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Bureau of Mutants, Superhumans, & Costumed Vigilantes


October 23rd, 2006

Last of the Mohicans ficlet @ 08:09 am

Current Mood: tired tired
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Three-year-old New Years Resolution fic, dusted off and finished in the wake of all that 18th century U.S. history reading.

Warnings: American history distorted out of recognition by a bad case of 19th century romanticism. Half-hearted attempt at imitating James Fennimore Cooper’s ungodly stilted dialogue. Way too much description. Not enough sex.

No matter how still and silent Uncas lay, sleep continued to elude him. To close his eyes was to see again the vast stretch of corpses littering the plain below them, Delaware, Huron, Iroquois, and the red-coated English made one tribe by death.

They had killed everyone, even the woman. Even the children. Some of the bodies lying in hacked, bloodstained heaps had been much too small for grown men, and not all of the woman he had found lying out there broken and half-naked had had the curving hips and full breasts of adulthood.

What sort of man butchered and scalped a little girl? What honour did that bring to a warrior? Until today, until he had found himself ankle deep in death, forced to climb over mounds of decomposing bodies, Uncas would have said that even the Maquas could never sink so low.

He was afraid the smell might never wash off his skin.

How could the others sleep, after seeing such things? And yet they did. The grey-hair breathed deeply, almost snoring, and the young white soldier, Heyward, was snoring, though softly enough that duller ears might have missed it.

His father, stronger, braver, and wise enough to know that a sleepless night would only hinder their progress tomorrow, had closed his eyes long minutes ago. And Hawkeye, of course, had fallen asleep the moment his head had touched the ground.

He truly could sleep anywhere, Uncas marvelled, as he watched his friend’s chest rise and fall in a restful rhythm he couldn’t help envying. Even here, in this ruined fort, surrounded by the ghosts of slaughtered white men, while wolves and less noble scavengers—like the Oneida whose scalp Uncas now wore on his belt—roamed the plain below.

The French had had Hawkeye in their hands, mere days ago, had only released him because of one of those strange rules whites followed when making war. Rules, Uncas now knew, that they didn’t always follow. It would have been so easy for them to have kept him, killed him with the others, a much worthier kill than any the Maquas and their masters had made yesterday. He still didn’t completely understand why they hadn’t.

He only knew that he was grateful for it.

Beside him, Hawkeye shifted slightly, as if he sensed that he was being watched. One bony hand tightened slightly on Killdeer’s stock, and he pulled the rifle a little closer to his chest. Someday, he was going to shoot himself in his sleep.

After today, that observation, which he had tossed at Hawkeye countless times when they slept on the trail, no longer held much humour. Not when Uncas could still remember the feeling of scraping some nameless white man’s brains off his hands after searching a row of bodies for Alice and Cora.

How could Hawkeye sleep, after seeing such things? After seeing, over and over, how fragile a man’s body was, how easily broken. After seeing how the ravens and crows tore at his flesh and feasted on his eyes. After seeing what their enemies were willing to do.

What kept those corpses from changing, in his mind’s eye, into the bodies of friends and loved ones; into Chingachgook, his scalp torn free and blood trickling down into his open eyes; into Cora, her slim, dusky throat slashed open and her breasts painted with gore; into blank blue eyes staring up at the sun and shattered fingers spread open beside a broken rifle?

Next to him, Hawkeye continued to sleep, face slack and the fingers wrapped around Killdeer unnervingly still.

Uncas drew in a long breath and exhaled slowly. Clearly, he was not going to fall asleep at any moment in the near future. Rolling onto his side, he reached out and prodded Hawkeye’s shoulder gently. The response was immediate.

Mentally chiding himself for carelessness, Uncas reached out and pinned Killdeer firmly to the ground, before the still half-asleep Hawkeye could point it at him. “No one is out there,” he said softly. “I just can’t sleep.”

“You’d be sleeping awfully well if I’d shot you,” Hawkeye grumbled. He tugged his rifle out of Uncas’s grasp and propped himself up on one elbow, the better to glare and lecture. Watching him move eased something tight inside Uncas’s chest.

“You’re not usually so skittish,” he said.

Hawkeye raised both eyebrows. “I don’t usually sleep surrounded by dead people. It’s unnatural. It makes all normal creatures skittish. Which is why you leave them alone. To sleep,” he added, as if that last weren’t obvious.

“It troubles you, too,” Uncas declared, vaguely surprised. Hawkeye almost never admitted to being bothered by anything.

There was the slightest hint of a shrug. “I’ve never seen so many dead all together. It’s not natural.” He shifted his gaze from Killdeer’s apparently fascinating firing mechanism to look Uncas in the eye. “It’s a waste, that sort of killing. And there’s a ‘specially hot place in hell waiting for the next Frenchman or Mingo I get within my sites. I’ll leave the scalp-taking to those as are born for it, though.” He inclined his head toward Uncas, a subtle reference to his earlier victory that wasn’t quite congratulatory, but wasn’t far from it either.

