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Special Forces Chapter LVI: New Beginnings

November 1994, New Zealand

The next time Dan woke, it was to dark green daylight filtered through the tent walls, and the smell of coffee and frying fish. He believed his senses were kidding him with the peculiar combination of scents, and he felt like death warmed over. Still wrapped in a mountain of blankets and half-way rolled into a sleeping bag, he vaguely remembered the presence of the other and what seemed like gallons of water and tea.

His bladder was full enough to protest, and he tried wriggling his toes, since his head had decided to torture him with the mother of all headaches. A disgusting taste in his mouth, he reached beside him and found the water bottle. Dan shook his head after drinking, regretting the movement instantaneously. No matter what, he was forced to crawl out from under the blankets. Didn't fancy pissing himself, not even while in the clutches of a hangover that made every other one he'd ever had before look like a mere test run.

Dan groaned as he got up, aching everywhere on his body, not just the knee, and he had the terrible sensation of not remembering what had happened. How he got there, what had been said, if anything, and if Vadim's presence was mere wishful thinking. Grabbing one of the blankets, he slung it around his naked body, emerging from the tent to stagger into the magnificence of a cool spring morning. Disoriented at first.

Vadim glanced up, hid the smile that was threatening to creep onto his features. Dan was so hung-over it was actually funny. Pale, sweaty, and growing an impressive stubble by now. He pulled one of the twigs out of the ground, blew on the fish, pulled the skin back with the tip of his knife and checked whether it was done. Slightly pink, but that was alright. "Feel hungry?"

He was being stared at with incredulity by a man who was slightly swaying until he had got used to standing on both feet again. Dan grunted something unintelligible, took a few steps to the side, away from the camp, and turned his back. A man's back was all the privacy he ever needed to take a long piss. At least it wasn't shovel recce.

Dan turned back round, just as Vadim was pulling the skin off one of the fish and filleting. He pulled the bones out and then reached into the ashes for the potatoes in foil. Checked them with the knife, the big ones needed more time, but the small ones were done. All the while watched by a silent Dan who couldn't make head nor tails out of anything. Vadim cut a deep cross into the potato, sprinkled some salt in there, and offered Dan the plate, sorting a fish and potatoes out for himself.

He glanced up at Dan and smirked. "Try to eat something. And get some electrolytes down, small wonder it hurts like a bitch. The stuff you do to your body."

"Fuck you." Dan muttered, looked down at his hands, still trembling. Wouldn't hurt to dig into food. He tried to sit down on one of the bergans that looked as if they had been propped up for just this purpose, not bothering to suppress the groan as his whole body protested. "Need a wash." He reached for the plate, the blanket wrapping somewhat in the way.

Vadim nodded. "I brought water up, it's in that bucket. Your bag with razors and stuff is over there." He nodded to the place where he had even set up a makeshift shower. Plastic bag and an improvised hose. Wouldn't be too comfy, but he had something in mind for that setup. Dan would need to be clean. He had even wedged a mirror between stem and branch of one of the trees.

Dan glanced to the side while eating, took in the arrangements, shook his head. Surely the fucker had gone crazy all of a sudden. "What the fuck are you doing here? And while I'm at it, where? How? Why?" Using his fingers to tear pieces off the fish and peel open the potato.

Vadim grinned, eating the potato with the peel, remembered lessons about nutrition and the fact that the best part of the potato was right under the skin. He liked the taste, even the faint aroma from the ashes. "At the moment, I'm playing host."

He looked at Dan, judged his state from the coordination of his fingers, from the way he responded to the heat of the oily fish and the food. He was coming round, but would probably need a few more hours before he could get serious. "On a related note, we'll play the old game, Dan. Isolation and re-focusing. Emptying all the trash. The lies, the pain, the guilt. And when I'm finished with you, you'll be as clean and as mellow as a newborn kitten." And you'll be mine again. You taught me one thing in the mountain. One week with a man opens you up, your heart, your body, everything. I will gut you and drain the poison out.

"Kitten? Fuck off, Vadim." Dan's fingers got stuck half-way in a piece of fish. "Fuck off and go back to your pretentious crap. Your paintings, music, interior decoration and bloody Colonels." He lowered his eyes back onto the plate, angry, sullen and silent once more.

Nelson? Yes, exactly the kind of thing Vadim wanted to be reminded of now. Nelson managing to corner him from half around the world. Rio would be fun. And what if he was actually wrong and it didn't work? Failure was not an option. They couldn't do it, couldn't go on like this. It was the bullet, one way or the other.

He considered tying Dan up. He had been tied up. It put the mind on edge, but the body adapted, could grow around it, comfortable. He looked at Dan, saw the same sullen hostility, the same remoteness, worse than when they had been enemies. At least they had hated each other.

He stood, fetched a bottled, found a tube with electrolytes, dropped some in, closed the bottle, watched the tablets dissolve, then walked up to Dan and dropped it in front of him. "Lucky then that you have no idea where you are. Or where I left the car. Or where the keys are."

Dan had finished his food, looking up when boots came into his vision, then legs, finally a bottle. "You kidnapped me?" He took the offered liquid, his abused body gave him no other option. "What for? Going to keep your crippled piece of rough like an amusing pet in the mountains?" Gulping down half of the bottle, he wiped his lips, all the time watching the other.

Vadim stepped back. The urge to hit him square in the face was so strong he needed to tense every muscle in his arms up to his neck to keep from hitting Dan. Kick him. Make him bleed. Control. He needed fucking control. Dan had lost it. If he lost it himself, he could just go fetch the gun. He inhaled, flexed his hands, exhaled, calmed.

"Crippled? You'd be deadly with your fucking legs cut off, Dan." He sat down again, two yards away, crouched, studying the other man, who was shaking his head before drinking the rest of the solution. Sullen, Vadim thought. But how to do it, how to open him up? He wasn't ready for what he had in mind. "You should eat, and drink, and rest. Detox. I'll do the rest."

Dan put the bottle down, shook his head again. "What would it matter, even if I was still as deadly? No more wars to fight, Vadim, no more suicidal operations, no more battlefields." He shrugged, pulled the blanket closer. "Mad Dog is dead."

That was the problem. That was the heart of it, the infested, the rotting core. Dan mourned Mad Dog, because he had loved him in a way that Vadim had loved his own illusion of himself, before the prison. And he had. So very much. "But you are alive", he murmured, and felt weak and pathetic. "You fought all the time, and now you have a life, and you just … stay there and look at the past. Just …" Wait to die. Pass the time, somehow.

Dan just sat and listened, passive.

Vadim shook his head. It hurt. That went deep. He suddenly understood why Dan had been like that, all the time. He just couldn't let go. "Oh shit."

Dan looked up at the other's exclamation, "Life? What life do I have?" He huffed, felt the old bitterness creeping up, an acid that had increasingly poisoned every one of his thoughts since the surgery. A growing numbness, until all he had felt was an emptiness that hurt like a motherfucking knot right in his chest.

"You got your fancy shit, your art, the house, even the fucking furniture. Clothes as if you'd never had a shred to wear, and ballets, concerts, music that bores me to fucking tears. I haven't got a clue who you are anymore, but fuck me, you got a life. There's just no space in it anymore for a burnt out, useless veteran who doesn't understand what you've become nor who you are." He shrugged as if nothing mattered, then scrambled laboriously onto the good knee, trying to get up. Needing to walk away, like he had done, for almost a year.

"The house? I did that so you could rest up after the hospital. I wanted to have the workers out before you came in. All I did was fucking catch up with stuff I never had the …" money "time for. Just wanted to understand what I missed." Shit, he was hurling accusations, and he didn't want that. Not just Dan who had to get rid of the poison. Dan, who was walking towards the lake, refusing to listen.

The clothes. It was just fucking nice to not wear uniform anymore. It was nice to be groomed and be dazzled by patterns, by cloth, by the smiles and easy courtesy of bespoke tailors. Nice to wear shoes that were made to measure and didn't hurt his feet. Nice to lean back and have a wave of sound wash over him, see something as pretty and useless as ballet. Nice to see the control of those bodies, and nothing about it was about killing or hurting. It was discipline without the fucking darkness, control without the violence. He hadn't really changed, he was still the man he'd always been.

No, he wasn't. He had been dazzled alright. Dazzled by men that could argue fine points of some arcane weapon system late into the night. Men who discussed the theory of war without ever having felt a bullet impact in their flesh. Men who knew that he had felt it, and moved apart so he could fit between them, one of them, not by education, not by refinement, but by experience. They were so well dressed, so well spoken, he loved their company, loved it because they seemed to understand war, and talked about it, and he felt respected. For once in his life, somebody respected him. He had nothing to hide, not being gay, not being in love with an enemy, not being the homeless Russian the Soviet army had spit out for treason. It had felt so good he had tried to saturate himself with it. So hungry for respect.

"Ah, fuck all that. Fuck the farm. Fuck Nelson." Vadim followed, reached for Dan's shoulder. "Listen to me."

"Why?" Dan stopped, feet already touching water. Turning round abruptly to face the other, the blanket fell of his shoulders, which Vadim caught by instinct, baring a body that was too bloody thin. "Why should I listen to you? I don't fit into your world anymore, and I've lost my own. I'm not as stupid as you seem to think, I know I'm just a fucking embarrassment to you."

Vadim paused, tossed the blanket behind him. They'd need it to keep warm, it could get chilly up here. Saw more bones around Dan's shoulders than he should, and looked into those dark eyes. Still Dan. And not him at the same time. It raised his hackles, should have done that a year ago, when all this had started. But he had taken it lying down.

"Yes, you've been a right cunt the last year, but that … is not how it has to be."

Dan snarled. "You think you've been anything other than a fucking cunt yourself?"

"We can change. Sort stuff out. Fucking remember why we are here in the first place." Vadim inhaled deeply. "And that's not just because of a bullet I took out of my pistol in the Gulf."

"Change? How, Vadim, how, if you don't even want me anymore!"

Vadim stepped close, abruptly, and decided Dan needed to cool down. He decided that after his hands had connected with Dan's chest and after he had sent Dan backwards, knowing the water was getting rapidly deeper behind him. "You fucking chill", he hissed, as Dan went straight into the water. "I'll show you. Wanting. It would have been like fucking a whisky bottle, you bitch."

Stumbling backwards, Dan shouted, "Fucking bastard!" before losing balance. The water was bloody cold, "and sex with you, fucking nancy arsewipe, would have been like shagging a soft poof!" He just about managed to hurl the last bit of abuse before he crashed into the water, cursing violently all the way.

Vadim very much wanted to send a spinning hook kick into Dan's head, but held back. Nancy. Fuck. In moments like these, he was too close to giving it all up. That was the first response, but he saw Dan snort water as he came back up, and couldn't help but laugh, stepping back towards the land just in case Dan had the supremely stupid idea to try and make him crash into the water himself. Dan's legs were too weak, no way he could kick his legs from under him. "Yeah. I have my whisky … with water", he muttered and remained within safe distance. Only that no distance with Dan was safe.

