Note: Takes place at some point during their first year in Hawaii. (Probably in October?) Many thanks to JL for giving it a better title!
Looking up at the blanket of the universe overhead, I let out a sigh of pure contentment. Was there ever going to be a more perfect moment than this, laying on our roof with the sound of waves crashing against our seawall, a gentle ocean breeze blowing, and my boy snuggled up to my side, completely relaxed? I wanted it to last forever. Softly, I started to whistle When You Wish Upon a Star.
Seb smacked me. “Don’t!”
I sputtered for a moment before managing, “What was that for?!”
“Sorry,” he said, “but you’re not supposed to whistle at night in Hawaii. You’ll summon the Huaka’ipo.”
He sighed and explained, “Night Marchers. Spirits of ancient Hawaiian warriors.”
Snorting, I rolled onto my elbow. “Whistling summons spirits? Says who?”
His green eyes were narrowed in severity. “Kawika. Last time I was at the flea market, he told me a bunch of Hawaiian lore. Don’t mess with the Huaka’ipo, okay?”
“Kawika….” I frowned, trying to place the name. “Oh, you mean the guy who sold you that damn pink elephant?”
“He practically gave him to me,” Seb replied. “Babar is worth a lot more than he charged. He said he could tell I’d be the right home, though.”
If I had a choice, I’d pay Kawika to take the creepy statue back and give it to someone else, but there was a note of pride in Seb’s voice, and he’d been so excited when he accepted delivery of it, so I held my tongue on that. “What else did Kawika tell you about ancient Hawaiian warriors, then?” I asked.
Seb glanced at the tops of the trees surrounding the house, like he was worried these spirits would hear him. He turned onto his side, too, shifting closer, and lowered his voice. “They roam after dark, visiting battlefields and sacred sights, and if you hear chanting or drums, they’re nearby and you should go inside or lay on your stomach and respectfully wait for them to pass. The lore wasn’t just about them, though. A lot was about Pele, too.”
“The volcano goddess?” I asked, pretty sure I was right. Last month when we visited Volcanoes National Park, Seb had given her an offering of ohelo berries to pay his respects.
He nodded, and I settled down more comfortably on the roof with my arm over his waist. I may not believe in all the stuff Seb believes in, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever pass up an opportunity to learn how he thinks. I want him to feel comfortable talking to me, no matter the subject.
“Okay, babe. Tell me about Pele,” I said, smiling.
“Well, first, this one obviously wouldn’t happen to me, but you shouldn’t take pork from the Windward side of the Pali highway to the Leeward side, because it’ll offend her,” he said. “She used to be lovers with Kamapua’a, a half-man half-pig demigod, and they agreed to be separated. If you take pork into Pele’s domain, you’re violating that agreement.”
“Sounds like a nasty break-up,” I said. “What happens if violate it?”
He shrugged a little. “Depends who you ask. Most people say your car will stall until the pork is removed. Some say Pele will appear in the form of an elderly woman with white hair, and she’ll have a dog that you have to feed the pork to before she’ll let you pass.”
Nodding, I said, “So no ham sandwiches while I’m driving, and keep a lookout for old ladies with dogs. Okay. Anything else?”
“Well, know those big, black moths we see sometimes?”
“They’re the spirits of our ancestors coming for a visit. So you shouldn’t kill them.”
I smiled and stroked his hip. “Another rule you’d never break. I wouldn’t kill them either, actually. They’re pretty.” After a moment’s consideration, I added, “My ancestors must really want to visit, flying all the way from Egypt with those tiny little wings.”
He rolled his eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous, Z. They’re coming from another plane of existence, not Egypt.”
“Oh,” I said. “Right.”
We stayed entwined up there while he explained all the other stuff Kawika told him, and then for a bit longer, making out under the stars, so I got my wish afterall.
A few nights later, I stepped out of the shower and absentmindedly whistled Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah as I grabbed my towel and began to dry off. Seb spun around from the sink with his toothbrush in his mouth. “Unh!” he went, scowling.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
He blew out a puff of air through his nose and pointed at the window with his free hand. “‘On’t whiffle!”
I glanced at the dark sky outside. “Oh, that. Sorry, I forgot.” I bent over to dry my legs and asked, “What happens if I summon them? You never said.”
Rather than keep talking with the toothbrush in his mouth like I’d hoped, he spat foam into the sink before he answered. “If you’re in their path and you look at them, you’ll die and have to join them for all eternity. Unless one of your ancestors is part of the march, which won’t happen with us, obviously.”
Draping the towel over my shoulders, I went up behind him and folded him into my arms as he wiped his mouth with a washcloth. “If I joined them, I could teach them Marine cadences,” I said, grinning. “Bet they’d like those.”
He tried to elbow my ribs, but my hold was too tight, so he just glared at me in the mirror. “Zain, be serious!”
Beneath the annoyance, I could feel tension all through his body and see fear in his eyes. Kawika had really spooked him with these stories. Maybe next time Seb went to the flea market, I could tag along and express my appreciation for that.
