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Special Forces Chapter XVII: For Queen and Country

August 1987, Great Britain

Dan had been out of the hospital no more than a day before they called him in. He'd expected that, since he'd sent his PVR, the request for Premature Voluntary Release, off to his unit barely a week after the surgery, and they wouldn't have wasted even a day.

They'd hauled him in, to stand - or limp - his ground in front of his CO and a panel, deciding if they let him out in six weeks flat or if they made his life hell by delaying anything they could before they had to let him go after paying a fee for the privilege. Complete with pension for twelve years service, despite his twenty years in the Forces.

Pension. If he survived until fifty-five. If. Good question.

He felt uncomfortable in the bog standard uniform, but figured he'd be worse off in his No2s. Should be thankful. The green beret itching above his ear, and the camo set of tunic and trousers felt restricting. Perfectly ironed creases in his kit, but why the fuck would he need that? Where was the point in shiny brass buckle and smartly worn webbed belt; why the bulling of boots and the need for roll-your-fucking-sleeves-up on such and such a date and button-your-fucking-sleeves-down on another, regardless of climate or temperature. Pathetic.

He'd be dead if he'd followed the rules of the drill-book.

Dan could hardly remember the last time he'd been in full kit, felt as if he was wearing a uniform that was alien to him with its badges, rank-slide and flag, when there was a string of lapis lazuli prayer beads in one trouser pocket. Rank, it had never meant much, not out there in the field, let alone in the endless mountains. Rank, to him, meant nothing but a difference in wages, and wages didn't mean much either. No chance to spend it, and the money invested in houses for rent, so Dan had the luxury of not giving a damn.

He was called into the room at last, stood leaning on his crutches, saluted the CO and his cronies. Realising he had a hard time accepting authority as easily as he used to in a former life. A life, before he'd vanished into the mountains to become part of yellow-red dust and infinite skies.

They asked him if it was true he wanted to resign his position and leave Her Majesty's Armed Forces prematurely.

"Yes, Sir." Dan stood at ease, legs braced, weight on the crutches. Didn't matter he was in pain, and that they offered him a chair, he preferred to stand. The whole circus seemed more bearable that way. Felt like the protagonist in a freak show, because this place wasn't his world anymore, he'd been on his own for too long and he'd got too close to the enemy.

They questioned him akin to an interrogation, the why and wherefore, the reasons and the consequences. A whole hour of cross-examination, during which he eventually sat down. Their worries were obvious: an SAS soldier, behind enemy lines for years, in close contact with Afghan militants, training Mujahideen and working with Pakistani soldiers.

Potentially dangerous to let a man like him go, but they had nothing to hold against him. SSgt McFadyen's slate was clean. Model soldier, a chest that glittered with medals and awards that spoke of his exploits, but none could ever replace the vastness of the Afghan sky, the majesty of barren mountains and the touch of a Soviet soldier. The smell and taste of his 'enemy's' body, and the way Vadim kissed him and made him human. His home. Afghanistan was his home.

You're my home. I will find you.

"Sir, I have made my decision. It is time for me to leave the Forces."

They pleaded with him that he would throw his pension away, had to wait until he was fifty-five before he received anything, unlike if he stayed for twenty-two years, and he should know the statistics. His chances to ever reach that age were slim, he should not be such a fool, and they would find a cushy job for him for his remaining two years. Dan listened, but he had made his decision. Nothing could change his mind, nothing except …

"Sir, are you willing to send me back to Kabul?"

The answer was negative but Dan showed no reaction. No flinch, not a word of protest. He'd tried all of that before, when he'd received his orders: desk job, possibly training recruits, but never again posted abroad, let alone to Kabul. No active service anymore. He belonged to the scrapheap after they'd cut open his knee, drilled into cartilage and worked on the joint. The British Forces were thankful for his loyal twenty years of service and Her Majesty would send him home with a good pension in two years' time. The British legion would even fight for him to get an additional, invalided pension, for the damage to his knees in the course of duty.

Fuck that.

He didn't have any other plans than going back to Afghanistan, hoping Vadim was still alive. Dan had a vague idea where to find a job, but no definite leads. He was good, damn good at what he was doing and he would figure out how to earn his keep. Bodyguard, he could do that one-handed and earn shitloads of money for easy work. Or merc, dog soldier for anyone willing to pay for his expertise, as long as it was in Afghanistan. He'd get fit, sit out the six weeks of PVR, hand in his military ID and then get his arse back to Kabul as soon as possible.

He'd find Vadim. It was all that mattered.

* * *

It was less a question of luck than one of knuckling down. Dan was grazing his contacts, checking with old mates, listening to the grapevine, and looking out for opportunities for old battle horses like him. Turned out his best bet was bodyguard, or 'close protection' as they called it these days. Not just a way back into a job for him, but a much better paid one to boot. No endless ranks of superiors, no uniform, but neither medals. Only one boss, and the target to keep his employer alive at all costs. Sounded good to him, straightforward. As long as it took him back into Kabul.

The six weeks in Blighty dragged on, but at least he didn't have to stay in camp even though he couldn't leave the country. The MoD might require his presence while the PVR paperwork was going through. Still a soldier, but no longer in uniform. Dan visited his brother, organised finances and paid his duties to the remaining family, all the time itching to get away as soon as possible.

It all felt wrong. He didn't belong there, was tired of deflecting questions about settling down and when he was going to be too old for this life of adventure and adrenaline, and if he were ever going to find himself a wife. No fucking way Dan could tell them he was gay, any possible connection to the Soviet army far too dangerous. Especially for Vadim.

Dan asked for a temporary room in the Mess, too antsy to travel around the country, and too busy with rehab and physio, working on regaining his strength. Spent his days in the gym, tried not to overdo it, eager to burn off the excess energy that was coursing through his veins. Afghanistan. Kabul. Vadim. Trapped in goddamned Britain, in a sardine-tin sized room in a concrete barracks block.

The day he handed in his military ID, Dan made a tick in his mental calendar, then got himself the earliest civilian flight he could catch. His luggage the customary bergan and a couple of bags, laden down with his few worldly possessions of clothes, cash, and whatever kit he could take with him. The rest was food, drink, medication and utilities. Every damned bit of usefulness that would keep and be appreciated.

It was late October when Dan finally took his seat in the plane on the last leg of his journey, after he'd left Kabul in May.

Half a year. Six fucking months. Would his Russkie even be alive?

October 1987, Kabul

The sun was gleaming over Kabul when Dan stepped out of the plane, gathering his bags. A brand new thick ski jacket over his arm, late October was pleasantly cool in the day, but he'd need the warmth soon enough. He shouldered the heavy bergan, took hold of the two bags, squinting into the sun before dropping one of the bags to fish for his polarised shades. He'd followed a tip from a mate, found the useful gear in a tackle shop, and was the proud owner of two pairs of black-rimmed, reflecting shades that made him stand out of the crowd far more than his natural height and built ever could. Didn't matter anymore, no need to blend in. Dan slipped the shades over his eyes, scratched the stubble on his chin and lifted his face to grin into the sun. He was a civilian. No more, no less. No soldier, no enemy, no SAS. Just a goddamned civilian.

Both bags back in his hands, he made his way into the centre of Kabul in a 'taxi'. Finding a room was the most urgent thing, but Dan still knew enough people who'd be able to find him a place that even had running water - most of the time - a bed, a chair and a table, as well as sufficient exits, shuttered windows and lockable door, to be as safe a bolt-hole as it could be. It took him no more than a couple of hours before he'd found exactly what he needed, one of the former safe houses from long ago. He had a quick shave, locked his possessions away, stashed the cash on his body and rushed towards the tea house. Hoping it hadn't been bombed to shit.

The city was quiet, it was still Ramadan, and the chaikhana was there, as was the owner, who greeted him like a long lost friend, welcoming Dan back into the place with the offer to wait for baklava and sweetened tea, to be consumed after sunset, but Dan declined, wanting to know only one thing:

The Russian. The Soviet soldier, the man who had been frequenting the tea house for as many years as Dan had.

A security hole, no doubt, but if the owner hadn't talked for six years, why the hell should he now. Dan's Pushtu felt rusty at first, but he got back into the language as quickly as he'd slipped back into his skin in Kabul. He was home. For now. As fucking ridiculous as that sounded. Home. Where the heart was.

The owner nodded, eager to help and knowing he would get rewarded in return, he told Dan what he knew about the Soviet's schedule. Two Saturdays in the month the blond man could be found at a place - a hotel - in the city, nearby. Saturday. The second and the last one. The second, exactly the day that it was right now.

Dan could hardly force himself to stay a second longer. He wanted to run, see, find, to be, but the owner's last words came crashing down like a ton of bricks. The message was four months old. Four fucking months. The whole world could have gone to shit in the meantime and Dan wouldn't even know about it.

The string of lapis lazuli prayer beads flashed around his wrist when he rummaged in his shirt pockets for some dollar notes, appreciating the welcome, but he shrugged off the last of the well meaning comments. No, he had not become a Muslim, and no, he was not here to pray, but yes, he could not let go of Afghanistan. Promising he would, before Eid and the end of Ramadan, return to the tea house to take part in iftar, the breaking of the fast, with the owner and his sons.

Some US dollars and a promise later, Dan more ran than walked towards the ramshackle hotel that Vadim might possibly be in. The sun was setting, but Dan didn't feel the creeping cold. All he could think of was Vadim. He found the building, but the moment he stood in the entrance, forced to negotiate with a native who demanded to know what he wanted, he didn't know what to ask for. Was it safe to mention Vadim? Fuck.

* * *

Vadim knew he was drinking too much. Only ever off duty, but hardly a free hour he didn't spend in a drunken stupor when nothing else dulled the pain. He was recovering on duty while doing his paperwork, the routine mind-numbing, painfully boring, and it left too much time to think about things, too much time for missing and longing, and consequently, he was half-drunk when working out, and stone drunk afterwards, dulling everything, pain, boredom, and longing with vodka.

A superior had politely enquired whether he was having problems in his marriage, and there had been a hilarious moment when Vadim had thought about telling him, that yes, it had been forever since he'd seen his lover, but he just managed to hold back and brood instead of spilling the dirty secret. They didn't know him like that. He partied like they did, but they could tell he had crossed the line. The spetsnaz was losing it. Afghanistan wore even men like him down. Some, thought Vadim, likely felt relief at the fact that even he had a weakness.

The hotel had become a habit. Originally, he'd planned to find a way to blow off steam, find an Afghan who'd take it up the ass from a Soviet oppressor, a male whore. He knew there had to be people like that, but he couldn't work out how to ask for it, and when he did, he pulled back. Too dangerous. Officer, major, fuck you, Vadim, don't. You don't want an Afghan. He'd very briefly considered a comrade, but he had no taste for violence. That was over, something he'd done as a younger man, more reckless, with nothing to lose.

He'd rent always the same room, twice a month, to sleep somewhere that was not the barracks, as if pretending he was still seeing Dan - and 'seeing Dan' sounded like dating, when there were no words for what they did, only that sickening feeling of loss. He'd eat, in silence, and drink, in silence, and eventually collapse on the bed, so exhausted and so drunk he didn't even think, or miss, just endured the time as it was slowly grinding him down. Couldn't be bothered, couldn't care, all the carefully drilled-in paranoia about insurgents wanting to earn the money on his head. No avail, felt directionless and hopeless, and would recover enough the next day to return to the barracks. It had become a way to get out for a little, pretend there were still options. But without Dan, there was nothing, just the army, and he was sick of that. Tired. So fucking tired.

It was getting cold, and Vadim lay there, his great woollen coat draped across him. Not heavy enough to pretend it was an arm, or even just a hand. He lay on his stomach, feeling cold, but too drunk to move. Too drunk to miss.

* * *

Dan decided to just ask, straightforward. Figured if he had anything to lose then it was Vadim's safety, but he couldn't lose that, for if his Russkie was in this shambles of a hotel, then he'd already lost his sense of healthy paranoia anyway. Dan confused himself with his arguing, consequently almost staggered backwards when the answer was a simple "yes". The Soviet soldier was here, like he had always been, without so much as a single fail, for the last five or six months.

Dan took two steps at once, forgot the pain in his knee, remainders of the recent surgery, and ran upstairs to the room, as if chased by Baba Yaga herself, or a whole bunch of irate insurgents. Then stopped, stalled, careful. He knew Vadim, he'd barricade himself for safety. Knocked, called out the other's name and hoped to hear his voice - but nothing. Dan frowned, tried the handle, cautiously staying out of the firing line, expecting at least a chair to be wedged underneath, but nothing. The door simply opened into a dingy room, as grimy as any of the ones they'd ever met in, and his eyes fell onto the bed. Right there, in front of his eyes, while the smell of cheap vodka hit his senses. A Soviet greatcoat draped across the bed and the shape of a man underneath. Tall body, still. Sleeping? Blond hair, short-shaved, as always.


Nothing, not a stir, no reaction. Closing the door behind him, Dan pulled the only chair close, wedged it beneath the door handle, where it should have been when he'd entered.

Dan opened his mouth, wanted to say the name again, but stood without a sound. Remained at the foot of the bed, staring down at the man who seemed passed out. He couldn't move, frozen, when an onslaught of images, thoughts and sensations battered his senses. He wanted everything. All of it at once. To touch, hold, kiss, fuck, feel the skin, arms and hands and limbs, lips and words, breath and feeling. All of it. And he did nothing. Couldn't move. Wanted too much.

"Vadim!" Louder. Waiting.

Name. Name and voice. Not 'Vadim Petrovich'. Not a superior. Not an enemy. Vadim opened his eyes, bleary, feeling still dulled and uncaring, not sure what the disturbance was about. Felt how cold his face was, and his hands, also sticking out under the coat. Back in Russia?

He glanced over his shoulder. Vision blurred. Dark haired man.


Possible. But Dan. Back, finally, back.

Vadim's hand reached out. "Come … come here."

Dan was thawed from his frozen state by Vadim's voice. Alive. Reaction, and the absurd thought crept into his mind that for a split second he must have been worried that the man beneath the coat was dead.

It took a mere couple of steps before he sat on the bed, looked at the face, and no more than another intake of breath before he bent down, his hand in Vadim's cold one, and his lips found the stubbly cheek before sliding down towards the mouth. Kissing and tasting. Fuck. Bliss. Letting out a strangled sound.

