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Vin has been riding with Chris for a year or so, and they’ve been sharing blankets for almost as long. Most of the time, sharing blankets is exciting and warm, but sometimes it goes differently. Sometimes it goes like this.

They find a hotel, walk up to their room, lock the door, and immediately Chris jerks his head towards the bed, goes to his saddlebags and grabs the small bottle of oil. Vin nods, takes off his gunbelt, unbuckles his trouser belt and lies down, face against the pillow, nose filling with the smell of oil, ears alert to the rustle of cloth as Chris unbuttons trousers and underwear.

The preliminaries are quick. Chris’s hands seize Vin’s hips, pulling him up so that he’s on his knees and elbows, and yank down trousers and long johns in one forceful motion. His oiled fingers part his legs, open and coat him, quickly and efficiently, no teasing, no tenderness, just silent determination.

This time, they have just finished a job. Two families fighting over the rights of access to a stream, each with a dozen armed riders, each hiring a couple of professional guns in order to bring things to an end. By the time it was over, both sides had lost sons. Chris had killed the other family’s youngest, as he was about to shoot Vin in the back.

A job like many others. You do what you’re paid to do, get your money, ride out, and another small spark inside you has gone out. It’s what you are, it’s the consequence of the choices you made years ago, and there’s no going back. They both know it.

But Chris hates it.

Chris takes himself out, quickly oils himself, positions himself and pushes into Vin. Vin draws his breath in sharply as Chris starts pounding into him, hard fierce thrusts that drive him forward on the bed and make his flesh burn and his cock fill and start leaking. The room is full of the smell of sweat and oil, and all Vin can hear are the bed creaking and Chris’s grunts as he slams him against the mattress, hard work more than pleasure. He closes his eyes tightly, desire starting to race through his body all the way to the soles of his feet, and the first time they coupled like this comes back to him, raw and unforgettable.

They’d been drifting together around Texas after Ixcatlàn, and they’d started sharing their money first and their bedroll soon afterwards. One afternoon they’d just left Groveton, in Trinity County, and a mile or so out of town, in a small clearing, they saw a coloured man hanging from a tree, hands tied behind his back, features purple and swollen, a sign that said THIEF hanging from his stretched-out neck. Chris paled, swore and wheeled his horse around, back towards town. Vin grabbed his arm and said, If the lawmen didn’t stop this, there’s nothin we can do. They cut the man down and buried him, neither saying anything, each keeping his anger simmering inside his guts.

That night, Chris sat on the other side of the campfire from Vin, with clenched hands and compressed lips and eyes full of darkness, and Vin thought about Chris’s offer on that first night in Camargo, in the saloon with the Mexicans, and how he’d made his mind up to follow Chris wherever that job took them, and how now this friendship was the one thing that mattered most to him. He looked steadily back at Chris across the campfire, just like he’d looked at him across the saloon table in Camargo, and said bluntly, You can fuck me if that’ll help. Chris nodded acceptance and took Vin straight away, thrusting wildly inside his body for a long time, gripping his hips so hard that Vin had bruises for days afterwards. The next morning, Chris, deep black shadows under his eyes, stood stiffly in front of Vin, not touching him, and said, You want to go off on your own, I won’t stop you. Vin shrugged and gave Chris a small headshake and the ghost of a grin, and said, Nah. Easier if there’s two of us.

It is easier. After nearly twenty years of keeping himself fed, clothed and solvent, Vin has found out that sharing decisions isn’t all that hard. And that at times, as they travel and work, it’s kind of a relief to let someone else do the deciding. At night as well, some of the time: no responsibility, no worry about the right way of giving pleasure, no obligation to return the favour.

What they’re doing right now – it’s not all that easy, but it works. Yes, there are things Chris won’t, can’t talk about, but there are ways friends can reach out and listen without one single word being spoken, and it’s good for them both.

Chris sort of reads Vin’s mind, reaches under and down, wraps his hand around Vin’s stiff cock and starts giving him quick hard jerks, and all thoughts fly out of Vin’s mind like a flock of birds after a gunshot, and there’s just pleasure, so intense, so good. He shoves back against Chris’s groin with a loud moan, squeezing him with all the strength of his muscles, and spills all over Chris’s fingers in blissful relief.

Chris isn’t far behind him. Usually he groans as he spasms, sometimes mutters Vin’s name, and sometimes, Southern gentleman that he is, says Thanks. But at times like this, he explodes silently, sometimes with just one small sigh, and stays inside Vin for a little while, and Vin has a couple of mushy thoughts that he wouldn’t put into words with a gun against his temple or a knife at his throat. Then Chris slides out and they lie limp and sweaty, panting.

Chris stands up, grabs a cloth and cleans both of them with swift, competent swipes, and gives Vin a light slap on a thigh, which blurs into a caress. They quickly undress and lie down, on their backs, not touching.

Rode hard and put away wet, Vin thinks, and grins to himself. The times it’s been the other way around, when he was doing the riding, he loved every moment of it, taking Chris with everything he had and doing little imaginative things along the way, that made Chris smile, voluntarily or otherwise. Sooner or later, his hard-headed friend will see that not calling the shots can be as good as calling them. Vin’ll keep trying to show him, however long it takes. He can wait.

“It’s the same every time. Every job,” Chris says, without turning towards Vin. He has said it before, it’s not the start of a conversation, it’s a statement of fact.

“There are other kinds of work,” Vin says, also not turning. Another statement of fact, and not the first time he says it, either. Maybe they are doomed to make these statements until one of them dies, or maybe even after that, if there really is a hell.

But maybe not. Maybe one day Chris will ask, Such as? and Vin will mention ranches, stagecoaches, trains, and they’ll have a conversation, probably an argument. Vin will point out that if they bought or rented a small place they could stop eating in hash-houses and sleeping in dingy rooms such as this one. He will also, without confessing that his childhood dream was to be a train guard, point out that there could be more than one kind of suitable job for them, so they wouldn’t have to work together day in, day out, and wouldn’t end up shooting each other.

They go to sleep, restlessly at first, tossing and turning every which way. In the middle of the night, Chris’s body twitches, and he opens his eyes, coughs, and stares at the ceiling. Vin opens his eyes, stirs, and runs his hand down Chris’s side, fingers moving lightly over his chest until Chris’s breath becomes softer, more even. He throws an arm across Chris’s body and feels his own breath slow down. They settle into deep sleep at the same time.