Chapter 10

August 19th, 1987

It was Ennis and Jack's twenty-third wedding anniversary, and the twenty-fourth anniversary of the day in Signal when they'd gotten together and decided to make a go of it. Jack had woken Ennis up with kisses and nips all the way down his chest, until he got to the treasure between his lover's legs. He'd taken Ennis in his mouth and made him moan, loving the noises coming from Ennis's mouth. He'd then lain back and let Ennis lavish some attention on him for a while. They had then curled up together and just looked at each other, their left hands entwined so that their rings were touching.

As Jack looked into Ennis's eyes, he was aware of the feeling in his heart; it was bursting with the love he held for the strong, dependable cowboy before him. Ennis's eyes told him that he was feeling the same for him. Jack smiled.

"Well...happy anniversary, cowboy. Twenty-three years..."

"I know," Ennis said in a soft sigh, stroking Jack's cheek. "Been so long...can't believe it. Feels like a lifetime ago when we got together, don't it?"

"Sure does. I can't believe we made it, Ennis. I mean...I loved you so much, an' I hoped we had a chance, but...let's face it, the odds were against us. Two kids, not even twenty. No education, hardly any money, thrown in at the deep end at somethin' people say is wrong..." He curled his fingers against Ennis's jaw. "We didn't know nothin' about how to build a life together, we just knew we loved each other. An' look at us now..."

Ennis smiled his secret smile. "Yep. People mighta thought we weren't gonna make it, if they'd known. But we did. Not bad for a pair of deuces, huh?"

"Yep, not bad at all. We're here, together. Where we should be." He leaned in and kissed Ennis gently, feeling their tongues curling around each other. Ennis squeezed Jack's fingers and they once more lost themselves to their desires.

They spent the day walking around the city, exploring and buying presents for their relatives back home. While Jack was distracted, Ennis bought a pack of candles and a bottle of wine, intending to go for a little romance back at the room that night. He did his best at things like that, and he knew the kinds of things that Jack liked. He figured he must be doing something right, given the way Jack often looked at him.

In the late afternoon, they decided to go and see a movie together. They picked one at random and sat in the back where they were alone. The room was almost pitch black, with the only light coming from the screen. They could see into each other's eyes and Jack placed a hand on Ennis's thigh.

"Love you," he whispered, and Ennis smiled.

"Love you too, rodeo." They leaned in and kissed softly, feeling comfortable to do so here. Nobody was near them or paying any attention, so they would be okay. Even if someone did see them, Jack figured they wouldn't care. They had seen other gay couples around the city, and nobody seemed to bother them. Things were different here in the city.

They made out all the way through the movie, not paying it any attention; they much preferred to make their own entertainment. When it was over, they left and headed to the restaurant again, deciding to share another seafood platter. This time, they ordered some champagne, as it was a celebration. They filled their glasses and held them up.

"Ennis, I want you to know that I love you, an' I always have. You've been everythin' to me for over twenty years, an''s just been amazin'. You've made me real happy, an' I hope I make you happy too." Jack smiled widely. "I love you, Ennis. Happy anniversary."

The words went straight to Ennis's heart, making a smile spread across his face effortlessly. "Jack...I love you too, bud. When we met outside Aguirre's trailer...I never thought you'd turn out to be the love of my life. Went up on that mountain with nothin', an' I came down with everythin'. Alright, I didn't know it until we got together proper, but...a part of me felt like I had a lot more than I did before. I appreciate you bein' patient with me, up on Brokeback. God knows I was terrified of what was goin' on between us. I knew I wanted it, but I was all torn up about it."

Jack nodded. "I know you was. Even though I didn't know about Earl an' Rich then, I could see you was strugglin' with it. I just wanted to get you to relax, 'cos I knew it could be somethin' real special if we went with our feelin's."

"I know. Thing is, gotta know I did wanna be with you up there, no matter how much it scared me. Couldn't help it. Anyway...I'm glad we got past all that, an' sorted things out. Happier now than I woulda been if you'd driven away." He smiled. "I love you so much, Jack, an'...I've enjoyed what we've had so far, but I'm lookin' forward to what's comin' too. Can't wait to grow old with ya, Jack. Happy anniversary, bud."

