Lara Croft: After a Battlebyjusttheone©
Lara Croft: After a Battle
or Playing the Beauty with Two Beasts
>> Inspired by the art of DeTomasso ...
Collin asked, "Did that really happen?" He waited, but they didn't answer him. "Did that really happen?" he asked again, "Or did I just the dream the whole thing, just now?"
Lara had been asking herself the same question.
There was no real reason for the fire they'd made. The moon was full, and the climate in this place was mild. They hadn't done any cooking; none of them wanted to eat.
"Am I the only one still awake?" Collin said.
"Not as long as you keep talking," Grief said.
"I'm sorry," Collin said, "I'm still too keyed up. I get that way. I always get real keyed up, after a scrap."
It had been a bit more than a scrap. Two men hadn't come out of there. She hadn't liked either of them much. This was a harsh thing to say, but all the same she was glad it had been those guys that went down, and not Collin or Grief. Or herself, of course. But nobody deserved to go out like that. Not even stupid cunts like those two guys had been.
This was all only half an hour ago ... Hardie had led them down into catacombs, behind the waterfall ... She really hadn't expected they would find anything. She thought the man was daft, and that the scroll he was working from was a forgery. But the entrance turned out right where he said it would be, and he knew the trick to open the door.
Ten minutes later, maybe less, they were attacked. Mummies. Actual mummies, clambering out from the walls. Dozens of the damn things. Maybe they were only regular men in costumes. She hoped that was the case. But they hadn't been easy to kill. Took an awful lot of bullets to put one down—even headshots didn't get the job done. Even then, there could be a rational explanation. Mustn't let oneself be duped. Religious mania, funny drugs. God knows.
They got Hardie and his principal associate, Maynard. They hadn't killed them, though. Not right away. When Lara last saw the wretched bastards, both screaming men were being held down on stone tables and wrapped all over in bandages ... The mummies, several working at once, were mummifying them. Alive.
They'd invited Lara to tag along on this trip in an earnest if somewhat pathetic bid to make her take them seriously as fellow archaeologists. She had agreed because she was quite sure they'd fall on their faces and she was rather looking forward to seeing it, when that occurred. Not very nice of her, but there you are ... Collin and Grief were hired as muscle. She had been slightly acquainted with both for a couple years. She had never employed them herself, of course—Lara Croft never employed such men—but they had each crossed her path, on a few occasions, and provided useful aid for her in tight spots. Separately, not together. They were individual operators, not an ongoing partnership like Hardie and Maynard were. Collin was wiry and wolfish. Gordon "Good" Grief had the build of the proverbial brick shithouse. Decent enough chaps, as far as their type goes. Today, it must be said, they hadn't done much of a job providing protection for anybody but themselves. But she couldn't hold it against them. They were hired against the slim possibility of trouble from local bandits and predatory wildlife—not to face a howling swarm of almost unkillable mummies in that lightless maze of tunnels.
Lara hadn't acted any more noble, this time, had she? And she was feeling pretty altogether rotten over it. She could have gone back for the unlucky cunts. She should have tried harder to reach them, when she saw what was being done to them. There had been time to act—to make a go of it, while they were still visibly struggling. It hadn't been too late. Despite the odds, she wasn't anywhere near short of ammunition. But she hadn't tried at all. Hadn't even waffled over the question. She just hightailed it out of there, same as the two mercenaries had, to save her own sweet skin.
Simple truth was, she hadn't cared enough about those guys. Couple of berks, the pair of them. The only reason she was on the scene at all had been in the cruel expectation of mocking them, when those silly catacombs they said were "waiting to be uncovered" turned out not to exist, outside their fevered imaginations. Now it was proven they weren't quite so wrongheaded after all. No, put it square: They'd been right and she'd been wrong. Fair enough. Fat lot of good it had done them.
Christ, what a mess. Not her finest hour, no sir. She felt like an absolute shit.
