Author's Note: Well, I really thought there'd be more plot in this chapter. I'd planned to get to Lightning Flat here. But as it turns out, Ennis and Jack had to have an Important Relationship Moment, so about two-thirds of the chapter is given over to that. It's yet another nothing-much-happens chapter, although judging by the response to the last chapter where nothing much happened, you won't mind.

Also, in this chapter I make reference to the fake-robber seduction scene from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." I am positive that I've read another BBM fic that makes reference to this scene but I cannot for the life of me remember which one it was. I don't think it was mentioned in the same context in which I place it. No bogarting of ideas is intended. If the author of the fic I'm referring to would notify me, I'll be happy to add a crediting bit to this note.

Ennis Del Mar would never have believed that he'd be relieved to be alone in a car with Alma, but considering the general strangeness of the situation he was hardly surprised. Spending the afternoon in Grace's apartment hadn't exactly been unpleasant, but he'd had a constant thrum of uneasiness running through him given the company. He wasn't quite sure what hat he was supposed to be wearing. He was there as Jack's partner, and therefore Grace's son-in-kinda-law, so there was that. Alma was there as Grace's friend, which was strange enough, but she was also his ex-wife, which carried its own set of baggage, and they were sitting there with the man who been a significant factor (one might even say the primary factor) in their divorce. Poor Grace had been visibly torn…every time she'd referred to Jack and Ennis's relationship there'd been a tiny cut of her eyes in Alma's direction. Alma, to her credit, had put on an air of disinterest in anything having to do with them and had acted like she, Ennis and Jack had no reason at all to be uncomfortable around each other.

Ennis, on the other hand, had found the entire situation excruciating. Even Jack, who Ennis would have thought could carry on a conversation with God and the Devil and make everyone comfortable, had seemed a bit ill-at-ease.

When Alma had suggested that she bring Ennis back to her house to talk to Francine, he'd been glad for it even when faced with the daunting prospect of trying to communicate with Francie. Now, in the car and away from Jack and Grace, they were just a divorced couple who shared two kids and many years of history.

"That yer first time meetin Grace?" Alma asked.


"She's a real nice lady."

"She sure is."

Alma sighed. "I hope things can work out fer her." She glanced at him. "You'll help, won'tcha? Help Jack convince his dad?"

"Don't know what I can do."

She shrugged. "Well, sometimes dads cain't listen ta what their sons say no matter what it is they're sayin. Like they cain't see 'em as nothin but screw-up kids. Get the feeling Jack's dad's like that."

"And how."

"Maybe…he listen ta you. You ain't his son."

Ennis shook his head, sighing. "Naw, I'm just his son's…he got words fer what I am. He ain't gonna listen ta me."

"I jus wanna see she's situated proper," Alma said. Ennis could see her getting that worry-line between her eyebrows.

"S'nice ya been so kind ta her," he said.

"Well, I ain't done it fer you or Jack, so don't ya go thinkin I did," Alma snapped.

"I ain't said nothin!" Ennis said, surprised by the outburst.

"Sorry," she said, sagging a little. "It's jus a little strange, ya know? Getting ta be friends with…the mother of…ya know."

"Yeah, I know. Still, it's been a real relief ta Jack ta know that she's got you as a friend here, and I'm grateful to ya fer that."

"Jack's tryin ta do right by her," she said, very quietly. "It's…decent a him." It sounded like this admission was being dragged out of her with a chainfall. "Decent a you ta come out n visit, too. He's been lookin pretty worn down, but…" She sighed, her jaw clenching a little. "He seems easier with ya here, so…" This last tumbled out quickly and trailed off just as fast.

Ennis let the matter drop. "So ya sure Francie'll be home?"

"Mos likely. Got outta school half an hour ago. Might have one a her meetins, but not till after dinner. Now's yer best chance."

He rubbed a hand over his face. "Goddamn, what'm I gonna say ta her?"

"I don't know. Nothin I've said's made the slightest difference."

"I ain't too good at this stuff."

"Jus tell her what ya think, how ya feel."