They clinked their glasses and drank, eyes glued together. Jack was a little lightheaded by the wonderful words Ennis had just said to him. His cowboy sure did know how to warm his heart. The food arrived and they started to eat, feeding each other when they were sure that nobody was looking. Jack's smile never left his face as the evening wore on, and soon enough they were walking back to their hotel.

Jack stopped and dragged Ennis into a dark doorway, away from the street light. They kissed and held each other close, enjoying the quiet intimacy and how romantic it was. Jack pressed in close to Ennis and looked up at him. He didn't say anything, but he just looked. Ennis understood anyway.

Back at the hotel, they ran upstairs as quietly as they could, eager to get into bed. As Jack tried to unlock the door, he felt Ennis's lips on his neck.

"Steady on, cowboy. Lemme get it open." Ennis slid a hand around Jack's waist.

"Hurry up, then," he murmured, and Jack grinned. Clearly, the champagne had gone to Ennis's head slightly. He loved it when Ennis got like this with him.

They entered the room and Jack heard the door being shut before he was spun around, Ennis's mouth planting itself firmly on his. They kissed for several moments, and then Ennis pulled away, his hands on Jack's upper arms. "Hang on, rodeo. Wait a sec."

Jack breathed deeply, looking into his lover's eyes. "What is it?" Ennis picked up the bag he'd tossed to the floor in his haze of lust, thankful that the bottle hadn't broken.

"Got us somethin' for tonight, figured we'd make it special." He was looking a little shy, but Jack's eyes lit up.

"Really? What'd you get?" Ennis pulled out the bottle of wine and the pack of scented candles, heart in his throat.

"Well..." He looked at Jack. "Whaddaya think?" Jack's whole face was filled with happiness.

"Oh, Ennis...this is great." He kissed Ennis's lips softly, and saw the shy cowboy smiling at him. "Tell you what, let's take these into the bathroom an' get in the Jacuzzi for a while, okay?"

Ennis nodded, liking this idea. "Okay." They walked into the bathroom, hand in hand. Jack filled up the tub while Ennis arranged the candles all around the room. He'd bought two sets, hoping that they could use the others while they were in bed. Tonight, he wanted things to be as perfect as possible.

When everything was arranged, they both stripped and slid into the tub, Jack between Ennis's legs and thoroughly comfortable. Ennis wrapped his legs around Jack and pulled him in close. Jack closed his eyes for a moment, enjoying the buoyancy of the water and Ennis nuzzling against his neck. "Mmm...this is real nice, cowboy."

"Sure is..." Ennis then held up the bottle of wine; he'd already put two glasses nearby. "Want some?" Jack smiled.

"You bet." Ennis poured them both a glass of wine and they sat there, thinking and occasionally nuzzling their faces together. Jack felt a sense of great calm and contentment overcome him.

After a little while, Jack could feel Ennis growing hard against him, and he sighed. "Looks like it's time for round two, cowboy. I can feel ya gettin' riled up." Ennis agreed and they got out, disposing of the used candles and walking back into the bedroom. He put out the other set of candles and turned to see Jack lying naked on the bed, everything on display. He smiled at Ennis. "Wanna join me, lover?" Ennis was soon lying with him, kissing his neck and trailing a hand down to his lower regions. Jack bucked into his hand and Ennis was overcome with a need to have Jack inside him.

He tugged at Jack and flipped onto his back, pulling Jack on top of him. "Want ya inside me, Jack," he whispered, looking into the deep, penetrating eyes. Jack's eyebrows rose slightly.

"Yeah?" Ennis nodded and kissed him, hands in his hair. When their lips parted, he nodded. "Okay...front, back or side?"

Ennis considered, trailing a finger along Jack's jaw. "Front. Wanna see ya tonight, bud..." Jack nodded and grabbed the lube, kissing the spot behind Ennis's ear that he knew drove Ennis crazy. He smeared some onto his fingers and pushed them in, exploring a little.

