Milo had expected danger, but not like this. Sure, he knew there was a chance that he wouldn’t make friends with his crewmates. He had prepared to battle the inevitable bouts of loneliness with intense study and backbreaking work.
But he hadn’t expected this .
When his grandfather offered to fund an educational voyage to study primates, Milo had jumped on the opportunity in an instant. Though his time at the Smithsonian Institute had given him greater resources and the chance to further his studies on cartography and linguistics, it had always been Milo’s dream to understand nature and the world by seeing it with his own eyes.
After a few months of preparation and an extensively long interviewing process for the crew, the ship had finally made its journey across the Atlantic. The trip was long and tedious, and though Milo already sported a naturally slim frame, he knew for a fact that he had lost weight during their voyage simply due to the ever-constant nausea and illness.
When they arrived, Milo couldn’t leave the ship fast enough. Not only was he thrumming with the need to get his feet on solid ground, for God’s sake , but the thrill of finally seeing their destination and having the chance to begin his work was nearly too much for his heart to handle.
So, while the laborers began to unload the ship and set up their would-be home for the next few months, Milo opted to begin his exploration.
He knew it was foolish to go alone, especially without a weapon. But something about this dense jungle made Milo feel strangely safe.
Having enough sense to mark his surroundings and make notes on his pad of paper, Milo marched determinedly into the foliage, too excited to pay attention to things such as consequences or danger .
Unfortunately, danger has a way of sneaking up on you in the most unexpected of ways.
What he at first had presumed as a loving and innocent baby baboon, (‘Papio ursinus,’ his brain supplied unhelpfully) had actually turned out to be a demon whose sole purpose was to torment bookish adventurers and steal their favorite notebook.
Oh, yeah. And sic the entire baboon population on him.
The entire situation was rather unfair, if he was being honest. Milo had been focused on making detailed notes of his location, when a banana dropped down at his feet. Curious, Milo bent to retrieve the surprise fruit, when a sticky little hand shot out and stole the bound pages of his notebook. With an undignified squak, Milo tried to take back his notes by chasing the adorable little thief, and ended up coming face-to-face with a furious mama baboon.
A hiccup of fear escaped Milo’s throat, and the female baboon let loose a deafening screech that left the scholar’s ears ringing. Hardly realizing that he was already moving, Milo ran as fast as he could, cursing his lack of athleticism and trying to duck wayward branches while Clayton’s voice replayed the words said to him just the night before.
“Remember doctor. Don’t trust anything out there. As fascinating as primates are, they’ll waste no time in ripping your pretty face right off your skull.”
More screams joined in from behind, and Milo realized that he really should have just let that baby baboon have his journal.
‘What an embarrassing way to die. On the very first day, too. Nice one, Milo.’
A shout burst from Milo’s lips as his foot caught on an exposed root, sending him sprawling down onto the jungle floor. Grimacing at the sharp spike of pain emanating from his skinned hands and elbows, Milo went to push himself back up when he felt a splash of moisture hit the back of his neck. Rolling over, the scholar glanced up through the jungle canopy as tiny droplets of water began to fall around him.
He closed his eyes and let his head drop to the forest floor. ‘ How fitting,’ he thought, with a humorless laugh.
A few seconds passed, and Milo noticed that not only had the baboon’s screams stopped, but his face had remained suspiciously dry. Tentatively, he opened his eyes.
‘ Oh, my.’
Shockingly, in the place where there should have been a snarling baboon, there was a man’s face looking down at Milo with unrestrained curiosity.
Even upside down, Milo could see that the man was gorgeous. The stranger’s dreaded hair hung around his face, creating a curtain that shielded Milo’s eyes from everything but the man’s features. A strong, prominent nose sat above thin, chapped lips that were turned down in an inquisitive frown. Deep-set green eyes stared beneath thick furrowed brows with such intensity that Milo couldn’t help but feel exposed.
Without thinking, Milo blurted, ‘Hello.”
Visibly surprised, the man flinched backward, before leaning even closer than before and replying in a deep, sure voice, “Hello.”
Before he could ask the man who he was, a shrill shriek sounded near Milo’s feet, and his blood ran cold. How could he forget the baboons? Was Milo that pathetic that the sight of an attractive man would make him forget that he was running for his life? And why weren’t the baboons ripping his face off yet?
With that last thought, Milo noticed that the primates had yet to enclose on their position. But why? The group seemed agitated, sure, but they also seemed unsure, now that the strange man was in their presence.
Who was he?
The angry mama baboon took a step forward, grunting and calling toward the man. The stranger glanced up, and Milo couldn’t help but feel felt strangely bereft now that the man’s attention wasn’t on him anymore.
Before Milo can devolve further into this train of thought, the man began to grunt similarly to the baboon, gesturing equally toward the baby baboon and Milo.
Was he speaking to them?
Fascinated, Milo goes to sit up on his elbows to get a better look, before realizing that the man is still crouched over his body. Flushing, Milo notices for the first time that the stranger is practically naked, save for a loin cloth tied around his waist. Unable to stop himself, Milo’s eyes travel up the man’s strong arms and over broad shoulders, taking note of the various scars littered throughout his skin, which strangely only add to his beauty.
The man sits up straighter, and Milo’s eyes dart up toward the man’s face, flushing deeply when he sees that the man had noticed his admiring gaze. Strangely, the man seems pleased at the attention, lifting his chin and pulling his shoulders back.
...Is he preening?
The sound of leaves crunching pulls Milo’s focus back to the baboons, and he is surprised when the little demon all but throws his pad of paper at his feet before running to climb onto his protective mother’s back. To his astonishment, the group slowly begins to clear out, leaving Milo and the man unscathed.
“What… how did you…?”
He sits up, turning to the man with questions burning his tongue.
He settles with, “Who are you?”
