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Not Even Sump'n

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Curly rapped his knuckles against the smokehouse door, not fully knowing what to expect once inside, but he had a good enough idea. He pushed the door open without waiting for a response, hearing it squeak all the way until there was enough space for him to go inside. Pitch black darkness. That’s what he was greeted with.

“I know you’re in here, Mr. Farmhand,” Curly mused, his voice as sing-songy as ever. 

“You shouldn’t be up in here, cowboy,” came a voice from further inside the shed. 

“Well, I am. Just wanted to talk with you for a while,” Curly took small step by small step to make sure he wouldn’t bump into anything. 

“Well talk. Make it quick.”

“I’ve seen you staring when you’re out there steering those pigs. From across the fields.”

Jud’s heart dropped as Curly said these incriminating details. All this time he was hoping his cover would be intact, “Wasn’t staring. Was looking for Laurey.”

“Mmmm,” Curly hummed, and Jud could hear the grin in his voice. There was  a thud as Curly knocked into a bench. He took a seat in it, “What would Miss Laurey Williams be doing out with the cattle? No, you see, you was staring at me.”

Jud was silent. 

“You’ve taken a liking to me.”

Jud could feel a heat growing in his cheeks, something he hated feeling and hadn’t felt much of in his whole life. 

“Time to leave, cowman.”

“Ahaww, shucks! Come on, lighten up a little,” Curly stood again, having found the oil lamp his hand was searching for on the floor. He lit it and it led a clear path straight towards Jud. 

The other man stiffened and seemed to curl up in his seat when the light illuminated the small shed. Curly whistled as he gazed at the many photographs and cutouts of risqué women pasted all over the wall, “You ride both ways then? Or is this just a cover?”

Jud couldn’t look at Curly. Not only because of what he was saying but because of the light still stinging his untrained eyes. Curly hung the lamp up to each picture he wanted to see and then turned back to Jud. 

“Y-You’ve had your fun. Now get out,” Jud tried to stand his ground calmly, but he faltered. 

“Ain’t this something you’ve been lookin’ forward to? Me coming in here alone, all sultry like,” Curly took another step closer to Jud, purposely pushing out the front of his jeans between his leather chaps. 

“I said get out!” Jud exploded and stood up, eye to eye with Curly. 

Curly didn’t even flinch. He was still smirking. That damned smirk. The lamp was held in Curly’s hand below them, casting shadows between each of their faces. 

Curly turned his head in an act that would signify a kiss and Jud flushed red again, ducking his face. Curly giggled. Jud had lost this staring contest.

Curly took his free hand and placed it on Jud’s chest, slowly sliding it down his shirt, “Ooh my, I can feel yer heart beatin’ faster than a jackrabbit’s foot a-stompin’ on the plain.”

Jud swallowed the lump in his dry throat, eyes shifting anywhere but at Curly. Curly set the lamp down so he had two free hands, “Make a move, farmhand,” he whispered.

Jud finally looked up at Curly. Yes, up, and he hated that Curly was slightly taller than him. Or maybe he loved it but just didn’t know where to fit that piece into his puzzle. Curly wasn’t moving, Jud was certain of that. He meant it. He’d have to make a move, any move.

“How d’you keep your hair like that?” 

This seemed to take Curly for a loop, “What you mean?”

“Your hair. The curls. They always lookin’ wet.”

Curly huffed but he smiled genuinely, “Maybe I is always wet. Sweatin’ out there with those cows and horses all day. But to tell you the truth, I take the tiniest bit of that pomade business Aunt Eller went and got all the boys a few Christmases ago and swoop it through once a day before I go out with the herd. Mixed with the sweat, it holds tight and stays all shimmery. You like it?”

“I do.”

“Anything else you like?”

When Jud looked at Curly’s face, he saw that smug, smart smirk on that face of his again. A loose curl had fallen in front of Curly’s eye while he watched him. Jud swallowed again, feeling his hands getting clammy. 

Curly ducked his head and let his lips rest right beside Jud’s mouth, and he whispered, “You like a lot, but you ain’t doin’ nothing about it.”

And Jud caved, turning his mouth into Curly’s waiting one, making sure to kiss hard and as long as he could, taking every moment of this in while he had it. Curly was softly kissing back, not nearly as rough as Jud was going. 

“You slobber like a dog,” was what Curly chose to say when he broke the kiss, wiping around his mouth with the back of his sleeve. 

This made Jud’s almost blissful face fall back into its usual scowl. 

“And you taste like pork,” Curly added, grinning now. 

Jud wished this good-for-nothing cowhand had never stepped foot into his smokehouse today. Who was he to come into his private space and make him feel awful about himself, like everyone did on a daily basis? 

“We can smarten that up with a little practice, though, hon, can’t we?” and Curly’s lips were back on Jud’s in the next moment, the cowboy’s calloused hands coming up to cup Jud’s cheeks. Now Curly’s mouth was leading, and Jud’s eagerness wasn’t as strong since he was taken by surprise this time. 

“Now, didn’t that feel better?” Curly asked, slightly out of breath. His forehead was pressed up against Jud’s. Jud had lifted his own hands to hold onto Curly’s wrists, not wanting them to stop touching him. 

“Yer too high-steppin’, cowboy.”

“Curly,” said cowboy took a step back and went over to the bench, fastening his hat back onto the top of his head, “I’ll be seeing you, Jud Fry.”

Jud didn’t get a chance to say anything before Curly was back outside, out of the smokehouse. He looked down at the lit lamp on the floor, noticing his belt buckle was open. He didn’t remember undoing his belt. Jud groaned and flicked off the lamp, plopping back down onto his chair. He’d have to take care of that now that he was alone; now that Curly got him all riled up. 

Chapter Text

Jud was working hard feeding the pigs in their pen, and it was a hot Oklahoma morning thus far in the day. Jud had shed his usual two layers for a simple shirt with torn off sleeves, as he tossed slop into the troughs for the pigs. He then climbed in next to the muddy, dirty animals, going over to one of the newborn pigs they had there. He was sitting with his momma, not quite sucking at her teet, just laying there. Jud had a soft spot for the baby animals on Eller’s farm. He knelt down and picked up the small piglet, hearing it squeal in surprise.

“Shhh, honey… shhh, calm down, now. I ain’t gonna hurt ya,” he held him close to his chest and gently pet the little guy. He knew he was lucky to have kept the other pigs at bay for this long, away from the mother and her piglet. The farm only kept the one, Aunt Eller deciding to sell the other siblings. 

“You sure look comfortable around the pigsty,” the familiar snarky voice seemed way too close for comfort for Jud and he turned his head around swiftly, seeing Curly leaning against a post. 

Jud set the piglet down next to his momma and angled him so he could start sucking on her milk. When he did, he climbed out over the fence of the pen and filled the trough up with more slop for the already clambering large pigs. 

“No hello?”

Jud walked right past Curly and deposited the bucket where it belonged, wiping his hands on his jeans after, “What’re you doin’ over here?”

“Aunt Eller called me thisaway,” Curly had taken to fanning himself with his cowboy hat, his eyes greedily looking Jud up and down. 

“I hadn’t heared her.”

“She went over to me privately.”

Just in the knick of time, Aunt Eller’s voice boomed from the farmhouse, “Curly! You go on and help Slim and Joe in the barley fields! You too, Jud!” 

“Yes ma’am,” Jud called back immediately. He was the hired hand, after all. There wasn’t much he could say no to. 

“I’m surprised your skin ain’t burnin’ up out here. It’s hotter than an egg in a frying pan today,” Curly walked alongside Jud, swinging his hips so effortlessly, “What with you always wearing those two shirts all the time. Your skin must be awfully sensitive to this here light and heat.”

Jud walked faster, wanting to avoid Curly’s teasing for as long as he could. It wasn’t fair what this rotten cowhand was putting him through. All this prodding and making him all flustered, and for what? Cuz he found out that yeah, Jud fancied him and his flirty ways. And now Jud suffered at the hands of this troublemaker.

“You avoidin’ me now, you old skunk?” Curly jogged up to where Jud had taken the lead on the walk to the barley fields, “You won’t be able to for long,” and Curly jabbed at Jud’s side to mess with him even more. Jud flinched and he ducked away from Curly, a huff escaping his mouth. His eyes went big, hoping Curly would just let him be. Curly chuckled that wirey little chuckle of his and skipped ahead now, getting to Slim first. Jud held his own hand over where Curly had prodded, rubbing over the spot. He almost laughed when it happened, how could he help it? It was a reflex. Good thing Curly hadn’t found that out. 

Curly wasn’t ever doing farming, based on his job description. So Jud was surprised to see how fast he was bagging the barley as he moved down the rows and rows of it. And yes, he was watching him. But only when he knew no one would catch on. He could see the sweat trickle down Curly’s neck and into the collar of his shirt when he was close enough. How his hair was falling more and more into his face, framing it in such a pretty way. 

“Hey, Slim, Joe,” Curly started talking again, “How’s about we head on down to the ole swimmin’ hole after we bag up all this barley? Hot day, I’m sure we can all use a swim.”

He was met with a resounding yes from the two farmers, Slim giving a whoop from down by his row.

“What’d you say, Jud? Fixin’ to come with us?” Curly was in closer proximity to the farmhand and he asked that at a quieter tone of voice. 

“I don’t swim.”

“You don’t need to know how to swim to float.”

“Didn’t say I didn’t know how. Said I don’t,” Jud took on his usual gruffer tone to try and put Curly in his place. He frequently had a hard time doing that. 

“A washin’ will do you some good.”

Jud rolled his eyes and held his tongue at that remark. He kept working and picking all the crop as the day turned into late afternoon, just after the sun was at its brightest point of the day. The troupe finished and loaded all the crop into the bag of the wagon another farmer would take to the market.

“Here’s for all your hard work, boys,” Aunt Eller held up a mighty big hamper for the four of them. 

“Why ain’t you the sweetest thang,” Curly went up to Aunt Eller and gave her a kiss on the cheek before swinging her around, making her laugh. Eller always had an infectious laugh, especially when she was with Curly. 

Jud stood farthest back from the men and Eller. He stood wringing his damp-with-sweat shirt in his hands, still thinking over whether or not he should go to the swimming hole. He’d be with Curly, so that could be a plus or a minus depending on how one looks at it. 

“Jud!” 

The loud yell of his name knocked him out of his thoughts and he looked up. Curly was on his horse, and Slim and Joe had mounted one horse for the both of them, as well.

