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Special Forces Chapter LXII: Reconnaissance

March 1996, New Zealand

When they arrived much, much later in New Zealand, the island was lush and green with late summer, and Vadim took a deep breath of the pure air. Nothing quite like it. He picked up the car where they'd left it, and drove the half hour to the farm.

Dr Williams was suffering more from jet lag and change of seasons than Vadim, even though he was valiantly battling on. He hadn't been an officer all his life for nothing. Still, when they arrived at the farm he was very glad to be shown to the guest room, where he retired to soon thereafter.

Vadim called Dan, told them they'd just arrived, then went for a bout of exercise to help his body work off the flight. After that he slept for a while, having told the neighbours they were back and he appreciated that they'd filled up the fridge and freezer with food, since their housekeeper was on holiday.

The doctor did not emerge before the next twelve hours, which still played havoc with his body clock, but at least he was refreshed and ready to start. He suggested to Vadim to choose a particular area in the house where they worked. An area that was not full of connotations and not laden with images and memories, least of all of his partner.

Vadim chose the large living room - the most memory-laden thing there was Szandor's antique sword on the stand, but that was such an old memory that he didn't think it would do any harm.

When they settled down on the leather sofas with the couch table between them, Dr Williams handed Vadim a simple pad of lined paper and a pen. "You might prefer a laptop, but I don't own one."

"No, I … I am fairly old-fashioned, too. Writing by hand is more deliberate." Vadim placed the pad down on the table, sliding forward on the sofa. "What now?"

Dr Williams smiled and settled back. "I gave you the paper so that you may write down your experiences and your memories. As much as comes to mind. What we are trying to do is create a timeline, without any gaps."

"All memories? My whole life, or the two years?"

"Mainly the two years, and, if it has an impact on what happened, we need to fill in the background from your life before. Who you were, what you did, who you liaised with, that sort of thing. However, first of all we need to concentrate on the trauma. You need to come to terms with the full reality of it, and no longer believe that you have it under control with your current coping strategies. We should start by you telling me what coping strategies you have been using."

"I just … ignored it. Tried to." Vadim looked at the pad. "Kept my distance. Tried to stay in control."

Dr Williams nodded. "You need to accept that this strategy was not actually a coping mechanism at all. If you're still having nightmares, still having flashbacks, and still suffering symptoms arising from PTSD, then your strategies are not working for you. You must push yourself past your comfort zone, into an area you have avoided for so long. Imagine it like this: your memories are attached to a rubber band, and the more you push the memories away, the more they spring back at you. Your strategies have tightened the rubber band, and make it pull back more each time you push it away from you. Memories are concrete, they are lodged in your brain and they cannot be erased, nor are they going anywhere. The exposure therapy will turn these painful memories into what they actually are, just memories of bad things. You will no longer ignore them, but accept them and come to terms with them being part of your past, but without the fear and pain associated with them." He gestured towards the notebook. "You will write about your trauma each day at set times for a few minutes, or as long as you can bear, and we will talk after you have written. You will also read what you have written, several times over, until the horror slowly recedes, before relaxing for a while. In addition, you will set yourself 'dares' that go beyond your comfort level." He tilted his head upwards, "tell me, what are you the least comfortable with?"

"Of the memories?" Vadim felt a sudden, painful tensing in his chest. "How I … submitted. How I broke." On my knees, his hand patting my head like that of a dog.

"I see, and what situations are you least comfortable with since then? In your life?"

"Losing control." Vadim thought, eyes fixed on the pad. "And, ah, when Dan is moving to get another guy … sexually, I mean. It's awkward."

Dr Williams made a note on his own pad. "What do you mean, 'moving'? And what does it make you feel?"

"The flirting … the seduction …" Jean, Beauvais, George. "Anger towards the other man. I guess I am jealous, or … that I'm not enough, maybe that these men are … better in a way, that they are less broken than I am. I feel awkward dealing with them. I don't want them in my life … they don't become friends like they do with Dan."

"When you feel angry and jealous, or awkward, what do you think is the cause of those feelings?"

"Envy, maybe. Maybe just what it is, jealousy. That he could leave me for somebody else. You know, he's 'friends' with a guy who's … younger, more joyful … more like him in many ways. They'd be a good match, too."

"And you never told him?" Anything the doctor said was a careful question, non judgmental and leaving the answer open.

"It's pointless. We never were monogamous. It doesn't work like a marriage … and my marriage was a mess, too. There's no point accusing him of anything, he swears it's just physical, and I know it is for him, and, well, often enough, it's actually us and the third guy." Vadim didn't meet the doctor's eyes. Discussing his sex life - the threesomes, or even just the sex - felt strange. He really didn't want to disgust this man. A woman might have been easier. "He doesn't get it, and I've never told him I am uncomfortable. It's like taking a risk … an unnecessary risk. And in many cases, I'm the third wheel, too. These guys are in lust with Dan, not me. I'm … I'm never getting emotionally involved - they don't become my friends. I often feel I'm not really there."

"But you will have to take some risks, to be authentic to your feelings and to give those you deal with a chance to respond to those feelings. This is something you will have to learn: to express what you feel, negative feelings, as well as positive feelings. You will have to learn to set boundaries, but you will also have to understand that your carer needs to set boundaries, too."

"My what?"

"Yes, sorry, I should have explained. Partners of sufferers are usually called carers."

"Oh." Vadim looked up, smiling slightly. "He'd hate that term. He says he doesn't want to be my carer, but my lover. But … it's not easy, is it? I … need both. And when I feel especially bad, I really just need a carer, because there's … no room for anything else."

"No, it is not easy, not easy at all, and we are asking an incredible lot of your partner. This is why communication is so important. In fact, I do believe it would be helpful if, at the end of this, you let Mr McFadyen read through the diary."

"Detailed account of how I was tortured? Could … could anybody want to read that?"

"Do you think Mr McFadyen would not be able to stomach that?" The doctor raised his eyes. "It is asking a lot from anyone to take care of a PTSD sufferer, but I am confident that after these three months you will be able to deal with the effects so much better." The doctor smiled, "if you would like me to, I am happy to call Mr McFadyen and explain a few things to him."

"That … sounds like a good idea, sir. I don't think I've succeeded in telling him what it feels like … not that I actually tried. I didn't … push the issue. I just wanted to move on."

"Do you blame him?" The question came out of the blue and as sharply as a sniper's bullet.

"Blame him for what?"

"For not understanding."

"Nobody can understand that. Nobody gets torture. I wish he'd read me better, yes, and leave me alone, but it's not his fault. He just … wants me to be his partner, and sometimes I just … can't."

Dr Williams smiled slightly, making a few notes. "Well, let us get onto the exposure therapy. We will get back to what we have just talked about later." He nodded. "During exposure therapy, expect to have an increase in symptoms. This is short term pain, for long term gain. It is effective, it is proven, and it factually lessens the effect of trauma upon the mind and body."

"Okay." Vadim looked at the pad. "Writing?"

"Yes. What you do is pick the worst trauma you have, and write about it first. You might get scared, but if you don't go with the worst one first, then you might talk yourself out of writing about it. You can write for a few minutes, or you can write for half an hour if you desire. Only you know how much you can take. If you feel uncomfortable, don't stop at that point. Only stop when you get truly distressed." Dr Williams made a few bold strokes on his pad and turned the drawing over for Vadim to look at. "You see this scale? This is the so-called SUDS scale. SUDS stands for Subjective Units of Disturbance. It is a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst. You must write until you reach the levels of distress around seven to eight. Do not stop before that, but neither overextend yourself into a nine or ten, which could mean critical breakdown." The doctor smiled. "Does this make sense?"