“Did you wake me just to ask me that,” Hawkeye went on, “or are you worrying over the Misses Monro?”

From Hawkeye, this was subtlety of the highest sort. Uncas decided to dodge the unspoken questions about himself and Cora and answer precisely what had been asked. “Le Renard Subtle will not treat them well.”

“No,” Hawkeye agreed. “His sort can never be trusted with women. Still,” he added, in what was probably a belated attempt at reassurance, “he might wish to use them as hostages.”

Uncas waved a hand, indicating agreement, but said nothing. Cora’s probable fate at the hands of Le Renard Subtle weighed on his mind almost as heavily as the piles of bodies outside the fort. Uncas had seen the way he watched her, his eyes lingering on her dark hair and the curve of her breasts above the strange, stiff bodice of her dress. When she’d dismounted from her horse at the end of the day, flashing bits of stocking-clad leg, he had done everything short of lick his lips.

Cora might face even more danger at enemy hands than Hawkeye so nearly had.

“I hope we can get the little fair haired one back safely,” Hawkeye said into the silence. He looked down at Killdeer again, fingering the rifle’s stock. “She’s a pleasant little thing, and not as bold as her sister. Yon officer,” he nodded toward the slumbering Heyward, “will be sorely afflicted if she is not recovered.”

Uncas gestured agreement again. Heyward’s feelings toward Alice were becoming increasingly obvious as time went by, which made it all the more surprising that the white man could sleep so soundly while she was missing. Were it Chingachgook or Hawkeye the Maquas had taken, Uncas would never have been able to rest. Even with the two of them safely beside him, his head was full of thoughts of what might have happened to Hawkeye. What might even now be happening to Cora. The image of her dead body, throat slit and hair painted with blood, appeared behind his eyes again. The heaviness in his chest, briefly banished, returned full force.

“And ‘tis plain as day you will be afflicted as well,” Hawkeye went on, “if we fail to find the dark-hair.”

“Cora,” Uncas broke in. “Her name is Cora. Cora Munro.” He fixed Hawkeye with a firm stare, looking straight into those pale, blue eyes. Hawkeye looked away.

“Yes, I know. My ears haven’t gone dull yet. Nor have my eyes. You think her beautiful, or I miss my mark. Still, ‘twill come to naught even should we find her. Her sort does not marry those with red skin, even Mohicans. You would have to be an English officer, like yon Heyward. And even if you two could be wed, she could never live in the wilderness. She would want to live in a town, like most white men, all hemmed in by buildings and people, and men like you and me belong out where things are free and open, as God made them.”

None of this was anything Uncas hadn’t already come to realise himself, but neither was it something he particularly wanted to hear at the moment. Once Hawkeye started talking, however, there were only a handful of ways to silence him. Uncas, prompted by the jealousy and concern he could hear in Hawkeye’s rambling, chose one of the quicker ways. He reached out and laid a finger across the other man’s lips, and couldn’t help smiling slightly as his friend started slightly and instantly fell silent. “I know this,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that I can not fear for her. I would fear for you as well.”

The lips under his fingers, which had been thinned in annoyance, started to curve in an answering smile. Uncas let his hand fall, trailing his fingertips along the edge of Hawkeye’s jaw and down his neck until his hand came to rest on one leather-clad shoulder. “The French could have killed you.” He didn’t look straight at Hawkeye as he said it, watched the shoulder he was currently touching instead. “Your body could have been out there with all those others.” There. Now Hawkeye would know how foolishly frightened he had been, worrying over something that had not occurred. He would be irritatingly superior about it, but at least he would know he had been missed. Would be missed, if some Frenchman or Huron’s weapon…

“I had thought of that,” Hawkeye admitted. His lips twitched into a rueful smile. “I’d have taken a few of them Frenchmen with me, though. And you would see to it that many of them didn’t survive me long, nor keep their scalps.”

Uncas wanted to say that that wasn’t really the point, that vengeance didn’t bring people back, but he was suddenly tired of talking about death. Tired of thinking about death, and about what Cora and Alice’s captors were capable of. “They won’t get the chance again,” he said instead, forcefully. Perhaps if he said it strongly enough, he would believe it. “I’ll stop them. And when we find Cora, I’ll keep them away from her, too.”

“Of course you will, lad.” Hawkeye was using his ‘I am humouring you, because you are only a boy and I am infinitely older and wiser’ tone. It was, if possible, even more irritating than usual.

“I am no longer a boy, Hawkeye,” Uncas reminded him. He realised that he had been clutching Hawkeye’s hunting shirt in his fist, and let go of it, rolling to his knees and leaning across the short distance between them. “And I am going to keep her safe,” he insisted again.

“And I ‘spect you’ll keep me safe, too?” Hawkeye drawled sarcastically, raising a sandy-coloured eyebrow.

“From the French and the Maquas,” Uncas told him. “If you were not so much older and wiser than I.” He could be sarcastic, too.

