Author: Juxian Tang
Disclaimer: They are not mine, etc.
Warning: amputation, disturbing content
Summary: Krycek at the settlement of one-armed men
Comments: it is written from the point of view of the Russian man, the one who
said "We can protect you", remember?
His screams were not deafening. It seemed they were caught in his throat and
only soft broken noises escaped him. Pain made him so faint that he couldn't
cry out loud. But I still found it impossible to shut my mind from the sounds
he made. I looked at the knife - only at the knife and nothing else - at its
shiny steel dissolved in dark blood as it continued to saw through the flesh -
but I couldn't stop hearing the high-pitched unceasing shrieks that racked his
His arm under my knees jerked so violently that I thought he would have it
broken even before we finished. He convulsed in the grip of the hands that held
him but my comrades knew their way. Nothing hindered me in my task. The sawing
acquired a new tone when the knife started cutting the bone. I squeezed the
handle more firmly because it became slippery with blood. I stopped thinking
about anything else. Now the only thing that existed for me was the blade
sliding deeper into the gash. I merged with the knife - I became the knife -
and I gnawed through the bone millimeter by millimeter detaching the arm from
Then the bone was over and with stunning easiness I sliced the pliant
texture of the muscle and the layer of the skin. Only when it was almost done,
I realized that his cries stopped. I didn't notice when he passed out, limp in
the hands of my comrades. His head fell awry slackly. I dropped a look at his
face. It was yellowish-white in the flickering light of the fire and the smears
of blood on it seemed even brighter like that. I backed away quickly; somebody
raised up the stump of the arm of the unconscious man and another of my friends
pushed the torch to it.
It brought him back. Suddenly his eyes opened, huge and very dark on his
waxen face, and a howl, almost inhuman, broke out of his mouth. His body arched
so fiercely that it was difficult to keep him still - but they kept him all the
same, until, after a minute or two of thrashing, he fainted again.
Then I stood up. I still had the knife in my hand and the blood on its hilt
was sticky. Most of all I wanted to toss it away right now - but I didn't. I
couldn't demonstrate the weakness, whether I felt it or not. A good sight it
would be - me crawling on my hands and knees to the bushes, turning inside out!
Somebody else could afford to feel sick - but I couldn't. First I had to be
strong myself - if I wanted to expect from others to be strong.
Those who held the man let him go now. I looked at the prone body on the
ground - I avoided looking at the bloody longish shape beside him that had been
his arm so recently. I felt the trickles of sweat run down on my forehead. I
raised my stump and wiped my face against it.
"Bring him to my place," I said. There was a bit of surprise in
their faces and I shrugged. "He will freeze to death outside. I'll take
care of him. Does anybody else want to take care of him?"
They didn't answer. It was obvious they didn't. They had enough troubles to
deal with even without the strange American guy.
I pulled the bloodstained coat off. The smell of blood made me dizzy and I
inhaled full-chest as soon as it was gone. I checked and it seemed I didn't
smear my clothes anywhere. Good. I reached my hand and Lena poured out the
water. I washed my hand and washed the knife until there was no trace of blood
She smiled in her usual quiet way. She never talked much; she only was
always around when I needed her. I smiled at her, to, and took the bucket from
her. I was going to need water for the American.
They put him on my bed - well, it was the only place in the dugout where
they could put him. He lay flat with his head tossed back and I could see his
strained throat as his breath came out very sharp and sob-like. He moaned
I sat down on the bed with him and settled his head more conveniently on the
pillow. His face was cold and wet, the skin just very minutely rough with the
coming stubble. I took a rag, wetted it in the water and passed over the blood
streaks. He didn't feel it. His head dangled flabbily under my touches.
He had a cut on his right temple - but it was not because of anything we
did. He had it when we met him - today, in the morning. I recalled it with a
sudden swing inside me. He was alone in the forest, running, out of breath, his
eyes wild with terror when he saw us. And his faltering voice as he tried to
pronounce in his ridiculous Russian: "Groundlessly accused in
spying." This heavy accent and these perfectly correct bookish
constructions. For some reason it was exactly his funny way of speaking that
reached me at once and so deeply. I didn't care if he told the truth. I told
him that from now on his enemies would be my enemies.
And I told him that we would protect him. Well, I kept my word about
protection - I saved him from the tests the same certainly as I had been saved
from them in my time and as I had saved Lena and Taras and so many others. Even
though sometimes it had to be done despite the resistance, as in the case with
the American. Hell, I knew only very few people who were able to part with
their limbs without struggling. But everyone was grateful in the end. And this man
- soon he was going to realize that it was the only way. Soon the pain would
pass and he would be grateful, too.
