Ennis had managed to rise and dress without waking Jack, and then make it downstairs and out to the stables without running into John, so it was with relief that he picked up a curry brush and went to work on one of John's horses with his solitude unspoiled and the flow of his thoughts uninterrupted. This morning, that flow was a raging torrent for sure.

He felt different this morning. How, he was having trouble wrapping his head around, even inside himself. He and Jack hadn't talked about it the night before. They'd stood there in his old room for Ennis didn't know how long, finally shuffling back to the bed they were sharing, their progress made awkward by their inability to let go of each other. They'd clambered back into bed and just laid there. They hadn't talked or had sex or even kissed, really. They'd just held each other, wearing those shirts (the shirts, oh Jesus god, the shirts…), until they'd dropped off to sleep.

He stood there and damned near brushed the hide right off the poor horse and thought about it, and it still didn't come clear to him until Jack walked into the stable. Ennis smiled to himself. Jack was the only person who was actually welcomed into the stubborn del Mar solitude, and seeing him standing there in the doorway, looking around (probably looking for Ennis himself), Ennis was able to see the clear features of the new face he sensed on himself. It looked like permanence. Even after seven years together, years of building a home and a business, waking and sleeping next to each other, rings given and accepted…until this trip Ennis had still been thinking of his relationship with Jack as something transitory and fragile. Something that might end at any time, something that could be taken from him with a tire iron or harsh enough words, even something that he could flee if he had to, if it became too difficult.

Now, the sight of Jack was like looking on an oak tree, rising immovable from the earth, his earth, and Jack was the thing that had grown there the longest, whose roots were buried in him the deepest, the tendrils extending all the way into his toes and fingers and wrapped around his heart. Even if something came along and chopped that tree down, those roots would remain in him. Jack wasn't transitory. He was the only thing that wasn't. The ranch might be burned to the ground by bigots, Junior might marry and move away, Francine might never speak to him again, they might lose all their friends and their livelihood and be driven out to another place where they'd be strangers again, but there would be Jack, there had always been Jack even if Ennis hadn't had the sense of it, there had been shirts hanging in a closet and he had been loved before he'd known it, and through the years when he'd fought it. Tire irons, or a thousand other things that he couldn't bear to imagine, might take him away, but they could never take this away, nothing ever could. That tree had grown even when denied water and sun, and it was strong. It was permanent.

Jack was starting to leave; he probably couldn't see Ennis in the shadows behind this horse. "Jack," he said. "I'm back here."

"Oh! Was lookin fer you," Jack said, smiling and joining him in the horse's stall. "Whatcha doin out here?"

"Jus thinkin. C'mere," he said, reaching out and pulling Jack close. "Missed my mornin kiss."

Jack grinned, leaned in and kissed him, slow and teasing. "Will that do ya, cowboy?"

"Fer now, sure." He let him go and went back to the horse. Jack leaned against the stable wall and watched him.

"Yer feelin it too, ain'tcha?" Jack asked. "Somethin's changed."

Ennis thought about playing dumb, but that seemed pointless all of a sudden. He nodded. "Yeah."

"I jus know that I'd been scared stiff a you goin back ta Vermont without me, and now I ain't so much. It's like…even if yer there and I'm here…it's okay."

Ennis put down the curry comb and they walked out to the aisle, taking a seat on one of the benches. "You'd think after seven years we'd be done figurin stuff out," he said.

Jack chuckled. "I don't think anyone's ever done figurin stuff out, bud." He met Ennis's eyes. "What did ya figure out?"

"Well…" Goddammit, Jack, yer gonna make me try n say stuff right? "It's like…yer a tree, or somethin."

Jack frowned. "A…tree?"

"Right. There's these roots, see…and…well, stumps are real hard ta yank, ya know ya gotta get a chainfall and hook 'em up to a truck, like that time we was over at Rory's, and remember how he got the truck stuck in the mud up ta the axels?" Jack's expression of puzzlement was deepening. "But anyways…ya know trees…well, it's like…there weren't no water or nothin…and, uh…"

Now Jack was laughing, and holding his hand. "Aw, Ennis. Bless yer heart. It ain't jus an excuse fer not talking, is it? You really are bad at this."

