It’s the eyes that do it. Incredible, really; a man can spend decades strategically numbing himself to empathy (recipe for the curious: cocaine. Apply to the bits that hurt, rub in, reapply continuously), and everything is fine and dandy. Years of cold-blooded massacres, bathtubs of cash, outrageous displays of narcissism and sold gold statues and pop stars singing him happy birthday and Nobel peace prize nominations (you can buy anything on the Internet these days). A masterpiece in absolute fucking assholery, tailored like his snakeskin shoes, and yet-
It all crumbles away in the face of one pair of eyes. God, he looks just like her. Ishwari’s little boy has done some growing up. Eyes like an airstrike on an unsuspecting village; no one is ready for them.
Next to him on the couch, Ajay clings to an untouched glass of whiskey, looks at Pagan with Ishwari’s blessed eyes, and tries to talk him out of…something.
Oh, of course. Golden Path. Reprieves. Uncle Pagan, please don’t firebomb the terrorists, they’re actually lovely people.
Or something along those lines.
“It’s not as if I don’t know how to find them,” Pagan says. He doesn’t mean to be drawn into that particular conversation, but far be it from him to deny Ajay a single thing at all. Call it a flaw in his otherwise sterling character. “Bit of an open secret, the little terrorist den down south in good old Banapur. Lovely place, or so my soldiers tell me. Goats and things. And they have a very nice side-line in funeral pyres, I hear- although I claim full responsibility for that. I should charge a fee, now I think about it. I’m not being properly compensated for nurturing their little cottage industry. They're like the Silicone Valley of funerary startups, and I decree that they should be taxed.”
“Don’t,” Ajay says. He’s paler than usual; poor boy needs a vacation on a sunny beach somewhere. He’s much too young to be letting himself go. “Please, just- just leave them alone.”
“After all the trouble they’ve caused? I think not, my boy. Despite my gentle, charitable disposition, I do actually have to draw the fucking line somewhere.”
She begged too, did Ishwari. Twenty-something years ago- Christ, where has the time gone? Pagan thinks back to the day of her arrival; a good memory, though somewhat underappreciated at the time. Hindsight grants clarity. Ishwari on his doorstep, eyes ablaze, baby on her back, giving a masterclass in how to beg for the impossible.
Ajay doesn’t quite have it down yet. But he’ll get there. He just needs someone to hold him upright and support him over the rough bits. A role model of sorts.
Pagan reaches over and pats his hand. And then decides that the gesture might come across as just a little condescending- he’s a bit out of practice with all the sympathy nonsense. He leaves his hand there, covering Ajay’s; Ajay doesn’t pull away. He’ll call that a win.
“Listen,” Pagan says in what he hopes is a gentle tone. “It’s not that I enjoy doing this- oh, fuck it, I can’t even make it sound convincing with you looking at me like that. Yes, alright. I would very much enjoy watching both of those monkey-fucking terrorists skinned alive and then set on fire, and then fed to something large and carnivorous in front of a lot of people. Not that I’ve put much thought into it- I do have other hobbies, you know. But they have it coming. You, you’ve barely known them a couple of months. Listen to your Uncle Pagan. He knows how things are.”
It’s very difficult to know whether or not Ajay is actually listening; he’s abandoned the eye contact in favour of staring down at Pagan’s hand, still holding his own. It must be a great source of comfort to him, this whole long-lost reunion thing. He was always such a friendly boy, back in the day. Affectionate. Even with all that rebel brainwashing, something in him must know where he belongs.
Ishwari was a big believer in destiny; something about that Tarun Matahari thing, or whatever it was. Something about people always ending up exactly where they need to be, though it might take them twenty bloody years to get there.
Well, better late than never. And now Ajay’s come home. Now they can start making up for lost time.
Ajay swallows hard. He looks up; his eyes are very dark. They suit him, just as they suited Ishwari. He has her nose, too. Her sharp cheekbones, the exact shade of her hair. Being near him is a breath of fresh air, blowing away the accumulated fog of twenty years of pain. He’s practically an intoxicant. Almost as potent as the cocaine lined up neatly on the table in front of them, just in case Ajay feels like indulging. He’s been marvellously strong-willed about it so far. If only everyone had his self-control.
“If I stay,” Ajay says, so quietly Pagan has to lean in to hear him. “If I do whatever you want, will you promise not to hurt them? Or…me?”