"I couldn't write at … higher levels", Vadim murmured. In that much distress he lost control of his body. Shaking. Vomiting. Wanting to fight, punch … He inhaled and reached for the pen, concentrating not on his fear but the rules the doctor had set, and the movement, the feeling of the pen. "Short bursts." He took the pad and rested it on his knees. The worst trauma. Being alone, chained up, in a dark room, feeling very clearly that he was going insane. No. Konstantinov having broken him. How he'd let him inside, how he'd wanted Konstantinov to finish the job. Kneeling at his feet. Grateful it was over. Grateful he'd be killed now, or sent to a regular prison. He'd wanted to die. He'd wanted nothing else but to die.

"Take your time." The doctor's voice was quiet and understanding. "We have all the time you need. Would you like me to stay or to leave you alone?"

Vadim shook his head, noticed his knuckles were white. The words were awkward, each one forced, feeling much like barbed wire slipping through his balled fists. He made me want to die. I wanted him to kill me. I thought that would be mercy. He made me beg for death, and I truly wanted it. I felt unworthy when he didn't give me death. I'd have killed myself given half a chance. Maybe he waited for that to happen. He inhaled again, feeling breathless, and his fist was clenched so hard he wasn't sure he could open it again. Shame, anguish, pain. Revulsion.

"Breathe." Dr Williams said quietly.

Vadim tried, and it felt like there was no space in his lungs, like they'd collapsed. It took him forever to remember that exhaling was always the best way to go, exhale. He'd held his breath, and exhaling was far easier. The inhale then followed naturally.

"Start again when you are ready." The doctor looked at Vadim, nodding slightly. "You're not alone, and you can do this. Give yourself time, because this is what we have: time. When you are done, you reread everything you have written until it no longer seems threatening to the point of nausea and panic. This is when you begin seeing those words for what they are: memories."

"You'll put me off writing forever", Vadim remarked, wryly, forcing himself to breathe. Time. As much time as it took.

* * *

Later that day, as promised, Dr Williams called Dan, who was immediately apprehensive, but hid the reaction when he took the phone through to the lounge. His family respected privacy, but he somehow felt he needed to close the door behind him.

"How is Vadim?" Nothing else mattered to him.

"This is why I am calling." The doctor's voice was kind, and Dan's alertness went back down a notch. "As Vadim's partner, I would like to explain to you what we are working on over the next three months and what you can expect."

Dan frowned, searched for a cigarette, while concentrating on the conversation. "What do you mean, 'expect'?"

"That will become clear shortly. First off, I'd like to explain the therapy that Vadim is going through, so that you have an idea of what is happening. Would you like to know?"

"Of course!" Dan lit the cigarette.

"I can only tell you generically what the therapy entails, but cannot give you any detailed information. What Mr Krasnorada tells me is confidential between doctor and patient. I would hope, though, that in the end he might decide to share what he has learned with you."

Inhaling deeply, Dan leaned back. He'd take anything as it came, as long as he could stop living the life of a carer who did not know what and who he was caring for. Helplessness, how much he'd always hated that. "I don't expect you to breach your confidentiality."

The doctor then proceeded to explain to Dan what the therapy entailed. Dan was frowning throughout, sitting up straighter when Dr Williams came to the part about symptoms and emotions getting much worse during the therapy, before the eventual long term gain would pay off the short term pain. Dan made very few comments, mainly listening and committing everything the doctor said to his memory. Asking, then, what PTSD actually was from the doctor's point of view, and he received a thorough explanation, which finally made sense to him. At last he began to understand why Vadim reacted the way he did. Why he usually seemed to cope well and almost appeared as 'if nothing had ever happened', until either the rage hit, or another low. Dan had a feeling the conversation was about to end, when Dr Williams paused for a moment.

"Mr McFadyen, I have to tell you something that you might not wish to hear."

Dan sat up ramrod straight and the dread was coming back like an old foe. "Aye?"

"You have to understand, Mr McFadyen, that you should not waste time in thinking and hoping that your partner will ever be cured and that he will return to the person he was before the trauma. One does not 'get over' PTSD, it is a lifelong condition. What Mr Krasnorada will achieve, though, and I do my utmost that this will be the case, is being able to manage the trauma and lead a fulfilling life. However, he will always need to work on himself to stay healthy, and there will always be some matters that he will need to avoid."

Dan sat in silence, tense, just listening to the words. Not seeing anything, even though he stared out of the window.

"I realise that you do not wish to be a lifelong carer, and no partner and lover would want to be that, but, you have to realise, that this is what you are. I am being cruel now, I know, but I assume that a man like you prefers the straightforward truth. Do you, Mr McFadyen?"

"Aye." Dan's voice was pressed, hard to form thoughts, let alone words.

"Good, because you have to ask yourself if you can be both: the lover and the carer, because Mr Krasnorada will always need both. Can you live with that?"

Dan shuddered, he didn't know what to say. All his hopes and wishes came crashing down in the reality check the doctor forced upon him. Never again. Never how it had been. Never again the lover, the partner, the … but could he even remember what that was like? A short time, back in Kabul, before the KGB destroyed them, and it felt like a lifetime ago. Now, they had a house together, a business, family and friends. A life. Every day, every night. Was it worth being both? Was it worth re-evaluating his entire life and accept the truth?

"Aye." Dan cleared his throat, his voice quiet. "I … want to." Want to try.

"I am glad to hear." Dr William's voice was warm. "I'd also like to tell you that as the carer, you will have to learn some behaviour measures as well. With a PTSD sufferer the rage might still happen at times, despite the therapy, when the fight or flight reaction is triggered. The same goes for the depression and the anger and seclusion. If the mind falls into familiar thought patterns, they spin out of control, and out it flows. This means that you will have to deal with this by setting boundaries. I will be able to give you further help. The most important issue here is that PTSD is not an excuse to abuse anyone. Everyone should have, keep and enforce boundaries, no matter what, and everyone is responsible for their actions. The sufferer, as well as the carer."

Dan twitched at the word, holding the phone in a death grip. That word was hard to accept, and so was the concept. But he'd be working on handling it, he had no other choice. "Boundaries … will Vadim need to set his own as well?"

"Yes, I should think so, but all of this should be discussed after the intense therapy is over."

Three months, an eternity, and Dan felt nauseous. Finally asking the question that was more crucial than all of the others. "But will he love me?"

"That, Mr McFadyen, I can't answer." The doctor spoke quietly, with compassion in his voice. "Only Mr Krasnorada will have the answer to this."

"Aye …" Dan swallowed hard. "Thank you, doctor." He put the phone down and sat in silence for a long while.

* * *

Writing. It felt like he had to skin his arms to get to the blood, then use that to put words down. The words were all about shame, death, fear. They were about being helpless, about wanting to kill, maim, rape in revenge, and sometimes it got so bad that he barely managed it to the bathroom before he threw up. Ending up, again and again, on his knees, vomiting out everything he'd ever eaten and could remember to have ever eaten. It was a fine line to watch, and it was hard, very hard, to stay within the manageable parameters.

Sometimes, it was like he couldn't stop and triggered himself over the edge, other times, he miscalculated the amount he could take. He cried a lot, which was fucking embarrassing. It was like there was still Major Krasnorada, somewhere, and he was disgusted at himself for the weakness. How mere memories could hurt him, how deep they cut, and how impossible it was that they were just memories.

One day, Vadim flushed the toilet, spit out bile into the wash basin and opened the tap, filling his hands with the cold water. Relieved that it was over, his stomach only churning now, not heaving, knowing he'd be better once he'd rested. Half bent over, he brought his wet hands up to his face, and suddenly it hit him


His mind derailed fully, he could feel insanity, because suddenly he remembered something that hadn't happened, but he remembered it with complete clarity. Drowning.

Men that wrestled him down, dunked his head under, he was swallowing the dirty water, their jeering blanked out from his ears by the water.

Vadim's knees gave in, like they had in prison, and he stared against the wall, mind undecided whether this was real, now, whether he was sitting here or was somewhere else entirely, because he couldn't trust his memories at all.

Dr Williams knocked on the door and peered in. He was always hovering close when Vadim rushed to the bathroom, always made sure that he never dehydrated, gently berated him at times that he should listen more carefully to the warning signs of overstepping the SUDs, and always had an isotonic drink at hand and some food. He was a medical doctor, after all.

