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Special Forces Chapter XXXXXII: Smoke Without Fire

June 1993, the Balkans

Dan was whistling to himself, cigarette in one hand, the other in the pocket of his BDUs. "Well, that's settled then."

Vadim looked up. He'd been writing something into a notebook that he now closed and slipped into his thigh pocket. "What is settled? Any dirty tricks going on without my knowledge?"

"You wish, aye?" Grinning, Dan flopped himself down into the only other chair. "We're going to this nice restaurant in Belgrade we've been to before. Dima's coming as well. Oh, and Maurice can't." Giving away more than he intended to with a flash of a smirk, "but I invited Markus."

"Really?" Vadim leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. "I guess we only really need one medic. A surgeon might be … ah, overkill."

"Aye, that was my thought, too, or would you want to listen to medical bullshit all night?" Grinning from ear to ear, Dan took a last drag before extinguishing his fag. "Besides, Maurice is the most convinced bachelor of all bachelors. He likes his full pick of all available genders, types, ages and chances too much." Chuckling, Dan stretched his arms behind his back and rolled his neck. "Not that I'm implying anything, of course, nor have an ulterior motive …"

"Markus?" Vadim shook his head. "You're throwing the poor bastard to the wolves?"

"Poor bastard? Oh come on!" Dan stood up to stretch some more. The day had been hard on his knee, but the latest shot was still holding. "That guy's been dealing with bigger bastards than any of us ever encountered, so I guess he can hold his own against a poor wee medic from good old Russia and little old us. Aye?"

"Hm." Vadim didn't seem convinced at that. "I don't want to ruin the fun for you, but apart from a convenient source of sex, what does he have to offer?"

"Who, Markus?" Pulling his shirt over his head, Dan stopped half-way.

"Damn. Good question." Vadim paused, frowning. Who was he to protect Dima? From Markus? Ridiculous thought. He liked the man, Dan had introduced them over a nice dinner, but the Austrian wasn't dangerous at all. Dima was, but he was also the guy he cared more about. A whole deal more.

"Well." Dan pulled the shirt off completely, and threw it onto the dirty laundry pile. "How old is Dima?"

"About my age."

"Markus is thirty-five. Hardly a kid." Dan shrugged, "frankly, I don't expect them to say anymore than 'good day' to each other because they have nothing in common, but humour me, okay? I'm bored, I want good food and good drink, and, if I can help it, good company. Maurice is a great guy, but he fucks anything that moves, and that makes conversation in a group a bit tedious, when you know he's just out to get laid again." Dan added with a grumble, "and damn, if only I had realised the arsehole thought I was straight."

"Or he'd have joined your harem?" Vadim smiled to take the sting out of his words. It was just strange - Dan seemed to take every opportunity, positively drew anybody compatible towards him, and, without much further ado, had sex with him, whereas he … well, being in Dan's close proximity meant he got a lot more sex with a lot more different partners than he'd ever anticipated. And he wasn't complaining.

Dan grimaced and grinned simultaneously, "I'm too old for bloody complications, but at the time you were hardly a source of sex. You didn't even talk to me." Adding with a smile, "bastard." He shook his head, "anyway, the remaining two mates are Markus and Dima, so sod it all, let's see how things go, at least we'll have food, booze, and good conversation."

"I liked the restaurant. Good meat dishes." Vadim winked.

"Hey, you get your meat right here, aye? Enough inches of prime Scots beef for you to feast upon." Dan produced his cheesiest grin while flexing his chest muscles. "And we've got about half an hour to get going."

Vadim gave a laugh, but his eyes fixed on Dan's groin. "Does that translate to 'blow me'?" Keeping his eyes right on the shape of Dan's cock under the cloth.

"In under ten minutes? How young do you think I am?" Grinning, Dan stepped closer, until he could reach out and touch Vadim's hair, with Vadim's eyes only then meeting his. "Or are you trying to make sure that I have really no interest in anyone tonight?"

Vadim grinned. "Maybe. Or should we keep the thought until afterwards? We can always take the other guy with us if the hook-up doesn't work."

"For once I'm not opting for the instant gratification but vote for keeping the thought till later." Dan smiled, fingers carding through Vadim's short air. "I may be turning into an old git, but hell, you never know what happens tonight, and I might not fire my cannon twice."

Vadim shook his head. "Greedy. Two Russians and an Austrian. Ever hopeful, aye?"

"You know that I am. That's why you love me, right?"

"Apart from being the man who takes me apart during sex and puts me back together? Yes." Vadim had turned away while speaking, casually looking for civilian clothes, in this case the slightly more upmarket outdoor gear that passed as civilian in these quarters.

"Well." Dan smiled, more touched than he wanted to let on, "that's alright, then." He fiddled with his trousers and they fell down to his ankles a moment later. Baring all, as usual, and he was even considerate enough to turn around and present his arse to Vadim as he bent down to open and discard his boots. "I'll grab a shower, won't be a sec."

Vadim felt his guts tighten in that good way, but it might indeed be good to 'keep that thought'. The alternative was to jump Dan and do it anyway. Not that he cared much for either Markus or Dima if he could have Dan. Truth be told, he didn't need the 'change of scenery' or whatever it was that drew Dan to recruit as many providers of sex as possible. Unless it was Hooch, but Hooch was in a different category, and on a different continent. "Okay. I'll get dressed."

Less than ten minutes later Dan reappeared. Hair towelled dry, the wet towel clinging around his hips, and slightly shivering. It might be May, but it wasn't that balmy yet, definitely not in the evening. "Anything in particular you want me to wear?" He grinned as he hung the towel over the radiator in the room. Knowing damned well that while he didn't care nor knew any better regarding his outfits, Vadim would.

Vadim watched him, eyes all over Dan's body, and knew he was being teased. Comfortable teasing, as if Dan did that in part to entertain him and also because Dan liked that. "I'd keep it low-key. Besides, I'm not sure we packed any of the suits."

"Aye, but what exactly? The light coloured trousers, or the black ones, or the khaki? And what damned top?" Laughing, Dan planted himself in front of Vadim. "You know me, I wear anything in any combination and it makes no difference to me."

Vadim moved forward to place a kiss on the upper edge of scar tissue. "Black. Take the grey jumper with that. That's what I'm in the mood for."

"Your wish is my command." Dan smiled, and so it was. Dressed within the next five minutes, black jeans and grey jumper over black shirt, Dan had his jacket under his arm, waiting for Vadim. "I booked one of the Volvos, and because I'm in an awfully generous mood, I'll do the driving tonight, unless you really do want to stay sober."

"I'd be an easy victim for your nefarious plan if I got drunk. Is that what you're planning? Maybe me at the bottom of your little pile of orgy participants?"

Dan was laughing out loud, "Vadim Petrovich Krasnorada, you should know by now - after all the shit that we've been through - that you'd always be on the top of any orgy pile. So stop fishing for compliments and get your remarkably addictive arse into gear."

