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Summer Lovin'

Chapter Text

Fox arrived at the garage in a cloud of dust and the roaring of overpowered bike engines. The first real look Dwalin got of him, he was striding out of the dust cloud, smoothing back his long red hair with his helmet dangling from his other hand. His black leather jacket was short enough, and the tshirt beneath tight enough, to show off the cut of his narrow hips, dramatic against the width of his shoulders.

Fox's was a body pared down to the bare essentials, small and lean, as sleek as the little bike he rode. (An overpowered Cafe Racer, genuine Italian make, unless Dwalin was sorely mistaken). He moved with absolute confidence, trusting the two companions behind him to have his back. Fox looked neither right nor left, heading straight for Dwalin.

Dwalin had, actually, been hoping to run into Fox here. He was new in town, and it was only polite to greet the main players on the scene. He hadn't expected Fox to be so... damn. There was nothing wrong with having a type, was there? Dwalin fell halfway in love right then and there. So maybe he flexed a bit as he wiped his greasy hands on a rag, leaning against his big All-American rig. Nothing wrong with showing off the merchandise, either. He knew he looked good.

It was all Dwalin could do not to lick his lips as he looked Fox up and down. He was downright edible in those tight jeans, cuffs rolled up. He even had a cute dusting of freckles across his bold nose.

Dwalin's crush didn't last half a minute after Fox opened his mouth.

"Who the fuck are you, and what are you doing in my spot?" Fox demanded.

He hadn't known that any particular space in the garage was claimed; a mistake. Dwalin's attempt to suggest they share the space, for the excuse to be close to Fox, did not go over well. Maybe he said it wrong. Fox took it as a slight and a challenge to his authority, and started shouting. And, well, the haze of hotness faded and Dwalin really didn't like to get pushed around.

He shouted back.

Dwalin hadn't set out to make a rival first thing in a new town, but he sure as hell wasn't going to be anything else with a bag of dicks like Fox.

Chapter Text

Nori's gang had a few different names. Fox And The Hounds was Nori's personal favorite, which Bifur and Bofur accepted with only mild eye-rolling. Right now, the one that might suit best was 'The Delinquents', though they'd outgrown it upon leaving school. 'Those Thieves', maybe. There was no denying they all had interesting entries in their criminal records, but few of them, and from years ago. They didn't make a habit of getting caught.

Dwalin had picked the wrong person to make an enemy of.

Bofur was on lookout, ready to make a bird call if he spotted any trouble. Bifur was on guard duty, ready to bust heads if she thought Nori needed protecting. Nori—Fox, today—was heading for the goods. Dwalin's bike (an Indian Chief, impeccably maintained), was parked unassumingly back behind the general store while Dwalin was visiting the popsicle stand out front. The opportunity had presented itself, and never let it be said that Nori wasn't ready to rock and roll at the drop of a hat.

He hunkered down beside Dwalin's oversized bike, heart in his throat. First things first, he picked the front wheel for today's flattening and quickly unscrewed the valve cap to let the air start hissing out. Next, the gas tank. Nori stuck a piece of tubing down it and sucked to get a siphon going, draining the tank into his gas can. A splash of it got in his mouth, and Nori spat to the side as the gas slowly transferred to his owner ship from Dwalin's.

Dwalin might be unfairly beautiful, with confident swagger and those big tattooed arms of his, but no one got away with horning in on Nori's territory. Nori had carved a space for himself out of the world with sweat and blood, and he wasn't gonna give it up for anyone. He wasn't an easy target just because he was small. Compact size just concentrated the viciousness, and it was past time Dwalin respected that.

The tire was nearly flat, and Nori looked up past the bike to check with Bifur. She was sitting on the hood of a nearby truck, casually flipping her jackknife, and gave him the nod when he signed a question. All clear still, then.

The gas siphon gurgled twice and then stopped. Empty. Perfect. Nori replaced the gas cap, coiled up the hose, and booked it back toward Bofur and the bikes, with Bifur close on his heels. Bofur crowed a laugh and grabbed the gas can out of Nori's hands to secure it (prominently) on the back of his bike.

