In a Harsh, Unloving World, Only the Strong Survive
Lee swung the axe over his head, hitting the split willow branch dead center and separating it clean to make two shorter logs. Replacing them with another piece of wood, he paused to wipe the sweat from his brow with his bare arm. He looked down at the pile of wood near his feet. Only twenty more and he was done.
It was a hot, humid early-spring day in Adult Camp 12 and perspiration dripped from his chin down his naked torso into the waistband of his worn jeans. He longed for something cool to drink like lemonade or even tea. He hadn’t had either in a long time, but he was more fixated on the lemonade because of the remembered tartness.
Seeing as how the soybean fuel needed to run the trucks was so precious, nobody in the district did much traveling anymore, not even to barter with the neighboring communities. He recollected that making lemonade required those sour, juicy fruits with seeds and thick, yellow rinds called lemons, and the only place you could find decent ones was quite away east, closer to the regions by the sea. Come to think of it, he hadn’t seen the sea either for more years than he could remember.
Life was hard, and that was a fact. The district leaders kept making promises that the central government was working diligently on a solution to finish the decontamination of the cities and bring the people back to re-inhabit them. Rebuilding would allow them to move into safe, updated dwellings with fully functional biospheres without the requirements of gen-packs for sanitation and power. Schooling would be available to all children through age twenty-four.
Once the adults had access to a precisely calibrated UNI-Indus screen and could imprint the necessary systelogics of the techno-sci trades again, they could settle back into gainful employment and everyone’s standard of living would go back up to pre-disaster standards. Given the passing of a few years or so, maybe they could even begin forming a true society with all the amenities their ancestors were used to and an honest to goodness life beyond the meager existence they eked out now.
After five hundred years of living in villages and camps, most of the nation still existed at a very primitive mid-twentieth century level, and it was almost impossible to believe in what the government said. They spouted the same propaganda that Lee’s parents said they heard from their parents and them from their own forebears going back generations.
Some blamed the collapse of the communications network early on; some attributed it to wide divergence in status between the haves and have-nots with no middle class, while others believed that the biggest problem was the lack of people overall. Although difficult to accurately count, the current national population was estimated to be only 0.2% of the four hundred forty million before… well, it had seemed like the end of the world. It almost was.
It was the sudden rise of a virulent and uncontrollable plague, termed the Catastrophe, which began in a large city in the Georgia District and ripped apart what was then the United States of America in the mid-23rd century. Common folklore told of some biohazard specialists who got careless with samples of the deadly virus, creating the unintentional contagion. As it spread in all directions, the victims swamped the hospitals until the medical personnel treating them also succumbed. So many fell prey to the fatal ravages that bodies couldn’t be burned fast enough which further spread the airborne illness. The Catastrophe decimated the population and millions died in agony.
By then the government had collapsed into chaos. The privileged few who could afford it, including the President and many in his administration retreated behind the safety of well-stocked, private enclaves untouched by sickness. Totally isolating themselves, they left the country to be swallowed up in a hundred twenty-five years of anarchy and rebellion before it was brutally put down and the districts evolved to rule each area individually. If it weren’t for the fact that the rest of the world was destabilizing at the same time, the country would’ve been ripe for takeover but every nation had its own plague horrors to worry about. Entire civilizations, as monumental and rich as their historic pasts once had been, were left in ruins.
After the Catastrophe and the ensuing civil wars there wasn’t much left of pre-apocalyptical rural America that their forefathers would have recognized unless they went all the way back to before the Industrial Revolution. Basic services dwindled to nothing, fields returned to their natural state, forests encroached on what had once been thriving towns. The masses had scavenged anything of value to build shelters and barns, but most of it was slapdash and hurriedly cobbled together.
It was the parceling of land plots into what would become their present-day villages under district leaders that finally led them back from the brink of nihilistic revolution, and slowly they had begun to rebuild and link back up. They had housing, and basic land line telephone service was to be used in emergencies only. Intermittent power and running water were available but almost everything was scarce. Many items once considered necessary were now luxuries.
The cities remained dangerous pockets of still-infectious disease, and the few brave or foolhardy souls who lived there were mostly immune or sought to benefit from it and refused to leave, turning them into warrens of crime and influence. Truthfully nobody was really secure anymore.
Much like the fiefdoms Lee had read about once in a tattered book about the old-named continent of Europe, the camps and villages were agrarian collections of people who lived together to farm and raise animals because there was supposed to be safety in numbers. His own camp was far enough away from old-named New Orleans, as the nineteen-year-old remembered enough from his rudimentary village schooling, that it wasn’t as much of a threat, but he still worried for his younger sisters back in their family village farther southwest in the Bayou District.
“Lee,” a sweetly feminine voice called from behind him. “Lee Boudreaux.”
Lee turned to watch his older sister, Evie—Evelyn actually—make her way towards him, and he smiled. They were two of the lucky ones. They ended up in the same adult camp together which didn’t happen very often and they were healthy and as happy as it was possible to be considering the circumstances. In fact, that they both had survived their trek from the family village they’d been brought up in was a near miracle since bandits preyed on the weak and innocent and many didn’t.
It had nearly killed Lee when Evie turned eighteen three years ago and it was time for her to be forced from their home, leaving him so she could forge her own way. But it was the sole means of handling the aggression that came upon the teens as they approached adulthood, a consequence of toxins that had rapidly built up in the blood of young people starting in the century before the Catastrophe.
Nobody could explain the violent behavior except that it might be a side effect of industrial pollution in the groundwater that had seeped into the crops in the field and the grain used to feed the livestock. Or maybe it was the overuse of live-antibody immunizations in childhood. As a result the villagers, particularly those in their adolescence needed to be protected, even from their own previously loving siblings. The idea came upon the leaders to expel the new adults within four months after their eighteenth birthday to journey outwards until they located an adult camp that would take them in.
With Lee, maybe it wasn’t wholly luck. His sister had looked after him for as long as he could remember, so she came up with a plan and used her smarts to ensure he landed on his feet. First by carefully noting the dangers and landmarks as she made her own way northward to Camp 12; then by keeping tabs on every pair of adults who mated in the camp. She gave them directions to the family village she had been raised in, one that was shrinking and would welcome a new mated pair, and she covertly sent notes back to Lee with them. When it was time for his own journey a year ago he followed her directions to the letter, and upon his arrival in camp his request to stay could not be denied because they were siblings. Lee had so much to be grateful for in such a loving sister.
Lee waved back at his sister and answered her unasked question. “I’m almost done here.”
Other than the two years separating them in age, Lee and Evie could have been twins. Both had very sleek, straight hair in a pecan brown shade, hers down her back and his about six inches shorter and tied back with twine. Their large eyes were a silvery gray and rimmed with thick lashes, and their faces were rather delicate with straight, narrow noses, pointed chins and smooth complexions that made them look younger than their years. Both were slim and approximately the same height—around five foot seven, but he was well-muscled through his shoulders, back and abdomen. The heavy work he performed for the camp in the orchards and fields kept him fit. If you were weak, you didn’t survive.
“Good,” she proclaimed, “because you need to get washed up.” Her smoky eyes twinkled mischievously. “Or have you forgotten that tonight is the Fairlamor?”
Lee rolled his eyes and smiled. “Like I’d forget that. No, I’m just adding to the woodpile to work out some of my nerves.”
Fairlamor, or to go by its full title, Luttepor Fairlamor, was one of big social events to hit the camps every month. Well, maybe social event wasn’t quite the correct term. It was a set of fights, a competition actually. Rotated among the six adult camps in their district, participants were pitted against each other in as many rounds needed to accommodate twenty at a time. Males fought males in the odd-numbered bouts, and women sparred with other women in the even until there were declared winners. The champions of rounds one and two paired off, three with four and so on. That most of the coed camps operated in a roughly fifty-fifty split between male and female made it simple to plan.
Attendance along with the rest of the workers from your camp at the Fairlamors was mandatory even though the leaders could not force participation. However, if you chose to merely watch and later you were acting out aggressively and causing trouble in your camp, you would be first warned, then sanctioned. If you continued to refuse, you ran the risk of exile. To be exiled was the equivalent of death because none of the camps would ever welcome you again. The idea was that everyone benefitted from a little pain and the ferocious desire to assert dominance was appeased temporarily.
There were no longer any experts around to attest to why regular athletic contests with a reward worth getting hurt over seemed to stem the belligerence among the young adults in the camps. In an environment where you had to be determined and intelligent to endure, nowhere was that more true than with Luttepor Fairlamor. By channeling the violence into a controlled battle for supremacy, they not only worked it out of their systems, they obtained a chance at the Holy Grail—the possibility of leaving the rough and tumble world of the adult camps for good and moving back into a family village.
All they needed was a spouse, and for reasons nobody understood, the mating ritual quieted the blood rage. That was what the Fairlamor was all about—making the villages safe and returning sane and responsible adults to them in hopes of raising up another generation. The winning couples were feted to a honeymoon of sorts away from the overcrowded gender-specific dorms, a night of intimacy in a cozy room of their own. Even if sex wasn’t the motivating factor among the hormone-crazed, the privacy probably would be.
Afterwards, they were given six months to court each other, an adequate amount of time, from the perspective of the officials, to devote to getting to know one another. If they felt they were compatible, they were mated in a civil ceremony and sent out with great fanfare to find a village to live in. This was not just a privilege, it was a duty. Due to deprivation and disease, the district populations had been sharply diminishing year by year. Divorce was unheard of, and the pressure to have children was of the utmost imperative, even in a world where life was harsh and not expected to see improvement. The adult camps could be frightening places to dwell. The Fairlamor provided perhaps the only way to reenter the mainstream of life, to put the sordid early-adult years out of mind.
For those who did not please each other, they were re-circulated into the Fairlamor system again after three months and allowed to participate in subsequent contests. Winners could petition for the right to mate another previous winner upon agreement by the community leaders. The record, at least from the gossip Lee had heard when he first arrived, was seven Fairlamor triumphs by the same man in one of the camps over on the Texas plains. At that point the society elders imposed their authority and made him select from the past winners. Either that or be exiled.
The losers… well, they went back to their daily tasks to try to win another day. The leadership had no alternatives. It was more or less the only way to keep the camps and villages going. Weaklings were cut out from the herd, or at least not allowed to mate and pass down their deficiencies. The retirement camps for these older single adults who never prevailed in a Fairlamor and were put out to pasture were even more depressing if that was possible. The contest abolished choosing a spouse based on looks, desirability or that overstressed but unnecessary emotion from the ancient storybooks called love. You fought for your right to take a mate, and the hostility bred inside each of them left no one with a personal option.
Lee had participated in ten Fairlamors since his arrival without winning a single one. He knew he was at a disadvantage because of his stature, but that just made him more determined. He used one of the rusting sets of weights that had been passed down through ages of young adults, and he ran every evening for an hour, rain or shine. He worked twice as hard in the fields as any of them. He was clear-headed and unwavering in his decisions to prove his quality, to return to the village of his birth with a mate and show them he was worth more than they gave him credit for. Even if his family scratched their heads in confusion for the choice he had been forced to make, he would not give up.
Sexually, Lee preferred men. He was still untested by any relationship, but he had known from an early age that he was, in the old-named word, gay. He was an oddity among his people which made him something to be feared and, therefore, he tried to hide the truth. Evie, his sister, had known since a stormy conversation six years before when their two oldest brothers had mocked him to tears. She did her damndest to protect Lee, trying to compensate for their parents who looked down their noses in displeasure. Father was a leader in their village, and Lee’s peculiarity shamed him.
The laws must nevertheless be obeyed, especially in a family as public as that of the village leader, and there was no legal retribution possible. Abusing a healthy child, precious to the community, was punishable by death. However, his youth was never what he could call happy after his preferences were discovered except when he was with Evie. It was with very apparent gratitude that his mother and father sent him packing almost to the day of his coming of age, washing their hands of their youngest son so they could forget he existed.
As far as winning a Fairlamor went, if returning to a family village required him to close his eyes and sleep with a woman to become experienced and eventually mate, he would do it. He masturbated like all the other men in the camp did. He was well aware of the furtive unions between the sexes that were illegal apart from the Fairlamors even while camp officials looked the other way because they relieved aggression amongst the young people.
But Lee was the only gay man at his compound, one who out of self-preservation didn’t advertise his individuality, and that presented a multitude of problems. The way he saw it, there would never be anyone for him unless he lowered his expectations and mated with a female. He could only hope that if the opportunity came along for him to do so he would be able to physically follow through. The thought of sex with a woman did not arouse him one bit.
“The players from the other camps have begun to arrive,” Evie exclaimed suggestively, twirling her shiny brown hair between her fingers. “Camps seven and eleven are already here and causing trouble, and nine and ten are on their way. Camp eight might not make it because their truck lost an engine.”
Lee didn’t say it but he hoped Camp 8 stayed away. That would mean fewer combatants and more of an equal opportunity for him. Camp 8, if he remembered correctly, was located in the northern hills and had an overabundance of sinewy men who were fine to look at but always overpowered him. This would be the best opportunity for Lee since his arrival, and he intended to take full advantage of it.
The night came soon enough but the inhabitants of Camp 12 were restless, made even moreso by the arrival of their district rivals. A lot of preening and verbal instigation went into the early phases of each Fairlamor contest as old antagonists flexed muscle and baited each other anew. Even with the setting of the sun in the west, it was nevertheless balmy outside, and Lee rejoiced that wearing the official Fairlamor garb of denim cut-off shorts and an old black t-shirt with the sleeves ripped out would be both comfortable and non-confining. But the humidity was still high and it wore on the nerves of everyone.
The Camp 8 truck had phoned in their apologies for their breakdown and said they were limping home so there would only be twelve competitions tonight, not the usual sixteen. Contestants were allowed to participate in one fight only and Lee walked around listening to the boastful conversations and smiling to himself. Since one was assigned to each bout by lottery, much of the pre-fight posturing was all just idle talk and wishful thinking anyways. Lee often spent the last hour before the Fairlamors trying to guess which ones he and Evie would have the best chance of winning.
The tension built as the time passed and it got closer to the start of the Fairlamor. The lists should’ve been posted by now informing each contestant what round he or she would have to fight in, but Lee noticed how the officials were huddled with the district leaders. The head of Camp 12, Cecil Peltiere, looked decidedly unhappy, and it made for ill portent. Sometimes the aggression was so thick by the time that the actual contest rolled around, you could taste it, and every delay increased the apprehension. It was nothing to see small fights break out among the spectators as they awaited their turn in the ring.
“What rounds are we entered in?” Evie asked once she found Lee in the crowd. Although by law they could not enter corresponding fights, being siblings and all, they often tag-teamed each other by calling in favors and put out the word to ask a friend to gang up on others who might knock one of them out of the competition early. The best Evie had ever done was the next-to-last woman in her bout, but she was eliminated by a stronger gal from Camp 10 that night. Lee had never lasted longer than mid-round, but he had put a lot of his spare time into refining muscle since the last Fairlamor.