"Yessir." Vadim gave a crisp salute and left the room while Dan was zipping up the jacket. "Do we meet them in Belgrade?"

"Aye, at the restaurant." Steering them towards the vehicle park after locking their room, Dan got the keys for one of the inconspicuous Volvos, and they were soon on their way. "By the way," Glancing to the side as he was driving out of camp, "I never quite grilled you properly, did you really not realise that Dima would have been game, back when?"

"No. I considered him a friend … he's not the type that shows it, is he? There were no code words, no longing glances …" Vadim laughed. Romance in a Spetsnaz unit, fucking hilarious. "I was busy appearing straight. And we were already fucking."

"What, fucking, as in fucking? With whom? Hapless recruits? But not with each other?" Dan heaved an exaggerated sigh as he turned the car towards the main road. "Damn! There is some fine porn waiting to be filmed."

"We. You and me."

"Oh …" Dan laughed again, this time with a certain something in his voice.

"Dima joined me when I was sent out into the mountains for counter-insurgency. He was in the unit when you fucked me on patrol."

"He what? Oh fuck." Dan's grin grew a few more proportions.

"Yeah. I was always worried he could see that I was walking a bit stiffly …" Vadim laughed. "Back in the days when you fucked me out of anger, I suppose. It was him that tried to save … what was his name. John, your friend, whom we found, wounded after a fight. And maybe … I don't know. I respected him too much to try it. Out there, you relied on each other. I could only do that kind of thing in Kabul, or one of the camps. Out there, abusive officers sometimes got a bullet in the back."

Dan was nodding to himself at the mention of his old mate, when he glanced to the side again. "Is this the cue that I shouldn't keep prodding?"

Vadim paused. "No. I'm just saying that it wasn't possible in a front line unit. Vanya was different, back then. We'd been together since Tajikistan, getting ready for Afghanistan, near the border."

Dan nodded, said nothing this time, fishing one-handed for his fags instead. Took his time to light one, before he finally asked, "this Vanya, was he an okay guy? A buddy fuck?" Remembering something else, something about Tajikistan, something … but couldn't quite put his finger on.

Vadim's brow was dark. "I think some kind of buddy fuck. He …" Strange, to remember the man after all that time, "was a comrade. He loved a fight. He liked getting beaten, and he liked to fight me. He still lost against me. I was stronger. We were both fucked-up. Shit."

"It's okay." Dan shrugged, smoking his fag while driving, "it's been a damn long time. Can't say I'm sorry I killed him, but can say I'm fucking glad I didn't kill you, and shit, was I close at times." Casting a smile across, to take any darkness away.

Vadim lowered his gaze. Dan had remembered who Vanya had been. The other guy, that night. "I'm … glad, too. He wasn't a good guy, but neither was I. He got his due. I did, too, eventually." He gave a weary smile.

"No you didn't, that's bullshit. You got more than ten lifetimes' worth. And I'm not saying that because I'm biased." Exhaling smoke, the lights of the city became visible in the distance. "It's not about who deserves what. I read The Lord of the Rings a long, long time ago. Bored me stiff, parts of it, but the action was shit hot, and I liked what it was all about. I remember something about who deserves what and that you shouldn't give death to someone thinking they deserve it, because you can't give life to another you think deserves it."

As if there was any cosmic or religious rule that anybody could enforce, Vadim thought. No. It was just about ability, potential, and choice, but morals or right and wrong didn't figure in the equation. "But you are biased, Dan. Not that I mind …"

Smiling at Vadim, Dan flicked the ash out of the window. "Anyway, that's that. The past is the past, no matter how much it affects us, and tonight it's fine food, drink and company. Your spetsnaz days are over, just enjoy an evening without getting shot at. Aye?" He moved his hand from the gear stick to squeeze Vadim's thigh.

Vadim covered Dan's hand on his thigh and thought how very strange it was that something that had started like that could now be like this. All that violence could smoothe out into something so deep and good that it very nearly brought tears to his eyes. He cleared his throat and gazed out of the window. "Yes. An evening with friends."

"Aye, exactly that." Dan was driving on in silence, his hand in Vadim's or on his thigh whenever he didn't have to shift the gear, until they got into Belgrade, navigating the streets towards the restaurant. A miracle that some things still appeared to be normal in a sea of chaos and terror. But anyone needed a semblance of normality, or insanity would take hold. He parked the car close to the place, and looked around. "Seems we are not he first ones." Pointing to a car with conspicuous number plate.

"We should let him decide on the wine. He knows something about that." Vadim scanned the street for Dima, or actually any danger that could suddenly erupt. Old habits. "And be subtle."

"Subtle? I was born subtle." Laughing, Dan threw the cigarette butt onto the street and locked the car door, speeding up to walk beside Vadim. "And just so that this is clear, I haven't started a matchmaking business."

"No. You don't take commission. Yet." Vadim laughed and opened the door for Dan. "After you."

Dan was still grinning when he stepped inside the restaurant, spotting Markus before the waiter approached them. With the rudimentary language he'd already snapped up, he explained that they'd booked a table and one of their friends was already there, pointing at Markus, who got up when they were led to the table.

"Good to see you." Markus smiled and held out his hand, which Dan shook.

"How's the ping-ponging going on in your building?" Dan grinned.

"Don't get me started …" rolling his eyes, Markus turned to Vadim.

"Ping-pong?" Vadim extended a hand and shook Markus', giving a smile when he remembered to smile. Settling in right next to Dan, and pulling the chair closer.

"Snipers and a glass building don't go together too well." Dan grinned, leaning against Vadim for a moment, while Markus chuckled and went back to his pack of cigarettes and the glass of wine.

"That's an understatement, but we would have a lovely view if we didn't have to seal the building with steel sheets." Markus lit a fag, but not before offering one to Dan, who took it.

"Oh." Vadim glanced over his shoulder, expecting Dima, but the medic was nowhere to be seen. Maybe Maurice had put him to good use. That would certainly please him. "I mean, if they really want to shoot you, why not keep the entrance in the scope?"

Markus laughed, giving proof to the same irreverent sense of gallows' humour that Dan usually displayed, "it's too boring, that's why. At least in this building they can play billiards: ricocheting a bullet off a wall might mean you hit the person on the desk across the room."

"If they can't see the effect, it's pointless." Vadim shook his head. "Don't worry. I won't tell them to use a grenade launcher."

Markus laughed, then took a sip of his wine before asking, "So, are we ready to order, or are more people coming?"

"Just Dima. If he can make it. It's unlike him to be late, though. His timing was always pretty good. Normally."

"Dima?" Markus smiled questioningly.

Vadim looked at Dan, who just looked back at him. Yes, why would Dima have featured in their conversation? So he was making the introductions. "He's a ... former comrade", Vadim ventured. "Dimitri Starov, actually. He's a medic."

