Joe lifted his hand and watched water from the bath trickle down his arm, the droplets falling onto the skin of the beautiful boy sitting in his lap. The bathroom had filled with steam and heat filled his lungs. He should have loathed the heat, but the wetness was almost as precious as the solid body between his thighs. "Gotta admit, I didn't expect you to like this."
Joplin shrugged, letting the water ripple around the two of them. Against Joe's crotch, Joplin's movements were a reminder of the temptation that threatened Joe's career every day and of the thrill that succumbing to it always granted. "Huh? Bastet love water." Joplin turned his head around far more than a human could acheive, looked up at Joe's battered and unshaven face, and then reached up for a kiss. Joe gave it, and blood surged down into his crotch, poking Joplin in the back. "And I think I'm in love with that, too."
Joe chuckled. "You're just a punk guy. Bastet don't have any loyalty anyhow. Isn't that right?"
"Some of us are very loyal."
"But not to him, eh?"
Joplin's ears fell momentarily, an expression Joe would have thought more appropriate for a dog than a cat. Joe had heard time and again that Bastet weren't human or cat, but something in between, something bizarre and strange and new, but for him, thinking of Joplin as a cat-boy was enough. "Nobody was loyal to him. You were either terrified of him, or you were dead. You saw what it was like."
Joe had seen what it was like at Uday Hussein's palace. In the tenth day of the war, US tanks had rolled into Baghdad and begun the systematic destruction of the city's defensive infrastructure. Joe had been part of the unit assigned to try and take Hussein's younger son, the one with a reputation for cars, women, drugs, and murder. He'd been with ten men as they'd reached the lesser palace, a gaudy blend of masterful architecture and wretched excess. White, marbled floors and tall vaulted ceilings, holes blown through in places from airstrikes, had contrasted with blatantly pornographic statues and paintings of naked women. Joe had laughed, and wondered if that was the right behavior in front of his soldiers, who were all looking with a longing Joe understood but hadn't felt.
He hadn't felt it for his soldiers, either. He was proud of that. He'd managed to lock away his attraction to men and keep it professional. That was the mantra of the gay soldier these days: "Keep It Professional." Joe did, better than most. When he got off-base, he'd go underground and have a blast, was careful about condomns and the whole deal still because, even with all the anti-virals, a slip-up would end your career and kill you dead early. He'd get as much man-to-man lovn' as he could stand and then come back to the unit, and he'd tell himself, Keep It Professional.
He'd led his unit through the house, past the garage with its Lamborghini LM002, which looked like an HMV's grandfather. That had blown his mind as much as his buddies'. There had also been Rolls Royces, Mercedes, Porsches, and Bugattis. They had gone into one of the smaller houses built into the back, checking it out. One of the soldiers used Silly String to spray down a room and make sure there were no tripwires. They worked their way through the house, battering in locked doors one at a time, with a metal ram they'd rigged out of a couple of steel pipes and a heavy sheet of metal in case someone had set up a mine or grenade against one of the doors.
The heat had been barely tolerable. The palace had been air-conditioned, once, but the power had been off and the heat had risen to over a hundred degrees. Inside, there was shade but the air had been stale and the heat had collected until it made the world feel wet and hazy, but Joe felt if he took off his armor he'd be dry and hazy, and vulnerable. They'd drunk a lot of water, but possibly not enough.
"What is it, Higgins?"
"Sarge, you gotta come see this. We gotta prisoner!"
Joe had hustled, following Higgins' voice until he found the room. The walls had had artifical wood paneling, like Joe's parents had had in the 1970s. Velvet paintings, badly reproduced nudes from Franzetta and Rowena had hung on the walls. Between them, here and there, centerfolds from Playboy and Penthouse had been tacked or taped up. It looked like an aging efficiency apartment some aging, lonely man had lived in for far too long.
There was a single, queen-sized bed in the corner, filling a quarter of the room, and in that corner, huddled against the wall, was a mass of pillows and blankets, shifting slightly. Joe could see an eye peeking out of it. Snaking out from under the barrier of fabric defenses, a light chain led to a lock under a bedframe.
"Shit," Joe said, exchanging glances with Higgins. "You think that Hussein kid..."
Higgins shrugged. "Everything I've seen says he was one fucked up dude, Sarge."
