- Running Bear
- Lykotheia
- Gat x Hazel
- NC-17
- A 19th century AU in which Hazel, the son of a Protestant (!) minister finds himself in love with a member of the
Cheyenne tribe.


- These characters are the property of Kazuya Minekura; I claim only the invented plot and side characters.


- WARNINGS: Sexual situations, maybe some cursing?, racism (
Virginia in the 19th century folks), stereotypes, mild historical inaccuracy.

- Please note that I have taken great liberties with Cheyenne customs though, as mentioned in the story, the women of the Cheyenne tribes were kept closely guarded, this is a tribe that ascribes to the "Two Spirited" belief, and women did in fact wear dresses that went down to their ankles. The tribal dance, festival, and trade in Virginia are all inventions of mine.

There may be some grammatical errors that I overlooked; it is difficult to spot one's own mistakes. Please let me know if there is one that jumps off the page at you, but don't stone me for splitting an infinitive.

           

 

 

The sound of chirping and heavy footfalls in the grass woke him, and for a moment he thought he was back in South Carolina. But even so far out West, there were robins. A quick glance about proved he was not; the hide walls of the conical hut surrounding him glowed with sunshine from the outside. The small dwelling was empty, and he lay naked between smooth animal pelts, permitting himself to wake in stages.

            One of five oiled and well-carved bows was absent; Gat was hunting. He stretched lazily and let the drawings on the hide walls come into focus as his eyes adjusted to light. They were all bears, hand-painted in scenes of nature or the hunt. Gat had told him the bear was his chosen animal once, and when Hazel had asked why he'd chosen it, he'd laughed.

            "It chose me. That is how it's done." The complex ritual of spirit dreaming had been broken down for him over the following days, and he began to think that maybe one day he would go out and seek his own. Gat suspected ahead of time that it would be a deer that chose him; Hazel had countered with a fox, and Gat had looked thoughtful, nodding. Hazel was not a deer; he didn't flee from danger, but cleverly out waited it, taking on only the risks that would pay off later.

            He glanced at his clothing, which lay in a small pile against the edge of the hide wall; it had been mended many times over, and soon he would have to forgo it entirely. The trousers were cotton, a hardship when one moved about as much as Gat's people did, following buffalo. His shirt, linen and once of the highest quality, looked now like an orphanage hand-me-down. The leather shoes were all that had lasted, though he'd patched the side of the left one twice to keep it from leaking. His persistence in donning the clothing daily came from an inability to leave his old life behind completely; what if some day he had to go back? There were few remnants of it now, and the sudden freedom both exhilarated and terrified him. Gat's people were kind, but he was not one of them, and feared that they sensed it. But just the same, he was hardly one of his own kind either. His friendship with Gat in South Carolina had led to talk. Talk was the worst sort of thing that could happen to a man; bankruptcy and slave revolts drew sympathy, but talk kindled anger and suspicion.

            Escape had been easy. It was Gat who suggested it, shrugging simply at Hazel's aghast expression. "The journey will be long."

            "You're strong."

            "I hardly speak a word of your tongue," Hazel protested, and Gat shrugged again.

            "You will learn."

            "What makes you think they'll even want me? I couldn't blame your city if they hated me, because of who I am." No indeed, not when his country's government pushed West at the cost of thousands of lives.

            "They will accept you because I am your husband."

            Hazel colored brightly and jerked away, "Don't say that—what are you implying, that I'm your wife?" He hissed, still quite unused to Gat's way of seeing their highly unusual relationship. It had been the first of many such arguments, though over time Hazel had grown certain that the terminology that he found so insulting came only of an inability to translate Cheyenne into English. Gat used what words were available to him. English did not provide proper term expressions for husband and, well, other husband.

            "No." Gat was never frazzled by his little outbursts; he never quarreled or debated. "You're my husband too."

            Hazel had heaved a sigh, pacing the length of the room and circling it twice before coming to a decision. Gat was standing beside the wingback chair in the corner in silence, watching him quarrel inwardly between fight and flight.

            "I don't have much of a choice, do I?"

            "You have a very obvious choice." Gat said. "Stay here, with your people. Or come with me and go home."

            Hazel thought that put it very succinctly, and moved to the staircase. "Let me pack a carpetbag." He surrendered, watching the tiniest smile pull at Gat's stoic expression.

            "I will find a horse."

 

            That was eleven months ago, and he had heard nothing from Charleston since. He'd left his father no letter, but he supposed it would be rather obvious where he'd gone, and with whom. Gat had come to Charleston with three others of his tribe to trade. At the news, children and adults both shamelessly appeared on the edge of town the day of their arrival, expecting war paint and feathers. The three men arrived in buckskins not unlike those the southern vaqueros wore, and linen shirts. Hazel remembered this in particular because of the way the fine fabric clung tightly across Gat's broad shoulders, revealing a strong chest beneath. He had been almost sixteen before he realized that most other boys his age weren't noticing the way fabric clung to other men's chests.

            The Indians wore boots, not moccasins, and their hair was neatly combed out and tied back in out-dated but distinctly European queues. Only Gat wore his folded over twice near his nape, making it appear shorter. Their faces were completely naked, of both paint and expression. They had lingered long enough to trade, flaunt their English abilities, and be chastened by preachers like Hazel's own father.

            One of the three, a tall man with fierce eyes who called himself Charles—Hazel had later discovered his name was really Wind Hawk, and he was the most touted sharpshooter in his tribe—endured ten minutes of Reverend Grosse's fierce lectures before Hazel had interrupted with his presence and muttered some excuse to usher the man out. He had seen Charles was near to his breaking point—Hazel knew the expression because he'd endured the same sort of lectures plenty of times in the past—and apologized.

            "I came here to trade, not to hear his wild stories." Charles spat, and Hazel flushed.

            "They're Biblical parables," he explained, "And I'm sorry. It is my father's bad habit to overdo it. But if you're here to trade, why were you at my father's house?" Reverend Philip Grosse lived a rather austere life for a Protestant, and had little worth dickering over, in Hazel's opinion.

            "I went to your post; a Mr. Salisbury," and there he stumbled over the pronunciation, though Hazel knew well the small shop owner, "sent me here for fabric."

            "Fabric?" Hazel appeared baffled, and Charles launched into an explanation of why it was needed in halting English, mentioning that Mr. Salisbury said Mrs. Grosse had had bolts of it stashed away, and maybe the Reverend was willing to part with it.

            Hazel frowned. "That was my mother's." It was in the attic now, collecting dust, but still radiating comfort with the knowledge it was there. He had very few memories of the fair-haired woman, but one of them was creeping up to the small sewing room where she would sit embroidering or stitching a skirt. She used to make him clothing too.

            "We will look elsewhere; I'm sorry." The far deeper tone startled him; another, taller man had approached so silently Hazel had not heard his boots crunching the gravel of the street. It was the broad-shouldered man who had arrived two days ago on horseback, his hair bundled up in the back.

