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Special Forces Chapter LV: An Eye for an Eye

November 1994, Madrid, Spain

And again Dan was making an ass of himself. He was irritated, and that meant Dan grew as irreverent as any British squaddie could be. Not that he had much of an equilibrium anymore, now that there was no danger, no wear and tear to take his edge off. Adding in the fact that he had behaved like an utter stranger for a year, had been distant and silent, barely a business partner, if that. No, Dan was being an arsehole. Basically told the West Point officer to go fuck himself because they did not agree on an intervention in whatever forsaken place. Vadim agreed on principle, but he knew the Westpointer was cosy with one of the UN big guns, and as long as the American buck went into the UN, it was all about singing the song as ordered, to the exact tune that was requested. Vadim shook his head. He'd smoothe this out when Dan was drunk enough to only stare into his whisky at the bar and deal no further damage.

Vadim watched the uniforms mingle. Always carefully on the lookout for former brother states, or Russia herself. The so-called Russian Federation. He didn't fancy running into KGB, or whatever it was called these days. Same men, no doubt. Same grudges. But they would use foreign fixers, wouldn't they? Russia was working hard to be respectable, like a cheap whore that had spread her legs for everybody to survive and then decided to get her act together and behave like a lady. Not his problem anymore. Especially as he knew she was still turning tricks on the side. Old habits.

"Mr Krasnorada."

He'd seen the man. That one was a buyer, not a seller. There were some arms dealers and some merc company salesmen, and there were buyers that had the power to give out contracts and nice desks all over the place. Good-looking man, dark skin with a golden hue, not the blue-tinged blackness he'd seen before. Somebody had mentioned it was about East Africans and West Africans. There were ethnic differences, but he knew nothing about them. He could tell most ethnic groups apart in Asia, but Africa remained the Dark Continent to him.

"Colonel Nelson. I am so very pleased to finally meet you." The other wore the whole Christmas tree, but the tassels were mostly decoration. No service ribbons Vadim recognized, no medals of any importance. But what did he really know about Africa? And his own service ribbons and medals were missing, too. He was here as a civilian. Fuck his training, fuck ten years for that country and three years for the other. He wasn't even allowed to wear any uniform, any stupid flag patch on his arm. No citizen, no regular army, Mother Russia's disgraced non-son, Britain's protégée, but not child. Vadim nodded, took the offered hand. "Colonel."

The other held his hand in his, like a prized friend, one hand on his elbow.

What a face. A long, thin nose, black eyes that were slanted a touch, which gave him an inscrutable, sphinx-like expression, high cheek bones, the chin pointed more than rounded. It reminded Vadim of Egyptian artefacts he'd seen on exhibitions, and the man was tall and graceful, even though that theatre uniform forced him to guess about any of his other qualities.

I never had a black man, thought Vadim. Tartars, Byelorussians, Ukrainians, plenty of Russians, one Armenian. Not a single black guy. Most blacks he had encountered were Americans, and grunts. He didn't particularly mind them, no more than their white comrades. Except for Hooch. Nationality more than skin colour. He noticed how the other man's fingers ran down the inside of his arm, saw that the Colonel was shielding that motion with his body, eyes slightly amused, lips quirked.

"I enjoyed your observations on tribal and inter-ethnic warfare." Genocide and how it was done. Africa was full of that. He'd stuck to Asia. Seemed this guy was interested in some knowledge transfer. Possibly even transfer of bodily fluids the way the Colonel held his hand, then gingerly let it slip away. "This happens to be one of the fields I have covered during my studies at Sandhurst."

Yes, that accent reminded him of the UK. Some of his officers had spoken like that, the deliberate twisting of vowels that distinguished the educated from the rabble. His own English was a random mix of some American, some British, and a fair bit of Russian. He envied the man that purity. The kind of English that made him think of the Baroness, club chairs, ladies in strange pastel colours and cucumber sandwiches.

The man was knowledgeable. They traded anecdotes and numbers, and Vadim found those countered, answered and questioned. Like fencers crossing blades, assessing the other for speed, precision, strength and technique. And the other was blatantly checking him out, which, in the middle of all those boring grey old farts - and an increasingly drunk Dan at the bar - provided some amusement. Vadim found himself genuinely laughing at the other's jokes, kept drinking the wine the other kept flagging down.

Nelson enjoyed Tolstoy. He enjoyed sports, had taken fencing classes at Oxford. After around two hours Vadim caught himself thinking he had more in common with this man than he'd ever had with the scruffy Dan who bee-lined towards the toilets. He shook his head. Fuck you. Go embarrass yourself. I don't care.

Again that hand on his arm, on his shoulder, and Vadim felt his skin tingle. A smile, that cultured voice, with an even more cultured smirk. "I'd love showing you just how much I appreciate your company." A small motion of the head, towards upstairs. Hotel room. After all the crap he had to go through with Dan since he'd come back from hospitals and then rehabilitation. The smell of beer around him, the bored, impassive "Yeah, whatever"-attitude that Dan had these days, if he even reacted at all. This promised to be nicer than with a hooker. They had invested too much into the business side of things to split up, the fucking farm, the fucking plans, insurances, all the paperwork. They were tied and nailed down, and when sex and love just stopped, they were still tied down.

Nelson was different. Cultured, educated, distinguished, not one scruffy hair on him, he smelled of spices and the tang of wine on his breath, and they kissed in the elevator. Vadim looking at the mirror, seeing himself kiss a man that wasn't Dan, saw the dark hand against his face, knew where the other was going.

They made it to the hotel room, it was just opposite the elevator.

The heavy door fell into place with a soft thud behind them. Nelson's hand pushed him into the room, a grin on his face told Vadim that things would go exactly like he wanted them from here, in just a moment. The 'do not disturb' sign went out, the door closed a second time.

Nelson turned towards him. He seemed to consider, maybe offer him a drink, more conversation. "We are not rushing things, are we?"

Vadim smirked, thought of quick hard fucks in the barracks. Saw the uniform hanging from the door of the wardrobe, the leather attaché case on an empty shelf, the glorious view over the dark city. "I guess I can defend myself." His hands moved to the buttons of the jacket, opened them, then shrugged out of it, draped it across the back of one of the arm chairs. He gave a short laugh. "My modesty."

Nelson placed a hand against Vadim's jaw. "I should tell you, Mr Krasnorada, how impressed I am. I have read your CV and asked a few questions … not in any sinister capacity, mostly asked about your credentials, as it were." Thumb brushed his lips, a tickling, intense sensation. Vadim opened his lips and teeth and felt the other push his thumb in, eyes narrowed as he began to suck that finger. He liked the man's panache to bring him up here, the killer, yes, aged, but killing was all about technique. He didn't have to rely on strength or stamina. He'd still be deadly ten years from now, as long as his mind remained intact, and he could see that in Nelson's eyes.