"Yeah, but..." Joe had read up on Uday Hussein. The kid– he was in his mid-30s now, but still, a kid– had been messed up. He'd even tried claiming the virginity of one of his "friend's" fiances, and had the friend murdered. The fiance had committed suicide. He'd been the son of a tyrant. He could do no wrong. A favored sex slave bound to a bed was not beyond possible.
Joe turned to the bed. It was his duty to clear out the palace. "Come here," he said, putting down his gun and taking off his helmet. He prayed she wasn't armed. "Come on, little lady. We're not going to hurt you. We'll make sure you get to your family. You'll get somewhere safe. Really." He reached for the sheets, and began pulling them back.
The figure quivered. He peeled off the sheets and blankets. He caught a glimpse of lingere, a pink pair of frilly, lace underwear, under the final sheet as he tugged at. The figure underneath whimpered aloud, clutched the sheet harder. "Come on, girl. We're the good guys. I bet you can't speak English."
That wasn't a girl's voice. Joe paused.
"Higgins, get out of here."
"Get out of here. Leave. Stand by the door and listen, but don't come in. Got it?"
"Uh, yeah. Sure." The specialist looked uncomfortable, but backed out of the room slowly. Joe turned back. "You can call me Joe. Why are you here, kid?"
"Because I– I was the best he could get. The closest. To a girl."
"There are plenty of girls in the world."
"Not like me." The sheet eased down a little, and Joe's mouth made a surprised 'O' as he saw the ears. What the Hell was a Bastet doing in Baghdad? Then he remembered where he was. He lowered the sheet a little further and revealed a sweet face with a low, flat nose, full lips, and eyes that glistened.
"Are you hurt?"
The boy shrugged. "No. Not... permanently." He reached up and touched his ears. Suddenly, he lunged for Joe, grabbed the other man, and broke out into tears. "Oh, River, River, River. Oh, River, you found me. You found me. Dear Bast, I thought..." His words became incoherent under the sobbing, and Joe did all he could to comfort the boy.
When he seemed to have subsided, Joe turned and said, "Still there, Higgins?"
"Still here, sarge."
"Call the medic. We got a VIP for them to look over."
"I'm on it, sarge. Call the medics. We got a VIP."
The next 72 hours had gone from search-and-seziure through a modern playboy castle filled with cars, jewels, women, and heroin, to something even more bizarre. Joe had never seen more of the boy than his face. The catboy had wrapped the sheets around him, obscuring the rest of his body from view, and walked halfway down the hallway before he collapsed. Joe had had to carry him to the helicopter. His chest heavy with regret, Joe had repeated his mantra and gone back to the mission.
Word had come from the field that he was to report to Major Winn at the medical camp set up at the airport, and a helicopter had flown him there. He'd told Higgins to keep the mission warm, he'd be right back.
Major Nancy Winn turned out to be a psych specialist. "Seargant Joe Wilson?"
"That's me, Ma'am."
"You found the Bastet, Joplin?" Joe nodded, filing away the name for future reference. "Then you have a new assignment. The boy has been inconsolable since we brought him here. He keeps asking for you, wants to know where you are, and breaks out into tears. What did you say to him?"
"Just what I would say to anyone we found in Uday's hell-hole, Ma'am. That we'd take care of him and make sure he got home."
"Well, he seems to think that you're his personal savior. I don't know the first thing about Bastet, and I bet you don't either." Joe shook his head. "Well, something's going on. We've been told to get him to London. The Bastet have an enclave and some representation there, and the UK Ambassador to Kuwait was adamant that we get him out of the middle east. So you're going to accompany him."
"But... my soldiers..."
She nodded, her mouth taking that grim cast of apology only soldiers know. "I don't like this any more that you do, Sargeant, but we need every last bit of good publicity we can get. If that means detaching one man for this fool's errand so we can get the Bastet and their supporters to think we're the good guys, we rescued one of them, that's what the U.S. Army is going to do. Understood?"
"Yes, Ma'am," he said slowly.
His reunion with Joplin was as dramatic as Joe had feared. The boy had lunged at him, held him, sobbed. It had taken all of Joe's reassurance to get him to sit in his own chair in the helicopter to Kuwait.
They had shared the chopper with a lieutenant carrying an overstuffed duffle bag and wearing the markings of an intelligence officer. He had leaned over, smiled darkly and said, "Gotta be careful of those yowler boys. They'll turn you gay."
Joe snorted. "That's such bullshit, sir."
"Not like that, he ain't," Joe said. He looked at the other soldier and said, "Sir, that boy is a VIP, rescued from Hussein's torture prisoners. Keep It Professional."
