight back, and while I might have a chance, would I really want to fight the notion that I raped her?" Too close, and he had to push the thought away. "Besides, don't you think that the one who'd suffer most in a legal and emotional battle like this would be Kisa?"

"Aye," Duncan conceded, "I guess you are right."

"I am, and you know it." Dan smiled ruefully. "Besides, what would I tell her who I am? An uncle? A stranger who happened to look like her? A sperm donor? You know as much as I do, that I am not like you. I'm not father material, and least of all with the job we do."

Duncan didn't say anything for a while, just the faint sound of the grandfather clock ticking away in the hallway, where the phone stood, and his barely audible breathing. "But you would like to?" At last, hardly more than a soft murmur.

Dan didn't ask what that was. He knew it, knew what Duncan meant and remained unspoken. Hanging his head, he closed his eyes, remembering the little girl that had laughed as she ran into her much older brother. The photos of the kid with the impish smile, and the miracle that that was his daughter. The one thing that would never be spoiled, and the one thing that was everything but destruction. "Aye." At last, softly, while exhaling a breath he hadn't realised he was holding. "I would. But it's better that way."

"Have I ever told you that you are a damn fine man and that I am proud to have you as my brother?" Duncan's voice carried all his feelings. Despite distance and phone, Dan could just see his smile.

"I ... don't know?" Forced to clear his throat, Dan quickly wiped his eyes and cleared his throat once more. Trying to get rid of the big lump in his throat. "But it only proves that you are insane." Steering into the safety zone of banter.

"That's alright, then, because you're no better."

"I guess you have a point." Taking another deep breath, Dan smiled, running a hand through his hair. He felt as if something inside had lifted, and by sharing, the load had become lighter.

"Those pictures ..." Duncan asked, "you think you could send us a copy? We might never meet her, but it would be good to see a photo of our niece, at least."

"Sure, I'll make a photocopy, there must be a shop around here. It's Rome, after all." Not realising he had admitted to carrying them around, and Duncan did not comment, either.

"You think we should tell our sons that they have a cousin?"

"Not sure, to be honest, it's not likely they'll ever meet her, and how would you explain the whole story?"

"I guess you are right, I'll only tell Mhairi, then. And, I'm looking forward to the pictures. I really am."

"I'll make sure they go out to you before we head back to the Balkans."

"Thank you." Duncan's smile was audible. "Dan, you take care of yourself, will you?"

"Aye, always."

"And of Vadim."

"That as well."

"And ..."

"Duncan!" Dan let out a huff of soft laughter, "you are my little brother, don't forget that. So stop treating me as if you were my dad."

"Sorry, habit. What with the boys and the animals ..."

"In which order?"

"That's enough!" Duncan laughed, then trailed off, to finish, voice warm, "take care, brother. I am looking forward to your next R&R."

"Aye, until then."

Dan smiled a little when he put the phone down. Sitting in the chair for a long, long time, without moving.

Eventually, the door opened, and Vadim arrived, carrying a white plastic bag. "What about 'gelato'?" he asked, almost comic in trying to mimic the Italian sounds, and it made Dan grin. He put the bag down and opened it, revealing two huge cups with ice-cream. "I got several different flavours." Finding the plastic spoons in the bag. "Did it go well?"

"Aye." Nodding, Dan rolled is shoulders and stretched his legs. He'd been sitting in that chair for too long. Still, dessert was more important. "Very well. He asked if they could get a copy of the photos. We need to find a shop before heading off."

"The hotel should have a photocopier."

Dan smiled a little, leaning across to look at the haul. "Did you get chocolate and vanilla?"

"And strawberry. I think. They don't translate the flavours for tourists."

"You're my saviour, then." Leaning back, with the large tub of ice-cream on his knees, Dan smiled at Vadim. "I didn't ask you beforehand, but are you alright with Duncan knowing?"

"I'm okay." Vadim carefully unwrapped his tub. "Family is important, especially on your side. Duncan has a right to know. I just ... didn't want to hear it."

"Okay, I understand that." Tucking into his ice cream, Dan made a face of ecstasy. "I'm quite glad that you didn't, in fact." Talking around a mouthful of cold goodness.

"Yes, I thought it would be awkward." Vadim tried to work out what a white, creamy flavour was, then eventually decided it had to be coconut.

"At least you don't hit me anymore, aye?" Dan winked before shovelling another large mouthful in.

"Unless you want me to." Vadim grinned. "But I guess you don't."

"I'm not Hooch." Dan let out a laugh and had to catch a couple of drops of ice-cream. Should have kept his mouth shut. Literally. "Speaking of whom, have you heard from him lately?"

"No, he's busy. Don't forget he's still in active service. Not sure either he's the type to call or send long letters." Vadim shrugged. "Not that I'd mind, though. I like him."