"Lift yer hips, Ennis," he whispered and Ennis did as he was told, trying to relax. This was an integral part of preparing their bodies for penetration, and he knew that they had to take care so as not to hurt each other. When Jack had moved his fingers around a little, he opened his eyes and nodded.

"I'm ready," he said breathlessly, anticipating what was to follow. Jack removed his fingers and then slicked himself up, tossing the lube back to the nightstand. He lifted Ennis's legs and encouraged Ennis to wrap them around his waist.

"Just relax, cowboy..." he murmured as he leaned in close and started to push in, taking it slowly. Ennis lifted his hips to try and help, allowing Jack inside. After a few seconds, Jack pushed all the way in and sighed, slipping his hands under Ennis's shoulders and holding him close, while Ennis wrapped his arms around Jack's neck. They held each other close and locked eyes as Jack moved, sliding out a little and then back in, pushing further with every thrust and leaning in to kiss Ennis, chasing his tongue with his own. Ennis was in a completely different place to have Jack doing this to him; he wasn't aware of anything else. He moaned quietly into Jack's ear and squeezed him with his thighs. "Ennis..."

"Jack..." The movements became quicker as Jack thrust deeper, hips pushing up against Ennis time after time, and Ennis's moans became louder. Jack started to relentlessly thrust into him, desperately trying to get to that place where it was just the two of them in their own world. They were both gasping for breath and spitting out incoherent words, until Jack finally hit Ennis's prostate, his mind going blank when he made contact.

"Oh God, Ennis...fuck...!" He shot deeply into his lover, holding on tight and shaking. He felt warmth spread in between them and knew that Ennis had also come, gripping to him. They collapsed together in a heap, breathing deeply. "Damn...happy anniversary, baby."

Ennis smiled, holding Jack close. "Right back at ya, darlin'." Jack mustered the energy to get out of bed and snuff out the candles, but then he returned to bed and promptly collapsed onto Ennis again, intending to sleep there. "Night, Jack."

"Night, cowboy. Love you."

"Love you too." He planted a kiss in Jack's hair and then closed his eyes.

Two days later, they were headed home. They had immensely enjoyed their time out here, but they were eager to get back to the ranch, wanting to see their family again. Jack in particular was missing his mother. Ever since she had come to live with them, he had grown closer to her than he ever had been. With his father gone, neither of them had anything more to fear, and both of them were glad to be away from Lightning Flat. It had never given either of them any joy, and they were much happier now.

He and Ennis were in their room, packing for their departure. Their suitcases were on the bed and they were attempting to fit in their gifts for everybody as well as their clothes. Ennis looked up at Jack now and then, with a look of wonder on his face. He still couldn't believe how close they were and how much in love they still were. In the beginning, he'd always loved Jack, but he'd sometimes wondered if they could make it. The odds had been against them; they couldn't deny that. But somehow, their love had pulled them through and now here they were.

Ennis figured that he was never going to truly understand what Jack saw in him. He knew that Jack sometimes needed him to take care of him when he was upset or feeling vulnerable, and he was happy to do that. Jack was always there for him when he was needed. He had some idea of why Jack loved him and wanted to be with him; they were good for each other. But he didn't think he would ever understand why Jack was attracted to him, especially these days. They were older now, and their bodies weren't the same as they used to be, but Jack didn't seem to care. And truth be told, he didn't care about Jack's body being different either; he was still attracted to Jack.

His train of thought was interrupted by Jack starting to speak. "We'd better get a move on, cowboy. Don't wanna miss that flight."

"Hmm?" He looked up, and Jack met his eyes. "What?"

Jack gave him a look. "Where are you, Ennis? What's on yer mind?" Ennis shook his head.

"Sorry, bud. Just thinkin'. Yer right, we'd better get goin' soon." Jack came around the bed, looking concerned.

"Come on, bud. What's eatin' ya? Tell me..."

He looked up into Ennis's eyes, fixing him with his deep gaze. Ennis could never lie to those eyes. "Well...just somethin' dumb."

