The heat was oppressive, the hostel hostile. A light breeze blew the dirty white curtains, the fan chugged a noisy circuit over his body, but sleep proved elusive. He turned onto his side, naked now, and kicked all the bedclothes onto the floor. The sweat from his back had left damp spots on the stiff, graying cotton sheet, and the pillow emanated his scent.
He would not sleep tonight, he realized. Sighing, he sat up, found his underwear bunched up with the sheets, and pulled it on. His robe followed, and he caught a glimpse of his drawn, wet, and briefly bearded face in the warped mirror hanging from a wire on the door. He scratched at his dark bristles; the few touched with white were visible even at a distance in the dimness. More nights like this one and he'd be all gray. It wasn't the fight that aged him—that kept him young, if anything—it was the waiting, these stymied days and nights when time became as languid and unforgiving as the heat.
He slipped into his slippers and grabbed a towel from the rack. At least the communal shower would be free at this time of night. He hoped the plumbing cooperated, didn't moan and groan and wake the rest of the floor, who might do more than moan and groan. He was looking forward to a spray of cool water, a dire prospect in most circumstances.
But someone else had had the same idea. He turned the corner to find the blond student who had arrived at the hostel shortly after he had, now similarly attired and towel in hand, his long hair mussed and darkened by sleep and sweat. They stared at each other a moment, frozen, amused, playing at strangers in the night. He smiled first, and the blond's mouth tweaked upwards.
He knew anyone seeing them at that moment would have guessed an acquaintance, though it was hardly a typical friendship: a German student seeing the world on as little money as possible; an American businessman, the victim of rampant theft in a poor village, used to better and using what money he had in his pocket until Western Union opened in the morning. But the look they exchanged in front of the bathroom rendered them similar, akin, equal: added earned years to the student's face, negated the gray on his own beard. Little changes. But they made all the difference.
He was about to concede defeat, to acknowledge that the blond was closer, to retreat back to his hot room with a new image to ponder, when a banging erupted from downstairs. Shouts, argument, stern and threatening demands. There was only one group in this village with the confidence to cause a stir at this time of night. He knew the natives feared the beret-clad soldiers with their long guns and brutish manners. Experience and brashness had long mitigated his own fears, but he could not be discovered here, not yet. The beard, while effective in convincing those ready to be lead, was a flimsy cover for his real face, for who he really was.
More banging, more voices; yelling. The younger-than-she-pretended woman who owned the hostel with her son was letting them in, arguing in angry Alsacean and German as the men plowed through the door like they owned the place. On instinct, he covered the distance to the blond student, whose mouth was pressed in a thin-lipped frown. He grabbed his fellow boarder and pulled him into the bathroom, shutting the door without a significant sound, while downstairs the strained and mocking voices reached a crescendo.
He locked the door, and the blond turned on the shower, wincing as he ran a hand under the weak stream of cold water. Boots clunked up the wooden staircase to the second floor, and they froze, heads cocked toward the door, listening. He pressed a finger to his lips. The blond rolled his eyes and bent to peer through the keyhole.
They searched the rooms first, rousing the hot and grumpy tenants from shallow sleeps. They passed by the bathroom, unconsciously dissuaded by the roar of the shower. But at last all the rooms were searched, the intimidated boarders questioned, the sought-after parties unfound. He dimly heard someone mention the shower and tensed, ready for an unfair fight, his mind scrambling for a convincing lie. He glanced at the blond, who was slipping out of his robe, revealing a lean but firm body untypical of a poor itinerant student. Naked, he stepped into the shower, grimacing at the sudden chill.
He hesitated until the first knock at their door. A sharper bang followed—their barricade was not made of stern stuff. He dropped his own robe to the floor and stepped out of his underwear, revealing a body as discontinuous as the other man's. He climbed into the narrow stall and pulled the curtain closed to shield their naked bodies—a feeble cover, as their disguises were proving, intended only for those not who were not looking, or were looking somewhere else. He barely noticed the water, or the body next to his. He watched the door and listened.
When the first silver flash of an axe peaked through the splintering wood, he was pulled bodily into a heated embrace. He forgot everything for a moment, which wasn't like him.