The man was truly fascinated, and that was a great feeling after having been ignored for too long. After nights alone on the couch, or even in the bed, at the beginning waiting for the sound of the Landrover pulling up outside, but eventually falling asleep. The bed was big enough to get lost in, and that was what happened. Big enough so they didn't have to touch, even if Dan made it into the bedroom. The yard or so between them had turned into a minefield. He didn't want to touch Dan. Dan didn't touch him, and even if he had wanted to, he couldn't sleep on his side. Not after the surgery and not for a long time. Sometimes it was easier to sleep in the study, on the leather couch. At least Vadim could jerk off there, watching some nameless pretty and buff guys getting fucked on TV. The occasional hooker had provided an outlet in long conference nights in boring hotels. Paying for sex was less risky, less complicated.

Nelson smirked, pushed his thumb deeper, fingers against Vadim's cheek, eyes, face, perfect, fucking his mind just by sliding his thumb in and out. His lips open, eyes half-closed, knowing, understanding, he didn't play by instinct, he knew what he was doing, and Vadim inhaled sharply, nostrils flaring as Nelson's hand touched his groin. Colonel Nelson. Something magical about that rank, opera uniform yes or no, the strange thought of him acting the superior. Well, Oxford and Sandhurst.

They were chest to chest, Nelson pulled his thumb free, placed his lips on Vadim's, pushed his tongue in, while his hands began to free the shirt, hand slid into the trousers, and both hands began to massage his buttocks. A firm grasp, pulling and spreading, wet finger tracing his crack. Vadim groaned, began to move against the other, could feel how control began to slip. He didn't care. Fuck control.

"Ah, to have you …", said Nelson and allowed Vadim to pull his shirt off. Chiselled chest, one of the nicest sixpacks Vadim had ever seen. Very likely the occasional dose of steroids, good work, though, well-measured, well-administered. That guy knew what he was doing to his body, probably balanced it with other medication to avoid the stuff some athletes had to deal with, back in the days. The method had seen much refinement in the meantime. Nelson smiled at that glance, could already read him like he was an open book with especially bold letters. "What do you think?"

They lost the rest of the clothes on the way to the bed, the undressing practised, nothing awkward about it, just as smooth as discussing Tolstoy. Teasing and stroking and kneading the other's body, starting with heat, but never any insanity, never anything that hurt the body or the mind. Vadim found himself groaning on the bed, watching his cock vanish between those lips, understood that Nelson gave blowjobs just like he did, because he liked the power, that was why Nelson pushed a couple fingers inside him and fucked him with his fingers and his mouth at the same time, but didn't allow him to come, pulling back when Vadim tried to push too hard.

Vadim was breathless and laughing with denial and a bit of embarrassment. "Okay, what do you want?"

Nelson looked up, dark eyes held no light, no reflection, and he was nothing but a faceless shadow in the mirror near the bed. Vadim reached to the nightstand and flicked the switch of the small stylish lamp, frosted glass shade ignited with a warm light that transformed the shadow into a golden statue. Much better.

Nelson gestured towards the wall, a measured movement. "I want you kneeling there, facing the wall, legs apart, and I want to fuck you for the rest of the night."

Vadim smirked. "Copy, Colonel." He saw the dark eyes widen at the use of the title, saw the man shudder, like he liked his power just a bit too much and knew that Vadim knew. He turned and rested his arms on the headrest, spread his legs as ordered, rested his head on his arm, as Nelson moved closer.

Lube, then he opened a condom, and smiled as Vadim frowned at that. Didn't like those things, still didn't, they just got in the way. "Much better than asking about any of your blood transfusions", said Nelson and managed to make it sound perfectly natural, rolling the thing down, and Vadim found himself staring at that cock in the mirror. Black flesh, white skin, the contrast increased the sensation, somehow. How strange and erotic. "Do you … like them white?" he asked, as Nelson moved behind him. He moved back to make things easier, following instinct as well as planning.

Nelson flashed a smile with sharp teeth. "I like them strong. As do you." Probed and opened, one hand against the small of his back to bring him lower, then pushed in, easing, control, absolute control of every inch of cock. Vadim bit back a groan, one hand was all that kept him down, bowed like that, saw how the man began to fuck him in the mirror, muscles tensed, slow and perfect, they both made quite a pair there. Black hand moved over his back, read the word, at the same moment, he pushed in and Vadim raised his head, fought the groan that tried to come out. Hoped Nelson knew no Russian. Doubted he'd know that kind of word if he did. The touch should freak him, but it didn't. It just felt good, relaxing, reassuring, and above all, completely deliberate.

Nelson exhaled, ran his hands over Vadim's flanks, as if measuring how much he could take. "Now, move, but slowly." An order if he'd ever received one. Vadim pushed back, felt that body move with him, slowly, so very slowly, and when he found a rhythm, it was Nelson who'd disrupt it, who'd pause when he craved to go faster. He was drenched in sweat, could feel the sweat run down his body as this strange game of control and concentration grew ever more serious, and it took forever, or that was what it felt like. He was completely exhausted when Nelson allowed him to come, he had no idea how the other could be so controlled, didn't care, suspected cocaine or something else, but he just collapsed afterwards, all strength and need drained. Felt the hand on his forehead and face, then another kiss, then heard the shower and listened for a while, drifting in and out of sleep.

* * *

For Dan, the room couldn't be spinning fast enough, nor were the senses ever dulled enough, nor the vision sufficiently blurred. Didn't matter how much he drank, unless he managed to get himself so pissed he'd fall over like the sad and pathetic fucker he had become. No present, no future, only a past that had burnt out like a supernova.

There was nothing left. Nothing to do. Nothing that he could do. Nothing his body allowed him to do.

Just the booze and the accusing glances from across the room. The signs of distaste and disgust and the looks of embarrassment from Vadim. Worse, being ignored. Vadim animatedly chatting with that African geezer, no eyes nor ears for anyone else, but what would he have to offer anyway. Nothing. No whisky could wipe that knowledge away, no matter how much he tried, and he'd tried countless times.

He'd been to the loos, trying hard not to piss down his trousers, unsteady on his feet, but at least all of this shit hurt less when his senses were dulled. Could forget the emptiness and the realization of simply not being good enough now that he'd lost everything he'd always been.

Not enough anymore. A cripple.

Dan staggered back to the bar, stopping before he'd reached his seat, trying to make sense of the empty space across the room - they were gone. He shook his head, turned and made his unsteady way to the elevator and their suite. Ridiculous, really, that they still shared the rooms, he was certain he did nothing but annoy Vadim. His mere presence a disturbance of the smooth perfection of Vadim's varnished life. A piece of unwanted rough in the fabric of the Russian's new-found culture.

The rooms of the suite were empty. Dan frowned. Shook his head again, unruly, unkempt and rather uncut hair falling over his face, he almost lost his balance before limping out of the door. Back down once more, to the bar, and found a waitress who was cleaning the now empty tables. Asking her where those two men had went and she pointed upstairs, to the rooms. Even in his state it took only a straightforward lie and a puppy dog look to get the information from reception, finding his way back to the level where the black guy resided. Fifth floor, extra plush lounge. Of course.

Dan brushed the wall while unsteadily marching towards the room number, the booze making the limp worse, but he was determined to beat the crap out of the door and to drag Vadim back out of there and ... but why? Habit?

He finally stood in front of the door. 'Do not disturb'. His hand raised for the violent knock, and stilled.

Useless body. Useless man.

