It was sad and terrifying in the jungle.
Later, I wondered if that’s what it was like for him in England. Sad and terrifying.
I don’t know that I ever truly saw him. I was convinced of what was best by virtue of his being a man. My being a man. That ‘human’ was his only defining feature.
What cruel fate was ours that this was what came to be?
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As much as I taught him in the jungle, he repaid beyond any capacity by saving my life more times than I could count and probably know. I should have left it at that. Left him.
Though in my heart I never could, so sure that I knew what was right, because I knew who he was. Because he was a man with a family, and a life waiting for him.
Months we were together, and I taught him what it was to be civilized. He taught me things, too, though I hardly knew it at the time. Taught me what it was to live a life without any rules except what is governed by gut, by viscera. By touch and need.
He bonded with me almost from the very first, protected me, healed me, fed me. Gave me water from his own lips. He held my hand, couldn’t get enough of it: measured his fingers against mine, pressed palm to palm, hooked thumbs together with curious intensity.
His strength was remarkable; he carried me about, swung me around like a rag doll. But at the same time could be so gentle. His strong fingers tested the hair on my face as a soft caress.
And at night, when the apes curled together to sleep, and he saw that I was alone, he pressed himself against me and kept the night-cold away.
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The edge of the world, I told him, only the edge. I’d still not taught him the full ways of men, and there was nothing I could do when he gently took my hand in view of those crude men who thought they knew what they saw when they saw us.
I only hope it was not a betrayal on my part that convinced them, some shift to my mouth or turn of my hand. But no. People like that see only what they want to, see a castle of a shack and poncy criminals of two poor men whom fate forsook. But people like that also know when to let be. They were more concerned what sort of a profit they could make of us than what went on in the ramshackle room we rented.
I know that he saw their looks, heard their words, and I hoped John would never ask what was meant by it.
But it turned out he would not need to ask. It often became the case between us: though words were taught and learnt and spoke and mimicked, the deepest thoughts and feelings were never conveyed thusly. On the freighter we finally found to take us away, take us to the rest of the world, he crawled into the bed beside me. Like always, he would take my hand, hold it, hold me, measure one to the other, his height and strength, my stoutness and weakness, his skin smooth from the fight of the jungle, mine smooth from the benefit of age.
His hands asked for things I’d never yet granted, though admitted further each time. Sneaking between the folds of my clothes, testing the skin he found there, often warm from the mere thought of his hands on me, his so strong and gentle hands.
I’d pushed away those hands at first, knowing them to be only curious, curious to finally feel flesh like his own. And I, I was fearful of the reaction I would show to those hands.
But more he persisted, and more he showed to me with those dark eyes I too often turned from, eyes that always showed everything, held back nothing, not like eyes I knew, not the civilized eyes of a man. I told myself it was only another thing to be taught.
But on the freighter, as he echoed the animals he heard in the jungle, twittering songs of birds I’d never known in my ear, and his hands chased away the barrier of clothes, I at last succumbed. Not to him. To myself.
I gave in, I touched him, those muscles built by will to survive in the harsh jungle, by the sweat of the hunt and the lordship of the apes. My lips covered his in a gesture even he knew, and he kissed me back, stirring the heat deep in me.
And it wasn’t like any of the other times. I had no doubt he desired me. Pretense was unknown to him. I could read his desire in the spark of his dark eyes, the rush of his fingers, the hunger of his wet mouth. This was no trick found on the corner of the worst quarter of London playing the part I chose for him.
This was a man without the ability to pretend. And he wanted me.
I dreamed then, on that freighter, knowing what I would have done had the man been only a man, a man without a family to go home to, without a title to claim. I would have taken him with me, disappeared from the world I knew into a flat in Paris and loved him until there was only us, no him and I.
But as it was, I would take -- for almost the first time in my life -- what I truly wanted while I could, and let it go when it was done.
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