Ennis snorted. "I don't think it'd be too good fer me ta tell her that I think her friends are assholes and she's bein a brat, do you?" He shook his head. "Wish Jack could do this fer me. He always knows what ta say." He glanced at Alma, realizing that might have been a little inconsiderate. "Sorry, I…"

"S'all right. It's true, ain't it?" She pulled up to the house and parked. Ennis took a deep breath and got out of the car, following Alma into the house. He let Alma take the lead to a closed bedroom door on the second floor. "Francie?" she called.

"What, Ma?"

"Yer dad's here."

Pause. "No, he ain't."

"Come see fer yerself."

Another pause, and the door opened. Francine peeked out, and Ennis was shocked at how different she looked. Jack had told him that he had barely recognized her but Ennis hadn't really believed she could have changed that much. Now, he did. "Daddy?" she said, looking dubious.

"Hey, darlin. Was hopin I could come in? Talk ta you fer awhile?"

She looked back and forth between him and Alma. "What is this? Some kinda…you two gangin up on me?"

"No, I jus wanted ta see you."

"Francine, ya know Mrs. Twist is sick, Ennis came ta visit."

Francie's face slammed shut. "Oh. So ya came fer him and seein me's just kind of an afterthought, huh?"

"Now Francie, that ain't fair," Alma said.

"Fair? What's fair, Mamma? Him movin thousands a miles away ta live in sin, the worst kinda sin?"

"Now you hold on," Ennis said, feeling his temper rise and battling it down. "You talk ta me direct now, girl. You say ta me what you wanna say. I come here cause I love ya and I wanted ta see ya. You don't wanna see me, you don't hafta, but I wanna see you."

She thrust her chin forward and put on a determined look. "Ya heard what I said on the phone, Daddy. Long as ya live with that man, I ain't yer daughter, and you ain't my daddy."

"Francine!" Alma gasped.

"I don't make the rules, Mamma! Last time we talked he called me a liar and said he wouldn't talk ta me no more!"

"I never said I wouldn't talk ta you," Ennis said, shaking with suppressed anger. "I will always wanna be there fer you, Francie, but you ain't lettin me. And you was lyin ta me." Alma was giving him a puzzled look. "She tried ta tell me that Jack had said n done bad things ta her when she went n saw him."

Alma turned back to her daughter. "Did you say that?"

"Yes," Francie said, but she didn't, Ennis noted, deny that it had been a lie.

A horrible thought occurred to him for the first time. "Did you tell that ta anybody else?" Ennis asked, having visions of her whipping her holy-rolling friends into a frenzy with tales of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her father's queer lover. They'd be coming with the tar and feathers for sure.

"No," she said, having the sense to at least look ashamed. "Lyin's a sin, too."

"Ya lied ta me, sure enough!" Ennis said.

"I was tryin ta do the right thing and get you free a him!"

"Good God, Francie," Ennis said, rubbing a hand through his hair. "I don't even know what ta say ta you no more. I don't need ta be free. I done made my choice."

"Choosin him over me."

"Yer the one makin me choose! I ain't never chose him over you! If I'd had my way you woulda been living at our ranch like Junior and I'd see you all the time, and you'd tell me about yer day and I'd kiss ya goodnight…" He stopped, a lump rising in his throat. He blinked, but the tears kept filling his eyes. "I want ya in my life, baby girl," he said, his voice choked. "Yer cuttin me out. If ya don't like how I live there ain't nothin I can do about that. But please, don't say ya ain't my little girl no more," he said, meeting her eyes. "I don't much like how yer livin these days neither, or the things ya say ya believe in, but I ain't never gonna say it's that or me. I'd never give ya up, never. No matter what ya done or what ya think, I'm yer daddy and I love you." Francine's chin was trembling, and she dropped her eyes to the floor. Alma was standing some distance away, watching with big eyes.

There was a long pause. Without looking up, Francine spoke, her voice strained and tremulous. "If ya really loved me, you'd quit that man." She didn't look at him again, just slowly closed the bedroom door. Ennis could hear her crying inside and he felt like someone was ripping his guts out. Two tears slipped over his eyelids and ran down his cheeks.