"Mr Krasnorada?" he stepped inside, concern evident in his face.

Vadim knew the doctor was real, even though he doubted himself. "I'm … they … drowned me. I didn't remember", he stammered.

A sudden hardness flashed across the doctor's face, before he came closer, and his hand merely hovered above a shoulder. Always giving distance while being available. "Do you feel you can write down what they did, or can you tell me? Whichever one is easier."

"The men who beat me. The water … they used it to bring me round." Vadim was shaking violently, felt his teeth chatter. "They drowned me in it. Again …" His stomach heaved. "And again. Ko…" Vadim gestured, didn't want to say the name, "He had a stop watch. Said …"

I'm just taking your time, you are familiar with the concept.

"It's alright, breathe first, then try to tell me, explain to me what happened."

"I didn't remember! I didn't remember this!" Vadim shook his head. "I don't ... what else can I not remember? What ... what can I trust down there?"

"Down there? Do you mean your core, your memories?" The doctor smiled a little, holding a hand out to Vadim to help him up, if he wanted to. "You will be able to trust all of this, when you do remember. I suggest right now for you to come back into the living room, take a blanket to keep warm and I prepare a tea. Then I'll sit with you while you try to write down what you just remembered."

Vadim reached up and took the hand. He didn't actually need help, but having some form of touch … it helped make him feel real. He stood, feeling how weak his body was, like he had actually barely escaped a drowning. "Tea … good approach to anything." He gave a weak smile, but he could still feel the rough hands on him, the sheer force that had overpowered his strength. Those guys had been very, very strong. And he'd been weakened and hurting from the beating.

Vadim sat down and wrapped himself in the blanket, sitting on the couch where he usually sat, then reached for the pad. He hated the writing, but he'd stopped fighting it. Too much soldier still to not follow orders, he thought. Or maybe he just trusted Dr Williams more than his own responses. The man was becoming more to him than his father had ever been … or rather, somewhere in the same category, like his father in a time when they'd trusted and loved each other. When his father's opinion had been welcome guidance, in the time before rebellion and the fights, the intellectual sparring that they'd done all the time. Like his father, but without the problems.

Vadim set pen to paper. Drowning. It was really hard to describe. It made him shake and sweat, but he did it.

* * *

Dan stayed with his brother for over three weeks, until he was slowly going insane. No contact with Vadim, the doctor had called once more and explained that it would be better that way and that distance was what Vadim needed. For just one moment the thought had flashed through Dan's mind, if anyone cared what he needed, but he discarded it, didn't allow it to settle. He might be fucked up, physically, but whatever had happened to him mentally, he was lucky enough to deal with it.

So he had settled in, trying to keep busy and trying to be as good a brother and uncle, as he could be, while failing miserably most of the time, but his family didn't let him feel it. Not even when he got cabin fever and neither after one of Dr William's weekly calls, when Dan didn't speak to anyone for hours and just stared out of the window.

He couldn't work, didn't have the nerves to settle down and try string thoughts together for a presentation, and when one day Jean called, Dan asked him if he would mind a visit, and he would explain what was going on, but not on the phone.

It was in the fourth week that Dan left for France.

March 1996, France

On the journey to France Dan swore to himself that he would try to cast all his worries aside. While Jean was his best friend beside the Baroness, he didn't want to put a burden on him. Stupid, perhaps, but he hadn't spoken to anyone else, not even Maggie, and everything the doctor had told him was still bottled up. He didn't know how to deal with it, and least of all with the notion of being a carer. Carer and lover, the doctor had said, but what did that mean? To give up - forever - on the notion that Vadim would ever be the man again he had once loved ... but then again, was he the man he'd been in Kabul? Perhaps, at the core, but would he want to be the man he was when they'd first 'met'? He didn't have any answers, and the thoughts and worries remained stuck in his mind, unable to voice them and share his fears with anyone, while trying to come to an understanding. Perhaps being with an old friend would help.

Dan took the train from Charles de Gaulle airport, but when he arrived at the station, there was no Jean. With a shrug, wondering if he got the timings wrong, he found himself a taxi and managed in his rusty French to find his way to the village and the house. Leaning on the cane while the driver helped with the -Spartan - luggage. No more than one large backpack. Not a military bergan anymore, but a state of the art, expensive one, from an exclusive outdoor shop. Some things had changed, after all.

It was Solange who opened the door and Dan smiled at her, thinking for a moment that she really was a vision to behold and if he were still into ladies he could have been tempted by her androgynous beauty. But as it was, he was more keen on her husband.

"Solange, you look more beautiful every time I see you." Dan smiled his best and most charming smile.

She gave a sweet laugh and actually blushed. "And you are still drop dead gorgeous."

"Let me kiss your hand, my lady, before I deliver a kick to that husband of yours for having forgotten all about me."

"Oh dear, he raced off not long ago, he must have got the time wrong. We should give him a call." Solange extended her hand and smiled, allowing Dan to take hold of her hand and kiss it. "Not every man here has your gentle manners. But men are sometimes cuter without them, anyway." She winked and Dan grinned. He really did have a soft spot for that lady.

"It's your presence that has this effect on me." Dan came up from the kiss and smiled. Quite enjoying a spade of the old manners. He turned his head when he heard the sound of a car approaching.

It was Jean, with a flushed face and an apologetic grin. "I fell asleep after lunch."

"You are getting old, mate." Dan laughed and went to pull Jean into a tight embrace. It was good to feel the solidity of his body, the physical presence was comforting. Dan hadn't realised how much he really starved.

Solange laughed sweetly, then smiled at the two men. "I hope you won't miss me, but I have to be at a shoot today. I am sure you two boys can entertain yourselves."

"I will do my very best." Dan grinned, when she went to kiss her husband, before she returned into the hallway to pick up a bag. She gave a small wave and walked to the big shining car in the driveway, where she fussed around a bit and then got in to head to the city. Another small wave, then the Mercedes was gone.

Jean turned and looked at Dan with a face-splitting grin. "There. You're on your own, and so am I. What's on the menu?"

Dan hid the sudden twitch at the 'on your own', then shrugged, "That depends on one question: you still interested in a romp with a decrepit old man?" He smirked, shades-shielded eyes looking Jean up and down.

Jean grinned. "With your heartbreaker-shades on? Anytime." He glanced towards the road, then nodded towards the house. "Unless you object to double adultery?"

"Not adultery." Dan followed Jean's glance, "I'd call it wife-swapping. Just that Vadim would probably kill me if he heard me say that." Vadim. Would he? Would he do any of that sort of thing to his … carer?

"Wrong gender. Wrong … everything. I doubt Solange would have been Vadim's type … before." Jean pondered that for a while. "No. Doesn't work. Makes me feel all protective."

"Vadim's nothing but a gentleman around her."

"A propos Vadim, why did he stay in New Zealand while you're gallivanting about Europe?"

Dan made an evasive gesture, his face suddenly serious, and even Jean, who was about to pick up Dan's backpack, seemed to notice.

"Everything alright with you guys?"

"Vadim's at home with a doctor, shrink, whatever, and in therapy. Intensive therapy. He … had an incident at the airport, a month ago." Dan didn't look at Jean, but at the house. "It'll be at least three months. I … haven't spoken to him for a month, but the doctor gave me a call each week."

"Oh damn. That doesn't sound too good. You must be going mad."

Dan's voice was uncharacteristically dead. "I don't want to talk about it right now, okay? But I wouldn't mind it if you took my mind off it."

"Sure. That's what friends are for, right?"

"Aye." Dan made his way up the steps. "Anyway, you tell me, since I haven't seen you for, what, forever, how the fuck are you? Got your sporadic emails alright, but was wondering, didn't sound all that perky. You thinking of dropping the job?"

"Was just … close that last time. Friendly fire kind of stuff, makes you wonder where they train the kids these days." Jean shrugged.