The blond's lips clutched at his in desperation that shifted then to passion, at least in his mind. This, he knew immediately, this was the perfect disguise. The ones who were sought—the people they were even in their disguises (but not when they were kissing?)—would never be caught like this, in such a compromising position.
But a blond student could be more down on his luck than he let on; a handsome businessman might tolerate such hovels for reasons other than unfortunate circumstances. Perhaps fate or coincidence (or circumstances of another kind) had led these personas to the bathroom at the same time, and one thing had led to another.
This was inspired; and this was easy. He knew how to kiss on instinct, although the situation strayed in important ways from his usual trysts. He stole control of the embrace after the blond's initial gesture, bending slightly so the top of his head wasn't peaking over the curtain, so they were all shapes and no form. He surged closer to the other body, pushing them both under the spray; he took advantaged of the blond's opened-mouthed astonishment and plunged in further, heedless suddenly, though not un-conscious. He was aware of the eyes on them now, aware too that he was becoming aroused in spite of the cold water and just who it was he was kissing, and why. His penis jetted into the hard stomach in front of him. He tightened his arm around the broad shoulders, desperate for contact, for that essential friction, that elusive warmth. This couldn't, wouldn't, shouldn't be a drawn-out encounter—everything about it required haste, since it had happened at all. And it was happening. And though some of it was necessity, he could not deny that somewhere in the desperation, in the amusement and disbelief and even in the well-concealed apprehension, there was also pleasure, self-indulgence, and excitement.
Behind the thin, mildewed curtain, he heard faint voices—they were conferring, no doubt, wondering whether to disturb the assignation. No doubt doing so was within the law of the land, but not within their mission, their set purpose, which was to find two spies, UNCLE agents, not to break up a tourist's fun, a student's night's work. They weren't here to cause trouble for people who would soon be gone. He heard the frustrated grumbles, understood the sporadic French phrase, listened as they shuffled out with an occasional manly chuckle, a few amused whispers, one muttered, high-pitched prayer, uttered no doubt by the old woman purveyor, and just for appearance's sake, for this could hardly be the first time—for her...
But he had more important, more pressing and pulsing and pleasing-painful things on his mind. He stepped awkwardly around the narrow tub and leaned their two bodies sideways against the tiled wall. He removed his lips from the other man's, but only for a moment, only so he could find them again, so he could know every corner and every line and every indent of the frown he was now kissing. He bent and extended his knees, bouncing, rubbing his swollen cock against the blond's body, willing himself to come, to complete, and he wasn't uncomfortable or unhappy, couldn't feel this was a hardship or something forced upon him by the job or the danger or the disguise. It felt like prophesy, like a Greek play, like the inevitable full-circle only the hero, in the midst of it, managed to miss.
He was breathing hard and fast around those lips, taking in water so he seemed as like to drown as anything else. He stopped dancing about and buried himself in the blond's body, moving their heads outside the spray as he sucked at the other man's neck. It was good, it was wonderful, but he knew it could not go on all night. He stepped away, intending to find a better angle toward completion, when a hand stopped him, a hand with some talent and experience, pumping firmly the length of his swollen and pleading cock. It didn't take long, just a few circuits, and the hand knew just what it was doing.
He hoped they were alone when it happened. He couldn't be sure.
He pulled away, tired and himself again, more aware of the close call than the climax even as his come made its way to the drain with the water. He stood on tiptoes and peered over the top of the curtain. Their pursuers were gone; the door was shards and splinters; the other boarders had retreated to their rooms. He turned back to the blond to share this news, to share more if there was time. He was replaying the scene in his head, ready for its sequel, watching as the blond turned off the water and brushed back his long hair.
He hadn't come. He hadn't even been aroused.
He watched as he stepped out of the bathtub, grabbed one of the towels and dried off. He watched as he pulled on his robe and rubbed at his hair. He watched as he walked out, as if that was it, as if it hadn't been anything apart from the disguise, apart from a moment's desperation, apart from a lurid or lucrative meeting between two people who were not them, in a hostel on a warm night.
"Illy—" he began, but bit his tongue against the last syllable. They might still be listening.
He dried off and went back to bed.