"Don't matter, just tell me."

Ennis looked at him. "Just...we've been together so long, an'...I was just thinkin' how I'm never gonna understand what you see in me. Like...I know some of it, like when you need me to make you feel better. I get that, but..."

Jack sighed. "You mean sex, right? You don't get why I'm attracted to you, do ya?" Ennis shook his head. "I've tried to explain it, Ennis..."

"I know, an' I get that you are, an'...I guess I can see why you are, 'cos yer a gay guy an' all. That's why I'm attracted to you too. But I ain't never gonna see it myself. Never saw myself as much to look at, especially these days." He shrugged. "We're older now, ain't what we used to be."

Jack moved in close and wrapped his arms around Ennis. "Sweetheart...I dunno how to make you see it. To be honest, I can't see why you're attracted to me either. Never saw myself as much either. But...I just accept that you are attracted to me, even though I can't see it. Guess you've just gotta try an' accept it too."

Ennis nodded, running his hands along Jack's back. "Yeah, I guess. You really are, so...guess I can live with it." He drew his face away, looking tired. "Jack...we've been over this a million times, an' I still don't get it. You'd think I woulda got it by now, right?"

He looked into Jack's eyes, accepting the gentle kiss that Jack planted on his mouth. Jack was doing his best to comfort Ennis and reassure him that he loved everything about him. They kissed for several moments and then Jack pulled away. "Feel any better, cowboy?"

"Yeah, I guess," Ennis replied. "Thanks, Jack." They kissed again and returned to their suitcases, finishing with their packing and making sure they had everything for the flight. Jack kept glancing at Ennis as they made their way to the airport, wondering if his cowboy would ever understand what made him sexually attractive. Guess I was the first to treat him like that, he thought sadly. Maybe nobody ever found him sexy before, or told him so. I sure do, though. This thought made him smile a little. They really had been meant to be.

The flight wasn't as good as usual. Ennis hadn't eaten that much that morning and he was feeling sick, so he just stayed in his seat and Jack held both of his hands in his own. He felt sorry for Ennis; he'd never liked seeing him ill, and he just wanted to hold him until he felt better. He couldn't do that here, but he was doing what he could.

"You okay, baby?" he asked softly, and Ennis nodded, looking pale.

"I'll be alright. There a paper bag anywhere?" Jack rummaged through his bag; he'd packed one just in case this happened. He pulled it out and unfolded it.

"It's right here, you need it now or just want it near?"

"Just hold onto it, Jack. Thanks, bud..." Jack quickly kissed his cheek and smiled at him, happy that he was here to help him.

"No problem, cowboy. I'm right here an' I ain't goin' nowhere." He continued to hold Ennis's hand and did everything he could to comfort him. When the flight was finally over, they disembarked and Ennis felt marginally better. Both of them were glad to finally be home.

They finally arrived home, and were happy to see the ranch again. Both of them had missed the others and were eager to get back to work after taking some time off. They had enjoyed their anniversary break, but they had grown up privy to hard work and dedication, so it was built in them to do their best on their land and make it work. Even though they were more than financially comfortable by now, they had contracts and had to deliver to their customers. After so many years, they had built up a reputation for good quality products, professionalism and fair trade. Neither of them wanted to do anything to jeopardise their reputation, so they had to follow through on their business promises.

Both of them knew that the workload was much easier to cope with when they had a loving partner by their side. They shared everything equally and talked things over frequently so as to keep on top of things.

When the cab reached the ranch, they got out with their luggage and looked up at the house. It was still standing, so they figured that nothing too bad had happened. Before they reached the bottom of the steps, it was opened and Lily grinned at them. "You're back!" She let them reach the top of the steps before hugging them. "You have a good time?"

They both smiled at her. "We sure did. Everythin' okay while we was gone?"

Her face fell a little. "Not really. You better come on in..." Ennis and Jack exchanged a glance and followed her in, wondering what might have happened. When they were inside, they saw Rose, Ben, and to their surprise, James Goodman. It had been a long time since they'd needed the sheriff at the ranch.