Strangely enough, the man doesn’t seem to register the question, instead keeping himself hunched down into a squat with his knuckles resting on the soft earth. He keeps his eyes on Milo’s.
He doesn’t answer.
Trying again, Milo says with more authority, “Who are you?”
The man’s brow furrows, and his lips move slightly, as if he doesn’t know how to answer.
Cold, wet, and slightly frustrated, Milo blurts out, “Hello?!”
The man’s eyes widen, and a smile breaks out across his face as he responds with a very loud, “Hello!”
Speechless, Milo wonders if this man doesn’t actually speak English, and begins to restrategize his approach. Milo was a linguist, he should be able to find a way to communicate, right?
But before Milo could move on to plan B, the man leans forward, touching his knuckles to his own chest and rumbling, “Tarzan.” He nods toward Milo and grunts, waiting.
Mouth opening and closing, Milo’s mind flounders. Was that his name? Was the man introducing himself? With a shaky hand, Milo points at the man and says, “Tarzan?”
The man is pleased. He sits up straighter, pounding his knuckles against his chest and hums. “Tarzan!” He then crawls forward, pushing his knuckles into Milo’s chest with a questioning look.
“Oh! Um. Milo. Milo.” Feeling foolish, Milo presses his hand into his chest, right where Tarzan had touched.
“Mmm…” Tarzan’s brow furrows in concentration. “Mi...lo. Milo. Milo!” He grins suddenly, and Milo’s heart flutters in his chest.
“Yes, Milo! That’s my name. Milo and Tarzan.” He feels ridiculous, but Tarzan’s pleasure just seems to grow with each word from his mouth. “Pleasure to meet you, Tarzan.”
It’s been months, and Tarzan keeps coming back. After helping Milo return to his camp, Tarzan had disappeared back into the trees. The crew had, unsurprisingly, been extremely excited and confused as to why there was a human out gallivanting in the jungle. Worried that he might lead others to their encampment, Clayton immediately distrusted Tarzan, and practically sneered at any mention of the man.
“You are lucky to still be alive, doctor. Who knows what that savage could have done?” He rested his hands upon Milo’s shoulders and squeezed tightly, feigning concern. “But no matter, it’s not likely he will be coming back.”
Milo tried not to feel too disappointed at the thought.
The next morning, however, Tarzan was spotted at the edge of the camp. And though he seemed curious toward the others, he only had eyes for Milo.
Other members of the crew tried to speak with him, to get him to venture into their small camp, but Tarzan resolutely stayed on the outskirts of the clearing. He only addressed the curious camp members to huff out, “Milo. Milo. Milo,” until someone finally sought out the scholar and brought him to the mysterious outsider.
Once within reach, Tarzan carefully gripped Milo’s arm and tugged, wordlessly asking the man to come with him. Ignoring his audience, Milo secured his bag and allowed himself to be led out and away from the camp.
And thus began a very tentative but dear relationship.
A few times a week, Tarzan would show up at the edge of camp and ask for Milo, and Milo would leave with him. Milo knew the others talked. They would ask questions like, who was the man? Why did he only ask for Milo? Why did Milo go with him?
What were they doing?
Milo ignored their whispers, blaming his excitement on the discovery of a jungle man , but secretly loving the stolen moments away with Tarzan. In all honesty, Milo never felt afraid of the other man, and found himself preferring Tarzan’s company over everyone else’s in the camp.
Through their visits, they had worked on communication, and Milo was delighted to discover that Tarzan was an exceptionally bright student. Even though his English was still in the early stages, Milo was able to glean that Tarzan was born here, raised by his family who looked different than Milo’s people.
It was fascinating .
Milo, in turn, was able to share his story with Tarzan. He was born in a land across the ocean, he didn’t have a lot of friends, and he came here to learn about the animals and area of Tarzan’s home.
Incensed by the new information, Tarzan had made it his mission to show Milo something new every time they visited.
And it was beautiful.
Milo had been shown groves of butterflies. Hidden jungle canopies filled to the brim with exotic birds of all shapes and sizes who sung beautiful melodies.
On one particular trip, Tarzan had helped Milo climb (okay, alright. He carried him) up a tall tree and they sat, waiting quietly until a mother hippo and her calf came into view.
Milo had gasped quietly, hand covering his mouth, too afraid to make any noise and ruin the moment. A hippopotamus was a rare treat to see, due to how dangerous the creatures proved to be, and Milo was not about to waste any second of such a pleasure. He watched reverently as the small calf trotted about, munching at fallen fruit and being generally adorable.
Once the two were out of sight, Milo turn back to Tarzan, who was already watching him with rapt attention. Frozen by the intense look on the other man’s face, Milo stayed very still as Tarzan brought his hand up to the one still pressed against his own mouth. Silent, Milo watched as Tarzan brought their palms together and stretched his fingers out.
With their hands pressed up against one another, Milo couldn’t help but smile. The difference between the two men was laughable — large, calloused fingers practically dwarfed Milo’s own, which were rather delicate and pale.
Milo’s breath caught in his throat as his eyes tore away from their joined hands and focused on the dark, intense stare of the other man. He had the sudden urge to kiss him then. To thread his smaller fingers through Tarzan’s and pull --
Just as he began to lean forward, an errant thought broke through the fog and stopped Milo from advancing any further.
What if Tarzan pushed him away?
The very idea made his heart to drop into his chest. What if Tarzan didn’t know what Milo meant when he kissed him? Or worse, what if he did, but he still didn’t--
Feeling suddenly inadequate and foolish, Milo released Tarzan’s hand, fiddling with his glasses and trying to ignore the disappointment that built up in his chest. Even if Tarzan understood, there was no way he would want someone like Milo.