Vadim found it hard to turn over, dizzy with alcohol, disoriented, head swimming, and he thought, fuck, what a disgrace, he's back and I'm fucking drunk, worse than a sailor back on land the first night. He felt shame, oddly intense, stretched to get more lips, more Dan, turning around and to pull him closer. "You're good. I knew." Just grateful. He'd been worried Dan might not have made it, hadn't woken up from the operation, had died in a car crash, or found somebody English over in his country to sleep with, somebody who wasn't married, wasn't an enemy, and wouldn't return to Russia in what? A couple years?

"Aye," Dan murmured against Vadim's skin and lips, "of course I am. Told you I'd be back, that I'd find you." He could smell and taste the booze and the desperation. Sliding fully onto the bed, he burrowed under the coat to be as close as he could. Fully clothed, just like the other, but he could feel the body and the man in his arms.

"I left … traces." Vadim murmured. Sharing warmth? It wasn't that simple anymore. He should pull himself together, and banter, but he was too drunk for words, almost too dulled for thoughts. "You know your recce, and I … I know you know." He gave a grin, felt absurdly happy in Dan's embrace, warm body, warm, firm, alive body. He pressed his forehead against Dan's chest, breathed in. Yes. Glanced up again, eyes blurred, and he blinked, a reflex more than pride.

Dan smiled, hiding the niggling feeling of worry. The man in his arms, the drunken, dejected soldier, was not the Vadim he knew. "You look like shit, Russkie." Murmured, before kissing those lips again.

Vadim opened up to the lips, thought, fuck, he was too drunk to get aroused, well, could always get fucked, it wasn't important, important was to have Dan back. "Charming bastard …"

"I told you many times before, I resemble that remark." Dan chuckled quietly before he fell silent, kissing, feeling those lips open up against his own and the invitation was too welcome to resist. Fuck the taste of vodka, didn't matter, just the heat, as his tongue slipped between teeth and joined once more into the intimate dance he had rediscovered only such a short time ago.

Vadim's hand slid up Dan's hand, over his shoulder, to his neck, not sure why, to pull Dan close or to steady himself, to feel Dan's strength, to get more touch. Kissing, felt uncoordinated, dreamlike, easy, much easier and less self-conscious than before.

Dan broke the kiss after what seemed forever, looking at Vadim while his hand roamed up and down the back, their bodies pressed together. He was hard, of course, he'd been wanking for too many months, but felt no arousal in return. "What the fuck happened to you while I was gone?"

"Nothing. Just … duty. Duty and drinking." Vadim shook his head, slowly, realised he should pretend he was alright. He was, now, nothing else mattered. He'd found a state without pain at the bottom of a bottle, and how disgraceful was that. "Sorry. Should … not. But easier this way."

"I understand." Just that. Their lives did shit to them, turned them inside out and left them raw at the seams, unravelling. He could see the loss of focus in the pale eyes, the dizzy expression of a drunken man. Some things were easier without feeling them, and what did he know about feeling anyway. No family, no wife, no kids, no worries, except for one: if Vadim was still alive.

Vadim gave a wry grin at that, his pride stirred, spetsnaz, pride of the Soviet army, he should, really should try and give a semblance of control, of being sober, of deserving that reputation. But it didn't matter. Right now, he had to prove nothing. Dan did understand.

Dan didn't know what else to say, couldn't offer words that would make anything better, so he just said the first thing that came to his mind. "I left the army. I'm not a soldier anymore, no enemy. Just a fucked up civilian. Fancy that, eh?" His toneless chuckle ghosted across Vadim's face as his lips touched the stubbly skin again. So much for sex and fucking, but damn, it didn't even really matter. He'd had six months to think, a long time to understand about love.

"That's good. You made it out alive. That's very good." Vadim gave a broad, happy grin, as if he was still a young officer, and his best friend had just made another rank. "Congrat…lations. You can have … peace and no … no more …ah, like, rations. As much time in tea houses as you … like."

Dan ran his fingers over the goofy smiling face which made him grin. "Not quite. I came here to get a job, was thinking of close security. I have a few leads. Anything, really, as long as it's here."

Vadim leaned his head against the touch, didn't quite get it. "Body…guard? Why? It's nicer in London. Better food. Weather, too."

"How would you know about London?" Dan chuckled, wondered what they told the Soviets about foreign countries. Food, and most of all the weather, were legendarily bad. "You're in Kabul, not London or anywhere else. "Besides, I can earn shitloads of money as a bodyguard."

"Oh. That's good. Money's good." Vadim didn't get it. Who could or would pay that much? The warlords? Maybe. All the opium money had to go somewhere.

Dan's other hand slid down to the small of Vadim's back, making its way through the layers of clothing, to find some skin. Vadim shifted closer, chest to chest with Dan, felt the hand touch his back, and he gave a drunken grin again. "'s alright, won't fall asleep when you fuck me. You want to, aye?"

"I do." Fuck, yes, any second, minute, hour, day, Dan had been thinking about this, "of course I do." Craving the heat and strength. "But not when you're this fucked." Dan's lips quirked into a grin. "I heard it's better to fuck someone when they're not quite passed out drunk."

"I'm still talking", murmured Vadim. "Still 'round." A searching, eager, almost childlike uncoordinated kiss to Dan's chin, corner of his mouth, then, full on target. Not great at seduction at the best of times, and these weren't. Hand sliding down to Dan's chest, stomach, resting there for a moment as if he had forgotten about it while trying another kiss. "Still … can feel you."

"Sure you do." Dan grinned, moved his head a fraction, in sync with the searching lips, until they hit their target with every single attempt. "But I know a better way to get the edge off …" snaking his tongue back between Vadim's lips. "For now."

"Okay." Vadim didn't know what Dan was getting at, trusted the man to make the right decision, whatever Dan said or wanted, it would be alright. Kissed back, the dreamlike quality of blurred reality, only it was strange all this kissing, things would go different in a dream, more like he knew it.

Dan wanted Vadim like he always had, with full force and the whole hog, and if he couldn't have that now he'd get it later. His free hand found skin between the layers of cloth and he shifted his weight, pressing closer in the movement, until he freed his other hand, fiddling with his own trouser buttons.

Vadim noticed the need and still somehow had the idea Dan would do something to him and whatever it was, it was welcome. If anything, his own fault he couldn't get an orgasm out of it, self-inflicted loss. Hand around Dan's shoulder, other hand touching skin, stomach muscles, Dan shifting, brushing his cock. Vadim wasn't sure he could give head right now, mostly because he lacked focus and Dan's tongue was between his lips, and he gave a snort at that thought, reaching down to Dan's cock and balls, squeezing both.

He was rewarded with a small sound, caught in Vadim's mouth. Dan's tongue delving deeper, with a pent-up greed that sought its release, while he pushed his fly open, commando as usual. It was different this time, better, even though it was still his own hand that stroked his cock. Held close, kissed readily - drunken or not, hand and cock trapped between their bodies, it made everything more intense, and so goddamned right. Stroking himself, with the same efficient movements as usual, Dan broke the kiss for a moment to gasp out, "fucking missed you like hell."

Vadim smiled, pulled Dan closer, he wasn't weak, just unfocused, and kissed Dan's face and throat and neck, sucking on the flesh like he hadn't been able before, but wanted, not biting, kissing and sucking, with only a promise of teeth. Wanted to shed the uniform so Dan could come against him, loved the heat of Dan's cock against his stomach. "You were gone … too long."

Dan's lips parted, breathing harsher, faster, and his eyes half-closed. Just like the way he jerked himself off, and yet it was different. His fingers splayed across the small of Vadim's back, digging hard into muscle and flesh, while his hand moved ever harder. "Fucking … army …" panted, each word carried on another quick breath, "not keeping me … away …" The next word never followed, he was too close, too fast, shifting his hips towards the bed, and he came into the grubby clothes instead of Vadim's uniform. Groaning when he toppled over, he bit his own lip before he found the other's again, teeth clashing, ecstasy tinged with hunger and too much greed.

Vadim gave as good as he got, sluggish, slow, but responding to Dan's kisses, getting very much into the kissing thing that Dan did. Felt good, felt nice, a great way to spend time, really. Dan's stubble, Dan's breath, Dan's smell, everything about him so close to the dreams and memories. He leaned back, feeling dizzy, and grinned, lips open and raw. "Yes. Fucking army. You. Here. 's all good." Smiled because he was happy, just that, just a man at peace. "You there, tomorrow?"

Dan couldn't quite answer yet, flat out for a while longer, just lying and grinning like a fool, while wiping his hand on the cloth, the other still pressed into Vadim's back. Cracking one eye open at last, confronted with that happy smile. He shook his head while drawing in breath, waiting for his heartbeat to calm. "I'm here whenever, now." Grinning, reluctant to move, "whenever you have time. No more insurgents for me." His lips tingled from the ferocious kissing, scraping against stubble and clashing with teeth. Almost raw, just like he felt inside at times. Raw and open with those feelings that he'd first understood in a cave, less than a year ago.

"That's good." No more worries. No more fear to see Dan's kit show up on the black market. No more turkeys that could be Dan. And - more time. Always greedy for something that they had no command over, where and how they spent their life. He'd finally have an 'Afghan sweetheart waiting for him in Kabul' - how very ironic, but at least it wasn't treason anymore. Dan might have a house, a proper house. A place to cook, and to be safe. For fucking once.

Leaning closer once more, Dan placed a light kiss onto Vadim's chin. Damn, that kissing stuff was bloody addictive, same with the touching, the holding, and of course the fucking. "Right now, though, I'll be leaving you for a short while, have to get a few things. Don't think you're up for a wander around Kabul." Dan chuckled quietly, "You sleep the worst off and I'll be back."

"Aye … pretty wasted." Vadim smirked, looking oddly smug in his sleepy drunk way. "Prefer to stay here, if you … don't mind."

"Wise words, Russkie." Dan had to grin at the way Vadim had got used to saying 'aye'. A Soviet Scots, just what he needed. "You're a security hazard at the moment."

"Always am. I'm fucking deadly." Vadim gave another grin.

"Yeah, right now in your fucking dreams, mate." Dan placed another kiss onto the sleepy-smug face, rolled over, and covered the wet patch with a piece of the bedclothes that were soiled anyway. The room was getting colder, and Dan looked around as he sat, closing his trousers. His jeans snug and worn, comfortably soft, with the back pocket holding his fag packet in a faded rectangle, indicating its customary place. Lighting a cigarette, Dan glanced down at Vadim, inhaling deeply, before blowing the smoke the other way. Strange, how he'd got into the habit of keeping his fags away from the other, and he grinned at that snippet of cosy familiarity. "Got a fireplace in this room?" There should be a stove, but he hadn't spotted it, and the single light bulb gave nothing but a feeble glow. How apt, it illuminated Vadim, nothing else.

"Aye. Corner." Vadim glanced to the right - towards a metal monstrosity made from welded pipe and scrap metal. "Can't get it going. Guess needs to be cleaned. Can't be arsed." He pulled his coat up to his chin, and pulled his legs closer. Glanced at the red dot that gave Dan's position away, smell of smoke noticeable, but Vadim didn't mind.

Dan's brows rose. It was one thing to get wasted regularly, when the fucked-up war ate away body and soul, but another to not care anymore about the bare necessities. He pulled in another drag, deep into his lungs, until he could feel the nicotine tickle the capillaries, before he stood, walking over to the stove. There was food, some kindling, but he'd be buggered if he could make out how to get that thing going without more light. Turning back round, he idly scratched the scar in his face while finishing off the fag. His face in the dim light, the rest of his body in shadows. "I'll see what I can do, but I have to grab some stuff first. You take care, and don't let any strangers in." Flashing a toothy grin, which rapidly warped into a frown. The door had been open when he'd come in, and Vadim had been passed out. Fuck. Oh fuck.

"Will do." Vadim shifted a little, as if to find the best position to continue sleeping, and seemed happy to lie half twisted on his stomach, hands and feet under the coat, head drawn in, and just closed his eyes. Like there were no enemies, nobody in the world could possibly want him dead, and not a care in the world. The end of paranoia, of soldiering. Too drunk.

"Aye …." Dan murmured, threw the cigarette butt to the floor and stubbed it out, whispered: "What the fuck happened to you, Vadim." He saw how Vadim's face softened and his body slackened, asleep within seconds. Anyone could walk in and kill him, or worse, sell him to one of the warlords. A Soviet officer, his hide would be worth skinning alive. Dan swallowed, some things remained unbearable, even after all he'd done and - worst of all - seen.

Slipping into his thick jacket, Dan searched for a key, anything to make the room safer while he was gone, and found it still in the lock, inside. Damned if it was safe to lock Vadim in, but twice damned if it wasn't even more dangerous to leave him like that. Shaking his head, he noticed the lack of hair again, still short from hospital and army barracks. Taking the chair, Dan locked the door on his way out and placed the chair right in front, half-leaning, hoping anyone careless enough would at least make some noise as they bumped into the chair. Key pocketed safely, he stopped the hotel owner who was lingering at the entrance in front of a fire, demanding to know how to get the stove going for a few dollars that he slipped into a greedy hand. No one was to enter that room, no one, and if anyone asked for the Soviet soldier, the owner should know nothing about it. If all was well when Dan returned there'd be more dollars, because he would stay and there'd be no trouble. Money, damned money, it bought him everything he needed. Food, drink, shelter, and … Vadim's security.

The city was dark, but remarkably lively, now that sun had set and iftar was taking place. People were roaming the streets under the watchful eye of the Soviet army, its soldiers even more twitchy and nervous as ever before. Dan knew why, this 'war' could not be won, by no one, and they'd been losing it from the very beginning. 'When the battle's lost and won' came to his mind from school days long ago, and he snorted to himself as he hurried through the streets. Wrapped into the dark blue jacket, providing warmth for a cold October night in Kabul.

It took him no more than a few minutes to get his bags from the room he'd found, took all the items he had carefully chosen, back in Blighty, and stuffed some more of the food on top of it. Untying the rolled-up sleeping bag from his bergan, he shouldered bag, grabbed his heavy torchlight, and hurried back out, buying bottled water on the way. Over-priced, but worth the safety.

When Dan returned to the hotel, the owner was in the exact same spot as before, waiting for his promised dollars, which were exchanged with a bundle of fire wood. Dan made the man swear once more, with the added force of a few choice threats in Pushtu, not to let anyone know about the Soviet officer and the dark haired Westerner. Taking the stairs two at a time, relieved to find the chair in exactly the same position, Dan knocked on the door before unlocking it, wary in case his Russkie had woken and regained some of his senses. He wasn't keen on having his brains blown away because of a drunken stupor.

