"The pass is open."
Four months ago I would have gladly given Mister Tanner half the eight hundred dollars residing in my right boot to hear those words.
Just over three months ago I've have given him all of it... and my silver pocket watch with it's matching silver fob... and my Uncle Albert's ruby ring... and anything else that I could get my hands on if he would just get me the hell out of here!
Here being a one room, log cabin that brings new meaning to the word rustic.
The floor is dirt. D. I. R. T. Dirt! Try cleaning that.
There were *holes* in the walls. When I pointed them out, Mister Tanner kindly packed them with... guess what? More dirt! (From a hole he dug in the floor!)
The roof had holes, as well. However the only time we noticed them was whenever we managed to get the room warm enough to melt the under-layer of snow on the roof... and that wasn't often.
The place was warmed by a large fireplace and there was a small, but serviceable, cast iron stove for cooking. Thank the lord for small favors.
Then there was the furniture... what there was of it.
A three-legged table. One corner was propped on the windowsill in lieu of the fourth leg. A fact I discovered when I dropped my saddlebags on it and it promptly collapsed... on my foot.
One chair. Correction, one *rickety* chair and a very narrow and somewhat short cot. Aside from several wooden chests, that was the sum total of the furnishings.
I quickly came to the conclusion that whomever owned this rustic hideaway had made his own furniture... to size. Unfortunately for us he must have been a midget. I had to duck to keep from hitting my head on the ceiling beams and I am hardly a tall man. Misters Sanchez, Wilmington and Jackson would have had to bend double just to get in.
Then there was the food. We had little in our saddlebags. Neither of us had expected to be on the trail for longer than a couple of weeks. Fortunately there was a lean-to attached to the back of the cabin, the floor dug down several feet below the main cabin's floor to serve as a root cellar. It wasn't well stocked but there were a few baskets of wrinkled potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips and beets, (God I hate beets!) as well as a bushel or so of apples and pears.
Mister Tanner provided us with meat. Such as it was. Rabbit, rabbit, and let us not forget, rabbit.
But that was three months ago.
Today those words are a death knell.
He's waiting. The horses are saddled. What little we have left is packed.
And I stand here, trying not to cry, staring blindly at the first place that's felt like home in forever.
I run my hand across the smooth back of my rocking chair. My Christmas present... from Vin. He made it for me. Found just the right branches, peeled the bark off, pegged them together and carved the rockers. There's not a piece of metal in it.
"Leave it," he said. "The horses can't carry it."
Leave it. How can I leave it? *He* made it for me.
And the platform in front of the fireplace. He built that, too. It is long and broad, more than big enough for both of us to sleep in front of the fire. He cut the saplings, chopped off the branches, smoothed away the knots where they had joined the trunk and tied the small trees together like you would for a raft. He cover it over with fir branches, their nettles a soft cushion between us and the platform.
I sewed together a couple of old deerskins that had been in the cabin to cover the nettles, then spread our bedrolls on it.
I walk across the cabin to pick up the quilt from the platform.
Rabbit fur, a double thickness with two old blankets I found in the cabin to use as a guide for the shape sewed between the layers.
He snared and skinned the rabbits and tanned the hides. I cooked the rabbits and sewed the skins together.
It's mine and his. The two of us, bound as one.
No other hands have touched it. No other bodies have lain on it, under it, been wrapped up in it.
It has absorbed our sweat and our cum and my tears. It has heard our laughter, our sighs and our cries.
"Leave it," he said. "What happened here, stays here. It'll be too hot for it down below anyway."
Leave it. How can I leave it? I sewed it with my own hands. I made it for us. For us... and if there is to be no more us... then I will surely need it. Spring may be coming to this valley but it's a hard winter that's coming to my heart if I must pretend that this place, this time, this precious love never was. I shall never be warm again.
"No, Mister Tanner. I'll not leave this behind."
Clutching it to me, I turn and walk back out the door, carefully closing it behind me for the last time.
He looks up at me, across Peso's back.
I look back at him, defiantly, and he looks down, unable to meet my eyes, surrendering on this point. I fold the quilt in thirds before beginning to roll it. When it's as tightly rolled as I can get it, I tie it with my bedroll behind Chaucer's saddle.
I hear the crunch of snow under his boots. He's moving towards me, fast. I turn, half-afraid he's going to snatch it off the saddle and toss it aside.
We did agree to leave it behind.
I'm not prepared to be grabbed. One arm twines around my waist pulling me to him. The other grips my head, turning it to suit him, gloved fingers twist in my hair, grown long and unruly these long months away from a barbershop.
Then I'm being kissed, kissed like he's never kissed me before, kissed with searing passion and desire.
Our hats hit the ground.
I can feel him pressing hard against me, feel his heat and need, gloves and coats and shirts and jackets and two pairs of pants each, be damned.
My knees threaten to buckle under the onslaught.
Then he's pulling back and I look up at him.
I just look at him.
And I know.
His eyes are lit with love, his smile radiant with joy and I know that it is finally, truly winter's end for my heart.
His words only confirm it.
"I ain't givin' up. I ain't givin' you up. I ain't givin' love up. Come whatever, we play out this hand..."
"...together," I finish with him.
And that is how it will be. He and I will finish out this life together, with eternal spring in our hearts.