six months in those goddamned mountains, and as much
as Dan had become a part of their vast majesty, that
half year of living constantly on the edge had taken
its toll on him. Physically and psychologically worn
down to the bones, he'd lost weight and was constantly
exhausted. He'd never had to work on his own for quite
so long, and no relief was in sight, nor the chance
to ever let on how drained he really was. Always another
path, a new group, and yet more 'what do you have us
do, Daan. How do we operate next?'
felt almost sorry for the Soviets who had been fighting
this war since 1980, trying to develop a strategy to
win this godforsaken squabble that cost them thousands
of lives and millions of roubles. There could never
be a strategy, fighting against at least six major Mujahideen
groups, with several smaller ones that Dan knew of,
and an uncountable number of minor private armies, there
was no coordination of operations of any kind. No system
to battle against, no intelligence to garner.
in the middle of it all, him. Working on organising
sabotage that was too alien to the Afghan fighters and
had to be left to the Western soldier and his ever-changing
troop of men that he kept training and re-training and
mostly utterly despairing over.
had been walking for hours, keeping close to a pass
but always in cover after an ambush the night before,
where they had lost two of their men. They had delivered
the third one, who had been wounded, to one of the camps
on route and left to be treated. To live or probably
die, who knew in these conditions where gangrene was
the cruellest killer - right after the Mujas' own sense
was wary, despite the exhaustion that caused his senses
to blunt ,and a light-headedness from lack of food,
he still had an unnerving sense of foreboding. Trudging
along, despite his worries they were making good progress
down the track, since the weather was for once playing
its part. Concentrating on map and compass, to get them
as quick as he could do the next camp while avoiding
any more unpleasant surprises, Dan stopped dead when
he spotted boot tracks. Could be some of the Mujahideen,
but unlikely. Heavy treads, and a whole group of them,
he was betting on a Soviet patrol.
the leader of his troop, they discussed their options,
deciding to divert their path and to make their way
to a close by camp instead. Intending to wait out the
next day, and whatever the Soviets might have planned
since the latest offensives. Widespread, and solely
aimed against the insurgents.
carried on for a few more hours, the day turning into
afternoon, remaining as quiet and devoid of any enemy
as Dan could have wished. Nothing, except for some signs
of boot treads and the occasional disturbance of the
ground. They were getting close to the camp when the
sound of rotor blades came into earshot. Dan hissed
in anger, it seemed that every bloody thing that could
go wrong was going up shit creek without a paddle, and
they dove into cover. Staying hidden for at least twenty
minutes, and well until after the helicopter had taken
off again, directly overhead but without detecting the
concealed insurgents. It became so quiet Dan was wondering
if they shouldn't start up a brew when his fellow men
asked if they could pray. It seemed safe enough, and
he moved slightly away to allow them some privacy, while
he chucked a handful of tea leaves in his mess tin,
boiling water behind a larger piece of rock.
began to surround them, and after they'd shared some
of the meagre provision of naan bread and dried fruit,
washed down with tea, they set off once more, this time
walking into the moon rise. Steel blue light soon gave
the mountains the eerie vision of a deserted moon crater,
yet Dan knew they were finally close to the camp, where
they could replenish their depleted stocks.
luck, though. They'd only managed to march for another
half hour when Dan heard the sound of movements, rocks
tumbling below. "Holy fucking mother of god,"
Dan muttered under his breath, too late to find any
other shelter than some more of those goddamned rocks
that would dig into ribs and freeze their bollocks off
during the night. No choice, the Soviet patrol came
closer with no intention to walk past, setting up camp
in earshot. One wrong step, and one small stone to crumble,
and Dan's Mujas would be minced meat. Communicating
with his men by sign language, Dan got them to understand
they had to stay where they were overnight, and they
wrapped themselves into blankets. No longer than a couple
of seconds and even the two that were meant to stay
awake and share stakeout had fallen asleep, dead to
the world despite Dan's attempts to shake those bastards
out of their exhausted sleep. Keeping guard on his own.
It wasn't the first goddamned time and it would be the
was well past midnight, after hours of silence, when
Dan managed to wake the leader of his troop to get him
to take over the watch. He didn't care for the silent
squabble that went on between the others when they detected
that none had stayed awake with him. Before his head
had even hit his arm, curled up on the side with his
rifle clutched in cold fingers, Dan was asleep.
was woken far too soon, felt woozy and as if he could
sleep for a lifetime longer, but the ice cold air revived
him sufficiently to get going once more. Increasingly
desperate for a cigarette, but the Soviets would catch
a whiff and that would be the end of them. The patrol
close by was breaking their camp as well, leaving into
the opposite direction, which caused Dan to mutter a
relieved "thank fuck". They waited, hidden
behind the rocks, until the soldiers were long out of
sight and the road was clear. Setting off slowly along
the trail, Dan reckoned it would take them another hour
before they reached the camp, if that.
was concerned about being so far behind schedule, but
it couldn't be helped and speeding up, now that the
men were cold and starving, was not going to get them
anywhere, except into a state of carelessness. Dan's
feet felt dreadful, he couldn't even remember when last
he'd got his boots off, let alone given the rest of
his body a clean. It was like walking in a swamp of
discomfort, but he couldn't have dared to dry feet,
socks, and boots the night before. One thing to get
caught out and having to fight and run for their lives,
another to be barefoot.
reached the entrance to the camp that was shielded by
several large boulders in good time, but Dan frowned
at the silence, and so did the leader. Not a sound nor
anyone coming to greet or challenge them. Worse, there
was a smell about the place that made Dan's stomach
churn, reminding him of a nightmare he'd been trying
to forget since it happened. No guards that they could
make out, and a stench that increased with every step.
his eyes out for tripwires or signs of butterfly mines
and other booby traps, Dan picked his way inside, despite
the urgent sense that kept telling him to turn the fuck
back and get away from the smell that became overpowering.
The leader and everyone close behind him, Dan could
hardly hold back the retching, hearing telltale sounds
in his back, even before they reached the position where
the guard should have been. He'd expected the sight,
but when the heap of torn rags, smashed bones and putrefying
flesh came into view, torn into shreds by scavengers,
it still hit him with the full force of horror. Bodies,
dead, rotting, the memory was hard to fight.
himself to go further, Dan was the first one to come
across the small opening, where over a dozen of bodies
were lying, rotting in a pile. Men, women, ripped apart
by carrions from sky and land that had searched for
food. Each corpse had been killed close to where they
were lying, then left to rot. Dan felt bile in the back
of his throat, wanted to vomit, but he forced himself
to hold it together. Wouldn't do to show the Mujas what
they'd perceive as weakness.
the area and the opening of the cave, it soon turned
out that all the supplies were gone. Nor could they
dare to drink the water, possibly poisoned by the Soviets
who'd wiped out the camp. When Dan took a closer look
at the corpses, even though he wanted nothing but run
away, it became obvious they had been rounded up and
massacred. Shot at close range, a mass execution and
war crime like victorious soldiers, guerrillas and any
kind of fighters had been committing since time began.
Dan frowned, but knew their worst concern was the lack
of provisions for the living. The dead were gone, nothing
anyone could do for them anymore.
was still looking around for shells, with the other
men back out of the enclave of rotting stench, when
he suddenly heard shooting and the far too familiar
sound of Kalashnikovs firing their rounds. "Shit!"
He ducked, ran as fast as he could, his SA-80 ready.
The sight that was greeting him was a mess: his Mujas
and a small patrol of Soviet soldiers firing wildly.
Some of his men had already fallen, but the patrol was
at a disadvantage, without the shelter of the rocks.
took cover where he could, bent on organising his men
while shooting at the soldiers, when he felt himself
under attack. Throwing himself to the side and behind
a boulder, Dan yelled in pain when he hit the ground.
Heart racing, the heated metal of his rifle against
his skin and his knee in so much goddamned agony, he
had to bite his lip to stop himself from screaming.
As if hitting that bloody rock was his biggest problem.
was counting the seconds, on the ground and too close
to the butchered cam, barely able to bear the stench,
but even worse were the screams that started the moment
the fire exchange quietened. Fuck! He was pulling himself
onto his knees when the shooting had stopped, the pain
bringing water to his eyes. Crawling forward, he peered
across the low rocks onto the carnage. "Fuck!"
Again, this time hissed between his teeth. Mujas, Soviets,
dead and dying, but when he stopped, his weight off
the right knee, leg trembling and his rifle at the ready,
he could see the bunch of survivors coming out from
behind their rocks. Crying "Allah-u Akhbar"
God is greater and all that shit.
saw uniforms on the ground, Soviet special forces and
their light, sand-coloured camo turning into rusty dark
as blood drenched the cloth. Pulling himself up to stand,
still favouring the left while cursing the goddamned
umpteenth time he had smashed onto that particular knee,
he immediately searched the corpses. Some of them still
wearing those odd bush hats with upturned side that
reminded him of Australian troops. Probably not even
Russians, but those hapless men from Poland, East Germany
and Czechoslovakia, that had been drawn into this godforsaken
war by their Big Brother. Dan searched swiftly amongst
the bodies for the telltale sight that he dreaded unlike
anything else: blond hair, tall man, broad shoulders,
eyes that would be closed never to open again, and body,
hands, smell, and
no. He remembered to breathe
when none of them was the one sight he had feared to
encounter for more years than he dared to remember.
