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(Not Quite) Roughing It

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"There is a reason to have locks on doors," Henry murmurs.

He slides his hand off Walt's shoulder as they both listen to Ferg walk across Walt's porch and knock on the front door.

"Sheriff?" Ferg calls from the front room as he opens the door. "You didn't pick up. Everything okay?"

Henry shifts his weight away from Walt, picks up his Rainier, takes a sip, and sighs. Walt clears his throat.

"Kitchen, Ferg," Walt calls.

Ferg rounds the corner. "Hi, Henry," he says, his expression cheerful and friendly. "Thought that was your truck."

"Hello, Ferg," Henry replies agreeably.

He puts a hand up on the jamb of the kitchen doorway. Only Walt might identify the move as a cross between protective and possessive.

"Anyway," Ferg says, pulling out his notepad.

"What's up?" Walt asks neutrally.

"I guess I could have left it on the machine, but you said you wanted to be informed immediately. You didn't pick up your house phone when I called, and without a cell phone..." Ferg shrugs and nods apologetically. He looks down at his notepad. "So the forensic entomologist who got the insects Dr. Weston sent from that body called back. But he says it'll be a few days before they can tell how many generations of, uh," he squints at his notes, "Calliphora vicina flies bred on the body." He looks up, a quick grimace crossing his face before his expression clears. "It's not something they can tell right away."

Walt nods. "Okay, Ferg."

Henry barely shifts his weight again, betraying his slight impatience only to Walt.

"Okay," Ferg agrees. He nods at the fish bucket on the floor with two poles sticking out and a small tackle box resting across the bucket rim. "Fishing this weekend?"

"Yep," Walt agrees.

Henry shifts his weight again, this time making no effort to minimize or disguise the move.

"Okay, well, enjoy," Ferg nods, picking up the social cue and tucking his notepad back in his pocket. He turns and walks back out, calling back, "Be careful. Don't forget about that black bear they called in last week."

"Yep," Walt agrees, watching Ferg exit through the front door.

Both Walt and Henry relax again when they hear Ferg's Trans Am start back up and drive off.

"It would be easier to be discreet with a lock on the door," Henry says mildly.

"I'm not ashamed," Walt replies, low. "Just private."

"Another reason to have locks on doors: privacy," Henry points out. His voice softens as he takes his hand off the door jamb and puts it back on Walt's shoulder.

Walt's hand settles on Henry's flank and then slides around his back. He dips his head a little and their mouths meet in a kiss. It begins close mouthed and ends with both their lips parted and tongues touching, just as they hear another car motor up to Walt's front yard.

Henry pulls back again, more reluctantly this time. Their hands slide off each other again as the brisk sound of footsteps echoes on the wood of Walt's porch and quickly crosses it. A determined knocking sounds on the screen door before it opens cautiously.

"Walt, you decent?" Vic calls.

"Always," Walt calls.

"Never," Henry whispers, smiling at the floor as he shifts to lean back against the kitchen doorway.

"Henry," Vic nods as she quickly crosses the front and living/dining rooms. "So, Walt," she addresses the Sheriff, "I'm in charge the whole weekend, I know, but I was hoping to knock off early today."

She pauses, her luminous golden brown eyes narrowing at the two men shrewdly. Her gaze scans them both, back and forth from one to the other, before settling on the beers in each of their hands.

"I see you guys already started your weekend." She grins, apparently satisfied that she's caught them getting their drink on.

Walt salutes her with his beer. "Yep," he replies, and takes a sip for emphasis. "Knock off early if you want," he adds. "You're in charge."

"Now I know you're not going to drive that way," she says to Walt, but she looks meaningfully at Henry.

Henry nods at her. "The horses are completely sober," he smiles, taking a sip of his beer, too.

"Right. Forgot you guys are roughing it." She shudders and looks around at the interior of Walt's cabin. "I think this is enough roughing it for me. Anyway, so I'll knock off early. Scheduled phone call to mom, east coast time," she explains.

"You don't have to check with me to knock off early on a Friday when you're in charge," Walt says.

His utter trust in Vic is implicit, but Henry rolls his shoulders anyway, a gesture Vic takes in before nodding once more. "I'd say 'keep in touch,'" she sighs, "but seeing as how you don't have a cell phone, that's not going to happen."

