lowered the dark shades and squinted against the blinding
sun, trying to make sense of the dust cloud on the horizon.
It was moving, but difficult to make out speed and direction
while it was that far away. He swivelled slowly, making
best use of his elevated position while checking the
proceedings near the Médecins sans Frontières
advised the ambassador against visiting the camp, located
in the low-sloping bed of a former lake, but she had
been adamant. She'd refused to bow down to threats from
insurgents, unwilling to listen, not even to Dan's professional
raised the binoculars to his eyes, scanned the desert
once more, drawn to the dust cloud on the horizon. Damn.
Definitely advancing. His sixth sense was coming back
with full force, shouting danger! Heat pooled
in the pit of his stomach while trying to get a better
picture of the object, but the goddamned sweat was blurring
his vision. Dan wiped the binoculars, dried his sweating
hands and re-gripped the SA-80, before trying to focus
again. Concentrating on the shape behind the dust, the
moving and re-forming pattern of the yellow-reddish
cloud and the dark line of the tracks that were left
Muttered, the unknown object had just turned into a
tangible threat. Vehicle, at high speed, racing towards
the valley and the camp. He could make out from the
trajectory of tracks and their angle that it had to
be speeding in an almost direct line straight towards
the Baroness' limousine.
He'd been right, the warnings and rumours of insurgents
gone over to suicide killings were correct, and he had
probably trained the goat herding fuckers himself, years
ago. Dan activated his personal comm, staccato words
while keeping the object in his focus. "Dangerous
object approaching 15 degrees South East. Collision
course towards the convoy. Get the target out of there.
Immediately. Do you copy?"
He tried again. "Do you hear me? Get her out! Get
the target out, suspicious vehicle approaching at high
speed. Get her out now!"
the comm, still no answer, silence on the line. "Fuck!"
Dan shouted, the bloody comm was fucked and the situation
was rapidly turning to shit. The car racing closer,
straight line across the horizon, heading towards the
Baroness' car. Her two guards unaware, impossible to
see the threat, down in the valley - the whole damned
reason why he was on the elevated point as the coordinator!
Dan could see the Baroness, her grey hair, standing
in front of the camp, then walking back to her vehicle.
It would never survive the impact of a car, presumably
filled with explosives.
Ambassador. Buggered comm. Terrorist suspects. Half
a mile distance. Fucked-up knees.
the fuck out of there!" Dan yelled into the useless
comm, had to take the last chance in case it worked.
Split-second decision. Threw the binoculars down, chucked
the comm. Pushed the shades over his eyes, shielding
against the glaring sun. Automatic rifle slung over
his shoulder, safety catch off, he needed the weapon
to be ready.
guessed the time and distance. Five hundred yards. Speed
of car approaching? 70 miles? Two minutes. Tops. How
long since he'd been able to run a mile in under five
minutes? Not since his knees got fucked.
versus human. No contest.
started to run.
against death, running for her life. Forced fucked-up
knees and worn-out body to comply. Boots beating dust,
desert air pulled into burning lungs; sweat running
into his eyes. Breath panting, heat slicing red-hot
fiery cuts into his lungs.
hurting, his body protested, but desperation and adrenaline
pushing him further. Faster, harder, run you fucking
piece of human scrapheap scum!
images: Guard opened limousine. Baroness stepped inside.
Rear door shut.
reached the dip of the valley, felt rather than saw
the deadly dust of the potential suicide car approaching.
tried to shout while forcing his way through the crowds
that were lingering in front of the camp gates. Voice
breathless, croaked: "Out! Out!" Raising the
rifle, set on automatic, he crossed the open space,
the sight of the weapon scattered humans like panicking
dust cloud came suddenly out of nowhere, hell-bound
on destruction, racing towards the limousine. Dan aimed
while sprinting, the SA-80 firing a hail of bullets
into the oncoming car. No hope to stop the vehicle's
momentum, too close, too fast, saw it veer diagonally
off its target under the onslaught of automatic fire.
guards, one of them the driver, seemed to have finally
caught on. Too late. There was still movement behind
the blood splattered windshield in the four-wheeled
bomb, which kept sliding towards them. Dan stopped the
fire, reached the limousine, impact imminent. Tearing
the rear door open, he grabbed her arm, anything, just
pulled, yelling, "Out! Get out!" Dragged her
out of the car, threw the slight body as far away from
him as he could.
the Baroness stumble to the ground in a corner of his
vision, the near head-on collision happened while he
raised his weapon. He stood wide open, no cover, except
his own body in front of hers. Soft fucking target.
The second guard tried to escape, screaming, yelling,
but the cars exploded into a firestorm of deafening
impact of the explosion's blast wave threw Dan backwards
into the air, lost in the flaming inferno, stumbling
over something on the ground. He fell on top of the
object, and then an unbearable pain tore into his guts.
didn't know if he screamed, nor when he dropped the
rifle, his hands pressing down on the pain by instinct.
Fire, detonations, shrieking and horror, distanced wailing
amidst black smoke, and pain. Just pain.
moved beneath him. He couldn't make out direction, meaning,
sound nor senses. Only unbearable pain. Couldn't raise
his arms, nor feel his hand amidst the unspeakable agony.
Lay speared, crossed, nailed and damned.
her face in his vision. Everything else gone. Blood
running down her temple; the perfect coiffure dishevelled
and dirt encrusted.
stared at her face, uncomprehending, except that it
was all wrong. Her lips moving. Shouting? Couldn't hear
a sound, nothing made sense. Nothing but pain. Flaring
from his guts through his body, brain, limbs, every
fibre. His vision narrowed, blackness creeping in from
the sides, the tunnel closing and his muscles locked.
tried to speak, moved his lips. No sounds. No thoughts
left. Nothing but pain.
lost focus of her face. Just the mouth, still moving.
No more strength.
She yelled, had managed to scramble from under him.
He had been sprawled on top of her, shielding her body
with his own. "Oh my God, no, Dan!"
His head had fallen to the side. Arms slipped off, revealing
the true extend of horror. Blood. Gore. Torn guts and
entrails spilling out of the terrible tear across drenched
As if her refusal could wrench him away from his fate.
Pushing her own hands onto the wound, forcing intestines
back into the body.
doctors who came running from the MsF camp found her
covered in his blood, shielding his body with her own.
ironic that the attack had happened in front of this
particular camp, if the Baroness had not been adamant
to go through with the visit despite Dan's warnings,
there wouldn't have been several doctors and nurses
running out to the carnage, trying to save what they
could. Two guards dead, and one dying. Dan. Unconscious,
drenched in blood and with the Baroness' hands trying
to stop the spillage of intestines and torn guts. Shrapnel
embedded in the lower part of the stomach, and his left
hand stapled to the wound - a sharp piece of metal from
the blown-up car, gone through the hand and into the
abdomen, right above the large wound.
treatment, racing against time while there was still
life left in the body. Equipment brought from the camp,
materials and expertise piling around him. The medevac
plane was already on its way. The casualty needed intensive
care and extensive surgery, within the shortest time
possible, but even so, his chances were close to nil.
couldn't think, stir, let alone wake. Dragged under
by darkness, terrified. Existing in a plane less than
alive and more than dead, his very own purgatory of
treatment, movement, being lifted, transported. Torn
apart by nightmarish monsters, flailing uselessly, limbs
restrained by pain so great, he couldn't breathe nor
scream. Powerless, weak, dying - alone in the darkness
of his unconscious mind.
de Vilde was sitting at the edge of the scene, deafened
by the explosion, forlorn. Lost for the first time in
her life and staring at the frantic action in front
of her, bloodied hands on her lap. She could not grasp
what had happened, despite the warnings, the signs of
danger, she had believed she was invincible. An old
battle horse, never one to be afraid, but this time
her iron will had cost the lives of several others.
Occupational hazard of overpaid worn-out soldiers, but
two guards, dead. A third, the one who had saved her
life against all odds and whose advice she should have
trusted, that one was dying. Torn apart and limp like
a rag doll, the pool of blood in the dust growing by
the second. She should have listened to his professional
concerns, but had gone with her own decision instead;
arrogant belief in superiority of a lifetime of being
in command - refusing to listen to another's counsel.
stood up, unsteady at first on her legs, felt the stickiness
of drying blood on her hands, and looked down at herself.
She was a mess, but like the wrong decision she had
made that day, it couldn't be helped. She saw a shadow
approaching, could hardly hear over the ringing in her
ears the engines of the Falcon plane, about to land.
Baroness shielded her eyes against the glaring sun,
then ran past the medical team that came rushing out
of the fairly small airplane, straight to the cockpit.
Shouting at the pilot, even though she could hardly
hear her own voice, "Take that man to the closest
hospital. India, Kashmir, the Royal British Hospital.
He is a private patient, no expenses spared. He is one
of mine. See to that."
the cars appeared on the top of the low valley, to take
the ambassador back into the safety of the embassy,
they were taking the stretcher with the unconscious
man into the medevac plane. The Falcon was already taking
off again before the Baroness' attaché had reached
her, and she watched the dust cloud for a moment, that
trailed behind the plane. Ignoring the concern around
her, before turning away from the carnage.
shook her head, gesturing to her ears when they tried
to talk to her. She couldn't hear them, but she could
talk, with the same vehemence as ever. "Dan McFadyen
saved my life. See that everything possible is done
to save his life in return. I will personally fund his
treatment." She turned and walked to the waiting
car, smelling the drying blood on her hands.
wrong decision, and now a man was dying. A man who had
come as close to being a friend as she could afford
to allow him.
limousine doors closed quietly behind her.
all around the still figure on the bed. Hooked up to
keep track of heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen
saturation through intravenous catheters. Others, that
transported and monitored waste back out of the body.
Lifelines curling from torso and limbs to bags with
nutritional solutions. The chorus of bleeping sounds
echoed along the hallway. Every vital stat transmitted
from the machines into a central computer, displaying
the patient's live graphs.
large window span the width of the room, allowing full
vision of the patient, a puppet on strings which kept
his vital functions alive. Alarms would go off at the
slightest disturbance, causing frantic movement and
the change from hushed tones to hectic shouts, before
they calmed again and the quiet voices returned to the
hallway. The constant bleeping and whistling interrupted
by the regular suctioning of the breathing tube that
removed secretion from the patient's throat and mouth.
lines and probes measured temperature, blood pressure,
heart rate and respiration every fifteen minutes, part
automated invasion of the body, part nurses touching,
checking. The abdominal wounds were dressed frequently,
packed with sterile gauze and disinfected religiously
to keep the wounds clean.
patient could not see nor hear the surgeon at his bedside,
changing bandages, cleaning and caring, assisted by
a handful of nurses, rotating shifts through days and
nights. His shattered left hand thickly dressed and
held into position, the bones realigned to heal. A secondary
infection weakened the body, battling against death
with high doses of antibiotics and the patient's lucky
star: his toughness and physical fitness.
was fighting a fight most others would not have survived.
came in from an exercise, his body burning with pain,
mouth, mind, soul parched, he couldn't remember what
water tasted like, but he grinned. The Colonel called
this state "gun-fucked", blasting the countryside
and the mocked-up Mujahideen convoy with everything
they had, excellent work by the pilots, fucking Hinds
worked like a charm, and he was happy in a clearly malicious,
cleaned up, Vadim Petrovich", said the Colonel
and headed to the debriefing, while Vadim went to the
quarters. A bunch of lieutenants hung out, and there
was cheering at something that had just been said on
them, they finally got a taste of their own medicine!"
said a young guy who'd come with the latest shipment
of kids from Moscow. Had seen no combat, but bragged
about how tough he was. Vadim expected the other officers
would show him just what exactly they thought of that
type. Taste of medicine, indeed. If that didn't help,
Vadim would make sure the guy got his head tucked in
a shitter. For a minute, or two.
would that be, comrade?"
LT turned around, eyes glowing, face so young, so polished.
"The foreign mercenaries. A bunch of the turkeys
had it a couple hours ago."
only two weeks here and the LT already spoke the lingo
like he was a grandfather. Vadim stepped closer, reached
for the half-empty bottle of vodka on the table, poured
himself a glass. Civilisation. Not drink from the bottle.
Not when he came in like this. This took force of will
to not go wild and keep doing what he'd been doing.
Kill. Even if only in his mind, only dummies.
lieutenant grinned. "Fucking bandits blew up some
ambassador-bitch, and her guards had it. Three men down.
Saves us bullets." He laughed.
thought was like vodka so cold it had become cloudy.
Cold. Then hot. The next thing Vadim knew was that the
vodka in his glass travelled through the air, blinding
the lieutenant, and the glass hit the braggart in the
teeth. Then Vadim was on top of him, he took the man
by his collar, lifted him up the chair, didn't feel
his weight at all, heard a growl fill the room, a sound
like a tiger hunting, then followed, rammed the man
against the wall, dazing him, driving the air from his
lungs, then let him go so he could punch him with both
the other collapsed, Vadim kneed him in the face, and
then kicked him in the chest. Could hear again, heard
the panic, curses, but nobody dared to stop him. The
lieutenants knew better than to interfere. He was an
officer, and a granddaddy by all rights, and he could
fuck this bastard and nobody would be able to touch
him for it.
stopped because he was tired. Because one thought burned
its way through the red haze that was about killing
and maiming and inflicting pain. Dan. Dead. He was breathing
hard, looked around, quick glances, but the other lieutenants
were just staring at him like girls. You don't fuck
with spetsnaz. Vadim heard the other whimper through
the smashed-up face.
needed a reason to have done this.
your fucking language", he growled. "Bitch."
A final kick, was itching to kill the man, but held
back. Dan. He wasn't worth it. Wasn't worth killing.
else paled. Dan.
left the room, headed towards his bunk, was amazed he
could find it. He could see nothing. Blind fighting.
Night fighting. His mind wasn't clear, seemed his body
could work by itself. The same flesh and blood that
had held Dan.
stripped out of his kit, his knuckles hurt. A quick
wash. Felt himself pause in mid-motion, forced himself
on, forced to wash with what little water there was,
rationed, never enough.
The way he had touched him. All the ways he had touched
him. The pain was so bad it ate him alive, chewed on
him, there was nothing, nothing that could make it stop,
he changed, got the kit all in the right order, like
it should be.
Vadim. Leaned his forehead against the wall, forced
himself to think, fight the wave of pain and despair
that was coming, threatening to crash. He didn't know
it was Dan. Explosion. They might not even be able to
find enough to identify.
could take some time. He should stay put and wait for
the next contact.
fuck he would.
needed to verify the dead men's identities. Better,
see the bodies. He'd only be able to believe it if he
saw Dan torn open, torn apart, or this would haunt him
forever. He didn't trust the Brits to give him the truth.
Needed to see the body. Touch it.
shuddered at the thought. Touch what was left of Dan.
Fuck. He'd handled bits of humans before. Had found
shot down pilots in the mountains and brought them back.
And those were already festering and swollen. Dan's
body would be worse, much worse, but he needed, needed
to know it was him.
Petrovich." The Colonel.
Vadim straightened, turned around, saluted, but the
Colonel shook his head. "Good work out there."
He remained rooted to the ground, hands folded on his
back, a wiry incarnation of death. Eyes were narrow,
and Vadim felt his pulse beat up against the top of
his head, from the inside. He didn't meet the man's
eyes, couldn't allow himself to think of Dan and what
touching his torn body would do to him. But he knew.
He would know what it would feel like, what it would
smell like. His face twitched.
will be wars after this", said the Colonel, like
that was thanks to him. Well, if the Colonel was sent
to kill some head of state, who could say it wouldn't
be? "I'll want you for the next one."
stared, felt nothing but Dan in his mind. The Colonel
made no sense. Nothing at all. Dan. "I beg your
Colonel smirked, an absolutely frightful expression.
"You understood me." Like that was some kind
of joke. Sickening. He was out of his depth, didn't
get it, knew he was ruining what he'd been building
with this man, who decided on his career, judged solely
by his performance, nothing else. "You were not
much of an athlete, Vadim Petrovich, but you're one
hell of a killer."
compliment. Vadim blinked, killing and killer, Dan,
explosion, and this man wanting him in the next war
to kill more people. It didn't end. It would go on like
this until the sniper's bullet hit true. Until he pulled
the trigger on himself. Until he rose so far up or grew
so old that all he could do was come up with plans and
strategies to kill and to train killers. He nodded,
numb, hoped it would be mistaken for humility. Krasnorada
and humble. Couldn't speak. Felt like the Colonel had
taken his hand and forced it down into a steaming pile
had been in the ICU for over fourteen days, when it
was decided to try wake the patient from the artificial
Fear. Dull throbbing discomfort. Constant sound of whirring,
beeping; rustle of fabrics and voices holding unknown
conversations in nothing but whispers. Dan was floating
blindly in intangible blackness, unable to move, to
growing more aware of his surroundings and the increasing
onslaught of pain. Worst of all that thing, the obstruction
in his throat. He tried to swallow, couldn't, it hurt,
he tried to make a sound, impossible. Discomfort grew
and his drugged mind didn't know what he was doing,
only the overwhelming need to fight whatever was causing
the intrusion into his throat.
Pain. Fight. Didn't know where he was, nor what nor
why, nor even who, managed to raise one hand, the other
too heavy, unwieldy, wouldn't budge. Dan gripped the
'thing' that was causing the pain in his throat, tried
to rip the breathing tube out, fighting, starting to
machines exploded into a cacophony of noise, bleeping,
screeching for attention, his hand got torn away, voices
shouting at him, but he couldn't understand what they
were saying, just the need to fight, frantically trying
to breathe and move, pain shooting through his body,
the bleeping got faster and louder and then his hand
was forced down and fixed into position.
warm flowed into his veins, taking him back down and
away, dragging him beneath the blanket of sleep once
and day had no meaning, he was lost in confusion and
paranoia. Whose hushed tones was he hearing? Who was
touching his skin? Who was working on his body - or
tried to steal his mind.
doctors decided they needed to lower the morphine dose
and they kept him strapped down. Adding to the growing
paranoia and the pain of withdrawal. Who was there,
what were they doing, who came in? He could never find
kept the mind dragged under and the body still, allowing
the wounds to heal and the infection to subside. He
suffered from amnesia induced by sedation, remembered
scraps of reality like nightmares; those touches, sounds,
the inability to move, and the underlying dulled-down
hardly reacted to the punctual regularity of nurses
coming every two hours, changing his position to prevent
infection from bedsores. Taking pressure off one side,
cleaning the skin, massaging to stimulate circulation,
and keeping him moisturised. Lying with lamb's wool
skin protectors under the hip, lower spine, heels and
elbows. Like a doll in its cot, limp in the care of
days passed for Vadim and no news. No names. Nothing.