“Sorry,” I said, resting my chin on his shoulder. “Look, habibi, I’ll do my best to remember not to whistle after dark, but if I happen to accidentally summon the Night Marchers, I’ll just talk to them, warrior to warriors, and we’ll reach an agreement.”
He crossed his arms over his ribcage. “It doesn’t work that way.”
“Oh ye of little faith,” I said, and I gave him a kiss on the cheek before I let go.
The day after that, we were curled up on the couch watching TV before bed, when he suddenly stirred and pulled away. I grunted in protest. “What’re you doing? Come back here and cuddle!”
“I just remembered that I left my, um, sketchbook outside,” he said, not quite looking at me over his shoulder. “Can you go get it?”
Even if he weren’t a truly abysmal liar, that would’ve raised my suspicions. Seb almost never asks me to do something he could easily do himself. Not to mention, his sketchbooks are precious to him, so he’d shoot off to retrieve it the moment he realized it was being exposed to the elements.
But it only took me a split second to decide to play along. If he wanted me out of the house for a few minutes, maybe he was planning some kind of sexy surprise.
I swung my feet to the floor. “Sure, babe. Where is it?”
“Uh… by the seawall, maybe,” he said, fidgeting with his t-shirt hem and flushing light pink. “Or. No, actually, I think I left it on the lanai outside my studio. Yeah, if you just look around there, you’ll find it.”
Biting my lip to keep from laughing, I got up. “Kay. Be right back.”
I went the long way around, out the front door, rather than walk into his studio where the elephant lay in wait. The creaking of the boards under my bare feet cut through the quiet nighttime. Enough light spilled from the house’s windows that I easily knew his sketchbook wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but I performed a thorough search anyway, just to give him more time for whatever he was doing.
It was as I leaned over the railing to look in the plants bordering the lanai that I heard the drumbeat.
Lifting my head, I peered in the direction it came from, off through the trees. It reverberated in a steady, marching rhythm, as if… as if a ghostly army was on patrol. A chill went up my spine. I strained my ears for ancient Hawaiian chants, whatever those sounded like, and took a slow step backward. “Se–?”
There was no chanting, and the drumming wasn’t getting any closer, or moving around at all. And it had just happened to start right after Seb sent me outside?
Oh, that little brat.
I spun on my heel and strode back to the front door, rapidly working out my course of action. When I went inside, Seb was still on the couch, with his knees pulled up to his chest, looking supremely guilty. I pretended not to notice and headed straight for the kitchen cabinet where we keep emergency stuff.
“Didn’t find your sketchbook, babe, but there’s a weird noise coming from the woods,” I said, rummaging until I found a flashlight. “I think an animal’s caught in something. I’m gonna go check it out.” I flicked the flashlight on to make sure it worked and hurried back to the door where my combat boots were.
“What?!” He was on his feet in an instant. “You can’t!”
I paused in the middle of putting my boots on to give him an astonished look. “You don’t want me to make sure there’s not a wounded animal out there?”
Just like I’d planned, he couldn’t argue. Instead, he said, “No, I… I meant you can’t go alone. I’ll go with you.”
“Okay,” I said, and kept a surreptitious eye on him while he crossed the room and slid into his flip-flops. Whatever he’d done to start the drumming, though, it seemed he couldn’t stop it, because it was still loud and clear when we stepped outside. “Hear it?”
I smiled at him and started down the steps. “Stay behind me, babe. I’ll keep you safe.”
Whether to keep up appearances or just because he really didn’t want to be doing this, he obeyed, and we crossed the yard in single-file. The drumming was slowly growing more frantic. It was damn effective, I had to admit. Even with my certainty there was nothing to worry about, my pulse picked up.
“Z, that doesn’t sound like an animal,” Seb said as I ducked under a tree branch and entered the woods. “Maybe we should go back inside.”
“If it’s not an animal, what else would it be?” I asked, like I was truly curious.
“The… Huaka’ipo?” he suggested.
I turned around and shined the flashlight over his head, so I could see his expression without blinding him. He had his arms crossed low on his stomach. “Babe, do you honestly think it’s the Huaka’ipo?”
He shifted from foot to foot, bit his lip, and said nothing.
Can’t lie to my face twice in a day, can ya? I thought fondly. “C’mon. We’ll find out what it is in a few dozen yards, by my guess.”
I kept the flashlight trained on the ground right in front of me as I walked on, to avoid tripping over rocks. Seb sighed and followed. As the drumming became thunderous, I didn’t need the illumination as much. Some sort of ambient light was coming through the trees. And there was another sound under the drumbeat. A motor?
About twenty steps later, the woods opened up, with a grassy bank rising before us. I scrambled to the top and found myself standing on a gravel road.
Nope, make that a driveway. It lead to one of our neighbor’s houses; the one that was almost always empty because the owner lived in Montana or somewhere for most of the year. In front of their garage, though, was a running car with its headlights on, and a figure pounding on a huge, Hawaiian drum.