The door of my dugout screeched softly and I saw Lena coming in with a flask
in her hands. She glanced at the man on my bed and then her eyes stopped at me.
"It is the tea," she said putting the flask on the table.
"For him when he comes round."
I saw a small set of the pills she put near - ten of them in the faded paper
plate. I looked at her intently. I hardly could believe it. Where did she take
"Don't refuse it, Sasha," she met my gaze lucidly. "You know
he will need it."
Of course, he would. What could I say? She had to spare them from the time
when the medicines still were available for us. It was a value; you probably
can't imagine what a value it was. And now she gave it to me. For the American,
that is, but I knew she gave it to me.
"I'll make up for it," I said.
She just shook her head, then reached the hand to me and squeezed my
fingers. I turned to the man again when she was gone. He was wet - suddenly I
realized it. Yes, and smell - I didn't know why I didn't sense it at once. He
had pissed himself with pain.
I measured him with my eyes wondering if I could find something for him to
change. He was of my height, maybe, a bit heavier - but I supposed it would do.
I also knew I had to do it now, while he was still unconscious. He wouldn't let
me later, I could bet it. I knew.
I reached to the belt of his pants and pulled it out - and that's was all I
had time to do. It was when he regained senses. At first I heard a broken sob -
deep and shuddering - and then his face puckered - as if he was going to cry
like a small baby - and a long moaning sound escaped his mouth:
He tossed his head from side to side wildly and I approached him quickly,
wrapping my arm around his chest to make him lay still.
"No, don't do it! You can't!" the words rushed from his lips -
then suddenly his eyes opened wide and looked straight at me. There was terror
in them. Of course. It was my face he had to see when I moved the knife through
his flesh. He jerked frantically trying to shake me off - and he almost managed
it - when his wide stare dropped on the bloody stump of his arm.
I didn't know what struck him more - realization or pain that replaced the
shock. Perhaps in a way he still hoped that it was just a mad dream, even
despite the agony he had been through. He howled. It was a horrible sound and
my hair rose with it. I closed his mouth with my palm quickly, leaning over
him, holding him - as he trembled and cried under me, making incoherent muffled
sounds, tears spilled from his eyes.
"Stop it!" I couldn't bear his shrieks - and I knew everybody in
the camp had to hear them. "Stop it, fuck you! Please!"
Flailing as he did - he certainly had to bother his lost arm - and I thought
it had to add to his suffering - but, maybe, it was already so keen that more
pain didn't matter for him.
His teeth sank into my palm and my blood leaked in his mouth but I didn't
let him go. I didn't know how long he struggled against me until he exhausted
his forces absolutely. Shudders went through his body again and again even when
he stopped thrashing.
I took my hand away from his mouth when he went limp and his dark sparkling
eyes closed hopelessly. But even then I was careful, not letting him free at
once. Half-mad with pain; I still remembered how it felt, what do you think?
I raised the hand to my face and licked blood from it, mixed with his
spittle. The American moaned through his teeth and then I met his stare again.
I didn't have time to say anything as I saw his mouth working - and then he
spat at me.
I flinched. He missed - got on my clothes, not on my face - but it meant the
same. You know I would kill anyone who would do it - in another situation, if
he was not crazed by pain and misery. But now I just wiped it silently.
"You fuckin' bastard, son of bitch, youŁ" he cursed both in
English and in Russian. "What did you do to me? Why did you do it?"
it was when his voice rose almost to hysterical. "You dirty scum, who do
you work for?"
I shook my head slowly. He misunderstood. I had to explain him but I was not
sure he would be able to comprehend it now, so, I kept silent. He choked and
couldn't speak again. His breaths were deep shuddering, so wet that they almost
seemed sobs. His chalk-white face was all sweaty and his eyes looked like dying
embers on it. Only when they started wandering, not hooked on me any more, and
I understood that he was gone with the pain too much for something else to
exist for him, I let him go and stood up.
I was till ready to lean back and grasp him to prevent him from hurting
himself again - but he didn't move. His trembling lips curved incessantly,
livid on his colorless face - as if he was on the verge of crying. But there
were no tears any more. Maybe, it was better if he cried. I did when I had lost
my arm. I went to it consciously - and still I couldn't help but feel bitter
and spiteful against the world and the pain seemed an abomination, a sin
against the human nature.
But there was no other way, was there?
I poured the tea for him and pushed three, four pills out of the set. They
were going to dull the pain, at least a little, at least for a while. He was
lucky that Lena had it; some of my comrades were not so lucky. And I was lucky,
too. Perhaps the night wouldn't be this bad after all.
His black bloodshot eyes blinked at me when I bent to him and brought the
pills to his mouth. His head jerked back as much as the pillow allowed. I think
he discerned the pills in my hand because he pressed his lips tighter instead
of opening them.
