Chapter 17

The next morning, Ennis awoke to the bright morning light streaming through the window. He felt comfortable at first, but then he realised that Jack's arm was no longer around his stomach. He sat up quickly, blinking sleep out of his eyes and searching the room for Jack. After a moment, he could hear the shower running and calmed down, understanding where Jack was. He rubbed his face and tried to slow his heart rate back to normal. He hadn't meant to get so scared when he'd realised that Jack was no longer in the bed, but he couldn't help it.

Jack finished in the shower and stepped out, wrapped in a towel. He came back into the bedroom to find Ennis sitting up, his head in his hands. His eyes widened. "Ennis?"

Ennis looked up at him. "Jack, I..."

"What's wrong?" he asked, full of concern as he crawled onto the bed and sat next to him. Ennis shook his head.

"Don't matter. Was stupid anyway..."

Jack put an arm around his shoulders. "Ain't stupid, I know you're havin' a bad time right now. Tell me what's up."

He sighed. "Just...woke up an' you wasn't here. Got kinda freaked out until I heard the shower. Didn't mean to get scared."

"Aw, Ennis...it's okay. You was still asleep, so..." He looked ashamed of himself. "Sorry, bud. I didn't think you'd wake up yet, so I thought I'd hit the shower. Didn't mean to scare ya, cowboy."

"S'okay, Jack. Ain't yer fault."

"It is...I promised I wouldn't never leave ya on yer own until you was ready. Or I shoulda woke you up first or somethin'. I'm sorry, Ennis..." He kissed the side of Ennis's cheek and looked apologetically at him.

"Don't matter, Jack." He then sighed. "Thought about havin' a shower myself, but...my stitches..."

Jack thought for a moment. "Well...how 'bout I give ya a stand-up wash or somethin'? That'll work."

"Yeah, okay." He gave Jack a half-smile and allowed himself to be gently pulled out of bed. Jack led him into the bathroom and put the toilet lid down, gesturing for Ennis to sit down.

"Okay, easy..." He helped him slowly sit down so as not to aggravate his stitches. Jack washed him with the washcloth, allowing Ennis to place a hand on his hip for support. When he was done, he felt Ennis grab hold of his wrist and looked down at him.

"You okay, bud?"

Ennis gazed up at him. "Yeah. Just...somethin' I been thinkin' on."

Jack sank down to his knees and looked up at him. "What, sweetheart?" Their hands linked together on Ennis's knees.

"Um...I...I'm all messed up right now, after what happened. Can't deny it. An'...it got me thinkin', 'specially after last night."

"Whaddaya mean?"

Ennis looked sorrowfully at him. "Probably gonna be a while before I can do anythin'. You sure yer okay with that? I know you been missin' it..."

Jack shook his head. "S'okay, Ennis. Yeah, I been missin' it, but...don't mean I can't wait a little longer. That's what my right hand's for, ain't it?" he said with a grin.

He saw Ennis smile appreciatively, but then it faded. "I guess, but...you sure you don't need more? I ain't up to it...an'..."

"Ennis...ain't no way I'm gonna be cheatin' on ya. Not even fer a second. Ain't never crossed my mind. No matter how much I miss it, I ain't never gonna resort to that. You hear me, bud?" He brought his hands up to cup Ennis's face.

Ennis's eyes raked over his face, searching for reassurance. "Yeah?"

"Yeah, cowboy. Listen...when you an' me started up on Brokeback, it was about sex at first, right? I know that. But...after a while an' we was fallin' in love...became a lot more than that, you know?" He ran his tongue along his bottom lip. "By the time we came down, I knew I loved ya. Was way more than sex by then. An' it always has been since then. I love you, Ennis. You an' me...we've always been about more than sex."

"Yeah...you mean that?" he asked hopefully, looking into Jack's eyes.

"You know it, Ennis...an' that's why it don't matter how long we gotta wait before we can do anythin'. Way more than just sex with us, you know?"

He looked up into Ennis's face, hoping that he was getting through to him. After a few seconds, he saw Ennis smile tentatively.

"Thanks, Jack...don't mean to freak out all the time like this..."