Ennis stared at the ground, shrinking a little. "Real bad."

"How is it you can talk ta my father right so's he sees some sense, but ya get all tongue-tied when it's jus me, who ya know ain't gonna judge ya none?"

"Get nervous about sayin stuff right."

"Ain't no right or wrong. Ya don't gotta get all poetic with trees n roots and I don't know how Rory got inta this. Jus…say what ya feel. You done that in the past, on occasion, and said stuff ta me real nice."

Ennis nodded, took a deep breath, and started again…and this time, the words came. "It's jus that lookin at them shirts was kinda like lookin back in time, ya know? From when ya put em there, when I didn't even know…damn, didn't know nothin at all. Didn't ever think it was gonna be you n me in the end, thought I'd lost ya forever, thought it'd jus be a summer a memories I'd hafta haul out when I hadta get it up fer that life I thought I hadta live instead. Always thinkin, even real recent, that this thing we got could go away, or get taken, or fall apart, or who knows what else. Truth is…" He made himself look Jack in the eye. "Truth is that you the only thing ever stuck. Everything else could go ta hell and did, folks go away, things get fucked up, but always was you, and always was what I kept secret inside jus like you kept them shirts. Had my own shirts, ya know. Just they was in here, instead a in some closet," he said, pointing at his own chest.

"I know ya did," Jack said. "And I know what yer sayin. Ennis, ya spent the last few days surprisin me…showin up here, sayin yer queer, meetin my ma, talkin ta my dad. I spent the last seven years waiting in the back a my head fer you ta say ya had enough, that ya couldn't take it no more, or maybe you were jus sick a me, that you never were queer and were sick a pretendin ta like it. Even after ya put that ring on I still kinda was waitin fer it."

"You sayin you ain't waitin no more?"

Jack shook his head, his eyes on Ennis's face. "Only thing I'm waiting fer now is ta spend the rest a my life with you."

Ennis smiled. "Don't believe you gotta wait fer that. Yer doin it right now."

They sat there in silence for a few moments, holding hands. It was cold outside, but the stable was comfortable with the heat of the animals and the wind kept out by the stout board walls. Ennis could sense Jack working up to something, so he just waited.

"When I went down fer Bobby's funeral," Jack finally said, "and I was with Lureen?"


"Was a moment…when I thought it'd be easier if I jus stayed with her. Like maybe that'd make it up ta Bobby, if I went back ta her."

Ennis nodded. "Had that same thought about Alma every so often since we moved." He took a deep breath, wondering if he was really about to let this past the boundaries of himself. "I left you once, you know."

Jack looked at him. "When?"

"May a 1979."

This seemed to knock Jack back a bit. "That long after we moved? Really?"

Ennis nodded. "Was when Junior was goin through that hard time, n Alma was at the height a her hatin me, n we had that trouble with Sharkey…felt like everthin I ever decided ta do was wrong, beginnin and endin with you. And though I was happy with ya, the rest of it was makin me so crazy, thought if I jus left it behind it could all go back the way it used ta be. Packed a bag, got in my truck n started drivin. Think now I musta known I couldn't actually do it, I mean hell, I didn't even leave ya no note or nothin. Got about two hours west before I hadta pull over n puke my guts out, jus like in 63, only worse, cause I really knew what I was leavin."

"What made you come back?" Jack asked, his eyes wide and disbelieving.

"I saw what was ahead, clear as if I was watchin a movie. Saw the life I was choosin, holed up in some godforsaken line shack, always broke, Alma hatin me, daughters pityin me and growin up ta get their own families n fergettin me…most of all, bein alone, knowin I'd left you behind like that without no word, maybe yer heart broke like mine was, getting up every day by myself without you. Turned the truck around and came home. Got back before you'd barely knew I'd been gone; you asked what I'd done all day and I said I'd gone ta look at somebody's secondhand equipment fer sale. You remember?"