What a sweet young man he is. “What kind of question is that, of course I’m not going to hurt you. Haven’t you heard a single word I’ve been saying? What was the point of filling you in on my extensive tragic backstory if you weren’t even paying attention, hmm?”
“Oh, I’m just fucking with you,” Pagan says cheerfully. “Yes, for as long as you choose to remain in my oh-so-humble abode,” he gestures expansively; gem-studded statuettes, Turkish rugs, gold and silk and illegal ivory on the walls. “I guarantee your safety. Which is more than the Golden Path can say, may I point out.”
“What about the others?” Ajay says. He really is being terribly quiet- there is, as yet, no sign of his mother’s explosive temper. Although given the number of Royal Guard soldiers he’s gunned down since arriving, there must be some kind of spine in him. Maybe he saves it for special occasions; like the good silver, or grandmother’s finest tea set.
Ever obliging, Pagan leans in closer. Better to hear him. And to notice that there is something in the line of his chin and nose, something in his profile that whispers Ishwari. It almost makes him shiver. The likeness is uncanny. “I’m sorry, what were you saying?”
“Sabal,” Ajay says. He’s gone back to avoiding eye contact. “Amita. Bhadra. The people at Banapur, the farmers, the parents with kids, they’re all just…they want to survive. What about them?”
“Good god, can you even hear yourself? The farmers. Please, King Min, think of the farmers. Takes me right back; you know, your mother made much the same arguments when she first arrived. She too thought that it might actually be possible to draw the line between Golden Path terrorists and everyone else. She was wrong, as it turned out. One of the few times I got her to admit it.”
“I’ll stay here,” Ajay says. “I’ll be good. Or…not good, whatever you want, I’ll do that. Just don’t hurt them.”
It’s terribly inconvenient of him to form these attachments. Stockholm Syndrome, probably. He’ll get over it. “Ajay, my boy, you don’t get to my age without learning not to negotiate with terrorists.”
“I’ll do anything.”
There’s no point arguing with him in this state; Ishwari was the same. Always getting overly emotional about malnourished children and insufficient medical supplies and the no-doubt bleak fate of the people she’d loved and left behind. Deaf to all reason; the only thing to do had been to distract her until she felt better.
“I’ll think about it, how’s that,” Pagan lies with a warm smile. He drapes an arm around Ajay’s shoulders, to emphasise how very generous he’s being. Good old Uncle Pagan. Always the person to go to for a good time. “And in the meantime, we really should take this opportunity to do a spot of family bonding. Shoot the shit, get to know each other, and all that. Come along, my boy, I didn’t kidnap you again for nothing. Have another drink and I’ll tell you all about our kingdom.”
The liquor flows. Ajay finally remembers his whiskey, and once he does it starts to vanish quickly. He will not be coaxed into touching the little lines of powder on the table, but that’s alright. Terrible habit. Much better not to start. Pagan is kind enough to get rid of it before he can be tempted.
When it happens, it’s inevitable. An arm around Ajay’s shoulders, a couple of particularly gruesome war stories and some reminiscing on all the ways he resembles Ishwari-
Uncanny, how much he looks like her. It’s the eyes. The shape of the nose. The mouth. And there’s not a jury in the world who could convict Pagan for the crime of leaning in to see if the boy tastes just like the memory.
Of course they end up in bed together. Fate, karma, the great cosmic whatever-the-fuck; after twenty years of doing penance for his sins, Pagan’s owed a few diamonds in his coal mine. And Ajay, Ajay is a diamond. A solid gold gift from the gods, for all that he has to be coaxed into kissing, and takes his goddamn time about getting naked, the show-off.
Pagan doesn’t remember having that much patience when he was Ajay’s age. How the youth have progressed. Thank heavens for millennial narcissism.
Ajay kneels in the middle of the king’s bed, and Pagan swears he can feel his shrivelled old raisin of a heart swell, just slightly.
“Doggy style, is it? I might have known you had hidden depths.”
He’s shier than Ishwari was; even in the early days, when she was far less sure of herself and him and the state of their relationship, still there was fire in her. Ajay needs a gentler hand. He’s like a wary wild animal, he needs coaxing and patience, kind words, the whole nine yards. Or nine inches, as it were. Almost.