Dan stopped, leaned against the wall at the entrance and pushed the shades off his eyes, finally looking at Jean without the dark tinted barrier, "you're getting old, mate. I've been saying it's time to quit this shit and come join the Spa, and not just as an ex-Legionnaire now Merc. I could do with a club secretary." He smiled.

"See this house? Give me another year or so I can manage the costs better. I was thinking to maybe restart the vineyard, but that would take years and years, and I'm not quite sure I'm enough of a farming type to follow through with it. And, who knows, maybe a family to top it all off before I retire. But not quite yet."

Dan shook his head, "You're thirty-four, mate. You're still tough, fit, can do anything you like, but I warn you, the closer you get to forty, the longer every injury takes to heal, and every pain aches threefold." He pushed himself off the wall and walked through the door, holding it open for Jean and his luggage. He'd long given up the need to demonstrate that he could carry it on his own.

"Thanks for keeping count." Jean winced. "Shit, where did all that time go? I feel like, what, twenty-four?"

"What if next time you're just this one smidgen too slow, or the kid is this one bit too stupid. You want to go down in a blaze of glory? Or do you want to spend the rest of your life with your wife? Remember Pascal …"

"Yeah, I hear you. I know the theory. The practice is the hard bit."

Entering the vast living room, Dan stopped at one of the white leather couches and leaned against it. He looked at Jean with a serious expression. "Are you worried you end up a burnt out adrenaline junkie like me? Bored with life?"

"I …" Jean pressed his lips together, thinking, or maybe fighting the first response. "You are not bored with life. You have that consulting stuff going. You're living with Vadim", he smiled, decidedly playfully, "that should keep you on your toes. For me … I don't know. I know when I'm here, I'm itching to go back, when I'm there, I want to be here. There are other things I could be, like, you know, a father. Solange's gig is paying better and better, if she goes on like that, she'll make more than I do, and I'm not sure I could live that down."

Dan shook his head. "Don't be such a stupid arsehole. You know that I was fucked up for a year and almost lost everything. You have the chance to make a change before you get to the stage where you still function, have shitloads of experience, but every job hurts. Besides, if you want to go for a family, do it now. You're thirty-four, and Solange is … what?"

"Twenty-six." Jean moved a few steps and pulled out a wine bottle, glancing at the label, but listening intently.

"Perfect age, then. Just the right time to go for the big change and become all domestic before it gets too difficult to take the step and leave the adrenaline and the 'easy life' behind." Dan sat down on the sofa, placed the cane onto the floor and stretched out his legs. "I hated being out, because I hadn't adjusted my attitude, while Vadim had over-adjusted his own."

Jean selected two red wine glasses, placed them on the couch table and opened the bottle, then set it down to allow the wine some time while Dan continued.

"What I'm trying to say is that if you continue seeing yourself as the cool dude with the dangerous job, then you won't get to have a family. Not everyone has an 'immaculate conception' like me, aye?" Joking about it was the best way to deal with it, and the little girl was damn cute. "Hell, you might not even make fifty, and I'd be bloody pissed off if you fucked yourself out of this world."

"Don't worry, the last thing I am is suicidal." Jean grinned. "Granted, I never thought I'd make it past thirty, and now it seems pretty likely I actually grow old enough to pay off the house and all the other stuff. Just - what to do with the time, that's the question."

"Why don't you start your own business? You're not cut out to stay here, I'm not either. If you started your own security company, small but exclusive, with ex-special forces contacts all over the world, you could use the Spa for that. You could run the business till you're old and decrepit." Dan grinned while casually dropping his shades from his hair onto the table.

Jean poured the wine and offered one glass, as casual as he'd offered a whisky tumbler, and touched Dan's fingers as he did. "Me in a business suit? Damn. And I thought her shows and shootings were bad."

Dan took the wine. "A security company that actually offers close security. Like Armoured Group, for example. I know a guy who's working for them, used to be a Royal Green Jackets RSM, and he is raking in the money, doing close security runs in Iraq. Six weeks on, three weeks off. However, what do you think the company owners earn?"

"Guess as much as a pimp makes off his whores. Cut of the money and no risk." Jean grinned, gently touching his glass to Dan's, complete with a deep look into his eyes. "How long does it take to set something up like that? A couple years? It would be more competition for you, don't forget that."

Dan took a mouthful of the wine while Jean sat down on the couch, extending an arm behind Dan, and sipping on the wine. "No competition at all, completely different business. In fact, you could profit from us and we could profit from you." Taking another sip before leaning his head against the arm in his back. "What do you think?"

Jean let his fingers make contact with the place between Dan's shoulder blades, slowly circling there, touch light but noticeable. "Wouldn't mind making a fortune. CNN looks like there's more action, and definitely enough people that are scared the world goes to shit."

"Or you could become a vintner." Dan laughed and let his head fall back. It was good not to think, just for a little while, not to think and not to worry. He grinned with closed eyes, moving into the touch like a cat stretching along a hand. "Plenty of wars, and that's one thing that's secure: we'll never run out of wars and thus you'll never run out of business. Then again, the world won't run out of people who drink wine, either."

Jean leaned in a bit closer. "Means I wouldn't have to hire out my ass anymore."

Rolling his head to the side, Dan opened his eyes. "As far as I remember, that was a rather nice arse."

Jean grinned. "So far, nobody complained."

Dan winked, "I think I should reacquaint myself with it." Raising his glass to his lips he took a large sip, relishing the taste. There was something about the taste of red wine and Jean.

Jean pursed his lips, smirking to himself. "Still the same sexy bastard. I guess you'll never change." He placed his hand on Dan's thigh and leaned in to kiss Dan, tasting and smelling of wine, playfully licking his lips. "Anything you have in mind, Mad Dog?"

"Not Mad Dog any longer." Dan smiled, breathing in Jean's scent. He blinked once, slowly. "In all the time that I've known you, have I ever fucked your arse with my tongue?" He flashed a grin.

Jean inhaled sharply, surprised at the question - and clearly, that was something that was actually new to him. "Fuck", he said, voice thick. "And here I was, planning to go slowly and give you time."

"Time?" Dan laughed, the lines around his dark eyes crinkled, gleaming with amusement. "I am forty-seven, I don't think you need to give me time."

"They call that courting, Dan. You know? Raising the stakes. Like a game of poker." Jean looked at Dan. "You … want to do that? As in … seriously?"

"That depends on how clean your arse is." Dan raised his glass once more, swirling the ruby liquid in a thoughtful gesture.

"Well, I am showered, but we could check out the new hot tub in the cellar."

"Courting …" Dan grinned, took a large gulp from his wine. "In that case, consider the hot tub your courting. You should know by now that I'm crap at that courting thing most of the time."

"Well, I have a national honour to uphold. Good food and good manners, and of course good sex."

Dan finished the wine, moved his arms to the side, and tipped his head back as if crucified. "Just snog me and I'm anybody's."

Jean moved closer, hand running up to Dan's chest as he leaned in to kiss Dan's lips, gentle, tender, with all the time in the world, just relishing kissing.
Dan sighed, too content to do anything else. "It's good to see you again. Very good." Pulling back from the kiss for a moment, he smiled.

"And you." Jean's hands roaming across Dan's body, chest and thigh, he broke the kiss to murmur, "Well, in that case …" and dipped in again, tongue running over Dan's teeth.

"In that case feed me, undress me, wine me, bathe me, and indulge my every whim." Dan chuckled in the back of his throat, hand going to Jean's shoulder, neck. "The order's negotiable."

"I'll feed you, Dan, don't worry." Jean gave a husky laugh and got up, hand still on Dan's chest before he could reply to the innuendo. "Stay there." He pulled the shirt over his head and discarded it on the couch - chest lean, less tanned these days, which suited him, skin smooth but for a few blonde hairs on his chest. "Just want to get closer." He opened his legs, left and right of Dan's, and sat down on his thighs, knees digging into the back of the overstuffed couch. "Sometimes, I make her sit on me like that. I open my legs and just touch her. Nothing more. No underwear helps there." Solange loved wearing skirts.