Jack stood up and softly kissed him on the mouth. "S'alright, Ennis. You've had a real bad time of it an' I understand. It don't matter to me how long I gotta wait, I'd wait forever if it meant you got better in the meantime. Whatever it takes for ya to heal from what happened, I don't care. I'll do anythin' to help ya, okay?"

"Okay, darlin'. Thanks..." He sniffed and shakily smiled at Jack, who held his hands out.

"You wanna get dressed an' get some breakfast? I know you like my pancakes..." He grinned at him.

Ennis smiled properly. "Sounds good. Could ya help me get dressed?"

"Sure, come on." Jack helped him up and back to the bedroom. He helped Ennis get dressed and then got dressed himself, before leading the way downstairs. They got themselves some orange juice and Jack set about making pancakes, the way his mother had taught him. Ennis watched him work, happy to just observe. He could still hear Jack's words in his head, reassuring him that he loved him and didn't care how long it might be before they had sex again. He was very touched by Jack's declaration and didn't know what he would do without him. He was optimistic about his chances of getting through the mess in his head as long as he had Jack.

They were soon joined by Rose, Becky and Lily, the two women smiling to see them down here, together. They all looked like a family and that was how it was going to be from now on.


Later that afternoon, their friends came by one by one to visit them, and to see how Ennis was doing. Jack knew that they had all been concerned about Ennis over the last six months, and had always been glad for news of him. That morning after breakfast, with Ennis's agreement, Jack had called around to tell them that he was back home and ready to see them. Jack thought that Ennis seemed to be faring a little better after their talk in the bathroom. He hoped that Ennis would be okay; that the effects of the attack wouldn't be too severe, but there was still a niggling thought in the back of his mind that something was about to happen to trigger all the bad effects he'd read about in war veterans.

They started to arrive around two; the hands were the first to drop by, all giving greetings to their other boss and talking about the ranch. Jack could tell that talking about work and normal stuff was doing Ennis a world of good, and he was glad that they were here to distract Ennis. They were all sat in the kitchen; luckily it was big enough to accommodate them and all their friends, thanks to the island. Rose had put together a lunch for them all and they ate as they talked.

"So, what's goin' on with the ranch, boss?" asked Dave. "What've we got comin' up?"

"Uh, well, we got this big-shot rancher in Texas who's interested in a breedin' deal with our bull. I wanna do a check on him first, though. Make sure he ain't like that Peterson guy we had before." Jack glanced at Michael as he said this.

"Good idea, boss. Don't want none of that." They went back to their food and it wasn't long before their other friends from town arrived. Rick was working but Kate said he sent his best wishes, along with a bottle of wine for them. The kitchen was full of people and Jack kept a close eye on Ennis for signs that it was becoming too much for him, but there didn't seem to be any just yet.

"Hey," said Kate at one point. "You guys still thinkin' of renewin' yer vows sometime? I know you said you was thinkin' about it when Ennis got back..."

Jack looked at Ennis. "Uh, well...I dunno 'bout that just yet. We got some things to work through before we can start plannin' stuff like that, you know?"

Ennis nodded in agreement. "Yeah. I, uh...got issues to work out. Gonna be a while before I can...get back to normal stuff, ya know?"

"Oh, sure Ennis. Ain't no rush," Kate said, looking a little stricken at her lack of tact. "You guys have gotta take things at yer own pace. We all understand that." She smiled at him and he half-smiled back. His hand found Jack's and their fingers laced together tightly.

After a few more minutes of talking and laughing, Jack could tell that Ennis was starting to grow agitated with all the people in the room, no matter how much he liked them. He knew that after returning from World War Two, Bill had grown to dislike large crowds, so maybe Ennis was starting to experience something similar.

"You wanna get some fresh air?" he murmured in Ennis's ear. He saw Ennis nod.

"Yeah. Could ya come with me?" Jack could hear the plea in his voice, needing company.

"Sure." He then addressed the group. "Hey, guys, me an' Ennis could do with some fresh air for a bit. Don't mind, do ya?"

They all shook their heads, so the two of them pulled their boots on and headed out the back door, blinking in the bright sunlight.

"Gets kinda stuffy in there with everyone around, huh?" Jack commented, looking at Ennis. He could see his cowboy relaxing now that they were alone in the fresh air.

"Yeah. You know I like 'em all, but...need time alone right now. 'Cept with you." He smiled at Jack, who grinned back.