The Brits didn't give up the men's identities. They
remained a number in a news item. That was it. It made
sense, that way, nobody cared. Vadim tried to pull strings,
asked questions, never directly. But he was too subtle.
Without going straight for the truth, there would be
went to one of the safe houses, after duty, gathered
himself up enough to change. He would never pass for
Afghan, but at least nobody had to see a Soviet soldier
go into the British embassy. The promise gnawed on him,
the promise to bring back Dan's body from the mountains,
given in a dingy hotel on the edge of desperation.
clothes. Hadn't worn them in Kabul forever. Wrapped
his head in a rag, red-faced Caucasian in nondescript
clothing. His accent would give him away. The pride
was the worst, but he felt so nauseous he couldn't sleep.
Dan's death was like a rotting tooth, it hurt, it hurt
so bad nothing could stop this apart from pulling it
out, and that would take a bullet.
headed towards the embassy. He got in with a mix of
sheer bravado, begging, and the hint he might have something
that would be of interest to the Brits. A bald-faced
lie, or maybe not, he'd say and do anything to get in.
Was searched, spread-eagled against the guard house,
at gun point. A member of staff took his name. He gave
Platon's name, his rank as lieutenant. Officer, but
only junior. Not one true word.
to see the lady ambassador, only her, said he couldn't
trust anybody else. Expected to be kicked out, but the
Brits seemed more civilised than that. He was so tired
he felt like death on his feet. Sat down, was handed
a water bottle, rested his face in his hands, elbows
on his knees. Tried to catch a moment of sleep, strangely
intimidated by the place and the shit he had jumped
into. He was in trouble.
waited less than half an hour, left undisturbed but
never alone, when a quiet but authoritative voice was
heard behind the doors, which opened. Then the tack-tack
of sensible heels before the sound stopped.
Ivanov, you wished to see me?"
stood, felt ill at ease, then put his hands on his back
to stop them from giving away how nervous he was. "Yes."
Platon's name would fit badly, the kid posthumously
promoted, Vadim had the feeling he wouldn't be happy.
If he was in a place where he could even care. Two dead
men he'd held. Don't think about it.
am aware it's unconventional procedure, Ma'am",
he wasn't sure about her title, or how to address her,
hoped that was alright, and it wasn't Miss or Mrs or
Lady or whatever, he was too tired for decorum. "Dan.
Daniel McFadyen. He was part of your security detail?"
ambassador's brows rose, her expression even more guarded
than before. "Please do sit, Lieutenant. We do
not often get such illustrious visitors." Ignoring
the question for now, while she sat down opposite, studying
sat, reached for the water bottle to keep his hands
calm. Illustrious. Like: important. Grand. What
a word to use. He felt nothing like it, not grand, not
important, not even self-possessed. He was completely
out of his depth, helpless, reduced to begging. If she
played it right, she'd ask him for things he couldn't
tell her. Maybe she wouldn't.
finally spoke again. "Why, Lieutenant, why do you
wish to know about Mr McFadyen?"
need to confirm whether he's dead." I need to touch
his body. I need to smell his blood. I need to do all
that before you send him back in a metal tin, back home.
He drew a long breath. "Not
assumed that." She immediately answered. As prim,
precise and proper as her whole appearance. "It
does not seem appropriate for a soldier of the Soviet
occupying forces to enter the British embassy in any
kind of official business that I am not aware of."
occupying forces. Vadim inhaled. He didn't have
the strength to argue his point. He didn't even know
what kind of war it was, only knew it was a war and
too many people had died. One too many. Bit back the
party line, couldn't have spoken it without starting
to laugh or break into tears, or both. Didn't trust
himself not to.
arranged her finely manicured hands on her lap, the
grey hair coiffed as impenetrably as her non-committal
expression. The stitches at her temple hidden by lacquered
hair. "I repeat my question. Why do you wish to
stared at the bottle, thought, needed a good answer,
but couldn't come up with anything better than what
had been his first idea, yesterday. "McFadyen and
I have history." He looked up, hoped he still appeared
somewhat dignified, herded the stoicism into his face,
gathered his resolve. "We had tea together. You
might call it unlikely, but we have grown to respect
that is all?" She queried, sitting with legs perfectly
slanted to one side. The epitome of British upper class.
"Why should this give you such an unparalleled
interest in the life and death of Daniel McFadyen?"
forced his face to not show anything, stared at a place
too far to see, far beyond the walls, saw her in the
corner of his eye. Her way of speaking much different
from Dan's. Odd vowels. Unparalleled. What the
fuck was that supposed to mean?
know he worked for ambassador. And I know there was
attack on female ambassador. If I understood that wrong,
I'm sorry to have wasted your time." He looked
at her, remained sitting, though, knew he couldn't bait
her that easily. He needed more than that. "I do
not want to compromise him. It's bad enough I compromise
myself." Put on a show of reluctance, needed to
satisfy curiosity, needed to make it appear real. "I
know I have nothing to bargain. I ask for kindness,
Ma'am. I know that is not something I can expect from
West." Kept his eyes on the floor, now. "I
should not be here, but I am. I owe that man lot. I
need to know whether he's dead."
do you owe him." Unaffected by his performance.
"I repeat, Lieutenant. Why do you wish to know."
Like a bulldog, once bitten into flesh, she did not
let go. Teeth lodged and jaws locked. She held the key
to the knowledge, and that key was dear to her heart.
nodded and gave a smile. She had given herself away
by forcing his hand. "He did guard you. He does
that to people. Gets best out of them." And the
worst. "He spared my life. He did not kill me,
when he should have. I asked for mercy, and he gave
me my life. My wife and children did not lose me on
that day, because he did not pull trigger on me."
Looked up, used Katya again, but that should do it.
Had shown his open side, lured her to commit into an
attack, now would bind her blade.
said nothing for a moment, seemed to ponder. Her eyes
steadfast on him. "If he were dead, then there
would be nothing for you to do. No wreath to send, no
flowers to wilt." Nothing in her bearing nor her
voice showed even the slightest hint of emotion.
frowned. "I do not understand, I'm sorry. I believe
my English doesn't reach that far. What do you mean?"
Didn't get it. Of course he had to do something. She
sounded metaphorical, but he didn't get it. Had never
spoken with somebody like her, only knew he couldn't
bind the blade, slipped out in a compound attack, circular
motion that made the next angle of attack very hard
to predict. Insecurity.
got up, took one step closer, no more. Stood and looked
down at him. "Lieutenant - if that is what and
who you are - if Dan McFadyen were dead, what difference
would it be to you? Dead, a corpse, and gone. I asked
a simple question that demands a simple answer."
She stepped to the side. "I ask you an even simpler
question. If he were alive, what would you do?"
nodded, signalling understanding. "If he is dead
" I'd go insane. I'd scream and kick and
shout and finally cry, maybe, if I get tired enough.
"I need to see him. I've seen
so many bodies
that were not identified, or wrongly identified. This
war taught me to not trust anything but my own eyes.
I need to see body and confirm he's dead." Giving
away an unhealthy fixation on the dead body, hoped it
would pass. "If he is alive, I need to know where,
and find him."
too, nodded. "And if he were alive, and if you
were to know where, then why would you find him?"
pressed his teeth together. Why. Why indeed. Owing a
life - was that enough to brave hell and military prison
to see a wounded man? He couldn't say. Everything was
blown out of proportion, everything skewed, the world
had lost coherence. "To tell him how I feel."
Now, that was the naked truth. The words hurt him, he
was getting too close, embarrassed himself, embarrassed
her, opened up again to get her to do the same. Risky
manoeuvre, and not even a feint. "Does that satisfy,
Ma'am?" Couldn't help but ruin it, lashed out.
stood and watched for a long time. Studied and considered.
Patience. "Daniel McFadyen is alive. At least he
was when I last checked. This morning. Royal British
Hospital, Kashmir, India."
Vadim felt tears well up, fucking eyes, closed them
quickly to not give it away, breathed, until he could
trust himself. He was too tired, should not have come
here this tired, shouldn't have exposed himself like
this. Dan alive. Kashmir. He only had to cross half
of Afghanistan and all of Pakistan to get there. Enemy
territory, all of it.
I checked. Dan was wounded badly. On the brink of
death. He wanted to break into a run and start on his
way there, right away. Go AWOL, try and find him, try
and see him before he died.
he stable?" Any limbs torn off? He'd seen bad shit,
massive burns, lost pieces, bodies that were nothing
but minced meat and still breathed. Could feel his chest
tighten. He needed to see him, visit him. Whatever the
cost. No other thought in his mind, just that. Dan alive.
And he was on his way, had to be.
paused, silence in the room, longer than comfortable.
McFadyen sustained considerable injuries in the blast
and in the course of his duty. Extensive shrapnel wounds
to the abdominal cavity." And a hand, but who needed
a left hand. "He has been receiving all humanely
possible care in the private hospital." Her hands
folded behind her back, standing straight.
nodded. Abdomen. Hospital. They could deal with the
infections there. Still. India. A fucking long way.
And it meant Dan might still die. He needed to be on
his way. Needed to see him. Before he died. Vadim stared
at the ground near his feet, the carpet had a pattern,
and he studied it, eyes not really seeing. "I will
go and see him", he said, softly, gathered himself
up, squared his shoulders.
stood, took the rag from his shoulders, formed a ball,
a tight ball of it with his hands that wanted to strangle
and punch, the country, fate, destiny, wanted to force
to not feel so fucking helpless.
you for your time. I am grateful." And it means
nothing, because I am an enemy, and you don't even know
what or who I am. They might work it out, Dan had identified
him, after all, many years ago. He had changed, but
he didn't exactly have an everyday face. She could work
it out. They might be working on it already. She had
implied she didn't believe him.
nodded. "My secretary will see you out." Raising
her hand, she all but pointed to the door. "Godspeed,
Another strange word, sounded like some kind of blessing.
He nodded, deeply, bowed almost to keep his eyes from
meeting hers, and left. Nobody called on his hints he
might have something to trade. Had come here as a potential
traitor, left with a gift.
it made it worse. He had imagined Dan's body, dead,
and him seeing it, finding it, touching it. Here, in
Kabul. Kashmir, too far away. Too fucking far away.
Still, started to work on his plan, desperate measures.
Get a mission in the south, be sent away. Maybe kill
somebody in Pakistan. Strike out against the fucking
secret service. No. He was in no state to fight. His
mind was elsewhere. Applying for some volunteer stuff
would get him killed, definitely if it was an operation.
The Pakistanis weren't beginners, they were good, and
they'd get him if he made a mistake. He couldn't trust
condition was finally getting more stable. The healing
process had been slowed down by the secondary infection,
but he was improving at last. Sedation was slowly decreased
until he was weaned off completely. They kept the patient's
good hand restrained, even when the breathing tube was
removed at last, replaced with less invasive oxygen.
The nose drip had to be kept, to feed nutrients directly
into the stomach, and with Dan's signs of aggression
they could not risk the danger of him trying to tear
any probes and sounds out of his body, while still disoriented.
was aware of dull throbbing pain throughout his body
despite the morphine, but at least he was feeling something
at last. Something other than being dragged into nightmares
that had no name and made no sense. He tried to move
his hands a few times, but one was in too great pain,
the other wouldn't budge, and he gave up.
open his eyes, drifting in and out of consciousness,
dozed off only to be yelled at within thirty seconds.
"Breathe! If you don't breathe we can't give you
anymore pain medication!" The foreign accent strong,
somewhat familiar from a long time ago. It was just
so difficult to remember the reflex of pulling in air
and expelling on his own. Still lost in darkness and
day later and he finally managed to open his eyes for
a minute at a time. Began to take interest in his surroundings,
eventually tried to understand the regime and the rigmarole
of the machinery. Nurses, doctors, a constant flow of
endless people that touched him, tested him, checked
him, turned him. The oxygen mask began to itch and he
became aware of the discomfort of the catheters. He
didn't manage to count the IV's, gave up at the tangle
of tubes and wires, but felt the oxygenation clamp on
one finger and the electrodes that monitored his heart.
Incredibly irritated by the blood pressure meter, that
automatically, every fifteen minutes, filled up the
plastic sleeve around his arm.
couldn't speak, his throat sore from the breathing tube
and the mask closing off his face. Even when they changed
the mask to the twin-lines that streamed oxygen straight
into his nostrils, he wasn't able to utter a sound.
Too much effort, and he didn't have the strength. They
did not him ask to communicate either, except for regular
checks on his alertness, and then he blinked when spoken
felt numb, empty inside, the morphine turning his mind
into a flat plane of nothing, until he had forgotten
his name. Was of no great matter, he was just a puppet,
strung up on machinery and kept alive.
couldn't remember why he was kept alive, and no one
ever came to remind him.
began to work, began to pull strings, to get into a
southern province. He could call in a favour there.
Old debts and old friendship. Hopefully. He needed a
good story, a reason why he'd been gone, but he could
week later, he was on a truck south. Managed to keep
up a semblance of sanity, got into smoking weed, so
he could laugh and joke with the others.
spetsnaz mystique unblemished.
days - and one aborted attempt at an ambush - later,
Vadim's boots made contact with the ground again, and
he rolled his shoulders while the kids behind him bustled
to get the trucks unloaded.
commander of this garrison cum mountain fortress crossed
the space in front of the main building, looking prim
and proper as if Vadim were a visitor from Moscow. Full
Christmas tree, and, Vadim noted somewhat taken aback,
medals, a whole bar of them. Major Alexei Petkov had
been wounded. Courage under fire.
Fuck, seeing you is great!" Vadim was suddenly
embraced and kissed, one comrade to the other, too stunned
to even tense at the sudden touch. Lesha. Shaved meticulously,
smelling of soap, like he'd shaved just five minutes
ago. "Come. You must be hungry. And
Lesha gave him a wink. "Thirsty, I assume."
was an evening for memories, tall tales, catching up
and boasting. But they didn't speak about one thing.
was putting the AK back together. Off duty. Dark outside,
sitting on the bunk, hands working blindly. He just
wasn't fast enough. Of course, no bullets, no magazine,
but he was still slotting dark greased steel together,
not nearly natural, still took concentration, feeling
for the mechanical grooves and places, and he had his
teeth gritted. One of the skills the officers kept repeating
would save his worthless life one day. Like belly crawling
under life fire, the roar deafening, making his body
respond, too threatened to just lock up while moving
forward. The sound of bullets froze his blood, shortened
every tendon, and what his body really wanted to do
was curl up and wait till it was over. Like some cowardly
cocksucker, as the officers called it.
make you a soldier, suka. Wait and see. Even if we have
to drag you kicking and screaming. You will become a
soldier, or the nearest excuse for one, you useless
piece of shit.
fast enough to be a swimmer, they sent him off to do
his military service before they decided whether to
let him join the Pentathlon team. He wasn't good enough
to compete with the top swimmers, but he might still
win points in modern pentathlon. Basic training would
give him some shooting practice, too.
last two pieces. Vadim forced the metal in, cursing
the design under his breath, even if it was, by all
standards, a fine weapon, superior for its time, arguably
the weapon that had won a good part of the Great Patriotic
War. Still a bitch to put together when every muscle
burnt from the last few days' 'exercise'. And he wasn't
fast enough assembling it. The irony of his life. His
hands were shaking with the cold and exhaustion and
he could hardly think straight. All he wanted to do
was collapse and sleep, but he just knew that there
would be another drill, in a few hours, when most other
recruits would just have dropped and were comatose with
exhaustion, and he figured he could spend the time waiting
for it to happen.
jammed the last piece in, checked the AK, and it worked,
well oiled, then began, mechanically, to take it apart
again. He'd have to do this blindly, under fire, on
his belly, on his back, in any fucking position including
a handstand or both legs torn off. The AK was the reason
why he existed. Why he was around at all.
door burst open, a comrade came in, another of the young
ones, same platoon. Misha. He was drenched in the rain,
face glowing, which looked unhealthy with the haggard
features. "He's killing Lesha!"
pieces of the AK scattered across the floor as Vadim
was on his feet, following, before the comrade had even
mentioned it, running at full speed where the other
was leading. They were beginning to function, Vadim
realized. They didn't need that many words anymore -
and Misha didn't have the breath left in him to explain.
He didn't have to. 'He' was the officer that hated Lesha's
guts, a meatgrinder of a man as vicious as frontal fire
from an MG, and Lesha was a comrade.
into the freezing rain, gusts of wind whipped Vadim's
face, almost skidding on the cracked concrete, but Vadim
ran on, could see commotion up front, out in the light
of one of the guard towers.
naked flesh on the ground. He sank up to his ankles
into the freezing mud while running, thought it can't
be this, it must not be Lesha getting the shit kicked
out of him.
steps lengthened, pulling his body together once more,
racing ahead of Misha like it was a race and all he
had to do was overtake him. Seeing the officer's boot
hit Lesha's legs, ass, groin, ribs, ass again, mostly
ass and back of the thighs. Hamstrings. That hurt like
a motherfucker. Never mind the hail, ice rain and Lesha
being completely naked.
officer didn't stop, cursing at the man on the ground,
and Vadim didn't know what he was doing, or what he
would do next. Too tired to think to be scared. He couldn't
remember an hour or a minute in this place that he hadn't
been scared in some part of his mind. He couldn't touch
an officer. A superior. They had every right to punish
him - deserved or not. Was part of the hazing, was part
of getting discipline into the worthless maggots.
however, saw another kick coming, the man off balance
for a moment, and he knew about balance. Shoulder charging
into the bastard, throwing him off and making him stumble
over his victim's body. Vadim's weight came crashing
down on him, hat went off flying into the mud, the whole
bastard sank deep into the freezing shit, and Vadim
pinned him down, taking the bastard's face and pushed
it into the mud, covering his face. Feeling nothing
but horror and a bizarre moment of elation even though
he was in deep shit, worse than he'd ever been. This
was not real, not happening, he had the tail of a tiger
who'd kill him if he let him go. Worse. He was in a
tiger cage full of tigers while doing this.
quick glance betrayed Misha finally arriving, looking
down at Lesha. "Bring him inside!" shouted
Vadim, while the officer struggled against him, and
Vadim let him come up for air, heard curses that seemed
just as threatening as if the officer was overseeing
their training, ignored him, only kept him down, had
no idea what to do with him apart from keeping him from
the fuck moving!", he shouted when Misha paused,
staring at him on top of the officer, an image and a
story that would make it through the barracks, but that
didn't matter. What mattered was Lesha.
recruits appeared from the darkness, ghosts that wouldn't
have moved a finger while seeing one of their own killed
for the pleasure of cruelty. All witnesses. All cattle.
rip your heart out, Vadim Petrov
" Down the
head went again, Vadim using all of his weight and strength
to control the bastard, who was trying to throw him
off. The man was powerful, but in a bad position, and
Vadim saw Misha gather Lesha up, who gave a weak sound
of pain. Alive.
they trotted away, leaving Vadim who gritted his teeth,
hating the bastard's guts, but couldn't just kill him.
