After three days, Will's arms had adjusted to the effort of paddling his canoe with a second canoe in tow, and after rowing most of the afternoon the only things that got to him now were the heat, the mosquitoes, and the boredom. "How far do you think we are?" he shouted.
"We should be there soon," Sarah shouted back from her own gear-laden canoe team. "It's not like we can miss it." Will nodded. The Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente, the Brazilian environmental protection agency, supposedly had an outpost somewhere up ahead, a small compound of civilization dropped into some of the most dense rainforest the Amazon had to offer. And they did mean rain, Will thought. He'd brought the best rain-proof tent he could buy and still felt damp all the way through to his skin. At night, the rain poured constantly; in the daytime, it may as well have been raining for all the humidity. The temperature consistently hovered near 100.
"I didn't really train for this," he said.
Sarah didn't even acknowledge his complaint. He'd said it often since the creaking diesel rustbucket and its complaining, larcenous captain had dropped them off and puttered its way back down the Manauas Tributary. Will was a boy from Philadelphia, a place with cold winters and mild summers. He thought he'd known hot. He'd been wrong. The Amazon's southern Basin, here on the border between Brazil and Peru, were warmed from the fires of Hell with the added misery of non-stop rain for Satan's pleasure.
"There it is!" Sarah shouted back through the leaves. She'd disappeared around a bend in the river, obscured by the incredible density of leaves and branches that loomed over, ready to snag the unwary who managed to get past the snakes and insects. Will tempered his paddling, maintaining the same steady pace they'd set all morning, keeping his strength in reserve as much as possible. He'd learned just how much it took to keep paddling the canoes, hour after hour, with just enough time to set up camp and eat a cold meal before the darkness fell on them.
A man stood on a small T-shaped dock and shouted something in what Will thought was Spanish, but it wasn't like the Spanish he learned in school. He'd taken three years in high school, five years ago, and if he understood one word in seven he felt lucky. A tall boy next to the man ran back up into the outpost, a small rectangle of three small wooden buildings, mongrelized constructions of whatever IBAMA had shipped up here three yeras ago, patched or replaced with local materials as needed.
When Professor Bergmar strolled across the compound onto the dock, Will's relief felt like the first moment of cool he'd had in a week. This had been one long voyage of trust: trust that his meager cash would take him into the bush, trust that Sarah knew where they were going, trust that the Professor wasn't playing an elaborate joke on him. "Good trip?" the Professor said.
"Will's a bit of a complainer," Sarah said, flashing Will a smile as she dragged her canoes around the T and tied it up along the inside. "But he's a gentleman all the same."
The Professor said, "Complaining's a national sport out here, Sarah. You weren't too happy with your first trip, either." Will followed her example, but fumbled with the knots. Sarah showed him how to tie the canoes to the hitch. "Thanks."
"Any time, handsome," she said.
"Who was that other guy?"
The Professor chuckled. "You'll meet him soon enough. Oh, and IBAMA's out here but he's not with them, I don't think," the Professor said. "Four guys dropped in on helicopters last week. I checked their IDs so I'm pretty sure they're not coca growers. If they are, Brazil's got bigger problems than I thought." Sarah nodded. Will had heard about the drug trade but he'd been assured that those problems were going on nowhere near where the team would be working this summer. Except where they'd gone it was technically winter, wasn't it? "As for the lad, well..."
"What?" Will said.
"You'll meet him when you see him." Will stared at the broad smile of his Professor and advisor, his eyes lingering a bit long on the man's mouth, before he shook his head. "Oh, he's not dangerous, I don't think. He speaks English. He's not a native, I assure you of that!"
Will was happy to see Kass and George looking intact. Both wore t-shirts with sports team logos and shorts that were probably not legal back home. Kass was the better-looking of the two, Will thought, but then he shook his head and tried to put those ideas out of his head. They wouldn't serve him well here.
"Sarah, why don't you show Will his room? Give him number six."
"Can do, Professor," she said, shouldering the huge pack she'd carried in her canoe. Will did the same.. "Come on, Will."
Will followed her across the tiny compound. It was no bigger than an intersection in downtown. "That's the warehouse," she said, pointing to the building furthest inland. "That's IBAMA's office, where they do their monitoring. They have radio equipment in there. This place here is their idea of dorm." She led him into a ramshackle one-floor run from the waterfront inland, making up one wall of the compound. "That hump over there has six tanks of propane. They refill it every few months. Oh, and if you can see that little trail there, leading away from the river? There's a box latrine at the other end." She wiped her hands nervously. "This is yours," she said, leading him into one of the rooms.
It was barely a closet wide enough for a metal-framed bed and himself. There were hooks on the walls, a trunk on the floor at the foot of the bed, and a mirror. "I've seen documentaries about prisons with more than this," Sarah said.
"Yeah," Will said. Living in this hothouse hovel for three months felt like Hell to Will, but in truth he'd be spending many of his nights out in the jungle. He wasn't supposed to call it that. "Rainforest" was more correct and he'd heard Kass call it "the bush," but it certainly felt like jungle. He walked to the back and opened up two wooden shutters covering a window.
He heard a sound on the roof like running feet, big enough to be human. He leaned out the window, wondering if there was any way to see the roof from here.
A shadow fell over Will, hands grabbed his head, and suddenly he was crowded in with another face, so bizarrely scrambled that before he could figure out it was upside it said, "Gotcha!" and kissed him.