Nothing, though. The room was as quiet as and even colder than before, the single light bulb illuminating the still figure beneath the coat. Dan pulled the chair inside, locked the door, wedged the chair under the handle and finally dropped all of his bags. Standing at the foot of the bed he looked down at the motionless body. Nothing on show, except for the blond, shaved head and one hand, curled up into a fist. He grinned, the odd sensation of tenderness so new, unused and unknown to him, it made him shake his head and mutter to himself "fool," before throwing the brand new lightweight sleeping bag over Vadim.

Vadim heard the sound of wood on wood - one hand crept to the pistol under the pillow as he peered through one eye, still drunk, but as the cover descended upon him, his lips moved into a lazy smile. Dan. No dream. Would have been a strange dream, anyway. Dreams about sex usually played out in a way that he got something out of it, too. Apparitions didn't just show up to kiss him, jerk off and then leave. Meant that this was the genuine thing. "How long …?"

"How long, what, princess?" Dan grinned, stooped to pick up torch and bundle of fire wood, to work on the concoction that was meant to be a stove. He'd be buggered if he didn't get that thing going.

It took Vadim a moment or two to put the sentence together. "You … been here." He blinked, saw Dan's ass as Dan bowed down and thought this was a nice way of waking up, even if he was in no state to take advantage. Much.

"Here, as in Kabul or Afghanistan or this room?" Dan craned his head backwards, flashed a grin, while crouched in front of the stove, trying to figure out a few particularly nonsensical parts by poking around inside.

Something else strange, Vadim wondered. Yes. Dan clean. Clothes, non-native, not his usual 'clobber' as he called it. Vadim released the pistol and pulled his hand back. "And how did you find me?"

Not looking back this time, Dan's voice sounded strained as he reached forward and upwards, awkward in this position and in a good measure of pain from that damned knee. "You think I was in the SAS for twenty years, spending the last six of them in Afghanistan and more or less shagging the living daylights out of you, and I didn't know where to ask first for that crazy-arsed Russian?"

Vadim's smile grew wider, just enjoying Dan's bent back and his presence, his being clean, his being there, and the light-hearted talk. It hurt, gently, to have him back, like hands warming after the frost, a tingle and itch and burn. "Aye. Course you could. Would." He rolled over to the edge of the bed, uncovering himself halfway, but that didn't matter, reached out and touched Dan's back, tracing the spine under the warm jumper. He couldn't reach further than the place between the shoulder blades.

Dan rolled his head, still working, smoothly curving his back under the touch, like a cat moving into a stroking hand. "Keep that up and we'll never have a fire." Chuckling, while Vadim's hand paused, but didn't leave its place. Dan was rewarded a moment later when the first flames sprang to life under his hands, swiftly eating away at the wood, growing and demanding further logs.

"There you go. Should be warmer soon." Dan cleaned his hands by clapping them together and turned, the hand falling off his back in the process. Groaning when he got up from his crouch. "Fuck, I'm rather stiff, and it's not my cock."

Vadim glanced up at him, still smiling. So fucking happy to have him back. The only thing that mattered, the one thing that kept him going, and the one thing that could make him forget all the gloom. "Cold, eh? Share warmth?"

"You can fucking bet on it." Chucking some more wood into the fire, Dan bent down. "But first this," heaving the stuffed bag onto the bed, right into Vadim's hands. "Yours. Unwrap it. I declare it Christmas tonight." Sitting down on the edge of the bed to light a fag.

"And I thought you were present." Vadim gave a soft sound when he felt the weight, and struggled a bit to sit up, back resting against the head of the bed, pulling and pushing his body into position. Hand resting on the bag, he grinned at Dan. "Please, no more peanut butter. I'll tell everything."

Dan pulled his face into a mock frown. "Here I am, thirty-eight years old, bringing my lover presents, and he is mocking me!" Placing his hand on his heart he tried a theatrical groan but ended up in a cocky grin instead. Realising that same moment he'd not even stumbled over the word 'lover', let alone the concept. Six months were a long time, stuck in hospital and rehab, mulling over and in the end accepting what had happened to them.

Lover. Vadim paused, drunk mind reeling. Afghan sweetheart. Yes. But Dan just saying it like this? It was strange, strange and unknown. That word didn't feature when they talked. Didn't. Couldn't. Never had. Too drunk to think clearly. Maybe Dan was drunk too. He peered at him questioningly.

"Was I convincing?" Dan grinned.


Dan shook his head, ignored his own question and took a drag, holding the fag out of the way, he waved towards the bag. "Go on, you need some food, and I'm bloody starving as well."

Vadim's fingers found the laces, pulled them loose and opened the bag. The survival collection didn't change; bandages, medical gear, food, yes, even the mock-dreaded peanut butter bars, which were more than welcome. As usual condoms, lube, whisky. All welcome, necessary, needed and sparse indeed. "No longer treason for you, aye?"

"No, but even if it were, I never gave a shit when it came to this stuff." Dan offered a grin, which turned into a smile, swiftly aborted with another drag from his cigarette. The smell of nicotine and burning firewood filled the small, rapidly warming room.

Vadim placed the lube on the bed, the whisky, the packed meat and cheese and crisp bread. Glanced at Dan, giving him a smile, found it hard to say thank you, somehow. The concern. The care. His face twitched and his dulled mind wrestled with a way to cover this up. Didn't like for Dan to see it. "I …"

"It's OK." Dan made a curt gesture with his hand and shrugged. "Let's get eating, but no whisky for you, mate, you'll stick to the water or I'll never get a decent fuck out of you tonight." Used bravado and bare-toothed grins to deal with that big, fat, enormous thing inside. The 'thing' that was new to him and consumed him inside out. Some men seemed to be slow starters and he sure as hell was one of them.

"No. No whisky." Vadim laughed, glad Dan had moved away from the very difficult topic of gifts. Sex, warmth. Why then were some items like these so important? "Shouldn't have drunk so fucking much. Send postcard next time, so I'm sober when you show up, yes?" Vadim set the bag down and moved towards Dan on the bed, ran a hand over the stubbly cheek, through the shortened hair. Saw threads of silver glint in the dark hair, smelt the smoke on his breath. "Better make it worth your time, yes?"

Dan swallowed hard. Since when had a simple touch changed its meaning, taken on gravity and made that 'thing' inside expand ten times, constricting his throat and holding his heart in a vice grip. "I'm here." He cleared his throat, funny how talking was suddenly difficult, "I found you, just as I promised. That's worthwhile enough." The cigarette forgotten, burning down to a stub between his fingers, eating into the filter.

Vadim nodded, still close enough to Dan's face to feel his breath, gazing into the dark eyes, noticing lashes and veins in the white, the exact curve of eyebrows and forehead. Pores of his nose, up to where the stubble reached on the cheeks. Felt like he just couldn't see enough of Dan, not often enough. "Well, it's for me, but you seemed … more impatient?" Mocking him softly for the need, what? An hour ago? Two? Hard to judge.

"Do you complain?" Dan smiled, oddly self-conscious under the scrutiny, "you didn't seem to." Dropping the butt to the ground, reluctant to move.

Vadim grinned. "Sleeping Beauty, aye? You were just caught up in my male beauty."

"Yeah …," Dan drew out the sound, "passed out, piss drunk, smelling and tasting of booze. I'd call that a right old Prince Charming."

Carefully, as if nervous he could startle the strange new Dan, Vadim brushed his lips against the other man. Broad light. Without sex, just so, like in the cave. "I'd call it test firing gun."

Dan laughed quietly, the sound as warm as the fire in the metal stove, and as comfortable as the sleeping bag. "Aye, I did and it worked. Had to make sure." He lifted his hand, was about to abort the motion it mid-air, when he smiled and let his fingertips run down the side of Vadim's face. His own hands less calloused than usual, blond stubble beneath his fingertips more intense. "I fucking missed you, Russkie. The bastards didn't want to send me back. According to them, I belong to the scrapheap with my knackered knee. Desk job, I told them to fuck off." His hand was still stroking with slow, deliberate movements. "Politely, of course."

"Of course." Vadim breathed a short laugh. He could imagine. Hardly any chance in arguing with Dan. What Dan lacked in insight, he had surplus in brazen balls. "Didn't court-martial you, then? And you left." Vadim's eyes opened. "You … you know, you're free. No more freezing up in mountains, no more evading patrols." No more turkeys, and no more bullets with your name on them.

"Not quite." Dan shrugged, his hand creeping to the back of Vadim's neck, resting there, comfortable. "I'm looking for a job, close security they call it nowadays. Should be plenty around, here in Kabul. Got a lead, seems they are looking for some grunts for the newly installed ambassador in the British embassy." Leaning forward, he gently head butted Vadim. "Still, sounds cushy, eh?"

"Better than mountains", agreed Vadim, and smiled, keeping his forehead right against Dan's. "I'm stationed here for while. Help retreat. Lots of paperwork. Coordination. Talking. Will be exercises in spring, but it's just … spending time. No great offensives planned. It's burning low, fire of this war."

Nodding slowly, Dan murmured, "this war's not going to go on forever …" he didn't want to go there, couldn't finish the sentence. The end of the war would be just that - the end of everything. "Still, before then we have food to eat, booze to drink, and bodies to fuck, eh?"

Vadim inhaled deeply, alcohol loosening the tongue, and thought, and emotions, it seemed, and he couldn't care. The threat of some other war was far away, this wasn't quite finished. He couldn't make plans beyond this war. There was another rank to climb in the next, what, five or seven years, or less. "Just … for while yet. Still have you", he murmured.

"Aye … as long as this war keeps you here." Dan frowned. Morose shit and maudlin thoughts, he didn't need that. Jerking his head back, he shook it vigorously. "Food. Now."

Vadim leaned back, grinning, tightness and heaviness in his chest, and made a sweeping gesture to the bergan. "Dish up." Sounding almost like Dan, from another day, similar situation.

Dan was glad for the sudden change, threw his rag onto the bed, pulled out the rest of the food, slicing the packages open with his favourite knife, and arranged a spread of meats and cheeses and bread across the rag.

The oven was giving off good, solid, living heat, and Vadim stood to undress facing it, watched by Dan, while allowing the warmth to wash over his skin, and his face, reddening from the heat and maybe the strange, and not so strange thought. Lovers. No longer two men who got off on the same stuff. Comrades, lovers, even worse. From his lovers - and they seemed precious few in hindsight - none was like Dan. As good as Dan. Vadim pulled the shirt free and rubbed his chest in a strangely self-conscious motion, then glanced over his shoulder, smiling. "Do you … meet others when you are in London?"

"London?" Dan looked up, this was the second time Vadim mentioned the city. Seemed that foreigners couldn't think of any other place in Britain than London. "No, I don't usually go to London. I used to stay in smaller places, near the barracks, and up to Scotland to visit my brother."

"Oh yes, you said. Edinburgh. Place with castle on mountain." Vadim turned his back towards the oven and opened his belt. "Small big country."

Dan turned round, shrugging out of his jacket while watching Vadim intently, whose body had never lost its fascination.

Vadim opened the trousers and kept his hands there for a moment. "You can't do it in army. It's illegal. But outside. You can. Less hiding." There are gyms and bars and … he shook his head. Not allowed. Dan was not supposed to know about Darren, or Mark, or his trip to London. Shit.

Dan's brows drew together, but the frown vanished before it could settle. "I guess so." Shutting himself off from further answer or question by vigorously pulling the jumper over his head and getting 'stuck' in it for a long moment.

Vadim allowed the trousers to fall and stepped out of them as he placed his hands on Dan's flanks, just tracing the lines there, warm skin on warm skin, and a half-drunk, half tender desire washed away the question, at least for the moment. Too long, and Dan back. He kissed Dan's shoulder when it was bared, then his neck.

Reluctant to break the touch and kiss, Dan sat still for a while, before pulling the jumper off to drop it behind him. Looking up, slowly, all the way from the abs across the chest and pecs, to the face that was looking down at him. A slow grin began to spread across his face. "You want to see a seriously cool scar?"

Vadim smiled. "If it's in good place?"

"Train tracks along my knee. They don't tend to have knife wielding Mujas running around in Britain who think that slashing my face is fun." Dan flashed a wry grin, working on the buttons of his denims. Fabric so soft and well worn, it slid smoothly over his hips when he lifted off the bed, pushing them all the way down to his ankles, then kicked them off. "See?" Lifting his knee, the scar ran neatly down the middle. "They opened it up and drilled holes to make stuff fill back up again." Grinning, "or whatever else they tried to explain."

Vadim stared at the scar. That looked painful, to say the least. Nothing small or nice about it. It looked … bad. He reached down to touch the knee. "But you can use it? I mean, it doesn't hurt?"

"It's a lot better than it was before." Another question deflected, Dan pointed to his cock, flaccid on his thigh. "I think there's a scar here …" Waggling his brows with a cheesy grin.

"Would be interesting to learn how you got it", said Vadim, grinning.

"Well, you see, there was that Amazonian tribe in the mountains, all fierce Afghan warrior women, and they were fighting over me. Their Queen got me by the balls and decided to mark her property by taking a hefty bite, when just at that moment a rival clobbered her over the head and I managed to get away."

Vadim gave a laugh, pushed Dan's legs apart and kneeled between them, hand again touching the scar on that knee, the strange new trait on Dan's body. Imagining the cut, and Dan on an operation table, and being thankful it was only the leg. Drunk enough to not worry overly much, and clearly drunk enough to not mind Dan's connection between 'food' and 'cock'. He glanced to the food and decided it could wait. Lube was close, too. Check.

"Oy, Russkie, I was just joking. It's technically your turn to get blown." Not that Dan's protest was more than a token.

"My turn?" Vadim rubbed his face against Dan's inner thigh, right up, until he brushed the cock and balls with his face. Still felt dulled and lazy, but he'd get into the spirit, no doubt. Strange to think Dan kept track of who did what to whom. Vadim didn't. It was a mood thing - right now, he wanted to give Dan something. And knowing how much Dan loved to fuck his throat, and Vadim feeling generous, that was that.

"Aye," Dan drew in a quick, sharp breath, "theoretically … your turn, but …" His hand was already in the short-shaved hair, feeling the familiar buzz on his palm. No longer soft, interest sparked by the promise of lips and throat. Something he'd come to regard as a 'treat'. Dan grinned, leaned to kiss Vadim's forehead, lips moving against skin as he murmured, "Seems I might be old but not past it yet." Could feel himself hardening slowly but steadily, without so much as a touch.