            "You could try Denelle's. A seamstress works there, and they should have extra," Hazel offered, speaking, in essence, to Charles, but keeping his gaze on Gat.

            "I'm sorry. We haven't been introduced?" Hazel swore he could hear Charles rolling his eyes, though at the time he hadn't known why, and grasped Gat's wide hand as it was offered, not at all surprised by his strength.

            "I am Gat." He supposed the name was invented; it was neither Western nor, as he later found out, Cheyenne.

            "When did your mother die?"

            Hazel smiled faintly, shaking his head, "It was a long time ago. I was a child." No one thought to inquire anymore.

            "I am sorry for your grief." Hazel supposed it had been in his eyes at the thought of parting with the last relic of his mother's, and hurriedly tried to erase the expression.

            "Ah, thank you," he nodded, watching Charles move down the busy street. Gat's eyes stayed politely on him. Hazel glanced back at the door of his home, and to Gat. "Do you drink tea?"

            "No. But I would like to try it."

 

            He learned that Gat and his companions, Charles and David, or Wind Hawk and Running Wolf, were to stay a month and travel throughout the South Carolinian territory—a state, Hazel had explained—before returning home.

            Hazel asked him where home was, and found that he was of the people called Cheyenne, in the Kansas territory.

            "You made a very long journey."

            "We used to have friends here, several generations ago. We decided it would be safer and," here he smiled, "We wanted to see your cities."

            "Are they what you expected?" Hazel wondered if he looked at Charleston in awe or disgust.

            "Not at all." His neutral answer gave no hints, and Hazel spent the afternoon probing for answers and enjoying the relative silence of the house while his father was away. He found with some amusement that Gat thought the city rather dirty and some of the customs so strange he was sure his own people would not believe them if repeated.

            "Women's dress? I find it fetching." He didn't add that he found well-fitted trousers and billowing vintage sleeves much more so.

            "Maybe." Gat allowed, "But it's not practical. I saw a woman today get stuck in a doorway. Her skirts are too wide."

            "That's only the fashion." Hazel chuckled.

            "Yes," Gat answered politely, and then obliged Hazel when asked to describe his own people's dress. "Our women cover their legs as well, but the dresses are more wieldy. Men wear clothing not unlike yours, though more durable." Hazel imagined the women must dress quite plainly, but a month later discovered it was not so; everything from shells to porcupine quills adorned their clothing in detailed patterns that would take a seamstress hours to construct. That, he thought, was just as impractical as anything a Carolinian might don.

            "And the feathered war bonnets?" He inquired, having seen paintings and heard tales. He couldn't imagine running about with a duck's worth of feathers on his head, but then again, he didn't really have the height to pull it off.

            "Yes. Sometimes."

            "Not every day?"

            Gat laughed, "How would you work in that? Of course not. Do you wear your armor every day?"

            "Armor?" It seemed Gat, too, had heard stories. "No one wears armor to war anymore," Hazel laughed. "Where did you hear that?"

            Gat, far from appearing embarrassed, answered that he had seen a drawing of it in a book. Many travelers going West stopped in their village to trade, and he had accepted this book, with scribbling in a foreign writing, for buffalo meat. One of the images showed a white man in a full body suit of armor.

            "People have not worn armor to battle for a long time," Hazel said. "It's too heavy, and one would require a horse. That is more the stuff of legends nowadays."

            It was Gat's turn to inquire more of Hazel's history, and he was a more talkative individual than Hazel would have originally pinned him for. They spent the last of the sun's hours in discussion, taking turns in their respective investigations until the topic of livelihoods came about. Gat was a hunter, a warrior when needed, he explained, as his father had been. "And will you be a priest like your father?"

            "My father is not a priest," Hazel said quickly, "He's a reverend. A Protestant."

            "I thought all holy men were priests."

            Hazel frowned; how typical of the Catholics to lie. It was such a pity that they had gotten to the Natives first. "No. Only Catholic holy men are priests; priests cannot marry or have children, so my father is not one."

            Gat apologized if he had offended him, and Hazel assured him he had not and that no, he had no intention of becoming a holy man himself.

            "I've had enough schooling that I'm qualified now to go after my doctorate; I would like to teach, if nothing else. My father approves of it."

            Gat raised an eyebrow and then, hesitantly, "But that is not what you want."

            Hazel shrugged. "I have no room to complain. Most men in the profession I desire would happily give it up for my lifestyle." Despite his father's austere way of life, they were quite comfortable.

            "And what is that?"

            "I would like to be a jeweler."

            Gat asked what a jeweler did—did he trade in precious stones?

            "No, a jeweler works with watches and makes repairs—jewelry too. I love the mechanics of it—watches more than baubles. I spent my childhood pulling them apart to see how they function and then tweaking the tiny organs until they work properly again. That was when I was apprenticed in youth to a jeweler who specialized in watch repair; my father thought it was a good pastime for a boy not in school in the summer. But it was not a suitable profession."

            "Why?"

            Hazel did not know how to answer without sounding crass; despite claiming almost daily that the meek will inherit the earth, his father refused to allow a son of his to become a watch-maker. It was too middle-class. "He thinks it is suitable that I become a professor, or that I follow in his humble footsteps."

            Gat remained quiet, knowing better than to speak against the advice of his host's father. Hazel noted he had finished the tea long ago and set the delicate china cup aside; his eyes, like jet, were still focused on Hazel.

            "I…wouldn't want to keep you. Mr. Gat." He smiled and rose quickly, unnerved by his look, though doing nothing to avert it. "But I would like to speak with you again."

            Gat indicated likewise.

            "Please, accept my invitation to lunch tomorrow?" Hazel offered, knowing well that his father would be locked away in his office writing a sermon.

            "I would like that." They shook hands, and just as Gat had turned the corner in the distance, Hazel heard the backdoor creak open as his father entered, mumbling beneath his breath.

            "Hazel. Where's that blasted woman?" He was referring of course to their maid, Anna, a red-headed Irish woman who had fled the prejudiced cities of the north only to become mired in those of the south.

            "I don't know. She might be ill." Hazel suspected otherwise—he had seen her out with a gentleman twice that week, and promised with a nod to be silent about it. He hadn't expected she would be late.

            "I've half a mind to be rid of her."

            Hazel would have shot back that he wouldn't if he didn't want to starve, but said nothing, retiring to his room to escape the tirade of an oncoming monologue, mentally preparing a list of questions for Gat at lunch the following day.

 

            It hit him moments before Gat's arrival that he might not know how to use a fork and knife. He had been told Indians didn't, and, wary of putting his guest into any sort of embarrassing or uncomfortable situation, hesitated to open the door when he heard the knock.