Jack looked blank, then let out a brief laugh that was half a sob. "No. Fuck, I got no memory a that at all. How can that be that you was havin some kinda crisis bad enough ta leave me and I ain't know about it? I mean…I remember that time bein tough, but I ain't never knew that."

"Good. Didn't want ya ta know. Took pains ta be extra-special normal the few days after that."

Jack waited to make sure Ennis was done, then took a deep breath. "My turn again, huh?" Ennis just waited. "When Bobby was real little…" He hesitated, his throat working. Ennis slid a little closer and put his arm around Jack's back, reaching across to hold his hand. "Times I…lotsa times…I wished we never had him," he said, this last coming out in a hoarse whisper.

Ennis nodded. "Don't lots a parents have them thoughts time ta time? I know I did, when the girls was being specially ornery, sometimes jus wanted some peace."

"You loved n wanted yer girls, Ennis. I never wanted ta have no kids, but I ended up with one and then had these awful feelins like he was holdin me back, keepin us apart, tyin me ta Lureen and fuckin LD and everythin when I jus wanted ta be free…"

"Them're jus tiny thoughts, Jack. Like when ya think ya wanna kill yer boss. You ain't gonna, but ya cain't help but think stuff at times. People think all kinds a things they ain't really mean. It's jus…tiny thoughts. And ya loved Bobby, don't sit there n tell me you didn't cause I know it ain't true."

"Yeah, I loved em, but shit…I was always willin ta leave him n Lureen if you'd said so. You was never willin ta leave yer girls fer me. What kinda father would jus turn away from his son fer his own reasons?"

"Jack, it wasn't the girls holdin me back from ya, it was me. I didn't wanna leave em, that's true. But they was a good reason I could give ya so I didn't hafta tell ya the real reason."

Two fat tears slid down Jack's cheeks. "Yer girls are alive n healthy," he said. "What if…I lost Bobby cause in secret…I wished it?"

Ennis sighed. "Aw, Jack. You did the best you could by him. You was a good father, you ain't never wanted no harm ta come ta him."

Jack nodded, but Ennis could see he wasn't really convinced. Getting him over that would be a lot more than a morning's work, and it was for another time. Anyway, it was his turn. "I ain't never told you…bout how I used ta be with Alma."

Jack frowned. "What ain't ya told me? Ya told me a lot, what else is there?"

"I think maybe I tried ta make her inta you. Know that sounds weird." He sighed, staring out the stable door at the snowy fields. "I useta…do her, ya know. The other way. Like with you." He shut his eyes and let his head fall, sliding away from Jack a little. "Knew she hated it, and I did it anyway. Didn't feel much like you, even that way, but it was closer than the usual way with women. Goddamn, what does that make me? Takin her like that when she didn't like it."

Jack pulled him close again. "She ever say no?" he asked, gently.

"No. Never said a word about it. But after she found out…ya know, about me n you…I know she was all thinkin she'd figured somethin out, like why I wanted it like that." He looked at Jack, hoping that he might see his shame mirrored there, but saw only compassion. "You ever do that with Lureen? Like, as a substitute?"

"Ennis…yer fergettin I ain't never had you like that till we moved in together. How was I s'posed ta make Lureen into a substitute fer you? Ask her ta shove a cucumber up my ass?"

The laughter burst out of Ennis, taking him by surprise. "Jesus Christ, Jack," he said, barely able to get the words out.

Jack grinned. "Sorry, I guess that was kinda crude, wasn't it?"

Ennis was still laughing, and after a moment, Jack joined him. "Holy God…I am gonna have fuckin nightmares," he managed, trying and failing to banish the mental image of a cucumber-wielding Lureen ordering Jack onto all fours. "And forget about eatin cucumbers ever again."

"You don't even like cucumbers," Jack said, wiping at his streaming eyes. "Maybe I shoulda said a hot dog instead. Don't want ya getting an exaggerated idea a yer attributes," he said, elbowing Ennis.

