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A Man's God-Given Right

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Thing with Ennis was, once he set his mind to something, they weren't any two ways about it. Wasn't a road he went down that he didn't make it to the end, a vow he swore that he didn't keep, even if it killed him. Especially if it killed him.

So when Ennis del Mar finally set himself to making a life with Jack Twist--when Jack showed him what was worth fighting for--there wasn't a power on Heaven or Earth that could keep Ennis from him.

*

"Need to see him," Ennis said, coiled tight, a tick in his jaw jumping. The hospital air was thin, antiseptic, and his chest heaved as if he couldn't get enough of it. He squinted against the lights.

"Mighty sweet that you drove all the way down--first time, ain't it? Funny, considerin how long you two been buddies--but the doctors don't want no one but family in with him. You can come back in a few days, you want. He'll still be here." Lureen raised a groomed blond eyebrow, eyes traveling up and down Ennis's frame, taking in the dirt-scuffed knees of his jeans, the tips of his boots nearly worn to shine with age, and back up again, each narrowing of her crow's eyes a judgment passed, a flaw tallied.

"You know he was askin me about a divorce just before it happened?" She continued, lower lip twitching. "Knew he was chewin on somethin, the way he kept goin on and on about his folks when he don't hardly never talk about them."

Ennis rocked back and forth on his feet, right to left, left to right, like he was weighing a burden, deciding whether to hold it tighter or set it down.

When he looked up at her, his chest, usually concave, expanded.

"Yeah." He exhaled. "Jack told me about it."

He stepped past her with a tilt of his head, a muttered ma'am, and walked straight into Jack's room.

*

Years passed from the day that they came close to ending, from the words I did once and all them things I don't know. The time wasn't a slow drip or a rapid rush, just moments and spaces where they mustered up the will to change, discovered resting places and times it didn't always have to be so damn hard.

The found the footing to move down the mountain, into each other's borders, trespassing the shoot em zone and tearing down fences instead of mending them higher and tighter. The hammers dropped into the dirt and tire irons, imagined and real, lost their power.

*

"This place is a real piece a shit." Jack delivered a swift kick to the side of the shack; it shuddered, loudly, dust rustling down from the eaves in gray and black plumes. "Don't even need the tractor. Could blow these fuckin walls down myself."

Ennis put a hand on Jack's thigh, still encased in the layer of plastered cast. "Take it easy, bud. Plenty a time for that when you've got your strength back."

Jack laughed, loud and braying, like Ennis hadn't heard since the day he'd arrived in Texas.

"I am pretty handy with a crow bar," Jack gasped, leaning against Ennis, letting his head loll into the crook of Ennis's neck, his breath billowing warmly in the collar of Ennis's shirt.

Ennis scowled--wasn't funny, wasn't ever going to be funny to him--but Jack's laugh was like the sun coming out after ten months of winter.

"Hmmm," he grunted, a tired smile stretching his lips as he listened to Jack and looked at what would soon be their home.

*

Shacks don't turn into palaces over night, and land doesn't just give up all its secrets to the first man who digs his fingers in, but the same way they'd learned each other, they learned their home, learned its unique rhythms and cycles and when to reinforce the roof and when not to plant, otherwise the birds would get to their crops before the first tender leaves could even find the sun.

Their roots gave them stability and comfort, helped them weather the inevitable trouble, made the nights when one of them had to sit on the porch with the shotgun easier to bear. The anger mostly burned out in their youth; now, they knew better than to rile.

They survived, and as long as they were surviving together, it was good enough.

*

"Smells like rain," Ennis said, taking a step forward on the porch and pressing the meat of his palm to the base of Jack's neck.

"Bring em in?" The humidity made the down around Jack's hairline curl.

"Can do it, your knee's botherin you."

Jack leaned into Ennis's grip, whistling. "Ten fuckin years. Can't believe it. Still feels like it was done yesterday."

Ennis's arm curled around Jack's chest.

"Ten best years a my life, Jack." He whispered, cotton-soft, but he knew Jack heard him. He'd said it often enough.

*

The thing about Jack was, once he found something worth fighting for, he'd keep at it until the day he died. He figured that if it wasn't worth dying for, it wasn't worth much at all, and he hadn't been about to let a group of ignorant fuckin bastards take that away from him. He'd told them as much, his fists slamming, feet into exposed diaphragms, and a crowbar out of the back of his truck that he kept in case of emergencies.

Change came slow for him and Ennis, sure enough, but blood is stronger than fear, and any man goaded long enough will fight back. On that particular sun-soaked, wind-bitten afternoon in 1983, a man named Jack Twist fought back and won, won his God-given right to live however the hell he damn well pleased.