He might have stood there all afternoon but for Alma, who gently took his arm and pulled him away. "C'mon, Ennis. Get ya some tea or somethin." He let her lead him to the living room, feeling numb, and sat down. He barely felt the mug of something steaming she handed him after a few moments in the kitchen. She sat down across the room. "Pretty rough," she said into her mug.

He shook his head. "Maybe she's right," he whispered.

Alma was quiet for a long time. "Ya think so?"

"I dunno. But…if it makes her this crazy, how can I keep on with it?"

She leaned forward. "Ennis, are you actually sayin ya might leave Jack and…"

"No. No, I cain't do that. But…" He put down his mug, leaned back against the couch and put his hands over his face. "Maybe it's really gonna cost me Francie and there ain't nothin I can do about it."

Alma put her mug down. "Ya know…when we decided ta move here, she was real upset. Didn't want ta leave her new friends in her church. Sayin we was tryin ta stop her findin the true path, or what have you. Keep thinkin bout what she said. Sounded an awful lot like what she said ta you. Said if we made her move here it meant we didn't care. Said she'd never speak ta us again. Pulled out all the stops."

"Yeah? What happened?"

"Well, she ain't really talkin much ta us, but that ain't no different than it was in Riverton. I cain't see much's changed, honestly. And ya know, I cain't help but remember…she never used ta have such a problem. Used ta look forward ta visitin you at the ranch. Loved the horses and the trees. Come back and tell us how Jack was funny and Marianne made good cake. Got so we was sick a hearin about it."

Ennis sat up, smiling weakly. "Marianne does make good cake."

"I'm sayin it ain't her talkin. And ya know it ain't her."

"Don't matter who's talkin. If she's changed then maybe everythin's changed."

"She might change back. Grace thinks it's some kinda findin-herself phase, and she'll grow out of it."

"Ya talk ta Grace about this stuff?"

"She's got good sense. She raised a boy. That boy might not be my favorite person but far as I can see he's got his head together okay."

Ennis sniffed. "Boy, he's got you fooled good."

Alma ignored him. "I been livin with her opinions fer almost a year, Ennis. She's told me I was goin ta hell more times'n I can count, swore she was movin out, swore that she weren't gonna be my daughter no more if I didn't reform my ways."

"Jesus, reform what ways? What the hell you done?"

"I divorced my husband and offended God. I took the Lord's name and offended God. I wore a skirt with bare legs and offended God. Her God sure is touchy." She sighed again. "I know you ain't used to it. It's hard ta hear. I cried more times'n I can say. But Ennis…I think it might pass."

"Ya think so?" Ennis said, hopefully.

"I sure hope so. Cause if it don't, well…she's my daughter, but I don't know how long I can take it. I ain't gonna tolerate how she is ta me in my own home forever."

"Yer sayin I oughta do nothin."

"Ya cain't talk her out of it, Ennis. What else ya gonna do?"

He sighed. "Don't like ta think a givin up."

"Ain't givin up. More like lettin be. Just fer now."

Jack returned to the hotel just after five and found Ennis there, lying on his back on the bed, arms folded behind his head and staring at the ceiling. He took off his coat and jacket and sat down on the edge of the mattress, looking down at him. "How you doin, cowboy?"

"Been better."

Jack leaned over and kissed him hello. "Ya talk ta Francie?"

Ennis snorted. "If ya can call it that."

"Didn't go so well, huh?" Jack wasn't exactly surprised, but he'd had hopes that maybe seeing Ennis in the flesh would make a difference.

"Same old crap. If I loved her I'd leave ya, I'm livin in sin, she ain't my daughter no more, perversion n abomination, all that shit."

Jack shook his head. "I'm sure as hell sorry, Ennis."

"Alma thinks it'll pass. Says I oughta wait it out."

"Well, she might be onta somethin there."