Then whoever it was let go of Will. He watched, sputtering, as a youthful male figure reached up and grabbed the edge of the roof, pushed himself off with an easy sumersault, and dropped to the ground with Olympic grace. "Ta da!"
Will barely restrained himself. "What the Hell was that for? Who are you?"
"I am Nisy!" the young man said. "And that was your welcome!" With that, he ran off into the thick forest. Will spotted the tail and ears almost after the fact.
Sarah had joined him at the window. "What was that?" she said.
"A Bastet," Will said softly, surprised. He wondered what he should do, or say. What would a straight man do if kissed like that? He scrubbed his mouth with the back of his arm.
"Did he hit you?"
"No, no," Will said. He made a show of touching his face. "I mean, not... no, he didn't hit me. Just surprised me, that's all."
She gave him a small pout of concern. "Let's go ask the Professor. And we can get the rest of our stuff from our canoes."
Will nodded. The canoes were packed with three months worth of food and all the other supplies he'd be needing for his stay out here in the wilds of the Amazon. When he got back to the dock Kass and George had already started unloading the common supplies and collecting them in a metal shed at the end of the residence row. "Have you met Nisy yet?" George said. "I saw him on the roof. Kid's a damn monkey."
"I met him," Will said. "He surprised me, hanging upside down like that. He said, 'Gotcha.'"
"Huh. He hasn't said a word to me. He talks to the professor sometimes." George wrinkled his nose. "I wonder what a fucking Yowler is doing all the way out here in the middle of nowhere. He was here when we got here, and the IBAMA people weren't. He was just living out here all on his own. Don't let him get close to you at night, though. Not when we've got the fire going."
"Why not?" Will said.
"Their eyes, man. Don't you know?"
"Oh, come on, George," Sarah said. "That's like, kid's stuff. Superstitious kid's stuff. Next you'll be chanting Bloody Mary at a mirror."
"I'm not taking any chances." He hefted a box of beans and walked off the dock and up to the shed.
Will turned to Sarah. "What about their eyes?"
"You don't know?" Will shook his head. "Oh, it's stupid crap. Some people think that if a male Bastet's eyes shine on you in the dark it'll turn you gay, or least want to do him, even if you're completely straight."
"Oh," Will said. At least he'd have an excuse then, except it was superstitious nonsense, and it was too late for Will anyway.
The next day they headed upriver to a site the Professor had chosen. The mission was to distribute about a hundred traps each, at different heights of the canopy, and then come back tomorrow and examine the traps for contents. The baits were different; some had glow-in-the dark bait, some rotting animal smells, others fresh fruit. "Be careful of the animal bait. It attracts polistes. That's a kind of wasp. That sting is 100% painful. You'll wish you were dead. And avoid the white ants. The red ones hurt, but the white ones hurt a lot more."
"And people live out here?" Will could hardly believe it. Yet he'd seen Carauari, a small ramshackle town but still a town. It had even had an airport.
"We do," Professor Briachi said. "You're not going to get stung unless you smell like rotting meat and you move, Will." He clapped will on the shoulder. "I've been doing this for three years for the Brazilians. Nothing to it."
Will said, "How often have you been stung?"
"Often enough to know not to get bitten by the white ants."
Nothing had prepared Will for the actual practice of roping and ascending a tree. The trees were a lot taller than inside the gymnasium at Penn where they'd practiced, and the gym hadn't been crawling with ants or beetles, and there hadn't been birds screaming at him every few yards, and it had been vaguely air-conditioned. He climbed, hand-over-hand, sliding the grip-stay on his rope with every advance. A different set of muscles from those that had powered his canoe burned as he rose.
"Not too bad," Kass said as Will joined him at the top of a tree. "Not like those Smithsonian candy ass kids with their blimp, but hey." He shrugged.
Will laughed. "My arms are going to be great by the time we get home."
"C'mon. Let's lay those traps."
Kass led Will through the procedure. Each had to walk out along the branches, secured to heavier central brances with a safety line, nail the trap to a branch, pop it, and load it with bait. Each trap was a flat disk that when opened revealed a small, mesh-lined cylinder with an ingenious one-way maze opening. The bait was dropped in through a hole in the top, which was then sealed like a spinner in a child's pop-up book, requiring no glue– and no scent of either petroleum or animal fat– to keep it shut.
They laid out eight traps in a radial pattern, then descended. "Next tree."
They climbed. Will had known trees back in Pennsylvania, but never anything like these. The upper canopy of each tree was enormous. He could camp up there, exposed to the brutal sun but mercifully free of the cloying humidity of the forest floor, and he had heard that some teams did exactly that. Kass headed out along a branch, and Will did the same, feeling his way down to where he planned to lay his next trap. He reached behind himself for the next trap, which he had arranged to stick out of his backpack jsut as Kass had shown him. His fingers found the thin cardboard. He heard a cracking sound, and looked up just as the branch underneath him gave way.
He fell, bounced his back off a branch, and came up short as his harness suddenly took his full weight. "Will? Will! Are you okay?"
Will flailed in midair, looking around. He was upside down and disoriented. "I think... Kass?"
"Jesus, Will, what happened?"
"I see that! Why are you upside down?"
Will examined his harness and found the loop holding the orientation carabiner had given way, and he was too dizzy to register much more than that. "My harness broke. Oh my God. Kass! My harness broke! I can't get upright!"