"You always got me, Ennis. Come on." He led Ennis over to the wicker chairs and they sat down, getting comfortable and listening to the buzz of conversation from the open window. It was cool here in the shade and Ennis had his eyes closed, looking more relaxed than Jack had seen him since his return.

"You okay now, bud?" he asked softly, leaning his head back to look at him. He saw Ennis smile.

"Yeah. Real nice an' quiet here, always was." He sighed. "Was quiet there most days, but...was never relaxed. Always somethin' to do, an'...once we got out there, was always the danger..."

Jack reached for his hand and squeezed it. "Don't think on it, Ennis. Ain't gonna do ya no good. Just try an' relax, okay?"

Ennis sighed. "I know. Hard not to think on it. Can't help it. Like last night...that nightmare..."

"Hey...don't think on it," Jack repeated. He let go of Ennis's hand and got up, heading for Ennis's chair. He sat on the arm and looked down at Ennis, putting his arm around his shoulders.

"You gonna be okay, baby?" he asked, stroking the curls at the base of Ennis's neck. The brown eyes gazed up at him, into his bright blue ones.

"Think so, long as I got you." They smiled at each other and Jack leaned down to kiss him. Their previous kisses had been short, with Jack careful not to take things too far so soon. He was surprised when Ennis kept the kiss going, pressing their lips together firmly for longer than a few seconds. Jack didn't move, just let Ennis take what he needed right now. They broke apart and Jack was happy to see a glint in Ennis's eyes, smiling up at him. Jack smiled back and caressed his face; this was a good sign as far as he was concerned, that Ennis was actively seeking more. Maybe he was healing.


The next day, one of the wheels in Jack's truck had a puncture, so he had to take it to the local garage to have it seen to. Unwilling to leave Ennis alone, he brought him along and spun the head mechanic a tale of them out to see a potential buyer. They waited around outside, smoking and talking.

"Last thing we needed, huh?" said Jack, glancing at Ennis. "Hadn't planned on this happenin'. Ain't cheap an' we gotta watch things."

Ennis looked at him. "Still doin' okay, ain't we? Money's alright?"

"Sure. But still...pays to be careful."

"Sure does. We'll be okay, right?" Ennis asked him.

"Yeah, should be. Anyway...how you doin' today?" he asked, looking over him.

Ennis nodded. "Alright, I guess. Didn't have a nightmare last night, woke up feelin' okay..."

Jack smiled. "Yep. Let's hope it stays that way, huh?" They continued to wait around, scuffing their feet around and waiting to be called back to the garage.

For Jack, what happened next was like something out of a nightmare, in slow motion. A truck backfired nearby and Ennis's reaction was imminent.

A loud noise...a blast...bombs going off...blood everywhere...Adam...Earl...Jack...

His cigarette fell from his fingers as he clamped his hands to his head, staring down at the ground as his mind flashed with images; memories and nightmares rolled up into one. Jack grew alarmed and threw his own cigarette away.

"Shit...Ennis?" He tried to walk over to him, tried to put his hands on his shoulders, but Ennis pulled away, eyes now wide with fear, unable to stop the images in his mind. He continued to shy away from Jack, turning and staggering into the alleyway. Jack had a flashback of that day in Signal, so long ago, when Ennis had done the same thing then. Just like then, he had to try and help him.

"Ennis..." He followed him slowly, not wanting to scare him. Ennis was standing in the shadows of the alleyway, breathing raggedly and making strained noises in his throat. Jack tried a calmer approach.

"Ennis? Bud, are you okay?" He was terrified by this change in Ennis, and had no idea what to do. He very slowly inched forward, trying not to spook him. He tentatively laid a hand on Ennis's shoulder.

"Ennis, look at me. It's okay...shh..." Throwing caution to the winds, he brought up his other hand and placed them both over Ennis's, slowly prising them away from his face.

"It's alright...it's alright..." Ennis made a noise that could only be described as a whimper, and Jack's heart nearly broke.

"Jack..."

"It's okay, Ennis. I'm here. It's okay...come on, calm down..."

"What...?"