She rolls her eyes, but as she turns, Henry says quietly, "We'll send up smoke signals if we need anything."

Vic gives him a startled look before she catches his sly smile and grins back, turning to go and crossing to the screen door. "Stay out of trouble," she says back over her shoulder before the screen door slams after her.

"Always," Walt calls after her.

He and Henry listen for the Bronco to start up and motor away. In the silence that remains after it's gone, Henry tilts his head to the side.

"What," Walt asks.

"Considering the hub of activity that is your house, perhaps we should finish these on the porch," Henry says, giving in to the realities of the situation.

"Okay," Walt agrees.

They head through the front room out to the porch. The two saddled horses and the pack mule, tied loosely to the far porch rail, graze on the grass. Walt settles in his favorite Adirondack chair. Henry pulls the other close to Walt's before he sits. They put their boots up on the porch rail and sit sipping their beers. A breeze flows over them, hinting at the cold mountains beyond and the chill night ahead. Henry's body is relaxed but alert in a way Walt's isn't.

They both take a few more silent sips of their beers, Henry's eyes scanning the Bighorns in the distance and the meadow before them.

"Eagle," he murmurs, his elbow grazing Walt's.

Walt's gaze follows where Henry points in the blue sky. He leans forward, then he sees it, wheeling high, one lone cloud silhouetting it. "Yep," he agrees.

Henry scans the meadow again quickly, then his fingers slide across the palm of Walt's near hand to loosely clasp their hands together. Walt's grip tightens around Henry's, but he leans back in his chair to take a gulp of beer. Their hands remain linked in the small space between them.

"You in a hurry?" Walt asks quietly, glancing from the mountains to Henry.

Henry nods but says, "No," with a smile. "Tired?" he asks.

"A little. Early morning," Walt answers, thinking about the two-car wreck on the county highway that he was at before dawn. "Well, let's finish these and pack up," Walt says, agreeing with Henry's body language rather than his verbal denial.

They drop each other's hands and sit forward in their chairs to finish their Rainiers, Henry only two gulps behind Walt in finishing. Walt stands first, stretching a little. Henry looks up at him from his chair, squinting a little.

"Thought you wanted to get going," Walt says, looking down at Henry.

"I was trying not to rush you," Henry says mildly before he stands.

Walt turns to cross in front of Henry, moving his chair back with a leg. Henry's hands settle on his shoulders from behind and squeeze briefly before releasing them.

They go back in the house, putting on their respective jackets. Henry slings a pack over his shoulder and Walt picks up the bucket with the fishing poles in it. After crushing their empty beer cans and tossing them in the pile at the corner of the porch, Walt takes a last look around. Henry waits patiently.

"Let's go," Walt says finally.

They cross to the door and out onto the porch. Walt shuts both the inner and screen doors. By the time he's turned back towards the horses, Henry has untied his horse and tied the pack mule's lead to his mare. He swings up into the saddle, turning his horse and the mule away from the porch as Walt breaks down the fishing poles, hooks the bucket on the pack on the mule, and checks the shotgun in the saddle holster of his own horse.

"Loaded for bear, just in case," he tells Henry.

Henry nods. Walt puts a foot in his horse's stirrup and hikes up into his own saddle.

* * *

By the time they reach the semi-cleared plateau where they have set up camp before, the sun has set. They dismount and Walt stretches a kink out of his lower back while Henry stretches his arms. They share a look, Walt's slightly sardonic, the corners of Henry's lips lifting in a slight smile. Henry arches an eyebrow silently at Walt before they both turn to liberate their tent, gear and clothes from the horses and mule. The remaining light slants sideways through the trees, casting long shadows.

Henry unpacks and sorts the tent and stakes while Walt removes the animals' saddles and packs. Henry begins to pitch the tent as the shadows around them deepen. By the time he's mostly done, Walt has the animals' tack removed; the saddles are laid over a fallen log and they wear simple halters with lead lines. He ties them off with enough slack to graze and unfolds their blankets across their backs.

Henry turns on a compact but bright tent light. The wind has picked up as the twilight deepens, as it always does outside, as it always does at this elevation. Henry finds the bear bag and loads it up with their food, hoisting it into the air by the rope he and Walt left for that purpose the last time they were here. He checks the tightness of the tent's guy lines as Walt builds a fire with tinder, kindling and wood he's gathered. Soon it is blazing brightly, so Henry turns off the tent light, hanging it on the hook inside the tent. Walt drags another, smaller fallen log over near the fire.