The rope was attached to the harness around Will's waist. With effort, he managed to get himself upright, but his body still wanted to fall over with his center of gravity. "Kass? How am I going to get out of here?" He hung in the middle of the warm, wet forest, almost fifteen feet away from the trunk of the tree, a lone man in midair. He wondered briefly if there were vultures that would pick at his bones. He shook his head. They were going to get him out of here.
Kass was already on the walkie-talkie. "Team's coming, Will. Hold on."
"Yeah," Will muttered. "I might wander off." He clinged to the rope, holding it close enough against his cheek he could smell the nylon.
"You're in trouble, huh?"
Will swung his head around. His body followed, turning slowly. Nisy, the Bastet he had seen earlier, was crouched on a branch, looking distinctly more feline than even Will would have thought Bastet were capable. "You!"
Nisy nodded. "Nisy."
"Nisy," Will agreed. "I'm Will," He felt idiotic saying it. He was hanging over a potentially fatal drop with only one loop of his harness holding him to the rope, and all he could think to say was small talk. Will took the opportunity to glance at Nisy and he liked what he saw: a round face, black hair offset by those symmetrically pleasing catlike ears. A black tail dangled from the branch and swished back and forth, lazy as the river.
Nisy was as gorgeous a young man as Will had ever seen, lean and strong. He had a scar on one arm that seemed to have healed a long time ago. His eyes were a bright green color. He wore only a pair of cutoff denims, and if Will looked closely he could tell Nisy wore no underwear. Lust stirred within Will's heart. "How did you get up here?"
"I climbed," Nisy said. He had an accent that said he wasn't from around here, but Will couldn't place it. "Swing."
"Swing. You know." Nisy made a gesture with his hands, going back and forth. "I'll catch you." Nisy stood on the branch, his lean body looking ever more delicious, and grabbed a smaller branch behind himself. He tested it for strength, then held out his hand. "Come on."
Will looked at him dubiously, then swung his legs out underneath himself. He got a little motion. He tried again, got more. Kass shouted: "Will? What are you doing?"
"Swinging for the trunk."
"Is that a good idea?"
"We'll see!" The action required more arm work than the swings of Will's childhood, but the idea was the same. He had to be careful to keep his center of gravity moving in the right direction; with only one strand leading up to the tree he risked rotating about the rope. But success was only a matter of practice and Will had everything to gain from success, so he kept at it until he had a decent oscillation. Aiming for Nisy took more effort, as did the compensating for the rope's tendency to spend all of its energy putting Will into a circle.
A swing brought him within reach of Nisy, and the catboy reached out. Will ignored the hand. "Another," he said. "I want to make sure I have enough to carry me onto the branch."
"Then you did not need me," Nisy called back.
"It's nice to have help!" He laughed as the swing took him away from the tree trunk. It reached apogee and swung back. Nisy reached out and this time Will took his hand. Will saw only a rush of motion as Nisy pulled with more strength than it seemed possible for his slim body to hold, and then he was on the branch next to Nisy, holding onto one above himself.
"Are you okay, Will?" Nisy's stare had the quality of innocence and curiousity that Will wished for himself. He hadn't been allowed to be innocent since puberty. He known all his life that he was "different." He'd even figured out what that meant before anyone else, and studied how to pass.
"Yeah, I'm okay. Are you?"
"Perfect," Nisy said. He looked up. "Did I startle you yesterday?"
"Just a little," Will said. He had never been this close to a Bastet in his life. They were incredibly rare creatures, and there weren't that many of them in Pennsylvania. They lived mostly in big cities, and mostly on the coasts. Will had seen a few at the University, but never up close. They seemed to keep to themselves. He'd heard that there were nearly half a million Bastet in the United States, which would make them two-tenths of one percent of the population. He knew they had short lives compared to ordinary people, that they were technically an entirely different species from Homo sapiens and because of that they were immune to most diseases humans caught. He'd heard all kinds of stories about how the Bastet would do it with just about anything that moved, but he'd also heard that that was pure racism and the Bastet sex drive was oriented toward other Bastet. Will thought it must be nice to know who'd be interested in you just by looking for the ears.
It was a shame that Nisy probably wouldn't be interested in him. He was achingly beautiful this close up. "How come you don't wear more clothes?"
"Eh," Nisy said, his soft accent still perplexing Will. "Care not to. Bugs do not seem to like me anyway."
I like you, Will thought. Nisy looked up and his eyes contained a look Will had seen only when lust defeated guilt and he found himself seeking out relief in the bathrooms and sleazy bookstores that only gay men frequented. The question Why did you kiss me? hovered at the base of his throat, waiting for him to speak it aloud. He just couldn't push it to his lips. He swallowed it instead. "What do we do now?"
"There is no problem for me," Nisy said. "You might wait." He pointed up. Kass was rapelling down as quickly as he had gone up. Nisy leapt away, grabbing one branch, his buttocks inviting as he fell through the greenery, then swinging to another like a youthful Johnny Weismuller or Steve Reeves. Will blushed.
Kass dropped down next to him, holding onto the rope with one hand. "Was that that damned catboy?"
Will nodded. "He said he climbed up here."
"I hope he's not queering the traps. Damn guy's more like a monkey than a cat anyway."
He's beautiful. Will ached to say it aloud. Can I convince him to queer me? He wondered how badly it would sound if he jerked off in his sleeping bag tonight. He was going to have to find out, if only to get rid of these feelings. He took a deep breath, looked over at Kass. "All done?"
"Done," Kass agreed. "Here." He handed Will a rope. "Let's go down."
