No Hero

Acknowledgment: A great big "thank you" to Leslie for technical advice!

Alternative Universe:Background

At their reunion in 1967, Ennis del Mar admitted that he should never have left Jack Twist out of his sights when they came down off Brokeback Mountain in August of 1963. After a dark night of agonizing soul-searching, Ennis agreed to ranch up with Jack. However, it took nearly three difficult years for their plans to come together, years that tested both their determination and their relationship. As Jack had anticipated, his father-in-law readily gave him a substantial sum of money to disappear, on condition that he have no further contact with the family, including Jack's baby son. L.D. Newsome then arranged a divorce for Jack's wife Lureen on grounds that Jack had deserted her. Jack, for his part, found it more difficult than he had expected to cut ties with his son.

As for Ennis, his wife Alma was heartbroken when he asked her for a divorce, but she had seen what she had seen when Jack came back to Riverton. After many tears and counseling with her Methodist pastor, she decided that it would be healthier for all concerned, especially her daughters, to end the marriage, and she soon consoled herself by marrying the Riverton grocer, by whom she soon had three more children to occupy her time. Though Alma harbored a certain amount of resentment toward Jack, to her everlasting credit, she never tried to prevent Ennis from having a relationship with their daughters. Ennis, in turn, was religiously faithful with his child support payments, and from his perspective it helped the situation immeasurably that his girls adored "Uncle Jack." Uncle Jack, for his part, would have spoiled the girls terribly if Ennis had not put his foot down.

Eventually Ennis and Jack found a small spread just outside Signal, where they set up the little cow and calf operation that Jack had dreamed of. The days were long and the work was hard, but they were together. Jack found himself happier than he had thought humanly possible because he was with Ennis, and Ennis found more peace and contentment in his soul than he had ever imagined because he was sharing his life with Jack. The ranch was heavily mortgaged, but they managed, pouring just about everything they made back into the property. They renovated the log cabin that was on the place. Ennis balked at the time and expense of adding a bathroom, with real hot and cold running water, but Jack made his life hell until he relented, and in the end even he had to admit that a hot shower felt mighty good after a long day of ranch work. By the mid 1970s they were ending each year in the black—not a lot in the black, but in the black nevertheless. Ennis was even thinking of expanding their operation to include horse breeding.

Christmas Eve.

From the radio on the fireplace mantle came Christmas carols instead of the usual Country fare. The volume was turned low, making for a pleasant background for the holiday evening. Outside it was snowing heavily, though without the wind that made for a blizzard.

Supper was over. It had been Jack's turn to cook. Over the years, his cooking had improved considerably from the days when he could only admit to being pretty good with a can opener. He had made a stew using meat from an elk Ennis had shot the previous month (Jack's cooking had improved, but his marksmanship hadn't). Jack had smartened up for the holiday evening, donning his best red shirt and newest jeans, even polishing his boots. Ennis had changed into his favorite shirt, white with wide black stripes, the same shirt he had worn when Jack had first returned to Wyoming back in '67. The shirt was almost ten years old by now, but since Ennis wore it only on the most special occasions, it was still in pretty good shape, if a little frayed at the collar and cuffs.

Ennis sat at the desk in the corner of the main room, next to the fireplace. Reading glasses perched on the end of his nose, he was going over the ranch books. With the end of the year just a week away, Ennis was satisfied. Most definitely, he and Jack were not getting rich, but they were holding their own and even ending the year in the black. They would have to decide whether to use the small profit to invest in a new baler or to reduce some of their debt on the place.

His financial reverie was interrupted by Jack. "Sonofabitch!" Ennis turned and looked over his shoulder. Jack stood in the center of the room, next to the evergreen that he had cut on the mountain back of the ranch earlier that day. Jack was looking despairingly at a tangle of Christmas tree lights that he held in both hands.

Ennis turned back to the books. "Told you, Jack," he said without looking at his partner. "If you'd a put 'em away more careful last year, you wouldn't have that rat's nest on your hands right now."

"Sure enough," Jack said grouchily. "You might give me a hand, though, Ennis. Them damn books'll keep. Don't you want a have a nice Christmas tree for the girls when Alma brings 'em by tomorrow?"

