by Phail


Fern earns his Name the winter before the Pow-wow. It is late for it, but he is late for everything; he is at least glad he’ll be able to Dance the Sun Dance this year. Even his younger brother, Fox Hide, has Danced– Fern is the last in his age group to do so.

Whatever Chasing Badger might say it’s not Fern’s fault that the old shaman of their tribe, Snake Bite, purposefully held him away from leading a Hunt, the one thing every boy must do before he can Dance and be declared a man. In the end, it is his lack of a father or uncle that facilitates Fern’s Hunt, his successful Hunt, and earns him his first feather and his new name.

“What did you see?” old Snake Bite asks when Fern returns, while Fern is busy cooking the fine turkey that he killed.

Sometimes Fern wonders how Snake Bite knows every time Fern Sees something, but other times he just accepts the knowledge as part of the elder’s personal Medicine. “I Saw a moth, when I took the first shot. Everything moved slowly, and my arrow went straight through the moth.”

“Ah,” Snake Bite says, his face lighting up and a grin spreading over his thin lips, “Your first kill was brother Moth, not Turkey.”

Fern nods hesitantly. “Yes, that is true.”

“Yet you wear Turkey’s feathers, not Moth’s wings.”

Again, he is right. Fern didn’t think to take the time to find the moth, much less preserve its wings. “Yes, Elder. Fox Hide tied the feather in my hair– we did not look for the moth.”

“You will take brother Moth’s name,” Snake Bite declares, nodding at his own words. “To remind you that all of Creator’s creature-beings are equal in life and in death.”

Fern can’t argue with an Elder, and he doesn’t want to. Moth suits him much more than he thought any creature-being name might; creature-being names are warrior names, and Fern is only barely a warrior.

But Moth is good. He will be Moth. “Thank you, Elder.”

“Remember, Moth,” Snake Bite says right before they part. “It is your path. Don’t allow any other to walk it for you, not even Fox Hide.”

“Yes, Elder,” Moth answers, well-chastized.

Pow-wows are essential. Not only are boys made men with the Sun Dance, but also marriages are arranged, stories are told, goods are traded, and everything else is Shared.

The Pow-wow is at the end of summer– right before harvest–and lasts for seven nights, a sacred number for a sacred celebration, but preparations and traveling to and from the site can take more than a month. Moth, who has been doing more hunting than learning from the Elders these days, loves the bustle. He loves the people, old friends and new friends, learning their new names as they learn his.

Moss, a boy two cycles younger than Moth’s sixteen, is presented as his tribe’s new Dreamer– an odd position for one so young, but he’s been having True Dreams since he was old enough to tell people about them. His latest dream warned his tribe of a midnight attack from the Boat People on a full moon night, and so his new name is Full Moon Dream. It’s a mouthful, to be sure, and after the formal announcement he tells Moth that he should just be called Moon.

“But that is a woman’s name!” Moth exclaims, and is immediately regretful because of Moss’s– Moon’s– expression.

“You should know of feminity, Moth,” he says, his tone slightly sour even though a smile plays on his lips. “Live in balance.”

And with those words, Moon departs to go join the Dance at the large fire, leaving Moth at the small fire outside his family’s travel-lodge.

Moth stares after him.

Despite being only fourteen cycles Moon has the grace of an aged hunter– or of a woman at her prime. The Dance tonight is one of freedom and expression, of the sacred rights that one has to these things. Moon Dances, Moon Sings, and Moon’s red skin shimmers in the firelight with an almost unearthly glow as Moth watches.

“He’s something,” Runs with Horses says, sitting down next to Moth on the bare earth. Moth rolls his eyes at his cousin, but she just grins and follows Moon’s movements around the fire with her eyes. “Grandmother said that he was growing well.”

It might seem an offhand comment, but it isn’t; grandparents, as Elders, are supposed to See the future brides or grooms of their children’s children soon after the grandchildren were born, and sew the ceremonial buckskins at that time. If grandmother Bear Claw commented on Full Moon Dream’s growth to Runs with Horses it only meant one thing.

And Moth isn’t sure he is ready yet to face the idea of his cousin marrying. She’s like a sister to him, since he has no real ones and his uncle died from one of the Boat People diseases six years ago. And then there’s the idea of a new, strong Dreamer moving to their tiny village. It’s been seven generations since they had one.

“What do you think?” Runs with Horses whispers, leaning closer to Moth. “Fox Hide says that Dreamers are not any good kind of husband, but there’s honor in it, too. Besides,” she knocks her shoulder against his, flashing a grin, “my cousin can provide for me, now that he’s a man.”

Moth refuses, refuses to let his cheeks color at that statement. It is a proud thing to be confirmed a man as he now is, the wounds on his chest from the Sun Dance starting to heal now although they will leave scars. It is the idea of his cousin marrying, he is fairly sure, rather than anything else. Even if he does feel somewhat uncomfortable at the mental image of Moon and Runs with Horses rutting between the hides.

“I guess,” he says, eventually, shrugging.

Runs with Horses hums, leaning her head on his shoulder, and both of them watch Moon Dance until the Star People begin to fade from the sky.

