An Age of Miracles
(A sequel to Looking Far Away)
He sat in the shadows of the camp, elbows on knees, fingers loosely clasping a cigarette. Through the haze of the smoke, his eyes were unfocused, his thoughts dwelt on a time and place which by now were enshrined in his memory. Impossible to accept that it had been the most exciting sexual experience of his young life, and to have it end so quickly...His belly clenched at the thought, a constant ache, and he pulled deeply on the cigarette, holding the smoke in his lungs as long as he could. You softhearted slob, he thought grimly. You should've brought him in after you'd had him, then you could've collected the money and slaked your damnable thirst at the same time. But the idea of the unique beauty prey to the filthy hands of his 'buddies' had turned his stomach. Fool he might be, but he had done the right thing. The only thing. Now he was gone. The corners of his mouth lifted thinking of his green-eyed sprite stepping off the plane at Heathrow with a few memories of Africa he'd not be sharing with mum and dad.
His hand strayed to the small wound made by the leech and he wished, wickedly, that he had a wound of another sort. But there hadn't been time. Never would be now. Would have been okay, though, with that one. He would have been gentle, yeah, and willing to reciprocate, too, if his wild, compulsive response had been any indication.
The pulsing of his groin became uncomfortable, even as he fed himself on the fantasies, and since there was no place he could go to relive it without attracting some curious eye, he willed his thoughts into other channels. Like how long they were going to stay on this wild-goose-chase looking for a man who would have been long gone by now. Barring wild animal attack, sickness, snakebite, heatstroke, mishaps of a dozen different varieties, that could befall a lone man in the jungle, weaponless but for a borrowed compass. Disturbed by the trend of his thoughts, he climbed to his feet and crushed the fag under his heel.
Becoming aware of his surroundings again, he saw the other men grouped in a far corner of the camp, unnoticed as he had sat alone. Dream' like a lovesick schoolgirl, he grimaced. The picture that conjured up of him nattily attired in pinafore and ankle socks produced an unwilling grin. No more daydream', he swore. Three days of this rubbish was enough. So he'd found out that sex with another bloke didn't have to be a violent conquest, that it could be soft and tender and, damn it, even wonderful. All right, then. Maybe he ought to take another look around this pack of vermin-infested dregs of humanity and see if there wasn't one who...
His wondering halted suddenly as he realized the men were gathered 'round in a semi-circle and, from the jeering and filthy language coloring the air, he was afraid he knew what was happening. Not just a fight, then. He couldn't recall any particular bad feelings between any of the men, no more than what one would expect given the nature of the men and the work they did. He'd been able to fend off the roving hands as much because of the live-and-let-live attitude in the group as for his own threatening demeanour. He realized by this time that it was just a ritual they went through, like sniffing around a new bitch in the pack. And if you couldn't cut it, well, then, you paid their price. Sometimes the coin they demanded was a pound of flesh, seasoned with equal parts humiliation and hard- earned knowledge. It was a long climb back up from the hell of being used like a piece of meat. He hadn't needed to experience it first hand to recognize that look in a man's eyes that said, I've been beaten. Of course, having an audience made the suffering that much more exquisite. He usually walked away and didn't look back but, this time, a longing for some distraction, however unsavory, impelled him forward.
Three of the men had pinned a fourth one down and they all looked the worse for wear. He wondered at the size and strength of their captive that he could do so much damage. Not one of their own, of course. It was an unwritten rule: Take care of your own backyard, and stay the hell out of the next man's. If two blokes got into a fight, fine. But you kept your nose clean, kept the odds even, and could expect the same when it was your turn. Which all meant that an enemy had been captured. Could be very interesting.
One of the mercs moved and he got a better look at the man on the ground. Oh, bloody hell!! And after I gave the stupid prat my compass, too! But there he was, squirming under the weight of greater numbers, cursing them all out in language Bodie had never heard, even growing up in Liverpool, and looking like the rattiest angel ever tossed out of heaven. One of the stockier men was actually sitting on his back, like a bloody great paperweight! This will never do, Bodie decided, and prepared to rescue his...uh, damsel in distress.
"Mind telling me what the hell is going on?"
Several voices assailed him at once, but he heard enough to learn that his idiot lover had been caught napping in a tree. He'd been an easy target for one hunter, but had stood no chance at all against three. Now it looked as though they were divvying up the prize, only the prize was a trifle unwilling to cooperate. Sure'n no man with red blood in his veins could pass up such a tasty morsel, especially when it had practically jumped onto the platter. Bodie found it in his heart to be sorry for them. Better luck next time, lads. But what was his stayed his.