By the time they'd reached the forest floor, Professer Bergmar and the rest of his class was there. The professor looked him over. "Well, that was quite the adventure. That was a good idea, swinging for the trunk, Will. What made you come up with that?"
"Nisy suggested it."
"Nisy was up there?" He leaned back to look up the length of the tree from under his broad-brimmed hat. "I knew that boy could climb, but my God. How the hell did he get all the way out here anyway? Kid's like a ghost." He turned back. "Kass, I want you and Will to paddle back to base and get him a fresh harness, and make sure it's checked out. There are two spares in the supply locker. Keep it dry. That looks like rot." He flicked Will's harness where the carabiner had torn. "You two come back in the morning."
Will was grateful for the trip back to the base. It meant he would have access to his own bed, and hopefully a little privacy. Being alone with his own hands and the secret recesses of his own mind was at least being alone.
He wondered, constantly, about how and when he would be outed. It happened, and usually not by choice. His family would disown him, he would never be able to get work, and eventually he would catch AIDS and die young. Or not. He didn't know. Nobody knew about that last one. AIDS had only been around for five years and it was killing gay men in droves, and the government under Reagan wasn't interested in looking too hard for a treatment or a cure. There were plenty of careers for a gay man, but Will wasn't in any of them. He didn't mince enough.
"You don't say much, do you?" Kass said.
Will shrugged. "I don't have much to say."
"I think that Yowler boy likes you."
"Just sayin', man. Maybe he sees something about you."
Will's back went rigid. "If he did, then he's wrong."
"Hey, it's fine with me," Kass said. "I can see it. Not my thing, you understand, but I can see it." He chuckled. "Besides, anyone Nisy takes out of the running means one less competition for Sarah."
Will eased enough to laugh. "I don't believe any of us have a chance with her," he said. "She's going to be on her guard every minute of the day. My god, she's the only woman out here alone with four guys."
"Four?" Kass said, continuing to paddle. "Oh, you're including the professor. Huh. I wouldn't have thought of him that way. He'd get into a heap of trouble if he did."
Back at the base, Will and Kass checked out a new climbing harness, and after comparing watches decided that it would be best to wait until morning to head back upriver. A dinner of granola, rice and beans warmed over a propane stove fed the two of them. Will read until the light gave out, then went to his bed.
Nisy wouldn't leave him alone. Will was ashamed of the few, furtive encounters he'd had with strangers in the public park next to campus. He'd learned about it through a report in a gay newspaper that had somehow found its way into his hands, and after weeks of wrestling had headed out one midnight. But those were the only encounters he'd had. The first he'd run from, terrified, but he'd gone back. He couldn't help himself. He had to know what it meant to touch and be touched by a man. It was what he wanted. What he needed.
And if Nisy wanted him, it would be the first encounter where he'd known the other man's name. He thought about what he'd seen of Nisy, his sweet face, his strong legs, that gap in his denim shorts behind which were shadowy invitations. Will's hands crept into his shorts. His climax that night landed on his neck.
Three men from IBAMA were already standing around the communications station the next day. They regarded Will and Kass with friendly waves. "We're all out here together," Kass said cheerfully, and the two of them headed back to the temporary camp.
They stayed a week out in the rainforest, then headed back to base, then another stint out into the forest, this time in a different location. By now, they had all gotten used to each other: Sarah tried hard to be cheerful, George tried hard not to be. Kass was a cardsharp and Will a good loser. None of them could sing worth a damn. The professor cooked most of the time, and had with him a plastic storage box, the kind for storing screws and nails, only his held spices that made most of the meals at least a little different. He used a water filter and a large plastic mayonnaise jar to prep beans every day. "I warned you, you'd be sick of them before it was over." He forced them all to take vitamin C tablets.
They didn't see Nisy at all. "Where is he?" Will asked one afternoon.
The professor shrugged. "I don't know. He was here when George, Kass and I got here. He disappears when there are a lot of IBAMA people in the area."
"Does that happen often? IBAMA?"
"It shouldn't. There's been a lot of activity. Mining up to the northeast, I understand, but it shouldn't be reaching this far. If it is, this forest is in trouble."
A helicopter buzzed overhead during the fourth week, and then the Penn students were left on their own again. The IBAMA shack was locked up completely the few times they were at the base camp.
Will and the Professor had spent one afternoon tromping high in a canopy, exposed to the sun. That was Will's favorite time, when he got to see the sun and breathe an atmosphere that didn't feel entirely like liquid. The Professor grinned at him and said, "Careful, Will. You'll be the only man in the rainforest with a sunburn, if you keep standing out like that. Put your hat on; it keeps more than the drips off your nose."
But by the time they were done setting the last of the traps, night was already beginning to fall. "Damn," the Professor said. "We'll never make it back to the rendezvous on time." He pulled out the long-range walkie-talkie, made contact with Sarah. After reassuring her that they had food and sleeping supplies, he signed off and said, "Well, Will, looks like it's you an me and the base of this tree. Say, that rhymed."
Will chuckled. "Yes, sir, Professor Bergmar."
Will didn't object to an uncooked dinner. Everything out in the rainforest was too damned hot anyway. After dark, he sat re-reading Mr. Sammler's Planet with his flashlight until the day's exertion finally threatened to overwhelm him. "I can't believe it's winter," he said as he and Professer Bergmar laid out their light sleeping rolls. It was, Will had learned, the most comfortable way to sleep in Brazil: a very light cover, a head-encompassing screen, and a lean-to tarp to reflect moisture.