"What?" I was neither annoyed nor reassuring. "Do you think I
am going to harm you? To harm you more?"
"What's that? What else do you want from me?" his voice was hardly
audible, I almost guessed what he said.
"It's Analgin," I shrugged. "Painkiller. It will help."
I didn't know if he took in my words but when I pushed the pills between his
lips, they were soft and unresisting. I brought the mug of tea to his mouth and
placed my hand under his head to raise it. He drank absently, without rejecting
either the drink or my touch. I let him lay down again and put the blanket over
him, without touching the stump.
"Sleep now," I said. "Try to."
"I hate you," he said. He was so spent that there was no real
feeling in his voice - but I knew it was the truth. There was nothing I could
do with it. "I hate you all."
He screamed again soon. He seemed to be out for a while, unconscious or
dozing, and I started falling asleep, too. The rending sounds he gave out made
me freeze inside. I got up from the chair and came up to him. His eyes were
huge and black and blind. I struggled with the wish to slap him to make him
stop - but what I did was just to pass the wet cloth over his face. He gagged
when some water got on his lips and, thanks God, he shut up.
We didn't get any sleep this night any more. I sat with him as he tossed on
the bed, his teeth bared as he groaned agonizingly. I knew he hardly register
himself the sounds he made. I continued to wipe his face and bring the mug to
his mouth from time to time. The tea was lukewarm and it splashed over his chin
as he braced his head back wildly. It was a long night - the same long as the
one I spent at Lena's bed - but probably not so long as the one when my own arm
He got quieter in the early morning, not because the pain subsided - but he
was too worn out to thrash any more. He lay motionless, with his teeth
clenched, and just a small frown fluttered constantly between his brows. His
enormously thick lashes - when I had seen him for the first time, they reminded
me two delicate brushes of squirrel fur - were sticky with tears.
"I have to come out," I whispered after a while. I didn't think he
heard me. "I'll be back soon."
"I need to get out of here," he said suddenly. There was not much
sound in his voice - but nothing insane in it. These words made me stop still
on the threshold.
"Where do you want to go?" I asked levelly without turning to him.
"I thought you had run away from the camp."
"I did. I have to get out. To Sankt-Peterburg. I need to go back, to
"There is no America, don't you know it," I said tranquilly.
"No America for us. Just this forest and the camp and the tests."
I heard him hitting his head against the pillow and I quickly regretted my
words. But then he didn't move any more.
"I need to go," he repeated slowly, as if the matter was in my
insufficient English. "We came on the truck. You can put me on the truck
and I'll get to the cityŁ"
"Do you think it is so easy?" I let a trace of sarcasm penetrate
my voice. "Why do you think we still hang around?"
I expected more argument and when it didn't come, I thought he was too
exhausted for it.
"You are safe with us," I added softly, "We took care of you,
remember? They won't be able to use you for the tests."
As soon as I came out, I sensed that the mood in the settlement had changed
overnight. Yesterday no one doubted the correctness of our actions but after
the sleepless hours - and I could see some faces pale and drawn - there were
inevitably some that started having second thoughts.
It was Taras who voiced it eventually:
"He will be looked for. We have to give him out."
"Of sure," I grinned humorlessly. "Should have thought about
it yesterday, huh? Before cutting off his arm."
"He is American!" he almost spat it. "They will be after him
for sure. He is not just anybody. Remember his clothes? Didn't look like they
treated him as others."
"We can run into troubles because of him," somebody else added.
"What will you say, Sasha?"
I said nothing. I passed my gaze over several pairs of intent eyes and found
Lena. She would support me, no matter what. Other weren't a problem, I could
deal with them whenever I wanted - but now I didn't feel like arguing,
explaining them my ways. So, I just turned away and walked to the storage shed.
I heard a sound of distress among them but nobody tried to stop me. Good. They
were not to question my authority! I couldn't let them.
I picked some food for myself and for the American; I was not sure he was
able to eat but I was going to try. I pushed the door of my dugout with my
shoulder, having the plate in my hand - and stopped still. He was gone.
Damn! Fuck your mother! I looked around wildly as if I hoped he could just
hide somewhere in the tiny premise. Then I got out again. My vision blurred
when I glanced around the settlement. Of course, he was nowhere there. I headed
to the wet green bulk of the forest, cursing quietly under my breath. What a
madman he was! Did he think he would be safer anywhere else?
