"Don't be scared. Touch it."

"You touch it." Leon's fingers fidgeted themselves against the holster. His handgun rested at his hip, but the entire clip wouldn't be enough for this.

Buddy shook his head with that damn oh, you Americans sigh. The assault rifle hung over one shoulder, tip pointed at the ground. Had to keep an eye on that thing.

The light bulb hanging from the roof of the bunker spluttered weak light over them, and for a moment, the ghosts of stumbling figures flashed in front of him. He blinked away the images. From the corner came a guttered snarl. Buddy snarled right back. Brown eyes bled to pink and the licker crept closer like a cowed dog. It brushed the side of its head against Buddy's pant leg and crooned when it received a pat on its exposed muscle. "It won't hurt you."

"I've dealt with these things before. They never usually like to roll over and play dead."

His feet edged him nearer anyway. The licker jerked its head towards him, tongue snaked out to taste the air. Damn things were so much bigger close up. The claws that clicked against the floor were as long as his forearm, and his whole head could fit in its mouth. Morally reprehensible it might have been, but he could understand the allure of controlling an army of lickers. If the enemy didn't die of fright seeing them, they'd soon fall under those claws and teeth.

And, like with any exotic and dangerous pet, he could understand the thrill.

He slid his glove off with his teeth, wiggled his fingers in the cold, stale air. Hoped they'd leave the room still attached. The licker sniffed with a thick, sinus-clearing noise. Around its mouth, the flesh quivered.

"Easy, boy." He tried to keep the shake out of his voice. One snap of those jaws and he'd have to start writing reports with his left hand. "You're not so bad, are you? Not going to jump around and eat me, huh?" His fingertips feathered against the solid muscle of the licker's shoulder. Buddy twitched, but kept his own hand still.

Warm. He hadn't expected warm. Of course, lickers were technically alive, but he'd always lumped them in with zombies: cold, unfeeling machines. He pressed down. The flesh yielded, as muscle should. Connecting tendons flexed and relaxed. And dry, he hadn't expected that either. These things were a biologist's dream. A ready-peeled frog for dissection. His palm replaced his fingers. He stroked. Big dog. Big dog, not BOW.

The 'big dog' juddered under his hand like a heavy engine starting up.

He snatched his hand away, looked up at Buddy. Pink eyes bloomed red.

"Hey. Buddy –"

"It's fine." Buddy patted the licker in an automatic motion. It grunted, coughed, and then growled, over and over.

No, not growling. The rasp that came from its throat was a purr.

"I didn't know they could do that." Purring was for cats, pets. Animals that weren't genetically engineered in some lab to be used in war. Animals that could feel pleasure and happiness. Not monsters.

"They…" Buddy let out a shaky breath, and the hand caressing the licker trembled. "They're linked to the – to me. I can control them, and they feel what I feel." His gaze went to the wall, stared at something he couldn't see. The next words held a hint of embarrassment, as though he was admitting to some personal sex habit. "It's… powerful."

"And so, what, it's purring because you're happy?"

Buddy's eyes flicked to the floor. The purrs faded into silence. All the answer he needed. How the hell could Buddy be happy at a time like this? His friend had barely been dead four hours. Above them, soldiers scrambled around like hounds after a pair of foxes. The president sounded like a grade-A megalomaniac who had a hand in destroying a school, in killing children. And the pet monster was purring about it?

He took a deep breath in, ready to get all fired-up and pissed-off –

and then stopped.

When he had crawled down into the bunker, he'd thought Buddy would try to kill him, or at least run again. The last thing he'd expected was to find Buddy leaning against the wall, with a licker prowling across the ceiling, acting like his entrance didn't bother him in the slightest. At the time he had wondered if the plaga had started fucking with Buddy's mental capacities, or if Buddy was just being Buddy.

Happy, though? Even with all the shit that had happened today?

He glanced at Buddy again, this time with a new angle, like putting a kaleidoscope to his eye and twisting it to shift the patterns.

Not a bad-looking guy. Little rough around the edges. Definitely interested in being more than just enemies. He'd learned to recognise the sneaking glances and obvious stares in the opposite direction. Should've made a move when he was tied to the chair, but the repressed types rarely liked to play when their friends were in the room. And now it didn't matter, because…

The kaleidoscope twisted again.

Because he knew he was going to die. No going back. Buddy's last stand.

His hand found the bony ridge of the licker's back. It tilted its head up and gave that same thick sniffling at him. Doomed, like its master. No one ever won in these situations, not even the terrifying mutants. He stroked, and the licker arched into his touch. Its purr rasped back to life.

He took the glove off his other hand and reached for Buddy.

Electricity sparking when skin met was a terrible cliché in those romantic novels Claire always devoured. When his hand grasped Buddy's cold wrist, it felt more like an awareness. Hypersensitive. The hairs on his arm stood up. A wheezy gasp burst over the licker's purr.

The light flicked again. He tangled their fingers together in that camera-snap of darkness.