"Mmmm …" Dan let out a sound that came suspiciously close to a purr. "Don't you think that trousers in that case are overrated?" His hands on Jean's hips, they made their way up along the sides, towards arms, then shoulders.

"Are they?" Jean's hands moved behind Dan's back, pulled the shirt free, began to unbutton it on the front, then leaned in to kiss Dan's chest, smooth and carefully groomed, while pulling the shirt down over his shoulders. Momentarily implying restraints, he kissed the warm skin of one shoulder, tracing his tongue down, close to where the cloth began.

Dan murmured with growing huskiness, "I doubt you'd want to sit on me …."

Jean glanced up. It was a speculative curiosity more than revulsion or want.

Dan's grin had a few more dimensions to it. "In all those years you were never interested in having anything more than a finger ..." Dan waggled his brows, "or a tongue up your arse. You have been very vocal about this, many times. In fact, I remember a certain hotel room in Italy, where you were rather adamant …"

"Hey, finger I know." Jean kissed Dan's throat now, gentle, sucking kisses that didn't let on more than respect and tenderness. The need to taste and smell above anything else, and it also gave him time to think. "I did wonder about the rest … but then, virgins are bothersome. They can't really let go."

Dan moved his head forward, caught some of Jean's skin, trailing his tongue up an arm, until he was eye to eye, "well, you know, being trapped in my shirt is kind of … interesting."

"Oh?" Jean grinned. "I was about to say the same. Mind some leather around the wrists? I'd even pull down your trousers for you."

Dan tilted his head, glanced up, pondering. "If you did, that wouldn't be the first time in my life."

"You weirdo." Jean teased.

Dan winked, "not a weirdo, just ex-SAS."

"SAS are a bunch of kinky bastards, then." Jean stretched out and dug behind the couch, pulling out a set of leather cuffs that could be linked through steel rings. "Guess that tells you a lot about the history of this couch", he murmured, grinning.

Dan eyed the implements with one raised brow. "I have the funny feeling it isn't you who wears them." Of course not, he remembered the collar he'd found very well.

"I don't wear them because you started it." Jean smirked.

"I didn't." Dan grinned, "you trapped my arms." But he allowed Jean to manhandle his body as if it belonged to a puppet, because it was so good to give over control and not to think.

"Apart from that …" Jean finished pulling the shirt off Dan, then opened the first cuff, placed it around Dan's left wrist, and closed it, as casual as checking webbing for full magazines. "The hook in the wall isn't much of a challenge. Granted, Solange can struggle as much as she likes, but you …" Second cuff, and closed. "Probably only tense once, or maybe twice, and the hook comes out." He connected the cuffs in front of Dan, and gave another grin.

Dan's locked wrists fell into his lap. "Vadim told me once that I'd still be lethal with my legs cut off." Rattling the metal links between the cuffs, he tensed his muscles, starting with shoulders then arms, running down across pecs to abs. "Though I'll protest if you try cut my legs off. They're fucked up, but I quite like the look of them. Make me taller."

Jean grinned and leaned in to kiss Dan's throat again, taking hold of the ring between the cuffs.

Dan raised his brows, "If you tie me to that hook over there I might have to test if I really am still lethal."

"Just want to see you stretched out", murmured Jean, and pushed Dan's arms up, until the cuffs clicked into place with a hook that the couch's back usually hid.

"Hey!" Dan tensed suddenly. "I thought it was a joke." He tilted his head, didn't realise the motion was stretching his body further, displaying smooth and scarred skin alike over a still-muscular frame.

"The hook's a joke. Yes." Jean regarded Dan's body with clear desire.

"Is it?" Dan eyed Jean suspiciously, testing the hook with a swift movement, and suddenly grinned. He could feel it move; decoration, no more. "In that case I won't have to kill you."

"Much obliged." Jean's hands slid down to take Dan's trousers and pull them off. Taking his time and making this as luxurious as anything else. Removing shoes and socks, baring Dan completely. Stretched Dan. He loved the sight.

"You have no right to be this sexy", Jean quipped and reached for the bottle that still held a couple glasses worth of red wine. He took a thoughtful sip, then grinned sharply, and offered the bottle to Dan, by accident or design spilling wine over Dan's chin, then trying to catch the wine with his tongue.

Jean poured more wine down Dan's chin, let it run down his chest, over his shoulder, risking to stain the couch. Then moved in, licking the wine off from where it started. Dan's lips, down the throat and chest, kissing and licking, showing hunger now, one hand on Dan's thigh steadying his body.

"Oh shit." Dan groaned, rolled his head with the movement, arched up towards Jean's lips. He didn't seem to be able to remain still, a strumming tension consuming him, residing deep within his stomach. He wasn't that quick anymore with the old comrade lust, but he was definitely saluting a greeting. "Don't do that."

Jean glanced up, grinning. "What? You ticklish?"

"No, just …" Dan felt stupid the moment he said it, and grinned. "Don't mind me."

Jean gave a dry chuckle against Dan's side. "I think this Chateau Whatever just gets better from your skin." He reached for the bottle again to take a mouthful, swallowed a small amount of it, then placed his lips to Dan's, offering. No sooner did Jean's lips touch his own, when Dan's head moved forward, tasting, searching and seeking with parted lips. Bitter-sweet taste of wine, mixed with male, man, body and touch, taste, heat.

Dan closed his eyes, didn't hear the sound from the back of his throat, as his mind finally and mercifully went blank.

Jean moved back on Dan's thighs, knees left and right of his hips, naked now as well, skin on skin on leather. He kept kissing, devouring, building up more passion, one arm around Dan's shoulders, the free hand moving south, running over heated skin down to Dan's cock.

The build-up was intoxicating, Dan's mind not there, not clear, arching towards the hand, he wanted more, yet less, and he barely noticed his whimper.

Jean reached out to find the strategically placed bottle of lube and a condom. Nervous, oh yes, he needed the passion mainly for himself. To turn an idle thought into reality. One chance now, and he'd act on it, simple. He opened the foil pack and slid the condom down Dan's cock, then squeezed lube into his hand and warmed it, while keeping Dan's mind in that happy space of kissing and wanting. He added more lube, then shifted his weight, much the way Solange did, used to do and still sometimes did. Didn't matter. But she had stoked his curiosity. He moved over Dan's cock, kept it in place with a hand, then tried to press down on it, remembered to press and relax, and part of it actually got through the muscle, much bigger, much more substantial than a finger. Damn. That would burn. Relax.

"Fuck," Dan's head lifted and his eyes flew open. Lips parted, he stared at Jean. "You ..." he couldn't talk anymore, too much sensation and his body tensed, arched, moved, wild yet tamed.

Jean kept himself steady on Dan's shoulder, lips opened when Dan moved, and he lowered more weight down, breaching himself. "Shit. Burns. Like a fucking … virgin", he cursed, forcing himself to relax again, breathing.

"That's because ..." Dan's breath came in erratic gasps. "… you are one."

"Told you … virgins aren't worth the fucking trouble." Jean paused, gathering his courage. It was meant to be good if he got deep enough. It was the getting there that was a pain. "If you thrust, I'll kill you." Jean grinned, closed his eyes and moved into another kiss, allowing gravity to do some of the work. "Shit … G…guess I'm getting somewhere …" His body tensed at the intrusion, the heat and size, cock jumping against his front. Going slowly, then pushed himself, hissing.

"Fuck, yes, you are." Dan was strumming with tension, desperately fighting to keep himself from moving.

Jean reached for the wine, taking several deep gulps, hoped the alcohol would help, knew with the rational rest of his brain that he could drink several bottles before losing any control. Accepting Dan inside, knowing it would hurt tomorrow, but hey, he'd been in so many firefights, and it always hurt the next morning. No reason whatsoever to not do it. Getting used to it - was just stretching and a slight burn, and he was in control. It was alright. It was pretty good, judging from Dan's face.