Nori hopped onto his machine. Some might disparage little Cafe Racers like his as nothing but showpieces, but his was a racing bike at its heart and it suited him just fine. He had nothing to compensate for with an oversized bike, and there wasn't a sweeter ride in the world. The roar of the engine rumbled through him from head to toe, and Nori tore out onto the road with just a glance at his buddies to make sure they were ready.

In an act of divine providence, Dwalin was just leaving the popsicle stand as Fox and the Hounds made the corner to roar down the main drag. There was no mistaking his burly silhouette for anyone else's. No one else had shoulders like that.

Nori gunned it, gathering speed, and as they approached Dwalin released the handlebars to stand up on the seat of his bike, balancing easily. He flicked the fork at Dwalin, tongue out between his spread fingers.

Dwalin, for his part, shoved his popsicle into his mouth the better to flip him off with both hands.

Nori threw his head back as he dropped back into his seat, yipping a sharp "ey, ey, ey!" Bifur and Bofur answered with full-throated howls, weaving their bikes back and forth across the road behind him.

When Nori leaned far forward and hit the gas, accelerating as fast as his very fast machine could, they chased him all the way out of the city limits.

Fox rode off laughing with the wind in his hair and gasoline in his teeth, his Hounds close behind him.

Chapter Text

Nori pursed her lips, checking her demure pink lipstick before taking a step back to look over her whole outfit one last time. Her makeup and hair was perfect, the little kerchief tied in a bow at the side of her neck matched the bow in her long red curls. It had taken an age to get them right. Nail polish hid any blackened nails she'd earned working working on her bike in the garage. A padded bra and a tight girdle did wonders for her silhouette. Her pink heels matched the lipstick and her handbag, tying the whole outfit together.

Nori looked like a girl out to hit the town. She looked like her, who she was right now but wasn't always.

Nori caught sight of Bifur's muscle car coming around the corner just on time and picked up her handbag to go meet her. Learning to walk in heels had been a challenge, but one Nori was glad she'd mastered. Her hips swayed bit as she walked, not overdone, just a tiny bit.

"Oh." Dori had spotted her coming out of her room. His hands twisted together in front of him, brow clouded. He always worried so much when she went out as a girl.

"I'll be fine," Nori's voice as a girl was quieter than her voice as a boy, small and soft. It tended to make people think she was shy and sweet – when she was every bit as cutthroat in whichever gender she happened to be that day. "I'll stick right to Bifur and Bofur all night. There's nothing we can't handle together."

"I know, I just..." Dori trailed off, and Nori gave him a hug with a kiss to the air beside his cheek. She sailed out the front door to see Bifur and Bofur already waiting. Bifur might prefer jeans and plain tshirts herself, but she nodded her silent approval of Nori's outfit from the driver's seat. Bofur jumped out of the back to open the passenger door for Nori. Nori would never give up taking point as the Fox to their Hounds when they were tearing up the road on their bikes, but it was nice to be treated like a lady sometimes when she was one.

"Your chariot, my lady," Bofur grinned, winking, and she gave his arm a playful shove before settling into the seat. Bofur waited for her to settle her skirt so it wouldn't get caught in the door before he closed it for her. Bifur already had the car moving as Bofur jumped back in the back seat, and they were on their way.

 

Nori had just settled in at the diner counter with her cherry float when trouble showed up. Dwalin, again. Trouble was distractingly sexy, with his tight white shirt stretched across his broad chest, sleeves rolled up to show off tattoos scrawled across his powerful biceps and forearms, tight black jeans tantalizingly cupping his body as he dismounted his big hog. Nori bit her lip as she watched him through the window.

Unfairly hot he might be, but he was bad news and he was heading for the door. He knew Nori as Fox. Dwalin knew Nori, and he'd recognize Nori as being the usual redhead to accompany the Hounds in different packaging, and then there was all kinds of hell for someone who didn't fit into a single mold. Nori's fingers clenched on the stem of her soda glass, eyes rolling toward Bofur and Bifur for help.

Bofur glanced from Dwalin to Nori and rolled his shoulders, loosing them up in case of a brawl. Bifur just flicked out her jackknife and began meticulously cleaning her nails. She had biceps nearly of a size with Dwalin's, and between those and the scar across her face she looked every bit as mean as she could be if she was pushed to it.