"Oh, yer gonna pay fer that, asshole," Ennis said, tackling him. They both fell to the ground. Ennis couldn't stop grinning. It felt like old times to wrestle with Jack, laughing like they were carefree kids again instead of forty-year-old men, grabbing at him and copping a few feels in the process while Jack did the same to him. He ended up pinning Jack beneath him, holding his wrists to the stable floor, both of them with straw and God knew what else all over them. Jack stopped fighting and just arched his neck, looking up at Ennis with a challenging whatcha-gonna-do-with-me-now expression on his face. "Now, what was ya saying about my attributes?"

"Nothin," Jack said. He got a thigh between Ennis's legs and pressed it up into his crotch, smirking. Ennis hissed in a quick breath as Jack rubbed his leg against Ennis's erection. "Feels mighty fine from here."

Ennis held himself back from humping Jack's leg like some kind of deranged German shepherd. He let go of Jack's wrists and sat up. "Well, if you think I'm gonna give it to ya on this filthy stable floor, yer nuts. We are too old fer them kinda shenanigans."

Jack stood up and extended a hand to pull Ennis off the floor. "Wish I could argue with that, but I cain't." He stepped close and slid his hand between Ennis's legs. "Ain't too old fer a quick handjob up against the wall, though."

The offer was tempting, but Ennis got the feeling that Jack was stalling. "Maybe later. We ain't done here, are we?"

Jack stepped back with a sigh. "No, we ain't."

"I told ya everything now, Jack. You know it all."

He nodded. "Sit down, Ennis." He did, watching as Jack walked back and forth a few times before stopping to speak again. "I got one more."

"Yeah, I know." He was bracing himself. He didn't know what Jack was about to hit him with, but in a way, he did. So many times over their seven-year cohabitation, Ennis had sensed that Jack had something to tell him, something he thought he had to tell him. He'd seen the secret there behind Jack's eyes, so close to the surface, but it had never broken out into the open. Jack always lost his nerve. He was afraid ta tell me, cause he thought it might drive me off, he thought now. But now he ain't afraid. He felt that shift same as me, he's feelin my roots in his earth too, and he's gonna tell me cause he knows it ain't gonna drive me off. That was good, but it was also terrifying.

Jack faced him, hands on his hips. "Ennis, I been with other men."

You stay fuckin calm, asshole. Don't you fuck this up. He took long, slow breaths until the red haze dissipated from before his eyes. "When?"

"Um…a couple in them years before 67, and probably an average one a year after that, up until 76."

Ennis blinked. "So…none since…you n me?"

Jack frowned. "No."

"Oh." That made it better. A little. "These…men…" He rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Christ, Jack. Jus tell me."

"I was fucked up. Over you. At first thinkin I'd never see you again, then thinking them fishin trips was all we was ever gonna have. You know I knew that it was fellas did it fer me, long time since, and I only had little bits n pieces a you ta tide me over, and times it got ta be real bad, cowboy. Real damned bad. Got ta missin you, and missin a man's touch…"

Ennis stood up. "All right, I get the idea. Well…where'd ya find em?"

"Bars, mostly. I, uh…went ta Mexico once."

"Bars? Jesus God, Jack! You coulda been beat or killed! Ya know the fuckin queerbashers stake them places out, sometimes goin in and luring fellas out ta beat their brains in!"

"I know that! I was careful! See? I ain't bashed and I still got my brains in my head!"

"That ain't the fuckin point! God…when I think a some other man's hands on ya…givin ta some other guy what was…what we…" He turned away.

"I ain't never given ta no one else what we got, Ennis!" Jack exclaimed. "Not ta Lureen, and sure as hell not ta some guy I only saw once! None a them was you, none a them ever made me ferget you, only made me miss ya more, in fact." Ennis sensed him come up close behind him. "I ain't like you, and never was. I couldn't make it on those few days a year when I had you. Fer you, it was like you was provin something ta yerself ta go without, provin you wasn't queer, that ya didn't need it, even though I know ya thought about it when we was apart, that you was tempted, too." Ennis said nothing. "I had nothin ta prove except what I felt fer ya, and times I felt that I could never do that, that you'd never understand or accept it, so there was times I just hadta…find somebody. Jus fer one night."