“You comin’? Or would you rather spend your evening with the pigs?”

This got a laugh from Joe and Slim. 

Jud glanced over at the farmhouse, seeing Aunt Eller standing there watching, waiting to bid her boys goodbye. He could see Laurey hanging laundry behind the house, too. Jud walked forward and hooked his foot into the stirrup of Curly’s horse, swinging himself up behind Curly. 

Curly yipped and he took off too suddenly for Jud’s liking, causing the leaner man to grab onto the sides of Curly’s belt so he wouldn’t careen right off the horse. 

Besides the initial takeoff, the ride was mostly pleasant. Jud had started leaning up closer to Curly’s back as they rode on, hopefully disguising his leans as a need to keep his balance and stability on the horse. 

“Wooaaah!” Curly slowed his horse to a halt when the four of them got to the water hole. It was a beautiful pristine little lake of sorts. 

Jud hopped off the horse first, but his heel got caught in the stirrup and he almost landed flat on his rear if it weren’t for Curly grabbing his arm and hoisting his boot free with his other arm.

Slim belted out a laugh, “The pig stealer can’t even dismount without screwin’ it up!” and Joe laughed along with him.

Curly didn’t laugh. For once, Curly didn’t laugh. He looked down at Jud and said to him so only he could hear, “Be careful next time, bucko, alright?” 

Jud nodded his head and straightened himself out. Curly hopped off on the other side of his horse and he tied her up to a tree trunk in the shade. 

Jud looked over and saw Slim and Joe already undressing. He stared extra-long and confused when they stripped until they were nude, the two of them running into the water whooping and hollering. Jud didn’t want to strip naked. Not with this crowd. Not ever in front of others if he could help it. But Curly walked right past him, unbuttoning his shirt as he went. He ditched all his clothes, too, but instead of running directly into the water, he mounted the slight cliff that hung over the swimming hole. 

Joe whistled while Slim grumbled about Curly’s “prized package.” And Curly took a running jump into the water, making a big splash. 

Jud was still fully clothed. 

“Water’s real nice, Jud! Come on in!” he could hear Joe’s voice. 

Jud took a deep breath. He stood behind the hill Curly had jumped off of so they wouldn’t see him undressing. When he took off his union suit and truly was exposed to the elements, he moved swiftly into the water, making sure his lower half was immediately covered.

“Aw, you didn’t wanna take a dive? Too scared? Or you knew you couldn’t look as good as me doin’ it?” Curly made a face, praising himself. That got him a big splash in the face from Slim. 

Jud’s lips twitched into a small smile when he saw Curly get pummelled by that wave of water thanks to Slim. He waded over to a part of the water away from the splashing and he dunked himself in fully. The water felt heavenly on his burnt and blistered skin. Curly was right. His skin was too sensitive for being so exposed like that all day in the sun. No matter how hot it would be in the future, he’d remember not to stray from his usual uniform of sorts. 

Jud came up and flicked his hair out of his eyes, but immediately felt water splash in his direction. And it was relentless. He put his hands up, but that wouldn’t do anything.

“H-Hey! Quit it!” he spluttered.

The splashing stopped and Curly was laughing at him. Jud got a good look at him for the first time since they got into the water and he felt his throat go dry again. Even when soaking wet, you could still see Curly’s curls. His chest was hairy, dark, thick hair that matched his locks and his stubble. Jud instinctively crossed his arms over himself, not wanting Curly to gaze at him like he was just doing. 

“This is a good look for you,” Curly continued, “Clean.”

Jud snorted and immediately realized he did, ducking his head so Curly couldn’t see his quickly reddening face. 

“Oho! So that’s a good one, huh?” Curly swam even closer to Jud, lowering himself into the water so he could look up at Jud and see his face, “Finally got you to smile,” he said in that same soft tone of voice as he did when looking at him from atop his horse. 

Jud had sterned his face as quickly as he had let that bit of joy slip. He had his guard down after staring at Curly. It wasn’t his fault, Curly was distracting. 

Jud turned his back to Curly so he wouldn’t have to look at him, but Curly merely swam himself in the same direction, following him. Jud was now looking at Joe and Slim at the other end of the water, leaning up against some rocks and chatting. Then there came a jab at his stomach, the same one from earlier. And that made Jud take a step back, covering up, “Curly.”

“Ooh,” Curly growled like a dog, grinning with his canines, “Love hearin’ you say my name.” 

Jud resisted the urge to blush, and merely tilted his head, looking at Curly. Had he really never called him by name? Well, he couldn’t think on it too long because now came both of Curly’s hands, prying and prodding. 

“Quit it, cowboy! I mehean it!” Jud’s resolve was usually hard as stone. But he was ticklish. He couldn’t call it any other thing. 

“Or whatcha gonna do? Stare at me some more?” Curly had risen up halfway through the water now actively trying to tickle Jud. 

“T-They’re gonna—” Jud was cut off by his own giggling when Curly had fastened an arm around his back, holding him in place as his other hand’s fingers scribbled up and down his side. Jud knew he felt their genitals touch, he just knew it. And that made him blush, but he tried to finish his sentence anyway, “They gohohonna start suspectin’!” 

“Who? Slim and Joe? Pssh, they as enveloped in their talk of prize winnin’ corn as you are enveloped in me,” Curly didn’t suspect he was using that word incorrectly, but Jud couldn’t tell, “They won’t suspect nothin’.” 

Jud was surprised at his own laugh, even though he was adamantly trying to suppress his noises. He hadn’t heard himself laugh in ages, and this was strange. It didn’t sound like him, hell, it hardly even felt like him. He was wriggling and worming himself around in Curly’s arms, laughing like a child. 

Finally, Curly let up. The cowboy had such a grin on him, it could knock out any dame for miles around without even coming into contact with ‘em. Jud was cute. Yeah, he thought so. And so what? Laughing thataway and red-in-the-face? Who wouldn’t call that cute? Especially since the farmhand hardly never even smiled. 

Jud sent a splash Curly’s way once he had separated himself, but it wasn’t very powerful. Curly giggled, wiping his face off. Jud had inched himself towards the more shallow water, and because of how it was rippling and flowing up and down, Curly caught a peek at Jud’s package when it wasn’t engulfed by the water. He was stiff as a board. 

Curly licked his lips next and eyed Slim and Joe to truly make sure they were distracted enough by their own conversation when he leaned up out of the water and kissed Jud on the lips. He then pulled him down to their knees so they hovered with their necks and heads above the water only, continuing to kiss him as they moved. Curly’s hand grazed Jud’s thigh and gently wrapped around his hard member, giving it a stroke. 

But that’s when Jud gasped and floundered, splashing and scrambling away from Curly. 

“Hey hey hey,” Curly looked worried, “Did I-Did I do somethin’ wrong?”

Jud was breathing hard and he was staring at Curly. He didn’t know what to say so he chose his most used method of not saying anything and he got up and walked right out of the water, going behind the hill to gather his clothes.

Curly sat in the water, disappointed. Didn’t Jud want that? What other reason did he have to be so aroused like he was? 

Jud buttoned up his union suit and immediately felt secure again. When he looked down for his pants, he saw the huge tent he had already and sighed. He couldn’t take care of it out here in front of the men, especially not in front of Curly. He would just have to will it away and deal with being uncomfortable the rest of the day. 

He buttoned up his jeans and threw on his shirt, staring out at the horizon and seeing the sunset starting to begin. He left his boots off for now and went over to Curly’s horse in the shade, digging through Aunt Eller’s hamper for something to eat. He settled on a meat pie and sat down, back against the tree trunk. His eyes never left the sunset as he chewed, trying not to let his mind wander. 

Curly, Slim, and Joe seemed to follow suit after fifteen minutes of their being in the water. They each came to shore and pulled on their dirty clothes over their wet bodies. Jud hadn’t noticed them until they all wandered over to get their own snacks from the hamper. He didn’t expect Curly to sit next to him, either, but there he was, his shirt untucked and billowing, also neglecting to put his shoes on. 

He chose some chili with a chunk of cornbread in a cup. He ran his fingers through his hair to push his damp curls from his eyes. 

“If I did somethin’ you didn’t like, then I apologize.”

“No apology needed.”

“I reckon I can make it up to you somehow–”

“Stop talkin’, cowboy.”

Curly looked at Jud and saw the way the older man’s lips had wrinkled up into a small smile, and that made Curly smile twice as big. He went to chowing down on his meal. 

When the boys all finished up, it was dusk and they had to get back to the farm quickly because of the loss of light. Jud swung himself up on Curly’s horse with ease. That part he seemed to do fine with. On the ride back, even though they were against the clock to beat out the darkness, Curly somehow rode his horse smoothly and calmly through the quiet roads. Jud hooked his hands into Curly’s belt again and this time rested his head against Curly’s back, shutting his eyes peacefully. He smelled like the dirt and sweat and barley from the fields earlier, but now mixed with the fresh scent of the water that cleansed his body. 

“Woah,” Curly said in that whispery voice of his that always sent shivers down Jud’s spine when he talked thataway, and he stopped his horse from moving when they got back to Aunt Eller’s farm. Jud slowly righted himself from behind Curly and looked around at his surroundings, coming out of his malaize. 

“Home sweet home,” Curly announced to Jud, taking a look over his shoulder at him. He saw how Jud’s hair had dried straight from the water and he paid attention to the slight curls the man had. It was downright attractive to see him without that wispy way his hair normally fell straight over his head. Jud held onto Curly’s sides as he righted himself, and just before jumping off the horse, he fluttered his fingers against the cowboy’s ribs. He heard Curly yelp right before he reached the ground. Jud grinned, looking up at Curly.

“Seems like we ain’t so different after all.”

“I guess not.”

The two men gazed at each other before Curly said, “Have a good night, Jud.”

“Same to you, Curly.”

And Curly went off to leave his horse in the stables for the night. Jud watched him until he rounded the corner. Jud wrapped his arms around himself, feeling the chill of the night air nipping at his unusually exposed arms. And the damndest thing… he couldn’t stop smiling. 

Chapter Text

Jud was sleeping peacefully on his cot in the smokehouse. He didn’t have to be up extra early for anything. 

“Hey…” there came a whispering voice and a hand rested on Jud’s sleeping shoulder, shaking slightly.

Jud reacted and pulled his pistol out from under his potato sack pillow, putting it right under what he realized was Curly’s chin.