Nori could hold her own too, but it was good to know they were behind her a hundred percent. Still, best if Dwalin didn't recognize her as Fox. Nori turned her face away when Dwalin walked into the diner. He'd go sit in a booth, and then Nori could relax – except he didn't. She could see him in the mirror. Dwalin looked back and forth across the diner, and his eyes fixed on her. He paused, and then walked right over to the bar to sit just a few stools away.

Nori sipped her soda, keeping her back turned to him. Bofur started up some cheerful chatter about the trouble Bombur was getting in at school, for Nori to nod along with. Discreetly, just in between them, Bofur signed that Dwalin was eyeballing their group.

Next Dwalin ordered his food and drink, and just sat there eating it. Nori hardly had the stomach for it anymore once her food was delivered, but Dwalin didn't seem to have pieced her together with Fox yet. She kept an eye on him in the mirror, just to keep ahead of him if he did decide to make a move.

He was terribly, terribly beautiful tipping his head back to drink his soda from the bottle, a decadent sprawl of muscular limbs leaning against the counter. It was hard not to just stare in the mirror, Nori had to tear her eyes away again and again until the time she glanced back and his eyes met hers in the mirror.

Nori froze, heart in her throat, but Dwalin just quirked an eyebrow and tossed back another fry. He'd clocked her, he must have... but he wasn't doing anything. He was just leaning back and flexing artistically, not getting angry or betrayed or like he knew a dirty secret he thought he could blackmail Fox with.

Oh. Oh, he was flirting, and Nori ducked back to her near-empty cherry float with her cheeks flaming. Bofur, damn traitor, realized it about the same time as Nori did. He whispered something to Bifur and tugged her away on a needless trip to the jukebox.

Dwalin immediately moved two chairs closer, so he was only one away from Nori. Not that she was looking at him. The last dregs of her cherry float needed all her attention, and her shortness of breath was certainly because of her girdle and not any other reason.

"Hey," Dwalin's voice was softer than she'd ever heard it, low and rich and mellow and utterly unfair. Nori's eyes were pulled back toward him nearly against her will. He must recognize her, face to face like this even if the diner's lighting was admittedly pretty bad. He just smiled, and that was absolutely and utterly unfair as well – that his gruff face could make an expression that sweet. "I'm Dwalin. I'm new," he introduced himself, reaching his big hand halfway toward her as if to shake.

"...Norine," Nori introduced herself, only a little breathlessly. She met his hand, to have hers engulfed gently in his. And her heart certainly wasn't doing flip-flops in her chest, that was ridiculous. She already knew Dwalin was a real bastard, that he was gentle with a girl shouldn't make any difference.

"Miss Norine." Dwalin's hand didn't let go of hers, but then she hadn't tried to pull it back, had she? "Your... ah, dates aren't going to feel like I'm horning in on their girl?" Dwalin asked.

"They're just friends," Nori assured him as the jukebox began playing a crooning love song. She was going to strangle Bofur later, and Bifur too for not stopping him. "And besides, I'm my own girl. I wouldn't step out with anyone who didn't respect that."

"I can respect that," Dwalin said softly, bright blue eyes smiling like he was pleased by her independence. "Could I get you a refill on your float?" he asked.

"Yeah, all right," Nori decided. If he was going to play at being a gentleman, Nori would milk it for all she could get.

Dwalin flagged down the waitress, and Nori primly moved her things to the next stool over to sit right beside Dwalin as though that's where she'd always intended to be. It was his turn to look surprised, but definitely happy about it. Nori smiled as she accepted her fresh float and took a sip.

The game had just gotten a lot more interesting.

Chapter Text

Miss Norine's was the friendliest ear Dwalin had had in a while. She seemed shy, a little nervous of him, which made him feel all kinds of protective. He tried to be gentle and nonthreatening, and she warmed up to him. He found himself talking more than he had in a while, about where he was from and why he was here and his frustrations trying to fit in in a new town.

