Two of a Kind Ch. 02byCia81©
Bashta didn't understand the looks that Piscel kept shooting at him. His smile seemed a bit less than friendly and a bit mocking, as if he was laughing at him. Maybe he was actually looking at Cavel, since Bashta was walking beside him. Bashta wasn't able to fight his fascination any longer; his dream the night before made that clear. That morning he had started walking at the front of the group but quickly dropped back near the rear of the group with Cavel after they were on a good trail.
"What's the matter?" Cavel asked from behind him as they approached a small stream, choked and filled with stagnant water.
"I'm fine," he answered quickly. Bashta tried to walk normally but things were rapidly growing uncomfortable in his loin cloth as he remembered the dream vividly from night before.
"Ah gods!" Bashta gasped as a wet warm mouth sucked on his neck before sliding down to engulf his nipple. A shock ran through his body making him gasp as Cavel bit down and then soothed the throb with a swipe of his tongue. Tingles raced through his body and his manhood hardened in seconds. Cavel's heavy body pinned his hips to the ground as he tried desperately to move them to get some relief.
Cavel lifted his head up and chuckled seductively, "Like that do you?" It was his turn to gasp when Bashta squirmed just the right way to rub their erections together. "God's mercy!" Cavel buried his head in the curve where Bashta's neck met his shoulder, latching on to the hot, tangy skin and sucking hard. Bashta's hands clenched on his biceps and held on tight as their hips began to rock faster and faster. Cavel threw his head back and began cry out as he...
"Hey, be careful!" Cavel jerked Bashta back against his chest as they walked along a slippery log.
"Damn it!" Bashta swore, pulling hurriedly away from Cavel and almost slipped again. He quickly moved to the end and hopped off the log.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to grab you," Cavel said as he followed, landing heavily. "I just didn't think you wanted to fall in that." He gestured toward the smelly water they had just crossed.
"No, I didn't; thank you." Bashta was glad he was in front of Cavel. He has been woken up at that same instant that morning by the cry of an irate monkey.
Unable to fall back asleep Bashta had laid there under the stars and it wasn't long before his hand crept down to where his erection still pushed firmly against his loincloth. His shuddering cry minutes later had been swallowed by the sounds of the animals waking up as the sun prepared to rise but he blushed at the memory. It made him both want to be around Cavel and a little too embarrassed to talk to him. Mostly they walked together quietly, with small stilted exchanges about the exotic jungle as they traveled. Cavel was seemed almost as fascinated with the scents and sights hidden in the dense foliage as he was in Bashta.
The midday meal brought an easier companionship with the men including both of them in their banter. They sat around on fallen logs and ate their military surplus meals, joking about the bland flavor and unappealing textures. It was the first time that Bashta didn't run off as soon as they stopped. The afternoon rest he passed sleeping high in a tree above the small group of clan men, unable to sleep on the ground even with the safety in numbers they provided. He climbed down when the intense heat of the midday sun eased and it was time to resume their trek.
"How do you do that?" Piscel asked as he watched him climb down, alternating hands and feet until he was low enough to let go and land lightly on the balls of his feet.
"Do what?" Bashta's forehead was wrinkled in confusion as he brushed bits of bark off his hands.
"Climb up and down the trees and sleep up there like that. Isn't it uncomfortable?"
He shrugged. "I've been sleeping in the trees for years. It's safer than on the ground. It's not so bad, when you get used to it. Plus I don't normally just sleep on the branches like that. I usually stay at one of the nests I've made over the years for a day or two and then move to the next one."
"Why?" Cavel asked from where he still sat under a tree, sipping from his water bag.
Bashta's hands clenched and then he relaxed them. "It's not that safe to be on your own in the jungle. It's best not to stay in one place too long. Humans, animals, just forgetting to keep up your guard when walking can be fatal. I have no clan, no one to help me or watch my back." Bashta thought back to that morning when he stumbled on the log. It was the first time in years someone had been watching out for him.
It felt good and was scary at the same time. He couldn't get used to it; not when he could just end up alone again.
"How long have you been alone?" Cavel asked quietly, almost as if he read Bashta's mind. He tried to move closer and Bashta skittered away.
"Let's go. It's a few more days to the Temple and you don't have time to waste." He struck out in front, hoping the questions would stop. It was too much thinking, too much remembering.