"Arsehole!" Dan spit towards Vadim together with a mighty arch of water, while his eyes threw daggers at the Russian cunt. The bastard laughed his head off. Fine. He'd get his own back eventually. He was freezing, but he dunked himself under again. The fresh, cold water seemed a life saver, it did wonders to the persistent headache. Coming back up dripping wet, water running in rivulets out of his unruly hair, he shook his head like a dog before stalking back towards the shore. "You," he pointed at Vadim, glaring, "I get you for that when you least expect it."

"Promises", said Vadim, off-handedly.

Dan was too bloody cold to do anything about it right now, starting to tremble, he looked for anything he could use as a towel. The drop of body temperature in a body that had been abused like that, not a clever option. He could hardly keep his teeth from chattering. "Did you nancy boy at least bring a towel in your designer suitcase?"

"Get your ass to the fire." Vadim headed towards the tent and found two towels, microfibre, nice and light. Tossed one against Dan's chest, took the other one in both hands and stepped behind him, when he found that Dan had for once obeyed, and stood as close to the warming fire as he could.

Dan sneered at the towel, held it in his hands like a precious jewel. "Only you could take anything that isn't a bogstandard towel into the mountains." There was no venom in his words, though, as he rubbed his face and head dry. He really was bloody freezing.

Vadim concentrated on drying the shoulders, remembered how much he had loved these shoulders, how he had rested his head right there, smelled him. Fucking cried against that shoulder. Shit. Vadim tensed his jaw muscles and concentrated.

Dan slowly continued to dry his arms and then his chest. Hesitated. Hadn't been touched like that in ages. No, wrong. Hadn't been touched. Full stop. For months.

Vadim ran the towel down the body. The curve towards the waist, lower back, the curve of ass. One of the very first things he had actually consciously acknowledged about Dan. He crouched to dry the backs of his legs, then got up again, saw Dan was managing just fine with the rest.

"The coffee should be ready now." He dropped the blanket right next to Dan, got the mugs and poured them coffee, placed one on a flat rock on Dan's side of the fire. "You need a shave. Walking tree."

Dan's brows rose, but he didn't argue. The smell of coffee was too much of a lure, and hell, Vadim was right: he'd sport a fully grown beard in another day or two. He shrugged and started the laborious process of getting down to the ground, managing in the end like he always did, but without any points for elegance. He pulled the other blanket close and wrapped it tightly around his shoulders, then reached for the mug as if the coffee could safe his life. "Remembered the sugar?"

"Yeah. But I think we'll need more calories sometime around tomorrow." Seeing how much weight Dan had lost was not pleasant.

Dan nodded, sipped his coffee with an expression of pure bliss on his face. Piping hot, overly strong and sweetened to hell and back.

Vadim continued, "Your usual treasure of biscuits and chocolate, more bars." Shit planning, really, he had been too nervous, too fucking scared. He just wasn't as cold-blooded as he had been.

Dan huffed, "What, you telling me you didn't bring any sweeties? Fucking useless host you are."

Vadim refused to bite this time, got up to get the shaving kit and the water bucket, sat down within reaching distance. Not enough to be hit with any strength of conviction, if Dan tried to, but close enough. "I'll drive tomorrow. I'm too tired to do the big drive today." Sounded like an excuse, and he thought, damn it, since when did he have to apologise for everything he did or didn't do. Every potential mistake? "Fancy that shave?"

"I hope for your sake you got at least some energy bars." Dan conveniently forgot to mention the emergency ration in his own bergan, together with an even more vital supply of a 500g pack of tobacco and rolling papers. He looked pointedly at the bucket of water, muttered, "not even hot water. Fine sort of treatment that is. Kidnapped, starved, and now tortured." But he didn't have the energy to be truly spiteful. Something inside of him was too exhausted and tired of fighting, worn away by that awful, numbing pain for which he had no name.

Vadim grunted, took a handful of water to wet Dan's growing beard, and foamed the stuff into his hand to lather it on, then selected one of the razors and began to shave. One slow, deliberate stroke near the other, whisking the razor through the water, going for a thorough shave, slowly uncovering the skin, fresh and clean and smooth. Dan's eyes closed after a while, tilting his head back to allow access to his jaw and throat, all the while cradling the mug of coffee.

Vadim liked Dan smooth, loved his face right after the shave, the smell and feeling. Loved to brush his cock across his cheek when it was like this. He swallowed and looked at the bucket, watched the foam float in patches, the shorn off hair. He finally took the damp towel and wiped Dan's face with it, wanted to lean in to kiss, but was fairly sure all he'd get would be a headbutting.

Once he'd finished, Vadim reached for his own coffee, moving a little away, still close, but just out of range. "I was thinking maybe a week or ten days. The weather seems to hold, might even get a little warmer again. I don't want to make it too uncomfortable." What exactly? Sleeping close to you, listening to the wind, feeling the ground underneath. Feel you against me, at rest, trusting, close, and fucking open.

Dan tilted his head, said nothing, just watched Vadim for a moment, then raised the mug to his lips once more, concentrating on drinking. No repartee, no cries of kidnapping and no claims of insanity on the Russian's part. Nothing, as if he had simply run out of steam during the shaving.

Vadim stood when he received no reply nor comment, picked up the bucket and razor, cleaned everything, got fresh water. Being this close to Dan had an odd effect on him. Memories. Memories in every motion, in every word, every gesture.

"Strange." Dan's voice suddenly, just loud enough to be heard. "It's been, what, eight years since the first shave?" The memories of mountain, cave, heat and cold were still in his bones. Imprinted into his being. "A lifetime ago, but it sometimes feels so close, yet unattainable." He aborted a shrug, lowered his head and eyes, concentrating once more on the coffee.

Vadim nodded. Unattainable. Good word, nothing but the negative of a different word, and it hurt to think about it. A simple gesture, a way to hold a blade to the other's throat that didn't mean what it used to mean. It was taking care of, not taking power. How much he missed all that. He drank his coffee, one of the things he had got used to, coffee, still preferred the smell much to the taste, but it was warm liquid one could hold, and that was clearly the best aspect of it. He watched Dan, was there, but silent. Wondered about sleep, wondered whether he could really sleep that close to him, or whether he'd stare at him all night, scared to blow it and lose him completely.

"I still think steel against your skin is the most poetic thing I know", he murmured. "I always think I can feel your heart beat in my fingertips." He didn't look at Dan, he wasn't sure whether he'd get mocked or ridiculed or whether it might affront Dan. When there was a little pause, he did look up.

"If you can feel my heartbeat, then you feel more than I can." Dan's quiet voice, their eyes met. Another pause, and another moment of silence. "Sometimes, somewhere, between the operating table and coming here, I lost myself."

Vadim nodded, eyes still meeting. He moved closer, reached out, slowly, as if he could startle Dan, maybe into violence, whatever, he'd take that, punches, ridicule, hostility. Lowered his hand to rest it on Dan's lower arm, left side, slowly relaxed his arm to rest it on Dan's.

Dan's arm twitched, almost threw the other arm off, muscles tensing, then relaxing in increments. Allowing the contact, as alien to him by now as the memory of Mad Dog.

Vadim wanted to lean against him, against that shoulder, knew he was supposed to be strong right now and wanted nothing but to hold him and touch him and tell him everything would be alright. "I'm not ashamed of you. Not embarrassed. Not disgusted." A lie.

Dan laughed dryly. "Bullshit." He shook his head.

Vadim's hand tensed a little. "Only when you are drunk, a little, I mean." He'd done his fair share of drunken shit, then why? "I don't like you being drunk, because I feel you are hiding, that you do that to tell me I can't reach you."

Dan huffed, let his head fall back into his neck, rolled his shoulders and took his time before coming back up until their eyes met once more. "I let you into a secret, Russkie, I don't even like being drunk on my own all that much." Wry grin, self-deprecating. "Stopped me remembering, though. Who I was, who you were, who we used to be." He shrugged in a half-arsed attempt at indifference.

Vadim nodded, wrestling with that idea. Forget. Forget the two killers who had failed at killing each other. Comrades. Lovers. All that, and much more. He kept his hand right there, didn't want to claim it back just yet. "Yes, but who are you, Dan? Who the fuck are you? Without whisky? Without battlefields."

"I don't know." The answer came quietly, yet without hesitation.

Vadim looked him in the eye again. "You are the same man I met in Kabul. Only older. And hurt. You never changed. Na, not much." He grinned slightly.

"And you? Are you someone different? Art, music, suits and fancy men? Or have you always been like that and I just never noticed, too busy staying alive?" Dan shrugged again, resigned.

"It's the only bit of Russia I can still have", murmured Vadim. Fuck, that hurt, but it was true. Literature, music, ballet. Have a bit of Russia when he couldn't travel there. "I might have had the money to do that, but there was nothing to buy and I did not have the time for the finer things. Always fighting in another war. I just want to know what it is like. The whole … art is part of what we fight for - it's what civilians do. That stuff lasts longer than memory, longer than wars. I wanted to try and understand and have some of that." His father had said, that in a world where the present was lying, the past was the safest place. That, too, had barbed hooks, but he only understood that now.

Dan shook his head slightly, even though he began to understand. "The house … when I got finally back. The house was you, but not a you that I knew, while I … I was lost without a purpose." Dan's voice grew quieter. "It's not so much a question of who I am, but what the fuck I'm here for anymore. They said I should 'find myself another hobby'. Which fucking hobby? Killing time instead of soft targets? They said I had to get used to this, it was just the beginning. Would get worse, a matter of time until … but I could still 'do things'. What things?" Trailed off, silenced. The final shrug as much resignation as acceptance. No pity, not ever that. Just not that.

Vadim nodded. "I think they thought swimming, or cycling. Activities like that." Looked down at his hand, which looked quite comfortable on Dan's arm. "Well, there's … me, and … the farm, and the consulting, and a whole country full of rainforest and mountains and reefs … or we travel. Or … collect stamps or something." Mocking slightly.

Dan tried to grin, but it ended in a fucking pathetic attempt. Laid open and bare, truth that was fragile, cutting too deep. "What am I going to do, Vadim. What am I going to do?" Barely above a whisper.

Vadim smiled, finally, again, inside Dan's mind. Couldn't afford to gloat this time, because it was too important. "You don't have to do anything. Just trust me." Moved closer again, hand moving up to Dan's upper arm, could feel tension in there, then up to his shoulder, to his neck, resting there, against Dan's throat. Shifted his head closer, to whisper, not to kiss. "I want to make you relax. You don't have to move. Don't do anything. I'll take care of the rest."