“There’s a good boy,” Pagan says. “On your knees for your king- oh, I know, trite bullshit. But it never gets old; just wait until it’s your turn, you’ll see. Look at you. Fuck me, you are lovely.” It’s just too tempting not to give Ajay a good, hard smack on the rear; he jumps, and makes the most delightful wounded noise. Ducks his head. Probably trying to pretend this isn’t awakening something in him. Someone needs to get this young man a Wi-Fi connection and some decent porn; it’s just his good luck that he ended up back in Pagan’s capable hands. Who else better to corrupt a young man with eyes like buried secrets?
That is, if he’d actually let those famous eyes be seen. Right now they’re very firmly closed. First time jitters, poor thing.
“Please tell me you’re not a virgin,” Pagan says. Condoms and lube materialise from one of the bedside cabinets; he actually hears Ajay inhale hard at the crinkle of the packet. “Because that’s a lot more pressure than I’m capable of dealing with right now; if you wanted rose petals and strawberries and Celine Dion crooning gently on the radio, then some advance notice would have been nice.”
“I’m not,” Ajay says. Mumbles, more like; they’ll need to work on his annunciation before letting him anywhere near a royal broadcast. So much work to be done. But he won’t have to do it alone, at least. “It’s fine. Whatever you want, it’s…fine. I can take it.”
He’s shaking a little, but he wouldn’t be the only one; it’s an actual hassle getting the condom on, what with the excitement and, yes, the nerves, and probably a bit of the cocaine, because they can’t all be young men anymore, can they? Too late for that. But Pagan has always been a man of his word, and Ishwari was a woman of her word, and therefore he trusts Ajay implicitly. So the boy thinks he can take it? Excellent. On with the show.
“That’s the kind of can-do attitude I like to see around here,” Pagan says approvingly. He pauses a moment over the expanse of Ajay’s back, his spine, his ass- all very pleasingly toned, which just goes to show that running up and down the country committing mass murder has its perks. Lovely. Everything about him is lovely. He is a gift to look on; Ishwari did well.
Better yet are the noises he makes when Pagan lines himself up and starts pushing in. He actually sounds pained- and it might have been a better idea to start off slow, warm him up with a couple of fingers and a blowjob, but honestly.
Twenty fucking years. Neither of them has a second more to spare for patience.
“Just breathe with it,” Pagan murmurs. He has to take his own advice; Ajay is tight, unbelievably so, and even the lube doesn’t make it feel any less like popping a princess’ cherry on her wedding night. It’s an effort to start the fucking slow and methodical, easing him open until the tip of Pagan’s cock can slide home with a soft moan from Ajay.
“There you go,” Pagan tells him. “That’s the worst taken care of; it’s all uphill from here. Or is it downhill? I can never remember the difference, and you’re not being very helpful right now. Do you have…any idea at all how tight you are? Fucking Christ, I am dying to know your secret. Is it Kegels? Squats? Do I need to stop cheating on leg day?”
Ajay whispers something that sounds an awful lot like, “Oh god,” and it just goes to show that he and Pagan really are on some mystical wavelength, because Pagan’s thinking the same. Inasmuch as he can think of anything; his world is going pleasingly narrow, the edges shrinking down to encompass Ajay and him and the slick sounds his cock makes as he starts to pick up a rhythm. The sobbing. Oh yes, the sobbing is very nice. It’s been a while since he made someone cry for it, and Ajay’s voice is just right. Softer than Ishwari. Everything about him is softer, more pliant. He makes it so easy.
Of course he does. This, the two of them, it’s meant to be. Twenty years and two countries and a fucking civil war couldn’t keep them apart. No wonder Ajay’s coming apart under him. Pagan’s feeling quite emotional himself.
“It’s just you and me from now on, dear boy,” he says, and puts real force into his next thrust. Ajay yelps, fists tightening on the bedcovers. Too much, maybe. He’s so new to all this; the war and the violence and the evil in the hearts of men. He’s going to need so much guidance. “Yes, yes, I know. I’ve thrown you into the deep end, without so much as a courtesy inflatable dolphin to cling to. And it’ll hurt for a bit; believe me, I know. But you’ll get there. We both will.”
It’s a little difficult to make out what Ajay’s trying to say, what with his face being forced into the bedcovers, and his teeth being gritted. Sounds like something about the rebels. Another plea for their safety; they really are going to have a lot of work to do before Pagan feels comfortable giving him the kingdom to run. He’s going to need some toughening up.
There’s no better time for it than now.
“I’m so very proud of you,” he whispers, and sets about making Ajay scream.