"Hank, get your bloomin' arse off the poor sod before ya break his back, ya dumb crud! Fat lot of good he'll be then."
"Easy for you to say, Bodie. You don't know what he's like, the little bugger." And Hank glared out of a beautiful black eye, blood dripping slowly from his split lip.
"Don't know how to handle him, eh? Oh, well, I guess I really shouldn't expect too much of you. You're much better off stickin' to sheep and pigs and leavin' ravers like this to them that knows how. C'mon, up you go."
Relieved of the twenty stone lummox that had put a permanent dent in his anatomy, the young stranger remained still for a moment. He cursed again the ones who had gotten him into this bloody mess. A favor for Her Majesty and all that other rubbish he'd fallen for in his eagerness to get away from the beat he'd been pounding, the daily monotony of a copper's life. He cursed again his resemblance to some prat of a minister's son that had caught their attention to begin with. And, finally, he cursed his own bloody-mindedness that had brought him to this...this...den of iniquity? his brain provided. First, someone twigged that he'd been playing at James Bond, and now he'd let himself be caught by the men apparently commissioned to find him. Damn: Slowly he raised his bedraggled head, seeking out his benefactor. The voice sounded kind, but...two boots, camouflage pants, shirt covering a broad chest, hands on hips, head cocked to one side, and blue eyes peering down at him. The same eyes that had haunted his dreams for days, and the mouth...He gulped. Taking the offered hand, he was pulled to his feet, neither of them wanting to relinquish the contact as their fingers slipped free, tingling with awareness.
Standing next to him again, breathing his unique odor of musk and sweat and days without a bath. Bodie wanted to pull him close against his own body and disappear to that magical place they had once shared eons ago. He barely resisted the urge to smother that swollen mouth with his.
"So, we meet again," he murmured instead. When the other man opened his mouth to speak, he stopped him with a hasty, "Shut up. I'll handle this."
A haughty eyebrow went up, but he kept silent. Bodie stepped back a pace and halted. Then he cocked his head and surveyed the creature before him with a lascivious eye, from the top of the Harpo Marx hair to the widely planted feet, pausing noticeably on the soft bulge at the crotch, finally meeting the furious green eyes. He allowed himself a small smile.
"Hmmm...I think I like it. Not up to my usual high standards, of course, but certainly interesting, eh, boys? I'll take him---"
"Hey, just a fuckin' minute, Bodie!"
A--first. Got a few tricks I'd like to try with this one while he's still got a bit of life left in him. You can share him when I'm through. I'm sure he'll give you no more trouble. Isn't that right, boy?" The bite in his voice startled even him but he could see it was having the desired effect. Green-eyes lowered his head like a bull about to charge and Bodie saw his fists clenching at his sides. More to the point, Hank and his compatriots were looking at each other in spiteful anticipation. Then, Hank shook his head.
"Nice try, mate, but you can wait your turn. I owe him one." And he shot a vindictive look at the prisoner, who paid him no attention at all. His eyes were on Bodie, a mixture of challenge and loathing in them, teeth bared, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. Hank looked curiously at Bodie to see how he was taking that threatening pose but the cool young mercenary was just standing there with his arms folded, looking serene and untroubled.
"Yeah, and you owe me one, too, mate, or have you forgotten?"
Bodie's voice was mild but Hank wasn't fooled: he was calling in his markers on a debt Hank couldn't ignore, much as he'd like to. A man saved you from a rather grisly death, he had a right to expect some recompense. That obligation, coupled with the delight he was anticipating at seeing the cocksure bastard laid flat by the skinny young man with the sledgehammer fists, decided him.
"Maybe you're right." Hank silenced the squawks coming from the men beside him, and continued, "You'll knock all the defiance out of him, eh? Then give him back straight away?" At Bodie's amiable nod, Hank grinned slyly. "Well, then, he's all yours. For now." The men around him seemed to be enjoying this; Bodie was liked well enough, but no one would really mind seeing that almighty ego given a boot in the backside.
Consigning them all to hell, Bodie turned his back on their onlookers and faced his potential adversary. Suddenly, the self-satisfied smirk that had been wreathing his features was wiped clean and over them came a look of such tenderness that the other man straightened and stared. The blue eyes which a moment ago had ogled him as one would a dirty picture, making his skin crawl and his anger rise, now glowed with welcome, reassurance and some other emotion which he easily identified. They darted over his face, savoring each curve and angle, committing them to memory. Then the soft, sensuous lips parted on a sigh and the long lashes swept down, masking their expression. The watcher waited with held breath. When Bodie raised his eyes again, their expression had changed and desire started to curl around his belly at the tautly-held passion now directed at him. Dark and shining, they now beckoned, a siren luring its prey in with promises of unimagined delights of the flesh. Electricity sizzled between them on invisible wires and as with one accord they moved toward each other. The smaller man swayed, caught in an enchanter's web, feeling his reason melt away as the heat of lust rose. Bodie brought his left hand up, running his knuckles along the other's chin, then sliding his fingers through the hair that curled willfully around him. All the time [missing words].