Ennis turned and faced him. "But there ain't never been no one else since we ranched up?"

Jack shook his head. "No. Never." He tilted his head and his eyes narrowed a little. "I thought you'd be madder."

"I'm mad."

"I thought you'd be the swearin-and-throwin-stuff kinda mad, like at Souter."

"He fuckin shot you."


Ennis sighed. "I mighta been madder a few years back. Or even a few months back. But after everythin else…I dunno, Jack. You needin it regular ain't no news ta me, and you wasn't getting it from me."

"After what happened with Lureen I didn't know what ta think…and I know you'd feel different that I been with other men, as opposed ta women."

"What, you been with other women too?"

"No, jus Lureen."

"Yeah, it's different. Cain't fuckin think a you with no other man. Like that's my special place with you, the women was just somethin ya hadta do, but if it's another guy, that's what ya wanted ta do and not what ya hadta do." He shrugged, sagging. "I hate thinkin on it, but what'm I gonna do now? Throw some kinda fit, yell n scream? Was a long time ago, and it ain't like I helped by holdin ya at arm's length fer years n years, and you ain't touched no other man since we been fer-real together. It's like I kinda wanna be madder, and I wanna swear n throw things, but I jus ain't got the time or the energy, ya know?" Jack smiled a little at that, nodding. "Ya hurt me real bad when you were with Lureen, but ya know that. We're past that. This…well, makes me mad, but it don't hurt me like that. I don't know what the difference is. Lord knows how I'd feel if I didn't know fer sure n true that I had ya fer myself, hunderd percent."

Jack stepped close again. "Oh, you got that right, darlin." He smiled, a little tentative. "So…you forgive me?"

Ennis put his arms around him as best he could given the bulk of their outdoor coats. "Yeah. But, uh…far as I'm concerned, we can never talk about it again, okay?"


Ennis smiled at Jack, took a deep breath. "We done tellin secrets now?"

"Yeah." Jack sighed and tucked his head down on Ennis's shoulder, holding him close around his waist. "I cain't tell ya how good it is ta get that outta me. Been eatin me up all these years, wonderin if you'd leave me, wonderin how you'd react. Was always there like some kinda poison."

Ennis put his hand on Jack's face and tilted it up. "Yeah, well…who's yer man now?" he said, making his voice rough and low in a way he knew Jack liked.

Jack's smile became a half-curl. "You are, cowboy. Wanna show me?"

Ennis bent and kissed him hard, yanking his hips close by the beltloops. He had some intentions, not all of them polite, but he didn't get very far with them.

"Jesus fucking Christ."

They broke apart, turning towards the disgusted voice in the doorway. Mighta known, Ennis thought, seeing John's face, scrunched into an expression of revulsion. He released Jack and took a step away. "Sorry, Dad," Jack said, turning to face him, his voice admirably even. "Jus havin a moment."

Twist shook his head and stormed past, holding a saddle. He put it in the tack room and came back out. "Cain't you fellas be decent for one fuckin minute?"

"Ain't nothin indecent about havin a kiss with my man, Dad."

"I'd a thought better a you, Del Mar," he spat.

"Then you thought wrong," Ennis mumbled, shuffling. He didn't quite know what to do or say. He wanted to flee, but didn't want to leave Jack out here alone with him. He was kicking himself for letting them get physical in the relative open of the stable. Should have kept it in the bedroom where Twist couldn't accidentally see them.

"Coupla shameless faggots, don't know why I let ya on my land inna first place."

"You thought any about that job, Dad? I oughta call Rob Benderman and set up some time so's the two a you can talk."

Ennis didn't think John would let himself be dragged off the subject at hand, but surprisingly, he did. "Might work out," Twist said, staring at the ground and scraping at a spot of dirt with his shoe. Maybe he was grateful to stop talking about "faggot" stuff.

