Delhi is a disaster, but there is still work to be done, including Grant sending them after Latif on a wild goose chase into Kashmir that ends with the death of a few local criminals and an emergency evac back to India. They lay low for a couple of days and Damien could swear Grant picked their digs out of spite. Tiny, stuffy rooms with paper thin walls – as Stonebridge doesn't fail to remind him the morning after Damien brings a girl back for the night.
"That's not what we call keeping a low profile."
"And that's what I call being a stuck up prude." Damien cocks his head.
"Says the guy who cannot keep it in his pants," Michael deadpans. He's not all that good at it, though.
“Jealous, buddy?” Damien keeps grinning until Michael gives up with a pointed eye roll. “Just heading out, you coming? Bet we can find you a pretty one.”
“Your loss,” Damien calls after him, but when he steps out on the street his face is grim.
There is a cheap place down the road to get a drink and some food. An old radio pours scratchy songs that would get on Damien's nerves if they weren't oddly right for the surroundings, including the second (or quite possibly several) hand furniture and a couple of chickens.
Latif's victory is a slap in the face, not unlike the time Michael Stonebridge came to him out of the blue and spoke a name Damien never thought he would hear again. Turning his life upside down and landing him here, in the middle of nowhere, back on the field and back to a purpose.
Damien doesn't quite know what to make of it, the fact that John chose him; that he placed his trust in Damien of all people when he knew the game was over. But he did, and that's that. Spilt milk. Or the last nail in Damien's coffin. It's likely just a matter of perspective.
He's at his third glass when Stonebridge joins him.
“Changed your mind?” Damien finishes off the crap the owner calls beer.
“How can you even eat that?” Michael casts a disdainful glance at the kitchen area and then back at the sad remains on Damien's plate.
“What? Chicken is very healthy. And they say curry is good for your digestion.”
“I bet that bird was running around here yesterday.”
“That just means it's fresh?” Damien offers, and Michael changes the subject.
“We are ordered back to London. Pick up at four hundred. Don't be late.”
Michael leaves and Damien orders another round. The radio switches to something that sounds remotely like an Arabic version of Edith Piaf. It mixes with the sounds of the city preparing for dinner, the smell of engine grease and smoke and fried meat.
Damien sips his drink, watches the houses across the street, and imagines it's Lahore.
Cowards. You make me fucking laugh.
Headshot. Clean across the temple.
Latif will speak in the only language...
Pixels on a screen. Blood and brain matter.
... only language the West understands...
A gun thousands of miles away and yet so loud. So final. And Damien really just wants to break something, because it's just so fucking unfair.
John Porter trusted him to understand the message, to continue the mission where he failed, until Damien finally reached one of the two possible conclusions. They sold him out. They must have, Damien reminds himself. John was good, one of the best. Betrayed.
But that doesn't change the fact that it is Latif or them, and there is no middle ground. That is the war John asked him to fight.
And Damien was damned if he would fail.
Damien would give a kidney if that promise were true. But it isn't. Michael makes the call and then it's over and Kate is gone. Just like that.
They gather in the same bar where they drank to John before. The same line of shot glasses, except one less. Michael calls the toast and Damien is already gesturing for the next round. The drink burns down his throat with the same bitter taste as thought that one day it will be his photo on the counter and his name called out.
Kate was the one who came over to him in this very bar and reminded Damien of John's stubborn persistence, which always brought him back from the missions that claimed the lives of good soldiers and that others considered lost causes. Kate was right, and she probably didn't even know how much. But Damien did, and that was the reason he sat down with that tape to find out what John Porter was trying to accomplish with his dying words.
And then there was the code, unfolding before Damien's eyes, and there was no turning back from there. John dragged him straight into this mess, brought him on board before Eleanor did, and Damien knew he would accept that offer before it was made.
And here he is, drinking to Kate, now dead as well.
“She was a good person,” he offers once Michael sits down next to him. The rest of the team is dispersing quickly, finding other places to be, other ways to grieve.
“She was,” Michael says stiffly, fiddling with his glass. His cheeks are red and his jaw is so tense it looks painful. “If only I--”
“What happened wasn't your fault.”
Michael swallows like he is being forced to eat glass, and nods. “I will get that bastard, Scott. I will get him. And then I'll get Latif too.”