“Easy, slinger,” Curly held up his hands in a defense-like motion.

“Wha–What you doin’ in here? It ain’t even dawn yet, Curly,” Jud lowered the gun and sighed, running a hand over his still sleepy face.

“That’s kinda the point. Hurry n’ get dressed.”

“Why?”

“I wanna show you somethin’,” he grinned wide, “Just come on out when yer decent,” he winked and left the smokehouse.

Jud sighed again and he laid in bed a few extra seconds. What in the hell was Curly planning on showing him? He slipped on a few layers and pulled his boots on. When he went outside, he could see Curly waiting on his horse. It was still dark out this early morning. 

“Put some pep in yer step, farmhand, let’s go!” Curly said loudly enough for Jud to hear but not enough to wake the whole farm. Jud jogged over and mounted Curly’s horse. The minute he landed his rear on the saddle, Curly took off.

“What’s this all about?” Jud asked.

“Yer worryin’ too much, Jud, I can hear it in your voice.”

Jud made a face. What was that supposed to mean? They rode down through roads and fields Jud never really traveled til they got into a big open plain. 

“Alright, now just look straight through those mountains,” Curly pointed his finger slightly to the right, at a pair of mountains in the far distance with a ravine between them.

Jud looked. He sat in silence with Curly for minutes, waiting and waiting. He was about to open his mouth to ask once more why he was dragged out here this early when the tip of the rising sun first peeked out of the horizon line. Jud’s eyes were immediately drawn to the light. The sun rose at a steady pace, enough to have the dancing warm colors of reds and oranges and yellows bleed into purples into the morning sky. 

“That might be the second purtiest thing I ever did lay my eyes on,” Curly said softly, looking at the light with Jud.

“What’s first?” Jud asked. 

Curly grinned, not expecting Jud to not get his flirtatious comment. He turned his head to eye Jud, his grin morphing into a smug but genuine smile and he chuckled.

Jud pieced it together based on that reaction and he blushed, going back to watching the sunrise, “Oh…” the breath came from his lips. He wrapped his arms around Curly’s waist and leaned his head on the cowboy’s back, between his shoulder blades.

“Oh,” Curly mimicked with a chuckle and leaned back into Jud’s touch. 

“The sun is awfully purty.”

“You don’t hardly see it enough.”

Jud didn’t argue with that statement. He nuzzled his head more comfortably into that spot between Curly’s shoulder blades. Curly smiled, not minding the touching. Soon, the whole of the wide-open plains was lit up orange. Blue sky started to make itself known through the shades of purple and grey clouds that lingered overhead. 

“I’d want to be laid to rest right over there,” a few hundred yards to the right of the duo was a lone tree, in full lush green bloom, its branches swaying in the breeze. The sunbeams hit it just right to filter through those leaves and scatter beautifully on the ground. Jud had pointed to this spot and now his eyes were on it.

Curly observed, and he looked back at Jud. Yeah, he’d fooled with him when they weren’t close and made jokes about him hangin’ himself. But those were all jokes. 

“And the daises in the dell will give out a diff’rent smell…”

“All because Pore Jud is underneath the ground.”

Jud met Curly’s eyes when he finished the lyric for him. Jud swallowed the lump in his throat, “I think about your little diddy a lot.”

“I didn’t know I was that clever a jingle writer.”

“Yes, you did.”

Jud grinned at Curly and the cowhand chortled, scratching at the back of his neck, “Well, maybe I ought to write another tune. A better one. One that makes you think of me—”

“Oh please don’t. I think about you enough as it is.”

“Wehell alright then, picky! One that’s more about you stayin’ above on this earth… with me,” Curly threw in after a pause, smiling, looking out at the sky between the mountains.

Jud smiled and he let his fingers scratch at Curly’s belly where they were resting, a sign of appreciation but also a slight tease at Curly getting all soft.

“Ah! Hehey!” Curly’s hands shot down to Jud’s and held his wrists, “Dohon’t start playin’ like that or I’ll jerk and Dun here will take out from under us and ride off, and we’ll be stuck walking back to Aunt Eller’s farm.”

Jud was still smiling and he let his hands go still, “I gotta be milkin’ the cows by now, Curly.”

“Oh right right right,” Curly picked up the reigns and rode off, Jud still hugging Curly by his waist. The ornery farmhand had a hard time not smiling for the rest of the day.

Chapter Text

A box social had come ‘round again, this time around the holidays. Aunt Eller hosted again in her barn. 

Jud had waited for days and days before the box social for Curly to ask him to go with him. It was all a wish that could not be fulfilled. Jud knew it. He knew it, but he still stayed awake some nights dreamin’ and waitin’ for Curly to burst into his smokehouse and get on both knees and kiss him and ask him to be his date to the box social. 

But no.

Curly had asked Laurey with some pushin’ so she’d say yes. Jud knew he’d have to find someone to go with, but he didn’t take a liking to many people. That’s when he thought of asking Aunt Eller. Why, of course she’d say yes. She liked Jud well enough. 

Jud went into the farmhouse the morning of the box social and found Aunt Eller busy cooking in the kitchen. 

“‘Scuse me, ma’am,” Jud made his presence known.

“Jud,” Aunt Eller turned around, “What can I do you fer? Somethin’ wrong with the pigs?”

“No, ma’am. I was jist wonderin’…” Jud took a breath, “Would you like to come with me to the box social?”

He watched her with bated breath. Aunt Eller seemed taken aback by this request, but she soon showed Jud a warm smile, “Well, boy howdy! I’m flattered. If it’ll get you out of that smokehouse and socializin’ with folks, then o’course I’ll be your date.”

Jud smiled in relief, “Thank you, Aunt Eller.”

“Thank you fer askin’. I was waitin’ on Curly, but he went and nabbed Laurey instead this time,” she winked, “As expected.”

For some reason that comment made Jud feel icky inside. He stood still for a few extra seconds and then said, “Better be finishin’ my chores, then. I’ll come git you tonight.”

“I’ll be waitin’. Putting on my purtiest graces,” she gave him an exaggerated curtsey. Jud smiled again. Aunt Eller just had that effect on folks.

Jud finished up his farmwork for the day and went off to get cleaned up for the box social. He took a bath out back behind the smokehouse, making sure to clean every inch of himself extra good for Aunt Eller’s sake. Well, maybe for someone else’s sake, too, but he pushed that thought aside. He would be friendly tonight and that’s all.

He got dressed up all nice and went to Aunt Eller’s house to call for her. Outside waiting for Laurey was Curly, sitting on the front steps. When Jud approached, he whistled and stood up, giving Jud a bright ol’ smile.

“Why don’t you look handsome,” Curly complimented him.

Jud still felt mad at Curly for not asking him to the box social, even though there was no way he could’ve even if he wanted to. They’d be the talk of the town. 

Jud nodded his head, “Thank you. Yer lookin’ spiffy, yourself.”

“Spiffy!” Curly laughed and it sent Jud’s heart pitter patterin’, “Why, that’s some word. Thank you, Jud,” he took a longer look at the farmhand and then said after gasping, “You combed yer hair, you old dog! Lookit you!” 

Jud blushed, not wanting to give Curly the satisfaction of it all, but he exclaimed when Curly started messing up his hair, “Hey, stoppit!”

“Curly, what’re you doin’ botherin’ Jud?” came Laurey’s sharp voice from the front door.

Curly took a step back, smirking at Jud, “Oh, nothin’. Just fixin’ his hair for him.”

Jud huffed but he straightened up after patting his hair down when he looked at Laurey, “Evenin’. Lookin’ mighty fine, Miss Laurey.”

“Thank you, Jud,” she showed him a rare smile and Curly immediately hooked his arm in hers.

“We’ll see you at the box social,” Curly said with a grin and walked off with Laurey. The man could charm anything. Jud wasn’t waiting much longer for Aunt Eller. He greeted her with the same compliment he gave to Laurey, making Eller grin and let out a laugh. Now she took Jud’s arm and she patted his chest.

“You cleaned up splendidly.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“Happy to have you as my date. But I’m sure there’s someone who moreso deserves you.”

Jud furrowed his brow, “What–?”

“Shh, let’s just work on gettin’ him jealous enough of how good a time we’re havin’ that he’ll be wishin’ he were in my place instead,” and she winked up at Jud, giving him a pat on the cheek. The woman really was something. Jud had to smile very slightly, mostly out of incredulity. 

They walked in and everyone greeted Eller with a whoop and a whistle. She was the toast of the town, but even when she made her rounds sayin’ hello to everyone, she clung to Jud’s arm, dragging him with her. 

“C’mon, sweetheart, let’s dance,” she smiled at Jud and signaled to the band to start gettin’ on it or she would have something to say about it. Andrew hopped up on the soap box-like stage and began clapping and singing.

Aunt Eller pulled Jud onto the dance floor and they were the two first ones to dance. Other pairs soon joined in. Jud knew how to dance pretty well, so he let his talent shine, trying to please Aunt Eller as much as he could.

“Oooooweee! Lookit you go, boy!” Aunt Eller cheered for him and laughed when Jud spun her around. Jud found himself laughing at that, too. 

Curly could barely keep his eyes on Laurey as he took to dancing with her. Well, he was moving with her perfectly fine, eyes on her most of the time. But his true eyesight was zeroed in on Jud dancing with Aunt Eller. How he nabbed her was anyone’s guess. Curly didn’t even know Jud had the courage to ask someone to the box social, let alone his landowner. Jud was stepping in time with all the beats, pulling Aunt Eller close and swaying with her when need be, and best of all his face was lit up like Kansas City nighttime lights. Laurey had to nudge herself into Curly a few times because he was losing his steps in time with hers. She didn’t blame him. The poor feller was a flirt with everyone he came across, and he’d fallen for Jud. Now he knew what it felt like to be on the other end, suffering from the attraction. She was happy for him, truly. Laurey’d always had a crush on Curly since he came to the farm, but with him always throwing his emotions around like they were laundry billowing in the breeze, she couldn’t stay too attached to him. 

Laurey gave Curly’s ass a sharp pinch when they were locked in each other’s arms at this point of the dance, “Somethin’ else on your mind?” she asked him when he looked right at her.

“Nuthin’s ever on my mind, darlin’.”

Laurey rolled her eyes and she leaned her head to Curly’s chest and said loud enough for him to hear but not so any other couple could hear, “If you’re tryin’ to get his attention, then let’s get his attention.”

