Gabriel looked up at the rain. “I long to be at least a little cleaner than I am now.” He glanced at me over his shoulder. “Can you keep an eye on the fire and food for a minute?”
“Sure,” I said, a bit confused as to why. “Just don’t wander off. Visibility is crap in this storm.”
“Not going far,” he called out as he yanked off the stolen clothes and boots. Within seconds Gabriel stood naked in the rain, face tilted upwards, mouth open and hair in thick black ribbons over his shoulders. I tried – I really did try – not to let my eyes wander but I couldn’t prevent the desire taking control.
From this distance I couldn’t see the scarring, but I could see the long lean muscles hugging the slim frame, we were the same height and yet so different. He had almost no chest hair but as he turned in a slow circle, his arms held out with palms up, I could see the dark trail from his belly button and I followed it down to the thick, unkempt black hair around his groin. He started to move, swaying in the rain singing something too quiet for me to hear over the crackle and hiss of the fire and pounding water. I watched him pick a number of leaves, rub them together and fold them up before he started scouring at his skin. With regret I dragged my eyes off his long legs and hard backside while I tended the fire.
“Oh, fuck,” I muttered. A snake lay on a sharpened stake over the fire pierced as if the loops were a kebab.
“SHE’S DEAD,” I STATED WITH a finality that made the wheels in my brain stutter back to working
Brant looked at me, her expression sympathetic. “Clearly not.”
“We blew up the building we left her in and we’d filled her with holes,” Sam said. Memories
crowded us. The ghosts of hundreds of missions filed past in silent ranks to condemn us, we both felt
them that much I knew.
Our ex-commanding officer knew this would be hard for us to hear so she kept her voice gentle.
“It’s her, gentlemen. DNA tests prove it.”
Squeaking shrill noises crowded my head and I forced a breath into my chest to quieten them.
“Why call us in? You’ve more pets to play with I’m sure, you don’t need us. We’re old men,
Elizabeth,” I said, talking to her as my equal for the first time.
She relaxed enough to lean back against the table containing the food. “We’re all older, Luke, but
few are as well trained and have your experience in the field. I need you, both of you.” She crossed
her legs at the ankle, her brown boots and jeans with green shirt combination making her masculine
but never detracting from her strong femininity. Elizabeth Brant was the closest I’d ever come to
being tempted by the fairer sex. I wish the same had been true of Sam.
“Sorry, I’m out. I’m happy to play training games with your boys in Hereford but I’m not going
back into the field.” Sam glanced at me and said, almost in a whisper, “I’m not safe.”
“You’re working for the Regiment?” I asked. My shock was genuine; I thought he’d been forced
to leave the country after quitting Unit Twelve.
He shrugged. “Someone needs to train the Trogs in how the real boys fight.”
I snorted. “You mean how we have to back you guys up in the field because you’ve never
managed to win a war? That training?” I asked, allowing myself a smile.
He chuckled. “Suck it up, Brit Brat. You know we SEALs have you beat hands down.”
“Fuck off do you. The SAS just want to know how to take you down.” I realised we’d been living
less than fifty miles apart. Why? Why was he still in the UK? Did he know I lived in the Cotswolds?
Slad wasn’t more than an hour away at most.
Brant sighed. “Cocks away, gentlemen, at least until I leave the room.”
“Sorry, ma’am,” we said together. Our eyes locked and a flare of heat rushed through me. The
same thing seemed to happen to Sam because a flush of colour raced up his pale Irish American face.
Brant didn’t do a very good job of hiding her smile. “Let’s get back to business shall we? It’s not a
combat mission, boys. It’s just a pick up.”
“Why us?” Sam asked.
“You’ve been requested by Snow directly.”
Oh, goodie, another grenade to chuck into the room. “Sorry, what?” I asked.
“Why don’t you come with me and I’ll be able to explain in more detail?” She pushed away from
“Wait, if I agree to go with you does that commit me to the job?” I asked.
It was Sam’s turn to snort. “Worried about your pay cheque?” Or maybe that was check – the
“No, more worried about your sorry butt dragging me down if I’m committed to you,” I shot back.
“Oh, that’s right, you don’t do commitment so I shouldn’t worry.”