Ignoring the sudden burning behind his eyes, Milo reached down to begin his descent from the tree, when Tarzan’s hand on his face stopped him. Strong fingers gripped his chin and turned his eyes up to meet Tarzan’s own gentle and confused ones.
“Milo is sad. Why?”
Humiliation crawled up Milo’s neck, surely staining his pale skin a deep, blotchy red. He shook his head, successfully causing Tarzan to release his hold. “I-I’m fine. I just.” his words got caught in his throat as Tarzan’s fingers stroked up his cheek, leaning in close enough that Milo could count each of his eyelashes. Tarzan huffed.
Before anything more could be said, a gunshot rang out through the trees, causing a small lapse in sound throughout the entire jungle that made Milo’s blood run cold. What had happened? Who was shooting?
Another gunshot sounded, and Tarzan tensed, looming over Milo almost protectively, “What is that?”
Milo licked his suddenly dry lips, whispering, “A gun. My camp...”
Tarzan’s brow furrowed, and he immediately pulled Milo into his chest, Milo’s quick reflexes telling him to hold on, and Tarzan used tree vines to swing back toward the direction of Milo’s encampment.
Stopping short of the camp, Tarzan lowered them to the forest floor. He pressed against Milo’s chest, grunting, “Milo stay.” before carefully making his way closer to the tented area.
Another gunshot rang out, followed by loud laughter. Was that Clayton?
Half relieved, Milo moved from his hiding place, running toward the camp and ignoring Tarzan’s worried shout.
Bursting from the cover of the trees, Milo saw that Clayton was drinking with a few of the other officers on their crew. The men had seemingly come up with a drinking game that involved shooting at lined up bottles, and taking a drink each time they missed.
They missed a lot.
Noticing Milo’s sudden appearance, Clayton set down his gun and moved away from the group, calling out, “Decided to finally join us humans , have you, Doctor Thatch?”
He stepped up close to where Milo stood, and Milo’s nose crinkled slightly at the heavy scent of alcohol wafting off the man’s breath.
“Clayton! That gun is for emergencies — I...I thought something had happened...” His voice trailed off as the man strode up into his personal space. What was he doing?
The man moved slowly, resting his hand heavily onto Milo’s shoulder, thumb trailing up onto his neck and pressing lightly into the space under his ear. He squeezed, and Milo felt his skin crawl with thinly veiled disgust.
“Oh, no, my dear doctor. Nothing has happened . At least, not yet.”
Before he could open his mouth to ask Clayton to release him, Milo caught movement at the side of his eye. He glanced over to see Tarzan, angry and glaring at Clayton. Why had he come into the camp? He never ventured far from the safety of the trees.
Clayton began to chuckle as he turned to look at the newcomer. “My, my. I see that our little game has upset more than just the general peace and quiet, eh, doctor?” With one last squeeze, he released Milo and returned to the group of officers who were watching with rapt attention.
Milo, shaken and confused, turned to his friend, and noticed Tarzan’s fiery gaze still fixed upon Clayton’s retreating back. His mouth went dry as he took in the man’s body language.
Tarzan was furious .
Suddenly nervous, Milo self-consciously licked his lips and brought his hand up to straighten his glasses, worried that Clayton’s carelessness with the gun had truly offended Tarzan.
Would this incident prove to Tarzan that Milo’s people were dangerous? That they couldn’t be trusted? If so, would he still seek Milo out, or cast him away like the others?
Milo’s stomach turned at the thought.
“Tarzan stay with Milo tonight.”
Milo started at the deep voice, and glanced up into Tarzan’s face. Though his body remained tense, his eyes held a certain softness that Milo liked to think was reserved for himself.
He nodded, whispering, “Alright.” even though he knew it wasn’t really a question.
After that night, Tarzan had begun to visit the camp more and more regularly.
The other scholars had taken it upon themselves to teach Tarzan what life was like to be a human being. They showed him books, conducted speaking drills, and even set up a projector screen to show him what life was like ‘back home.’
They were all as delighted as Milo first was when they discovered that Tarzan had a natural talent for learning new things, and continued to press him on his life in the jungle. ‘Who raised you?’ they would ask. ‘Why won’t you show us where you come from?’
But the questions were always met with a wan smile and a shake of the head. Not even Milo knew of Tarzan’s family, and though it stung to be left in the dark, Milo was hesitant to push him further.
For today’s lesson, someone had set up the projector screen and was busy showing Tarzan some photos of people from back home: what they wore, how they walked… the usual. Tarzan, in response, was very animated, and tried to imitate each projection that was displayed.
Still amused by Tarzan’s earlier impersonations of a dapper gentleman, Milo was left dazed when the next image was of a man and woman sharing a sweet and innocent kiss.
Why did they even have this photo?
Immediately serious, Tarzan stared at the picture and reached out to trace his fingers across the dark lines.
“What is this?”
Suddenly flushed and feeling as if all the air had been sucked out of the room, Milo fumbled for an answer. Thankfully, he was saved when Dr. Smith spoke up, saying, “Ah. It is called a kiss, dear boy. You do it to show that you love someone.”
A beat of silence, then, “If Tarzan love someone, Tarzan kiss?”
The doctor hummed, “Well, no. You need to make sure the other person loves you back first.”
Tarzan still hadn’t moved, and Milo could hardly look away from Tarzan’s hand as it moved along the picture as if trying to memorize its image.
After a pause, Dr. Smith moved some slides about and thankfully switched the image away from the kissing couple to one depicting a man offering up a bouquet of flowers to a young lady.
“Generally, you do things that make the other person happy.”
Finally, finally , Dr. Smith turned off the projector, and Milo’s eyes fell down to his forgotten pad of paper. He could hear the older man speaking with Tarzan about acceptable courting practices, but Milo could hardly focus on anything but the sound of his own heartbeat in his ears.