He placed his palm against the thick door and let his forehead follow. Leaning against it, he couldn't hear a sound from the room and didn't expect it either. And he suddenly knew. Amongst the numbness and the emptiness, through the pain of over a year, and after having become strangers that could hardly look at each other, he suddenly knew the one single, unshakable truth, and it was the first thing he'd felt for a long time.

"I love you."

Dan didn't move for a long time, until he finally pushed himself off the door, making his way down to the lobby via the stairs. Step for step dragging himself away, until he found himself outside in front of the hotel, bathed in the glitzy lights, he steered towards a taxi.

"Take me to the city's Red Light district." Dan managed to get into the first of the cars in line. "No. Bullshit." He shook his head, fumbling drunkenly with the seatbelt. "Take me to a gay bar." The driver nodded, unmoved, nothing he hadn't heard or seen from the many shades of guests that came out of the posh hotel.

Twenty minutes later and Dan found himself leaning against a wall, smoking a cigarette and staring at the club on the opposite side of the street. No yellow light this time, not even a sleazy area he found himself in. The club had a stylish front, inviting patrons with polished steel and black granite, instead of hidden secrets and dirty corners. The world had changed, but he hadn't kept up.

He wasn't much different now to the man who had stood against a wall in a backstreet alley, in a seedy part of London. Watching two men kissing in the sickly yellow streetlight and realising that night who he really was. No, wrong. He was everything but, a shell of himself. Useless. Unlike the man who'd stood and laughed, while smoking.

Thirteen years ago.

He took another drag, exhaling the smoke slowly, while watching the men opposite come and go. None of them older than in their thirties, most of them young and fit, none of them an overused, aging cripple like him. No sad fucks, just fresh and young faces, like Matt, untouched by life and lines and wrinkles. Buff bodies in fashionable clothes that clung snugly to the physical perfection of youth.

He was old. Almost forty-five, not even officer retirement age, but over a year ago, he had 'retired' for good. Against his will. Throwing the cigarette butt to the ground, he watched it glow and sizzle before burning out. Just like him. Burnt out. Old and discarded. A piece of useless scrap. He didn't belong here anymore, as little as he was part of Vadim's new life. A Brave New World which had no place for a worn-out veteran and aging adrenaline junkie who'd passed the last chance to chase the thrill.

It was time. It was over. All things had come to an end.

Dan pushed himself off the wall, disregarded the club and walked through the night and its remaining hours. Ignoring the chill and the increasing limp, and ignoring the pain like he'd ignored all pain, inside and out. Just a middle-aged man past his sell-by date, who had done his duty and had outlived his usefulness, shuffling through a world that had chewed him up and spit him back out.

* * *

At five, Vadim woke up, his usual time. Nelson was working at his desk, still wearing the bathrobe. Vadim padded towards the shower, cleaned up, got dressed, regarded the other man, who looked up with a bit of irony. What now, that glance seemed to say. "You could stay for breakfast."

Vadim nodded. "Thank you for the offer."

Nelson inclined his head. "It's not politeness."

"I know."

Nelson pursed his lips, then stood and came towards him. "Are you alright?"

"Better than alright."

"Good. I don't want you to regret this." I will not allow you to regret this, said the tone of his voice.

"I don't." And that was the truth. Vadim was fascinated by that face, the way this man could make him needy and knew what he was thinking, without all the painful years that it had taken Dan to get there. Dan. Shit. But then, he'd been too drunk to notice, and he wouldn't care anyway.

"Do I get your number?"

Vadim checked his pockets, pulled out one of his cards. "It would be nice to meet again at some point. If and when the opportunity arises." He didn't meet that gaze, then felt the dark fingers close around his hand and the card, pulling it out.

"Yes, I enjoyed your company, too." Nelson smiled, a dazzling, beautiful smile. "And you are welcome to be in touch."

In touch. Vadim looked up, knew what that kind of touching would be, didn't feel used or exploited, the rules had been clear from the very first moment, and would be to the last one. He nodded and smiled, and returned to his own room, not hungry enough to stay awake for breakfast. He paused. Dan should have been asleep, drunk and half passed out. He wasn't. He could feel some tension return, but he supposed that Dan had found himself a watering hole. Dan had reflexes, could trust his guts to not get him killed even when stupidly drunk. And even if he got into trouble piss drunk as he probably was, that might teach him a lesson or two about simply wandering off. Vadim pushed that thought away, and stretched out for a couple more hours. Listened to the echo of the other man in his body, on his skin. Just good, nothing bad or painful about it.

Welcome to be in touch.

Why not.

* * *

Dan did not return to the hotel before eight o' clock. That left him no more than an hour to get showered, shaved, his clothes changed and his suitcase packed. The plane was scheduled for 1015 hrs and they had to be at the airport at least an hour before that. Despite their business class tickets, long-haul flights to the other side of the world still required check-in time.

He could not bear to be anywhere near Vadim, did not want to talk nor even look at him, snuck into the room instead, trying to get to the bathroom without being noticed. Wondered if Vadim was even there, almost expected him to be already downstairs in the genteel breakfast room where the bread was some fancy crap and the coffee came in such special ways, it had hardly any resemblance to a good, strong coffee with several lumps of sugar.

Dan smelled of booze and fags, but he was not drunk, not even close to it. Just numb. Enough alcohol in his blood to take the edge off the pain; this aching tightness inside his chest, beneath the solar plexus. The hole that nothing could fill. No future. No more 'Mad Dog'. Mad Dog was dead, he'd died on the operating table.

An eye opened as Vadim heard a noise. Softly, the door closed. His heart pounded suddenly, body, despite those years, ready for combat. He'd still be ready like this in twenty years' time. Hormones, adrenaline, and the healthy paranoia of a body that had learned to be awake in an instant. He smelled Dan before he saw him, didn't really see him through near closed eyes.

Bathroom. Vadim waited till the door had closed, then got up. He expected some foul-mouthed accusations, or some other form of hostility. He had got used to that, and he had learned to muster his defences by arranging his own weapons neatly, his own blades to make sure Dan didn't walk out of that fight unharmed. He was surprised just how deeply he resented him that moment. Guilt? Fuck guilt. He had only regretted a few things in his life, and this was not one of them.

Nelson. He'd had hookers, had slept with other men, like Hooch. Dan couldn't accuse him of anything that he hadn't done before. It was not about being faithful, because they had never been. It was just the fact they couldn't talk anymore. Their last attempts made the first encounters in Kabul look like distinguished conversation. Dan was sullen, misunderstood everything, shrugged when Vadim expected a reaction, any kind of reaction, and retreated into his room, his car, his pub, his beer and whisky. One thing to put up with that, another to resign to a life of that. He wouldn't. Nelson had been a nice change, relaxed him, made him feel good, even flattered. It wasn't like they were married. And seeing how his first marriage had gone, even that wouldn't have made a difference.

Vadim was packing when Dan returned from the bathroom. Dressed, too. He glanced at Dan, every now and then, but the other didn't look at him. Okay, whatever. Fuck you, Dan. Fuck you. Vadim kept his face carefully controlled not to show the anger, then called reception for the bill to be prepared, and for a taxi in twenty minutes.

