Chapter 5: Hunting Pronghorn by Moonlight
by Casey Valhalla
Heero was dreaming. In his dream, he was sitting on the rocks below his parents' house on Orcas Island, watching the rain trace little swirling patterns over the dark water of the sound. It was raining, but the sun was shining, and there were no clouds in the sky. He could feel the rain falling against his skin and in his hair, but he wasn't wet, and the wind was warm instead of cold.
In his dream, he heard Duo's voice, but Duo was a little boy riding an old rusty bicycle across the rippling water, as though just below the surface was a slab of cement capable of supporting a boy and a bicycle. Or perhaps he was riding it along the backs of orcas, and they carried him to the rocks where Heero was sitting. He imagined Indians could do things like that.
Heero was a little boy too, but he knew things that most little boys didn't. He knew that in six or seven years Duo's hair would be lighter and redder, that his legs would be longer, that his lips would feel nice pressed against Heero's mouth. Duo was smiling, straddling the bicycle with both feet planted firmly in the water to keep it upright.
"The house is empty," Heero told him. "There's no one here. Everyone left. Will you stay with me?"
The bicycle was sinking slowly into the water, as though it were quicksand. Duo kept smiling at Heero, unaware that he was about to fall into the bottomless depths of Puget Sound, sinking eternally through the silver-tipped waves, leaving Heero alone.
He scrabbled to the edge of his rock, slipping in the wet moss, reaching out to try and catch Duo, to pull him to safety. But Duo just stood with his arms crossed over the handlebars, smiling. "Give me your hand!" Heero shouted, flexing his fingers as though he could somehow make them long enough to reach Duo. "Don't leave me."
"Heero, wake up," Duo said.
He blinked, and instead of seeing Duo's face sinking into an infinity of dark water he saw Duo's face framed by a brilliant night sky, the stars dancing around him like a halo. "Awake now?" Duo gave him a blazing grin, the expression Heero had come to think of as his tanuki smile. "Come on, I want to show you something."
The fire had reduced to a small mound of glowing embers, surrounded by formless lumps in the darkness where the other three travelers were sleeping. The sky was clear, and the moon was almost full overhead, washing the landscape in silver. Still feeling like he was dreaming, Heero followed Duo barefoot away from the camp and the trailer, into the tall prairie grass, the wind running ripples and patterns through the plains, creating an ocean in the midst of the South Dakota badlands.
The ground dipped down into a dark, dusty hollow and rose up again, higher. Duo paused and crouched at the top of the hillock and waited for Heero to catch up, holding a finger to his lips for silence.
Heero knelt on the ground beside him and looked down over a broad sweep of silvered grass. There were figures moving in the distance, but Heero couldn't make out what they were until one of them raised its head, displaying a pair of long, curved horns.
"Tato kala," Duo whispered, suddenly close enough for Heero to feel the heat rising off his skin. "Pronghorn. We're downwind, so stay quiet and they won't run."
Heero nodded silently and watched, counting ten, then twelve antelope grazing on the prairie. With the moonlight washing over them, they moved like ghosts through the grasses, never making a sound, moving closer together then further away in a slow, choreographed dance.
Duo settled himself on the ground, tucking his legs under him, and leaned against Heero's shoulder, his braid falling over his shoulder to tickle the inside of Heero's elbow. "Tell me about Japan."
Duo's voice was low and sensual, mingling with the moonlight and a sweet scent on the wind. Heero rearranged himself without disturbing the boy's position on his shoulder, pulling his knees up against his chest. "I've never been there."
"Tell me anyway." Duo's fingers traveled down the sensitive skin on the underside of Heero's arm until they were tracing the lines on his palm.
He could barely think, feeling that touch, feeling the reverberations of Duo's voice against his skin. He searched all his memories for something to tell, a bit of a story, and without realizing it he heard his father's voice in his mind, and heard it coming out of his mouth.
"When I was a little boy, I lived in Kyoto with my grandmother. I was quiet, and didn't have many friends."
"You just said you'd never been to Japan," Duo argued, still feathering his fingers over Heero's palm.
