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Never Have I Ever

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They have finished the job they were hired to do, have eaten, and are about to go upstairs to their room. They are both still tense. The job – confiscating the cattle of a farmer who was behind with his land taxes – had not needed violence, but it wasn’t pleasant, they need to unwind. A couple of saloon girls send professional smiles their way; Chris says a curt goodnight, Vin shakes his head with a friendly half-smile, then gets up, stops, ponders for a moment, smirks to himself and collects a bottle and two glasses from the barman.

In their room, while Chris is taking his gunbelt off, Vin uncaps the bottle, pours himself a drink, grins at Chris, challenging and warm, and says, “Never have I ever been a lawman.”

Chris frowns, then remembers the game and its rules and lets out a long-suffering sigh:never have I ever met someone so interested in getting me to talk about myself, one way or another. He stretches out a hand for the bottle, pours himself a drink, and admits, “I have. About ten years ago. Deputy sheriff in Boulder, Colorado. Wasn’t cut out for it, quit after three months.” Then he looks Vin over, holds on to the bottle, and slowly, deliberately says, “Never have I ever refused to give my name to someone who asked for it.”

Vin takes the bottle and looks down at it, a faint tinge of pink rising to his neck and jaw. “Well. Yeah. After all these years, I still keep thinkin of my folks back in Nebraska. Good Lutheran Swedish farmers, and I’m the black sheep.” He pours, drinks, says “Vincent Staberg,” and his voice rises and falls in a Swedish lilt, and for a moment he looks young, carefree, ready to take on the world. They laugh. Vin thinks briefly, chuckles, says, “Never have I ever been to New Orleans,” and cheerfully hands the bottle over.

Chris nods and drinks. “I’ll take you if you want to. We’ll keep away from what’s left of my family,” and as soon as the words are out he would like to take them all back, old memories are beginning to twist his guts, there’s so much of his past that he can’t share. Not with anyone. Not even with this man who has been riding beside him since they left the Mexican village last month, who has his back, who’s been slowly getting under his skin.

Damn fool game. All right, it’s still his turn, all he has to do is choose something easy and safe that Vin has never done, and then the game will be over and they’ll be able to get some sleep. “Never have I ever been married,” he says quickly.

Vin takes a deep breath and leaves the bottle in Chris’s hands, but then, instead of saying “Me neither” and ending the game, he squares his shoulders, swallows, looks straight at Chris and says, “Never have I ever … had feelin’s for another fella.” His eyes are wide, very blue, very serious as he adds, “Until now.”

Chris gazes at the bottle, breathing slowly and evenly, like he does just before reaching for his gun. Up to him to finish the damn game. He doesn’t have to play, he can just plonk the bottle down on the table, call it quits and go to sleep. That would do the job, get Vin to stop trespassing. Or get him to leave – so Chris could go back to being alone, self-sufficient.

Self-sufficient, and unwilling to acknowledge, even to himself, that sometimes he wants to be something other than that.

He closes his eyes, takes a breath, reopens his eyes and lifts the bottle to his lips, without saying a word.

Vin’s face begins to light up, it always does when he smiles, it’s quite a change. “And …?”

Chris remains silent. He stands up and takes one step towards the door.

Vin’s eyes narrow a little. He wipes his hands down his levis, just like he does before a gunfight. He stands up, grabs the bottle, drinks from it and says quickly, “Never have I ever kissed another fella.” Then he steps close to Chris, takes his head in both hands and kisses him, briefly, gently, almost chastely. He pulls back, gives Chris a swift interrogative look, and waits.

“Go on,” Chris says, voice cool, eyes fond, shivers beginning to run down his body.

Vin kisses him again, enthusiastically, moaning a little and pushing his body against Chris’s. Chris returns the kiss, hard and breathless; warmth and desire run through him, and some vague, unformed hope, and admiration for Vin’s courage, and – a new experience for someone who values self-sufficiency above all things – gratitude. He moves back a little, meets Vin’s eyes and says quietly, “Never have I ever been given exactly what I needed.”