No Vadim. Dan counted the corpses. Five ... six ...
no, seven. Seven in all and he frowned. Odd number.
surviving insurgents were swarming over the soldiers'
corpses like big-arsed flies that hung like grapes on
legs of mutton, down in Kabul, and before Dan could
hobble closer, an onslaught of fresh blood hit his senses.
Hearing angry cries and torn-out words that he hardly
understood in their rapid succession, he made out 'revenge'
and 'enemies', but when he got close enough he recoiled
at the sight. Nothing had prepared him for that, not
in all those years, and he should have known better.
Knives tearing into uniforms, slashing bellies open
so that hands dove into blood to tear out the guts,
while others gauged out the eyes of the dead. Not his
world. No, fuck, no! Not his goddamned world and not
his men and neither his culture and least of all his
religion. No gods, no beliefs, and Allah is greater,
let's rip open some Soviet corpses, scattering their
remains in revenge, to obliterate their existence.
Dan muttered, what the fuck was he going to do, try
and stop these frenzied guys? He could understand their
hatred, caused by the equivalent of his mates rotting
away in a heap, but fuck, he wouldn't have torn out
the guts of those who'd shot them. Did that make him
any better? Probably just
different. Fuck. Limping
along, clenching his teeth and avoiding the sight, Dan
spotted an arm, lying closer to an outcrop of rocks
furthest away from the frenzy. The eighth one? He'd
better check, could be a trap, and he ignored the agony
in his knee, crouching to move closer, rifle at the
moment Dan reached the soldier he knew the guy was not
dead. Eyes twitching, moaning, blood on the uniform
and the arm at an unnatural angle where the bullet had
shattered bones. "Oh fuck." Dan groaned, getting
himself down to the ground, kneeling beside the guy
and patting him down. Weapons out of reach, he took
the chin and turned the face towards him. A kid. No
more. Cursing this fucking war and its hapless conscripts.
wounded arm twitched, fingers moving without intention,
as the patting down registered, and the good hand reached
for the ground, touching dust and stone, seemingly looking
for the rifle. A cough awoke the soldier further, tore
him back to the surface as the cough became dry and
painful. Eyes opened, a light, indefinite colour like
a greyish green, blood shot and reddened from too much
dust and wind.
Dan murmured, glanced backwards to where the cries of
revenge were ringing across the mountain and into the
sky. "Why the fuck aren't you dead." In Russian.
coughing didn't stop, and with superior effort, the
young man turned onto his side to spit dust out, reaching
for the canteen at his belt, then paused.
fuck, fuck." Dan murmured, a litany of desperate
swear words, glancing backwards again. They hadn't been
detected yet, his bulk shielding the kid soldier from
what was going on with the corpses of his comrades.
soldier's eyes returned to Dan's frame, travelled up
to his eyes, not comprehending. Then widened as some
kind of realization hit him. He looked towards the canteen,
but didn't move a muscle, trying hard to suppress the
coughing reflex, as if the slightest sound, the slightest
movement could kill him.
look of realisation was all Dan needed, it told him
that if the kid survived he'd be fucked and the Soviets
would have their proof that a Brit was operating in
the region: training and guiding the insurgents. If
the kid lived
but there was no other choice.
Was there? "Wait," Dan continued to speak
Russian, went for the canteen on the belt, rifle across
his protesting knees, unscrewed the bottle to let water
pour past the chapped lips. That arm looked nasty, but
nothing a fairly healthy young man couldn't survive.
the hell did you lot come back here?"
young soldier forced himself up on an elbow as he drank
the water, reaching for the canteen to hold it himself,
drank, deeply, and only stopped to fight that cough.
Another twitch of the wounded arm, and the soldier looked
at it, only now realizing that, indeed, he was wounded.
He dropped on the ground again, hand going towards his
pockets to find bandages. Well-drilled responses, and
paused again, looking at Dan, checking his hands for
weapons, then decided that Dan didn't mean to cut his
throat right away. "I need to cover that wound."
The Adam's apple jumped with a forced swallow. The Russian
nodded, acted on instinct, but fuck, where was the point.
What was he going to do with him? Reaching into the
pockets he pulled out a bandage, applying the shell
dressing as fast and efficiently as any medic would.
At first, the Soviet soldier watched, then he relaxed
and turned his eyes back on Dan's face, like the patient
reading the diagnosis from his doctor's eyes. "Thank
you." A faint smile, common courtesy for basic
help. "Where's my unit?"
hadn't quite finished yet when one of the Mujas, hands
dripping in blood, came up behind him, staring wild-eyed
and in the fury of bloodied aggression down at the Soviet
soldier, whose head jerked up, eyes widened at the sudden
appearance. The Muja shouted to the others in Pushtu
that there was another one, a last one, and the final
one to become nothing but dust. On instinct, the Soviet
soldier reached for the AK that was too far away to
reach. "Oh scheisse."
Dan had just about finished off the bandage and raised
his arm to shield the kid. "He's alive." As
if that mattered, fuck! As if, indeed. He'd be better
dead yet." The man growled, and others of Dan's
small surviving group of insurgents came up behind him.
"Dead soon. Go out of way, Daan. Is ours."
fucking way." Snarling, Dan reached for his rifle,
knew damn well that threatening all of them would just
end in blood - his own one, but he drew his upper body
up and his shoulders back, to be as imposing as possible.
He'd worked with a few of them for a while, but most
of the guys were new and he hadn't connected yet, his
position of authority still shaky. "What the fuck
do you want him for anyway?" He knew, hell, he
knew. The knives in their hands spoke volumes.
guy's still alive, you are not going to cut him open
and gut him!" Dan's left hand on the soldier's
chest, pressing down on the body, as if holding him
back or reassuring. Dan didn't know, because what did
he reassure him of? To live? He couldn't. The soldier
held his hand strongly, as if to push it away or hold
onto it, eyes on the rifle, eager to defend himself.
There is no fucking way I'll let you do that."
Dan's hand curled tightly around his SA-80. "It
might be your custom but it isn't mine and you'll have
to fight me for it."
Dan held up the rifle, despite the determination and
glaring anger that stared into his face. No way he could
overwhelm all of them, but he'd make a damn good shot
of it if he had to. "He might have information.
I'll get it out of him. I speak the language."
young soldier kept staring at his AK, as if force of
will alone could move it. Clearly only picking up on
the aggression in the air, not what was being said,
still holding Dan's hand. "Let me get the rifle",
he murmured, as if not doubting for a moment Dan didn't
mean any harm.
stared at the young man for a second, before realisation
dawned on him that the kid believed he was there to
defend him. That thought tore deeper into his own guts
than the knives of the Mujas could. "No."
He shook his head, then turned his attention back to
the men who seemed to wager the chances of getting any
information out of the soldier.
the end they nodded. "For now. Give you half hour,
Daan, no more."
nodded. Half an hour. What the fuck would it matter
anyway, and he didn't even know what he was trying to
do, but he couldn't allow the kid to be tortured and
torn apart alive. No one deserved that, least of all
he returned to the soldier when the others went away
to deal with the corpses in ways Dan didn't want to
know. "I got a reprieve." All in Russian,
before he raised a bow, "but you're not Soviet."
no I'm not. Heavens, no." The soldier glanced past
Dan, then looked up to him again. "And you aren't
Pashtun." He paused, then shook his head. "It's
alright. No question. I don't want to know. Nicht wirklich.
Can I have more water? I'm
nodded, reached for the water. What did it matter that
he shouldn't give him water after the blood loss. What
the fuck did any of that matter? Not his war. Not his
people. Not his problem? Still, he handed the canteen
to the young man, the rifle all the time trained onto
him. "I need information. It's the only way."
He remembered some words of German, one of the many
languages that floated in his brain. "Wichtig.
Information. Muss haben. Soviet troops, where and what?
I need to know something, you understand?"
soldier took the water and took another swallow, only
coughing now and again. He seemed genuinely surprised
to hear his own mother tongue, but the rifle brought
the point home that this, after all, was not a friend,
and the beginning smile faltered. "Yes, I understand.
You are to interrogate me? What happened to my unit?"
He took another swallow of water, eyes kept on the rifle.
unit is dead." Dan shuffled to the side, cutting
off the young man's view best he could.
The soldier dropped his arm with the canteen and shook
his head, not believing it could go that fast, last
he remembered, they'd been alive. "I
talk. Of course I will. I'm no hero."
need to know about plans, about landmines, troop movements.
Anything you know."
" the soldier was repeating
it to memorize the question, struggling to keep up.
over his shoulder, what Dan saw turned his stomach,
but his face remained expressionless. "I can't
promise you anything except the one thing, I will not
let you fall into the Pashtun's hands." He wondered
if the kid knew what that actually meant.
Gott." Toneless. Another, desperate glance at the
rifle, as his eyes suddenly darkened with the realization.
Interrogation, then death. "Can I have
hand grenade?" Lots of Soviet troops pulled the
ring on their own hand grenades to evade capture. He
didn't have any on his gear, obviously. "Don't
" Stalling again, confused.
I'm trying to keep you from them, OK?" Dan felt
a creeping desperation that was eating into his bones,
travelling through his blood. "Forget the shit
about hand grenades, just show me on the map."
He'd seen the glance to the rifle and kept it safely
out of reach while fishing for the map then spreading
it out. Trying to keep the kid from the rage of the
Mujahideen, yet he couldn't keep the young man from
himself. He suddenly felt so goddamned tired.
