Work Header

Population: 3 minus 1

Work Text:

Henry has done what he could to interrupt Walt's workaholic isolation, cautiously and platonically -- dropping off food, cajoling Walt to go hunting or fishing or just riding through the Bighorns. Walt usually accepted the food and often, but not always, refused the other offers.

Henry didn't push Walt (much) to fix and finish the cabin, though seeing him living in the broken disrepair of it hurt. The cabin was, in its own way, a shrine to all that remained of Martha and what they had planned to do together when Walt retired -- and now never would. Finishing it was finishing her, being truly done with the totality of Martha: her life and love, her fight against the casino, her illness and murder.

Walt wasn't yet done holding on to those and Henry wasn't yet done letting him. When they both finally were, many other things had happened.

* * *

By some unspoken mutual pact, once Martha had become too tired and weak for either of them, let alone both, Walt and Henry had also curtailed their intimacy with each other despite Martha's encouragement. Henry alone scratched the itch outside their circle from time to time, though few and far between, never with the same woman twice (except for one). It was an exercise in diminishing returns, anyway. Comparisons were, Henry supposed, as inevitable as they were ludicrous; nothing compared to what the three of them had.

Deena's magnetic pull he'd always attributed to his own broken compass for women and her history as sexual lodestone of his youth. (Walt's antipathy towards her was not for nothing.) When she wandered back into Henry's life, his needle automatically pointed to her regardless of whether or not it should. He'd come to Martha via Walt, self-aware enough to know his initial attraction was more to her motherly qualities. She lacked the frank sexual charisma of women like Deena, perhaps because she was Walt's wife or perhaps because she'd never honed it like a skill the way Deena had, never needed it to survive.

Since their differing pulls seemed to say more about him than them, Henry didn't judge them or himself. The weakening of Deena's pull over the years had paralleled the strengthening of Martha's, a sort of barometer of how together his shit was. . . though the hubris of that thought, when it occurred, made Henry shake his head: progress was rarely linear, less a straight line than a zigzag or a slope you could slide back down.

There were rare occasions when Martha was inexplicably hungry for one or both of them but too tired or too queasy for anything even slightly vigorous. Then Henry (or Walt) would kiss her slowly and thoroughly, sliding his hands all over her while Walt (or Henry) slid down and gently eased her legs apart, settled his mouth on her, and helped with his hands if she couldn’t quite get there with just lips and tongue. If she got exhausted, they stopped. If she got nauseous, they stopped. If she just wanted to stop, or her orgasm was frustratingly elusive, they stopped.

Once or twice, her eyes fever-bright, she asked hoarsely to watch them together, touching herself while Walt and Henry moved together beside her. Henry remembered once lying across the bed, his face pressing repeatedly into the yielding softness of her breasts with the rhythm of Walt’s slow, easy thrusts into him, Walt kissing Martha over his head. She combed the fingers of her free hand roughly through Henry’s hair, repeated their names like a strange mantra. The staccato rush of her heartbeat in his ear was the last thing Henry heard before she clutched Henry’s head tightly to her chest and shuddered, setting off he and Walt.

But those times were increasingly rare. Despite or perhaps because of the dwindling sexual intimacy with a weaker Martha and the stoic Walt, the love and affection between the three of them had swelled into an intense warmth and closeness, and though the frequency and intensity of their lovemaking was a fraction of their previously unfettered sex, it was somehow much more intimate. Whether because of Martha or the circumstances was unknown and didn't matter.

They tried to make sure she was never alone for long, though sometimes Martha sharply reminded one or the other that she’d been perfectly fine by herself, if missing them, while they were up in Prudhoe Bay. Evenings Walt curled around her in bed, keeping her warm and reading aloud to her until Henry left the Pony and slipped into bed with them to take over. Glasses slipping off his nose, Henry read aloud to her and tried not to nod off, until Martha snored and Walt finally took Henry's glasses from his nose and set them on the bedside table. Their fingers twined together over Martha's hip, her hand over theirs. In the middle of the night when she woke, they took turns helping her to the bathroom or the kitchen, letting the other catch a bit more sleep in bed. Mornings Henry and Martha awoke to Walt's rough kiss on both of their cheeks and the smell of his French press, or Henry slipped out of bed before they woke to make breakfast and brought it back to eat with them in bed.

Henry had a kaleidoscope of these memories of the three of them after she got sick. Somehow they were more indelible than other memories of their togetherness when they were younger. He had recognized their uniqueness as the moments occurred, felt a terrible, wistful joy in the now of them and in their passing. They gutted him with the most profound sense of love and belonging, of home -- the light and rightness of it all. Yet all of it was surrounded by, permeated by, the immense wrong of Martha's cancer. He did not know if he was alone in finding so many moments simultaneously beautiful yet somehow harrowing, too, or if part of grief's tenacious hold on Walt was the consequence of similar feelings from such ineffable moments. Perhaps being older now -- they all were -- Henry felt more keenly the accelerating passage of time. Or perhaps the uncertainty hovering behind such moments made their fleeting nature paradoxically both feather-light yet tethered him tighter to his two loves.

They stayed with Henry, tucked away behind his grief. He sometimes recalled their past happiness in moments of despair (and he had had many despairing moments since Martha's death). The pain was checked by wonder and gratitude that he had ever had those moments at all, by the awareness that it could not have occurred with any other two people, its singularity sobering and sacred.

* * *

When it worked between he and Walt (the vast majority of the time), it was smooth and reliable, as dependable as the flow of a river and the rising of the sun. That undertow of love and fate pulled them deeper, punctuated that smooth reliability with bright, hot moments as mysterious as an eclipse and as moving as a cell dividing.