The lieutenant leaned back, grumbling slightly. Joe grimaced.
In Kuwait, Joplin had tried to walk with a swagger, but Joe could see it wasn't real. The boy was completely freaked out, post-traumatic stress up to his eyeballs. He'd jumped backwards when the door to the helicopter had opened, and continued to jump every time a loud noise went off somewhere nearby. Joe probably knew less than nothing about Bastet, but the fear Joplin exhibited whenever a man turned to look at him made Joe worry. Bastet were supposed to be creatures that liked attention. And sex. Joe tried hard not to think about that.
Kuwait had been surreal. A woman from the US Embassy had shown up at the base, given him several suits of clothes and told him to try them on for fit. When he had one that fit, she left, then reappeared an hour later with two more sets. She handed him two plain tickets and a credit card with his name on it. "For food and a hotel in Amsterdam. There's a 12-hour layover. We can't afford any military planes, they're all coming here."
Joplin had never let Joe out of his sight. Not during the flight. Joe had slept fitfully. The soft civilian clothes felt wierd, and Joplin had held his hand more than once, making Joe shift uncomfortably in the first-class seats they'd been assigned. When they'd arrived in Amsterdam, a woman in a gray flannel suit drove them to the hotel immediately across the street, whisked them to a pair of hotel rooms, and left them. She had said barely a word the entire time. Being called "sir" had bugged the Hell out of Joe.
In the hotel room, Joe sat on the bed and tried to relax. He'd been in the air for ten hours, and his body was now eight hours out of sync with the timezone. He should sleep, but his body knew it was late morning, almost noon, and not 2:00am. Worse yet, despite everything else, he wanted to beat off, but he knew that when he did he'd be thinking of Joplin every second, and he felt guilty about it.
There was a knock at the door leading to Joplin's room. How the embassy girl had convinced him to go in there was beyond Joe's understanding. Maybe he'd be okay now that they'd gotten him out of the Muslim states, but Joe didn't know. Iraq hadn't really been a Muslim state, after all, and Uday Hussein was a man of no god at all.
He swallowed. "Come on in, kid."
Joplin padded through, still wearing the same outfit the folks in Kuwait had given him. "I had... I was... I wanted to make sure you were still here."
"Still here, kid."
"Don't... don't call me that." Joplin's face was fallen, tears building in his eyes. "He used to call me that." He sat down next to Joe and leaned his head on Joe's shoulders. "You're better than he was. And I'm older than you are."
"How old are you?"
"No way." Joe remembered that bit about Yowlers, that they always looked young and healthy. But they also died young, usually of renal failure. A nasty way to go.
Joplin's body heaved, and he began crying again. "Oh, Bast, I can't believe I got out of there. I can't, I can't... " His hands grabbed the jacket of Joe's suit, he buried his face in Joe's shoulder and cried, a powerful, open-mouthed cry of shame, grief, and relief. "Oh, Bast, oh, Bast."
Some instinct made Joe grab the kid and pull him into his lap. Joplin wrapped his arms around him and the two held each other and waited for the incident to pass. "I can't stay with you forever, Joplin," Joe said. "I have to get back to my men."
"I know," Joplin sobbed. "But you were... you were my knight in armor, Joe. I'm sorry I took you away. But I needed you."
The feel of Joplin's body against his own made Joe uncomfortable, and his groin grew warm with suggestions that he should never have entertained. Joplin felt in, squirmed slightly against Joe. Joplin pushed back from Joe, his face bright with a strange kind of wonder despite the wet glistening of tears on his cheeks.
Joe frowned. "Sorry," he said.
"I thought the United States didn't let you, you know."
"Do me a favor, Joplin," Joe said. "Don't ask, don't tell."
"If I don't use words, is it still asking?" Joplin said, then lunged forward, pushing Joe down to the bed, kissing him hard. Joe was stunned by the weight and the force of Joplin's kiss against his mouth, and he felt Joplin's tail whipping back and forth energetically against his legs.
Joe pushed him off, rolled off the bed, and turned to face him. "No! No, we can't do this. Gotta Keep It Professional. Keep It Professional."
Joplin looked away. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry... Please, don't hurt me. I thought..."
Joe swallowed. "No, it's okay. Really. You were right, Joplin. You were. But– I have a job. A duty. I can't let you distract me."
"Joe, we have ten hours before the flight leaves. I want you. Oh, River, I need you. I need..." He lunged again for Joe. "Hold me."