Dan was trying to talk, to make conversation that had a semblance of normality, but he couldn't bring himself to utter anymore than the question if Vadim had the tickets. He packed his suitcase, haphazardly throwing things inside, unlike himself. Even during the years in the mountains he'd always been packing meticulously.

The taxi ride took place in near-silence, and so did the checking in at the business class desk. Dan bee-lined for the drinks once they had entered the waiting lounge, ignoring the selection of nuts and raisins and the plates of tiny sandwiches and petit fours he used to empty like a Hoover. He didn't feel hungry. Feel. The crucial world. He felt nothing.

He sat himself down in a lounge chair, cradling his glass and staring at his hands. They'd belonged to a killer - now caressing a drink. The booze kept the numbness going, made the close proximity bearable. You're a failure, Dan. You ultimately failed at love and life.

Vadim had bought himself the current issue of the Economist, and now sat down near Dan, not actually looking at him much, instead reading an article on the world economy. He glanced at Dan, who was drinking again, but ignored the food. That meant he'd be drunk sooner. He put the magazine down and went to the buffet to have something like a breakfast. Dan not eating. His clothes just stuffed into the suitcase. Remote and distracted even by his current standards. Dan didn't look at him, didn't speak, didn't take anything in. Hadn't taken anything in for over a year. And was this all they would ever get out of life together? Routine things, like travelling, superficial stuff that didn't matter, with all decisions made by Vadim. He was the driving force these days, secretary, valet and cook, but not lover. He had no alternative. He couldn't just pack up and go. Remaining alone? Fucked up? Old?

Vadim returned to his seat, while Dan was looking at his hands, watched the whisky do exactly nothing. Dan could outwait a mountain if he had his mind set on it. But that was the problem. Lack of focus. Dan had no focus, not even hating him, not even the whisky. He just drifted.

Vadim wanted to bitchslap some sense into Dan, but saw those eyes blind. Worse than sulking.

His mobile phone rang. Unknown number.


"Just wanted to hear your voice", said Nelson.

Vadim stood up. "Why?"

"Because I had the most pleasant dream." The voice was rough with something, and Vadim felt his hackles rise. That was lust, as pure as any he'd encountered.

He stepped to the side, acted like it was a business call. Shit. "You are not doing what I think you're doing?"

"What do you think I'm doing?" A small groan.

Vadim swallowed. Shit. Back to square one, back on that bed, back to watching himself in the mirror. Knew that was exactly what Nelson was imagining.

"Are you still there?" Breath going harsher. "Because I'm close."

Vadim gave a short laugh, embarrassed to the bone, but his body liked the image of Nelson stroking himself, still in the hotel room. Fuck. Too hot. He'd have a long, long flight to think about it. "I am."

"Good. Why don't you head to the toilets and come for me?"

Dan looked up. Watched the other, saw the face, the expression of something that he hadn't seen in a long time. Not since Kabul, Baghdad, and Belgrade.

"Uhm, I'm sorry, I can't … oblige you there." Vadim peered over his shoulder. Shit. "The flight's just getting ready. I need to switch off. Sorry." Heard the beginning of laughter, soft, mocking, sexy, and pressed the button. Shit. Been forever that somebody had got into his mind. Under his skin. Inside his body. Oh fuck. He returned to the seat, felt the mobile phone heavy in his pocket like a traitor. Hooch was in his own league, and none of the hookers had called him after sex. That was the difference.

Dan's eyes still on Vadim, he'd heard the lie, knew the flight had another ten minutes at least. He didn't need to be told who had called, could see the flushed face clearly. Liar. Couldn't even bring himself to add an expletive. Just liar. "Slept well?" He tossed the last of the whisky back, felt it burn down his throat, dulling and smoothing, but none of the booze could ever touch the tightness and pain in his chest.

Vadim inhaled deeply, wanted to crush that cell phone and the mocking, aroused voice inside. "Not too bad. Yourself?" Asking that of a man who looked like shit. Fuck. Back into dagger-twisting, comrade spetsnaz? "You don't look very rested."

Dan shrugged. "I was walking." Without a crutch, and yeah, that's why your fucked-up knee hurts like fucking fuck and why you can't remember anything of your surroundings. Could have walked through the desert for all it was worth. "Plenty of time to sleep on the plane." His attention went back to the glass in his hands, debating if he should refill now or wait until they had boarded. Didn't want to drink too much, seemed the stuff had the opposite effect and made him feel even worse if he had too much. He had to keep the booze to a certain level.

Impossible to go back to reading, Nelson had shaken him, and Dan's sullen stare didn't help. Vadim debated a number of responses, one of which was to grab the fucker and toss him right onto the buffet, then show him each and every wall and hard surface in this place, stop for a moment to neutralise the fat, badly-trained security guards he had seen, then hit Dan a couple times, and make a speedy exit before any real security force arrived.

He could feel his pulse go up, his body liked that idea and signalled readiness. Shit. Start a fight here, just because Dan was not responsive, not really reacting. What was the problem? Couldn't have been Nelson. And where did that violent urge come from? He hadn't had that in ages. Not this bad.

Talk to me, you bastard, Vadim thought. Convince me I wouldn't be better off being some colonel's plaything. Some - any - guy's that can tell an aria from a recitative. Somebody graceful, with culture that was ultimately useless and refined, fifteen thousand miles removed from how to cut a man open and how to clear a house with a fire team. Civilization.

Vadim sat down and felt heavy, allowing the anger to dissipate. Dan wouldn't listen anyway. He'd tried to explain that life wasn't over just because they'd stopped killing people. "Cities look all the same", he murmured, clutching at what little Dan offered in terms of conversation. Dan was near impossible to talk to. And he had tired of trying to reach out.

"Yeah." Dan offered, he tried. Tried to make conversation but it was as if every word in his mind had been dried up and every sound was as sharp as sandpaper, scraping his throat open along the way and never getting out. Too much effort. Far too much to even look up or move, to do anything but sitting and staring. Lost in a darkness, tied and bound with an inability to get out of bed in the mornings for lack of reasons why. Why, indeed. What was there to wait for, move to, show interest in.

Vadim leafed through the magazine, couldn't concentrate on the small words, and so many of them together, it didn't make much sense, and got up to buy a National Geographic. Back to pretty pictures, like a child. He only wished that magazine was bigger and would keep him busy for longer.

The plane was called, friendly staff notifying their business class passengers to make their way to the gates. It was the final push that Dan needed to get out of the seat, leaving the tumbler on the table and snatching his bag. He was trying to think of something to say, anything, but the words were lost.

Settling into their comfortable, spacious seats, he was thankful for the mindless selection of films to watch, magazines to read and a cloudless sky to watch. Could still stare for hours at heaven and earth, soothed by the silence.

Vadim looked at pictures, tried to sleep, just waited for the plane to touch down. Singapore, a few hours to kill. He checked the mobile phone. Two calls. Two calls in ten hours. He had saved the number from the first call and of course it was the Colonel. Vadim listened to him on voicemail, something about what that memory made him do, and that he wanted to see him again. Be in touch. The second call was half an hour after that. He hoped he hadn't offended him, there should be, by all rights and purposes, more of a courtship and that he had been too eager, pushing too far too fast.

