The next day was Lily's birthday, and Ennis could tell that even though Jack was throwing himself into preparations for the party that afternoon, there wasn't anything that could quite distract him from what was about to happen. Ennis also knew that there wasn't much he could do about it. He too was scared about what might happen out there, but he hadn't thought about it much yet; his only thoughts had been for how Jack was taking it.
He found Jack in the large space behind the house on the lawn, where they usually had their gatherings when their friends came over. Becky was in town with Lily buying her an extra birthday present and Rose was in the kitchen preparing the food.
"Hey, rodeo," he said softly, walking over to where Jack was setting the long table. Jack turned and smiled.
"Hey, cowboy. How's it goin'?" He let Ennis kiss him on the mouth, leaning into him slightly as Ennis brought an arm around him.
"Okay. How are things over here?"
"I'm nearly done, actually," Jack replied, looking at his handiwork. "My mama's still fixin' food an' Becky's still out."
"You want some help?" Ennis offered. Jack shook his head.
"Nah, I'm okay. But my mama might want some help, an' we're gonna hafta get all the food out here soon. Only a couple hours to go."
Ennis nodded. "Okay. I'll go help yer mama. See ya, bud." He kissed Jack's cheek and went up to the house, leaving Jack staring after him.
An hour later, Becky had returned and they were preparing the table, laying down dishes of Rose's good cooking, including the cherry cake that Jack loved so much. Becky had put Lily down for a nap and had one half of the baby monitors with her, the other in Lily's crib.
"Are we gonna tell 'em today?" asked Jack, laying down a large plate of sandwiches. The other three looked at him.
"I thought about it," Ennis said, and then he looked at Becky. "But...it's yer little girl's first birthday, Becky. Don't wanna go spoilin' it."
Becky shook her head. "I think we still should. They're our friends an' they'd want to know. You've still gotta make an appointment with Rick, it'll get out eventually."
Becky and Rose went back inside, leaving the two cowboys, who were drawn together like magnets. Ennis held Jack in his arms, looking down into his deep blue eyes. It felt that today, they were trying to memorize as much of the other as possible. Ennis had a feeling they'd be doing this for the next two weeks as they prepared themselves for the separation.
They kissed softly and slowly, and when Becky opened the screen door to bring more food out, she spotted them. Her heart ached for them and she decided to give them some alone time, going upstairs to check on her daughter.
Another hour passed, and their guests started arriving. Their hands and their other halves were there, as well as Rick and Kate, and Greg and James were both present, as well as Bill and Mary. They all came bearing gifts for Lily, who was awake by now and being entertained by Jack playing peek-a-boo with her.
"Oh, these are great, Rick, thank you," said Becky, examining the set of picture books that he'd bought. Becky loved to read to Lily and knew that she would like these. Lily was quite taken with the stuffed farm animals that her godfathers had bought, especially the horse, ironic since her mother had been a barrel racer.
They feasted on Rose's wonderful cooking, and Jack treated himself to a large slice of cherry cake. They had agreed to wait until after the food had been consumed to deliver their news. Everybody chatted and laughed and Lily seemed to enjoy all the attention she was receiving.
When people were starting to finish up their food, the four of them exchanged glances and nodded at each other. Becky stood up, drawing everyone's attention.
"Hey, guys. I just wanna say, on behalf of my daughter, thank you all for everythin' you've bought, all those presents. "We appreciate it an' when she's older, I'll make sure she knows what wonderful friends we have." She smiled and then cleared her throat. "But, um...there is somethin' else you all should know, bein' our friends. Ennis has some news that he wants to make sure you all know about." She looked at him; he nodded and stood up.
