FIC: The Greatest Love
Rating: Hard R for language, M/M sex
Disclaimer: Annie Proulx is the undisputed Mistress of this universe. I’m just a brassy broad who dares to trespass, occasionally, in her territory and hopes not to fuck it up too badly.
Feedback is appreciated, but – since this little effort might generate some heat – please be aware that, when flamed, I tend to bite back – hard. J
Author’s Note: If you’re looking for a feel-good AU, or a romantic, fuzzy, comforting, happily-ever-after for recovering Ennis and his Jack stunt double riding off into the sunset together with the Fifth Dimension singing "The Age of Aquarius" in the background, you are definitely in the wrong place. Anyone who has trouble dealing with heartbreak or tragedy or major angst should run away screaming.
Warning: I mean it. This is some serious heartache. And I don’t use a beta (too damned paranoid possessive) so all mistakes are my own.
This is the view from the other side – and you’ll understand what I mean soon enough.
* * * * * * *
Author’s note: Lately, there have been several stories written (and beautifully, intriguingly written, let me add) about Ennis recovering from the loss of Jack and making a new life for himself with a new love. The stories have been amazingly well done, and I read them – but I have to tell you that, for me, they were really hard to read, and I hope this story will, in some small way, explain why.
So understand this: I love Ennis, and I ached for his pain in both film and story – and I love Ennis and Jack together. But, in some ways, maybe I love Jack just a bit more, because of his generous spirit, his willingness to give everything he had, and his determination to be whatever Ennis needed him to be. And I hated what Ennis did to Jack – driving him away and breaking and rebreaking and rerebreaking his heart. And the long and short of it is that I – apparently being a vindictive bitch – do not WANT Ennis to build a new life with someone new, to give to someone else what he was never willing to give to Jack, and to have the relationship he should have had with Jack with someone else. Jack earned that sweet life, and it just sits dead wrong in my heart for his death to inspire Ennis to go out and obtain that life with a Jack substitute.
That’s not very Christian, I know – but then again, neither am I.
So here’s the story; I hope it goes a little way toward explaining why I – and maybe some others – feel that way.
* * * * * * * * *
It’s not the dyin’ that’s so hard, ya know. It’s the journey you gotta take t’ get there.
The actual moment – the passin’ from a state of bein’ to a state of not bein’ – is almost an afterthought, barely noticed at the time.
One second y’er livin’; the next, y’er not.
And ya realize that all that time ya spent wonderin’ about it and worryin’ about it and bein’ scared o’ it was just time wasted.
And ya realize somethin’ else real quick; ya realize that the pain is gone. That ya don’t hurt no more, and ya take a deep breath (OK, so it ain’t a real breath since y’er body’s got no more need fer air) but it feels like a real breath, and ya wanta laugh out loud cause it don’t hurt at all, and ya feel like dancin’ around ‘cause ya think nothin’s ever gonna hurt ya again.
O’ course, there’s hurt – and then there’s hurt.
But, in the beginnin’, that’s a lesson ya ain’t yet learned.
What ya do learn – no mistake about it – is that y’er dead, and whinin’ about it is a waste of time, cause ain’t nobody gonna listen.
So the natural thing t’ do then is t’ sit fer a spell and figure out how it happened and how ya feel about it.
Luckily, even from that first moment of awareness, I didn’t remember too much about the hours leadin’ up t’ the end, but I remember enough to be purty damn glad I only had t’ do it once.
Guess I really shouldn’t be proud o’ myself – probably ain’t proper in this place – but I cain’t quite feel ashamed o’ bein’ glad that it took five of ‘em t’ do th’ deed, and – even with ‘em outnumberin’ me like that, they still had to bushwhack me t’ get it done. Sneaked up on me when I was almost standin’ on m’ head, tryin’ t’ reattach th’ water hose that come loose on the pick-up. When I looked up and saw ‘em comin’ – and saw what they had in their hands – then I realized that the hose hadn’t just come loose all by itself. Th’ whole thing had been worked out ahead o’ time – pre-meditated like they say on all them police shows on TV. But by that time, it was too late t’ do anything about it.
I fought back, o’ course. Didn’t go down easy, and had the satisfaction of drawin’ a fair share of blood durin’ the scuffle. But I knew from the first it was a losin’ battle; bare fists and balls – no matter how big - ain’t no match fer baseball bats and tire irons.
Even now, when it don’t matter at all, it’s hard fer me t’ understand that kind o’ hate. Don’t know why anybody would hate me that much, no matter what I did wi’ m’ dick. Far as I kin recall, I never stuck it up any of their asses – nor had theirs up mine - but I guess that ain’t the point. People hate what they don’t know and try to wipe out what they don’t understand. Guess they saw themselves as some kind of avengin’ angels or somethin’.