When it didn't work between them, it was violent and mythic. In such thankfully rare moments of confrontation, Henry sometimes thought back to when he'd crossed that chasm of culture and misunderstanding in childhood to befriend a white boy who, strangely, actually did seem to have his best interests at heart. It all sprang from that, yet it so easily might not have.

But on the Rez, any white with the best interests of Indians at heart was at best questionable (and would have to prove it over and over). Truth on the Rez was rarely objective and justice was not some abstract impartial ideal. When not swallowed by apathy and helplessness or hamstrung by federal laws, Rez justice was action. How it was achieved was far less important than its pursuit, and legality or illegality were distinctions defined by white oppressors. Not for nothing was Justice portrayed blindfolded. But Hector could see what Justice could not. Having left the Rez and traveled the world might have widened Henry's perspective, but most people on the Rez had not had that luxury, and those who had left and returned knew it.

Walt was not the only exception to the rule of distrusting whites first, but his type was few and far between. There was too much, ultimately, that Walter did not understand and Henry could not teach in five lifetimes. At such times, Henry silently wished Walt truly could walk in another man's moccasins, reconsider how his personal trajectory drew ever closer to that thin line. That Henry could be perceived as being on the wrong side of it hurt, but that was neither entirely new nor unexpected. Walt rarely acknowledged when his own actions were so close to that line as to render moot the difference between the sides it divided, a kind of personal hypocrisy Henry only forgives because he knows down to his bones that Walt believes in equality and liberty, in the protection of the weak, in the stitching of fairness into the fabric of humanity . . .or at least Absaroka County.

The only person he ever knew who believed in those things more fiercely than he or Walt was Martha. He knows both he and Walt try in their own usually congruent but occasionally divergent ways to bend the long slow arc of the moral universe closer to justice.

But then good intentions paved the road to hell.

* * *

The only time he and Walt were together since she died, Walt was drunker than Henry had ever seen him. He was deliberate and quite aggressive but, true to form, gentlemanly. Brief, quiet pauses in his brutal kisses and rough caresses were an opportunity to apply the brakes; they stared at each other, panting, clutching each other. Had Henry refused, Walt would have stopped. Henry hadn't, had instead gladly met Walt shove for shove, kiss for kiss, bite for bite. The sex was silent, animalistic, and explosive. They rolled apart afterward and lay panting next to each other for a few moments. Then Walt was up, grabbing his jeans off the floor.

Henry sat up against the pillows and headboard, watching Walt swiftly dress. Walt wouldn't look at him and didn't speak.

Henry finally spoke quietly. "Stay."

"Can't," Walt replied, his tone equally apologetic and emphatic, shoving a foot into a boot.

Henry paused, deciding not to take it personally. This was more likely Walt denying himself than rejecting anything. His next words were calm, measured and careful.

"You can not drive like this."

Walt zipped his jeans and then shoved an arm into the sleeve of his shirt, buttoning so swiftly he missed a couple. "Vic's coming."

"I will drive you," Henry interjected.

"Vic's coming," Walt repeated tightly, shoving his shirt in his pants and buckling his belt.

Henry slid out of bed naked, but Walt stepped quickly to him, holding him back with a firm grip on his bare shoulder. They stared at each other a long moment, until Henry looked down at Walt's hand on his shoulder and Walt's eyes strayed to take in all of Henry. He yanked his hand away like he'd been burned and turned to snatch his jacket off the hook on the wall.

Henry thought back through their encounter to earlier in the evening, when Walt had been silently drinking at the bar. He had eyed Henry periodically, his gaze a weight that repeatedly drew Henry's attention until it seemed the rest of the busy bar had faded away and they and their stares at each other were the only thing in the world. "When did you call Vic?"

Walt didn't answer, he just shoved his hat on. In the silence, the horn of a Bronco sounded outside. Still avoiding Henry's gaze, Walt opened the door and left. Henry listened to the echo of his footsteps running down the stairs, through the bar, and out the door. He sighed, wondering if Walt had pre-arranged the pickup and timed everything, if this measured intimacy was all Walt would allow them now.

* * *

After Martha's death it takes longer for both to overcome their individual stubbornness, that ability to apologize easily when it is of little consequence and balk at it when it is something significant. The size and shape of their individual, private grief is compounded by a nebulous weight they don't discuss.

Patience became inertia for Henry. For some time he avoided overtures of comfort that Walt might misconstrue, however understandably. Bereft himself, he didn't know how to pull Walt from the depths of grief without seemingly offering himself in her stead, and the possibility of irreparably fucking it up stayed his hand, stilled his tongue.

All Henry could do was stand there while Walt's throat worked silently and his eyes welled with unshed tears and they couldn't look at each other. Henry bore witness because he was Walt's friend, his oldest and only friend. He touched Walt in ways appropriate even for a sympathetic stranger -- a hand on Walt's forearm, the strong grip on his shoulder. It was not enough, but more felt precarious. Henry can not face life without them both and a distant Walt is still a Walt in his life. Walt needs time and Henry will not rush it. He will wait however long it takes.

He knows the loss of Martha's warmth and inclusiveness, her wisdom and understanding of he and Walt and their history, the way she opened her heart and her life with Walt to include Henry at no small risk to herself -- it is all the more devastating to Walt than he. The enormity of the loss, even for Henry, is stunning at times, and the rare moments when he allows self-pity to pierce his grief are upsetting.

Martha was so much more than merely kind that saying she was a good woman is both utterly true and ridiculous understatement. Her kindness and generosity, her reciprocity in word and deed, her sense of fairness and justice is unmatched in anyone else Henry has ever met. Her death was a loss for everyone; she is missed and grieved by people from all walks of life in Absaroka County. So when his grief glances down that self-serving path, views Martha's death for even a moment as the washing out of the bridge between he and Walt, Henry viciously chastises himself.