"Can't exactly argue with that," Ennis thought to himself. He sighed. "I guess so," he said aloud. He took off his reading glasses, laid them on the open ledger, but hadn't made it out of the chair when there was a loud knock on the door. He frowned, stood up, looked at Jack. "Who the hell could that be?" Jack just shrugged.

Ennis glanced out the window, then opened the door. The cold flooded into the room, bringing with it a few swirling snowflakes. On the porch stood a slight young man of middle height. A knit ski cap was pulled low on his head, making his collar-length brown hair stand out. He had a scruffy beard, eyes like a spaniel, and was wearing an old wool peacoat, slightly ragged jeans, and sneakers, an outfit totally inadequate to the rigors of a snowy winter night in Wyoming.

"Can I help you?" said Ennis.

"Thanks, I sure hope so, Mister," the young man said. "My wife and I have had a car accident. Was hopin' I could use your phone to call the sheriff, or somebody."

"Car accident!" said Ennis, concerned. "You okay, son? Your wife okay?" Jack, meanwhile, dumped his tangled handfuls of Christmas lights on the big table that stood in the center of the room, came to stand by Ennis's shoulder.

"Oh, sure," the young man said, a little sheepishly. "Hit a patch of ice down on the road and ended up in the ditch right by your gate. I just can't seem to get the car out of the ditch and back on the road. Marcy—my wife—she's okay, but she's pregnant, and I don't want to leave her down there by herself too long."

Ennis turned to his partner. "Come on, Jack. Let's go have a look, see if we can help." Jack just nodded, reached for his old black Resistol and blue parka on their hooks by the door. As Ennis pulled on his old canvas coat, he said, "Name's Ennis del Mar, by the way, and this here's my partner, Jack Twist. What's your name, son?"

"Joey Davidson," the young man said. "And, thanks, guys. I appreciate it." The two ranchers shook hands with the stranded traveler, then headed out into the snow and evening darkness, down the long hill to the highway and the gate to the ranch. As they trudged through the deepening snow, Joey explained, "Marcy and I live in Ogden. We were on our way to spend Christmas with her folks over in Worland. Baby's due the middle of next month, and we thought this would be the last chance for Marcy to see her mom and dad before the baby comes."

As they reached the gate to the ranch, through the swirling flakes Ennis and Jack could see a light-colored Volkswagen Beetle titled at a steep angle into the ditch between the highway and the ranch fence. Ennis frowned. The car appeared to be intact, with no visible damage, but at the angle it was resting, he suspected it would take a tow truck to pull it back on the road.

The rapidly falling snow had already covered the windshield, but as the three men approached the car, the passenger-side window was lowered, and a young woman's head appeared. She also had collar-length brown hair, with a knit cap pulled down to her ears. She had a round face with chubby cheeks that reminded Ennis of his ex-wife at her age, which he judged to be somewhere in the late teens, roughly the same as the young man, her husband.

"Joey?" the young woman called, a little plaintively. Joey and Ennis approached the open window, while Jack stopped to see whether there was any damage to the vehicle.

"Marcy, this is Mister del Mar," Joey said, indicating Ennis, "and that's Mister Twist," he added, pointing to Jack, who had stooped to examine the front wheel of the car. "This is their ranch. They come down here with me to see if they can help us get the car out."

"Ma'am," said Ennis, nodding his head to the young lady.

"Ennis," Jack called. "C'mere, have a look at this wheel." Ennis turned and stooped down next to Jack, while Joey bent his head to have a word with his wife, who was whispering furiously about something.

"Looks to me like the axle's bent," said Jack.

"I b'lieve your right," Ennis agreed, inspecting the wheel. "This car ain't goin' no place."

He might have said more, but he was interrupted by a loud exclamation of "What?" from young Joey Davidson. Ennis and Jack both stood up and turned toward the young couple.

"Somethin' wrong?" Ennis asked, standing up and turning to the young couple.

The look on Joey's face had turned panicky. "Mister del Mar, we gotta do something! Marcy just told me. While I was up at your house, her water broke. The baby's coming!"

"You all right, ma'am?" Ennis asked.

"I guess so," the young woman replied, but she didn't sound convinced.

"Oh, my God, what're we gonna do?" Joey sounded about ready to cry.