Curly looked down at Laurey and he smiled wide when she grinned up at him, “I like the way you think, Miss Laurey Williams,” and he spun her out feverishly, letting her go. He started clapping and stomping his boot on the floor as Laurey danced her heart out. Boy, she was good at that. Their commotion did turn heads, and it got other couples to follow in this wild dancin’ fashion. Jud had looked over and he realized he hadn’t been focused on Curly all night. But there he was, curls bouncin’ and boot stompin’. 

Aunt Eller started her own stomping to match Curly’s and she pinched Jud’s cheeks lightly in her hand, facing his face back towards her, “Start doin’ a little jig, Jud.”

Jud’s eyes went wide. He saw Laurey movin’ around the dance floor with Curly’s eyes on her. Jud started his own movements and he met up with Laurey, starting to two-step with her all across the dance floor. Curly’s mouth went agape and he just stared. 

The dance ended when Jud and Laurey met up in the center with couples flanking them on all sides, and Jud spun Laurey round and round for good measure. The song finished and the crowd erupted in claps. Then the dance floor dissipated so that everyone could fill up on some delicious food. Jud bowed to Laurey and she smiled at him, giving him a nod of his head back. 

Soon the barn was filled with laughter and talking and other happy noises as bellies were being filled. 

When the meal finished, there was some more dancing to be had while they set up for the hamper auction. 

Jud was sitting with his chair facing the dancers, right at the edge of the dance floor. He enjoyed watching so much life in front of him. Aunt Eller must’ve known he’d have a good time tonight. 

He was tending to lean back on his chair, making the front legs go up, and he was balancing on just the chair’s hind legs. Totally in his own world, he wasn’t expecting it when suddenly the back legs were kicked out from under him and Jud toppled backwards onto the floor. 

An eruption of laughter followed his spill and he looked around, trying to find the culprit. Nearest to him, standing, and laughing his pretty little face off was Curly. Jud growled and he scrambled to his feet, running at Curly. The cowhand took off running away from Jud, sliding between dancers and leaping over benches to get away from him. The crowd was going wild, yelling and laughing and cheering. Curly rounded back towards the dance floor and that’s when Jud caught his arm and spun him around, making it so that they were chest to chest.

Jud didn’t know what he wanted to accomplish by doing this. But they were breathing heavily, staring into each other’s eyes. Jud reached up and pulled Curly’s cowboy hat down over his eyes and then gave his chest a shove. Curly was chuckling and the crowd seemed satisfied with that tame response. 

Aunt Eller whistled and called attention to get the auction started. Jud went back over to his table, still flush in the face from running around. How childish. But it did feel good. The auction commenced, Jud didn’t bid much, Will got Ado Annie’s hamper (what else was new), and the night drew to a close. 

Now, Jud never did much drinking. It always worried him to be so out-of-sync with hos body and mind, well moreso than usual. But tonight he was feeling so good and cared for that he had probably one too many beers. 

“He couldn’t stop staring at you, honey, I swear it,” Aunt Eller had taken to talking to her date at the end of the night. 

Jud actually giggled and he blushed, shaking his head, “Nahaw. No, not the whole night–”

“Every available second the boy had,” Eller continued, rather enjoying Jud’s buzzed state, “You don’t drink much, do you?”

Jud shook his head, his eyes trying to focus on her, suddenly like his brain was realizing he wasn’t looking as sober-passing as he hoped he was. Aunt Eller laughed gently and she patted his cheek, “Yer adorable when yer happy, Jud Fry. I hope you realize that. C’mon and walk me home.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Jud agreed easily and only with a few staggering steps, he walked Aunt Eller back to her farmhouse, “Thank you,” he said to her. He couldn’t name what he was thankful for because there was a lot to list. She merely smiled at him and nodded, knowing everything he had to say, “You’re very welcome. Stay warm tonight, hon, temperature’s gonna drop.”

Jud nodded and he watched her get inside safely before he spun around on his heels and took exaggerated and still calculated steps back to the smokehouse. The drain of the alcohol on his agility had not faded. He kept his eyes mostly trained to his feet, watching every step he made. 

“Howdy, partner,” sounded right by Jud’s ear, making him jump and spin around, getting his legs all twisted up in the process so he stumbled.

Curly laughed, “Dihidn’t mean to startle you so bad!”

Jud looked at Curly and he had a huge mix of emotions running through him, discerning them not made easier thanks to the alcohol. 

“Not startled.”

“‘S gettin’ cold out tonight.”

Jud nodded. He kept up with his walking. Curly walked with him, standing close by him, “You gonna be warm enough in that smokehouse?”

“I survived enough winters in there.”

Curly looked closely at Jud and he walked in silence with him until he got to the front of the shed.

“You looked… You were lookin’ so…” Curly couldn’t find the words. For once, he was getting bashful, “When you were cuttin’ it up on the floor with Laurey and Aunt Eller, and the way you was laughin’–”

“You noticed.”

“Well, uh, yeah, it was hard not to.”

Jud smiled broadly. Aunt Eller was right. He took a step closer to Curly, “I was only tryin’ to get you to notice. You didn’t ask me to the box social–”

“Well, come on, you knew I couldn’t.”

“But yer here now.”

“But I’m here now,” Curly reiterated. 

Jud stared long and hard at Curly and then his eyes focused on the cowhand’s lips. He took the initiative and kissed him hard, pulling Curly closer. Curly had to hold onto his hat to keep it from falling off, but he kissed Jud back. Jud moaned softly and he exhaled after he’d broken the kiss. He held onto Curly.

“It’s gonna be frigid tonight,” Jud whispered. 

“Let me keep you warm,” was Curly’s immediate reply to that statement. Jud looked up at him and licked his lips. He held Curly’s hands in his own and led him into the smokehouse. 

In silence, the two men undressed down to their undergarments. Jud’s small cot was pressed against one wall in the shed.

Curly sat down first, feeling just how uncomfortable it was. But he didn’t say anything. Jud lit his lamp and set it by the foot of the cot, trying to keep the two of them warm. He then looked at Curly and sat down beside him. 

Curly gave him a small smile and he leaned over and kissed his cheek. Then he scooted as close to the wall as he could and laid down. Jud squished himself in closer and he took a sharp breath in when he was situated. He’d never ever laid with anyone like this in his life. Curly was the first person to ever want to touch Jud. Now just feeling another warm body next to him was sending his head spiraling.

Curly wrapped his arm around Jud’s waist and he shut his eyes to sleep. Jud’s eyes were wide open this whole time. He was praying Curly couldn’t feel his heart beating so fast. Hell, if he couldn’t feel it he probably could hear it. But it got no reaction from Curly. The man was ready for bed. And Curly’s calmness soon leaked onto Jud and the farmhand settled down. He pulled his thin blanket up to his neck and eventually fell asleep to the sound of Curly’s breaths.

Chapter Text

Jud’s sleep was a restless one. The deeper his mind got to sleeping, the deeper he delved into his dreams. What started out as a sexual fantasy involving Curly quickly turned into a nightmare. 

“Don’t you ever even think of touching me, pig stealer.”

“But I–”

“Yer too dirty and rotten and ugly to ever be loved by anybody. To think you’d be hung up on me this whole time,” a loud, crude laugh pierced the air.

“I love you,” Jud breathed out desperately. Curly seemed to loom over him and Jud was staring miles above at him. 

Curly laughed again, that awful, evil laugh. Suddenly, he was shrunk down to normal size. He was right in front of Jud. Silence wasn’t even the word for how quiet it got. Then Curly raised a pistol to Jud’s chest and—

Jud shot up with a start, a deep intake of breath. He was sweating all over and breathing harshly. He nearly shot himself onto the floor with how quickly he scrambled up into a sitting position. Jud’s heart was racing. When he adjusted to his surroundings, he realized Curly wasn’t asleep next to him like he was when they went to bed earlier. He wasn’t there at all.

Jud’s heart sank and now his mind raced. Did he imagine it all? All of it? The first kiss, the swimming hole, the sunrise, the box social? Tears welled in Jud’s eyes, he couldn’t help it. It was the cruelest joke his mind ever played on him. It was all a dream. All a fantasy. Jud hugged his knees to his chest and he shook with sobs. It wasn’t fair. That’s all he could keep thinking. 

Suddenly, the door to the smokehouse opened and in walked Curly, in only his underwear, his shirt, and his boots. 

“Woah, hey, what’s goin’ on?” Curly heard Jud’s weeping and quickly set the lantern he brought out with him down by the food of the bed again and sat next to Jud.

When Curly went to put an arm on Jud’s shoulder, the skinner man jerked away.

“Jud, what’s gotten you all riled up?” 

“Y-Y-You…” Jud was still breathing hard, sniffling between sobs, “You ain’t real.”

“Ain’t real?”

“You ain’t,” Jud repeated, whining slightly at the end. He was rocking back and forth with his knees up to his chest. 

“Why ain’t I?”

“Yer too good t-to be true,” Jud admitted, his words coming out soft and strained. 

There was a silence and Curly said, “You been having nightmares, ain’t ya?” He presented this question as more of a fact.

Jud buried his face into his knees, another shuddering sob escaping him.

“Well,” Curly ran fingers through his hair, “That just ain’t true. I’m here with you right now, Jud.”

“No you ain’t!” Jud now screamed, angry at his illusion, “I-I went to bed and you was up in here with me. A-A-And when… And when I wake, yer gone. How ain’t that a dream?”

Curly paused for a moment before answering, “Did yer dream account for my having to take a piss out back?” he kept his calm tone of voice, but saying that, he let a grin be shown. 

Jud looked back up at Curly, his eyes red and cheeks stained with tear tracks. 

“You was sleepin’ so nice, it was a miracle I climbed out from behind you without disturbin’ you,” Curly continued, noticing Jud start to ease from his volatile state. 

“How… How do I–?”

“How do you know this ain’t still yer night terror? Hmm, well, let’s think about that…” Curly leaned with his back up against the wall. Then he stood up, “Would I be dressed like this?” 

Jud wiped his eyes clear of his tears and he looked Curly up and down with the helpful light from the lantern. He looked downright silly. Jud shrugged. 

“Would I be able to touch you?”

“Yeah, you would,” Jud answered back apprehensively.

“What kind of touchin’?” Curly asked and sat back on the bed next to Jud, “You would imagine any kind?”

Jud didn’t know how to immediately answer, the answer itself being an embarrassing one, “I-I suppose so.”