"Tell me", said Vadim, moving forward to briefly lick that swelling head, "what you were dreaming, there. All that rest, must have been boring." Another lick, more serious now, well aware of the hand that could try and force him. But that was always part of the deal, and he wouldn't mind being forced.

One slightly faster breath every time Vadim took a lick, before Dan answered. "Less dreams than daydreams." Looking down at his hand, the head, lips, part of the face. Fingers moving against the short hair. "Your arse, your throat. In all ways, every way. Your body, all of it. With time, no threats, and …," stalled, second hand creeping to the back of the other's neck, fingers tightening at the next words, "ropes and knives, chains …"

Vadim's breath caught at the last, at the force he could feel against his neck. Strong fingers. The promise of strength, of that edge between pain and naked lust. Yes. That thought aroused him, body not caring about the caution. Time. With no threat. They would be able to do things like Darren and Mark did. Tied down and fucked. He moved closer, taking Dan between his lips with a sudden hunger than overrode the teasing. Semi-drunken mind accepting the images. Tied down, stretched, moaning with pain.

Dan shuddered, felt the sudden hunger, its shift from leisurely teasing to greed. His fingers tensing, digging harder into neck muscles, pulling closer, down, making Vadim take his cock. Deep, better than images and memories. The goddamned real thing. "I'm gonna fuck your throat." Pressed out between his teeth. "Coz I fucking missed you."

Force. Yes. Couldn't have done it before, Vadim thought, now he could, not with Darren, shit, because Darren had never beaten him. Never broken him. But he knew the savage strength in Dan, and that was what made him do it, again. Not resisting as Dan shoved his head fully onto his cock, relaxed and accepting. Greedy enough to take this all the way without panicking, assuming the faster and harder they did it, the sooner he'd breathe again. Hands grabbing Dan's legs, pulling him closer to the edge, falling into a quick, unforgiving rhythm as if it was him that forced Dan, not the other way round. Both. Neither.

Force and need, love and lust, it all came together, and Dan's mind blanked with every brutal push of almost painful intensity. He felt as if he could come again and again, endless orgasms, wherever, whenever and in all eternity. Losing himself too soon, he gasped and moaned, long forgotten the cautious silence when he thrust hard, kept the head locked, convulsing and cumming while feeling lips against his groin, and a throat frantically gagging against the intrusion of his cock. "Fuck!" Dan groaned out, hips bucking, "Fuck, fuck, fuck!"

No breath. No air. Body fighting on its own. Vadim couldn't deny the reflex, the training to stay alive, keep breathing, and the loss of air and control was a cold blade touching his brain. Nevertheless. The heat. Heat in his face, heat everywhere in his mouth, down his throat, running towards his stomach, burning like vodka. Heat at the back of his head, holding him, engulfing him, and Vadim was close to cumming as well, body just doing its thing. His right hand released Dan's thigh and reached for his own cock, knew it could be fast, just a few quick strokes, but right now.

The movement of neck and shoulder under his hands brought Dan partially back to conscious thought. Keeping his hands where they were, one on the top of Vadim's head, the other in the back of the neck. Steadying, while his cock was softening, allowing air. He could hear the whistling breath and feel the harsh movement of his Russkie's hand, jerking off.

Vadim couldn't think of freeing himself, Dan's grip meant he was staying right there, as simple as that. Strong grip, motions not conscious, just doing what needed doing, feeling his body tense, knees on the floor, taste and smell of Dan. Dan close, never mind the kneeling, whatever, didn't care, just took the need and increased it, pressure already close to boiling, and he came with a few harsh motions. Eyes closed, trick of the mind, seeing Dan, feeling and smelling Dan as he did, not aware at the same time.

Only when Vadim's shudders subsided and the body stilled, did Dan let his hands lose tension and slide down, while keeping contact. Fingers on skin, heat transferred between palms and body. "Hey, Russkie." Murmured, as he gazed down onto the other's head.

Vadim looked up, raising his head enough to let Dan's cock slip out, and gave a grin. "Aye? Listening." He cleared his throat - felt raw, but that was well worth it. Somewhat self-consciously reaching for the rag and cleaning himself up, but remaining on his knees.

"Nothing." Dan shrugged and grinned, lopsided. "Just testing if my voice still works." Allowing his hands to fall off Vadim's body, he shuffled back on the bed to fall to the side, supported by his elbow. "You hungry?" Still grinning, seemed impossible to wipe it off his face.

"Aye." Vadim gave a short laugh. "You look well-fucked. Already." He stood, popping his neck on purpose, pleased when the tightness left. He motioned to the food. "And willing to share."

"Already? What's that supposed to mean?" Dan arched a brow, reaching for the knife amongst the food. "That was number two for me. You try and top that, old man."

"I'm starting at … disadvantage." Vadim walked around the bed and sat down heavily, pulled his legs up and stretching out, head fell to the side to watch Dan cut up the food. Darkened hand on the gleaming knife. Cutting. He gave a toneless laugh at the way that fucked his mind, and moved a bit closer.

Looking up curiously at the way the bed moved slightly, Dan wondered about the peculiar expression on Vadim's face. Decided he was seeing ghosts, he stuck pieces of cheese and ham onto the tip of the blade, holding it out to the other. "Eat, you might catch me up on my advantage." Arranging whisky, cheese, salami and bread in front of him, before tucking in ravenously. Well-fucked, indeed. Hungry, warm, and plain old satisfied, lying on that grubby bed in front of his … yeah, shit. Lover. Dan couldn't help a goofy grin as he looked back up, watching Vadim chew.

"You make good porn material, you know."

Vadim managed to swallow, but just barely at that, and gave Dan a surprised stare. "What?"

"Well," Dan shrugged, "for me anyway. But judging from the couple of mags I managed to snatch in a crap porn shop 'under cover of night', you'd beat any of the so-called studs on there."

Studs. What a ridiculous word. Dan had gone into a porn shop and bought, yeah, porn. Of course. That stuff was available in London, he remembered having marvelled at the ease to get whatever he wanted.

Stuffing his face with a big piece of cheese, Dan washed it down with an equally large gulp of whisky. "Let's face it, Russkie, you're fucking perfect, and I hazard a guess that you know it."

Good for the cameras. Good for the clothes. Endearing athlete, in tight swimming trunks, every muscle taut in his body. Vadim had never thought about it that way - flesh was flesh in sports, and had a meaning beyond the jerking off part. He wondered what people had felt staring at him. Staring at the fencing lunges performed in the tight white dress, breeches and socks oddly enhancing male and female forms. Especially with the coiled up energy inside. Yes, he was as close to perfection as he could maintain. An end in itself. Not for anybody but himself. To intimidate. To keep up appearances in all ways that mattered.

"You should have seen me in Montreal."

"I did. Photos." Dan pushed himself up, sitting on his hip. Fingers leaving greasy prints on the tin mug filled with whisky. "How the fuck do you think I knew who you were? Seven years ago, after Kabul." Taking a mouthful of single malt, he cherished the taste, before reaching for his pack of Superkings, tapping it open and fishing a cigarette out. "Soviet hero. Athlete, pentathlon, and then elite soldier. When you finally told me you were spetsnaz you just verified my suspicions." He lit his fag, taking his time before exhaling the first plume of smoke. "I never told anyone." A rueful smile twisted the scare in his face into shapes of shadow and light.

"Not quite like that. Many of Soviet athletes are soldiers. All killers. Even women. You make fun of female Soviet swimmers, but they are lethal. Not pretty. That's not their job. There's plan behind it. Olympic cadre is small army in heart of enemy. You wouldn't believe how much goes on behind scenes." Vadim grinned, but shook his head. "I liked the mask too much. Delusional. Never first class athlete. Went into pentathlon because I wasn't fast enough as swimmer." He gave a snort. "But first class spetsnaz. Irony, eh?"

"Better than me." Dan shrugged, "I was never anything but a soldier. No more, no less, and now I'm not even that anymore. Guess I have to find myself something else to be first class in." Smoke tendrils curled out of his nostrils as he chuckled, "what about first class fuck?"

Vadim grinned. "Gold medal in cocksucking? Interesting … idea." Dan laughed and Vadim reached for some of that cut-up cheese and tossed the bits in, chewing in between. "Still think, was best time of my life. Apart from time … here." Touching Dan's arm briefly. Not here: Afghanistan, but here: with you.

Dan smiled, slowly exhaling smoke, watching the white-grey plumes waft out of sight. He didn't try to stop himself this time, touching the no-go subject. "Your family? What time of your life was … is that?"

"I sometimes feel like guest in their life. Russian style guest, so … welcome, and heartfelt, part of it, but …" Vadim swallowed. The provider. Himself covered for by the real protector.

"But?" Dan stilled, intently watching him. He knew something about feeling like a stranger in a house and amongst a family that was his own, but knew nothing about having a wife, let alone children. Children. Fucking impossible thought.

"Maybe I should let them go. So Katya's free. So I'm not just … absence in their life." Vadim shook his head. "I love … them very much, but what father am I? I'm not much of husband but paying most of bills."

Torn between shaking his head and nodding, Dan was reduced to asking yet another question. "Why did you marry? I mean, why did you get her pregnant in the first place?" Stubbing the fag out on the side of the bed, he let the butt drop to the floor. "I don't think you ever told me. I sure as fuck never asked." Did he sound like a jealous lover? Asking and prying, poking and pulling at a scab.

"Living with the Hungarian fencer was not option", Vadim murmured and shook his head. "I married because she promised to protect me. All I had to be was father to her child. For fucking career. To stay out of prison. To have fucking life." Vadim stood, driven up by what felt like pain, and could just be guilt.

"What if you hadn't married." Dan didn't move except for his head. Following Vadim. "And what if the army hadn't provided conscripts for male flesh and blood, and silence."

Vadim shook his head. "No idea. Maybe different career. Maybe just left, gone somewhere else, where it doesn't matter." Yes, him cutting wood in Siberia. Or something. Don't kid yourself, Vadim, you don't have the taste for living rough.

"Would you have deserted? Left the Soviet Union and gone to a country where it doesn't matter?"

Vadim shook his head. "I'd done my two years. But … there's still my father. Extended family. Just running away …" so I can fuck men - and be fucked with no danger. How pathetic. "… What other choice do I have? All decisions were made long ago. This way, I could travel. Meet you. That's something." Vadim looked at Dan on the bed.

Taking another mouthful of whisky, Dan shook his head. "Shit." Murmured to himself, the again, "shit." Just quietly.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Bold-faced lie, "just me being a pathetic poof." Lips curling into an acidic grin that didn't touch Dan's eyes. "I just realised something." Downing all of the whisky that remained in the mug. "You'll be fucking off back home. Back to the Soviet Union. Family." Wiping his lips, throat burning, belly on fire with the liquor. "When this war's over, so are we. Over." Dan put on a fake smile. "Best get some food and fucks in before that, aye?"

Vadim nodded, speechless for a moment by the ache he felt at the thought. Could he do that, live with Katya, living that marriage for the happiness of children - well, in addition to the worry and the burden, and the hassle. No sex, no Dan, maybe the occasional high-risk fuck that Katya arranged for him. Finding a way to do this in Moscow. How? He had no idea. "Might ask to be posted somewhere else. German Democratic Republic, maybe. That's … closer."

Dan shook his head, "don't be stupid. Closer or not, there's the Iron Curtain and they sure as fuck wouldn't let an ex-SAS soldier through."

True enough. And Vadim's credits with the British government weren't exactly high, either. Unless he did betray his country. If that offer still stood. But even then, waiting ten years. Lots of things happened in ten years. He'd be in his late forties. And waiting for someone else for ten years happened only in books. Dan would find another lover, and he'd make do with what he had. Spetsnaz. Resourceful. Vadim stepped towards the bed again and placed the fingertips of his left hand on Dan's chest. "Even if that's … how it ends, I won't forget you."

"Fuck!" Dan's hands suddenly formed fists, slamming down onto the mattress, food and drink tumbling into a mess. "Don't say shit like this. It fucking hurts, you get me? Don't you ever say anything like that again. You know as much as I do that this will be it. Short of a miracle, you're bloody stuck in your responsibilities to your family and country. And I? I'm stuck in the West, paying for a fuck and imagining every time it was you." Shit, that was it, and it was too much. Dan jumped off the bed, taking a couple steps back while shaking his head. Too much. All wrong. Since when had he turned into a goddamned drama queen and since when did it all hurt like such a motherfucker. "Just …," holding his hands up, palms out, as if warding of imaginary evil, "… don't say shit like that. Let's just pretend."

Hurt too much. It did. But Vadim couldn't give up his pride, his integrity, his duty. Turn traitor, for Dan. Vadim nodded, silent. Hoping Dan would find somebody. Not yet, not right now. But that it would be only half as bad as he feared. And that was already pretty bad. "Aye, handsome stranger. Fancy meeting you here."

"Aye." Dan nodded, was easier like this. Not talk, just pretend. Two naked men, two bodies. Whatever else was there did not matter in the great scheme of things in which they were both trapped. "You hungry, stranger? For food, or just another man?"

Vadim closed the distance, looked into Dan's eyes from close enough he could smell him. "First food, then other, too." He grinned. "What's it going to be?"

"Right now? No promises. I've come twice, you've got to wait." Dan flashed a grin and it looked almost convincing. "We've got a few more hours yet." He didn't wait for a reply, got hold the head in front of him instead, and pulled Vadim into a kiss. Fierce, ferocious, utterly possessive.

If all they had was Afghanistan, then he'd make it bloody worth it.

* * *

Three days later Dan received an invitation to an interview at the embassy. Life was moving fast and he was glad, feeling lost without duties. The army had crept into his soul: once a soldier, always a soldier.

Let through the high security gates, Dan looked around, by no means intimidated by the immaculate garden and building in a war ravaged country, instead mildly amused. Expecting no one other than the Iron Lady to cross his path any moment, as British as any Brit could be, short of Her Majesty the Queen.

Even the thoughts of the Prime Minister did not prepare him, though, for the sight of his prospective future employer when he was taken into the 'inner sanctuary' for his interview. HMA M. de Vilde stood for Her Majesty's Ambassador Margaret de Vilde. Baroness de Vilde, in fact, and an elegant lady greeting him, perhaps in her fifties. Petite, yet nothing fragile about her.

Dan stepped inside when ushered through the doors that closed silently behind him.

"Please, take a seat." The Ambassador pointed to the chair opposite her impressive mahogany desk. Dan nodded, mumbled a "thank you, Ma'm," and sat down while frantically trying to recall with what title he was supposed to address her. Legs braced, then parallel, finally one crossed over the other, then side by side again, before settling at last on leaning back into the upright chair as far as he could. Sod the splendour around him, he wasn't in the Mess anymore and didn't have to stand to attention.