“I know, buddy.” Damien clasps a hand on Michael's shoulder. Stonebridge will never know just how much he actually means it. Damien already regrets saying as much, but right now he feels that Michael is closer to him than ever before, and it's a sadness and a relief. And perhaps it's all stupid, because he and John never had anything like Michael and Kate did, but then again, in their line of work things are rarely comparable to anything else.
Iraq. John. Kate. Latif has taken too much from them, and he will pay accordingly.
“We will. Together,” Damien says, and Michael's nod is almost grateful. But when he looks up his face is all focus and determination.
"You ready for this?"
If it were any other situation, Damien would laugh. But it's not, and so he just picks up the next shot and knocks it back. The empty glass hits the counter with perhaps a little too much force.
"You have no idea, buddy. You have no fucking idea."
Nor does Section 20, so it seems, and Damien prefers it just that way.
There are soldiers cheering them on, placing bets. They are covered in dirt and their mouths taste of blood and failure, and it feels so damn liberating. Then Porter loses his leverage and Damien flips him over, and between the harsh breaths and the pain there is the very real feeling of John's hard cock against his thigh, and a rush of arousal that leaves Damien reeling.
He rolls off John and doesn't say a word. Baker comes over, pulls him up, and Damien reflexively wipes his split lip with the back of his hand. He doesn't want to look at Porter but he makes himself anyway, because he is Damien Scott and he is tougher than all these pitiful motherfuckers by a goddamn mile. That's what he is.
So he looks at Porter and he sees himself, uniform and bloodied teeth, ready to spring, ready to kill. It's take no bullshit and leave no man behind. It's the constricting feeling in his throat and the steady gaze of Porter staring back at him.
They are bloodhounds on the scent and there is a lot of blood in this place.
That night he tosses and turns in bed with the taste of antiseptic in his mouth and thoughts that he shouldn't be thinking. But then again, he has never been one for restrictions. Baker doesn't even stir when Damien finally slips out of their room.
“Hey, buddy,” he says when John opens the door, alert and unreadable.
“Soldier.” John acknowledges him emotionlessly, and for once Damien has no idea what to say. Or rather, how to say it. “Anything you wanted?”
Damien would be tempted to smile and come up with something that redefines innuendo, but John just stands there like he has ice water flowing in his veins, his hawkish eyes studying Damien intently. So in the end he just nods, and John lets him in wordlessly.
The door clicks shut behind Damien, and he stands there with tense shoulders, knowing this is where it all turns, this is where he could lie.
"I want you," he says simply. Somehow, John doesn't seem surprised.
They collide as though pushed, hard and fast and fierce. Their first kiss is all bite, just as their first touch was all fight, but this time there is a wall to hold them up and no audience to keep them apart, grabbing, pulling, pushing. Unleashed.
John is all lean muscle, just as Damien remembers from before, so alien and yet familiar. He bites the neck before him and the sound John makes shivers through Damien's whole body. Their hips meet in short, quick thrusts, but the fabric is too thick and it's not quite enough.
"Wait, wait." Damien breaks away from John's mouth just long enough, and goddamn those belts and whoever invented them. But then it's skin on skin and it's weird and glorious and everything Damien never knew he could ever want. It's different in many ways, but in the end it's just sex, fast and thrilling and pretty great, even if Damien says so himself.
Still, he waits with his own orgasm until Porter tips over the edge, just to be sure. It feels oddly empowering. They stay like that for a few moments, breathing hard and temples touching.
"Tissues on the right." John is the first to pull away.
"Fuck me." Damien chuckles, and it hits him afterwards that he might be sending the wrong signal there. “Not like that. I'm not gay.” It sounds defensive. He doesn't like it.
“Me neither,” John says flatly. The occasional light coming in through the window highlights his sharp profile, the line of his neck.
Damien wonders if there is anything to say to that. It should be awkward, and yet all he can think is that the rest of the contingent labelling John ‘stone cold’ is the joke of the century, because nothing could be farther from the truth. And whatever brought this on, adrenaline or curiosity or loneliness or all of that, Damien just wants to handle this well, because John deserves as much and more.
In the end they just pretend it never happened.
He thinks about Michael, somewhere out there, no doubt hunted by the Janjaweed, with no one to watch his back but Crawford, which is ridiculous to contemplate in itself. He should be there, not in a bloody hospital pumped full of drugs. Sure, he is rather glad to be still alive, but that doesn't change the fact that Michael needs his help and Damien is not there.