"Okay." He rested on Dan's lap, feeling the full length inside now, and relaxing, breathing. Solange could drive him insane like this. He lifted a bit, then pushed down again, slowly moving that cock inside, not sure whether he liked this, but loving what it did to Dan. Liked Dan stretched out like this, the stricken expression. "Ah … you can move, if you want to …"

"No." Dan barely managed to gasp out the one syllable. A sheen of sweat gathered on his body, turning his skin into a gleaming plane of darkly tanned and deeply scarred landscapes across tensed muscles. A body on edge, this was mindblowingly, excruciatingly, torturously good. "Thought I was your … captive."

Jean laughed and leaned in for another kiss, moving his hips slightly, just tilting them and grinding, like Solange did, feeling something like a pressure/heat/burn/fullness. Not unpleasant, somehow, but nothing that would make him scream his head off. "Captive? Okay, if you … want to."

"I think …" Dan gasped at a particularly clever movement that shot silver bullets from his cock through torn-up guts right into his brain. "I think I do. Want this."

"Well … would be a bad moment … to say stop, I guess." Jean grinned, idly running his hands down Dan's body, aged as well as that wine, an acquired taste much like wine, and definitely worth getting used to. Ages ago. He didn't actually want to play the hardcore prisoner game, but that was probably not what Dan meant. Or was it?

Lips parting, Dan's head moved forward as much as he could, before another movement made him groan. This was good, so goddamned easy and light and without any extremes, and no spikes nor blades of lust and greed. And no thinking. Just no thinking. "Vadim … never ...." Shut up, Dan, shut the fuck up! Don't think! Scrunching his eyes shut for a moment, he took in a sharp breath.

"No, I imagine that bastard is quite a bit heavier", quipped Jean, causing Dan to let out a huff of laughter. Leaning his elbows on Dan's shoulders for a little more support as he was starting to move more rhythmically. It got better, still much preferred fucking an ass than getting fucked, but it wasn't too bad. Moving just that bit closer to trap his cock against Dan's stomach, cursing under his breath as that started to work on him, the sweat and the strength under that damp skin. Thinking, suddenly, just how much Dan had to love the Russian - the other Russian - that he'd think of him even now. Strangely glad for Dan. Whatever their life together was like, he'd always known that Vadim didn't quite feed all hungers … not the one for good old fashioned courting and romance.

"If you keep that up …"Dan's voice sounded as if he had run a marathon, "you'll kill me." Didn't want it any different. The slow build-up of pressure and lust was cruel, but he had learned that quality knocked out quantity a thousand times over.

"Last time I checked, captives can't file complaints", murmured Jean into Dan's ear, snaking his tongue into it as he moved with a touch more force, which made him groan and close his eyes. Damn. Keep it slow and steady, or rush on. Fucked if he cared. But determined to make the most of it. "What … kind of captor … would I be, huh?"

"Fuck that." Breathed out, Dan shuddered at touch and movement. Didn't know what he was saying, didn't matter either. "I just can't believe you really ... are doing this." Tipping his head back into his neck, throat bared, lying against the couch, he lifted his hips, as far as he could, attempting to get more friction. He chuckled breathlessly, "but I guess you really are …" he twisted his hips suddenly, sharply, "coz I can feel my cock …" groaned, pushed upwards once more, "right up your virginal arse."

Jean shuddered hard, felt the motions, the strength in Dan's body, and got an inkling of an idea what it might be like if Dan was in control. "Yes, fuck, I am." Didn't trust his voice, didn't trust his body, like it was taken over by somebody else, something else. Control became precarious at best, even though, damn, he wanted it to last, to go slow. Pressed his cock against Dan's straining body and dipped in for an open-mouthed, hungry kiss. "And what a big fucking … cock that is."

Dan's eyes widened for a split second at the dirty talk, before breaking into a grin that was swallowed by the kiss. Passive, yet in control, heady concoction of conflicting sensations. He broke the kiss, and murmured against Jean's lips, "Big enough for that virgin arse of yours, soldier?"

Jean gave a short laugh, shit, he loved talking like that to Solange, loved how she squirmed when he made her talk about how fucking good it was. Sometimes, he made her call him 'daddy', or something like that. They had a whole library of fantasies. "Yeah, just … about big enough, sir. Thank you, sir." Natural, military talk, kind of, sir-ing Dan was alright, and funny, but in a good way. "Give me more cock, sir."

Eyes half-closed, Dan raised one brow. Tied up, interesting. Playful, different this time. Different to Vadim calling him 'sir' in the very depths of a scene. With Vadim nothing went ever less than down to the marrow of their bones, and he'd be damned if he let the thoughts, worry and fear, take over again. "Lift up, soldier." Fuck, how right that felt, the Army was still in his blood. "Lift up and take my cock deep. Slowly. Don't you dare move too fast."

Jean groaned, body tensed, his mind responding, body falling in line, holy fuck, and he usually was in charge. Feeling Dan's light, secure touch in this game was very different. His own style was often humorous, dirty, but Dan's was very interesting. "Like this, sir?" He moved up, wanted to speed up, now, need growing.

Eyes almost closing again, Dan nodded, his voice barely more than a murmur, "Fuck yourself on my cock, like a good little soldier, and I'll reward you." Parting his lips, tongue darting out for a brief moment.

Jean felt himself getting close, holy fuck, from this game. The burn, the fullness, Dan's sweat under his hands, and the exact same thing he made Solange do, but now with tables turned, with Dan, far more male than Solange had ever possibly been. He rested his hands on Dan's shoulders, legs working to do exactly that. Fucking himself slowly, he clenched his ass as much as possible, which fucking burnt again, but by now, that feeling was just part of it. "Shit. I'm… think I'm getting there. Feels … weird, good weird. Make me cum, sir."

"You're too impatient, soldier." Hands bound, he should feel helpless, but Dan felt nothing but steadily rising lust. "Remember the first prerogative ..." another twist of his hips, managing to change the angle of penetration the moment Jean came back down on his cock. Steeper, more intense, "you must fulfil your duties. No questions asked. No pleading."

"No ... pleading", echoed Jean, mind emptying. The rogue soldier getting close to the point where he would do anything, follow any order.

Taking in a sharp breath between his teeth, Dan's head moved forward, finding Jean's lips, and his tongue slid between them and into the heat, eagerly greeted, sucked on. Voice almost swallowed in the kiss, "I will blow you, if you suck me dry with your arse."

"How, sir." Tensing on that cock, fucking difficult, and speeding up, almost punishing himself. The pain was unimportant now, Jean's lean body tense and gleaming with sweat. Thrusting down hard, groaning, loudly, louder than Vadim would be, deep, sexy sounds that didn't care if anybody listened.

"Just …" Dan broke the kiss, "like that." Head moving again, tongue searching for lips, teeth, taste. Wanting to swallow those sounds, those fucking sounds of a man who didn't give a shit about anything, who had never been forced to shut up and eat the silence, who'd never been tortured, never been broken, never been turned into a fucked-up mess that was so fucking hard to live with at times, and it fucking hurt, and …

"Shit!" With a sharp intake of breath, Dan shook his head, as if getting rid of a bad dream. Then pushed, twisted, moved in the confines of his bonds. Body gleaming with sweat, closer. With every thrust getting closer. Deeper. "Harder. Fuck yourself harder. You want to hurt, soldier. Tell me you want to feel."

"… want to. Feel. You!" groaned Jean, moving more fiercely now, tense, body feeling so much he was starting to spin out of control. Pain sought now, challenge, taken in, ripped apart and swallowed with abandon. "Make me … fuck! … hurt!"

Dan's voice suddenly snapped into something harder, "Do it!" Breathless, but the order was unmistakable. "Harder! Faster!" Hitting his head against the sofa, lips parting, eyes closed, body strained and stretched, slippery with sweat and need, and the friction was getting too much. Dan came with a low growl and throaty cry. "Fuck!" Shuddering and jerking upwards, hips jutting with sharp stabs while he was filling that untouched arse.