"Do you want to hear the story or not?"
"Sorry, go ahead."
"One night I was taking the trash out for my grandmother, and I found a tanuki digging through our trashcan. It had made quite a mess, which made me angry, and I said I was going to go tell my grandmother to call animal control."
"What's a tanuki look like?"
"Like a raccoon, only bigger. Be quiet."
"So, the tanuki became distressed, and apologized profusely. It offered to give me whatever I asked, if only I wouldn't call animal control."
"Wait, this raccoon was talking to you?"
"Tanuki, not raccoon, and yes, it was talking. Japanese animal spirits can do that. You should know, you're an Indian. Don't you talk to buffalo or something?"
"I can't honestly say I've ever engaged in conversation with a tatanka, no."
"Can I tell the story now?"
"Sorry, Hopa, go ahead."
"I told the tanuki that it couldn't possibly have anything I would want, and started walking back into the house. Then the tanuki said, perhaps not, but you want a friend, don't you, Tasuki?"
"Your name isn't Tasuki."
"No, it isn't. Shut up. I was still angry, so I told the tanuki that I didn't need friends. I told it to go away, and went back inside, but it followed me, right into my grandmother's house. I turned around to chase it back out, but it pulled a fig leaf out of its pocket-"
"Animals don't have pockets, Hopa."
"Okay, okay, I'll shut up."
"It pulled a fig leaf out of its pocket and placed it on its head, and turned into a boy the same age as me. I would still have chased it out, but my grandmother walked in right at that moment and saw that I had a guest, and invited him to stay for dinner."
"Damn. Then what?"
"He started following me everywhere. He followed me to school, he followed me home, he followed me to the arcade and when I went shopping for my grandmother. I kept telling him to leave me alone, but my grandmother was always inviting him in and giving him gifts and telling me what a nice friend I had."
Duo was chuckling softly. "You sure this is about someone else, and not you?"
"I thought you were going to keep quiet."
"Yeah, sure. Keep going."
"One day I was walking home from the arcade and he was following me, just a few paces behind. I stopped at a crosswalk and turned around to yell at him and tell him to quit following me, that I didn't want to be his friend and never would. I turned back and began stomping away angrily, so angry, in fact, that I didn't see that the light hadn't changed."
"And let me guess, he pulled you to safety, right?"
Heero blinked at him for a moment, then glowered. "Do *you* want to tell the story?"
"No, sorry, please continue."
"The tanuki grabbed me and pulled me back onto the curb just as a huge truck rushed past. I was so surprised that I forgot to be angry any more. I stopped yelling at him for following me around. I started listening when he talked to me, and found out that he was pretty good at arcade games. After a while I found out that it wasn't so bad, having a tanuki for a friend."
Heero paused and lapsed into a brief silence that Duo broke quickly. "Well? Then what?"
"Then my parents came to take me back to America. I asked the tanuki if he would come, too, because I didn't speak English very well, and was afraid I wouldn't have any friends in America, either. He was very sad, and told me he was sorry, but if he left his homeland, his magic would disappear. I had to leave without him, and never saw him again."
Duo waited, but Heero didn't continue. He started fidgeting. "What? Is that it?"
"What the hell kind of story is that?"
Heero shrugged a little self-consciously, still hyperaware of every brush of Duo's skin against his. "My father told it to me when I was little."
"And you believed him?"
"I believed every lie he ever told me, yes." Heero's fingers twitched under Duo's touch. "I was a dumb kid, too."
"Well," the Indian mused, snuggling a little closer, "it was an okay story, I guess, but the ending sucked."
"You think you can do better?"
"That sounds like a challenge to me." Duo turned his head on Heero's shoulder, the fine hairs of his bangs tickling against Heero's skin, raising goosebumps. His eyes looked black in the moonlight. "Right on. One dose of indigenous bullshit coming up."