"Mmmmmm ..." Melting then swallowing a particularly rich mouthful of chocolate flavour, Dan tilted his head. "A lot, aye?"

Vadim shrugged. "Yes."

"I know." Going for the vanilla this time, Dan let it melt on his tongue before continuing. "And I'm damn lucky you like me just that bit more, and that there's also Matt."

"It's a strange feeling", Vadim murmured, setting the tub aside. "Not nearly as intense as with you. I can't even define it."

"You got a crush on him, because he gives you something else that I don't, and because he is bloody sexy, and because he is very much your type, what with the dark hair and eyes and the dangerous aura," rolling his own eyes to prove his point, "and you miss him." Dan smiled, looked at Vadim, "that's how I would define it." Before putting another scoop of ice cream into his mouth.

Vadim gave a long, drawn-out sigh. "You started it. I wouldn't have fucked with him if you hadn't pushed me that way."

"Hey! Don't blame me, Russkie. You wanted him, you just didn't know how to accept that." Dan shrugged, put the almost empty tub down as well. "If you hadn't gone for it back in the Gulf, you would have always wondered what it would have been like and if only ..."

"Damn. How strange that I'm with you and there's still a fucking ache for another guy? Is that similar to your Jean-thing? Only that he's not at all like me."

"Ache?" Dan frowned a little and shook his head. "No, if I don't see him I don't see him, but if I do then it's great. I'm not in love with him."

"You're lucky, just enjoying these guys and doing that in a friends-only manner. It's ... all fine for me, the strangers, Jean, Beauvais ... but Hooch. He's different, and it'll be best if he sticks to Matt. Because ... our thing is non-negotiable."

"Fuck." Dan stared at Vadim, eyes dark and wide. "You really are in love with him."

"I don't know. I honestly don't. Much of the time, my emotions are ... flat. And dark. I don't know, Dan. I only know that it ... could have been, if it wasn't for you, if I weren't so fucking broken, and if he was ready for ... more. And all three together ... make anything else pretty much impossible, you know?"

"Fuck." Dan was visibly shaken, and he got off the chair, pacing the room, just to expend his energy, to do something. "I was an idiot, then."

"And I shouldn't have said anything." Vadim shook his head. "Understand that I can't live without you. You ... keep me on course. You're getting me through all this. You're there when ... all I want is to ... end those nightmares." Managed not to speak of suicide. "When I can't go on. You're there. You've always been there, Dan. Hooch ... won't break that. How could he, anyway?"

"So that's what I am about? Keeping you together?" Dan turned to face Vadim, and he was pale under the tan. "Keeping you alive? What the fuck happened to the touches in the cave, to the vows and the cutting, to the one fucking big thing that isn't about need and doing but about being? What the fuck happened to the love?" He shook his head, agitated, and damn, this was painful all of a sudden. "I don't want to be needed. I want to be loved, for fuck's sake."

Emotions jumbled, a chaos that was whirling all around him, getting worse, constricting his vision and breath, leaving him nauseous, a mere passenger of his own body, his own mind. Vadim began to sweat, tried to focus, closed his eyes for a moment, but couldn't stand not seeing. Konstantinov, he thought, would be so proud. Fucking him up, his mind, his emotions, and even getting to the point where the foul touch could reach the thing between Dan and him. He shouldn't have said any of that, should have diverted away from Hooch, not answered any of the questions - only that these things had been under the surface, silent and mighty, like rocks in a river. Worst of all, he didn't have an answer. He couldn't distinguish anymore between need and love. Like the doctor had warned him. Was this the moment? When everything came apart? Vadim shuddered, feeling the bile rise. The sudden, almighty fear to lose Dan. Not lose him to sunny Jean, but to his own darkness. Konstantinov would finally manage to kill him. "They ... I ..." I died. They died. Did they?

"You what, Vadim? What?" Hands in fists behind his back, Dan felt like shaking, anything to express the horror that was creeping up inside. That he'd been wrong. That he'd been making a fool of himself; that he hadn't wanted to see what was so unspeakably dreadful, and it made him sick to the bone.

"I'm ... losing my mind", Vadim said. "I'm ... losing myself, and there's ... nothing I can do about it." He turned, had to leave, because he knew what would come next - the vomiting, the sweating, the crying, and he had to get away, try and not let it happen. Keep ... his pride? His integrity. His sanity.

Dan reached out, his hand clamped around Vadim's wrist. "No, you are not leaving. You are not doing this shit to me, you get it? Just fucking not." Fingers closing merciless around cartilage and bone. "If you are losing your mind, then you are bloody well going to do something about it, or why the fuck did we go see Dr Williams before we went to the Balkans?"

"Fooling myself that I'm not going insane", Vadim pressed out, fighting the instinct to fight, fighting the instinct to vomit and curl up. "He said ... that might happen. Exactly this. I can't. I can't allow that to happen. I can't lose you."