Practically scorching from the heated gaze resting on his face, Milo spent the rest of the lesson staring down at an empty page and cursed his own cowardice.
Even though Milo had made up an extra cot for him, Tarzan insisted on sleeping on the floor as close as possible to Milo’s own sleeping space. Milo had spent the first few nights worried about Tarzan’s comfort, but the man assured him over and over that he wanted to sleep in this spot, and would turn down any further efforts made by the scholar.
Strangely enough, Milo felt safest whenever Tarzan stayed in the camp. The man was an incredibly light sleeper, and had proven to be rather protective of his sleeping space. Whenever someone passed the tent in the middle of the night, Tarzan would crouch and wait until he was sure there was no longer a threat.
Milo tried not to find it adorable.
Even more strange, was how often Milo would come back into his tent to find ripe mangoes placed next to his maps, or a freshly picked orchid resting on his pillow. These small gifts always made his stomach clench with nervous pleasure, and he would spend the rest of the night with a dopey smile on his face as he charted the surrounding areas.
And if he didn’t share the fruit with anyone else? That was his own business.
It seemed as if, for the first time in ages, Milo truly felt content with his life.
He should have known it wouldn’t last.
The camp had only been asleep for a few hours when the sound of a fog horn broke through the silence. Milo sat up quickly, noticing Tarzan’s dark shape was already up and peering out of the tent’s flap. What had happened? Why was their return vessel back so early? It wasn’t supposed to come back for months...
Milo’s heart sank as he realized his own foolishness. The ship wasn’t early at all. The camp had been preparing for departure for the past week by assembling crates of extra food and tearing down tents — Milo had simply been too preoccupied with the jungle and new discoveries and Tarzan to realize—
Putting on his glasses, Milo allowed his eyes to land on the man across the tent who was growing more curious and tense as he noticed other tents within the camp become illuminated as their tenants reluctantly awoke.
Standing shakily, Milo willed his heart to return to a normal rhythm as he fumbled for a match to light his own lantern. The light came too quickly, and Milo couldn’t help but feel small and scared when Tarzan turned back with questioning eyes.
The taller man’s brow furrowed in confusion, and he was poised in a way that was undoubtedly protective. ‘He thinks we’re in danger,’ Milo’s mind supplied.
Quickly, Milo stepped forward and spoke softly, hand coming up to rest on Tarzan’s tense shoulder, “It’s okay. We’re okay. That’s our ship.”
Understanding lit up in Tarzan’s eyes, seeming to melt into Milo’s touch, “Your ship. Bring more people?”
Milo worried his lip, contemplating Tarzan’s possible reaction. Would the man be disappointed at their departure, or relieved? Milo’s throat tightened at the thought of Tarzan’s possible indifference. Surely, they had become friends during their time together? Or had Tarzan simply been keeping watch over the strange newcomers?
“No. They… the ship is here to take us back. Home.” Realizing that his hand was still pressed up against the other man’s shoulder, Milo brought his hand back and pressed his knuckles against the growing ache in his chest.
The man focused on Milo’s fist, and his eyebrows drew together once more, “Milo… is leaving?”
Unbidden, tears began to prick at the corners of Milo’s eyes, and he quickly turned away to start gathering a few drawings and notes into a neat pile on his small table. “I… We… we have to, Tarzan. We live on the other side of the ocean, and I… we came here to—” His hands were shaking. He pressed them flat against the wood surface to stop their trembling. Why was this so hard?
He knew why.
Milo cared for Tarzan. He cared about him more than he cared about anyone else in his life. Jungle-upbringing aside, Tarzan was different than anyone else he had ever known. In the best way, of course.
Unlike the others, Tarzan never treated Milo as if he were foolish or burdensome. He listened to Milo’s long-winded explanations and lectures—even encouraged them! He actively sought out Milo’s company and seemed genuinely pleased with the scholar’s general astonishment with the world. He made Milo smile—made Milo happy.
With Tarzan, Milo felt whole . He felt… He wanted...
He didn’t want to lose him, but how could he ask Tarzan to leave everything he’s ever known just for Milo’s sake?
Distracted by his thoughts, Milo started when two large hands trailed down his forearms and intertwined with his own. The heat of the other man was felt all along Milo’s back, and he couldn’t help but shiver when a puff of hot breath fanned across his neck.
“Milo stay. With Tarzan.”
His voice was soft and pleading, and Milo’s throat felt suddenly tight. “I can’t—It’s not that simple.” He swallowed tightly, “I… I have a home there.” Inwardly, he scoffed. Sure, he had a house and a job, but he didn’t have a life there.
Who was he kidding?
The hands released him, and Milo mourned their loss almost immediately. A chill went up the scholar’s spine as Tarzan moved away, and Milo had to stop himself from leaning back to chase the warmth and security the other man provided.
The silence pressed in around them as Milo’s brain worked frantically to think of something, anything that would make Tarzan understand. To fix this.
The sound of rustling cut through the air, and Milo distantly realized that Tarzan was leaving. Whipping around, Milo ran to the tent’s opening and called out, “Wait!” but the other man was already gone.
Ducking back inside, Milo’s eyes burned hot with tears and his chest bubbled with small sobs. Curling up on his cot, Milo allowed himself to cry quietly into his pillow, feeling more alone than ever before.
It was early, that much Milo could tell. His tent was dark, and the woods were just beginning to awaken with the sounds of life. Confused, Milo wondered briefly what had awoken him when he felt it again: a hand, gently moving through his hair and down his cheek.
His eyes felt puffy and raw, and through the early morning light, Milo could barely make out Tarzan’s strong profile. His heart squeezed painfully.
“Tarzan?” His voice was scratchy. What time was it? Why did he come back?
The hand stilled, and Tarzan’s deep voice broke through the darkness. “Milo. Come.”