He couldn't go far and I knew it - but, in fact, everything was over even
sooner than I expected. I walked just several tens of meters when I heard him
somewhere in front of me, gasping shrieks that sent chills over my spine. I
rushed forward; I was on the slanting knoll, slick with wet withered grass, and
then I saw him downhill, a dark misshapen heap on the dull green. I felt my
stomach winding in a clot. Did he fall from there? He lay on his right side,
curled in a ball, and the stump of his left arm trembled in the air, the thick
white bandage on it all muddy and with what looked like bloodstains coming
He heard me. Whimpering with pain, he tried to crawl from me, without looking
back, and flopped on his face helplessly, the fingernails digging into the
I descended and kneeled at him.
"You stupid American fool," my voice was breathless and I was glad
at it, I didn't want it to sound with the feelings I had. "What do you think
you have done? Why did you have to do it?"
He was shivering and soundless. I pushed my arm around him and tugged him up
to my chest. He was heavy and unresisting and I could see that his eyes were
closed tight. I breathed his smell full chest - sweaty and pissy and sick - but
it was not disgust I felt - no, I felt I would like to smell it as long as I
could. The nape of his neck, so white between the collar of his sweater and his
dark hair, was almost against my lips, so vulnerable - and suddenly I felt the
desire to press my lips to it. Or to sink my teeth into it, to feel the taste
of his blood - as he tasted mine at night. I shook my head.
"Let's go back," I said standing up and pulling him with me. And
at the moment when I was almost upright, he suddenly braced his head back. I
felt as if a truck crushed my nose and lips, blood spurting out and inside my
mouth. My arm weakened, I let him go, and he scrambled on his knees around,
yelping thinly with pain. His hand groped for something on the ground. It was a
nail. A long one, almost 12 centimeters long. I had some like that in my
dugout. I saw how his hand lashed up, aiming the nail into my eye, and I
punched him right in his face with my fist. His head snapped back. It was not
really a stunning blow but for a moment he balanced on his knees and then
sprawled on the ground again, the left side of his body hitting the ground. I
grabbed his wrist and twisted it, wringing the nail out, tearing his palm with
it but he hardly could feel it. He made a sound as if he was dying. I looked at
his upturned face and his wide-opened eyes seemed all green, just with tiny
dots of pupils, and then his whites showed. His mouth gaped but there was no
breath coming in or out. I sank down to him and pressed my mouth to his lips.
Breathe, you American son of bitch! You fuckin' don't dare to die on me! I
blew full lungs to his mouth and then pressed on his rib-cage, once, twice. I
slapped his face. His head dangled listlessly under my slaps and then a wet
rippled breath came from his lips. He moved his head weakly. There was a
trickle of blood slithering from his mouth.
His eyes slowly focused on me again.
"I am so tired," he complained.
"It's okay, it'll pass," I kept muttering while dragging him on my
shoulder back to the settlement. His clothes were soaked with liquid dirt and
he had only one boot on; I didn't know if he hadn't had strength to find the
other under the bed in the first place or if he had lost it while running.
There was blood dripping in a thin steady flow through the bands on his stump.
I had black circles swirling in front of my eyes when we reached my dugout -
and also I felt tears running on my cheeks. Our return was not unnoticed at the
settlement, obviously. Might as well didn't try to get him back, I could read
it in their stares. I pushed the door shut with my heel, cutting off the sights
and the sounds. A step or two more and I placed him on the bed. Ugh, he looked
like hell. Well, no wonder, is it? He lay flat and motionless, his eyes closed,
and his face was a perfect mask of death. A mucky gyps mask. I could hear how
the drops of blood splashed on the floor, trickling from his stump.
Then I reached my hand to his throat and dug my fingers on both sides of it
under his jaw. He struggled feebly and then stretched again, his face almost
smoothed of pain.
I didn't like doing it - but it was either this or calling for somebody to
hold him - like on the previous night. I checked his pulse and touched him to
make sure he didn't feel it - and then I got to work. His sweater and what he
had under it had to be cut off before I could start with the bandage. God, he
was a mess! I stared at his chest and belly covered in bruises, fresh ones
still dark and purple and some several days old, getting blue and green. And he
was dirty - the earth had to get right through his clothes.
For once I was lucky and he didn't come round when I tinkered with his
stump. The scarlet bloodstain started spreading on the new bandages, too, but I
believed it would stop soon. I sat on the bed with him, almost dropping off
with fatigue - but unable to take my eyes away from his face.
So white and dirty and exposed it was - and still it was what I would like
to die watching.
It was like that from the first moment when I had seen him. I had watched
him when he walked with us to the settlement; he seemed so relaxed at once when
we said we were going to help him. His walk was so light, even though the
little tremors went over his face as he clutched his bruised arm. It didn't
hurt any more, did it? I had kept my eyes on him for all the day and he met it
with a kind of reassuring smile; maybe, he thought I still didn't trust him.