"James, what are you doin' here? What's goin' on?" They left their luggage by the door and sat on the sofa together, dreading what news might be awaiting them.

The sheriff sighed. "I was called here a couple of days ago, by Lily. Somethin' happened, an' she asked me to come back today so I could talk to you."

"What happened?" Jack asked, looking nervous. Lily cleared her throat.

"A few nights ago, I was talkin' to Grandma about somethin', I'll tell ya later what it was. But...then the phone rang in the kitchen; it was Cecilia callin' to say that she an' K.E. have received their invitations, as well as their kids. We talked a little, then hung up. I looked out the window an' could see Jim an' Mike, the hands that were on duty that night. When I opened the door, I asked them if they were okay. They told me that when they left the stable after puttin' the horses away, they saw someone runnin' up along the side of the house in the dark. They followed 'em, but couldn't catch up, just watched 'em run off down the road towards town. Got no idea who it was."

Ennis could feel Jack's hand squeezing his tightly, and knew that he was fearful. He looked at Jack and could see his fear in his eyes. He turned back to the others. "Did they put it in the report?"

Lily nodded. "Yep. I asked 'em to. I called James the next day an' told him everythin'. Asked him to come back today 'cos I knew you'd be home soon. I'm real sorry about this, guys..."

Ennis shook his head. "Ain't yer fault, Lily. What's gonna happen now, James?"

" you can probably tell, Pete Dawson's the prime suspect. I'll be talkin' to him an' see if he has an alibi for that night. Could have been anybody though." He stood up. "I'm gonna go back to the station, see what I can get on this. Just wanted to see you before I left." They nodded back at him and the five of them were left alone. Ennis pulled Jack up by the hand and led him into the kitchen. He could tell that Jack was worrying about what had happened and he needed to calm him down. Once alone, Ennis held Jack in front of him.

"Bud, look at me. Don't worry, okay? Whoever it was, James'll catch 'em. He's real good at what he does, you know that.

Jack looked up into his eyes, needing reassurance. "Ennis...if it was Pete...what's gonna happen now? Why was he here? He probably didn't know we was gone, so...was he lookin' for us? Was he tryin' to hurt us?" He bit his lip. "If anythin' ever happened to you..."

Ennis pulled Jack into his arms and rubbed his back. "Shh, darlin'. It's okay. Nothin's gonna happen to us, okay? Even if it don't matter. We'll be okay. We can pick up the pieces an' put ourselves back together again. We'll be fine so long as we've got each other, rodeo. I can promise you that much." He held Jack as close to him as he could, trying to make him feel better. Jack's head burrowed into Ennis's collarbone, into the spot where it naturally fit. He could hear Ennis's heartbeat and it comforted him, knowing that Ennis was here and looking after him.

"I love you, Ennis...sure am glad I don't gotta face this alone, you know."

"You ain't never gotta face things alone, darlin'. I'm right here." He kissed Jack's head and continued to rub his back. He had to admit that he didn't like the idea of someone sneaking around on their property, but they were doing everything they could to keep everybody safe. He had to believe that they were going to be okay; he would go crazy with worry otherwise. As he held Jack, he thought about what he had known all along; that he would do anything for Jack, no matter what it was. If that included telling Jack something that would make him feel better, even if he wasn't sure of it himself, then so be it.

A couple of days later, Ennis and Jack were in town again. They had been at the station, asking James if there were any updates on their mystery trespasser. He had spoken to Pete, and was given an alibi, so was in the process of following up on it to see if there was any truth to it. Jack didn't believe for a minute that Pete had a valid alibi, no matter what he told James. He had a gut feeling that Pete was the trespasser, but he couldn't figure out why Pete had returned after all this time. Was he really so hell-bent on hurting them, even now? It had been such a long time, and Jack had a feeling that the reason for Pete's return ran deeper than pure hate, but he wasn't sure what it might be.