As much as he'd love to, as much as he wanted to, because
he'd never killed a man, and didn't want to, because
killing was something they'd talked about as if it was
a kind of sport, something that men did, and especially
soldiers, but this, this was a superior. He had no idea
what would happen to him if he did, so, once seeing
the others and Lesha vanish into the darkness, he let
the bastard go, stepped back and felt, no, knew he was
making a mistake.
heavily, the officer pushed himself up, grunting. Vadim
noticed Lesha's uniform, even his boots, on the ground,
a pile. This bastard did that. Forced recruits to undress
- in this kind of weather, at this time of year senseless
and nothing short of cruel. Amid the wanton violence,
the casual, sickening cruelty, this bastard stood out
because his humiliating games so very often had a different
edge to them. A different flavour. A taste of male flesh.
just enjoy this", murmured Vadim suddenly. He knew
he was dead meat, but that actually set him free. The
'thing' nobody talked about. He himself had liked looking
at Lesha, he was good looking, dark hair, which, on
a photo from before he'd become a recruit, had looked
thick and rich like fur, expressive dark, curved eyebrows
that made Vadim feel strange when he looked at them
for too long. A short, strong nose, greyish green eyes,
long lashes of the same dark type as his eyebrows, and
the lips that opened too easily, shapes that made Vadim
want to kiss him. Impossible. He'd never kissed a man.
Never slipped a tongue inside a mouth, never tasted,
never felt the hardness of teeth, but couldn't help
are the fucking faggot", hissed Vadim. "And
if you touch any recruit ever again, I'll report you."
officer stared at him, mud running down his front, whipped
off by the icy rain, lashing at them in gusts. No witnesses,
not in this weather. A mortal insult, the beginning
and the end of something. Vadim had no idea if that
threat registered, but the very fact that the bastard
didn't attack him gave him an inkling of hope. He was
condemned, but he didn't go down without biting at least.
He took Lesha's uniform and boots, and headed back,
running through the abysmal weather, not challenged,
not shouted back.
he didn't believe for a moment that that was the end
had been covered in blankets, was shuddering violently,
and the other recruits looked like they were about to
bolt and run. When they noticed Vadim they looked up
at him, and, as Vadim and Lesha were known to be close
friends, they figured Vadim would take care of him.
Misha lingered for a moment longer, offering to bring
more hot tea, and Vadim was glad for that.
ran his hand over Lesha's skull, felt the shorn hair
against his skin, and felt yet another of those strange,
odd, stabs of something. They were friends, Lesha thought
him some kind of brother, and Vadim was happy with that.
Most of the time. But sometimes, he just thought of
that body and it was nothing a brother should or could
think, Vadim figured, confused, because he had no brother
or sister and didn't know what it felt like.
helped him clean Lesha up and wrap him up warm, getting
hot tea into him, while the bruises began to form and
darken on his skin. Misha didn't mention the officer
and Vadim pushed the thought away. He was dead anyway
and the fear hardened and crystallized in his stomach.
a few hours later, the officers came back, made them
scurry like rats, out into the rain again, which hadn't
let up, like there was just no other weather but rain
and hail and snow. Half-dressed, only trousers and boots,
their breath misting in front of their faces, torn away
by the fierce wind. Officers shouting, cursing, kicking,
was swaying on his feet, his skin several shades of
black and purple, he seemed barely alive, eyes swollen
to slits, still following orders, just like Vadim. Vadim
was cold, impossibly cold and wet and miserable, assuming
the officers were being especially unpleasant just for
the fun of it, and steadied Lesha by the arm. In the
rain and in the ranks, the helping touch would be hardly
thanks", whispered Lesha.
nodded and squeezed his arm tighter.
was an order given that he didn't understand, and the
recruits began to move, trudge along. Probably a small
'tour of the barracks', have them march in the freezing
weather, half naked, just because
you." The officer, yes, that one, dragged Vadim
and Lesha out of the line. "I've got something
special for this pair of faggots."
was digging. Vadim had expected to be locked up, or
be subjected to any number of sick games the officers
played. Or even other soldiers. Velociped, the bicycle.
Stick balls of cotton between somebody's toes and set
them alight. The victim kicks his legs like being on
a bicycle. Hilarious. Makaronina, little macaroni, make
somebody rock his head to the left and right, and somebody
strikes each side of the neck. Locya, the deer - stand
with palm crossed, facing out, against the forehead.
Then get hit by a fist, making the knuckles hit the
forehead. That one was painful. Or fashka. Fill cheeks
with air and get hit on the cheek - making the teeth
cut the insides of the cheek.
was different. This was digging a hole, and Vadim felt
the dread bite his neck that it was some kind of grave.
The officer stood in the window of his quarters, in
the light, and watched them there, outside in the rain.
Fucking bastard. He'd warned them to not stop or pause,
or he'd call it insubordination and make them really
suffer. Vadim wondered how much worse it could get.
shouldn't have got involved", said Lesha,
air wheezing in his lungs, his body struggling on despite
the earlier beating, and Vadim was almost positive he
didn't see much with that swollen face.
" Vadim rammed
the spade into the heavy, muddy earth, felt the ice
ran run down his skin, knew he'd catch death this way,
which was exactly what the fucker had in mind. Let the
weather kill them. Die from exposure. Pneumonia. Him
and Lesha. He suddenly laughed.
Just so strange. We're fucking officer material, Lesha.
More than that cunt."
laughed, lifting the spade, Vadim saw the bruised muscle
work under the pale skin, saw him struggle, knew that
Lesha would keep on digging, because that was the order,
and Lesha was the type that would kill himself following
orders. How and why Lesha could still trust any order
after this was beyond Vadim. "Major Krasnorada,
shot him an amused glance. "General Petkov?"
to meet you, Sir." Lesha laughed so hard he started
grinned, and both of them snickered every now and then
for the next ten minutes, the humour keeping them going
for a little while longer. But Vadim couldn't shed the
thought that Lesha was much worse for wear, would have
needed rest and maybe medical attention. Seeing him
suffer like this hardened the fear and worry into something
else, and Vadim felt anger rise, a hot, murderous anger
that grew every time he saw the dirty bastard stand
there, drinking tea and watching them.
pay him back", Vadim muttered. They were both wet
to the bones, half frozen, Lesha's lips seemed bluish,
and that was bad. Vadim had no idea how miserable he
looked himself, but his muscles were cramping. Lack
of food, lack of rest, the freezing cold, the repetitive
strain of digging, and the anger clawing its way up
like a parasite forcing its way out.
window opened. "Faster, you bitches." The
officer leant forward. Vadim could feel the warmth that
escaped the bastard's room on his face. He stared at
him, wanted to hurl the spade to jump him and smash
his face and skull, and felt Lesha's hand on his shoulder.
pathetic faggots, going all touchy-feely out there.
jaw muscles hardened, and he knew he'd kill the man.
He'd been reluctant, but no longer. What had the officers
said? War is about killing or being killed. This, then,
was war. The officer was out to kill them, no doubt.
And he could even - in case anybody wondered - say it
was to "toughen them up", and of course, if
they didn't survive, they had been too weak to begin
deteriorated over the next hour or two. Badly. He didn't
react to jokes or humour, didn't seem to know what he
was doing, just murmuring "cold, so cold",
every now and then, and Vadim's helpless rage grew.
Grew and threatened to swallow him. Lesha, who'd told
him he reminded him of his older brother, Lesha who'd
touched and hugged him much like a brother would, and
if Vadim could get nothing else, this was a most precious
gift. Friendship. Vadim thought of the moment when Lesha's
been sitting against him, easy and comfortable closeness,
both resting, Lesha nearly asleep, and Vadim's head
had moved just a fraction and brushed his lips against
the other's temple. Wanting and desiring him, but not
demanding, nothing, just fitting in with the others.
same man that seemed delirious, red spots in his face
spoke of fever, and Lesha shook, uncontrollably, wrestling
with the spade's weight. Didn't actually manage to dig.
Vadim looked up to the dark silhouette against the window,
and knew the bastard was having a great time watching
them like this, knowing what Lesha did to Vadim, and
especially his suffering.
worked on, kept somewhat warm by his seething anger,
when he suddenly noticed something was wrong. He lowered
the spade and saw Lesha lean against the rim, the spade
had slipped from his hands, and slowly, Lesha's legs
gave, which made Vadim drop his spade and steady him,
then bend down and pull him across his back to carry
him inside. He glanced at the bright window, but the
officer didn't move, didn't tell them to stop, just
seemed to watch what was going on. Maybe even smiling.
Lesha needed to get out of the sleet, first and foremost,
and Vadim didn't care what that meant. The officer would
keep doing this, anyway. He climbed out of the hole,
shaking and in pain himself, but he had to get Lesha
inside, so he carried him over to the barracks, stripped
the wet trousers and soaking boots off him, quickly.
He was just about to wrap him into his blankets, when
the door opened, and the officer came in, a belt in
only managed to raise an arm to protect his face, when
the heavy brass buckle hit him on the chest, his frozen
skin registered the pain, any touch was painful, but
this was really bad. The buckle hit him again, and again,
amid curses of "you fucking faggot, you bitch
managed to catch the belt, though, before it hit Lesha,
and tensed his arm, pulling on the belt so hard it slipped
from the officer's grip.
bitch will die anyway, whatever you do", the man
hissed, and that was when Vadim felt the anger turn
to needles of volcanic glass inside him. Without thinking,
he went at the officer, choked him with the belt and
dragged him out of the room. He didn't want any witnesses,
didn't want anybody to hear or see or interfere when
he killed the fucker. Dragged him into the only room
that promised a little safety - the man's own quarters.
officer was only semi-conscious, Vadim kicked a chair
against the door from inside, then rammed the officer's
head against the nearest wall, his nostrils flared when
he could smell blood. The man's legs went slack, and
Vadim released him for a moment to properly lock the
door. He found a towel and tore it into two strips,
then tied the bastard's hands behind the back, manhandling
the heavy body that was bleeding from a bad bruise at
the forehead until he was nicely tied up and, for good
measure, just in case the bastard screamed, stuffed
a pair of socks in his mouth and tied them with another
strip of the towel. Could feel the man come round again,
beginning to struggle and Vadim had to pin him down
again, while the rage inside continued to grow. He wanted
to cut the bastard into shreds, wanted to break him,
punish him, drive home the point he should leave Lesha
the fuck alone.
struggling, powerful body underneath, the muffled groans,
and Vadim suddenly felt an odd stab of something else
entirely. Anger, but of a different colour, a different
taste. A heat that flared up inside of him, stoked by
rage. The man's strong body
he was in top physical
condition, only weak for the moment.
he knew what would break him.
hoisted him up by the shoulders, laid him across the
bed, kept him pinned down while he tore down the man's
trousers, thinking, bastard, if it's naked recruits
and naked flesh you want, that's what you'll get. He
just loved the feeling of struggling muscle underneath,
getting addicted to the sound of heaving, panicking
breath through a partially blocked mouth, and the scent
of dawning panic. Vadim pressed against the man's ass,
could feel the struggle become stronger, like the bastard
was coming back completely, and opened his fly, pulled
his cock free. Lay down on the man, who tried to shout
and doubled his frantic fighting, but kept him down
with his chest. Opened the man's legs with his knees,
could feel the warm flesh, warm and dry and hateful.
There was a tub of Vaseline near the bed. Made wanking
better and Vadim's lips curved into a nasty grin as
he opened the tub and covered his cock with the stuff,
hurried, then kicked the officer's legs further apart
and felt him shudder with fear and revulsion as he rubbed
some more into his crack, roughly pulling the flesh
apart, forcing grease into the ass. Not for any kindness,
no way, just so he could get in at all.
man said something - hectic, mumbled words that made
no sense. Vadim grinned and leaned in. "I think
this faggot here found a new bitch, you cunt."
He could smell the man's fear, an acidic, sharp smell,
and Vadim paused, wanted to savour his revenge, realised
anticipation was half the fun, and he wanted to give
him time to anticipate. "I'll fuck you
you've wanted it all the time, or you wouldn't have
provoked it, you fucking cunt. You'll feel me and you'll
love it, because faggots like you can't get enough of
shuddering with the effort at control, he moved in,
pressed into the hot flesh that resisted, then gave
against his strength, while the man screamed into the
gag and did everything to fight him, clench, buck, but
Vadim handled the terrified struggle just like close
combat, keeping the body pinned and under control. The
heat was intoxicating, power and revenge, rage concentrated
in a rising, furious lust, and he bared his teeth in
a grin so fierce it hurt. The struggle was so fucking
good, better than the elation of a fight he was winning,
and Vadim felt his blood pump, incredibly alive and
hot after the freezing sleet outside. All it took was
a fighting body underneath to warm up, mind and heart
and body. Possessing.
flesh yielding was an impossible feeling, coloured red-hot
with the man's seething hatred, and Vadim couldn't help
but see Lesha flash across his brain. His body, his
skin, his dark hair. He began to thrust, thought of
his comrade, and at the same time was completely aware
this was the bastard that had tried to kill them both,
but his worn-out brain didn't care anymore.
yourself, you cunt?" he murmured into the officer's
ear, forcing in deeper, the body taut underneath, tight
muscles, his own body melting heat and lust and hatred
and revenge into one heady mix that hit him deeper than
any drug. Remembered how the masseur used to fuck him,
and began with slow, deep thrusts, pausing every now
and then to murmur into the officer's ear. "Why
don't you struggle? Feels too good, eh?" Which
made the man buck, and Vadim thrust right into him,
so hard the other collapsed with a sound of pain, hands
clenching helplessly as Vadim found a rhythm, his own
exhausted body took forever to build up enough pressure,
feeling the other widen and accommodate him, softening
up, strangely, the powerful body accepting him on the
most visceral level.
the faggot now", he murmured, was almost positive
the bastard reacted, reacted in a certain way when he
thrust in, shuddering and clenching, but it wasn't all
a fight, not all of it. A nice, deep, dark, absolutely
devastating secret. Vadim laughed into his ear. "You
enjoy it. I know what that feels like. You pressing
down so you come, too, bitch?"
would have loved to pull out the gag and listen to the
man's desperate breaths, but at least he could still
feel them in his body, as he thrust harder, bringing
his strength to bear, getting sounds out of the other
man, pain, yeah, right, and something forbidden and
pressure built up, impossible to draw this out any longer,
triumph and release when Vadim came inside, thrust so
hard he rocked the bed against the wall when he did,
then remained on top of the officer. Resting for a moment,
listening to the way the man's breath was irregular
and forced and nearly seemed to choke him. "That's
for Lesha", he muttered, feeling an odd, destructive
he pulled out, took some of the bedsheet to clean himself
up, closed his trousers up and leaned against the wall,
studying the still figure on the bed. Fit. Strong. A
complete and utter bastard. And an ass that looked raw
and glistened with petroleum jelly and Vadim's cum.
contemplated fucking him again, waiting for a little
and doing it again, because deep down, where the climax
had not sated the anger, and where his own darkest desire
had come alive, he loved the feeling. Loved the struggle
and the anger, loved knowing how much the other hated
this, and bared his teeth in another grin. Faggot, yes,
but that didn't mean he'd take things lying down. But
there was another thing, and that was making sure Lesha
rummaged through the bastard's kit and belongings, found
penicillin and knew Lesha would need this, then stepped
back to the bed, took the bastard by the shoulders and
turned him around to look him in the eyes.
officer didn't meet his gaze. And he'd been right, there
was an erection. Vadim grinned. "You should have
told me before
I could have fucked you sooner,
would have saved us some trouble, correct, suka?"
officer's eyes stared at him now, but Vadim didn't feel
like relenting, didn't give a damn about consequences.
Not anymore. "If you do so much as look strange
at my friends or myself, I'll grab you again - and I'll
bring a bunch of friends. We're all badly in need of
a nice spirited devuchka. I'm sure we could keep you
entertained all night, sweetheart."
to drive his point home, Vadim took hold of the officer's
cock, stroking him once, twice, slow, strong motions.
He was positive the man was dying with fear now, and
probably something else, too, which was not revulsion.
"I could leave you like this, or maybe fuck you
" The man's eyes widened, and he grunted
something around the gag, which Vadim took as disagreement
or a plea.
I have to check up on a friend." He smiled again,
as he turned the officer onto his back and loosened
the restraints enough that the bastard would be able
to free himself with a little time. "You better
behave, because this is just a faint idea of what I
can do to you if you cross me again, bitch." And
he meant it. Nothing tasted or felt like power. Nothing
he'd ever tried before. Nothing as intoxicating as control.
gave the officer a series of slaps that were almost
gentle, then left him alone. Sated, heavy, very very
tired, but still concerned for Lesha.
fell into the rhythm of that garrison, helped with training
and inspection, led a few patrols before he began to
slip. He deliberately made mistakes, and badly concealed
a completely random temper and subtle failings in his
discipline, showing clearly that he was in trouble.
It was quite simple, really. Tell-tale signs that he
appeared too sluggish to cover up.
Alexei Ivanovich Petkov came into his room. A major
himself, that meant no stupid rank-pulling, as if his
old friend had been the type. Granted, he was only regular
army, but still, as Vadim had expected, a damn decent
guess we need to talk."
Vadim feigned ignorance.
closed the distance and took his arm with both hands,
pulled up the shirt. Revealed the marks. "What's
looked at him, did not speak, did not comment. Remembered
the crush he'd had on the young man, his protectiveness,
the closeness, but he'd never acted on it. Not even
later, when he had started to take what he wanted. Lesha
had trusted him and respected him and, in his own way,
loved him. He just couldn't destroy that, as much as
he'd wanted him. Funny. One good decision there.
getting into drugs? Heroin?" Alexei sounded genuinely
concerned. "I couldn't care less if you weren't
who you are."
see." And he did. The old bond still held. They
were still friends.
looked on the verge of slapping him. "Fuck, don't
give me that. What happened? I heard you flipped badly
in Kabul. When did you start this?"
need to report you. And lock you up." His thumbs
dug into Vadim's arm.
I take some morphine and piss off into the mountains
until it's over." Vadim looked at the other. "Like
they do when it gets bad."
can't go into prison. Don't do this to me. Give me a
chance." The words came easy, too easy, almost.
He reached for the other's shoulder. "I'll take
morphine against the pain, find myself a nice cave and
you tell people I'm doing patrols of the passes. We
both keep quiet, and I'll owe you this time."
tells me you will come back?"
