Chapter 17

They reached the hospital quickly and Ennis was soon helping Jack out of the truck, trying not to worry too much. He'd kept the wound covered as best he could and he walked Jack into the emergency entrance. To his immense relief, he saw Rick standing around and talking to a nurse.

"Rick!" The doctor turned and his eyes widened.

"Guys? What happened?" he asked in alarm, noting the jacket at Jack's arm and the worried expressions on everyone's faces.

"Pete Dawson shot him," Lily cut in, looking fearful. "Got him in the arm an' ran off." Rick sighed.

"Oh God...come on, let's get him to an exam room." He led the way upstairs, while Rose remained to fill out the forms. Lily and Ben followed the other three at their own pace. His arm was around her waist as they walked up and he tried to reassure her that Jack would be okay.

"I sure hope so. If we lost one of them..."

"We won't," he said firmly, squeezing her a little. "He's gonna be fine." She nodded and leaned into him.

Rick led them to an exam room and caught the attention of a nurse to help him. They sat Jack down on the table and slowly removed Ennis's jacket from Jack's arm, handing it back to Ennis. He bent down a little to examine the wound and Ennis could see the look of pain on Jack's face. It was clear that the bullet was in his arm.

"Damn, looks like he got ya good. Bullet went right in, but not too deep. Don't reckon it did any lastin' damage. I reckon you'll be alright." He stood up straighter. "Well, first we gotta get that bullet out, an' then we cans stitch you up. Ennis, I'm afraid you'll have to step outside for this. Hospital policy...sorry."

Ennis shook his head. "It's okay, Rick. I'll go sit with the others." He leaned down and gently kissed Jack on the lips, stroking the mole above his lip. "Good luck, darlin'. I'll be right outside." Jack gave him a weak smile and watched him go. Ennis left the room and headed down the hall to a waiting area. Rose, Lily and Ben were sat together, looking at him in apprehension.


Ennis sat down with them. "Rick says he'll be fine. Just gotta get the bullet out an' stitch him up."

Rose sighed in relief. "Thank goodness. I still can't believe this. I don't understand why that young man would harass Jack the way he has been." Ennis bit his lip; he and Jack had never discussed their suspicions with anyone else yet, but they would have to at some point.

" an' Jack have been talkin' about that. When we've seen Pete in town before...he's always givin' Jack this real weird look. Makes us both real uncomfortable. We reckon" He shifted nervously, unsure of how to talk about this with Jack's mother present.

"He's got a thing for Jack?" Lily asked in disbelief. "I thought he hated you both."

"We reckon he does, but...if he's got some kinda weird obsession with Jack, an' he thinks it makes him gay...he probably hates that, so...maybe he thinks that hurtin' Jack is the answer." His heart clenched at the thought. Despite all their years of being together and everything they'd been through, he was still terrified of losing Jack.

"And if...if hurtin' him like this don't work..." Lily was piecing it together, and her eyes widened. "You don't mean he would...?"

Ennis screwed his eyes shut and tried to block out the mental image. "I dunno. Me an' Jack don't really wanna think about that right now. I'm hopin' that when we tell James 'bout this, we can have him locked up before he tries somethin' else."

"If he ever gets caught," Lily replied darkly. Just then, Rick emerged from down the hall and stood in front of them. He smiled reassuringly at their worried faces.

"He's gonna be fine. We got the bullet out an' cleaned the wound. He's just bein' stitched up right now, an' there wasn't no further damage. Ennis, I have to commend you for keepin' the wound covered on the way here. It stopped a lot of the bleedin'. You probably saved Jack's life."

Ennis smiled a little and looked down at his boots, unsure of what to say. Ever since they'd gotten together, he'd always felt an urge to protect Jack from harm, and mostly he'd been successful. He just hoped that he could keep Jack away from Pete and whatever else he might be planning.

"When can we see him?" asked Lily, sitting up and looking relieved.

"As soon as they're finished; he can go home right away." He went back down the hall and they all breathed sighs of relief, sitting back in their chairs and relaxing for the first time since they'd been in the diner.

"We'd better call James when we get back," Ben said, his hand clasping Lily's in support.

"Yep." Soon enough, Rick came back out followed by a weary-looking Jack. He smiled at them all and went straight to Ennis. "You okay, bud?" he asked softly, stroking Jack's cheek. Jack nodded, looking tired.

"I'll be fine. Um...I've got a few clean sets of bandages an' some antibacterial stuff for when it gets changed. Rick said twice a day until it's healed up." He handed Ennis a bag full of supplies and he nodded.

"Don't worry, rodeo. We'll get ya sorted out." Jack smiled thankfully at him and Rick clapped a hand to Jack's shoulder.

"Take care of yourself, Jack. An' be sure to report this to James."

"We will. Thanks for everythin', Rick." He nodded and they left the hospital, looking forward to getting home. Jack, for one, wanted to be in their bed and in Ennis's arms. He wasn't in the mood for sex; he just wanted to be held. He had a feeling that Ennis needed some reassurance too.

They got back to the ranch around nine, looking forward to lying down and resting. Ennis in particular wanted to get Jack home and to wrap him up in his arms. He'd been terrified when Jack had gone down, clutching his arm, and had seen red. He would have killed Pete if Ben hadn't held him back, but now he could see that it wouldn't have been a good idea. Pete would get his comeuppance, but right now he had to take care of Jack; that was his priority.

Once inside, they headed upstairs and turned to each other, unsure now of what to do.

