before is nothing more but a series of hazy, picturesque saloon tapestry. before has the quiet nights with a bottle of beer, your gun holstered at your hip. before is the peace and the serenity.
before is the lonely horse rides until midnight, and maybe after. there are no henrys and even less bullets.
before was its own damn calm.
it’s hard to say when the matter of henry began, or if it ever started. as far as you’re concerned, henry is a constant, some everlasting current. reminisce to a time before him, and it’s like listening to a siren’s song. a spell, of the sorts, that you can’t quite remember and an empty pit of nothing, nothing, nothing.
henry didn’t bring you to life, no we aren’t following that cliche.
he just pulled you into something a lot more similar to living, you’d wager. but like when the siren’s song stops, you can’t tell if you miss it or if you’d rather it out. storm’s over and gone and past.
ease up, cowboy. he’s smiling something special at you - you , with your calloused hands, you with your gunshot song. damn , is it a breathtaking sight; those crinkled eyes, curving lips. henry’s better than any painting, any drink, any drug.
tip your hat low, let it cover your eyes. pull your scarf up till it hides your mouth, that stupid grin. you don’t need henry to see anything, not that open heart or that lift in your trousers. you flick your cigar at him, and he takes it in his stead.
you ignore that rush when his fingers brush against your skin. it’s like a feather falling, or a breeze’s kiss. swift, chilling, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of thing.
maybe this is a storm, after all.
lights up, warning bell’s rung.
your dreams involve a blond cowboy and a dark room. it’s all smoke and mirrors and silhouettes, skin against skin, lips and teeth and plenty of other things. sometimes, you fuck henry on the counter of some old, empty saloon. sometimes, you kiss him underneath some starry sky, a few miles off town. sometimes, there’s no urgency in your touches - just an embrace and a nip, your head against the curve of his neck, your lips pressed against his shoulder blades. this is a good thing you have, after all.
better to take it slow, savor the moment. it’s the two of you and nothing else.
then there are the times when that doesn’t matter at all, instead it’s immediate and rough. he says your name like a prayer, you murmur his like a secret. it’s never quick, because time doesn’t exist in dreams, and those are what all these are, in the end. this is a good thing, right?
best not to keep good things waiting, after all.
then you wake up, and the space next to you is empty. all that’s there is a ghost of a fantasy, a name buried in your throat.
wanting’s a cruel mistress, ain’t she?
one night, when the stars are all black and the wind’s the only song you can hear, you look at henry and you wonder if he knows anything as you trade a flask of beer back and forth between yourself. he’s laughing over some joke or drunk enough to find anything one.
you could make another one, you know, keep this easy calm. instead, some cruel, desperate part of your heart decides to beg a question instead. can’t hurt, can it? both of you are wasted as fuck anyway, so it’s not like he’ll remember this in the morning.
so you do.
“y’think you could love another man, henry?” you ask, while he’s breathless from laughter and drunk on beer. his laugh is some kinda alcohol you can’t ingest, but you pretend that you can. if his laugh was the beer, then by god you’re a drunkard in the worst way.
then he stops, and you like to think he’s carefully considering it.
“i love you, don’t i?” henry asks, with that southern twang in his voice. you’ve got it memorized, really. it’s some cute-ass yeehaw shit, right there.
“in that kinda way?”
“as a partner, but not like that damn faggot bullshit.” then he spits out a bible verse. “we ain’t that kinda people, partner. ”
this is how ships crash. the lighthouse stops shining, and you’re all wading through the dark until the inevitable comes. the warning bell’s stopped ringing, no one can see until the fall - the loud crash.
only this time, you’re pretty sure you’re the only one who’s heard it. henry’s the one still searching for the light.
“what’s wrong with you?” henry asks sometime later.
the stars are shining something fucking bright. one twinkles in the way few can. another races past the others, and henry points at it like it’s the best damn thing he’s ever seen. how cliche, is it, to have something as mundane as stars let you revel in something so childlike?
“make a wish, partner,” he manages to slur. “‘cause stuff like that? those don’t come every day.”
he doesn’t notice that you’re looking at him, not the sky.