"Um, well...yesterday, I...I got a letter. From the Selective Service System." The women of the group gasped and they all looked shocked. Jack bit his lip and looked down at the table. "I guess you all know what that means. I...I ain't got much of a choice, an' I'm gonna hafta go. I'm leavin' on the 11th. My brother-in-law's cousin, who's a friend of ours, got drafted too an' it's likely we'll be there together, but...I just thought that you guys oughta know." He squeezed Jack's shoulder. "This has been hard on all of us, an' we're just tryin' to cope with it as best we can. I don't want it to ruin today, 'cos it's Lily's day, but...I thought you all should know. Yer our friends, an'..." He looked over at the hands. "I hope that when I'm gone, yer gonna help Jack cope 'cos it'd be damn hard for him to run this place on his own." The hands all nodded their consent. "That's all, I guess."
He sat down and took Jack's hand, lacing their fingers together. Everybody present leaned forward and gave them words of encouragement, saying that they had every faith in Ennis that he would be alright, and that they would do whatever they could to help Jack. Ennis felt better knowing that Jack would have a strong support system around him during his absence, and while he knew that they would miss each other a lot, the response of their friends gave him hope that things would be alright.
That evening, Rose and Jack were sat in the large wicker chairs on the back porch while Ennis and Becky had offered to do the dishes. Jack was sipping a beer and looking out across the land while his mother knitted. She noticed how quiet he'd been today and knew that it was a result of the horrible news they'd received. She hoped that when the time came for Ennis to leave, Jack would be in a better emotional state to deal with it; she knew it would be hard enough for them to part.
She knitted as she listened to the crickets and the distant sounds of Sandersville, occasionally glancing at her son.
"Jack?" she said softly. He looked at her.
"Are you okay? I know you've been real quiet today, an'...well, I know why, but...how are you copin'?"
He looked down at his beer bottle, picking at the label. "Dunno. Was really in shock at first...just kept thinkin' about what could happen to him out there. Don't bear thinkin' about. I just...I'm scared for him, mama. I know they train 'em real well an' all, but..." He trailed off and she looked at him sympathetically.
"Oh, sweetheart...I know you feel real strong on him, an' I know it's gonna break yer heart to watch him go. I've become real fond of him since you two got together an' you brought him to Lightnin' Flat. He's a good man, Jack."
Jack nodded, smiling slightly. "Yeah, he is. The best. An' I'm gonna miss him somethin' fierce. Never ever thought I was gonna love anybody as much as I love him. He...he's my other half, an' not just 'cos of this." He held up his left hand so that his ring glinted in the light coming from the kitchen window. "He's my other half...'cos...I just know that he's my soulmate. He's everythin' to me." Jack looked down at his bottle again and sighed. "I just hope that I can cope without him around. I'm gonna miss him so much, mama."
Rose looked at Jack, her heart breaking for her son. She'd always wanted him to find happiness and love, and now that he had found it, he was struggling to hold onto it. And while she and Becky loved Ennis like family, they both knew that this whole situation was hitting Jack the worst. He and Ennis were so deeply connected to each other on all levels and she dreaded what might happen to Jack if Ennis was killed. It would completely destroy him.
"Jack...he's gonna be alright," she said, trying to have faith in her own words. Truth was, she knew what could happen, but they all had to pull together and help each other get through this situation.
He looked over at her, his blue eyes full of sadness. "You don't know that, mama. You know as well as I do what could happen. You hear it all the time, 'bout guys who go out there, an'..." He shook his head. "It ain't no guarantee that he'll be safe."
"Maybe not, but...Jack...there's nothin' you can do. He has to go an' you just have to make the best of it. You both have to be strong right now. Me an' Becky are scared for his safety too, but...there's nothin' we can do."
He nodded. "I know, mama, but...it's real hard to just accept that he's about to go somewhere that we know ain't safe. I'm terrified of what might happen to him." He bit his lip and looked towards the screen door, where he could hear Ennis and Becky talking about Lily and the party. "I love him so much," he whispered, his heart aching for the man in there, the man who completed him in so many ways.
Rose got up and came over to his chair, sitting on the arm and putting her own arm around Jack's shoulders. "Sweetheart...I know yer worried, but try not to let it get to you too much, okay? Like I said, you need to be strong, especially once he's gone. He'll be countin' on you to look after the ranch an' everythin', you know? You'll just have to keep goin', even when you get worried. This is your life an' your business, an' I'm sure Ennis will find it a bit easier to be out there knowin' that yer in charge an' that you can look after everythin'."