"Fascinating," Markus offered, "I believe he'll have a lot to tell. You have no idea how much I am looking forward to shutting up tonight."

Dan flicked the ash of his fag into the ashtray, "another fancy to-do?"

"Worse," Markus leaned back, glass in one hand, cigarette in the other, "shaking hands with people you'd … let's just say, you might not wish to be as polite to, as you have to be."

Vadim turned around, keeping an eye on the door, which, eventually opened. Strange to see Dima in a civilian setting. It had been several months, and it seemed surreal, now, to think that, for a long moment, he'd held Dima's life in his hands, and Dima had, without wishing to, eventually joined 'their' side. Dima paused just for a moment, then made eye contact, and Vadim found himself stand up. Worried that Dima would walk back out after the last encounter. On the other hand, the medic was tough and not the type to hold grudges.

"Vadim", said Dima, stepped up close and pulled him into a hug; no kisses, though. Instead, Dima held him tight and close for five heartbeats, then pushed him away, slapping him on the back like the oldest of friends. "Dan." Turning towards Dan, who stood up, offering a hand. "Sorry, I'm a little late. No excuses. I'm just late." His English was fairly good, observed Vadim. He would probably even be able to still strike up a convoluted discussion in Pashtu.

"That's alright, if I had been forced to go through as much paperwork as you did, I'd be sitting in a corner, rocking to and fro with my arms round my knees right now."

Dima grinned. "Don't underestimate Soviet paperwork. The main thing, as Vadim can attest, is remaining consistent with what they want to hear."

"Just like SAS selection." Dan grinned, shaking Dima's hand, before he sat back down, pointing at Markus. "Markus Kaltenbrunn, friend of mine." He smiled as Markus got up, offering Dima his hand as well, which Dima shook.

"Hi. Dima Starov."

Vadim noted that he introduced himself with the short nickname. Already a good sign. Damn. He would have preferred not to know what Dan had planned for both of them.

"Head of the Red Cross delegation around here," Dan continued, "but you don't have to be a POW to get treated by him …" he smirked, while Markus tensed, had the good grace to blush, and threw a glance at Dan that would have killed any other man.

"Oh, really?" Dima, bright spark that he was, gave Markus a much longer look than would have been perfectly fitting or polite. "That's lucky. Because I'm not a POW."

"Well," flustered for a second, Markus looked down, then up, then took a breath and squared his shoulders, pulling himself up to his full height. He towered over Dima, with Dima meeting his gaze, all the time. "I'm glad you're not, because I'm right now off duty, and I'd hate having to skip dinner. I'm ravenous." Looking down at Dima, and for a moment, obvious to all, studying the face.

"There's something about not mixing work with pleasure. I mean, leisure", said Dima.

Vadim spotted the hint of dry irony that betrayed that Dima had made a clever pun and enjoyed having done so. Dima could be very smug indeed, in his strange little ways.

"If you mixed my work with pleasure, that would be … interesting, but not my kind of thing." Markus grinned, still standing. "Then again, Vadim told me you're a medic and used to be spetsnaz, so perhaps we have more in common work-wise than one might think."

Dima grinned and moved towards the only free chair, which was the place right next to Markus, who picked up his cigarette that had been lying forgotten in the ash tray. Dima shed his jacket and hung it over the back, checking the pockets for something. Maybe just keys and papers and likely some packets of pills. "Altruistic professions, hm?"

"Pisces." Markus shrugged, as if that explained everything, and took a last drag from the cigarette before extinguishing it. "Or just a German Literature graduate who applied for a job at an editor's and never got an answer - until three years later, but by that time I had started to enjoy the 'temporary' job at the Red Cross headquarters." He turned his head to look at Dima, grinning, while offering a cigarette, which Dima took. "Serendipity. But you're not going to tell me that spetsnaz are altruistic, or are you?"

"I'm a failed proper surgeon. Adventure, motherland, good IQ test, tough enough, spetsnaz." Which was the shortest version Dima had ever brought his life story to.

Holding a lighter to Dima's cigarette, Markus grinned, "you beat me in the sarcastic quarters."

"More practice." Dima pulled on the cigarette, taking hold of Markus' wrist to steady a flame that didn't need any steadying.

Dan glanced at Vadim, raised his brows, said nothing and just flashed a grin as he shrugged his shoulders. Seemed they'd been forgotten already.

Dima released Markus' wrist and lowered the cigarette for a moment. "And - altruistic? No. Just a much harder job than the other spetsnaz had - with the possible exception of my esteemed team leader." Dima pointed towards Vadim and inhaled some of the smoke.

"Aye," Dan murmured, "and you've got no idea about that patrol."

"Hm?" Markus looked up, as an afterthought, offering the cigarettes to Dan, who refused with a shake of his head.

"Nothing." Dan smiled.

"Vadim was your team leader?" Markus looked from one to the other after placing the packet of fags back onto the table. "If I were a curious man I'd ask you questions now, but since I am not … when did you become spetsnaz and why a failed surgeon?"

"Originally, I'd planned to study medicine after my two years. But I ended up enjoying it, well, if you can 'enjoy' war." Dima grinned. "Instead of taking it easy, I put a lot more in than most others, and my officers decided I should get trained further. Medic courses, spetsnaz, then some specialisations and further medical training. After that, it was a fairly natural progression. I was planning to continue and one day train young medics how to pull the 'tough special forces types' out of the fire and patch up amputated limbs ... operate under some fairly unhygienic circumstances, too."

"Sh...ugar!" Markus exclaimed, "I can just about imagine that. I've seen my fair share of blood and gore, and know the work of my medical team. Thankfully I'm not the one who has to patch people up." Taking his glass to have a sip and only then realising that no one else had a drink. "Oh dear ..." he offered, which Dan quickly picked up on.

"Shall we order?" He smiled brightly, before poking Vadim in the ribs with his elbow, then waving the waiter over.

Vadim grinned. "Same as last time for me."

Dan nodded, and while Vadim joined the conversation, he got wine for all.

Vadim regarded Dima's expression for a moment, which, he assumed, hinted Dima was pleased to have made an impression. "And if you think Dima's bluffing ..." He saw Dima look at him and gave him a smile. "That reminds me of a story when Dima tried to work on a wounded guy - he was from an artillery regiment, I remember that much. The guy's belly had been torn open by a mine. I'm pretty sure it was a mine. The guy was in shock, a complete jabbering idiot because of the stress. He was shouting at Dima, not making a lot of sense, while Dima was working like his own life depended on it. He'd called me over to hold the kid down so he could work. That was the only time I've seen Dima react to anything like that. Remember what you said, Dima?"

Dima grinned, placed his elbow on the table, hand formed into a fist. "I took a handful of his guts and said: 'Hold that for a moment.'"