"Because you need me or because you want me?" Raising his voice, Dan held the wrist so tightly, he was close to breaking it, causing Vadim to struggle to take the pressure off, but it was half-hearted, weak. "I am not your carer, Vadim. That's just fucking sick. I am your lover. Remember?"

"Both. I need ... both. I know, I hate it myself, I feel so fucking weak and useless and desperate, feel absolutely pathetic." Vadim met his eyes, the blue blurred and dark. "How much I hate myself for that ..."

"Then you got to do something about it. You got to see Dr Williams. Fuck the Balkans, the job, forget it. You got to do something about this shit, you can't walk around hating yourself, because if you hate yourself there is no fucking way you can love me. And you don't, or do you? I don't think you do. Not like you used to." Dan's eyes were almost black. "Or you would have never reacted the way you did, back in camp. Beating the shit out of me. And Hooch, fuck, falling in love with him." Dan shook his head violently, "you are fooling yourself. You don't need both, you need the carer. You can have the lover in someone else now. Can't you?"

"No. No, Dan." Vadim felt frantic, feared Dan would hit him and tell him to fuck off and leave. He had no idea what was going on, only that it was huge and terrible, and that he couldn't deal with it. "Don't. Fucking don't. Please."

"I love you, don't you fucking see that?" Dan was desperate, grabbing hold of the second wrist, shaking Vadim. "But how can I do that if you can't love me? If you need me instead of love me? If you fall in love with someone else, while expecting me to keep you together? How the fuck is that going to work? It fucking hurts, you understand? And I don't know what the fuck to do about it, because I can't just switch off and stop loving you. It doesn't work like that. It'll never happen, you get me? I tried that shit, several times already, but there's no fucking way I'll ever not love you and that fucking hurts like fucking shit when you're someone I don't recognise anymore!" He was almost shouting by now.

Vadim allowed himself to be shaken, he'd have taken any amount of abuse, hitting, kicking, more angry shouting, wrestling his demons at the same time, trying to not completely lose it. "I know ... I'm not ... that. What I was. I'm ... my own ... pathetic shadow."

"No, you're not. You are still there, but if you tell yourself that often enough it'll come true. And if you really believe it, then do something about it, do you hear me?" Close now, so close, Vadim's face was blurred before Dan's eyes. Wrists in the vice grip, as if he'd never again let go, as if he'd need to anchor himself, Vadim, keep him from moving even further away. "Or is this what you want? Me, keeping you together, like a goddamned motherfucking amateur shrink, because it's more convenient? Because I will always be around? And because someone like Hooch can't or won't do it? Because you two haven't got the past that we share and you don't wear his scar and he's just not as convenient as I am?"

"No!" The sound was so desperate it was closer to a roar. The accusations. Speaking things that hurt, worse than being kicked around on the floor of a barren cell. As bad as having his mind vivisected, because this was Dan who did it, not an enemy, but right now, the distinction paled. Right now, Dan was an aggressor, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Wrenching his guts. Vadim moved into the attacking body, managed to hit Dan's chest with both elbows to free his hands, the attack desperate and surprising enough, it got Dan off balance, stumbling backwards. Vadim feeling stress so severe he could feel the veins throb in his brain, painfully. Sweating like he'd run a marathon.

Dan hit the chair in his back, almost toppled over when the chair clattered to the floor, and he twisted his knee in the process, howling in pain. "You will not hit me again!" Dan shouted, seeing red, nearly out of his mind with emotions so extreme and deep, it was like being skinned alive. "You will never hit me again!" Propelling forwards, shouldering into Vadim, who, by skill alone, took only half the attack, turning, twisting out of the way, finally free, finally could move, and that was what he had to do, desperate to get out of the way. Shadow of his former self. The old Vadim would have stood and fought. But he couldn't. With only a few steps, he was at the door, very nearly shouldered into it, managed to open it and was through, breaking into a full-out run towards the staircase.

Dan took after him, but had crashed into the bedstead, lost a few seconds, before he followed Vadim, running as fast as he could, but getting down the stairs with his fucked-up knee was a killer, and he kept losing more and more precious seconds, while Vadim gained in distance. He got through the main entrance, ignoring the bewildered stares of patrons, when Vadim was already out on the street, too far for him to catch, not with that knee that was throbbing like a beast. Shouting at the top of his lungs, in his most impressive, earth-shattering Drill Sergeant voice: "I order you to stop, Vadim Petrovich Krasnorada!"

Hearing the shout behind him, Vadim slowed, turned, safe distance, seeing Dan there, his thoughts still a jumble. He didn't want to fight. Didn't want to hit Dan, didn't just want to accept getting beaten up. Now, ordered. Go back and get hit? Accused? Forced? Vadim was breathing hard, but he stopped. He had no fucking idea where to run, anyway. He'd left his wallet and his passport in the hotel room.