Norine didn't seem to mind that he was talking so much. She smiled at him around the straw of her cherry float, asked a few questions, and Dwalin wanted to keep talking to her forever. It didn't hurt that she was desperately cute in that androgynous kind of way that Dwalin couldn't get enough of.

So maybe he flexed a bit, showed off. It wasn't like he hadn't caught her sneaking glances from the moment he walked in. Norine's voice might be quiet and demure; her eyes were anything but once she got comfortable. She looked at him like he was a particularly delicious piece of pie, and Dwalin wouldn't mind letting her take a bite.

Miss Norine's friends gave them plenty of space, and Dwalin was grateful for it. They seemed vaguely familiar to him, but he couldn't be bothered to try and place them. His attention was all on Norine. That vivid red hair in its perfect up-do had grabbed him the moment he walked in.

Maybe he said it wrong, when Dwalin mentioned that he'd always been weak for a redhead. He'd reached out as he said it, intending to touch one of her curls to see if they were as silky as they looked. Norine tensed all over, wide-eyed, and Dwalin quickly pulled his hand back, holding it up in surrender. He hadn't meant to make her uncomfortable.

She excused herself soon after that, to leave with her friends.

"Will I see you again?" Dwalin asked.

Miss Norine had smiled, briefly resting her hand on his chest. "Oh, I'm sure I'll be seeing you," she'd purred, leaving him with a wink.

Dwalin had smiled to himself as he watched her go. She laughed with her friends and shoved them when they clearly teased her, before she settled primly into the front seat of the convertible and they drove off.

Dwalin had kept an eye out after that, hoping to see her around town and hoping to make a friend here—but he hadn't. Miss Norine, it seemed, was nowhere to be found.

She couldn't have disappeared more cleanly if she'd been trying to avoid him.

 

Fox had let up on his personal vendetta against Dwalin, at least. There were no more flattened tires and drained gas tanks to contend with. That didn't mean Dwalin wasn't still pissed at the little bastard for all the trouble he'd already caused.

Maybe it wasn't smart to risk restarting the feud, but Dwalin hadn't ever been accused of being diplomatic. When he saw Fox lingering around the popsicle stand when he went on his usual after-work run (the summer was hot, all right, and he had a sweet tooth), he marched over to confront him instead of just buying his popsicle and leaving.

Fox was reclined oh-so-casually on his little bike in the shade of a tree, doing indecent things to a blue-raspberry popsicle. He smirked, purple-lipped, when he spotted Dwalin. Some traitorous part of Dwalin wanted to forget all about arguing, grab Fox by the lapels of his jacket, and kiss the cold sweet flavor right out of his mouth. It was a small part, easily shoved aside.

"Hey." Dwalin's hands closed into fists at his sides. "I know it's you."

Fox flashed his teeth in a hard grin, color in his cheeks and a burning light in his eyes. "That so, big guy? What do you plan on doing about it?"

"What am I going to do?" Dwalin growled. "I'm gonna make you pay me back for all the gas you've siphoned out of my tank!"

Fox blinked hard, mouth working before he finally spat out. "Are you kidding me right now?"

"Oh, come of it. I know it was you." Dwalin stomped a step closer, looming over Fox—who never had been intimidated by that. "What other redheaded piece of shit is hotrodding around town with a chip on his shoulder? You show up, my gas disappears. Not like it's hard to put it together."

Fox laughed, a harsh strangled sound, as he tossed the remnants of his popsicle aside and licked the melt-drip off his hand. He leaned up toward Dwalin, glaring daggers. His voice was a deadly purr. "Fucking prove it." He turned away, straddling his bike and kicking the motor on (and Dwalin most definitely was not noticing his tight little ass and how good it looked when he bounced). "I won't hold my breath."

In an instant Fox was gone, peeled out and over the sidewalk into the road. The two Hounds pulled out of the alley to chase him. They broke the speed limit into little pieces as they raced out of sight.

Dwalin was left fuming in Fox's wake... and with the vaguely discomfiting feeling that they'd been having two different conversations, and he had no idea what the second one was about.

 

Dwalin finally caught sight of Norine a few days later. He'd been going on an evening cruise through town because it was cooler outside than in his apartment and he had nothing better to do. Wasn't like he'd managed to make any friends to hang with.