Vadim laughed. "Aye. That shut him up. He fainted. And with that, Dima could 'work in peace', as he called it."

Markus laughed out loud, leaning back to regard Dima full-on. "You're a man of my heart, and my surgeons would love you. Our best one is only happy when he's drowning in blood, but don't tell that to anyone."

Dima grinned. "I like the battle with death."

"Did you manage to get the soldier through? Or don't you know?" Markus smiled, while Dan sat quietly in a corner, grinning to himself and watching the commotion. Knowing that whatever thought he was keeping for later, it would most probably be for Vadim alone, but he sure as heck didn't mind.

"No idea. Conditions in Kabul might have killed him. Or the transport. I know he stood a chance when I was done with him. That's all we get. A fighting chance."

"We do it somewhat differently. We start when the fighting chances are over. We take what pieces are left and try to hold them in place, to put them back together in the end." Markus finished his wine, "we're just a band aid, but a big one." Smiling at Dima.

"If not the biggest one", Dima said, somewhat pensive, or just very calm. Vadim wasn't quite sure how to read him. "And talking of big, I do need some food. Maurice can exist on a diet of coffee and fags, but I can't."

"Thank fuck. At last." Dan murmured with a grin, while Markus looked up. "Maurice? Do you live with someone?"

Dima took the menu from the waiter, who distributed the other menus around the table, while another waiter came with the wine Dan had ordered. "No. I'm bunking on his couch for the moment. But he's starting to get fed up with me, so I better find a different couch until I have an idea how to pay for my way around."

"I can cover what you need", said Vadim. "I owe you."

"No, Vadim, I owe you, and I'm old enough to solve my own problem, thanks, comrade Major."

Neither Dan nor Markus said anything, but while Dan was thoughtfully smoking his cigarette, Markus had extinguished his, and was looking at the menu. "Has anyone tried the venison?"

"I had the steak last time", said Vadim. "And I'll stick to it."

"The venison does sound good", remarked Dima, glancing over the rim of his menu, the quickest of glances that made him smile while reading the list. "I'll risk it."

"In that case, I shall risk it, too." Markus smiled, putting the menu down.

They ordered, and the evening went on as it had started, with casual chatting that every now and then veered into more serious territory, and it was strange to see Dima so relaxed and natural. He was a completely different man off the battlefield and passed easily as civilian - something, no doubt, that would help him keep a low profile.

Markus was enjoying himself, and Dan kept glancing at him, watching how he chatted animatedly with Dima. He smiled to himself, until he prodded Vadim again. It was past eleven, and he'd had nothing more than a measly glass of wine, knowing they'd have to be on duty for mid-day shift the next day, and knowing … that they didn't seem to be particularly needed right now.

"I think it's time to retire for little old me." Dan grinned at Dima and Markus, before leaning his head for a second against Vadim's shoulder. "Unlike someone here," glaring mockingly at Markus, "I am in my forties, and need my beauty sleep."

"Sure you do." Vadim rolled his eyes, but got the hint, standing up.

Dan grinned, "Truth is, I have to drive, and we're both on shift tomorrow." He waved to the two remaining men, as if he'd always expected them to stay. "I'll give you a tinkle, aye?"

"Aye ..." Markus repeated. "Have a safe drive and a good night." Safe, in these parts, taking on a very different meaning.

Dima was rifling through his jacket, seemed to have located something, but didn't pull it out, then glanced up. "Night. And thanks for the invitation." Smiling at Vadim, who shrugged. "You're welcome."

After a stopover at the entrance, on the way out, Vadim held the door open for Dan, and they were gone.

Markus was watching the door for a moment longer, before reaching for his cigarettes. The second packet of the night. "Have you got time for another drink?" He looked at Dima.

"Sure. I have no appointments tomorrow and nowhere to be." Dima relaxed on the chair and leaned back, feeling sated, tired, and curious, which made a strange combination, but not at all unpleasant. "How come you know Dan?"

"He … picked me up at an embassy function." Offering the cigarettes to Dima, Markus caught the waiter's eyes. "I was bored." A sudden grin crossed his face, "guess I should say, he was even more bored. For me it's part of the job, for him it's torture."

"Being picked up?" Dima paused. "I'm not sure I get the complete meaning of that phrase."

"Well." Markus paused, and his grin was somewhat self conscious. "We met over the buffet and he … don't know how much you know Dan, but he came to the point fairly quickly. We ended up in an empty room, only to be walked on in, with me hiding behind the floor length curtains. It's quite funny in retrospect, but when you have your trousers round your ankles it's really rather horrific."

"Oh." Dan clearly spent his time wisely in this country. Dima pulled a cigarette from the pack, but instead of protesting the 'theft', Markus flicked the lighter, asking, "excuse me for being curious, but are you a friend of Vadim?"

"Comrade, yes. Friend ... I don't know, to be honest. I guess it's not easy to be his friend, even if he cared much for friends."

The waiter arrived to take their orders for more drinks, before Markus could reply, but he picked up the conversation once the man had left. "I don't know Vadim at all. He's Dan's partner, that's for me the most important bit of information. But are you sure he doesn't care about friends?"

"Okay, in his own way, he clearly does." Killing everybody in the house but him, lending a hand, keeping him alive, even if that meant chaining him up like an animal. "But if you look at him, it's all there: emotional detachment, rationalization, compartmentalisation, alienation, it's all there."

"He doesn't seem to be doing any of that with Dan." Markus pulled nicotine deeply into his lungs, thoughtful. "He seemed to me to be, what's the best word … committed? I don't think I've ever seen such an intense relationship."

"I can't tell. I knew him when he was rather different. Married, children, picture-book officer."

"Married?" Markus interrupted, eyes wide.

"Yes. Vadim had ambition, being gay would have killed that ambition. You didn't progress anywhere if you had the wrong ancestors, such as Germans. And the Great War for the Fatherland had ended a while ago ..." Dima grinned. "He knew the rules, and he followed them. I wouldn't have thought he had more depth than that. No, that's not fair. He was always bright, read a lot, but I believed that polished facade. I wouldn't have assumed he'd ... be anything but." And what would he have done if he'd known? Could he have trusted an officer that was actually a traitor? Somebody who'd fooled everybody? But then again, had his own little lies ever made him a traitor? It was a huge, grey area - one that even the Interior Ministry wouldn't have been able to navigate.

Markus looked up when the waiter arrived with their wine, thanking the man, before picking up the glass. "I don't know him well enough to comment." He smiled, raised the glass to his lips, looking at Dima over the rim, "and I don't know you either. Seems to be a Russian thing."

Dima grinned and took the glass. "What, being gay?"

Markus chuckled, took a sip, before he picked up his cigarette once more. "Perhaps that as well, but I'm afraid I'm not Russian, and still gay." Keeping his voice down at the latter, as if he couldn't help being worried about voicing the wrong words. "No, I meant being … intriguing."