Jean met those thrusts with all the fierceness that the pain had stoked, giving no quarter, not to himself, not to Dan. He felt Dan's cock pulse, what a weird feeling, riding a man, feeling all that, but not able to follow Dan there. Pain and wonder and a breathless need keeping him tethered. Gasping, panting, he tried to move off, but his legs felt weak, and he held onto Dan, wanting to cum, too.

"Come." Dan gasped out. Head lifted. Two meanings, and his lips parted, eyes half-glazed. "Your cock."

It was a struggle to stand on the couch, dizzy as Jean was, ass hurting, as he took Dan's head with both hands and moved it forward onto his straining cock, body impossibly tense.

Dan let out a faint groan, pure hunger. Hands still bound, he moved his head forward, straining, sucking the cock deep down, opening his throat, ignoring the gagging reflex. Come for me, he suddenly thought. Come for me.

Jean held Dan's head, fingers digging into the mane of dark and grey, not thrusting as much as being taken in. Pain and need and closeness, and it was really only that which brought him over the edge, losing himself. Fuck, that became a habit with Dan.

He pulled back, while Dan was still swallowing, intending to take his time, licking-cleaning, lapping. Finally, Jean stepped off the couch, legs weak, slightly shaky, and wiped his face. Woah. Fucking woah. Shit.

"Uhm … you okay?" Jean grinned while Dan looked up, head tilted, licking his lips. Jean felt it was a little forced, maybe embarrassment, no idea, just felt weird suddenly. "I'll have a quick shower, then I sort us some food, how does that sound?"

"Hey!" Dan rattled lightly on the chain that held his wrists. "You're not going to leave me like that, eh?" Waiting for Jean to come closer, head tilting into the back of his neck, he looked straight up. "The question is, if you are OK, mate."

Jean grinned and leaned over to unhook Dan, then opened the handcuffs, and leaned down for a kiss. Strange feeling, still, growing even stronger. "I'm fine. My ass hurts, and I'd like to … ah, get clean. Fucking weird feeling there."

Flexing his wrists, Dan kept his hands where they were. Good kisses. He liked them, a goddamned lot. "Sure." Nodding when Jean broke the kiss. "I understand. Know what that feels like."

Jean licked his lips and stepped back. "Be back later." With that, he left the living room, feeling every step, still the burn, he really needed to check whether he had injured himself, fuck, now, that would be just too amusing. Tapping into a masochistic side he hadn't thought he possessed.

He had a shower, leaning against the tiles, letting hot water run over his neck and back, checking his body, and washing out what he could reach. Didn't seem to be injured. Still, something about it made him shudder. Something about Dan. Something cut deep to the bone, in a good and bad way, something that had never happened before. Maybe because of the ass fucking. Shit. It all circled around Dan. How Dan laughed, and mocked, and kissed.

"What are you doing?" he muttered, stepped out and towelled himself down. Checked on himself in the mirror. Reddened, stretched, but nothing else. Should be alright in a bit. He wrapped himself into a robe and returned.

Dan had left the couch in the meantime, standing in front of the panorama window, smoking. Naked, presenting his back to the room. Dark skin glowing in the milky sunlight that streamed into the room, he was looking at the garden, still barren in early spring. He didn't seem to have heard Jean, just standing and staring.

Jean was about to say something as he entered, but his voice faltered. Shit. He stepped closer, feeling oddly conscious as he placed his hands on Dan's shoulders and kissed his neck, enjoying the broad back, the smell of his skin. Don't think, just take as much as you can have, and give as much as you can, because it would be over when Solange returned.

Dan rolled his head before dropping it for a moment, allowing better access to his neck.

"Good news, I don't think I'll get pregnant." Jean murmured.

Dan laughed quietly, under his breath. "Good to know. One daughter is enough. Couldn't do with another one." Craning his head back to catch a glimpse. "Besides, I'm getting old."

"You're getting shit, Dan. Bullshit." Jean shook his head, hands moved to Dan's arms, stayed there, lips against the taut skin under Dan's left ear.

"Thanks, bastard." Dan chuckled, leaning against Jean.

"Did you ever think about kids? I mean, actually raise them? We're sending some money to some place in Sierra Leone …" where Jean had worked and made contact with the natives, appalled at the cruelty and need, "but that's it."

Feeling Jean's lips move against his skin, Dan relished the sensation. "No. Never. As the bitch said so eloquently, my life was one of destruction, not creation." One shouldered shrug, eyes fixed on the garden outside. "I was a tool all my life, and I couldn't have carried a foetus in my ammo pouch."

Jean smirked, breathing laughter against Dan's skin.

"And you? Do you regret it?"

"Sometimes, I do. Yeah. The only way for us to have kids is grab a handful, kidnap them and keep them hidden for the rest of our lives." Jean laughed. "Can't even mention it when she's around. She'd take it personal, you know?" Precious Solange, she'd suffer for that, and that was something Jean just couldn't watch. "So I pretend I don't. Easier. Ah, shit. I guess I ruined our romantic mood. Don't mind me. Fucking Russian blood, wants to go all death and gloom if I don't pull together."

"I thought you were French by blood, of a different type." Dan smiled, turning in Jean's arms until they stood face to face. "Not much that can ruin my mood. I'm the hardy peasant."

Jean laughed again. "Aye."

"Aye?" Dan raised his brows, "that's my line. I'm Scottish, have you already forgotten?" He winked, his smile widening. "There simply are some things that we can't have. But is adoption really out with your lifestyle?"

"Not sure. I was wondering, you know. But that would mean officials looking too closely at us. Bad karma."

Dan shrugged, leant closer, "We just have to get on with life, eh?" No matter how much it cost.

"Well, nothing eloping together could solve. You're getting too old to have my babies." Jean slapped Dan's ass and laughed.

"Moment ago you claimed I was getting shit." Dan's brows danced up and down his forehead. "Not sure where your thoughts have buggered off to, but hell, Jean, you're damn strange today."

True, thought Jean and gave an innocent grin, as if he had no idea in hell what Dan was talking about. His normal light heartedness felt like an act now. Which was weird, because it wasn't.

Tilting his head, Dan half-smiled. "Eloping's right out, but not because of the babies. There's that little matter of our partners, hm?"

"Yes … that wouldn't be a good idea. Vadim's a good tracker, and Solange has the legal power to shut down my bank accounts." Jean smirked. "Seems we're the tragic love story that can never happen, huh?"

"Are we?" Dan's smile was still in place. "Are we, Jean?"

Jean paused, felt his heart race all of a sudden. What the fuck are you doing? Found no clever comment that quickly, not quick enough by far. "Comrades", he said, first thing that came to his blank mind. Good start. "Right? We'll always be that."

Dan nodded, with that same smile. "Aye, comrades. Friends. We'll always be friends." Gesturing with his chin over to the couch. "And you'd be an even better friend and comrade for sitting down there and talking for, say, five minutes."

Jean glanced at the couch, ran a hand through his hair, still damp, then walked over and sat down. Okay. He'd feel his ass for a while longer. He idly capped the lube again and put it away, where he usually kept it. To give his hands something to do.

Dan flopped himself down on the wine-stained leather couch beside Jean. "Right, then." The fingers of his left rested lightly on Jean's robe-clad shoulders. "Spill the beans. What's up, Frenchie?" Tilting his head until it lay on the top of the couch's back. "Was the fucking a big mistake? Gone all weird in your head? It did that to me, you know. Ages ago."

"Yes? Weird … in what way?" Jean shook his head. "I can't make anything out of it. It's just …" He raised his shoulders. "Hell, I … just don't know."

Dan rubbed his nose with the heel of his hand. "You and Solange alright?" Echoing Jean's earlier question.