Courtship. As if Vadim had ever in his life done anything like that deliberately. Always his body racing into things, deciding he wanted that guy and maybe try it with a girl, and, oh, that felt good, so get more of it. Nelson felt good. That Nelson even thought about it, or even considered something like courtship with some guy he'd fucked in his hotel room, spoke of somebody who actually bothered. Gifts, dinners, invitations. The next step. In that class of people, that was what people did.

Vadim felt a little smug that Nelson did consider him for that, ah, more than smug, pleased with himself, flattered, relieved that he could still cut it, still get that expression on people's faces. Vanity was the least of his sins. He let Nelson wait, didn't want one of those embarrassing phone calls that he was sure Nelson was after, something sexy, probably. Instead let him wait, there would be time in Kiwiland.

Dan continued to drink, just a steady low-level flow of alcohol. He didn't show signs of drunkenness, managing to keep the emptiness contained and finally getting sleepy. He never touched any food, he'd simply forgotten how to feel hungry, but he popped his pills, at least remembering those. The usual cocktail of vitamins and extra nutrients and whatever the rest were doing. He'd forgotten, just swallowed them anyway.

He'd brought out a maximum of ten words throughout all those hours, but every time Vadim checked his phone and listened to the voicemail, he watched. He could read Vadim's face, and wondered for a moment if the Russian was even aware of that, but in the end, it did not matter, because it obviously made no difference to Vadim what he, Dan, was thinking or feeling. It was over. Even spelled out in neon letters could not make it anymore clear.

Dan finally managed to sleep for an hour before touch-down in Singapore. Curled into his seat and facing the window. Several hours to kill in Singapore and he didn't know what to do, wanted to stay in a bar at the airport, mindlessly watching people and continuing his steady drinking. The flight home would be soon.

Home. Strange concept. He'd lost his home long ago, since he'd arrived, even though it had been sitting right beside him.

November 1994, New Zealand

Back on the plane in Singapore, Vadim had bought CDs and some electronic gadgets in a place close to the airport. He tilted the seat back, crossed his arms, leaned the head against the window, and willed himself to sleep. Best part of being an ex-soldier. He could relax under strain, even close to an enemy of a very different kind.

He was completely disoriented when he woke up, but it wasn't the nightmare, just incredibly deep, leaden, unrestful sleep that told him his body was well and truly jetlagged by now. Ah, landing. The sinking feeling in his stomach had woken him up. He stretched, massaged his calves to get the blood going, tensed muscles, reached for his water bottle, glanced at Dan.

Dan was not looking, blind-eyed staring out of the window. New Zealand. Home. What bullshit.

Then, finally, the landing. Vadim heard the gangway scrape, then lock. Grabbed his bag first, enough space to not be in Dan's way, a warm, pleasant smile from the crew, fly Emirates again, thank you, Sir, and trotted down the gangway, sore with sleep. It was spring here, late autumn in Europe. His body and mind reeled, the change like a blow to his sanity every time.

Dan was following, had not said a word since Singapore, not even to the cabin crew. He tried to, so hard, did his best to appear like a normal human being, but just didn't have the energy to interact. Just wanted booze and nothing else.

The last leg of the flight was nothing but a blur, and when they finally arrived in Palmerston, Dan waved an over-eager airport worker away, who offered to carry his bag since he was limping, but didn't want to be reminded of who he had become. From Special Forces soldier over Mad Dog mercenary, to crippled middle aged man with nothing left, least of all a future, or even just a reason to go on. Day after day. Why?

Dan's Landrover stood exactly like they had left it on the way. "Who's driving?" Vadim asked.

Dan shrugged, patted down his pockets, had to have the key somewhere. Even less steady on his feet than he usually was, the constant flow of booze had deteriorated the precarious balance, but at least it made him feel numb. "I've been drinking. Can't find the keys, you got the second set." The most he had said in over twenty-four hours.

He stood beside the passenger door, holding onto his in-flight bag, while Vadim loaded their suitcases. Funny how his own was so much smaller, he guessed that was why Vadim seemed to be embarrassed these days to be seen with him. Less suave than scruffy, not that he'd ever been anything else, but now he wasn't good enough anymore in this Brave New World.

Vadim sat down behind the steering wheel, flicked the button of the aircon, thought better of switching on the radio. Right. Waited till Dan had properly settled, then began to drive home, mostly a long road through nothing, beautiful landscape with green hills that were unlike any other hills. Nature here never seemed to rest, there was always an explosion of life, of fertility, and the land as primal as the soul, one of the things that reminded him of Russia. Not the enslaved, cultured thing that was Europe, or Britain, where every square metre - apart from the Highlands - looked tamed, subjugated and gentle.

Dan was sitting and staring, silently smoking fag after fag, the worst passenger in the books, not saying a word unless he was forced to. Just couldn't, truly couldn't, no matter how much he tried. He fell asleep at some stage, ignored the world and Vadim, ignored himself.

About forty minutes later, Vadim stopped in front of the farm. Turned the key, leaned back and rubbed his face. Tired as all hell.

Dan woke up, wiped his face and eyes, groaned with the stiffness that had settled into his bones. He'd have to take painkillers, if he could be bothered. Climbed out of the car, the limp more pronounced than ever, he grabbed a couple of bags but almost fell over, cursing softly. Fucking decrepit cripple of a bloody old man. Useless.

He made his way inside and upstairs, left everything else with Vadim, he'd know far better what to do anyway. The house was his, no, really. Vadim's stamp and seal and style, none of it a scruffy ex-squaddie's interior. No matter what name was on the deed; no matter that Dan had bought and paid for it.

Vadim grabbed the heaviest bag from the trunk, walked to the door, opened the door, pushed the bag in with a foot, returned to the car and got the rest of the bags and suitcases out, loaded himself like a mule, but he preferred to have the car empty. He could unpack later. Once Dan was inside, he returned to the car, got his jacket, shut everything down, even though there was nobody within ten miles, and criminality was so low that the Landrover stood no chance of getting stolen.

Shower. Bed. Vadim felt completely fucked, and in no good way. Not even remotely good.

Dan had grabbed a bottle of whisky and locked himself in his study. As usual, he had vanished from sight and sound, a hermit in his own house. He didn't belong there, except for the room with computer, high-fi, widescreen telly, satellite and cable, big chair and bergan stored in the corner. Bergan.

He fell asleep several hours later, still in the same clothes, reeking of nicotine and alcohol.

Vadim listened for any sound. Dan was gone, had walked upstairs, up into his study. His island, where no one could touch him, least of all Vadim. He shook his head, had hoped against hope that Dan would stick around and maybe finally talk. He walked into the kitchen, checked the fridge. It was stocked, their house keeper had left a note with the receipt, and a scrawled "welcome home" on it, even with a smiley face. Nothing to smile at. After the plane food, he needed something lighter, something healthier. Vadim grabbed the 500g tub of yoghurt, pulled the foil lid back, found the maple syrup, poured a good amount into the blender, found the powdered vanilla pods, dusted the surface of the yogurt generously, screwed on the lid and mixed it quickly, poured everything into a tall glass, and walked into the living room. A pile of mail, magazines, mostly Diplomacy Weekly, Jane's, Soldier mag for Dan, some more obscure, some purely scientific. He would have to catch up with his reading. Bills, too, he'd tackle those tomorrow. Or whenever he woke up.