Gotta say they didn’ look too angelic from where I was standin’, but nobody asked me, and I guess that’s fittin’.
Once they had me down and busted up enough that I couldn’t fight back no more, they took their time t’ finish it. Broken bones and punctured lungs from rib fractures were just the beginnin’ o’ what they had in store fer me. The pain was . . . I cain’t even begin to describe it, and I passed out more’n once – but they were havin’ too much fun t’ just let it end like that, so they’d wait fer me t’ come aroun’; then they’d start again, and there wasn’t any part o’ my body that they didn’t brutalize.
In the end, I doubt I even looked human any more.
They saved the best for last – or so they thought.
When they’d started in on me, they’d been laughin’ an’ hollerin’ an’ braggin’ about how they’d make me get on m’ knees and beg t’ suck their cocks t’ get ‘em t’ let me go – but that never happened. That was one satisfaction I was bound and determined they wouldn’t get. So by the time they’d had most o’ their fun, they was jus' frustrated and pissed off. I’d yelled out from the pain, sure ‘nough; there wasn’t no keepin’ m’ mouth shut when kneecaps shattered and testicles ruptured. But I didn’ beg – and they hated me jus’ that much more.
So they set out finally t' “bust up that pretty face”, havin’ already busted up just about everythin’ else.
The first swing of the tire iron toward my head caught at the base of my skull and did something that I knew wasn’t what they meant to do, but it was a gift anyway – one that I was glad to get.
I went down under th’ power o’ that swing an’ never stirred again, the nerves in my spine severed or maybe just bludgeoned so bad that they couldn’t function. Not sure which, and it didn’t matter anyway. The pain was gone.
It was dusk by then, and the sun stroked fire across the western horizon as the stars was sparkin' overhead and I watched as they popped out o’ the creepin’ dark t’ light up the sky. The good ol’ boys continued fer a while, ventin’ their frustrations, I guess. But I stopped noticin’.
When they finally gave up and ran off into the night, prob’ly on their way to a big time celebration where they could go on congratulatin’ themselves on a job well done, it was full dark, and I remember bein’ grateful that they’d left me lyin’ on m’ back, so I could look up into the sky.
The night was clear, and the heavens were like a crystal bowl full of brilliance, and I felt like I could reach right up into the beauty of it and touch that glow. Except that I couldn’t move, but I didn’t think that would matter much. One way or another, I knew I wouldn’t be stayin' long in that place.
And then, of course, like I done every single day for almost half my life, I thought about Ennis – and understood suddenly that I'd finally found a way to do what he needed me to do.
“Why don’t you just leave me be, huh? It’s cause o’ you, Jack, that I’m like this. I’m nothin’ – an’ nowhere. . . . . I jus’ cain’t stand this no more, Jack.”
That was purty much th’ last thing he’d said t’ me - the thing that broke m’ heart for once and for all and made me admit, finally, that what he needed from me was the one thing I’d never figured out how t’ give him.
What he needed was for me t’ set him free.
And now he would be.
The last thought in my mind, as I watched the glitter of the stars grow pale and distant, was that I wished I’d had the guts – just once – t’ tell ‘im the truth.
I wished I’d told him that I loved him.
* * * * * * *
Everything is different here, despite the fact that it all looks the same, at those times when I bother t’ look around.
Mostly, I don’t bother.
When I can rouse myself t’ take an interest, I usually find that I’ve wound up in the high meadows, where the sunshine is pure and bright and liquid and pours itself out on the ground to nurture the thick drifts of columbine and clumps of wild bluebells. There is the sound of the wind whisperin’ through the lodgepoles and the bright trill of birdsong that threads through the murmur of the tumbling streams. It is as cold as it always was, but I no longer feel it.
It’s just as I remember it – but I have no idea if it’s real, or just all in my head.
Time is different too.
I don’t really know how long I’ve been here; there’s not much means of marking the passage of days.
Especially since I spend most of my time – if this is really any kind of time – driftin’ along.
It’s funny that someone who’s always been a fair hand with words should have trouble describin’ what it’s like here, but I guess it’s because I got nothin’ to compare it to.
One thing’s for sure; it’s not anythin’ like I ever expected heaven or hell t’ be.
It took me a while to reach th’ conclusion that it’s neither one; one thing a person has plenty o’ opportunity t’ do here is ponder – when the urge strikes.
When a person decides t’ stop driftin’.
Mostly, I fancy that this place is like comin’ half awake on a rainy Sunday mornin’ – bein’ awake enough t’ know that it’s Sunday and ya don’t hafta git outa bed until the sun comes out. So ya snuggle back down in th’ covers, where it’s cozy and warm, and ya listen t’ the rain on th’ roof, an’ ya dream. If I concentrate, I kin bring up th’ most perfect memories. I kin relive Brokeback Mountain – recall every kiss, every touch, every time I saw the need in his eyes. So I dream – an’ I wait.