That afternoon the men didn't ask him any more questions so Bashta stayed with them instead of ranging ahead and through the trees. The breaks in the silence were soothing, the little sounds people made as they traveled together easing some of the aching loneliness he felt as he tried desperately to avoid thinking about before he met them.
Unwilling to give that feeling up he ended up eating the evening meal with them as well before heading off to sleep in the trees. He had a repeat of the dream from the night before but this time he woke up already sticky and sweating, gasping as his heart pounded furiously after his release.
The next two days they continued to tramp wearily through the jungle. The men kept passing the backpacks between each other so that no one was burdened every day but they were all tired of hiking through the humid landscape. Not even the sounds of the strange animals coming out each night were enough to keep them awake any longer. Bashta took to sleeping closer and closer to their camp but he missed his comfortable nests.
"Are we even close?" Cavel asked on the fourth morning. He was rubbing a handkerchief over his face and grimaced at the stale, sweaty smell. He thrust it into his pocket and picked up his pack to end the short break they were taking.
"We'll be at the river soon," Bashta assured him. "From there it's just about another half day to the Temple."
"I wish we could take a rest. I'm sick of tramping through this muck on those disgusting army rations," Mackent complained.
Saulle swung around from his place in the lead and snarled at him. "I'm sure our kitlings wished they weren't dying."
Mackent glared back. "That's not what I meant and you know it! I care about the kitlings just as much as you do!" Both men's claws were sliding in and out as they flexed their fingers as they squared off, snarling with flattened ears.
"Enough!" Cavel ordered. He stood straight and tall between the posturing men. Emotions were running high and they were growing short with each other. They all needed a break. Bashta stood to one side but he could see the men ignoring Cavel. If they lost control with him in between them blood would fly, and not just each other's. He needed to redirect them.
"I do have a plan for a treat during this afternoon's rest but I'll need help," Bashta said softly. All eyes turned on him and he blushed. He rarely spoke without being asked a question, the habit of casual speech one he had lost while on his own.
"We'll be at the river soon and I was thinking we could catch some pacu for a meal." His stomach found their bagged food hard to digest and Bashta had been forced to find his own evening meal after the first dinner he had tried. He did like the eggs though; they were unlike anything he had ever tried before. Pacu would be a welcome respite from the fruit and roots he had been eating.
"Pacu?" Piscel piped up as he began walking again. Tensions were still high but the air of imminent violence faded away as they began slowly moving toward the river again. "What are pacu?"
"A small silver fish a little bigger than my hand. They are good. Plus the spot I am taking us to is near a stand of tucuma. Roasted, the flesh is good with the fish."
Piscel's eyes shone at the thought of fresh food. He licked his lips. "Can I help you fish?" he asked eagerly.
Bashta smiled at him shyly. Out of all the men there he liked Piscel the most. He was so good-natured it was easy to relax around him. He often walked alongside the man, listening as he talked about his home and family. Bashta liked to hear of all the wonders he didn't really understand, like cars and TV. "Yes, I will show you how I do it." He moved up, walking next to Piscel, ignoring the rest of the men but talking loud enough they could hear him.
"Umm, do these fish have teeth? Like piranhas?" Piscel asked as they fell in step with each other.
"Well... yes, sort of. But we don't have to catch them by hand. Besides, they eat the tucuma mostly." His voice trailed off as the men started talking quietly again as they walked. Piscel grinned at him and winked. When Bashta looked back Cavel mouthed, 'Thank you'. Bashta nodded his head. The men were under a lot of stress; the only surprise was that no one actually attacked each other in the small spats that flared up.
"Here," Bashta said cryptically, stopping at a tall tree. "What? Here is where exactly?" Cavel looked around but he didn't see the river. "I need to go up here. I will meet you at the river." Bashta gripped the tree with his hands and the arches of his feet as he began to climb up. "But... Bashta, wait! Where is the river?" Cavel asked, confused.
Bashta paused, his mouth dropping open before he laughed at himself. Light and amused, the laugh made Cavel smile even though he was confused.
"Well?" he asked with one eyebrow raised.
Bashta smiled ruefully, "Sorry, I forgot. Follow the tapir track. It will lead you all the way to the river."
"Tapir? You didn't make this trail?" Cavel looked around warily. "Is it safe?"