And, finally, his lips burning to be touched, heart pounding out of control, uncaring that others witnessed his abjectness, the captive man went willingly to his humiliation. As his eyes drifted shut, he didn't see the fist before it struck him.
Bodie caught him in his arms before his body touched the ground, then swung around to confront the mesmerized audience. "You didn't really think I was going to let you watch? That just isn't my style, boys. So sorry. Toss me that rope, will you, Tommy? Ta. Don't worry, Hank. Your prize won't get far with his ankle tied to a tree. There's a nice little place about a hundred yards away that should suit my purposes very well. Now, I must go and make my preparations before sunshine here wakes up. Have my dinner waiting for me when I get back, will you? I plan to work up quite an appetite." Chuckling lewdly, he hefted his burden over one shoulder, the rope over the other and set off into the green darkness.
"What the hell was all that about?"
"Queerest thing I ever seen."
"Bet he's one of them little faggots what likes 'em big and butch, eh? Coo, but he's gonna have his eyes opened tonight, I'll wager!"
"You suppose the kid is a bit odd in the head or sumpin'?"
"That Bodie is a nasty bugger, ain't he?"
"Hey, Hank! You gonna slip out on us, too, when it comes to the stickin' point? Aw! Be a mate, huh?"
Hank stared remorsely at the spot where Bodie had so casually made short work of the little firecracker with the emerald eyes. He wondered if Bodie had ever dabbled in the black arts, or if his ancestors came from Transylvania. Curbing the urge to go out and sharpen a stake, Hank trudged disgustedly over to his roll, pulled out a pack of smokes, and prepared to wait.
Doubling back around the camp and heading now in the opposite direction, Bodie felt the weight on his shoulder shift and picked up his speed. Five minutes later, he pushed his way through some wet branches and emerged into a tiny clearing where he laid his burden gently down on the soft leaves. Crouching next to his companion's body, he peered into the cherished face, noting the marks that had not been there the first time they'd met. As he gazed lovingly down, the eyelids began to flicker and the head to turn on its mossy pillow. He clasped the fluttering hands in his own.
"Come on, wake up," he crooned softly. "You're safe now. Open your eyes, there's a good boy." Freeing one hand, he stroked the vulnerable check, caressing the crooked cheekbone, and trying to suppress the waves of tenderness and longing that washed over him. The chin was darkening where his fist had struck and, on impulse, he bent and brushed his lips over the spot.
"Think that'll make it all better, you lousy bastard?" The green eyes were sad but the voice was bitter, low and rough. Listening to it, Bodie longed to hear it moan his name in passionate need, see the eyes squeezed tight in pleasure. He sat back and let go of his hands.
"How are you feeling?" No response. "Look, I'm sorry, mate, but I had to think fast. Maybe it wasn't the best idea I ever had, but I was rather distracted at the time. Now, how are you feeling?"
"Guess I'll live. What the hell, better than what might have happened, right?" The bitterness was no longer directed at Bodie. With a groan, he sat up, bringing his face within inches of the other man's. They stayed like that for a moment, sharing the quiet time, eyes searching and finding answers to questions they never asked. They were so in tune with each other that their chests rose and fell in unison.
AI didn't want to do that, ya know." Bodie's voice lowered to a husky murmur. "Know what I really wanted to do? Shall I show you?" A small nod. "Then come here."
He separated the inches between them and their lips brushed softly, a silent greeting. Pulling back, Bodie read an answering need in the other's smoky green eyes and, cupping his face firmly between his hands, Bodie's mouth swooped down and fastened hungrily on the one below it. He thrust his tongue roughly past lips and teeth to meet the other's, pulling him back across his knees and wrapping both arms around him. Blindly, his hands searched over the thin back, feeling the shaking body thrusting against him, fingers pulling at his clothing. Gasping for air, Bodie grabbed his shoulders and pushed him away, holding him at arms length while he sought to keep his body under control.
"Damn it, there's no time. God knows what I'd give to make love to you right now, but you need to get out of here." Forcing the tremble out of his voice, Bodie continued, "I've jollied them along till now, but time's running out. They'll want you back soon and I've got to fabricate a convincing scene to make them believe you slugged me and got away." Taking a deep breath, he released the silent man and got to his feet. Reaching into his boot, he pulled out a wicked-looking knife and held it out. "You'll have everything I own pretty soon," he smiled. "Take this and, for godssakes, hang onto it. There's a village five miles due east. The sun's going down soon; they won't look for you after dark. If you get lost, wait till sunrise and head towards it. I don't have another compass to give you. When you reach the village, find a man named Osugi. Tell him Mr. Bodie said to help you. With luck, you can be out of this hellhole in a couple of days."