“Hmm…” Curly scratched his chin. 

“You could say somethin’ I wouldn’t know.”

“Somethin’ you wouldn’t know, but somethin’ I would know. So yer dream couldn’t possibly come up with it,” Curly smiled softly at Jud. The poor man was looking so much like a child. A child who had a bad dream and was facing his parents, ashamed and afraid. 

“Got just the thing,” Curly continued, “When I went out to relieve myself, a possum damn near scared the heck outta me. I was just letting it all out and that damn thing was perched over on the fence, starin’ at me with those glowin’ beady eyes. Then it moved and I yipped a little and I jerked. Soho,” Curly started to chuckle, “Ihif–If you go outside right now you can see a piss trail, goin’ straight across the ground like this,” and he drew a line horizontally in front of him, “All zig-zaggy like.”

Jud laughed softly at Curly’s misfortune and he wiped his nose on his sleeve, staring at Curly intently. Curly was smiling. 

“See, ain’t no dream of yours is ever gonna be as funny as the real deal Curly Mclain.”

Jud smiled gently, not taking his eyes off Curly. He was afraid to blink, afraid if he took his eyes off him he would disappear like a phantom in the night. 

“Would yer dream have me do this?” Curly’s voice softened and he leaned in close to Jud and kissed him on the lips. Jud was hesitant to kiss back. He let it happen, so happy that it was happening at all. When Curly pulled away, Jud sighed.

“Y-Yeah, you would do that in my dream. That’s all I dream about,” he looked saddened again.

“Well,” Curly said exasperatedly, “Then this calls for drastic measures. I bet you I wouldn’t do this in your dream,” and he pushed Jud down onto his back on the bed and his fingers immediately went to tickling Jud’s stomach. 

The farmhand gasped and he struggled under Curly but he started to laugh, unable to help it. He was in such a weakened state of mind that he couldn’t rely on his will to keep his laughter at bay. 

“You can feel me, cain’t ya, farmboy?”

Jud nodded and he laughed even harder when Curly went to pinching up and down his ribs. 

“And you really think you could imagine yourself laughin’ this hard in yer dreams without the real me?” Curly was still tooting his own horn while torturing Jud.

Jud snorted when Curly pinched his highest rib and he blushed. 

“Ooohoo! We spendin’ a little too much time with the pigs now, aren’t we?” Curly chuckled and he wrestled with Jud’s strong arms that were trying to bat him off. He caught one of Jud’s wrists and raised it above his head. Then he fluttered the fingers of his free hand into his armpit. 

Jud arched his back and his laughter started anew, “C-Curly! Curly pleheheease! I-I can’t breathe!”

“See, now you said it yerself! You wouldn’t be able to tell that if you was in a dream,” Curly could’ve continued all night like this, but he figured Jud got the point. With just a few extra pokes to the farmhand’s belly, Curly released his arm. Jud covered up his abdomen with a few extra giggles spilling from his lips. 

Curly stared down at Jud, still straddling his waist. The man was gorgeous like this: hair mussed up from sleep and squirming around like he just was, cheeks tinted pink from laughing, and those wrinkles right on either side of his mouth from him smiling so much. 

“You ain’t gettin’ rid of me that easy, Jud Fry,” Curly said kindly and he leaned down, kissing Jud again. This time, Jud kissed back. His hands cupped Curly’s cheeks, wanting to touch him now. As he kissed, Jud’s hands touched all down Curly’s chest to coming up around and rubbing up and down his back. He was real. And he was here and in love. This was better than any fantasy dream. And it put all nightmares to shame.

That’s all Jud wanted for tonight. He was afraid to go to the next step with Curly. So, the cowhand kicked his boots off and repositioned himself between Jud and the wall. He laid down and kissed Jud’s cheek and then he kissed his neck. Curly wrapped his arm around Jud’s waist, holding him securely. 

“Thank you,” Jud said after a long moment of silence.

“Didn’t do nothin’ special, no thanks necessary.”

“It is necessary. No one’s ever been here fer me when the bad dreams come,” Jud said, his back pressed into Curly’s chest. He could feel the other’s breath on his neck. 

“Well, now you know you ain’t gonna have to worry about those bad dreams anymore. Not while I’m around,” Curly gave Jud’s hip a pinch and the farmhand squeaked and jerked. Curly chuckled.

“Yeher lucky I’m too beat to git you back. But just you wait, cowboy, it’ll come back to you,” Jud tilted his head to give Curly a look. 

Curly was smiling that dashing smile of his, “And I’ll be happily waitin’.”

Jud got comfortable again and he felt Curly’s leg intertwine with his own. That instantly made him feel more secure and relaxed. Jud shut his eyes and within minutes, he was back asleep again. Curly watched him for a while longer, watched how his lips were parted as he slept and how all the wrinkles from stress and thinking melted away into porcelain skin while he slept so peacefully. Curly placed one more kiss behind Jud’s ear before he felt like he was ready for sleep himself. 

Chapter Text

Snow had fallen overnight in Oklahoma, leading to a bright winter morning with about four feet of snowfall on the ground. Curly couldn’t take Dun out in the snow when it was deep like this. He’d learned from the past what his horse could and could not handle. So Aunt Eller sent him helping around the farm with smaller tasks. 

Curly was whistling as he was moving bales of hay into the barn, making sure to dust off any snow that was on them. Wet hay wasn’t the best hay. 

Jud was charged with keeping the cows indoors as much as possible today due to the sudden temperature drop and the snow covering the ground. He could hear Curly whistling all morning, as their jobs weren’t far apart. He found a sort of serenity in Curly’s whistling, even more so when the cowhand would start to sing. 

Jud shivered and he pulled his hat further down to cover his ears and pulled his coat around his body tighter. When he felt all of the animals were properly warmed up, he went outside of the barn and looked around for Curly. 

Even in the snow and freezing cold, the cowhand was wearing his brimmed hat. Jud had to smirk when an idea came to him. He got closer to Curly without him noticing, and then he dug a hand deep into the snow and squeezed the snow into a ball. He reared his arm back and then pelted the snowball at Curly, hitting him square in the back. It sent the cowboy reeling forward in surprise and he spun around. 

Jud also turned around, a hand clasped over his mouth to stop himself from laughing. He tried to make it look like he was busy uncovering barrels that were laying around outside. Next thing he knew, the back of his neck was struck with a snowball and the cold snow snuck down his collar, stinging him. Jud turned around to see Curly waving at him, a big ol’ smile on his face. Jud made sure no other people were around when he started towards Curly. 

Curly was happy to see Jud, and he thought the man looked adorable in his winter clothes. When he saw Jud coming at him, he began to back away. Jud picked up a large mound of snow from the ground near him and started to chase Curly with it. 

“You keep that thing away from me, Jud!” Curly threatened, but he was smiling. Jud got close enough to throw it against the back of Curly’s head, sending his cowboy hat flying. Jud was laughing openly now and Curly spun around and now lunged at Jud, taking him down to the floor. 

“C-Curly!” Jud struggled and he wiggled his way out from under the cowhand by tossing more loose snow into his face. He was now straddling Curly.

“Y-Yer a big cheater, that’s what you are,” Curly was busy wiping snow away from his eyes and spitting some out of his mouth. That’s when he felt cold, wet hands slip beneath his jacket and shirt and connect with his skin. Curly honest to gosh squealed and he arched his back. 

Jud got to tickle the cowhand and oh how his face lit up. He scratched around his belly and sides, feeling every jerk of his muscle. Curly’s laugh was desperate and precious. It was so high-pitched and screechy and he seemed to almost be enjoying himself. 

“AHaha! J-Jud! Nonono--AHA!” Curly was trying to push Jud’s hands out from wherever they would tickle him, but it just wasn’t working. His laughter was boisterous and happy, much different from Jud’s own laughter. It was like Curly knew he was loud, so he felt no shame in trying to hide his laughter. 

“Yer pretty ticklish, cowhand,” Jud teased, focusing now on Curly’s belly, making him snort and hoot, practically. 

“S-Speheheak fer yerself!” Curly got out before falling into more laughter when Jud’s hands shot up further and latched onto his ribs. 

Jud did soon stop, right when Curly’s cheeks and the tip of his nose were pink from all the laughing and the cold. He had little tear droplets resting in the corners of his brown eyes. Jud leaned his face down so it would meet Curly’s. The panting cowboy kept his lips parted for Jud. Jud brushed his lips over Curly’s when they heard a sharp, “Jud!”

The farmhand shot off of Curly like he was made of fire and scrambled to his feet. He turned to see Aunt Eller with her hands on her hips not too far from the boys. Now Jud blushed madly. 

“Will you two quit horsing around and bring the firewood into the house?” she sounded stern, but her eyes held a twinkle in them. 

“Y-Yes, ma’am,” Jud said, glancing over at Curly who had stood up and was brushing snow off of himself. 

“Right away, Aunt Eller,” Curly gave her one of his smooth smiles. She chuckled and shook her head, making her way back to the house. 

Jud instantly became shy and embarrassed, and he started walking towards the house to retrieve the wood. Curly followed him, still smiling, obviously not affected by Aunt Eller seeing them. 

“That got me all excited,” Curly said softly to Jud when they went around the back of the house to the piles of chopped firewood. 

“Huh?” Jud looked at him, cheeks pink but not just from the cold.

“You takin’ control like that,” Curly grinned wide.

Jud turned away from Curly then, blushing even harder. He leaned down and hefted a few cut up logs into his arms. He started toward the house. Curly followed with a load of his own.

“Thank you, boys,” Aunt Eller said when they brought in the firewood, “Laurey just finished making some soup. Would you like some?”

“Yes, please,” Curly answered immediately, kicking snow off his boots by the front door. 

“You too, Jud?” 

The farmhand hesitated, but he nodded, “If it ain’t too much trouble.”

“None at all,” Aunt Eller smiled, patting his arm, “Make yerselves comfortable.”

Curly was removing his coat by the front door and then went inside to the kitchen, “Well, good day, Miss Laurey.”

“Hello, Curly,” Jud could hear Laurey say back. He took off his hat and coat by the front door and hung them up. 

“Stop. Stop, stop-- Curly!” 

Jud could hear Laurey giggling.

“You want me to spill all this here broth on top of you? Stop foolin’ around.”