But it was just that I felt so enormously sad that we were going to hurt him so
soon - and I felt glad at the same time because we were going to save him. To
save him and to make him stay with us.
"American," I whispered, rolling this word on my tongue. It was
beautiful. "My American."
His split lips were slack and the upper one trembled minutely - and suddenly
I couldn't stand it any more. I plunged to his face and locked my mouth on his.
Its taste was salty of blood and gritty of earth - and it was soft and warm as
I thrust my tongue into it. I licked his unmoving tongue, catching the moisture
from it, tried the hard ridge of his teeth, the insides of his lips. I took his
lower lip between my teeth and nibbled softly, feeling how hot and tender the
injured places were.
Then, with the first flutter of his lashes, I sat back, panting. It was not
enough for me, of no, I wanted to kiss him all over, run my lips over the
blackened places on his ribs, rub my cheek against the awful bruises on his
belly. I wanted to lick the deep crimson scab around his wrist. But not now.
He frowned painfully when seeing me. I saw his hand raising to his throat,
dirty pale fingers touching where the red marks of my grip stayed. I wanted to
say that I didn't want to kill him but I said another thing instead:
"Listen to me. We do have to clean you up, don't you think so?"
He could have tried to bolt once more while I was outside but when I came
back with a bucket of water, he was still there. He had groped for the blanket
and pulled it up on himself; he had to be cold, even though it was heated in
the dugout. His eyes were shut and the lids were so blue that they seemed
I took out three pills - half of what I had - and poured some water for him.
"Here, take it."
He swallowed the pills quick and dry, like a duck - and then gulped on
water, with his eyes still closed.
"I am going to wash you," I repeated; I didn't know if my words
reached him - but I hoped he understood. I didn't want to scare him - if it
could be helped, all in all. I pulled the boot from his foot. His sock was wet
throughout - even though not so wet and torn as the one he had to step on. His
feet were icy. "Let me help you," it was as if I tried to talk him
into tranquility. "Warm water will do good. It's a shame you are so
He clenched when I fumbled with his pants but he didn't struggle. I would
like to think it was because he gave in - but the most possible he still felt groggy
after what I had done with him. I pulled his pants down together with the
briefs or what he had on under them. My eyes slid over his body inevitably -
white bottom belly and dark soft nest of curly hair with the pale shape of his
limp organ in it. I sighed inaudibly.
"What is your name?" I asked, barely thinking that some sort of
talking could help. At first he didn't answer - and I thought he wouldn't
answer at all. It was okay, I didn't expect much. But then his lips moved.
For a moment I stared at him and then made a faint chuckle.
"Very nice. We have the same name, don't we? Well, every fuckin' second
male in Russia is called Alexander, you can bet. But they call me Sasha, you
There was nothing in his face that showed that he heard it.
His long lean body was gleaming white where I washed him. Perfect - except
the thick package of bands around his stump - but when they were gone, he would
be all perfect, absolutely. I would tell him about it if he were unconscious.
I finished. He didn't stop shivering. I piled the blankets on him trying to
get him warm as the shudders continued. It looked strange - his trembling body
and chatting teeth - and this blank, abandoned face, locked in pain and cold. I
bit my lips looking at him but there was nothing I could do. So, I walked out
and splashed out the muddy water, then brought a new bucket.
Could deal with washing very well, after we both wallowed on the ground. I
knew he didn't watch me while I stripped, probably wasn't even aware what I was
doing. But I couldn't help taking a look at my stump, already healed and almost
smooth, and at his, so fresh and gory. But after a while they were going to
look the same.
It made us so close, didn't it? The same mark - forever - as if we were
brothers, no, more than brothers, as if it made us one. I hoped he would
understand it soon - what I had done for him - and would feel the same kinship
to me as I felt to him now.
"Alex," his name was light as a tune and hissing like a whip to
the end, the part of my own name I never used - and I caught myself on liking
to pronounce it, to call him like that. I wiped myself and stood naked in the
middle of the room, looking at him. He had to be tired of trembling but it
didn't stop, didn't get better. "Alex," I called him until a little
shift of his eyelashes showed that he heard me. "Do you want me to try to
get you warm? Do you?"
I wouldn't do it if he said no, you can trust me. I waited for so long as
there could be an answer - and when it didn't come, I slid under the blankets
to him and carefully leaned to his body.
* * *
We slept like that every night. Even though he didn't have fever any more -
but I continued to lie down with him, chest to chest, our legs intertwined. We
didn't speak about it - and he never showed he didn't want me to do it. Well,
could he? It was my bed, my dugout - and it was November outside. No, I would
never kick him out - but he could think I would, you see.
