Disclaimer: I have absolutely no rights to these characters. But they're fun to play with.


"How did you lose your eye?"

Mikhail Bakunin paused in his work and glanced over his shoulder. His helpmate for the day, Bea Klugh, had stopped clearing brush and was leaning against her axe, staring at him.

He continued chopping at the felled tree that was laying across his cows' pasture. "Why do you want to know?"

"Because I hardly know anything about you," she replied, perfectly serious, like she always was. "We've been having these weekly get-togethers for years now, and you never talk about yourself."

With a quiet chuckle, he said, "Perhaps I prefer it that way."

"Yes," Bea agreed dryly, "I think you do." She reached up and untied the scarf around her head, and her hair fell down in a black wave. Sometimes he thought she kept it bound up so tightly to appear harsher. It worked. For others. But he had seen her do this too many times, and he liked the softness that her loose hair brought to her. Liked that she unbound it only by herself and in front of him.

Mikhail watched as she carefully tied her hair back so that it laid loosely on her shoulders, expecting her to speak further. Instead, she just continued to look at him, her dark eyes betraying nothing. "You're serious," he said eventually. "You would really like me to tell you?"

She kept her eyes on him. "I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want to know."

"No, I suppose you wouldn't have." Finally, he conceded to himself that no point remained in holding the axe if he wouldn't be getting any work done, so he sunk it into the trunk of the tree and sat down beside it. Bea leaned her axe near his and sat beside him, an expectant look on her face. "There is little to tell," he said. "You will be disappointed if you think I have an heroic story."

She shook her head and gave him an enigmatic smile. "I won't be disappointed."

He met her gaze for several moments; saw honesty there. A precious commodity. Its elusiveness was one of the reasons he felt driven to the Flame, away from Ben and his ilk. He would lie when there was need to, but he was a soldier. Lying did not come naturally. "It happened in Afghanistan. In battle. My unit was on patrol in the Salang Pass when we were attacked by guerillas. They had RPGs. Shrapnel sliced under my eye." Mikhail paused to gauge her reaction. It hadn't changed; the same intent expression was still on her face. "I was lucky. The man next to me was killed. Shrapnel split his skull. That is what I remember. Not the pain or the blindness or my blood -- but his blood. His brains." Mikhail offered her a grim smile. "I told you it was not heroic."

Bea tilted her head. "I don't require heroics."

"Is there something you require? From me?" A strange choice of words, when she so obviously didn't. If she did, she wouldn't come here, week after week, providing her help and companionship while expecting nothing in return from him. He grunted. "Never mind."

The jungle was still around them; the only movement or sound came from one of the cows' slow progress across the pasture. Bea did not break the silence for several moments, and neither did Mikhail. Then, in a movement that seemed very small, yet that was, at the same time, larger than anything he'd ever been capable of in all these years, she reached out and put her hand on his arm.

He held her gaze for several more seconds before he covered her hand with his. Their fingers entwined, almost of their own accord, and though Mikhail knew she would not demand it, nor anything else, he put his other hand on her face gently, leaned forward, and kissed her.