Map. Yes." Now there was fear in the young man's
eyes, fear that would make him obey, and fear that chased
away the pain at least for the moment. "I'll show
you. You don't need to torture me, okay? I'll tell you
the truth. All I know. I do everything you say."
soldier forced his body onto the side and stared at
the map, concentrated, trying to find the pass, the
exact location of the village. It took him a while,
fear and blood loss and pain making an ordinary task
challenging. "Give me a moment
be here somewhere." Speaking, as if to appease
Dan, to prevent blows or, worse, torture. "There.
This is it." A dusty finger pointed at a place
close to the village. "This is where we were set
down. And this is
" The finger slowly tracing
a somewhat haphazard line. "
where we were
going. We didn't expect to encounter anybody here. We're
just a patrol. We thought you'd long gone. We radioed
for the Hinds, but I don't think they got a clear signal."
He glanced at Dan. "We were to keep taps on movement
in this area, but we didn't expect you to be still here.
But with the Russkies, one hand doesn't know what the
other is doing." Bitterness at the obvious mistake.
eyes narrowed at the mentioning of Hinds. If they did
get a signal they'd be really up shit creek. This just
made the situation even worse. A fucked-up situation
that was already nothing but a pile of shit. "I'm
not here to torture you, you understand me?" The
information, though, was useful.
Yes, of course." Eagerness to appease the captor,
definitely not going to protest or give as much as a
word of protest.
" fuck, what? "do something.
I'm not your friend, hell no, but I'm not one of them
either." He glanced back at the Mujas who had dragged
the disembowelled corpses onto a pile, and he smelled
the first signs of burning. Smoke beginning to curl
up above the all empowering stench of blood.
Whatever you say. I'm just
the same tone as if he'd say 'don't worry, I'll be alright.'
shit." Dan murmured to himself. Shit and derision.
That kid was going to get tortured and killed just like
all of the Soviet POWs, and there was nothing he could
do about it, and since when did he even want
to do something about it? He'd been dragged in far deeper
than he ever wanted to be. Six years and he just couldn't
stand it anymore.
to me, whatever happens, you stay dead quiet."
Pushing the soldier's body back down. "Verstanden?
Only chance to play dead."
verstanden." The body protesting the push, but
then he lay down, still looking at Dan, now with a hopeful
expression. Forced his body to relax, and kept his eyes
open, not trusting enough.
Dan called over in Pushtu, the corpses burning, catching
onto the flames. "We have to get going, I found
out they signalled the Hinds and your damned fire is
going to show them exactly where we are." Dan didn't
even blink, hoping they'd swallow his bluff. "Get
your stuff together, we have to get moving, there's
nothing left here. The soldier's dead."
were looking up, a couple coming closer and all Dan
could do was turn his head and hiss to the enemy soldier,
"I try to leave you here. I try. Trust me. I won't
let them get you." Whatever happens, and he'd promised
it before. Almost six years ago, to a man he'd tortured
and who had been running for his life.
your name? Won't tell. I won't." Another
long glance, but the soldier was young enough to trust,
and his words were just a toneless whisper.
shook his head, "No. Can't." No way, no names,
and thus no meaning. If he gave his name things would
become too real.
let us have the body." The Mujas protested. Their
hatred had not abated, not even with the corpses alit,
but Dan shook his head, answering in rapid Pushtu, "There
is no time. No need. Come." He stood up, wanted
to scream when his knee protested, instead picked up
map, rifle and the soldier's AK. "We have to get
going. Come!" Standing in front of the kid, shielding
best he could. This was insane and he knew. If the Soviets
had proof that all they'd ever guessed was nothing but
the truth, he'd be hunted like a rabid dog. But Dan
was exhausted and so goddamned motherfucking tired of
all of this shit, the only thing that suddenly seemed
to matter was to save one measly life amongst the hundreds
that had died around him.
They refused to agree, and Dan drew himself up even
taller, standing with shoulders squared, towering over
most of the other men. But he was hungry, just like
them, and he'd lost too much of his bulk. Weary and
his bravado worn thin.
you want to be gunned down by Hinds? Don't be stupid."
Gesturing to the pile of burning corpses. "You
got what you wanted: revenge."
though, could sway them, their comrades had died, turned
into festering corpses in the camp nearby. All of Dan's
remaining men were standing in front of him and he could
feel their anger. One false move and it was him who'd
have a knife through his bowels.
you get the fuck going, now?" Angry, scowling at
them and taking a couple of threatening steps forward.
"If not, you can do what you want and I'll leave
on my own. I don't give a fuck if you survive."
don't need you, Daan. Not anymore." The first one
tried to push Dan away, but he stood, legs braced, and
despite the knee his balance was solid.
be stupid. Leave the soldier's corpse alone. You've
had enough blood, haven't you?" He barely finished
his words when another man shouted, "Death to the
one had listened to a word Dan said, pushing against
him, too many of them, and they forced him out of the
way. Short of starting to shoot, Dan didn't have a chance.
He stumbled and despite shouldering into a couple of
the Mujas, they barged past, and he crashed into the
rocks, cursing loudly.
saw knives flicking, blades catching a glimpse of light,
and hands tearing at the soldier's blood drenched uniform.
soldier fought, one handed, kicking where he could,
kicking with all the strength he had left, fighting
like an animal, biting, the pure stress of combat and
the pain wiping the fear away, wiping everything away
until he was only struggling flesh, breath going ragged,
and fast, fighting on his back for all he was worth,
not even cursing, not screaming.
you!" Dan yelled, "fuck you and your fucking
world!" His rifle butt came crashing down on first
man, then a second, in rapid succession, knocking them
out of the way to make himself a clear space within
the ring of rags. Drab coloured deadly carrion, tearing
at their prize, devouring the still-living flesh.
heard a scream, the flurry of motion, saw one of the
knives flashing downwards and towards the soldier's
guts. Before the blade entered, Dan had his pistol out
of the holster and in his hand, aiming at the kid's
head. "I'm sorry." In Russian, and he caught
a glance from those panicking eyes, pulling the trigger.
Once. Twice, and a third time. Three clean shots where
one would have been sufficient, straight through the
skull, smashing the young face with hardly any beard
yet, and splattering the brains the moment the blade
sliced into flesh. Too late for pain. The soldier was
stood for no more than a second. Shocked to the core
and unable to understand why the fuck this one life
and death had rattled him, but he had no more time to
dwell when the angry cries turned against him. Fists
pummelled into his body, face, and blades flying towards
him. Heartbeats before his training kicked in, and he
defended the attack. Felt knives cut in his back, warmth
and pain on his arm, and he fought and kicked, punched,
until he managed to get his rifle back up. Shooting
into the air, he yelled at the top of his lungs, "You
want to fight for Allah or die for him? You choose!"
stopped. Thank fuck they had enough sense to stop trying
to tear him apart, and Dan managed to get out of there
and away. Unhindered, as if something had suddenly turned
them back towards the corpse itself, and like hyenas
they tore into the young man's body. Dan turned, couldn't
watch, felt sick and didn't understand why. He'd seen
worse, done much worse, oh yes, much worse, but that
kid's face, the greed to survive, and the sheer insanity
of it all, it was getting to him. Just like the stench
of burning flesh curled into his nostrils.
went back to his bergan, fairly safe in the knowledge
they were not going to attack him again. Yet the atmosphere
had changed and they wouldn't trust 'Daan' like they
used to. Finding the bandages, Dan wrapped himself up
best he could. Crouching as far away from corpses and
Mujas, one hand pressed against his knee and another
holding his face. His head felt heavy and just as weary
as the tiredness that had crept into the rest of his
body and finally into his mind.
months, and how much longer before he could get back
to wherever and who and what and why, and
wind was even colder than the freezing ground, howling
day after day, while he was still stuck in this mountainous
hell. This winter, his goat herders said, was far harsher
than any they could remember. It should be spring right
now. Yeah, right, as if he gave a flying fuck anymore,
each day was just about survival. Surviving and killing
- killing to survive.
had done more of his fair share in both, and the last
nine months had taken their toll. Physical, and mental.
He felt bone-weary for the first time in his life. Day
in, night out; the extremes of weather, the hardship
of the terrain. The death, and the dying. Scraping for
food and water, sleeping in caves, no more than holes
hewn into earth and rock, and, if lucky, the luxury
of a flee infested tent. All he could dream of sometimes
was a bed, a proper, soft, big feather bed. If he ever
got out of the mountains he would buy himself one. Queen
size, at least. Just for himself. Then again, what did
it matter, where would he want to go.
had swallowed him whole, perhaps she would never spit
him out again.
was tired from the constant cold that was freezing a
man's brain and sapping his strength, aggravated by
climbing for hours and walking for days, just to reach
that cave. The cave they'd stayed in, two years ago,
after the massacre. Dan snorted to himself, trudging
on. He didn't even know if he hadn't misunderstood the
encrypted message and there might be no one and nothing
waiting for him.
cursed the rocks beneath his feet, making his steps
unsteady. His right knee hurt constantly these days.