I look like I want to go native? I have a family in
Moscow. I want to get out of here alive as much as you
if you don't beat this?"
exam when I come back. If the medics find anything,
do your duty. But give me a chance."
looked him in the eye. "Fucking shame if we lost
you. You think you'll manage?" Both hands on his
shoulders now, one hand went to his neck, forced him
closer. Ill-advised brotherly touch. Vadim's mind reeled.
have enough morphine to last me."
you kick the morphine?"
try." Vadim gave a lopsided grin. "Might take
me some weed or vodka." He pulled the shirt down,
turned away, twisted out of that grip, didn't want to
smell the other. Too close. He went to his bergan, tossed
a bag of heroin on the bed, and the syringe. Italian
make, nobody used the Soviet make, they broke too easily
and were never sterile, not even with their first use.
Left the fabric already flawed. "Take this. Burn
now the keeper of this most damaging secret, took the
stuff. They both were perfectly capable of keeping secrets,
that was one of the things Vadim had always liked about
his old friend.
had no idea what had happened that night, he'd slipped
right into a fever. He had caught pneumonia, which had
come under control, thanks to the penicillin, but, likely,
even more thanks to the fact that that bullying officer
had blown his own brains out with his Makarov. The suicide
was a complete mystery - it had happened the following
night, after the officer had fallen mysteriously ill
and not left his room. Forty-eight hours after his personal
encounter with Vadim, the man was dead.
are you leaving?"
away. Before the shakes."
commander nodded. "How long?"
think about two weeks." Vadim shrugged. "You
Of course. You're a friend, Vadim."
all, I'm one cunning motherfucker. Vadim nodded, as
if ashamed, didn't meet the other's eyes, shouldered
the bergan. And was on his way to Kashmir.
left the uniform buried under a pile of stones in a
remote valley that had neither inhabitants nor name,
navigated with map and stars, wore native clothes, and
vanished into the wilderness. Crossed the passes, attacked
and killed a Pakistani patrol, took their kit, their
car, drove all night, hid and rested during the days,
driven by one thought: Dan's infection, Dan fighting
for his life. He might already be dead, but at least
he'd hear that from the doctor. He'd follow him, and
wondered what that meant, following, but didn't answer
it, knew it in his bones.
follow that body anywhere, to Kabul, to Scotland, he'd
find a way to confirm he was dead, even if he had to
dig up that body in a country he didn't know. He needed
had to give up the jeep, got too far into the country,
went by bus, on foot, felt like the world was moving
and he wasn't, had no eyes for anything but for the
ground and potential danger, ate what was sold or given,
what he could steal or pluck from the trees; mango never
tasted anything like this, he thought, sitting near
the road under a tree, begged rides with natives, who
thought him either a deserter or a tourist. He spoke
English and was fairly confident they couldn't place
his accent, not the way their English was rather rudimentary.
Told them nothing, really, kept his head covered, hair
was starting to grow out anyway, and he kept his guns
and knives hidden on his body.
on ramshackle trucks, slept between sheep and goats
and cages of chicken, trucks only stopped for prayer,
he waited, rested as much as he could, needed the rest,
he was on his feet most of the time, desperate for yet
another mile, too far, too fucking far, asked questions,
found the British hospital.
arrived in the middle of the night, had planned to sleep
somewhere close, but his thoughts were fixated on one
thing. Dan dying, and every breath of rest, every hour
of sleep could be the one, crucial, wasted opportunity.
Felt like death on two feet as he got into the hospital,
barely coherent with tiredness, asked to see Dan McFadyen,
urgently. Needed to see him, please. Oh gods, and in
Allah's name and those of whatever other gods they prayed
kept telling him that now was not visiting time, that
he should go home and wait until the morning, and that
no, he should not get so aggravated, because the gods
were wise and knew who should live and who should enjoy
the beauties of heaven.
were talking to him like to a child until he got angrier
and angrier. The night porter at reception began to
get upset at the aggression and the repeated question
for one Dan McFadyen. They were about to call for security
when a doctor on night shift walked past. One glance
at the tall blond-haired man who looked as if he'd keel
over with exhaustion any moment, and then a swift conversation
in Hindu. Words that increased in pace and intensity,
until the discussion stopped, reception nodded, and
a security guard was called. The doctor turned to Vadim,
is not custom that patients have visitors at night,
but since Mr McFadyen has not received any visitors,
we deem it appropriate for you to have five minutes."
mention of the guard who stood at the ready. Nothing,
just a tired smile of politeness, and the typical Indian
shot the guard a glance, thought 'touch me and I'll
break your neck' then turned to the doctor. "Five
minutes?" All he needed. Five minutes to see and
touch Dan. Needed to see him. Would only believe he
was there when he actually stood in front of him. His
bed. He swallowed. He was hardly coherent, and knew
it, couldn't wait, couldn't pause, his legs and feet
were murder, his mind frayed, tired, so fucking tired
he wanted to die, forced himself to appear as normal
and stoic as he could, was more staggering than walking.
"What's his condition. How bad? Will he die?"
patient is stable." He doctor gestured towards
the corridor, the guard following without any reaction
to Vadim's glare. "Still battling with the after
effects of infection, but that was to be expected with
the extent of injuries."
Infection. Two words that registered, everything else
just slipped past Vadim. He nodded, walked near the
doctor, listened, wanted to rush in, didn't even know
where, needed more patience.
need to wash your hands and change into protective clothing."
They walked through a door into the intensive care ward,
and then towards the visitor room. "You have five
minutes every hour, unless we deem it beneficial to
the patient to receive prolonged visits. If the patient
should be aggravated, there shall be no forthcoming
visits." The doctor glanced to the side, never
quite fully at Vadim.
Beneficiary. Whatever. Long, complicated words.
Every heartbeat brought him closer to Dan. Dan who was
not dead. Not dying. Stable. Was there a nicer word
in any language than that?
The doctor pointed to a wash basin and soap, then the
shrubs that consisted of long coat and hair cap for
washed, didn't think, just did, took off some of his
clothes, wide trousers, a shirt, took off the rag, scrubbed
his hands, fingernails, short and bitten off, saw his
face red and burnt, didn't care, saw the glint in his
eyes, thought he looked like a lunatic. Washed his face,
the neck, and got into the stiff coat that felt like
it had been laundered a hundred times, cooked, boiled,
starched, ironed. Filled it out, tight at the shoulder,
reached for the cap. Wanted to see Dan, so badly, and
felt the bile rise with fear. Didn't want to see him
hurt. Not like that. Nobody had mentioned burn wounds,
abdomen they'd said, hadn't they?, but he feared Dan
would look so bad he wouldn't recognise him. Formed
fists with his hands, scared, as scared as he had the
strength left to be.
guard followed even when the surgeon opened another
door that lead to the ICU. Window fronted rooms like
glass trays mounted on microscopes. "The guard
will take you." The hallway quiet except for bleeping,
and the hushed tones of nurses and doctors.
nodded, waited, followed like a man that had no other
choice, didn't quite believe he'd made it, felt unreal,
a nightmare, one of those endless dreams. Smells, feelings,
he wanted to sleep, desperate, didn't know what he wanted,
knew he was disoriented and exhausted.
unit was in its own area, through yet another door,
with only one window spanning across the corridor. A
special ward in an already private hospital. The smell
of plastic and disinfectant pervading the air, and the
constant noise of bleeping and whirring reached through
the open door. The window allowed a full view of the
patient, whose eyes were closed. Clipped dark hair in
stark contrast to the white pillows, and the sickly
pale skin beneath the former tan.
machines stood all around the motionless figure on the
bed. Still hooked up to keep track of heart rate, blood
pressure and oxygen saturation through arterial lines
and intravenous catheters. Lifelines curling from nose,
torso and limbs to bags with different solutions and
probes that measured temperature, blood pressure, heart
rate and respiration. Even though there was no respiratory
tube anymore, only a small unit taped below the nostrils,
the probe that kept the patient alive was still in his
stomach, running through his nostril. Nil by mouth -
except for a few sips of water that they had started
was asleep. A still and fragile figure in the centre
of medical machinery. Thin, frail, having lost a substantial
amount of weight, his facial features had sharpened
and his eyes had sunk in his head, giving the impression
of a skull, closer to death than life. They had shaved
his head, easier to keep clean. His left hand thickly
bandaged, his right still restrained to the bed. But
he was breathing on his own, and his heart was beating
in a steady line, flashing across a monitor.
guard, all forgotten. Dan. Vadim walked closer, first
time in days without the weight of the bergan, had left
it where his clothing was, moved closer, all those machines
that were shielding. Not as bad, was his first thought.
In one piece. He could see both legs, both arms, both
hands, all the fingers. Both eyes. Dan looked young
with that short hair, he could see the shape of the
head properly, something his fingers had known, only
once his eyes, had missed the feeling of that hair on
his skin. Dan, not Dan, not reckless, fearless, sweating
Dan, not alive, vibrant, insulting Dan. And still him.
Shadow of a man. That was what a bomb did to a body,
yes, unless it tore it apart, he checked the legs and
arms again. All whole. Did not comprehend, it was all
wrong, the bleeping, the lines, the cables, Dan not
responding, not resting, just switched off. Vadim squeezed
in between a machine and the bed, reached for a hand,
the one that wasn't bandaged. Clean. Aseptic. No pressure,
no strength, the hand that had hit him, cut him, the
hand that had been everywhere on his body, the hand
he had fucked, that had fucked him, the hand that had
covered his nose and mouth so he kept damned quiet,
that same hand wasn't itself anymore. In one piece.
he could do, no need to rush, no need to not waste any
time. He'd made it. Dan was here, what a mercy, unexpected,
hoped for, alive, breathing, secure. Lapushka. The pressure
started from somewhere in his chest, it felt like a
laugh, but wasn't, was as much a laugh as that man was
a soldier. Casualty. They'd take him home, career ending
wound. It didn't matter now. He'd rather see Dan leave
for Scotland than see him dead or wounded. Lost him,
found him, and the pressure rose and he felt it crawl
out of his throat, too fucking tired to care, knew it
was the stress and exhaustion, nothing to be ashamed
of. Dan wouldn't even notice, and he didn't care who
else saw it, and he let it go, went to his knees and
cried, held Dan's hand and cried against his arm, tried
to be silent so they wouldn't kick him out, nearly choked
on the shit, felt like he was trying to breathe fire,
salt, cried so hard every muscle in his body hurt. Wanted
nothing but to curl up at the bed and guard it like
a dog, had slept in worse places in the last weeks.
hand in Vadim's twitched. Attempts at pressure, fingers
pushing against the palm. Awake. As awake as Dan could
be, while still on morphine and sedatives. The hand
tried to move, gave up, as if resigned to being restrained.
looked up, didn't care the fucking tears were still
running, couldn't make that shit stop, just couldn't,
control never worked with Dan, he should have accepted
that by now. "Dan?" he asked, hardly trusted
his voice - or anything. "You awake?"
machine that monitored pulse sped up, the bleeping noise
increased, and the fingers made a greater effort to
push against the other's. Dan's eyes were open the moment
Vadim raised his head. Dark eyes, large, so fucking
huge in a far-too pale and thin face. Even the scar
stood out as starkly as it had done three years ago,
when it had been fresh and angry. He was merely looking,
those bloody big eyes simply staring. Disbelief, pain
and fear and tiredness, but most of all a sense of recognition.
real?" Dan's whisper rusty and brittle.
Disused and raspy from the soreness caused by tubes,
his throat parched despite the water bottle on his bedside
table. He couldn't reach for it, but even without restraints,
the effort a Herculean task. "Real?" Repeated.
reached out to touch the face, then leaned in, still
fucking crying and wrestling for every steady breath.
Dan's eyes. They were the worst thing. Yellow mixed
with the brown, more amber than dark, something far
less right with this body than it looked, and that was
bad. Stood, got to his feet, show of strength, didn't
want to show Dan how tired he was, how broken. Leaned
in, thought fuck it, let them kick me out for this,
touched his lips to Dan's, dry, parched, not a real
kiss, and more real than it had ever been.
eyes closed at the touch of lips on lips. Another kiss
of life, how fucking ironic.
pulled back, wiped his face on the starchy sleeve, and
tried to give a smile. "You got more cables in
you than fucking Darth Vader."
feeble grin a mere ghost of Dan's usual smirk. "More
Beauty." The machines
started to change, different noise, altered pattern.
reached for the water bottle, a squeezy thing made from
plastic, with a nozzle, placed that between Dan's lips
and gave him a little to drink, his hand shaking badly.
was painful, and Dan's eyes closed as he took small
measures of water. Reduced to goddamned thankfulness
for a sip of liquid.
was a rustle behind Vadim as a nurse entered the room,
speaking before Dan could muster the strength to try
and talk once more. "Sir, you have to leave now.
The five minutes are over. You may wait outside."
A bench, in front of the glass window. No one had ever
sat there, no one had visited.
one would have witnessed Daniel McFadyen die.
looked at the nurse, hated her more than any American
in his whole life, more than any Brit and that included
the British captain of the Pentathlon team. Knew if
he made a wave he wouldn't see Dan again. Reached out
to touch that face again. "I'm here", he murmured,
again almost choking on the words. He'd imagined to
see him and leave, but he couldn't leave Dan like this,
too much to tell him, too much to regret and apologise
for, too much to explain before Dan left for home. "Rest
up, soldier. I'm here." Squeezed the hand again,
turned, left, sat down on the bank, and cried, cried
with the fear and the sadness and the pain, too tired
to do anything but cry, didn't even have the strength
to tell the nurse to wake him up in an hour, couldn't
waste the time, needed to speak to Dan. Leaned against
the wall and cried like a boy losing his family.
than thirty minutes later a nurse re-appeared. A different
one this time, it seemed the hospital was staffed extremely
well. "Sir?" She stood, waiting, until Vadim
acknowledged her. "Sir, if you wish to refresh
yourself, a room has been made available for you. It
is one of the overnight staff rooms that the surgeons
are using. If you wish, you may also use the staff canteen
and some fresh clothes are ready for you. You will find
them in the room, if you'd like to follow me?"
must have happened in the meantime. Something
had shifted the already surprising treatment, allowing
this rag-tag run-down Russian stranger to see a British
patient, and now
now he was treated like a guest.
'On the house', so to speak. No questions asked. No
answers given. Just observed.
waited, her small figure prim and proper in the perfectly
starched nurse's uniform, the jet-black hair in a bun
and crowned by a neat cap. Seemingly concerned about
the stranger's acquiescence, she pointed towards the
window which showed Dan asleep again. "Sir, the
patient is resting at the moment, but you may visit
once you have refreshed yourself." Adding with
a smile of generic friendly politeness, "It is
safer for the patient if you change into the provided
nodded, stood, felt so grateful and tired it was pathetic.
Safer for Dan if he didn't bring all the dirt of Pakistan
with him. It made sense. He gathered his clothes, the
bergan, followed her, as tired as after a night exercise,
room was small, clean, white, a narrow bed, made for
these small dark skinned people, he wanted to crash
so bad it hurt, but then, he could sleep in prison,
he thought, and found that hilarious. He just didn't
think he'd get away with it. He was waiting for the
hammer to fall, but in the meantime, he'd get the stinking
rags off, tossed them in a corner, would wash them later,
checked his body for parasites, lice, ticks, fleas.
Had slaughtered the veins of his arms with the Italian
syringe, if he'd ever get into heroin, he'd inject the
shit in the insides of his legs, or between the toes,
but he'd needed something more obvious. Had needed to
bait his old friend. As long as the doctors didn't think
he was a junkie soldier out to finish a job.
couldn't be here legally, not if they had worked out
he was Soviet. No passport to leave Afghanistan, enter
Pakistan, leave Pakistan, enter India. He either was
on a mission, or a deserter. Vadim began to wash, half-closed
his eyes, needed to focus to get the job done. Refreshing.
He'd be clean again.
they allowed him near Dan. For whatever reason. He didn't
believe in kindness, not after all these years in the
fucking military. The ambassador? Why would she? She
didn't strike him as the compassionate type. Might groom
him to be a traitor, then. Double-agent. Maybe they
had already confirmed his identity. Might suspect he
was Interior Ministry. The hammer would fall. By all
rights, he should be scurrying away. Self-preservation.
clothes were a loose-fitting shalwar kameez, loose trousers
that didn't reach his ankles, and a shirt that didn't
reach his knees, sleeves that didn't reach his wrists.
Cotton, a dark blue. Easily the nicest thing he'd worn
for years, light, caught the breeze that entered through
the shaded window. Stashed the bergan under the bed,
wanted to shave, cut his hair, but had decided to return
scruffy and hairy to base, if he did. After all, he
was going through cold turkey. Might still shave, but
just now couldn't be bothered.
to the room they kept Dan in, expected MI5, expected
eyes and ears, and couldn't be bothered to evade or
hide anything. They were both screwed anyway, he had
nothing to lose, whatever. As long as they allowed him
here, he was fine.
there was no one in Dan's ICU. No one but a junior nurse
who sat in the corner, waiting patiently. She nodded
at Vadim as he entered, without the starched coat and
in the clothes they had provided. Clean, and not infectious.
If he was dangerous, that seemed to be a different matter.
She stood up and left the room, but not before she had
moved the chair towards the bed, pointing at it with
a smile and a soft "Please".
gave her a nod, then turned to Dan, who appeared to
be asleep, or simply resting, but soon began to stir,
the restrained hand jerking, then stilling again. Resignation
that went bone-deep, settled into every fibre. He'd
survived the blast, injuries and subsequent infections.
It had taken everything out of him, to the last cell
in his body and most of his mind. Loneliness, while
fighting to survive, and he'd lost his strength and
reason on the way.
placed a hand on the twitching fingers, pressed them
for a moment, let his hand linger there. He didn't need
to cry now, still fucking tired, and hurting, but better
now. They allowed him here.
eyes opened, his face had an almost childlike expression.
He smiled, a mere ghost, and his tired voice croaked.
smiled, sat down, stroked that hand. "Just booked
some time off. Colonel sends greetings, everybody hopes
you'll get better soon." Inhaled deeply. "And
the shit you pull just to get a new haircut, huh?"
Reached out to touch the short hair.
grimaced, laughing would hurt too fucking much and was
too much effort. Energy he didn't have. "You
bullshit." Moistened his lips, thirsty again. They'd
refilled the bottle and he glanced pointedly at it.
took the bottle, and trickled some more liquid into
Dan's mouth. He could do that for the rest of his life,
and not feel he'd wasted any of his talents.
swallowed with a wince, but thankful for the water.
if dead." Talking took a goddamned lot out
of him and he closed his eyes, concentrating on breathing
while the sounds of the machines remained steady. Heartbeat,
respiration, blood pressure.
smiled. "I remember you, bitch." He ran his
hand over Dan's cheek again, who visibly relaxed, faintly
smiling. Just fingertips, didn't want to upset, just
be there, just tell Dan any way he could he'd be there.