"Churchill's riddle in a mystery wrapped in an enigma." Dima grinned, feeling flattered at the younger man's attention.

"You've seen too many WW2 films, or read too many books, Dima." Markus chuckled, leaning back, but the way the name flowed over his tongue was a very comfortable one.

"Can you read 'too many books'? I doubt it. But Churchill was a good judge of character. He got Stalin right."

"No, you can't, and yes, he did." Markus' smile grew deeper, warmer, something in his eyes as he regarded the other, "wish I had my library here with me."

Dima took a sip of the wine. "But me, I'm fairly simply structured. I became a professional soldier to get away from my village - and any rumours."

"Rumours about your sexuality?"

Just one last opportunity to get away from this. Deny everything. But why? Why indeed. "Yes. Joining up was convenient, and I didn't go back for a long time. Always too busy, always working hard, and everybody understood I wouldn't marry during that war. Too much to do, responsibilities ... it's another way to hide."

Markus nodded. "I understand. While I have no need to hide, theoretically, and according to my employer's official statements, I practically have to deal with certain … individuals, who would be even less 'pleasant' to deal with if my sexuality was known."

"That's okay", I'll be discreet, was what Dima almost said, and managed to swallow that part of the sentence before it got out. "I mean, that sounds like a compromise, really. Doesn't seem so bad." He grinned, leaning forward, elbows on the table. "So, apart from ending up in embassy rooms, pants around your ankles, and being seized by admittedly a very sexy British mercenary, how do you handle your encounters?"

Markus burst into laughter, quietening down at a strange look from across another table, and, still chuckling, leaned over the table as well, sitting opposite the other now. Faces close, so he could keep his voice low. "The park at Kalemegdan Fortress, with its rather 'impressive' statue, has an interesting and secluded area, with fairly dense vegetation, which offers the possibility for chance encounters." He shrugged and grinned, "but otherwise? I haven't got that many encounters. Lack of chances." Tilting his head a fraction, chin in his hands, "and maybe I'm not the world's most prolific performer of one-night-stands anyway."

"Can't say I'm refusing many offers", said Dima under his breath. Shit, that did sound needy, but since they were both out in the open, it was time to up the ante.

Markus smiled for a moment, "of one-night-stands or of invitations to dinner?"

"Both, actually." Dima glanced quickly at the waiter, who lingered in the background. "As you can see from the fact that I'm here ... still here."

"Which one do you prefer?" Not letting up, Markus stayed where he was, close but not too close.

Dima laughed. "Depends on whether I'm hungry or horny."

"That's a bit of a poor choice." Markus smiled and moved back to sit straighter. "You've never combined the two?"

"You mean, successively? Dinner, and then bed? Rarely. It's not something you do when ... exchanging pleasantries quickly and in secret."

Markus smiled again, and this time, it had a new quality to it. "In that case, I'd like to invite you to dinner. There's another comfortable restaurant that has so far survived this madness. It's close to the river and boasts the best of the local delicacies." Watching Dima, while taking a few more sips of his wine, "would Saturday be suitable? At 7 PM?"

"Sure! I mean, you don't have to." And that sounded wrong, too. "Just knock me over the head and chain me up in a cellar, and I'm all yours." He grinned while Markus' brows shot up, but he didn't comment. "No, I'm joking. I'll ... be there."

"Do you have a car?"

He'd have to check whether Maurice would need it. Impossible to say. Maurice might be away for some reason or other. Strange. It all had moved towards sex, and Markus now put it off. "No, I've borrowed the one outside."

"I could pick you up." Markus smiled, "no problem, I mean, I'd like to. Where do you stay?"

"French embassy, but I don't remember the address."

"Ah, yes. Been there a few times. At least their food and drink is quite good, and they have occasionally some generals in the most delectable uniforms."

Dima grinned. "I haven't had that pleasure yet."

Grinning, Markus emptied the glass. "I'm afraid I have to leave now, it's a week day after all, and I'm usually a good boy and in bed by ten. Got some wrangling to do tomorrow, and I don't think my deputy would be thrilled if I told him I'm out of action because I stayed too long in a bar." Moving to get up, Markus took another look at Dima, who also got up and grabbed his jacket.

"I'll see you on Saturday, then. I'll pick you up at quarter to seven." Fishing in his jacket pocket, Markus produced a business card. "That's my address, and …" he found a pen, scribbling down another set of numbers, "and that's my private phone. Just in case." Standing up to full height, he extended his hand, "I'm looking forward to seeing you on Saturday," adding, as an afterthought, and just because he enjoyed the sound of the name, "Dima."

Dima put the card into his pocket, then took Markus' hand with both his and shook it. "Yes, I'm looking forward to it, too." It. Food, sex. Both. Part of him was stunned by how this was going, and the fact that he had a 'date'. He followed Markus out of the restaurant, after Markus had paid the drinks, discovering everything else had already been paid. Dima wondered if he should say something more, but merely said "Goodbye, then", shoved his hands into his pockets, and headed for Maurice's car. How strange.

"Goodbye." Markus stood and watched Dima for a while, before getting into his own car, and pondering if he should actually still be driving - but such questions were to be answered at a different time.

* * *

1845 hrs sharp on Saturday, and Maurice's phone rang internally.

Dima was on the way to the door when he remembered that that was the phone, and he answered. "Yes?"

It was the guard house, telling him that a visitor was there for one Dima Starov, and that the visitor was waiting in the car park, right next to the gate.

"Thanks!" Dima grabbed his jacket, the door key, and headed outside, rushing down the stairs, then slowed down when he left through the door, and fell into an easy jog towards the car.

Markus was standing outside of the car, leaning against the driver's door, and smoking. Smiling brightly when Dima appeared. "Military time keeping?" he winked.

"No, medic. I'm rushing everywhere." Dima gave a laugh and extended a hand. "Or maybe I'm just hungry?"

Markus shook Dima's hand, cigarette between his lips. "That doesn't bode well for a comfortable evening over a few glasses of wine." Grinning, he opened the driver's door and waited for Dima to get into the passenger seat. "Unless you're of the 'wham bam' persuasion." Buckling himself in, he glanced across.

That answered one question and posed several others. "I could be persuaded to take my time." Dima grinned. "How was your week?"

Ignoring the first statement, Markus navigated the car out of the embassy ground. "Half a week, to be precise, and it was like most weeks: full of ijits."

"That's people for you." Dima studied the other man's face, when Markus glanced across again, extinguishing his cigarette before his finger hovered over the 'on' button of the stereo. "Do you mind opera?"

"As long as it's not Wagner, I can deal with anything."

"Oh good, because I can't help it, I do believe some voices are divine." The first chords were tentatively heard in the car, before an almighty voice of epic proportions filled the small space, singing of love, death, betrayal, pain, and joy. The sound was almost physical, brutal, and very distracting. About five minutes later, they were reaching the shore of the Sava, "and how was your week?" Markus asked.