Palms slammed him against the wall. He tensed, brought his arms up to defend. Shit, he'd gone too far. Should have just shot the damn licker, got the hell out of there – fuck–

Buddy grabbed the back of his head and kissed him.

His breathing stopped for a heartbeat. Then he kissed back.

The ferocity, all tongue and teeth and insistent hip, he'd expected. Frustration and desperation (along with a healthy dose of 'you might be dead in a few hours') didn't usually leave any time to worry about consequences. Take what you can, while you can. He'd been there before. Done that. Got the damn t-shirt and wore it to tatters. And Buddy couldn't have been fighting in the war long enough to deal with those kinds of feelings. Explained a lot.

Everything after the first few seconds slowed to hesitation: the hands flitting over his sides, the lips hovering over his throat. His tactical vest became an unwanted barrier between them, but when Buddy tugged at its straps, he took those groping hands and slid them round to his ass. Even a little bit of safety was better than no safety at all.

The licker's growl crept into a whine. It padded to the corner, lay down like a bored dog. Buddy's fingers kneaded, and he whispered through his teeth in Russian what could only be curses or filthy words that bordered on sobs. Couldn't understand what the hell he was saying, but his body responded anyway. He groaned when that mouth found his neck. Stiffened when a leg pushed between his thighs.

If he burned out all that frustration, Buddy might think twice about his little kamikaze mission.

He grabbed Buddy's shoulders and spun, switched their positions. Red eyes burned into his, the veins around them broken and purple. Their mouths clashed together again, and he tried not to think of JD cooling in a puddle of his own blood. Buddy made a desperate noise against his lips. Maybe he was trying to forget the same thing.

He took the kisses slower, intimate. A brush of tongue instead of bruising pressure. Surrender instead of battle. Buddy followed his lead, body quivering, and threaded shaking fingers through his hair. More Russian, this time quieter, almost tender. Much better. The guy could be pretty pleasant when he wasn't running around trying to shoot him. And good behaviour should be rewarded.

The belt buckle shook in his fingers. Breath washed hot against his neck, ragged inhales that excited them both. He pulled the zipper down slowly. Looked like everyone was going commando today. The licker struck up that resonating purr again, and Buddy leaned back, his eyes crimson slits. One of his hands came up and brushed stubble, curled a thumb against lips. He kissed the palm without really thinking about it.


His name was whispered like a prayer, as though a holy man had fallen to his knees in the presence of some divine being. Got him now.

No, dammit, he shouldn't think like that. He'd spent his life trying to help people, even the stubborn, holier-than-thou assholes like Buddy. Ending up jaded and bitter and manipulating people wasn't the goal.

To curb the guilt, he slipped his fingers under Buddy's jacket, then his shirt. Muscles jumped, and Buddy winced.

"Sorry. Cold hands, huh?"

A shaky smile curved Buddy's lips. Looked good on him, if a little unpractised. Poor guy probably hadn't had much to smile about in the past few years.

Warmth bled from skin to skin. His hand pressed against those muscles, slid up to count the juts of ribs, then lower, to the sharp angle of a hip. Hairs tangled his thumb. Buddy snatched in a quick breath and held it, locked their eyes, shifted his knees further apart.

Fingertips brushed fire. Buddy's cock jumped against his palm, hot and firm. He tightened his fingers around it, and the noise that surged from Buddy's throat sounded like a shocked cry.

"Been a while for you too?" His hand slipped up, then down. Nice length. "Shame we're trapped in this bullshit. Would've dragged you to the nearest hotel and let you fuck me all day if we were back home."

He almost didn't recognise his own voice, twisted and thick. Getting in too deep. Had to stay in control. Even if he did want to drag Buddy back to a hotel. Even if he did want to lie beside him, listening to him grump and growl over injustices, his childhood, and hear all about the points of his life that led him to this moment –

Buddy pushed his hips up with a choked gasp. He whispered again in Russian, a croon that could have been a declaration of love or hate.

The idiotic fantasies needed to stop. No lying in bed together, no sappy heart-to-heart about their respectively shit pasts. Wouldn't happen. He knew Buddy's fate, whether it was an hour away or a day.

He shouldn't get attached to dead men this easily.

Buddy pulled him close for another kiss. Sloppy, but enthusiastic enough to be arousing. He kept his hand moving in slow, steady tugs as a tongue licked into his mouth. His cock responded, rubbing heavy and eager against Buddy's thigh.

The smell of sweat and dirt and blood found its way up his nose. It reminded him of fighting, bodies colliding, the need to dominate. Salt brushed his tongue and he fastened his mouth on Buddy's throat. The pulse of blood hammered. Vibrations rattled his teeth.

Stiff in his arms, Buddy shuddered. Moans became wordless pleas. Close, so close.

Buddy's face buried into his neck with the most vulnerable noise he'd ever heard, some hybrid of a sob and a whine. The thrust of hips into his fist slowed. Broken words of Russian spilled along with seeping warmth. He held Buddy through the trembling and panting. Yeah, vulnerable was definitely the right word. Always nice to see hard-asses drop their shields so completely for him. Fuck owning a pack of lickers – this was a powerful feeling.