Smothering a yawn, Milo sat up blearily, hand searching for his glasses. Did he fall asleep with them on? “Wait, now? The sun’s not even up.” His mouth couldn’t help but wobble shyly when he felt gentle yet strong fingers place his glasses on his face. “Thank you.”
Feeling both nervous and relieved, Milo pulled on his shoes and a jacket with clumsy fingers. Out of habit, he began packing a bag with his paper pad, when Tarzan’s hand stopped him.
“No, no map. Just for Milo.”
Heart thumping, Milo set the pad of paper down and followed the other man out of the tent.
Milo could hardly believe it. Tarzan had brought him straight to a troop of gorillas. His hand itched to start sketching, or writing, or… or something!
Instead, Milo stayed perfectly still as Tarzan walked to the middle of the clearing and began huffing and grunting. He pounded on his chest and turned to look at Milo, who sat frozen. What, was he expected to talk to them? He spoke 14 different languages, but gorilla was not on the list, thank you very much.
After a moment of internal screaming, Tarzan sidled back up to his side and gently took Milo’s elbow, leading him closer to the alpha male, who sat watching Milo with great distrust.
Tarzan crouched down in front of the large silverback, and pulled carefully at Milo’s shaking hand until he, too, was sat upon the floor.
The alpha stared down at Milo for a long few seconds, before thumping his fist against his chest and then placing the same fist against Milo’s sternum.
Glancing to gauge Tarzan’s reaction, Milo was surprised at the soft eyes and wide grin stretched across his face.
“What… what do I do?” Milo couldn’t help it. He was trembling like a leaf. This was simultaneously one of the most happy and frightening experiences of his life.
A happy hum rumbled from Tarzan’s chest, “You follow.”
Shakily, Milo bumped his own fist against his chest, before leaning forward to do the same to the great silverback. His breath caught in his throat has he felt the wiry fur come in contact with his knuckles.
The alpha huffed and grunted, seemingly pleased with Milo’s actions. He thumped his chest again, and Milo repeated his gesture. A great, loud screech was let loose, rattling the scholar’s nerves. Had he done something wrong?
His fears were eased as he noticed the other gorillas then coming forward to welcome Milo with their own greetings. Baby gorillas launched themselves at his chest, wrapping their small hands in the man’s shirt.
Unable to help himself, Milo’s eyes sought out Tarzan, and flushed when he noticed the other man staring back unabashedly, a content smile fixed on his face.
Cheeks burning, Milo tried to focus his attention back on the cute baby gorillas vying for his attention, and for the first time in a long time, Milo finally felt at home .
After a few hours, Tarzan coaxed Milo away from the gorillas. Carefully, he led him into the trees with a certain destination in mind. Burning with questions and distracted by Tarzan’s hand gripping his own, Milo didn’t comprehend the sounds of the ocean until they had nearly reached the edge of the jungle. As the trees thinned, Milo couldn’t help but gasp lightly at what he saw.
Tall and grand, the structure was made from the surrounding trees and resources, but there were obviously modern aspects of the home that made Milo wonder who built it. A squeeze to his hand pulled Milo from his thoughts, and he allowed himself to be guided across the bridge and to the front of the house.
Stepping foot inside, Milo could see that parts of the home were made with broken parts of a ship. Was there a shipwreck? How long ago? Why did Tarzan bring him here?
Curious, the scholar turned to look at Tarzan, but the man was staring down at an object lying on a crude table. Milo moved in closer to get a better look.
There, in a small picture frame, was a photograph of a family. A sturdy, no-nonsense man stood next to a beautiful woman with ringlet curls, who was holding a newborn baby in her arms. Milo’s breath caught in his throat. He knew those eyes.
There was no doubt about it. This was Tarzan’s family.
After a few moments of silence, Milo turned to face Tarzan, whose eyes were already focused on his own. “This is… this is your family.” The man nodded. Milo hesitated, “And the gorillas are your family.” Another nod.
He swallowed. “Tarzan. Why—Why did you take me here? Why did you let me meet your family?”
There was a pause, as Tarzan’s eyes lowered, seemingly searching for the right words to say. “The Smith doctor said that meeting family is part of courting.”
Milo’s heart stopped. Had he heard that right?
“What?” he breathed.
Tarzan watched the emotions play out on Milo’s face, and stepped even closer, almost crowding Milo up against the table.
“Courting means meeting family. Bringing gifts. Protecting Milo and giving him a home. So he can stay.” As Tarzan spoke, his hand drifted up and rested against the side of Milo’s neck, softly brushing his thumb under the straight line of his jaw and sending tingling shocks of pleasure down Milos’ chest. The movement suddenly reminded Milo of the moments spent after watching the hippopotamus and her calf. How Tarzan had pressed their hands against one another and cupped his face, leaning forward — “So Milo can be my family.”
Highly distracted by the gentle thumb stroking his throat, it took a second for the linguist to make sense of what Tarzan was saying. For a moment, he couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t think. Why was he shaking so much? “Wait. What?” his voice sounded far away. Had he heard wrong? “You want… you want me? ”
Tarzan huffed, bringing his other hand up to lightly trace his thumb across Milo’s chin. Milo’s lips trembled, and his tongue darted out nervously to wet them. He couldn’t help the rush of giddy anticipation when he noticed Tarzan’s dark eyes follow the movement.
Tarzan’s voice was low, “Tarzan always want Milo.”
Milo’s eyes crossed as Tarzan leaned close, lifting Milo’s face to meet his own, before pausing — as if waiting for Milo’s permission.
Throwing caution to the wind, Milo rose up on his tiptoes, slanting his lips against the taller man’s. The effect was immediate, as Tarzan’s tension seemed to drain from his body and he breathed a sigh against Milo’s lips.