Arthritis from wear and tear or too much cold. Deterioration
sped up by injuries like that night in Kabul: explosions,
insurgents, and a fall from a collapsing building. It
didn't matter. He'd laugh about his own failing body
if he had any breath left in this motherfucking altitude
that robbed his air and dulled the senses. He felt like
he was aging fast and his body was getting ready for
the scrap-heap. Funny, really, at the ripe old age of
had taken Dan longer than it should have, forced to
trek the long way round, too many possible traps on
the shorter, straightforward path. Couldn't touch the
main road if he wanted to stay alive. He'd be a prize
to behold if a Soviet patrol should catch him, or a
merc, for that matter, anyone who had an interest in
his head, and that would be quite a few by now.
was finally getting closer to the cave, felt being watched,
but sensed no danger. Wondered tiredly to himself if
he even really cared anymore. Life. Death. The latter
meant no pain and no toil, and finally sleeping.
in the cave, Vadim pulled back inside, secured the Dragunov
rifle, and tossed some tea leaves into the metal mugs.
Lemon was hard to come by in this country.
made it to the plateau at last, saw the entrance, walked
right towards it. Took less care than he used to, too
weary. If he was going to be ambushed from anywhere,
then so fucking be it. Ducking his head to step inside,
he spotted the Russian immediately and grunted something
akin to a greeting, watching the tall shape move in
the low light. Funny, how the roles had changed. Nine
months ago he had provided a bergan, full of everything
the Glorious Red Army could not get, now it was he who
was left with nothing. Dan shrugged the rifle strap
off his shoulder, then worked his arms out of the heavy
backpack that contained all of his worldly possessions.
Had retained his sleeping back, blanket, clothes on
his body, ammo, rifle, pistol, knives, but not much
pulled the fur hat off and tossed it onto his kit. Dan
made a few noises - shuffling, mostly. Welcome home.
He smirked. A fine housewife he made, tea and beef jerky,
and a cold cave with a small lantern. Technically, he
didn't need more. He was reasonably sure this place
was no longer used as storage. The dushmans had stopped
using the path down around the mountain.
let the pack slip off his back, where it came to the
ground with a thud, while continuing to watch Vadim.
The movements, sight and sounds. Couldn't grasp how
it could all be so familiar, yet seemed a lifetime away.
turned, and Dan's gaze fell onto the Russian's boots
and their unmistakable 'M' stamped into the ankle. 'M'
for 'Matterhorn', just like his own. Seemed he had chosen
the right size, after all. Back in Blighty, in a place
he could hardly remember and which had finally lost
all connection to himself. Nothing left. Empty.
some hot water?" Stretching up to full height,
Dan felt every bone protest in his long abused body.
It was good to move the muscles, though, easing off
from the long trek. He was insane to have made this
journey; insane or
he wasn't sure. "Haven't
shaved in days."
placed one mug on the ground near Dan, then placed his
own not too far away. "No cream." It was a
private joke. Lemon, cream, sugar
of civilization. He nodded towards the kettle. "There's
more. I found water." It was amazing how much water
actually did exist in Afghanistan without making even
the faintest appearance. He had developed a sense for
the water, the hidden streams running underground from
the glaciers to the lowlands.
nodded then bent down, groaned, but soon replaced with
a guttural, low sound of pleasure as the heat warmed
up his hands and the hot tea slowly rolled over his
tongue and down his throat. "Good stuff."
A compliment from a Brit. "Even without the cream."
was almost comfortable in the cave. Sheltered sufficiently
from the cold and the constantly howling winds, the
small fire had been able to warm up the air. Dan tried
to estimate how long his Russkie had been here, waiting.
The time it would have taken a small fire to warm the
cubic metres of air, and if Vadim would still have been
here had Dan not managed to get there in slightly under
sat down, held the mug carefully on the rim, watched.
"Rough going", he commented to nothing in
particular. His gaze fell onto the rifles, and with
a scowl, he placed the desert scarf over them. A bundle
of death. He shook his head, then concentrated on the
heat and the occasional sip. Allowing the other man
time to arrive, every now and then glancing at him.
He didn't want to stare, had to get used to Dan once
more. Especially after his enemy had sent off
another dozen tin caskets with comrades in them.
moved his fingers after warming them on the mug. They
were getting stiff lately and he couldn't wait for summer.
Overuse, the medic had said last time he had managed
to see one, wear and tear. Fair enough. Overuse of body
and mind - the Afghan mountains could do that to a man.
unwrapped the obligatory rag around his head and face,
revealing not only the thick stubble, but also a new
scar. It hadn't been there nine month ago, in the grimy
and overheated hotel room in Kabul. Running from his
left cheekbone to the corner of his mouth, he had been
lucky, the knife hadn't cut deeper, the perfect curve
of his lips was still the same. Dan didn't seem aware
of the scar, hadn't seen himself in a proper mirror
for too long. Forgotten about the angry cut, unless
wild dark hair had grown long, reaching beyond his neck,
but it didn't bother him. He'd chop some of it off if
it started to annoy him, that's what knives were for,
after all. That, and killing - and sometimes cutting
flesh into scars that formed meaning.
took the parka off, then the second scarf around his
neck, followed by the three layers of jumper, vest,
then shirt. Thick flannel, it didn't matter what it
was nor what it looked like, as long as it kept him
warm. He was down to the t-shirt, before searching for
the soap bag in his bergan. All of his clothes were
stained, but they didn't smell of anything other than
wood smoke and he didn't seem dirty, knowing the secret
of keeping clean with a handful of water, vital for
survival and health.
in the almost empty soap bag, he found a small piece
of soap to lather and use for makeshift shaving foam,
and his last, blunt razor. It would have to do, he'd
get new kit eventually. Maybe. Or he'd end up with a
beard like the goat fuckers.
t-shirt, now, discarding it on the pile. Dan's body
had changed. He had lost some of his bulk, replaced
by longer muscles, betraying the strength of a runner.
He had become leaner, built for defence, even though
he'd been behind some of the worst of the attacks. A
grubby bandage was wound around his right biceps, and
a couple new scars had found their way to the back of
his shoulders. It could have been anything: shrapnel,
grenades, splinters and rubble, even a fall on the rocks
themselves. Who knew, who cared.
down in front of the fire and the tin pot with its warm
water, Dan seemed oblivious to Vadim, solely intent
on trying to see his face in the back of the mess tin
since his mirror had broken two months ago. He washed
his face before lathering and rubbing the soap into
the dark stubble, then swished the razor in the water,
about to start the laborious task of shaving in the
buckled metal of his eating utensil.
set the empty mug down, and came over in a crouch, placing
his fingers around Dan's hands, and pulled them down,
away from that face that had seen more than enough abuse
already. The scar. It changed that face, made it look
far more sinister. Character. He took the razor like
from a child's hand, then cupped Dan's chin in his hand.
"You look like walking tree", he said, disapproving.
His own head was still mostly shaved, he found it practical
that way, and he hated not being shaved. More hygienic
anyway. He raised Dan's chin, placing the razor to the
side of his throat, smirking as he could see the moment
of tension. He'd use a much sharper knife to cut him.
With this thing, it was impossible. Nothing more than
surface cuts - and that was something Dan had managed
completely on his own.
close, Dan felt claustrophobic for a moment, yet they'd
been much closer - impossibly close when inside the
other's body - but nine months in the mountains had
gotten him used to more personal space than he had ever
Vadim finished and put the razor down, Dan looked at
the face before him, unsure at what stage in the last
six years he had stopped wanting to smash it in with
fists and boots, or bloodying the features with blades
and punches, to destroy that goddamned perfection. Familiarity.
Interesting, an idle part of his mind was musing, perfection.
That was it. His eyes got drawn to Vadim's lips, he'd
split them but never kissed them, and he simply leaned
forward. His own lips touched the other's before Vadim
could react. Dan parted his own, a fraction, needed
to taste, feel, invite in return.
felt his breath catch in his throat. The touch as normal,
as sane as he had thought it could be, possibly.
voice was rough and low, murmuring against the other's
lips. "I hate you, Russkie." No. He didn't,
but he couldn't find the right word for this. This feeling.
Hatred was the closest he could get. The alternative
was still unthinkable.
inhaled, exhaled, deeply, to clear his mind. Too many
strange thoughts. Too much thought what this pledge
meant. If anything.
hadn't kissed anyone in so many years, he couldn't remember.
Had forgotten the intense sensation of heat flooding
from Vadim's mouth, the simple pleasure of lips touching-moving
against lips, and the new sensation of stubble. He'd
never kissed a man; never in his whole life. Except
a kiss of death six years ago. Another first
and last and always for Vadim. A rape - a kiss. And
wasn't it ironic.
He'd forgotten. Fuck, how much he wanted to remember.
placed a hand against Dan's chest. Not just some guy.
Not the handsome Hungarian fencer that kissed him despite
the fact Vadim had defeated his team member that very
day. He had still just kissed him, the rest was history,
as they said.
was Dan, Dan who seemed like a skittish horse when the
silence moved away from a silence between men who didn't
speak much to a silence that did hold words. He expected
Dan to laugh or hit him, maybe, some kind of joke. He
narrowed his eyes, looked at him, and saw the weariness.
Dan was defenceless today. No armour. No knife. Dan
would still fight, but he had nothing to expend, nothing
to give. No extra round, no spare magazine. Dan was
spent in a way that felt unnatural. He wanted to say
something, something about not minding, not caring,
not worrying. He thought Dan might think it was reluctance.
It wasn't. He just couldn't breathe. He put a hand against
Dan's neck and pulled him forward, tilted his head,
rested his forehead against the other man's. He needed
to find words, fall back into breathing properly, but
it was like he was diving and still hadn't broken the
surface. He wanted to offer food, warmth, more tea,
then realized he was stalling. Didn't find any smart
words, not in English, not in Russian. It didn't disturb
him. He had accepted it long ago. "You're one brave
man, coming into lion's den", he murmured, and
meant something entirely different.