            "Hello." He saw Gat glance around as he entered, and assured him hurriedly that his father was upstairs, and would not come down for anything but an earthquake.

            "How's business going?"

            Gat said that it was going well, taking his seat across from Hazel on the delicate, glass-topped table on the sun porch. His host found that he wielded the silver utensils easily, and relaxed, opening their conversation after a short preamble for manners' sake, with a question.

            "Will you tell me more about your city?"

            Gat looked surprised; Hazel suspected that no one here ever asked, but rather expected Gat to be posing the questions and marveling at their civilization.

            "What would you like to know?"

            "Anything. Tell me about your friends there."

            Gat did, mentioning that, contrary to what Hazel had thought, Wind Hawk and Running Wolf were not his friends, but members of other tribes, also Cheyenne, who came for the sake of trade. More, he explained, would be coming in a few weeks. Scouting parties had been sent ahead.

            He had grown up with childhood friends that continued to be so in manhood; he gave Hazel their names in his own tongue, and translated carefully. These men had taken no Christian names. "Two Fields almost came with me, but his father fell ill, and he had to stay behind to take care of him. His grandfather is the priest—or reverend, I should say," he corrected himself with a small smile. "Obviously he cannot be a priest. I met him when his family came to live with us; they come from a separate sector of our people, and moved after their village was burned by white settlers." Hazel felt a twinge of remorse, as if it were his fault, and batted it away, saying the appropriate things. "Two Fields will be a healer too, one day; he trains hard."

            "A spiritual healer or a physician?" Hazel inquired.

            "Both. You make them different here, but among my people they are one and the same; you cannot heal the body without affecting the spirit."

            Hazel gave a small "hm" to show he was listening, fingers about the tall transparent glass of iced tea.

             "Standing Horse I have known since I was a child; his mother and mine are sisters, and his children call me uncle."

            Hazel inquired politely how many children he had, and the name of his wife.

            "He has two partners; all his children are with Clear Sky, whom he married second."

            "Two wives?" It sounded so foreign, so Eastern, that Hazel had trouble believing it. He had never heard that men kept multiple wives out West, and had assumed that was a tradition that remained only in the harems of Arabia.

            "No, two partners." Gat said calmly, probably used to foreign confusion over his customs. Or maybe, Hazel hypothesized, he was not one to rile easily. "Clear Sky is his wife; she has very delicate features, and fairer skin than most. She looks like one of your women, except she is tall. And then Seven Storms, who is his husband. He is younger, and manages the household, the money." Gat smiled, "Standing Horse has never been good with money."

            "He has a what?" Hazel sputtered, almost spitting his mouthful of tea back into the glass. "A husband? A man?" He remembered to keep his voice down.

            Gat was too confident in his English to second-guess his translation. He laughed, "That is not common here is it? I have not seen any men with men, or women with other women. But I assumed you wanted to populate quickly," he jested, and then frowned at the expression on his host's face. "Have I offended you?" For a brief moment he panicked, thinking that Gat had read something in his face he hadn't meant to show, and that this was all a jest intended to mock him. The notion passed, and he saw nothing but sincerity on Gat's face.

            "Well, no," Hazel said carefully, "But I have never heard of such a thing in my life. Why, two men can't marry!"

            "Why not?"

            "Because—well that doesn't even make sense!"

            Now it was Gat's turn to look confused. Hazel explained in brief, "Such things are taboo here; no two men, or two women, can marry. I reckon most people here aren't aware that amongst your people they can, and if I were you, I wouldn't mention it." He might have said more, but caught himself before he could start mimicking his father. Who was he to pass judgment? It had been done unto him so many times that he'd lost his taste for it entirely.

            Gat told him he appreciated the warning. "It's very difficult to know what it is acceptable to discuss here. I've found weather is always appropriate."

            Hazel nodded with a small smile, "Yes, a safe topic."

            Their conversation drifted on, and Gat remained neatly within the boundaries of propriety, a perfect gentleman despite his somewhat wild, exotic appearance. Hazel found himself itching to return to the former topic of discussion, to pry that Pandora's box open a second time and peer inside. He wouldn't touch, only look, maybe search for some sort of self-justification that he could never really make use of. Something about the completely barbaric tradition synced with him, reminding him of personal experiences in youth that he had locked away to be forgotten. Now that he suddenly desired to probe a similar topic risked re-opening a dangerous wound.

            Gat was speaking of the daughter of a hunter-friend of his who had learned English quicker than anyone else in the tribe, and was quick to teach it to her friends and use it as a code that baffled and annoyed many of the elders. They had long since finished eating, and were sitting back in the chairs over a second or third glass of lemon-filled iced tea.

            "But children, I have found, are the same everywhere."

            Hazel agreed it was so, and a short silence fell upon them. He fancied he could hear the scratch of his father's quill pen upstairs.

            He did not know how to redirect the conversation; their time ran short, and Gat was too polite to lapse into any sort of talk that might offend his host. Hazel was blunt.

            "I want you to tell me more about these marriages," He said softly, almost whispering.

            "I thought they made you uncomfortable."

            "They don't. They do," He admitted, "Just tell me."

            Gat obliged his curiosity, explaining that some people, those who were Two-Spirited, as it would translate, might possess the body of a man, but really the spirit of a woman. Some might switch. It was their right, if they liked, to wed appropriately. Two-Spirited women with the bodies of men dressed as women, and only donned battle apparel in times of war, when they would take care of the injured. Men trapped within women's bodies might fight, if they liked.

            "I must admit, that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," Hazel exhaled.

            "If no one talks about it at all here, I suppose it would be."

            "So you're tellin' me a man can marry another man if he thinks he's a woman?" Now Hazel was doing his best not to laugh. "Why would he think that?"

            "I don't know. I'm not Two-Spirited. I am just a male."

            Hazel suddenly felt too warm in his shirt, and shifted uncomfortably in the chair. "What if a man who knows himself to be a man, still wants another one?" He asked softly.

            "Then I think he should ask for the one he wants."

            Philip Grosse's heavy steps on the stairs ended their conversation, and Hazel realized more time had passed than he'd been aware of. He made the proper introductions, and seethed later that evening when his father suggested he use this opportunity to convert the heathen who seemed so adept with the knife and fork.

            Hazel did not ask him to come over again, but rather met with him several streets down, in the city. Mr. Burringham, the man to whom he had apprenticed in youth, the owner of the small jeweler's shop, still welcomed his aid in the back room when he had more than he could handle. At sixty three, his sight was failing him, and the more detailed work was often left to younger eyes. Hazel habitually volunteered; he had no need of money, but wanted employment. It was at his shop, after hours, that Hazel and Gat would meet and dine in the back room; Mr. Burringham allowed it because he was an open-minded fellow who had no desire to baptize "heathens" and because he had known Hazel since youth, and was glad of his help. Burringham had supposed, though Hazel had been too polite to say it, that the Reverend had made some unappealing remarks in the boy's friend's presence.