Their kiss was anything but experienced, but it was perfect. Tarzan had no previous knowledge of kissing, and Milo certainly never tried kissing another person — let alone another man . Nevertheless, they worked slowly, testing the waters and figuring out what they liked best. Mouths slid hot and wet against each other — tongues dipping out tentatively to taste, and touch, and feel.
A large hand gripped Milo’s slim hip, bringing his body into contact with Tarzan’s. He gasped lightly, and Tarzan took the opportunity to slide his tongue up against Milo’s. The difference in height must have finally been too much, as Tarzan removed his other hand from Milo’s cheek, and placed it against the other side of Milo’s hip, easily lifting him up and placing him upon the table’s surface.
Flushed and breathing hard, Milo was sure he looked absolutely debauched. His glasses had fogged up slightly, and his lips felt sore and puffy. Under normal circumstances, Milo would never consider himself an attractive man, but with the way Tarzan was staring down at him, eyes blown wide and dark, Milo felt…
Milo felt beautiful.
If it had been anyone else looking at him in this way, Milo would have felt foolish for being so vulnerable. But this was Tarzan . The man that had occupied Milo’s every thought throughout this expedition. Milo had kept his feelings pushed back, too scared to hope for more, and now Tarzan was telling him that his feelings were reciprocated. Tarzan liked Milo. He wanted Milo. He… he wanted Milo….
Cheeks flushing almost painfully hot at the implication, Milo gripped the edge of the table and waited. For what, he wasn’t sure, but he knew he wanted it too.
The other man watched for a long moment, before allowing his hand to cup the linguist’s face. Pressing their foreheads together, he rumbled a soft, “Milo stay?”
A happy grin split over Milo’s face, and he leaned into the touch, whispering, “I’ll stay.”
It was nearly dark by the time Tarzan helped Milo get back. Much had changed since this morning: many of the camp’s items were packed away in crates, and large areas that had once been occupied by tents and tables were now bare and muddied. The scholar felt a small twinge of nervous apprehension at the thought of leaving his previous life behind.
A squeeze to his hand chased away Milo’s unease, and he smiled at the taller man at his side. He felt… happy. And he loved it.
Moving toward his tent, Milo’s hand was pulled back, and he turned to Tarzan with concern. The man pulled Milo’s fist up and brushed his lips against the knuckles before murmuring, “Tarzan will be back.” Releasing his hand, Tarzan turned and ran back into the jungle, leaving Milo more than a little curious. Shrugging, the linguist made his way back to his tent, ready to start on his own packing.
He knew something was wrong as soon as the flap closed behind him.
With alarming speed, something grabbed Milo from behind and slammed him face-down onto his worktable, causing his glasses to blend and press uncomfortably against the bridge of his nose. With the air knocked out of him, Milo was too stunned to cry out before a large hand closed over his mouth, effectively cutting off any sound.
“Good to finally have you back, Doctor Thatch. You’ve been quite the busy body around here, haven’t you?” The rough voice of Clayton sliced through Milo’s thoughts, and his blood turned to ice. Why was the man in Milo’s tent?
Milo’s breath caught in his throat as he felt fingers slide up the back of his shirt, and couldn’t help the sudden wave of nausea roll through his body at the other man’s touch. His arms jerked back to stop the hand’s ascent, but were quickly halted when Clayton gripped Milo’s thin forearm and twisted it up his back.
“Now, now, dear doctor. Let’s not make a scene, shall we? We wouldn’t want anyone to interrupt, would we?”
After a few painful seconds, Clayton began to let up on Milo’s arm, while shifting his other hand from the scholar’s mouth down over the back of his neck. Milo couldn’t help but grimace when the other man pressed down and hummed in satisfaction at his apparent submission.
“There, now. That’s much better.” Milo’s skin prickled hot with humiliation as his shirt was once again pushed up his back, a thumb trailing down the knobs of his spine with false tenderness. “I truly would have liked to do this earlier, but it seems that throughout most of this expedition, you’ve been otherwise occupied. ”
As he said this, Milo felt Clayton step in closer, and his stomach dropped when he recognized the other man’s unmistakable arousal pressed up to his backside. He lifted his head in an attempt to scream.
“S-stop—!” The hand on the back of Milo’s neck pushed down fiercely, causing Milo’s head to smack down against the table again, making his ears ring. The scholar couldn’t help but wince at the way his cheekbones ground against the unforgiving wood.
“ Hush, doctor. No need to make this harder for yourself.” Milo could just make out the sound of the other man’s belt unlatching over the blood pumping in his ears. He tried to kick out his legs, but his position didn’t allow him much room to do much damage. “ Enough. I assume that you’ve had much experience with the ape man, this should be rather familiar to you by now.”
At the mention of Tarzan, Milo’s eyes began to sting. How could this happen? Just an hour before, Milo had felt the happiest he’d ever been, and now he was about to—
A furious roar sounded from behind them, and Milo felt the hand around his neck squeeze for a split second before being yanked away. Snarls and grunts echoed throughout the tent, and Milo quickly pushed himself away from the table to see Tarzan forcing Clayton face-down on the floor, arm twisted back at a sickly angle.
The brawl had drawn attention, and Milo could hear voices draw closer to his tent, calling out, “What’s going on?” and “Doctor Thatch? Is everything alright?”
Too shocked to answer, Milo watched as Tarzan dug his knee into the other man’s back and held him immobilized. Both men were heaving, and Milo couldn’t help but feel satisfied with the pained gasps escaping Clayton’s throat.
A member of the camp stuck his head through the tent’s flap and called out when he saw the two men on the floor. Others began to enter the small space, and Milo watched as Tarzan’s eyes flickered back and forth between the newcomers and Clayton, who was still pressed harshly into the dirt. Finally, they landed on Milo.