"It's summer in the north."
"Great," Will agreed. "So it would be even hotter on the other side of the equator."
"Oh, there's still snow in Alaska."
After more than a month of camping, Will had gotten used to the isolation, the sounds, the absolute dark. Under the rainforest canopy, out a cloudy, moonless night, there wasn't a ray of light to spare. Even the ground seemed to suck up whatever meager light man brought with him. Will didn't dare even walk too far away from his sleeping bag to relieve himself for fear of being permanently lost.
He did drink a lot of water, and in the middle of the night his cramping bladder told him it was time to get up and get rid of whatever he hadn't sweated away.
With his small flashlight in hand he walked as far as he dared; he could still see the yellow plastic of the tarpaulin. He double checked before he shoved the flashlight into a pocket, then unzipped. Will was constantly afraid that in the brief moments while he was exposed, some previously unknown insect would sting him down there and it would swell up and fall off. Or worse, some strange creature would bite.
He heard a rustle in the tree immediately overhead. "What the?"
A whisper came back: "Gotcha."
"Who else would it be?"
"What are you doing out here?"
"Admiring the view."
Will gulped and realized he still had his pants open and his cock hanging out. He quickly shoved it back into his pants. "You can see that?"
"Better than you can." Nisy's accent finally resolved.
Will fumbled with his flashlight and pointed it up the tree. The young man's sweet face was again a jumble until Will realized that he was again upside down. "Ow, hey!"
"Do you always hang upside down?"
"It never bothered me," Nisy said.
"Why are you harassing me? You don't do this to George or Kass or the Professor."
"You are cute. And obvious."
"To a Bastet, you are. Perfect. Bastet know when they find someone perfect." Nisy was quiet for a moment. "I see you cannot deny it."
Will took a deep breath. "Deny what? What are we talking about?"
Nisy crawled down the tree. Will wondered how he maintained his position and orientation: it wasn't as if he were physically different from human beings: his hands and feet were the same, or so Will understood. And yet Nisy managed to hang quite readily upside-down on the tree using only his hands and feet. Spidering down, Nisy leaned away from the trunk and whispered in Will's ear, "That you want me to kiss you again."
Will's surprise was overridden by the urgent messages coming from his crotch, the warmth, the swelling. He didn't even say anything. He just nodded.
Nisy kissed him.
In all of the furtive, desperate gropings in dank bathrooms and behind dense bushes, Will had never kissed a man before. It wasn't something men did. It was reserved for heterosexual couples.
Nisy's tongue probed solidly against his lips, and Will eased into the kiss, leaning forward against the tree, mashing Nisy to the trunk. The two of them moaned silently.
The professor's voice seized his attention. "Will?"
Will froze. "I will find you later," Nisy whispered and scrambled away.
"You okay?" came the older man's voice. A flashlight pierced through the darkness.
"Fine," Will said. "Just had to... go."
"I thought I heard something."
"I thought so too. Maybe an animal?"
"Well, get back here."
Heart pounding, sweating for reasons other than the oppressive heat, his whole body shaking in unfathomed ways, Will went back to his sleeping arrangement. A welcoming sleep never overtook him. He woke after fitful dreams.
Will saw Nisy on and off for the remaining six weeks of the trip. He would show up at the most inopportune times, and Will fought every time he saw him not to grab the young man and ask, "When?" Instead, he bid his time, masturbated furiously every night he had a chance, and prayed that some day he would be able to get Nisy alone.
They returned to their base on the last day from an eight-day climb upriver that had taken them miles beyond anywhere the professor had previously surveyed. One of Will's notebooks was filled with illustrations of bugs, carefully hand-drawn in exacting detail. The other was filled with ragged drawings of Nisy, whenever he had a chance to exercise some convulsive desire to capture the young man's motion. Many of the drawings were nudes, fantastic and contrived since he'd never had a chance to actually see Nisy naked.
"We leave the day after tomorrow," the Professor was saying, through a downpour that had gotten through every protective layer of clothing Will owned and left him moving in a literal wetsuit. "Everyone take a break, take a shower– I mean, with soap," he added after the laughter and glares came back. "Tomorrow we pack for the long paddle home. We'll be going with the current, but it's still a long ride. The day after that, we sail."
Will was grateful that the time was over. He'd cataloged dozens of beetles he was sure nobody had ever heard of, along with sixteen moths and a new kind of wasp that hadn't hurt nearly as bad as the professor had described. But he was ready to go home.
The shower was a low wooden shed at one end of the "dorm" strip. It had a single stall, a lock, and a catchbasin. Water was collected in a forty-gallon rain barrel on stilts behind the building. If it wasn't full– and it almost always was– there was a pump. It would be full today, after three days of rain. Nobody ever complained about it not being heated. Not in the Xingu Basin.
Will threw off clothes he would put on again later, clothes than would finally get as dry as he understood dry only when he got not an airplane from Rio de Janeiro back to the United States, and turned the spigot that opened up the meagre trickle of water.
The soap was a quarter-cup of green concentrate poured out of gallon jugs onto a large, worn-out orange sponge. Locked into the tiny shower with its frosted plastic windows, he could just hear the rain pattering on the roof. "Kinda pointless," he muttered. "I should just stay outside and get rinsed that way."
"But then you would not be in here with me."