"Maybe I'm just taking her for granted. She sometimes says I do, but that's when she's … feeling down. She has times like that, we call that her PMS." He gave a small laugh. Ups and downs. Who didn't have them? "You get used to somebody after that time. You're some … kind of holiday, I guess. Something she isn't. I'm faithful, that's weird, too, nothing I really, lack, but … I do mean it. When I kiss you."

"Aye, you do mean it." Dan nodded, "I do, too." He smiled, poking a finger into Jean's solar plexus, right above where the bathrobe opened. "Are you going to tell me now that you've fallen in love with me? However stupid that may sound." He grinned, taking the piss.

Jean grinned sharply. "Yes, it sounds stupid. So I won't say it. I'll keep it to myself. The whole opera about how much I fucking wanted you, and that I … I …" Jean paused, struggling. "Yeah, shit, I … guess I love you - so what? Won't change a thing, and it shouldn't really, we're both adults, we have … people around, and commitments. Just … you know, take that feeling and, I don't know, 'cherish' sounds like from a bad song. You're a guy, and I still love you when you're here. I never did that with another guy, and Solange never really was male, so … shit … I just love being around you, touching you and making you smile. I feel like a complete pussy for that, weird, that I can do all that with a girl, but I feel strange when I do it with you, but it feels good."

"Oh." The breathed out syllable was all that Dan brought out. Gone the bravado, the jokes and piss-taking. Gone, too, his belief he'd known what Jean was going to say. Wrong. No, not wrong, just nowhere near the level of truth.

Jean swallowed. "Yeah, 'oh'. It's alright. It really is. Just … good I said it, I guess."

Dan swallowed, hand moved off Jean's shoulder to rub once, twice over his face before he cleared his throat, looking back up. "Fact is, I sometimes wish Vadim was you. Just sometimes, you know?" He shouldn't be saying that, should have never even felt it, but sometimes, like now, with Vadim far away and all that pain and fear and loneliness, with nowhere and nothing to soothe the worry, it was just there. That feeling. "The lightness between us. There's no pain. The way you kiss and touch and all that, but then …" shaking his head, smiling.

"… then I'm not him." Jean gave a grin and reached out to raise Dan's chin, moving close as if for a kiss. "That's alright. Maybe some weird part of me is jealous. Does that make sense?"

"Aye. Makes sense." Dan felt strange for a moment, the tender gesture. The way Jean treated him, different to any man he'd ever been with. There was a gentleness about him that had always somehow resonated with him. "A request, perhaps?"

"Of course."

"Now that that 'talking' is done and over with, and since I obviously can't get it up again that quickly, any chance for a kiss and touch fest? You mentioned a hot tub and some food. You know I do extremely depraved things for - and to - a piece of baklava."

Jean grinned. "Grapes and cheese and more wine? Sounds like a start?" He ran fingers along Dan's jaw line, tracing the bone underneath. "Just head downstairs. I'll bring the food and wine."

Dan got up while Jean headed into the kitchen, to fetch the prepared food from the fridge, baguette mainly for cleaning up the taste between the cheese and wine, glasses, a couple bottles.

"Got any baklava after all?" Dan called, "or any other sweets?"

"Hang on." Jean gave a laugh. "I have to hide that stuff. Solange gets really upset if she finds sugar or chocolate in the house."

Dan was making his way with the help of his cane down the stairs. Stairs would always be a bit of a bastard. The hot tub sat at one end of the sauna, swimming pool, steam room ensemble that took up the old building's cellar. Everything was pristine, neatly tiled, decorated with potted plants and indirect light filtered in from the ceiling.

He was looking for the switch to turn it on, when Jean returned.

"Over there, near the steps." Jean came with the platter, food precariously piled up, wine bottles under his arm, wine glasses dangling from his fingers. Carefully setting everything down, he'd broken glasses here before, and cleaning that up ruined the mood.

"Ah, I see." Spotting the control panel, Dan set the whirl tub into motion, satisfied at the bubbles. "Does she ever eat anything?" Dan glanced at Jean who was arranging the food and drink. "Other than a piece of celery, that is. Would drive me mental if I had to watch what I eat."

Jean laughed. "Her main counts as my side salad. She knows the calorie content of just about everything. But we work out together. Of course, different sets of weights, but she is a mean runner."

Dan flashed a grin and looked around, wondering how the hell to best get into the tub. Their own had a special set of steps built in, to make it easier for him to get in.

Jean looked at Dan's knee, then the tub. "Ah. Want my shoulder? Carrying you in might be a bit ... embarrassing, huh?"

"Damned cheeky bastard, I don't need anyone to carry me, I could carry you, if the knee didn't play up." Mock-punching Jean, "but a shoulder's appreciated."

"No doubt." Jean opened the robe and shed it, then moved close to Dan, offering his shoulder, sliding an arm around his waist.

All Dan needed was that bit of support for balance. Once in the water, he sunk under for a while, before coming back up, grinning and shaking his hair, water flying everywhere.

Jean settled near the wine, pouring it lazily while Dan fooled around. Feeling the bite of the hot water. Still strange, but alright. What made him think more was the angle of pain in that. Was it that different from Solange raking his back with fingernails?

"Right, Jean, I expect you to make good your Frenchman's reputation and feed me with good wine, food, and an afternoon of l'amour, l'amour, l'amour."

Jean laughed and offered a glass, and a kiss right after that. "Baklava and Italian biscotti. Should serve a dessert wine rather than this stuff, but I like this white."

Taking glass, kiss, and most of all a mouthful of wine, Dan settled back, comfortable and weightless in the water. He'd learned to love water almost as much as Vadim did. It took the strain off his knees, kept his body in shape and allowed him to expend his energy as he used to do in running.

Jean pushed the plate closer to Dan, then selected a couple grapes, teased Dan's lips with the smooth, chilled skin of the fruit, and pushed them in, gingerly, opening his own lips as he did, eyes gleaming.

Lips closing around the grape, Dan bit down on it, tangy juice running down his throat and his chin, before sucking the fruit in fully. "Good start. I can feel the savoir vivre." He grinned.

Jean gave a laugh. "Let's see if we can hold that level." He discarded the thoughts what it all meant and caused and did, just taking what he knew was true. That he enjoyed immensely being with Dan, love or comradeship, no matter, Solange thought it had some 'father & son' vibes, or definitely something like family, which was a strange thought, but touched the core of it. He felt at ease and comfortable with this man. Whatever they did was alright.

And that was kissing, and feeding each other, holding and touching and more kissing, stroking, touch and feeling because they could have it, and forget time and everything outside the Jacuzzi for a long while.

They stayed until the late afternoon, then got out and dressed, and into the village to the local bar. Wine and freshly baked bread with garlic, rosemary and produce from the surrounding countryside. Dan was laughing with the locals, Jean was playing pétanque with the older men, while Dan watched, until he gave it a go.

Filled with wine and food, strawberry quiche and a helping of several cups of coffee, good company, and most of all the comfortable ease of being around Jean, they were finally making their way back up to the house, when it was after eleven. Walking this time, too much wine for both. Talking on the way, smiling. Another day was drawing to an end; another time with Jean. It had kept him from thinking and had filled the loneliness.

There was light when they arrived, and Solange opened the door when Jean rang. She smiled and hugged, and Jean kissed her, with the same tenderness and seriousness that he always kissed with.

"Did you have a good day?" asked Jean between kisses, while Dan stood, leaning against the wall of the house, smiling.

"Oh yes." She laughed, trying to push Jean back, but he unbalanced her, and she clung to him, laughing. "Manners, mon cherie, manners."

Dan shook his head, "It's alright, Solange, I have a funny feeling your husband has missed you."

"I … guess so, but he shouldn't be so rude …" She tried in vain to free herself from Jean's arms, then resigned to the fact. "You're terrible, Jean."

"What else is new?" asked Jean, and carried her off.

Dan was smiling as he watched them leave. He stayed in the kitchen for another hour, raiding the fridge and making himself a coffee or two, while smoking, deep in thoughts.

Special Forces Chapter LXIII: Clean Sweep
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 24 February 2009