When the pills came to the end, we had two very difficult days. But he
survived them - and it meant he was breaking through. I felt happy - the
thought that I could lose him, even though I fought it as much as I could,
still visited me - and it was unbearable. I couldn't let him leave me. Not
after what I had done for him and what he had lost for me.
He tried to eat a bit and didn't keep it in. I held him during the spasms.
His face was waxen and sweaty, with his eyes feverish big and dark, as he
clasped under his ribs; the heaves had to hurt his disarranged stomach. I
lingered holding him - and what I really wanted was to press my lips against
his moist temple, to crush his face with kisses and even bites, over his
cheekbone, to his puffy tender mouth, kiss his eyelids and feel them trembling
under my lips. But I didn't, of course.
Next time when he tried to eat, he could cope and I smiled with it. Get
well, please get well! And there would be many other nights while I'd press his
strong silky body to myself, feeling its hardness under smooth warm skin.
He kept telling me we had to let him go, however.
"Don't understand English, do you, Alex? There is nowhere to go."
It made me scowl. Why did he have to be so stubborn, clinging to this idea?
Why did he have to want to leave? It was good there, in the forest; he was not
going to lack anything.
"Where do you know English from, Sasha?" he asked.
"I studied at the University, what did you think?"
And then he asked me, of course:
"How did you get there?"
I didn't mind recalling it. After all, that was how my life changed and
became what it was now, what I wanted it to be.
"Three years ago. We had the folklore practice - do you know? Visiting
the village, speaking to old people, writing down folksongs and proverbs. We
stuck here when they came. At first there was a chance to escape - and my
friends, they managed. But I stayed behind - and when I tried, it was too late,
the cordons were put on the roads, all connections cut off. We were trapped
"They started taking the people for their tests," I continued.
"We hid in the forest - but they still found and used whoever they could.
Something had to be done, something to make them leave us alone. And that's was
what we did."
I waved my stump; I couldn't cover the pride in my voice. It was an ultimate
solution, wasn't it? Made us safe and free. I could see Alex's face was blank -
but I knew it was because he didn't get used to it. Yet. Soon he would - and
then the correctness - the beauty of the idea - would come to him.
Then he asked:
"Was it enough?" his voice was stiff and expressionless - and I
thought I understood the reason of it. "Did they leave you alone
"Yes," I said trying not to sound so triumphant as I felt. At last
he was going to appreciate it; the understanding reached him. "Don't be
afraid, Alex. We promised to protect you - and we did."
"Whose idea was it to cut off your arms?" he asked suddenly - and
I said what he probably already guessed.
I spent most of my time in the dugout on these days. With him, taking care
of him. I can't say how much I loved it. Making the meal for him, helping him
to wash, shaving him. My fingers were about to tremble when I touched him - but
they never did, of course. I couldn't be less than efficient. I couldn't show
him what it was. I could only wait for the day when everything worked out
itself - for the day when he was going to be mine. I was sure it would come.
And then Lena called me out to talk. During last time we almost didn't see
each other - well, I almost didn't see any of my comrades. I left the dugout
only when it was necessary - and even then I couldn't say I saw anybody -
because Alex's face was always what I had in my mind. But I knew they were
displeased, of course, I could sense it. I didn't care.
Lena was another thing. Hell, I owed her a lot, I thought, I was going to
listen to her whatever she was going to say. We walked to the forest a little,
until we couldn't see or hear the settlement any more - and then she turned to
me and I saw her eyes not soft and serene as always but like narrow slits
Was it because of me? I hated myself for hurting her like that. Then she
"Maria thinks he will bring us bad luck."
She huddled in her thick felt jacket nervously and I bit my lips. Yes,
that's what it was. I could ignore the eyes drilling me when I came out, the
quiet but insistent talks behind my back because I knew I could mend it without
much effort, if I just tried. But she couldn't ignore them. She felt pain for
"Maria is stupid. Old and stupid. She is not old enough to pass herself
for a prophet," I said. "I'll probably have to have her ration cut
down, let's see what she says then."
Lena glanced at me. I smiled comfortingly. No, I wouldn't make the hug
starve, simply a threat would be enough.
"People don't believe her much," she said and then added.
"But almost everybody thinks you should get rid of him."
"What's wrong with him?" I didn't ask, I snapped. "He is like
us now. He will stay with us forever. It is done!"
"He won't be like us," she said softly, "and you know
"Do you think like others, too?" I couldn't believe it. I looked
at her lowered head, at the thin white parting in her dark hair, and didn't
know what to feel. It was absurd. "Nobody even sees him, he stays in my
dugout," I said after a pause.
"Let him go," she asked suddenly - and the sound of her voice made
me stop still.