The voice was level - but too much so. Expectation, dread, or nerves? "Well, I started work as some kind of nurse in a local hospital. That was part of all that paperwork. It's good to use my skills for the right thing." Dima grinned, wondered how he could put the other man at ease. But truth be told, he had no idea how these things usually went. How people actually did these things if they didn't have to hide. Only that this was a far call from Maurice's very practical attitude to stress busting.

"Nurse … does that mean you're dressed up all prim and proper in a starched white uniform?" Markus glanced to the side as he turned a corner, "I can imagine that might suit you rather well." Sounding as if he were about to add something, but never did.

Dima grinned. "Yeah. And I hand out pills and give injections, and I prepare the paperwork for the doctors. I could do more, but I guess that's their way to break the new guy in." He studied Markus for several long moments. "They tried to make me work today, but I told them I have a date."

"That's ... good." Almost missing his next turn, Markus was smiling at Dima, just about making the exit. "And tomorrow?" Stopping himself once again, as if he kept saying too much.

"Russian Orthodox. I don't work Sundays." Dima grinned. "No, in fact, they didn't ask. Lucky ... me." Pausing. "So, what do you like? I get opera, wine, books ... what else?"

"Good food." Markus smiled, more relaxed now, as he moved the car into a parking space near to the river bank. "Good books, films, and company. Travelling in colder climes, and the beauty of language - especially English. And men." He switched off the engine, leaned back and turned his head fully to smile at Dima. "And you?"

"I ..." And who was nervous now? One thing to tell Maurice how he liked sex, another to tell Dan to go slow, but completely different situation now. "Pretty similar. Travelling, saving lives, sex, men, getting drunk ..."

"But do you like your sex without getting drunk, too?" Markus asked, and looked suddenly mortified, as if he hadn't meant to say this.

"Alcohol helps." Dima grinned sharply. "Brings down the barrier faster. You know, it's a pet theory at the moment, but I think men are made to fight each other, and alcohol dulls that reflex. Especially with soldiers. Civilians are different, or when you're young, but soldiers?"

"I'm not a soldier, though. Is that a problem?" Markus hesitated, smiled, admitting with the question that he had been thinking far too much about this. "I don't want to bore you …"

Dima frowned and placed a hand over on Markus' thigh. "It's a job. That's really all there is to it. It's a job."

Markus' glance fell onto the hand, and it felt good, perhaps too good. "Just wanted you to know that if I wanted a one-night-stand I wouldn't have asked you out for dinner." Convoluted, but the words didn't come quite as smoothly right now, as they usually did.

"Yeah, I gathered. If you'd wanted that, it would have happened Wednesday." Dima leaned over, keeping his hand there and bringing his face close. "Relax. I rarely think beyond the next hour."

"I do. I have to. Guess it's a good thing that you don't." Markus leaned his head against the support, allowing his hand to cover Dima's, and just smiling. Faces close, far too close to not want to kiss, and Dima's hand turned slightly and pressed his.

"Time to go in for our dinner, hm?" Markus asked.

"Yes. Let's try that dinner thing. Okay?" Very briefly touching his cheek to the corner of Markus' mouth, just barely brushing it. "I don't have any other plans for the weekend."

"Okay." Markus smiled, nodded, and forced himself to move away and get out of the car. Waiting for Dima, before heading towards the restaurant. Once they were seated inside, at a cosy two-men table in the corner, Markus leaned forward. "I was wondering, what is your favourite literature?" Offering Dima a cigarette, "and don't say 'porn'." He laughed quietly.

Dima puffed on the cigarette and grinned. "Short stuff. Short stories. I think good writers should be able to tell a story so you can read it in one sitting. In my line of work, that's a bit of a habit ... I could never know whether I'd live to read the rest of the book." They received the menus, and Markus chose the wine. The food was good, service fast, some of the best food Dima had had in a long while, but while he enjoyed it, Markus seemed to stall, as if something kept him from eating, something that made him look and smile, and talk and listen too much, instead of getting through his food.

"I prefer long stories that let you delve deeply into the minds of the characters you care about." Markus explained, when they had finished their meal. Glass of wine in one hand, cigarette in the other. "I am fascinated by motivation …"

"Well, fictional people have better reasons to do something than real people. Most people just run around on autopilot all their lives, which would make for boring reading in any case."

"Not in all cases, though." Markus was looking at Dima, studying the short, grey hair, and the face and eyes. Not handsome, not ugly, and entirely attractive. Lowering his voice, "would you like dessert or … would you like a whisky to finish off the meal, at my place?"

"Whisky." Dima grinned. "Because I don't want to scandalize these good people here with anything I might do."

"And that would be?"

"Ah, that would be telling." Dima made eye contact with the waiter, somewhat impatient now to get going.

"I guess it does help my safe driving, if you don't tell me." Looking at the waiter as well, who approached speedily, there was a small kerfuffle about paying, but Markus insisted since he had invited Dima, he would pay and that, if Dima were so inclined, if he wanted to invite him in return, he would gladly accept. Which, incidentally, was the best outcome - Dima wasn't exactly flush with cash at the moment, anyway.

A short while later they were back in the car, with Markus backing the vehicle out of the parking space. "I have to tell you that I kind of share my house with my admin. She lives in the basement flat. Just in case you believe in anonymity, because …" Markus hesitated, before glancing to the side, "believe me, watch me not officially telling headquarters that I have a partner, should I ever have one."

"I'm not ashamed", said Dima. "There's no rule that says I can't do this." He reached out to touch Markus' face, made him look at him, and Markus stopped the car, foot on the brake. "Just tell me how discreet I should be, and I'm sure I can accommodate you."

"I don't care. I honestly don't. Even if you prefer to be a one-night-stand," Markus wanted to say more, but didn't, "I don't care anymore who knows."

"No preferences." Dima moved over, holding Markus' chin, keeping it pointing in the right direction, then touched his lips to the other's. "I'm not planning beyond this."

"I …" Markus murmured, "can't help planning for the universe, but I just … want to get us back to my home, right now. I really, really want to take you to bed, and I haven't thought about much else all week." A dry, soft chuckle, before he added, "and if I could explain that to myself, then I'd be a candidate for the Nobel prize."

"Oh damn", muttered Dima, smiling fondly, almost against his will pulling back to allow the poor man to be able to drive. "I ... yeah." Defeated, elated, and his stomach tightened, as if he were nervous. Completely different thing again, he just didn't want to hurt this man, suddenly, all this was such a different kettle of fish to what he knew and accepted about how things went.