"Maybe. I jus wish…" Ennis rubbed at his eyes with one hand. "Jus wish it didn't hafta be like this." He reached for Jack's hand and laced their fingers together. "How's yer ma?" he asked. Jack could tell by his tone that he didn't want to talk about Francine anymore.

"Oh, she's tickled pink. Couldn't stop talkin about ya. If I didn't know better I'd think she was sweet on you."

Ennis flushed and looked away. "Shut the fuck up."

"All I heard after you two left was Ennis this and Ennis that. Ennis is so polite, Ennis is so charmin, Ennis is so considerate, Ennis is so handsome." He was exaggerating a little, but not very much. Having met Ennis, his mother had discovered a seemingly endless wellspring of questions to ask about him. "Spent my whole afternoon talkin about you. Lucky fer me that's one a my favorite subjects, so I didn't mind so much."

"Cain't spend no afternoon talkin about me. Ain't that much ta say."

"Well, she found a way. Even managed ta ask me something I don't know."

Ennis met his eyes. "What's that?"

"Asked me what you woulda done if you'd a kept going ta school. That one stumped me. You told me once that when you was a little boy you wanted ta be a firefighter, but I didn't think that was it. Only other thing ya ever told me ya wanted was ta have yer own spread."

Ennis grew quiet, his eyes watching their intertwined fingers, his thumb gently stroking against Jack's. "Never got far enough ta have nothin in mind."

"You musta had some ideas since, though. You ain't dumb, Ennis. You coulda finished high school, even gone ta college."

He grunted. "Ain't no college boy." He seemed to be thinking it over. "Ya know…I have had thoughts that I mighta made a pretty fair vet. Like Paul. I'm pretty good with animals."

"That's puttin it mild."

Ennis nodded. "Yeah. I'd a liked that. I cain't imagine I'd a made it through all that science and math they gotta learn, though. But even if I'd a gone on in school, I'd a still wanted my own spread and run my own ranch. So turns out I didn't hafta go ta school ta get what I wanted. Just hadta meet you."

Jack smiled down at him. "You hungry?"

"Yeah, guess so."

"How's about we go out fer some dinner? Get a steak?"

"Okay. You wanna go back ta visit with yer ma after?"

"Hmmm, did you fly all this way ta see her or ta see me?" Ennis rolled his eyes. "Nah. We got a big day tomorrow, going up ta Lightning Flat. I am gonna have me some time with you tonight, ya hear?"

Ennis smiled back, slowly. "I'm likin that plan, darlin."

Jack guessed that Ennis had been pondering that plan all through dinner, because no sooner were they through the hotel room door than he was pulling him close, sliding his hands around Jack's waist, kissing him with lips that still bore traces of the beer he'd had with his T-bone.

"You in a hurry?" Jack teased, kissing back and starting in on Ennis's buttons.

"Ya get me het up, boy," Ennis growled, going in for another deep kiss.

"Not that…I ain't…on board…" Jack said, sneaking the words in when Ennis let go of his lips for brief moments, "but lemme grab a shower," he said, pushing Ennis back a little. "Feel kinda grimy."

Ennis nodded. "Well, ya know how I like ya fresh as a daisy," he said, the sarcasm given away by that little arch of his eyebrow. He slapped Jack's ass as he headed for the bathroom. "Go on then, don't keep me waitin."

Jack showered quickly, paying extra attention to the parts that were likely to see active service in the near future. He was just toweling off when Ennis came in, naked as well. "What, you wanna do it in here?" Jack said.

"Shower sounds good ta me too," he said. As Jack passed by him Ennis grasped his arms and spoke low into his ear. "You get on the bed. No touchin yerself, ya hear?"

Jack nodded. "Yes, sir." He left the bathroom, smiling to himself. So, it was going to be that kind of a night. He felt a little thrill of anticipation run through him. When Ennis was feeling sexy, and actually talked about it, it always meant that Jack was about to get it but good.

He peeled the sheets back from the bed, exposing that nice inviting blank expanse of mattress, then stretched out on it, right in the middle. Huh. Guess I'm the mint on the pillow tonight. He composed himself primly, feet together, shoulders propped up by his elbows so he could watch the bathroom door.