There is also the matter of facing possible arrest and charges from the Sudanese authorities. By all standards, they are pretty screwed all over, and that doesn't seem to be getting any better anywhere in the near future. He tries to analyse the possible courses of action, but there are too many unknowns, too many handicaps, and Damien has too little physical and mental capacity at the moment to deal with them, sad as that sounds. Goddamn that bloody wound.
He wouldn't do John proud, would he now?
It's quite honestly ridiculous how much Damien misses him now that the man is gone. Nostalgia, perhaps. He never dwelled on those days in Afghanistan whilst Porter was alive. Or at least not much. He'd lived long enough with the possibility of both their deaths hanging over his head not to. And then he had other places to survive, other people to fuck. Women come easy, always have. He gives them what they want and he gets what he needs. Between the bullets and the lies, they are the beautiful milestones on the highway to hell, and he speeds like it's the end of the line because he doesn't know if it isn't.
Sometimes, he imagines the Lahore mission succeeding.
Yet somehow Afghanistan stays in the back of his mind like an itch he cannot scratch, right there with the video stream of John Porter's execution and some other things that would be better forgotten. It's unreasonable and just plain sentimental that those days should gain so much weight in retrospect. But somehow they do. Does that mean anything? Can it?
A one-time deal turned into a few-times deal with a last quick hand job and a hard kiss in the fuel storage room before they'd flown John out of his life for good. That's all it has been and all it will ever be. And then Iraq happened, and Damien is just glad he didn't have to see the look on John's face when it did.
Sometimes he imagines Porter didn't know.
John understood the truth of him, the ugliness beneath the skin, because they were of the same stock with the same blood on their hands and the same ruthless disregard for it. He would always be more than just a notch on Damien's bedpost, because John Porter was his comrade, his goddamn mate before he was a casual fuck, someone who saved his life and killed for it without a second thought.
Sometimes, Damien imagines that John remembered him like that.
He is waiting for Patrick to debrief him, but it's John coming through the door instead, and Damien realizes they haven't spoken since the night they don't speak about.
"You look like hell."
"I would flip you the bird but I'm at a disadvantage." Damien lifts up his bandaged hand, and John cracks a half smile.
"I was hoping you'd be otherwise... functional," he says simply, and Damien thinks he must have heard it wrong. He really must have, which doesn't change the fact that he has nothing against it. Nothing at all.
And then there is John's hand on his belt and John's eyes draining every bit of sanity out of him until Damien simply grabs him with his good hand and pulls him in for a kiss that is a lot more desperate than any of them would care to admit.
"Command can be here any moment." Damien tries to warn, but John hardly seems bothered. Damien briefly wonders if he should be alarmed by that before deciding not to give a rat's ass.
He is alive and John is right there with him.
"That just means we don't have all day." John offers eventually, and Damien would like to say something flippant. But John is a man of action, and he is already going down on his knees, and that's about the point where Damien's brain simply flatlines. Thankfully, at least John seems to have his wits about him, because he makes rather quick work of the pants and then his mouth is around Damien's cock, which is still kind of unexpected, but not in a bad way.
Damien arches his back, because hot damn, and to hell with that military short hair that he cannot grab the way he would want to. It's hard, it's fast, it's so efficient. Like the way John handles a gun, like he handles a mission. But his eyes, those are a different story entirely, and Damien swallows hard just looking into them.
And then even looking is out of the question, because he cannot seem to keep his eyes open. No matter how hard he's trying, John is obviously trying harder.
It's somewhat of a disappointment when John finishes him off with one rough hand instead, though Damien is far from complaining. Very far indeed.
"I could get used to greetings like this." He offers jokingly, and John looks too smug for his own good. It's a great look on him, no doubt.
"Patrick is at HQ. Consider yourself debriefed."
"Well, fuck me." The back of Damien's head hits the wall and John gives a raspy laugh.
"Should I take that as an invitation?"
"Hell yes." Damien grins, and it's like he has a weight off his chest he didn't even know was there. It's a little like that one time when the two of them single-handedly held a position while outnumbered eight to one, and when it was done they just fell next to each other in the middle of that blasted wasteland and laughed.
They are good, he and John. A goddamn pair of aces in the deck. Equals.