            Three weeks passed like this, and the reverend seemed pleased to know that Hazel was occupying himself well as he waited for a reply from Yale. In the meantime Hazel became as well-versed as he could in Gat's culture, picking up a few words here and there that were not translatable, and memorizing their definitions.

            Although their topics of conversation were often contentious, Gat never ventured to discuss Two-Spirited people or marriage traditions again. Instead they swapped stories, traditions, and taught each other phrases of importance and amusement. Mr. Burringham always closed the shop down at five, and they would spent the rest of the evening until nine or so in conversation or examining watches and jewelry sent for repair.

            On evening, exactly one week before Gat's departure, he asked to see the inside of a watch that so fascinated Hazel. It struck him as odd, because Gat couldn't even tell time. Popping the back off of a gold-plated piece he had repaired earlier that morning, Hazel drew two oil lamps close and gestured for Gat to step over.

            "See that turning? This is the first wheel, and the mainspring is attached to it right here," He pointed with the tip of a delicate pointed driver. This is the center seconds wheel—you can't see from over there." He gestured again, stepping aside to let Gat peer through the magnifying lens at the tiny rotating wheels. He held it up a bit, and as Gat leaned forward, a shock of dark hair fell loose of its tie, spreading atop Hazel's shoulder. The moment seemed to last longer in Hazel's mind than it must have in reality, but suddenly he was able to feel the heat pouring off of him, the sweet, wild scent that always clung to his clothes. Maybe it was a natural aromatic, something on his skin. A delicate hand moved to brush the long strands of ebony from his shoulder, surprised to find it was rougher than it looked, and smelled of a sweet oil.

            "Sorry." Gat stepped back, and Hazel let go, carefully closing the watch and re-attaching the back of it.

            "It's detailed work."

            "It is," Hazel agreed quickly, glad for the sudden noise in the room, though it was short lived. He returned the magnifier and its stand to the corner, letting it scrape the wood for the sake of sound. "Your hair."

            "What?"

            "Do you oil it?"

            "Yes."

            "It smells nice." He blushed brightly at the stupid remark, and found Gat smiling softly at him. 

            "Thank you."

            "It's late. I need to go."

            Gat nodded his agreement and packed up their scanty supplies, following Hazel out the side door and waiting patiently while he locked it. 

            That night Hazel found himself wondering what Gat might look like with his hair down, which led to him wondering what he might look like with his hair spread out over a bare, muscled back, or maybe fanning out across a firm chest, shining with sweat and bear grease. Hazel indulged the thought until it led to speculation about just how that chest might feel pressed against his own, flush with his body, along with points south.

            "Oh this has to stop," he breathed aloud, already in quite a state, able to feel perspiration soaking through the back of his nightshirt. He wondered if Gat endured the same thing. He wondered if Gat even wore a nightshirt.

            Not an appropriate thought…He turned over onto his side, twisting amongst the too-hot sheets, and struggled into sleep only to be plagued by outlandish dreams of the wide plains as seen from the back of a horse, arms wrapping about a sturdy chest as the beast cantered below.

 

            He met with Gat the next evening over a watch and three broken bracelets, working late to occupy his mind and only breaking shortly for dinner.

            "You're going back soon, aren't you?" Hazel inquired.

            "Yes, five days."

            "Is it a long trip?" He put down the pocket watch and moved to douse his hands in the icy water left near the door in a small wash bucket.

            "It is."

            Hazel paused, listening to the sounds of the dark, shadowed water lap and suck against the sides of its container. He dried his hands on the sides of his cotton trousers. "When will you be back?"

            "I don't know. There are others coming. Maybe I won't be."

            Hazel winced internally, glancing off. Gat would go and never come back—why should he, when he had the freedom to roam where he chose? Who would come back to Charleston? Hazel himself envied it of him, and found he was angry, suffering the uncertain panic of a caged animal unable to change its circumstance.

When his eyes fell upon Gat again, he realized the man was holding something back too. He looked tense with his burden.

            "Just say it, Gat."

            "Come with me."

            "What?"

            "Come with me," he repeated calmly, standing. "You said you've never been West. Come with me."

            "I can't just up and leave." It sounded more uncertain than he had intended.

            "I understand." Gat said politely, and Hazel shook his head.

            "No, I don't think you do," he growled, hands coming to rest harshly atop the table, making the small oil lamp shudder; its flame bent double in shock. Gat was looking at him too calmly. "You can't waltz in here and tempt me like this, offer me some happy solution, a way out, when you know damned well I couldn't go."

            "If you need a way out, it means you're not happy. You should leave."

            "There's a lot I'm not happy about!" Hazel snapped, unnerved by Gat's calm façade, as if he were listening to a child. "And you have a damn fine way of highlightin' it!"

            "What else?" Gat looked a little taken off guard, and Hazel found he liked it.

            "I want your freedom! Your ability to come and go as you like. No one limits you. You have friends that respect you and your family, and your people—my Gods you don't have any rules!" He strode across the centre of the room as he spoke, "You can do anything you please—things I've punished myself for even thinking of!"

            Gat was frowning, the look of surprise replaced by disapproval. Hazel riled.

            "Don't look at me like that—it's true!"

            "I do nothing you're not free to do."

            "Yes you do!" Hazel yelled, slamming his hand down in frustration atop an empty countertop, "Your society doesn't regulate you—you can go where you want, choose your profession as you see fit, love anyone you desire!"

            Hazel knew before he said it that it was too much. Now he had formed a rift between them that could not be repaired in five day's time. He found he was trembling slightly, face flushed in frustration.

            "Maybe that's why you should come with me." Gat said quietly, standing closer now, able to meet his gaze despite the shadows in the room. "So that you might do that for yourself."

            "I can't." Hazel breathed, looking up at a serious face with kind, dark eyes. He wanted to sob in frustration, but pride didn't permit it him. "So much I can't," he whispered, brushing fingertips over the back of a strong hand that had come to rest atop the counter.

            He moved to turn away, and the bronzed, callused hand pressed down atop his, holding him fast to the stone-topped surface; Gat was closer now, too close. Hazel could smell the oil he used on his hair and the faint, musky odor that came from him naturally. The edges of his shirt and coat brushed Hazel's own, and a free arm, strong but yielding, drew him nearer.

            Gat never pushed. Hazel had bridged the gap. Surging upward in a moment of thoughtlessness that had, ironically, been the subject of hours' worth of contemplation, he caught Gat in a rough, unschooled kiss that lacked nothing in zeal. The hand pinning his to the counter rose quickly to join its mate about his waist, sliding slowly up his back as he adjusted the tilt of his head to accommodate Hazel's haste.