The man he'd just freed a second time stared down at the weapon in his hand. He felt pulled in all directions. His body and his soul cried out for him to stay with this unbelievable mercenary; his mind urged him to escape while he could, put it all a million miles behind him and never, ever set foot in Africa again. He looked up, eyes pleading. "Come with me."
"Don't be daft. My days as a merc would be finished, and soldiering is all I know. Fact is, I'm learning things out here, mate, they'll never teach you back in Merry Old England. Nah...maybe someday, when I've got a bit of money." Pulling the other man to his feet, he held the strong shoulders in his hands. "Nice thought, though, huh? You and me together." Suddenly, he was pulled into a fierce bear hug, a curly head buried in his neck. Control slipping a little, he pressed his face down into the fragrant softness, eyes shut tight in regret.
"Nothin'. Just wanted to say it. That all there is?" Taking the answering grunt to mean Ayes", he tried it again, wrapping his lips and tongue around the two syllables, "Bodie." Tasting it. "By the way, my real name's Doyle. Ray Doyle. Someday I'd like to tell you the whole story of what I'm doin' out here. Someday when you need a good laugh."
Bodie caught the trace of self-pity in his voice, and found it endearing. "Well, Ray Doyle, you should probably give up the spy business, you know. Find something that suits you better. So should I, as a matter of fact. But promise me you'll go straight back home now, okay? I'll worry about you, otherwise." Masking the creeping desperation with a tender smile, he rested his forehead gently against the other's. The seconds ticked by in silence as both men put off making the final move, the one that would part them for good.
AI wish there was some way I could thank you for what you've done," Ray's voice dropped to a husky whisper, Abut I swear I'll never forget you, Bodie."
"Damn right you won't. They never do, mate, once I've had 'em." Bodie sounded wistful. "Course, I never did, did I? We'll save that for the future, if you're agreeable, okay? And there will be a future, so don't think just because you're all set up nice and cozy in a semi with the wife bringin' you your pipe and slippers every night that you'll be safe from my evil clutches." He tried to manage a convincing leer, but failed.
"You could die out here, Bodie. Don't think I don't know that."
Bodie heaved a sigh. Christ! A fatalist. He knew as well as anyone what the chances of surviving were in the jungle but dwelling on it was a fool's game. He accepted the odds and knew he could beat them, so he didn't have to talk about it. His partner, though, had no such assurance and Bodie, against his will, was touched by his concern. But this was not the time.
"Ah! But we'll always have Paris," he teased, in his rather poor Bogart imitation. Getting a faint smile, he went on. "Tell you what," he pressed a soft kiss on the wide, full mouth, "Should such a highly remote possibility occur, I will still not let you escape. Heaven may beckon with a thousand delights but I shall merely apply for a leave of absence so that I may come and haunt you. Incessantly. Ghostly groping the goodies, one might say. How will you like that, Doyle?"
"Shit, Bodie," he shook his head blindly. After a pause, he answered, raising too-bright eyes, "Make it a promise."
"It is, mate. It is."
Denying himself another taste of that delicious mouth, Bodie released himself and bent to scoop up the forgotten rope. Doyle stood back, wrapping his arms about himself, suddenly cold.
"Do you think it will work?"
"No problem. Course if you gave me a bruise or two, it might add a bit of local color. If you've a mind?" The other man numbly shook his head, staring at the smooth, unblemished jaw of his erstwhile lover.
"Didn't think so. Better go now. I'll have to hurry. We'll meet again, don't worry. Fate's on our side, innit it?" Bodie drank once more of the slanted, far-seeing eyes and then turned and retraced his path through the shadowed jungle.
Biting his lip on the name he wanted to cry, Doyle stood there motionless, watching as the branches stopped their swaying and the vegetation sprung back from where it had been crushed under a hasty foot. Then, setting his back to the sun, he walked rapidly away from the small clearing, conscious of each step taking him further away from the man who was a stranger to him and yet had known him forever. He blinked the wetness from his eyes and kept on walking. Of course, they'd never see each other again; he knew that. He'd long outgrown the age of believing in miracles. A story from his childhood popped into his mind. Clap your hands, a small voice cried. Clap your hands if you believe. I'm sorry, he told it. I can't.
And the jungle swallowed him up.
-- THE END --