Will started, his hands covering himself as he glanced around. Nisy was above his head, his body splayed across two narrow support beams that held the roof together. Nisy uncoiled himself, a distinctly feline gesture that Will didn't think his body could mimic, and let himself down to the floor. He was naked. Will glanced back up and saw Nisy's meagre clothes draped over the beams.
But then he was inevitably drawn back to Nisy. Nisy smiled at him, the beautiful man again. Will's eyes took in the flat belly, the sweet chest, and then down to Nisy's cock, which was not nearly as small as Will would have expected. It was ordinary in size, and if the pubic hair that gathered around it looked thicker and more fine than that of a man's, it wasn't enough to put Will off. "What..."
"I told you I would find you again," Nisy said. "Kiss me."
Will leaned down. He was six feet tall, and had at least six inches on Nisy. Without even thinking about it, Will bent down awkwardly pressed his lips to Nisy's. His cock surged at the touch of the other man's lips, at the force Nisy put into kissing Will.
Kissing, Will learned, was one of those things where both men were of equal power. Each could kiss the other as forcefully as he wanted, and the back-and-forth of kissing fire pushed him to a brink of mad desire. His groin throbbed with a need for release, and when Nisy's hand caressed the length of his surging cock Will nearly fainted as all the blood in his brain went elsewhere.
Nisy pressed his naked, wet body to Will's, their cocks mashed together, Will's to Nisy's belly, Nisy's against Will's thigh. It was pleasure of a kind Will had never imagined– the light, the calm, the security. Not like the desperate fumblings in ill-lit and dangerous settings at all.
And then Nisy stopped kissing him, only to kneel instead. "I bet you will like this."
"I want to do it to you."
"Your chance will come," Nisy said. He approached Will's cock with a wide, eager gaze, and an open mouth, and Will watched, astonished, as Nisy took all of it into his mouth and down his throat. It was a second later that the physical sensation of being so skillfully downed reached into Will's brain. By that time, the rest of him had already decided that a climax was all but inevitable already. Will groaned and fell back against the wall of the shower stall. Nisy followed, shifting forward.
"My god," Will groaned. Nisy's mouth was the most wonderful thing Will had ever felt. He'd let a couple of men suck him off in those secretive moments, but never like this. Never with such care and attention. Nisy's head bobbed back and forth slowly, each breath carefully timed and measured, each action consciously considered. Nisy performed with more skill than Will had ever imagined possible.
It was all over far too soon. Will's climax was the most powerful he'd experienced yet in his life. It felt like his cock blew off, that when he next looked down there would be nothing but a smoking ruin. Nisy's lips pressed to Will's groin, holding his cock in place as Will tried to restrain his hips, tried not to shove jet after jet of come down Nisy's throat any further.
"Wow," Nisy said as he sat down. "That was good!"
"What the fuck is taking you so long? You're using up all the water! I'll have to pump the goddamned..." The door to the shower threw open and George stood there, staring at them, anything further on his mind killed by the sight of Will and Nisy, Will looking dazed, Nisy sitting on the floor looking up at Will, both naked. He hurriedly shut the door.
"Oh, shit," Will said.
"I didn't want anyone to know!" Will said, and he burst into tears.
"I knew," Nisy said, getting up off the floor.
"You're different," Will said. "Damn, damn, this is... this is wrong."
"No, it is what you are. It is right," Nisy said.
"But if my parents find out, they'll kill me. They'll disown me, take away my college fund, I don't know..." He swallowed hard. "I tried. I really did."
Nisy hugged him, and Will let himself be taken into that warm, wet embrace. "Will, it will be fine. Believe me."
"No!" Will snarled. "It will not 'be fine.'" He sat on the floor next to Nisy. "This is the end of everything."
Nisy smiled. "I have said that a lot of times in my life. It was never true." He stood up, and with leap grabbed the rafter above him and pulled down his clothes. He hauled them over his wet body. "You shall see." He left through the main door. Will wondered how long he'd been in the rafters. If he'd done that a lot, and how nobody had ever noticed him before.
Will dressed and left the shower, eventually. When he went outside, nobody was there. Trembling, he went back to his dorm, shut the door, and sat down on his bunk, head in his hands, and he cried.
A hand rapped on his door. "Will?"
"May I come in?"
Will wiped his eyes and nose with the towel. "Sure."
The Professor looked around. "There's barely any room in this closet. Well, that's appropriate." He sat down next to Will. "George has been telling a fantastic story, that he found you in the shower shed with Nisy. I wasn't aware that your relationship with Nisy had gotten that far."
"You knew?" Will's voice pitched upward in desperate realization.
"Oh, I suspected. Most of us did. Except George, of course. It was the way you checked out Kass and George, and how you looked Sarah in the eyes and not... " He mimed the action of looking down before re-aquiring Will's eyes. "And given the Nisy seemed to be following you around and nobody else, I thought there was something going on."
"There wasn't. Until... There wasn't. Yet."
"George wouldn't have known either if he hadn't just decided to go into the shower shed and yell at us– I mean, at me– for using up the water."
"Not much chance of that," the Professor said, with a hand toward the window. The rain fell harder than a few minutes before.
"Professor, what's going to happen to me now?"
"Now? Nothing, I don't think. You're welcome to have relationships with anyone you want. Well, except me, but I don't swing your way anyway. I've taught at this school for nearly twenty years, Will, and my peers have all either hardened their hearts about gays– and Bastet, for that matter– or have come to accept them for what they are. Just men and women."
"But, I mean, my parents..."