"No, I didn't make it. I stay in the trees most of the time when I travel alone. It's just faster to stay on the ground while I travel with you," explained Bashta. "I don't mind too much. You guys also protect me. But you don't have to worry; most tapirs will avoid people, especially a group." Shifting his grip, Bashta looked up the tree and then back down at Cavel.
"Go, go," Cavel said, smiling gently. "We'll be waiting by the river." He hated it when Bashta left his side but he was following Piscel's advice. It had been working so far. He could not act as possessively as his inner cat was prompting him to as he watched his mate move away, not if he wanted to keep him in the long run.
The party kept walking, pushing through the overgrown plants that filled the jungle floor and sometimes choked the faint animal trail. Even without Bashta to point them out the men saw many of the animals that called the jungle home; toucans with long bills, monkeys sitting high up in the trees in groups or alone, and the never-ending insects, colored by nature into living jewels to decorate the trees and plants around them. It was only about two hours later when they reached the edge of the river, a wide expanse of dark brown water lined by white sandy beaches along both banks.
"Wow, this is beautiful," Mackent sighed, the sunshine from the bright patch of sky above them shining on his upturned face. "Sky! I missed the sky."
"Mmhmm," Cavel mumbled. He squinted as he looked all around. He wasn't looking at the beach or the river, though; he was gazing up at the trees, scanning them from left to right. "Do you see Bashta?"
"I don't think so." Piscel shaded his eyes from the sun and looked up at the trees.
Cavel frowned. "He said he was going to meet us here. Where is he?"
Piscel chuckled at him, nudging him in the ribs with his elbow. "You've got it bad, don't you?"
Cavel smiled ruefully and nodded, "Yeah yeah... My mate has me wrapped around his finger and he doesn't even know he's my mate."
Snorting, Piscel grinned. "It is kind of sad."
"What exactly do you mean by that?" Cavel glowered at him.
"If you were any more besotted you would have stars in your eyes. You're already mooning over him like a giddy schoolgirl."
"I am not!"
"Yeah, you are," Saulle said with a hint of bitterness as he walked by. He had kept his space from both Cavel and Bashta. He still had issues to work out of his own. Cavel twisted to one side to look at him. He raised one eyebrow as if in invitation.
Saulle ducked his head a little, and then looked up with a faint smile. "Most newly mated do, in one way or another," he said by way of a peace offering.
"I remember your days of courting and wooing Nallelija," Mackent crowed from his place under a shady tree where he had dropped his pack. "You were frantic when you couldn't find the perfect flowers to present to her before your mating ceremony. One would think that her acceptance of you hinged on the perfect color of the red and white roses you wanted for the circlet."
"It had to be perfect!" Saulle protested. "Do you even see how beautiful she is? And that hair! That smooth fall of pure yellow silk required the most beautiful ornament." Saulle smiled; his eyes dreamy as he thought of his mate.
She was his life, even now growing round and lush with their second kitling. Their daughter, Ariella, was the spitting image of her; though her round cheeks had begun to grow hollow with fever before they left. His shoulders slumped and he turned away. Every man there knew where his thoughts turned and several looked down, stomachs clenched in fear. Several ears flicked as they tried to keep them from flattening in anguish.
"We will find a cure." Cavel walked up behind Saulle and put his hand on his shoulder. Turning him, Cavel pulled him into a tight hug. "We will not fail. Ariella will be healed and your new kitling will be born healthy. I will not fail."
Saulle nodded, his head bowed. The men were frozen in a moment of silence, remembering again their families, their kitlings; the whole reason they were there. The only sounds were the buzz of insects in the midday heat and the shuffle of the brown birds flocking nearby. More than one man surreptitiously wiped tears from under their eyes.
The men all jumped and then laughed at their fright as the flock of birds fled into the clearing from behind them, frantically moving in all different directions, squawking and calling out in harsh cries. A few flew over the river but most ran in a circle and then back into the jungle. They were loud as they created havoc in the previously serene landscape. The midday stillness was gradually restored but the men were startled again just moments later.
A small knife touched Cavel's neck and he gasped. The hot metal was a fiery line across his neck that came and went in the space of a heartbeat but his small sound and the sharp smell of fear suddenly flooded the area. No one moved but all eyes were riveted on Cavel as he stood to one side of the clearing next to Saulle.