Just about making it back to driving capacity, Markus got them out into the street and towards the road that would take them to his house on Uzicka. He didn't talk much, just let the music play, and occasionally glanced to the side, while occupying himself with driving and smoking another cigarette. When they arrived, he parked the car in the driveway and waited for Dima before locking the car. "Welcome to my temporary home, is what one says, I guess." He fumbled for the key a bit more than necessary, and it took him a couple of tries before he managed to unlock the door of the ground floor flat. When he finally succeeded and switched on the light, Dima found the place to be comfortably furnished, with several doors going off from the hallway. Markus moved off towards one door, smiling at Dima. "I think I need that whisky."

Dima stood in the middle of the hallway, looking around, then gave another grin. "I'm pretty sure I know what you need right after that whisky, though." Following the man, he hung up the jacket on the wardrobe in passing, taking in what he could, anything that allowed to study the character, but it was tasteful, nice, friendly, with personal touches here and there betraying that somebody spent a lot of thought on these things and enjoyed the finer, better things in life.

Markus was standing at the buffet, pouring the first generous measure, when Dima came inside. "Water or ice?" Glancing up, "I prefer it neat."

"Neat, too." Dima lingered close, watching Markus pour another glass, and accepting it when he offered, then gently clinked the glasses together. The alcohol warmed his mouth and throat, and then slow and deep down. He finished the whisky with another swallow and put the glass down, then moved in, hands on Markus' shoulders, down to his arms, and Markus put the glass back onto the buffet, just about finished as well. "I'm bad at guessing", Dima murmured. "Anything you don't want?"

"I …" Markus almost said 'don't know' and his hesitation made it all too obvious, but instead he smiled. Tentative, genuine, and a whole lot of other things. "I'm not naïve, nor inexperienced, just …" he shrugged, lowered his head until they were eye to eye, "let's just see where we get to."

"Okay." This close, it was obvious that Markus was at least a few inches taller - a fact Dima could conveniently forget when they were further apart. His hands moved to the belt; hesitated there, and he got no encouragement from Markus either. Giving a blowjob was the first thing that had crossed Dima's mind, he suddenly wasn't quite sure anymore. Felt horrible, in a way, he just couldn't fall back on his routine, because there was none in place. Almost back to stupid teenagers again, when nothing was certain, everything was sprinkled with either angst or frosting, so he decided, right, teenagers again, and kissed Markus full on the lips, who smiled, tilted his head and stooped a little more, as his hands went up to Dima's head and face. Holding, kissing, and fingers stroking through short hair, but only for a while, before need got the upper hand, and Markus pulled Dima closer, tighter, as the kiss became instantly passionate.

Dima began to pull the shirt out of Markus' trousers in the back, hands making contact with bare skin, moving up, while pressing in, and he relished the feeling of skin on skin, then kissing down the throat, the side of the neck, producing little sounds that caught in Markus' throat, while baring his chest and discarding the shirt. No fear of getting caught. But a strange kind of expectation, odd thing, really, but he allowed it to happen, whatever it was. Kissing again, while getting rid of his own shirt, then placed both hands on Markus' ass and pulled him close, tight, with just enough force to stoke the fire.

Markus' hands were on Dima's back, arms, neck, stroking down to his hips and up again. Contact and pressure, almost greed, and no doubt Markus wanted this man, had thought about little else since they'd met. Hardly slept, hardly ate, no matter how stupid he'd felt. When he lifted his head, he barely got out, "need …" what, you? "Bed!"

Dima grinned. "Which way is it?" Following the motion of Markus' head, he let him go only enough to lead the way. All tidy, bed large enough to accommodate both of them, and Dima shed his shoes on the way in, smiling at that hint of desperation, too damn fond of the other to make fun of it, but he was, what, ten years older? He opened his own belt and trousers, while Markus pulled the elegant bedspread off. Dima shed the rest of his clothes, leaving everything on a chair near the door, finding himself watched with an intensity unlike anyone had ever looked at him. He crossed the short distance towards Markus, who stood, watching, and opened Markus' belt, button and zipper, pulling the trousers down as he knelt down, and Markus still just stood. Not shell-shocked, definitely not uncertain, but struck into immobility with his hands on Dima's shoulders and his eyes fixed onto every movement.

Dima stayed on his knees, pulled the other closer, and quickly took him in, causing Markus to cry out, "Sh…ugar!" Something Dima had wanted all evening, sucking and getting another taste of this man, who reacted as if his knees would buckle any second, breath coming fast. Markus' hands on Dima's hair, neck, shoulder, again and again back to the short hair, while Dima's hands stroked Markus' sides, wanting nothing more than to take that shyness away, right now, as his head moved back and forth, deeply enjoying Markus' every response, who couldn't help but shudder.

Too soon, too much need, and Markus almost staggered backwards when he forced himself to push against Dima's head, trying to make him stop, a Herculean effort. "Can you …" stammering, breathless voice tinged with lust and desperation. So close. "Can you … I …"

Dima looked up. He could read it all over the other's face, flushed and feverish, eyes alight with life and emotion. "I can", he murmured, and gave a smile. "And I want to." He stood, again kissing the other fully on the mouth, but pushing him towards the bed, and Markus sat down, scooting up, dazed with lust.

"Nightstand?" Dima asked and Markus nodded as Dima reached over to pull the drawer open, finding condoms and lube. When he moved onto the bed, looking down at Markus, he marvelled at the openness of emotion in the face. A hint of nervousness, large amounts of need, and relief that Dima had understood without making him spell out what he wanted. And a breathless smile on Markus' face that stayed, grew and deepened, as their bodies moved and connected, slow and steady, to give and take, until there was nothing but lust and an abandon that completely took Dima by surprise. Taking him in and swallowing him whole, when he finally came, deep inside Markus' body.

The night saw them awake for much longer, exploring and enjoying. With more whisky and wine, and all the time in the world, as they talked and discovered, laughed and touched. Listening to music, then once again concentrating on the other's body. Learning through touch and taste, until even Dima fell asleep, with a last glance at Markus' profile, illuminated by the dimmest light of approaching dawn that came through thin curtains. The night was quiet, not even the usual sound of explosions far in the distance, and the regular breathing of the sleeping man was as peaceful as Dima's thoughts, before sleep claimed him.

* * *

When Dima woke, it was to bright sunshine streaming into the bedroom, and the smell of cigarette smoke next to him. He realized it was Sunday, and he had nowhere to be, and then remembered the last night. Smiling, then yawning, he stretched in the bed to place a kiss on Markus' arm. "Awake already?"

"You're lucky I didn't wake up at my usual five thirty." Markus grinned, "it's your fault I slept until eight. That's unheard of."

"You don't get laid enough." Dima laughed softly. "That should sort out your insomnia." He pulled a cigarette from the pack that Markus offered, placing it between his lips and reaching for the lighter.

"You have no idea how right you are." Markus looked at Dima for a moment, then smiled, "or maybe you do …" Keeping the cigarette between his lips to free a hand, his fingers once again touched Dima's hair, carding through the short grey. "You look so Russian." Talking around the fag between his lips, "and I think you can guess by now that I really like that."