"Tell me, Mr McFadyen, what made you apply for the position?" Eyes focussed on him, there was no smile in her entirely neutral expression.

Dan got the distinct impression there was nothing that escaped those grey eyes that scrutinised him. As grey as her immaculate hairdo. Big. Shiny. Helmet. Hair.

"I am looking for a job," he faltered, still unsure about the correct address, "Madam Ambassador." Dan figured her question was one of the most stupid ones he'd ever been asked. His dark eyes meeting hers, damned if he wasn't going to give as much as he was getting. If she wanted a stand-off, he was ready.

Impossible to figure out what she thought about his answer. Not a twitch in her composed face, no inflexion in her finely cultured voice. "Yes, Mr McFadyen, I took that for granted." Precise consonants and elongated vowels. "What I am asking, however, is why you left the British Forces before retirement age, seeking employment in Kabul."

"That's not what you asked, Ma'm." Dan countered, had already forgotten about the 'Ambassador' bit, and the 'Excellency' crossed his mind too late. He nearly flashed a grin when his response elicited a fraction of reaction. Her brows had twitched, he'd bet his twelve-year pension on that.

"But to answer your question, I realise it makes me look like an idiot, leaving two years before my full pension plus golden handshake, but they told me I wasn't going back to active service after my surgery."

Dan pointed to the stack of papers in front of her, "you know all that already, don't you, Ma'm? You got my files." Feeling strangely smug when she nodded her agreement.

Sure she knew, and he was starting to wonder if there was anything she hadn't read already. Age, height, weight, shoe size, and what he'd had for breakfast. Sexual preference? He hoped not.

"And why was staying in Britain not agreeable, Mr McFadyen?" Her finely manicured hand moved to rest on the papers. Dan noticed pastel coloured varnish, as pastel as her pale green tailored suit. Yet there was nothing pale about her. She made the Thatcher look like a bimbo.

"Frankly, Ma'm, I'm not ready yet to get fat in a cushy job behind a desk. I had knee surgery, nothing else, and in a couple of weeks I'll be fully functional." He felt slightly unnerved when she didn't react. Ten seconds seemed to stretch into an hour.

"That's interesting, Mr McFadyen, but has not yet answered my question why you are here. In Kabul." The Ambassador paused, "Why security? This intrigues me. I did not glean from your files that becoming a bodyguard was a natural choice for an expert like you. I would have assumed that security advisor, survival specialist, or even mercenary would have been more fitting."

"Ma'm, there is nowhere else for me to go." Because I love a Russian, because I gave my word I'd be back. "I have been in Afghanistan for seven years." Because this is private, because it is none of your business. "Britain is not my home anymore, it has nothing to do with me, I don't fit in there anymore." No one there, no home. " I have been operating in Afghanistan for too many years, I know this place and its people as well as I used to know the Scottish Highlands." Because of you, Vadim. You are my home.

She didn't seem impressed, neither satisfied. Her second hand came to rest on top of the other, as if shielding the stack of paper. "Really, Mr McFadyen?" She sat up straighter. A feat he'd considered impossible.

Shit. She wasn't buying it, and no fucking way he'd tell the truth. He'd get busted for being a security risk before he'd even started the job, with no chance to ever get a foot into this business again.

Why. Why Afghanistan. Kabul. Why, apart from one man, one enemy.

"It's the mountains, Ma'm. Heat and cold, loneliness and endless skies. Those mountains, Ma'm, they fuck you up. They want to own you and swallow you whole. They try to kill you until you realise you're nothing but a fucked-up little human, and that you won't survive unless you become part of them, and so I did. Paid for their protection with blood, pain, scars, but they've never let me down. I became part of them, and in return they became part of me." Dan tilted his head, hands resting on the arms of the chair. "I'm too fucked up for 'normal' society, Ma'm, but I'm bloody good at what I do. I do my duty, always have done. If that means that in my line of duty I am destined to die, I will."

Dan noticed too late the bemused expression on the lady's face, realising with dread that he had sworn. Way to go, Dan, in a job interview with a goddamned Ambassador.

"Sorry, Ma'm, I mean, Madam Ambassador," he stammered, "No, bug…," bit his tongue, tried again, "your Excellency. I'll watch my language. Promised." He glanced at her, didn't realise how his dark eyes and chastised look gave him the expression of a beaten puppy.

She suddenly smiled, made a delicate, measured gesture with her hand, as if waving all those swear words away. "'Ma'm' is just fine, and I like your explanation of the mountains, Mr McFadyen. I know what loneliness and a hostile environment are like."

Dan looked up, "Do you?" Saw her face, noticed her deportment. Composed, controlled. This lady was a baroness, and one of Her Majesty's Ambassadors. It didn't go much higher, and he had a gut feeling there might be even more to her. "Yes, you do." Answering himself.

The baroness inclined her head and to Dan the gesture looked awfully regal. She wasn't far off the highest one in the triumvirate of ladies; the one whose picture he used to toast during mess functions.

"Mr McFadyen, you mentioned your views on duty. Can you elaborate on that?"

Dan's brows shot up. "Ma'm? Elabo-what?"

He was surprised at a rueful smile that ghosted across her face. Vanishing as fast as it had appeared.

"I have read your file, Mr McFadyen, we have already established that I know your career history, but I'd like you to tell me more about your personal view on duty."

"That's simple, Ma'm. I do what I'm told."

"Just like that?"

"Yes, Ma'm. Just like that. After all, that's what doing one's duty is all about: obeying orders."

She nodded once, slowly, fixing him with her unwavering gaze. "And if this entails killing, would you obey the order all the same?"

Dan frowned, "With all due respect, but what do you think I have been doing all those years, here in Afghanistan and elsewhere? I was SAS, Ma'm, Special Forces. I was trained to kill, and to survive, and once a soldier - always a soldier. I do my duty, no matter if this involves killing - or dying." He sat up straighter. "Or are you asking me if I feel guilt for what I have done in my life? I don't, Ma'm, just so that's clear. I've done my duty, I followed orders, no matter what, and I still sleep at night. I would have died in the course of duty several times over, if I hadn't been such a lucky git, and I've got the scars to prove it."

He felt her eyes on his face, lingering on the scar that ran from lips to temple. She nodded once more, thoughtful, but he hadn't finished yet.

"I'm not a nice guy, Ma'm. I don't feel remorse for anything I have done," except one thing, and even that had brought him what he'd never hoped to gain, "except, perhaps, that I feel no guilt. I'm not a good man," echoes of another, a cave, and a kiss, "but I'm not evil, either. I just do what has to be done."

The baroness remained silent, studying Dan for a while, who met her gaze with his own, unflinching. He felt as if this was her version of the final stand-off at high noon. He was not going to back down, either.

She suddenly smiled, folding her hands on top of the papers. "You do realise, Mr McFadyen, that you applied for the position of head of the embassy's security staff?"

Dan's eyes widened a fraction, "Did I, Ma'm?"

"Yes." The corners of her lips were twitching with something akin to amusement. "You just did."

Head of security. Fuck, he'd only applied for bog standard grunt. Dan couldn't help but grin. "Does that mean that I got the job, Ma'm?"

She nodded, pushed herself off the chair and stood, Dan's cue to jump up as well.

"Yes, Mr McFadyen, I have decided I shall take you on. The probation period is three months." She walked around the desk, holding out her hand. "One condition though," that somewhat amused expression was back on her face, "we will have to get you some suitable attire. You would look rather out of place in your current outfit, if I required your services at a function."

Dan laughed, which seemed to make her smile. "Will do, Ma'm. I can scrub up, believe me."

"I do believe you, Mr McFadyen, I have seen photos of you in your uniforms in the file."

He too her hand, shook it. Surprised at the firm grip. Iron fist in velvet glove, this lady seemed as tough as a Special Forces commander. "Give me the specs and I'll get it done. Can't be any worse than No2s."

She nodded, released his hand. "My attaché will arrange everything for you. Contract, accommodation here in the embassy, vehicle, insurance, medical cover, clothing and equipment. I trust you will find your salary to your satisfaction." She paused, "I assume you are free to start straight away?"

Dan nodded, "couple of weeks of phys and I'm fit for active duty." Accommodation … hell, he hadn't even thought about this additional boon. He was about to get posh in his old age. No more rat infested shitholes and freezing caves, but an air conditioned room and satellite TV. Yet he'd choose a barren piece of rock over any comfort, if only he could share it with another.

"Very well," the baroness nodded, "there are workout and fitness facilities on the compound. You should find the equipment to a high standard."

Sure he would, Dan couldn't imagine otherwise.

"In the meantime," she continued, "my staff will make sure you know all about the compound and the embassy's operations, including my schedule. Please feel free to ask for anything, and any questions at all. I do understand that it is impossible to organise security without knowing the organisation itself."

Dan nodded once more, nothing else he could add. He'd never met anyone so efficient.

"Do you have any more questions, Mr McFadyen?"

"No questions, Ma'm, but one condition."

Her brows rose quizzically. "Which condition would that be?"

"Ma'm, please call me Dan, not Mr McFadyen. That sounds like somebody I don't know and, frankly, probably wouldn't want to know."

She let out a small laugh, nodding her assent. "I believe I can accept this condition." Smiling at him, hands folded in front of her, she looked up at him. Several inches shorter, but he hardly noticed the difference in height.

"I am looking forward to working with you, Dan."

"So am I, Ma'm."

* * *

Three weeks later, after extensive training in the state-of-the-art facility, Dan had settled into his more than comfortable room, filled with several luxuries: stereo HiFi system, large colour TV and brand new video recorder with a small selection of films. His first week of duties had been as easy as a regimental parade, but he used as much professionalism and alertness guarding his new boss as he would, training a whole camp of fierce mujas. Already planning to reorganise security to his approved specifications and to get more staff.

At the end of the second week Dan left a message at the tea house, to meet at the usual place. On the Saturday he stood waiting, dressed in sand coloured combats, comfortably worn boots, woollen shirt and jumper in muted colours that strangely suited the rest, and the heavy ski jacket over it all. Clapping his gloved hands for warmth, he watched the steam in front of his face. Kabul in November was bloody cold, especially waiting impatiently for Vadim, near the corner of the rat-hole hotel.

Vadim, greatcoat covering most of his body, ushanka hat keeping his ears from freezing off, hurried through the alleys and streets, only stopping to greet patrols or other Red Army personnel. As if he was just out taking a stroll. There were advantages to his rank, and relative freedom was one of them. Tolerated, not welcome, but the higher-ups had a live and let live attitude at the moment, as the retreat was being prepared. Few were fierce about upholding the Red Army's honour at present. The retreating invaders cut their losses. All due to a mild-mannered man in the Kremlin. Vadim didn't quite know what to make of it, but the wind was changing.

He gave Dan a mock salute when he came within view. "I guess you want to show me the wares?" He gave a teasing smile.

Dan's hand went up with the reflex to salute, aborting the movement mid-motion. "On the contrary, I want to show you the shop first. Wares come later." He grinned, indicated an alley off to the left with his chin. "Guess it's still safer not to be seen together. I assume you know where the Soviet HQ is." His grin grew out of proportion, with teeth and all. "There are a few streets opposite. Take the third one from the south. I'll be waiting at the backside corner." Right under the noses of the Kremlin, so to speak. Safe in the eye of the storm, and expensive for Afghan standards.

Vadim nodded. "I'll see you in few, then." He just walked past the civilian, wondering about the location, but if that was where Dan had found lodgings, that was pretty convenient. Just leave his desk and be at Dan's place in what, fifteen minutes. Including evasive action.

He circled the area, walking up to it from the other direction, trying to spot Dan and then saw him, already lighting a cigarette again and grinning broadly since no one was around, before vanishing through a door nearby.

The door was ajar, leading to two downstairs rooms, one that functioned as a kitchen with a large stove, the other with cushions on the floor and a low table. The toilet was outside. Wooden stairs led to an open plan room upstairs that undoubtedly housed the bed. The large stove was giving off heat, in fact the entire place was warmer than the barracks ever managed to get. Dan stuck his head around the corner when Vadim stepped inside. Fag in one corner of his mouth, battered kettle in his hand. "Tea?" Grinning.

"Only if you have lemons." Vadim pulled the hat off and began unbuttoning the coat in the sudden heat. Watched how Dan prepared his tea. British way. It had been fairly unceremonious with Darren. Tea bag, electric kettle, and then attempt to ruin the brew with milk. One day he'd teach Dan to make proper tea. It would be a start to tell him that Russian distinguished "boiled water" from "raw water", which hadn't been boiled. It made a difference in taste. "Maybe I could organise a samovar."

"Does it come with instructions?" Dan puffed out smoke between his teeth, returning to the business of preparing tea the good old fashioned trapper way of throwing leaves into boiling water, then hoping for the best. Still in his thick coat, cold and sudden heat, or vice versa, didn't affect him much.

"Yes. And it's not very complicated." He could easily get one from the army shop, Vadim thought. Or take the old one from his office and get a new one for the office, one that was more presentable.

The sound of clattering and clanging came out of the kitchen, accompanying the luxury of running water from the tap over the stone sink. "Did you find the bolt to lock the door?" Dan called out. "Windows are secured, but can be smashed to get out. It's a fairly good place, here. Someone in the embassy told me about the area and happens to know a cousin of a cousin of a brother of an uncle of a father of a son ... who's more than happy to rent it to me." he laughed, emerging in the doorframe.

Vadim had checked the windows and bolted the door. "Good position. Up on the roof I could even check if that pathetic lieutenant is bothering to come to work on time." He hung the coat up on a hook, still wearing the full Soviet uniform, minus hat. "Is this our … love nest, then?"

Wrestling out of his thick jacket, Dan laughed. "'Love nest', what a poet you are, Russkie. If I didn't know any better I'd call you 'bloody poof'." Throwing the coat into a corner, he made a sweeping gesture across the rooms. "It's luxurious, though, you got to admit. Very little vermin and better than any of the shitholes of the past seven years. It pays to be out of the army, trust me." Pulling the jumper over his head, his shirt hung loose over the belt that kept the trousers secured on lean hips. "Did you know they pay shitloads of dosh to play nanny to ambassadors?"

"Ambassadors? So that's your secret." Vadim liked that dishevelled look. Dan made two movements and managed to look like something the cat had dragged in. "You got yourself nice work. Congratulations."