Driving around enjoying the breeze was infinitely better than sweating at home while moping about the lack of community.

Miss Norine was leaving the dance hall with her two friends. She was gorgeous, perfectly put-together from her cute polka-dot heels to the kerchief around her neck. Her skirt flared out when her friend—the big butch—spun Norine under her arm.

Dwalin pulled over immediately. He waved, smiling hopefully. Miss Norine saw him and waved tentatively back, then lifted a finger in a 'wait there' gesture before huddling up with her two friends.

It occurred to Dwalin, looking at them, that he knew where he'd seen the two friends before. Or at least the woman, with the scar across her face and her thick black hair with the white streak in the middle. She was one of the Hounds that followed Fox around. The man he wasn't so sure of. He wasn't as distinctive, but he was about the same (average) size. And Norine, standing between them with her bright red hair...

Could she be Fox's sister? His cousin? Red hair tended to run in families, and she might trust her relative's tough friends to keep her safe out on the town. It would be just Dwalin's luck to have a Romeo-and-Juliet thing, getting a crush on a girl whose brother hated him. Not that Juliet had had a brother that Romeo wanted to bang.

Miss Norine traded nods with her friends and skipped across the road to Dwalin's side. She stopped a bit over an arms-length away, hands clenched together in front of her belly. She looked nervous.

"Hey," Dwalin kept his voice soft. "I haven't seen you around. I was looking."

Norine looked up at him searchingly, then laughed softly, shaking her head. "I guess you didn't. I'm glad I ran into you, though. There's a party out at the old quarry tonight if you'd like to join us?" She gestured toward the friends behind her with her thumb.

"Yes!" Dwalin was thrilled to jump at the chance, both to spend time with Miss Norine and to finally get to know some people. "But, uh, I'm not sure where the quarry is? So I'll need directions or, if you want—" Dwalin hopefully patted the seat behind him. Part of the beauty of a bike the size of the Indian Chief was plenty of passenger space. "I could give you a ride? I promise I'm a careful driver." Going for a ride together was moving pretty fast, for their second meeting, but Dwalin couldn't pass the opportunity up.

Miss Norine didn't seem to be put off by the invitation. Her eyes swept over the lines of his bike, and then him just as hungrily. She bit her lip and glanced briefly toward her friends for moral support before finally turning back to him. "Yeah, all right," she said, stepping closer with a flirtatious flit of her mascara-dark eyelashes.

Dwalin immediately shrugged out of his jacket to wrap it around her sturdy shoulders. "To keep you safe," he said, even though it definitely did things to him to see her in his jacket. He offered her a hand, and she settled primly side-saddle on the bike behind him, skirt tucked tight down around her knees. "You can put your feet—" Dwalin started, and stopped as he saw she already had her cute heels firmly settled on the footpeg.

"I've ridden before," Miss Norine said. "Even if it wasn't one of this particular make." Her hand stroked his side as she said it, so he almost thought it was a double-entendre, but she was just curling her arm around his front to hold on with surprising strength. Her breath was warm between his shoulder blades, the stiff cups of her brassiere poking him lower in the back.

Dwalin's face was warm from more than just the heat of the summer as he pulled out onto the road.

Norine waved to her friends as they left. "They'll meet us there," she said, "Just follow Main out of town, it's a few miles south."

"Got it!" Dwalin nodded and complied. He did start to wonder if the whole thing was a good idea, though, as they went. If the scarred woman was going to be there, and she really was the same one who rode with Fox, he might also be there. As much as Dwalin wanted to follow the whim of the moment, he didn't want it to end in argument and the renewal of the feud. He'd rather not have to tip his bike back and forth to try and hear the gas tank slosh every time he got on to avoid getting stranded. Again. Not that even that gave him more than a wild guess about the state of the tank.

They hit a red light, and Dwalin took a deep breath. "Is it all right for me to go to this party? Your friend, with the scar? I think she might run with someone who doesn't like me."