People were staring at them, but Dan ignored everyone and everything else, except for Vadim. Fighting hard to get himself under control, the adrenaline was making his heart hammer against his ribs. Forcing himself to calm down, with all the strength of his willpower unclenching the fists and opening his hands, palms up. Starting to walk, slowly, he limped towards Vadim, never taking his eyes off him, never increasing his speed.

Vadim stood there, eyes blurring again, lowering his head. Carer. Lover. Was it really that much of a difference? Dan called the shots, he had no idea what to do without Dan. Sooner or later, he'd come back anyway. Why not take whatever Dan gave him for keeping him alive and very nearly sane. Vadim forced tears back, blinking, standing there and fighting the profound despair that just took him in every sense. The darkness had him fully. Immobilised him, immobilised any other feeling.

"I need your help, here." Dan forced himself to keep his voice low and smooth. Forced himself to once again, again, ignore what he was feeling. To once again realise it was not about him, and never would be. All about Vadim, and that would never change. If that was his fate, what chance did he have to rebel against it? "I need you to tell me that you will never hit me again, aye? And I need you to tell me that you won't run, because I can't follow." Standing close, still ignoring anyone else on that busy street. Not touching, though. "And I need you to tell me the truth. I need you to tell me if there is any love left in you."

"Of course." Vadim's voice was unsteady, breaking on every syllable. "I'd have killed myself if there wasn't."

"Okay." Dan nodded, swallowing. "Come with me?"

"Yes." Vadim followed, head down, eyes on the ground, couldn't see anything, didn't want to, too trapped in the chaos inside.

Dan got them back into the hotel and into their room. Hardly acknowledging anyone, just a nod to the concierge. He didn't know what to think, let alone what to feel. Once he'd managed to negotiate the stairs he sat heavily down on the bed. He needed his painkillers, but couldn't be bothered to search his soap bag for them. "Have you got the route for tomorrow?"

Route. Tomorrow. Vadim stood there, dumbfounded, for at least a minute. Then nodded. "Right under the travel guide." He reached up to wipe his face, not surprised that it came back drenching wet. What now? Dan wouldn't ask for the route and hit him afterwards, that made no sense. The fight was over? Was it? He felt weakened and nauseous, and his clothes were wet. But he couldn't even think the word shower, he was nailed to the spot.

"Thanks." Dan forced himself to smile, feeling like an automaton. He was so lost, he had no idea where he was going right now. Knew the route, but not his life, and least of all Vadim. "I have a look in a minute." Hiding his hand, because it was trembling. "Want to take a bath? I could do with one."

"Yes." Eager to clutch any straw, whatever Dan offered him. "I'll start it. A moment, okay?" He turned, feeling stiff and wooden, entered the bathroom that still smelled of shaving cream, closed the door, managed to get to the toilet, then threw up so violently that it was painful. His guts, everything, his whole body rebelling against the stress. Sweaty palms clutching the rim of the toilet. He didn't hear how the door quietly opened, nor when Dan came inside, hardly noticing the sound of running water, then a shuffle, laborious movements, until Dan was beside him, on the tiled floor, pressing a cold, wet towel against his forehead, which was a godsent. Dan's other hand, fingers spread, between his shoulder blades. Dan said nothing, just sat on his hip, forehead resting against Vadim's shoulder, as Vadim's body retched a few more times, but not much coming out but saliva and bile. Breathing heavily, Vadim closed his eyes, waiting for the nausea to come back so he could prepare for it. His throat hurt, his stomach hurt, and bile and ice-cream was a horrible combination.

The hand in his back moved in small, gentle circles. Massaging, while the other wiped his forehead, went down to his neck, cooling there, finally back to his forehead. Warmer now, but still refreshing. The presence beside Vadim one of infinite patience. Just there. Steady. Undemanding. Just existing. Right there and beside him, touching.

Vadim managed to relax. "Get off the cold tiles ... your knee." He reached back, touching Dan's side. "I'm so fucking ... sorry. I don't deserve you. I don't."

"That's bullshit." Dan lifted his head, the hand still massaging. "I think we deserve each other very much." Quietly, he offered a small smile. Exhausted, deflated, and a thousand things more that he couldn't even name. And lost. Very much lost.

Vadim turned, he felt it was safe to no longer face the toilet, well, he'd just risk it, and opened his arms, pulling Dan into an embrace. Didn't even know where to begin to understand what had just happened. Still hurting, but too exhausted, too fatalistic, to do anything but hold Dan.

They sat like this for a long, long, time. Until the air grew cold and the stone tiles icy, and until Dan's body protested with stiffness and increasing aches. Sitting, in silence, just holding, and unable to make sense, when the only thing that made sense was the touch.

Special Forces Chapter XXXXXI: Active Duty
Warning for Readers

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

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

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

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


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Published 10 October 2008