Ennis didn't waste any time. He emerged in a few minutes in all his naked glory, half-hard already. Jack grinned at him. Ennis walked to the side of the bed, rubbing at his hair with a towel, which he carelessly tossed aside in a gesture that was inexplicably arousing, like he was in too much of a hurry to get to Jack to bother with the towel anymore and it had to be put from him immediately. "Well, now," he said, looking down at him. "Don't you look all perky."

"I'm getting there fast," Jack said, cutting his eyes to his own cock, hardening under Ennis's scrutiny.

He sat on the bed and stretched out at Jack's side, sliding close and pushing Jack down onto his back. He looked up into Ennis's face as he leaned over him. Ennis laid one hand gently on Jack's chest. "You jus be still," he murmured. "Wanna show ya somethin."

"Yeah? Whatcha gonna show me?"

"You'll see." He bent and kissed him, drawing him up and out, working his lips over Jack's but keeping it light. He drew back and fixed his eyes on Jack's, then slid his hand down Jack's stomach and between his legs. Jack sucked in a quick breath as Ennis's warm hand surrounded him, burrowing beneath to fondle his balls. He let his legs spread a little and arched his neck, straining for Ennis's lips, but Ennis wasn't cooperating. He was holding Jack's gaze hard, piercing, not watching what he was doing but watching Jack's face, countering Jack's attempts to get their mouths together until Jack finally gave up, letting his head fall back to the pillow. Ennis raised his hand to his own mouth and slowly licked the palm, then reached down and grasped Jack's cock, his eyes never leaving Jack's. The eye contact was starting to feel intense. Ennis's eyes seemed to enlarge and swim before him until they were all he could see, while Ennis's touch was all he could feel. Jack's eyes fell partly shut, his breath speeding up as Ennis stroked him languidly, the fingers of his other hand gently brushing along Jack's upper arm. Jack wanted to touch Ennis, but he couldn't really reach much of him from this position, and it was clear that Ennis didn't want him being too active just now. He let his left hand wander down to grasp Ennis's wrist as he was stroked off, the finish coming fast, coming soon, spurred quick by the unwavering gaze of his man's eyes and the erotic silence they'd both fallen into without discussing it. Ennis could feel him tensing, no doubt. His cock was hard as a rock under Ennis's expert handling. Jack let out a quiet moan, and Ennis lowered his head, pressing his cheek against Jack's. "Come fer me, Jack," he murmured.

That did it. Jack cried out and spilled over Ennis's hand, leg muscles locking, abdomen clenching, and before he'd even gotten his breath again Ennis claimed his mouth hard, kissing the end of his release from out of his throat. Jack's mouth opened under his, Jack's free hand coming up to grasp Ennis's neck, and felt himself conquered in peace, plundered with his consent.

Ennis slid over on top of him, gathering him into his arms and easing his hips between Jack's legs, all his movements slow and deliberate, clearly wanting Jack to know that this was on purpose, this was what in his mind, this was how he'd pictured it. Not some abstract, rough-and-tumble coupling that could be written off as the heat of the moment, an accident, a bottle of whiskey, but something intended. It was meant.

He knelt up between Jack's spread legs and reached for the tube on the bedside table just as Jack held it out to him, smiling a little at the sychronization of their thoughts. He held Jack's eyes again, his hands moving over himself just outside Jack's field of vision, then he was lowering himself into Jack's outstretched arms again, one hand between them, then Jack's mouth fell open in a silent gasp as he was filled, taken by Ennis so strong, so fine.

Ennis wasn't letting him look away. He couldn't close his eyes as long as Ennis didn't, and he wasn't. That gaze, goddamn…it filled the world, it was straight through him like the heat of the sun, all the way through his body, he was pinned there with Ennis's eyes on him and his cock inside him. Hooking his legs around Ennis's hips now, those hips rocking tight, slow and easy, no space between their skins.

Aw God, Ennis, ya got no idea what ya do ta me. Even that first time, hurt like hell fer sure but I could feel ya, hands on me like they'd been waitin fer me ta be there ta grab, the need a you and how it scared you, but still ya came back and showed it to me, let me see that it was me ya needed.