Jack nodded. "Good. I'm gonna go call him up right now." He trudged out of the stable without a backwards glance. Twist just stood there.

"What did ya mean by that?" Ennis asked.

"By what?"

"That you'd expected better a me."

John flapped a hand like it couldn't possibly matter now. "Jus didn't expect ta see ya doin queer shit."

"Why not?" Ennis shut his eyes and took yet another step off into the chasm. "I am queer, ya know."

John shook his head. "Hard ta believe."

"Was hard fer me ta believe it, too."

Twist peered at him through narrowed eyes, then looked off over his shoulder, spitting idly on the floor. "Yer all right, del Mar. No bullshit. Not like Jack."

Ennis ground his teeth together. "Don't talk about Jack like ya know him, cause ya don't, and that ain't on him, it's on you. He's a good man, and you ain't never gonna see that, are ya? Now yer telling me I'm all right, whatever the hell that means, when ya known me for alla one day? Well, I known you alla one day, and you don't wanna know what I think a you." He started to leave, but Twist grabbed his arm in a surprisingly strong grip and yanked him back.

"Where do you get off thinkin anything a me?" he growled.

Ennis jerked his arm out of Twist's grasp. "He won't say it but Jack still wants ya t'approve a him, like any son wants it. I ain't got that problem, so I'm free ta call ya out fer beatin on a helpless little boy ta make yerself all big. No kinda man does that. I'm a father and so's Jack and neither of us ever beat on our kids. So you can call us queers or faggots or whatever, it don't make you any less a son of a bitch." He waited for Twist's outraged response, but it didn't come. He just stared at Ennis for a second, then looked away, down at the ground. Ennis turned and stalked out.

Jack was just hanging up the phone when he entered. He started to speak but then saw Ennis's face. "What? What happened?"

"Oh, nothin new. What'd that guy say? I wanna get outta here."

"He said he could come up here and talk ta Dad anytime. I couldn't believe it, thought I'd hafta drive the old man down ta Buffalo or somewheres, but Benderman said he could use the drive. Said he'd call Dad later tonight and set it up." He was talking about one subject, but his eyes were watching Ennis's expressions having to do with a different one. "You wanna get goin?"

"If we're done here, yeah." He sighed. "Jack, I gotta think about gettin back home."

"Yeah, I know," Jack said, with a resigned sigh. "I been worryin about the ranch, too."

"If we can get goin here before lunch, I'll call Lizzie when we get back ta Gillette and see if she can get me a flight out tomorrow."

Jack nodded. "You know that I…"

"I know ya cain't come with. You got lots ta do."

"I gotta find a renter fer the ranch and a house fer the folks and get Ma moved and get him moved…Christ, I don't wanna think on it. I gotta get a move on quick as I can if I don't wanna be stuck here a month."

"I wish I could stay n help you."

"Me too, bud." John walked in, glowering. "Dad, me n Ennis are fixin ta head back ta Gillette now."

"Oh yeah?" Twist said. Ennis was surprised to hear the note of neutrality in the man's voice. He'd have thought the man would be delighted to see their taillights. "You talk ta that fella…"

"Benderman. Yeah, jus now. He says he's willin ta come up here and talk with ya."

"That so?"

"Yeah. He's gonna call ya this evenin n set up a time, so you be sure yer around n such."

"Don't tell me what I gotta do like I'm five years old," Twist said.

"Here's his number n all," Jack said, handing his father a card. "Try not ta piss him off or nothin, okay?" Twist grumbled something, taking the card. "And I'll be callin ta find out what he said."

"Treatin me like a fuckin child, cain't take care a nothin by hisself."

"Yeah, well, get used to it," Jack snapped. "C'mon, Ennis, let's get our stuff."

Ennis followed him up to the guest bedroom. Jack had made the bed and packed their suitcase. "How'd you know we were leavin?"

Jack rolled his eyes and stuck out his hand. "Hi, have we met? I'm Jack Twist, and I've known you for twenty years."