He glanced at the machines, each one unfeeling, witnesses,
Dan opened his eyes again he tried to look at his hand
and the hated restraints. "Fought
I think." Rolled his eyes. "Don't remember.
dark ... fear
found the strap that bound that hand, loosened it, knew
Dan shouldn't be tied up, freed at least that much.
"Don't be disappointed I take no advantage of you.
I'm too fucking tired. Pakistan isn't exactly tourist
destination, definitely not for folks like me."
sleep." Dan's own voice got quieter
by the second. "Insane
" He ended in
a whisper, with a smile that took the last reserves
out of him and he closed his eyes. He didn't want to
sleep, tried to fight it, but his breath evened out
almost immediately, and so did his heartbeat. It slowed,
but grew steadier. Unfeeling machines that told a story
of emotions through facts, sounds and numbers.
had to look horrible, Vadim thought, if even Dan could
see he needed rest. Touched Dan's face again, so glad
he could do that, everything else would find a way,
somehow, they'd got this far. "Sleep. And get better",
he murmured in Russian near the other's ear, then sat
again on his chair, determined to stay right there until
they made him leave. Not one minute less.
sound of steps in Vadim's back, entering the room. "Sir,
we need to change the dressing and it will be best for
the patient if he has the opportunity for prolonged
rest." The voice was male, one of the doctors,
accompanied by a nurse. They left the strange Russian
alone, and yet there was a distanced alertness about
them. Friendly, but reserved. They had clearly received
instructions, but from whom, and what they were, impossible
to tell in their politely friendly faces.
looked up. "Yeah, I guess." He wanted to offer
to be quiet, not wake Dan up, if he could only stay,
just like one of the machines, his duty merely to ensure
Dan was there and safe.
suggest you take some much needed rest yourself. You
may see the patient in a few hours. It will be necessary
to conduct some observation and medical tests and this
might prove upsetting. Less on the patient, who will
be sedated, than yourself." The doctor's words
were kind but left no room for discussion.
thought about resisting. How unsettling could it be?
After what his imagination had done to him? This was
nothing, they'd just keep that body running, nothing
unsettling about living and maintenance. He stood, knees
weak, stiff, tired, his back hurt, his eyes hurt, most
of all the place in his chest that felt.
may stay in the room that was provided for you. You
will find supper waiting."
Vadim moved to the side. "If anything changes
anything. Whatever it is, I need to be there."
Tried to make it sound like an order, knew he lacked
authority. More like pleading.
back in 'his' room. Somebody had taken the dirty stinking
rags, maybe tossed them into a washing machine. A bowl
with rice and spicy sauce and bits of meat, looked like
lamb, and naan bread. Vadim tore some of it up, dunked
it in the sauce, shovelled it in, not used to the spiciness,
some minty yogurt stuff cooled his tongue, halfway through
the food his body told him he was no longer starving,
and he dropped the rest of the bread into the bowl,
carried it over to the bed, put it on the nightstand
- like a raw conscript, expecting food to be stolen
-, pulled the shirt off over his head, lay down, pulled
the pillow up, decided he could finish the food later.
well-oiled machinery that was the hospital worked smoothly
and competently throughout the night. Silence, where
the staff rooms were, busy efficiency around the patients.
That night, though, saw extraordinary communications,
explanations and procedures. Phone calls, faxes, and
deliberations between hospital staff and the embassy
in Kabul. The question 'why' was asked, time and time
again, until answered with 'because you will find me
they did. They examined, checked results, gave eye witness
accounts, read the output of machinery and readdressed
the situation. A life that had been hanging in the balance
for weeks, sustained by machinery and medical care,
but one dimension missing. Another 'why'. The 'why to
live' and 'what for' and the human need for a reason.
early morning saw the patient shaved, freshly cleaned,
carried on a waterproof sling to the shower rooms and
back, and the nasal feeding tube removed under sedation.
It was time to test their theory in practice and to
find a reason besides 'I wish it so'.
was still sleeping after the removal of tube and some
stitches, as well as re-dressing and bandaging of abdomen
and left hand. The right resting on the pristine white
bed linen beside him. Unrestrained. Several arterial
lines and the automated blood pressure missing, but
heart rate measure and waste catheters remained. The
high-tech room was oddly quiet.
did not wake Vadim, let the man sleep, whose name they
knew and yet they did not. Not in his face.
woke, disoriented, but not in a bad way. Didn't panic,
didn't freak, just rested and relaxed, thought the bastards
had let him sleep, and that probably meant nothing had
changed, nothing required his presence, as if, he was
only a visitor. Came to his senses, lay there, trying
to work out how much time he'd have before he had to
go back. Maybe a day. Maybe two. The risk was obscene,
he could just as well make the most of it. Washed again,
dressed, ate the cold spicy food - nobody had entered
the room in the meantime - the bread, drank cold tea
left the room, headed back to the ICU ward, hoped they'd
let him in and maybe stay for longer.
A nurse stopped him before he could enter Dan's room.
"Since you appear to be a friend of the patient,
and the only visitor, we took the liberty to assume
you wished to help deliver the first solid food the
patient has had since the injury?" 'The patient'.
Only ever 'the patient'. No name, a number, and yet
they had cared for Dan as if he were their own brother.
glanced towards the door. Only visitor. No family, no
comrades, nothing. "Aye." Solid food. Dan
was getting better. Couldn't wait to get back inside.
was awake at last, groggy and sniffling quietly. With
the nasal tube removed he was sore again, irritated
at the itching in his nostrils and down his throat.
Bad-tempered, he didn't know they had reduced the morphine
dose to speed up the healing, but he could feel the
pain somewhat more acute.
said no steak yet, but you can eat." Vadim walked
towards the bed, grinning. "Might be that holy
cow thing, you know."
smiled tiredly at Vadim in greeting. Not alone. No longer
alone. Not dead. Not dying on his own amidst fear and
terror. The darkness, the lure, fighting the urge to
give up and simply let himself be dragged under. No
sat down and took Dan's hand. "You look better.
Hard to imagine, but you do." He kept that hand
in his. "They treat me like fucking hotel. My own
room, food, seems like nice place for holidays."
blinked, confused, but at least one thing provided a
constant. The hand that held his own. Fucking pathetic,
really, that all he could think of was how he craved
the strength of that hand. Felt weak, unlike ever before
in his life. "Why?" Croaked. Why Vadim had
come. Why they treated him like a guest. Why he was
even still alive and why the fuck he could not make
any sense of anything except for that hand.
nurse quietly slipped in, leaving a tray with a bowl
of puree that looked almost edible. 'Solid food'. The
term was used most loosely.
they hired me as pretty unlikely nurse. Maybe they worked
out these darkies aren't really your type." Vadim
reached for the puree, smelled it, seemed to be vegetables
of some description. Gathered his thought as he took
the spoon and scooped some food up in it. "Well,
I thought it was smart idea to walk into British embassy."
Raised the spoon and put it to Dan's lips. "Now,
be good boy."
eyes widened, fixed on Vadim, not the spoon. "You
did ... what?" Made the mistake of opening his
mouth and before he could try and find enough energy
to say anything else, the spoon was pushed between his
lips. He grimaced, but took the food and made a mighty
effort to swallow. Wasn't all that bad. Tasted ... of
food, not plastic nor sterile solutions nor the horrible
taste of death.
didn't have to chew, thankfully, and the way the puree
made its way down to his stomach was almost close to
bliss. Felt like life. One step closer to living. Swallowed,
grimacing again. "You
laughed. "Yeah. Above and beyond, and who dares
" He shook his head. Enough military
talk. Pulled the spoon back and gathered more food.
"Told them you'd let me live and that I wanted
to thank you. Needed to know." Another spoon between
Dan's lips, another little bit of food.
frowned, but swallowed. Resigned to the food that kept
coming. The fighting spirit was still there, it had
just been buried.
woman ambassador gave me some trouble, but told me name."
And yet another spoon.
Dan managed to bring out before the food made its way
into his mouth again and he had no other option but
like that Thatcher woman? Then it's Maggie. Your boss."
deal clear. As long as Dan swallowed, Vadim would keep
talking. "Didn't quite exactly tell them who I
am, thought that was smarter. They might guess, but
I don't care." He glanced at Dan. Another spoon,
and another heroic effort to get that goddamned puree
down. "Faked heroin addiction, freaked out my commander,
pissed off into mountains, killed less Pakistanis on
the way than I had thought, and well, barged right into
this place. Quite funny, really."
was listening, eyes wide, while obediently swallowing,
the first food by mouth for several weeks. But soon
he raised his fingers, just a little, feebly prodding
Vadim. He couldn't anymore, just couldn't. His stomach
full to bursting after a few spoonfuls.
put the puree down, spoon and bowl went back on the
tray. Took the napkin and wiped Dan's mouth.
Dan whispered. Why. Again. Why. "You risked
" Tell me why. Tell me. Tell me
why you're here and why the fuck I've been fighting
so hard to live.
didn't risk anything. Well, yes, okay, nothing more
than what I usually do." Vadim shrugged. "Thought
I'd at least get to say goodbye before you piss off
back home." He nodded to Dan's abdomen. "That's
ticket home, Dan. Good for you. You're making it out
" More cheerful than he felt, by
far. Needed to get Dan's spirits up, only way for him
to bear it.
you ... Russkie." Even the raspy, quiet voice could
transport some of Dan's intensity. "Fuck
you. Not going. Nothing keeps ... here. Not soldier.
You know." The machines were getting louder, the
bleeping faster, aggravated, blood pressure shooting
up. "No one
back. Not ... away. Here with
you." Machinery exploding into
a cacophony of noise and the sound of feet rushing towards
the room was heard.
groaned, tried a smile, but was too alarmed. "Hey,
take it easy. Dan. Fuck. I was joking." Because
it hurts. Reached out to touch that hand again, had
blown it, knew they'd kick him out now. "I needed
to see you before
Just needed to see you."
Stepped away from the bed, as if to indicate he was
just as startled as anybody else and raised his hands.
The nurse ordered, came rushing in, pushing Vadim out
of the way as she ran to the patient.
you!" The hellish noise of the machines drowned
out Dan's desperate attempt to shout, abusing his throat
and ending with the worst: coughing. Fists clenched
and faced crunched up in pain, eyes shut. The nurse
was talking to him, but even through the glass pane
it was obvious he wasn't listening. Face wet. Crying.
kept talking, but Dan refused to listen and even when
she turned to glare through the glass panel at the man
who seemed to have caused the upset, Dan's lips would
still mouth "no". Over and over again until
she finally nodded, and the machines began to quieten.
rested his forehead against the wall outside, watched,
wincing, felt guilty as hell, shouldn't have brought
up the issue, of course not, Dan wasn't a 'comrade'
who would go home to a medal and a pension that wasn't
enough. Dan had stayed around because he was still tied
to the meatgrinder. "Good work, Vadim", he
murmured. "Excellent work."
nurse stepped out, shook her head to a surgeon who appeared
in the door frame, spoke in Indian to him. The man glanced
at Vadim before he left and the nurse addressed the
Russian. "The patient asks to see you again."
She was apparently not happy about this request. "Please,
Sir, whatever you do, try not to aggravate the patient.
He is far more fragile than you might think and we are
lowering the morphine dose, he will be suffering from
withdrawal. He is probably not quite himself."
She stepped aside.
I'm sorry. I said the wrong thing." Vadim inhaled,
almost didn't expect to be left in again, but she gestured
and he returned to Dan's side. "I have talent to
make you suffer." He sat down again, looked at
him. "All to crack stupid joke."
face was wet and it bloody itched. Tried to wipe it
by turning his head into the pillow, made a pathetically
feeble failure out of it. Looked up, just looked. Breathed.
Heart beating. Alive.
... again? I need to
tell you. Much. Didn't think
chance." Mighty effort, and his
eyes closed for a moment when he was finished.
leaned in, supported his weight against the wall, not
on the bed, didn't want to send the tiniest shock through
Dan, rattling the bed could only be bad. "I'm here.
Lots of time." He glanced around, couldn't see
a towel, but there were some kind of sterile wipes,
and he cleaned Dan's face, was close enough to kiss
him again. "Doesn't have to be now. I'm here. Take
your time." He sat down again, tossed the wipes
into a bin. "Relax. Won't do to hurt you."
nodded, lay with his eyes closed. Was easy to just do
what he was told. To simply be. Not alone. His hand
searching for Vadim's, landing somewhere, he wasn't
sure where. Didn't matter, as long as he was touching.
Just not being alone. Dan lay still for a very long
time, he looked as if he had fallen asleep amidst the
quietened down bleeping and the faint hiss of the oxygen.
took a sudden, deeper breath before he finally opened
his eyes again, after almost half an hour. Again he
looked intently, as if he had to convince himself that
Vadim really was there. Smiled tiredly, blinked his
eyes. "I was frightened." Quiet voice, hardly
more than a whisper. Helped to preserve what little
strength he had. "Not death
but dying. Alone.
know how much sense he was making, but everything was
a jumble with only a few clear thoughts in his mind,
anyway. "Don't leave me." I need you. I love
you. And all that other fucking shit that I used to
laugh about, a lifetime ago. "Don't ... leave me.
kept that hand in both of his, held it, would have killed
to have Dan rest at his side, relaxing, at ease again.
"I'm not leaving, Dan. I'm here." Wanted to
deny the thought, wanted to deny thinking why go back
at all? Why not simply stay here, forever. Let Afghanistan
spin into chaos alone. It was a retreat anyway. Unless
the party had been joking. Difficult to tell the difference.
But the war effort was being disassembled, things would
end soon, a defeat, the end of a duty. He didn't have
to help with that. He could just stay here. "I
have some time." And then I have to go back, help
with the retreat, and I have no idea where my career
will take me after that. Make Colonel in a different
Dan was desperate, "not just
He took in a deeper breath but winced, it hurt to breathe
because of the slashes across his abdomen, as if an
alien monster had sharpened its claws on his body. "Please
to be with you.
eyes pleading, too large, too big and too fucking desperate.
But Dan knew. Knew deep down that it was impossible,
yet couldn't bear accept reality. Not now. Too weak
and too familiar with death. "I need you."
could not fall any further down. Rock bottom. And at
the very bottom was just this one thing. The core of
it all. "Fucking
felt the tears again, this time no exhaustion to justify
it. Pressed that hand, then, appalled at the potential
to hurt Dan further, loosened the grip. "Yes
I know. Fuck, I know." Leaned in to kiss the hand,
blinked the tears off, wiped his face on his arm. "I'll
be with you. I promise."
broke into tears again, like a fucking stupid bitch.
"I'll find way to get out." Who knows, it
might even work. We've been through everything bad.
There might just be something good in the end. If the
universe was fair. If pigs could fly. "I'd walk
through minefield." Looked up. "I promise.
I'll get out, somehow."
Dan smiled. So simple. Straightforward. Naïve in
his acceptance of a promise against all odds. Childlike,
because he had no strength left to be the hard-arsed
man and the tough killer. Right now he was nothing but
a very physically hurt man who had been through hell
and back, clinging to this promise.
together. More than just
hours. Wanna die
with you. Not
threatening to drag him under again. Fought to stay
awake, needed to spend every second with the other while
kissed that hand again, looked up. "We won't die.
We'll never die. I promise." He'd promise anything,
meant it, would die defending this man, would live and
die and suffer for him. "Never alone again. Rest.
I'll be here." He tried a smile, took Dan's hand
and ran it over his face.
fucking deserve more than what we got so far. We'll
take it. Just get ourselves something
Vadim had no idea what that more was, apart from
being together, had no idea what life could be like
outside the Soviet Union. Because he would have to leave.
Traitor, turncoat, homeless scum.
Dan's eyes were closing, even though he didn't want
to fall asleep, but the exhaustion was dragging him
under, "we get more." He was asleep the very
nurses let Vadim sit where he was, left him in peace
except for refreshing Dan's bottle, taking the puree
away and telling the visitor they were going to replace
it once the patient awoke. They brought food for Vadim,
allowed him to eat it outside, on the bench, right in
front of the glass window. Asked him to leave only when
it was time to clean the patient and remove the waste,
re-attaching Dan to nutrient solutions then redressing
the wounds. Left the two men alone otherwise, checking
the readouts on the machines, seemingly satisfied.
woke again after a few hours, ate a few spoonfuls as
before, could only stomach so little, but drank some
water. Did his best to swallow down a thick nutritional
liquid, claimed it tasted of pureed chocolate bars.
He could only ever talk a little before his strength
ran out and he had to fight to stay awake. Then he slept
again. Deeper each time. More restful. Gaining strength
with every hour.
medical staff asked Vadim to rest in the provided room,
where food was waiting and fresh clothing, his own rags
washed and neatly folded. Two days and nights passed
as before, and Dan was able to eat a little more every
time, stay awake longer, and increase in strength.
the third day Dan's left hand was left unbandaged except
for thin gauze, allowing the marvel of modern medicine
and finely skilled metal work to heal with air getting
to the wound. The hand rested across his lap, and Dan
tried to wiggle the fingers a tiny bit. Was about to
make a feeble joke when a nurse came in, carrying the
phone from the station's office, trailing the cable
behind her. She smiled, announced a phone call for the
Dan's voice had become less croaky during the last days.
Dan." The female voice with its perfectly precise
diction familiar to him. "I am glad you are improving."
Dan thought he heard a smile.
He turned his head towards the receiver.
Dan, it's me. Please don't talk too much, it is imperative
you preserve your strength." She paused, "this
is also why I have not called before, but I was kept
updated every day, if not every hour. I am sorry that
," she faltered, unlike herself, "
I could not come and visit. My duties kept me here,
as you must know."
Ma'm. Thank you
" She almost sounded like a mother, hushing
her child. "Don't talk, and don't thank me. What
would you thank me for?" She did not mean for him
to answer, but he quietly interrupted anyway.
... must be
Her answer firm, she had found back to her usual self.
"Do not ever thank me for this. You saved my life,
Dan, I shall be forever in your debt, and don't you
saw Dan smile, his eyes closed once more, and heard
him answer. "Just did
my duty." Before
trailing off and listening, not given another chance
she replied, "your duty and more. Since you have
done your duty above and beyond the call of it, I want
to make sure you recuperate well. You will be flown
back to the embassy in Kabul once you can be transported.
I want to personally oversee your care. Is that understood,
Ma'm." Was all he had left to say. Tired, but with
a sudden surge of energy. Hoping. Kabul. Afghanistan,
and this meant Vadim. He'd be close, not in another
country that could never be his home again.
and now rest, get better, and hand that phone over to
the man who, I believe, is sitting right next to you
shock was evident. "Ma'm?" Eyes suddenly open,
he did what he had been told, moving his hand a little,
indicating to Vadim to take the receiver.
frowned, questioning. Ma'm. Meant the woman ambassador.