Norine's laugh sounded a little strained behind him. Dwalin tried to twist around to see her, see if there was something wrong he could fix, but she poked his cheek to make him face forward again. "Just drive, Dwalin. We'll talk at the quarry."

Dwalin drove. He drove slow and careful, no showing off with a passenger, especially one seated side-saddle. His machine was impressive enough without courting disaster—biggest engine on an American bike, and enough shocks to make the ride as smooth as butter.

He hoped Norine was enjoying it as much as he did.

They passed out of city limits, into the growing dusk, and Dwalin didn't want to believe it when he bike started to cough beneath them. He slowed, and when that didn't fix the problem revved the engine a few times. The banging got worse, hard shudders passing through the bike's frame. No sooner had Dwalin decided that they needed to stop immediately than the engine gave a death rattle and sputtered out entirely.

"Shit," Dwalin breathed, as they coasted to a stop on the side of the road. "Shit, shit, shit." There were all the way out of the lane of travel when they came to a stop, and Dwalin turned the left-turn signal on for visibility as he put his feet down. "Up," he urged. "There's a flashlight in the storage under your seat."

Miss Norine hopped down. Dwalin found the flashlight (beneath the foot pump that he'd taken to storing close to hand with his tires so frequently drained) and handed it to her to hold as he crouched down to peer at whatever he could see of the engine. What he planned to do without any tools, he had no idea. Fat fingers like his weren't going to be any good for reaching in to tighten things back into place, even once things cooled down enough to touch.

"That sure seemed like a spark plug going out," she said, echoing Dwalin's own thought. "Has it ever done that before? Some bikes are terrible for the spark plugs going loose."

"No," Dwalin said, stroking the warm front fender of his bike. "It's never happened before. I'm so sorry, Miss Norine." Just his luck that Dwalin's machine would break down the one time he had a cute girl riding pillion. He'd almost suspect it of getting jealous.

A pair of headlights came up on the road behind them, slowing when Norine waved. "Anyway, it should be an easy fix if you can get the bike in to the garage," she said lightly, turning to favor him with a smile.

The car proved to be the red convertible Norine's friend drove, piled full of half a dozen greasers and gals. There couldn't have been a better person for Dwalin to have with him when his bike decided to break down. They weren't going to be completely stranded. The car pulled to a stop beside the bike, and Dwalin smiled back at Miss Norine.

"Where'd a nice girl like you learn so much about engines?" he asked.

Miss Norine's lipstick-pink lips went thin and tight with displeasure, jaw tightening. "Oh, come on. This isn't even funny anymore." She shrugged out of his jacket, tossing it and the flashlight back into his startled arms. Her voice had gone sharp and hard like, like... "How many red-haired gearheads do you think live in this town, who run with the Hounds and are named Nori?"

Norine backed into the side of the convertible, perched up on the door frame. Head thrown back, Norine—Nori?—yipped the three sharp barks of Fox's call. It was answered in the full throated baying of the Hounds as Nori's friend hit the gas.

With one last flash of hard eyes, Nori fell backward into the waiting arms of the people in the car, and Dwalin was left behind in the fading red glow of the tail lights.

Chapter Text

Dwalin had plenty of time to think as he pushed his his bike slowly and painfully down the side of the road toward town. It was miserable work, and did nothing to improve his mood.

Predictably, he hadn't been able to get the failed spark plug working even enough to ride back into town, and he didn't dare leave his machine unattended on the side of the road while he went to find some way to tow it back. Not with Fox/Norine/Nori out there pissed at him. So, pushing it was. He'd never hated how big and heavy his bike was before. Dwalin was a big guy, but the bike was bigger.

So, yeah. Plenty of time to think. Lots of things made sense that hadn't before, knowing that Fox and Norine were in fact just one person named 'Nori'. Why Norine had been so nervous of him, why Fox had been so frustrated in that last confusing meeting. They could have just said, instead of trying to make him guess. Would have made things a lot simpler. Would have been the nice thing to do, but Fox was clearly a bag of dicks under any name.

Dwalin sweated and wrestled with his bike, hoping the battery lasted to keep the lights on long enough to get him back into town. It would just be the cherry on top of today's shit-sundae if it didn't.