Jud wasn’t even watching what unfolded, he could only hear from the entryway by the front of the house. And he got jealous again. He shouldn’t be. He always knew Curly was a big flirt. But hearing him making someone else laugh, it just did something to his insides that he didn’t like all that much. He finally got enough courage to walk into the kitchen, and he nodded Laurey a hello before crossing through to get to the bathroom to wash his hands. 

“He’s got the right idea. I don’t want your dirty hands all up on Aunt Eller’s cutlery,” Laurey admonished Curly, hitting his butt with a wooden spoon. Curly chuckled.

“Whyhy alright. No harm in askin’ nicely,” he went over to the washbin by the restroom and waited for Jud to finish up. He said to the farmhand, “You always get so quiet when yer around them.”

“It’s not my place to be a talkative one,” Jud answered easily and he dried off his hands before brushing past Curly. Curly snagged his arm around Jud’s waist and rapidly pinched at his side. Jud let out a surprised laugh and he wrenched himself free from Curly’s hold. Laurey turned around from gathering plates to see what that sound was.

“Everything alright?”

“Yes,” Jud turned around and answered, and he pushed the smile from his lips. Curly could be a real jackass. 

Soon, they all sat down to eat. Jud was slurping up the soup rather fast, as he usually had to fend for himself when it came to meals. This was a treat. Curly had his eyes mostly focused on Jud while they were eating, and he couldn’t wipe the smile that lived on his lips while doing so. He’d take part in the conversation when the time came. 

“Will was comin’ up here recently askin’ if any of the boys want to take a trip to Kansas City with him sometime soon. I said I’d ask,” Aunt Eller offered up.

Curly nodded, “I’ll go. They always got them purty lights and good heat in the winter,” he then looked at Jud to see his answer. The farmhand was busy finishing up what was in his bowl, not so much payin’ attention to what was being discussed.

“Jud?” Aunt Eller asked and he looked up, finishing chewing.

“Yes?”

“You want to go to Kansas City?”

“I’m sure that wasn’t includin’ me.”

“Sure it was,” Curly chimed in. He had one thing in mind if he were going to Kansas City and he needed Jud to be going with him. 

“No one ever wants me around anyway, why would I be--”

“Cuz Will said any of the boys. Yer a boy, ain’t ya? So yer goin’.”

Jud stared at Curly from across the table, glancing at Laurey and Aunt Eller every now and again. He nodded his head, not saying any more. 

“I’ll let him know next time he come up here,” Aunt Eller said and she stood up, collecting bowls. Jud also stood and took his own bowl to the sink. He came back and took Curly’s from in front of him, too, trying to ignore the smug look on the cowboy’s face. 

“Thank you, Jud,” Aunt Eller said.

“You want me to clean up, too? I can--”

“Oh no, not at all. Us ladies can take care of it. I think it’s about time to be feedin’ the pigs though, ain’t it? So you got yer own work to do.”

Jud nodded, “Thank you fer the food. It was delicious.”

“Glad you liked it,” Laurey said with a smile.

Jud headed out without another word, pulling his coat and hat on before stepping outside. He was mad. He didn’t want to go to Kansas City. Never did. It was Will’s place that he talked about so much. About how great it was. The Burly-Q. Jud frowned as he retrieved slop for the pigs. He had no more interest in seein’ naked girls. He took those pictures down from his wall in the smokehouse weeks ago. Jud sneezed and he wiped his nose on his coat sleeve. It was going to be a long rest of the day.

Chapter Text

“Aunt Eller, please don’t make me go to the smokehouse alone.”

“He ain’t been seen all morning, Laurey. I wanna see if he’s missin’, lazy, sick, dead, whatever it is.”

Laurey sighed but she went out, quickly making her way to Jud’s smokehouse. She knocked on the door a few times. It was bitter cold out today. She could hear something, but not quite words. It was a violent, drawn-out cough. Laurey pushed the door open and she frowned when she saw Jud in the dimly lit quarters. 

He was bundled up and shivering and shaking on his cot.

“What’s the matter with you?” she picked up the lantern by the door and lit it, coming closer to the farmhand. When she got a closer look with the light, she could tell Jud was ill.

The man could barely keep his eyes open to look at her and he was shivering but also sweating like a pig. She lowered her hand and rested it against Jud’s forehead.

“You’re burnin’ up, Jud,” she frowned, “I’ll be back.”

When she went back out, she figured it was as cold in that damn smokehouse as it was outside. Besides him being sick, she took notice that he removed all those tacked up pictures on his walls. That made her soften her stance on him a little bit. 

“He looks awfully sick, Aunt Eller,” Laurey announced back in their house.

“Sick as in we need a doctor sick?”

“I don’t think so. He’s already sweatin’, I think he just needs to sweat it out completely. He wasn’t sayin’ a thing to me when I was in there, though. I wasn’t even sure he knew I was there.”

“Is Curly around today?” Aunt Eller asked.

“No, now the snow’s been shoveled properly he’s out with the cattle. Why?”

“Thinkin’ of who could take over for Jud’s work today. It’s alright, go get the boy warm. Maybe bring him some o’ that tea the peddler man brought us.”

Laurey nodded, still reluctant to spend too much alone time with the hired hand. She gathered up as many blankets as she could into a basket and some extra candles, too. She made her first trip back to the smokehouse with these items. She laid out the blankets, one after the other, on top of Jud. This alleviated his shivering somewhat. Then she went to work setting candles about the shed and lighting them. She also kept the lantern close to him, trying to surround him with as much heat as she could give. 

“Wh-Where’s Curly?” Jud wheezed, throwing himself into a coughing fit afterward. 

“Out with the cattle,” Laurey answered, “Don’t you worry about him, worry about yourself. You feel warmer?” she touched his cheek. Still hot as a fire, “I’ll be back.”

Laurey left again to make the pot of tea Aunt Eller mentioned. She made her second trip with the tea as well as with some cloths and another steaming pot of water with a separate bin. 

She saw Jud had quit his shivering. Now he was lying on his side, taking labored breaths and jerking every few seconds. 

Laurey took a cloth and dipped it in the water she poured into a bin. She then raised it to Jud’s forehead. The initial contact made him flinch.

“Easy,” Laurey comforted and she pushed his hair out of his forehead to make room for the cloth, “I brought you somethin’ to drink.”

She helped Jud sit a little more upright and then she let him start sipping the tea. He made a face and turned his head away, “Tastes like piss…”

“No it doesn’t,” Laurey admonished, “It’ll help you. Drink,” she was a little more stern with him. 

Jud was able to open his eyes and see more clearly in the room and he looked right at Laurey. He nodded and took the cup from her, sipping again. 

“Winter don’t agree with you, Jud.”

“Guess not,” he answered and started coughing again.

“Never has. Almost every winter you get sick like this.”

“And you take care of me.”

They shared a silence. It was semi-true. Last year she brought him soup and touched his cheek to see if he had fever, which he did. But that was it. She let him fend for himself after that, or Aunt Eller would go and check on him. But that was the first time she’d done it. She didn’t wanna do it again. But here she was.

“Why’d you ask for Curly?” Laurey inquired after Jud took a bigger gulp of the tea.

“Don’t want him to come up in here and get infected.”

Laurey smiled softly, “That’s awfully considerate of you. But you don’t care about me bein’ up in here and gettin’ sick?” she teased.

Jud actually smiled and he shook his head, “I didn’t mean that, Laurey, I’m–”

“It’s alright,” Laurey reached for the cloth on Jud’s forehead and re-wet it in the water. 

Jud finished the tea and he laid there with his eyes shut for a few minutes, Laurey dabbing the cloth around his face and neck. Jud held his stomach and he groaned.

“I don’t think that tea agreed with me,” he frowned and squirmed where he lay, “I think I’m gonna retch.”

Laurey got up immediately and picked up a pail underneath some tarp in a corner of the smokehouse and she brought it to him. Jud leaned over the side of his cot and threw up violently into the pail. Laurey sighed. It was never a good feeling to watch someone be this sick. Maybe they did need a doctor. 

When Jud finished, he wiped his mouth with his sleeve, “I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be, you can’t help it. I’ll go and see if we got any medicine.”

Jud rolled over onto his side so he faced the wall and he pulled the blankets over himself tighter. That retching made him feel five times weaker. He was shivering again. 

Laurey went out to clean out the pail and to try and find something for him to take that he maybe wouldn’t chuck up. On her way back to the house, she saw Curly approaching on Dun.

“Afternoon,” Curly tipped his hat at Laurey.

“Somethin’ wrong?” Laurey asked.

“Aunt Eller said I can finish up a bit after noon. That’s now, ain’t it? What you got there?”

“Jud’s sick,” she said and continued her trek to the house. 

Curly’s face fell, “Bad?”

“Pretty bad.”

Curly rode Dun to beside the house and hopped off, tying her to the post, “Anything I can do?”

“Jud says he didn’t want to infect you, so I’d say no.”

Curly scoffed, “Oh bull,” he followed Laurey inside the house, “I’ll go and bring him some blankets–”

“Already did that.”

Curly huffed and he grinned, “So yer takin’ care of him?”

“For right now, yes.”

Curly momentarily stopped with the teasing when he saw Laurey digging through the cupboards in her kitchen. He went closer to her, “That’s very kind of you. Thank you.”

“Thank me after I find this darn medicine. Can you look in the washroom, Curly? Brown bottle with a yellow label.”

Curly nodded and he began his own search, “This it here?” he held something up.

“Yes! Thanks,” she went over and grabbed it. 

“Really, I wouldn’t mind watching over him,” Curly said again.

“No, you should enjoy the rest of your day. Go to town, do somethin’. Relax, even.”

“I’ll stay here,” he took the large candle she had in her hand from her, smiling gently, “Let me take care of him.”

Laurey looked up at Curly and she sighed, “I’m surprised you know anything about caring for sick folk.”

Curly was still smiling, but it got smaller with that comment, “I know a lot more than you think, Miss Laurey,” he also took the medicine from her, “Thank you kindly for your carin’ nature,” and he went out of the house. He tucked those items into his pocket and stopped by the barn to get his guitar. Then he made his way into the smokehouse. He could hear rattled breaths coming from under the mound of blankets.

Jud was clearly trying to rest, and was halfway there. Curly looked him over and rested a hand by Jud’s arm. He then took a seat at the bench Laurey pulled beside Jud’s cot and leaned against the wall, waiting for him to get up so he could give him his medicine. 