The boss. He had lied to her, yes, well, whatever, and
she had made it possible. He didn't doubt it. At least
he now knew what the correct address was. "Ma'm?"
Mimicking the way Dan had said it, still holding Dan's
Krasnorada," she paused a mere half-heartbeat,
"if I am correct?"
inhaled. No use denying, had known it from the moment
they had a good look at his face. "I'm afraid I
used dead man's name, yes, Ma'm."
so, Major." She used his full rank and title, deliberately.
"I am not one for small-talk, let us come straight
to the point. You are a member of the Soviet Forces,
and you happened to cross Pakistan into India. Two countries
which are known for their anti Soviet stance."
She paused, but not long enough for him to get a word
have lied, most probably to every faction involved,
and risked your life in the process. Which is, I would
assume, still very much on the line. While I am suitably
impressed by the whole course of action, I do wonder,
obviously, what are the reasons why." Another minute
pause, "are the reasons of a personal nature, Major
replied, "I don't care for politics. I don't wear
uniform, that means I'm not soldier." I wish.
He inhaled deeply. That thin blade of steel that had
separated his private life from soldiering, Dan from
soldiering, Dan from his family, it looked like it could
be pushed away. He didn't want to think it. But knew
he was deluding himself. Delusion as the antidote to
me. That was
premature." He glanced at Dan.
"The reasons are of personal nature. As personal
as they come. I didn't lie to you. I didn't tell you
all of it, but I didn't lie."
dog-tired, was watching and listening, but he could
not make out anything above the sound of the machines
except for Vadim's replies.
was speaking again. "Personal, I understand, but
while you are not wearing a uniform at this moment,
Major, you were and you will be. Unless you are a deserter
or a traitor. Are you, Major Krasnorada?"
I? All I did was steal two weeks from an army that is
already pulling back. A few patrols, paperwork. I didn't
take Dan prisoner, I didn't force him to give me the
letters, I didn't stop a foreign merc interfering in
Soviet internal business. Is that treason? Deserter?
Away without leave. Well, technically, he had leave.
Not officially, but his commanding officer knew. A lie,
did it really make so much of a difference?
"I believe that is matter of interpretation."
Oh, that's the easy way out, Vadim. Fall back on philosophy.
Major, it is not. Not during our little telephone conversation.
In a court room perhaps, but not between us. Trust me,
there is not much I do not have access to, even to some
information of a more sensitive nature, far locked away
behind an Iron Curtain." Cool, without inflection
in that perfect voice of hers. "Rest assured, nothing
was flagged up in my search. A search that, I presume,
you can sympathise with. I could not allow you to possibly
harm Dan McFadyen, you will understand. Dan, a man to
whom both of us seem to owe a lot."
Vadim thought. But loyalty was such a complicated thing.
Much more complicated than he could think through at
the moment. "Yes, Ma'm, I stand corrected."
She had to know he was Interior Ministry, a double agent
might even have given her access.
assume you wish to leave it like this, Major - a track
record without tracks." The line went dead for
a moment. "I am willing to help you with this and
ensure you cross safely back into Afghanistan. For Dan's
I wish I could just drop it, leave everything behind.
Wish I could screw them all, comrades, army, motherland,
Katya, my children. My father. My country. My people.
Wish I could run away and disgrace everything I've believed
in for almost forty years. "If you could
make transport available, that would be great help."
He looked at Dan, held his hand firmly. Barely believed
his luck, could not wish for more than making the way
back easier. Small mercies? Hardly small.
Her answer. "There will be transportation, in two
days, at 0500 hrs. The journey will be in stages, papers
will be provided. You will receive instructions on the
day." When she spoke again there was something
in her voice which made her sound a little more human.
"I was told Dan is making rapid progress. Something
that had been lacking for the past weeks, during which
I had been very worried. I can only assume this is down
to your presence." She paused, "Thank you,
Major." The line went dead.
lowered the phone. Two days. Two days he'd spend with
Dan, holding his hand, feeding him - and finding a way
how to explain he had to leave again without plunging
him back into darkness. "A
He looked at Dan, returned the phone to the nurse.
what I promised."
are leaving." Dan's quiet words cut in between.
would be hard now. So fucking hard, but she had forced
his hand while Dan watched. "I'll
my country. Leave army. But it's complicated. I can't
stay right now. I am
not just soldier. We don't
just hand in our resignation. I can't just run away,
putting people into danger. I still have
family in Moscow. If I leave, they will bring
down boot. I know it, I've seen it happen before. If
they can't touch me, they will destroy everyone that
is less lucky than I am."
nodded. Said nothing. His eyes, still too large and
too dark just rested on Vadim.
hurt. Katya? Tough as she was. She was the wife, she
would be made to suffer. Anoushka and Nikol'? Nothing
worse than being the spawn of a traitor. Not only dishonoured.
Forever stigmatised. There were ways to make their lives
hell. "I need to get them out of their reach first.
I'll make sure they are out. I owe them that much. Just
even scores, make
my marriage fail, find
way that they won't touch my family. A little more patience.
I'll return. I'll stay. I want to
to try and
live with you, stay with you. Start over again, without
that bullshit. You and me and nothing
am sorry." Dan was backtracking.
Backpaddling. Back ... taking everything back. The begging,
the fear, the unrealistic hopes and wishes and the stupidity
of weakness. A vague memory of who he had been and who
he would be again, if only he were further away from
death and decay. Soldiers. Men. Merc and Major. "Too
tired." He tried to smile.
Oh fuck." Vadim took that hand again, kissed it,
rubbed his face against it, wanted to stay, cursed the
moment he'd seen Katya, cursed the night he'd spent
with her, the first one, cursed how he had tried to
hide, used her to hide, how he had made a career. Be
careful what you wish for. He had wanted a career.
will ... help." Dan murmured, "True to her
word. Always." Dan refused to acknowledge everything
of what Vadim had said. Couldn't deal with it, the full
magnitude of it all.
nodded. "She holds you dear. She would have protected
you like lioness. Well, she did." He looked around
in the room, but didn't see any obvious cameras. "We
have more time. You
heal up, and I'll do my thing,
and we meet in Kabul. There, we'll work out how I can
leave. What we do after that. Give it few months."
Dan's hand attempted another pathetic squeeze. His fingers
unlike they had ever been. Clean, soft, most of the
calluses gone. No cuts nor bruises.
months." Dan didn't believe it, but
he tried, wanted so much. "I have to get
back into shape. Takes
a while. Got to
first." He was
flagging, but he wouldn't let go of Vadim's hand. Despite
his words he was still holding onto the other's promise
with the same desperation as before.
looked at him, sceptically then glanced at the door,
and leaned in to kiss, the chaste kind of kiss that
was reassuring, did not mean to create any heat or desire,
of course not. "Yes. You can do rest of healing
alone. You don't need me for that." He tried a
smile, then glanced at the door, which opened. Nurse
with puree. "Now. Let's get some food into you."
eyes were closed, couldn't get himself to open them.
Too much effort, but he smiled at the kiss. Sulked,
though, like a kid, when the puree arrived. "Do
he did. Ate as much as he could, but after a while,
the spoon still between his lips, he had fallen asleep.
Just like that. Lapushka, indeed. Asleep in the
middle of eating, like a kitten dropping into a bowl
was flown back into Kabul by private plane three weeks
later, to receive physiotherapy back at the embassy.
His room had been kitted out to support the process,
and he'd been allocated a nurse. His very own goddamned
nurse. Dan would have laughed at the notion, if the
laughter hadn't caused agony.
was subdued when he returned, spoke little, slept most
of the time, thankful to his employer for the care and
most of all, for giving him space and quiet. It had
been one time too many that he'd dodged the grim reaper.
This time it had gone too far and he was still grappling
with the bony fingers, disentangling himself from the
least he didn't have to worry about Vadim, knowing he'd
returned to his unit with the Baroness' secret help.
He had gone back with minor interrogation and very little
and lying in the embassy, using a wheelchair when the
nurse - his nurse - caught him trying to do too
much too soon. When she allowed it, or he could sneak
away, he made very slow rounds in the garden while supporting
himself on walls and greenery, refusing to use a crutch
unless he absolutely had to. Dan healed slowly, laboriously.
It was the most difficult task he'd ever undertaken.
The torn and cut stomach muscles leaving the core of
his centre weak and racked with pain every time he tried
so much as move, speak, let alone cough. Still, he was
working hard on his physio, as hard as he was allowed.
Hand flexing, muscles building back up, joints re-aligning.
weeks later and he could bear it no longer. He had to
see Vadim, or he was going mad like a tiger in a golden
cage. Determined to talk to the Baroness, he was working
all day on what he was going to say, which excuse to
she finally had time for him in the early evening, he
was taken to the garden, where she sat in the shade,
glasses with freshly pressed juice waiting. Looking
at her, he forgot all his clever ideas and all his pondering,
and went barging straight ahead.
Dan's voice still hadn't returned to its former self.
"I must ask you a favour."
sat opposite to him in the white metal garden chair.
"Go right ahead, Dan." She smiled and nodded.
have to get out of here, or I am going insane."
brows rose. "I beg your pardon?"
Ma'm." Dan didn't know how to start nor end it
and least of all the bit in the middle. Still far too
exhausted to try and rose-tint any of his words. "I
need a safe house. Something - anything - where I can
someone. Please." He couldn't even
ask for the house he'd been renting. It wouldn't do
for her to know where it was.
do not understand, Dan." Her face neutral, he didn't
know if the words were a decoy, or the plain truth.
"Who would you want to wish to meet who cannot
shook his head, wincing at the movement. "Ma'm
," he paused, desperately searching for words
that were neither lies nor truth. "Ma'm, someone
you have met. I need
need to see
he finally took a breath, as deep as he could without
reeling in pain, "need to see the Soviet officer.
You know him, you spoke to him and you helped him."
was looking at him in silence. Both hands folded in
her lap, the scrutiny of her intelligent eyes on Dan
until he felt uncomfortable under her gaze. She knew,
surely, she had to? But why didn't she ask? He'd tell
her, anything, he had no secrets, not right now. Too
Just that, one word, and she nodded without further
questions. Dan didn't know if he should be thankful,
he felt strangely anxious about her lack of reaction.
It had been too quick, too good to be true, and why
didn't she ask any questions.
will have this arranged for you, but how do you propose
to communicate the location of the place to the person
those big words, they sometimes hurt his brain, especially
right now, when he was still tiring easily. Feeling
like a very old man, parked somewhere on the sidelines,
because Death had forgotten to pick him up.
a tea house, in the centre of the city." It all
felt too easy, yet he refused to believe she had a hidden
agenda. "Someone could leave a coded message with
nodded, "Yes, this can be arranged. I will see
smiled at last. "It's the least I can do."
don't owe me anything." He looked up when she stood.
know." Smoothing her skirt down, pastel twin set
and understated pearls, as perfect as ever. "But
I do, anyway." She took a step closer, resting
a hand on his shoulder. It felt small, he thought, and
warm, and so much unlike Vadim's.
consider you a friend, Dan. And that is more than I
consider anyone else."
that she left, leaving him stunned, staring after her.
walked straight back to her office, deep in thought.
The information that she had received only a few days
earlier had not let her rest, and now that Dan had asked
her that question
her lips were in a tense line
when she sat down at her desk, opening the locked drawer
with her personal files.
Petrovich Krasnorada', the folder read on the cover,
and a string of numbers beneath the name. She opened
the papers, skimming over the first couple of pages
of vital data, stats, and basic information. Swimmer,
recruit, athlete, spetsnaz training. Soldier, husband,
father of two children. Moscow, medals, and a rather
interesting medical file that had several gaps during
the time serving in Afghanistan. The Foreign Office
had been forced to do some guesswork, but she wondered,
speculated and checked, cross-checked dates and years
against the claim that an SAS soldier had saved a spetsnaz
turned another page, reading through the one passage
that had caught her attention more than anything. 'Attempted
Defection', it said, stating that Vadim Krasnorada had
been contacted by the Foreign Office in 1983, five years
ago, during a stay in London, where he had given a sports
related talk. At least that had been the cover story.
A B-class athlete in Britain, A-class Soviet Special
Forces, and there for a talk. She frowned.
a sheet of paper from a stack of embossed stationary,
she unscrewed her fountain pen, making a few notes in
her boldly elegant handwriting, line after neatly straight
line. Dates, times, names, and locations. Cross-referencing
Dan. Why the story. Owing a life? Crossing enemy territory
and risking one's own life to tell another what one
felt? She shook her head slightly, putting down the
Vadim Petrovich Krasnorada," she murmured, "what
is your real motive." Going once more over the
lines she had written, trying to make sense of it all.
Attempted Defection. London. Interest. A man
who seemed ready to be turned
and didn't. As
far as anyone knew. Moving with her eyes from one line
of facts to another, curt, precise and undeniable in
Royal blue on white. Career. Sports. Military. Family.
Afghanistan. Operations. Special Forces. And the one,
looming question of various shades of grey: why. Why
and most of all, what affiliation. KGB? Interior Ministry?
Dan. Why risking his life crossing Pakistan into India,
both hostile territory. Why for a man, an ex-SAS soldier,
lying in a hospital, injured. It made no sense, not
she shook her head.
options, and one was more obvious than the other.
if Major Krasnorada had only appeared to want to defect,
and what if he had spied on the Brits in return? But
how? Using Dan? She shook her head again. Nothing had
come up in any search, certainly not when vetting Dan.
It still did not make any sense. If Krasnorada had been
instructed to spy on British activities in this part
of the world, why would he have gone to the extreme
of risking his life to see his injured target? No need
for that. The moment Dan was out of the picture he was
of no interest to the Russians anymore.
else, then. Personal reasons? The other option? She
rose her brows before picking up the spectacles, perching
them on the bridge of her nose to flick through a couple
more pages in the file. Married. Two children. A Spetsnaz
officer as honeytrap? What a ludicrous idea. Besides,
what about Dan himself?
indeed. She knew nothing about Dan McFadyen's personal
life, and had never seen the reason to pry. It was of
no consequence what he did off duty, as long as it did
not pose any security risk. Afghan sweetheart, most
likely, she had reckoned, whenever he vanished to that
rented place of his. The one he did not believe she
knew about and in return she had no intention to admit
to her knowledge.
she remembered facts from another file, including eye
witness accounts, with which the hospital had kept her
up-to-date. Daily, if not hourly. Those reports had
stated Dan's recuperation in clear and untainted facts.
A progress that had accelerated dramatically since the
day the tall, blond visitor arrived. The run-down Soviet,
who had been barely able to do more than crawl, covered
in dirt. Remembering, too, her own conversations with
looked back down at the paper with her notes, underlining
a couple of facts. Juxtaposed two options. The one or
the other, and there was no way she could get around
the final conclusion: she had to know the truth. What
and who was Major Krasnorada, and what connection did
he have with Dan.
she frowned, as she screwed the cap back onto the pen.
The truth was no easily gained commodity, and this time,
she could not simply ask.
options. One sinister, one unforeseen.
had to pay any price to know.
days later Baroness de Vilde was sitting at her desk,
talking to the trusted employee she had tasked to take
Dan to and from the safe house.
you understand my orders, Mr Craik?"
man nodded, "Yes, Ma'm. I am to take Mr McFadyen
to the address you have just given me, then covertly
gather information as to the nature of the meeting.
Who he is to meet, and why. Furthermore I am to take
photos, undetected, and bring them back to you."
nodded. Her face was hard, lined with tension, as if
she harboured a headache. "Yes, thank you, that
will be all."
nodded and turned, but stopped when she called after
him, "Mr Craik, do not forget that no one is to
know my orders, least of all Mr McFadyen. You must be
as discreet as possible."
course, Ma'm, I understand."
looked at her with confusion.
you mind," she waved him off, "it is simply
a matter of my own concern and no one else's."
left the room with another nod, preparing to take the
ambassador's invalid head of security to the address
she had stated. The small camera hidden in his jacket
had been taken in one of the large cars to an address
in Kabul that was sufficiently far away from the place
he was renting, and adequately secure for Vadim, who,
he could only hope, had received the note that had been
left in the tea house.
alone by the driver, Dan felt fairly safe in the ground
floor rooms. Definitely more up-market than what they'd
been used to until he'd rented the place near the Soviet
HQ. He was sitting in a comfortable chair that had been
brought as well, letting his eyes wander over a table
and a place to recline on. Not quite a bed, but restful
enough. A bag on the table, containing some snacks,
which made Dan smile. Touched at being taken care of,
and ever so slightly embarrassed as well. It reminded
him of the packed lunches his mum had prepared for school,
a lifetime ago.
in comfortable clothes, he had refused a blanket the
driver had tried to place over him, complaining he wasn't
a pensioner yet and it was too warm anyway. Sitting
and snoozing, once more succumbed to the lingering tiredness,
matters in the south taken care of, and his friend,
the local commander, pleased as pie that he'd clearly
saved Vadim's reputation, freedom, if not his life,
Vadim had pulled strings to return to Kabul, right after
his miraculous recovery from heroin addiction.
nagging worry was there that Dan hadn't made it. That
there had been an about turn in his healing process
and he had quietly, painfully died. The one thing he
convinced himself of, though, was that he hoped the
embassy would release information about it if Dan actually
had died, and some of his time was spent trawling through
information. The Brits were shrewd, but he hoped the
metal-haired woman might be compassionate enough to
let him know.
message in the tea house was irresistible. They might
have decided to take him prisoner, they might, might,
might, but it could also be genuine, and he followed
the directions, leading him to a crowded street, busy,
lots of parked cars. He didn't like it, it seemed too
easy to hide a sniper or a team to capture him, but
he still followed the bait, unaware of a camera in the
distance, snapping away. A local servant opened, and
seemed to know what he wanted. Lead him to a door, bowed,
and left him.
opened the door and saw Dan, slumped on a chair, asleep,
but so much better than he had been. He quickly closed
the door and stepped towards him. "Dan?" Moving
closer, touching him on the shoulder.
Dan snapped awake, old instincts hadn't died, but the
sudden movement pulled on tender muscles, and he winced,
quickly recovering when he saw the face in front of
him. "Vadim!" He smiled, cleared his throat
and rubbed his eyes, trying to wake up. "Sorry
must have fallen asleep again. Still happens
a lot." His right hand touched the other's shoulder,
while the left lay in his lap. No bandage anymore, just
healed flesh and bones, covered with tender, scarred
reached to pull up a chair, sat opposite, knees touching.
Leaning forward, he took Dan's wounded hand and touched
it, carefully, the fingers and thumb, and the line down
to the wrist. "Of course. You're still
fucked." He gave a smile.
grinned tiredly, moved the hand, the fingers, still
awkward but showing off how well he was doing already.