"Yeah, he told me that," Jack said, leaning into her like he did when he was a little boy. "I dunno how he can have so much faith in me, I'm gonna be a mess while he's gone." He rubbed his forehead with one hand.
"You have to try, Jack. He's dependin' on you. It'll be easier on both of you if you just let things get on as they're supposed to. He'll come back to you, an' his home, an' everythin' will be alright. But until then, you have to let him know that he won't need to worry when he's out there, that you've got everythin' under control." She squeezed his shoulder. "He trusts you to do that, Jack."
Jack nodded. "Yer right, mama. I just...gotta let things happen. He said to me...if you can't fix it, you gotta stand it. I guess he was right," Jack admitted, smiling up at her.
"He sure was." At that, the screen door opened and Ennis looked out.
"Hey, you two comin' in? We're all done." He took in the way Rose was sat, appearing to be comforting Jack, and he grew concerned. "Everythin' alright?"
They stood up and Jack came up to Ennis, taking his hand. "Everythin's okay, cowboy. Let's go on in." They went inside and settled in front of the TV, Jack curling up against Ennis, who instinctively put an arm around him. He didn't know what Rose might have said to Jack, but if it would help him get through the next two weeks and beyond, he was all for it.
December 31st, 1965
It was New Year's Eve and the residents of the ranch were currently preparing for their celebrations. They had decided not to throw a big party, since they had recently had one for Lily's birthday. And they wanted to be alone; they didn't expect to be able to finish the year together so they at least wanted to start it together.
Ennis and Jack were busy making sandwiches at the end of the kitchen counters. Rose was putting the finishing touches to a large cherry cake she had prepared for the evening and Becky was feeding Lily at the table.
Jack seemed to be coping a little better now with what was going on, and even though Ennis could tell he would never like the prospect of them being separated, at least he had calmed down some thanks to all the reassurance he had been given. None of them were looking forward to Ennis's departure, but they had to make the best of it. At least he hadn't voluntarily signed up, and was willingly leaving his family. He didn't like it any more than they did.
Jack caught Ennis's eye and slowly licked the spoon clean of the peanut butter, putting the whole thing in his mouth and keeping Ennis's gaze, his own filled with mischief. Ennis gulped, wanting to grab Jack right there but restraining himself in front of their female company. He would sure miss things like this, just the little things that Jack did that kept things alive and interesting in their relationship. Hopefully his memories would be enough to get him through the cold, lonely nights when he was far away from Jack. He nudged Jack with his hip and smirked at him. Jack grinned and puckered his lips. Ennis gave Jack a quick kiss on the lips and they returned to their work.
When they were all done, they brought the food into the living room and spread it out on the coffee table. They were preparing to watch a movie until quarter to twelve, at which point they would then switch over to watch the ball drop. They cracked open a bottle of red wine, Becky celebrating the fact that she could drink this year. Last year, she hadn't been able to because she hadn't wanted to affect her milk so soon after Lily's birthday.
They poured their drinks and settled into the living room, nibbling on their food and sipping their wine. Lily was on Becky's lap and her mother was feeding her small bits of food that she could manage.
Jack was curled up against Ennis, his head on his shoulder and lazily drinking his wine. He had to admit he felt happy and content right now, and he couldn't think about what was coming in less than two weeks. He had to savour every moment he had left with Ennis, build up as many memories of him as he could so that he could get through the lonely nights he would be spending by himself.
At midnight, they watched the ball drop in Times Square, Ennis and Jack kissing when it reached the bottom and smiling their private smiles at each other. Lily had fallen asleep in her mother's lap so they all went upstairs, Jack carrying the rest of the wine with him.
The pair of them stretched out on the bed, Jack pouring them both some more wine and clinking their glasses together. They drank a little and then turned to each other. Jack had discovered that red wine tended to make Ennis a little friskier than usual, not that he was about to complain.
Ennis proved him right soon enough, kissing his neck and making him smile, inclining his head towards him. "Mmm..." he purred.