"Trust you." The tension in Dan's body grew, couldn't help it. Closeness and intimacy, they'd become aliens, despite fourteen years. "With a bullet and a knife." His lips twitched, the ghost of a smile. They'd grown apart, separated not by war - but by peace, and yet some things he remembered. Always would. Mine. Yours. Scars and caresses.

Vadim kept looking into Dan's eyes, intense enough to make his vision blurry. "You can keep a knife." He smiled, too, but felt the tension. Knew Dan might not agree if he asked him straight out. "I hurt you, you cut me. Simple rules." Less complicated than the other set of rules.

Tension remained in Dan's body, even when he nodded. "Aye. I can do that." Knew he wouldn't need to, but a knife was a prop, a lifeline.

Vadim nodded, then slowly came closer again to touch Dan's forehead with his, closed his eyes, as if to draw strength, when indeed all he could feel was Dan's presence, Dan with him, not somewhere else, doing whatever. The world had become smaller and that was reassuring.

A moment of irritation, uncertainty, but Dan's forehead remained against Vadim's. Trying to remember the familiarity that had become unfamiliar, until he relaxed slightly.

Vadim took the mug out of Dan's hand and got up, offering a hand only to not break contact for too long. Dan was already naked, good, excellent start. He nodded towards the tent. "That's where the blankets are."

Dan's grip on Vadim's wrist was strong, his weight behind it, as he pulled himself up. Hands that could still kill with ease. If only he believed in it. He stood, caught the blanket that fell off his shoulders, raised his brows, said nothing. His fingers circled sinews and bone, before letting go and turning towards the tent. "You want the blankets outside or me in?"

Vadim wanted to reach out again, to touch him again. Glanced around. He was pretty sure there was nobody else anywhere near, but he liked the tent for the very fact there was nothing distracting about it, no sounds, no wind, nothing. Much like a cave, he thought, smiling. Damn, they'd never really got out of the caves. "Get inside. For the moment."

Dan nodded, unsure, but went along, because he had no other option. Had come to a dead end and a stop sign, hidden in every bottle.

Vadim followed, relishing in the luxury that they were indeed alone, and no danger he could think of, nothing worse than mosquitoes in this place. He motioned Dan to lie down, stayed close, crouched, regarding the other, read the body like he hadn't done for ages.

When Dan had settled, Vadim leaned in, put his lips against Dan's sternum, felt him breathe as his hands moved to his flanks, slow, deliberate stroking. Loved the dark nipples, the curves of flesh, especially when there was this underlying tension. Knew he never won much with dealing with the nipples, compared to him, Dan didn't even seem to feel much there. It was nice enough, but nothing that Dan really craved. Thought for a moment whether it could work, or would, but he had got him this far.

Dan's quiet voice was strangely brittle. "What's this going to be, an attempt at taming?"

Vadim didn't answer, moved down the body, relishing in the taut stomach, a touch on the thin side, felt the heart pound against the flesh, then moved towards those scars that looked like some creature had ripped Dan open. Massive, impossible scars, by no means pretty, just impressive, something that made Vadim feel awe when the touched them. Moved away, and licked the stretched skin between two of the scars, breathing through his nose to make the wet trace tingle.

Tension, Dan's fist suddenly clenched, breathing noisily through his nose. He lifted his head to look down, grabbed some extra blankets, stuffed them under his neck, to have everything in his vision. Fist lying at his side, opening and closing like a pulsing artery. "Where … is the knife?" Had to clear his throat. Lost. Confused. Wanting. Bitter. Hurting and aching for more. Contact. Touch, inside and out, of mind and body, yet rejecting the attempt with every fibre, like a rule he had to follow, established a year ago with the words 'no, Mr McFadyen, but you will never go on active duty again.' His body, it had never failed him, no matter how battered, broken and torn. Until a year ago. What if it failed now? Again?

Vadim reached to the side and pulled the bergan closer. "In there somewhere", he murmured against the scars, rubbed his face against Dan's stomach, felt how the muscles shifted against his skin, loved how Dan's body responded without Dan even noticing. The one thing he understood better than Dan, always had, and wasn't that ironic, now. "Relax", he murmured. "Nothing you can do about it anyway." Fuck that knife.

Dan's fist eased its tension only to grab hold of the bergan, a white-knuckled grip, needing an anchor, and he found the knife, fist closing around the handle.

Vadim traced the line of muscle from groin to hip, licked it, used his teeth to trace that line, teeth taking a bit of muscle and just testing it, no biting, but not just teasing, either. Moved across the stomach, knees between Dan's, just so he had a better angle, and did the same, licking and teeth, and taking his time, on the other side. No rushing, it wasn't about lust or winning, just pleasure.

Dan's body was brimming with stress, couldn't ease it, impossible to relax, and when Vadim looked into Dan's face, he saw tension. Lots of it. He moved up again, returning to the sternum, nuzzling it. Something that wasn't dangerous. Placed his lips around the right nipple, rolled it gently between his teeth, took the sting out with licking it, then circled it with his tongue, his free hand stroking Dan's side. "Just relax. I can do this all day."

"What if I can't." Dan pressed out, head lifted, faces close. His breathing shallow, chest restricted, cursing himself for his fucking stupidity.

Vadim looked up, brought his face close again. "You don't have to", he murmured in Russian. "First, we have time, second, all I want to do is make you relax." Touched his face, the touch of sweat on the freshly shaved skin. "If you can't, I'll still do this. All fucking day and all fucking night." Wanted to kiss him, the lips that seemed just as tense, just as vulnerable. "Your body is more than … that." Cock. Fucking. Many more possibilities, many more good things.

Dan nodded, felt relieved and pathetic at the same time. More than that. Was he? More than that … than what? Cock. Cripple.

"Just want to make you feel good." Vadim murmured, "That's it. No danger." Turned over to the other nipple, caught it between his teeth, opened his jaws to scrape them against the pec, did that again, loved the taste and the feeling. "You never understood how fucking sexy you are …. Tough luck. I did."

"Fuck …" Dan gasped out, watched Vadim, head propped up and looking. Shuddered, a rare reaction to the play with his nipples. Perhaps the tension had brought nerves on edge, and maybe he was more than ... that after all. "You're a fucking perv," fists easing their tension in increments, trying to give himself over, "finding a useless ragbag of scars sexy."

"Ah, but you wear them so well", murmured Vadim, returning to the nipple, sucking on it, indicating what he planned to do, later, further down. Slow, intense, gentle, and teasing. "And I still wear mine." Moved his head up to suck and lick that round scar, the one from their first kiss. Of course that kiss had to leave a bullet scar. It seemed so logical. Always loved that skin, dark as it was, so easily bronzed in the sun.

Dan couldn't keep the tension in his fist, had to let go of the knife, the lips and teeth on the scar acted like a local anaesthetic. His arm fell limp, while his jaws tensed and his breathing became ragged. Fucking scars. Fucking memories, each and every of them connected to Vadim. "I can read you ... on my body." Forced out between locked teeth.

Vadim smiled. "That one? Oh, that one is special. It says I love you." He winked at Dan, only way to say that sentence was with humour, to not earn a kick in the balls right now. "Let's see … I think those are special, too." He began to move down again, traced the middle scar with his lips, just kisses, almost chaste. "Those say you're alive."

Dan shivered. Alive. The word had taken on a whole new meaning over the past year. He'd been existing, side by side with Vadim, but more separated and hopeless than he'd ever been before. Alive but not living.

"What about the scar … in my face." He managed to force out, couldn't find the words, no better nor easier way to ask and even plead. Do you want me. Do you honestly still want me?

Please, want me.

Vadim looked up, eyes narrowed for a moment, wondered, wondered whether he had read him wrong, had been wrong in thinking Dan would punch him if he tried that. And these days, he didn't just shrug off punches. His age, too. Looked at the scar, weathered away as it was, one line in that face, part of Dan like his nose. For somebody who spent insane amounts of time and money on being as good-looking as he could still manage, he had never bothered much about the other's scars. "That scar …" Moved up until he was breath to breath with Dan, tilted his head to study the scar, the line he had not created, time had not brought. A story he didn't know. Found the beginning of it at Dan's temple, kissed it, moved, kissed the end of it, part of him waiting for the punch. He'd risk it. "That scar says I'll carve its twin on the other side if you punch me now."

"I …" Dan opened his mouth, but Vadim flashed teeth and attacked Dan's lips, open-mouthed, taste of Dan's sweat still on them as he met those lips. Nothing merciful about that kiss, he kept the jaws open with a thumb and kissed Dan like he was trying to drink his soul, ignoring the sounds of protest, because there was no fight. Fuck you, you're mine, thought Vadim, about to lose it himself, lose control, irony and composure.

Dan's head tilted backwards, allowing access, deeper, baring his throat, his whole self. A self that he couldn't recognise anymore, that had lost its path and meaning. He tried to say something, but that, too, had lost all sense, and only a grunt came out.

Vadim parted, breathing accelerated, then grinned at him, trailing down the kisses, down to the chest, running his face against Dan's chest, hands already moving deeper. "Turn around."

Dan hesitated, his hand once more clutching the knife, until Vadim took Dan's hips to help him, and to position him, and only then did Dan let go and allowed himself to be handled, until he lay flat on his stomach.

"You want payback for all the lost nights?" Dan's voice sounded bitter, and so very much unlike the feisty man, then opened his legs, without any prompting. He'd be good for that still, and if that's what he'd get, he'd take it. Better than nothing.

Vadim paused, hit by the sentence like by a punch. Dan still delivered the most intense pain of all. As if he'd fuck him. Maybe. It had occurred to him, but not in the state or mood that Dan was in. "There are no lost nights." Vadim kissed the small of Dan's back.

"There were. Plenty." Not much more than a murmur, the words were almost swallowed by the ground. "I don't …" Don't what?

Vadim reached for the Vaseline tub in the bergan, unscrewed the lid, scooped a good measure with his fingers, warming the grease. "Just relax."

No answer, then, and Dan knew that his question was answered. He was someone to fuck. And what was he going to do about it? Use the knife and defend himself? Perhaps, if he could be bothered, but he just didn't have the energy nor strength - and perhaps … perhaps there was something. An echo of past longing.

Beginning to work the grease into Dan's ass, Vadim felt queasy about it - like he was getting Dan ready to be fucked when he was actually planning something completely different, but Dan didn't know it, just spread his legs further and closed his eyes. Head pressed deeply into the blanket and the ground.

His needs didn't matter, Vadim thought. Not that there was much of a need right now, just memories, just the feeling of knowing, familiarity, trust, and hope. Keeping the darkness away. He slowly worked two fingers into Dan, carefully adding more grease and opening him up, leisurely , soon adding a third finger, when the tension in Dan's back suddenly jumped up, before he wilfully relaxed. Bone after bone and muscle after muscle.

He could have ask what Vadim was doing, planning, but it didn't matter. Simply didn't. Was good to feel, feel anything at all, and the time Vadim took, the care, as if he was still worth something.