"I got dropped off and I guess I must have fallen
asleep." He kept his eyes on Vadim, every single
second, could not bear to miss even a blink.
you didn't wait for too long. How have you been?"
OK, cabin fever, but they won't let me do much yet."
Following the line of Vadim's smoothly shaved jaw with
his good hand, Dan's fingertips lingered on the other's
lips. "I got my own nurse. Cool, eh?"
she pretty?" Vadim felt a tightness in his throat,
just thinking about how close it had been. Just seeing
the scars, seeing what the injury had made Dan into,
even if he'd get better.
don't know," Dan shrugged, grinned a little, "she's
not male, but I guess she isn't too bad. The other guys
keep whistling at her." He leaned closer, wanted
to kiss Vadim, but bending forward was still impossible.
of a camera clicking away, hidden behind a side window.
had lost his appetite for war, and just couldn't imagine
it could come back. "I've had time to think",
he murmured. "Are you alright to talk
a few things?"
eyes took on an alarmed look. "What things?"
Don't leave me, you promised you'd stay with me and
you'd find a way. "About how you got out of India?
The Baroness told me she helped you."
nodded, wincing almost when he saw Dan had trouble moving.
Maybe talk some other time, but he'd started, and Dan
seemed to fear the worst. "Yes, that too. She organized
transport. Please convey my gratitude to her. I think
access to her is likely more informal than
mine." Chartered plane, jeeps, bribed patrols,
over the mountains, back into the hell hole, but all
had gone like clockwork. Food and water provided.
something else. If you still want me to stay with you
more than what we had, I mean. You know, stay
together all the time." Odd, to gamble his very
existence on an emotion. "I'm willing to run away.
Leave the army, and my country. This here is almost
over, I don't want another one of these, and I
you mean too much to me. I'd like to try and spend,
you know. More time with you. Just you."
said nothing. Overwhelmed and silenced, staring at Vadim,
wide-eyed and speechless.
yes, then." Vadim ran his hand over his hair, oddly
self-conscious. "I hope." Quirking a smile.
Dan found his ability to speak at last, "I mean,
yes. Holy fuck, yes!" His hand trembled, cursing
his physical weakness, the way he got floored by nothing
but words, yet words he'd never hoped to hear - not
even when he had begged Vadim to stay.
one thing I need to do, and that is get Katya out of
it, and my children. Next time I fly home, I'll make
sure she'll be alright, and when I come back, I'll desert.
I could use some help with leaving the country, and
finding a place to live. I don't know much, but
He paused. "Maybe your government needs to verify
some information. It's not much, but maybe it's enough."
course," Dan nodded, his good hand clutching at
Vadim's arm, "I'll talk to Maggie, I'm sure she'll
help, it must be good to get Spetsnaz on your side,
and what I hear from your home country, they are fucking
themselves sideways, royally."
and I don't know much, make no
mistake." Vadim smiled, felt warm from Dan's eagerness
and faith. Inhaling deeply, then he leaned down to kiss
Dan's scarred hand. "Good. Because I love you,
Dan, more than I can tell you, and I want to make things
good, for once." He stood, keeping Dan's hand in
his, and leaned in to brush Dan's lips with his. "And
you spend all nights with me, anyway. I can feel you,
inside and outside, in my mind, all the time. I want
to spend days with you, too. No escape. We must be together."
smiled, felt those damned tears prick at the back of
his eyes, wondered since when he'd become a cry-baby.
"You're with me," Dan murmured against Vadim's
lips. "In my thoughts, my heart, my mind, no matter
what I am doing. I goddamned need you, and I want you
- always." Together, his mind could hardly grasp
the concept. After eight years, through hell and purgatory,
to find themselves in this; this love. His lips parted,
eager to kiss deeply, while his hand pulled Vadim closer.
"I want you," he whispered between kisses,
"it's been so damn long."
still, the hidden camera was clicking.
kissed right back, running his hand through Dan's hair,
less long and tousled than it had been, but still longer
than his own. "Yes, me too." He kissed Dan's
face, the side of his throat, relishing his warmth.
"But you're not up to it. Heal up first."
I could!" Dan insisted, while tipping his head
back and allowing access to his throat. "I don't
need to do much, can just suck you." His hand ran
down Vadim's side, resting on the hip, fingers digging
into the fabric.
shook his head. His body had different ideas, of course,
but just the thought of being rough to Dan in this state
was bad. One thing to want, another to want a man who
was clearly not up for it. "Keep that thought for
another time, yes?"
frowned, he knew Vadim was right but refused to accept
it. "How long have you got?" The one question,
always on the forefront of his mind. Vadim, leaving,
being with him, hope. The unbelievable reality of hope.
He still could not grasp it.
couple hours. There's some kind of demonstration going
on, no idea, but I should be back in three hours."
not much. It's not enough." Demanding, like Dan
had done, in the hospital. He immediately caught himself.
"Fuck, I'm sorry." His hand moved away from
Vadim's hip, trailing back up to caress the temple,
jaw, and face. "Don't mind me, I'll eventually
get back to being normal, and not a whining bimbo."
grinned. "I didn't have much time to prepare. The
message came unexpected. Next time, I'll have more time.
Promise." He glanced towards the recliner. "You
could stretch out." And I hold you. He offered
both hands to Dan. "Let's get over there."
that's better." Dan couldn't quite suppress the
wince when he was pulled up, those goddamned muscles
took a hell of a long time to heal. Leaning against
Vadim's chest, not because he had to, but because he
could, he tilted his head, kissing once more, with all
the pent up tenderness, love and need, that he'd been
harbouring since he returned to consciousness. Vadim
closed his eyes, falling into the kissing, hands coming
up to Dan's upper arms, closed around them. Wanting,
with a gentle, heartfelt warmth that was sweetly painful.
help me down, aye? The stomach's still a bitch."
Vadim moved towards the bed, supporting Dan shuffling
over, and slipped his hands under Dan's shoulders, taking
over some of his weight, gently lowering him down. Vadim
then knelt down and lifted Dan's legs up on the bed,
watching him for signs of discomfort.
grinned, but yelped when the grin spilled over into
a laugh. "Oh shit," pressing a hand onto his
stomach when he lay stretched out on his back. "I'm
a far cry from the roughie toughie SAS soldier that
you used to know, aye?" Grinning up into pale eyes,
while working on the buttons of his shirt.
shook his head. "Also far call from man I saw in
Kashmir." He glanced at Dan's fingers. "What
are you doing? Planning to show off your scars to me?"
planning to get some skin on skin." Dan poked a
finger into Vadim's chest to get him to take his tunic
off. "Besides, I've still got a bandage on, they
strap me up every day, with some heavy elastic crap.
Has to do with the muscles, stomach walls, intestines
and goodness what." He shrugged one-sided, managing
to fiddle the buttons open and pulled the shirt apart.
Like mummy." Vadim leaned in to kiss Dan's chest,
finger tips carefully tracing the bandages, but nowhere
near the stomach, just the side, then stood to take
off belt and vest and shirt, forming a ball with it
and tugging it under Dan's head, who grinned once more,
embarrassed at the care. Vadim thought of giving a blowjob,
maybe, but having seen Dan wince from even light and
gentle motions, that would be too painful. "Stay
there. I'll just climb over you." He crawled on
the mattress, lay finally on this side, back to the
wall, elbow supporting his head.
not that I can go anywhere, is it?" Dan's head
turned, his healing hand tracing careful lines up Vadim's
arm, across the shoulder, back down along the smooth
smiled. "No. You can't run."
I'm working on it, the nurse has a physio plan and I'm
bloody determined to get fit as soon as I can. The gym
in the embassy is first class." He slowly straightened
his fingers, stroking, before curling them along the
roundness of Vadim's pec, pleased with the way the hand
functioned by now.
isometrics. That's what I do when I don't have weights."
Vadim smiled and inched just a little closer. "And
once you're back to normal
" He shook his
head, not wanting to get Dan horny and helplessly wanting.
"We'll make the most of it." He shifted again,
offering his shoulder for Dan to rest on, and holding
him silently, until the time was up again.
unaware of a man packing up a camera, and silently leaving.
He had enough photos to prove who and what their head
of security's visitor was.
in the embassy, Baroness de Vilde was waiting for the
images to be developed. She had emphasised it was pertinent
the photos should be available to her, including the
negatives, before Mr McFadyen returned.
in her office, she called "enter" to let Mr
here are all of the photos and the negatives."
The man's face remained completely neutral under her
nodded, took the manila envelope he was holding out.
"That is all for now, thank you Mr Craik. I will
call you if I need you." She offered a polite smile
and he turned, dismissed.
did not hesitate once the door had closed behind him,
opening the flap to let the pictures slide onto her
desk, a whole stack of them. "I thought so,"
murmuring when the first photo clearly depicted a blond
man in Soviet uniform. Tall, officer, heading towards
the house. Major Vadim Petrovich Krasnorada. The man
she had expected to see.
second and third pictures, all of the same man, in profile
and up front. Then Dan, sitting in the chair, head rolled
to the side and eyes closed. She could not help but
smile at the picture, knowing how fierce that man could
be in his job. Flicking over to the next image, her
eyes widened. "Oh Goodness." Staring at picture
after picture of Dan and this man, the Soviet major.
Holding hands, touching, smiling, kissing, embracing,
and quite clearly
am sorry, Dan." Whispering, she shuffled through
the photos, her usual composure lost, despite the enormous
relief. Two options, and the result was unforeseen,
but not at all sinister. "Forgive me." Yet
he would never know what she had seen and done. Had
stalked him, not asked him directly. Had not trusted
because she couldn't, had paid the price with the knowledge
of guilt. No Afghan woman, then, whom he was protecting
because of religious complications. Not vanishing to
see her, but keeping a secret and shielding a man, one
of the most unlikely ones.
should have realised." Murmured to herself, and
then she smiled. Relief won over the uncomfortable sensation
of dishonesty, but at least he would never know of her
deception. "But perhaps it was all too obvious."
The unforeseen option suddenly everything but unthinkable.
In fact, it made more sense than anything else.
pressed the button of her comm, demanding to see Mr
Craik again. When he reappeared a few minutes later,
she had already bundled the photos. "Mr Craik,
I want you to forget everything you have seen today,
do you understand?"
Ma'm." The man's face remained as neutral as ever.
these all the negatives and photos?"
all of them."
she waved him away with a more impatient gesture than
was her usual manner, "Thank you, and please remember,
that you remember nothing at all."
nodded and left.
smell of burning paper and plastic filled her office
asked Dan later the same day, to come and talk to her,
if he felt able. Dan had nodded, told her aide to let
her Excellency know he'd come to her private office
after physiotherapy. He knew what she would ask him,
had known since the moment she'd accepted his request
without so much as a question. He wasn't sure if he
should feel sick with anxiety or relieved that he could
finally tell someone the truth.
didn't merely call him in when he knocked, she herself
opened the door, offering her arm to lead him inside,
which Dan refused with a smile and a shake of his head.
"Not quite an invalid anymore, Ma'm."
waited patiently until he had settled down in one of
the comfortable leather chairs that stood around a small
table, which held two glasses and a cut-crystal carafe
I need to ask you a question." Pouring two measures
of exquisite liquor, she handed one of the glasses to
him. "If hope you understand." Almost apologetic,
Dan thought, and nodded, taking a sip.
you ask, Ma'm, I'd like to thank you for making this
afternoon possible. It meant a lot to me."
brows raised a mere fraction as she settled back with
the glass in her hand. "You are most welcome. In
fact, this takes me straight to my question." The
tumbler moved slowly in her hand, warming the brandy.
"I have to ask you from a professional point, but
I'd like to apologise for the personal nature of the
nodded, idly wondering if this was more difficult for
her than for him. He'd expected this since his request.
He knew who and what he was, and his conscience was
clear. Nothing but a professional - for eight bloody
was the person you met today, Dan?"
I think you know."
smiled, as difficult as he thought it would be to tell
the very first person about Vadim and himself, it was
surprisingly easy now that it happened. It was a relief,
in fact. If he'd trust anyone at all, it was the Baroness.
Ma'm." He took another sip of the brandy. "I
met the same person you have helped before. You know
who he is. Major Vadim Krasnorada. The man who went
to India, who visited me in the hospital, and the man
you smuggled back into Afghanistan."
nodded, and Dan wondered if he saw relief on her face.
hate to do this, Dan, but I have to ask
She could not finish her sentence, because was holding
up his hand.
Ma'm, don't apologise. I understand, I really do, and
I'm surprised you haven't asked earlier. I must admit
I expected you to want to know what was going on when
Vadim came to the hospital."
set the glass down onto the table, folding her hands
in her lap. "You were too weak. The potential to
upset you was too great."
surely you have made enquiries?"
course." She nodded, "I am perfectly aware
of who Major Krasnorada is."
not what he is, am I right, Ma'm?"
looked at him, with an expression so neutral, if he
didn't know better he'd think she was incapable of emotions.
"Not quite, no."
couldn't help it, he had to chuckle at her choice of
words and the stricken expression despite the earlier
poker face. He winced and pressed a hand onto his stomach,
suddenly finding her own hand on his knee, as if she
tried to hush and stabilise him. It was ridiculous how
taken care of he sometimes felt, and how good it was.
"I'm alright." Murmured, before emptying the
glass with its last mouthful of brandy.
shouldn't laugh, Ma'm, but, you see, I have been dreading
the moment of truth, when for the first time ever I
was going to tell someone who and most importantly what
I am. And now that it happens, it's a piece of cake.
It seems it is you who feels a lot more uncomfortable
than I do." He knew he'd hit the nail on the head
when an unguarded emotion ghosted across her face.
am gay, Ma'm." He paused, looked at her, but no
reaction came forth. She'd either suspected, or she
didn't care, or she'd been simply made of steel. Dan
suspected the latter. "I understand about honeytraps,
spies, traitors, attempts at using homosexuals for blackmailing
purposes. And, of course, I know all about the great
big hush-hush of this dirty little secret. It's not
dirty, though, and it's definitely not little, but aye,
it had to be secret." He paused once more, the
fingers of his right hand caressing the thin crystal
of the empty glass. "I
met Vadim in 1980 under circumstances that I cannot
repeat." The sanitised version the only truth he'd
allow to be known. "We were hell-bent on destruction
at first. Enemies: two soldiers, Soviet spetsnaz and
British SAS. But it changed, Ma'm, it all changed completely
over the years." He trailed off.
reached for the decanter, refilling Dan's glass while
studying him. "What is he to you?" Quietly,
as if requiring confirmation for something she already
really rather simple." Dan took the refilled glass,
"I love Vadim."
glanced down at the hand in her lap and when she looked
up, she was smiling. "I believe I do not need to
ask what you are to him. Crossing enemy territory to
turn up at a hospital seems to me to be proof in itself."
Dan nodded, said nothing.
must ask you this, however," she continued, once
again glancing at her hand. "In all those years
of secrets, have you
" decidedly uncomfortable,
and Dan knew what she was going to ask. "Have you
ever jeopardised your professional integrity?"
Ma'm." Dan answered firmly, "not a single
time. Unless you'd classify bringing back the occasional
items such as bandages, medicine, food or whisky as
of course not." The fingers of her finely manicured
right hand were resting on top of her left, touching
the prominent ring. A gesture Dan had seen her do many
times before, never giving a second thought. "I
must admit, though, I am amazed that you have been able
to keep this secret."
was SAS." Dan flashed a quick grin, "those
who dare, win." Taking a mouthful of his brandy.
chuckled quietly and leant back in the leather chair.
Rearranging her legs, then smoothing down skirt, twin
set jacket and finally the spectacles that hung on a
golden chain around her neck. Dan got the impression
she was stalling for something.
do you envisage your future, though." She finally
asked. "I assume you are thinking of a future
for Major Krasnorada and yourself?"
looked to the side, this time it was he who needed a
moment to think. She was handing everything on a platter
to him, and he hoped he was chosing his words right.
"He is trying to get out. Desertion, or defection,
I guess you could call it. He has to make sure his family
is safe, though." Dan took in a breath, shallow
and slow. "Ma'm
would you be willing to
help him?" He saw her brows raise a fraction, knowing
this expression too well. "You would help me,
if you helped him."
was once more looking at her hands, taking her time
for consideration. "I do not know Major Krasnorada,
but I trust your judgment. Besides, I consider you a
friend, Dan, and I am willing to help in any way I can,
but do remember that these decisions are not up to me.."
you." Dan smiled, relieved, remembering to exhale.
He hadn't realised how tense he had been. Relaxing,
he leant back in the chair, relishing the cool smoothness
of the leather. He emptied his brandy, before tilting
I ask you something in return?"
seemed surprised but nodded.
hesitated, figured this was awfully private, but the
worst she could do was refuse to answer. "I have
often wondered, Ma'm, and please tell me if this question
is far too personal, but I have often wondered why you
are not married." He added before she had a chance
to answer, "You are a fascinating lady, educated,
elegant, and awfully well read. The suitors must have
been running down your doors."
let out a small laugh at his last words. "Not quite.
The doors are still intact."
grinned, and waited.
I ought to tell you." She continued with a smile.
"Yes, perhaps I ought." Nodding, more to herself
than him. "I was engaged, a long time ago, at twenty-two.
He was a wonderful young man, two years older, and awfully
exciting. You see, I met him while walking in the Alps,
and to me he was unbelievably dashing." She continued
after sipping on her brandy, "my family had always
been very keen on the mountains and we spent most of
our holidays there. Walking, hiking, skiing, you name
it, they have done it."
grinned, he had a hard time imagining the sophisticated
lady racing down the slopes, but then again he had a
hard time imagining her any younger than possibly fifty.
was an accomplished mountaineer, he had conquered many
peaks despite his young age, and considered himself
to be something of an expert." She twisted the
glass in her hand, looking down at it for a moment before
coming back up with a wistful smile. "I guess his
interest was something us 'damned aristocrats' do, while
idling away our time. Something fanciful and useless,
like climbing mountains."
was taken aback at her use of a swear word, but she
had drawn out the vowels and twisted the consonants,
he knew she was mocking. He grinned.
you have an idea yet where the story is heading towards,
Dan?" She asked, then emptied her brandy. The glass
remained in her hand.
fear it won't be a happy end."
true, I'm afraid." She smiled, melancholy - gentled
by the years - playing across her face. "The week
before our marriage Patrick wanted to climb one of the
more challenging peaks in the Swiss Alps. It was a sort
of 'stag do', a last task to fulfil before entering
the responsibility of marriage." She let out a
small laugh, "not that either of us were particularly
responsible at that stage."
eyes widened a fraction, it was near impossible to imagine
she had ever been anything but devoted to duty. As devoted
as the Queen herself.
was lost in the mountain." The Baroness suddenly
continued. "A treacherous pass, black ice, and
he slipped. His friends would have been able to save
him, the rope was intact, but Patrick slipped into a
crevice and hit his head on a sharp outcrop of ice and
rocks. He cracked his skull, they believed he was instantly
dead." She trailed off, looking at her hand, and
it was only now that Dan finally realised the meaning
of the ring on her finger. It had to be an engagement
ring, the pearl encrusted gold and emerald glistening
in the dull light.
am sorry." He murmured, glancing at her, but she
only nodded, before placing the empty glass onto the
table with a gentle thud.
was buried at the foot of the mountain. The villagers
are taking good care of the mountaineers' graves. I
went there a couple of times and each time it looked
meticulous." She trailed off, but added after a
moment, "when you talk about the mountains, I always
wonder if it was the same for Patrick, if he felt a
tilted his head, studying her. "Is this why you
never married?" Quietly.
never had the time from then on." She looked up.