The moment for which he can not forgive himself, though -- for which an incandescent shame flares whenever it's recalled -- was a split-second of stunned clarity on hearing the news of her death from Walt. Henry had not known there was a tight wire of hidden vigilance within him until it finally relaxed: the only person who could ever take Walt away from him was gone.

When it hit him, he nearly staggered, all the air sucked out of his lungs. Fate now allows Henry the opportunity to be ascendant in Walt's life again, and he will not avail himself of it. He can not. What kind of grief could do such a thing? (What kind of of friend would he be if he did?) Ordinary people might succumb to it, but Henry will not.

He endlessly dithers between doing something and doing nothing. This combines with Walt's silent, stoic grief to throw them out of rhythm with each other. Then Hector's death leaves a giant gap in Rez hopes for justice. Henry steps into it because no one else will and someone should. It isn't until he gets shot with Gab that Henry realizes the other part of what drove him to be Hector in the first place.

* * *

There have been a few near misses when Henry felt the moment swell with possibility, the air between he and Walt thick with smothered intention. Something always interrupted.

During one slow night at the Pony, he and Walt had shared more than a couple shots and some free-ranging conversation about neither of their jobs. Henry went about serving the few remaining Pony patrons, but noticed the tired stiffness of Walt's body soften into a friendlier lean. A thin slice of his smile flickered at a few locals, but actually brightened into a full grin at Henry -- twice. The second time, Henry had paused behind the bar, looking Walt in the eye.

Walt's eyes had ranged hungrily from Henry's eyes, to his mouth, down to his hands where they had stopped wiping the bar, up his forearms, and then back up to Henry's eyes. Henry's eyes moved down to Walt's mouth, watched Walt's lips part in a wider grin. He looked Walt in the eye again and felt a flutter in his chest that he hadn't felt since before Martha got sick. He wondered if Walt felt it too, if that was why Walt’s eyes roved over him slowly, why his teeth showed in a shy, sly smile.

The phone rang then. Henry let it ring three times before he broke Walt's gaze, sighed, and grabbed it.

"It is a beautiful night at the Red Pony and continual soiree." He listened a moment and then sighed once more, his eyes finding Walt again. "Yes, he is here."

Walt's grin faded instantly. He stood up straight to take the phone as Henry extended it.

"Yeah. Okay." His tone was businesslike. "Yeah, be right there."

"Are you coming back?" Henry asked mildly, drying a pint glass, looking down at what he was doing and not at Walt.

"Don't know," Walt muttered. "Should I?"

The question startled Henry and he looked up. "Of course," he said automatically, but as Walt's jaw set, he leaned closer across the bar. "Of course you should come back," he repeated more quietly but with a particular emphasis. "If you want to," he qualified softly.

It must have been the wrong thing to say. "I'll try," Walt replied, but his eyes had already gone distant, his gaze already sliding away.

* * *

Blacking each other's eyes should be the dubious behavior of much younger men. But that doesn't seem to matter when, occasionally, they square off. Though it's fewer and farther between the older they get, split lips and bloody noses between them are nothing new; they're an oddly, perversely satisfying circle back to their start. Perhaps it is a cycle they are destined to repeat until they resolve it or die, but nothing parts them permanently, Henry promises (and prays).

While he can achieve it as sheriff, their knowledge of each other runs too deep and too long for Walt to muster much subtlety in their occasional spectacular confrontations. Not that he would try. Since childhood Walt has possessed what old mules might recognize, even envy: an occasional stunning obstinacy. It not only utterly refuses to budge from a position, but digs in as a matter of principle.

He's as willful as a stallion and as autocratic, very "do as I say and not as I do." (In any other white man, this would just be hypocrisy.) Henry understands why, but sometimes when Walt chooses that path, Henry fights it with words -- and punches, if necessary. There is less of the latter and more of the former as they've both matured (. . .aged. . .), but the latter has not disappeared entirely.

Not to be forgotten is the wedge Walt's job (calling) drives between them, though Henry does not take this personally; it took Walt away from Martha, too, and now takes him away from Cady as well. But he feels it takes some nerve for Walt to accuse him of lying when a more rational Walt knows that lies of omission are the plausible denial needed to cover his ass. He has certainly made use of them before.

* * *

Henry's life the last little while has been so full of obstacles, villains, and injustices that -- had he not personally experienced it -- he would find it the melodramatic and ridiculous fiction of a movie. His many puppet masters pull his strings, yanking him this way and that, barely allowing for ass-covering. Coupled with the chronic, grinding injustice on the Rez, he sometimes simmers with helpless anger and an exhausted resignation that can’t muster words, only the clenching of fists.

When Henry gets Walt's fists, that rage of both personal and collective powerlessness spills over and he throws his own punches, too. Throws himself against the wall of Walt and everything that, despite their decades of friendship, Sheriff Walter Longmire stands for when he's on his high horse.

* * *

Drinking quiets Walt. He's never been much of a talker to begin with, but his level of terseness directly corresponds to his level of inebriation. Conversely, he's less able to mask his emotions and muster the poker face he uses so skillfully as Sheriff. His eyes move constantly, watching the people around him, closely observing. A drunk Walt is a thinking Walt -- thinking too much. Not that he doesn't think too much when sober; he does. It's just less like brooding.

Though Walt's lack of verbal communication sometimes pained Martha and has caused problems with Cady, it has never bothered Henry. Not speaking of something shows it respect and the less said about it, the more sacred it likely is. Confession of feelings, actions, and/or doubts may bring peace to many whites. Walt has never seemed to be one of them. It might be Henry's Cheyenne influence when they were young, but then Walt was already like that when he and Henry met.