“No lists up yet,” Lee shrugged. “Something’s going on.”
Grace Simon, a pretty eighteen year old with short black hair from his camp, walked up and stood next to him at the fence. His sister said she was sweet on him, but she would probably never win a Fairlamor because she was too petite. On the other hand, she was exceptionally bright, and sometimes Lee wondered about the wisdom of creating future generations based on brawn alone. Someone like Grace, although not for him, had a lot to contribute to the gene pool.
“Are you entered, Grace?” he asked, giving her a smile. He hated hurting people’s feelings so he’d never told her of his sexual preference. Although, if they both won a competition, he wouldn’t be put off by her. At least she cared about him.
“Not tonight.” She looked up at him with her sad pixie face. “Womanly troubles, so…” She didn’t have to finish the statement, and Evie threw her a pitying glance. “I really came over here to ask how long ago you put your names on the books. Virgil Camden has made several boasts about winning your sister this time.”
Virgil Camden was a bully from Camp 7. He was huge and very bulked out, with muscles that had muscles, and had been the winner of at least three Fairlamors. He never stayed mated, however, and there were several theories going around the camps about why. First off, he was dumb as a box of rocks with a mean streak that was only surpassed by his ego. He also allegedly liked his sex rough, and one of his proposed mates had to be sent to the infirmary after their night together. The third involved a rumor that he was secretly enamored with Evie Boudreaux and would keep trying for her until he took her to bed.
What Virgil didn’t know, or maybe didn’t care about, was that Evie despised him. Not only for his pompous King-of-the-World attitude that made the way he treated most people despicable, but especially for taking a fierce dislike to her little brother. It made sense to all but him that if you wanted to impress a woman, one way would be through flattery and making an effort to befriend a beloved sibling. Instead, Virgil had purposely elbowed Lee in the face during his second Fairlamor and left him with bruises that had humiliated the teen and taken forever to heal. She had never forgiven him and was saving every spare credit she earned. If the two of them ever won the same Fairlamor corresponding round, she planned to utilize her right and buy her way out of her mating with him.
“You know what Virgil does shouldn’t matter,” Evie said lightly. “They pick the names out randomly.”
Or so that was the idea. Nobody would have been surprised to discover that a fair amount of bribery went into deciding contestants for the bouts. Evie had found herself in too many corresponding competitions with him for it to be coincidence.
“What is taking them so long tonight?” Lee asked, twisting to gaze at the leaders still bent over what looked like a rulebook. He was keeping his fingers crossed to stay out of the way of the hulking bully.
Grace frowned. “You need to be more careful, Lee, about being so eager to sign up as soon as registration opens. Virgil was standing right behind you at the booth, so of course, he entered immediately. He’s probably already greasing the palms of the registration officer to fight for Evie.”
“Thanks, little brother,” Evie said sarcastically, punching him in the arm. “Maybe I’ll lose in the first match-up on purpose.”
There was an irritated rustling of droning human bodies as Cecil Peltiere took up a bullhorn. Few liked the short pudgy man and he made Lee think of spoiled milk. His skin was pasty and the irises of his eyes were such a light blue to be nearly white. The arena slowly quieted down.
“Ladies and gentlemen, a moment please of your attention. As I’m sure you have noticed, the Fairlamor lists haven’t been posted as yet. We have a small problem we are trying to settle and beg you to be patient.”
A problem could only mean one thing. Someone had tried to cheat by entering their name twice or too many people were signed up to participate in the scheduled number of rounds. The rules were clear on the number of applicants allowed in each fight. It was not a huge headache, but with the way that everyone was wandering around eager to get the Fairlamor started, it was plain that the anxiety was at tinderbox level. It would only take one hint of a worker being turned away because the Fairlamor was full, and the whole place would explode.
A full ten minutes went by before Cecil spoke again, explaining that, yes, too many people were signed up to accommodate them in twelve rounds but not enough for fourteen and he asked for more of both male and female volunteers to make up for the loss. You could tell that some of the camp members who had not signed up were considering it, but in the end only two men added their names to the list.
The Camp 12 leader addressed the crowd. “Seeing as that we still don’t have the required amount of fighters, the only solution is that for us to hold an extraordinary thirteenth contest, but not under the current confines. Round thirteen will be a mixed-gender round.”
An exciting buzz broke out amid the crowd. There was a flurry of activity as questions were asked about the differences in a bout where women would compete against men and how it would be governed. The explanation was simple; eighteen young people, spread equally between the sexes, would compete on a voluntary basis. Everyone agreed that this was unique. To make it more balanced since the genders weren’t only battling their own, the male’s dominant hand would be tied to his belt behind his back and a patch was taped over his right eye. All combatants knew the guidelines for the fight before signing up so the results would be final and binding.
For something so drastic, there had to be an explanation for this ruling apart from the desire to accommodate all who wanted to fight. The answer was provided by a tall, dark-skinned woman from their camp named Florence when she joined them to share the gossip she’d learned from a friend.
“Rumor has it that a Camp 9 Fairlamor couple was exiled yesterday and two other non-sanctioned couples wanting to be mated apart from the games went with them,” she said of the reasons behind the heightened belligerence. “The rest of the camp workers are angry, saying the offense wasn’t great enough to deserve exile. A lot of the leaders are afraid because they think they’re losing the power to control the camps and we workers will begin making decisions for ourselves.”
“So what will they do?” As sweet and reserved as Grace was, the young woman also had issues with the injustice of the Fairlamor system, one in which she would never be a champion because of her size.
“Oh, you know our leaders,” Evie quipped. “They will bury their heads in the sand and bend the rules on the competition to make us believe they’re doing this for our good.”
“Well, I don’t know about y’all,” Florence stated, “but I like the idea of the thirteenth round.”
Lee saw also an exceptional opportunity arising and he jumped at it. Instead of fighting nineteen other strong men, he’d only have to battle eight to be champion of the round. Let the females take care of themselves. It was a win-win situation, and he immediately raised his hand to volunteer.
Other hands went up more slowly as the officials counted and waited. Once nine men agreed to the terms, the round was closed to the males. Florence joined in immediately, but most of the women were slower to come forward, naturally leery of fighting in the same bout as the men. They were assured that the round would be closely monitored for their safety and overly menacing behavior would not be tolerated. The bargaining went back and forth until they had all eighteen recruits.
Soon the men and women in the first two rounds were preparing themselves by kicking off their shoes and presenting themselves to the officials, two leaders from each camp. The object of the fight was to trip or knock people down, thereby eliminating him or her. You were not allowed to grab clothing or pick up an opponent to throw them to the ground. No weapons of any kind were permitted, no kicking, hitting or punching, but sometimes people were injured if they were stepped on or stumbled over. Aggression, from the standpoint of intentionally harming another, especially if an established player hurt someone smaller or less experienced, was not tolerated and resulted in penalties or, in the worst cases, ejection. Strength and agility were needed, and knowing some defensive wrestling moves helped.
Grace accompanied Evie as she made her way up to the arena booth to check which fight she was assigned to, and they returned soon after in high spirits. “Number six,” she said smugly, and Lee could see her self-confidence rising. “I’ve fought and beaten every single experienced woman I’ll be going up against. And Virgil is entered in the eleventh, so I’m spared.”
“Lee,” Grace said quietly in a curious voice. “Did you know that someone else was paying attention to your entry too? As soon as you raised your hand to volunteer for the final round he saw you and did the same. It looks like Virgil isn’t your only worry.”
She discreetly pointed to a tall, blonde man with neatly trimmed facial hair around a pouty mouth standing some twenty-five feet away from them. Even though he could’ve sworn a pair of kind, blue eyes was watching them keenly a few seconds before, the newcomer was now trying to appear nonchalant, and Lee groaned. As he recalled, the man had first shown up at the Fairlamors half a year ago, although he wasn’t a teenager. He looked to be in his mid-twenties and Lee thought his name was Will or Bill… something like that.
The stranger was a good-looking guy with a broad chest and wide shoulders and a strong muscle structure in his core. He acted full of self-confidence and was observant and quick. Lee noticed those kinds of things in anyone who was competition. Well, maybe not the good-looking part, but that was just how he was made. He couldn't help being interested in handsome men with that kind of body type and a rugged appeal. It was eye-catching and sexy.
The other man was nimble on his feet with the kind of self-protective moves that kept one alive in the competition and, judging by his strength, agility and size, he should have been a winner in at least one Fairlamor. Ultimately, he always managed to get tossed out around the middle of the rounds, much to Lee’s surprise, so maybe he didn’t have the fortitude he needed to fight through to the end. It was rather a disappointment that such a fine competitor couldn’t finish as a champion and yet it would make him easier to take down since they were entered in the same round.
Evie smirked at Lee. “You certainly seem to bring out the beast in others,” she said, using her shoulder to indicate the intriguing man. “These guys look at your rippling muscles and go in for the kill? Way to work it, Lee.”
Grace shook her head with a laugh. “At least I haven’t heard anything negative about Will. He’s supposed to be a fair fighter and rather quiet. Nobody seems to know much about him, not even his fellow workers at Camp 10.”
Ah, so that was his name, Lee thought to himself. Will from Camp 10.
The Fairlamor began and Lee joined Florence, Grace and Evie to watch the opening rounds. The fights themselves were held on a raised platform seventeen feet in diameter and surrounded by a fence that was similar to what was used to corral the horses. The floor and rails were padded to prevent injury.
With the absence of Camp 8’s contestants the competition seemed to flow somewhat smoother with fewer challenges and winners spread more through the rest of the camps. He cheered with the girls when their fellow Camp 12 laborers took winning spots in a third of the early rounds.
“Round Six contestants, report,” an official walking amongst the spectators announced.
Grace and Lee sauntered up closer to the arena as Evie and the other women bared their feet and in their time entered the enclosure. Ten officials took their places among the contestants to judge the matchups, looking for those who violated the rules and took unfair advantage. The leader of Camp 12, Cecil Peltiere, walked up to the ring and signaled for quiet. “Lutte vous,” he shouted, and the Fairlamor was on.
Evie stood at the nine o’clock position flanked by two teenagers Lee had never seen before so it was likely they were new to the Fairlamors. She wanted to be champion as much as the next competitor, but often the newbies were overwhelmed and flat out scared and she avoided taking them on if possible. Ah, she needn’t have worried because two Camp 11 girls rushed in and flung the teens to the mat before they even could catch a breath. Evie retaliated by taking down their taller, more fit camp mate and made it look easy.
By the middle of the round she was struggling somewhat. Evie had launched herself at an unidentified girl who looked weak, but she was caught off guard and was almost thrown to the deck. With what appeared to be a painful twist of her back, she shifted sideways, and Lee indulged in a quick glance at her to make sure she wasn’t injured before calling out to watch a girl coming at her from across the circle. Minutes later, five losers left the ring, and suddenly Evie wasn’t doing too badly, going through two muscular girls who thought she’d be easy prey. She looked up and found herself the only one standing.
Lee jumped over the rail and rushed her, catching his sister in his arms and lifting her high. “Evie, you won, you won,” he shouted in glee, his face glowing as he hugged her hard. That six months from now she would probably wed and leave him at the camp alone shot through him bleakly and his silver eyes flashed with pain, but for now he’d be happy for her. This was the ultimate goal and Evie deserved it. Even better, her intended mate was James Falgout, another Camp 12 worker who was a good-natured man that everyone admired because of his quirky sense of humor, common sense and gentle disposition. He would make a fine spouse for her.
James joined them with a huge grin, and Lee clasped him on the shoulder in welcome. They would wait until the Fairlamor competition was complete before meeting with an official and setting up plans for their night together. Already the leaders were clearing out the ring for the next round, and Lee looked up to see Virgil Camden glaring at the happy couple. His angry gaze fixed on Lee and he smiled malevolently, causing the smaller man to shudder.
The rounds progressed, and Lee was happy for some of the winners, booing under his breath at others who didn’t fight fair. Bout eleven started, and Virgil wasn’t one of the contestants. He was standing at the railing looking like thunder.
“That’s not good.” Evie flicked her eyes between the bully and her brother, reading his mind. “Let me go check the board.”
She and James were back in less than a minute, and Evie was sputtering angrily. “Virgil cheated… again. I don’t know how he did it, but he isn’t on the list for this round. He’s fighting against you in the thirteenth.”
Lee wrapped his arms around himself, suddenly cold. Tussling with the bigger guy was not how he had envisioned ending the Fairlamor, and all the positive outcomes he’d dreamed of evaporated. Virgil would be ruthless, especially now that he realized his hope of mating with Evie was probably gone forever. He knew Virgil would be gunning for him and he wasn’t going to take it easy either. Lee anticipated cuts and bruises, and the man wouldn’t even care if he was sanctioned for his brutality. Virgil would consider any punishment he earned worth it.
At the conclusion, Lee couldn’t stop time and it came down to the thirteenth and the final round soon enough. Final fight of the night, the official chanted. The spectators were amped up for a bout where women and men would be in the ring together. Lee just closed his eyes and prepared to meet his fate.
Evie caught him up in a loving hug and looked into his eyes. “Take care, little brother,” she warned softly, flicking her gaze at Virgil who was rudely pushing past people in his way to get to the arena. “Don’t take any chances with him.”
“Don’t worry, Evie,” he replied. “I won’t act stupidly. I'm aware of what he can do.”
“Good luck.” Grace gave Lee’s hand a squeeze and beamed at him. Despite the fact that she liked him a lot and would probably never get a chance with him, she wouldn’t do anything but wish him the best. He nodded with a smile.
Eighteen fighters formed a knot next to the Fairlamor arena where they removed their shoes and the men allowed themselves to be bound and have one eye taped. Lee kept his good eye fixed on Virgil, knowing he stood the best chance of survival if he stayed far away from him. The previous round ended with a winner from Camp 11 and the circle cleared out. Lee and the other young people stepped up to the platform. He saw Evie and James talking to Grace as he milled around close to the middle waiting for Virgil who took the twelve o’clock position in the circle. He walked directly opposite. Virgil glared at Lee in challenge, and the younger man swallowed nervously.
Cecil stepped inside the fence, waited for the crowd to simmer down and announced, “Lutte vous”.
Virgil immediately went to cross the circle, aiming for Lee as expected, but he was intercepted by a teenager with coppery skin to his left who was new to the competition and unwisely tried to take him on. A more experienced brawler from Camp 11 approached the pair from the rear which only delayed the elimination of the greenhorn by minutes. A pack of veteran girls swooped in on three novices and left them crawling off the mat in tears.