And I reckon there ain’t much doubt about what I’ m waitin’ fer – what will bring th’ sunshine fer me.
Heaven or hell?
Naw. This ain’t either one.
This is just the waitin’ room – or mebbe th’ relay station on th’ road t’ one or th’ other. I remember talkin’ t’ th’ Mexican mechanic that had come t’ work for L. D. when he first snuck across the border – a slim, hardworkin’ boy who was ever so grateful fer the opportunity t’ work his ass off fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, earnin’ a pitiful wage that barely bought enough food t’ keep him breathin’; him and his sweet li’l wife – Ramona, also an illegal – used t’ talk about somethin’ called purgatory. They was Catholic, ya know, an’ seemed t’ know about such things. I recall that Carlos used t’ laugh whenever he’d mention it – but it was th’ kind o’ laugh that folks scrape up about ghosts whenever they’re walkin’ past a graveyard at night.
Like he didn’ really b’lieve in such a place – but he wasn’t 100% certain.
Well, guess I could tell ‘im th’ truth now. If’n I could tell anybody anything.
But I cain’t, o’ course. Mostly.
Although I’m mostly left alone, I know that I’m not. Alone, I mean. There are other people here – but they seem t’ be waitin’ fer me t’ decide if I want t’ mingle.
So far, I ain’tt been interested.
I have m’ memories and m’ dreams – an’ m’ driftin’.
And m’ moments, o’ course. The ones when I get th’ call.
Cain’t explain that too well either. Don’t quite understand how it works. Just know that – once in a while – I git a feelin’. Like I’m s’posed t’ be somewhere. An’ I study on it real hard.
And, jus’ like that, I’m there.
I was there, fer example, when my mama found out that I was dead. That was when I learned that I’d been real stupid t’ think that th’ pain was all behind me. There were lotsa times in my life that I wanted t’ kill my old man – but I never wanted it as bad as th’ day he told her what happened t’ me.
‘T weren’t like when they tol’ Lureen. I was there then too, but it turned out that I didn’t really need t’ be. The sheriff in Childress had known the Newsomes since Lureen was a kid – had been a good friend o’ her daddy’s, and he made up a story about an explodin’ tire t’ keep her from learnin’ the truth. I never much cared fer the ass-kissin’ son of a bitch, but I was grateful that he found a way t’ spare her th’ hurt o’ knowin’ what really happened.
M’ daddy, o’ course, took his pleasure in explainin’ it in detail t’ my mama.
Lord, I never saw anybody hurt like that. It was like her soul was just ripped t’ pieces inside her – like someone poured acid over her heart.
I don’ think she ever smiled again.
I knew real hate then – like I’d never known it before – an’ I wonder now, sometimes – when I kin be bothered t’ think on it – if I didn’ earn m’ place in hell by hatin’ like that. If I coulda killed th’ old bastard then, he’d a been dead where he stood.
But I couldn’, o’ course. Couldn’t kill him; couldn’t help her. I tried so hard t’ reach out, t’ touch her. T’ tell her that it was OK – that I was past th’ hurt. But she never felt me there.
Just like Ennis never felt me there when he found the shirts hidden away in the back o’ my closet. I stood right in front o’ him, reached right up t’ try t’ wipe th’ tears out o’ his eyes, but couldn’t reach him either.
Not then, nor any o’ th’ other times, when he would fall into his narrow li’l bed in his shitty li’l trailer, after workin’ himself near t’ death t’ try t’ fergit how much he was hurtin’, and sob out his loneliness and his pain an’ call m’ name.
For a long time, I would choose t’ watch him – t’ look at th’ face that I loved so much, th’ body that had loved me so many times, but after a while, I could hardly stand it any more. Th’ loneliness was eatin’ him alive, and I finally gave up tryin’ t’ touch him, tryin’ t’ ease his hurt. I was never able t’ make any difference fer ‘im, and it got so bad that th’ pain was like a huge knot o’ guilt an’ longin’ inside me, an’ I had t’ turn away. T’ go back t’ driftin’.
Only one time was I ever able t’ make any kind o’ difference. At least, I think I made a difference, but the truth is that I’m not even sure o’ that. Maybe I jus’ believed what I wanted t’ believe.
Th’ call I got then was different from all th’ others – more urgent. Like an alarm bell ringin’ in my head, and I felt a physical coldness that scared the wits out o’ me, ‘cause there’s not usually any kind o’ physical discomfort. Lots of emotional achin’ and loneliness an’ stuff like that – but this was a mass of ice right in th’ pit o’ my stomach.