"Just take it easy," Ennis said to both of them, almost in the tone he would use to a startled horse. "We'll just get you up to the house, then I'll call the sheriff over in Riverton and we'll get you a ride to the hospital. Everthing's goin' a be fine. Can you walk, ma'am?"

"Uh huh, I think so," Marcy answered.

"All right, then, let's get you up to the house, get you warm and comfortable." With the VW tilted at a steep angle, it took and Ennis and Joey both to get Marcy out of the car. Ennis noticed that she, at least, seemed better dressed for the winter weather, with a down jacket over her maternity top and rubber boots with fur tops, than her young husband. With Jack leading the way, they headed up the long drive to the ranch house, Marcy walking between her husband and Ennis, clutching Joey's shoulder when she had a contraction mid way up the hill.

When they got to the house, Ennis turned to Jack. "Put her in bed in the spare room," he said. "I'll go call the sheriff." Jack nodded his understanding, pulling off his parka and hat. Ennis took off his own hat and coat, then strode to the kitchen, where the telephone hung on the wall next to the door, dialed the number of the sheriff's office. "Hello, sheriff? Who's this? Ted? Ted, this is Ennis del Mar. Listen, we got us an emergency. Young couple had a car accident down by the gate to our place. They're all right, 'cept the wife's pregnant and the baby's comin'. That's right, she's havin' a baby. No, I ain't jokin'. Yeah, I know it's Christmas Eve, but this ain't no joke. She needs to get to the hospital in Riverton. Plow truck and ambulance? Right. Thanks, Ted. And, Ted? Better hurry it. Right. Thanks." He hung up the phone and headed for the spare bedroom.

He found Jack waiting in the hall by the closed bedroom door. Jack had found an old pair of Ennis's pajamas, clean but not used since the divorce, in the bottom bureau drawer in the spare room and had stepped outside while Joey helped Marcy change out of her soiled clothes. Soon Joey opened the door, and the two ranchers stepped into the small bedroom. Marcy, looking frightened, was in bed, wearing the pajama top. Joey went to stand by the bedside and took her hand. While Jack stood by the door, Ennis knelt by the bedside, looked from one frightened young face to the other. "How you feelin', ma'am?" he said to Marcy.

"All right, I guess." She sounded scared, though.

"You been seein' a doctor 'bout this baby? Everthing all right?"

"Yeah. Saw my doctor day before yesterday. He said everything seemed fine."

"Well, that's real good," said Ennis. Since Joey was already holding Marcy's left hand, Ennis took her right hand, and, as if he were trying to calm a skittish horse, said soothingly, "I called the sheriff's office. They're sendin' a plow truck and a ambulance to take you to the hospital in Riverton. They'll be here soon. You just take it easy now. Everthing's goin' a be all right."

"Thank you, Mister del Mar." Her voice shot up as she was unexpectedly overtaken by a contraction. She grimaced, and Joey gasped.

"What are we gonna do? How long's it gonna take for the sheriff to get here?" Joey's voice sounded on the edge of panic. He clutched his young wife's hand convulsively.

"Not long," Ennis lied, for he knew it would be a while, given the distance and the darkness and the snow. "Everthing's goin' a be all right," he repeated, soothingly. "Nothin' a worry about. I got two kids myself. Took forever for the first one a get here. Sheriff'll be here in plenty a time to get you to the hospital. You all just take it easy, both of you."

In the kitchen, the telephone began to ring. "Jesus H.," Ennis swore under his breath, then, turning to Jack, said louder, "Who the hell could that be? You want a get that?"

"Sure enough," Jack said. He turned on his heel, headed for the kitchen at a trot. Ennis and the young couple could hear him talking on the telephone, his voice muffled by the distance, but couldn't make out what he was saying. When he returned to the bedroom a few minutes later, Ennis was leaning against the doorframe. He had pulled the one chair in the room next to the bed, and Joey was now seated in it, still clutching Marcy's hand.

Jack smiled reassuringly at the young couple, then said to Ennis, "Can I talk to you a minute?" He jerked his head toward the hallway.

Ennis followed him into the hall, pulling the door closed behind him. "What?" he asked.

"That was Doctor Quinn from the hospital. Ted Harper asked him to call. They're on their way with the plow and the ambulance, but snow's getting' pretty deep out there. Doctor Quinn said, case they don't get here in time, we—you—might have to bring the baby."