Vadim ran his free hand across Dan's back, smiling slightly when he felt a reaction, an increase in awareness, maybe, hoping he'd get Dan to focus. Slowly working, keeping the fourth finger close to the hand, strong fingers forcing, coaxing their way in, not much, just enough to make progress, like he'd done only a few times - Dan wasn't often in the mood for this. But sometimes it wasn't about moods. But survival. Reaching. More grease, then Vadim added the thumb, and the tension in Dan's body jumped up once more. Hips lifting, his breath catching, he shuddered, and finally understood. The tough bit was the row of knuckles, and that could take forever. A forever that no one would take for anyone who meant anything less than everything. "Russkie?" Dan murmured.

"Yes?" Vadim paused, staying where he was, attentive, listening, watching, gauging reactions.


Nothing less than I love you, Vadim thought, and inhaled sharply. "It worked once. Why not again." Why not indeed.

A pile of corpses. Dead Mujas. Rotting, stinking, festering flesh. Why not. It made sense. More sense than anything had made since he had lost his knee, his livelihood, and with it his manhood. "Aye …" Dan breathed out, and relaxed in increments, until his body opened up to the very core.

A long time passed, until Vadim managed to get past the knuckles, hand closing naturally, smooth and tight and hot, and he allowed Dan's body to accept the treatment. He remained still, silent, listening to Dan's breathing, which became erratic, and followed every twitch of muscle, visible or invisible. Only then did he begin to move, carefully, working with the body, which became pliable, rather than against it, even though he was stronger at present, heavier and Dan was helpless, but he hadn't thought in such categories for a long, long time. Vadim ran his fingers across Dan's flanks, then leaned in to kiss the skin. "Calm. I'm here."

Dan's fingers trembled against the ground, no sense of time. Ensconced in the safety of darkness behind closed eyes, and yet he was fighting a fight that had nothing to do with Vadim. Focused, feeling, more feeling and more sensations than he had allowed himself to remember. Before the time. Before he'd become useless. There was a pain inside, which rose and moved, fluttered against his chest, and it took his breath. Took his mind and reduced it to the one sensation: his body being opened up and taken, once more focused completely, while everything else was crashing in around him, and the pain grew and grew, until he could taste it, and it tasted like failure and loss and suicide.

Vadim remained focused, calm himself, desire the last thing he was thinking about or feeling right now. It was all about Dan, and whether he could find that connection again. Moving, turning his hand, ever so slightly, opening the fist a little, then closing it, minuscule movements, as too much, too intense, could probably be painful. He had no idea. Dan had never done this to him.

Too much, yet never enough, not even after hours. A sound was finally torn out of Dan's chest, lost and utterly desperate, unlike any sound he'd ever made. Not in the mountains - half-insane, not even torn apart by a bomb - almost dying.

Vadim closed his eyes, knowing something had changed, something major, important, this was unlike Dan, and all he could hope was that it would be the start of all that pain coming out. Blood. Flesh and blood. He moved again to kiss, wanted to hold and caress, and did it with the sex instead. Slow, considerate motions, more intense now that he remembered what Dan liked, what kind of twists, what kind of movements.

Dan reacted, and something opened inside, letting him feel the pain and fear, the self-loathing for which he had no name. Tapping into the darkness and depression, to tear open the deepest hurt: being useless, old, belonging to the scrap heap and having lost all sense, reason, focus and task. Reaching inside, deep, deeper than words ever could. Touching - to drain the puss.

Patience and listening, Vadim was wide open to Dan's responses, a body that reacted as if separated from the mind - while the mind was given the strength to allow the pain to surface. Vadim took his time, determined to allow Dan to find the way back, shed whatever had come between them, at the same time feeling an intense tenderness that had, itself, been buried under his own stuff, until Dan had felt only like the guy he shared a house with.

Dan opened his legs further, pushed his chest and head down, almost on his knees, open, wide open, allowing, expecting, demanding the intrusion that anchored him. Once more. Deeper. The sob that was torn out of him shook his whole body. Shuddering violently, only the hand inside his body still anchored him, when another sob poured out. Sounds of utter devastation, sounds he wasn't aware of, as the pain rose to the surface, spilling open and he wept like a lost child.

Vadim stroked Dan's back, never relenting, never withdrawing, moving ever so slightly, trying to be there, even though he assumed, judging by his own struggles, that Dan might not fully realize him, his presence, just going through his own inner world. And Dan, who had always been so uncomplicated, probably had a worse time than he had. Ill-equipped to deal with these notions.

Notions that saw Dan weak, and yet strong, because he was still struggling, still fighting on, as the hurt and fear of a whole year poured out of him. His cock still hard, but never moving beyond that stage. The arousal did not wane, as if the one had nothing to do with the other - no matter how long it took, and the night had been shielding them in darkness during the last hours, while the silence of the mountains cocooned them both. The sobs finally began to quieten and die down, and yet Dan's body was still in the same state.

Only then did Vadim withdraw his hand, just as slowly and gently as everything else, and he turned Dan by the hips, nudging him to lie down, lie flat on his back. Shifting his own weight, he moved between Dan's legs and took the hard cock between his lips. Gently, again, no greed, just tenderness, caring.

Dan was past noticing, and he shuddered once more, bereft of the anchor which had centred his mind, but his body had different ideas, reacting to the touch. Too many months without connection, and without the physical manifestation of a love he'd believed lost. Now that his mind had stopped thinking, his body took over once more, like it had done all his life. Breath quickening, his cock hardened under the tender administrations, and he was taken away, further towards the edge.

Vadim glanced up briefly, studying Dan's face, then concentrated on Dan's cock. Hadn't done this in a while, not to Dan, not for Dan, but it still felt completely natural, he'd never love doing this, but that wasn't the point. The point was to bring release, relief, and he concentrated on sucking and licking, not going anywhere fast, just continued stimulation for a while, before he finally took the cock deep into his throat, moving fast.

Dan's body reacted almost immediately. Arching up with a hoarse groan, face still wet, hands in fists, he tensed once, twice. Sounds were torn out of his chest, when he pushed himself towards the accepting throat. He came with a shout that had nothing to do with the mind, but all with the body and the man.

Vadim swallowed, took Dan's hand when he was arched up, pressing it, and then continued to lick and suck, cleaning him up, until he finally rested his hand on Dan's hip, breathing faster, but smiling, caressing the scars, while Dan remained out for a long time. He had almost fallen asleep with his breath evened out and his face slack and peaceful. More calm and relaxed than it had been for months after months.

Vadim only moved enough to pull up the sleeping bag and make sure that Dan wouldn't be cold now. He cleaned his hand, reached for a bottle of water, drinking, then lay down beside Dan, watching him breathe.

"Vadim?" Barely audible, after what seemed like an eternity.

"I'm here", Vadim murmured, smiling. "You okay?"

"Aye …" Drowsy, eyes still closed. "You … still want me?" Not a question, despite the inflexion of his tired voice.

Vadim moved up to look closely into Dan's face, then kissed his lips, even though Dan never opened his eyes. "I do. And I ... love you. Okay?"

"Then who am I?" Barely more than breathed out.

"Everything. Everybody." Vadim moved up, touching Dan's legs, hips, chest, shoulder.

"Everybody?" Dan's head fell to the side, the vaguest of smiles ghosting across his lips.

"Well, for me." Vadim smiled, too. "But you did ask me."

Dan lifted his hand sluggishly, wiping across his closed eyes, to get rid of the itch of those salty tears. His hand remained across his face. Too much effort to lift it. "Even though I am not Mad Dog anymore, not even 'Daan'?"

"Don't care. I take you as you are. SAS, mercenary, consultant, pensioner. Whatever. As long as ... this doesn't happen again. Because it fucking hurts."

Dan opened his eyes, a great feat of willpower do to so. "Yeah." Moving no muscle except eyes and lips. "Like standing in front of a closed door?" No accusation in it.

Vadim inhaled deeply. "Still. Good it came to that." Even if Nelson had become more trouble than he was worth.

With a strange, nearly invisible smile, Dan's eyes closed again. "I have to do some thinking now …" drifting off.

"Take your time." Vadim closed his eyes, breathing deeply. "I'll doze a bit." The whole thing had been much harder - and easier - than he'd thought. But he got the feeling he'd managed to break through. Even if it would be tough to repair all that, but they'd been through worse.

"Aye …" Dan shuddered, a gentle movement all through his body, as he fell asleep. Mind finally shutting down, his body succumbed to the abuse of months. Asleep - deeper than in ages - within the next second.

* * *

When Dan woke with a full bladder, it was already dawn. The first sensation was that of warmth - shared warmth - and it had become so unknown, that he lay there for a moment, just feeding from the sensation of feeling a body beside him and against his own. When he stretched he felt the deep seated ache, and he grimaced, biting down a sound, as he shuffled to sit up and peel himself out of the blankets. The ache was nothing, on the contrary. He'd felt it before, had been stretched and filled and taken, and the only true feeling that lingered was that of no longer being alone. Connection. Worth.

It was chilly and damp, so he carefully took a blanket with him, wrapped around his shoulders, trying not to wake Vadim, whose face looked relaxed in his sleep, with the hand curled in a loose fist beside his head. Crawling out of the tent, a glorious dawn greeted him, and it felt strange to do such a profane task as to piss. But needs must, and he was just a profane man, after all.

Blinking into the powdery colours of rising light, he stood and relieved himself. Mind blank, and the pain was gone. Replaced by a blank slate that waited to be filled.

Vadim emerged from the tent not much later, when Dan had finished his business, dressed in his jeans, T-shirt in his hands, and yawned, then stretched. He watched Dan closely and smiled, still somewhat sleep dazed. "Was a long night", he murmured.

"Aye." Dan nodded, offered a vague smile, before turning his face back towards the rapidly approaching dawn. "Is the towel dry?"

"I think so." Vadim put the T-shirt on, then headed back to get Dan the towel, slipping into his shoes on the way back. He handed Dan the towel. "Any plans?"

"My arse is full of Vaseline and itches." Dan's brows rose with dry humour. "The plan's to jump into that cold water and wash it off."

Vadim laughed wryly. "Okay. I'll make coffee." He headed back to the fireplace and rummaged through the bergan to find what food he'd brought. Not much. But he could always venture out, drive for a little and get some provisions.

Dan left the towel over a branch, put the blanket down, and walked straight into the water. The water was a shock to the system, but he walked on, as if the cold could wash the puss away that had been drained. The guilt, loathing, anger and resentment. He stayed only a few minutes, washing best he could and quickly, before coming out with chattering teeth and goosebumps all over. Drying himself in record time, vigorously rubbing at skin and hair, until he could slip the blanket back over his shoulders.

"Got sweets?" He was beside Vadim the next moment.