            They fumbled clumsily for a moment; Hazel heard a stool topple over when he took a step backwards, but didn't stop. A wall nudged his back soon enough, and he drew Gat down unto him, parting his lips in breathless welcome for a slick, versatile muscle. Gat tasted like honey and earth, and he heard himself moan as if from a distance. Hazel let his hands rake down a strong back and slip up beneath Gat's outer coat to clutch at the firm muscle there. Coals that had been infrequently ignited in the past suddenly flared violently to life in his loins, igniting a desire formerly foreign and forbidden to him.

            Gat drew back to nuzzle his neck gently, and Hazel felt firm, damp lips ghosting across the sensitive skin there. He seemed about to speak, and the blonde shook his head, drawing him back with a little gasp. "Don't let me think."

            They cleaved to one another in a frenzy, kissing and grasping at muscle, angles and curves. Hazel heard his own fluttering groans with shame, but drowned the sensation with the scorching heat pressing over him. He knew what he wanted, but not quite how to get at it.

            "Gat--" It came out almost incoherently, his thought not only unfinished but unstated entirely. Gat understood and moved quickly to unfasten their belts and press himself close, producing a deep tenor sound of pleasure at the contact. Hazel supposed he whimpered, but never recalled it.

            He let Gat grasp him beneath his thighs, arms slipping about his neck for balance. His breath came hard and fast, echoing faintly in the small room. It hurt, being had up against the wall, but there was a feeling of release and revolt that far outweighed the need for pleasure. But he had felt that too, gasping wordlessly at the powerful motion of Gat's hips, the sensation of warm kisses being pressed over his cheek and temple, in his hair. He thought he heard his name before everything culminated into a single point of pleasure-pain and far too much energy for his body to retain. He knew he must have cried out, but was breathless by the time he felt Gat's own heat surging through him, over the surface of his skin, it seemed.

            He stood shakily against the wall, letting the stronger of the two kiss him softly and inquire about his state. He had enough dignity left to dress.

            "I need to go," he repeated in a hoarse tone, grasping the coat he had worn.

            "Hazel."

            "I'll need to speak with you. Later. Please come to my home tomorrow." He promised, too dizzy to specify more. Gat must have found the key on the table and locked up. Hazel barely made it to his bed before collapsing, and woke with a fearsome pain the next morning.

 

            By the time Gat arrived that afternoon, he had had time to think. Maybe too much. What had he done? That question hadn't been answered yet, though he knew right away no one must ever become aware of it.

            The good reverend Grosse always lingered late after services to bask in the appreciative glow of his parishioners, and that aside, he had taken to frequenting a local Christian charity and gracing them with his support and endorsement. He never came home before two, and Anna, when she did show up, was never due before four. That he had asked Gat to come by the very next day came of necessity rather than planning. He had been fortunate.

            Opening the door, he was surprised to find Gat looking guilty, almost sad.

            "Come in." He blushed, closing the door with a click behind his guest. He offered politely to take his coat and then, as protocol demanded, tea. Gat refused, and the sudden silence was offsetting.

            "Why are you looking at me like that?" Hazel asked quickly. "Like you're guilty. I thought you said your people permitted this?" Not as though that excuses an outsider's sin, he thought to himself in wry agony.

            "Because you're not happy. You were so insistent—but I should have known better. I was hoping you would change your mind, find it pleasing." That he got carried away by desire too was implied. 

            Hazel thought that was an almost stupidly simple answer, but reminded himself that Gat's people had few rules, and perhaps were used simply to doing as they liked, appeasing themselves.

            "It was! And that is just the problem," he ran a hand through his hair, willing his nerves to smooth themselves out. "I've collapsed under temptation before, but this..."

            Gat confessed he did not understand. "You've done nothing wrong. I know it is taboo, but I still don't know why. If you think so poorly of this, then I will leave you. I hope you think well enough of me to know I would not speak of it."

            Hazel frowned, shaking his head. "I know that." He felt instantly guilty for involving Gat in his own personal conflict with morality. The heat in his loins hadn't been the only aching pest quenched last night. He found that the hovering loneliness that had so long plagued him was significantly less noticeable, though the threat of Gat's departure loomed in the near future.

            "You know why I did it. Why did you?"

            "Because I wanted it too, and I thought it would make you happy."

            "You want to make me happy?" Hazel echoed back and noted that Gat barely managed to suppress a roll of his eyes.

            "There is a tribe very near the Cheyenne that, upon receiving an offer or gift, feel it necessary to refuse three times before accepting, for the sake of good manners. I feel as though this is the same."

            Hazel understood Gat's inability to fathom the horrible guilt thriving inside of him, and wondered what it would be like to live in such a state of understanding.

            "I liked you," Gat said quietly, "and now I care for you. Please tell me what you wish. I have no desire to cause you pain, but nor do I wish to inflict it upon myself. To stay and know you would not have me does that; ask me to leave if you don't want this."

            Hazel frowned again, thinking how different everything looked in the light of day. The shadow-cloaked tryst of the night before suddenly didn't seem so daunting a sin, though to rid himself fully of such a thought would take years. But Gat cared for him; he was too direct and honest an individual to gain by lying. No one had cared for him since his mother's death.

            "No. Please, stay. I want you to stay."

            A flicker of a smile passed over his lips.

            "Come with me." He led him up the staircase, listening to the stairs creak softly beneath their feet. The third room off the hall was his, large enough for a bed, a desk, and a dresser, all made of maple. Windows opened onto the side yard and a small kitchen garden that had been left untended by Anna for over a month. Weeds sprang up and blossomed in conquest over tomatoes and spinach. Hazel thought they looked pretty there. They were the only flowers that bloomed.

            "This is the strangest thing I've seen on my trip." Gat confessed, looking to the bed. "The inn where we stay also has them. I was told everyone did."

            "A bed? Yes. They're comfortable."

            Gat grunted noncommittally, and Hazel laughed. "Maybe something to get used to," he conceded, unfastening the top buttons of his shirt rather shyly. "Sometimes it's where people make--" He caught himself, uncertain, and swallowed hard. "Where they…"

            "Sleep together," Gat supplied, removing his own shirt. The windows had not been covered by curtains in midday, and a ray of sunlight was shaken from the leaves overhead through the window, falling in dappled speckles across Gat's dark skin.

            "Yes." They disrobed, and Hazel drew him close and led him to the bed, settling comfortably atop the rope mattress and beneath Gat. He slid his thighs apart, arching into the sensation of bare skin brushing; the familiar heat eagerly rekindled, spreading rapidly through his veins to set every nerve on fire. The sensation of the smooth white sheets along his back and Gat's warm, hard body brushing his chest and groin was an ecstasy. His breath came faster and he tangled his hands in Gat's hair, kissing him with fervor.

            "Don't let me think." It came out as barely a murmur; at first he wasn't sure Gat heard it at all.

            "Hazel," he breathed his name, parting from the kiss and stilling their frenzied movements. "I want you to think."