"You like this?" Ennis whispered, softly biting now. Jack moaned.
"Ennis...come on...need ya..."
Ennis pulled away, deep brown eyes gazing deeply at him. "Yeah?"
Jack nodded. "Yeah...come on, cowboy." Ennis straddled him, kissing him all over his face and breathing heavily. It aroused Jack immensely how masculine Ennis was and he was everything that Jack wanted in a partner.
"Ennis," Jack breathed. "Want ya inside me...please..." Ennis heard the slight whine in Jack's voice and knew that Jack had a low threshold for teasing these days. If Jack needed him, he couldn't tease him; he had to give him what he wanted and needed.
They slowly undressed each other, throwing their clothes to the floor and caressing each other's faces as they kissed, rubbing together. Ennis grabbed the lube from the nightstand, and then slid Jack's legs over his shoulders, something that they often did when one of them was feeling vulnerable and in need of comfort. Jack locked his ankles together around Ennis's neck and gripped his shoulders, Ennis gathering him into his arms and sliding into him like a hand into a glove.
They looked at each other in the darkness, and then Ennis started to move into Jack, the night becoming a blur of passion and sweat and twining limbs. They finished and Ennis lay down next to Jack, kissing the sweat from his forehead as they curled up facing each other.
Sometime in the night, Ennis awoke to find that Jack wasn't in the bed next to him. He sat up and saw Jack sat on the end of the bed, looking at the shirts on the back of the door. He considered him for a moment, and then crawled out from under the covers, heading for Jack. He sat up on his knees behind Jack, slipping his arms around his lover and nuzzling their cheeks together.
"You okay?" he murmured softly. Jack gripped his arms.
"I guess. I just...gives me a little comfort to look at these. I think I'll be lookin' at these a lot..."
"I know...gonna be okay, rodeo. Love you."
Jack smiled. "Love you too."
"Mmm...come back to bed, darlin'. Get some more sleep."
"Alright..." Jack allowed Ennis to pull him back into bed, snuggling into Ennis's arms as they drifted off again.
A few days later, it was back to work. The hands were all back and things were back to as normal as they could be under the circumstances. The hands could tell that their employers were trying to cope as best they could with what was going on, and that while it would be hard for Ennis to leave them behind and go off somewhere so dangerous, they understood that the pair of them were making the most of the time they had left.
Ennis and Jack were fixing the fences in the field when Michael came up to them. They hadn't been able to do anything about his friends who were under the unfair employment of their former client, Samuel Peterson. They had asked Greg for his advice but he'd been at a loss as to what they might be able to do. While slavery had long since been abolished, the laws for it were still uncertain and it wasn't clear if they would be able to do anything. But they wouldn't give up trying.
They noticed Michael approaching them and turned to face him. "Hey, Michael, what's up?" asked Ennis, pushing up his hat over his eyes. Jack did the same.
He took off his hat in respect. "I, uh...I wanted to ask you guys somethin'. If it's alright."
"Sure, go ahead."
He shifted his feet. "Well...what you guys was sayin'...about Mr Ennis goin' off to Vietnam an' all...I was wonderin' if you might be wantin' more help around here." He looked at them nervously.
They looked at each other. "Uh...hadn't thought that far ahead, to be honest. Why?"
"Well, my little brother's just turned eighteen, an' he's lookin' for a job..."
"Sure," they both replied at the same time. It wasn't in their natures to turn away someone who needed help.
Michael looked surprised by their quick response. "Really?" he asked, eyes wide.
Jack nodded. "Yeah, you bet. We'll find work for him, don't worry. Can never have too much help on a ranch, an' we got the money to pay him good. Just bring him over whenever."
Michael looked relieved. "Thanks, guys. I'll bring him over with me tomorrow, that alright?" They both nodded and he walked away towards the barn.
Jack looked at Ennis. "Didn't give it no thought, 'bout hirin' more people. Havin' you gone...it's gonna make things harder. You make this place run, cowboy."
Ennis looked a little embarrassed. "I dunno about that, Jack...you deal with the numbers an' the people."