Vadim placed some more dried wood onto the fire. "Not nearly enough to last us", he murmured and smiled. "I'll head down the mountain again and get some stuff. Didn't have much time to pack." He stood and stretched and got his jacket. "I could probably tie you up, but I imagine you're not the most unwilling prisoner I've ever had." Raising an eyebrow, as if in question.

Dan huffed. "Never been your prisoner. Not going to start a habit now." He sat down near the fire, a laborious process. "I think I'm hungry." Didn't quite know if he was, it had been months since he'd truly been hungry.

"There's a ration and some bits ... nuts." Vadim gestured at the bergan near the fire. "Should last you two hours. I shouldn't be longer than that."


"Yes. But don't worry, no suits or furniture." Vadim smiled, and gave a little wave, then headed down the mountain, to the car, then towards one of the small, idyllic cities and there to one of the outdoor stores and the nearby supermarket.

Dan didn't move much in all that time. Drank the coffee that Vadim had left, went onto the rest of the water bottle, and ate whatever food was there. Strange to actually feel hungry, something he hadn't realised he'd missed. The alcohol and emptiness had numbed even that.

He was lying with his back on the blanket in a patch of sun, a packet of cigarettes beside him, when Vadim returned. He didn't even twitch at the sounds, keeping his eyes closed, as if he'd lost all of his instincts. Still naked, the new scars on his knee anything but pretty. But what did they matter, only another one on an already flawed body.

Vadim set the bags down, then the bergan that was stuffed full with beverages. "That should last us for a while", he said and crouched down. "Sweets, meat, outdoor food, dried, smoked ... I even got a kettle and a pan."

"You going to cook for me? Mother Goose style?" Cracking one eye open, a fleeting hint of Dan's old irreverent humour appeared for a moment.

Vadim glanced up, then shrugged. "Depends what you're offering in return."

"Depends on what you want from me."

"More of the same." Vadim began to set up the pan, eggs, bacon, cheese, all dug out of the bergan, and already started to cook.

"My arse is not going to keep up with that." Pushing himself up on his elbow, Dan watched Vadim, every movement, each simple and focused task.

"Hm. Maybe some substitute? Or maybe I'm just talking about sharing warmth?" Vadim cut the bacon into the pan and melted the fat over the fire, then broke the eggs into the pan and added several chunks of cheese.

"If you don't know what you're talking about, how can I?" Dan shook his head, then let himself roll once more onto his back. One arm shielding his eyes against the sun, the other boneless beside him. Silent while the eggs cooked and the bacon sizzled.

"Just teasing."

"Are you taking the offer?" Suddenly.

Vadim looked up, knew in an instant what offer Dan was talking about. "Only if it's over between us", he murmured.

"You really think it could ever be, unless one of us was dead?" Him, most likely. He'd been dead for months.

"I ..." Vadim paused. He hadn't been sure. For months. "I want it to work, Dan. If I have to go, I will. But I don't want to. I ... am not sure I can function without you. Or live."

"Aye, function or live. Or are we back to the needing? The carer?" Dan trailed off, silent once more. He slowly let the arm fall from his face, turning, until he looked at Vadim. "You still want me?" So much implied in the few words. Do you still want me even though I am no longer myself? No longer strong? No longer functional?

Vadim nodded, in silence, felt his guts knot and twist inside. Of course. It was a different kind of wanting, though, but that was fine. Gentler, more considerate, more caring.

"That's not very enthusiastic."

"We've drifted apart for so long. It's like ... it takes time. It's been a year, Dan. So much ... darkness." He frowned and took the pan off the fire, scraping the eggs into two bowls, handing one to Dan.

Dan nodded, took the bowl and didn't say anything for a long time, well after he'd started tucking into the bacon and eggs. "That's not actually the question." Choosing, chewing and swallowing another mouthful. "Question is if you want him. More than you want me." Looking up from his food. "It's really that simple. You choose what you want. That's all."

"He freaks me out."

Dan laughed, a dry, huffed sound that died quickly. "So you haven't lost your taste for knives, blood and danger. It just comes without the blades and in a suit, these days."

Vadim grinned, shaking his head. "I'm serious, Dan. He freaks me out. Keeps calling, that ... contract. That was unsolicited. I didn't tell him I was looking for a job. Nothing I did encouraged that."

Dan's brows rose, but he said nothing otherwise, finished off his food instead. He had rolled back down before he spoke. "Guess the fact you stayed far away from your 'business partner' was telling."

"Well, he was staying away from me, too."

Dan turned onto his side. "I just hate the fucking wannabe arseholes in that job. Bunch of tossers, just like my worst COs."

"Yeah." Vadim sighed. "I don't want to point the finger. We both made mistakes. We both fucked it up. Nelson just took advantage of it, and ... it was nice to be desired, too."

Dan nodded slowly. "Yeah, I get that." Trailing off once more, he closed his eyes, as he tried to find the words. "Don't know what happened to me. Seems I lost … myself." My job. My self esteem. My reason for being. My everything. Except you, but then I lost you, too.

"And I should have seen it sooner, but I didn't. I'm sorry."

Dan nodded once more. "You were busy and I was away. All those months in hospital and rehab, hospital again and final fucking weeks in rehab, at the other side of the world." He reached for his fags, "not good."

"No. Not good at all." Vadim began to eat his own portion, thinking about everything, but truth was, all he wanted was get back to normal, live like they had before everything had come down around them. "What do you want me to do?"

"I don't know." Dan lit the fag, then moved to sit. "I don't even know what I should do." Inhaling deeply, he watched the smoke curl from his nostrils, up into the air. "Perhaps we could start with letting me have a say in what the house looks like."

"Okay. We start with the house." Vadim was eating, quickly finishing the food and then drinking half a bottle of water. "I guess you hate it?"

"Not everything. Just some of the pictures, looks like poncy shit to me. And I fucking hate the bedroom. That's no proper bed. It's all so … just too much. Everything's just too much. It's like someone had transplanted a Scottish peasant into a Florida villa." He tilted his head, "sorry. I like it simple. I bought the farm for the view of the mountains and the old apple trees."

Vadim looked somewhat shocked, especially at the last bit, then nodded. "What about this: you tell me which pieces you hate and I get rid of them. I guess I could find a buyer for that."

Surprised, Dan backtracked. "Not everything. Would be unfair. You keep your favourite stuff, but the bedroom …" he trailed off, watching the smoke once more. "You want it to be our bedroom? Then we should furnish it together. You show me catalogues, I tell you what's shit and what isn't." A miniature grin broke through. "Just get rid of that picture, I fucking hate it."

"It's ripped." Vadim shrugged.

"I'm sorry." Dan was watching him. "I don't feel like the place is my home. Always felt like a guest in your house."

"Okay. Let's do everything to make you feel like this is your place, too. Especially", Vadim grinned, "the bedroom. Looks like we'll be using it more often, soon."

"Aye." Stubbing out the cigarette. "That would be good." Dan rolled once more onto his back. Arms and legs relaxed, lying sprawled on top of the blanket, bare skin soaking up the mild sunshine.

Vadim prepared some more coffee, then went to wash out the pan, and lay down near the fire, staring into the blue sky, thinking, calming, allowing the mind to drift. Just spending time with no purpose but be near Dan, who had fallen asleep after a while, gently snoring. Lying partly on his front, face cushioned on his forearm, legs sprawled. Vadim moved over, lay down beside him, touching and warming, and feeling calmer and more at peace than in a long time.

Dan was asleep for a couple of hours, hardly shifting throughout all the time, except for rolling over onto his side, facing Vadim. Subconsciously moving closer to the human warmth, that provided heat in addition to the sun on his bare skin. Surfacing from his slumber, he was awake from one heartbeat to the next, like he used to, back when his life depended on split decisions. But this time he wasn't faced with an enemy. Not when the face in front of him was more familiar than his own and was still the most attractive one he had ever seen. He smiled, a minute reaction. 'Attractive', he hadn't thought in those terms for an eternity.

Vadim noticed the shift and opened his eyes, regarding Dan from touching distance, close enough to blur his features slightly. He gave a smile. "Any discoveries?"


"You look like you're looking for something. Here." Vadim pointed at his face. "Just wondered whether you've found it."

"Answers? No." Dan pulled his arm from under himself, resting his head on his biceps. He was about to say something, but didn't.

Vadim looked dubious for a moment, then returned the gaze. Dan's face, tanned, weathered now, lines - he'd seen it gradually change, and it was still Dan, always him, the eyes hadn't changed much, not the way his face moved through different expressions. "Okay. I was just thinking you might have."

Dan shrugged one-shouldered. "Remember, I don't think. I'm the peasant. It's you who's the thinking man." Reaching out to touch the jaw, running along to the temple.

"Maybe your thoughts are just not as long as mine." Vadim leaned in to kiss the inside of Dan's arm, tilting his head to get more of the touch.

"Aye. They go from here to my body." And yours. "No further." The hand stalled, fingertips resting on Vadim's jaw. Reacquainting themselves. "And as for my body, we got money for a pool?"

"If you want a large one, I'd think we need to get some more jobs in." Vadim smiled and kissed Dan's wrist.

"They said I should swim." 'They', the doctors, physios, massage and rehab specialists. 'They'. An unknown entity that stood for his downfall. "And cycle. Guess I should invest in an exercise bike." Turning his wrist slowly, fingers keeping in contact with the jaw all the time. "How many jobs for a pool with view of the apple trees and the mountains?"

"Depends how much we want to spend as pensioners, Dan. How much interest we get, where and how we invest. If you do want a number, I think a few more years should set us up alright. If we're careful, and if we work hard."

"Just a few years? And then nothing? I'm fucking forty-five. Scrapheap, but not pensioner yet." Dan's hand slipped off Vadim's jaw.

"We can do the consulting stuff for longer and let it slowly peter out. At the moment, we're answering a need." Vadim lay back on his back, but took the hand with him. "What's so bad about a life of leisure?"

"No purpose. Worst thing imaginable."

Vadim thought about it. "Find a purpose. A hobby, people ... You have family, friends … comrades ...."

"Bullshit." For Dan the chapter was closed for now, and he pulled his hand out of Vadim's grasp, slowly getting up. "I'm off for a swim."

Vadim nodded. "Enjoy the water." He turned to watch Dan head into the lake, didn't want to join him, wanted to lie there and think. He'd never really needed a purpose in life - beyond Dan, at least, and once he'd had Dan, everything else just seemed to fit in with his life. He enjoyed the job, but he'd enjoy just as much to be at home and rest, take life slower. Much slower, eventually growing old. He looked forward to it. In a way, he looked forward to resting, and even to death. It would be good to rest, to enter a deep stillness and calm, and even be wiped out. He'd seen many things, done many things, he'd just take it when it came. Dan, he thought, wasn't quite there yet.

Dan was shivering when he finally came back. Muscles worked, body warm, but skin cold. Dripping wet and covered in goosebumps, his 'manhood' had clearly seen more glorious moments. "Bloody cold. Got the towel?"