Intoxication impairs judgement and choices in most people. In Walt it focuses and sharpens his chosen actions. He never staggers or slurs his words. His movements and speech become very deliberate. Whether Walt makes a decision, or it takes him, is unknown to Henry; the difference is probably moot. Watching it occur is as mesmerizing as a coiled rattler about to strike. Though it can result in violence, this is usually though not always of a defensive nature. It can also be quite seductive. Henry has never tired of watching for it because he has never been entirely able to anticipate it. The timing is some product of Walt's mystifying relationship to both his own agency and the disinhibiting effects of alcohol.

* * *

Walt comes in about an hour before The Red Pony closes, bellies up to the bar, and nods at Henry. By the set of his jaw, it’s been another bad day. The pre-existing tension between them is a simmering volatility. They glance at each other obliquely, intentionally missing each other's gazes. If Walt were just here for information, he'd already have asked his questions. He hasn't. Hope flutters for a moment in Henry's chest. He tamps it down like gunpowder in a flintlock.

The Red Pony is busy tonight. After Malachi took the Pony, Henry got only a shitty straight hourly wage. (He didn't split tips with the waitresses or barbacks. That would have cut their total pay, and he wasn't about to do that despite his own turn of fate.) The humiliation of having lost his bar to a criminal and still being forced to work in it was ever-present. He had hustled to serve people anyway, not wanting the Pony's reputation to worsen before he got it back. Not that he hadn't hustled before -- of course he had; had worked his ass off -- but it was different, somehow, working for a straight wage. The uncertainty of what he was working towards was dispiriting and depressing, so he channeled it into maintaining The Red Pony's quality of food, drink, and service.

Having gotten his bar back is still too fresh for Henry to relax.

Walt taps the bar and Henry brings him a Rainier. When Walt quickly gulps it down and places the empty can at the inside edge of the bar, Henry brings him another. And then another. It's unusual but not unheard of for Walt to drink like this. Few people know the extent to which he will knock back beer when he's alone and there's no one to stop him. Henry is one of them.

The busy hour passes quickly and soon enough it is last call. Henry, the waitresses Cissy and Jess and the barback Littletree corral everyone, herd them towards the door, check the bathrooms for any stragglers. Walt still stands at the bar. Though this is not unusual, given the previous night's fight between them, Jess carefully eyes Walt until Henry gives her a barely perceptible shake of his head, indicating things will be all right with Walt still there. Cissy, Jess, and Littletree split the tips and leave.

After turning the deadbolt and listening to it click, Henry presses his forehead against the door a moment and closes his eyes with a sigh.

"Henry." Walt's voice is gravel behind him at the bar.

With his back to him, Henry can't tell if Walt's voice is gruff with anger or something else. He slowly turns around and goes back through the swinging doors, the doors through which they’d thrown each other, fighting. For the first time since he arrived, Walt turns and looks him in the eye, his elbow resting on the bar behind him. His mouth is a flat line, his chin up, his hat still on.

"Walt," Henry says cautiously, steeling himself.

Walt just looks at him, the flat line of his lips softening, though not enough to smile. His gaze drifts slowly down Henry's body and then back up to Henry's face. Warmth blossoms on Henry's chest and low in his belly. The hair on the back of his neck stands up when Walt removes his hat. Walt's eyes are moist but his lips are parted and dry. He holds his hat with both hands, like he doesn't know what to do with it or them. Henry sighs and slowly approaches Walt, never taking his eyes from his face.

When he reaches Walt, Henry murmurs, "I believe I need a drink as well." As he turns to go around the bar, Walt grabs his upper arm, but not roughly.

"I'll have another," he tells Henry. His voice is no longer gravel. Now it's low, urgent with just a hint of plaintive. He sets his hat back on his head.

Henry's arm slides out of Walt's grasp even as Walt's fingertips trail lightly down the sleeve to briefly catch Henry's elbow. Heat flickers in Henry's skin wherever Walt's gaze and touch have been. It was ever like this -- and is still.

Behind the bar, Henry cracks two cans of Rainier. He hands one to Walt and then tips his head back to take a long pull from his. When he faces forward again, Walt's gaze is on his throat, but moves up to his eyes. There's a hint of impatience as he raises one eyebrow, but mostly his expression is longing.

"This is your fourth Rainier." Henry raises an eyebrow too. "It is my first."

"I know," Walt shrugs. "You don't have to catch up, though," he murmurs.

"I have only had coffee all night."

"Okay," Walt agrees too quickly.

Henry looks at the healing scab on Walt's split lip, and feels for the bruise on his own cheekbone. He watches Walt's eyes follow his fingers as he feels his bruise.

"Got you good," Walt murmurs, looking away and blushing.

"You always do," Henry says quietly, feeling oddly wistful about previous fights and previous making up.

Henry closes his eyes and rubs his cheekbone again less because it hurts and more because he isn't sure where this is going. But then he feels Walt's rough, calloused fingertips over his own. Henry withdraws his own hand and Walt touches the bruise at his temple, feather-light, tracing the shape of it, the way it curves into his cheekbone but also his eyebrow.

Henry's face is hot, hot as when the sun shines on it, letting Walt touch him. When he opens his eyes, their gazes meet and Walt's hand slides from Henry's cheekbone to his jaw. Henry reaches slowly across the bar to touch Walt's bottom lip where he split it, where it has scabbed. Walt's lips lightly purse against his fingertips, the touch of them both too tentative to be declaration and too sensual to be platonic.

"Walt," Henry sighs.

"Oh, Henry," Walt breathes.

The moment stretches as they gaze at each other and touch each other's faces over Henry's bar. Tracing the wounds they've left on each other is calming and healing. Henry finally drops his hand from Walt's face to grab his beer and gulp the rest of his Rainier down. Walt's hand slides down to his arm, as if he can’t bear to stop touching now that they've begun.