...wasn't like Dwalin didn't understand, though, cruel as the trick had been. He was new in town. No one knew him. They had no reason to trust him, no way to know if he was a rat to turn the cops on them or a brute to respond to being fooled with violence. Better safe than sorry, but they hadn't had to laugh at him along the way.

Headlights swept up behind Dwalin, and he waved them down hopefully. Even if he couldn't get his bike into town, maybe he could send whoever was in the car for help. His heart lifted when he saw the slowing vehicle was a sturdy older pickup (rather than a sleek red convertible). The truck pulled off the road just ahead of Dwalin.

A different car, but the butch was still the driver. Black-and-white hair, face scar, big biceps, jeans and boots—it was definitely the more distinctive of the Hounds, and Dwalin was screwed. He had no friends and no backup, here. The Hound stalked silently down the side of the truck toward him, glaring knives, and considering who she was she probably had an actual knife close at hand, too.

Dwalin leaned the bike on its kickstand and held his hands up, open and empty. "I don't want any trouble," he said. "It’s no business of mine how anyone lives their life."

The Hound reached the back of the truck, regarded him for a long moment, then reached out to drop the tailgate. She hopped up to sit on it, then patted the empty space beside her in a clear invitation. Dwalin bit his lip, sighed, and went to join her.

"I didn't know Fox's name was Nori," Dwalin added, a bit petulantly. "No one ever told me he was called anything else. Or she. Whichever Nori actually prefers."

The hound pulled a small notebook out of her pocket, flipped through a couple pages, then handed it to him. Dwalin took it, confused. Between the bike's headlight and the lights of the truck it was bright enough to read, but it still seemed a weird way to pass a message until he finally tilted it into the light to see what was written on it.

"I'm Bifur. I can hear and understand, but I don't speak."

"Oh." Dwalin handed the notebook back, turning more fully to face Bifur on instinct. "Do you sign?" he asked, signing along with his words.

The mean tension seemed to leave Bifur at once, her smile huge. "Oh, thank God! This was going to suck! How did you learn to sign?"

"Deaf cousin, we were raised together." Dwalin smiled as remembered his family. "We all learned it. Useful for secret messages around the adults."

Bifur laughed, loud and braying, whole body shaking. "It is!"

Dwalin couldn't help liking it, and her too. It was such an honest laugh, and she was so animated now that she knew he could actually talk to her. "I'm Dwalin," he introduced, his sign name was the combo of punch and sleep, the one-hit knockout. "Glad to finally meet you."

Bifur's sign name was busy with work, something like 'industrious'. Dwalin didn't think Bifur was going to attack him, now, unless he did something to earn it. That made it both easier and harder to bring up the Nori/Norine/Fox thing. He came at it sideways, instead.

"I'm really bad at faces," he said, signing with the words. "I've always been. I wasn't even sure I recognized you, when you were in a car instead of on a motorcycle, and you're..." Dwalin trailed off, signing 'white' up by his hair, 'scar' across his face.

"That's terrible." Bifur at least looked sympathetic, even as she shook her head at him.

"I would never have put them together. I would never have guessed, no matter—" Dwalin blinked hard, fighting to keep his eyes clear even as a lifetime of little cruelties bubbled up in his chest. "No matter how long Nori dragged it on, laughing at me." He couldn't stand to look at Bifur, shaking his head and looking out into the dark field that lined the road.

Bifur smacked him in the arm, hard, forcing him to look back so she could answer. "Tonight, at the quarry. That was the plan to tell you. No one was laughing."

Well that was... something, at least. There had been a plan to tell him, before Nori lost patience. "Still cruel." Dwalin couldn't quite give it voice, but his hands said it for him.

"Nori," Bifur fingerspelled the name, then indicated it into the sign for Fox—giving him Nori's sign name. Maybe that was why Nori had taken to going by 'Fox' to begin with, already going by that in sign. "Nori was afraid. Is afraid."

"Afraid?" Dwalin scoffed. He could hardly picture it.