"You never even thought to wonder what made them scatter, did you?" Bashta asked as he casually sheathed his unbloodied knife. He stood there frowning at the men. "I was able to sneak up on you, even when the animals gave you warning. Were I an enemy your alpha would be dead or injured. Here you must worry about attacks by predators who would challenge even you. You cannot be lulled by slow moving waters or warm beaches. There are hidden dangers all around you."
The men all stared at Bashta in consternation. He had appeared in their midst without a single man becoming aware of him. His speech was even more unexpected and taken more seriously for the rarity. He had seldom spoken and even then it was quietly, either to Piscel or Cavel. He stood differently, looked different, as he confronted them.
Cavel turned and let his gaze travel slowly up Bashta's body. He was wearing leather foot coverings, molded and tied with thongs around his slender feet and ankles. His loincloth was longer, the front flap extending farther down his thighs. A stone pendant shaped in a sharp spike hung around his neck and he had a wide bag of some sort of fibrous material slung across his chest which was marked with several long red scratches. The material on his arms was the oddest addition, some sort of hard covering that looking like the bark of a tree branch extending from wrists to elbows.
"What happened to you?" Cavel said in astonishment.
Bashta looked down. "I needed to get a few things so I could gather some fruit for the meal I promised." He unwound the cord tying the coverings to his arms and showed the flexible bend of the material. "This is the inner bark of a palm tree; it protects me from the tucuma tree spines."
He looked west, upstream along the course of the river. "From here the trip isn't much farther but I have no nests along the way with supplies. My people have never lived close to the Temple. To do so could lure strangers in and let them find the hidden paths. To enter the Temple, to approach the home of the oracle, certain rites must be observed. For that we will need some things that I cannot find between here and there. Fortunately I had a cache nearby."
He dropped the bag off his shoulder and crouched down, digging through it. He pulled out about twenty small oval fruits with a deep orange color and piled them in the sand. Reaching further inside he pulled out several hooks attached to homemade fiber line in a neat coil. Bashta used his knife to slice into one of the fruits and cut several chunks. Threading it onto the hooks he stood up.
"Who's ready to do some fishing?"
Several men showed interest so Bashta took them over to an area where trees grew down near the water. "This is tucuma fruit, pacu will eat just about anything but they really like this." He showed them how to uncoil the line and drop it into likely spots along the bank.
They sat drowsily in the midday heat for several minutes holding the line in their hands before Piscel yelled. He stood up, pulling his line up hand over hand. One the end was a silver fish, about the size of his hand with sharp teeth. He nicked a finger getting the hook out but he proudly held up his fish to show Bashta.
"It looks like a picture I saw of a piranha. It doesn't eat flesh does it? I was thinking of taking a dip later."
Smiling, Bashta clapped him on the arm. "No, they eat fruit. It took the bait on your hook, didn't it?"
"Oh yeah." He blushed and then grabbed another piece of fruit. Piscel strung it on his hook by himself and dropped it back in the water.
"Can I try?" Cavel asked. He had stayed with the group setting up camp but seeing Bashta touch Piscel brought out all of his territorial instincts. He walked over and stood looming over the seated group. He didn't say a word but Piscel immediately scrambled up and handed him the line, moving away from Bashta. There was a dangerous glint in Cavel's eyes as he watched him retreat.
"Uhh, I think I'll go get wood to start a fire for these fish since I already got to catch one."
Bashta flushed when Cavel sat down next to him, close enough for their knees to touch. He could feel heat radiating from that one small spot of contact. He shifted uneasily but didn't move away, liking the breathless, tight feeling in his stomach and chest he got from it. He glanced at Cavel shyly from the corner of his eye, quickly looked away when he met those dark eyes watching him intently.
"So, you fish for these often?" Cavel asked casually, scratching his thigh and brushing their arms together. Bashta shuddered and Cavel smiled.
"Yes," he said quietly. "They are plentiful and their flesh is sweet." He moved just enough to brush Cavel's back, shivering again at his daring as he reached for another tucuma fruit. They sat together and fished, trading small subtle touches. By the end of an hour the group fishing had more than a dozen fish. They baked them threaded on green sticks over the fire and rounded out the meal with the small pile of sweet fruits that Bashta had brought, sucking the sweet and musky juice and then biting into the pale flesh.