It was durin’ that time that I understood that a lot o’ time had passed, because Bobby was so much bigger than I remembered. When I’d first come t’ this place, I’d tried t’ watch him, t’ go back and check on ‘im sometimes, but there was always somethin’ blockin’ me from him. After a while, I jus’ stopped tryin’, thinkin’ maybe that bein’ kept away from him was part o’ my punishment fer bein’ such a sinner. Oh, yeah – guess I should a mentioned that. Not bein’ tossed into th’ burning lake on arrivin’ here from th’ land o’ the livin’ was a relief, sure ‘nough, but I never reached th’ point of jus’ assumin’ that I was immune t’ that. I always knew it might still be waitin’ fer me.
If the fire and brimstone crowd have got it right, reckon I did plenty t’ earn my place there, includin’ draggin’ Ennis into a life he never wanted. That, mebbe, more than anythin’ else cost me any hope fer a place in heaven. I still think it’s strange that I never understood how much he blamed me fer that until I could look at ‘im from this place – without all th’ extra crap that gets in th’ way o’ people understandin’ each other - and see his true thoughts. Ennis never wanted any part o’ th’ queer life, and I reckon he spent a lot ‘ time hatin’ me fer makin’ him want somethin’ that he considered a perversion, but I only saw that when it was too late. Just like I never saw all th’ anger he carried around inside ‘im – anger that he released on other people when it should a been directed at me.
Seems like a day late an’ a dollar short really was th’ story o’ my life.
But that’s beside th’ point right now.
Bobby was almost full-grown when I saw him again, and he was in bad shape – bloody and mangled and broken by th’ impact of his body against th’ electric pole that he crashed his motorbike into. I came up on th’ scene jus’ after it happened – can’t recall where I’d been before, but I got th’ call clear enough – and felt my heart jump into my throat when I saw how big he was and how much he’d grown t’ look like me in the years since I’d been gone. An’ there was no denyin’ that years had passed. When I died, he was just fourteen, and still small fer his age, and spendin’ all his time takin’ vitamins an’ studyin’ ways t’ bulk up and stretch out.
And time, o’ course, did th’ job fer’im. Taller than me by a couple o’ inches, and a little broader through th’ shoulders, hair a shade ‘r two lighter and eyes a bit grayer; otherwise, he was m’ spittin’ image.
That was a shock in itself.
The bigger shock was that he was sittin’ in the middle of the road, his head cocked at a funny angle – and he was lookin’ right straight at me.
O’ course, the really weird thing was that he was also stretched out in the ditch by the side o’ th’ highway, one side of his body dark with blood with his eyes half-open an’ starin’ into forever.
I went t’ my knees. No one had spoken a single word t’me – or even noticed my existence – since I’d breathed m’ last. And now here was Bobby – my Bobby – lookin’ up at me an’ callin’ my name.
“Daddy, is it really you?”
I could only nod, cause I was perty sure my voice wouldn’t work anyway.
He turned then and stared over toward the ditch, to where his body lay with his life drainin’ away, and a crowd had begun t’ gather.
“I don’t understand, Daddy. What happened t’me? What’s goin’ on? And where you been? I don’t . . . .”
The understandin’ came t’me quick – like th’ sun surgin’ up over the horizon at dawn – and I knew there was no time fer sayin’ all th’ things I’d never thought t’ tell ‘im. There was only time fer . . . .
“Bobby, ya gotta go back.”
The voice was hoarse an’ raspy, but it worked well enough.
“Ya gotta go back – now. It ain’t yer time.”
I managed t’ get back t’ my feet, and look down at him. Don’t think I ever wanted anythin’ in my life as much as I wanted t’ reach out and hold ‘im and touch th’ life in ‘im. But I knew that I couldn’t; if I did, it would be too late.
“But Daddy, I wanna see you. I wanna . . . .”
Jesus! Was it never gonna end? Was I never gonna stop hurtin’ so much?
“Ya cain’t, Bobby. Ya gotta go back – now. There ain’t no time.”
His eyes were suddenly dark with misery; he thought I was rejectin’ him. Again.
“Miss ya, Daddy.”
Finally unable t’ resist, I reached out an’ laid m’ hand on his shoulder. Just once. Just fer a second.
“Miss ya too, Li’l Buddy. Now go – before it’s too late.”
He smiled at me – and he was gone. And out there, in th’ real world, somethin’ changed, and someone started hollerin’ that he was alive.
And I was suddenly not there any more. Back t’ driftin’.
Did it really happen? Guess I’ll never know fer sure, but I think about it sometimes, takin’ a bit o’ comfort from believin’ that it might a been real.
TBC - immediately