"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe
Thanks: ALL HAIL to DC Priestess who helped write this.
Juan Reyes Morales Salvador was a highly educated young man. He spoke 3 languages and another 6 Native American dialects, including Navaho and Hopi. He had come to the Parks and Registry Service fresh out of college. Hed been trained to deal with drug smugglers, exotic animals, exotic plants, snake bite, women in labor with twins, and heat prostration.
No one warned him about small boys with big black eyes who had not stolen one of the extremely rare and protected fringed toe lizards. Instead, apparently, the lizard had adopted the boy. The damn thing was sitting on the boys shoulder, also staring at him unblinkingly, without any sign of being held against its considerable will.
He felt a little annoyed too. Hed worked the valley and lived there all his life and had never actually seen one of the elusive creatures, although he had seen their tracks running across the sand dunes. Now some cute kid had picked one up doing the tourist round of the area.
Nor had anyone explained how to handle 'Papa Buck', who came in a size x-large, with a moustache that bristled when the gentleman was upset, and a gun. A very big gun. Nor had they included instructions on men dressed all in black or a slightly older little boy with long hair that scowled from behind the man in black. All during the interview with JD, and the discussion about endangered animals, the rest of the family had stood there and scowled at him. So had the lizard.
Juan took off his hat and wiped the sweat off his forehead. Maybe that was the factor here. The lizard obviously had a mind of its own and so did the small, innocent, orphan named JD. Perhaps the Lizard was magically drawn to small cute boys.
It was even impossible to tell where JD had found the damn lizard, since they had visited many of the hiking trails in the Coachella Valley, although they had not visited the preserve set aside specifically to protect fringed toed lizards
Juan sighed. His mother would kill him if she knew he was separating a small boy from an animal.
Juan Reyes Morales Salvador was no fool. He knew that there were two worlds, the world of the white man and the spirit world. He had to remind himself that this dark-eyed child and the dark-eyed lizard were not shaman or spirits. But a small voice in his heart argued otherwise
So did the considerable bulk of Buck Wilmington, who outweighed him by 60 pounds of muscle. Not to mention 'Papa Chris', The only reason Juan had even been involved was a sharp eyed employee at the local zoo had noticed the lizard riding on the boy's Denver Bronco's hat during a tour. She had never seen any of the tourists with living lizard hitch hikers before.
The lizard seemed to be enjoying the ride when Juan had confronted the group eating at the meerkat café. The fact that fries with catsup are not on a fringed toed lizards diet didnt bother the lizard at all. Extremely interested in not starting a scene or even a riot at the local zoo, he returned with them to their hotel room, following in his van.
It didn't help when JD offered the lizard the opportunity to meet Juan and it hid in the boys luxuriant mop of black hair for an hour. Juan explained patiently, again, that his new friend was very rare and couldnt be a pet.
"He's my friend," JD said in a soft little defeated voice.
The lizard's head emerged from the dark hair, and its tongue flickered in and out.
Why hadn't he opted for an accounting job in one of the casinos - they paid good money and had benefits. No - he had to go to save the land and all its creatures. One of whom appeared to be glaring at him sullenly from a boy's too thin shoulder.
Juan was doomed
Juan licked his lips and tried to smile
Have you given him a name? he asked.
The boy frowned
And the other boy, who had remained silent before this, said rather sternly, "He ain't told us his name yet"
The hairs on the back of Juan's neck rose
J.D. nodded, "He ain't a pet, he's a person," said the little boy
Juan threw caution to the winds
Does he want to stay with you? He asked, eyeing the two Papa characters from the corner of his eye. This was a difficult trick, since they were on opposite sides of the room; a positioning that did nothing for his sense of preservation.
JD frowned and looked at the lizard, who actually turned its head and stared back at the boy, as though they were both having a silent conversation.
Juan reached into his shirt and fingered his crucifix his mother had given him, just to be on the safe side.
He wants to visit with me for awhile and then have me take him home, said JD finally, in an emphatic voice.
And he says we can call him Rey, the boy added helpfully.
(Authors Note - Rey is Spanish for king.)
The job at the casino was looking better and better. JD frowned again and looked up at Juan as if noticing him for the first time.
"Rey says its time for your spirit walk. What's that?" asked J.D.
Juan had faced a gang of motorcycle driving drug dealers before and hadn't been this shook. His uncle, a shaman, had been after him for years to pursue the old traditions - much to his mother's horror.
Vin came and stared up at the man. "Rey only wants to visit for a few days and then go home. You can come with us when we take him home."