Duo made a show of clearing his throat and deepening his voice, then began his story. "When I was seven years old, I needed a new set of tires for my bike. Sylvester Red Crow had the perfect pair at his shop in Pine Ridge, but they cost fifteen dollars, and tunkasila didn't have any money. He was a medicine man, though, he's famous on the reservation. Folks used to drive all the way from Wanblee and Potato Creek just to see him. So we prayed to the spirits and did a little ritual and waited to see what would happen."
"For bike tires."
"For a few days nothing happened, which isn't surprising, since you can't get something for nothing, and no one on the reservation ever has fifteen dollars all at once. Then one afternoon at the post office I was talking to Richard John, and he told me he'd give me fifteen dollars if I could rebuild the engine of his '75 Nova."
"Why would anyone bother actually fixing a Nova?"
"Beats me." Duo shrugged a little, and the action sent an echo through Heero's nerves. "But that's what he wanted. Anyway, I went home that night and told tunkasila what Richard had said. He blessed me and said some prayers over me, fed me some fry-bread and commodity soup and sent me to bed."
"Shut up. That night, I had a dream. In the dream Coyote visited me and taught me how to rebuild car engines. When I woke up, I ran straight out the door and all the way to Richard John's house and told him I'd fix his Nova."
"Bet he didn't believe you."
"Course not, but he let me do it anyway. I was up all day and all night working on the engine for three days straight with nothing to eat except for the fry-bread that Richard's wife brought out to me. I finally finished it on the third day when the sun was rising. I fell asleep under the front fender and didn't wake up for another twenty-four hours."
"You rebuilt a car engine."
"When you were seven."
"That is the biggest crock I have ever heard."
"Well, I did, and Richard John was so impressed he paid me twenty dollars instead of fifteen and gave me half his porcupine quills for my dance costume. I bought my bike tires, a Snickers bar, and a basketball from the secondhand shop, and everything turned out fine."
"And you actually got the Nova running?"
"I fixed the engine. But yanno, that doesn't help much if the transmission is shot."
Heero started chuckling, then threw his head back and laughed out loud, startling the antelope on the field below them. They milled about nervously and moved further away, but didn't leave. Apparently there were some strange creatures roaming the prairie tonight.
He finally drew a breath and looked down to see Duo giving him his tanuki grin. "See? Now *that* was a good ending."
Heero hummed in agreement as Duo shifted against his shoulder again, sending more thrills through his nervous system. Tentatively, he lifted his hand to touch the beads threaded through Duo's hair-wrap, transfixed by the way they glimmered in the moonlight. Duo turned his head, looking up at Heero through eyes the color of the sky above them, then arched upwards to touch his mouth to Heero's. Gently, once, then again.
Heero was frozen, completely. He couldn't blink, or breathe, and was fairly certain that his heart had stopped. Then Duo whispered, "Kiss me back, Hopa," against his lips, and everything started working again in a frenzied rush.
Kissing Duo was like kissing a sunrise; it was slow, and deep, and spread brilliant colors across the insides of his eyelids. One of Duo's hands touched his cheek, and the other rested on his shoulder, pulling him forward, pulling him down, tracing unknown symbols through the fabric of his tank top. Either the Earth's axis had shifted or they had inexplicably become the center of the universe, because the prairie was spinning around them, scattering Heero's senses until he didn't know whether he was lying over Duo or Duo was lying over him, or if they were standing, or hanging upside-down from a tree branch, or floating in midair.
Kissing Duo made strange things float to the surface of his mind. Visions, or imagined images, or bits of dreams. He saw Quatre bundled in a parka, steam bursting out of his mouth with every breath, walking across the northern tundra at night, frozen grass crunching underneath his boots. He could see the aurora in the sky, he could almost smell the patches of snow clinging to the ground. In the vision, Quatre held a gloved hand over his nose, red from the cold, and began singing as he walked, pausing between lines of verse to mutter about chords.
He saw Trowa on his motorcycle, riding alongside the Grand Canyon. Heero had never been to the Grand Canyon, but he'd seen pictures, and the image in his mind looked better than the pictures, so he almost thought it might be real. He wondered if anyone had ever jumped over the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle, and seemed to recall that someone had died in the attempt. He could imagine Trowa sitting on his bike, looking over the edge, and deciding that it wasn't a big enough challenge.