Vadim grinned. "I'll get it." Heading back into the tent, he found two towels and handed them to Dan. "How was the water? As cold as it looks?"

"Aye. As cold as that." Pointedly looking at his cock that had shrivelled into nothing. "Was thinking. Short thoughts." Drying off, "but even those need time." He offered a small smile. "What sweets did you get?"

Vadim pointed at the bags. "See for yourself. Something for every taste, I'd wager."

"Any peanut butter energy bars?" A flash of a grin broke through the otherwise mostly passive face, before turning to look for the bag. He stooped down without bending his knees, and it was obvious he was compensating, but perhaps he was getting used to it.

"No, nicer than that. I went to the bakery and got a whole lot of those sugary cakes and cookies, all wrapped up in nice little boxes." Vadim watched him, then headed over to get some of the plates from the camping shop.

"Holy shit!" Dan was too occupied with unpacking the goods to notice Vadim had walked off. "You really did get strawberry tats?" Opening up one of the boxes, there they were. In all their round glory, filled with thick cream, and transparent red sweetness covering the fresh strawberries. He turned to search for Vadim and spotted him with the plates. "Guess not all's lost between us, eh?"

Vadim turned and grinned. "Well, if the Baroness managed to bribe you with those ..."

"Depends on what you want to bribe me for." Another smile, a rare occurrence lately, before Dan took a hearty bite, and the pleasure was written all over his face.

"You know, just get back into your good graces." Vadim set the plates down and sat near the fire, regarding Dan, watching him eat. He wasn't hungry himself - he'd eaten something in a takeaway place in the city, fish and chips, actually, which kept his stomach occupied with the greasy coating.

"Getting into my good graces or you getting into my good graces?" Chewing, Dan eyed the low seat near the fire and chose to remain standing. Easier that way.

"Me getting back into your good graces." Vadim reached for a water bottle and drank.

"Well …" Dan opened his mouth for the last big bite and spent the next seconds chewing. "And what do I have to do to get back into yours?"

"Stop drinking so much, open up to me, and be my partner instead of this guy I kind of share a house with."

Dan swallowed more than just the cake and he looked at Vadim, brows knitting for a moment. "I already told you, I don't actually like drinking on my own. But it kept me from thinking what a fucking joke I'd become."

"You're not a joke. You'll never will be a joke, Dan."

Dan huffed. "You said I'd still be lethal with my legs cut off. You really think that?"


"And how the fuck do you mean that?"

"As I said it. It's the mind, Dan. Mind over matter. You kill with your mind, not your body." Vadim shook his head. "I sound like a cheap Bruce Lee rip-off. But I mean it."

Shaking his head with an amused huff, second strawberry tart in tow, plus a selection of chocolate biscuits, Dan made it over to the fire. Picking up the blanket on his way by hooking his toes into, he managed to get down on the ground without any accidents, and wrapped his naked body partially into the blanket, the rest warmed by fire and sun. "Regarding the opening up to you I have to say 'you, too'. I wasn't the only one who didn't talk." Dan shrugged, started on a chocolate biscuit. "And the partner …" the biscuit was gone with the next bite, "that goes for you, too, aye?"

"Of course. It's a mutual thing, this relationship. Takes two."

"That means you'll make some time in your fancy life to do stuff with me?"

"Yes. If it's more than getting drunk, yes. But you haven't been doing much lately."

"No, because I didn't know what." Vadim's words didn't sting, strangely. Dan knew he was right. "I wasn't even hungry anymore." Biting a piece off another biscuit with determined gusto.

"It would be good to see you hungry again."

"Guess you're seeing it now." Dan managed a brief grin while chewing. He took his time before he swallowed, reaching for some water. "You realise I haven't seen you naked for months?"

Vadim paused, then nodded. "I don't exactly prance around the house naked ... much. There's always the way from the bath to the sauna, though." Smiling.

"Haven't been in the sauna yet." Dan shrugged, wiped his lips after a good mouthful of water. He was slowly starting to feel human again. At long last the hangover was gone. "But for being naked, what about now?"

"You think?"

"Aye, I do. All the crap's somewhere else when you're naked out here."

Vadim stood and began to undress, watched intently. It wasn't exactly warm, not freezing, either. Shirt, shoes, socks, jeans, underwear, all on a pile, as he stood there, just as naked as Dan was under his blanket. "I've lost a lot of definition", he murmured.

"No, you didn't." Dan looked him up and down. A little soft in the sides, perhaps, but that was all he could see and he knew that body damn well. "Not to my eyes." Lifting the corner of the blanket, an inviting gesture.

Vadim moved closer and got under the blanket, skin to skin. Fuck. He'd missed that. Just being close.

"You want a biscuit?" Dan was holding the parcel out to him with one hand, the other arm wrapped around Vadim's back. Shit, that was good. So familiar and yet so unknown for too long, it hurt. In all the good ways.

Vadim grinned. "No, I'm okay. I guess I could do with something else, though. Something else I've wanted for far too long."

"A blowjob?" Dan turned his head, and there was no doubt, the familiar, old, irreverent grin was peeking through.

"That, or even getting fucked." Vadim smiled. "Guess your ass is out for a while."

"I'm not sure yet." Dan tilted his head, reaching for another biscuit. "The fucking, that is." Munching his way thoughtfully through the chocolate covered crunchiness.

"Okay." Start again, slow. Slow. Testing the ground with every step, whether there was a basis to stand on or not. It was probably the safest way to do it - only that things between him and Dan had never been safe, had always been all out. All out war, all out love, all out sex. "That's fine. Not ... sure I'm quite there myself."

"The blowjob, though … don't you think I need a reminder? Been a while. Not even others."

Vadim nodded. "Absolutely. Won't say no."

"That's not a lot of enthusiasm, Russkie." Dan flashed a rare grin.

"You keep saying that." Vadim shook his head, smiling. "Make me enthusiastic? I'm worrying too much."

"About what? Can't imagine it's as bad as my own worry?"

"Same thing. Worries about you worrying. It's a bit awkward."

"So you worry about me worrying that I won't perform?" Dan shook his head slightly with a vague grin. "Holy shit, that's complicated."

Vadim didn't answer, turned his head to kiss Dan's neck instead, his throat, running his hand over Dan's chest towards the scars.

"Seems that's less complicated than I thought." Dan murmured, turning his head until he was face to face. He hadn't kissed Vadim in months. Not deliberate, not truly, and he couldn't even grasp anymore how he'd stayed away from it. Moving, now, lips against lips and he parted his, inviting and exploring in return.

Vadim smiled a little, opening up, kissing more deeply, focusing on the taste of the sugar and an echo of strawberries and chocolate, feeling his body respond to the kiss, the skilful tongue, Dan's closeness.

Dan's hands began to wander all over Vadim's body, until the blanket fell off, but he didn't notice. Lifting his head after a long while, he murmured, "and how are we going to do this? Any ideas? Kneeling's right out."

Breathing faster, Vadim lay down, stretched out on the ground, pulling Dan with him. "On the side ... just lie down right next to me. I could ... blow you, too."

"69?" Dan flashed a grin, "and here I was, thinking I could only focus on one thing." Voice husky, and he moved already. Hastily spreading the blanket on the ground, before lying down, waiting for Vadim to join him.

Vadim grinned, getting into position for his cock to be close to Dan's face, and he was faced with the same prospect, moving only to kiss and touch Dan's thighs and stomach. "Doesn't have to be simultaneous ..."

"Best not." Dan's lips were close to Vadim's cock, close enough that his vision was blurred. He inhaled deeply, greedily, when the scent hit his nostrils, creating a stab of desire he hadn't felt in months. "Shit." Breathed out, as he moved close enough for his tongue to taste and lick, and for his lips to kiss and suck. "I fucking missed this." Steadying Vadim's hips, he concentrated on nothing but the cock. Eyes closed, letting himself go, not thinking, just remembering and wanting - allowing himself to want and thus to give.

Vadim shuddered, closed his eyes, taking hold of Dan's hips to steady himself. Good. Much better than good. The sheer length of time since Dan had done this, it added to the intensity, and he was soon panting, trying to keep himself from pushing, thrusting deeper into Dan's mouth. He wanted Dan to find his own rhythm, do it as he wanted to do it, but damn, it was getting harder by the second, while Dan appeared to be oblivious - deliberate or not.

Dan took his time, almost like he had done, half a lifetime ago, back in Kabul, when he had taught himself how to give head with a knife at Vadim's balls. Remembering the taste and sounds, the sensations beneath his fingers, lips, and tongue, and remembering, most of all, how much he wanted this. How much he loved sucking a cock. Not any cock, this cock, Vadim's.

He pulled back when Vadim's thighs trembled beneath his hands and remained barely poised at the head, lips circling lightly. He smiled, tongue flicking across the slit, and then an almighty grin spread across his face before he pushed himself down, concentrating, breathing with wide nostrils, as he remembered it all at once - deep throating Vadim without an ounce of holding back. Just like ever: reckless. Skilled. And entirely steeped in confidence.

Vadim jerked, unable to hold back, pushing in, moving because the alternative was going insane. Tensing up as the pressure mounted, whole body getting there, clinging to Dan's hip, muffling strangled sounds with his face pressed against Dan's thigh, moving, then stilling as he came.

Dan pulled back just enough to breathe, Vadim's cock still in his mouth. Swallowing the last drops, he moved to clean the spent cock, then rested his cheek against the flesh. "Seems there's something I'm still fucking great at." He grinned from ear to ear, more relaxed than he remembered.

Vadim swallowed dryly, unable to speak, orgasm still making him shudder. Holding onto Dan's hips for a little longer, he remembered his promise. Moving to take Dan's cock, he played with it just because he was still too breathless to take it in deep, then allowed it to slip free so he could suck on his balls, hands moving to Dan's ass, kneading it in time with his motions, all the while listening to Dan's breath. How it quickened, and how he let out small sounds that could almost be classified as pleading.

Dan's hands convulsively flexed and relaxed on Vadim's thighs and hips, as he lay with his face pressed against the now flaccid cock. The musky scent of male and sex and cum a heady mixture. No time, now, for worrying, his body had other plans, it simply remembered who he'd been and how he'd always reacted to Vadim. And not just Vadim, to many others. Sex, he'd loved it, had craved it, and it suddenly came back, reminding him with a vengeance how fucking good it felt to climb towards an orgasm, and to lose himself.

Vadim smiled at Dan's reaction, then decided he'd got him where he wanted him, and took the cock with one swift motion. He was out of practice, his throat constricted a bit, but he wasn't slowed down, too determined to do it, and his body quickly remembered how to do it.

Dan let out a sound over which he'd had no control, shuddering violently. His hands tightly gripped Vadim's buttocks and thighs, and his hips jerked forwards, unable to reign himself in. Not that he wanted to, he was helpless and this time he relinquished power willingly. The orgasm came suddenly after a steady climb, lust increasing until he'd lost all sense except for the throat tightly around his cock, and he came with a shout.