"Me!" Ennis was appalled. "Why me?"

"Well, you got more experience. You brung a lot of calves—."

"Jack! She ain't no cow and that ain't no calf!"

"Keep your voice down!" Jack shushed him. "You want 'em to hear you and get all upset? You got more experience than me," he repeated. "Like as not it won't happen, but Doctor Quinn said, if it gets to where she has the urge to push, that means it's almost time for the baby to come out, so have her squat in the bathtub—."

"The bathtub?" Ennis interrupted.

"The bathtub," Jack repeated, "Apparently it gets kind a—messy. Doctor Quinn said she needs to push with the contractions, but she'll have the urge, so it'll all be kinda natural like. She'll do all the work. He said to support the baby as it comes out, then tie the cord real tight in two places and cut it between the ties. Then wait for the afterbirth. After that's out, clean her up and the baby as best you can, put 'em in bed till the ambulance gets here."

"Well, all right," said Ennis, but he looked doubtful.

"Don't worry," said Jack. "I got the doctor's phone number, case there's a problem. And I'll help you."

Ennis exhaled, stood for a moment with his chin on his chest. Then he straightened up, reached for the bedroom doorknob.

Despite Ennis's previous assurances that it had taken forever for his first daughter to be born, Marcy's labor advanced rapidly. Her contractions grew in intensity and increased in frequency. Ennis and Jack had their hands full. While it seemed a good thing that the snow had tapered off—Ennis had checked from the bedroom window—there was no sign of the sheriff or the ambulance. Within in an hour, as Marcy's contractions came stronger and more frequently, Ennis had to consider seriously the possibility that he would, in fact, have to deliver the baby. He didn't relish the prospect, but, as he always said, if you can't fix it you've got to stand it.

Jack did his best to help. While Ennis kept an eye on Marcy, Jack got together a pile of clean towels in case they would be needed. Then he cleaned a large pair of scissors with boiling water and wrapped them in a clean towel; it was the best he could do. He brought a basin of water and a washcloth for bathing Marcy's sweat-covered forehead. Ennis would have had Joey do the job, but the hands of the young father-to-be were shaking so badly that he would have undoubtedly spilled the water all over Marcy and the bed, so Ennis did the job himself. Ennis did let Joey help, however, when Marcy expressed a need to use the bathroom.

Later, when they looked back on this evening, Ennis and Jack found that much of it was a blur. They couldn't agree on some of the details of who did what and when, except that it was certainly Ennis who gave Marcy his belt to bite on when her contractions became too painful. For sure, it was Ennis's belt that ended up with teeth marks in it. As Marcy's contractions came more and more frequently, Ennis kept a close watch on her. Jack, meanwhile, tried to keep Joey distracted so he wouldn't panic and upset his wife. The little wind-up clock on the spare room nightstand ticked off another hour. Jack was in the middle of a story of how he had gotten thrown by his normally placid buckskin mare, Cheyenne, when Marcy suddenly gave a yelp, "Oh, God, I feel like I need to push!"

Ennis, lounging against the doorframe, was silently fuming about the weather and cursing Ted Harper for his slowness, muttering under his breath, "Where's that goddamn ambulance?" He jerked around and looked at Marcy.

"Oh, my God," said Joey, turning white.

"I think it's time we got you to the bathroom, ma'am," Ennis said to Marcy. To Jack, he said, "Jack, get them pillows into the tub, and put down some towels."

"Right," said Jack, forgetting all about his horse tale. He grabbed the pillows from behind Marcy and headed for the bathroom.

"Come on, Joey," said Ennis, "you and me is goin' a get Marcy to the bathroom." To Marcy, he said, "Don't be doin' no pushin' just yet, ma'am. You just hold on." Joey, in a panic, tripped over his own feet and nearly fell on top of Marcy as he tried to help her out of bed, so in the end, Ennis just picked her up and carried her the short way to the bathroom. All the way, Marcy wailed about needing to push. Ennis got her to squat in the bathtub on top of a clean towel, and Jack shoved the pillows from the guest bed in behind her. Ennis washed his hands at the bathroom washbasin, then knelt in the tub, facing Marcy. In the press of the emergency, it didn't even occur to him to take off his boots.