Dan shook his head, not much of a motion, reluctant
to move away from the close proximity and the simple
but deeply profound gesture of foreheads touching. "You
don't understand." Murmured, too close to see those
ice blue eyes, his sight blurry. "I can't remember."
He knew how to kill and how to fuck. He couldn't remember
bared his teeth, kept Dan in exactly that position,
hand tensing. Soldiers that suddenly went strange, that
suddenly had this 'What the fuck am I doing here?' thing
written all over their faces. It happened. Stress. Doubts.
Sometimes, they were just homesick, if judging from
his own experience. He could deal with the stress. It
meant breaking people, but he could. And homesickness
was an interesting concept.
weeks when his mother died, her legs swollen and inflamed,
then she just went from bad to much worse and was dead.
He barely made it to the funeral. And stood there as
the family mingled, kisses, hugs, the wailing. They
found it hard to kiss him in that full dress uniform,
the formality. He struggled to shed it once they were
all together, cooking, talking about things, never anything
political. His father had been somewhat critical, in
private, always only in private, and Vadim had always
felt that could destroy his career. Luckily, his father
never tried to organize anything, and kept silent, unless
with people he trusted. Now that Vadim wore the uniform,
the sardonic comments and puns stopped. His father knew
how to use language. But he kept silent during the uncomfortable
week they spent together. He tried to help the old man
back on track, but he had the feeling he didn't actually
need somebody to carry out the old wardrobe and fix
the massive bookshelf, but somebody to talk to. Only,
you didn't talk to KGB. And his father was everything
this, he had felt numb, put it down to the fact his
mother was dead. The practical, down to earth woman
he owed his looks to. He had changed sides, that was
the feeling. Somehow, somewhere, he had become 'one
of them', the hero turned spy, intelligence officer,
fighting a war nobody understood in a country that nobody
me, what do you remember?" Get him to talk, Vadim
don't want to talk." Suddenly resistance against
Vadim's hand. Dan's neck muscles tensing. He didn't
know the words and he didn't want to search for them.
"I just want to feel." But no, not right,
that wasn't it. "I want to feel human."
else, and Vadim would have taken the mug, pushed it
into his hand and told him to drink his fucking tea.
Human. Two arms, two legs, one head. Capable of speech.
An animal that changed its surroundings and adapted.
let go of Dan's neck, then, without thinking much, took
his face into both hands and kissed him. Just like that,
like the Hungarian fencer. No fear, or misgivings, body
to body. Fairly chaste, as the thought of passion seemed
far away, of teasing and arousing. Smelling the soap,
the damp skin from the shave, and the long hair. Tasting
what amounted to bitterness, he thought, like tears.
was it. Simple. Profound. Dan's own humanity lost and
shot to pieces in a war that wasn't his own. All he
ever had been was a killer, but right now he was more
than that. Dan remembered to be human at the kiss, and
the Russian's tenderness hurt like a motherfucker.
didn't touch Vadim at first. Did nothing but part his
lips. A rare moment of passivity in a man who would
still fight and kill within the next heartbeat, if he
had to. Parting his lips, he closed his eyes, just for
a moment. Couldn't stop that odd, bitterly lost sound
that escaped from somewhere deep inside.
at last. Dan opened his eyes, despite being that close,
tilted his head and breathed, moved, demanded to taste.
Vadim's stubble rasping against his lips when the kiss
turned real; sensing scars on the other's lips, his
own somewhat chapped in places, in others smooth and
dehumanised the Soviets, their allies, even the Mujahideen
he was supposed to be organising against the invaders.
He'd taken humanity from the corpses - and in return
those dead eyes, maimed bodies and rotting flesh had
stolen his own.
man though, those eyes, lips, hands and body, this man
was alive, causing an onslaught of sensations when tongue
met tongue, entering the body without force - unlike
tasted of tea, vodka, survival and strength.
parted his lips, almost surprised at the tongue. It
seemed unlike Dan, somehow, to kiss him like that. He
ran his hands down Dan's face, to his shoulders, enjoyed
how the muscles shifted, how the man breathed, and felt
himself press into the kiss. Demanding more, much more
as it struck an inner cord, somewhere down there, and
reminded him of lust and greed. He thought he shouldn't
be wanting this, but the kiss was sensuous, tender,
and after all the months it was impossible to pretend
that he didn't want this, this and more, because they
both could have been dead, and not met here.
pulled away for a moment, breathing hard. "You
need to rest up", Vadim said, softly, in Russian,
and nodded over to the improvised bed. It would be pretty
damn tight, he had done what he could, but there was
only so much possible. He was here as a sniper, not
as a hotelier, after all.
let out a strange sound when the connection was severed.
Anger, frustration, the dark-coiling fear of something
he refused to acknowledge: rejection.
He felt abandoned. He'd kissed, he wanted more. Wanted
something he couldn't understand and was told he wouldn't
get it. Felt like a fool. "I don't fucking need
to rest up." His body tensed.
turned back to face the other. Studied him in the gloom
of the cave. Like the two first men on earth, or the
last, and it was fucking insanity they were enemies.
When they weren't. Dan had shed his camo. He opened
the shirt, eyes on Dan's, the undershirt, and then,
almost in an afterthought, but it wasn't, it was reluctance,
the dog tags. He felt tension, wasn't entirely sure
about the rules right now.
eyes widened suddenly. That one movement he'd never
seen, never expected. The dog tags. That one last piece
of identity that Vadim wouldn't shed - unlike himself,
who had been forced to lose his a long time ago.
fucking well do need rest." Vadim stood and went
to the cave opening, crouched to set up the tripwire
and the caltrops on the way in, then returned. "We
have time." For once. Maybe a day or two. Hoped
the offer made more sense to Dan now. That he understood
what he was offering.
the reaction Dan had expected, but he had no energy
to query. Just sat, watching the other. Studying the
uniform that should make him shoot Vadim on sight, instead
he was as familiar with it as he was with his own -
more so. Hadn't worn the British camo for too long,
had touched and smelled the Russian's far more often.
own attire, for too long, had been rags and dirt, hardship
and weariness. He wasn't fighting for Queen and Country,
he was doing a job that had lost all connection to himself
during the last nine months.
couldn't suppress the wince when he moved out of the
crouch. His knees hurt more than he could deal with,
but no chance to give in to the pain. Undoing the laces
of his well-worn Matterhorn boots, he shed the socks
as well but not the trousers. Not yet. "I'm fucking
tired." Not just 'been a long trek', or any such
shit. Only the bare bones of truth. He was tired. He
had lost his way.
stood up, forlorn in the cave and looked at nothing.
undressed completely, got rid of every last shred of
Red Army. Sharing warmth, yeah right, meant skin to
skin. He stepped up to Dan, and took a handful of his
far too long hair - fucking disgrace to any army in
the world. Pulling him close, to look him in the eye,
before Vadim moved towards the makeshift bunk, nothing
more but the mat and a couple of blankets, his bergan
serving as part insulation, part pillow.
your ass down there."
raised his brows, said nothing. Exhausted. "Bossy
Russian cunt." Murmured, with a surprising sense
of fondness. Trust Vadim to set the anchor and hold
onto the lost frigate. He sat down on the makeshift
bed, his movements stiffer than they used to be. The
mountains took a lot out of a man and it was a miracle
he had survived - his scars and the fairly fresh wound
told the story.
see who's the cunt", said Vadim. He'd get what
space Dan didn't use. Which meant precious little, unless
they both rested on their side.
Dan move, there were thoughts of infection, disease,
broken bones, things only old people got, but then,
the knees, that was a para thing. He knew the future
held that in store for him as well. Athletes and soldiers
asked more of their bodies than those could deliver
forever. He crouched, waited for Dan to lean back, then
lay down as well, half covering the other with his body,
and the blanket.
couldn't remember when he had been able to settle down
and seek sleep without being alert in some parts of
his mind. Shuffling back in an attempt to leave enough
space for the equally large body, face to face. It felt
warm. Smelled familiar.
make a bloody great wife for someone." Dan chuckled
Vadim peered at Dan. At least nothing like devochka.
He really didn't like that word. His hands found the
belt buckles, opened it, the metallic sounds were odd
in the cave, opened the buttons and slid the trousers
down the still body, lips brushing Dan's pec, the warm
strength that rested within. He moved down, pulling
the trousers with him, undressing him like he should
have done that first time.
struck deep, that word, somehow. Wives waited at home
and reared children. Sometimes, they sent letters, and
received letters in return. "Don't get your hopes
up, I'm on top."
frowned, didn't understand Vadim's reaction. "Holy
fuck, Russkie, take it a notch down." Wife, to
him, was someone who stood for stability, for coming
home, for dealing with all the shit he was not able
to deal with. For providing a Real Life and not this
insanity. Wife - an unattainable idea that only existed
in men's imagination. Mother and whore, yeah, fuck that.
can fuck me all you like, I'm too exhausted to fight."
Dan had never been that honest. Rarely been that acidic,
either. "Does that make you happy?" Shit choice
of words, knew it the moment they were out. Fuck, he'd
forgotten to be himself.
tossed the trousers away, paused. When, how, and why
had the rules all changed?