Henry lets Walt's hand slide down to his own and then squeezes Walt's fingers between his before letting go. He turns to take all the remaining cash from the register except about fifty bucks in smaller bills and coins for making change tomorrow. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Walt put his hat on again. Henry counts up the cash quickly and zips it into the pouch he keeps in the safe. He walks out from behind the bar toward the door to the office. When he realizes Walt is not behind him, Henry looks back.

Walt takes off his hat again but then just stands there gripping it uncertainly. Henry cocks his head at the door to his office. Inside his office is the door which leads upstairs. Walt nods once again and blushes. That little tell sets Henry's heart pounding. But when neither of them move, he finally speaks.

"It is getting late," Henry observes carefully.

Walt nods silently. There are times when dealing with Walt feels like dealing with a distrustful horse.

"We are not getting younger," Henry nudges.

Walt nods again -- nods two, three times -- then moves towards Henry. Henry opens the door to the office and goes to the safe. He doesn’t have to look over his shoulder to know Walt is there behind him as he spins the dial. Not for the first time, as he opens the safe, Henry suppresses a sigh at the thought of Deena taking his forty thousand dollars on Darius's orders (Malachi’s blackmail). If Walt had been the only person with whom he’d shared the combination. . . Henry doesn’t finish the thought. There is no point. It is what it is.

There on the top shelf of the safe are the plastic cowboy and Indian, their guns pointed at each other. Henry does sigh now, though he tries to do so silently. He moves them to place the zippered pouch with the cash on the top shelf of the safe, then repositions the cowboy and Indian, their guns pointed at each other once again.

When he shuts the safe and spins the dial, Henry turns to see Walt standing there behind him, looking away as if he only just shifted his gaze. He stands and passes Walt in the small room, but they don’t touch. He opens the door that leads upstairs to his apartment and starts up the steps; he hears Walt follow him. Does he imagine it, or is there a resignation in their steps?

Upstairs in his apartment, after he turns on a lamp, Henry turns to take Walt's coat. But Walt already has it off and hangs it on a peg next to his hat.

"Oh," Henry says.

Right then, Walt backs him up against the wall, his mouth burning Henry's with rough kisses, his hands yanking Henry's shirt tails out of his jeans, unbuckling Henry's belt rough and fast, fingers fumbling to unbutton Henry's vest and shirt.

This, too, Henry knows -- the urgency of Walt, once he overcomes his natural reserve. But it has been so very long, even longer since this occurred away from the presence and permission of Martha, except for the one time, when Walt wouldn’t stay and Vic picked him up. Being the recipient of Walt's passion after all this time of distance growing between them, Henry feels the strangest combination of fiercely aroused and deeply melancholy. It is akin to coming home and recognizing things you left behind, things you told yourself you wouldn't miss, but did. Terribly.

He kisses Walt back, of course he does, how could he not. The rarity of this sudden, fiery entangling of their bodies is matched only by the sudden sheer want, the terrible longing he has ignored, pushed down, refused to act on, biding his time until Walt was willing and had left behind enough of his sorrow. The wanting, the unbridled desire for Walt surges up, every bit as inevitable as the violence he returned when Walt punched him and dragged him over the Red Pony bar for daring to say what no one else would.

Now it is Henry's hands dragging Walt's shirt up out of his jeans, fumbling to unbutton it before his own arms are pushed away, trapped when Walt shoves Henry's open vest and unbuttoned shirt off his shoulders. Walt's mouth, hungry and hot, slides from Henry's lips to his shoulder, then. The soft bite there Henry half expected; he is familiar with Walt's unintentional roughness, desire simmered too long. But the way Walt presses his forehead hard into Henry's shoulder after biting him, Henry does not expect, and he can't be sure the hoarse, hot breath Walt exhales on his upper arm is just breathing.

Despite the vest and shirt tangled around his elbows now, Henry frees a hand to slide up Walt's flank. At this touch, Walt emits a deeply careworn and exhausted sigh. The sound of it darkens near the end, almost as if he is on the verge, but then he falls silent. Henry's fingers slide into the hair at the back of Walt's neck, combing repeatedly through it, clutching Walt to him, still up against the wall where Walt pushed him.

Just as suddenly, Walt steps back and Henry's fingers close on air. Walt's hands are at Henry's button and fly, unzipping, pushing Henry's jeans and boxer briefs down to mid thigh. If Henry weren't already hard, this would do it: Walt's rough hand on his cock, their mouths together, kissing, devouring each other –

Completely unexpectedly, Walt drops to his knees, and before Henry can say or do anything, he takes Henry in his mouth, tight and hot and rough. It has been so unbelievably long, a dim part of Henry's mind tries to remember the last time they did this, with or without Martha, even as his body curves reflexively over Walt's mouth moving up and down on him, his hands in Walt's hair, fingers combing through it –

But then Walt grabs his thigh for more leverage and by chance one finger jabs right there, right into the scar and the underlying tissue still tender from Walt's bullet--

Henry doubles over for real now, from pain, clutching his thigh at the scar, shoving Walt's hand out of the way where it pushes the bruise. Walt comes up off his cock, startled. He leans back, looking up at Henry's face, the lamplight falling sideways across them enough to reveal–

“Henry?” Walt says, looking up at Henry, and then down at the scar.

He squints at it, then leans farther back so his aging eyes can see it better from a slight distance. Henry can’t back up any further; he is already against the wall. His cock, throbbing and hard a moment ago, starts to soften.

Walt gently pushes Henry's hand aside and looks at the scar, really looks at it. When Walt looks back up at him, his expression both furious and stricken, Henry turns his face away.