"I think I'm gonna be sick," Joey moaned.

"No, you ain't," Jack spoke sternly to the frightened young father-to-be. "You're goin' a help Marcy get through this!" He poked Joey in the shoulder to emphasize his point, then ran to the kitchen for the scissors and the ball of twine.

"I need to push!" Marcy shouted.

"All right, now," Ennis said, "you go right ahead and push." Push Marcy did, while Joey held her shoulders, simultaneously trying not to be sick to his stomach, and Jack hovered in the bathroom doorway, watching closely. Ennis, breaking out into a sweat, found himself more excited than he expected, yet somehow calm and able to remain in command of the situation. "Keep pushin,' keep pushin,'" he coached Marcy. "I can see the top of the head! It's comin', it's comin'! Push real hard, now!" Marcy shrieked and gave one final push. The next thing Ennis knew he was holding in his hands a tiny, red, slimy little bundle of new humanity, with two arms, two legs, and a spontaneous squall that seemed surprisingly loud in the confined space of the bathroom.

"The baby?" said Joey, trying to get a glimpse.

Ennis's face broke into a wide grin. "It's a boy!" he said.

When it was all over, they got Marcy and the baby both cleaned up and the baby wrapped in a clean white towel. Marcy was radiant as she held the baby while Ennis carried her back to the bedroom, Jack leading the way, carrying the pile of pillows, and Joey tagging at his heels, happy and excited. When they had Marcy tucked back into bed with the baby, Ennis thought to ask, "You folks got a name picked out for the little fella?"

Marcy smiled up at him. She was positively glowing. "Joshua," she said.

"That's a nice name," said Ennis, "a real nice name. Ain't it, Jack?" Jack smiled and nodded agreement.

It suddenly occurred to Joey that he and Marcy had been heading somewhere when their car skidded off the road. "Mister del Mar," he said, "you think I could use your phone to call Marcy's folks over in Worland? They must be worried sick, wondering where we are."

"Sure enough," said Ennis. "Phone's in the kitchen. C'mon, I'll show you." Joey gave his young wife a quick kiss and followed Ennis out of the bedroom.

Jack stayed behind, standing in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest, smiling at the proud new mother and her baby. Marcy noticed. "Wanna take a look, Mister Twist?"

Jack smiled wider and walked over to the bed. Marcy pulled the towel away from baby Joshua's face so Jack could see. Already the baby was asleep. "He's a cute little fella," Jack smiled at her. "Reminds me of my boy when he was born."

"You have a son?" said Marcy, looking questioningly at Jack.

"Yup," said Jack. "He don't live in Wyomin', though. He lives down in Texas, with his mama." Briefly, a shadow seemed to pass over Jack's face.

"You miss him?"

"Yes, ma'am, I do," Jack said quietly.

Marcy looked thoughtful. "Didn't Mister del Mar say he has kids, too?"

"Two girls. Loves 'em to pieces," Jack answered.

Marcy thought a moment. "You two live here? Together? Alone?"

Jack's mouth tightened a bit. He thought of Ennis. "This is our spread, ma'am. We own it together. We're partners."

Marcy might have asked more, but at that moment Ennis and Joey returned from the kitchen. "I called your mom and dad," Joey said. "Your dad was ready to skin us—or me—alive when I told him about the accident. Then I told him about the baby, and I thought he was gonna pass out right on the phone!" He sat down on the chair next to the bed.

"You should prob'ly get some rest, now, ma'am," Ennis said. "Jack and me'll leave you two—you three—alone," he corrected himself, smiling. Jack followed him from the room.

Ennis's shirt was soaked with sweat and the residue of childbirth, his hair matted to his forehead. Nevertheless, and in spite of the cold, he went out on the front porch, Jack at his heels. He felt he needed to breathe in the clear, cold air. They had stood together quietly in the cold, fresh air for several minutes when Jack first noticed the glow of headlights down on the highway, coming from the direction of Riverton: the plow truck and the ambulance. He touched Ennis's arm and pointed. "About time," said Ennis.