In the meantime, Lee found himself in the crosshairs of a large and practiced redhead from Camp 10, and he dully caught sight of the man named Will rushing in to take down his teammate, a smaller brown-eyed man who often bragged about the superiority of their camp. By the end of the first match-up, all five inexperienced players were leaving the ring as well as one of the better female combatants from camp 11 who had tripped over her own feet.
Out of the corner of his eye Lee watched Will emerge victorious from his first fight and go after another man who was dispatched right away, and he had to admit the man was a good fighter. Lee was still battling the Camp 10 man, staying tenaciously on his feet despite all attempts to make him stumble. He was only vaguely aware of what the girls were doing but that wasn’t important. He caught Virgil making an illegal throw with his elbow into the gut of a blonde kid from Camp 11 seconds after his own opponent hit the floor. Four girls in a group fight, including Florence, managed to eliminate a pair of them, and there were suddenly only six contestants left: Florence, Virgil, Lee, two unknown girls and the Camp 10 brawler, Will, who didn’t seem to be targeting him as feared.
The two strange girls almost distracted him when he saw Virgil coming at him and turned his attention back to his own goal. Florence had the misfortune to be in Virgil’s way, and he popped another elbow move and nearly took her out. She came up screaming foul with a bloody lip, but Lee and Will were already on it, suddenly allies. With an angry nod to each other, they double-teamed the bully as the other girl approached the three of them to assist. Lee snarled and bumped Virgil hard from the front, and Will caught him with a shoulder thrust. Florence crouched behind him; he tried to back up but she was at his knees, and he had no room to retreat. Over her back the thug flew into the mat and came up spitting in fury.
Florence jumped to her feet, and turned to face him. Even though he was out of the round, she made the mistake of assuming he hadn’t fallen and faltered in a misstep while not quite balanced. The Camp 9 woman who had just scored in her previous joust caught her around the waist, and they flew across the ring in a combined heap. The round was over, and two contestants were left standing—Lee and Will.
Immediately Camp 12 erupted in raucous cheers, stomping their feet in overjoyed approval to see one of their own boys win the round. With a scream of delight Evie went through the fence and plastered herself against Lee, kissing him firmly on the cheek.
“Congratulations, Lee,” she whispered, the only one present who truly knew what this meant to him. And then the cheering faded into dead silence as the spectators finally realized who the other winner was, and he was no woman.
Lee gazed around him in stunned surprise, scarcely hearing the applause. He accepted Evie’s praise with a dazzled smile and felt like he was riding one of the air currents whipping around and chilling his sweaty body now that the bout was over and his adrenaline was ebbing. As tirelessly as he had worked out and as much as practiced and strategized, he knew his chances of winning a Fairlamor had always been slim to none. He was amazed that he had managed to beat Virgil. That he would stand in the winner’s circle as one of two male champions was an impossible quirk of fate.
But the other winner of the round was… Will. A man he didn’t know and who, in all likelihood, could be one of the nicest people he’d ever want to meet, but still male. Normal heterosexual male. Lee didn’t dare look directly at him and was afraid to, afraid of the horror he’d see etched on his expression. It was a double-edged sword because, as much as it was his heart’s desire, he knew Will would never accept him. Even now, he was probably wondering how to get out of the contract. There were legitimate ways.
Half a shocked minute went by and the onlookers began to bray in anger. Two men! To the best of everyone’s knowledge this had never happened before. There were cries that the round should be declared illegal for several reasons; even from the get-go that men and women were both registered. Virgil’s overly aggressive attitude came up, and finally the perspective that the spirit of the Fairelamor would be tarnished by letting the win stand.
As the spectator’s ire was unleashed, Lee stood with his head bowed in humiliation. He might be the dark horse, but he’d won the Fairlamor round fair and square. To listen to those around him he was a villain who cheated much like Virgil always did. He struggled not to cry as the mob tried to snatch his victory from him and even Evie’s hand on his arm did little to comfort him. He still had not hazarded a glance at Will, and for all he knew, he agreed with the rest of them. He could do little but hope the officials stood firm, but even if they persisted, it was going to be a hollow victory once the dust settled.
Cecil Peltiere, Camp 12’s leader, waited for the hubbub to die down and the crowd to quiet. He huddled with the rest of the officials who knew of no precedent to this situation. He was the kind of leader who found humor in many instances where it didn’t occur to others, and to his mind this had a touch of the absurd. However, he had made it very clear at the beginning of the Fairlamor that he would honor the pact that the participants of the bout had entered into. There were ways either Lee or Will could deal with it privately, but Cecil refused to nullify the results.
This left a lot of people, particularly the women involved in the final round, seething, but everyone saw Florence and the Camp 9 woman take each other out. There simply were no female champs. Florence wasn’t even in the majority of the naysayers; she was friends with Evie, admired Lee and had guessed his secret by the way he didn’t treat the females like chattel nor indulge in the frantic hook-ups that went on behind the backs of the leaders. No offense, but the last thing she wanted was to be mated with a man who wanted another man and would have to force himself to enjoy being with her.
So while the grumbling participants of the other camps were escorted back to their trucks and buses and Virgil was summoned before a tribunal of officers to be told that his unsportsmanlike behavior had earned him a six-month suspension from the competitions, the champions prepared for their special night.
The usual procedure following the Fairlamor was that officials met with each victor separately to explain the course of events for the next twenty-four hours and give him or her a chance to buy out the Fairlamor contract. It was not uncommon that a potential pair already knew they were not suited. They might have day-to-day contact from working in the same camp and not get along or, by whim of fate, be two previous mates who found themselves winners again. For the cost of fifty credits, you could have done with it and try again at a later date.
After the private meeting came a quick, tepid flow-down shower, the only kind to be had in the camp, and change of clothing, and the mated pairs were brought together. Even though the Fairlamor duties were drummed into the ears of every member from the time they entered their camps, there were always a few questions about the six-month courting procedure. This usually went quickly, and in no time they would be escorted to their private room where they would be served a hot meal and spend the night.
None of this transpired with Lee. As soon as the Fairlamor arena emptied he was unceremoniously shoved into a locked room and left alone. The floor was bare. There was a large bed in the corner that at any rate appeared freshly made with a nightstand next to it. A scarred dresser with empty drawers stood between the window and a vacant closet. On the other side of the closet, a closed door led into what would probably be a primitive bathroom. Off to the far end of the room Lee spied a very rundown couch and rickety end table next to a cookery cabinet with a single gas-burner, a large set of open shelves and an old-fashioned sink that dripped water. He chose to sit near the picnic table on a wooden bench.
A few minutes later a young woman with thick auburn curls and pale brown eyes whom he suspected might be one of the leadership clerks walked in and dropped a small bag of his clothing that two of his bunkmates had hurriedly packed. She also set down the standard Fairlamor contract in front of him, many of the legal phrases that would not apply to a same-sex mating crossed out, and she made a face when he insisted on reading it before signing with the stub of a pencil she provided.
Next up, she passed him a piece of paper and a plain envelope with instructions to write down his sexual requests. Lee, who had never heard of such a thing and suspected she might be pulling his leg, had to ask again what she meant, and she rolled her eyes impatiently. “Write down what you want that other guy to do to you.” Lee blushed bright red but complied quickly. She put the paper, unseen, into the envelope and left.
Lee sat huddled on the bench wondering what was going on. It was apparent that the officials considered the outcome of the last round a joke. The Camp 12 leader might rule them with a more humorous hand than the other leaders did, but Lee had been able to read in his eyes how ludicrous he thought the idea of two men spending the night together as Fairlamor mates could be. Except in terms of harassment, Cecil wouldn’t care that Lee was gay or that he yearned with all his heart for a man like Will to love him. It was why all these months Lee had kept his secret. But if a miracle happened, a one in a million chance where Will took him up on his offer, that Lee liked men would be broadcast all over the district. Despite the probable consequences, it was worth the sacrifice if Will would follow through.
Ah, but who was he kidding? Will would definitely not go through with this mating. He’d buy his way out and the camp would be fifty credits richer. That was the answer; knowing Cecil, he was probably looking at financial gain from this, expecting the dual buy-out. Lee would never foolishly consider squandering his own meager wealth to do the same. He was looking at the loss of his concealment and his pride taking a huge hit, but he had too much self-respect to back down. He wanted this night with Will so badly, so why would he sabotage it? Even if Will didn’t want him.
He allowed his dreams to fill him. The note he’d sent to the other man had been short and concise if not very adventurous. Since Will would probably be repulsed by any form of affection from him, Lee didn’t want to frighten him away. His principal desires weren’t even overtly sexual. Lee wanted to be held in the arms of a man who could at least pretend to love him, and he wanted to trace his fingers over that man’s bare skin and make a memory. One that would probably have to last the rest of his life.
He was pacing the room twenty minutes later when the same overly self-important secretary walked in and passed him a sealed envelope with the words ‘Will Theriot- Requests’ on it. “From the other man,” she said succinctly before turning and edging through the door.
He opened the letter to find an empty piece of paper, and his nerves took flight. A blank request page—what did that mean? Lee wasn’t feeling very good at the moment. The only thing that made sense was that this other man… this Will Theriot… was so horrified at the thought of being with him that he couldn’t itemize a single request. Or he had no intention of going through with it. He was going to buy his way out of the night; Lee was sure of it. He had gained nothing with his win. His first and only chance of obtaining what his heart desired, and it would be wasted. He was so distraught he wanted to cry.
He didn’t get a chance. The door opened to the young clerk, and she was beckoning to somebody in the hall. “Come on,” she said earnestly, and Will stood there, looking embarrassed. The two men regarded each other in silence across the five feet of wooden floor, and Lee saw in Will’s eyes the same uncertainty he felt. He blushed and tried to make his body stop shaking, finally turning to look out the window into the inky night.
The door opened again, and Cecil and another Fairlamor official stepped inside. They both had jovial smiles on their faces. The stranger tugged on his collar in an impatient way like he had much better things to do, and Lee figured he was anxious to return to his camp. His own leader looked between the two uncomfortable young men and rubbed his hands together.
“Well, men, you both know the rules,” Cecil smirked. “I’m not sure what mating regulations apply to you, seeing as how neither of you can bear children, but to each his own. Now, I am a busy man so let’s get this started.”
Lee’s mouth went dry. Common decency said he should arise to be dismissed, but his shaking limbs nearly wouldn’t allow it. He bravely met the other men’s eyes before fixing his gaze back on Will; he would keep eye contact so the man knew exactly what he felt being refused.
“Lee Boudreaux, are you willingly entering into this arrangement?” the official intoned in distaste.
“Yes,” he whispered, trembling and swallowing hard. Let this man know that he was ready to go through with the bargain.
“William Theriot, what about you? Do you agree this is what you want?”
Here it comes, thought Lee. The refusal. The money that would be exchanged so he wouldn’t have to sully himself.
“Yes.” The voice was clear and decisive, a baritone that did not waver. Lee’s eyes went wide, and Will smiled at him.
“As you wish,” the man said and left the room. Cecil stared at them both, his eyes going cold before his training as a leader chased the unpleasant grimace off his face. Turning, he walked out, shutting the door behind him.
“You… you didn’t back out,” Lee stuttered in disbelief. He looked up at Will’s toned body towering over him by a good eight inches and couldn’t help but notice his broad, bronzed shoulders spreading out of the torn armholes of his shirt into the sinew of a long back and ripped abdominals. Arduous labor and durability transferred into lightly-furred, ropy, vein-crossed arms and bulging thigh muscles beneath his shorts. Wide hands with long fingers and elegant feet incongruous with the rest of his body.
Now up close and indoors, Lee finally got a good look at the man who agreed to spend the night with him. His blonde hair fell into loose waves just above his shoulders and he was square-jawed with a slightly crooked nose, as if it had been broken in a fight at one time. Will had a tidy sparse ring of pale blonde hair circling his mouth with pouty lips a natural, dark pink. His eyes were the brightest sky blue against deeply tanned skin. The eyes drank him in, crinkling in pleasure without a single doubt or worry.
“Why would I back out?” Will asked, staring at him firmly. “I’ve been trying to trying to work up the nerve to speak to you for months. I know who you are, Lee Boudreaux.”
Know him or not, what Will saw for the first time this close up was so beautiful it took his breath away. Lee was a quiet, well-spoken teenager with a slender form who could nestle into him and give Will someone to hold and cherish. It was clear that he pushed himself, building strength where it was needed. Lee was all muscle and no fat, the result of hard work in the fields and barns, and he had a healthy glow from spending all his time outside.
He had deceptively delicate features that spoke of a patrician ancestry long ago and the most fascinating silver eyes below impossibly long eyelashes. Will wanted to run his fingers through his glowing brown hair that was fine and straight and pulled back into a messy ponytail. Slim hips flaring into a firm ass and what he was sure would be a package proportioned to his body barely hidden in his cut-offs. He assumed that Lee was probably untested in a relationship.
“What do you know?” Lee asked in a hushed voice. How could anyone outside his camp know him when no one he worked with was familiar with who he really was?
Will gazed at Lee as if seeing him from far away. “Seven months ago I watched my first Fairlamor at Camp 11. I had only been in the area for three days so the leaders suggest I just observe, even though I was familiar with the competition from the last district I lived in. I was, uh… curious to see if it was different. What I saw was discouraging because of the way they matched the winners. It was all going by the book and male with female and that wasn’t what I wanted.”
Lee gaped at Will in astonishment. Could Will be saying what he hoped he had heard?
“I saw you with your sister, Lee. You fought the eighth round that evening, and you were taken out hard by Virgil Camden from Camp 7 when he pushed you. You hit your head on the fence and got a gash here.” He pointed to a spot on his temple; a scar of that night still remained. “You were bleeding, and Evie was holding a rag to the wound to mop up the blood. She was upset that he’d hurt you… again. She asked you why you kept trying so hard when winning wasn’t even going to give you what you wanted.
You got mad at her and asked, ‘Why bother with what I want when there are no other men like me in the district who could love me back? At least winning will get me out of the adult camp and back into a family village even if it’s with a women. It might not be personally satisfying, but at least I’d be out of this shit hole.’ You walked away hurt and angry, but it gave me hope for the first time.”
Will stared directly into his eyes. “We have been searching for each other our whole lives, Lee.”
Lee opened his mouth to speak and closed it. There was a ringing in his ears that must be affecting his hearing but the movements of the man's pretty mouth matched the sounds he was making. Lee thought he was going to stop breathing. Or begin to bawl like a baby. After all the waiting and anxiety that he would never find that special someone to love him, here was the most incredible twist of fate to bring such a person directly into his life, into his arms.
He held up the blank request form, confusion battling his hope. “You didn’t write anything, and I thought…”
Will looked at him with sympathy. “I’m sorry if you misunderstood, Lee. I could hear the officials talking outside my door and making fun of us. They were calling us names and taking bets on whether either of us would go through with the ritual or ask to buy out. I didn’t fill it in because I thought they might open it and didn’t want to give them any more reason to act like assholes.”