Anybody could see how angry the man was, but Milo could also see the raw fear lining his face. How would the others react to seeing a member of their camp being pinned by the man? Would they believe Clayton’s side of the story without giving Tarzan a chance to—
Milo didn’t even realize he was shaking until the camp director placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing softly. Startled, Milo flinched away from the contact and spun around to meet the man’s eyes, which widened upon viewing the bruise blossoming upon the scholar’s cheek.
The director was interrupted by one of the men yelling, “Release him!”
Twisting back, Milo shakily raised his hands and tried to explain. “Wait! He—Tarzan was… He was protecting me.” He looked past the other men to rest his eyes on Tarzan’s. “He… protected me. From Clayton. Clayton tried to…” Milo’s throat began to close up and his eyes began to sting with the possibility of what could have happened.
The director seemed to understand, and gathered Milo’s blanket up from his overturned cot and draped it over the smaller man’s shoulders. Milo gratefully gripped the scratchy material to his body and tried to normalize his breathing.
The director then took a step forward, addressing the other men in the tent, “Doctor Thatch has been assaulted. Remove the Captain and restrain him until we can gather more information about what has happened here.” After a slight moment of hesitation, Tarzan reluctantly moved away from Clayton, who whimpered pathetically as his arm was finally released back to his side.
As the men shuffled their way out, the director glanced down Clayton’s body and scowled at the Captain’s open britches. He turned back to the linguist, and was momentarily surprised to see the man being held tightly in Tarzan’s arms.
Now, he understood.
After closing the tent’s flap, the director waited for a moment before addressing the linguist. “Doctor Thatch. I truly am sorry for what you had to experience tonight, but I will need to get some answers from you... before you leave.”
As expected, the comment caught the smaller man off guard, and he turned to the director with surprise in his eyes. “Sir, I… I’m sorry—”
The director held up a hand, “Son, you don’t need to apologize for wanting to be happy. If your wish is to stay here, I can help in that endeavor. But we need to speak about what just happened in here first.”
Milo’s face crumpled, and he shrunk into himself slightly, “I understand, sir.”
Motioning the two men to sit, the director waited a moment before beginning his interrogation. Their conversation lasted long into the night before the director finally bid his farewell, promising the two men that he would be back in the morning.
Pausing outside, the director breathed a tired sigh and glanced toward the tent housing Clayton. He was about to take a step when something caught his eye on the ground below. Moving his lantern closer, he could just make out three brightly colored orchids lying scattered and trampled in the dirt.
A small pang echoed in the director's chest, as he thought about the pain his Captain had caused, and how much worse the situation could have been if not for Tarzan's involvement. Anyone could see the man's unconditional affection for his head linguist. Most wouldn't understand the two men's relationship, but the director wasn't most people. He knew love when he saw it, and vowed to do whatever he could to ensure these men received a chance at it.
Carefully, the director made his way across the camp. Pausing just before pushing the flaps open, he allowed himself to take one last glance at the linguist's now darkened tent.
You take care of that boy, Tarzan.
He stepped inside.
The next morning, Milo slowly surfaced into consciousness. The first things he became aware of was how warm he felt, chest pressed tightly to a solid wall of heat. His mind supplied that the heat was moving, as his cheek slowly rose and fell with the unknown object's deep breathing. Vaguely, Milo thought that he should probably get up, but the gentle movement and warmth from under his body was too good to let go just yet.
Just as he could feel himself slip back into sleep, Milo felt the heavy weight across his back move, trailing lightly up his arm and back down again. The contact tickled slightly, and the sleepy linguist mumbled softly, shuffling more fully over the warm mass underneath him in order to escape the intruding touch.
A deep chuckle sounded from underneath his ear, and Milo realized with a deep flush that he was practically draped across Tarzan’s tan body. Sitting up quickly, Milo looked down from where he was now straddling the man’s thick, corded thighs and squeaked out a high, "O—oh! Good morning!"
Tarzan smiled up at the linguist, fingers idly trailing up and down the other man’s smaller, paler thighs, causing Milo’s stomach to twist pleasantly. Unsure of where to place his own hands, Milo gingerly touched his own fingertips to the hard planes of Tarzan’s stomach, watching in fascination as the muscles jumped beneath the sleep-warmed skin.
“Good morning, Milo.”
A hot coil of pleasure unraveled in Milo’s stomach at the sound of Tarzan’s deep voice, raspy from disuse during the night. He bit his lip softly, and watched as the other man’s eyes dilated and followed the movement. It still threw him, that someone like Tarzan could look at Milo — skinny and pale and sleep-rumpled as he was — as if he was something truly worth seeing.
“I’m, uh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to smother you in your sleep.” His mouth wobbled in a shy smile. Tarzan grinned broadly in return, relieved to see the other man happy again. He had worried at the way the linguist stayed silent most of the night, hiding his face in Tarzan’s neck and shaking while the larger man squeezed him close.
“Tarzan like sleeping with Milo.” As expected, his comment caused the doctor’s skin to blush a light pink, and Tarzan’s smile widened, pleased. Squeezing the other man’s hips, Tarzan pulled the linguist closer and tilted his head up, silently asking. Sighing happily, the linguist bent forward and nudged his nose up against Tarzan’s before finally sealing their lips together in a sweet, soft kiss.
Quiet, wet sounds echoed throughout the small space as the men’s lips slid against one another. Slowly, Tarzan’s hand slid up the other man’s slender back, before entangling his fingers in Milo’s rumpled hair. The man’s thick fingers scratched lightly across his scalp, causing a quiet moan to escape Milo’s lips, and he felt his heart thump painfully at Tarzan’s answering groan.
It was over all too quickly, as loud voices broke the bubble of silence throughout the camp. Milo felt Tarzan tense beneath him, and gasped as he felt the man flip him over onto the cot, crouching protectively over his smaller body. Surprised, the linguist stared up into Tarzan’s suddenly serious face, and strained his ears in an attempt to better understand what was happening outside.