He switched on the mobile hone, plugged it in, sat down with the yogurt, relished the clean, semi-sour taste. He should call back. He gazed out through the glass doors, into the patch they called the 'garden'. He didn't have a plan yet what to do with it, whether he wanted to cut down the old apple trees or not. His concepts wandered from a Japanese style Zen garden with rocks to letting it go completely wild. Vadim just couldn't make up his mind, unlike with the house. He'd known exactly what to do here. Every piece carefully selected, the furniture, the beautiful redwood floor that shimmered like silk in the sun.

The mobile rang. Vadim reached for it. "Yes?"

"You should have arrived by now."

Nelson. You creep. He doubtlessly had checked the flights, calculated the distance. Vadim was flattered, but he wasn't quite sure he liked the lengths to which the other man went. "Yes. Just sitting down with a … drink." Don't mention yoghurt. He wasn't in the mood for suggestions what else he could drink.

"Did you think about the offer?"

"What? Breakfast?"

"No. Did you check your email?"


"Do it."

Vadim shook his head. "Listen, I'm tired." He got up and headed up one flight of stairs, into his study, switched the computer on, waited forever for the system to load, phone in one hand, yogurt in the other. Sat down in the leather chair, all papers neatly stacked and filed, this was for work, anyway. "Where are you now?"

"Me? Still in Madrid. Will you be in Rio in three weeks?"

"Could be. I am not sure we were booked for that."

"You were. I booked you."

Wow. Creep. "You managed to cramp us into your budget?"

"One Russian won't stretch the budget much."

No plural. No Dan in this. Pointedly.

"Did you read the email?", Nelson asked.

"Give me a second." He logged in, downloaded his email. Sure enough, one was from 'Nelson', nothing more. It had an attachment, the email restated how much he had enjoyed their recent exchange. "Exchange, huh?"

Nelson laughed. "Who knows who else reads those emails. I don't trust the technology."

"True." Vadim opened the attached document. A lot of legalese. A contract of sorts. A job. Fixed job, for that country of Nelson's. It said 'military advisor'. And there was a big number in the salary field. "Woah."

"Do you like that number, Vadim?"

"You don't buy your Russians cheap."

"Good people don't come cheap."

Vadim hit the 'print' button, and had the needle printer noisily whiz away. He got up again. "What would you want me to do?"

"We are restructuring the military. And there are a few troubles with rebels and unruly minorities. Nothing you wouldn't know how to deal with."

"I'm getting a bit old for genocide."

Nelson's laughter had a nervous touch. "Vadim. Pacification. Nobody speaks about murder. You were involved in the Soviet pull-out. Most of the people here are corrupt in some way or other. Sold out to self-interest. I need to bring outsiders I can trust to not sell themselves to the highest bidder. People trusted you, repeatedly; I know most of your story, and I think you are perfect for the job. We get you into the staff of the defence minister. My country could be a paradise, but we need to reform it first, slowly lead it where it belongs."

Vadim glanced at the pile of paper stacking up in the printer. "I can't have been that good to fuck?"

Nelson coughed. "Well, we'd have to work rather closely together, too. That might entail regular meetings." He purred. The word 'meeting' had never sounded so sexy. He had found his feet again. "You'll enjoy it, Vadim. You will enjoy it a lot, I promise."
Vadim inhaled. "I'll call you tomorrow. I really need to sleep." He switched the computer and screen off, and got up again.

"Not a problem. We won't rush matters. As much as I would like to, but I feel I want to take my time with you. Maybe in Rio?"

Vadim smiled. "Yes, Rio. Goodnight."


Vadim switched the phone off, headed downstairs to plug it in again, finished the yogurt, got undressed and went to bed. Shower, sauna, tomorrow.

* * *

His body clock fucked to oblivion, Dan slept late into the afternoon. Not a good sleep, cramped and aching in the chair, but he'd got used to it over the past months, and he wasn't supposed to sleep too often on his side anyway.

He took a shower in the upstairs bathroom, then walked around the house in silence. Touching things he did not recognise, not even after a year, furniture that meant nothing to him and looking at paintings and objects of art that he would throw into the trash if he could. He remembered how Vadim had been brimming with pride at the way he had made the farm a 'home', working his arse off while Dan was forced to stay in the UK, but in the end - in the end it had become a stranger's house. Dan felt like a guest, one that had overstayed his welcome. The only place that held his own memories and some of his - old - self was what he called his study. And that hurt, had hurt from the first moment on, no matter Vadim's good intentions.

Walking through the ground floor rooms, dressed in jeans and shirt, he looked through the patio doors. He smiled at the old apple trees, one of the main reasons why he had bought this pace. Apple trees that reminded him of a childhood in the Scottish Highlands and their neighbour's farm, a memory so faded that all that remained were trees, hills and mountains. He had wanted this farm, because of the stunning view from the patio across the mountains.

He walked back to his study, returned with some business to his Landrover, checked tyre pressure, oil and water, old habits still dying hard. Limped back upstairs, rummaged through some of his files and papers, cursed when he'd run out of paper in his printer. Had to check Vadim's room. He had to get these printouts, had to sort the paperwork, and had to do the right thing, now that he finally knew what he had to do. Grabbed a beer on his way, he needed to steady his nerves and ensure he'd do what had to be done. Without fail and finally. A resolution he should have taken long ago.

Dan was looking for a fresh packet of printer paper in Vadim's desk, when his eyes fell onto a whole stack of paper, still in the printer and not torn off yet. Stopped. Froze. Couldn't help but read. Contract. Vadim Petrovich Krasnorada. Military Advisor. Africa. Nelson. Colonel. Contract. Vadim.

Hands shaking, flicking through page after page, Dan saw numbers and names, date and times and descriptions, but could only remember the one word: contract.





He'd known. But this ... too much. Too painful. Dan stood. Cold. Forgotten the beer in his left hand, papers clenched in his right, shaking with his tremors. Fucker. Slow-curling anger that had been buried deep inside came rising to the surface. Last attempt at rage, a flame kindling in the forgotten ashes of his former temper.

Dan took the last stand, the final siege, went over the trenches and across no man's land. Heading out of the room and across the landing, he barged into Vadim's bedroom that had been meant to be theirs, with its poncy stupid pretentious designer bed and the fuck-ugly art scattered about.

"You fucking bastard!" He shouted, waving the contract at the sleeping man. "Backstabbing cunt! What the fuck's this?"

Vadim nearly jumped out of his skin and the bed, reflexes from the barracks. He'd hated the 'night raids', somebody storming in and shouting, when he'd been only a raw recruit, barely dressed and herded together by the voice, and fists, and boots. His heart racing so hard in his throat it hurt. Dan. What the fuck.

He saw the papers, didn't quite get the rage part, too dazed, still too tired, surprised, shocked. What was it. Papers? Oh.