Many minutes passed and Curly was contently resting his eyes, arms folded across his chest. It was so much more comfortably warm in this shed than it normally was and it felt so relaxing. 

Jud moaned and that’s what got Curly’s attention. Jud rocked back and forth and rolled over onto his back, scrunching his face. Curly could see his face clearly now and he could tell it looked pallid and gaunt. 

“Hey there, good lookin’.”

Jud’s eyes opened up and he only had the energy to sigh through his nose, saying softly, “I told Laurey I didn’t wanna get you sick.”

“She told me. I just didn’t listen.”

“You should go.”

“I’m stayin’ with you all night,” Curly was smiling, “Even got medicine here for you and everything.”

“My, yer stubborn.”

Curly chuckled and he leaned closer to Jud, “You need two spoonfuls of this here elixir. Hope yer gonna cooperate with me.”

Jud sat and waited for the first spoonful to be poured. He swallowed it all and shuddered, coughing a bit after. He took the second one with less problem. Jud sunk down further under the blankets and tried not tensing up his body so much. 

“Even when sick as a dog, yer still cute,” Curly complimented.

Jud grinned at that and he peeked his eyes open again, “Don’t make me laugh.”

“Don’t they say in the big cities that laughter is the best medicine?” Curly kept going.

“I’ll thump you into next week.”

Curly giggled at that and he held his hands up, removing his hat from his head, “Alright, alright. Even though I would like to see that happen.”

“You can’t just let me rest?” Jud wasn’t really annoyed with Curly. Well, maybe annoyed, yes, just not truly angry with him.

“How about some music? That’s sure to make you feel better,” and Curly leaned back again and picked up his guitar.

“Oh no,” Jud coughed into his hand and cleared his throat.

Curly propped his boots up on the crate some candles were perched on and he cleared his own throat, strumming some chords on his guitar. Jud shut his eyes and wanted to just listen. 

Right when the peaceful strumming was making Jud feel more at peace, Curly struck a louder chord, jamming out on the guitar instead.

“Curly!” Jud groaned.

Curly was laughing, “Sohorry. Whoooeeee, you gotta loosen up a little.”

Jud turned onto his side and pulled a hand up under his cheek, “Play sumthin’ purty.”

“Well, when you ask so nicely,” Curly played some sweet notes and even sang, “Pore Jud is sick, pore Jud Fry is sick…”

“Noho,” Jud smiled at that and he used his foot to kick Curly’s arm, “Somethin’ new and sweet.”

Curly smiled back at the ill farmhand and played little sweet songs about nature and girls and the such. Curly had the sweetest voice around, Jud was always sure of that. His soft little falsetto would come out tittering like a bird. 

Jud was probably supposed to treat these as a lullaby and fall asleep to outrest the rest of his sickness, but he couldn’t draw his eyes from Curly. The man would sing with his eyes closed and move his fingers like water cascading over the strings on his guitar. 

Curly took a pause in his songs and looked at Jud. 

“You have the prettiest eyelashes,” Jud pointed out. Curly blushed and he chuckled bashfully, rubbing the back of his neck, “That’s sweet of you to say.”

“Yer just beautiful all around,” Jud repositioned himself in his bed.

“This is just yer sickness talkin’,” Curly joked, though he was truly touched by the sentiment, “Try and get some sleep, Jud,” he resumed strumming his guitar. 

Jud shut his eyes, wanting to try, “I could listen to you sing to me forever.”

Curly was smiling from pure joy. Feeling this kind of happy was new to him. He picked a new song and sung it just for Jud. Jud was able to succumb to his weakness and exhaustion finally. Curly played and sang on, despite Jud’s having fallen asleep. He was smitten. Even with the sickly looking farmhand, he was so in love. 

Laurey pushed the door open just then and Curly kept on strumming, “He’s asleep,” he whispered to her.

Laurey nodded, “I brought him some of the soup from yesterday. This is just mainly the broth. I’ll keep it in the kitchen so it’ll stay warm til he wakes up. You a good nurse, then, Curly?” she asked with a small smile.

Curly nodded, “I try to be. Had practice with my folks.”

Laurey’s smile dropped. She stared at Curly, “I’m sorry. I-I forgot, I didn’t realize how insensitive a thing that was to say before–”

“Shhh,” Curly softly hushed Laurey. He shook his head, “It’s okay. Someone take a look at me, they don’t usually see a young boy losin’ his parents to sickness.”

Laurey set her pot of broth down and she approached Curly, leaning down and giving the top of his head a kiss, “You’re a brave, kind, caring person, Curly.”

“Thank you,” he looked up at her, eyes glistening but he was smiling gently. 

“Want me to stay with him for a bit?” Laurey offered.

“No, I’m good.”

“I’ll bring you a blanket and a pillow so your rear doesn’t get numb,” she smiled, poking Curly on the shoulder. She left again, bringing her soup with her. When Laurey returned, she had a blanket, a small pillow, and she brought a cup of steaming coffee for him if he wanted.

“Stay warm,” she wished him before leaving. Curly got himself comfortable, placing the pillow underneath him and the blanket across his lap. It wasn’t great, but it was as comfortable as he could get in the smokehouse. 

“What did your folks die of?” came Jud’s quiet voice from under the blankets. He was awake and staring at Curly. He hadn’t been fully asleep.

“You were supposed to be sleepin’,” Curly ran fingers through his hair. He looked at Jud and saw the man was just genuinely curious.

“Fever that turned into pneumonia,” Curly said, and Jud didn’t say anything, as if waiting for him to go on, “They caught the same strain one day workin’. Came home, and the next morning they were too sick to do anything. So I was there takin’ care of them. Sorry, I…” he bit his bottom lip, tears welling in his eyes, “I-I don’t talk about ‘em often.”

Jud swallowed, “I’m sorry about that.”

Curly nodded and he took a deep breath, grounding himself again. They were quiet. 

“Y’know, I ain’t gonna get that sick,” Jud said carefully.

Curly smiled, “Oh, I knowed that the minute I saw you. I ain’t losin’ you yet.”

“Yer gonna stay with me all night?”

Curly nodded.

Jud sneezed. That wasn’t one of his symptoms earlier, and he hoped it wouldn’t develop into one. 

“C’mere,” Curly stood up and he went over by Jud’s head. He made the farmhand sit up so he could take a seat there, then he rested Jud’s head into his lap. Jud looked up at Curly with those big eyes of his. 

Curly started to brush his fingers through Jud’s thin hair, and that sent shivers down the sick man’s spine. Jud shut his eyes and got comfy, loving this feeling of affection from Curly. The cowboy started to sing again, and Jud let his mind get as peaceful as his body was feeling with Curly sitting with him like this. Now, with this methodical scratching of his scalp combined with the soft singing, Jud fell asleep with very little todo. 

Curly kept his fingers twirling through Jud’s hair, watching the farmhand’s face as he continued. The man was still clammy from the sickness, but there wasn’t much Curly could do about that anyway. He wanted him to have a good night’s rest. He needed it if he were to get better. 

Chapter Text

Jud’s illness had sent him into a deep, dreamlike state while he slept. Next thing he knew, he and Curly were dressed in white in a huge golden ballroom. Maybe on closer inspection, it was just Aunt Eller’s barn, but decorated fancier. The room was lined with people, none of whom he could make out their faces. But he and Curly, each in pristine white suits, were dancing up and down the ballroom floor. 

Jud couldn’t stop smiling in the dream. That was something that changed after being with Curly. In the past, his dreams consisted of the simplest pleasures. He just dreamt of laying with Curly, holding him, and then that morphed to long kisses. He never considered the need to smile in his dreams. It just wasn’t appealing. But with Curly, Jud was truly happy and smiling came so easy to him, even in his dreams. His smile was big and genuine and his laughter came out bright and bubbly. And Curly was looking absolutely pristine. His curls were falling over his face just the way Jud loved, his deep brown eyes wouldn’t stop gazing at him, and his grin was just stunning. They danced and danced without tiring. This heavenly dream soon morphed into what looked like other parts of life that didn’t actually happen. He and Curly were covered in mud, rolling around in the pigsty. Jud was kissing Curly nonstop, and then he was ripping his clothes off. It cut back to the dancing. And these scenes cut back and forth for the remainder of the night. The pigsty scene ended up focusing on Curly’s moans and faces and him being turned on. 

Jud blinked his eyes open when he heard the rooster’s call the next morning. He could see bright sunlight peeking through the slats in the smokehouse roof and walls. He sat up and looked behind him, hearing some snoring. It was Curly slumped up against his wall where he’d been all night, where Jud was resting his head on his lap. He smiled softly, coughing into his arm. He stood up and held onto the wall because his legs were still shaky. He went to his door and pulled on his coat and hat and boots, and then he went out. He took a piss and took deep breaths in the cold air. The bright sun and blue sky definitely helped alleviate the cold. He also knew he was starving, not having eaten a thing yesterday. Jud shuffled himself towards the well and he pumped out water he slurped up greedily. Then he went over to the house and knocked on the door.

Aunt Eller opened up in her nightgown and a sweater, “Well, good morning, sleepin’ beauty. How’re you feelin’?”

“Mighty hungry,” Jud answered honestly, wiping his nose on his sleeve. 

Aunt Eller smiled at him, “Come on in.”

Jud stepped inside.

“Laurey heated you up some soup yesterday but you was asleep, so she couldn’t give it to you.”

“I’ll take it.”

Aunt Eller heated up the broth and also gave Jud some bread. He very gratefully ate up the meal, able to feel some strength coming back to him.

“I don’t think I’ll be up for farmwork today, Aunt Eller. I’ll double up on the work tomorrow, I’ll make it up to you–”

“Don’t worry yerself. Cord loaned me one of his men for the time being.”

Jud nodded and he finished eating, “Thank you for that. If you could thank Laurey, too.”

“I will,” Aunt Eller smiled at him, “Rest up today. And here,” she picked up a jug, “Keep drinkin’ water. Clear all the toxins out.”

Jud took the jug of water and nodded, “Yes ma’am.”

He took his jug and went back to the smokehouse. Curly had slumped fully into the bed, laying down across it, snoring. Jud smiled. He went around and re-lit some of the candles that had gone out overnight and then he sat on his bench with his lamp, warming his hands near it. Even Curly’s snores were musical. Jud stood up and covered Curly’s body with some of the blankets and he took some for himself, draping them over his shoulders. 