"After Patrick's death I threw myself into this
career. Suddenly the idea of going into diplomatic service
took on an entirely new dimension and its momentum kept
me from thinking and grieving. I had to live, and I
did. I learned, I worked, I used my connections, and
I went swiftly through the ranks." She shrugged,
a measured and elegant movement of her shoulders, before
leaning back into the chair.
I am now, Her Majesty's Ambassador, in a forsaken place,
talking to an ex-soldier who saved my life. Worse, indeed,
an ex-soldier who I consider to be a friend." Her
lips quirked into a grin, rarely seen and the more appreciated
for it. "Is there help for me, do you think?"
grinned and winked, suddenly able to imagine her, at
twenty-two, with a twinkle in her eyes and the laughter
of a carefree youngster.
Ma'm, but I fear that includes brandy," pointing
at the carafe, "and a game or two of cards."
my, you're so handsome", said Katya. She'd done
her hair up, stood in the door like he was about to
pick her up for the opera, and the smell of a meat stew
filled the corridor.
gave her a smile, let her take his coat, took the hat
and hung it up, as Katya's mother, her aunt, and some
assorted children of her family came from the kitchen
into the living room. Hugs and kisses, and then a quick
update from the family, while Katya served up her famous
stew, and Vadim ate and nodded, listening to all the
things that mattered to civilians. Who had married whom
in the meantime, who had had a promotion. It was customary
that they didn't ask him about Afghanistan or his career,
skirting around the issue, instead asking him whether
he'd got enough to eat, and whether he was healthy,
and whether he had heard a certain piece of news.
flat was a friendly place, with lots of people who cared.
He looked over his shoulder when the door opened again.
Anoushka. Nikolai. Both went to the same school, and
suddenly he had two handfuls of blonde girl clinging
to him, calling him daddy daddy, and he closed his eyes
briefly, held the small body that seemed warmer than
that of an adult, and stroked her head, while Nikol'
looked at him with wide eyes, reluctant to come closer,
clutching his schoolbag instead. The shy one, less straightforward
than his biological father.
taking good care of him, Sasha, as best as I can. As
much as I can possibly, with what I am, and what I'm
headed over and touched her son's shoulder. "Say
hello to your father", she said, and Nikol still
seemed reluctant. "He has been missing you much,
Nikol." The voice carried just a hint of sharpness.
walked stiffly towards Vadim. "Hi dad. How are
very well indeed, thank you." Vadim let Anoushka
go, who gave him her almighty pout in exchange, and
reached for Nikolai, who suddenly pressed himself closer,
and then, just as suddenly, released him and dashed
mind him, dad. He's stupid", said Anya in the tone
of a wizened old woman.
not supposed to say that about your brother", said
Anya obeyed. Vadim sat down, and she climbed his lap,
insisting on feeding him with some of the bread near
his soup bowl, until he laughed and pushed it away.
"It's enough, thank you, my sunlight." At
which she gave him her sweetest smile and cuddled against
his chest, his hand resting between her small pointy
he had caught up with the family, Katya's mother and
aunt left, herding their children with them, and taking
Anoushka and Nikol' as well. Vadim followed them to
the door, saw Anoushka wave at him with both hands,
and Nikol looking at him from the side - disappointment
and sadness in his eyes, as if he knew what was going
to happen. That was nonsense, though. Maybe the kid
was just cranky, had had a bad day at school, or a fight
with his friends.
banter between the women - they took the children so
Katya and Vadim had some time to themselves. Knowing
winks, and Katya managed to blush a little. Not too
the door closed.
inhaled and leaned against the wall of the corridor.
"It's good to see you."
Vadim stood close, saw her look up to him, her blue
eyes dark in the gloom.
let's go into the kitchen." She took his hand,
and Vadim held her fingers, carefully, like she could
slip away or melt from his touch.
didn't ask about Afghanistan. Instead, she began to
put dishes away, placed some cakes on the table and
poured him tea, told him about the children, about the
small tragedies and triumphs of two small humans that
somehow were in his life, and he couldn't imagine them
leaving it. He felt sorry they were gone, he could have
listened to them telling their own stories in their
own words, including all the hyperbole of children.
talked until he was yawning so hard he knew he needed
rest; the military life didn't last for long past curfew.
He was used to his rhythms and times, waking at five,
awake at half past, hungry at six thirty. She smiled
and left the kitchen to prepare the bed. Vadim stood
and watched her remove the top blanket, set her pillows
and cushions aside, and then found one of Anoushka's
dolls in there, which made her smile.
bed. He remembered the first months, even years, but
most of all while she was pregnant with Anoushka. Her
head resting on his shoulder, arm crossing his chest,
fingers hooked into his other shoulder, the length of
her body pressed against his, seeking warmth, and sometimes,
he thought, strength, too. And him lying there, staring
into nothing, wishing, for once, he'd just be normal,
could be what she wanted and needed, instead of some
kind of brother she had ended up married to. He relished
the closeness, but all the while thinking of struggling
flesh in the barracks, the taste of steel and oil and
dirt, of fresh faces and ripping uniform cloth.
want me to sleep on the couch?"
looked at him. "Why?"
must be strange for you when I come back." Didn't
add the word he'd meant to say, out of habit. 'Home'.
you want to sleep on the couch?"
been sleeping uneasy. I might wake you up." He
didn't want to smell her close, didn't want to feel
her warmth and be deluded and sleep dulled enough to
even imagine for a moment it was Dan. Being close to
her would feel wrong, even if they didn't touch. He
felt like a guest in his own house. In his own family.
arguing - she never did - she set up his bed on the
couch in the living room, bid him a good night, and
closed the door.
stood in front of the book shelf, eyes moving across
book spines, titles, authors. Nothing spoke to him,
none of his favourites, and none of the book he'd inherited
from his mother, and her brother, and which he'd planned
to read when he'd find the time. Too busy waging a war
down in the south. Too busy running, too busy stealing
every moment he could get from the man he was officially,
like the prisoner wearing away the cell that kept him
trapped, wearing away the life of Vadim Petrovich Krasnorada,
model soldier, second class athlete, Interior Ministry
really. He'd never thought about it like that, but he'd
always assumed Dan had been forced to realise what he
wanted and what he was. But Dan actually changed him
as well, had pulled away the thin wall that separated
his army career and his family. His private life and
the man he portrayed. He couldn't keep it apart any
more, couldn't keep it under control - he was drowning
in his own lies and habits and deceit, and the emotions
that he couldn't just keep in check. He had to accept
what he wanted, and what that meant. Over. He'd failed.
And won. And he wasn't sure whether it made sense to
think of it in this way.
second chance. A new life, if he dared, if he was strong
enough to claim it.
lay with his eyes open, looking at the familiar shadows
in this room, thinking of blue skies, and caves, and
the heat of one body. Live together. How? Like Marc
and Darren? Just like that? Where? Edinburgh? London?
Him, a dissident, of all people, turncoat, traitor.
He'd offered what information he had, assuming nothing
he said would kill any of his comrades, wouldn't make
Lesha's job any more difficult, but could he really
know? Feeling the change in the air, or the threat,
what if the whole world went to hell as he assumed?
fell asleep, and woke, and the next morning, they visited
his father, and there was careful chatting and unguarded
emotions, as Pyotr made graceful, harmless conversation.
Vadim knew he sympathised with the 'progressive' elements,
Gorbachev, the whole talk of transparency, glasnost,
and he didn't want to argue, because seeing his father
animated and idealistic was a good thing, and he didn't
want to talk doom and gloom. Maybe it would all turn
out good, and Socialism could be reformed without everything
falling to pieces.
left to pick up the children, and Vadim didn't want
to linger with his father, so he walked the streets
where he'd grown up, greeting old neighbours, answering
polite questions. Moscow. Home. His country. He took
a walk, even though taking the metro would have been
easier and faster. He'd found the address through a
few careful questions, had been in touch with another
ex-swimmer, now a coach himself, after a long career.
thing he needed to take care of, before it was all too
late. He rang, and the door opened. He climbed the stairs.
the open door stood an old man, shoulders bent forward,
starting to gnarl up, clothes wide around him, arms
and legs thin, belly pointing forward, curved. Clouded
eyes looked up at him, seemed to slowly climb up the
buttons of his uniform, up to his rank, his throat,
his face. The old man's eyes widened. "Vadim."
old man shuffled to the side, opening the door so Vadim
could enter a flat where everything was in its designated
place. One wall covered with photos, the smell of dust
and old man heavy in the air. "I wasn't sure you
" echoed the old man, and a brittle smile
appeared on his lips. "Of course I do. Such a talented
young man. And now you're so handsome
always were ha
" He paused, as if noticing
suddenly he'd spoken aloud, and he looked up to Vadim,
a sudden darkness in his eyes. Fear.
done, Vadim. Making an old bundle of bones scared of
I'm sorry. Don't mind me. Vadim. Please, don't."
Like a plea for mercy.
frowned, could sense the man's guilt, and suddenly his
fear fell into place as well. As if he'd come to break
this old man, break him and make him pay for something
that had happened twenty, no, almost twenty-five years
how are you?"
fine. Just returned from Afghanistan."
shut the old man up, who stood there, weak and fragile,
with eyes that stayed on his face, still recognizing
the boy in the man. The athletic talent in the killer,
proud symbol of one of the mightiest armies in the world.
Vadim reached out to take the old hands. Hands, he remembered,
that had been on his body, everywhere, taught him things
about sex and about himself, entered and soothed him,
relaxed him and made him shudder. "Don't worry.
It's all good."
good", murmured the old man and exhaled, didn't
seem to dare move away, and Vadim thought how strange,
what a gentle creature this one was, fragile now like
a bird. "I'm glad. I didn't
I didn't want
anything bad happen to you, Vadim. Never. Please believe
me. I would have never harmed you."
haven't harmed me." Vadim caressed those old hands
with his thumbs.
old man looked at him, and suddenly smiled. "So
you married? You have children?"
the relief was even stronger. Like what the masseur
had done hadn't destroyed Vadim's ability to have a
family and have sex with a woman. A temporary aberration,
a phase of interest in men, to finally take the usual
road, fit in with the rest of the world. "I'm glad.
worried about you."
looked around, didn't see anything that indicated this
old man had ever had a family, no wife, no children,
the pictures on the wall were of athletes, of competitions
so long ago that Vadim couldn't place them, young athletes
and older functionaries, trainers, doctors.
man had never broken free - had remained trapped in
his role, and Vadim couldn't even imagine what he might
have meant to this old man once upon a time. He could
see shame, a bad conscience, like his actions had still
haunted him, and he had feared Vadim would come to one
day take revenge. As if.
about me. Worried he had broken something, spoiled,
left Vadim unable to function. "Do you remember
what you told me? About winning?"
old man smiled. "It means you won in the end. I'm
glad you're happy. You deserve it, Vadim, you were always
looking for something more, always stretching to excel.
It's good to see you won."
inhaled deeply, could feel just how much this man envied
him that it all had been nothing but a phase, that he
was perfectly normal. He gently squeezed the old man's
hands. "I've come to thank you for your care. You've
made a lot of things easier for me, back then."
couldn't bring himself to say more than that, couldn't
wreck that hope and replace it with guilt. Forgiveness,
if anything, for a crime he was guilty of himself. Something
they'd shared, and which was now a secret, acknowledged,
was deeply thoughtful when he left. He'd only stayed
around to look at himself, old photos, young Vadim Krasnorada
looking open and vulnerable on the pictures, the tall
blond one that seemed oddly serious and grown up when
he shouldn't have been. And Vadim felt a strange tenderness
for that youth who had had no idea what was waiting
for him, or even what decisions he'd make just a few
returned to his flat, and his children did claim his
time, Anoushka more than Nikolai, while Katya cooked.
was the weekend, and Katya's mother came later and took
the children away with her - unexpectedly. Vadim looked
up, questioningly, when Katya moved to stand right in
front of him. "You're not even here", she
said, matter-of-factly. "I know you have something
on your mind, Vadim. You're somewhere else entirely.
What is it?"
plan, while perfectly rational in Kabul, seemed insane
in Moscow, and the last days had made Vadim question
his own resolve. "Things are going to hell",
he murmured. "This country, the army, Afghanistan.
Everything. I'm planning ... to leave. I've provided
for you and the children. There is money, and you'll
be safe." He dug his hand into his pocket, pulled
out the wad of money, and placed it into both her hands,
closing them around it.
gave the money a glance, then looked at him again. "What
need to get out. I need to get out of this country,
out of this uniform. I ..." He struggled. "I
need a life. I can't hide any longer. I don't want to
be pulled into another war. I've served my time."
He felt frantic, clutching for understanding, but her
face remained immobile. "There's more coming, Katya.
All this is just the beginning. You need to get out
of this country before everything goes to hell."
running away. I'll desert."
stared at him. "What happened?"
apply for ... political asylum. I have a friend who
... promised to help me."
looked at him, and the look of incredulity became suddenly
warm and changed to tenderness. "Oh Vadim."
She placed a cool hand against his cheek and looked
deep into his eyes. "You're in love."
else does a man run away. A man like you." She
kissed him on the cheek. "Who is it?"
can't tell you, I'm sorry. That would be a risk to you
and ... that person."
man", corrected Katya. "Correct."
felt oddly queasy. "Yes."
Afghan? No, I don't think so. Another Russian?"
took her wrists and moved her hands out of his face.
"Katya, please. It's not a game. It's not even
a bout." He kissed her palms. "I need you
to leave me. To make sure you're safe, and to cover
for me. Just once more. Just one last thing."
course, Vadim." She shook her head, chiding him
for that nervous pleading. "Are you sure you want
wish ... I wish I had been ... something else."
He closed his eyes. "It's not easy. I love you,
and the kids. But ... you have to understand."
I do." She smiled. "You've fallen in love,
and you want to go away with that man. It's really quite
simple. I hope you'll find what you are looking for."
complete compliance was what he had hoped for and what
shocked him at the same time. She just shrugged it all
off, accepted the facts like there was nobody else involved.
Willing to drop twelve years of pretence, lies, and
masquerade at the drop of a hat.
need you to leave me. My superiors will come looking
for me. They will assume I told you where I'm going,
or at least have hinted at it. You need to leave me
before I run away. They must believe our ... marriage
was already dead, and we don't care about each other.
No trust, no love. Nothing."
nodded. "Any idea how?"
leave me. Make a scene. Take the kids and storm off.
Move in with your parents."
not a fight. That's a domestic squabble." She reached
up for her hair, pulled the comb out that held most
of it in place, and dropped it on the floor. Stepped
out of her shoes.
are you doing?"
getting ready to fight." She gave him a strange
kids are out for the night."
stood, speechless, and thought he could see compassion
in her face, again that tenderness.
I'll do or say, Vadim, I've always loved you. Don't
forget that. Don't you ever forget how much you mean
to me." She stepped closer and kissed him, gently,
tenderly, her whole heart in that kiss, like in Montreal,
when they had both been in love and innocent. He returned
it, her lips softer, sweeter in a way than Dan's, too
soft, somehow, but he felt that strange familiar tenderness
himself. Like a part of him. Somebody he loved, but
just couldn't desire. Things would have been so much
easier if only he could.
will have to hurt me. Are you strong enough?"
my arm. Hit me in the face. Hit me hard enough that
they believe." Her lips trembled. "So I believe."
groaned, suddenly it was all madness, he couldn't do
it, KGB be damned, there must be a way to not do this,
when her kiss suddenly broke, and the next thing he
felt was a searing pain in his face - her fingernails
digging into his skin, and then she hit him full force
in the face. "You fucking bastard", she shouted
at him, while he was reeling from the unexpected pain,
and another hit square in the face stunned him even
sorry excuse of a man! You impotent freak! You think
you can teach me?"
hits to the face, clawing, biting his hands as he tried
to calm her down, shocked and appalled and utterly unable
to act, her curses and abuses biting even deeper than
claws or teeth, as she started to scream as if he was
ripping her apart. He understood what she was doing,
she tried to get him angry enough to do it, and with
more desperation than anger, he backhanded her, her
head flew back and against the cupboard, ratting every
dish inside, her blonde hair turning red and wet, she
crumpled to the ground, kneeling, and she screamed with
anguish as he took her arm and broke it over his knee.
Just a bone, just a Sambo move, but he'd have preferred
to have it done to him.
screams and sobs were almost too much - and even worse
to hear the neighbours gather in the corridor outside,
talking amongst themselves whether they should act or
stood there, his skin frozen, he was sweating, all he
could feel was the echo of her breaking bones in his
fingers, and he had tears in his eyes. "Forgive
me. Just, please, please forgive me", he whispered.
doorbell rang. Vadim couldn't bear facing anybody now,
smelled blood, her blood.
doorbell rang again, and somebody knocked, insistent.
on, you bastard. Are you too much of a coward?"
shouted Katya from the kitchen, voice strained with
opened the door, looked into the faces of the people
living in this house. Pensioners, a young man clutching
an old fashioned revolver, he lived downstairs and studied
music at the conservatory or something. He'd always
believed in letting people have their lives and their
man, police from what Vadim had heard, stepped out of
the crowd, cast a glance inside. "It's none of
my business, Krasnorada, what you do with your wife,
but fucking do it without waking up my daughter. Understood?"
felt like breaking the bastard's neck, as there was
a sudden motion, and Katya, somehow, he had no idea
from where the woman took that strength and willpower,
managed to run past him, managed to get through the
ring of grey, powerless faces, and he could hear her
sob and cry out on the stairs, when she moved that broken
policeman gave him an angry stare, then turned to the
side. "He's not the first veteran who goes insane.
You calm down, Krasnorada. No more shouting in this
house." Satisfied that Vadim seemed to comply,
the policeman shushed the pensioners away from the landing,
and gave Vadim a baleful last glance, as if to warn
him to stay invisible and unhearable while he was there.
closed the door. Saw the smear of blood on the wall.
Picked up her earring, her shoes.
found vodka, and that helped.