He saw a younger Wufei staring out the window of the foster care center in Grand Island, Nebraska, looking over his shoulder every so often at the sullen Indian boy who wouldn't speak English. Heero watched in his mind as Wufei silently turned away from the window and walked over to the couch where Duo was sitting, taking a seat next to him without a word or a glance. Just a presence, just the existence of someone who wasn't so unlike him after all, and no further communication was needed.
Kissing Duo was like taking a strong drug; he constantly found himself needing more, needing stronger doses, needing something to make it last longer. It was like losing his sense of self, dissolving into mouths and tongues and skin and no other form of consciousness.
Kissing Duo was hard to stop.
"You have to breathe once in a while, Hopa," Duo chuckled, his breath hot against Heero's lips. They had retreated less than an inch, and Heero could still feel it. His eyes were still closed, the lids too heavy to open, like trying to wake too early from sleep. He might have been dreaming.
He heard a throb, like bass drum beats in his ears, and realized it was his pulse. They were actually on the ground, it turned out, once Heero got some of his bearings back. He was lying mostly on top of Duo, one hand buried in the Indian's thick hair, the other pressed at the small of Duo's back. Their legs were hopelessly tangled, but neither seemed intent on moving any time soon, so it was okay.
After a brief struggle Heero managed to open his eyes. Duo was close, closer than he could ever remember Duo being before, and his eyes were glimmering the exact same way the beads in his hair-wrap had with the moon shining on them. Duo was running fingers through Heero's bangs over and over again, making him feel sufficiently cat-like. "Space cadet," Duo teased, smiling and brushing his lips against Heero's. "Where did you go? I'd prefer it if you were present while I'm kissing you."
"I can't-" Heero shuddered as Duo brushed over his lips again, and his eyes fell closed. "I can't help it."
"You get lost," Duo murmured, the sound vibrating in his chest. "I guess that's not such a bad thing."
Heero sighed and pressed his mouth against Duo's again, drawn to it like a magnet, like a moth to its untimely death. He inhaled the incense scent of Duo's hair, the sweet smell of the prairie wind, and moonlight, before Duo pushed him away again.
"More," he gasped unconsciously, and heard Duo chuckle.
"More what?" the Indian asked, still threading his hand through Heero's hair. "More kissing, or more.?"
The implications of that question jarred Heero enough to pull away fully, his skin suddenly flushed with heat. Apparently Duo found this highly amusing, and laughed softly to himself as they tried to untangle enough to stand up and dust themselves off.
On the plain below, the silvery forms of the antelope were moving further away, becoming mere shimmers in the distance. Under the moon, Duo was a silvered ghost himself, walking through the grasses without making a sound, leading him back to camp and a trio of soft snoring like a choir of crickets. Heero dropped back onto his sleeping bag, suddenly exhausted.
He managed to rouse himself when Duo kept walking, and grabbed the boy's hand. He opened his mouth to say something, to ask Duo to stay with him, but closed it when he realized any words now would probably wake up half the camp.
Duo understood, though, and crawled onto the sleeping bag beside him, snuggling against him under one of the soft blankets Corina had offered them. The night was cool, and Duo was warm, and Heero fell asleep more contentedly than he had in years with his arms wrapped around a skinny Indian boy he'd only known for three days.
I think I *am* getting to know him now, though, Heero decided, his last thoughts before he drifted off. And I'd better do a damn good job, he reminded himself, or Wufei will kill me.
He didn't dream about bottomless water and empty houses any more that night.
Lakota 101 -
Tato kala: antelope, or pronghorn, depending on your preference
Tanuki: raccoon dog. you know, one of those Japanese trickster spirits, like kitsune. Only not.
Neither of the stories told here have any bearing on reality. Meaning they should not be considered actual pieces of mythology. I made them up, in their entirety.
Were either of them true? Well, I'll leave that for you to decide. I don't believe that a seven-year-old could ever actually rebuild a '75 Nova engine (or any engine for that matter), but this *is* Duo we're talking about here. Who knows?