"Aye, lady ambassador. She's … something different. Like our Iron Lady. Remember the big stiff hairdos? She's one of those. Her Excellency is a baroness, and damned, she's classy. No bloody idea why she chose me as her head of security, I even swore at the interview!"

Vadim gave a laugh. "Because you're good enough to rival spetsnaz. We guard the grey men in Kremlin. Vy … Certain units do." Vympel does. Unless they go out of their way to kill higher-ups. Well. He hoped Dan didn't spot the odd syllable. Maybe thought he'd referred to a comrade. Felt stupid for keeping that part secret, but he'd signed his silence.

Dan shrugged. There were things in the last seven years he'd deliberately not heard nor seen nor understood. "Not that I complain. My room in the embassy is like a luxury suite, with bath, stereo, video, TV, and all that shit. Actually," he grinned, "I'm already getting addicted to long soaks in a hot bath with bubbles." Winking, he ran a hand through his unruly hair, "But truth be told, I feel rather out of place. Seems the mountains will never spit me back out completely."

You're glutton for suffering, Dan. Fuck the mountains. Vadim stood close, suddenly wanting to hold and touch, kiss and forget about the tea. "It's good place. Secure. Clean. Running water. Tea." And you.

Dan nodded, reached for the smoothly shaved face, tracing the jaw line with fingers that were uncharacteristically clean, their nails scrubbed. "While you're here, I'll be here, and this is the place where you'll find me. Whenever you can."

Vadim covered Dan's hand with his own. "Aye. They do assume I have Afghan girl in city. By now, I could have fathered whole stable of children here. Some men do."

"You haven't fucked me that often, Russkie." Laughing, Dan felt inclined to ignore the sound of boiling water from the room behind him. "But I guess I might let you have another go at that 'fathering of children' thing, later. Been a while." He bared his teeth in a face-splitting smirk.

Vadim grinned and released the hand. "Dan, you're missing some bits in your birds and bees education." He slid his hand down to Dan's abs and prodded there. "Children don't grow in ammo pouches, darling."

"Well, you should know. You managed to produce some." Tensing his stomach muscles until Vadim's hand met nothing but unforgiving hardness.

"Now fix the tea."

"Sir, of course, Sir!" Dan's hand flew in the perfect angle to his imaginary beret, saluting. "Tea, Sir. Immediately, Sir." Laughing, he turned to the kitchen, busying himself with kettle, stove and mugs, and a handful of tea leaves. Making a hell of noise, but returning swiftly with a brew that was nothing short of being almost perfect. At least for a Brit. "Sugar, Sir?" Holding out one mug. "Can't offer lemon nor milk."

Vadim had settled and took the tea, cautious not to burn his fingers. "Careful. Sir-ing thing could just trigger most unexpected reactions." Of course, Gavriil. Or other conscripts who busied themselves doing his bidding. Like rabbits jumping over a tiger's paws, and rarely seeing what hit them.

"And what makes you think I couldn't possibly handle those reactions?" Dan sat down on a thick cushion opposite. "Huh, Mr Spetsnaz Major you-get-me-shaking-in-my-boots Krasnorada?"

Vadim laughed. "You can handle me alright." Blowing on the tea, glancing over at Dan, studying the newly hatched bodyguard. "I promise you this much … if anybody on our side would get on the bad side of your ambassador, you'll know. I don't think it's likely, but we're not above it. Just in case. What we have is more important than duty."

"What do you mean, are you saying you would tell me?" Dan's face a picture of bewilderment.

Vadim shook his head. "I'm not saying anything. But if I tell you to get her out of country, or place, you will do it." He looked straight at Dan. "That is all I'll be saying."

Dan tilted his head, said nothing for a long while, until he finally nodded. "Aye." That was that, from one man to another. 'Stay alive', like he had said several times before, without words, but with precious supplies and valuable kit. Stretching his long legs out on the cushions, Dan leaned back against the wall, studying the other. "I assume you've got until morning?"

Vadim looked at the legs, gaze slowly moving upwards, over the cloth, folds, lines, the shape of the relaxed muscle underneath. "Yes. I can … get to work from here." Circling in a wide enough movement. How odd. Leaving this place to go to work, as sane and normal as Moscow. He put the mug down and headed over to Dan, crouching near him. "Sleep is overrated."

Own mug in both hands, Dan's face, scar and all, began to curve and move with a slow, spreading grin. "You are hinting at sex? S.E.X.? With a member of the high society such as me? Protecting ambassadors and all that?"

Vadim laughed and moved closer, hands now on Dan's thighs, thumbs slipping between them to open them up. "You're as common as dirt, Dan, inside. Just like this weary Soviet special forces major."

Dan laughed, spilling some of the tea over his hands. "If that's your idea of foreplay, then my idea of a pet name is and was and will always be 'cunt'." Readily opening his legs under the pressure of thumbs and hands. He set the mug aside to run a hand over the short shaved hair.

"You called me that in mountains … didn't think it pet name then. I wanted you then. I want you differently now. Different … ways, and flavours. That fist …" Vadim took Dan's hand, and felt oddly driven to say this, in this strange place that made flirting possible. When he thought of Dan, in his dejected, musky office, words like that just appeared, doubtlessly read somewhere. Tolstoy sure wouldn't mind if those were his. It was a translation anyway, and Dan wouldn't notice. He closed Dan's hand with his, then brought it to his throat, and placed it against the adam's apple. The hand opened, and Vadim allowed it to. "… this fist has opened." He pressed it against his throat, looking at Dan all the time. "Fingers, Dan. We are no longer fists. All we had to do was this."

Dan swallowed, stared wide eyed and completely flustered. His hand moved like a puppet's, the strings held by non other but his Russkie. "I …" started, stopped again. Had no words for that big fat thing in his stomach that was travelling up to his throat with high speed and without mercy, even though he knew it was called love. He could only find one answer: to lean forward and kiss. Lips on lips, his body talking where he lacked the words.

Vadim's grin melted in the kiss, just that stricken expression, as if Dan didn't get it. But Dan wasn't stupid, it only took him a while to decipher some of the code. Didn't matter. Vadim moved between Dan's legs and pushed forward, getting Dan to slip off the cushion and lie on the ground, with him halfway on top. He ran his hand down to Dan's leg, took the knee and bent the leg, running a hand up on the inside, while still kissing. "Civilian", he murmured, and it was part curse, part pet name.

Still the puppet, passive, and for once it didn't matter but felt right. "Fucking Russkie soldier", Dan whispered between lips and tongue, his hand moving to Vadim's belt, and tunic, pulling fabric, sliding fingers and pushing beneath layers until his palms connected with warm flesh. Cursing himself that it had taken so many years before he'd found the most profound pleasure of all: intimacy.

Vadim pressed in harder, the most tantalizing question whether to undress himself or Dan first, impatiently working on getting Dan's shirt off without popping the buttons, then suddenly slowed. All night. Safe. No enemies. No fucking mountains. No insurgents. No rush. He paused, frowning, then grinned. "So strange." Keeping Dan down beneath him, he took the time to unbutton the shirt, cuffs, and slid it off that bronzed shoulder, the one with the bullet hole, dipped low to frame the round scar with teeth, then sucked on it, slow and deliberate. All the time in the world.

"Ahhhh, fuck." Dan exhaled, letting his head roll to the side, smiling at no one and nothing, eyes closed, simply letting be and enjoying every sensation. Lips, light nip of teeth, and always the heat, no matter where and how their bodies touched, he could always feel Vadim's heat. Skin, inside and out. "Guess that means I better reciprocate." He murmured, lifting his head while using his free hand to push Vadim's neck cloth out of the way. Hooking his finger into the t-shirt collar, he pulled it down to reveal the burn scar in the hollow of Vadim's throat. He smiled, no anger, no triumph, before his lips circled and found the scar that was his.

Vadim swallowed hard, pressed Dan's head against his body, fucking twisted, but still something that was won fair and square, scars and the right to them. Pulling Dan's shirt out from behind him and tossing it away, Dan's clothes strange, the whole man in his new appearance different, even better than back then. Smelling clean instead of dusty, civilised for once. "Think … we could try out this carpet." He grinned, and patted the space to the left. "And this one. Different pattern, understand?"

Chuckling low in the back of his throat, Dan peered right and left, then glanced towards the upstairs room. "Don't forget there's a bedroom as well and a fairly big mattress. Not the height of luxury, but I don't think we've ever had sex anywhere quite so comfortable." Pulling harder on the fabric close to his hand, baring skin around Vadim's middle, until both of his hands slipped beneath it, sliding upwards and across the chest, toying with nipples and flesh.

Vadim grinned. "You'd say that when it's me who's on top, yes?"

"Who said I don't want you on top?" Dan winked.

Vadim smiled, slightly surprised, but glad for the lightness, the banter about it. His turn, then. It didn't matter. They had time, and that made many things easier, less complicated, more playful. Less urgent. He nodded towards the upper level. "What about now?"

"'On top' or going 'Up top'?" Grinning, hands meeting in the back of Vadim's neck, pulling the other down into another kiss. Teasing, the way he mock-bit and chewed. Breaking away for a moment, Dan murmured, "best now, or I might change my mind about the 'top' thing."

Vadim nodded, pulled back, despite his protesting body which would have preferred to claw and dig into Dan like a burrowing animal. Lifting Dan's upper body when he pulled back, and offered a hand, standing up.

Dan took the hand, his knee still protesting at times. "After you." His face splitting grin betrayed the sole reason: watching the arse in front of him climb up the narrow stairs.

"Of course you're after me. What else is point?" Vadim murmured, climbing the stairs, curious to see 'their bedroom'. Bed. Mattress. Clean. With the options for tea and food just downstairs. Much better than the barracks, and much better than home, in a certain way.

Dan laughed, eyeing the muscular thighs and buttocks beneath the tight uniform trousers. "Miracle after seven years with such a cheerful soul as you, don't you think? I still fancy the socks off you." Delivering a hard smack onto the arse in front of him, he gave a shove and a laugh, watching Vadim lose balance and stumble onto the bed, before throwing himself on top.

"Come on then, wrestle me, who wins, fucks." But he was laughing far too hard, he didn't have a chance and for once he didn't give a damn about it.

* * *

Dan had been with the embassy for six weeks, reorganising security measures and training staff as well as liaising with the military. He'd turned the proceedings into an efficient organisation, leaving no doubt about his military background.

Settled into his room in the main building, he was still stunned every day at the luxury of TV, Hi-Fi, radio, a maid that was cleaning after him, and most of all the bathroom with tub and hot water. Yet his favourite place were the rented rooms in the centre of Kabul, and the hours he could spend with Vadim.

That night, Dan stayed in the embassy, smoking a cigarette on the patio while looking at the stars with an inexplicable longing for the vastness of the mountains. He turned his head at the sound of the back door opening. Raising his brows in surprise at the person who stepped into the cool night air.

"Ma'm, should you be out here?"

The ambassador smiled, pulling the cashmere pashmina closer around her. "Good evening, Dan. Do not worry, I am not out here to make your job more difficult, but I was getting slightly claustrophobic inside." She took in a deep breath of the fresh air.

Dan flicked the ash off his cigarette before taking another drag, carefully exhaling the smoke into her opposite direction. "It's potentially dangerous, though. With the current increased threats you cannot be too careful." Despite his words stepping aside to make space beside him.

She chuckled, then moved to stand close. "Oh, Dan, I appreciate your concern very much, but who would bother trying to take me out in this veritable fortress?" She glanced up at him.

"Probably no one, Ma'm, but you never know." Dan looked down at her, finished his fag and dropped it, stubbing out the butt. Felt compelled for some reason to bend down and pick up the dead end. Wondering if she disapproved of littering and had to chuckle at the odd sensation of feeling like a small boy, vying for the lady's approval.

She tilted her head, looking up with a smile. "Care to share your amusement?"

He couldn't, too embarrassed to admit, just said the next best thing that came into his mind. "I was just thinking that at least I am here to protect you, in this dangerous location, surrounded by trees and shrubs and the possibility of sniper-spiders attacking."

She laughed heartily, and he realised he'd never heard that sound before. Could only imagine the kind of strain her job put her under, and she bore up to every demand formidably well. He couldn't help but admire her, while the unexpected laughter made him grin.

"I feel safe with you, Dan. Not just in the presence of spiders. You are extremely professional and very good at your job. I admire that in a person."

Dan felt ridiculously proud at her compliment. "Thank you, Ma'm and it is an honour to work for you."

She chuckled warmly, shaking her head at his last words, quietly muttering something that sounded suspiciously like "silly man" to him. He'd never seen her so relaxed, let alone teasing him, or anyone else, for that matter. Always serious and perfectly controlled. Tonight, Dan mused, he truly liked the ambassador's company.

"Tell me, Dan," she returned her gaze back to his face and he could sense her eyes lingering on the scar for a moment. "What are the mountains to you? I have often wondered about what you told me in the interview." She smiled, "I found your description rather fascinating."

"Really?" He felt strangely pleased. "It's hard to describe, Ma'm, if you've never been up there. They are endless, the sky seems to sweep on forever, and all you can see are the rugged tops of the mountains. The colour is like nothing else, the blue of the sky, crystal clear, and the shades of the rocks, changing with the time of day and the seasons. At night you can see more stars than you've ever imagined possible. It is like diamonds glittering on black velvet, and no light to dim their icy brilliance. The longer you look, the more stars appear until you feel dizzy, trying to fix your eyes onto any of them."

He noticed her watching him, with an indecipherable expression on her face, and Dan wondered what she was thinking. "I'd love to show you, Ma'm." A silly notion, he knew, and of course she just smiled. "You should see the mountains in winter, when your breath freezes before your face and there is nothing but gleaming white, so harsh it burns your eyes when the sun beats upon the snow. And the caves, Ma'm, one of the few places that offer some chance of survival. You can find water there, but you have to know how, you have to coax the knowledge out of the mountains, but when they accept you, grant their permission, the caves become like a womb, sheltering you from the elements."

"I wish I could see it." She smiled but shook her head gently. "You have a way with words."

"And I wish I could take you, because when you stand up there, looking over the mountain range, then nothing else matters but breathing, moving and surviving. Even though you are tiny you feel free. The mountains give you peace and at the same time you think that nothing can hold you back. Because all there is is the sky, and your own, small life."

"I really do wish I could." She smiled once more, and to Dan it seemed very melancholy.

"Were you never lonely, though, alone in those mountains?"