"I don't know. Maybe it's because Project Dawn might bring on a new World War as far as we know. Or maybe I just like annoying you."
"Very funny." Michael observes dryly, and Damien shrugs.
"Latif has to die, and that's all I need."
Michael gives him a long hard stare and Damien doesn't give a damn.
He thinks about Allen, the slimy little rat already gone to play his part in this foul game. And Damien swears he will not leave it at that, because Allen knows something, and before he goes down Damien needs to recover that information, no matter what. Too much depends on it. He is too close to finally solving the puzzle to let the chance slip now. And whoever betrayed John had his hands in framing him, Damien has no doubt about that one.
If he can find proof, all the better.
Now, if only they could get out of here somehow. Got to hand it to them, even old and decaying, these ugly concrete buildings are tough, and Damien would bet a considerable sum that the men running around looking to Hasani wear those guns for more than just show. Not to mention the helpless civilians they are not supposed to save but cannot leave to die anyway.
It seems like Kosovo is a pretty shitty place for supposedly secret operations. But then again, which place isn't?
"If only I lived to see the day they are sending us to the Bahamas for a change." Damien tries to lift the mood, with little success. "Or the Netherlands. Sounds like a funky one."
"Are you done daydreaming, or should I find someone else to watch my back?" Michael shoots back half sarcastic and half irritated.
Damien suddenly remembers another time and swallows the answer that wants out. Pity. It would be interesting to see how Michael would react to being told that his back is indeed attractive enough for second looks.
John had laughed, uncomfortable and honest.
Damien can still see him, with his hard abs and the athlete's girdle and the rough surface of the scar on his thigh, the tattoo on his shoulder. All that powerful muscle and killer instinct up against his own, a good hard fuck to blow off the steam, no frills.
His brain blown out by a fucking psychopath on camera.
Damien could find a thousand reasons why this mission is important; a hundred others why he is hellbent to see the chase through. But in the end, he is still the bloodhound following the trail of red left by that one cold-blooded killer.
He will get out of here. He will find Allen and beat him purple if needed. He will finish the mission and win this invisible war, because that is the only thing for him to do. The only thing he knows how.
And when he finally finds him, Latif dies. Simple as that.
"I need a ride. If you would."
He just arches an eyebrow when Damien tells him where to.
"Nothing." Michael shakes his head. It's not a very good lie.
"Only if you put the seatbelt on." He concedes, and Damien grins.
And that is that. The English countryside passes them by like something straight out from a retirement plan catalogue. If such a thing exists. Damien wouldn't know.
"It's about Porter, right?" Michael gives him a sidelong glance. "Damien?"
"What of it?"
Michael shrugs. "You never visited before."
"And how would you know that?" Damien shoots back, not even looking at him.
"It was in your psych evaluation."
"I see." Damien scoffs, unhappy and unsurprised. "Should've expected that one, I guess."
"So why now?"
"There was no reason before," Damien says, and Michael seems to understand. Or at least he stops pressing the issue.
If it can be said of a cemetery, this one is surely lovely. There are verdant rows of evergreens and wide, old trees by the pathways, and it all seems worn down by time and yet well cared for. Its entirety seems to be at odds with the name on the headstone.
He didn't bring flowers. It would have felt absurd. But there are some on the grave, white and red carnations, still fresh. The daughter, Damien assumes, thinks about the frail little girl in the picture that John had spent so much time staring at.
It is a somewhat comforting thought that she visits.
"It's done, buddy," Damien says, patting the tombstone lightly. He feels silly, because John is dead and so are Latif and Grant and so many other people, and yet... yet in the end everything just goes on, for better or for worse. They have done what they could, served what little justice there was to be had, and what for? This piece of cold stone and all the rest of them?
"They might even give you a medal or some shit." Damien adds lightly, and he can just see John's face, frown, eye roll and all. The sadness of it strikes him with sudden clarity, a memory of times past that will never be again and that of a person turned into a lack of himself.
Damien has so many things to say, and it's too little too late.
He looks at the grave, plain and nearly bleak, something John would approve of. It is hard to imagine he is there, below. Impossible. Resting in peace was never quite their thing after all.
"Watch my back, will you?" Damien's fingers slide across the stone in farewell. There is Spring in the air and the scent of rain to come.
He walks away and doesn't look back.
He has other places to be, other people to fuck, to kill, to save.