Lee nodded because it made sense. He could see his own request list lying on top of Will’s bag of belongings, the envelope slit open, and he felt sick.
Will caught the look. “Don’t worry, Lee, I opened it myself.” He smiled. “I liked your requests. A little general, perhaps, but that’s understandable.”
Lee looked at Will shyly and saw no taunting there, just complete understanding. He felt himself start to relax and believe that maybe this was real. Maybe they really were each other’s answer to unspoken prayer.
“So what should we do now?” he asked shyly, biting his lip.
Will felt his heart racing. Lee was so adorable when he was nervous, and the way his cheeks blushed just the lightest shade of pink above the tan made him even more lovable. It would be important not to push too hard or frighten him by acting overly aggressive. If he was as chaste as Will suspected, he would need time to grow accustomed to the pleasure a man could provide. He could picture Lee in his bed moaning with need and seeking his release from Will’s body, and it made his cock twitch and fill. But slowly, he had to go very slowly and teach Lee how to love.
Will did not trust the leaders, least of all the oily Cecil Peltiere who ran Lee’s camp. The Fairlamor gave them tangible rights, but whether or not the letter of the law would be followed and they would receive the same consideration as the other mated couples was unclear. He and Lee certainly deserved every minute of the six months of the ritual to get to know each other, even if he already instinctively believed they would make a compatible couple. It was probably a pipe dream that after the night was over the camp officials would be lenient in their treatment of them. As oddities, they would be tormented in the camps and unwelcome in the villages, no matter what kind of people they were on the inside. But Will had already sworn to himself that he would protect his new mate no matter what.
Lee was still staring at him with wariness written all over him, and Will tried to put him at ease. “Let’s sit down and get to know each other first,” he suggested. He guided Lee over to the ratty couch and they sat next to each other without touching except for their thighs. He began to speak.
“My name is William Thomas Theriot, and I’m twenty-five years old. Like most, I have been on my own since I turned eighteen.”
He talked of coming of age in the dead of winter, and his home district was the North Woods in old-word Maine near the Canadian border. His family loved him and did not want to send him out, but that was the law. However, they knew he would perish if he tried to leave in sub-zero weather, so they waited for the spring thaw. When it was time, he traveled in a southerly direction, hoping the climate would cooperate.
“Even with waiting until spring it was a difficult trip outwards. Not long after I took to the road I was robbed, beaten and left for dead by an itinerate teacher who had befriended me. Like most bandits he was after my knapsack and took everything I owned. I stumbled towards a nearby family village I had just passed through, and when I collapsed again two boys out hunting took me home. The community let me stay until I healed. They were kindly people and two weeks later when I departed, they gave me a new pack and supplies. I eventually found my way to a camp in the Mohawk Valley.”
Will talked about being conditionally accepted, and he began to learn a trade in leather-working and made a few friends. Because of the proximity to what had once been New York, the largest city in the country, it was a rough place, and Will began to notice the disorganization and lack of firm leadership. Without a mating ritual like the Fairlamor system; couples were allowed to fall in love, and along with the toxin-induced hostility, it led to explosive violence. When his camp mates found out he preferred men, they quickly advised him to leave because many of the residents were known to be extremely intolerant.
“I went to the leaders that same week and asked to depart, and my request was granted without question.”
That was the way of the world—most of the camps were overflowing so one worker made no difference, and if they kept you against your will, the leaders realized you could start trouble. So they let you leave; you could go anywhere you liked, but once you stepped foot out of a camp you were never allowed to return. It didn’t bother Will. He was on his way to southern climes and had no intention of asking back in.
“For over six years I gradually moved south and west. I have been in a lot of camps, staying a couple of months here and there until I learned the lay of the land and met the people. I put in just enough time at each to discover that not one of the camps held a resident like me who would make me happy and give me what I needed.
“I don’t know what happened to other men like us. I have heard there used to be many. If there were any who preferred men in the districts I traveled through, they were keeping their desires well hidden. I learned to be careful and watch, but sadly, I would have to pack up and move on.”
Realistically, both men reflected that it was probably the post-Catastrophe conflict that was the cause. Much like the Holocaust some eight centuries ago, the civil war that raged unchecked killed off many people considered undesirable to the community. For all the gains that had been made socially just before the plague hit, all it took was a few intolerant men full of hatred and violence to undo years of progress. Men like Will and Lee had disappeared by the score.
Will always felt like an outsider, lonely, his heart hungering for a man to love. It was a matter of keeping his goal in mind and not giving up, and his need for a man was too strong to pretend it didn’t exist. Many times he despaired, his resolution failing in the face of reality, but he felt it in his bones that what he sought was just over the far rise or across the next river.
Like any part of society, some camps were better than others. Big and small, well turned out or barely getting by, sometimes too many members of one gender or equally assigned, it didn’t matter. He’d go before the leaders, present his credentials and ask to stay. The more he moved, the more difficult he found being accepted. Many believed there was something shifty about a man who moved about so freely. When he finally came upon Camp 10 in the Cenla district and they grudgingly granted him permission, he knew it was time to put down roots. He could barely believe his good fortune when he came across Lee and overheard his conversation with his sister.
Will smiled at him and his blue eyes seemed to look right into Lee’s soul. “I don’t know how to say it but that I was led here.”
Lee couldn’t disagree.
His story wasn’t nearly as sensational. “I’m from the Bayou District down south. It’s a poor area where the land isn’t much good for anything nowadays, and the villages are dying. I’m one of six children, the youngest son, but I have two small sisters still at home. My father is a village leader, and he and Mom kicked me out when I came of age.”
Will winced and reached for Lee’s hand, stroking his fingers gently while the younger man continued. “I used to think that I wanted to go back to my village after I mated, but now I don’t know. I never thought I’d…” He blushed and looked down into his lap. “I never thought I’d find anyone either. But I know enough about my village that I never want to return there. They would not accept us, and we would be outcasts. As much as I love my sisters, my village doesn’t deserve my loyalty.”
“I’ve heard it’s different out west,” Will ventured, pleased to hear Lee speak of a future with him in it. “More freely structured, not as much oppression and people living happier lives without being bogged down by ineffective regulations. There are even places in the mountains where you don’t have to live in a camp or village. You can build yourself a cabin and stow yourself away to live your own life. Maybe if we decide to stay together we could travel there and see if the stories are true. It can’t be worse than living here.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Lee agreed enthusiastically. He paused for a moment, in a thoughtful frame of mind. “Why didn’t you ever win at the Fairlamor before tonight?”
Will chuckled. “I think that would be fairly obvious. I didn’t want to. Certainly you can see the problems. If I want to sleep with a man, I wouldn’t want to be successful in a contest where I’d end up with a female. Yet, the Fairlamors are mandatory and entrance heavily encouraged, even though I’m at an age where the aggression is no longer as intense in me. That was easily solved; I entered, fought hard enough to make it look like I was trying and let myself be defeated halfway through the round. I got away with it too.”
Lee nodded. This dovetailed with his first opinion of Will—skilled, muscled in all the right places so that he should have won easily but never finishing strong. It made sense if it was on purpose. He liked that Will was so honest with him and would not compromise his own dreams. He made Lee feel ashamed for giving in to peer pressure, but it was unintentional on Will’s part. He was doing his best to put him at ease so they could get to know one another socially first, and it made him feel cared for.
“Are you hungry, my love?” Will asked, touching him tentatively on the knee. “When did you last eat?”
Lee thought for a moment, smiling inside at his new pet name. “Hours ago. I skipped lunch to chop wood and work out my nerves over tonight.”
Will frowned. “Well, that won’t do. I’m hungry myself.” He stood up. “Come with me.”
They discovered they were no longer locked in. The room they had been assigned was not one of the normal Fairlamor rooms but part of the unwieldy office complex with its long tunnel-like hallways and locked doors off them. Many of the unlocked rooms were bare and appeared to have no real use. By backtracking when they got lost or ended up at a dead end they presently arrived at the center where they found the same irksome clerk on duty.
“We would like a shower and something to eat,” Will announced pleasantly and she took her time paying them any mind. It appeared she was in charge.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not authorized…” She wrinkled her freckled nose at them.
He gazed at the tag affixed to the pocket of her uniform shirt and bent over, planting his hands firmly on the top of the desk. “Miriam,” he addressed her in a still-charming manner. “Under the guidelines of the Fairlamor, we are entitled to several things. A room, which you have been so gracious to provide, a shower which both of us need and a hot meal. Neither of us have eaten recently. Do I have to find Mr. Peltiere or, even worse, complain to district officials?”
Miriam looked doubtful. “I don’t know what I can do about the shower. But the kitchen may still have food left. Come with me.”
They followed her through a maze of long hallways until they reached the dining hall and the kitchen with several staff members cleaning up. Cracked plates and bowls sat in stacks on the counter, dented eating utensils lines trays and one of the cooks was up to his elbows in greasy, sudsy water. Lee and Will could still smell the scent of food coming from cooking dishes on the far side of the room.
“Is there anything left to eat?” Miriam asked them.
Luckily, one of the cooks was a friend of Lee’s who had procrastinated over the storing of leftovers and was just fine about offloading them to the men. He gave them heaping plates of potatoes, carrots, baked catfish and homemade bread. They sat down to eat in the quiet hall while Miriam checked out the water situation, and an hour later they were led separately to a very archaic outdoor shower. They returned to their room mostly clean and with stomachs full.
Lee began to grow more nervous with every passing minute now that there was no longer anything to keep them occupied, aware that at some point his new mate would initiate intimacy with him. Being young and inexperienced he was a little frightened, especially with someone like Will who was older and acted like he had it all figured out. He wondered if he would be able to please this man or if his naïveté would be too much of a burden. He needn’t have worried.
Will stood before Lee with longing in his eyes but sensed how easily alarmed the younger man could be if this was done wrong. “May I touch you, my love?” he asked gently.
Lee nodded happily because he was too overwhelmed to speak, and Will slowly stepped up to him and wrapped him in his arms in a close but non-sexual hug. He rested his arms lightly over Lee’s mid-back and lay his cheek against his forehead letting the boy get used to him. Lee’s drying hair hung loosely and he allowed himself the privilege to play with the silky ends. It felt good to embrace a man but especially this man, and considering that they had barely met, he felt an odd sense of protection over him.
Lee relaxed against Will’s masculine body with the barest of shivers, appreciating the planes and valleys of the torso he could feel through his clothing and relishing the difference from when he hugged his sister’s softness. He felt comforted by the tenderness but not coerced. Will smelled different too, masculine like soap and musk. Lee felt the nudge of his own cock but that was all it was, just a slight tingle in his groin. He suspected exhaustion played a part.
“We are going to take our time getting to know each other,” Will whispered in his ear. “I already fell in love with you months ago, but I want you to be sure about me before we do anything physical.”
Lee glanced up at him in alarm. After finding Will he didn’t want to be separated from him. “But what if they try to pull us apart tomorrow? You saw how the leaders were acting. Won’t they send you back to camp and pretend this never happened?”
Will caught on to Lee’s urgency which was almost a panic to experience every little nuance in making love before they ran out of time. He couldn’t say he blamed him. It was easy to get swallowed in the same desperation, thinking that they might be forced apart once the camp leaders realized they had taken the Fairlamor win seriously. He considered for a moment before answering.
“We have two days of rest beginning in the morning.” The camps operated on a schedule of six days of toil followed by a two-day break. “They won’t try anything until after then.”
“So we have at least three nights together?” Lee asked, leaning into him tiredly.
“More if they follow the letter of the law.” He stroked Lee’s cheek and hoped what he said was true. “We have the right to insist if they don’t.”
“Good,” Lee said softly, swaying slightly. “Let’s go to bed.”
Will took half a step back and gripped his arms, looking into his silver eyes. “I think it would be best tonight if I simply held you while we sleep.” Lee gave him a contented smile that spoke of agreement, but there was that request list of his.
Will took his hand and led him to the bed where he pushed him to sit. Deftly he removed all of his clothing except his briefs. What Will saw charmingly outlined in the soft cotton made his own dick stand up straight and proud, and he lifted the tired man high to his chest so it wouldn’t nudge him in the back before putting him into bed. He shucked his own jeans and shirt off and quickly slid in next to Lee. Since neither of them were completely naked, he thought he would be less intimidated. He rolled and folded the teenager into his embrace.
Lee’s senses were swamped in his first personal horizontal contact with a man, and one who wanted him at that. He enjoyed his warmth and was surprised by the soft, lustrous skin of Will’s bare shoulder as he felt the tendons roll under his cheek, his nose pressed into the slight dampness of his neck. He breathed deeply in awe, his hand rested against the crinkly golden fur that covered his chest. He could feel the steely cock lying against his thigh, and he moaned quietly.
Will rolled as if he was going to settle them down and sleep.
“Wait,” Lee said softly, wanting just peek at what awaited him. “May I touch you?” Repeating Will’s earlier request out of shy courtesy, he received a kiss on his temple.
“Of course”. Will dropped back against the pillows and grinned at him in encouragement. He was happy to see Lee take a more forward approach and get familiar with him.
Careful curiosity reached out to feel the sleek hairs growing on Will’s upper lip and the short, trimmed beard on his chin. It was a new experience for Lee who couldn’t grow facial hair to save his life. Just the sensation of the meager fuzz skimming beneath his fingertips was exhilarating.
Little brushes against his cheeks and around the shell of Will’s ear, trailing down his throat as his new boyfriend nuzzled into his hands and grunted, “That feels nice, my love.” It made Lee smile.
His stroke gradually extended across the collar bones to his shoulders and chest in a soft caress where he delved into the golden pelt covering Will’s sternum down into a inverted V across his abdominals and into his briefs. Fascinated by his darkly tanned pectoral muscles and sienna areolas lightly sprinkled with hair he pinched the nipples gently and almost giggled when they shrunk up into little peaks.
The man hissed in pleasure. “Like that, Lee,” he instructed, and Lee told himself to remember that spot.
Will was enchanted by the exploration and how eager but caring Lee's fondling was. His cock was solid stone and dripping precum in strings on his abdomen under his loose briefs. He knew it wouldn’t take much for Lee to move on to the next step but at his own pace. He didn’t have long to wait.
Lee was dying to know what it felt like to kiss a man… to be kissed by one. He brought his hand back up to Will's face and stroked a soft finger across his lips. Will wrenched his head. “Tickles,” He smirked with a chuckle.
“Sorry,” Lee said, frowning and wondering if he’d done something wrong even though Will didn’t seem upset. He felt so self-conscious over his lack of experience.