They announce the betrothal on the last day of the Pow-wow, along with many others, and the last great feast of the week is held to honor the unions.

Following custom, Full Moon Dream doesn’t go home with them. They won’t be formally married until next year, when Moon and Runs with Horses have lived together for a year and a day.

Two moons later Moth dreams of him arriving, riding a fine dark mare and with a scraggly dog in tow, but in the dream it is not only Runs with Horses whom he rides to see. He greets her and then walks past her to Moth, and places a kiss on each of Moth’s cheeks before embracing him. “I come for both of you,” he says, and holds a finger to his lips.

Moth wakes up in a cold sweat with his member hard and aching. He rolls over and tries to ignore it, but the tickle of the wolf pelt on his belly is maddeningly arousing and he recalls the feel of Moon’s lips on his cheek and the dark eyes so intent on him. And the finger over the lips– secrecy. He does not fall back asleep that night; when the Star People begin to fade from the sky he’s mastered himself and emerges from under his thin hide to greet the day bravely and unbothered.

At least until Moon arrives later that day, walking a fine dark mare who is loaded with Moon’s worldly possessions and with a scraggly dog in tow. Runs with Horses walks alongside him, shyly holding his hand. Moon holds hers fearlessly, and smiles at Moth.

In Moth’s mind’s eye, Moon holds his forefinger over his lips again, but the real Moon does no such thing. He embraces Fox Hide, and Deer Woman– Moth’s mother– and Moth himself, minus the kisses. It’s a perfectly suitable greeting for a new family member– Moth only wishes that his father were here to greet Moon as well.

Over the last two months they have built a lodge for Runs with Horses and Moon nearby their own: a fat, round building large enough for Runs with Horses to stand and lie down inside, covered on the outside with bark from birch trees. It’s not difficult, only time-consuming to harvest the bark and bend the saplings without snapping them and– so many other things.

To Moth’s surprise, after the ceremony to bless the lodge for the purpose of living inside, Runs with Horses clears her throat. “I would like to request that my brother, in the absence of a wife of his own, live with Moon and me.”

Grandmother Bear Claw stands then, nodding her acceptance. “I have seen no wife for Moth; he should live where he is needed. Deer Woman and I have Fox Hide, and Cattail will lead his Hunt soon.”

This sort of thing isn’t unheard of, in small villages like their own one where the young men outnumber the women, but all the same it feels odd to stand and accept the honor.

No, he thinks, what is odd is the feeling he gets when Moon smiles at him, like Grandfather Fire somehow in his belly, stroked easily into life by a master fire-tender. Living with his cousin and Moon isn’t odd at all, just necessity.

“You do not enjoy hunting,” Moon says one night, a week after his arrival, as Moth sits by the fire and fixes the fletching on his arrows.

There is a hunt tomorrow, and he will lead it. Having any of his weapons malfunction would not only be an embarrassment, but also a bad omen. Moth has not led any hunts since his first. “I am no leader, Moon.”

“I know,” Moon says in that way he has that raises more questions than it answers.

There is nothing else said on the subject; Moth leads his hunt successfully and they bring back a large buck. Such a kill is good luck for the coming winter; fortune smiles on him.

Living on top of one another the way one does inside of a family-lodge, it’s impossible for Moth to fail to notice when Moon decides to kiss Runs with Horses. A pregnancy before the marriage is finalized would be considered bad luck, so it does not go further than that (which is farther than Moth’s ever witnessed before, their family-lodge before this being devoid of men old enough to be called such) but the sight unsettles Moth.

Or rather, it doesn’t. The fact that he’s unbothered by the heat that rises in the pit of his stomach, and the way heat seems to blossom over his senses when Moon makes some soft sound in response to the way Runs with Horses touches him is not in itself unsettling.

It is, however, very unsettling when he realizes the next morning that the entire thing has been for his benefit. Moon stays beneath the hides late, something that might be seen as lazy but Moth can’t blame him with the way the air cools down at night. He stays under his hides late, himself.

Not for any reason except that Moon is obviously naked under his own hides, and taking care of whatever the affections from last night have left him with this morning.

Moth tries to avert his eyes, but then Moon looks up and the rest of the world falls away. It’s just them. Them and Moon’s expression, and Moth’s breath caught like Moon’s squeezing it out of him, instead of– instead of–

That sound he makes is beautiful, Moth thinks, free to think it because Moon’s eyes slide closed. For a moment– for that moment– Moon no longer sees everything Moth doesn’t want him to see.

He’d comfort himself with whispered tales of warriors who share blankets on long hunts, but Moth’s not the proper warrior to whom such comforts are found easily or fearlessly.

Runs with Horses is in the Moon Lodge for the week, being fed and gossiped and working on new moccasins for both Moon and Moth. Since that morning several days ago when Moon was so bold, Moth has dreaded this time.

As if to spite his fears, Moon does nothing out of the ordinary. They carry on as any two normal men might.

The fire that kindles in Moth’s belly when he thinks of that one morning grows unchecked, just like any other well-fed fire might when abandoned by the fire-keeper.

When Runs with Horses returns from the Moon Lodge, the first thing Moon says is, “Have you made a decision?”