            He acquiesced, letting Gat lead them this time, rocking softly as if they were on a boat, keeping up with the lazy lapping of waves. This time the pain was less, and near the end something white-hot and wonderful burst through him when Gat changed his angle. His spread his thighs farther and cried out, clinging to Gat as their coupling cadenced.

            Hazel lay in Gat's embrace a long time, hearing the birds chattering just outside the window and the easy rise and fall of their breaths.

            "Did you think?" Gat murmured, his chest vibrating as he spoke.

            "Yes."

            "And?"

            "Mmn." Hazel stretched languidly, kissing him. "It's going to take time. A lot of time. And I will continue to feel guilty." Especially in the dark, he added silently to himself. "But I want to do this again."

            They lay together and dozed, waking almost simultaneously at the sound of voices in the streets below. Hazel surmised it was almost two, and said so with regret.

            Gat kissed him and rose, dressing carefully as Hazel watched with unveiled appreciation made innocent by obvious timidity. He was almost to the front door before Hazel worked up the courage to blurt out his question. "Will you come tomorrow?"

            Gat smiled.

 

 

            They continued that way for two days, and Gat made accommodations when he found Hazel was too much in pain to go about things the conventional way. Afterwards they would lie together and speak in hushed voices, as though they weren't alone in the house. It was on the second day, two days before his departure—that was not spoken of—that Gat recounted the tale of how he'd received his name.

            "I did want to ask about that. It isn't your real name is it?"

            "It is a nickname that serves me well here, where it's pronounceable. My real name," he spoke then in his native tongue, and translated, "is Running Bear."

            The name made him smile. "It suits you. How'd you come by it?" He knew enough to know that within many tribes, names were changed as individuals developed.

            "Some of my people gain their names by personality traits, others by experiences. The bear is my animal; I say 'running' because I am hunter."

            "Why'd you pick the bear though?" Gat was always considerate enough to leave pauses for his questions.

            Gat laughed, and the sound was so foreign and pleasing Hazel found himself holding his breath to absorb it. "I didn't choose it; it chose me. That's how it's done."

            Hazel made a soft "oh" sound and quieted.

            "I am a hunter because I enjoy it; I made my first bow as a youth. If you were there," he hinted, "You might do as you like as well."

            Hazel let the insinuation pass, asking instead how he came to acquire his skill.

            "Many hours of practice. A bow is hard to bend if you don't make it yourself; it needs to fit your size and strength, the endurance of your arms."

            Hazel could imagine Gat on the plains, strong thighs clamped about a horse, never needing a saddle, and wielding a well oiled bow to shoot at game in the far distance. It wasn't hard to picture himself nearby.

            "What do you hunt?"

            "Deer and smaller game. The skin of a deer is valuable, and not just to your people. It makes a good cloak."

            "And buffalo?"

            "Buffalo cannot be killed with an arrow. Men use guns for them." Hazel deduced that Gat didn't quite approve.

            They lapsed into comfortable silence, and Hazel slid his hand across a wide chest, tracing fine white scars with his fingertips, and then again with his mouth. Gat stroked his hair, twirling the fine silk curls about the length of his finger.

            "You have much softer hair."

            Hazel "hmed" in agreement, cheek coming to rest near his shoulder. "And you have a much stronger body."

            Gat gave him a pointed look, and Hazel laughed, pressing close. "I take it you've done this before."

            "Hn."

            "Well you must have," he prodded his lover gently. "I had no idea it could be done…well…facing one another."

            Gat smiled faintly, "How else?"

            "Did you have another lover, at one point?"

            "You mean a husband? No." Gat shook his head.

            "Why not?" Hazel couldn't imagine he didn't have offers, in a society that permitted such a thing. He was handsome to an Easterner, and must surely be so amongst his own. Technique was surely not the issue.

            "I haven't wanted to have one."

            "Does this mean you're waitin' for just the right person?" Hazel asked with a smirk, "to live happily ever after?" He realized a moment after that Gat would not understand the reference.

            "Yes." Gat said simply, not sure why Hazel looked at him that way. "Isn't it important to you to find someone you love?"

            "That's a mighty loaded word. And I never suspected I would find anyone t'marry that I love in any way other than a sister."

            Gat nodded with a small frown, slipping an arm about his waist for a quick kiss before he had to leave. "Tomorrow is the last day I stay here."

            "You will visit me?" Hazel asked softly, receiving a nod in return, and a lingering embrace. He kept him in their bed until the last possible moment, lying back in the warm place he had vacated after he'd gone.

 

            The next day they made love in Hazel's bed again, but because the day drew on faster than they would have liked, cut their conversation short by three. Hazel followed him down the hall in a state of half-dress, his shirt open, belt still undone.

            "I'll meet you before y'leave," he promised, arms slipping about his neck in the longest goodbye kiss he had heard of. Gat's warm hand slid down his back, stroking the length of his spine until they both broke for air, smiling almost shyly to one another.

            He heard Gat's heavy steps on the stairs and watched from overhead until he heard the front door click shut, when he turned down the narrow corridor to his bedroom. The creaking of another door, much closer this time, startled him. He looked up to find Anna peering out at him beneath a frizz of red hair, her blue dress rumpled from sleeping. He barely choked out her name in surprise, face flushing.

            "When did you get back?" She never arrived before four.

            "I didn't leave," she said carefully, still staring, wide-eyed at him. Hazel drew his shirt closed quickly and was torn between running behind the nearest door and demanding to know what she had heard.

            "I was here…since before noon. Sick," She added, which accounted for her frazzled appearance. Or partly.

            Hazel managed a quiet "oh," and found himself unable to meet her eyes; he could feel the hot glare from where he stood. She shuffled her feet, still half-hidden behind the door, though he supposed it was more out of fear of what he might do to her than embarrassment over her illness.

            "I—I thought you had a woman." She stammered, and Hazel realized she would only have heard him; Gat was quiet by nature, even in bed. Perhaps she supposed he had insisted the woman be so for discretion's sake.

            "It is not your affair," Hazel said with more dignity and self-assurance than he felt, wiping the guilty expression from his face with force of will. Before he had entered his own room, he heard her door close, and the rustle of her skirts atop the floor. His knowing her secret wouldn't balance out. Her secret was an embarrassment, but she was a servant. It was not unheard of. His secret was illegal.

            It was then that Hazel knew he would leave.

 

            He didn't know where he would go. The thought that he might run off with the Indians was a barren one; he would never survive; he would have to go somewhere civilized. It was that evening, when Gat and his companions were preparing to depart, that Hazel met him in the barn to bid him goodbye. They had relative privacy, and he risked a kiss, face flushing hotly at the danger of their situation. It was when Gat convinced him to go, and one of the first things he thought of every morning when he awoke within the conical tent painted with bear drawings.