Jack exhaled, Ennis square above him, resting his hands flat on Ennis's chest, running them up and around his shoulders now and again. "Jack," Ennis breathed, his eyes finally falling closed, sagging into Jack's arms, hitching one knee up as he thrust smoothly into him. Jack cupped the back of Ennis's head, tucked into the crook of Jack's shoulder now. He sighed and let himself float upwards on the tides of Ennis's motion against him, waves of bone and muscle washing upon his shore, cradling him in his body. The sight of it down the sand dune of Ennis's back, intertwined limbs all moving in concert, tree branches in a warm breeze, hard to tell who was who when all he could feel was Ennis inside him and all around him.

Ennis pushed up again, looking into Jack's eyes once more, a question there. "Show me," Jack whispered. "Go ahead n show me." Through all their years Ennis had said little but shown much, which Jack had not always appreciated. Always wanting the words. Wanting a speech, a declaration. He'd gotten it from time to time, but how could he protest a man who was slow to confess his feelings but would fly across the country for him on a minute's notice?

Ennis nodded, bent and kissed him, sweet open mouth and tongue so familiar, cock so hard and taking more of him now, flying swift to meet him. Jack's neck arched, body stuttering up; he wasn't sure he'd get there again so soon, but he was straining for it, cock rubbing between their bellies and Ennis's eyes sending volts through him, then it hit the edge and he was there, they were both there, Ennis holding tight, eyes blazing into Jack's, and he saw what Ennis wanted to show him, saw it clear in the light that danced inside his head as they came together. I love you, more'n jus them three words can say, and I cain't think a no better words ta tell ya, so I gotta show ya, show ya yer the only one, never was no one else, never gonna be no one but you, love ya forever n if there's longer'n forever then love ya fer all a that too n long after we're dead n buried it'll still be there.

Ennis's eyes were misting over as they came down from it. Jack held his face in his hands, smiling. Ennis smiled back, eyebrows lifting, question in his face. Ya get all that, bud? Jack just nodded, and the worried lines smoothed from Ennis's face; Jack drew him down again, held him close, rained kisses on his cheeks, his forehead, his chin and nose before finding his lips once more.

They lay there catching their breath, and Ennis slid off to one side. Jack turned onto his hip to face him, one hand on Ennis's neck. "Thanks," he said. Ennis grasped his hand and kissed the knuckles. "Show me again?" Jack said, smile widening.

Ennis chuckled. "Maybe later you can show me a thing or two."

They cleaned themselves up, put on sweats and got into bed with the TV, sitting up close together, Jack's arm around Ennis's chest as he laid half against him. "Fuckin Wyoming TV stations," Jack groused. "Looks like it's news n sitcom reruns fer us." He sighed. "Maybe we oughta get cable at home."

"Cable? What for?"

"They got all-sports channels and movie channels and such. Be more ta choose from than just the crap the networks pour out."

"We don't watch that much TV, Jack."

"But when we do, we might actually get ta watch something decent."

Ennis grunted. "Whatever."

Jack turned his head and pressed his lips into Ennis's hair. "Still thinkin about Francie?"

He felt rather than heard Ennis's sigh. "Cain't see no way ta fix it."

"Some things cain't be fixed right off. Cain't be fixed, gotta be borne." Jack pulled him a little closer. "Ya know…it's all right if ya had a little thought a maybe doin what she wanted ya ta do. Only natural. You could tell me."

"I'd never leave ya, Jack."

"I know that. But she's yer daughter, yer own baby." He hesitated. "I've had my moments when I wished I'd never ranched up with ya, so I coulda been there ta help Bobby, n maybe he'd be alive. So I'd understand, see? Maybe you considered it jus fer a second."

Ennis said nothing for a long time. "Maybe. Jus fer a second. Thing is…even if I did leave ya, which I ain't gonna do, wouldn't make no difference."

"What ya mean?"