"You know what's funny?" Collin said, "The funniest part was I enjoyed all that. That was cool as hell. That was the coolest fucking thing that's ever happened to me. Fucking mummies! Man! I didn't get scared at all. I'm sure that sounds like bullshit. Like I'm talking myself up. But I'm not. Actually it scares me now, when I keep thinking back through it. But not the memories, I mean. I'm enjoying the memories. They're awesome. That's what scares me, though—that it didn't scare me and it still doesn't. I liked it. I had fun. When two guys got ... taken like that. Entombed by horror movie monsters right in front of us. That's fucked up. I guess I'm a little sick. I guess I knew that already but ... Well. Fuck." He laughed. "I know, I know. I need to shut the fuck up. Wish I could, but I'm wired. I'm like a little kid, when I get worked up this way. Like a little kid on a sugar high. I know it makes me annoying. Believe me, I know. I'm annoying myself just as bad, I really am. I swear."
"I always get really horny," Grief said.
The others let that sit, without comment. But Grief, for whatever daft reason of his own, couldn't let it drop ... "It's not from the violence itself. I'm pretty sure it isn't." He was talking this through, now he'd got himself going again, very slowly and thoughtfully. More to himself, no doubt, than to either of them. "It doesn't happen until afterward. Fighting is never fun for me. You'd think I'd like it more, because I know I'm pretty good at it. I've always been pretty good at it. But I always get really scared and really pissed. I always think my luck's gonna run out and I'm gonna die. I've been in so many firefights and shit and I've always come through without a scratch. I know my odds keep getting worse and worse. Nobody's luck holds forever. So I always get scared and then I get pissed about it, too. I always feel like I'm gonna throw up, until the battle's done. So far I never have. Lots of guys puke afterward, even if they feel fine during the shooting. But I don't. Somehow my stomach settles itself down real fast, once I'm out of danger, like flipping a switch. But then I always get enormous wood. Takes forever to go away."
"I get the same itch," Collin said, "I don't bone up, but I get the same itch. I figure that's pretty common. At least for men. Is it different for women, Miss Croft?"
It wasn't, actually. Not for her it wasn't. But she kept curious tidbit this to herself.
"Is she asleep, Grief? I can't tell. Can you tell, over there?"
"Just leave her be, man. Let her think her thoughts."
"Yeah. Good. You're right. Yeah. You know what it is? It's affirmation. What you and me were just discussing, I mean. It's an affirmation of life. Of just being alive."
"Yeah. I suppose it is."
"Plus, surviving shit makes you feel bad ass, doesn't it? Like, 'Fuck yeah! I'm awesome!' I could be dead now, but I ain't. 'Cause I'm too bad ass to die. That's a pretty sexy feeling. Bein' a badass is pretty damn sexy. So then you naturally wanna spread it around. Share your awesomeness with the world around you. It's like a duty, almost, isn't it? Otherwise all this awesomeness of yours is just gonna gradually fade and go to waste. And that's no good. You're squandering it, if you let that happen. You might as well have just fuckin' died."
Grief laughed—a rumble like a motorcycle engine.
Lara suddenly sat up and stretched.
"Did we wake you?" Grief said, "Sorry."
"It's fine," Lara said, "It doesn't matter. I'm not sleepy. I feel a little ... I need a better wash, I think. I think I'll go to the river and have another wash. I feel itchy. My skin, I mean. I think perhaps I'll go and take a swim. Cool off and try to tire myself out. How's that sound?"
She got up and walked away from the fire, pulling her top off over her head as she went. Perhaps, even with her back to them, she should have waited until she was further away out of view before she did that. But she didn't.
She wondered just what the Hell she was doing. What had got into her? But fuck that—there was no mystery to it, if she was honest with herself. It was everything the men had been saying. Everything they said was absolutely true. Every part of it.
Still, one could exercise restraint. One could acknowledge these instinctual impulses without necessarily allowing oneself to yield to them. Was she actually going to let herself do this? Well, considering she'd just finished removing the rest of her clothing, and waded into the river, it seemed that she was.
The water was nice. Not too cold, not too deep. But not too shallow either. A stronger current than she expected. But not so strong it was a problem. It felt good, actually, pressing against her, the constant movement over her skin. Not exactly the massage jets in a hot tub—it was subtler than that. But subtlety was good.
Except one could be too subtle. That was the danger, with subtlety. People had to be bright enough not to miss your implications.
How much time had passed? Not a lot yet. But some. And nothing was happening.