- weak, irritated, sounded as if he was hurt, worse,
far worse than the scratches. He was tempted to fuck
him only to check whether he could reach Dan's strength,
fan it into something to keep him going. There was no
answer to that. Happiness was far away, relief was the
most he could do.
lay down, looking at Dan, saw the bandage stand out
against the dark skin. His fault, maybe. With the new
set of rules, banter turned serious too soon. Only too
aware English didn't quite carry what he wanted to say.
Or not say, by saying something else. He found it hard
to look at Dan's face in the gloom. He wanted to turn
him over, rest on top, maybe lie side by side and put
an arm around him. Just to share warmth. And say things
neither language allowed.
closed his eyes, listened to the silence. Lying on his
side, tense at first, until it slowly dissipated, along
with thoughts that swirled in slow, lazy circles through
his mind. "I haven't suddenly turned into a whiny
bitch, Russkie." Voice dark and low, "I guess
I simply came too close to the grim reaper a few times
too many, even for my own liking."
placed a hand on Dan's hip and moved closer, touching
him all the way, not looking at him, but at the dark
hollow between Dan's head and the ground. He understood
the body, he didn't always understand the man that lived
smoothed itself out of overused muscles as Dan shuffled
closer, a simple task in the confinement of their two
bodies. Silence tried to settle, but his tired chuckle
chased it away. "I remember my first kiss. It was
a fucking disaster."
fingers moved up the side, a slow, deliberate movement.
He tried to remember his first kiss. Ah, yes, a cousin
who had been smitten with him. They had sworn to marry.
Nothing disastrous about it, only that he hadn't kept
here", he said, tonelessly. Hoped it held as much
as it should. Talk, no talk, kissing, heart baring,
warmth, rest. Maybe Dan had meant that with the whole
you are." Dan answered, forgotten that oh-so hilarious
story of his first kiss. Didn't matter. Not any longer.
Silence, then, amidst the quiet sounds of two men's
Dan murmured at long last, "it's another first
today." He paused, "You seem to be the one
for firsts," his breath caught, "and lasts
stopped breathing. He reached out, on instinct, needed
to say something and had no words for it. Instead, he
kissed Dan again, nestled the man's head against his
shoulder. Fuck decorum.
have few bad habits", he murmured. "I'm not
good man, Daniel. But I get by."
my mother called me Daniel." Small smile against
Vadim's lips, "when I was in the dog house."
Dan was tired, yet he kissed. Taste and smell familiar
- comforting - home.
the time for jokes, they'd long passed the need for
them. Bare bones and laid open, bleeding.
mine amidst friendly fire.
was dark in the cave, pitch-black before his closed
eyes. Dan couldn't remember why he had woken, no dream
to disturb his sleep, no sound, no fears nor danger.
He felt warm, unfamiliarly comfortable, and it took
him a moment to understand where the heat was coming
from. The faint sound of regular breathing close to
his ear, and a body pressed to his. Skin on skin, the
memory of the kisses lingering.
smiled, to no one or nothing in particular, while opening
his eyes. Picking out Vadim's shadow and shape in the
faraway glow of the dying fire. Home. His only home.
An 'enemy' in a wilderness of insanity. He'd become
a friend across the trenches.
running his hand from where it rested on Vadim's hip
up the ribcage, and around to the back. Calloused palm
and scraped fingers meeting muscles on their way. Damn
good. Familiar, yet he would never tire of discovering
he was, it was a good place. Vadim stretched under the
touches, knew they were good, welcome, the rasp of a
hand he knew. Strong and rough. Lapushka. Wolf's paws.
Cat's paws. Paws.
smiled again, his lips touching the other's, and he
parted them with his tongue. "Hey, Russkie,"
Murmured, invading-inviting, "wake up or you'll
miss the show."
kept his eyes closed, opened his lips, teeth, welcoming
the tongue, tasting Dan, that taste of sleep and early
morning. Hand ventured out to bring Dan closer, front
to front, one leg hooked over the other man's thighs
as if he was going to roll on top.
He repeated. Whatever Dan was talking about. Not quite
that awake yet.
chuckled against Vadim's lips. "Forget it, I'm
talking bullshit." Pouring all of his attention
back into another kiss. An intimacy not only re-learned
but never mastered to start with. He'd never get enough,
now that he had tasted the addiction. Another one, and
he'd never again be free of his Russian.
finally pushed the leg off, hooked his own around Vadim's
instead. Rolled him over and came on top, pulling himself
up to sit and straddle. As he looked down at the face
in the shadows, Dan could only see the gleam of pale
his back. Vadim grinned, liked the way Dan did something
unexpected. No protest, no sir. Inhaled deeply as he
felt the weight in the right place, hardened right there,
placed his hands on Dan's thighs, stroking them, not
truly sleepy now, more lazy.
me, Russkie, have you ever 'made love' in your long
fuck-career? You know, the kind women like." Dan's
fingers and palms stroked across Vadim's chest.
looked up. "You mean the kind that hurts like bitch?"
He nodded. "Yes. First one. First man, first
Oh shit. The slow, deliberate fucking, the kind that
made him crazy, touched his soul, his mind, purified
and elated, cleansed him. Not that there had been much
to cleanse, not back then.
Dan lowered his head, trying to make out details in
the gloom. "Hurt like a bitch? Why? Never had that
one." He shrugged, remembered sex with bodies that
he had told himself he wanted, could still get off on,
if he had to pay a whore for a blowjob. But those bodies
had never fulfilled the deepest desire that sat at his
very core. Not for thirty-one years.
love? Who was he?" Dan pulled the blanket up over
him and Vadim both, a tent in the darkness, its sturdy
poles two men.
struggled for words. Who? His occupation. His name.
He knew almost nothing, apart from the things the man
had said to him, nothing about his past. He should try
and find him, ask questions he hadn't had a mind to
ask. "He was team masseur." It sounded stupid,
he thought. "Knew me better than I did myself.
ah." Exhaled. "He seduced me. Not
not in bad way. I wanted
maybe he made you want him. Entered you and fucked you
with his fingers until you wanted more, and more, and
took his cock. Vadim flushed, growing harder, breath
going harder, too.
could not read the thoughts but felt their physical
reactions. "Interesting memory, you seem to enjoy
it. Here I was, thinking young Soviet athletes didn't
engage in such filthy activities." He grinned,
baring his teeth. "No offence meant."
not offended." Vadim grinned. "He was good
at what he did." Oh yes.
envy you." Dan confessed, "I got pissed, I
fucked holes and usually those two went together."
Leaning down, he gave into the sudden urge to suck on
the spot he had marked, six years ago. The scar of the
cigarette burn, in the hollow of the throat.
moved his head to the side. "I was kid. Never knew
what hit me. To be 'degenerated' and 'pride of Soviet
Union' makes for some
lifted his head once more, faces so close, his vision
was blurred as he grinned. The mention of degenerate
and Soviet Union in one breath was an evil temptation
to laugh, but he didn't, holding it inside.
was stroking the hips, the stomach, tracing the lines
as Dan tensed. "I was just damn lucky." Reached
up to lay his hand flat on the sternum, let it mould
itself to the slight curve. "Never
in love, then?"
hands on Dan's body, fingers that traced muscles, sinews
and bones, were simultaneously welcome and distracting.
"No, never been in love." Never thought about
it, either. "Never had the time, the space, the
understanding." Tilted his head, wasn't quite sure
what he had actually said. "It's
What, to be in love? How do you know, Dan, how do you
know? He dove back down to the neck, burrowed teeth
and lips into the spot where shoulder and throat met,
could not bear to dwell further on the question.
Vadim closed his eyes, felt the teeth go right to his
groin, the shifting of the other man was good, intense,
and he dug his fingers into Dan's neck, free hand sliding
between their bodies to lightly touch his cock. He wanted
more, wanted it all the way, but was perfectly willing
to go as slow as Dan wanted. He had been seduced. It
was good, one of the best memories he had. But when
he compared the masseur and Dan, then Dan was more intense.
Different, very different. He had felt small and strange
with the masseur. With Dan, he felt strong, powerful,
it's very strange." Loving you. He had known. For
a long time. Somebody who could reduce him to reckless
need, somebody who matched him stride for stride, knife
for knife. Blow for fucking blow.
didn't want to think, least of all examine, this 'thing'
that he used to call hatred. Couldn't dwell upon it,
he had to go back into the mountains, killing, hunting,
planning, destroying. Too soon, always too fucking soon.
Another night, another day, and off once more. No time
to try and understand.
perhaps he was just a coward?
body moved down along Vadim's, up once more, sliding
muscle against muscle and hardness against hardness.
Nothing soft between them, nothing gentle and sweet.
None, until now. Tenderness.
quiet voice was close to Vadim's ear. "Do you have
any of the lube left that was in the bergan? I lost
the Vaseline and almost everything else that day I gained
the scar." Lube, Vaseline, anything, didn't matter.
"I could do with something," Dan grinned in
the dimness of the cave, "for you."
paused, then felt his heart race at that grin. Shouldn't
be so fucking needy, shouldn't look forward so much
to getting fucked. It didn't matter. "Sure
He stretched to find the opening of the bergan, dug
a hand in (no, you didn't plan this, didn't plan any
of this at all) and found the lube.
dropped the lube on the ground beside them, turned his
head to face it, then looked at Dan from the corner
of his eye, grinning. "I guess you are making assumptions."
That assumption is you enjoy getting fucked,
Vadim, and that is a fact.