Hawkeye’s blue eyes were only inches away, paler than the sky in winter. It was one of the oddities of life, Uncas supposed, that Cora, with all her stiff, bulky dresses and strange, English manners, should still look less strange than Hawkeye, who dressed, spoke, and moved like a Mohican but had hair the colour of straw.

Even his perpetually sun-reddened cheekbones were paler than her smooth, fawn-coloured complexion. It made the stubble on his chin stand out vividly, and left the bruise on his jaw that was the only souvenir of his time as a French captive painfully obvious.

Hawkeye grinned, widely enough that the smallpox scar beside his mouth was transformed into a dimple, and opened his mouth to say something more—likely a lengthy lecture detailing exactly how much older and wiser he was, with accompanying anecdotes—and Uncas laid a finger across his lips again.

“The others are sleeping.”

“So was I, ‘till you woke me,” Hawkeye muttered, lips moving against Uncas’s fingertip.

Uncas reached up with his other hand to cup the corner of Haweye’s jaw, his palm hiding the bruise from view. “The French could have killed you,” he repeated. “I don’t understand why they did not.”

“Nor do I,” Hawkeye admitted, leaning into Uncas’s hand. “It ain’t rational, letting a man go once you’ve caught ‘im. But I expect it’s the Christian thing to do.”

Since Hawkeye could no more read the white man’s bible than Uncas could, and had never lived in a town nor gone to a church in all the time Uncas had known him, he almost certainly had no more ideas what was or wasn’t Christian than Uncas himself did. His claim that simply being white made him an authority on the subject wasn’t something Uncas felt inclined to dispute, however. Hawkeye wasn’t really Mohican, but he wasn’t really English, either, and pointing this out invariably made him touchy. To be English was to live in a house, to own cattle, to wear wigs and buckled shoes and read books—all things Hawkeye viewed with a warrior’s disdain—but reminding him that he could speak the Mohican tongue more easily than he could speak the English one was a sure way to start an argument.

Uncas and Chingachgook were the last of their tribe, but Hawkeye did not even have a tribe. And he had watched with silent jealousy every time Uncas had attempted to talk with Cora Monroe.

Hawkeye understood affection between men and women even less than he did Christianity.

“Cora Monroe is not for me,” Uncas said softly. “She is lovely to look on, and saving her and restoring her to her father will make my heart glad, but I could no more keep her than I could you.”

Hawkeye reached up to rest one big, bony hand along the shaven side of Uncas’s head, laid the other atop the blue turtle that covered his heart, and leaned those last few inches closer to kiss him. “You can keep me as long as you want me,” he whispered. “The French and the English can both be consarned to hell.”

* * *

Post-reading White's The Middle Ground, I've realized that Uncas should be a lot more blase about the whole massacre thing, but Cooper had that whole noble savage thing going, and to stay in keeping with book characterization is to conveniently forget that the Mohawks did just as much torturing and killing as anybody else.
 
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Comments

 
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From:seanchai
Date:October 23rd, 2006 04:52 pm (UTC)
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Oh my god, you got Hawkeye's shifting speech patterns down perfectly!

Poor Uncas.
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From:elspethdixon
Date:October 23rd, 2006 06:22 pm (UTC)
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When writing Hawkeye, one must consider Mark Twain's advice that "when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it," and make sure to do exactly the opposite.

Yes, poor Uncas. So determined to protect everyone, when he's the one that's going to die.
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From:seanchai
Date:October 23rd, 2006 07:06 pm (UTC)
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Ah Twain, so very good at summing up other people's flaws.
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From:elspethdixon
Date:October 23rd, 2006 07:28 pm (UTC)
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Sometimes, when I am sad and depressed by other people's bad writing, I go and read Twain's essay mocking The Deerslayer, and it makes everything better again. At least partially because it makes me remember reading that book, which never fails to remind me that Nathaniel "Deerslayer/Pathfinder/Hawkeye/Long Rifle/Leatherstocking/Dayspring Summers" Bumpo is gay, gay, gay. When Jayne Cobb gives his guns names and sleeps with them, he names them after women and refers to them as "she." Hawkeye, the astute reader will note, calls Killdeer "he." And thinks that girls have cooties.

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From:seanchai
Date:October 23rd, 2006 07:39 pm (UTC)
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Hawkeye/Deerslayer/Whatever Fenimore Cooper has decided his name is now is one of the few adult characters I can actually see kind of thinking that the opposite gender has cooties.
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From:elspethdixon
Date:October 23rd, 2006 07:42 pm (UTC)
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*nods* Also, my brain is now convinced that he looks like a non-tobacco-chewing version of Abishag Shaw (that is, kind of like Viggo Mortensen in Hidalgo). I blame this on January's secret conviction that Shaw is a magical live-action version of Leatherstocking.
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From:seanchai
Date:October 23rd, 2006 07:51 pm (UTC)
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Oh, you're right! He does look kind of like Shaw.

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