She might end up just having herself a little private swim, after all. The guys might not have got the message. She wasn't particularly explicit with them. She shouldn't have needed to be, if either of them had any sense. But maybe neither of them did. Not enough, anyhow. Many men didn't. Oftentimes it seemed that not one single man on the entire planet was perceptive enough to reliably find his own arse in a dark room with both his hands.
And the river was easing her some, all on its own. Cooling her down, quieting the urges. Mostly. She still felt randy, but not so bad as before. Sex would be nice ... but she no longer felt like she needed it. The itch wasn't gonna drive her crazy, if she didn't get it scratched.
Fine, then. Their loss. No sweat. It was disappointing, but that's life for you.
But then she heard footsteps, behind her. When she turned—crouching to keep most of herself below the waterline—she saw it was Collin, on the shore, right next to her little pile of things. He still had his shorts on, and his cap. But when she looked at him and raised an eyebrow like Spock on Star Trek, he nodded sheepishly and pulled them both off. Almost tripped himself stepping out of the shorts. Would have smacked flat on his face into the water.
"You by yourself?" she asked, which was rather idiotic, since it was perfectly plain to see he was. "Grief didn't want to come, as well?"
"He wasn't sure he'd be welcome. Either of us. I figured, no harm in going to see. But Grief was afraid you'd take it badly. Didn't want to intrude, if that wasn't what you wanted."
"I thought I made what I wanted clear enough."
"Hey, sure, I thought so too. I'm here, aren't I? But Grief has a point. It's easy enough to misread a girl. Especially on a night like this, after the kind of day we all just had. A chap can fool himself, can't he? See more than what's there, when he's all keyed-up like this."
"A chap, in certain circumstances, can also be too damn bloody cautious."
"Gosh. Seems you'd rather it had been him than me, eh?"
"No, not at all. The invitation was general. It was supposed to be both of you." This wasn't exactly true. It wasn't exactly false, either ... She had indeed desired both to come after her. But if it had only been Grief without Collin, she wouldn't have minded. Lara felt bad, when she realized that. There was nothing specifically wrong with Collin. But all the same, she fancied Grief quite a bit more. At least in this present moment, she did. Neither one was her ideal type, if she even had an ideal type. Sometimes these funny moods take you over. In fact a chief part of the attraction right now with both of them was that she wouldn't normally go for either one. Somehow she'd got turned on by these two men that shouldn't be able to turn her on. But not really by the men themselves. What she liked was that she didn't like them. That fact in and of itself.
Yes, it didn't make any sense—but that had become the most arousing part. The complete overall wrongness of this whole entire dynamic, tonight. It might have been almost anybody. Any men that were here with her on this spot—provided, that is, they'd just gone through what they'd all just gone through, together. That fucking awful battle with all those awful fucking mummies.
"Are you coming in, Collin? Or do you just wanna stand there and stare at me?"
"Well, um, I was just wondering ... Would you like me to hustle back and fetch Grief? I can, if you like. If you prefer. Whatever's gonna make you happiest."
Good of him to offer. And of course it must have been disheartening, when she turned all grouchy on him. "Yes. I believe I would prefer that, if you'd be so good."
He was disappointed. He didn't manage to conceal it. He must have hoped making the offer would be enough to impress her, by itself. Well, he shouldn't have said anything if he couldn't handle following through. But she saw him take a breath and get his shit together. This was how it had to be. "All right then, Miss Croft," he said, "Hang on. Won't be a moment." He bent for his shorts, but then realized that was stupid and let them lie. And then he fucked off ...
She started to straighten out on her back, with the intention of spreading herself out and floating like that on the surface, face up to the sky—and not just her face. She imagined this would make quite a spectacular sight, under the moonlight, for the men when they arrived.
But Collin was by himself again when he came pattering back. And he'd only been gone a few moments.
"That was rather fast," Lara said, "Wouldn't he come? What's his problem now?"
"Actually I didn't speak to him just yet. I didn't go all the way back to the fire. I had a thought, you see. It's a request, actually. I'd like to make a request. Feel free to say no."
"What is it?"
He rattled it out at quite a clip: "Just wondered if you might allow a chap a turn on his own, before we bring over the other guy. It's just you see I have to tell you I'm not used to ... I mean ... Well, hell. The thing is, I'm just not very sure I'd, um, perform as good as I'd like, with another fellow on hand looking over my shoulder or whatever, as I'm going to work, or however you want to put it. I'm concerned it might throw off my stroke, so to speak. Just since I'm not experienced in that kind of thing."