"If I left you n moved here, I'd still love ya, whether I lived there or here. And ain't that the thing she's objectin to? Far as I know it ain't against God ta live in Vermont. It's the you-n-me part that's against God. If I moved far away from you, ain't like I could stop wanting ta be with you, or stop bein queer."

Jack froze, and felt Ennis do the same. He took a breath. "Uh…what'd you jus say?"

Ennis slowly drew away and sat up, then turned to face him. "I dunno. Jus…came out."

Like you jus did? Jack thought, but did not say. "You sayin…what the heck're you sayin?" He didn't want to put words in Ennis's mouth, but give him the chance still to back away from it, much as Jack wanted to hear him admit it.

Ennis stared at the sheets for a few beats, then looked up at Jack. "I'm sayin it, Jack." He took a breath, then gave a quick nod, as if to seal the deal. "Yeah."

"Sayin what, exactly?"

"That I'm…ya know."

"Well, yer sayin somethin, but ya cain't seem ta actually get the word out."

"Queer," Ennis said in a rush. He exhaled. "I am. I mean."

Jack had to chuckle at his discombobulation. "That a fact?"

Ennis met his eyes and Jack could see his uncertainty, but also his resolve. "Francie weren't the only thing I thought on while I was driving across Montana the other day. Had some folks point some stuff out ta me a late. Been wonderin why I think I'm so goddamned special. Sayin I ain't queer n all, I mean. Fuck, Jack…I live with a man, sleep in his bed, he's supportin my daughter, and I've fuckin held his hand in church and kissed him in front a fifty people. I'm sure's hell livin like I'm queer, and I sure as hell am takin the hard knocks that go with it."

"But…y'always said ya never looked at no other man, still liked the look a women."

"Women're all right. Nice pair a tits don't go amiss. But…ain't true I never looked at no other man," he said, dropping his eyes and mumbling through this last.

"Aw, darlin. You think I don't know you've looked from time ta time? It's okay. I've looked at plenty."

Ennis's head came up, a frown appearing on his brow. "Ya have?"

"Sure. Like window shoppin. Don't want none of em, cause I got the man I want. But damn, they're some fellas in town with some fine-lookin asses, ain't there?"

Ennis flushed purple and stared at their joined hands again. "Reckon so."

"Axel sure looks fine settin a horse, don't he?"

A smile twitched at Ennis's lips and he risked a glance at Jack's eyes. "Sure does," he muttered.

"And Grant's friend Hobart, damn. He is some kinda handsome. Got real nice forearms."

Ennis nodded, looking away again. "Hadta stop myself starin at em whole time we was playin poker," he mumbled, forcing Jack to lean closer to hear him.

Jack laughed out loud, this admission on top of the intensely intimate sex they'd just had sending his brain carousing into euphoria. He pulled Ennis into a hug and kissed the side of his head. "Oh, darlin. I'm…proud of ya, weird as that sounds ta say."

Ennis drew back, shaking his head. "Ain't easy," he said. "Ain't been easy admittin it, ta myself, let alone ta no one else. That I like…fellas. Apart from jus you."

"Well, the nice part is ya don't gotta do that whole comin-out thing ya hear queer folks talk about. Everbody we know pretty much assumed you was queer, which ya cain't hardly blame em fer that considering our situation."

"Gotta say, I feel kinda relieved. Be nice ta be able ta talk about this with ya." Ennis said. He favored Jack with one of his rare, wide smiles, the kind that beamed like rays of sunshine through the stormclouds.

"Sure will. And if I see a guy walk by with a fine ass, maybe we can both appreciate it," Jack said, winking at him.

Ennis blushed again, then turned and lay back down against Jack's chest, drawing Jack's arm around his own chest. "Ya know, you got awful nice forearms, too," he said, running one hand across the body part in question. "Real…muscly."

Jack grinned. "We aim ta please."

"But listen here, I ain't marchin in no parades or wearin no pink, ya hear?"

"Okay, it's a deal."

"Queer," Ennis said again, quietly, like he was getting his mouth used to the feeling of the word. "That damned word's been hauntin me fer years, wonderin if lovin you made it mine, tellin myself it didn't have to. Always afraid of it. Still am, jus sick a hidin from it."