I could almost see the punch he wanted to throw at me and the glee at the thought of ripping him
apart in this nondescript office surged through me. Every time we’d descended into fist fights there
had been people to pull us apart and we’d never had a chance to find out who was best. Maybe this
“No commitment until you see the details,” Brant said, once more putting herself between us.
“And one more bitch from you, Sinclair, and I’ll have you up on charges whether you work for me or
An empty threat perhaps but Brant could do far worse than arrest me if I pissed her off, we both
knew it, and wrecking her building would qualify for the real threat. We followed our mummy duck
out of the office, down a short corridor to the end of the hall. She presented her iris to a scanner, then
gave an eight figure code to the keypad. Top line security. Sam glanced at me as we continued to
follow her and I could see the wheels turning in his head, the words on his tongue, but he kept his
mouth shut. We could read each other far too well, even after five years, and it hurt to know that; it
hurt to know we knew how to push each other’s buttons so fast but we couldn’t seem to help each
other to find peace.
From the outside it looked like another office building butting up against a hotel in the centre of
London, but now we were behind the façade and the new world of cyber hunting held sway. The vast
open plan office looked like a geek’s version of heaven. Even knowing what I did about modern
warfare being committed on screens thousands of miles from the front lines men like me occupied, I
was impressed. Information bounced from screen to screen, updates spewing forth in a tsunami of
ones and zeroes. Men and women moved from warzone to warzone without leaving the office.
“Your latest Russian target provided us with a tangle to unravel,” Brant said to me over her
Sam glanced at me. I shrugged. “Russian, someone paid me to make him a non-Russian while he
visited New York.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “That was you?”
“What did you hear?”
“That it was a blinder of a shot only half a dozen people could have made,” Sam said. “I should
have guessed it was you.”
“You didn’t know I was active?”
“No,” he said with none of his usual spark. “No, I didn’t.”
I frowned. Why was he living fifty miles away from my home base, he hated the weather in
Hereford? I knew Sam better than anyone else in the world and something was off. No time to
consider it in depth now though, Brant was right, I needed my head in the game. It had been a long
time since I’d played with other children in the sandpit.
We walked into another office marked, ‘Unit Twelve’ on the door. A young man, all spit and
polish, sat behind the desk in barrack dress of the British Army. He rose as we entered, “Colonel, I
have some intel you should be made aware of –”
“Not now, Corporal,” Brant said, waving a dismissive hand in the man’s direction. I almost felt
sorry for him, Elizabeth wasn’t known for her tolerance or compassion. I had no idea why people
thought women were weak, more than one had kicked my arse, both metaphorical and literal, over the
years. I’d seen them fight like lions to save someone else’s child and equally shoot anyone, other
women and children included, in the head if it suited them. The line between the genders no longer
existed for me, in that context at least.
“Take a seat, gentlemen,” Brant said, waving at the two chairs. We sat, good little duckies that we
Brant fiddled with her computer for a moment and the screen behind her head woke up. “Three
days ago we received this from an embedded Syrian refugee worker. We have them in most of the
camps and access the CCTV data on a regular basis. During a routine facial scan of the new arrivals
this shot was taken at the registration desk.”
An image flashed up, a woman in a headscarf stood at the desk. The image was full resolution and
in colour. They didn’t mess about in Syria, too many ISIS women and children who’d been taught to
kill, floating about looking for a way to escape the revenge now tearing the region apart. This face
made my stomach flip and I shivered. Cold black eyes, hard features, more cut-glass English than
Arabic, but gaunt now and older, much older than when we’d last seen her almost eight years before.
“Jesus, it is her, it’s Angelica,” Sam whispered. I glanced at him. Eyes too wide. Skin a clammy
white. Whatever else Sam and I were, we were brothers-in-arms and my brother looked scared.
He of all people knew her intimately. She’d been the one to torture him for six days before I
managed to get him out. We thought we’d blown her up and the compound in the process but
“She’s registered under the name Maryana al-Marrash,” Brant said, all fact. Though I’d been
witness to one of her rare displays of temper when we lost Sam to the bitch so I knew this cut her as
“She’s looking at the camera, as if she wants to be seen,” I said, the urge to touch Sam
overwhelming me. I kept glancing at him to check he was okay, the fine tremor and sheen of sweat
made it clear he was not okay at all. I gave into the urge. I reached across the space between our
chairs and grabbed his wrist. He started in surprise, his eyes going wide as they focused on me. “It’s
alright, Sam. She can’t hurt you.”