Dan smirked, reached for the lube, "or maybe I'm
just an ever hopeful bastard." Lying on his side,
he stuck the tube under his arm, felt the strange need
to warm it, had never bothered before. "It's cold,
don't want to freeze my bollocks off. Turn round?"
up-tilt at the end of his sentence, not a demand but
a request. Kept the other in the confinement of warmth
underneath the blankets, hands on Vadim's hips, urging
him to turn around. Wasn't quite sure what he was doing,
didn't know where he was going, just followed his instincts
arched an eyebrow in a mock 'Oh yeah?', then, as if
he was royalty, lazily, moved, facial expression as
if he was doing Dan a massive favour. Wanted to feel
him inside, without appearing too fucking eager. Then
again, what did it matter? He could be needy. No witnesses,
and Dan wouldn't mock him for it. Or maybe he would.
But he'd keep his mouth shut. No reputation to be lost.
He pulled one knee up, to make things easier. "Not
rocket science", he murmured.
Dan's hand slapped the knee back down. "You got
it halfway right but not quite." No, Dan? And how
would you know? When had you ever tried this position?
A lifetime ago, in a soft bed with pink plush hearts
and a stack of teddies. He couldn't remember the girl,
but had memories of the sensations. Slow, deliberate,
intimate in ways he hadn't used to engage in, but she'd
caught him out in the morning with pert buttocks and
a face he thankfully could not see.
want to take my time. Too wrecked, still, to be vigorous."
pulled close, moulded his body against Vadim's back.
Groin against arse, thighs touching back of thighs,
knees in the crook of knees and chest along the length
of the scarred back. Embracing the other, holding tight,
Dan's fingers fanned across Vadim's pecs.
gave a surprised snort of laughter, but then lay back,
feeling Dan shift and move and get close like that,
like an extension of his own body, warmth kept between
Dan murmured, lips and tongue tracing lazy patterns
across Vadim's shaved neck. He felt himself grow hard,
but he had time. For once, and he would cherish it.
sighed at the touch in his neck, the breath against
the side of his neck, and pushed slightly back as if
to close a distance that wasn't there. One arm to rest
his head on, the other hand took Dan's hand and lazily
moved it across his chest, tensed the muscles to show
off if anything, slowly moved that hand down to his
stomach. "What if I say please?" He asked
wouldn't have any effect." Dan chuckled in his
softly accented Russian. Allowed his hand to be moved,
then took over once more, splayed his fingers across
the abs. Tried to shift and squirm to get his cock between
Vadim's thighs without the help of his hand, laughing
quietly at his useless attempts.
either do with a little help or my hand back."
He couldn't remember if they'd ever laughed or joked
laughed, raised a leg and let go of the hand to reach
behind him for Dan's cock, stroking it a few times,
good size, good, heavy, hot cock, moved back, back arched,
placed it between his legs, trapped it between his thighs.
"You finally making me your bitch, soldier?"
The coarse military slang slipped from his tongue too
easily, but then, Dan would understand the meaning if
not the exact words. He glanced over his shoulder, smirking.
been my bitch since you've become my cunt, fucking Russkie."
Dan grinned but couldn't help groan and shudder visibly
at the touch.
laughed again. Dan tough-talking. He loved it, Dan using
that offensive word in a way that was never serious,
even though he had that joke written all over his back.
managed one-handed to squirt the warmed substance onto
his hand, lubricated himself, then rubbed the remainder
into the nearly smooth, muscular arse, before slapping
the leg down once more.
it'll work. Just let me." This time he guided his
own cock, the position not allowing much leverage nor
entrance at all, cock merely teasing.
opened his lips at Dan's hand between his cheeks, the
warm, slick touch, which catapulted him back to a lot
of good sex and no bad sex at all. He lay still, as
that was obviously what Dan wanted, even though it would
not work, feeling pressure, and closing his eyes, part
hoping Dan would still manage, he was hard, of course.
want some leverage", murmured Vadim. "Not
quite like with girls."
think I can even remember girls." Dan chuckled,
a partly frustrated sound, at having to admit defeat.
"Was a good idea while it lasted." Slightly
breathless, his voice had turned into the husky rumble
that could turn Glen Coe into a puddle.
pushed Vadim's leg up a little, but not as much as before.
Manipulating the body, finally able to do more than
tease, he concentrated on the position and closed his
eyes, relishing the indescribable sensation of breaching
slowly through the muscle, gently coaxing Vadim to accommodate
his cock instead of battering down and fucking him raw.
," his hand took hold of Vadim's
thigh, their bodies so close, not an inch of skin that
was not touching, "
a damn good idea now."
stopped breathing as Dan finally got it right, cock
between his legs, slicked up, mounting pressure, and
he pressed against that, half-expected Dan to enter
quickly, that was what he thought he wanted, but no
such thing. Instead the slow way, and it made his hands
clench into fists. Yes. Yes please.
back curved, like an animal getting mounted, tensed
in all the good ways, fucking gentle, hardly any different
from fingers, much more contact, much more than he would
have expected, and he loved this. Loved Dan taking control,
mind threatening to go completely blank. Couldn't push
back much, Dan's weight kept him pinned. Control.
was breathing hard, could feel more cock enter him,
Dan was taking his time, as if he was expecting resistance
or bolting or wanted to drive him insane. Maybe he was
nervous. "I'm alright", he murmured, felt
his voice go rough. Expected more force.
know you are." Dan murmured, his hand had found
Vadim's cock, gripping hard and squeezing a moment,
and yet when he turned to stroking the movement was
as slow and deliberate as his body, which was rolling
with lazy waves of low-level constant lust.
more than alright." He realised he was rambling
on, had entered a space in his mind and body he'd never
been in before. Aroused and arousing, but slow and tender,
taking his time tenfold.
other arm trapped beneath Vadim, enough movement for
the hand to stroke the chest, revelling in the soft
skin and sharp angles. "An enemy, in every military
sense and some personal ones as well." Dan paused,
concentrated on the slow thrusts that were merely small,
smooth movements. He felt connected, more than just
his cock inside the Russian's body, more than words
and more than touches. "You conquered me, got to
this Special Forces bloke well and truly." His
voice husky and low. "You could betray and kill
me now and I wouldn't give a shit as long as you'd stay
close until I died."
Vadim was still waiting for the force, the attack, revenge
for the thing he'd done, it would even that score at
last, after all that time. He expected pain, would even
welcome it if that was what it took. Instead those sliding
motions, reaching deep inside, deeper than he had thought
a cock could reach. "Couldn't
a small protest, the words breached his silence, groans
coming out with it as well, as he tried to move, to
greet, to welcome, to get the other to fuck him hard,
but there was precious little he could do, even that
hand on his cock was controlled, and there was not enough
room to move.
dawned on him that Dan wasn't nervous. Dan was just
being in control, of himself, and that meant of him
as well. "Dan, fuck", he breathed, and that
was more pleading than a curse. Eyes closed, focusing
on every motion, every breath of the other. Could feel
him up to his throat, could feel Dan's pulse inside
and against his back. "I
close as I can." Because I fucking need you. Another
deep moan, they just slipped out, no need to stay silent,
no fierce pounding, no suppressing of pained groans,
nothing, just this slow, deliberate way to move.
Dan ignored the pleading, the attempts to speed up.
"Because I won't let you leave." He didn't
control his words, only his body and that of the other.
He felt as if he could go on like this for hours, floating
in that space of slow-simmering lust and permanent arousal.
shifted slightly, one movement of his hips and the angle
changed, allowing his cock to slide in deeper, but never
faster. His hand retained the same rhythm, but added
strength to the touch. "Your body
like an extension of mine." Murmured, his eyes
had closed, there was nothing in this cave but safety,
darkness, warmth beneath the blankets, and their bodies.
Lust was mounting, slowly and steadily, like a tender
kiss that grew into deep throated need.
groaned again. Fuck. This was getting
Whatever it was Dan was doing, it just went better.
He wanted to spread further, push into that hand, felt
spread out and taken and fucking taken care of, no need
to strain or fight or beg, just two bodies moving close,
connected with flesh and sweat. His hands were fists,
he reached behind himself and touched Dan's flanks,
wanted to urge him, but more than that he wanted to
touch him. Forced himself to breathe, to try and relax,
join that impossible calm that was Dan, used to the
frantic way to do this, that this made him feel raw
and helpless. "Feels, good", he whispered
in Russian, tried to put into words what he was feeling.
"Very good." Few men had ever fucked him.
None in the army. Too many knives involved, too much
kicking and punching. This was closer to the thing the
masseur had done to him, a timeless place with no urges
but the ones that his body brought to the massage.
" Dan breathed out, it was good, damned good,
unlike anything he'd done before. Every now and then
a new chapter continued to open, and he couldn't imagine
he'd ever stop discovering something new and good and
so very much wanted. Not with this man, with Vadim he'd
never stagnate. "Love your body." Rumbling
voice, barely above a whisper. He moved the other's
leg a little, just enough to alter the angle again,
entrance now steeper, sharper, deeper as well. "Need
your body." Uncensored words.
have it", whispered Vadim, shuddering hard
as something changed again. Driving him up the walls.
For the fact Dan spoke of this as shitstabbing, he was
great at it. He tensed, his body trying to come, but
not quite there, not quite enough intensity to lose
it, and he tried to relax, focus on the other, not himself,
but it grew more and more difficult to have a single
was all body, all want, truly a bitch right now, yes,
if that gave him this kind of feeling, yes, whatever.