Vadim swallowed, swallowing just because it felt damned nice for the other, as he knew, giving Dan time before he pulled back just enough so he could breathe again, then licked and sucked the cock. Gentle now, more deliberate, before allowing it to slip out, head fell back, and he rested. But after a few moments, he shifted and turned, lying down beside Dan, reaching out to hold him. "Okay?"

"Yeah." Dan smiled, "never been better." He closed his eyes, shifting closer, until their bodies gave warmth to the other. "Perhaps some things never do change, aye?" Quietly.

Vadim smiled against Dan's neck. "Guess not. You're still far better at this than I am."

Dan laughed, and he suddenly realised that it had been ages since he'd laughed with that much genuine feeling. "I don't complain." Glancing around, but he couldn't see his fags and he couldn't be bothered.

"You're the master, no question about it." Vadim lay back, looking at Dan, marvelling at how his face had opened, relaxed. Closer to the old Dan.

"We could still practice?" Dan winked. "If you ply me with food I might rediscover more than just my hunger for sweets."

"If that wasn't hungry, I don't know what is." Vadim stretched, suppressing a yawn. "But yeah, we can practice more. Much more."

"But right now I need a fag and then another snooze. You've worn me out." Dan smiled, rolling onto his back. "And if you cook something for me tonight, you never know what might happen." He flashed a grin and despite his demand for a cigarette he never reached for them, just closed his eyes.

Vadim huffed laughter, got to his feet, and found his clothes. Dan was never cold, but he was. He added some more wood to the fire, then found another blanket for Dan, allowing him to rest and sleep. And he did cook. He could never know what might happen, after all.

* * *

Dan slept until it was time for the food, and fell soon asleep again, once it had turned dark, with an amazing sky promising a rather cold night. Vadim had to rouse him to get him into the tent and tucked in, and when Vadim finally joined him as well, Dan turned towards him, wrapping arms and legs around him in his sleep, as if he were clinging to the presence, for more than just warmth. Vadim ran his fingertips over Dan's back and shoulder blades, breathing in the scent of Dan's hair, feeling his breath, and thinking that the good things were always simple like this.

It was barely dawn, when Dan was up and outside. Still naked, clothes didn't feel right, as if they represented all the shit they'd left outside. He was wrapped in a blanket, busying himself with boiling water for a strong coffee, while smoking a fag from his stash.

Vadim eventually emerged, dressed in outdoor trousers, to wash himself at the lake and to shave, something Dan had done well before the first proper light. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine." Dan nodded, pouring some of the strong concoction with its wonderful aroma into the second tin mug, handing it to Vadim, who took a careful sip. "Been thinking." Dan offered a smile, before sipping from his own brew, generously laced with sugar. "I want to go to Afghanistan."

"You mean, the real place?" Vadim looked up, alarmed, but he'd sworn that he'd do whatever it took to get Dan back from where he'd vanished to. "Not a metaphor, not a memory, you mean the physical, real place?"

"Aye." Dan nodded. "I want to see the mountains again. You coming with me?" Proving himself that he could. Fucked knee or not. Just one last time.

"Can't we see them from the other side? India? Pakistan?"

"I might have been drunk, but I wasn't out of it. The Najibullah government fell in 1992, aye?" Conveniently ignoring that a group of Pashtuns had developed enough strength to capture Kandahar and impose the Shariah law on parts of the country already. "So no more communist bullshit going on."

"Naijbullah is the least of Afghanistan's problems. It's when the savages come out of the mountains that things get bad in the country." Never mind Dan had helped train them.

Dan snorted, shaking his head. "Shit, eh?" Looking at Vadim for a moment in a display of weary self-mockery.

"If you think it's safe for us to go there ... because I'm not sure I can take up arms again and fight my way out if the place goes to hell in a hand basket."

"Yeah, I guess you are right." Dan sighed, sipping some more of his coffee. Wasn't it fucking ironic that he was the one who got those bloody Mujas organised? But back then, he'd been obeying orders. "Not sure about Pakistan either. I remember distinctly the crap going on there last year. I'd have thought you wouldn't forget the Mog and its clusterfuck. What with Hooch and all." Hooch, a strangely sore point, because it reminded Dan of his friends, and having lost touch. Having lost touch with anyone, in fact. Even the Baroness.

"Leaves India."

"Never saw anything but the hospital."

"That's a yes, then." Vadim smiled. "Kashmir is beautiful. If you're in the mind to enjoy it."

"As long as I get into the mountains." Dan finished his coffee, fishing for a fag as the first light of the morning illuminated his face. Still striking, but weathered. "Fuck the knee, I'll make it up there." Up was easy, down was the problem, but he'd be fucked if he didn't make it. "I had worse, aye?"

"As much Hindu Kush as you can want. Himalayas are fairly close, too. And India is definitely nicer than any of the mental asylums surrounding it."

Dan laughed, the first deep belly-laugh in an eternity. "You could say that." Pouring himself some more of the coffee. "A propos clusterfuck, have you heard from Hooch?" No matter how thin the ice and how difficult the subject, it was a new day and he'd had to brave some of the shit.

"Briefly. He called, and we had a chat." Remembering how he had wanted to relax Hooch by hitting him, inflicting pain, pain that would have helped Hooch deal with whatever had happened in the Mog. But he hadn't, it would have been too tempting, too dangerous. Vadim had heard it between the lines, though, the fact that the place had been shit, and Hooch in the middle of it. If he'd guessed right and read the reports correctly, Hooch had been a hero in that impossible place, saving lives, saving comrades, and losing comrades.

"Yeah …" Dan nodded, concentrated on his coffee and the fag. "And Matt?" Dan looked up, flicking the butt into the fire.

"Matt ... Matt takes care of Hooch. I think he secured himself a Delta, our little Jarhead."

That made Dan chuckle, and he shook his head. "I'm afraid I was a fucking bad friend. Matt called and even wrote, but I never returned anything." He shrugged one-shouldered, avoiding Vadim's eyes as he turned towards the fire, poking at the embers with a stick. "Have you heard from Jean?"

"He called a few times, but bad timing. He seems to be doing okay, but I haven't heard anything from him for a long time."

"Markus or Dima?"

"Yes, they called in regular intervals. They are doing just fine. Markus has taken over a delegation in Africa, and they are now official, so Dima went with him."

Dan nodded slowly, poking at the embers again until sparks flew up. "I really was a shit friend, aye? And let's not even mention being a shit brother …" And lover. Spoken into the fire, he didn't look at Vadim.

"If they are friends, they'll be okay with it. Maybe get in touch. See how they are doing?"

"Aye, I should do that. Should definitely call Duncan when I get back. Should call Maggie, too. She's been rather insistent lately, even threatening to come here." A smile ghosted across his face.

"Do that. Call her first."

"I will. Better than have her stand on our doorstep, aye?" Dan managed a brave smile. Throwing the stick into the fire, he turned towards Vadim. "And you? How have you been? Have you been in touch with …" hesitating, "your family? Have you heard anything about Kisa? Your father? Your children?" And have you found anyone to have sex with, instead? But Dan did not ask that, couldn't.

"My father's still alive", Vadim murmured. "Katya's doing well, and so is Kisa. And my kids. We are in touch now. Not often, but I guess ... that's still plenty. I just ..." He shrugged. "I just waited it out, I guess. Waited for something to happen. Feeling bitter, and lonely, a lot of the time."

"So did I." Dan nodded slowly. "And I thought you enjoyed being a civilian. While I hated it." Dan held a hand out to Vadim. Not sure if he expected it to be taken, but Vadim came closer and took his hand with both his, and Dan looked at him. "I hurt like fuck, and I don't mean the knee. Didn't understand what was happening, how I could just lose everything I'd ever been, because of that fucking body simply not complying anymore."

"I still enjoy it."

"What, my body?" Dan offered a crooked grin.

"That, and being a civilian. Both. We've slowed down, Dan. That's fine. Didn't we kill enough?"

"Aye …" Evasive, Dan glanced towards the fire again. "But I've been a soldier all my life. What am I now, Vadim? I feel like shit amongst those suited bigwigs at the conferences. I don't speak their lingo and I feel like they look down at me as if I were scum."

"I don't think they do. Maybe some. Like ... Nelson, but the others? They respect you. For your experience ... the things you've done, the things you know. Officers are always bastards. Don't forget that."

"Yeah, I guess that's true." Squeezing Vadim's hand, Dan let go of it slowly. "You think it'd kill me to take another swim?" Getting up, he shed the blanket and stretched. His body illuminated in the glow of the morning sun. Nothing that could be hidden, and nothing to hide. Scars, skin, muscles and not enough meat, but the perfect lines were still there.

Vadim shook his head. "Can't see how it would. I could always catch you before you drown. I'm pretty fast."

"That's alright, then." Dan flashed a grin and went off, towards the ice cold water, and with a yelp he immersed himself. Not much later, after Dan had tired himself out until he was freezing, they were lying in the tent, naked, for a morning nap. Dan behind Vadim, like they used to do. Bodies generating heat, Dan had warmed up, while Vadim idly stroked the hair on Dan's arm that was lying across his waist. It felt good having him so close, felt good to feel Dan's breath rise and fall like this. They lay like this for a long time, until their breathing evened out and in sync, until finally, Dan spoke in a low voice, barely above a murmur.

"I wish I hadn't lied."

"Lied?" Vadim opened his eyes, looked at the bergan stowed away, then closed his eyes again. Nothing to see. "About what?"

"When I told you there was nothing you could do. When I sent you away, and told you it didn't matter if you were there or not."

"Weird. I think, in that moment, you did mean it. But sounds like it has changed?"

Dan shook his head, a small movement in the back of Vadim's neck. "I was fucking frightened." His voice had dropped even more. "But I couldn't say it. Couldn't admit to it, bad enough I felt as if I'd stopped being a man because my body stopped functioning."

Vadim reached behind to touch Dan's flank, stroking it. He wanted to turn around and hold Dan, but he thought maybe it was easier to talk not looking at each other. "It didn't make a difference to me, it never did."

"What ... that I was frightened or that I'm fucked up and not anymore the man you knew?"

"That you're different. There is something … something that makes every person what they are. The core. I'm still, somewhere, the guy you met in that awful place. The man who has committed all those crimes. But I'm different. So are you. But the core … that's the same, and once you get to know that core, changes don't screw up the love. You could have turned out a farmer like Duncan. I'd have still fallen for you."

"You're not taking the piss, are you?" Dan smiled, a measure of confidence creeping back into his low voice. "If I had been a farmer I wouldn't have matched you, wouldn't have been equal. You sure you would have fallen in love with me?"