He nodded and blinked rapidly as if trying to clear his thoughts. “Yeah, yeah, just… I thought… I
wake up sometimes and she’s… It’s better when I can tell myself she’s dead.” He moved his hand
away, placing distance between us again. Though I knew it had more to do with the company we were
in than any attempt to escape my touch. Despite this it made my chest hurt and my heart ache.
Brant, of course, noticed it all.
The first time Sam and I met in Afghanistan, my SAS team and his SEAL team, worked together
but I’d kept my sexuality quiet, not secret, just discreet. When we’d been posted together in Unit
Twelve our friendship began to twist into something more, at least for me. During his second year in
Unit Twelve he’d been hurt, badly, and I’d given him one hell of a deathbed speech about love in all
its forms and he needed to forgive me for loving him, despite the revolving door of women that went
through his life. Sam had made a full recovery and once returned to Unit Twelve made my life
difficult until we’d fucked. Or rather he’d fucked me because at that point he had no experience with
men. We didn’t stop fucking for three more years. Brant kept it quiet but the entire team knew within
three months of it starting because some idiot shot me and Sam lost his temper. He went postal in
Thailand and killed dozens of drug traders for hurting me. We were supposed to be chasing a lead
about a virus the Chinese wanted, not killing drug smugglers. After that we moved in together in my
flat in London. Intense didn’t begin to describe our relationship.
It blew up in my face eventually though.
Brant continued while watching our silent pain. “Once facial recognition caught her the rest was
easy. A DNA swab confirmed it was her. The real clincher though is this,” an email flashed up, “in
this, which is written in Farsi of all things, she states that she’s ready to come in if it’s you two who
come to get her, anyone else and she’ll kill herself.”
“Good, send in the SEALs,” Sam muttered.
The roughness of his wrist had felt so good, much more my type than the twink from the night
before, and my palm itched for more. Sam always felt solid and real, no one ever seemed that way
“Her intelligence is too good.”
“You know she’s just fucking with you, right?” I asked. “She’s never going to give you
information on live cells or plans.”
Brant looked away for a moment. Sam glanced at me, we both knew that look. “What is it?” I
Elizabeth Brant looked nervous. “We believe the insurgents have weapon’s grade enriched
uranium and triggers inside an old Soviet nuke, they are also sourcing a pathogen that spreads on the
back of the measles virus. We think it’s come out of Iraq and gone through Iranian hands, which is
where we think Snow has been. We believe this is the information Snow wants to trade. Where it is,
where it’s going and who wants to use it most. We need that intelligence, gentlemen.”
“Most of the world is inoculated against measles,” I said.
“And those that aren’t are just stupid,” Sam added.
We were soldiers, we lived by rules and the rules said – vaccinate children. To be fair we’d been in
places too poor to afford even these simple luxuries and seen the damage a disease like measles could
do to communities.
“The measles virus is highly contagious, this pathogen is carried by the virus, it piggybacks and
therefore spreads just as quickly. It acts like a haemorrhagic fever.”
We both stared at Brant. “And who exactly is responsible for creating this little bundle of joy?” I
“Fuck,” said Sam. “It’s the US isn’t it?”
“They have a lab in Iraq, if it’s there it’s off the books. To be fair, the Russians have one in Siberia
and the Chinese have one in Tibet.”
“Well, that’s okay then,” Sam muttered. He rubbed his thick thumb over his wrist where I’d
touched him moments ago. Watching his unconscious reaction to our physical contact went straight to
my dick, via my heart unfortunately.
“So, you want her back here to give you information on the lab, the bombs, and I expect you want
her to repeat the formula for the killer disease as well so you can wave it under the nose of the
Americans next time they step out of line?” I asked.
Brant shrugged and nodded. “Just about sums things up at the moment but the situation and intel
are somewhat fluid right now. We want you two to go in to the camp, get her out before she kills
herself and return her to us.”
“You want a bow tied around her fucking neck as well?” Sam asked.
Our CO didn’t rise to the bait. “Only if you feel like it.” Brant didn’t say another word, merely sat
back and waited for us to make a decision.