"How do you imagine it?" I spoke again, carefully. I was not going
to discuss it. I would never discuss it with anyone but her. "Should I
shoot him or should I hand him to them? So that they shoot him because he is of
no good for their tests now?"
"Do you believe they would?"
"It doesn't matter what I believeŁ"
"You can give him the truck."
It was almost inaudible. I didn't know how I could hear it. I had to hear it
wrong, of course. She didn'tŁ Her eyes were cast down.
"Lena!" I seldom called her by her name and it made her eyes sweep
open to me, huge blue eyes in the exquisite framing of dark eyelashes.
"My father's," her voice was lifeless and I hardly hear it through
the roaring in my ears.
"ButŁ but you told it had drowned. In the swamp!" at last I
managed to breathe out.
The truck. The way to life. Food, medicines, connections, freedom -
everything we could have and didn't - the truck. She had it and she never told.
"LenaŁ Where is it?"
"Here, in the forest," she waved her hand indefinitely but
suddenly it made the things almost palpable. "I can show you."
"Is itŁ" I stopped to regulate my breath. "Is it in
"Yes, it is. I checked it every two weeks."
I couldn't help staring at her. It seemed that I saw her for the first time.
"Did anybody else know?"
As soon as I asked, I understood that it was a silly question. She would be
dead if they knew. They wouldn't forgive. The image of their anger,
"senseless and merciless", as our great poet said once, rose in my
mind. I shivered. And at once she, generous as usual, spread her jacket for me,
and I couldn't help but press her to my chest. She nestled against my shoulder
and I felt cozy warmth coming from her body. But there were splinters of icy
bitterness in this warmth.
I had to ask two more questions.
"Lena, why didn't you tell about it - then?"
"Because of you," she raised her face to me briefly and buried it
against my collarbone again. "Because you love this life. I wanted you to
be happy here."
The ground was going away from under my feet. And I didn't ask the second
question - why did she tell me now.
Two hours later I stood in front of my dugout and couldn't push the door
open. Alex. I just started getting accustomed to calling this name. I couldn't
nowŁ But I knew I would do what was decided.
He was sitting at the table when I came in. He had my sweater on, the one
Lena knitted for me - and this sight suddenly struck me painfully. I bit my
lips to stop them from trembling. I looked what he was doing - he was trying to
roll a cigarette - as I used to do - and the table board in front of him was
littered with the dried grass that replaced tobacco for us.
"Do you smoke?" I asked and when he looked at me, it almost seemed
that the corners of his mouth curled up.
"I just thought I would start. Probably not," he shrugged
lopsidedly and I saw him wincing when he moved his stump. I took the bit of
paper that was warm and slightly moist with his fingers, and rolled the
cigarette. He took it from me and I struck the match. I expected him to cough
with the mixture inside it but he just made some shallow short inhales. His
eyes were narrowed against smoke.
"I wonder if I will ever get used to do one-handed," he said
suddenly. "Not rolling the cigarettes. Everything."
I didn't answer. I looked at his mouth that didn't match the cigarette. His
lips used to be half-opened almost always when he didn't watch it - soft and
innocent. I bit my tongue viciously again. How was I going to relinquish him
forever? I couldn't. But I would.
"What did you do with my arm?" he asked suddenly. For a moment I
didn't understand what he meant. It seemed so distant from what I felt, from
what I was doing in my mind - saying farewell to him.
"What do you think we could do? Buried it. The same as others."
It was a sick thought. Even when he was gone, his arm would stay here.
"Alex," I said quietly. "Do you think you will be able to
The little sound he made - a hiss of astonishment - hurt me as if it was a
whip swishing. He could control his facial expression better - just empty white
face with staring dark eyes when I looked at him. He nodded. Of course, he
would. He would steer with his teeth if necessary.
I nodded, too. And then I made a step towards the table, towards him. I
reached my hand, took the fuming cigarette from his fingers and stubbed it in
the can that served as an ashtray. He looked up at me and I was drowning in his
eyes, I was drowningŁ Then all of a sudden my own voice said:
"I want to fuck your mouth, Alex. I'll let you go if you let me."
It was so blunt. Shame was singing through me - but at the same time I
thought, the hell with it, I'd have days and days to live with this shame and
this loss - but only one time I would be able to do it with him. And without it
- I wouldn't be able to live.
The worst of all was that his eyes even didn't change. As if he always
somehow expected that I would tell it.
"You can say no," I added. He didn't say no.
I put my hand on his upper arm, making him stand up. His mouth tasted of
burned grass and only once in my life I had tasted something so beautiful -
when I kissed him unconscious.