"It's that haircut", said Dima, grinning. Inhaling the smoke, he sat up to lean against the headrest, pulling a leg up. "And you're aware we were set up?" He reached over to Markus' neck, pulling him a bit closer, kneading the neck muscles, which caused Markus to lower his head on Dima's shoulder, but not before glancing at him with raised brows.

"Set up?"

"Dan." Stroking through Markus' hair, Dima moved his head to kiss his temple. "I think he was playing matchmaker." Only then realizing he'd breached a different topic with that, which seemed like a risk to take. "But … that's okay from my end. I certainly don't mind."

"Really? Blast!" Markus chuckled, before inhaling a last lungful of smoke, then reached across to extinguish the butt in the ash tray, while staying as much as he could in the comfortable position. "I must be more naïve than I thought, I didn't notice."

"Didn't spot it either." Mr Perceptive. Some way to get paid back for second-guessing Dan. "I guess I must have been distracted by something."

Markus chuckled, "I'm glad you were. Would have really bothered my ego if you hadn't been sufficiently distracted."

"Well, consider your ego un-bruised." Resting his head against Markus', Dima relished the fact they were lying in bed, with a whole day in front of them. So utterly normal, compelling, and calming. Sharing more than a few crazed minutes of need.

Remaining in companiable silence for a while, until Markus took in a deep breath, lifted his head and rolled his neck. "Are you hungry? Would you like breakfast? I, for one, am famished."

Dima stretched again. "Sure. Let me grab a shower first. What are the breakfast plans then?" He stood, gathered up his clothes, but Markus stopped him, when he swung his long legs out of bed and stood up.

"If you want to, you can borrow a dressing gown?" Reaching for one that was hanging on a hook beside the wardrobe, which he then opened and pulled out another, black as well and much newer than the one he'd slipped into.

Dima paused, then nodded. Surprised, but clearly, that was the more civilized approach to having guests around overnight. Borrow? Why did he get the feeling that Markus had … rather well prepared for this? And how much care and consideration had gone into this, while he just hadn't thought further than the next five or thirty minutes. If his job had taught him anything, then it was thinking on his feet. "Thanks, that comes in handy." Dropping his clothes back on the chair again.

"As for breakfast, what would you like? I could whip up scrambled eggs, or eggs Benedict, or any other egg variety, and bacon, or freshly baked bread with a variety of cheeses and spreads, or …" Markus offered a grin, somewhat self-conscious, as he tied the belt around his hips. "I might have gone overboard yesterday, when I was out shopping, but I didn't know what you like." Adding, while his grin grew ever more conscious, "yet."

"Uhm, I … what is eggs Benedict?" To say anything. Much more care, consideration and … concern? Than he'd ever seen from any of the guys he'd encountered for longer than five to ten minutes. Which put this very firmly and deeply into Unknown Country. Terra Incognita.

"It's two halves of a muffin, topped with ham and poached eggs, and a good dollop of hollandaise sauce."

"Sounds good. I'll have some of that."

Slipping into a pair of sporty flip-flops, Markus walked towards the door, and pointed to another one right next to it, from the hallways. "You'll find a couple of fresh towels on the shelf in the bathroom." When he turned he had coloured ever so slightly. "I … was hoping you'd stay, you know." Busying himself with looking around the hallway, "but I don't think I have a second pair of flip-flops, and I fear they'd be too big anyway." Stepping once more closer to Dima, until he towered over him, and put his foot between the other's legs, to measure. He chuckled, and had the good grace to colour a bit more, "but if you tell me your size I could have a pair for … " finally hesitating, "next time?"

"Or I'll just get some."

"Or that." Markus smiled and Dima glanced up, not quite sure what to say. This wasn't casual, Markus had enjoyed it, and he had, too. Well, that was one way to sum it up. The other was that Markus kept throwing him, kept surprising him, but always with kindness and generosity. If he wasn't careful … "Looks like we'll be having an affair, hm?"

"What do you mean, an affair?" Markus' brows moved into a frown.

"Something … more than a night or a weekend." Dima felt stupid, like the first man on earth. Other people had that; Vadim and Dan had been 'together' for, what, more than ten years now?

"I don't want a one night stand. Not that I don't do them but … that's not what I want with you." Markus added with a hesitant smile, "I'd like a relationship, if it works out, and there's only one way to find out, isn't there?" Tilting his head, Markus ran his hand from the back of Dima's neck up the head, against the growth of the short hair. "And what do you want?"

Dima was speechless, and he knew he shouldn't have breached the topic, like he could jinx it now. Relationship. Dating, then relationship. Remembering the man's reactions, his sounds, his taste, all that, the night, the talking, all that caring. Relationship. A commitment, a pact, a mutual bond. Was it that easy? Looked like it was. "Sh… sugar", he said, deliberately copying Markus' expression. "And that on an empty stomach." Smiling, suddenly, weird mix of emotions just rushing all over his brain. "I want those eggs", he murmured, "and, yeah, the same thing. That's a first though … I don't know how it works."

"I don't really either." Markus' smile had grown to epic proportions. "I mean, I haven't really had one, but … it can't be that difficult, right? Lots of people manage, and we seem to be starting out well. You want egg Benedict, and so do I, we both know the same crazy guys, who apparently set us up, I like the way you look and you happen to look that way, and I really, really, want you to …" just the slightest of hesitations, before he broke into a wide grin, "fuck me again, because that was amazing."

Dima pulled him closer, kissing Markus' neck, hands moving to his ass, murmuring: "Feed me some breakfast, and more sex is a distinct possibility." He wanted to say other things, about those visceral things, about touch and taste and smell - about what he felt, but he couldn't put all that yet into words. He'd jinx it, for sure, and he'd never said these things. He'd try again, harder, but at the moment, it was all too new and unknown and amusing and daunting.

"Eggs it is, then." Markus grinned, leaned in for another kiss, full on the lips.

"I could stay till Monday. I have a late shift."

"If you don't mind that I am usually at seven in the office, then I'd be more than happy if you stayed." Taking Dima's hand, Markus was about to drag him to the kitchen, but remembered the bathroom and shower first. "And if you want to stay after that …" he trailed off. "Let's just say you are welcome. Very welcome. We'll see how it goes, right?"

"Yeah. I have your number." Dima grinned and let go of the hand to vanish into the bathroom. Whatever he'd got himself into, this was a good start.

"And don't you forget it!" Markus called after him, chuckling, then retreated into the kitchen to whip up a miracle of tea, coffee, fresh bread, muffins and eggs and delicious hollandaise, with far too many other things, spread out all across the table, at which they sat for a long time, until Dima dragged Markus back into the bedroom, forgetting about dishes and fridge and half-smoked cigarettes. At least for the day.

Special Forces Chapter XXXXXIII: Dead End
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 31 October 2008