"They don't have to know. Who you're kissing is hardly part of your grade. I'm not going to tell them. George is a good entomology student, but he's mean-spirited about people who don't fit his ideas, but he'd also have to be a particularly vicious variety of stupid to want to track them down and tell them." He took a breath. "The only complication is that I promised Nisy a ride downriver."
"Nisy wants to get out of here. I can't say that I blame him. The weather here is terrible. We've eaten a lot of supplies, so there's plenty of room in one of the cargo canoes. Hell, he can ride with you, if you like." He chuckled. "Will, I don't have to tell you to be discreet. You've been pretty good at that already. George's catching you was just bad timing. And I'll make it clear to George that if his conduct toward his teammates is a grade-worthy topic. Invading your privacy is a very grave matter. If he'd done it to Sarah, it would have been sexual harrasment." He shook his head. "Times are changing, Will. Maybe I can suggest he face sexual harassment charges anyway."
That made Will's mouth twitch toward a smile. "Thank you, sir. But I wouldn't want you to do anything to... bring attention."
"I understand. Now, you go finish packing the cargo. That's not going to be a fun job at all."
"No, sir. Yes, sir."
"I'll see myself out. Pull yourself together, Will. We've a week of paddling ahead of us to get to town, and then another three days in the van over rough terrain. You're going to have to live with George, and Nisy, all that time. You'll figure out how to do it." He stood up. "So will George." He left.
George averted his eyes from Will every time they within eyesight of one another, and that suited Will. Sarah and Kass treated him the same as they always had, and the three of them packed the cargo canoes without rancor or controversy. "Thanks," he blurted when they were done.
"For what?" Kass asked.
"For not– not making a big deal about– "
"Hell," Kass said. "Someone on this trip deserved to get lucky." There's not enough beer in the world to make up for how miserable this trip has been."
Sarah grinned. "Kass told me Nisy's so pretty he'd almost be willing to turn gay for the guy."
Kass blushed. "Well– maybe that's what's got George so upset. He sees Nisy and thinks, well, yeah, maybe..." He laughed. "It doesn't matter now. Look, Will, I don't care. You haven't come on to me the whole trip. Besides, Sarah said if it made me feel uncomfortable, she should think about how she felt the whole trip. She was just glad to know there were only two guys staring at her, um, at her."
Will nodded, managing a rough smile. "Still, thanks."
Will went to bed still pulled in many different directions by fear, worry, doubt, surprise. Five years ago, just as he'd figured out what being gay meant, the world had looked like it was starting to accept gay people. Elton John was popular and accepted, and the Village People were at the height of their careers. Then AIDS came along and gay people were a new kind of evil. Now, it seemed the disease would kill every gay man in America. Everyone knew it was a virus, now, and how men got it.
Will didn't want to die. And he didn't want to be alone for the rest of his life.
He heard the cat-feet of someone on the roof, heard metal flex and creak as Nisy did one of his amazing feats of gymnastics, then looked up to see the young man crouched in the window, outlined in the pale moonlight, more feline than ever. Without a word, Nisy eased himself into the little dorm room. He sat on Will's bed.
Will sat up next to him. "I'm sorry, Nisy."
"For? I left you there, remember."
"Because I wanted you to," Will said.
"No, because it was time for me to go. And now this is time for me to come back, no?" Will didn't need much light to see Nisy's grin.
"What are you?"
"I'm a Bastet."
"No, I mean, why are you out here in the middle of nowhere?"
"Oh. I was a... " Nisy paused. "A companion. To Victor Broonch. You know the man?" Will shook his head. "Broonch owns land south of here. A mine, a big mine, for gold. Very rich. He brought me here to keep him company, since neither the men or the women out here do much for him. We had a falling out and I walked away."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that," Nisy said. "Victor would not give me moneyfor me to go home, so I had to walk. And I found my way here, and have been waiting for a chance to get back to the city."
"Am I that chance?"
"No, the professor is that chance. They are his boats. You are... cute. And desperate. And perfect." Nisy leaned close to Will. Will intially pulled back, but then threw his caution away and returned the kiss Nisy offered.
Kisses grew to pawing. Will's hands found Nisy's chest and strugged to get under the ragged t-shirt. Nisy responded by tossing the shirt aside and then pushing Will down to the creaking bed, straddling his body.
For Will, this was a new sensation. He'd never actually done it in a bed, never gotten horizontal, never felt another man's body on top of his. Revelation followed revelation as he learned just how good it felt to have this much contact, this much skin. He could ignore the heat of the rainforest just for this beautiful sensation. He ran his hands down Nisy's back, and Nisy moaned softly. "Yes, Will, pet me."
Will complied willingly, his hands actually taking the time to appreciate what he touched, to learn about another man's body. He reached down to Nisy's waist, slipped his hands into those tight, boyish shorts, and grasped Nisy's muscular ass. Nisy giggled softly and kissed Will's neck and shoulders. "Bast, I have so needed this."
"Why?" Will asked. "Why do we need it?"
Nisy paused to consider the question. "I do not know. I really do not know for you humans. Bastet sometimes get depressed when we do not get touched on a regular basis, but I cannot know what it is about humans that could be similar." He kissed Will's chest. Will felt each kiss piercingly, as if Nisy were carving his name on Will's soul with a subtle, invisible knife.
"I promised you that you'd get to do me," Nisy said.
Will smiled. "Yes, you did."
"This is your chance."