Ennis glanced around. "Where…what'd you do with…you know."

Jack smiled and patted the bag. "They're comin with us. Or I should say, they're goin home with you."

"You want me ta take em home?"

"Where else they belong? This house be used by someone else pretty soon, I hope, and them shirts gotta stay with us, don't they?"

"Oh yeah, a course. Jus…kinda wanted ta keep that between us."

"Have I said we shouldn't? Figured you could take em home, put em someplace safe. You do what ya think is right." He picked up their bag and they headed back down to the kitchen. John Twist was still standing there. "Well, Dad…guess I'll be talkin to ya soon, probly seein ya soon, too."

"I got a choice?"

"Not really."

Twist set his jaw. "Well…say hello ta yer mother."

"You could call her, ya know. I wrote the number a her room on the notepad by the phone. She'd like that, I bet."

"Maybe I will." Father and son stood staring at each other for a moment. Jack squared his shoulders and stuck out his hand. Twist looked at it for a moment, then shook it with an unintelligible grunt that Ennis guessed was supposed to suffice for a good-bye. Jack walked out and Ennis followed. "Del Mar," Twist's voice said, low.

Ennis stopped and turned back. "What?"

"Guess you think I'm some kinda monster."

"You care what I think?" John's eyes flicked to his face and then away, and Ennis saw with amazement that he did care. "I think you were born a bastard, but you didn't hafta stay one. That was yer choice. But nothin's forever, ya know. You could still be good ta yer wife and Jack and meet new folks and quit bein a bastard. Ain't never too late ta change. Ya know who taught me that? Yer son. So ya oughta think on listenin ta him now n again, cause if I hadn't, I'd be some miserable lonely old piss-poor ranch hand with no life ta speak of. Ya wanna live like ya always done, ain't none a my business. Ya don't, then he can help ya." He met the man's eyes, exchanged a terse nod, and went out to the car where Jack was waiting for him.

They stopped off to see Grace on returning to Gillette. She greeted them as if they'd been gone for days instead of just overnight. While Jack filled her in on John's job prospects, Ennis called the ranch (after a quick aside to Jack about using Grace's phone, to which Jack responded with "You know we're payin the bills here, Ennis…call the Pope if you want") and asked Lizzie to see about flights for him the next day.

They didn't stay long, which surprised Ennis. "If you're leavin tomorrow," Jack said as they left Cedar Crest, "then I gotta get what time alone with you as I can." They picked up some take-out and headed back to the hotel.

It was an ordinary evening. They sat on the bed and ate chicken, watching a basketball game on TV. Jack grew quieter and quieter as the evening wore on. Ennis disposed of the detritus from dinner. Lizzie called and gave Ennis his flight information, which he dutifully wrote down. "When you gotta leave?" Jack asked.

"Well, she was able ta get me a commuter flight from Gillette Regional down ta Denver, so I don't gotta drive so far. Plane leaves at nine a.m. Then Denver ta Boston."

"Why cain't ya fly inta Burlington?"

"My truck's in Boston. Remember I drove down there ta get a flight out."

"Oh yeah, right." Jack sighed. "Nine, huh?"


"Guess we better turn in soon."

"Yeah." They just sat there, morosely staring at the TV. Ennis finally hauled himself off the bed. "Gonna shower."

He made quick work of it. He heard Jack enter the bathroom as he was finishing. "Leave it goin," Jack said, and they swapped places. Ennis toweled off and climbed into bed, not bothering with drawers or pajamas. He shut off the light and waited.

Jack emerged from the bathroom and climbed into bed. They lay there side by side for a few moments, not touching. "Don't want ya ta go," Jack finally said.

"I want ya ta come home."

Jack sighed. "Guess neither of us gettin what we want tonight."

"Oh…I dunno if I'd say that. C'mere." Ennis drew Jack into his arms and kissed him. Jack slid over on top of him, pressing their groins together and drawing a moan out of Ennis.