“I could have killed you,” Walt hisses.

“But you did not,” Henry growls back over his own shoulder.

“I could have,” Walt snarls.

He grabs Henry by the wrists and yanks him down to the floor. Henry slides down against the wall behind him, facing Walt's blazing eyes and curled lip.

“You did not kill me,” Henry raises his voice and sets his jaw, his whole body tensing for whatever comes next.

But Walt's mouth is brutal against his in a cross between a bite and a kiss, before it slides sideways down his jaw, then his neck, and his teeth sink into Henry's shoulder once again. It hurts, but it’s good pain; Henry knows Walt’s bites like the back of his hand, knows their meaning and intent. And it’s not as painful as a moment ago when Walt accidentally grabbed him by the bullet wound in his thigh.

Walt releases Henry's wrists and his arms slide under Henry's armpits and around his body to hold him tight, too tight, desperately tightly. His forehead drops onto Henry's shoulder once more.

“I lived in a beautiful country, population three.” Walt's voice is muffled in Henry’s flesh. “I lost her-- one third -- just like that. I can't live there alone. You should have told me.”

Henry's throat is tight now. His arms slide around Walt, too. He swallows a few times. His voice is too unsteady for anything beyond a whisper into the hair at Walt's temple.

“I lived there, too, Walt.” He slides a hand up Walt's back, into his slightly too-long hair.

“I know,” Walt mumbles into his shoulder. “I forget. But I know.”

They clutch each other, breathing hard, still on the floor. Henry would explain, if Walt could understand the yokes of many masters hung around his neck since not long after he got out of prison. But Walt is too caught up in Nighthorse, the rooting out of the ultimate person he thinks is behind Martha’s murder. Whether that is justice or vendetta is immaterial, but dissuading Walt never works.

“You shouldn’t have kept his teeth,” Walt sighs heavily, his stubbled cheek rough as sandpaper on Henry’s shoulder. His statement addresses nothing and everything.

“I had to,” Henry murmurs.

Walt raises his head from Henry’s shoulder to face him. His expression is exhausted but compassionate, his eyes wet and bright. He nods slowly and puts a hand on Henry’s bruised cheek ever so lightly.

“You shot Walker Browning's man,” he whispers. “You followed me to the Crow Rez.” He sighs again. “Oh, Henry.”

Henry can’t speak. For both their sakes, the less Walt knows, the better -- and his singular focus has blinded him to connecting the dots, to the inevitable, necessary shades of grey, to the love and loyalty beneath Henry’s secrecy.

Until now. Walt shifts closer. Their arms are still tight around one another.

Henry hesitates, and then nods, once.

Walt’s mouth presses tenderly against Henry’s lips, its hesitance and delicacy causing that flutter in Henry’s chest, and this time it won’t stop. To be understood, Henry thinks: to be understood, fully, completely, is to be loved -- they are the same.

His lips part for a touch of Walt’s tongue and then suddenly Walt is devouring his mouth, his hands fast at work finally pushing and pulling Henry’s vest and shirt completely off him, divesting himself of his shirt. Their teeth knock against each other and the back of Henry’s head thumps back against the wall behind him with Walt’s ferocious kiss. The wall is cold on his back and his jeans are still tangled around his knees.

But Walt’s hands are warm and swift, shoving Henry’s jeans and boxers down and off his feet, still in their socks. Their breath is harsh when their mouths part a moment as Walt urges Henry out of his lap and up to the bed, both of them grabbing the edge of the mattress for leverage like the old men they are becoming. On their feet finally, Walt shoves Henry down to the bed. Henry sits on the edge of the bed a brief moment as Walt quickly shucks his jeans and briefs.

Then Walt is on him, warm, lanky, strong, laying Henry out flat on the made bed. His chest hair brushes Henry’s skin, sensual and a bit ticklish, until he settles heavily on Henry, their bodies aligned and legs twining together. Walt leans up on one elbow, looking down at Henry for a moment, his expression fierce but lost somehow.

Henry leans up to capture Walt’s bottom lip with his mouth, which slides into a deep kiss, each of them permitting the other’s tongue entrance. The recapturing of a seamless rhythm they have not had together in so very long is wonderful and wistful. Henry is familiar with the ambivalence of break-up sex, but this is not that. It is a return home to a familiar and yet changed landscape.

Walt’s mouth moves from Henry’s to his cheek, the lightest pressing of lips on Henry's bruised abrasion there, and then his lips trail down to Henry’s jaw, then his collar bone. He relaxes all the way on Henry and the warm weight is comfortable and necessary. Henry’s hands roam over the landscape he’s always known, known since they were young colts sparring and loving each other and anyone that would have them.

There is gray in Walt’s chest hair and gray in Henry’s hair and the passage of time means nothing. His fingers brush across Walt’s nipple as Walt’s lips settle on his, the hitch in Walt’s breath only a ticklish exhalation on Henry’s nipple before Walt sucks it into his warm, wet mouth. He knows Henry, knows just the right amount of teeth to use, and Henry arches up as Walt sucks his nipple hard.

Walt is still up on one elbow, but his big free hand roams roughly over Henry’s flank, down to his hip, the calloused roughness gentle over the bullet wound as Walt’s hand strokes gently up and down Henry’s thigh, edging closer and closer to Henry’s hardening cock with each stroke.

Henry’s fingers are tight in Walt’s shoulders now but he slides the one down Walt’s back, down over his hip, cupping his buttock and pulling them closer together, the heat and fur of their erections alongside each other now. He gives an abbreviated push and then a pull, making Walt rock against him deliciously.