"Joplin," Joe said, but his resistance crumbled. Did his orders extend to this? Mixing business with pleasure? What if someone found out? Joplin was kneeling on the bed beside him, arms around him, holding him.
"I'm supposed to take care of you," Joe said.
"Then do it."
"But you were so mistreated."
Joplin nuzzled his face against Joe's chest. "Then treat me."
Joe looked down at those soft, sweet ears, so alien and different from those of any man he had ever looked at before. He knew there was no further point to resistance. Joplin understood him. He leaned down and kissed the other man's mouth.
Joplin's response was a soft sound between a chuckle and a moan, a parting of lips, and a brushing of the hands around Joe's waist. It was so gentle and convincing that Joe felt a fresh surge in his crotch, a warm acknowledgement of Joplin's desirability. A small corner of his mind insisted again and again that he shouldn't be doing this, that he was taking advantage of a man who, although it hadn't been said, was a victim of rape, and as inhuman as the Bastet were supposed to be, Joe couldn't imagine they were that impervious to rape, or got over it so quick.
Joplin's hands pulled Joe's shirt out of his waistband in one firm tug. Ten those hands were against Joe's skin. Joe finally agreed to what his hands wanted, and touched Joplin's body where he could, along that narrow back, down the spine. "Yes, Joe," Joplin said. "Pet me."
"If that's all you want..."
"I want you," Joplin said. "Come join me."
They rolled on the overly soft, small hotel bed, kissing madly as if the two of them were making up for lost time. Joe liked to kiss, and was frequently disappointed when he met men who didn't kiss, or who thought it was something only straight people did. His mouth and Joplin's slobbered all over each other, rapid kissing going back and forth as the two of them touched tongues, caressed bodies.
Clothes flew off. Joplin's first, and Joe was sure he wasn't the person who'd taken them off. He took a good look. Joplin's body was lean, slim, the kind of body Joe had had only a few years ago, before all the military muscle had piled on top. His cock was average sized, his arms and legs very lightly furred compared to Joe's own (Joe blamed his father for that, with his northen Italian heritage). Joplin's ears were tall, his head covered in fur. Joe's hand strayed between Joplin's legs and discovered that yes, the thick patch there too was more fur than hair. And then his hand found Joplin's balls. "Oh, yes," Joplin sighed.
"I thought you wanted to be petted."
"I want to feel, Joe." Joplin's fingers nimbly parted Joe's shirt, pierced the veil of cotton that was Joe's last line of denial, and then his mouth was all over Joe's chest, kissing, licking, even nibbles with teeth a little too sharp to be human. Joe grunted acknowledgement of Joplin's skill even as his body surged against Joplin's overwhelming skill. Joplin turned around and unzipped Joe's pants, let Joe's cock spring out and face him. "Ohhh," Joplin said, and then took Joe's beast into his mouth.
Joe moaned. It wasn't supposed to be like this. He usually led, dammit. That's what sergeants did. Joplin's ass was just over there, just barely in reach. Joe twisted and found it, found Joplin's hard cock dangling down. There was that moment where two men wrestled with the decision, and Joplin relented: he threw a leg over Joe's head and let his cock and balls dangle before Joe's admiring eyes.
Joe was grateful for every sit-up he'd ever performed. He was able to reach Joplin's ass, his mouth slobbering gratefully over that perinium, down Joplin's balls. He leaned back, grabbed Joplin's hard cock, and aimed it toward his mouth. Joplin wasn't helping, and the feelings coming Joe's cock threatened at any moment to overwhelm him.
Joe finally lay back. This wasn't a contest. This wasn't a competition. God, he wanted to come, and now that he thought about it, he wanted to be fucked. But did Bastet top?
Of course they did. "God, Joplin, stop that."
Joplin looked up, turned his head. "Why?"
"Because I want you to fuck me instead."
Joplin's eyes widened. "Really?"
"I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it," Joe said.
Joplin turned again, this time between Joe's raised legs. His eyes were preternaturally clear. He mouthed the word, "Why?"
"Because this may be the only damn night in my life I feel safe enough to bareback on purpose," Joe said.
Joplin nodded, aimed his cock down. He spat a large enough glob to cover the head of his cock, then pushed it up against Joe's ass. Joe hadn't been fucked in weeks, but he knew he was in for a sweet ride the moment Joplin's cock entered his sacred portal and descended down into his body.