"Gonna be the last we get of each other fer awhile," Jack said. "How you want it?"

"Want ya inside me," Ennis murmured, kissing Jack's face. "Been wantin it since I put on that shirt a yers." He felt Jack smile against his lips.

"I'm real glad ya found em, darlin. Not sure what I woulda done with em if ya hadn't."

"You can thank yer ma for it. She told me ta look round. I think she knew they was there."

Jack drew back. "Really?"

"Yeah. She was kinda…specific about me lookin round yer room."

He nodded. "I guess that don't surprise me. Never could hide nothin from her." He bent and kissed Ennis again. "But I don't wanna talk about my ma when I'm about ta give my man what he's askin for," he said, his voice a low purr. Ennis didn't have the chance to agree.

Ennis woke at seven o'clock and looked over at Jack, sound asleep on his side. He gingerly climbed out of bed, wincing a little. Jack had actually done him twice the night before, and his ass was feeling a bit tenderized. He dressed quietly, shaved and brushed his teeth, and put his shaving kit in his already-packed bag. He got into his boots and put everything right by the door. He took a deep breath and sat on the edge of the bed by Jack. He ran one hand down Jack's arm. "Jack?"

He shifted onto his back and his eyes fluttered open. "Ennis?"

"I gotta go, bud. Wanted ta say goodbye."

Jack sat up, his eyes flying open. "No…wait, Ennis! I gotta get dressed…we'll have breakfast, and I'll drive ya ta the airport…"

Ennis held him back. "You say where you are. I ain't got time fer a full breakfast, and I'd rather take my leave a you here than in some airport where we gotta be polite." He smiled and touched Jack's face. "I'd rather go away thinkin a you like this," he said, his eyes flicking up and down Jack's naked body.

Jack nodded, looking miserable. "Thought we'd have more time ta say goodbye," he said.

"How much time we really need? More we drag it out, the worse we gonna feel."

"Guess that's true enough." Jack sat up and put his arms around Ennis, who returned the embrace, blinking hard. He shut his eyes and concentrated on the feeling of Jack in his arms, his warm skin under Ennis's hands, his sandpapery cheek against Ennis's neck. "I cain't thank ya enough fer comin out here," Jack whispered.

Ennis drew back, meeting Jack's eyes and seeing there the awareness of the many ways this trip had changed them both. "I'm sure glad I did." He kissed him, tender and light.

"Call me tonight, okay?" Jack said.

"I sure will. Every night, till ya come home."

"Hope it's soon. And…if it's lookin like things are gonna take too long…maybe we oughta jus hire a lawyer or somethin ta see ta things and I'll come on home. I cain't let this take over everythin, I got my own home n family ta see to."

Ennis nodded. "That's a real smart idea. Let's see how things stand in a week's time, and we can decide then."

"Okay," Jack said. He exhaled. "Damn, I feel better puttin an upper limit on how long I'm gonna hafta stay here."

"Me too."

"Ya got everythin? The shirts, and that thing Ma gave ya fer Junior?"

"Yup, got everythin." He sighed, his eyes roving over Jack's beloved face, his heart heavy at the prospect of not seeing it again for at least a week. "Guess I best be off, then."

Jack hugged him again. "Now, when yer beatin off," he said, "it's okay if yer thinkin a Paul Newman."

Ennis chuckled. "You gave me plenty a beatin-off material these past few days." He drew back and kissed him once more, his hand lingering on Jack's face. "Love ya so much, Jack."

"I love you too, cowboy."

Ennis rose and went to the door. He put on his coat and picked up his bags, Jack watching him from the bed. He turned back and managed a wan smile. "Bye, darlin."

"Bye." Jack raised a hand. Ennis pretended he didn't see Jack's chin trembling, or hear the quiet sob as he shut the door behind him.

He strode quickly out of the hotel, looking neither left nor right. He ignored the clerk's wave and headed to the parking lot, where he put his bag in the back, got into the driver's seat, looked left and right to make sure he was unobserved, then put his head down on the steering wheel and let himself cry.