"Job offer." Vadim pulled back against the wall, got out of bed, he was naked, found shorts and put them on, on the other side of the bed, a couple yards away. "Haven't even read it yet. Too tired." Looked up from the bed, saw Dan, that rage, that temper, and felt a horrible stab of … gratitude, that Dan shouted at him. Dan cared, there was not just nothing, but anger, a hell of a lot better than nothing. He was grateful that Dan was angry. Sickening feeling. Somewhere, it had all gone wrong, horribly wrong.

"What the fuck are you doing, hoping I won't notice? Pissing off for millions, selling yourself to the highest bidder? Didn't you have enough genocide yet? Or was he such a good fuck? Did you not think I noticed? Too fucking embarrassed by the useless ex-squaddie who doesn't fit in with your new high-class cronies. Ashamed of the crippled loser, aren't you?"

The irrational, ultimate rage had Dan firmly in its grip and he threw the contract across the bed, paper flying everywhere. "You want out? You don't want me anymore? It's fucking obvious, don't think I'm so stupid that I'm totally blind. You fucking coward, if you don't want me, then tell me. Tell me you want me out of your life, you can have it all, it is already yours anyway. Just tell me, tell me the truth, because I accepted that fucking bullet of yours!"

Vadim walked straight into a hail of bullets, crossfire, the barrage made him tense up and retreat, back right to the wall, saw the paper rain down, the sound it made. Dan. Drunk already, fucking beer, whisky, anger. Sell to the highest bidder. Genocide. Good fuck. Coward. That cut the deepest. Coward. Christmas. The bullet. Vadim shuddered, the image crawled unbidden into his head. Him asleep, Dan loading the pistol and shooting that bullet into his head while he was asleep. Not this bullet, that had become harmless, but one of its siblings, one exactly like the one he'd given Dan so long ago. This rage, this raving lunatic could do it. Could have done it. He had narrowly escaped death, a death he had asked for, several times. But at least it would be over then. He was speechless with dread.

Dan was fuming, unstoppable. Buried pain finally burst to the surface, and he shouted,"You're the fucking man I loved so fucking much, no matter how much I drink, the bottle will never fill up that empty hole." He threw the bottle across the room, beer exploded on the wall, ripping and drenching Vadim's pretentious painting, and soaking into the hated bed.

There was nothing left; nothing except running down the stairs as fast as his knee allowed and throwing himself into the waiting Landrover. The sound of the engine being revved up, and then gravel splattering and tyres screeching, as Dan tore off.

Bitchslapped. More words than Vadim had heard in a year. And realized it, suddenly. He had just lived a different life, one that had nothing to do with Dan, his own life slowly being filled with things he liked. And that Dan hated. Vadim sat down on the bed, stared blankly at the beer running from the acrylic painting. Two abstract forms merging, one blue, the other black. He'd always thought it was ironic, that painting in this room. Loved the dynamics, the stark colours, the aggression and passion of the struggle and merging. He couldn't stand grey anymore, just needed colour, needed something that gave his eyes, his brains, something to do. Veneer.

He couldn't just break down, felt too numb, overpowered, stared at his hands. Genocide. Killer. Rapist. So long ago. He wasn't going to repeat all that in that military advisor job. The spetsnaz was gone. He wasn't even really Russian anymore. His passport said "Her Majesty's Subject". His roots upturned and burnt, long ago. He was no longer the man who had done all these things in Afghanistan. No Afganets, not even an expat. All he had wanted was to have a life he had never been able to get. Never had the freedom, the time, the money. This was all Dan's. His money, his land, his connections and friends that had bought all this, had enabled him to have another shot at life.

The lion and the tiger. He could feel the tears, he'd been waiting for them. How fucking sick that that anger, that hurt cut through all the shit, a year of not talking, no 'I love yous', no touching of souls, no gut wrenching desire, nothing. Solitary confinement of a different kind.

His phone rang. He jumped up, ran downstairs, ripped the phone from the charger. "Dan?"

"No, I'm terribly sorry." Nelson's voice oozed irony.

Vadim felt his body grow cold. It felt like death, like bleeding out. "This is … really, really bad timing."

"Have you rested up?"

"I said it's really bad timing." Vadim glanced outside, saw the sun set already, suddenly knew what he had to do. He needed to find Dan and get him out of here. Out of the house, somewhere where the rules were simple. Put down a set of rules. Most of all, keep him from the whisky, fucking force him to sleep close, excise the hurt, the rage.

"What do you say?"

"Sorry. I wasn't … listening. I said I'd call you tomorrow."

"This is tomorrow." The voice grew ever more ironic. "Can't you tell how much you did impress me? I can hardly sleep without thinking of you. Ah, 'sleep' is one of the words for it." Nelson made a pause, while Vadim forced his body into gear. He headed upstairs, to get the worn survival trousers, sand coloured, the boots, Matterhorns, had always stayed loyal to the brand ever since, a nicely clingy shirt. Rummaged for the bag under the bed. There. Packed for any surprise trip. He opened it quickly, had a very quick look at the contents. Ready to go.

"I am … somewhat busy right now."

"What are you doing?"

"Sorting important stuff out. Listen, let's meet in Rio."

"That brings me to the reason to call."

Vadim slipped into the jacket, headed into Dan's study to grab the bergan. It was gone. Opened a drawer. Wallet. Passport, photos, all gone. He wouldn't take the wallet to go drinking. Squaddies never did. Dan would limit himself to a certain amount, and that was it. But the photos worried him more than the American Express card, or the traveller's cheques. Kisa's photos. Dan was gone and wouldn't come back. "I can't talk now."

"Aren't you curious?"

Vadim glanced around. Nothing more. Dan had left everything else. "I'm dying to know." Shit. And that creep kept pressing his advantage. He could swear Nelson knew it was about Dan.

"I was thinking, why not join me in Rio before the conference. We could finalize the contract. Maybe have a few days calm and quiet in Belize? It's the ideal retreat."

Retreat. Calm and quiet. "Sounds great." Vadim knew he couldn't shake off that creep if he disagreed or told him he needed to find Dan before Dan did something even more stupid. "Listen, I'll call you. Thanks for the offer. I'll be in touch."

"You better be." Soft laughter, and the line went dead.

"Why is everybody even more insane than I am?" hissed Vadim. Shit, think. Where had Dan gone? Where? Towards the airport, of course. He'd take the usual route. Not that there were many to choose from. The only question was, would he go to Palmerston North or drive all the way to Wellington. Or Auckland, for the intercontinental flights. His money was on Palmerston. Dan knew the place, he was more likely to go with tried and tested, and the positive thing was, there weren't many flights from Palmerston North. He could hope to intercept Dan right there.

He headed into the garage, hoped to fuck Dan hadn't disabled the machine of his trusted old jeep. Vadim tossed the bag onto the back seat, the engine came alive, and Vadim breathed relief. He had forgotten the cell phone. Shit. Whatever. He didn't need it where he was going.