He and Ennis had talked it over the night of their return, but neither of them could figure it out. They had ruled out the possibility of Pete having some sort of weird obsession with them, for they were pretty sure he was straight. Even if he had, they agreed that he would have done something a long time ago. After talking for about an hour and getting nowhere, Ennis decided to take Jack's mind of it for a while, in the best way he knew how.

They were walking down the street back towards the truck, wondering what Rose might have made for lunch today. As they neared the truck, they both froze. The back left tire had been punctured and was completely flat.

"Shit," Jack cursed, crouching down to take a closer look. "We got a spare?" Ennis nodded.

"Yeah, it's on the bed. An' there's..." He paused, his mind racing. "Jack, wait. Get up." Jack did so, looking confused.

"What is it?"

"The tire iron's missin' from the bed. It was right next to the spare tire...this don't look right. Someone stole it..."

Jack's eyes widened, and he looked around. If they attempted to change the tire now, the thief could creep up behind them and attack. Jack let out a deep breath. "Damn, that was close. What do we do now?"

Ennis looked around. "We go to the garage an' tell 'em we need a tire changin'. Just tell 'em we ain't got a tire iron, that's all. Come on." They took only a few steps before their path was blocked, by Pete Dawson. Ennis immediately flung an arm out across Jack's chest, stopping him. "What the hell do you think yer doin'?" he growled.

Pete smirked. "Wanted to see how the queers are doin'. Looks like you got a puncture, boys. But I guess you like holes, am I right?" Jack rolled his eyes.

"We know it was you, Pete. We never had no trouble for over twenty years until you showed up again. What the hell are you doin' back here?"

He looked at Pete, eyes narrowed, and Pete stared right back at him. Jack grew uncomfortable with the look Pete was directing at him, and he stepped closer to Ennis, unsure of what to do. Ennis sensed his discomfort and stepped in front of him.

"Did you come onto our property the other night? What was you doin'?"

Pete snarled. "Wasn't there. Never mind." He turned tail and ran, but Ennis saw the end of a tire iron poking out of his jacket pocket. He sighed and turned back to Jack, wondering what on earth had just happened. They had ruled out the possibility of Pete having some kind of obsession with Jack, but maybe they had been wrong. He knew in his heart that Jack would never cheat on him, but that wasn't the issue here. Pete was the problem, and Ennis was worried that he would try something on Jack.

"Darlin', you okay?" he asked softly, and Jack shrugged. His unease had lessened when Pete had run off, and now he was just confused.

"I dunno, Ennis...what the hell just happened? Why did he look at me like that? I mean..."

Ennis bit his lip. "I think we was wrong, Jack...the other night. Maybe he is...havin' those thoughts."

"Shit..." Jack's eyes looked full of sadness. " know I'd never mess around behind yer back..."

"I know you wouldn't, Jack. That ain't the problem. It''s that he's havin' those thoughts, an'...what if he tries somethin'?"

"If he did, you'd kill him where he stood, wouldn't you?" Jack asked, a half-smile forming on his face. Ennis nodded, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"I sure would. But he ain't gonna do nothin', not so long as I'm around. We'll be okay. So...let's get this tire sorted, an' we can go on home." Jack nodded and they carried on towards the garage, both thinking hard about this encounter.

They got the tire changed; luckily they had made friends with the mechanics as a safety precaution a long time ago. Neither of them spoke in the truck, but Ennis took Jack's hand and squeezed it in support. Jack was very grateful that he didn't have to face this alone.

When they got back home, they told the others what had happened and called James to inform him, and then Ennis took Jack upstairs after lunch. They lay down on the bed and Ennis looked down into Jack's eyes, stroking his face. Jack sighed.

" know you're the only one for me, no matter what." He pulled Ennis down and kissed him, sliding their tongues together. Ennis straddled Jack and slowly they began to undress each other, needing to feel each other and connect. When he was inside his vulnerable lover, Ennis held his face in his hands.

"Right back at ya, bud. I'm gonna take care of you, Jack. I swear I will..." Jack nodded and pulled him close again, losing himself to Ennis's loving administrations and forgetting the world for a blissful few minutes. Nothing could hurt him while he was in his cowboy's arms.