I walked closer and aimed the flashlight straight at their face. They—he, actually—stopped drumming to hold his hand up against the brightness. He was a small, older man wearing a faded aloha shirt and khakis. He looked too frail to have produced such powerful noises.
Seb jogged up next to me and grabbed my arm to make me point the flashlight downward. The man dropped his hand, but kept squinting. “Who is that?” he demanded.
“It’s… it’s me, Kawika,” said Seb.
“Seb? Why are you out here?” Kawika asked. “That wasn’t the plan, bruddah.”
“Oh, really? What was the plan?” I asked.
Kawika frowned. “Who–?”
To me, Seb hissed, “Shut up!” Then he raised his voice and tugged me along with him as he walked closer to the old man. “Zain’s here, too,” he said, and I could tell he was trying not to sound annoyed. “He insisted on coming to see what was making the noise.”
“Hmm,” said Kawika. His eyes finally focused on me as I stepped into the pool of the headlights. “You told me he was too brave for his own good.”
“I prefer the term ‘devil-may-care,’” I said, grinning and sticking out my hand. “Nice to meet you.”
He shook it with his own thin, calloused hand, and then poked me in the sternum with one index finger. “Do not take the Night Marchers lightly, young man. I have heard them many nights with my own ears.”
“And you’re sure it wasn’t someone just trying to scare you?” I asked, with a pointed glance at Seb, who flushed.
“Yes,” Kawika said, fiercely. “I have seen them once, too. I would not be standing here if my ancestors didn’t march among them.”
“Please, Z, listen to him?” Seb asked, his eyes wide and glowing in the headlights.
I sighed. He was really worried about me. “Okay, not going to say I believe in any of this, but if it’ll make you happy, I promise not to whistle at night or joke about it anymore. Is that good enough?”
Seb nodded. “Yes. Merci.”
“De rien, habibi,” I said, pulling him close with my arm around his waist. “Kawika, do you want to come over for a snack or something?”
“I’m not hungry,” he said. “But I would like to see how my elephant friend is doing.”
I hid my grimace as Seb agreed to show him. We helped put his drum in the backseat of the car, and then I rode beside it while Seb took shotgun for the short drive to our own house.
Once Kawika had examined Babar in his new home—with me watching from a safe distance— and expressed his approval, Seb walked him out. When he came back in alone, he found me sitting sideways on the barstool closest to the door, my elbow resting on the counter and my chin in my palm. “I’m surprised you didn’t warn him we were on the way,” I said. “You had plenty of time to text while we were going through the woods.”
He crouched down to remove his flip-flops and avoid my gaze. “He doesn’t do texts. I had to call to tell him to start. When did you figure it out?”
I rolled my eyes. “Babe, you’re a horrible liar, and I am a man of reason. Do you think I believed for one second that there were ancient Hawaiian ghost warriors coming to get me?”
Seb straightened and studied me. A hint of a smile played around his lips. “Yes. For one second, I had you fooled. I can tell.”
Life would be so much easier sometimes if he didn’t know me just as well as I know him. “Half a second, at most,” I said. “Now, come here.”
The smile disappeared. “Why?”
I leaned closer, with a smirk of my own. “You’re gonna find out what happens to boys who cry Huaka’ipo.”
His eyes went wide. Then he feinted right and took off to the left, putting our dining table between us as quickly as he could, but I move faster. I blocked his path so he had to circle back around it the other way and make a mad dash for his studio with no cover, and that was when I snagged him, both of us shaking with laughter as I frog-marched him to one of the armchairs.
“Oh, no you don’t, Sébastien! Did you think I’d let you get away with playing pranks?”
Between pants and giggles, he said, “You… deserved it!”
“And you deserve this! Bend over.” I pushed his shoulder until he was across the back of the chair, and then held him there by the nape of his neck while I began to pepper his bottom with cupped-hand swats that didn’t hurt at all. “Naughty little brat!”
“No, no, no, stop!” he said, confirming my suspicion that he’d be able to talk in this position. I paused and let him get his breath back while running my fingers through his hair. Despite my loosened hold, he made no attempt to stand.
“Now, are you going to try scaring me like that again?” I asked.
“No, sir,” he said, a smile visible on his face.
Sorry, babe, I thought, and hauled off with a real swat to the undercurve of his right buttock.
I renewed my grip on his neck before asking, “And are you going to tell me more flat-out lies?”
His butt clenched beneath his yoga pants. After taking a couple of deep breaths, he quietly answered, “No, I won’t.”
I swatted again, on the left side to even him out. He jumped and stomped his foot, but didn’t make a noise. “Are you going to worry about the Night Marchers?” I asked.
Squirming his hips, he muttered, “Not as long as you keep your promise.”
“Then we’re good,” I said, and let him up.
“Salaud,” he said, rubbing his butt as he straightened. “You tricked me.”
“Turnabout’s fair play, habibi.” I gave him a long hug and a kiss, then asked, “Wanna go up on the roof and look at the stars?”
He sighed. “Yeah, okay.”
It was another perfect night.