Dan shrugged, "I was rarely completely on my own, but when I was, I liked it. I'm happy with my own company, I guess. Must be because of the Highlands, I always used to hike around for days, even as a kid."

"I can imagine." She suddenly looked up again, questioningly. "Do you play chess?"

He laughed, shaking his head. "No Ma'm, I'm afraid I'm not clever enough for that sort of thing."

"Oh," she smiled, "I am convinced that you are a very man clever indeed. Don't put your light under the bushel, I am certain you would make a good chess player. You have the tactical mind for it and, I wager, the ability to react in seemingly impossible situations."

Dan grinned, "You sure, Ma'm? I'm afraid I'm not one of them there edumacated types." Stumbling over the words with deliberate exaggeration.

"Don't you worry," she pulled the shawl tighter around her, looking up at him, with a twinkle of amusement in her grey eyes that made him wonder what she had been like as a young girl. "I have known many men in my life who were highly educated, but very far from clever."

"Guess they wouldn't be clever enough to survive up in the mountains, eh?" Dan winked, grinning from ear to ear.

"I guess not." She suddenly laughed while shaking her head, as if she had remembered a very funny incident of long ago. "No, you are right, Dan. Very clearly not. In fact," Dan was amazed to see her eyes had taken on an almost wicked twinkle, "I am certain they would not have survived in the centre of London with a maid, a butler, and a nanny on top."

Dan grinned at that image, "sounds like some of my COs and OCs, Ma'm. Brigadier Snooty-face or Colonel Twit." Impersonating one of those upper class officers with the most exaggerated posh voice he could muster, made the more ludicrous by his Scottish accent.

"Yah, yah, jolly fine show, my good men. Toodle-loo, hooray-henry, and tally-ho." No sooner had he said the mocking words, he ducked his head, embarrassed. "Sorry, Ma'm, I shouldn't …" but she was laughing. So hard, she had to wipe her eyes with the back of her hand.

"Oh, Dan, you have no idea how right you are. I thought for a moment my father stood in front of me, in all his glory."

"Your father?" Dan stared at her wide-eyed and mortified.

"No, no, it is quite alright, you had him down to a 'T' without ever having met him. I'm afraid we can be like that, 'Upper Class Twits'." She smiled, quickly had herself back under control. "Trust me, it is unbelievably refreshing to laugh like this." Looking up at him while placing a hand on his arm for a moment, "thank you for that, Dan."

"You're welcome, Ma'm." Dan grinned, insanely proud and wondering where the hell that feeling came from. "It's good to hear you laugh. You don't seem to be getting enough of a chance to do so."

She simply smiled and nodded her head, as noncommittal as her skilful small talk during the most boring embassy function. "About the chess, though …" changing the subject admirably.

"Aye," Dan nodded, "I'm willing to learn it, but only if you promise to learn something else in return." He feared he was going too far, but only those who dared won.

"Whatever do you mean, Dan?" Her finely shaped brows lifted towards her bouffant hairline.

"Poker." Dan flashed a grin, "and Black Jack. I'm sure you'd be an ace at poker, what with the diplomacy and all that."

"Did you just call me a poker face?" She was trying to hide a grin, mostly failing.

"I would never dare, Ma'm." Hand on heart, Dan chuckled.

"In that case," she allowed the grin to break to the surface, for once her expressions uncontrolled, "you better teach me to become one."

Dan held the door open for her, still grinning, and followed the lady inside, to the first night of many: poker, chess, whisky and red wine, between the most unlikely of ... friends.

* * *

Vadim watched darkness sink around him, the slow fading of colour, then of lines, until closing his eyes wouldn't make a difference. He enjoyed sitting there, far too dark to read, mind at rest, for once. This place was as much his cave as Dan's, and he'd let his mind wander, walk past the landscapes in his mind, the favourite memories, Dan, often, but without that frantic urgency these days. Dan was a steady presence in his life by now, a presence that was reassuringly there.

Even, of course, when he wasn't there. Late shift at the embassy, duty at a social function, Vadim had known he wouldn't be there when he had headed here after duty. It didn't matter, much, he knew he'd come, as he always did. This could have been central Moscow, both had a job, of course, and both would meet up in the apartment. Life had a strangely normal quality, but Vadim was far from complaining. Instead, he could almost feel how his batteries recharged, the energy that this country had taken from him ran back into his veins, and he felt at peace when his mind wandered, just allowed the time to pass, aware and alert as a sniper, an eagle upon his rock, far, far up, where nothing could harm him.

He just sat there, hadn't even bothered to take off the uniform, felt too lazy and peaceful to do that.

* * *

Dan was glad when the function was finally over and the last guests had been dealt with. It had been an eclectic and stiflingly boring mix of the usual, while he'd been ever present at her Excellency's side, never even so much as taking his eyes off her and the surroundings. Unobtrusive, yet present Blending into the elegance of the assembly, with pager, knife, and pistol hidden beneath his clothes.

It was well after 1 AM when Dan had done the last check and debriefed his security staff, ensuring the lady was safely ensconced in her private rooms. Signing officially off duty, he was never less than a pager alert away. No time to change his clothes, he wanted to get away as soon as possible, had had to force himself several times throughout the night not to think of the man who was waiting for him in their safe place. The baroness had never asked where he vanished to and Dan assumed she believed he had an affair with an Afghan beauty, needing the secrecy to protect her anonymity to shield her from religious repercussions.

He hurried into his room to find his long black winter coat. Early spring was still freezing during the night, but when he looked at the fine cloth in his hand, Dan frowned. Wouldn't do. Too obvious. He needed to find something less obtrusive. Rummaging in his drawers, he pulled out a native coat instead and found one of his old 'tea cosy' hats. Throwing the garments over his evening attire, he left without delay, making his way through the fairly still night. No more than five minutes on foot to their place, where he knocked the agreed sign. Dan didn't fancy being shot like a rabbit if Vadim didn't recognise him.

Vadim's hand found the lighter and the flame made the room bright, almost, against the darkness a heartbeat ago. Lighted a couple candles, then stood, stretching his back, and rolling his neck, slightly stiff from the long, near motionless wait. Turned towards the door, which opened. The Volkov showed it was past one. Sunday tomorrow, and a day off for him.

Slipping inside, Dan immediately locked the door behind him. He turned and smiled, unaware how ridiculous he looked with a tea cosy on his head and wrapped in a long, scruffy looking native coat with black trouser legs peeking beneath it, and highly polished black shoes without the slightest scuff mark. "Took longer than I hoped. Got yourself a bite to eat?" He'd left a whole stash of exquisite leftovers from the embassy in the kitchen earlier.

"Half the protein is gone, I'm afraid." 'Protein' covering the steak, salmon, prawns, and some thin pink slices Vadim couldn't quite place, but which had been good. The salmon had been topped with generous amounts of cream cheese.

"That's alright," Dan grinned, "I get that stuff everyday. Am longing for a simple bite of bread and cheese, to be honest."

Vadim's eyes followed the odd mix of clothes. A suit? Of course, Dan would. Even the proper shoes with it. He smiled. "I can see you hurried."

"Aye, it was late. Didn't want you to wait any longer. Besides, those crusties aren't exactly exciting company all night long." Half twisting round, Dan pulled the hat off, shaking his hair while fiddling with the closures of the coat. He straightened back up the moment he shrugged out of the garment, carelessly throwing hat and coat into a corner. Running a hand through his hair, he grinned somewhat self consciously.

"She makes me wear this shit, it's at least more comfortable than my old dress uniform." He stood in the finest, tailor-made black smoking. Starched shirt, black hand-tied bow, black silk satin cummerbund around the narrow waist, hiding the knife and pager in the small of his back. Pistol holster concealed beneath the jacket, which fit as perfectly as a glove, smoothly accentuating every line of his tall body. Hair brushed, glossy even, despite still being 'wild' and longer than most men's.

Vadim swallowed, couldn't have placed what had the strongest effect on him. All of it. Dan. A different kind of Dan to the laid-back civilian, the scruffy, often downright dirty pseudo-insurgent, or the naked body that woke up next to him. So very different. He couldn't help staring, then covered most of the distance and ran a flat hand over the cloth over Dan's chest. Mixed reaction: lust and awe.

"Good taste. Your boss." His voice rough.

Dan tilted his head, surprise written all over his face. "Aye, she's … she's class. Real class. Helmet hair, posh accent, and all that." He smiled, covering Vadim's hand with his own. "I thought you'd probably find I looked absurd." His lips quirked into a half-grin.

Vadim shook his head. "Fuck, no." Ran his hand up Dan's shoulder, the cloth felt good, and the warmth underneath. It made Dan look civilised, sophisticated, a strange contrast to his usual behaviour. He could suddenly imagine Dan as somebody who gave orders, an officer, something bigger and more dangerous than a special forces soldier who gave orders at knifepoint. Felt the leather holster snug against the shoulder, just a difference in texture under the jacket. Then it struck him.

"You look like MI6."

Dan laughed, "James Bond?" His own hands resting on the small of Vadim's back. The uniform cloth as familiar beneath his fingers as his own skin. "'Licensed to Kill' while being the greatest womaniser under the sun?" He winked, "do you feel faint yet?"

Some of Vadim's reading had included Fleming, almost as an example to the self-delusions of the west. Now, this took on a different shade of meaning. "Not a woman. And not faint", he said, closing the last bit of distance, brought their bodies together, lips opened, teeth digging into the taut neck muscle.

Dan let out a strangled sound. Vadim knew him too well, had mapped his body and its responses many times over. His neck - the attack went straight to his groin. "No, no woman. Hell, no." Tilting his head back, he bared his throat while half-closing his eyes. "What do you see, when I look like this." Murmured.

Dan even smelled different. Aftershave, something expensive, refined, the skin tasted of soap and sweat, and Dan. "I see very dangerous man", Vadim murmured, accentuating his words with more biting. Hand moving to Dan's groin, roughly kneading cock and balls in his hand, knowing he skirted pain, but knew how to do it these days. "I see fuck at knifepoint. Gunpoint. Tied down. You, me, doesn't … matter."

The words made Dan shudder, combined with hands and teeth. "You're a Soviet Officer in my terrain." Voice rough, didn't think, thoughts just came to the surface. "Got lost, comrade?" His own hands slipped down, digging into the other's arse and pulling him closer. Trapping Vadim's hand between their groins. "Or perhaps you got captured." Images, memories, of knives and blood, and a silent fuck in the mountains. Dan's breath caught in his throat.

Vadim felt a sickening stab of hot lust, so strong it knotted his guts. Good. Fucking good. How he'd wanted Dan even when he'd thought the man would kill him. Wanted him. Wanted him for the yielding, and the strength. Make belief? Fuck, more real than real. He had the scars to prove it. And no gun, while he could feel Dan's holster against his chest. Didn't know what to say that wasn't "yes, please" or "fuck me." Dan demanding, all of a sudden, that new Dan he wanted just like the old Dan. Worth the wait.

Dan nodded, even though Vadim hadn't uttered a word. "In that case," murmured, "I can see it's dangerous to leave the Soviet spy his freedom." Pushing his hips forward, he steered Vadim with every small step towards the narrow stairs.

There was more resistance in Vadim's body than in his heart. He wanted Dan like this. He had imagined slow, tender lovemaking, like they did, savouring the time and some nights just spent the time talking, or lying there, thinking, with the luxury to not jump each other's bones the moment they touched, forced to make the most of half an hour, or two hours. This, now, was the fierceness of years ago, tinged, no, drenched with lust. He took a step back, and was about to head up the stairs, expecting a push or shove.

"Stop." Dan was surprised at his own order. Didn't know what he was doing, just playing along with what his body and some unknown recesses of his mind were telling him. He stood in Vadim's back, just a faint rustle of cloth as he pulled the pistol from its holster. "Turn round. Slowly. Hands up. I want to see them at all times."

The tell-tale sound, and the motion. Vadim stared at the pistol, remembered it against his neck, and him on his knees, the muzzle the darkest thing in the universe. His hands moved up, body understanding the laws of physics. Guns made gravity fail. He turned, ever so slowly, hands on the same level as his face, elbows away from his body. Could feel how hard he was.

"Good." One corner of Dan's mouth quirked up. Mimicry of a smile. Speared by a fucking great stab of lust, right from the muzzle of the pistol to his cock and balls. What the fuck was going on here - he didn't give a shit. Just wanted. Took.

"Don't move." He whispered, voice getting coarser, its edge serrated by lust. Free hand working on Vadim's buttons, until the tunic gaped open. Undoing the brass belt buckle, almost one-handed, he pushed the trouser fly apart. Just briefs, and t-shirt.

Vadim's breath was fast and shallow, uniform covering him, and not covering him. He glanced over his shoulder, as if to gauge Dan's mood, when he knew Dan was as horny as he was. What he saw was Dan flashing an entirely frightening smile. "Brace your legs."

He shifted his feet apart, keeping the trousers up at about knee level, and that was how far he could space them out. Easily enough to get fucked. He closed his eyes, fingers wanted to turn into fists with the sudden tension in the air, tension that made his hair stand on end. "What are you planning?" He murmured, managed to speak without hitch. Playing along.

"I'll show you how degenerate the West really is." Dan answered in Russian, fingers of his left hand slipping between cummerbund and shirt in his back. His grin, when he pulled out the knife, was shark-like. The pistol never wavered in his hand, even when the tip of the knife slid beneath the waistband of Vadim's briefs. "I wouldn't move if I were you, Russkie."

Vadim felt thin, cold steel against his skin. Must have immobilised you to cut the lines so clearly. He stopped moving. In fact, he stopped breathing. Dan's Russian was sexy, intonation still sounded vaguely foreign, just not completely natural, which heightened the effect. Degenerate. He turned his head to the side, just slightly, to be able to see Dan from the corner of his eye. Grinning. Eyes gleaming, pistol gleaming, eyes gleaming. "Not … moving." Breathless.

Dan's grin grew as the blade sliced through the fabric. One cut, another, then the waistband, and a last tug on the useless tatters, discarding them onto the floor. Moving around Vadim's waist, the blade kissed the tip of his cock, which made Vadim's knees lock tight and tensed every muscle in his body. Unbelievable feeling. Steel. Knife. There.

Dampness created a pattern on polished steel, and Dan's eyes narrowed as he licked the drop of precum off the blade. "Turn round. Hands on the stairs. One on each side."

Vadim turned, lowered his hands only enough to drop into a pushup stance, while the knife vanished once more between Dan's clothes. The pistol remained, a symbol of power, trained on Vadim. "Keep your legs apart."