The voices didn’t come closer, and instead were moving away from the camp. Milo was just beginning to relax again when he heard heavy footfalls stop just outside of his tent. Impossibly, Tarzan’s body tensed even further, ducking low and deftly slipping his leg off of the cot.
A throat cleared, and Milo heard the Director’s voice call out, “I beg your pardon, Doctor Thatch, may I come in?”
Relief flooded Milo’s system, and he gave a loud sigh, allowing his head to fall back on his thin pillow. He noticed how the tension seemed to melt out of Tarzan’s body as well, and couldn’t help but let a small smile show. Opening his mouth to allow the Director access to his tent, Milo suddenly flushed with the realization that he was only wearing a large sleep shirt, and was currently pinned down on his cot by their favorite "jungle man."
He came to his senses quickly, moving out from underneath Tarzan’s impressive form, and quickly began pulling on his trousers while calling out a quick greeting.
“Ah! Yes — g-good morning Director. Just, um. Just give me a moment!”
The man waited outside patiently while Milo made himself somewhat more presentable, and finally entered when he heard a high, “Come in!”
Stepping inside, the Director’s eyes immediately came to rest on Tarzan’s, and took note of the man’s stance. While not aggressive, the man was clearly protective of the young linguist. He stood just behind Milo, chin held high and shoulders back. He’s protective , he thought with approval.
Milo quickly offered him a seat, which was declined with a small hand wave. “I won’t be long. We’re scheduled to depart rather shortly. Just a few more things to wrap up, then we’ll be out of your hair.” The expression that crossed the linguist’s face was both happy and fearful, and he quickly pushed on, “Of course, we will be leaving a few things here with you, Doctor Thatch. I have taken the liberty of setting aside a few provisions that may prove to be useful in your future here. Please be sure to let me know of any other items you need, and I will do my best to grant them to you.”
Milo’s face twisted with surprise, “But. Sir, I —”
Holding up his hand once more, the Director quickly cut off the man’s refusal, “It is the least I can do, Doctor. You have provided us with a great deal of research on this voyage, and your company has proven to be entirely useful to our expedition. Not only have you single-handedly allowed us to study and interact with one of this century’s greatest discoveries, but you have also earned his trust, and dare I say — love.”
At this, the man’s face turned a bright shade of red.
“I would also like to extend my apologies, Doctor. For your experience last night. I have spoken to a few of the Captain’s officers throughout the night. They confessed that the Captain has made comments and threats toward you multiple times throughout our journey, but they truly believed the man to be harmless. Their confessions, along with your written account of the attack, should be enough to convict the Captain for his crimes.”
A relieved sigh blew past the linguist’s lips, and he sat down heavily on his messy cot. “So… so he’s. He’s on the ship now? Was that him yelling earlier?” The director nodded. “And what… what will you tell everyone back home? About me staying?”
A wry smile crossed the Director’s face, and with a small shrug, he replied, “What is there to say? This crew is contractually obligated to do their job during this expedition, and as I see it, you’ve more than completed the task. If you choose not to join us on the journey back, that is none of my business.”
Milo snorted in disbelief, “Nothing is ever that easy." He glanced back at the quiet man behind him and worried his lip, "And what about Tarzan? What will you tell them about him?”
Another shrug, then, “The truth. We met a man who was raised in the African jungle. We studied him. We left him here. As much as others may have a problem with it, I’m in the business of exploration, Doctor. Not enslaving people. I do not care to ruin the happiness of two men just so some scientists back in D.C. can take the credit for our hard work.” Glancing down at his pocket watch, the man sighed, “Unfortunately, time is not on our side, gentlemen. I would suggest saying goodbye to those closest to you here. And again, Doctor. Please let me know if you need anything more from us before we depart.”
With a final wave, the Director stepped out of the tent, leaving Tarzan and Milo alone.
Well, honestly, it felt terrifying to Milo. He had no idea if he could survive out here in the African jungle. He wasn’t the athletic type whatsoever, but just thinking about leaving this place — leaving Tarzan was enough to make Milo’s heart clench tightly in his chest.
He turned back to the other man, and felt his stomach flip at the dark focus in his eyes. Slowly, Tarzan stepped closer, and brought his hands to Milo’s cheeks, ducking his head down to rest his forehead against Milo’s.
“Milo stay with Tarzan.”
A bright, happy smile split across Milo’s face, and he rested his own hands against Tarzan’s much larger ones, whispering, “Milo stay with Tarzan.”
Saying goodbye to the crew had been both easier and harder than Milo had originally anticipated. Overall, the crew were genuinely happy for Milo, exclaiming their excitement for his lifelong adventure, and wishing him well in his future with Tarzan. It seemed that, despite his previous beliefs, the awkward, outcast scholar had unwittingly made a few friends during his time in the camp.
Who would have thought?
To the linguist’s surprise, the “few provisions” the Director had promised had turned out to be three large crates filled with supplies — blankets, pots, books, notepads, cooking oil, ink… It truly was a generous offering, and Milo felt overcome with emotion just thinking about the thought and care that went into his parting gift.
It felt like too much. But he wasn't about to reject the offer.
With a few last hugs and waves, the ship had finally set off. Tarzan and Milo stood near the edge of the cliff face as the ship sailed off into the distance. For a long while, strong arms wrapped around the smaller man’s torso as they watched the dark form grow smaller along the horizon.
Once the ship could no longer be seen, Milo closed his eyes and turned to press his face into Tarzan’s strong chest, feeling safe and warm in the man’s sure embrace. Even though he was leaving everything he’d ever known behind, Milo finally felt like he belonged. He was safe. He was happy.
He was home.