Will laughed and pushed Nisy down to the bed. For the first time, Will had an opportunity to touch another man's body with a deadline, without rising panic, without the twin energies of lust and anxiety, but now with just desire. It was a feeling Will had never before imagined, that he could kiss a man's chest, lick at his nipples, kiss his belly, and feast on everything that was a man. Nisy said, "Slow down," a few times, and Will took each reminder seriously, letting his tongue and lips roll over Nisy's skin, until finally he reached Nisy's cock.
He opened his mouth and felt the blunt pipe of manhood touch his tongue, then the roof of his mouth. He closed his lips on Nisy's cock and held it, rocked his head back and forth, felt that cock make its way through the enclosure of his mouth, pulled at the sweet skin. The deep, musky, faintly sour smell of Nisy's sweat made his head swim. "Yes, that's it," Nisy gasped. "So long, been too long!"
Will agreed with him. It had been too long for either man. Will made himself work Nisy's cock until his jaw ached with the effort, and then he kept on going. "Yes, just... one... Bast, yes!" Nisy's body jerked against the bed, his cock suddenly thrust deep into Will's throat. Will gagged, recoiled, pulled back as Nisy came, hard, his own come shooting out onto Will's cheeks.
"Unh," Nisy whispered.
"Are you okay?"
"Yahhh..." Nisy whispered, almost purring. "Come here."
Will wiped his face on his discarded t-shirt, then lay next to Nisy. "Oh, god," Will said. His cock was stone again. He reached up and waggled his jaw with his hand. "Starts to hurt after a while."
"Poor man," Nisy said. "But there was a reward at the end, huh?"
"I guess," Will said.
"I don't know what to do next," Will said. "I've never... never had a conversation with a man after having sex with him. Usually it was just shove it into your pants and go."
"I know that type," Nisy said. "You have to graduate to knowing the people you fuck, Will."
"I haven't fucked yet."
Nisy was quiet for a moment. "Want to?"
"What about... AIDS?"
"Will, it is a disease." Nisy's hand stroked Will's cheek. "It is not some mystical thing that jumps from man to man. It is a virus. I do not get your viruses, and you cannot get mine. There has never been a case of human/Bastet transfer of anything, that I can recall."
"But... this won't last forever. You and me. What if... what if I like it? I'll have to, you know, go with other guys. There's a chance..."
"There is always a chance. It is your life, Will." Nisy turned over and kissed him. "And maybe there will be a cure soon. Or a therapy. Or maybe it will be something simple, like washing your hands, or using rubbers or something."
Will snorted. "When I realized I was gay, one of my first thoughts was that now I'd never have to buy those things."
"Life is funny. Now, are you going to fuck me or not?"
"Like this." Nisy turned over onto his belly and thrust his butt up into the air. Even in the spare moonlight coming through the window, he could see how beautiful, how well-formed those long, strong blocks of flesh were. "Now, you take that hard-on of yours and..." He looked around. "Got any aloe? Without novocaine."
"Because you want to feel this, dammit! And so do I!"
"Over there," Will said.
"It will do. Won't last long, but it'll do." He turned over as Will rummaged in his bag. He grabbed it from Will, poured some into his hand, then caressed Will's throbbing cock, covering it with the glistening, slick fluid. It cooled on Will's cock, and then Nisy turned over. "Put it in slowly."
Will position himself over Nisy. He couldn't believe he was going to fuck another man, especially not one as beautiful as Nisy. He positioned his cock away from Nisy's tail, but Nisy said, "Higher. It's about an inch below the tail."
Will pulled his cock up, leaving a trail of gelatinous slime as he did, and then Nisy said, "There. Stop. Down a little. Yes. Push."
Will pushed, gently at first. He felt something, flesh opened up underneath him, let him in, and then he was completely surrounded by Nisy's guts. It was hot in there, hotter than even the rainforest, hot like it might brand him, might burn him up. Nisy groaned, "Yeah, good..."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm sure," Nisy groaned. "Great River, Will, your cock is amazing. Fuck me."
Will tried one stroke, then another. He never got remotely up to speed, and if the bed creaked underneath him, he didn't hear it. It was all over too soon, as he slid smoothly from one stroke to another, gently fucking Nisy's incredible body until his climax hit him hard, a pressure, and explosion of desire in his belly that made him press his mouth to the pillow beside Nisy to silence his cries.
He wasn't sure how he ended up on his back, tears streaming from his eyes. He knew now, there was no going back. There would be no changing. There never was a chance of going back, but he could have fantasized for years that there was. Now even that was gone. People knew.
"I'm sorry, Will."
"For what?" Will managed to say, after dragging in a breath through his constricted throat.
"For whatever it is you're going through." Nisy shrugged, his ears flicking. "I can't say I understand it. Bastet don't even believe in the closet, much less worry about coming out." He grinned. "Well, the straight ones do."
"There are straight Bastet?"
"See what I mean?" Nisy chuckled. "You don't even believe that. Yeah, there are a few. I've even met celibate Bastet."
"Where do you sleep?" Will asked.
"I have a spot in the woods. Some things I shivvied from IBAMA. I shall put them back before we leave. Would you like me to stay here?"
"Is there room?"
"There is if you fall asleep quickly."
Will nodded, turning on his side. His body was wet again, with humidity, with sweat, with other things. He didn't care, as he embraced Nisy in his arms and held the other man close. He did not fall asleep quickly, but he lived with the sweat, and the heat, all to feel the sweet, solid curve of Nisy's body against his own, to know that this was right, and that when he got back to civilization life would work itself out.