Vadim drove down the road, twenty minutes, hoped Dan had stopped at his usual watering hole on the way, but the people there told him, no, Dan hadn't been there. Some glanced at him, strangely, and Vadim wondered what they knew about him. How much Dan had talked when drunk. Whether they knew he was the gay lover of that Scotsman, who did the blokey thing while his Russian cunt tended the house. He felt himself blush, mutter an excuse, noticed he'd swallowed the articles again and stormed out.

It was getting dark, and soon the headlights tore a silhouette out of the night. The Landrover, or rather, the tail end of it. The doors were open, half the car in a ditch. Vadim's blood was all adrenaline, he braked, hard, skidded to a halt on the shamefully bad road, grabbed the torch, ran out, thought he'd see a mutilated body, a crash site …

But the body was unharmed, curled up maybe two yards from one of the tyres in the ditch. Looked like Dan had tried to crawl out and given up to lay down to sleep, one foot almost in a small brook that noisily gurgled over the stones.

"You fucking bastard …" Vadim slid down the slope, knelt down, checked pulse, checked the main bones, the legs, the ribs, the spine, the neck, then slid an arm under his neck and shoulders and pulled him up, pulled him against his body and held him close. He reeked of alcohol, but he was alive.

Vadim pulled him up, placed him across his shoulders, got up, staggered under the weight, could feel each and every of Dan's kilos in his back, and managed to get out of the ditch, opened the door of the jeep, put Dan down on the seat, then went to collect the keys from the Landrover, switched off the headlights, and, sure enough, found a couple of empty bottles in the back. He got the bergan before he locked everything. He really didn't care right now.

He checked the map in the light of the torch, he knew the way in theory, had always wanted to go there, one day, but had been busy. He memorized the route, then started the car again and headed out onto the road, towards the mountains.

* * *

It took a long time for Dan to become aware of anything; the last time he had been drunk to unconsciousness was in his late twenties or early thirties, sure as fuck not at the age of almost forty-five. The moment he came round with blurry eyes and unable to focus, he started to feel the rattling of the car, the humps and bumps and the nauseating way his body was thrown all over the place. Didn't know where he was, just that his stomach was lurching back into his throat.

"Shit …" he groaned, hands patting around him, panicking for a moment, thought he was locked into a cage, had overturned his Landrover and would die before they could cut him out of it, until he found the handle and managed to wind down the passenger window. "Oh … fuck …"

He could do nothing but hang his head out of the window into the cooling night air, throwing up helplessly, too much whisky spilling out of his guts and running down the door of the jeep, ending in pot holes and bushes along the way. Retching until his stomach was empty and the alcohol in his blood started another assault on his system. Hands searching again, didn't know for what. Water. Thirsty. Grabbed the bottle that was pushed into his hand and gulped down half of it.

Where the fuck was he? Tried to focus, he made out a silhouette beside him, and groaned pathetically, "Was just … my car … no need to punish me ... like this …" He barely managed to finish the sentence when the jeep hit another pothole and he threw up yet again, out of the window. Heaving until he fell asleep with his face towards the wind that came in through the open window.

Vadim hardly understood the words, but it didn't matter. Navigating the hillside was a pain even in daylight. He didn't really want to be disturbed, and, so much had to be said in favour of Kiwiland, if one wanted wilderness, all one had to do was leave the beaten track. Which meant potholes.

Vadim finally stopped, did a very quick recce of the place. Lake, trees, check, dry wood, check. He got the tent out, put it up in a time that would have made his survival instructor proud, started a fire, built a nice little camp, then opened the other door. He held Dan in with a hand, washed his face with a wet cloth, then lifted him out, began to undress the messy bastard, disgusted but only vaguely so, like he had never much minded carrying blood soaked comrades. Vomit was just part of the body. He washed him, washed the sweat off his body, then carried him over into the tent, wrapped him up in blankets while he shielded the fire properly. He'd go fishing in the morning, they had beef jerky for the moment, and a couple gallons of water. Plenty of water filters and purifying tablets. Taking no risks, not even with a lake as clean as this.

Dan was waking after a couple of hours with a mouth full of straw and the disgusting taste of bile. This time with far more clarity, and he started to realise he was still alive. Shit, since when were hangovers killing him that badly? Since he'd got old. Since he'd been worn out and discarded.

He had no idea where he was, it was dark all around him, and he patted the ground and himself, finding a plastic water bottle beside him and a box of tissues. Gulping down cold water as if it were a life saver, he wiped his face with a damp tissue. Had no clue what happened, didn't know where he was, and how the fuck he had got here. Wherever that 'here' was. He felt rotten, but tried to scramble up instead. Found himself naked, which confused him even more, until the flicker of a fire shone through what had to be a tent.

He grabbed the blanket, pulled it over his head and shoulders, and crawled towards the opening, even though he really wasn't supposed to be on his knees. But he couldn't ache anymore than he already did. He stuck his head out, then the rest of his upper body. Blinked a couple of times, trying to focus.

Vadim looked up as the figure emerged from the tent. He had been tending the fire, watching the flames, finally had time to think. Think clearly. Back to basics, just him, and Dan. No alcohol, no house, nothing to get between them. He sighed, shook his head, saw how pale and miserable the other man was. He got up and sat down near the tent, within touching distance.

"Sleep, Dan. You look like shit." Dan would need to be sober and rested. This would be tough for both of them. Much like surgery. He needed to remove the cancer eating away at their hearts. "Drink plenty. There …" He fumbled for a jar of Dan's vitamins and put it down in front of his face.

"Where the fuck am I?" Dan's voice sounded rough, abused and as sore as his whole body. His hand trembled as he reached for the vitamins and he started to shake with a cold that began to creep into his bones. "And why are you here?"

"Foothills of the mountains, near the lake." Vadim opened the jar for him, could see Dan was coming crashing down from the alcohol. Very near to alcohol poisoning. This was bad. This was worse than bad. How he had managed to drive at all was a miracle. "I'm always here", he murmured. "Until you use that fucking bullet. But right now, I don't think you could shoot straight. So, that is not an option." He gave half a smile. "Rest up. We need to talk. Not shout. But not now."

Dan nodded, shaking so hard now, he felt as if he'd been dipped into a Norwegian lake and left to dry in the middle of a Siberian winter. Some pills were poured into his hand, and he closed his fingers around them. "Bullet …" He nodded again, teeth chattering. Crawling backwards, he retreated into the tent and towards as many sleeping bags and blankets as he could find. Luckily Vadim seemed to have piled them up around him.

"Wouldn't have used the bullet." Head still visible for another moment, then he was gone. "On you."

Vadim closed his eyes, formed fists. He had actually believed Dan would kill him. Self-centred bastard. It was Dan who had left, and who the fuck knew why he hadn't left in a different way. Kisa? Maybe for the kid's sake? He shook his head. He had been given everything on a silver plate, new life, a man like Dan, all these things, and he had somehow managed to ruin it. Without noticing that Dan had slipped from him and fell, kept falling, and falling.

He moved to the fire and poured tea, let it cool for a bit, then went into the tent, offering some of the hot liquid, helping Dan to drink, then readjusting the blankets so he could sweat it all out. "Don't worry. I'm here."

And I'll prove it as soon as you feel better.

Special Forces Chapter LVI: New Beginnings
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 5 December 2008