But Walt releases Henry’s nipple roughly, and moves his mouth further down to Henry’s hip, sliding down in bed against Henry until his lips are soft and hot on Henry’s thigh. He flinches when he feels Walt’s fingertips on the scarred wound, but then they slide down behind his knee to bend his leg and turn him gently so those lips can press on the wound itself. There is the warmth and wetness of tongue on the sensitive wound and Henry relaxes. Walt slowly licks it and then presses his lips just around the edge of it, over and over and over. Henry sighs deeply and suddenly tears well in his eyes. His hands once again on Walt’s shoulder, grip harder now.

Walt’s mouth moves up from the wound to trail up to the fuzz of Henry’s inner thigh, his hand smoothing down Henry’s upper leg and pushing Henry’s legs apart. He settles between Henry’s thighs, his breath huffing through the hair at the base of Henry’s cock before his lips touch lightly on the shaft. His earlier ferocity is gone, every movement slow and deliberate. When he slowly and completely engulfs Henry’s cock with his mouth, Henry’s stomach tightens with the inevitability and melancholy pleasure. He can’t stop his mind from casting back to the last time Walt was like this, the last time they were together like this, with Martha watching. Their one encounter since her death was nothing at all like this or that, frantic yet detached as it was.

Walt brings Henry to the edge quickly, a combination of Henry’s abstinence and Walt knowing all of Henry’s weaknesses, how to keep his finger on the trigger without firing him off. Walt keeps him there, simmering and barely contained, this pleasure so familiar and yet foreign again with its long absence. Henry’s eyes squeeze shut tight with the unbearable pleasure and his unshed tears escape, sliding down past the hair of his temples and into the shells of both ears.

“Walt.” His voice is hoarse.

Walt comes up off Henry’s cock slowly to answer, an excruciating absence and yet a welcome retreat from the edge.

“Let me,” Henry groans, his hands pushing Walt up off him, over onto his back, feverish with desire and desperate to capture everything he can here, uncertain if or when this will happen again, and aching at the disloyalty of that pragmatic thought.

Walt settles on his back and Henry quickly straddles his thighs, leaning over to open the bedside table drawer for a long unused tube of lubricant. Walt watches Henry flick it open with one hand, watches the dust motes fly off and hover in the light of the bedside lamp, before meeting Henry’s eyes.

He swallows, his mouth dry and slack. “I’m sorry,” he half-whispers, half-murmurs, his voice unsteady, eyes dark.

“I know,” Henry replies quietly, the surge of emotion in his chest making him lean forward and press their mouths together hard, sighing into Walt’s lips.

Their mouths part only long enough for Henry to squirt lube on his own fingers, and then he tosses the tube aside, hearing it hit the floor. He leans back down to take Walt’s mouth with his own, reaching down to lube Walt’s cock and then reaching back to smear the rest on himself. Their mouths part only long enough for Henry to rise up and position Walt’s cock at his hole, right there where he is ready but unused to this anymore. He shoves his ass back just enough for the tip of Walt’s cock to enter him. It is probably not enough lube and he has not prepped himself, nor did Walt, neither of them apparently expecting this. But Henry does not care.

It’s tight and hurts as he pushes himself down on Walt’s cock, but it’s the good kind of hurt and then his mouth settles on Walt’s again, and Walt kisses him like it is the first time or the last time or maybe both together. Henry slowly inches himself back onto Walt, trying not to pant with the simultaneous pleasure and pain, breathing deep, trying to relax and let Walt in.

Walt’s hands on his hips are tight and hot, fingers pressed bruising-hard in Henry’s flesh.

Almost there, almost all the way -- Henry sinks down that last half inch of Walt’s widest girth, the pleasure-pain achingly sweet and Walt’s lips murmuring incoherently against his own, until Henry dimly realizes Walt is saying his name over and over. Walt’s one hand slides from Henry’s hip, its pressure lessening as it moves down to gently stroke Henry’s bullet scar, the sensitive flesh itself undecided if the touch is welcome or unwelcome.

Henry rises up on his knees, the drag of Walt’s length almost all the way out of him a deeply pleasurable lessening of girth, and their mouths part briefly before Henry sinks back down on Walt again, his tightness relaxing, taking Walt inside him to the hilt though the stretch still hurts, but less. Their mouths are rough and wet together, alternating deep kisses with just the touch of their lips. Henry begins to move faster. He can’t get leverage so close to Walt, so he pulls their mouths unwillingly apart and sits up more. The pain and ache in his wounded thigh burns as he moves up and down on Walt’s cock, fucking himself hard and never dropping Walt’s gaze, watching Walt’s lips form a tight line as he gets close and his hips start to buck under Henry. Henry puts one hand against Walt’s chest, over Walt’s nipple, and puts the other on his cock to stroke himself so they will come together.

“Nuh,” Walt grunts inarticulately, and he sits up under Henry, dragging their mouths together and moving them swiftly and forcefully, flipping Henry around onto his back. He shoves Henry’s knee back, gaze locked on Henry’s, holding himself up with both hands and starting a slow rhythm, a long pull almost all the way out and then a rough shove deep into Henry that makes Henry tremble with the force and pleasure.

But then Walt lowers himself onto Henry so they are eye to eye, chest to chest. He strokes Henry’s hair out of his eyes, gazing at him with a terrible, loving, lost expression until he closes his eyes and lowers his face. Henry’s eyes fall shut as Walt kisses him gently, so sweetly, and moves slowly in and out, building a steady rhythm. Nothing exists but this, the two of them. Henry’s heart clenches like a fist to hold forever this unbearable sweetness and closeness, Walt moving in and out of him. He moves steady and sure, rocking strong and solid against Henry, inside him, same as it ever was but so much harder to take this time for all that it had seemed utterly lost. His lips are urgent against Henry’s, their kiss suddenly turning rough and needy. Henry catches Walt’s bottom lip in his teeth and then he tastes it, the salty, metallic taste of Walt’s blood on his tongue where the scab in the split Henry inflicted must have broken open again.