Weird, wasn't it? For several nights I held him at my chest, me naked, him
naked, and I didn't touch him more than simple keeping warm demanded. I loved
to think that I didn't have to hurry, that there were nights and nights in
front of me and that once I would be able to do whatever I wanted, to run my
hand over his smooth warm body, tracing its clear lines to the point of
memorizing, flickering my fingers on his nipples, making them erect, teasing
him into self-abandoned response.
But this time - the only time - he was fully dressed, kneeling on the floor
in front of me while his sizzling hot mouth enveloped my cock, sliding wetly up
and down. Like liquid flame. So smooth and so deep.
And the only touch I could allow was my hand trying to grip in his short
soft hair, weaving into it, clenching on its silky smoothness.
Tears trickled hot over my cheeks and cooled quickly. I convulsed when
coming and my cock stayed in his mouth even when it was getting limp. Until I
pulled away and tucked it in.
He stayed on his knees, looking up at me, not defiant but pliant - and for
once his eyes were not mere pupils but gooseberry-green and lucent. There was a
little of white in the corner of his mouth and I reached my hand and wiped it,
tugging his mouth down with my thumb.
I helped him to stand up - and then pushed him on the chair. The material of
his pants was stretched over his erection. Probably just transference of
sensations but somehow it made me rejoice. I was going to slide down in front
of him, ready to sink my mouth on it, when he shook his head.
"Leave it, Sasha."
"But I want to bring you off."
"Do you mind to leave it?"
I could insist but I didn't. After all, letting me suck his cock was nowhere
in our deal. Yeah, deals. In the end everybody was going to get something - me,
I tried not to think why he refused. I tried not to think how his cock would
feel in my mouth. I had washed it, had this soft limp thing in my hand, then,
on the first day - I could do anything, he was too weak to struggle - or,
maybe, he wouldn't have known anything at all if I had done it while he passed
"You can put on my boots," I said. "You'll bear with it even
if they don't fit, won't you?"
He made deep greedy breaths when we walked out. He had not been outside for
days, since when he tried to run and we fought. The settlement was quiet as we
directed to the forest. I knew the path even though it was only once I followed
He was silent behind me. I waited all the time for him asking me why; he
couldn't know how everything was, he had to think I had known all the time -
and, well, I was not going to argue. But it hurt me even more that he didn't
I had my small revenge half an hour later. He gasped when suddenly the
forest changed into the clearing and he saw the camouflaged bulk of the truck
there. I knew his breath was bated when he came up to it, tugged the tarpaulin
impatiently and failed to cope with it. I helped him, I could do it one-handed.
His face seemed blank in the moonlight - too blank, maybe, and I knew what
he had to think. Did it work? What if there was no gasoline in it? He couldn't
know. I could cheat him. Would he try to kill me if I did? Suddenly the thought
became almost enthralling. A miracle. The truck wouldn't start. I was ready to
pay any price for it.
It seemed he couldn't believe his eyes when he saw the keys stuck into the
ignition. For several moments his eyes stayed on me and then he shook his head.
"So close," he whispered.
"They won't hear it," I said.
He moved quickly, opened the door and got inside. There was a pause, so tiny
that I could notice it only because I expected it, before he turned the key. It
worked. Of course, it would. Alex's face was a shadow behind the dim glass. He
looked in front of him, straight in the darkness, for long moments.
Suddenly I thought that he would leave right now and never look back at me -
but a moment later he opened the door and jumped down. The truck kept roaring.
"Guess you will be able to go through the cordons?" I asked. His
teeth bared briefly.
I clenched my jaw. It was decided, it was done, I didn't have to think about
it again. And I knew if I let the thought penetrate my mind, I would probably
fight him, try to stop him - and with his release so close he would fight me
for death, not for life. So what? I could die feeling him close.
Suddenly I wondered if the same thoughts went through his mind. He looked at
me - as if almost expecting me to do something mad. Perhaps he wanted it. Mad,
it was a right word. I was a madman. I wasn't going to die.
I drank the sight of his face for the last time, his small tilted nose, the
dark feathers of his eyelashes, half-opened wondering mouth.
"Go," I whispered. "Go, Alex."
The roaring of the engine was deafening. He raised his hand to my face and I
felt his thumb running on my mouth, tugging its corner down. It was not a
caress. It could be hateful or derisive or as if he marked me for something.
But despite everything I wanted it to be a caress, I wanted to believe that at
least somehow he felt something about me. That he could forgive me.
"Bye, Sasha," he said. He went back to the truck and for once his
walk was the same easy gait as on the day when I had met him. He got to the
cabin again. The truck's front lights lit up and I quickly stepped away from
I looked at the rear lights of the truck as long as I could discern them.
Then I turned abruptly and walked into the wet black forest. The drops of rain
fell behind my collar but I liked it. It proved me that I could feel something
while I was so numb inside. I was going back to Lena and to my life.