Henry opens a pack and takes out two Rainiers. He hands one to Walt and keeps the other for himself, cracking the tab. They sit side by side on the log facing the fire, their boots towards the flames and heat. They knock their beers together and each take a sip.

Walt looks over his shoulder at the tent.

"That's a two person tent?" he asks Henry.

"Yes," Henry nods.

"Same tent as last time?" Walt looks doubtful.

Henry nods again. "Yes."

"Didn't seem like a two person tent," Walt muses. "Seemed like a one person tent."

"A tent for two smaller people, then," Henry smiles. "Or two younger people."

Walt looks at him. "What're you saying?"

Henry lifts one shoulder slightly. "We are neither small, nor young."

Walt's teeth gleam briefly by the firelight in a slim flash of smile. "Guess you're right about that."

Henry takes another sip of his beer. "Cold beer, hot fire," he murmurs.

He looks up at the inky, moonless sky, millions of bright stars spread in a thickening band across its expanse, hemmed in only by the dark silhouettes of the tree tops around them and the mountains beyond. Henry inhales deeply of the crisp air; the scent of burning pine and sap are strong.

"Cold beer, hot fire, small tent," Walt says, stretching his legs out and leaning over with more flexibility than anyone but Henry knows he possesses.

Henry scoots closer until they are touching. He puts an arm around Walt's back. Walt leans into him, and puts his arm over Henry's shoulders. His lips are warm at Henry's temple for a moment, his stubble just grazing Henry's skin.

"We could sleep out in the open if the tent is too small," Henry murmurs, turning to press his forehead against Walt's temple, under the brim of Walt's hat.

"No privacy," Walt murmurs, tucking his chin so they are cheek to cheek. He pulls Henry closer.

"You are worried the horses will observe us?" Henry's voice is low, full of warmth and humor.

"Someone might see," is Walt's cautious reply.

"The fire certainly calls attention to us," Henry agrees after a moment.

"We can zip the sleeping bags together," Walt suggests quietly. "Like we used to."

They stare into the fire, tucked snugly against each other despite layers and jackets. Their arms tighten around each other. The flames are lower now, but still crackling.

"That is a good idea," Henry nods slightly, once. "We could do that outside." He pauses a moment. "But I did not bring a hat."

"You lose a lot of heat that way," Walt muses. "If you're outside. The night breeze never stops."

"You are the one who says the tent is too small."

The wind picks up with a gust for a moment, bringing the scent of earth and sweetgrass from the valley below. The fire's flames are low now, but it's even hotter, the wood mostly reduced to glowing coals.

"I said it looks like a one person tent," Walt replies. "Doesn't mean I don't want to be in it."

"It looks the same as last time," Henry says, pressing closer, tightening his grip around Walt's waist. "I just want," he breathes, lips close to Walt's cheek, "to sleep out under the stars."

Walt nods, the sandpaper of his stubble rough under Henry's smile. "I do, too... but I don't."

Henry knows Walt has never been a fan of public displays of affection, and Henry would rather be affectionate inside the tent than be chaste outside of it.

"All right," he surrenders, looking at the fire.

Walt turns so their lips meet in a kiss.

"Thank you," he murmurs. His lips brush Henry's again.

"We will be like one person, outside or inside the tent," Henry whispers.

He sets down his can of Rainier to put both hands on Walt. He pulls Walt into another kiss, deeper and lingering, his hands tight in Walt's jacket.

"Let's go to bed," Walt whispers when their mouths part, breathing hard.

"Okay," Henry agrees breathlessly.

They stand up from their log, holding onto each other, and cross the small distance to the tent. The sound of the tent being unzipped is very loud.

Henry turns on the tent light, and they both crouch and step into the low-ceilinged tent. They both unroll their sleeping bags, Henry squatting, Walt on his knees. They unzip the bags, match their edges, and then zip them together, leaving one side open.

They share a long look, calm, motionless. Then Henry reaches for Walt’s jaw with one hand, and turns out the tent light with the other. In the dark their mouths come together in a hard kiss. They will do the rest by touch in their tent, surrounded by the wind meandering through the Bighorns, whispering through the trees.