As if Walt tastes it too, he begins to move faster, harder, deeper in Henry. His mouth slides to kiss Henry’s cheeks, his forehead, his hairline, until Walt’s lips slide sideways to his jaw and Henry’s do the same on Walt’s jaw and then the side of his neck. Walt presses his forehead hard into the pillow beside Henry’s head, suddenly a point of balance, and begins to speed up his thrusts. He slowly escalates into an insatiable, unstoppable pounding. Henry’s wounded leg hurts, spread wide, holding himself open with a hand behind his own knee for Walt. He slides his other hand down between them and squeezes his own cock just as Walt hits that spot.

The growing violence of their movement together, the tight closeness of their bodies impedes Henry fully stroking himself but it matters not: Henry quickly scales the full height from building excitement to intolerable pleasure about to burst free; it spills over and his uncontrollable spurts tighten him rhythmically on Walt, the spasms pushing Walt over the edge as well. Walt’s guttural groan next to Henry’s shoulder means he is there, his rhythm and speed nailing Henry to the yielding bed as they both pant and gasp through their orgasms.

Walt collapses down on Henry, and the taut pull of Henry’s injured thigh -- why hitch up that particular thigh? his exhausted mind wonders briefly -- is sore stretched wide around Walt. His knee somehow climbed up into Walt’s armpit, and yet he would not change this for the world, splayed wide for Walt in his bed. Henry’s arms and legs tighten instinctively around Walt on top of him, the heavy, hot, and sweaty weight of him righter than anything else in the world.

Their breath settles from heavy panting to hard breathing, and the previous furious creaking of the bed is only noticeable now that it is utterly silent. Henry’s lips are pressed into Walt’s neck and he just breathes the scent he has not for so long -- he contented himself with little wafts of it across the bar or in close proximity, but it was never enough, all this time, it was never enough... it was enough only to whet an impossible desire, to sharpen the sense of loss it seems Henry has always feared.

Dragging his voice up from the depths of a pensive post-pleasure that all is right with the world, Henry finally speaks.

“Do not leave,” he murmurs into Walt’s shoulder.

Walt’s arms grasp Henry tight, like a drowning man.

“I won’t,” he whispers. Henry exhales slowly with increasing relief.

“You need a new bed,” Walt adds softly.

Henry feels the smile on the lips pressed behind and below his ear. He smiles into Walt’s shoulder, too.

“Agreed,” he whispers, and opens his eyes to the shadowed rafters above him. It is not much, but it is his once again.

He feels Walt’s erection softening and shrinking back to normal inside him until it slips out. Walt shifts on him and then pulls back to kiss Henry again. He leans up a little, and then an expression of alarm crosses his face.

“Henry--” Walt stops, his voice stricken.

“What?” Henry asks, as Walt rolls off him and sits up, looking at him with a slightly horrified expression. “Walt,” Henry says, sitting up too. “What?”

“You -- I -- must’ve --” Walt gestures helplessly at Henry and then at the bathroom. His gaze shifts away quickly. “We should clean up,” he mutters.

Henry rises from the bed, limping now as the stretch and pull of his injured but healing leg is much more noticeable after their exertions. He goes to the bathroom, turns on the light, Walt behind him following inexplicably closely.

When he looks in the mirror, Henry has a strange flash of a memory that he knows can not be his. His face is covered in bloody lip-prints that look like smeared leopard spots, each where Walt kissed his face. His cheeks. His forehead. His hairline. His lips, chin, and the area around his mouth are dark with the reddish brown of drying blood.

Walt’s blood is like war paint on Henry’s face. It is as if he wears the face of the so-called savage he would have been had he been born a few centuries earlier. All that is missing are bone beads and feathers in his hair. Henry leans closer to the mirror, touching the drying blood on his face, rubbing it and watching it flake off where it has completely dried. Then, over his reflection’s shoulder, he sees Walt, his expression half-awed and half-embarrassed, his own mouth and some of his cheeks smeared with dried blood.

“I’m sorry,” Walt gulps behind Henry.

Twice in one night. Perhaps Henry should play the lottery. He meets Walt’s eyes in the mirror, and then shifts his gaze to take in his reflection once again.

“It is magnificent,” he says softly. With one more admiring glance at the stranger in the mirror, Henry steps aside to the tub. He shoves the shower curtain open a little and turns the water on, all the way to hot, then turns on the spray.

He turns toward Walt, grasps Walt’s jaw, draws him in for a kiss, albeit a gentle one

“Do not be sorry,” he whispers against Walt’s lips. “I am not.”

Walt’s lips are hesitant against his own for a moment, so Henry kisses him harder. When steam begins to curl around the shower curtain, Henry pulls back.

“Okay, then,” Walt murmurs, but it sounds more like a question.

Henry turns to look at his blood-painted face in the mirror. It is kind of fascinating. Then he turns and pulls Walt with him to the other end of the tub, pushing aside the shower curtain so they can both step into the tub.

The water is very hot. It needles Henry’s shoulders and the nape of his neck as he backs into the spray, still looking at Walt. He pulls Walt into the hot spray with him, and there in the hot water streaming down and around them, they kiss again, kiss gently so as not to re-open Walt’s lip. Their arms go around each other and they lean wearily against one another. Henry lets his hands slide over Walt’s shoulders and back, and he feels Walt’s hands sluicing water off him as well.

There in the hot shower, he and Walt kiss and slowly rub each other’s faces, gently washing away the blood on both of them. Henry feels Walt harden against his belly and that deep, strange satisfaction pierces his heart again, knowing Walt wants him, wants him again.