“make a wish.”
in the end, maybe you’re the fool.
it’s a goddamn opera, ain’t it? you love henry and he don’t love you jackshit.
it’s a goddamn opera, because when outlaws come storming in, guns blazing. you don’t even hesitate before shoving him away, dragging yourself to the crossfire. it’s a goddamn opera because love is love, and a bullet’s a bullet, and they both fucking hurt like hell. liquid stains your shirt, flooding and overflowing, and only cowards forget the look of their own damn blood when there’s a bullet wedged in their gut.
look death in the eyes, cowboy. it’s one way to go out with a bang.
desperate arms wrap around you, and suddenly you’re leaning against a pool of blond, golden hair. henry’s mumbling something under his breath while you move against him, side to side. the bullet’s still there, nicked in your side.
“i owe you one, partner,” he says.
“just get me a damn bandage, henry.”
you don’t die that day. you don’t die on any of the other days either. somehow, each time, henry is there, ready to grab you and pull you out of whatever bleeding dark. when you reach out, try and hold on to that light as you sway in and out of life and death, all you get is henry.
he’s always there, holding out his hand, upturned palm and all, waiting for you to take it.
“i owe you, i owe you, i owe you ,” he always says.
he does, you think.
but what the fuck can he give that you’d actually want?
(there’s an answer of course, but shit like that don’t give you happy endings.)
you keep dying but you don’t, you never do. he’s there like a goddamn angel or a goddamn devil. blessing and curse. lucky charm or ill omen. is there even a difference anymore? you keep dying and it’s not like you’re getting any stupid refrain for it. it’s a song without a bridge, a book without conclusion. it’s like shooting a gun but there ain’t any bullets.
love and hate are of different designs, but they don’t stop from imploding in your gut. this is some visceral kind of carnage, the kind that swallows you whole - drowns you ‘till there’s nothing left to drown. henry’s name is stuck in your throat every waking moment, but he owes you jackshit, and you don’t care anymore, but wanting stings .
it doesn’t matter anymore, you think, if this is love or hate you feel. desire’s cruel, and hope for this story’s come to pass. you keep dying, you keep your sacrifice, you keep on falling, but henry never lets you stick the landing.
damn it, cowboy, you knew this would never be easy.
didn’t mean that it had to hurt so damn much. it suffocates you. it envelops you. it’s all tangled up together into some fucked up operatic tragedy that only the stars bear witness to. he asks you what he owes you, but you can’t give him the answer he can hear. you can’t give him the answer you want to say.
there’s always a bullet in your gut, but one day, you wonder if it’ll hit its mark. if, when it does, it would hurt more than anything the memory of him gives you. maybe wounds heal. maybe fantasies go - but what’s a fantasy without love? what’s a wound that always mends and always splits?
you whisper his name in the quiet - “henry.”
and one day, reprieve comes in the sound of another gunshot. It’s all so practiced now, you know? you shove henry aside, you take the killing blow, and you’re on the floor again, blood staining everywhere, ears shot. the world is blinding, but you can swear you see him.
this is not peace you feel. there’s never gonna be some sorta peace for you, cowboy. you know this.
while henry asks and begs and mends all over again, part of your mouth opens to ask the killing words. “ do you love - could you ever love - ? fuck’s sake, henry, pick and tell me and can you love some bastard like - “ but it’s cut in your throat, and you know . he loves, just not in the same way you do. he said it himself underneath a starlit sky.
there ain’t gonna be any happy endings here, cowboy.
the chevy’s busted, two men lie dying. henry’s neither of them, and you thank all your lucky (if there ever were) stars for that single, miniscule fact born from fluke and desperation. this is it, you know it in your bones.
“i owe you, damn it, partner. i owe you, i owe you, i owe you…”
it doesn’t matter anymore. his promises can’t give you anything. you can’t give him what he wants, he can’t give you what you do either. either way, it’s a crossroads, and damn - doesn’t that sky look something interesting?
it’s the night, playing all over again. same scene, same story, different ending. it splits in half.
love or death, cowboy. that’s how it goes.
and you look at henry one last time - beautiful, and tragic, and what a sight he is. you press your hand against his cheek with what little strength you have left, because fuck , there’s nothing left for you to do.
“just tell me what you need, damn it ,” he says in tired, haggard, worried breaths.
a star shoots up in the night sky.
you grab the end of his collar and pull hard, till your lips brush his cheeks - till you can whisper only a breath away.
“make a wish, henry.”
say it again.
"make a wish."