Vadim nodded, supporting his weight easily, unable to move or defend himself, fingers curled around the edge of the step right in front of his chest, broad grip, broad stance. Again, he glanced over his shoulder - if only to see Dan, his hand holding the pistol, and that cool, knowing grin on his features.

"Good." The Russian was flowing smoothly across Dan's tongue. "You make a pretty picture even for a Western eye, Russkie. All laid out and …," he drew out the sentence, enjoying the last word as he caressed every syllable, "… vulnerable."

Vadim swallowed. Vulnerable indeed. His knuckles whitened, keeping the position, while Dan's hand slid beneath open tunic and t-shirt, stroking there, felt good, but Dan avoided getting anywhere near the bared flesh of the perfectly muscular cheeks. Leaning forward he whispered into Vadim's ear, lips brushing, and making Vadim shudder harder, which became nearly uncontrollable when the cool muzzle of the pistol caressed his jaw, "you should get a medal for being so very well behaved, comrade. They told us in school about the ugly Slav, the peasant, square-headed Russkies. They were wrong. You are exquisite. You are quite the Tsar …"

'Comrade' was clear mockery. The compliments were genuine, odd mixture that was both praise and teasing. Vadim raised his head, looked at Dan, wanted to kiss him, or sneer, and couldn't make up his mind. Arousing. Badly arousing. "You aren't half bad, either", he murmured.

"Then it shouldn't be difficult to keep quite, at all times, and to keep still." Following the outline of Vadim's ear with his tongue, Dan added, barely above a whisper, "will it, Russkie?"

Vadim nodded, tonelessly, biting back a moan at the inability to move now, to touch him, to pull him closer. So much for a quiet, calm evening with 'probably sex'. The sudden shift had caught him unaware, didn't know what to do but roll with it. Wanted Dan to do this, assume control.

Moving a step back, Dan let the pistol run up Vadim's spine, pressing into each vertebrae, taking his time. Vadim's back curved away from the muzzle, unfortunately, though, with the effect his ass stood out. Yes, very unfortunate.

"I want you to stay like this, Russkie. Don't turn around, don't watch, don't make a sound nor a move. When I come back I want to find you in exactly the same position."

"Aye." Vadim lowered his head, let it hang, while staying in the position like one of those sick games of holding a stress position or just holding in an awkward stance. It built strength, and he had plenty of that. Glanced at his own body, his cock, imagined the knife again, and felt himself twitch. He closed his eyes and focused on his breath, waiting, obedient.

Dan turned, stuffed the pistol into the cummerbund before walking into the kitchen. Lube. Upstairs. Damn. Kitchen, food, fat, grease, something, anything … pulling one of the drawers open, Dan's eyes fell onto the stack of candles, before he remembered the pack of butter he had brought from the embassy. Grinning slowly, the candle was in his hand before he'd found the butter, still in its foil.

Returning within less than a couple of minutes, Dan walked through the narrow doorframe, presented with a view that made him forget the last seven years. Familiarity? Boredom? Getting used to a body? Wanting something new, exciting and different? Bullshit. What he saw was Vadim and the most perfect body, one that could easily compete with any of the gay mags he'd ever managed to buy. The arse, stuck out, its impeccable curves of smooth skin over rounded muscles. Uniform tunic loose, t-shirt ridden up and skirting the waist, trousers down at the calves, boots firmly planted on the ground and hands in fists, keeping a firm hold on the stairs. His. That thought drilled through every layer of Dan's body and mind until it settled deeply and irrevocably in his brain.


Crossing the short distance with a couple of steps, the fine cloth of Dan's smoking touched bare skin.

Vadim could feel him, the warmth, the exact position even though he kept his eyes closed. Easier this way, easier to accept what he was doing and why - following orders because it made him hard.

"You're mine, Russkie." Dan's low voice sounded full of lust even to his own ears. "Mine."

Vadim gave an almost toneless groan at that, guts tightened at the roughness in this, the raw unadulterated need. Claiming. Owning. Fuck. He wanted this, wanted this for the rest of his life, that understanding, the pitch of tension. Twisting his heart and mind until everything he thought was about Dan's cock entering him, driving him insane and ripping everything away so he could just lose all the rest. Everything but Dan. "Now that … you have me, what are you doing with me?" he whispered.

"I will own you. Enter you. Use you. Want you. Make you come and take you." Word after word tumbling out of Dan's mouth without thinking. Straight from cock and guts into his brain. The pistol still there, somewhere, stashed away, neglected. Dan could feel from his fingertips to his balls that all he needed was a touch, a word, and they'd be as binding as shackles and weapons.

Vadim nodded, the you you you hammering into his brain. No maybes. These were actual real threats. Promises. "Yes. Do it." As if it needed his acceptance, or anything. He couldn't protect himself. Vulnerable.

"But first, comrade, I'll prepare you for me." Dan's hand was in the open foil, taking a slab of butter, then the candle. Positioned both between Vadim's legs, didn't know why he wanted to do this, but the thought of fucking that perfect arse while watching, observing, made his own cock jump. Greased fingers finding muscle and initial resistance with practiced ease, Dan went to his knees as he pushed first a finger inside, and then the blunt end of the candle. Staring at the goddamned beauty of entering the other's body.

Vadim groaned, feeling his muscles tense as he made out there was something that wasn't flesh, cooler, slicker, entering, which was good, whatever it was, and he moved up against it. Curving his back for more, eyes firmly closed, jaw tensed, until it got him just right, a bit like a finger, less big than a cock, not as much force involved, hit him and made him clench his ass.

Dan was watching every reaction, the quiver of muscle, movement of skin, and finally tension. Was getting addicted to seeing the extension of himself entering that body, manipulating and forcing responses. With an object, yet himself. Owning. Pushing harder, more deliberate, starting to fuck that arse, until his own breath was coming in short, shallow gasps and his cock strained so hard against the fabric he could feel precum seep through every layer.

Vadim's back was gleaming with sweat, and there were groans he tried to keep quiet, as much as he could, as usual. Not sure what it was, only what it did to him, and that was hitting a spot inside, setting him on fire, and stoking it, but not enough, not enough to burn to ashes, just keeping him there.

Dan moistened his lips, "Tell me what you feel. What do you want, Russkie."

"Feel you watch me", said Vadim, voice unsteady with lust. And that was it, that was even more thrilling than the physical sensation, increased it and made it harder to bear without breaking down and begging for more. "Want you. I want you." Still in Russian, the language that was closer to the heart. "I want you."

"I know," Dan murmured, "I see. See you completely." One hand working on the fly of his trousers, pushing the shirt away, the cummerbund still in place, and so were the weapons. "You're mine." His voice was breathless, still fucking Vadim with the makeshift dildo, creating a reaction in the other that pulled Dan along in a maelstrom of need. "You're mine, Vadim," commando, even in the smoking, and his cock sprang into his hand. "Mine." The candle left Vadim all of a sudden.

"I am." Vadim's lips were open, breath harsh, and he grinned when he felt Dan making space. Meant one thing. He shifted his hands, brought them closer together, so he had more control and more strength, because he had a feeling he'd need it. Glanced over his shoulder again, Dan looked dishevelled and oddly erotic in that state of disarray. He couldn't see what Dan had used, and might still be holding, but adored the contrast of dark skin and white, tailored shirt, of the formality and the primal raging need.

There was still enough of the grease on Dan's hand and Vadim was more than ready, he only had to pull himself up and guide his cock. "Forever." Barely pressed out, he surged forward, entering in a single thrust. Vadim tensed, involuntarily, but he just wanted to feel more, get the most out of that power, and Vadim groaned, right what he wanted.

Dan nearly cried out, aborted the sound, bit his lip when tightness and heat gripped his cock. Pulled out, pushed forth with all his strength, punishing-needing-wanting, while breathlessly moaning with each thrust, "Fucking … degenerate … I … am…"

Vadim closed his eyes again, was just feeling, the filling, moving, delicious heat, felt every thrust echo in his body and shifted his grip again. His shoulders tightened with every movement, but that didn't matter against the desire - couldn't shift, couldn't touch, but move with and against the thrusts. Groaning, he felt Dan's trousers against the back of his legs, couldn't reach out, but this was damn good anyway. Especially as he couldn't move, especially due to the awkward position. "Degenerate … alright", he murmured, and gave a husky laugh.

The angle didn't allow enough penetration, Dan groaned as he pulled out, cock just about breaching the muscle, while his fingers clawed at Vadim's hips. "Hands one step down. Now."

Vadim released the grip of his left hand, reached for the other step, feeling Dan right there, inside, but not quite, found a good place, then shifted the other hand. The adjustment changed something, the angle of hips, and he pushed back against Dan, cock heavy and hard, stomach drawn in, sides tense. Shoulders taut.

"Fuck!" Dan exclaimed when his cock went in further, only to pull back once more, completely leaving Vadim, before shoving back into that willing arse. "Teach you … lesson … soldier …" A word with every punishing thrust.

Vadim groaned loudly as it hit him just right, harsh as he liked it, deep, with Dan's full strength behind it that made the muscles of his arms bulge, jeopardized his balance. Most of all, filled him, mind getting into the game, imagined Dan actually punishing him, like an officer with that strange-sounding Russian, or a captor. He pressed back, to get more, get all of it, unable to summon resistance, or words, or a reason why this felt so good. Impossible to cum like this. And Dan fucking knew it. That's why he didn't touch him. That was part of the punishment.

Dan needed both his hands to steady himself, Vadim's hips in a vice grip, leaving bruises. He came close, far too goddamned close too soon, and forced himself to stop, near agony not to fuck even harder, not to keep using that body. Stopped completely, panting and feeling the sweat spread across shirt and jacket, collar too tight.

Vadim groaned through gritted teeth. What ...? Why? Was this just … gathering strength? He expected Dan to go on, willed him to, but nothing. Instead, Dan stayed still, deep inside this time, and one hand went to Vadim's cock, for the lightest of touches, which made Vadim's cock twitch, balls tighten, and Vadim closed his eyes, giving a moan that was the closest thing to begging. Feeling Dan inside, tightening around him, trying to urge him on.

"Hands further down." Dan fought for breath, voice forced, "until I say stop. I want your arse high in the air, soldier."

Vadim's motions were unsteady, again, another step, down, too aware of the cock that didn't move, too aware of the unbalanced position, and how much that looked like he was offering his ass. He was. Another step, precarious motions, slow, he had to tap into his willpower to obey the order. Bent at the waist now, Dan stood so close that he couldn't move backwards.

"Stop." Dan could hardly get the word out when Vadim got to slightly below waist level, his head lower than his arse, vulnerable, driving Dan insane. He moved slowly, ever slower, pulling out in tiny increments, the effort made him break out in sweat, worse than the violent fucking before. Both hands once more, on Vadim's hips. "Stroke yourself, soldier." Poised at the very breach of the muscle, "be my cunt and cum for me."

Vadim groaned, too far gone to protest, just knowing Dan gathered strength, pulled himself together, with far more control than he'd ever had. Pulled his right hand back, splayed the left to support his weight, and took hold of his cock, as the thought flashed across his mind why he hadn't done this before, why it was the order that made him do this. Thinking ceased when he took his cock and the very next moment Dan slammed back in. Fucking Vadim in silence, except for harsh breaths.

Unleashing all of the strength of his body, Dan fucked Vadim as brutally as he used to fight, just barely matched by Vadim's harsh motions, which got Vadim over the edge too quickly. Every fibre in his body tensing as he did, and the orgasm seared through him like lightning, shooting his load against his chest and throat, bent as he was.

Vadim's sounds went straight into Dan's cock and balls, and he crashed over the edge, fingers digging so hard into Vadim's flanks they left dark bruises. Shuddering, blind to the world, wrecked with such aftershocks, Dan fell forwards, slung his arms around the broad chest, steadying himself. "Oh fuck, fuck," groaned out, still trembling, the orgasm like electro shocks from his toes to the tips of his hair. "Fuck you, Vadim." With all the tenderness he managed right now.

Vadim reached behind, knees buckling, just wanted to collapse into the stairs, but managed to place a hand against the wall and straighten, laboriously. Dan's cock left him, softening, before turning to embrace Dan, shudders racing across his skin. He managed to take a few steps back into the room, not sure he wanted to try brave the stairs. Instead, down on the floor, lower back protesting the strain, taking Dan with him, who followed readily, drained, and they stretched out on the carpet to relax. He pulled Dan's arm across his chest like a blanket and felt Dan's cum seep out, shuddering again. A right mess. If he cared. Wondering, briefly, about the order, and why he had so readily obeyed. Decided he'd been too horny to come up with anything on his own. Pushed the thought back, closed his eyes, and breathed deeply.

Dan kept his eyes closed, lay on his side, his arm covering Vadim's chest. Neither man said anything for a long time, just breathing. Dan dozed off, if it hadn't been for the discomfort of wet clothes and his groin a sticky mess. He didn't quite know what to make of what had just happened, had never quite felt like that before. Or had he? The silent fuck in the mountains, the knives he'd used, the other weapons, and every time he'd had his Russkie under control. Power. Was it that simple? He didn't know, except that it blew his mind, and this time, it had been harsher than ever before. Giving orders … It had thrilled him to the core and he would want it again.

"What a fucking mess we are." Dan murmured, grinned tiredly, "I guess I'll have to explain this dry cleaner bill in an innovative fashion."

Vadim gave a laugh. "You think your dry cleaner can fix up my uniform, too?" He let his head fall to the side, kissing Dan's temple. "Would be difficult to explain these stains to my attaché." He grinned. "But fuck, that was good."

Dan laughed, exhausted. "Don't think her Excellency would be all too thrilled knowing I have intimate relations with a Soviet officer."

"And there's that."

Dan turned his head a fraction, just enough to kiss whatever he could find. "Aye, it was fucking good. It was … different. Kind of blew my mind."

"Your mind?" Vadim laughed. "Yeah, and what's left of mine. Shit. If you'd been my officer, Dan, we wouldn't have fired single bullet in this war."

Sniggering, Dan tried to kiss again, hit uniform cloth with his lips instead, wrinkling his nose. "Best get out of the clobber and wipe the stains off our kit."

"That means moving." Vadim stretched, but knew better than to just lie there, besides, it was getting uncomfortable. "I'll get cleaned up. Fix us tea?"

Dan got up with a groan and creaking bones, grinning at Vadim. "Aye, and I might even have lemons this time." Laughing as he made his way into the kitchen.

Special Forces Chapter XVIII: Flesh and Blood
Warning for Readers

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

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

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

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


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Published 17 February 2007