With the plow truck leading the way, the ambulance turned in at the gate and slowly came up the long driveway to the ranch house. As the plow truck came to a halt in front of the house, Deputy Sheriff Harper swung down from the passenger side and hurried around the front of the vehicle. He looked questioningly from Ennis to Jack, standing on the porch, and back again. "Well," Harper said, "how is ever'body?"

"Ever'body's fine, Ted," Ennis replied, "'Cept you all are a little late."

Jack, leading the way, showed the ambulance crew to the bedroom where the young couple and the new addition to their family were waiting, while Ennis stayed on the porch with Ted Harper. As the ambulance crew brought out Marcy and baby Joshua, the deputy sheriff was just repeating to Ennis, in amazement and admiration, "You mean to say you brung that baby?" The new mother and the baby were bundled against the cold, with baby Joshua still wrapped in the white towel. Joey was walking beside the stretcher, beaming as broadly as though he had just had the baby and not Marcy. He turned and waved to Ennis and Jack as the crew loaded Marcy and the baby into the ambulance. Ted Harper shook hands with Ennis, congratulated him on a job well done, then got back into the cab of the plow truck. Ennis and Jack watched as the two vehicles slowly made their way back down the hill to the ranch gate and the highway, then turned and headed toward Riverton. As the vehicles drove out of sight, Jack said quietly, "'And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes.'"

"Hunh?" said Ennis, turning to him.

"It's Christmas Eve," said Jack, playfully poking Ennis in the bicep. "You know the story, Ennis. From the Bible. 'And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes.'"

Ennis thought about that a moment. Then he laughed. "Well, our bathtub sure as hell ain't no manger." He smiled at his partner, reached over and rubbed the back of Jack's neck. Then, "Come on, bud, let's get back inside. I'm freezing my balls off out here."

Back in the house, Jack pointed to Ennis's shirt. "Looks like that old shirt a yours is prob'ly ruined." Ennis looked down at the front of his favorite old shirt, smeared with blood and other fluids and soaked with his own sweat. He looked at Jack and shrugged. "Give it here," said Jack. "I'll set it to soak, see if we can't get some of that stain out. And whyn't you go take a shower? You look like you could use one."

"Good idea," said Ennis. He took off his shirt, handed it to Jack, then headed to the bathroom. He bundled up the soiled towels that were still scattered around the bathroom, rinsed out the tub, then stripped off his jeans, socks, and boots, and started the shower.

About a half an hour later, Ennis came out into the main room wearing the flannel robe that his girls had given him last Christmas, bought from Sears, Roebuck with almost a year's worth of money Alma, Jr., had earned babysitting. His hair was still a little damp from the shower. In the time he had taken to clean up both the bathroom and himself, Jack had somehow managed to get the lights on the Christmas tree. The light cord was still tangled in places, and there were areas on the tree with clusters of lights and other areas with no lights at all, but the lights were, at least, on the tree. Jack was standing by the fire, smoking and sipping whiskey from a glass. He already had a glass poured for Ennis, and he handed it to him with a smile.

"Thanks," said Ennis. "Now, where're my smokes?"

Jack gestured with his glass toward Ennis's lighter and pack of Marlboros on the fireplace mantle. Ennis set his glass on the mantle, picked up the pack of cigarettes, pulled one from the pack with his lips, then put the pack down and picked up the lighter. When he had lighted his cigarette, he retrieved his drink and sat down in the easy chair between the fireplace and the Christmas tree. Jack sat down on the sofa, across the coffee table from Ennis. From the radio, ignored since Joey Davidson's knock on the door, came the soft strains of an instrumental version of "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing."

"Sure has been some evenin', hasn't it?" Ennis said.

"It sure enough has," Jack agreed with a slight laugh. "And it sure was a fine thing you done tonight, Ennis, bringin' that baby," Jack said admiringly.

Ennis exhaled smoke. "Well, I done what I had to do," he said simply.

"Sure enough," said Jack.

They sat silently in the firelight and Christmas tree light for several minutes, smoking and sipping their whiskey. Then Jack started to fidget. "What?" said Ennis, noticing.

Jack looked a little uncomfortable. "Uh, Ennis," he said, "I know we said we wasn't goin' a get each other anything for Christmas, what with the price of feed so high and all, but there's a little somethin' for you under the tree, anyway."