"Afraid." Bifur kicked him in the boot, rolling her eyes at him. "You know people love to hurt anyone different, and Nori is—" Bifur's sign turned more illustrative than was easy to translate into simple English sentences. PrettyFox off in one corner with 'she' must indicate Norine, and SwiftFox off on the other with 'he' would be Fox, and both drawing into the middle with a big swirl to blend them and the plain fox sign again. Nori, a blend of both the masculine Fox and the feminine Norine.

"The world is not kind," Bifur signed. "You could ruin Nori, knowing this. Nori has every reason to be scared."

Dwalin knew that. "It's no business of mine how anyone lives their life," he repeated. "No one here knows me. You have no reason to trust me, but Nori's far from the first I've known who takes turns going from one role to another."

Bifur raised her thick eyebrows at him, urging him on.

"Back home we had these... we called them Balls." Dwalin couldn't help smiling at the memory. "You had to keep them on the down low, but they were wild, and everyone switched parts for the night."

"You?" Bifur asked.

Dwalin felt the smile grow into a smirk, didn't feel the need to add spoken word as he signed. "Baby, you should see me in sequins."

Bifur laughed her big laugh again, eyes shining. "That's hot. I'm gay, but that's hot."

"I like both." Dwalin found the signs and words came easily, an enormous relief to finally tell anyone in this new place, someone who would understand. "...I wanted them both, as soon as I saw them. All that beautiful red hair. I made a mess of it with Fox, I still don't know how. And Norine now, too."

There was a long moment where Bifur just looked at him, weighing and measuring, before she nodded to herself and signed, "We can fix that. Come on, let's get your ride loaded up."

The random objects Dwalin hadn't been paying attention to in the bed of the truck turned out to be a makeshift ramp and blocks and straps fit to securely transport a motorcycle.

Even with Bifur's capable help, getting Dwalin's bike up into the truck was an ordeal, but they managed. Dwalin settled into the passenger's seat and smiled hopefully at Bifur.

"To the quarry," she signed, before her hands were taken up by driving and they lapsed into silence.

 

The quarry was clearly long abandoned, and was just as clearly well used as a party location. There was a fire in a pit, and several cars running with their lights on for light. They all seemed to have their radios tuned to a pirate rock station, and people were dancing.

The line between gal and greaser had disappeared, as people switched parts and harmonized. The couples dancing seemed to be in all combinations of genders. Stepping out among them, something in Dwalin's heart opened up. It felt like home. He'd found his people again, all the way out here.

Bifur pointed him toward Nori and gave him a shove to get him going. Nori was already coming toward them. Dwalin put on more confidence than he felt, starting forward. Nori sized him up, but then looked intently past him.

When Dwalin glanced back, Bifur grinned and stopped signing. He had no way to know what she'd told Nori, and he shook his head before he turned back to Nori.

Nori looked different than he'd seen before—Fox's simple braid, Norine's makeup, Fox's leather jacket over Norine's cute skirt and blouse. Nori's chest was flat beneath the now-loose blouse, brassiere apparently discarded. Nori's mascara was smudged a bit, like tears carefully dabbed away. It was a very vulnerable look, and it sparked that protective feeling in Dwalin's chest stronger than ever.

"Hey," he said, smoothing his hair back and then awkwardly stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Is it, uh, Norine or Fox right now?"

"I..." Nori hesitated, shrugged. "I'm not sure. I'm not always one or the other. I'm just Nori."

"Ok, Nori." Dwalin nodded. He pulled a hand out of his pocket, holding it out to Nori. "We got off on the wrong foot. Can we start over?"

Nori looked past him again, and this time Dwalin didn't look back at Bifur. Let her say what she had to say, at this point he didn't think it was going to hurt his case.

"All right," Nori finally said, and clasped his hand in a firm shake. "I did promise we'd talk at the quarry, didn't I?" Nori pulled him closer, the better to gaze at him under dark-painted lashes. "Dance with me, big guy?"

Dwalin couldn't help his relieved laugh, the huge smile on his face. "I'd love to, but first—" He looked up, raising his voice enough to be heard over idling cars and blasting music. "Anybody have some lipstick I can borrow? The redder the better!"

Things might have ended badly for Dwalin with Fox and Norine, but this new beginning with Nori might turn out to be exactly what he needed.