Will felt Lee drawing back as if afraid of making a mistake. “There is no right or wrong way, Lee,” he comforted. “This is new territory and in the beginning it’s the way we all start. Feel what you’ve done to me.” He gently took his hand and pressed it against the fabric of his shorts where Lee could feel the straining hardness of his rigid penis.
Bombarded with a rush of emotion he didn’t quite understand Lee grasped the thick cock and felt it flex in his hand. This man was his, all his. It didn’t really seem possible, but the proof was in the warm blue eyes staring at him tenderly, the lithe muscles dancing under his touch and, yes, even the cock he held so lovingly.
Pushing up with his toes he hovered over Will’s mouth and felt the heat of his breath mingling with his own. His eyes were closed, and Lee could see the thin veins in the eyelids. Will must have felt Lee’s lips because he reached to cup his head and gently pulled him down in the briefest meeting of lips. Just a touch, barely a tap.
Ghosting of one mouth over another and then with a small whimper Lee swiped his tongue against the seam of Will’s lips. Drawing him closer, Will opened his mouth and their tongues touched, and it was the most perfect moment of Lee’s life. He heard a returned moan that gave answer to whether Will wanted him too. That he did made it all worthwhile.
He wrapped his arms around the taller man and gave him everything in that kiss. And then the most wonderful thing happened. Lee’s erection blazed out of nowhere, and he felt himself becoming aroused by the man who had chosen him and belonged to him alone. Maybe his loneliness was finally over.
Lee woke up the next morning spooned together in bed with Will. For a fraction of a second, it was an unfamiliar situation that made him tense up and his breath catch in dismay before he recalled winning the Fairlamor. He had a need to pee but he was enjoying the unique feeling of his new man coiled around him and lightly snoring on the nape of his neck.
Last night they had kissed until Lee had almost, quite literally, passed out. It was more than the way Will had captured his mouth with an insistent tongue investigating until he ran out of oxygen. It was the welling up of every profound emotion possible, from his case of nerves in the hours prior to the competition to the stunning realization of his victory—and his wondrous prize—that had exhausted him. Finally Will had to push him gently back into the mattress and promise he wouldn’t go anywhere to get him to rest. Lee thought he would be too excited to sleep but his eyes had closed nearly instantaneously.
And here it was the next morning, and Lee hadn’t dreamed him. His new mate lay behind him, and Lee felt him moving around a bit as he began to awaken, rubbing his nose in Lee’s long hair, extending an arm to pull him tighter into his body and drawing up his knee over Lee’s thigh. That piece of hot, stiff meat between Will’s legs was poking him in the cleft of his ass. Lee felt his own cock begin to physically react to the stream of naughty ideas running through his own head of what he’d like to do with Will. In no time his morning wood was throbbing and wanting to make some of those ideas reality.
Lee felt the slight tickle of Will’s beard against his skin and soft kisses being pressed into his shoulder blades. “Good morning, Lee,” Will said gruffly, running his hand down his side. “Did you sleep well, my love?”
Lee turned over and stared into those beautiful blue eyes, still hazy with sleep. “Very well, thank you.” He smiled devilishly. “What should we do today?”
Will did not fail to interpret the smile or the words in the right way, but he was in a happy mood and wanted to tease his new mate. “We should get up and dress for breakfast, talk about ourselves some more and maybe join the others for recreation or take a walk in the forest.”
Lee could see through the jesting and slid over on top of him. He began laughing into Will’s neck, making him squirm; Lee guessed it tickled him. Then he broke into hysterical giggles and couldn’t stop. Lee got louder and louder until Will had to cover his mouth with his hand to quiet him down, the whole time grinning at him. Lee licked his fingers, and when Will gave him a mock-disgusted grunt and pulled them away Lee popped up and attacked Will’s lips—which is what he wanted to do in the first place.
They were sucking on each other’s tongues, and Lee could feel them both getting harder. Will caressed his back and he suddenly reached down inside Lee’s trunks and cupped his ass, pulling him in tighter. Their erections were gliding together with only the soft fabric of their shorts in between them, and it was not enough of a good thing. Lee’s fingers were suddenly in the top of Will’s underwear and he was dragging them down his thighs at the same time Will was working his pair down too.
The moment their bare bodies collided was like an explosion in Lee’s soul. He had never felt so alive, so focused on one thing. Their bodies were flush, thigh to thigh, stomach to stomach, cock to cock. The sensitive organs slid together, and precum made the course slippery with amazing results.
Lee groaned over how vibrant the thrusting felt, a pace set by him that would guide them both into the chasm. He was young and untested; he would not last long. The whole of him turned into a man of need, leaving him trembling and gasping for air as they mimed each other’s movements. He held on to Will tightly and whimpered, almost on the edge of tears as his cock was nudged by the man’s larger one and he rocked back.
Will was undulating beneath Lee and broke out in goose bumps down his legs when his young lover’s hard tool slid smoothly across his ball sac. Like a shower of sparks coursing through his quivering body, each one burned off sleep and created a path where rapture fired through and filled him. He closed his eyes and let his hands wander over Lee’s satiny skin, awed by the texture, feeling the drops of sweat pop out to slick his fingers across his shoulders and down his slender back. And with every second he felt that cock rubbing against his own and building something deep inside him, like a bubble that would soon pop and carry him over into the void.
Lee’s silver eyes lit up in wild delight and he could already feel the frenetic flow of his release moving through his own balls. Good, it felt so damn good, part of a bond that was more than physical which he hadn’t expected. So much better than when he was alone with only his hand for stimulation. His lips found Will’s chest and his nipples were there. Swirling his tongue over the pebbly nubs, he licked and sucked and finally buried his teeth in the muscular flesh as he was swamped by split second of stillness followed by a sudden surge of cum racing through his spasming dick to find exit. He released a soft, wordless groan as his hips snapped forward as if driven by seizure.
Will watched Lee’s eyes roll back in his head just as teeth pressed firmly into his pectoral muscle without breaking the skin and only mild pain, and Lee’s semen splashed between their bodies. It was all too much at once. “Oh Lee,” he moaned, grinding into him one last time, wanting to unite more than being two separate entities could possibly allow. His own orgasm blazed through him like the superheated air of an inferno.
Lee collapsed bonelessly on Will waiting for the roaring in his ears to recede. His entire body tingled in sated bliss and he could smell the co-mingling scents of cum and sweat on them, his with Will’s and not at all unpleasant. The bond that was building between him and his new mate was more than he’d ever hoped for, and a big part of his happiness was the anticipation of sharing his life with this man.
Will ran his fingers through Lee’s light brown hair, spreading the long locks out over his chest like a fan. “I love you, Lee,” he confessed hoarsely. “I know it’s too early for you to say it back yet… that you don’t even know me yet, but I hope one day you will.”
Lee hoped so too and pledged his own vow by squeezing his shoulder, nestling into the strong body below him and speaking five little words. “I will. Soon, I will.”
If they were given the time.
With little kisses between them, the two men cleaned up and dressed in clean jeans and shirts. Hungry, they decided to hunt down some breakfast. Outside the door of their bedroom they turned right and began to walk, looking both ways down intersecting hallways and trying to remember in which direction they’d traveled the night before to locate Miriam. Presently they came to an exit door leading outside. Will stopped.
“Do you know the way to the dining hall from outdoors?” he asked Lee.
“Yes,” Lee whispered, flushing. “But going outside, it… it means people will see us.”
Will felt himself getting a bit worried that Lee might be ashamed of him, but what he saw in his young beau’s eyes was fear, not embarrassment. Remembering the lack of enthusiasm the night before on the part of the camp leaders, he had to concede that maybe he had a point. Reaching out, he cupped Lee’s face in his palm and smiled in encouragement.
“We can’t hide forever, Lee. We have a contracted six months in the camps before we can leave, so they must accept us sooner or later.”
Or not at all, Lee thought glumly to himself and shivered at the possibility of being forced apart once the novelty of their Fairlamor win wore off. He steeled himself to be calm but only managed to return Will’s smile with a twitch of his lips.
Taking Will’s hand in his, Lee stepped out into the bright sunshine to lead him around the community center and to the dining hall door. From the look of the sky, Lee judged it to be mid-morning and there were not many people around. It didn’t matter how many they met; gossip was one of the few guilty pleasures of the camp and by nightfall everyone would know he was with a man. But if he was going to have a mate, a male mate, he needed to develop a stiffer upper lip and trust Will to take care of him.
Only half the seats were taken up when they walked into the dining hall, the end of breakfast coming up rapidly. The dull mumble of people chattering filled the room over the clink of spoons and forks on plates and the kitchen help serving food and washing dishes. It all went silent as Lee and Will stepped into the room and every eye was on them. Lee flushed in embarrassment and looked at the floor, hating to be the center of attention. Will balled his other hand into a fist, resolute and ready to thrust Lee behind him. Ready for anything.
There was the scrape of a chair and a trotting stride coming towards him, and Lee felt the arms of his sister fly around his shoulders tightly, causing him to make a happy grunt. He looked up to see her beaming at him.
Evie and James had awakened late too after a long, magical night, and at first she was so preoccupied with her own good fortune, she didn’t remember the outcome of the thirteenth Fairlamor round. A quick glance at the arena in a distant field brought the competition back to mind on her way to breakfast, and she noticed a few men who might be friendly with Lee and asked if they had seen him. Nobody seemed to know his whereabouts. The men remembered that Will had also won the Fairlamor; however, she was not familiar with the man who was his intended mate. Just a name: Will.
And here they were, quietly entering the dining hall. Seeing the big man holding Lee’s hand protectively, knowing that he had accepted the Fairlamor decision was a total surprise. A happy one but shocking on any count.
“Oh goodness, Lee,” she said eagerly with her tight hug. “You have a mate. I am so glad for you.”
He grinned at her and blushed, his silver eyes dancing, and he looked more at peace than any other time in the past three years. “I can hardly believe it myself.”
Evie let go of him and pulled Will into her embrace. “Welcome to the family,” she said clearly for the benefit of all. Closer, she leaned into him so she could speak directly into his ear. “I don’t know how this happened but please don’t hurt my little brother.”
Will hugged her back and replied in a low, sincere voice, “You can count on me. I already love him.”
A look of elated wonder brightened her face, and Evie squealed and hugged both of them to her. They laughed and talked as Lee introduced his two favorite people to each other.
Behind her was the sound of more people leaving their tables. James joined his new mate to shake Lee and Will’s hands, and many of Lee’s friends came forward out of amiable curiosity. Nobody seemed particularly hostile. Florence and Grace were part of the queue; the tiny woman’s eyes were sad but truthfully, seeing the two men together answered a lot of her frustrated questions.
Lee and Will ate their late meal as the typical hubbub resumed. Camp members finished breakfast and moved off into their day of valued rest. They would form their opinions of the odd couple on their own time, but for the most part, many didn’t care. In fact, if most thought about it at all, it was in the vein that the mating of two men left more women for them. They didn’t see Will or Lee as a particular threat and would reevaluate the mating in the coming days as they saw fit.
Lee decided to be bold and show his mate the rest of the camp. The heart of it was the old-name place of Wrenllyn, Louisiana in what had been a thriving town of seventy-five hundred people four centuries before. They were a farming community growing soybeans, sugarcane and raising chickens and dairy cattle, living peaceful lives infrequently intruded upon by government regulations or the arrival of strangers. Now they were a loose collection of around one hundred twenty workers and a rotating leadership of thirty who spent two months in the camp and furloughed home for one.
Soybeans was still the biggest crop because they had so many uses, but the application of synthetic fertilizers was banned because of the hormonal violence issue, so soil had to be coaxed to support its growth. The camp had experimented with other cash crops without much success. The chickens were often sickly and laying was sporadic. The ten cows left in the barn supplied a scant quantity of milk which had to be quickly used up in cooking because it could not be pasteurized.
The woodlands had been allowed to reclaim many of the outlying farms. At least the old buildings of the town were sturdy enough with their built up indoor sidewalks that connected office to dining hall and kitchen. What building that wasn’t used outright was scavenged for supplies. The only threat worth mentioning was the ferocious turbulent rainstorm that would barrel through in the summer and fall. Lee told Will that they were called hurricanes and they were killers.
They were returning to the dining hall for lunch when they came across a group of men who were acquaintances of Lee who had not been at breakfast. Despite the fact that he was the smallest man of the bunch, he was a favorite among them because he carried more than his fair share of the work load. He had an easy-going nature and never complained. Now they gathered around Lee and Will without asking questions about the mating but getting to know the new man in camp. Once the two days of rest were over he would be joining them for the next three months in their work, so they were sizing him up.
“Come,” Will said to Lee, telling the men goodbye and steering him around them towards the hall. Most of them smiled at them, but they had been polite in a diffident way.
It was the peak of the lunch hour so the dining hall was filled with men and women eating, and once again they went silent when Will and Lee entered. There were more camp leaders present and many of them looked at them in open hostility when they walked toward the food line. Possibly inspired by the bosses there was not nearly the acceptance they had found during their morning meal. A couple of them scowled at Will, mostly because his presence was a challenge to the way things were done. One commented that men were not meant to be together and Lee blushed but didn’t offer any comment. They loaded up on their share of food and decided to take it back to their room to eat.
Lee chewed his bread and soup in silence. He had long known that most of the leaders of his camp harbored prejudice against workers who did not follow the status quo. They had a reputation of running Camp 12 like a gulag and demanded a greater amount of effort as well a high level of productivity from each person. Travelers from other camps were viewed with mistrust, and if you were a teenager in need of an adult camp, you had better be the picture of health and either strong as an ox or, in the case of the women, pleasant to look at. It was rumored that those who fell sick or were injured and unable to work were shipped off as soon as it could be discreetly managed.
Despite Cecil’s proclamation the night before that the Fairlamor results would stand, he had never intended for the contest to be won by two men. The only reason he didn’t nullify the results was because the workers’ feelings were running so high and every eye was riveted on him. Now, away from the spotlight, he would be free to set the world back in his own order, and two men weren’t going to stand in his way.
Lee supposed that he and Will could petition to leave the camp early, but that would highlight Cecil’s failings and invite more speculation into how badly the camp was managed and they would probably be refused. The best he could hope for was to keep up his hard work and not do anything to draw negative attention to themselves. Get through the next three months after which they would be transferred to Camp 10, Will’s home, to finish out their contract.
“Hey, Lee, what are you thinking about?” Will had a pensive look on his face, and he was beginning to worry about his mate. He wondered if he was regretting the Fairlamor win, but Lee put his mind at ease with a brilliant smile.
“I’m just worried about the camp leaders,” Lee said. He got up and walked to the other side of the table and knelt next to Will. “I’m trying to trust that they will let this stand. I don’t want to lose you.”
Will leaned over and kissed his forehead. “We will fight whatever they do to split us up.”
There was a knock on the door, and Will opened it to find one of his own Camp 10 leaders. The elderly man gave him a genuine smile, and Will let him in. He introduced himself to Lee as Keaton Smith.