"Jack. …" Ennis gave Jack a look, but Jack drained the last of his whiskey, put the glass on the coffee table, got up off the sofa. He reached under the tree, picked up a simply wrapped box, and handed it to Ennis. He knelt on one knee next to Ennis's chair.

Ennis stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray on the coffee table. "Jack, what a you done?" he said, trying not to smile.

"Well, open it," Jack said, pointing to the box.

Ennis unwrapped the package and removed the lid from the box. Inside lay a shiny new pair of spurs. "New spurs!" In spite of himself, Ennis was delighted. "Aw, thanks, Jack!" He grinned broadly, reached over and rubbed the back of Jack's neck.

"Well," said Jack, a little shyly, not looking at Ennis, "My cowboy needs a proper pair a spurs, and them ones you been usin' are so old and rusty they'd give you tet'nus just lookin' at 'em." His eyes shining, Jack looked up at Ennis, then looked at the spurs and pointed. "And see, they got your name engraved on 'em."

"Why, so they do," said Ennis, looking closer at the spurs. And so they did. Ennis leaned over and gave Jack a hug. "Thanks, Jack." Jack started to stand up, but Ennis stopped him. "Don't be goin' no where just yet," he said. He reached into the pocket of his robe and pulled out a wrapped box about the size of a wallet. A bit sheepishly, he said, "This is for you."

"Why, thank you, Ennis," Jack said, taking the box and forbearing to say anything about not being the only one to break their no-Christmas-present agreement. Quickly he unwrapped the package and opened the box. The box held a silver, oval-shaped belt buckle. The edge of the buckle was inlaid with turquoise, and the design in the center was of a cowboy on a bucking Brahma bull. Wordlessly, Jack looked at Ennis.

"I know it ain't a real bullridin' trophy buckle," Ennis explained, "but I seen how upset you was when that old buckle a yours got broke, and I thought you might like this one."

"I do, friend, I do," Jack said quietly. "It's beautiful, Ennis. Thank you." Jack stood up. Still holding the box with the buckle, he pulled Ennis to his feet, wrapped his arms around him, pulled him close, planted a deep and lingering kiss.

When they finally came up for air, Jack said, "What time d'you reckon it is?"

"Must be after midnight," Ennis replied.

Jack smiled. "Well, then, Merry Christmas, Ennis del Mar."

Ennis smiled back at him. "Merr' Christmas, Jack Twist." Ennis pulled Jack close, and for a long time they just stood, embracing, in the glow of the firelight. Then, "Well, I guess we ought a get to bed," said Ennis. "Christmas or not, got a tend the stock first thing in the mornin'."

While Jack banked the fire, Ennis swallowed the last of his whiskey and made sure the house was secure for the night. They turned off the lights and headed down the hall to their bedroom, Ennis's arm around Jack's shoulders. Suddenly feeling very tired, Ennis let his robe drop to the floor and got into bed. Through half-closed eyes, he watched as Jack undressed, then slid in beside him and turned off the light. Ennis put his arm around Jack, pulled him in close. After the stressful events of this evening, he was too exhausted for sex, but he needed to feel the warmth and hardness of Jack's body against his own, to smell the musky scent of sweat and smoke and something sweet like mountain sage that to Ennis meant only one thing: Jack.

"Ennis?" said Jack in the dark.


"I still say that was a helluva thing you done tonight."

"Aw, will you shut up about that, hunh?" Ennis said, yawning. "I just done what needed a be done."

"Well, I bet there's a couple with a new baby over at the hospital in Riverton thinks you're a hero tonight," Jack said quietly.

At the word hero Ennis snorted a bit, gave Jack a look, but since the room was dark and Jack wasn't facing him, he didn't see it. Jack heard the snort, though, rolled over to look at Ennis. "Tell you what, friend," he murmured, "you're my hero, too."

Embarrassed, Ennis looked away. "Aw, hell, Jack, will you quit that? I ain't no fuckin' hero." But he turned and kissed him.

"I love you, Ennis."

"I love you, too, Jack." They settled back, Ennis into the pillow, Jack against Ennis's shoulder, with Ennis's arm holding him close.

"G'night, cowboy."

"G'night, bud."

"Merry Christmas, Ennis."

"Merr' Christmas, Jack."

Peace on Earth, good will to all. …