            He'd made it clear that he would not pull him away by force or plea, and Hazel realized he would have to take the plunge for himself. It hadn't been as terrifying as he'd thought, and riding across the country to the Kansas territory had been liberating. He'd packed no more than he needed: sparse clothing, provisions, a pair of much-treasured cufflinks, and a hat to ward off the sun. He'd removed several of his mother's large bolts of muslin and dyed cotton to give to the traders, saving a scrap, a handkerchief, for himself.

            Gat had planned on purchasing horses, and he gave Hazel charge of one to ride back. After the fourth day of travel, Hazel ceased to count, no longer afraid he would be pursued. Who would come after him? His father could hardly ride, and wouldn't bother doing so for a punishment he thought would be better inflicted by the Cheyenne anyway.

            Often the passing scenery of the open countryside lulled him to sleep or kept him later in bed than he should linger. Sometimes it occupied him while he worked, stringing bows or stripping hides. Despite his initial curiosity over beadwork, he'd left it alone when Gat explained that it was women's work. Hazel had enough of those jokes to deal with as it was, though none of them were cruel in intention.

            "Hazel." He jerked from his reverie.

            The tent flap slid open, and Hazel reached for the kidskin pants he had borrowed but never worn, deciding that to patch up his remaining clothing would be useless. "Yes?"

            "The hunting party is leaving to cross the river; do you wish to come?" Gat was considerate enough to ask this often, although Hazel almost always declined. His aim with an arrow, when he could wield it properly, was poor. Guns were not used when the bow sufficed, so he lingered back with the others. He was not the only man to do so; many who kept small gardens or earned their living by another trade ignored the hunters' departure as well. He had recently apprenticed himself to a potter—it was a masculine enough trade, and besides, he enjoyed it—who was teaching him how to work with the clumpy river clay.

            "No." He smiled, "You're leaving right this minute?"

            "Very shortly." He ducked all the way into the room to gather up several weapons and a well-oiled bow. Hazel was familiar with the procedure, and dressed quickly, following Gat out. He kissed him for luck, and Standing Horse snickered, claiming his count for the past three hunts had been far higher, and he supposed Gat's mind was elsewhere.

            Gat raised his brows at them and tossed Hazel a small smile. "I remember when you were too shy to do that."

            Hazel huffed indignantly and shooed him off, telling him to keep his mind on the hunt. But Gat had been correct; it was indeed not that long ago that he'd shied away from almost any mention of their relationship in public. Although he knew it was no hanging offense—or any sort of offense, really—amongst the Cheyenne, old habits die hard. A month or two could not undo twenty one years of socialization.

            He remembered his second week there happened to be a great occasion, a bonfire ceremony to ring in the summer season. Some of the warriors and hunters were painted and feathered, and they danced in a strangely elegant pattern about the flames. Gat remained seated, and Hazel sensed he did so for his sake, not wanting to leave him alone just yet. He'd picked up a few key phrases, greetings, thank yous and apologies, but still spoke virtually none of Gat's language. Only a few of the village spoke English, so he was forced to learn quickly, granted a reprieve only at night, when Gat would return with him in their tipi.

            He was still not wholly comfortable with public displays of affection, but had made great progress between then and the present time. When a few days had passed, Gat introduced his husband—there was a more accurate Cheyenne word for it that did not translate—to Standing Horse, who clasped him on the shoulder in congratulations and insisted that he dine with them. He was gracious and very friendly, communicating mostly by signs; he preferred that to going through Gat as translator, and had a bit of English to match Hazel's smattering of Cheyenne. Between the two of them, they made do. Aside from sitting on the floor, rather than chairs, and eating without utensils, Hazel found the cultures remarkably similar. The Cheyenne women and their virtue were guarded very carefully, and they wore gowns that fell to their ankles and generally deferred to the men. Manners, too, seemed much the same, and children, Hazel found, were the same everywhere.

            His first cultural shock came from Standing Horse over dinner; Gat had risen to leave the wide hut for a time when Standing Horse said in a mixture of English, Cheyenne, and sign, that he had never seen Gat so content, and was glad that Hazel had decided to come.

            "It is good," He nodded, passing an earthenware cup across the fire. "Good that you come, for him."

            Hazel smiled, "I'm glad he is happy now."

            "And you?" Hazel was baffled for a moment, but Standing Horse pointed at him again. "You? Happy?"

            The blond nodded politely; it was too new for him to decide yet whether he was happy, but he felt safe, and that was valuable all in itself.

            Standing Horse grinned, "Gat makes you happy?"
            Again Hazel nodded, a politely schooled expression on his face, which confused Standing Horse, who felt the need to re-phrase the question with the addition of a universally unmistakable gesture, with a glance at the bedding in the corner. "He makes you happy?"

            It occurred to Hazel only much later, after having excused himself, blushing furiously, that Standing Horse probably hadn't known the word for satisfied or content. He couldn't fairly blame him, given that Hazel's own Cheyenne vocabulary consisted of fewer than fifty words.

            Gat had explained later that it was just Standing Horse being Standing Horse; he hadn't meant offense, but a jest. That sort of humor, too, it appeared, was cross-cultural. Hazel promised he didn't take it as an affront, and insisted Gat communicate this—in case he could not—to his friend.

"Hazel." Her voice snapped him out of reverie, and he gave the clay beneath his hands time to rest atop the earth. The hunters had long since departed, and Singing Bird approached, trotting barefoot despite her mother's warnings. She was barely seventeen, and had been one of the first to accept Hazel's presence; her mother let her spend time with him alone after she'd discovered he was Gat's partner, though secretly Hazel supposed it had more to do with his being fair-skinned. Many of the Cheyenne women seemed to think white men were dangerously near to impotent, and weaker than their females. He hoped they never had occasion to learn otherwise.

"You didn't go with Running Bear today?" Hazel was pleased to have understood her with ease; after almost a year, he was nearly fluent, and no longer required a translator.

"No. I rarely go."

"I noticed." She sank down with a heavy basket of roots and glanced at his pot. "It's good. I can't work with that mud."

"Six Horns insisted I work with it," Hazel passed a glance down the narrow line of the stream to where the old man sat humming and poking at clay himself.

"I admire your patience; he is a very difficult man to work with. His grandson is my brother in law, and they share the same traits."

Hazel nodded, and this time turned his head upstream where firewood was being felled. It would be his shift in what amounted to an hour, just as the sun began to decline. He and a few other men rotated; the elderly and very young were the only ones exempt. He was glad of this, as he felt sometimes that working with clay, something very few men did there, diminished his standing. Not that the color of his skin didn't do that to some extent.

"It is almost the same season it was when you first came here with Running Bear. I remember because it was near to the time of the Summer Festival."

"I reckon it is."

"I saw you kiss him today, before he left."

            Hazel colored, "What of it?"