“I’m here to check out on the Fairlamor winners from our camp,” Keaton told them. “I want to ensure that everyone is being treated well.”
He handed Will a bulging pack, and when he looked inside it was filled with all of his gear from the camp. At least his own leaders were willing to look at the fight results as legal and binding.
“Thanks,” he told Keaton. “We’re… uh, well… we’re encountering some bias on the part of the Camp 12 leaders.”
Lee nodded. “We’re worried they will nullify the win and send Will back to his camp.” He pressed his body tightly into his mate’s, and Will held him closely, in comfort and determination.
“I will not give up my mate,” he stated firmly.
Keaton watched the two men, a twinkle in his eyes. He knew love when he saw it, and he knew Will was in love with the younger man. It was a shame others didn’t understand.
“I don’t know if you ever read them, but we have old books in our library,” he said to Will. “Many years ago, hundreds in fact, before the Catastrophe, people like yourselves were faced with this kind of prejudice. It was rampant in many schools; that was when children could attend school until they became adults. In some places it wasn’t much better for people who were old enough to know better.”
“What happened,” Lee asked.
“It took many years, but gradually the communities realized they had nothing to fear from them. Loving someone isn’t about fear or anger, it’s positive. If you were a man in love with a man or a woman who had feelings for her own gender, it didn’t mean you were a threat to anyone else. Laws changed. The government had a court system on a much grander scale than ours, and it said it was illegal to hurt others because of who they loved. After awhile, it didn’t matter.”
Keaton got a wistful look on his face. “I don’t know why it’s gone back the other way now. Bigotry killed so many during the war, causing a giant step backwards in humanity just like with every other achievement that was available back then.”
He faced the men squarely. “All I can tell you is to buck up and stay positive. In three months you will be transferred to Camp 10 to work out the rest of your Fairlamor contract. After that, you’re free to go anywhere you like. But for now, don’t let the bias of a few uneducated men ruin what you have with each other. After the day is through, after you have put up with the slurs and uncertainty, come back to each other for strength.”
Keaton was ready to take his leave, having other camps he must visit, and he held out his hand to each man. “Good luck,” he wished them sincerely. “Three months here, and then you’re under our protection.”
Lee smiled and shook his hand. “Thank you, Keaton.”
They showed him out and watched him climb in the Camp 10 truck and drive away.
Will turned to Lee. “I need some fresh air. How about you?”
Lee nodded and they made their way around the camp. Of course he could see what Will was up to; they were making their presence known. Let the other workers see them for what they were, two men who were fated to be together but in all other ways had not changed. They could be friendly with those around them and work and play just as they had before.
They ended up in what was left of an apple orchard. Lee told him that the variety was Ozark Gold, one of the few kinds that grew in their mild winters. Most of the trees were blighted now but gave off a small crop in the fall. The tree next to them, leafless and gnarled, had died the year before. But Will wasn’t interested in apples.
He hoisted Lee up on a low, thick branch that had been cut off three feet from the trunk and provided a sturdy seat. Climbing two steps up on a nearby ladder he hauled next to the tree, and he was the same height as his lover. His blue eyes bright with love, he swept his hands through Lee’s hair and kissed him tenderly.
“Lee Boudreaux, I do love you.”
Lee felt a rush of warmth go through him that had nothing to do with the day’s sunshine. A wildness was seeping into his heart, brought about by this gentle man who covered him in protection and possession, and he had never felt such strength of emotion before. His own parents had considered him a throwaway child, disappointed over something that was never a choice for him, one of those biased folk that Keaton had warned them about. But Will loved him with all his heart, and it was like a balm to all the wounds that had ever been inflicted on his pure spirit for what he was.
He went still, staring down into a beautiful face, made even more stunning because of the kindness that emanated from those sparkling eyes. Lee knew what was being born inside him. He took hold of it and held on tight. He would not let go.
“I love you too, Will.”
Easily he slipped off the branch and into Will’s arms. The larger man carried him down the ladder and leaned him against the fruit tree, that old dead Ozark gold tree that no longer grew apples. Lee leaned his head back, baring his throat, almost in submission if he’d even known what he was doing. Will recognized the gesture as trust and reveled in it.
After all this time Will did not doubt that fate had taken a big hand in leading him to Lee. The younger man was all he had ever wanted, all he almost given up dreaming for. That night seven months before when Will heard Lee voice a frustrated plea to his sister had changed both their lives. It had given Will someone to fight for, but most of all it had opened his heart to the possibility of a perfect mate who burned for him in needs that were the same as his own. He had fallen almost instantly in love, looking forward to the monthly Fairlamor contests so he could see Lee but unsure how to talk to him, much less win him. Now that he had, Will would do everything in his power to defy anyone who tried to split them up.
They began to kiss, sure of their privacy, even more sure of their feelings for each other. Lips that touched softly before coming together in a powerful wave of desire that swept over them, locking them in a deep embrace. Will ran his hands under Lee’s shirt to feel his silky skin, and Lee burrowed into his chest, the flutter of desire curling low in his belly.
He reached down and unbuttoned Will’s jeans, unable to keep his hands off his man. A hardening cock strained for freedom and Lee took it reverently into his hand, stroking it. Will moaned in his ear, pulling apart the fly of Lee’s pants quickly so he could caress a warm, satiny staff. Their stroking soon brought them to their peaks.
“Will,” Lee cried out, letting the knotted, twisty trunk of the apple tree take his weight as he ejaculated streams of semen into his shorts and Will’s calloused hand.
“Yes, Lee, so good,” Will groaned, hanging desperately onto the younger man, his own cum erupting forcefully from his cock under the gentle but efficient stroking.
They collapsed into each other in another long kiss. Lee tingled from head to toe, his mind spinning ecstatically as well as his heaving body. He could hardly believe the quick change in his circumstances; the arrival of this long, sexy man who wanted to please him and he could satisfy alongside. What did he do to deserve Will? Nothing, and that was the beauty of it. He was a gift.
Will fetched a handkerchief out of his pocket and they cleaned up as best they could. Hand in hand they left the apple orchard, talking quietly, Lee smiling eagerly up at Will, and made their way back to their room. They did not see Cecil Peltiere emerge from the trees at the other end of the grove nor tramp back to his office with a fierce scowl on his face, contemplating how unnatural it was for men to love men and trying to come up with a legal solution so he could do something about it.
It was not an encouraging dilemma that Lee had to resort to packing the rest of his belongings and move them into his bedroom with Will. In all other cases he knew of, that chore was taken care of by roommates of the Fairlamor winners under direction of the camp leaders. He was baffled and a little embarrassed when Will accompanied him to his cabin, but there was nothing he could do but put a positive spin on it. He introduced Will to the other five men he bunked with, and they were polite, but all of them could tell the two men were fighting an uphill battle. In no time, his changes of clothing and the few souvenirs he’d brought to remind himself of home were packed and they left.
Their new mating status did not prevent them from sharing the load of chores in the camp, and Will was added to the shift rotation two days later. He was strong with a solid work ethic, and he soon had the admiration of many of the other residents. The tasks were routinely boring; warm if not quite substantial breakfasts and dinners in the dining hall with a cold, quick mid-day meal wolfed down while they toiled. At night the men fell together in exhaustion, cuddling in their private room and grateful for the solitude. They would kiss and hold each other, driving stone-hard cocks into hands or grinding together until their passion overwhelmed them, and they quenched their hunger for each other in ribbons of cum on their torsos and fingers.
Lee was falling deeply in love with Will. He was everything he’d ever expected a lover to be and more. Handsome, kind, slow to anger and always patient, he brought out Lee’s more dynamic side to the forefront. Evie marveled at the positive change in her brother, how he was no longer afraid to stand up for himself and the way he relaxed into his relationship with the man from Camp 10. She could tell he was happy, and that made her love Will almost as much as her brother did.
One thing that baffled Lee was a certainty that there was something more to making love than just using hands on each other. He honestly couldn’t tell whether Will was taking this part of their relationship slowly or he didn’t know more about it himself. And it probably wouldn’t have gone any further if he hadn’t overheard several of the camp women talking two weeks later.
He was digging a trench on the side of the dining hall so two men with experience in repairing water pipes could get in and determine why the flow of water had suddenly ebbed in the kitchen. Around the corner, taking no notice of Lee, were several young women who were taking a break after carrying a large box of fresh peas to the cooks.
“It’s in a book in the library,” one teenager was saying urgently to her friends.
“In our library?” another, slightly older woman asked, taking a large gulp of water. “Surely, old Peltiere would not allow a book about men and women pleasuring each other to be kept onsite. Is it inside the locked cabinets?”
“No,” answered the first girl. “I don’t know how it slipped by censure, but you can read it for yourselves if you don’t believe me.” She lowered her voice. “Did you know that men and women use their mouths on each other sometimes?”
“Eww,” a third woman exclaimed, brushing sweat off her brow. “Now I know you’re lying. Our leaders would not purposely allow that kind of manuscript be left out for us to see.”
The first teen looked angry and crossed her arms. “Fine. Tomorrow night after dinner. I’ll show you both.”
They moved off, and Lee knelt there stunned. Mouths?
He supposed he could go to the library and search for the book but he had no idea what he was looking for. Asking his sister if she knew the girls and had spoken with them was out of the question unless he wanted to die of embarrassment to explain why. That left one person to confide in- Will.
Lee was fairly sure he’d never seen his boyfriend blush before, but he was beet red now. He had just brought up the conversation he’d overheard and asked if Will knew of any instance in which mouths were used to stimulate… uh, arouse, well anyway, he got the gist of the question.
After a long pause, Will nodded stiffly. “I am familiar with it.”
Lee knew there was something his mate was not telling him. “How familiar?”
The older man’s sad eyes bore into Lee’s. “Very. Personally.”
Will was eighteen and ready to go out on his own, awaiting the warmth of spring so he wouldn’t freeze to death on the road. A newly mated couple had arrived in his village ten months before, and the woman was already pregnant, their first child expected within weeks. As instructed, the pair had given up sex to ensure a better chance that the baby wouldn’t be born too soon. The young husband naturally needed an outlet for his sexual urges but chose a rather unorthodox way to get it.
“He showed me the ways a man can pleasure another man,” Will said haltingly, his eyes wet. “We met in secret in the evening when our chores were done and his wife was visiting the women sewing for their new child. I asked him if he married her because he wanted to or because he had to. He wouldn’t answer me. Here, he was a man that could have provided what fired through both of us, and he wasn’t mine.”
Lee walked to Will and took him gently in his arms, almost afraid of Will’s passionate story and the emotions swarming through him. He sounded like he regretted losing the man, and that filled Lee with anxiety.
“It led you to me,” he whispered tentatively.
Will grinned. “Yes it did.” Sobering, he added. “I’m sorry, Lee, if I hurt your feelings. I don’t really feel anything for him… not like I do for you. I suppose it’s mostly nostalgia. I love you very much.”
“I love you too.” Lee stroked his cheek. “Can you show me how to do this so I can make you happy?”
Will pulled Lee tighter into his arms and kissed him. “You already make me happy. If we never do anything else than what we already share, I will be eternally happy with you.”
“But there is more,” Lee sighed. “Greater intimacy. Please Will.”
Will stared straight into Lee’s beautiful silver, desirous eyes, seeing the lust there. He reached for his hand and pulled him closer. “Are you sure you’re ready?” he asked gently, searching his boy’s face for uncertainty.
In answer, Lee drew him towards the bed and then pushed him down so he was sitting on the mattress. He folded his legs underneath and sat next to him. “I want you to show me how much more I can love you.”
Planting a light nip on his bottom lip just above the goatee, Lee began removing Will’s shirt, undoing each button on the gray cotton. He punctuated each revealed bit of skin with a tiny kiss. “Do you want me to stop?”
“No,” Will said hoarsely, catching the back of Lee’s head with his hand and drawing him down for a deep kiss. The buttons released, Lee swept Will’s shirt down his arms and traced his fingers over the muscular shoulders he had come to dearly love.
Will shuddered and, leaning into his lover, swiftly raised his shirt over his head and unfastened the belt and top button. Lowered the zipper and tugged the blue denim down Lee’s strong legs, leaving him in his shorts. He scrambled backwards off the bed, beckoning Lee to follow him. “Come, my love,” he whispered.
Lee sat on the edge of the bed, his legs hanging over and watched with mounting need as Will stripped down to his underwear. He loved the sight of his man undressing; the sleek way he stretched like a predatory cat when removing his shirt, how the light flashed over the delineation of each muscle in his arms, chest and back. Butterflies zipped around his stomach as he sensed tonight was going to be special for both of them. He had a vague idea of what Will was about to do, and it made his skin tingle and his cock harden and leak in his shorts.
“Lift,” Will commanded, and Lee complied, raising the few inches necessary to remove the small item of clothing covering his naked body. Will toed his own trunks off before pulling Lee’s hips to the edge of the sagging mattress and indicating he should lean back. Resting on his forearms and biting his lip, Lee allowed Will to spread his legs and grasp his steel-hard cock, moving the foreskin down slowly to reveal the shiny, wet head. Will leaned forward and spread his lips over it.
Lee’s heartbeat throbbed in the veins of his dick as Will swirled his tongue around the narrow slit and caught every drip on his tongue which then licked up and down the shaft from tip to stem. Lee gasped out a whimper and watched as Will slowly slid his mouth down his hard cock.
“Will, oh Will,” he moaned, his eyelids fluttering.
Will began to bob up and down on Lee’s shaft, pushing the foreskin before him. He enjoyed the feeling of his beau’s cock in his mouth, the fullness, the warmth and slightly salty flavor, and tried to work it deeper inside. Urgently he reached down between his legs with his other hand and grabbed his own erection, pulling and squeezing in a similar rhythm. He couldn’t help groan around Lee’s tool, each sound echoing through the hard flesh.
Lee tried to keep his hips still, but the vibrations were so intense he had no choice but to thrust. It was all building too fast anyway, so wonderfully pleasurable, and with a hard cry of “God, Will, oh yes,” he let loose with streams of cum that fired across the larger man’s tongue. The taste of his cream, the awesome sight of his young man in the throes of rapture was all Will needed, and he fired gooey bursts onto the floor in front of him.
Lee opened his eyes to find Will resting his blonde head against his thigh, breathing raggedly, his eyes dazed in bliss. Blindly he reached down and petted his hair, his body still trembling under the power of a response like he’d never experienced. So much more passionate than using hands, the bond between him and his mate intensified.
“I love you, Will. I love you so much.”
It had been a month since the Fairlamor. Surprisingly, once the clamor of that fateful competition had died down, most of the workers in Lee’s camp accepted them. Oh, there would always be a few intolerant bigots who had to act like fools, but the people surrounding them saw how much the two relied on each other and the good in the relationship. They weren’t threats to anyone’s potential Fairlamor mates, they were gracious and outgoing to all and they soon became favorite mentors of the young newcomers who every month found their way to their camp.