"It was just a truck backfirin', that's all. Ain't nothin' bad, yer safe." A thought then came to mind as he remembered Ennis's nightmare. "We're both safe. Nothin' happened." He felt Ennis's hand press against his chest, searching for his beating heart. It seemed to give him reassurance that Jack was okay, so Jack let him find it, sensing him relax when he did. He heard Ennis's breathing slow down and his own heart rate returned to normal.

"Ennis?" he said softly. The deep brown eyes looked up to meet his, still fearful and seeking comfort.

"Jack...I...when I heard that..."

Jack placed his hands fully on Ennis's cheeks. "I know, I know...it's alright. Nothin' happened. We're gonna get the truck an' get back home, alright? We can even spend the day sleepin' in bed if ya want."

He saw Ennis nod, trying to calm himself down. "Alright. Thanks, Jack."

As Jack promised, the truck was swiftly dealt with and they were soon heading home, their hands clasped together on the seat between them. Jack had a quick word with his mother and Becky, explaining what had happened at the garage, and they agreed that he should stay with Ennis for the rest of the day. Rose gave them some sandwiches and drinks to take up, which reminded Jack of all those days they'd spent in motels trying to find a place to live. Despite how uncertain those days had been, Jack had loved spending all that time with Ennis in bed.

He went upstairs to find Ennis standing in their room, looking antsy. His face relaxed when he saw Jack. "Hey."

Jack smiled warmly at him. "Hey, bud. My mama gave us some food in case we get hungry. You wanna sleep first or what?"

"Yeah, sounds good. You comin'?"

"Sure." Jack put the food down and they undressed, crawling under the warm sheets and huddling close, their legs tangling together. Jack looked at Ennis.

"You okay now? You really freaked me out back there. What happened?"

Ennis sighed. "Heard that truck...made me think of that damn bomb, an' then I remembered Adam lyin' there...that got me thinkin' on Earl, an'..." He paused, looking at Jack, who got the message.

"It's okay," he said quietly. "I know. Try not to think on it, alright? Just relax. Wanna try fer some sleep? I'll hold ya if ya want..."

He watched Ennis smile. "Yeah, okay." He turned onto his side and Jack spooned up around him, rubbing his stomach until he fell asleep. He was awake for a little longer, thinking about what had happened earlier. He wasn't sure that he'd ever been so scared in his life, not even when his father had been beating him up. He'd been scared for Ennis and whether or not he would have been able to help him. He'd never seen Ennis lose it like that before and hoped that it wouldn't happen again. But he'd had the feeling that Ennis would have to get worse before he got better, and now it seemed to have started.

Here's the test, he thought to himself. I promised I'd help him no matter what. Guess it's time to try an' see that through.

He sighed inwardly and closed his eyes, praying with all his heart that he had the strength to help Ennis through this difficult time.


A little later, Jack crept back from the bathroom to find Ennis just waking up. Luckily, he hadn't noticed Jack leaving, so he was able to slip back into bed without scaring Ennis. He watched Ennis slowly opening his eyes and smiled to himself, full of love for his partner, despite his issues.

Ennis's deep brown eyes blinked sleepily at him. "Hey."

Jack smiled at him and twirled a curl around his finger. "Hey, cowboy. How'd you sleep?" Ennis hadn't stirred the whole while that they'd been up here, so he assumed that nothing had happened.

"Okay, I guess. No nightmares. Maybe you chased 'em away." He gave a drowsy smile as he said this, and even though he was making light of it, Jack could see in his eyes that there could be a grain of truth there. Maybe he had chased the nightmares away.

"Maybe so. You hungry?"

"Mmm, a little. What we got?"

"My mama gave us some sandwiches. Just like old times, huh?" Jack replied with a grin. Ennis smiled.

"Okay." Jack got out of bed and grabbed the bag of food, bringing it back to bed with him as Ennis sat up. Jack handed him a sandwich and a bottle of Coke, also handing over the bottle opener. It did feel like all those days they'd spent in motels during those first five months of their relationship.

They sat there for a while in comfortable silence, eating the delicious sandwiches that Rose had given them. Jack had always loved his mother's food, and after living with her for so long, Ennis did too.

Ennis happened to glance up at their bedroom door, and he tilted his head, trying to figure out what was different. "Hey, Jack?"

"Yeah?"

"Uh...did you...do somethin'?" Jack followed his gaze to the door, and he swallowed nervously.