"Yes," Joes said, feeling that rod of manhood inside him. He looked into Joplin's face, admired the man's shoulders, his arms, those pillars of strength. Joplin's crotch met his ass, and the two of them were locked together in a fresh, delicious struggle for control. This one, Joe had already lost, but it wouldn't be right for him to admit that up front. He pushed up with his hips, and Joplin retreated, and the two of them sought that ancient, familiar rhythm written on any living soul, human or Bastet.
"Come on," Joe said. "Harder."
Joplin replied with the same, maddening pace with he had committed the last stroke. "I'll go at my own pace." He bent down, his back more flexible than Joe would have imagined, and tried to find a fresh kiss. Joe flexed up, and the two of them met in the middle, mouths locked, cock and ass joined, two bodies on a creaking hotel bed. There was barely enough room between them for Joe to stroke his cock. Between his hand and Joplin's cock, his entire body roiled with desire. "Yes," Joplin said. "Close now."
"Come inside," Joe said, nodding slightly, surprised at the words. In any other setting, those words might have been insane, but with a Bastet, Joe knew, he could say them. "Come inside me. Let me feel it!"
Joplin slammed down hard, three or four more strokes, and then he came with a yowling cry that sent Joe over the edge, come shooting out onto his belly even as Joplin shot into it.
For Joe, the next ten minutes were among the sweetest he had lived yet in his life. Joplin rested beside him, the sweat of their lovemaking cooling on his skin, the other man's soft, unwhiskered face cuddled against his shoulder, bodies unwinding from the overwhelming organic demands recently placed on them. It was these moments that Joe enjoyed more than any other, this brief interlude between the shock of ecstacy and the intrusion of reality when it seemed as if the rest of the world did not matter.
Joe had bareback exactly three times in his life, once when he was young and stupid and manipulable, once when he was too drunk and the other guy was too callous, and now. He'd survived the other two, and he knew he'd survive this one too– by definition, given Joplin wasn't human and couldn't carry Hep or HIV or anything else for that matter. But there are other, more mundane consequences to barebacking, and Joe's guts were telling him about them. "Joplin."
"Gotta hit the bathroom."
"Yeah." Joplin slid off of him, leaving Joe's body alone and cold again. Joe sighed and rolled out of bed. "Start the bath while you're in there? Please?"
The next morning, they took the short hop from Amsterdam to London. Joe and Joplin were met at the gate by a Bastet tabby who introduced herself as Kaitlyn. She hugged Joplin warmly. "You're safe! You've been on the missing registry for three years!"
Joplin nodded. "Yeah. Kaitlyn? This is Sergeant Joe Wilson. He found me, and he took very good care of me." Joe didn't detect any hints of irony or sarcasm at all in Joplin's tone, and for that he was grateful.
Kaitlyn nodded. "I understand. But I have instructions to sent Sergeant Wilson back to his assignment in Iraq as soon as he arrives." She reached into a leather folder she held under one arm and handed Joe the return tickets. "I'm sorry, Sergeant Wilson. And I'm very sorry, Joplin. It looks like you found you needed."
Joplin nodded. He turned and hugged Joe warmly. "Thank you, Joe."
Sadness bloomed in Joe's heart, and he stomped on it hard. He'd had an assignment, and he'd accomplished it in full. He felt his face go through contortions as it sought the correct expression, but finally he hugged Joplin back and said, "You're welcome. I hope your friends can take care of you."
"They will," Joplin said.
"Will I see you again? After the war?"
"Just call the Bastet Cultural Center of London, if you want to get in touch with him," Kaitlyn said.
Joplin nodded. "They'll know where to find me."
Joe gave Joplin another hug, shook hands with Kaitlyn. It made for a very strange scene in that corner of Heathrow, and many people stopped to watch as Kaitlyn and Joplin, both smaller and more delicate than humans, both moving with uncanny grace, made their way down the concourse.
Joe looked at the departures. His flight left in half an hour. He tried to feel something, but there were too many things to feel, and not one of them resolved to claim primacy. He settled, intellectually, on the default. It didn't matter that he had been– was still– within striking distance of falling madly in love. It didn't matter that Joplin was both a safe haven and a stunning offer. He was a soldier. He had accomplished his mission. The reward for a job well done is always another, possibly harder job. This job was hard only in the letting go, but he had let go. He'd kept it professional.
He snorted, rose and headed for the bookstore. The flight back to Kuwait promised few distractions.