No, it was the leaders who balked and tried to create trouble. They were afraid of Lee and Will. As Lee had speculated, people feared what they didn’t understand, and the way Lee and Will radiated peace and happiness, showing a complete union, threw their entire belief system off its kilter. The love they shared and the tranquility in which they lived should not exist between two men, and that it did was being called unnatural and divisive. Just as if they had mated with women, being together calmed their inborn aggression which flew in the face of all the leaders held to be true. If it got out that a man could live in harmony with another man… why it was preposterous.
It came down to pettiness when the leaders decided to act.
The night of the first Fairlamor competition since Lee and Will’s win came around, and everyone was preparing to board the busses for Camp 7. Typically the newest mated couples were expected to attend to provide encouragement to the system and prove that contentment in their pairing. Others were given the option, but almost everyone went because it was one of the few modes of entertainment. In Lee and Will’s case, they were summoned to Cecil’s office after lunch.
“Will, Lee,” the man exclaimed in his oily voice, folding his fat hands on the desk in front of him. “I wanted to let you know that the leaders do not require you to go to the Fairlamor tonight, so you will have the evening off.”
The men had been expecting this, so it came as no surprise. In fact they were looking forward to an evening free of being objects of curiosity wherever they went. They kept their faces blank, and Will spoke for both of them.
“Thank you. It’s nice of you to give us some time alone.”
Cecil frowned. This wasn’t what he had in mind, but it was too late now to make changes. And the men enjoyed themselves, walking through the empty fields hand in hand and listening to the crickets, munching on pears brought up from the root cellar and gazing at the stars.
“Do you know what you mean to me, my love?” Will whispered into his hair and cupping his jaw as he held him close.
“Everything,” Lee answered. “What we mean to each other- everything.”
“And we will be with each other forever, Lee.”
“Forever,” Lee agreed, “until the end of time.” They kissed in the stillness of the quiet night.
Evie and James corralled them the next morning. “Where were you two last night?”
“Forbidden to attend,” Lee said in a low, quiet voice so he wouldn’t be overheard. “Peltiere’s orders.”
“That’s a shame.” James looked offended. “You were missed.”
Will gave him a piercing gaze. “In what way?”
James smiled at them. “It seems that the leaders have been spreading rumors through the camps about you two accepting the Fairlamor decision which, until recently, was a closely guarded secret. I suppose they were trying to stir up trouble but it backfired. There are many who seemed worried for you, that maybe the camp leaders were causing trouble, and hoped to see for themselves that you are well.
“When you didn’t show up last night, it confirmed their fear that all is not right in our camp. It was a grave miscalculation on the part of the leaders. Instead of allowing you to go and calm people down, all it did was stir them up. Evie and I spent much of the night assuring them that, although the leaders aren’t happy, you are fine.”
Will clapped James on the shoulder. “Thanks, James.”
Evie hugged her brother and said, “Be safe.”
A few days later they returned from their day in the fields to find a note stuck on their door, ordering them to report to Cecil. They looked at each other and took a deep breath, wondering what was in store now.
“Ah, men, it’s good that you’re here so promptly.” He gave them a ghastly smile. “I have bad news for you. We are expecting representatives from the district, and we need your room.”
“And where will we sleep?” Will asked, standing up straighter- they had not been invited to sit- and staring him in the eye.
Cecil rubbed his nose with his pinky. “Well, that’s a problem. We don’t have rooms available for couples.”
Lee gasped at the untruth of his words. Just that morning two Fairlamor couples had completed their six months and departed the camp to seek out a family village to take them in.
Will leaned over Cecil’s desk with authority if not outright menace. “You are aware, I presume, that you are going against the Fairlamor law. We are to be given a place to sleep.” He glanced at Lee.”Together.”
Cecil scowled, looking like he wanted to hit him. “I’m sorry but we can’t accommodate you. If Lee would like to return to his cabin, we can find a place for you in another.”
“That is not acceptable,” Lee spoke up for the first time. “And you know it, Cecil. There are rooms here. You just don’t want us to use them.”
Cecil glared at Lee, a bit surprised by his spunk. In the past the boy had been cowed by him, but he didn’t show a bit of fear under his gaze.
“We are supposed to have a room… together,” Will repeated, and this time there was no mistaking his intimidation.
Cecil Peltiere backed down, and he audibly gulped. “Ah, uh… let me see what I can arrange.”
The men left his office. What Cecil managed to ‘arrange’ for them was a solitary cabin out beyond the farthest field with a leaking roof and rusty hinge on the front door that squeaked with the mildest of breezes. The only piece of furniture was a dilapidated bed with a mattress that was anything but comfortable.
But Lee and Will were together, and they had peace there. The cooks gave them old pots to put under the the drips until Will fixed the roof. He removed the hinges and rasped every speck of rust from them. Along with linens provided by Evie, Grace and their friends, a pair of curtains that Florence made and a few other rustic pieces of furniture that was spared from various cabins, it was soon comfortable. They made it home.
The strain from the leaders, the pressure from having to work like three men and never knowing who their friends were; it all went away when Lee and Will came together. All of the insignificant slights, the devious ways the leaders came up with to make their lives harder, and sometimes it was all they could do to remind themselves that time was passing and soon they would be out of the reach of Camp 12.
Will and Lee thrived with each other. They lived for their moments alone, when they could make love. They might have an exhausting day in the fields, but it was always followed by an incredible night. Will would lie next to his fast-learning lover, and they could satisfy each other several times before dropping off to sleep. On their days of rest, sometimes they didn’t even bother to get out of bed until hunger drove them to find food.
It was now the middle of spring, and flowers were blooming around the camp. In fun, Lee had picked a bouquet and presented it to Will as they walked back from dinner. It helped that the days were getting longer because the path was sometimes treacherous in the dark, and Lee wasn’t being particularly careful. After he nearly stepped in a hole, Will picked him up and slung him over his shoulder to carry the rest of the way to their home.
They were already kissing deeply by the time they arrived, and Lee slid to the floor, his mouth still connected to Will. He adored this man, and often he shuddered, thinking about what his life would be like without him. Their kiss lengthened into gasps and stroking hands until Will carried him back to their bed.
Will set Lee down on the ground and hooked his finger into the waistband of Lee’s jeans. He perched on the bed brought him forward to stand between his legs where he could reach him. Quickly he tossed off his shirt and undressed Lee to his shorts with hands sliding against silky skin, all the while punctuated with little nips and bites. Lee’s cock bloomed into a fast erection jutting out from his groin. Will reached over and gently tugged on it as he licked and sucked at Lee’s nipples, causing the teen to throw his head back with a gasp.
Will scoot back towards the wall and patted the mattress next to him, his eyes glittering in the dim light. Lee crept towards him and spread out on his back as beckoned, holding himself up with his elbows. He watched Will lift up to his knees and strip off his own pants. His red, angry erection caught in the loose underwear and snapped back against his abdomen with a smacking sound. There was a wet spot near the top of the soft fabric.
Will’s fingers brushed Lee’s shorts down his thighs, revealing his rigid uncut staff pulsing with yearning and leaking slippery drops of arousal on his stomach. Dipping his fingers in the precum, he brought it to his lips to taste, sucking in his finger with an enraptured expression on his face. Lee’s own eyes went dark and misty with lust.
“Please suck me,” he begged.
Flipping over on his stomach, Will kissed the head of Lee’s cock and began to lick it up and down. It was feather-light, arousing and yet not enough. Lee smiled, knowing Will was teasing him, and he tried to hold his head still. Finally, when he didn’t think he could stand another minute, Will opened his mouth and took in his entire length.
Lee fell back on the bed, the sensations too wonderful to let him sustain his weight, and he gave in to the glorious sucking of his shaft, the twisty motion of his tongue around the head and into his slit and the way Will massaged his balls. The squeaks and moans he made just encouraged his lover, and soon Will was bobbing over him and taking him all the way into his mouth. Will knew exactly how much pressure to apply, how much to let Lee thrust, turning him into a babbling wreck.
It didn’t take Lee long before he began to feel the churning inside, and his whole body tensed. “Damn, oh damn, that feels so good,” he gasped out just before the final flick of Will’s tongue sent him into ecstasy. His whole body turned into one long string of want and desire, like firecrackers going off one by one, as his muscles tensed and released. Dripping sweat that clouded his gaze, he could grabbed Will’s hair and held on tight as he sent volleys of cum into his throat.
Lee loved having Will suck him. The intimacy of it, allowing his man to become so closely linked and shutting the world out. Will was all he needed. He was unselfish in pleasing his mate, but every time Lee wanted to give back, Will pushed him off and said no. Tonight he would not be denied.
Lee barely waited to relax back into the present when he practically ripped Will’s trunks off him and flipped himself on the bed. He hovered over Will’s crotch to begin learning his way around and discover what pleased his mate. He was eager and sucked the head into his mouth with an audible pop, and Will’s hips punched upwards in surprise.
From then on, with barely a spoken instruction, Lee began to enjoy his lover’s cock. Stealing precum from the piss slit, kisses down the shaft and running his tongue up and down the veins he put everything into it. He moaned into the hard flesh in his mouth, enjoying the softness of the skin and the way his hand slid along the length until Will was clutching the sheets and holding tight to his control. By the time Lee was getting into a good up and down rhythm on his dick and rolling his balls in the palm of his hand, Will was screaming into his own powerful orgasm.
A few weeks later, they were out in the field of food crops, those like carrots, beans and peppers that they used on their own tables. It had been a hot, sticky day, but as usual Lee and Will were not complaining and trying to cheer up the farming crew around them. Many in their group were new to the adult camp, strapping young men but unaccustomed to such hard work, and they were flagging in the heat. It was mid-morning when Donald, one of the sub-leaders appeared on the edge of the field and summoned Will.
“Trouble?” Lee asked apprehensively, mopping the sweat from his eyes.
“I’m not sure,” Will answered, handing off the bag he carried across his shoulder for harvesting the vegetables. “I’ll let you know.”
Lee watched Will meet up with the man and hold a brief conversation, too distant to hear, and the two men walk off together. A couple of hours later several staff members came out to the fields to distribute their sandwich lunches, and Will had not returned. By the time the quitting bell rang announcing dinner rang, Lee was a mess of anxiety.
He didn’t go directly to the dining hall. The first place he checked was the leaders’ offices but they were closed up. He approached the front desk where, seeming like such a long time ago, he and Will had spoken to Miriam and asked for information. There was a different woman there whom Lee didn’t know, and no, she’d seen Donald speaking to Will hours before but had no idea what the conversation was about or the outcome.
Frantic for news but uncertain how to proceed, he dragged himself to dinner. Evie was just leaving and, noticing the woebegone look on his face, pulled Lee aside.
“They took Will,” he cried in fear and exasperation. “I haven’t seen him all day.”
Evie nodded. “I’ll do my best to find out what I can.”
Lee barely ate anything and stumbled back to their cabin alone, making sure to set out well before the shadows fell. Without Will by his side, it seemed a dark and forbidding place, and he carefully checked under the bed and inside the closet before closing and locking the door. It was only then that he came across the note.
Lee My Love,
Do not worry about me. The leaders have sent me, along with two others, on some ridiculous good-will trip to the neighboring district. I don't know why. I will be back the day after tomorrow. I love you and stay safe.
You loving mate, Will
Lee released his breath, letting the tears of relief fall now that he knew his lover was safe. He dozed fitfully that night, reaching in his sleep for a body that wasn’t there and whimpering its loss in his bad dreams. He was listless at breakfast but tried to carry on through the day.
Every day for two weeks it was the same. There was no sign of Will or the other men who had accompanied him. He had to concede that Will must have been lied to also or he would be home by now. He had said two days, and that time period had come and gone. Lee was so desperately lonely that he barely ate, worked his endless shifts in the field without his usual smile, almost in a stupor, and fell into awful dreams every night. And still Will did not return.
“Are you alright?” Donald stopped him one night after dinner.
Lee nodded shortly. “I miss my mate.” He thought maybe he wasn’t supposed to know where Will had gone. “Where is he and when will he return?”
Donald shrugged; he honestly didn’t know what the higher ups had planned in all occasions and just followed orders. He was actually one of the few leaders who didn’t see a reason for the attitude towards the men. “Soon hopefully.”
Lee wandered down to visit his sister and James for awhile but they were little help in cheering him up. Grace was sweet, and Florence told jokes that in his sleep-deprived state he didn’t understand. He stayed later than he planned, and he dreaded walking past the offices on his way back to his cabin. However tonight, he was surprised to hear Cecil and several other men still working, even though it was nearly dark.
“This was a bad idea,” an unidentified voice exclaimed. “We’re down one man with the absence of Will Theriot, and Lee Boudreaux has been hardly of any use for a week. All you have to do is give him a sideways look to see how badly he is sleeping. And all for what—to punish them by keeping them apart?”
“Little steps, gentlemen, little steps.” It was Cecil. “I have plans for our two men that you will learn all in good time.”
“Well,” grumbled another leader, “if you hadn’t come up with that stupid thirteenth round last month we wouldn’t be dealing with this trouble. So you had better find a way to fix it.”
Lee shook his head and tiptoed away before he was caught. So Cecil thought he could break the men by forcibly keeping them apart. There was no way he was going to allow that man to dictate his life, and he was determined to stop moping and come to a workable solution. He wasn’t sure what it would be, but at some point Will had to return, didn’t he?
Lee was on his way back to the cabin, and it was fully dark with only a sliver of moon. His thoughts were on Will and staying out of the chuck holes, and so he didn’t see the man sneak up on him from behind. Not until he felt something hard connect with the back of his head and flew sideways into the packed dirt of the rows of bean plants. Then he realized that there was more than one person attacking him. He thought he recognized a voice and vaguely wondered if one of his attackers was Virgil Camden. But no, Virgil was from Camp 7. He shouldn't be way over here on the other side of the district.
Lee didn’t know how long he was punched, slapped and kicked. All he knew was that he was outnumbered, and even with his strength, he could barely defend himself against the blows. At some point it became more vital to protect the more sensitive parts of his body, and he curled into a ball and pretended them away in his head. Finally, they decided he’d had enough and learned his lesson. They weren’t supposed to kill him, just hurt him some, and they dragged him several yards into the tall wild grasses that surrounded the fields and left him sprawled in a heap, bloody and unconscious.
It was very late when the truck pulled into Camp 12, bringing Will and the two other workers back from their district trip. To his way of thinking, the visit was a disaster. They were supposed to set up bartering contracts, but nobody had anything to trade. Good will did not extend past district boundaries; none of the other areas trusted each other, and it was every district for itself. As far as Will could tell, the only reason to send him and the others out was for punishment purposes. Even the fact that they had not gone back to camp after the promised two days was reason for suspicion.