Hypnotized, Juan nodded. Maybe he could go east, really Far East, where they had endangered birds. Better yet - endangered amoeba. Bet they never talked back.
How he was going to explain this to his very agnostic boss was going to be interesting. Because he really shouldn't leave an innocent endangered lizard in the boy's custody for 2 days, but he was going to. Of course, if he put the boy and the lizard in a room with his boss, he bet the agnostic would wear off fairly fast.
He toyed mentally with the vision, and decided it would be a good last way of dealing if the boss got difficult.
He made the ancient sign for farewell respected old one to the lizard.
Hey - that's injun sign language, said Vin excitedly.
Yeah, he muttered, tiredly, still trying to figure how he was going to explain this to his boss. "Im Native American."
This was a mistake.
It looked from the excitement level that he was going to be kidnapped right along with Rey the talking lizard.
He was literally attacked by two very enthusiastic little boys who informed him they wanted to be injuns when they grew up.
He looked at Papa Buck beseechingly, but the man had no mercy in him. Oh no you dont, you got yourself into this. You can get yourself out. Papa Chris appeared highly amused and muttered something about telling them about when J.D. found a kitty, causing Papa Buck to cringe. However, it was evident they werent going to let him off the hook.
Then he considered a way of getting even with the small boys and his uncle at the same time. "How would you like to meet my Uncle? He's a shaman, that's a medicine man."
JD would have whooped and screamed, but instead he grinned and lit up the room with his smile. Vin grinned as well, revealing he had lost at least one tooth recently. The lizard, damn its soul to hell, grinned too. A cute trick for something without teeth.
Juan had the distinct feeling that the animal had manipulated him.
The two "Papa's" looked nervous, but agreed to the visit. Served them right. In the car, Chris made scathing comments to Papa Buck about thinking the National Date Festival was a way of meeting women instead of a county fair.
Juan grinned, amused. Then he piled the whole group in the van and set off for his Uncles house, not bothering to call. Uncle was always home and it would serve him right, too.
However, Uncle acted like hed been expecting them.
He was waiting for him at his small rancho with ice-cold lemonade and six glasses and was not at all perturbed being attacked by two small white children and a lizard. When Uncle Roberto or Bob as he was known in the neighborhood, started chanting to the lizard, Juan knew someone had definitely manipulated him into this situation. Probably his damn ancestors.
When the lizard jumped into Uncle's hand and they stared at each other solemnly, then the lizard jumped back onto the boys shoulder, he gave up.
They all went for a walk on Uncle's rancho. Uncle showed them plants used for healing and Juan paid special attention, figuring he was going to be learning this stuff eventually whether he wanted to or not.
He could see the lizard smirking at him from JD's shoulder. He noted Uncle had lots of rare dyeweed on the rancho and soon the two boys were painting each other's faces enthusiastically. Papa Buck got painted too. Papa Chris moved faster.
Then Uncle told him flat out in Cahuilla that the lizard was his spirit animal and the little boy's as well and the lizard also favored the Vin child.
Nephew ..... his Uncle began, and Juan held up a hand.
Yes, I'll start studying with you, and Yes, I'll go on my vision quest, and Yes, you were right. Is it okay to keep my job?
His uncle, who could be an extremely irritating man, nodded solemnly. The damn lizard winked at them. Juan wondered if medicine men in training were allowed to get blitzed. Because he was definitely going to tie one on after Rey was safely expatriated to his home.
The next day, he drove the whole kit n caboodle around the valley and was taking them up to the covered wagon tours when JD yelled STOP in a pitch guaranteed to split rock and cause seismic tremors. Juan expected the ground to start shaking and heaving, especially as they were driving right on the San Andreas Fault Line. After recovering control of the vehicle, he pulled over.
"What?" he asked, calmly. He was proud of that. JD pointed down a road leading north into the hills, while Papa Buck attempted to get his hat off the floor without removing his seat belt.
"Rey wants to go that way"
Figures, muttered Chris.
Juan moaned - the preserve was that way.
Fatalistically, he followed he child's careful directions, and they ended up hiking about a quarter mile down the other side of the preserve. Juan watched with a sinking feeling as JD led them to a large sand dune. Rey and the boy looked at one another, then the lizard scrambled into the boys hand and was gently let onto the dune.
JD and Vin waved at the dune long after they had lost sight of both it and the preserve.
"Why that particular dune?" asked Juan, who wondered if the boys had learned that the lizard was native to sand dunes.
JD made a face. Vin spoke up again, "He wants to visit some girl lizard." Both boys looked at each other and said Ewwwwwwwwww.
Juan nearly drove off the road again.
Smart lizard, said Papa Buck admiringly.