"Hey," Jack said, remembering something Ennis had said earlier. "You said someone pointed some stuff out ta you. Who you been talkin to about this?"

"Fuckin Lars."

"Lars? Rod's dad? What's he got ta do with you bein queer?"

"Kinda slapped me upside the head about it. Told me this story about his war buddy that was queer, and how Lars hadta tell this buddy's man that the buddy was dead, cause since they was queer in secret nobody thought ta notify him. Got all up in my face cause I told him I didn't like that word. He said…and this is the part what stuck ta me…said by denyin that word I was hurtin all the men come before, suffered without no one knowin, like we was after Brokeback. Said I hadta own it. Got me thinkin. Thought about you, and how you weren't scared of it, and you owned it. Was part a who you are, and I cain't be scared a nothin that's a part a you. So…I'm tryin ta own it."

"Oh, Ennis. Every time I think ya come as far as you gonna, you go n surprise me."

They laid there in contented silence for a few minutes, the local news buzzing in the background. "Had me a dream a few weeks back," Ennis suddenly said. "Gave me a turn."

"Yeah? Dream about what?"

"About…Paul Newman."

Jack was so startled, he couldn't help but laugh. "I'm sorry," he spluttered, as Ennis leaned back to shoot him dirty looks.

"You ain't helpin, and don't think I don't know bout you swoonin after Steve McQueen."

"I'm sorry, babe. Go on, tell me about yer dream."

"You know how I like that Butch Cassidy movie."

"Sure. Didn't know ya liked it cause yer sweet on Paul Newman, though."

"You want me ta tell you or not?"

"A course, go on."

"Well…in my dream it was like that part where he comes ta the lady's room pretendin ta be a thief…"

"Was Robert Redford did that, Ennis. Paul Newman took her on the bike ride."

"Fuck off, it was Paul Newman pretendin ta be a robber in my dream, okay? Only wasn't her room, it was my room. Came in n there he was on the bed, tellin me ta…ta take my clothes off."

"And did ya?"

"Yeah. It's kinda fuzzy, but…" Ennis sighed. "We did it."

"Hot damn. I never seem ta get that far with Steve in my dreams."

"Woke up with wet sheets. So fuckin embarrassed. And now ya know why I wouldn't never watch 'The Sting' when ya wanted me to."

"C'mon, Ennis. Cain't a been yer first wet dream."


"Or yer first wet dream about a guy."

He could actually feel the blush, the heat pouring into Ennis's neck and face. "No."

"Ya know," Jack said, slowly and feeling his way. "If that whole fake-robber thing does it fer ya…we could do that."

Ennis snorted. "More playin?"

"Don't gimme that, ya know ya like it. Fuck, I think I'm still walkin funny from that last time the Strict Stock Boss caught me loafin on the job."

"You best watch yer mouth, he's gonna come round again n teach you a lesson."

"Lucky me." He squeezed Ennis one-armed, laying his cheek against his hair. "Ya make me so damned happy, Ennis," he murmured. "You got no idea what ya gave me tonight."

"Nothin ya didn't already know, or so you say."

"Ain't the point. It's like it was the last little brick in that wall ya done built ta keep us apart. Long as ya said ya weren't queer, it was like…you were with me, but you were still hedgin yer bets. Holdin back, jus a little."

Ennis nodded. "Yeah. Think maybe I was. Didn't wanna be, but was like I hadta."

"It's okay, ya don't gotta explain. I get it. I'm jus…glad it's gone now." He shifted and turned so he could look Ennis in the face. "And ya know why I like Steve McQueen, don'tcha?"


"Cause he reminds me a you."

Ennis smiled and snuggled a little closer. "Well, Paul Newman's got some big, pretty blue eyes, but they ain't nothin ta yers."

Jack grinned slyly and pushed on Ennis's shoulders, rolling him to his back and following along to trap him there. "I think I better make sure it's me yer gonna dream about tonight, cowboy."