He shrugged. "Sure, but yer the one who makes sure things run smooth every day, make sure that the people get what they want an' keep on comin' back to us. I bring the business in, but you keep it goin'. We're a team, remember?" he said, punching Ennis lightly on the arm. Ennis smiled at him, pleased by Jack's words. A team, and even though he would be leaving soon, they had an unbreakable connection that would keep them together in their hearts and souls.
"Hey, Jack?" asked Ennis as they finished up the fence, him holding it in place while Jack fixed it up.
Jack looked up at him. "Yeah?"
"I was thinkin'...maybe tonight...you wanna go campin' on the hill?" he suggested.
Jack smiled. "Sure. What brought that on?"
Ennis shrugged. "Just a thought." He dipped his head, looking up at Jack shyly from underneath his eyelashes. "I'd like to...sleep under the stars with ya, bud. Like we did on Brokeback." This made Jack smile even wider and he stepped closer to Ennis, sliding his gloved hands up his lover's chest and around his neck.
"I'd love to. That'd be real nice, cowboy. An'...maybe we could make each other see stars." He wagged his eyebrows suggestively. Ennis blushed and slid his own hands around Jack, down to his ass and pulling him in closer.
"Yeah, maybe." They stood there kissing in the middle of the field, lost in their own private world and each other. After several heavenly moments of kissing, Jack pulled away, resting their foreheads together and breathing deeply, as if he was trying to inhale him.
"Sure gonna miss this," he whispered, his eyes half-closed. Ennis rubbed his back.
"You gonna think of me an' beat off now an' then?" Jack breathed. Ennis wasn't sure if he was being serious or not, but decided to answer honestly.
"If I get the chance," he whispered back. "Maybe when I'm dreamin'..." He nuzzled their cheeks together.
"Well...I bet there'll be guys there thinkin' about their girls an' wringin' one out...who knows, maybe guys too. Bet you an' Adam won't be the only ones with secret gay lovers," he said quietly, breathing the words into Ennis's ear. Ennis was rapidly getting hard with Jack breathing like that, and he was unable to stop it.
"Mmm...Jack...gettin' a problem down here..."
Jack paused and looked down. "Oh...sorry 'bout that. Can I take care of ya?" He looked back up at him, smiling innocently.
Ennis raised his eyebrows. "What, here?" Jack shook his head, grinning, and started pulling him towards the stables; he was heading for the tack room, a fire dancing in his blue eyes. He pinned Ennis against the wall with a smoky glare and sank to his knees, swallowing him down and making him have to clamp his hand over his mouth to stop himself moaning out loud.
He came suddenly with a violent shudder and looked down to see that Jack looked a little dazed. He pulled his pants up and then brought Jack to his feet, into his arms.
"That was good...you okay, rodeo?" he asked softly.
Jack pulled his head back so they could lock eyes. "I guess. Gonna miss doin' that, an' you doin' it to me. Gonna miss everythin' about you, baby." His lip trembled. Ennis pulled him close again and caressed his back, shushing and soothing him. They stayed there for a while before coming back to their senses and heading back out to work.
That evening, Ennis and Jack were setting up their tent on the hill. There were plenty of stars out and the night air was fresh and cool. They figured that it would do them some good to spend a night outside, just the two of them. It would be like their nights on Brokeback, most particularly those they had spent during their wedding trip, where they had made their vows to each other and swapped their rings.
Jack knocked in the last peg and straightened up, jumping when he felt Ennis's arms encircle him from behind.
"Mmm..." he purred, leaning back into the embrace as Ennis ran his hands over his chest and stomach.
"Really gonna miss moments like these, rodeo," Ennis murmured, laying his chin on Jack's shoulder, both of them looking out over at the lights of Sandersville. Jack pressed his head against Ennis's.
"Me too, cowboy." They were silent for a moment, and then Ennis spoke again. "Come on, darlin'. Let's go lie down, okay?"