            "I think it's funny. When you first came, remember, you would not?" She was trying not to laugh at him, because he had been offended months before by it. "He kissed you in front of his friends, and you looked as if you'd been shot!"

            Hazel was relieved he had the luxury to chuckle at the memory now.

            "You should be proud! Running Bear is the best hunter," She said it with a shy smile. "And he's handsome. I suppose when the next summer moon comes out, you will let him participate in the dances this time?"

            "I didn't tell him he couldn't!" Hazel protested. "I'm not in charge of him."

            "Hm." She looked at him as if she didn't believe, but nodded anyway, fingering the fringe of her black plaited braid.

            "I'm not," He insisted, rising because two of the young men were beckoning him to his turn at felling oak.

            "In every marriage, someone carries the reigns. I know. In mine, my mother does. In my brother's, he does. I think you do; Running Bear would do anything for you."

            "I don't control him," Hazel maintained calmly, letting her trail along after him as he jerked an axe up and out of an emptied stump. "He does as he pleases."

            "And what pleases him is to please you, I think." She didn't linger long after, but Hazel couldn't help but toy with the thought in his mind, investigating it. That made no sense whatsoever; he and Gat were individuals, neither had any sort of control over the other. What a preposterous notion.

            When Gat returned that evening, successful, he said nothing of Singing Bird's thoughts, but congratulated him in front of Standing Deer, who shook his fist in mock rage.

            "Next time!"

            Preparations for the summer festival and the great dance Hazel had witnessed the year before began the following week, and Hazel asked Gat if he planned to join in.

            "Will you?"

            "Me? I would look foolish. It's not my place."

            "Why not?"

            "Because I don't know the steps, and I am content to watch." Hazel promised, running a long dagger across a whetstone with quick, easy strokes. It sparked on occasion.

            "So am I," Gat promised, but Hazel frowned.

            "Now are ya doin' that just because of me?" He reverted to English in frustration, and Gat gave him a curious look.

            "I don't want you to be uncomfortable."

            "I've been here long enough that I'm not uncomfortable," he promised carefully, "and I have seen the dance before. I would really like t'see you do it."

            "Alright," Gat agreed easily enough, and Hazel stared, wondering vaguely if Singing Bird might have been right.
             

 

            The festival was greater than he remembered, and the dance came after the feasting, the climax of the evening. The fire blossomed from a smoky bud into multiple layers of yellow petals, dripping with heat. A circle of spectators was formed around the perimeter, and the dancers moved between it and the flames.

            Hazel watched closely, mesmerized a bit by the shadows dancing across dark skin and sharp weapons worn for ceremony rather than use. The sight of Gat in such a state of undress—and in front of others!—sent a small tremor of jealousy through him, but he repressed it. Generally he wore buckskin pants and what whites called a prairie blouse, but that night he wore nothing but a convenient, and thankfully long, loincloth. The other warriors and hunters were dressed in a similar way, painted handsomely for the ritual.

            They kept up with the drumbeats and then outpaced them, leaping in neat, elegant lines and landing with strength. Hazel took in the entirety of the rite first, and then let his gaze focus on his lover, able to see sweat from the fire's heat beading in the small of his back and slicking his chest. His long feet were bare, and hardly touched the ground as they moved; Hazel thought he was far more agile than the rest, but it was hard to judge without looking.

            It lasted longer than he had remembered, almost thirty minutes, by his internal clock. Somewhere in the middle the bundle of dark hair at the back of Gat's hair fell loose, spraying ebony over his shoulders and neck. Hazel felt a pull in his stomach and leaned a bit closer.

            At the end, children ran up to the fire to gather burning sticks and run with them; parents chased them down or sent older siblings to do so. Old men began to tell tales to the well-behaved young ones, and old women sat nearby to correct them and keep them from falling asleep. Lovers snuck off together, and young women were marched back into their tipis by watchful fathers. Hazel found himself waiting in a puddle of shadows near the edge of the great circle for Gat.

            He was breathing hard when he approached, muscles tense and hardened by such strenuous activity. Greeting him, he swept his hair back up to take advantage of the breeze.

            "It was very beautiful, Running Bear." He enunciated carefully, because his mind was thinking in English again.

            "Thank you. Maybe next year you will dance?"

            "Maybe," Hazel allowed, brushing his arm gently with the back of his hand. "You look handsome like that," he breathed, a flush of heat staining his insides.

            Gat's mouth pulled into a knowing half smile, and he slid an arm about Hazel's waist, capturing his mouth in a firm kiss. "It's a dance for the sake of the prosperity of virility of summer," he explained. "It makes me want to take you to bed."

            Hazel nodded sharply, drawing him close. "It makes the spectators want the same thing."

            They left the thinning crowd for their tipi, and Hazel had hardly unrolled the heavy hide flap before he was pinned beneath slick, hot muscle and being disrobed in haste.

            The first time was frenzied, full of bites and harsh gasps and quick, jerking motions that might have exhausted them on any other night. After it came slower, the long pull of pleasure drawing Hazel's breath out so that not even a low moan might escape. He felt strong bronzed thighs pushing up against the backs of his own and knowing hands, hands that had touched every inch of him, kindling an increasingly familiar and guiltless pleasure. Near the end, Hazel found his voice and cried out in appreciation, listening to low, heady moans as Gat neared completion and twitched noticeably between his thighs.

            They fanned out over the blankets, heat rising up and off of them like smoke. Hazel turned quickly onto his side to rest his cheek against his lover's shoulder, fingers slipping between his with a soft "Oh."

            Gat smiled, asking in English, "A good 'oh'?"
            "A very good oh," Hazel agreed breathlessly, taking his time with their kiss.

            "Are you happy here?" Gat asked when they parted, arms still slung about his waist; the question took Hazel off guard. He hadn't thought it needed to be spoken. It had been a year, and he'd had time to adjust, to know the territory and to know himself. He answered without hesitance.

            "Yes."

 

            He awoke the next morning alone, their bedding cool from disuse. Rising, he donned the kidskin pants and stuffed his feet into the remnants of his leather boots, the last scrap of eastern civilization he carried, save for his accent. Stepping out, he endured grins from Standing Horse and three others, who suggested that, judging by the noise from last night, he might need more rest.

            "I should be asking that of you," Gat appeared with a new bow in hand, roughly hewn and in need of oiling and a proper string. "Your wife railed at you for almost the entire night; are you fit to hunt?"

            Standing Horse bowed out gracefully, grinning, "Women are harder to understand."

            They departed, and Hazel watched them vanish down the side of a knoll before turning to the tipi. Propped up against it sat the newly fashioned bow Gat had returned from the central camp with. Picking it up from the ground and testing its weight, Hazel took it onto his lap as he sank into the grass, still flecked with early morning dew. Drawing out a freshly-whetted knife, he tilted the bow onto its side and began to carve a line of bears into the side.

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