"You're not comfortable with a threesome?"
"It's not something I've ever taken part in, is all. Being naked in front of another fellow, it will make me feel weird. I'm sorry if that sounds childish."
"I'm afraid it does. You don't have to suck his cock or anything, Collin. Unless you happen to decide you feel like it. Could that perhaps be what you're afraid of?"
He didn't respond to that jibe. "I know there are plenty of chaps who can have it off in any setting, a church or a checkout line, regardless how many other fuckers happen to be standing around. The more the merrier, for men like that. Believe it or not, I wish I could be that way—I even have fantasies about it—but I'm not. I guess I'm too bashful. I'm sorry."
She tried to help. "You've no reason to feel bashful, Collin. You're fine, I assure you."
"I appreciate the sentiment. I wish it were that easy. Look, I see how it is. It's fine. I'll go fetch Grief for you like you want. Since I'll have the camp to myself, I can have a good wank without bothering anybody or anybody bothering me. One word of warning—I get noisy, when I get going. So don't freak out if you hear me give a holler. But I imagine you and Grief will be too occupied to notice."
And just like that, before she could think of anything to say back to him, he fucked off again. She tried to call him back, but he didn't hear, or pretended not to.
God, what was up with everything? Whole stupid world seemed determined to make her feel like the ultimate heel today.
And now finally Grief had showed up. He took his sweet time about it, for whatever reason. Felt like another hour had gone by. Lara had been right on the edge of giving up on him. She'd just walked out of the river, and was wringing out her trademark braid in front of her with both hands—a lengthy, tedious chore—when he appeared at last out of the trees in front of her.
Unlike Collin, he'd undressed completely before he left their camp. They were both bare, from top to bottom. Now they stood looking each other over. Amazing, what a difference it makes. How changed a person is, without any clothes on. They don't seem like themselves—they've turned into somebody else. But this other self—their naked self—is their true form. Their natural state, undisguised.
All the rest we put on is artificial. All the rest is artifice. The body underneath is who we are. There's something awesome about that. But also at the same time it's dreadful. Limiting. And it's largely so arbitrary, in every aspect. What you got and what you don't. Whether it works or whether it doesn't. If you got your shit together, you work hard to take care of it. You bust your ass, as the yanks say. But there's only so much anyone can do. So much depends on what you start with. And that depends on blind luck, more than anything else. Fairness had nothing to do with it. Neither does virtue.
You're hot or you're not. We can fuss all day about how pointless that is, or ought to be. All the harm we do to each other and to ourselves, because of that bullshit. Torturing ourselves over such strict exclusive standards. We ought to know better. Definitely. But it doesn't change the facts. Either you're hot or you're not. Some people got it goin' on—and everybody else just fucking doesn't, the poor schmucks. They have to muddle along as best as they can.
Lara knew she was blessed, in that regard. No sense pretending she wasn't. Her body was just about as perfect as a woman's body could be, and she took pride in it, and she was grateful for it—and she busted her ass to keep it that way. She would have hated to be otherwise. But she resented it, too. She hated how important it was to her, and to everybody else—looking this good. It shouldn't be as big a deal as it was. But it was. She couldn't deny that it was. Her fucking looks, her sex appeal. That stuff wasn't supposed to define her. She tried so hard to make herself more than that. To live and to strive for greater things. More lasting, more substantial things. Had she succeeded? She thought she had. She hoped she had. She would always keep trying.
But she could never quite leave the other shit behind, either. She could never quite move beyond the demands of her body and her beauty as much as she wanted, as much as she should. She wanted to be the kind of person that didn't care what they looked like, because it didn't matter. Not really, not in the end. It wasn't important. Health was important—but beauty was just a surface thing. Nice to have, while it lasted, if you were lucky enough to have it. But it was an extra. It was trivial and transitory. She didn't need to be as hot as she was, to do what she did—to be what she was. Except that wasn't really true. She wished it was, but it wasn't. Not for the rest of the world, nor even for herself. Lara Croft wouldn't be Lara Croft without this ultra-hot body of hers. Without her aggressive ostentatious sex appeal. It owned her more than she owned it, no matter what she told herself.