Having had no idea up until now that Runs with Horses was making a decision, Moth’s curiosity is piqued. He wonders over what, but does not ask because he has a feeling that answers will come if he only waits.

“I have,” she says, a sly smile pulling at her lips in a way that reminds Moth of the girl he played with when he was a boy, the one who always thought up the best pranks. “My answer is yes.”

Moon laughs delightedly, dropping the medicine bowl he’s been shaping and going to the door to scoop Runs with Horses into his arms and give her a kiss. A very long kiss. A very long kiss that makes Moth shift uncomfortably, which knocks the fire-tending stick next to him into the fire and sends a shower of sparks into the lodge.

For a frantic moment, there is nothing but the three of them putting out every last spark. The moment passes and Runs with Horses sags where she’s kneeling, head drooping as she sighs. Moon goes to her immediately and rubs the back of her neck, leaning in and whispering something.

Moth doesn’t try to listen. He just waits for them to finish their murmured conversation.

“Thank you,” Moon says, loud enough for Moth to hear. There’s the smack of a kiss, and then Moon pulls away and walks clockwise around the fire to Moth. “My future wife has given me permission to pursue my passions,” he announces, all formal like– like–


Moth licks his lips, but his mouth is as dry as his lips.

“With your permission, I would kiss you.” The words are so soft, so gentle that Moth cannot possibly be afraid of them.

“You have it,” Moth says, still unable to look at Moon. He knows he should, but he cannot make himself.

Not until Moon’s long fingers are on Moth’s chin, forcing him to look. Forcing him to focus on Moon’s face, and the way the fire glints in his eyes, and the soft glow of his skin. It’s pale for one of the Red Race, but still not as bad as the Boat People.

“You only had to ask,” Moth hears himself say, as if from a long way off.

“I know,” Moon murmurs, and kisses Moth.

His lips are moist, but not insistent. Moth can feel it easily, the fire inside of Moon that rivals the one in his own belly, but he can feel the way Moon keeps it in check too. He forces himself to follow suit, forces the kiss to remain unhurried even though he aches to push Moon down on the bare soil and seek whatever pleasures they might share.

Moth cannot bring himself to care that his cousin is watching. Moon belongs to her, not to him, and so if she decides that she wants to watch he can’t in good faith tell her to do otherwise.

Moon’s fingers find the tie on Moth’s leggings and release it, sliding inside the elk-skin and stroking what he finds there. The way he does it– slow and gentle as the kiss– is infuriating and makes Moth’s mouth hang open helplessly as he groans.

“You like it,” Moon says, delighted, and licks around Moth’s open mouth before kissing him again.

I do, Moth thinks, a little surprised. He likes it and he doesn’t feel at all guilty about it. Interesting what a difference permission makes.

“What about you?” Moth murmurs as the kiss breaks. He snakes his own hand down, making quick work of the tie on Moon’s leggings– which are buffalo hide, not elk skin, and feel a little rougher– and sliding his fingers inside. Moon’s shiver is delightful, and the obvious pleasure when those dark eyes meet Moth’s is a sight he could be happy with forever.

“Yes,” Moon says, needlessly, nodding and arching into Moon’s touch. “I like it.”

Moon’s other hand guides Moth down to the bare dirt floor, packed hard with the travel of many feet. It’s Moth’s turn to shake, doing so happily as Moon’s fingers perform magic and draw out of him what he’s kept buried for so long. Rich desire, layering his senses and making him shameless, making him arch into the touch and seek out Moon’s lips once more, kissing with abandon.

“You are beautiful,” Moon says. Moth can feel the smile against his own lips, feel the way Moon’s lips curve upward and see the bright energy in his eyes as he–

As he–

Moth turns his head away, biting down hard on his lip as he climaxes. Somewhere in there, he’d forgotten to continue moving his own hand, and now he feels too weak to do so.

Moon laughs a little, but it’s light and happy and delighted so Moth can’t possibly mind.

Then his fingers, his messy fingers, find Moth’s lips. For a moment, Moth hesitates– he’s tasted himself before, and it’s not exactly what he’d call his favorite flavor. But then Moon smiles again and Moth thinks, I would do anything for him. And opens his mouth, accepting Moon’s fingers and cleaning them slowly and carefully.

The way Moon lies atop him, the length of his sex digging into Moth’s hip, is– nice. Really nice. Nicer than nice when Moth arches and Moon’s breath hitches before he moans, low and soft.

“Like that?” Moth asks. Moon doesn’t give any verbal answer, just shifting to a better angle and finding Moth’s mouth for a kiss.

Moon doesn’t last much longer, once Moth’s hands settle on his hips and pull them down harder, help him rock faster. He comes with Moth’s name on his lips, and his face buried in Moth’s neck.

“Beautiful,” Moth says, hand sliding up and cupping around the back of Moon’s neck. “You are beautiful, Full Moon Dream.”

“I am, although, I am not– not as beautiful as you,” Moon says, his breath coming in short pants as he speaks. Moth can do nothing but grin and kiss him and thank Creator for the opportunity.

“Thank you,” he murmurs, some time later, and he does not only mean for the compliment.

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