Will was looking forward to slipping into bed with Lee. It had been a long, lonely two weeks, and he missed his mate dreadfully. He barely let the truck come to a complete stop when he was hopping from the back and heading off in the direction of his cabin. He whistled as he walked, enjoying the warm night and clear, starry sky. Sneaking inside, he made his way towards the bed and was surprised to find it empty. He looked around in confusion. There was no sign that Lee had been in the cabin all night.
Will did not know where Lee would go. The whole camp was quiet; lights out had been a couple hours ago. It came to him that maybe Lee had been too lonely sleeping by himself and might have temporarily rejoined his bunk mates. Taking a shortcut through the fields, he approached the cabins in just a few minutes. A sleepy man Will recognized but did not know well answered his knock.
“Do you know where Lee is?” Will asked easily, expecting fully to be told he was inside.
The other man shook his head. “I haven’t seen him since dinner.” He seemed to suddenly realize who he was speaking to and that Will had been absent recently. “Hey, where have you been?”
“District business,” the blonde man said absently, beginning to worry. “But I can’t find Lee. He isn’t in our cabin.”
Another head popped out, and Will identified him as one of Lee’s good friends, Timmy. “He was at dinner. It’s really late for him to be out but maybe he’s at his sister’s. I’m glad you’re back, Will. Lee’s been looking bad.”
Will was both heartened to hear that Lee missed him and upset at the same time for suffering over it. He thanked the men and decided to ask Evie and James. It was true that it was much too late for him to be paying a visit to her, but maybe she knew where Lee was.
“No, Will,” Evie yawned, rapidly coming awake at the news that Lee was not at home. “He stopped by here hours ago, miserable and needing cheering up. He didn’t stay long.”
“What’s going on?” James asked, coming to the door.
“Lee is missing,” Evie told him.
James frowned. “We need to get dressed, honey.” He looked at Will and concern was in his eyes. “I’ll get some men together and help you look.”
An hour later the camp was alive with people searching the fields and orchards. Nobody had seen Lee once he left James and Evie’s cabin. They all told Will that his boyfriend had been despondent since he left, but that didn’t mean…
A giant of a man named Thurber approached Will who, by now, was becoming frantic but was out of ideas where Lee could be. “Will,” he called softly and indicated they should walk away from the group a bit.
“I don’t want to scare you, but I heard something earlier that didn’t make sense before now. I was on my way back to my cabin after visiting two of my cousins. Five big men came out of the field near your place all banged up with blood on them and laughing over how they taught someone a lesson. A couple of them had sticks. It surprised me because nobody has any reason to be in that part of the camp after dark except you and Lee. I was in a hurry to get back before lights out, but now I wonder if they might have done Lee harm.”
Will’s blood ran cold. His Lee was a small man, unacquainted with violence and would be hardly able to defend himself against five. He could see the logic of the leaders; split them up, send him off where he couldn’t’ defend his mate and then set others on Lee to hurt him. He rushed in to spread the word through the rest of the searchers.
They split up and launched a new quest, rechecking everything and spreading out even further. More people were pressed into service and another two hours went by without locating him. Will was dreadfully afraid that Thurber was wrong. That he had misunderstood; Lee wasn’t hurt but, instead, had been spirited away, never to be heard from again. He wanted to cry with the agony of his missing mate.
It was still pitch dark, and Will heard Florence rushing towards him, yelling, “Will, Will, we found him. Hurry.” Will looked at her in distraction, and even in the blackness he could see blood on her shirt.
“What happened,” he demanded, following her at a run.
“Someone beat Lee up.”
They made their way to the camp offices where a crowd was gathered. The lights were on in the infirmary, and Will pushed his way through. Barreling through the door, he saw Evie in James’s arms, crying noisily on his shoulder and practically collapsed in his arms. James had a stricken look on his face, and Will hurried into the next room.
Donald, the only medical man on staff, was in a bloody lab jacket, his hands running over a person covered in cuts and bruises on an old hospital bed from centuries ago, clean but outdated. The person was Lee, and he was unconscious. Still dressed in his work clothes from earlier, his pants and shirt were stiff with blood, and Will nearly fainted in shock. His gasp made Donald turn around.
“He needs more medical care than I can give him here,” he said. “I’m just a nurse, but I can tell you that he probably has some broken bones, maybe a head injury. We should transport him to another camp with better facilities.”
“Where?” Will asked hoarsely. After tonight, anywhere would be better than Camp 12.
“I suggest Camp 10. It has the best infirmary with more modern equipment.”
Will nodded. He knew Camp 10 was more up-to-date. Even more importantly, the leaders would protect them.
“Can you authorize the transfer?” he asked.
Donald looked at Will and there was instant understanding. They both knew Cecil and the Camp 12 leaders were behind the attack. If one of them was asked to sign Lee out, they wouldn’t do it. They would let him die just to prove a point.
“I can.” Donald would answer to the leaders if it became necessary, but the life of this man was in his hands.
Fifteen minutes later the truck was brought out under Donald’s approval, and Will, Evie and James were ready to leave. They did little talking among themselves on the trip to the other camp, and they were glad to see the lights nearly an hour later. Lee was bundled inside, and the three of them waited in an office, gradually succumbing to exhaustion.
It was nearly dawn when Keaton Smith woke them up and asked them to follow him. He had been informed by Donald of what happened to Lee, and Thurber’s statement was included. Keaton was more than convinced that Camp 12 was no longer safe for either man; he was even entertaining the possibility that Lee’s beating had been orchestrated by the leaders. Keaton had wasted no time in contacting the other camps’ leaders as well, and a thorough search for the men involved was being instigated apart from the Camp 12 leadership. If this was set up to harm Lee on purpose, they would know.
Will stayed with Lee every minute. His was the face Lee saw the minute he regained consciousness, a smile of worn out gratitude, joyous tears and gentle hugs and kisses. Lee cried himself, partly in discomfort but mostly because he had almost begun to believe he’d never see his mate again. Waking up to him was almost like a dream and he held on tightly to Will’s hand, refusing to let go even in sleep. The love between the men was so sweet, so apparent, that nobody had the heart to kick Will out of the hospital.
Lee healed slowly even though his injuries were mostly superficial. A concussion, a few cracked ribs, a fractured wrist, and sprained ankles as well as cuts and bruises. Once he woke up, he told Keaton what he’d overheard Cecil and the other leaders discussing. He’s had no idea they meant him physical harm, but it was easy in hindsight to put the whole puzzle together.
Cecil had already gotten in touch with the Camp 10 honcho, demanding Lee and Will’s return, and Keaton fibbed a bit and told him that Lee was too gravely injured to be sent back, and it was only right to allow his mate to stay with him. A week went by, and Lee was recovering nicely, and still excuses were made to keep him out of Cecil’s clutches. As far as Keaton was concerned, Lee and Will were done with Camp 12 unless there was a major overhaul of the leadership base of the camp.
Of course, the men who beat Lee, like all bullies do, had to boast of their exploits, and it didn’t take long to round them up for questioning. Lee said that Virgil Camden might be one of his assailants, and when he was questioned, he gave up the others. Upon realizing that the leaders of the other camps already knew most of the details, they soon provided them the information that Cecil and six other leaders were behind the brutal attack. Finding five big men not averse to violence was easy, and Cecil had paid off the attackers to lie in wait for Lee.
Every day was a new, reassuring experience for Lee and Will. Once he recovered enough to be released from the infirmary, a cabin was given to the men, a far better one than any they had experienced at their original location. Evie and James were sent to back temporarily to Camp 12 but didn’t stay for long; the rest of the camps’ leaders determined it was an unsafe environment and waived their contract due to the circumstances. They soon were offered a place at Camp 10 to live until their Fairlamor period was up. They brought all Lee and Will’s things with them including cards and letters from their friends wishing them the best.
The time was passing swiftly and another month went by.
Will could not do enough for Lee until he had to be informed that he was not an invalid and could get around on his own. His ribs healed slowly, his fracture mended and his cuts left only faint scars that would disappear with time.
“I almost lost you, Lee,” Will would tell him again and again. “I don’t want you to overexert yourself.”
The younger man, however, did not relish being unable to do his fair share. As soon as he was able he was out in the fields working alongside the rest of the men. Will would try to coddle him, and it would take all the men in their section to finally convince him that Lee was well enough to pick produce. They made friends easily and the Camp 10 men came to appreciate the couple as much as their other friends did.
The plea over overexertion often came up when Lee would say he was well enough to make love. Will, as long as it had been since they had been together, was afraid of hurting him and kept putting it off. But Lee would not be denied.
The night before, all that Will would allow was for them to slowly stroke each other with hands, and while it felt good, Lee missed Will’s cock in his mouth and having Will’s lips wrapped around his own stiff erection. Every night brought him an extra measure of fatigue as his body worked hard to get better, and he always dropped into the sleep of the dead. But he was not going to let Will treat him like an invalid forever.
Will lay in languid contentment, smiling as his eyes opened. He thought he was dreaming, but now he could feel a pulling at his groin and the warmth of a body between his legs. He probably should’ve pulled his young lover up and scolded him softly for going against orders, but he lay still so he wouldn’t disturb Lee. Waking him up like this was new, and Will was enjoying it.
Lee had awakened just before dawn in Will’s loose embrace and nestled closer with the idea of closing his eyes for a few more minutes. However, the stiffness of Will’s cock on his hip had given him other ideas, and slowly and carefully he’d lowered himself until his head was level with his groin. That naked, erect and pretty dick was right in front of him, and he couldn’t help running his tongue over the head. It quivered in greeting, and he heard Will sigh in his sleep.
Lee couldn’t get enough of Will’s cock and he didn’t waste any time deciding what to do. He opened his mouth and devoured it, sucking on the smooth head and joyously tasting the precum that bubbled from the slit. Then it was slow licks down the shaft to circle his balls and glide back to the tip and suck again. Up and down he kissed and licked, playing with his new toy, excited when Will subconsciously began to thrust.
After that, he rolled Will’s ball sac in his hand, taking in the heaviness of the testicles and enjoying the fuzziness against his fingers. On the next swipe down with his tongue he pulled one of Will’s balls into his mouth and lovingly caressed with gentle swirls. Once it was thoroughly wet, he transferred his attention to the other side, washing it carefully as his lips pulled softly at the furry sac. He could hear Will groaning in pleasure which only increased his own excitement.
He returned to sucking on Will’s tool which was thoroughly moistened with his precum, and he eagerly slurped it up. Lightly Lee pumped with his hand, sliding up and down the foreskin as his mouth bobbed, slowly stretching down over his steely length. Even though he wasn’t aware of it, this was the point where Will awoke, surprised to find himself so aroused by what was not just a dream.
Will let his body and mind soak in pleasure. His hips were on their own, fucking his lover’s mouth, and every snap was sending him closer to the edge. He couldn’t help the whimpers escaping his lips. Vainly he tried to hold back his orgasm but it was useless. The combination of Lee’s mouth and those calloused hands on his dick and balls was too much. “Fuck,” he roared, and he was skittering off into bliss, only barely aware of forcefully cumming in Lee’s mouth.
Lee had little warning. He heard the muffled curse just as Will’s cock swelled minutely between his lips, and then his hot, slightly bitter essence was filling his mouth completely. Lee swallowed gratefully, warmed to the core to share and give back to his mate, knowing that taking each other was a gift to savor.
Will was still for only a few minutes before he hauled Lee up to the pillows and kissed him deeply. He could taste himself on Lee’s tongue, and he quickly ended the embrace to flip his body, lunging for his own pre-breakfast treat. He took Lee to the root on his first mouthful, using lips, tongue and suction to skillfully drag him, screaming, into his own liberation of cum.
“I was so afraid I’d lost you,” Will told Lee, gently pushing his sweaty hair back from his forehead. “When you weren’t in the cabin and I couldn’t find you, I almost went nuts.”
Lee smiled. “I guess I have a hard head.”
“Thank god you do.” Will stared into Lee’s silver eyes and saw love twinkling there. “I love you, Lee.”
Lee blushed and kissed Will’s cheek. “I love you too, no matter what happens.”
Drowsy and sated, the two men went back to sleep.
Four months later
“It is our determination that you, William Thomas Theriot, and you, Lee Gauthier Boudreaux, have satisfied the contract of the Luttepor Fairlamor and are now being discharged to find you way to whatever village will have you. Do either of you have anything to say?”
Lee and Will looked at each other and smiled. Together they answered, “No.”
It was a beautiful late-spring morning, almost summer, and they were being sent out from Camp 10. They had never been required to return to Camp 12 and had lived the last four months in peace. Now they were on their way to their future without a care.
The leadership of Camp 12 had completely changed, supposedly for the better, according to Evie and James. That it had happened was not a surprise. That it had taken such a short amount of time was. One day Cecil was there. The next he and his cronies were gone.
Lee and Will already had their meager belongings packed. They signed the paper, and their stay in the camps ended. They left the leaders at the gates, kissing deeply as the leaders smiled at them. They walked down the road about a hundred yards and around the bend. Off to their left they heard a whistle.
“Lee,” Evie called from the deciduous forest of native elm and ash trees. “Will and Lee.”
Stopping they set their heavy packs down and beheld a group of sixteen people waiting for them. Most were members of Camp 12 including Evie and James, Grace and a fellow worker she had taken as a secret lover a month after Will and Lee were paired, and Florence, along with her Camp 8 Fairlamor mate. There were also two other men’s couples who had come forward in the last sixty days asking to mate and been denied by their camp leaders.
The rest were like Grace and her fellow; couples who came together in love who refused to be part of a system that was so cold and impersonal. Times were changing, although some didn’t think it was fast enough, but there was less tyranny in the camps. This group of young people had made the recent decision to set out together and trek west to see what freedom tasted like. As they say, there’s safety in numbers.
Will nodded at his friends and picked up his pack again. “It’s time to shake the dust off our feet,” he told them. “Let’s get out of here.”
They fell into a line and began to pick their way through the forest. For those sneaking away, nobody would notice their absence until lights out. By that time they would be miles away, and the camp most likely wouldn’t waste precious resources to find them.
Will slung his arm around Lee’s shoulders. “Are you ready for this adventure?” he asked, tightening his fingers into the loose ponytail down his back. He loved playing with Lee’s hair.
Lee looked around at the landscape that had been his home for all of his life. But his true home was with this man, and he’d brave anything if they could be together. He lifted up and kissed him on the cheek.
“As long as I’m with you.”
“For always, Lee.” He kissed him back. “For always.”
Lutte pour faire l'amour is French for fight for love. I'm sorry for strangling the language, but in the spirit of the story I hope you'll understand.
© 2012 by Janelle Caves