"Okay." Jack felt Ennis remove his arms from around him and take his hand, leading him into the tent. They crawled onto the bedroll and removed their hats, coats and boots, tossing them into a corner. They stretched out on top of the covers, facing each other in the darkness.
Ennis traced a finger along Jack's jawline. Jack kissed it as it neared his mouth, his eyes locked on Ennis's.
"I love you, Ennis," Jack whispered. Ennis leaned in and kissed his cheeks and forehead, making him close his eyes in bliss. Ennis then gently pressed a hand to his chest and coaxed him to lie down, leaning over him and continuing to kiss him. Jack tangled his hands in Ennis's curls as their tongues wove around each other, moaning into Ennis's mouth.
Ennis lifted one leg and brought it over Jack's body, straddling him and lying down on top of him. They kissed a little more and then he pulled away, looking down into Jack's deep blue eyes. They just stared at each other, not speaking. Every time they had sex, they had to prolong it as much as possible to savour everything they could, remember everything about each other.
They kissed softly again, just the lips pressing together. Ennis rubbed their noses together, making Jack moan softly again.
"Ennis...can we...? Please..."
"Okay, darlin'. Anythin' fer you." Ennis reared up onto his knees and Jack sat up, their faces brushing together and lips catching at skin as they removed their shirts, throwing them to the pile and running their hands over each other's smooth chests, feeling the strong muscles there that they had built up from years of hard work, both while growing up and here on the ranch. They loved each other's bodies, always had. They connected deeply on every level that they thought possible, completely in tune with each other.
They removed their jeans and lay back down again, Ennis nudging Jack's legs wider apart to lie between them, settling into his absolute favourite place in the whole world. He held Jack's face in both of his hands, the way he knew Jack loved, and probed his mouth gently with his tongue, Jack moaning again in need.
He pulled away to grab the lube from his jeans, slicking himself up and putting it back. Jack pressed a hand to his chest.
"What is it, Jack?" he asked softly, stroking his cheek. Jack looked up at him with absolute love and trust in his eyes.
"Can we be on our sides, with you behind me? I mean...you know I like seein' ya an' all, but...I..."
"You want me to take care of ya, darlin'?" Ennis asked, running his fingers through Jack's hair. Jack nodded, his eyes a little glazed over and his hands gripping Ennis's shoulders. "Sure thing, rodeo. Come on." He moved off Jack, who turned over onto his side, breathing deeply with his eyes now closed. Ennis spooned up behind him and wrapped an arm around his stomach, nuzzling his neck.
"Just relax, Jack," he said softly into his lover's ear, kissing it. He guided himself slowly into Jack, pushing in as gently as he could so as not to hurt him, only cause him comfort. Jack drew in a breath as Ennis got in all the way, his head falling onto the bedroll. Ennis tucked himself right up to Jack's back and neck as he slowly began to thrust into him.
"Oh...Ennis..." Jack moaned, drawing his hand back to rest on Ennis's hip, trying to pull him closer and meld them together. Ennis responded by resting his own hand on Jack's hip, gripping him but not too roughly. He moved inside him, trying to find that place of absolute pleasure that made them momentarily forget everything in the world but each other. They needed something like that right now, to forget what was troubling them, even for just a few moments.
Ennis changed his angle and found what he was looking for, the sweet spot inside his lover, that very special place that drove them both crazy with desire and love. Jack moaned aloud, his head going back where it was nuzzled by Ennis. He kissed Jack's neck and softly bit into his skin, feeling Jack shudder with delight. He then dragged his tongue down as much of Jack's neck as he could reach in this position. Jack tensed up suddenly and with a groan, released onto the bedroll in streams. The feeling triggered Ennis's own orgasm and he let loose into Jack, gripping him tightly as they rode it out and then relaxing.
Ennis caressed Jack's stomach, leaning slightly over him and kissing his cheek. "You okay, darlin'?"
Jack turned his head to look up at him, smiling drowsily. "Real damn good, cowboy. You take good care of me, ya know."
"Just 'cos I love ya." He lay back down again behind Jack, wrapping him up in his arms and holding him close. They drifted off soon after, lost in dreams of each other.