Kocoum awakes with a sickening jerk, barely able to catch his breath as the pain quickly spreads to that slightly swollen, damaged area on his chest and begins to throb horribly, sending water rushing to his eyes. He doesn’t even recollect the fact that he screamed in his sleep until he hears Thomas’s voice in the darkness, whispering to him, trying to calm him down.
His comforting words only seem to fuel the native’s anxiety further. All of a sudden he’s back in that clearing among the creepers, wrestling the corn-haired snake that had dared laid his hands on Pocahontas, Kocoum's cousin and the woman he was supposed to marry.
He still remembers the struggle; the frustration of wanting to cut the white demon to pieces, the sweat that beads his forehead and runs down his nose as he pushes and pushes to gain the upper hand, even though he knows he's slowly losing because this "John Smith" is a lot stronger than he looks.
He can't lose. Not to him.
Had it been anyone else, anyone else he had seen kissing Pocahontas in the clearing, he might have been relieved. Relieved that he no longer had to drag his cousin into a marriage that neither of them really wanted. If Pocahontas had truly fallen in love with somebody, it was obviously what the spirits had intended. But to give her heart to this alien is inexcusable. And he can’t allow Pocahontas’s honour to be completely torn apart by a monster who is obviously just using her for his own sick perversions.
His rage spirals out of his control and once the knife is at Smith's throat, there’s no turning back. He pushes until he’s blue in the face but those pale arms are too strong even for him; for the first time in his existence, he’s met his match and his own anger has made him exhausted. The white snake slowly begins to ease him off and Pocahontas is still clawing at his shoulder, shrieking at him to drop the knife.
What happens next is still a blur, even now. He can only recall the noise; the sound of the bullet firing straight into his chest and then the cool sanctity of water as his back meets the bottom of the stream below.
His hands ball into fists at the memory and all of a sudden he’s lunged forward and pinned Thomas to the dirt, forcing his arms over his head with such brute force that Thomas squeals like a stuck pig. Kocoum knows who fired that gun, who's responsible for the bullet still lodged inside his chest, inches away from his heart. It’s fortunate the gunman was such a bad shot or the results may have been fatal. But he still remembers. The man he meets with every night, who he makes love to under the stars, who he wants to publicly call his own once the conflict between the villagers and the settlers is resolved, was almost the death of him.
He will always remember.
The bullet is lodged too far for Kekata to remove, but he does manage to stop the bleeding and more or less saves Kocoum’s life. The shot damaged several nerves in the warrior’s left arm which may never fully heal but he’s alive and that’s all that truly matters. He spends the night in the healer's hut, only regaining the strength to move when Nakoma comes to him at dawn and announces that his attacker has handed himself in. Kocoum, despite the pain, wants to see the man immediately; he wants to look into the eyes of the one who has destroyed him, who has broken him down into nothing. He wants to look him in the eye and then enjoy the pleasure of watching him die a slow and painful death.
But when he enters the tent where the prisoner is being held, he does not find John Smith. There's a boy sitting there tied to the pole, trembling like a rabbit babe caught in a snare. He's oddly familiar and Kocoum concludes that he must have been among the men he and the other warriors were spying on the day Namontak was shot; but other than his shockingly pale skin, there is nothing outwardly intimidating or dangerous about this young man. He's scrawny and hairless compared to the other pale faces -- and definitely more handsome.
Kocoum is drawn to his flame coloured hair and he touches it, noting how the boy flinches at the contact. Then he looks at the small brown spots littering the prisoner's nose and tries to rub them off, only to discover they're actually part of his skin. All the while the boy remains silent, save for the occasional whimper as he anticipates a beating that never comes. Kocoum finishes his exploring and settles for staring instead; they sit there for a while, just staring into each other’s eyes, gentle brown meeting steely black.
And all of a sudden something passes between them; an aura of understanding, fear and even respect. They realise, the both of them, that the horror stories might not all be true; maybe the white demons aren’t all rooted from evil and savages can be gentle. This theory alone is enough to calm the lust for revenge in Kocoum’s stone covered heart and tame the fear bubbling in Thomas's gut.
There had been talk of an execution but Pocahontas put a stop to that with the aid of John Smith, which Kocoum is privately grateful for, because Thomas was really only protecting his friend and had no intention of actually killing anybody. Instead, Thomas's sentence is more along the lines of long-term community service, now that Kocoum's body no longer works the way it used to. In the meantime, Pocahontas takes the opportunity to use this example of near fatal miscommunication as a weapon against the growing conflict and after a heartfelt speech to her father, arrangements for a peace talk are eventually confirmed.
Kocoum growls, pinning Thomas further into the dirt as the smaller man struggles beneath him, weeping. Kocoum knows why Thomas shot him, he understands why Thomas shot him but that doesn't make it hurt any less. Thomas isn't in constant pain everyday, struggling to wash and dress and carry out the most basic of tasks. Thomas isn't a shell of the person he had once been, unable to run and hunt and swim normally, like every man should. Why is Thomas allowed to have his life back after he robbed Kocoum of his own?
Kocoum stares into Thomas's brown eyes, tears clouding his vision and he remembers the months following the shooting, when Thomas was bound to his side until the warrior was fully healed. Thomas did everything for him; he fetched water from the river, tanned the animal skins, tended to the wound on his chest with salve provided by Kekata, cooked his meals and even assisted him in bathing when the pain was too dear.
And Kocoum remembers how things changed the longer they stayed together. How, over time, he defied the odds and was soon fishing and hunting again, despite the restrictions of his injured arm. How relations between the natives and the white men began to change around them. How he discovered John Smith wasn't that bad after all. How his relationship with Thomas went from detached comrades by day to relentless lovers at night.
Kocoum feels his heart go tight seeing Thomas lying there in the grass, his body shaking in fear of being hurt; as if snapping out of a trance, he releases his wrists and frantically cradles the boy close to his chest, whispering into his flushed ear as the tears in his eyes finally spill over. 'I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, little one. I wouldn't - I would never hurt you. Please, forgive me, I don't know what-'
Thomas kisses him before he can ramble any further; he weaves his cold fingers into Kocoum’s long black hair and allows the larger man to bury his face into the crook of his neck, his heart breaking as Kocoum sobs, surrendering himself to the boy he loves so severely. Thomas is used to these night terrors; he caused them but now he will do whatever he can to combat them.
Finally, Kocoum calms down and the exhausted man collapses against his smaller lover, dazed and slightly embarrassed but feeling like a tremendous weight has suddenly been lifted off his back. Thomas kisses his shoulder, his lips brushing the bare skin so gently and that same pang of guilt swamps into the warrior’s gut.
‘I’m sorry…’ he says again but a finger is rested on his lips to silence him.
‘I’m sorry too,’ Thomas brushes away the tears on Kocoum's jaw and then leans over to kiss the fading wound on Kocoum's chest, his breath hitching in his throat, 'I'm sorry too...'
Silence falls between them, the sound of rushing water the only thing to be heard. Thomas is usually on constant alert during these secret nights of passion, in case anyone from the Virginia Company (barring John,) stumbles upon them and discovers his sin. But right now, in this moment, he doesn't give a damn what anyone else thinks, including God.
‘I love you.’ Kocoum murmurs and Thomas feels the air being stolen from him just at those three words.
‘I love you too.’
Thomas holds him in his sleep. It's usually the other way round but tonight Kocoum craves the security and he clings to the smaller man as if terrified he'll slip away. He's actually grateful Thomas fired that shot. It was that shot that brought them together. That shot that causes these night terrors – the night terrors that Thomas chases away and reminds him of how much he is truly loved.