"Yeah, I did." He got out of bed and headed to the door, lifting the shirts off the hanger and turning back around to face Ennis, looking a little nervous.

"I switched 'em," he said quietly. "About an hour ago, when you was still asleep. Was lyin' there awake, thinkin' 'bout what happened earlier. Just...was tryin' to think of some way to protect ya, keep ya safe, you know?" He ran a hand along his denim shirt, now on the outside. "So...I got thinkin' on one of our first days here, when you brought me up here an' showed me how you put these on the hanger."

Ennis looked blown away by Jack's words, realising what he meant. "Jack..."

Jack came closer, sitting on the end of the bed and facing him. "So...I remembered how you said you wanted to keep me safe, no matter what. You admitted that you couldn't have yer arms around me all the time, so..." He thought back and recalled Ennis's words. "This is my way of showin' you...that up here, I got my arms around you all the time, bud. I'm always holdin' you, right here." He smiled at Ennis. "Hopin' to keep ya safe."

"God...Jack, I...I dunno what to say..." He was starting to look quite emotional and Jack's heart was yearning for him. He crawled back up the bed towards Ennis and sat near him, letting Ennis trail a hand over the shirts.

"You don't gotta say nothin', cowboy. You've been to hell an' back, but yer gonna be okay. I'm here, an' I'm gonna help ya. I promise." He looked down at the shirts. "This is just a way of showin' ya that I care, that I wanna help ya. I just...hope I can. Hope it ain't so bad that I can't help ya." He brought a hand up to Ennis's cheek. "Really wanna help ya, Ennis. An' not just 'cos we're married, an' it's like some kinda obligation. 'Cos I love ya, an' I wanna do whatever I can."

After a few moments, Ennis shifted forward and Jack took him in his arms, holding him close. He felt Ennis's arms around his back, clutching at him tightly. "Thanks, Jack..."

"Ain't no problem, cowboy. Just doin' what I can." He pulled away to look at Ennis's face. "I'd do anythin' to help ya," he said softly, tilting up Ennis's cheek. "Yer everythin' to me, Ennis, an' I can't just sit by an' watch ya suffer the way you are. I feel like I gotta do somethin', anythin' I can. Just...if there's anythin' ya need, just tell me, alright? No matter what it is."

Tears had gathered in Ennis's eyes; Jack knew that his emotions were just underneath the surface lately, likely to manifest at any time, so he knew that he had to be there to wipe the tears away. "Jack...you...you're bein' so good to me, an' I'm all messed up..." He shook his head and the tears started leaking out.

Jack wiped them away with his thumbs and gently kissed him. "Shh...it's alright. You know I'll love ya no matter what, an' it don't matter how messed up ya get. All that means is that I gotta work a bit harder to get ya back on track," he said simply. "I don't mind a little extra work."

Ennis was lost for words at this; to hear Jack declare so openly how much he loved him and would do anything to help him. He'd never felt so loved in his life as when Jack was with him, being like this. He felt incredibly lucky to have someone like Jack in his life, with his unconditional love. He didn't know what he'd do without him and was glad that this wasn't the case.

Jack laid them both down on the bed, and coaxed Ennis to shuffle down a little. "Here..." He cupped Ennis's cheek and brought it to his chest, letting him listen to his beating heart. It seemed to give Ennis comfort, and soon he was closing his eyes, finally relaxing in his arms. Jack sighed and kissed his forehead, closing his own eyes and drifting off.


A couple of hours later, they rose again, seeking to stretch their legs and get some air. They left their room in time to see Becky coming back from the bathroom. They all smiled simultaneously to see each other.

"Hey, guys," she said, looking pale and gaunt, but happy. That seemed to be the way lately. "You been sleepin' a while, everythin' okay?" She looked at Ennis; Jack had told her and Rose what had happened in town, and while they had both been alarmed, they trusted Jack to be able to handle it and calm Ennis down. He could well be the only person that Ennis felt truly safe with for the time being. Considering the connection between them, it wasn't surprising. Somehow, their bond seemed to run deeper than it normally did between lovers. They were soulmates; two halves of a whole.

They both nodded. "Yeah, we're okay. Just needed the rest. You doin' okay?"