"It might have gone differently", Vadim murmured. "Meeting would have been difficult, for once. But your strength is … not just the strength to beat the shit out of a man and to truss him up like a turkey or to put a gun into a guy's mouth … you do match me. You have so much guts, Dan. You'd have shown me my limits, in any fashion, in any possible way. I might have been older, calmer, but I could have fallen for a man who's not a soldier. Easily. I fell for a masseur when I was young. Soldiers were just … the easiest, because they were there. Even Szandor. He was a fencer. Camp. Aristocratic. I could have fallen for him easily." Mentioning that he really liked Duncan would have been a bad idea, now, and he gave a small, amused snort. Duncan was a lot like Dan. Like he'd imagine a Dan that hadn't been trained to kill. Could he have fallen for a guy like that? Absolutely.

Dan's hand on Vadim's abs moved upwards a little, lightly stroking across a pec. Just revelling in the feel of warmth and smoothness. "I was always strong" murmured, "always matched you. Always held my own ground. The only fear I ever had was the one that kept any soldier alive. But lying there ... waiting for the surgery that meant the end of everything I'd always been, I wanted to run away. Scream, or cry, or shit myself with that goddamned motherfucking fear. Fear that ... that I wasn't your equal anymore. That I couldn't keep up with the likes of ..." hesitating, "Hooch."

Vadim shook his head. "Similar to, I guess, what I felt when you do things with Jean. The Frenchman tries everything to diffuse the situation, but he does show me that you could have had better guys. People who are still sane, who don't scream. And in tastes, Jean is much closer to you, too."

"Not as intellectual as you, aye?" Amusement coloured Dan's voice, and the former accusation had turned into something much calmer, gentler, perhaps even laced with pride.

"No. Not by a long stretch … He's not stupid, just …" Vulgar, Vadim thought, and gave another snort. Vulgar. And since when had he taken on all the upper-class standards that he, strictly, didn't deserve, either?

"Just like me?" Dan's lips touched the back of Vadim's neck. "But I never realised how ..." pausing, gathering his thoughts while his hand continued to stroke and touch, in the most tender way. "Never realised how much you might have been hurt, or worried, ... you know. Others. Until I found out how fucking painful it is to fear losing you."

"I never wanted anybody else after I'd found you. After I understood what it is we have. Didn't want any other man. Sure, it was sexy enough … but I'd never have gone out of my way to find somebody else. I wasn't interested. Took me a while to work out you did it differently. And then took me a while to get my head around it myself. But I fall easily, Dan, and Hooch was easy to feel something for."

Nodding, the small movement made Dan's forehead bump gently against the short shorn hair of the back of Vadim's head. "I can understand that, even though I don't fall for anyone. For me it's just you, or nothing." Hand travelling from pec to back, caressing the skin, fingers re-acquainting themselves with lines and angles he'd known and read like Braille. "You told me once that you needed me. To ... to keep you together. While I wasn't there, the whole last year, how ... I mean, do you still need me, or can you love me now?"

"I can do it alone, apparently." Vadim moved back, closer to Dan. "I didn't fall apart. Didn't go insane, but …" He shrugged. "I am still as fucked up, broken and scarred as you are. Just differently."

"You think together we make something like a whole?" Dan splayed his fingers on Vadim's chest, holding him close, body pressed against body, and it felt so damn good. "Don't care how stupid it sounds, but with both of us fucked up, you think we are complementary?"

"Perhaps. But I love you."

Dan smiled, burying is face against the back of Vadim's neck. "And I love you, a fucking lot. Without you, I'd be dead."

"Yeah, me too." Vadim reached over to touch him again, keep touching him. "We deserve each other. The good and the bad. We just do."

Small movements, almost negligible, as Dan rocked gently against Vadim's body. Not thinking, just feeling, and it was all good, and so long missed. "Will you ..." breathing, just that, just feeling, "will you help me?"

"Anything you want, Dan."

"Help me find myself. An adjusted self." Not new, not different.

"Okay." Vadim half-turned now, moved for a kiss, tenderly, hands wandering over Dan's body, carefully, like he didn't want to scare Dan when he moved too quickly. "Besides, if you feel weaker than I am, you can always … level the playing field."

"What do you mean?" Pushing himself up on his elbow, Dan kissed once more, before concentrating on watching his hand that roamed across the abs and further down. Touching, finding, until it covered Vadim's cock, and he almost didn't notice how his own responded.

"I mean …" Vadim smiled, desire rising, his lips now on Dan's throat, kissing and sucking while moving his hips closer to Dan's cock. "Take my strength. Tie me up. Chain me. Force me with your will."

"Oh shit." Breathed out, Dan clearly did notice his cock now, and the sudden surge of lust at those words. "I ..." want to do that. "I would want that." His breathing quickened at the same time as his cock hardened. No memory of his failure, no echo of his fear, not even a thought that he might not function.. Feeling his lust as his hand closed around Vadim's cock, and proving his own.

Vadim grinned. "Good. Because I want that, too", breathed into Dan's ear. Hooch wasn't the man to do that to him, he knew that. It was Dan. Dan who would control him, any way he could, any way he could imagine, even, and his own need increased. "Do whatever you want. I'll take it."

"I don't want you to 'take' it. I want you to feel me." Pressing as close as he could into Vadim's arse, with a twist of his hips his cock slipped between the buttocks and Dan let out a soft groan.

"I do." Vadim reached for the bergan, the lube had to be somewhere. He found it, squirted some into his hand. "Give me … a second." He pulled away just enough to get his hand between his cheeks, lubed up fingers finding the way, opening the ring, then reaching for Dan's cock, slicking that up, too, and Dan didn't have to think, didn't want to think. Just watched, felt, and finally took Vadim's hand and moved it away, replacing it with his own.

He didn't say anything when he closed his eyes and remained poised, nor when he pushed forward in small increments, and neither when he let out a breath, noisy, deep, breaching the muscle. He stilled, waiting, and just feeling so fucking much, while Vadim curved his back to get more of it. "How long ..." At last, breathless, when he pulled back a little again and pushed once more, deeper, but oh so slowly.

Vadim closed his eyes, felt a shudder rise in his body, the concentration, the focus, the need. Very different from any other man. He thought that part had been over, that he didn't need so fucking much anymore, well, that had been a mistake. "Too long."

"Aye." Just that, because words were too much effort and didn't convey enough, and it was his body that mattered. No, not his, both their bodies, and when Dan pulled back once more and pushed slowly, torturously slowly, but without letting up, until his cock was deeply embedded, they found themselves once again in the most intense position. Bodies moulded, arms holding, hands touching and stroking, two bodies as one. Time didn't matter, just the lust that grew slowly and steadily, as they rocked together, Dan's hand on Vadim's cock matching the rhythm of his minimal thrusts.

Slowly driving Vadim insane, like it always did, and he struggled against the moans and the need to plead with Dan; he wanted to allow Dan to do all at his own speed, at his own leisure, but fuck, it was difficult when he grew really desperate and tried to push back as much as the little space allowed. That was all the incentive Dan needed, and everything he had waited for. He changed the angle, pushed Vadim's leg into a more angled bent, and increased the speed of his hand and his hips. Not as much stamina and strength as he used to, and he was breathless, heart hammering, but he concentrated on Vadim, wanting and needing to bring him off first, the ultimate goal to give lust and receive in return, and to feel once more the sensation of Vadim clenching around him. Needing him to cum, more than to fulfil his own lust.

Rewarded with loud, needy groans, Vadim's body shifted and tensed, fully responsive, squirming with need and desire, the stage where it wasn't tenderness that mattered, or care, just mindless need, as primal as hunger. Vadim clenched, pressed back against him, all muscles coiled and tight, cumming with a choked, desperate, relieved sound, and Dan finally let go. Unleashing the strength he still had, and he followed Vadim, only a few thrusts later, with an almost blinding orgasm, a rush of need and so many goddamned emotions, it was hard to contain them, hard to just shudder and hold Vadim, and breathe frantically - and not to cry. Because that would have been too much, still too much, and too overwhelming. "Missed you." Just that, again and again. "Fucking missed you."

Vadim reached over, stretched out his legs, but didn't want to move much more, as he wanted to keep Dan inside him, touching his skin, flank, then found the hand and entwined fingers. "I'm … here. And I'm yours. Fuck. All … all yours."

Dan clung to him, and when the mantra finally subsided, he was breathing, concentrating hard on just the breathing, or he'd lose it, would give in and lose himself to his emotions, and he just couldn't let go right now. Too much to deal with.

Vadim closed his eyes, resting just a bit, feeling a shift in Dan's body that told him he had nodded off, despite the increasing heat in the tent that soaked up the sun, then gently moved away to clean up - both him and Dan, before he opened the tent flaps and lay back down, on his back, staring into the strip of blue sky, content, relieved beyond words. It looked alright. They were pulling through. They'd manoeuvred the beast away from the cliff.

* * *

The next day, Dan began to get back into his usual routine - that of not being a morning person and sleeping until the sun hit the tent. He was woken by the smell of a freshly brewed coffee and the first thing he saw was Vadim's face as he held the mug out to him. He couldn't remember when he had last grinned that widely that it threatened to split his face, and if he had ever seen anything so fucking wonderful, as Vadim's face, Vadim's body, Vadim's presence and ... Vadim. It felt as if he had started to live again.

He remained naked during all of the days they were staying there, as if dressing was just too much bother and too much a reminder that there was a world outside. Thinking a lot, but they were 'short thoughts', but they were beginning to make sense, forming into a plan. He'd call everyone he knew, trying to explain, and apologising for having vanished off the radar, turning into a piss-poor friend. He'd talk, and he'd listen, and he'd find out who was still there and who wouldn't bother anymore. He'd arrange to see the Baroness and his brother, perhaps, and most of all, he'd stick his nose into the job and figure out if there was any way to enjoy at least some of it.

Sleeping a lot, Dan spent most of his time in a patch of sunshine, much like a cat, then talking when he was awake. Explaining his plans and ideas and asking for advice, which Vadim gave freely and thoughtfully. Deciding his body needed a lot of work if he was to regain as much strength as he could, they sat and devised a routine, with a plan of what machines to buy for the small gym to exercise the legs without putting strain on the knees, and to train his upper body.

A lot of thinking, a lot of swimming, a lot of eating since Dan's appetite had returned, and a lot of sleeping - and the rest, the rest was getting to know each other once more. Reacquainting themselves with the terrains of their bodies. Tasting, touching and taking, and being taken in return. Spending time kissing, and spending even more holding. And fucking. As Dan claimed, sex counted as medicine. When Vadim finally fucked him, Dan almost lost it again, barely holding together his emotions, and as they lay and breathed into the come down, he began to laugh. Because it had all been a motherfucking nightmare and the solution was so simple, right there and under their noses. It had just been hidden: love.

Fair and square. Just love.

Special Forces Chapter LVII: Lives and Lovers
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 19 December 2008