Time went on and Jud was content sitting with his thoughts. He was expert at that by this point in his life. The snoring stopped and was replaced by a loud yawn. Jud looked over to see Curly stretching his whole body. 

When Curly adjusted to his surroundings, he looked around and saw Jud, “Hey,” he said, his morning voice coming out gruffer than his usual one.

“Hey yerself,” Jud smiled.

“Did I kick you outta yer bed?”

“No, you didn’t. Did you sleep alright?”

Curly nodded, “Pretty good. My neck’s got a crick in it, but that’s about it. You sound better. You feeling better, then?”

Jud responded, “Yes, I am. Still a little achy.”

“Well, maybe I can fix some o’ that achiness. C’mere,” Curly pulled back the covers and Jud blushed, but he stood and went towards the cowboy.

“I shouldn’t get this close to you.”

“I fear nothin’.”

That made Jud roll his eyes but grin and he squeezed onto his cot next to Curly. Curly hugged his arms around Jud’s waist. 

“Ow, why’d you got yer boots on?” Jud exclaimed when he felt the toe of Curly’s boot collide onto his leg. 

Curly chuckled, “Cuz I was letting you sleep on me all night. I couldn’t quite move.”

“Well, they’re dirty,” Jud sat up and coughed a few times before leaning forward and yanking Curly’s boots off his feet for him. 

“Since when have you cared about dirty?”

“Since you put yer boots on my bed, smart aleck,” Jud scratched Curly’s socked sole briefly, making the cowboy yelp and jerk his foot away. Jud smiled and laid back down. Curly kissed Jud’s neck and he started rubbing and massaging down his arms and by his shoulders. 

“You know, close by a little to the east is those healing hot springs,” Curly said, “You think that’ll help make you feel better quicker? I can take us out there.”

Jud thought about it, “Is that just when we sit in hot water?”

Curly chuckled and he nuzzled his nose into the back of Jud’s neck, “Yes, it is.”

“That sounds good.”

“Good,” Curly was a big cuddler and he wasn’t shy about it. He went back to holding Jud against his chest. When Curly got his fill, he got up and got ready, leaving the smokehouse first so he could pick up Dun from the stables and bring her around. Jud sneezed and he blew out all the candles, tidying up as much as he could. 

Jud went outside and met up with Curly, climbing up onto Dun behind him. And they took off. Jud had pulled his hat over his ears to try and protect from the nipping wind. It took some time, but Curly finally traveled over a snow-covered hill to see the hot springs down below. 

“Ooh, they look mighty enticing,” Curly said and he rode Dun closer down to the steaming water. Jud marveled at how they were so warm just out here in the freezing winter with snow all over the ground. 

Curly helped Jud off his horse, “I packed some extra blankets for our ride back. We may feel colder. The gettin’ naked part is gonna suck,” Curly admitted, “But once we’re in the water, it’ll feel like heaven on earth.”

Jud huffed, a small smile on his lips. He got close to the water’s edge and peered inside. It was mostly clear deep blue water. Curly was undressed down to his undergarments and boots by the time Jud turned around. He shivered already just looking at him. But Jud tried to move quickly so he wouldn’t be cold for too long. 

“T-This was a dumb id-idea, Curly,” he was shivering. 

“It won’t feel like it once yer submerged. Hurry,” Curly chuckled and he headed towards the springs, tiptoeing on snow and ice, butt naked. It was almost funny. Jud got naked and he also followed Curly’s motions, meeting him by the edge of the pool. 

“Y-Y-You first,” Jud stuttered, his arms wrapped around himself. 

Curly grinned and he lowered himself into the pool slowly, letting out a moan the more his body was covered. He was submerged up to his shoulders and he looked up at Jud, “Heaven.”

Jud held his breath as he copied Curly’s dip into the water, gasping when the hot water consumed him. Once he was in, he felt like all his airways had opened from the steam. Jud let out a content sigh and he sunk in all the way up to his neck, shutting his eyes. 

Curly was watching him with a smile. 

“You don’t even feel cold anymore,” Jud said softly, “It’s like it all went away.”

“Yeah. Pretty magical,” Curly scooted closer to Jud and reached for the farmhand’s hand, holding it. Jud opened his eyes and looked at Curly. Now the cowhand was acting like nothing happened, having his own eyes shut. Jud was looking right at him, studying every inch of his perfect face and upper chest since that was all visible. Curly peeked an eye open, having the feeling that other eyes were on him. He smiled at Jud anyway, looking right back at him now. 

Jud said, “I dunno if I’m still loopy from bein’ sick and all, but yer lookin’ prettier and prettier every minute,” he brushed up his pronunciation to really send the point home. 

Curly blushed and his smile grew big and bashful, “And yer gettin’ better at flirting, Mr. Jud Fry,” he let go of Jud’s hand and ran fingers through his hair. 

Jud smiled proudly. They sat in a pleasant silence again for a few minutes.

“I’m lookin’ forward to going to Kansas City with you.”

“Will came by makin’ plans?”

“No, but I know we’re goin’ at some point. You ever been?”

“Once or twice. Don’t care for it much.”

Curly made a face, “Why’s that?”

Jud shrugged, waving his hands back and forth under the water, eyes looking down at them. How could he say it made him feel that much lonelier, seeing all those women he couldn’t attain in any reality. How he didn’t like all the noise and lights and bustling atmosphere because it made him anxious and overwhelmed.

“I’ll make it worth your while,” Curly finally said when he saw Jud getting into his head too much. A smile fleeted across Jud’s face. Curly couldn’t stand it when Jud was looking like he always did, morose and sorry for himself. That’s how he was looking now.

Curly moved over so he was right in front of Jud, practically in the farmhand’s lap, and he kissed him on the lips. Jud kissed back at first and then suddenly pulled away, “I-I can’t get you sick.”

“Yer not. Stop worryin’ so much,” Curly smiled gently and he brushed his lips over Jud’s again before he went back in for the kiss. Jud kissed back, shutting his eyes. Curly cupped Jud’s cheeks in his hands. Jud’s cheeks were red and he didn’t know why exactly. He chalked it up to a multitude of things: his sickness, the kissing, the warm steam.

Curly had shifted to sliding his hand down Jud’s chest, squeezing at his ribs swiftly. Jud jerked and he huffed into Curly’s mouth. The cowhand giggled softly, “Oops,” he said simply and resumed kissing Jud’s surprisingly soft lips.

Jud wrapped his arms around Curly and slid his hands down his back, going all the way down to cupping his bare ass cheeks with both his hands. That made Curly gasp and he arched up. Now Jud was the one who was grinning. 

“Myhy my, Jud,” Curly breathed. From the way they were sitting, Curly pressed himself into Jud and Jud could feel Curly’s hard member resting against his bellybutton. The two of them were now red in the face. 

The approaching neigh of a horse and multiple voices alerted Curly to resume his position sitting next to Jud, even though the two looked visibly flustered. A few cowboys from another farm appeared at the other end of the spring. 

“Afternoon,” Curly called to them when they all seemed to stop and stare at him and Jud. They soon went about their own business to get into the other end themselves. 

Curly looked over at Jud and he started to laugh. Jud joined in with a few giggles of his own. 

“Seehee, now… I can’t wait to continue that in Kansas City,” Curly winked. 

“How’d you get to be such a tease?”

“Just born this way, I guess.”

“You like being the center of attention, that’s what it is. Big mouth means everybody’s always listenin’ to you.”

Curly seemed astonished Jud would say such a thing about him, and the accuracy of it hit close to home, “Yer smarter than you come off.”

Jud smirked and he rested his head back against the stone surrounding them, shutting his eyes once more. 

Eventually, a whole hour went by with Curly and Jud hardly noticing it. Curly turned to the man he came with, seeing him practically asleep in the water and he nudged him, “I think we better be heading back, darlin’.”

Jud woke himself and he blushed at the pet name Curly used. He liked it a lot. 

“You ready?” Curly seemed nervous-excited to get out of the water with it being so cold out of it. 

Jud shook his head, “You first. Bring me back my clothes so I can change here,” he grinned, but also gave Curly puppy eyes so he’d do his bidding. 

“Foot,” Curly rolled his eyes but succumbed, and he sprinted out of the water and towards Dun. He was whooping and making other short-of-breath noises as he bounced from foot to foot, getting dressed. Jud laughed at him. When Curly was all bundled up, he brought over Jud’s clothes for him, “Your majesty,” he bowed.

Jud got himself up and also quickly got dressed, cursing over and over again. But he, too, got all his clothes on and then took one of the blankets Curly packed for them. 

“T-This was nice,” Jud said through a shivering jaw.

Curly chuckled and nodded, giving Jud a quick peck on the cheek, “It was.”

They loaded up onto Dun and Curly rode back to Aunt Eller’s. Curly let Jud get off the horse when they arrived. 

“You comin’?” Jud asked, looking up at Curly perched on his horse.

“I gotta get back to work. Gotta earn a reason for me to be stayin’ on this ranch in the first place, don’t I?” Curly made it sound convincing that he didn’t want to leave Jud.

“Right. Bye, then.”

“Bye, then?” Curly mocked, playfully grinning.

“Have a nice day.”

“Mmm, I’m not quite sure any of those are passionate enough for what I’m worth.”

Jud now rolled his eyes and smiled despite himself, “Oh, go fall in a ditch, smart aleck.”

Curly laughed and whooped, “Now that’s what I like to hear! Adios, pig stealer!” he reared Dun around and took off. Jud laughed, shaking his head. The man was crazy. He coughed from the laughing and pulled the collar of his jacket around his neck tighter. When he turned around to walk back to the smokehouse, he saw Laurey by her front door.

“Afternoon,” he greeted, bowing his head. 

“Good to see you walkin’ around. You hungry?”

Jud thought about it, “Yes, a little.” He was very hungry.

Laurey said, “You go and get to the smokehouse. I’ll bring you somethin’.”

“Oh, you don’t have to–”

“I said go.”

Jud obeyed and he made his way to his shed, wondering the whole way why Laurey offered to bring him food to the smokehouse willingly. Where they’d be alone. He knew she always felt uncomfortable with that. Then a happier thought crossed his mind. Maybe Laurey had noticed the change in him that Aunt Eller noticed months ago. Maybe because he was happier now that he was with Curly, it changed his outward appearance. Jud smiled at the thought that he wouldn’t be seen as a freak or a monster to Laurey anymore. It was a redemption he felt like he didn’t quite deserve, but he was going to make sure it was worth it.