You have it, all of it, body, strength, desire, all
of it. Close, but not quite there. Not his decision,
for once. Moaning, he tried to move with Dan's body,
not silent for once, ashamed of the sounds he made,
sounded needing, craving, desperate.
pressed his forehead against the bergan, breath going
much faster now, still unable to come, even though every
movement inside was now torture - strength, but no speed,
no real force, instead a constant pressure.
Make me come. Don't stop. Don't you ever stop.
" Dan's breathing was ragged, could hardly
hear himself over the pounding heartbeat, "Not
yet. Not ... yet. Need to feel
more. Need more."
his body had different plans, took over and increased
the pace a fraction. Still slow, but the strength and
force of his measured thrusts were growing, while his
stroking remained the same. "Always feel more ...
cursed, he was barely coherent now, how the fuck was
it possible, how could Dan unravel him so fucking completely,
his body tensing, nearly convulsing, every thrust touching
something raw and primal. He wanted to come, needed
to come, but he couldn't come from being fucked alone,
and the hand denied it. Couldn't move enough. Couldn't
beg, instead moaned against the ground, lips open, eyes
shut. Fingers clawing at Dan, forming fists, hitting
that torturing flesh, but with no real strength at that
angle. Couldn't bargain, couldn't force. Trapped, under
control. It made him tense again, body trying desperately
to push for orgasm. No. Not enough. A groan of frustration
and lust, not quite forming Dan's name.
" Dan breathed, incoherent, sensations centred
in his mind, not just his cock. They were more than
merely bodies. Sounds, feelings, steady rhythm, slight
increase of pace and pressure, so close, his body and
mind at the edge of letting go. "You
just you, always you. My Russian cunt, my enemy, my
comrade, my prisoner, my gaoler and my life. Words,
head was swimming, all thoughts bleeding into the one
need, Dan, coming, and still not enough. Those two words
making his mind spin and blur, worse, much worse than
anything else. Love. Love you. Couldn't answer, didn't
have the control to do more but groan, with an urgent
need that was turning painful. Still couldn't come,
tried to push against the hand, begging, no pride left,
no reservation, just needed, needed.
hear his own groans echo in the cave, mind screaming
for release, knew he'd do anything, absolutely everything
for this man, suck him, kill, kill himself, run away,
be something else, anything else, everything just blurred,
darkness, a place inside that only held him and Dan.
Nobody else, nothing else, no time, no place, no affiliations,
no past, no future.
last Dan's need matched Vadim's, his hand matching the
strokes, faster, harder, still tender, but more pressure
and friction. Lost, and yet completely there and with
the other. No one else, only this Russian, that man,
the darkness and light, hatred and love. Mirrors of
each other; each the same, and both the opposite.
" again, same word, no meaning. Breathless
exclamations. "Shit, shit, shit
more, too intense, Dan suddenly toppled over, came without
warning, release had crept on him with sudden force,
drawn out, different. More intense, all encompassing,
he felt as if a sob was being torn out of his chest.
Shaking, holding, feeling and needing to feel. Seemed
it never stopped, went on forever.
came the moment the grip tightened, incoherent pain
and tension of orgasm, tightening, clenching, breathless,
or he might have screamed, shouted, just sounds coming
out, deep from his throat, raw, nothing like Russian
or English or any other language. Came, helpless, feeling
gratitude, vulnerable, Dan inside as his body clenched,
convulsed, and felt the other following, felt his cum
inside, that feeling, understood why he'd rather fought
and kicked and pulled a knife to allow this to happen
in the army. Because he could be like this, could be
completely helpless, at another man's mercy, bared to
the soul if there were such a thing as a soul.
and groaning, eyes shut, Vadim could feel the sweat
burn on his face. "Don't
whispered. "Stay." Let me feel your weight.
Let me feel you inside.
Dan could hardly speak, arms holding tight, crushing
the other if Vadim weren't so fucking strong himself.
"Won't ... go anywhere." He'd stay in this
cave forever, he'd forget about the world outside, about
killing and surviving, duties and missions, Mujahideen,
insurgents, and the British Forces alike. Immobile,
feeling himself softening, heartbeat slowing, breathing
with the other. In sync. Lovers.
slowly relaxed, strength and tension just bleeding out
of him, nicest way of bleeding, this. His hands left
and right of his body, leg straightening a little, hands
close to Dan's arms, sated in ways that would have made
him uneasy if he hadn't been completely safe. Remembering
those words. Love you. His lips moved into a
smile, relieved, glad, no, worse than that. Better.
I do, too. Shit, I do.
did not realise he was nodding off, despite the wetness.
Wrapped around and inside Vadim, he fell asleep.
had woken an hour later, his bladder full and his groin
a sticky mess. Still half asleep, had managed to scramble
up and piss outside the cave, shivering in the cold
of an approaching dawn. Grabbed some water and a rag
on his way back into the warmth, cleaned himself down,
did the same haphazardly for Vadim.
was asleep again only moments later once he had moved
to his favourite position, as close as he could to Vadim's
back, their bodies touching all along the way and his
arms wrapped around him. Sharing heat. He slept, undisturbed,
slowly waking when his mind registered the other's awareness.
yawned, burrowed closer, rubbing his face against Vadim's
back and shoulder, the fresh scar across his cheek was
itching like hell. Murmuring, "If I offered you
my body in unspeakably deprived ways, would you get
up, stoke the fire, boil water and toss some tea leaves
into a mug for me?" His lips curved into a wide
grin, Vadim didn't even have to see the smirk, could
feel it forming against his skin.
that Dan McFadyen was back.
groaned, words registering, especially offered
and body, and tea. He turned to glance
at Dan, and saw the grin. "Yeah, sure." He
reached for his BDUs, put them on, covered his shoulders
and a fair bit of his head with one of the blankets,
after all, one lost most heat via the head, and slipped
his feet into the boots, without lacing them up.
went to the fire, added some more wood, poured water
into the kettle, and went through the motions of making
tea. Found some beef jerky as well, and had brought
enough to share it, as well as dried apples and pine
memory hit him. That slow, nice fuck. Shit. The same
man who had been bitter and tired when he had come here,
the same man who could still cling to concepts like
enemies and hatred? He shivered, remembering what he
had felt. How willing and eager and how much tenderness.
yawned, sleepily watching Vadim. Hair tousled, growing
down his neck, almost a mane, he kept brushing it out
of his eyes.
waited for the water to boil, measured the tea leaves
with his fingers, the sugar as well, poured the water,
stirred with his one spoon, and returned to the 'bed',
crouching and offering the mug, reaching behind to offer
breakfast. Dried beef, apples, nuts. "What deprived
ways would that be?"
reached for the mug with an expression of thankfulness.
Tea, warmth, breakfast. Sex. What more could a man want.
"Don't know," sipped the first mouthful with
a sigh and a grin, "is there anything we haven't
done?" Took some of the food, chewing.
crouched, balancing the hot mug between his fingers.
"I think we did lot. Well. Guess we're in for boredom,
then. More of above." He laughed. "Has been
while since you smashed my face in, actually. Or held
knife to my balls."
mellow to get worked up enough to smash your face in."
Dan grinned, popped another handful of nuts. "Knife
and balls can be organised, just give me some time to
wake up properly." He sipped his tea cautiously,
didn't fancy burning his palate this time, looking back
up at Vadim from under the unruly mane.
could let you fuck me with your beloved sniper rifle,
but frankly, I'm not half as much into gun kink as some
civilians are." Laughing, Dan lifted the blankets
and sleeping bag to offer the comfort of warmth.
swallowed. "Tell me you're joking." He took
the blanket off, spread it again over the one on the
ground, kicked his boots off and slipped underneath.
Warmth. Amazing how much of a difference that made.
"Rifle? No way."
out to touch Dan's face, then decided against it, too
weird, and touched the shoulder instead. "Guess
I could live with boredom. Breakfast, security, and
fucking like we are, and have. You on top one night,
chuckled, finished the tea and the last of the food,
burrowed closer, body to body, sharing more than warmth,
his hand coming to rest on Vadim's hip. It felt comfortable
there. "You sure you wouldn't keel over with boredom
after a while? A life without regular adrenaline kicks?
Can't imagine." Closing his eyes for a moment,
the laughter drained away and his voice quietened. "I
don't think we'll make it that far." He left the
thought standing between them. Long pause, "but
you never know, eh?" Smiling, because there was
nothing else to do. They all hoped that the next bullet
wasn't meant for them.
placed his hand on Dan's. A life outside war, outside
the army. How the fuck did civilians pass all that time,
anyway? Couldn't be all Sundays, at the Moscow zoo,
with loud children. "Don't know, could be worth
try. Lots of books left to read, I guess." He pulled
the other closer, rested his head against Dan's, felt
his breath. "Dying would be too easy."
sure. Sometimes I wonder if dying isn't easier than
living." Dan smiled wryly, closed his eyes and
remained silent for a long time to come. Simply existing,
the greatest luxury of all.
in the meantime
," he finally turned his
head to face Vadim, lips touching skin, "let's
make the best out of being alive." Half an inch
closer, and he kissed the other's temple, lips ghosting
along skin when Vadim turned to face him. "How
did that kissing thing go again?" Dan smiled, lips
against lips, parted, first touch of tongue, taste,
and he forget all about dying.
more day and one more night before the cave had to spit
them back out into a world of grenades, bullets and
then, they took what they could get.