He let Buddy relax back against the wall with one last kiss. Red eyes faded to brown, stared through him to the floor. Would he be a little more mellow now?

His erection throbbed, reminded him of its presence. One hand slipped below his waistband, and the other went to Buddy's arm. Buddy blinked at him, face blank. Ah, hell, maybe he'd reverted back to supreme asshole.

"Hold on, baby," his words fumbled along with his belt buckle and zipper. "Just give me a minute."

The light stuttered once more, blinked them into darkness for all of five seconds. Probably on its last legs. All the more reason to hurry. A few quick strokes, Buddy's eyes locked with his, was all it took. His climax built from nowhere. A strangled noise peeped from between his teeth. Pleasure burst over his hand, and his legs almost tumbled him to the ground.

His breath slowed. Muscles unbunched themselves and he took a step back. Come cooled on his fingers. He wiped them off on his jeans. No harm in that. Around here, who was going to give a shit?

"A minute was right." Buddy's voice sounded like he had swallowed dust. "I'm glad we were not in a hotel room."

He couldn't stop the smile as he zipped himself back up. "Sorry, but this place doesn't exactly make me want to stick around. Rather be anywhere else. No offence."

"This is the last place I thought I'd end up as well." Buddy took the flask he offered and drank a mouthful, winced when he was done.

"Thought you guys liked the strong stuff."

"That stuff tastes like paper and glue. I'm not surprised. American alcohol is always… sub-standard."

"Careful, Buddy." He made sure the playful edge in his growl was obvious. "I've shot men for less."

"I don't doubt that… Mr… C.I- C.I.A man –"

Buddy bent double, arms around his stomach. Coughs wracked all the way up from his lungs to his throat. No, more like choking than coughing.

Damn it. He thought there'd be more time.

The licker snarled in the corner. He put his hands on Buddy's shoulders even as another fit shook its way through. "Buddy, hey, listen to me! Take deep breaths, okay?" Probably the most useless medical advice in history. A plaga wouldn't be calmed with any hippie-bullshit breathing techniques, but it just might stop Buddy freaking out. "Take it easy. That's it."

His hand rubbed soothing circles on Buddy's back. Somewhere there was a combination of words that would set everything right. That could stop Buddy, stop this fucking stupid war. Too bad he didn't even have the first clue of what they were. Could always try.

"Look," he said when Buddy straightened and coughed out a final wheeze in his throat, "you have to stop this. You know you can't win."

"Save… your breath… American."

"You know what JD said to me before he let me go? He asked me to help him, to stop you from becoming a monster. I… I fucking failed him. So did you."

Buddy's face twisted itself into a snarl. "He knew the risks. He died for our cause –"

"He died because he was just a dumb kid who wanted to hang out with his friends!" All those calm, post-orgasm endorphins had now firmly fucked off. "You led him into hell for this revenge bullshit!"

He caught the flicker of guilt, that crack he'd seen when JD's head had burst into writhing tentacles. Yeah, Buddy felt bad. Good.

"I wouldn't expect someone like you to understand." No more vulnerable, quivering Buddy. Shields back up to one hundred percent. "I can't stop now. I've come too far."

"What about her, Buddy?" His own guilt rose like dark, stinking oil, but he battled through. "What about Irina? Think she'd be happy with you turning into a monster? With what you've done?"

Buddy's face went the colour of bone. "You –"

"You think she ever imagined you could kill someone in cold blood?" He snorted, shook his head. "If I was her, I'd be ashamed of you –"

Something heavy and growling ploughed into his side. Claws caught his tactical vest, ripped. He fell heavy on to the ground, his knee twisting under his body. The licker snarled, teeth catching the pouches for his ammo. Its breath stank of rotting meat and blood and death and – oh fuck – his gun, where was his gun


The licker stilled on top of him. Its teeth were an inch away from his face. He didn't move.

"Get off him." Buddy's voice trembled. Pissed off or crying. "Go to your corner."

One last growl, and the licker clambered off. He sat up, got on his feet as fast as he could. His fingers trembled, found his handgun.

"It wouldn't have hurt you." Buddy's eyes glowed red again. "I was in control."

"Yeah. Really looked like it." His knee ached. Not enough to be a serious problem, but it could slow him down if he needed to run. "Guess you're just a lost cause, aren't you?"

He limped over to the metal door, one eye on the licker. It crouched, froglike. How could he have petted that thing and thought of it as a big dog? It was a monster. They both were. And he'd promised, he'd fucking promised

JD's head burst into tentacles. Over and over. The smile before he'd collapsed, fuck, the kid had been genuinely happy to see him.

Could he save anyone here?

His eyes stung. Just the dust. He turned away, headed out of the door. Through the obstruction in his throat, and over his shoulder, he called back: "Don't get too attached to that thing."

Buddy said nothing. The licker howled behind him. It sounded too much like grief.