She coughed a little and rubbed her forehead. "I guess. Threw up a little earlier, but I'm okay now. Feelin' a little sleepy an' kinda groggy. Thinkin' I might go look for some food, you comin'?"

"Yeah, we are. Need to stretch our legs." No sooner had Jack said this than Becky had clamped a hand over her mouth and rushed back to the bathroom, quickly followed by the sound of retching.

Jack winced. "Shit..." They both strode down the hall to make sure that she was okay. She was on the floor, grasping the toilet bowl and shuddering.

"Becky, you alright?" Jack asked, crouching down beside her and putting a hand on her back. Ennis got her a glass of water and hovered nearby, hoping that she would be okay. He could remember those months when she'd been pregnant and they'd helped her. Unfortunately, there wasn't likely to be any reprieve from this for her. Jack had told him that the only thing they could really do was be there for her and look after her. He'd admitted to Ennis that he felt helpless, wanted to do more, but Ennis had told him that things were beyond his control now. He knew how much it hurt Jack to just stand by, unable to do anything, but it wasn't his fault.

After a few tense minutes, she finally stopped retching and started gasping for breath. Jack helped her up off the floor and Ennis handed her the water. They both put a hand on one of her shoulders as she drank it down, her shuddering starting to stop.

"You okay?" Jack asked, looking sympathetically at her.

"Yeah. Don't know where that came from."

Jack rubbed her shoulder. "S'alright. Don't worry 'bout it. Look, I been tellin' Ennis that...I'm here for him, no matter what." He clapped Ennis on the shoulder as he said this. "That no matter what happens to him, I'm always gonna be there for him, do whatever I can to help him, ya know? That goes for you too."

She smiled up at him. "Aw, Jack...what would we ever do without ya, huh?" She nudged his shoulder and he ruffled her bed hair.

"Ain't never gonna hafta worry 'bout that. You guys ain't never gonna be without me. I'm here an' me an' my mama are gonna look after you both. So...if yer both feelin' up to it, whaddaya say we go get some food? You know my mama loves feedin' us."

"Sounds good, Jack. I'll go get dressed an' be down in a bit." She kissed them both on the cheek and left the bathroom, leaving them alone. Jack rubbed the back of his neck.

"She's lookin' real bad these days, ain't she?" he said, looking a little worried.

"Probably all that throwin' up," Ennis replied, shrugging helplessly. "Doin' that so much has gotta have a bad effect on her. Wasn't that bad when she was pregnant, was it? She never looked like that..."

"No, but throwin' up was just part of it back then. Just a thing that happens when a girl's expectin'. But...this is different," Jack reasoned. "This is a disease...somethin' that's...gonna..." He swallowed and Ennis could see what he had been about to say.

"Yeah...real bad. But...it's like ya said, Jack. We got you, we'll be okay." He tried to smile. "Know I can count on you, bud."

Jack looked at him, love in his eyes. "Come here..." They moved towards each other and wrapped their arms around each other, holding each other tightly and nuzzling their cheeks together.

"Mmm..." Jack moaned softly. "Love you, Ennis. Yer gonna be okay, you hear me?"

"I know, Jack. Long as I got you..."

"Yer always gonna have me, baby...promise ya that." Jack kissed Ennis's neck and inhaled his scent. "Sure did miss this when you was out there...thought it was gonna be years before I felt this again..."

"I know. Wanted to see yer face again so much...missed ya somethin' awful..." He buried his face in Jack's neck for comfort.

Jack pulled back and looked into his eyes. "Don't get me wrong, Ennis. I wish it hadn't come to this. Didn't want ya gettin' hurt just to come back home. Never wanted that for ya."

"I know. Ain't yer fault, Jack. Just happened." Ennis sighed and ran his hands up and down Jack's arms. "But...if it got me back here...guess we just gotta deal with it. Least I'm home..."

"Yeah. Good to have ya back, cowboy. An' we'll get through this, can promise ya that. Becky might not have long left, but I'm gonna make sure she's happy for however long she has left. An'...okay, yer kinda messed up right now, but I'm gonna make sure yer gonna be okay, that yer gonna get back on track. You hear me? Whatever it takes to stop those nightmares an' stop ya bein' so scared. You'll be fine, I swear." He kissed Ennis on the lips for a few seconds and then hugged him again, swaying a little and feeling their hearts beat in unison.