"I reckon we'd all just better go to bed, talk 'bout this tomorrow," Ennis said, his fingers intertwined with Jack's. The others nodded.

"Good idea. Night, guys." They all said goodnight and went to their rooms. Ennis and Jack were silent as they undressed, and Ennis turned to see Jack looking distressed.

"What's the matter, bud?" he asked, seeing that Jack had his pants off but not his shirt. Jack looked at him helplessly.

"I gotta be careful with gettin' this shirt off...don't wanna move the bandage too much." Ennis walked over to him.

"Oh, come here...can ya pull in yer other arm?" Jack did so and Ennis managed to get the shirt off his uninjured arm. He then slid it carefully off Jack's other arm, taking care not to catch the injury. Jack sighed as the material was removed.

"Thanks, Ennis..."

Ennis kissed his lips gently, stroking his face. "Ain't no problem. Just wanna take care of ya. Come on, let's get in." They moved to the bed and slid under the cool sheets, sighing in unison. Jack kept his left arm above the sheets. He turned to see Ennis staring up at the ceiling, and his heart ached for him. He could only imagine what must have gone through Ennis's mind when he'd been shot. Ennis had always been terrified of him being hurt, and now he had. Jack realised that he'd never been shot before, especially not in front of Ennis.

"Cowboy, you okay?" he asked softly, reaching his hand over and running his knuckles over Ennis's chest. Ennis turned to look at him.

"Not really. I mean..." He turned onto his side and looked at Jack; his eyes were full of sadness. "He shot you, Jack...that ain't never happened before. You just went down...I thought he got you in yer chest or somethin'. Scared the hell outta me..."

Jack turned onto his own side, grateful that his injured arm was out of the way. "Baby...I know. I remember how scared I was when you was in that bomb attack in Vietnam. Everythin' changed that day." He trailed his finger along Ennis's collarbone. "Sorry I scared ya..."

Ennis shook his head. "Just glad yer alright. When does yer bandage need changin'?"

"Rick said in the mornin' after breakfast an' then after dinner, before we go to bed. I'm good 'til tomorrow. Just gotta keep it outta harm's way."

"Okay. you feelin'?"

"I'm fine," Jack tried to reassure him, hand now running along his arm. "Please, stop worryin'. My arm's gonna be fine, an' Pete's gonna get what he deserves. We're gonna be okay." He leaned in and kissed Ennis softly, bringing his hand up to Ennis's cheek. He felt his lover slowly relax under his touch and saw Ennis close his eyes.

When they broke apart, there was a thin string of spit between their lips, just like during their first kiss. Jack looked into Ennis's eyes and saw how he was still scared.

"Jack, I..."

"'s okay. You wanna?"

After a moment, Ennis shook his head. "Sorry, bud...I can't. Still all shaken up from tonight. My head ain't really in it..." Jack sighed in understanding and rolled onto his back.

"It's okay, Ennis. Come here..." He pulled Ennis under his arm and close to his chest. Ennis curled himself up to Jack and ran his hand across Jack's chest, finding comfort in his strong muscles. Here in the privacy of their own room, he felt safe, and he knew that Jack was safe. That was all that mattered. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but he was unsettled. He just couldn't shake off the image of Jack going down and bleeding, and he couldn't forget the sound of the gunshot as Jack was hit.

Jack felt him shifting and looked down at him. "'s okay. Can't you sleep?"

"Not really...just keep thinkin' about it. Hearin' that gunshot, seein' you bleedin' an' in pain..." He bit his lip, the images burning in his mind. "Seein' that wound on yer me thinkin' of Earl, an'...that makes me remember my nightmares of you bein' hurt like that. Just...all came back to me." Jack sighed and kissed the top of his head.

"Oh,'s okay. Come up here, turn around." Ennis turned to face him and looked into his eyes, seeing the love in them. Jack nodded. "Come here..." Ennis reached up and met Jack's reassuring kiss, his heart still beating a little fast from the images in his memory. He would never be able to let go of his fear that Jack would be subjected to Earl's fate, and he'd resigned himself to that over the years. But it didn't make it any easier for him when things like this happened. He was just glad that they were together; that his fear hadn't ultimately prevented him from pursuing a life with Jack.

They kissed a few times while Jack ran his hand up and down Ennis's back. He was a little shaken up from Pete's attack, but otherwise fine. He didn't have the bad memories that Ennis did; the ones that made events like this one seem even worse. When they were done, Ennis settled down against Jack's chest again and closed his eyes, trying to block out the images in his head. Jack continued to soothe him as he fell asleep.

October 22nd, 1987

Jay came to the ranch from Texas, looking forward to seeing Lily again. He also wanted to meet Ennis and Jack properly; maybe try and get in their good books. He knew that Jack would be more wary of him than Ennis; he was Becky's brother and by all accounts had taken her death hard.

Lily was there to meet him as he got off the plane, a small smile on her face. He hoped in his heart that he'd made some real progress with her. She sure seemed happy to see him.

"Hey," he said nervously as he approached her.

"Hey. You ready to go?" He nodded and they went to collect his bags. They had decided to drop off his things at the hotel before going to the ranch. Lily could see how unsure he was of their reception. "It's gonna be fine," she said softly, touching his arm. He nodded.

They reached the ranch and were met by Jack, who greeted Jay warily. He told them that Ennis was outside with Ben and a couple of hands. While Lily went to get him, Jay was left alone with Jack.

As they drank their coffee, Jack eyed Jay suspiciously. Despite the good things Lily had told him, he wasn't about to give too much. Sat before him was the reason that his sister was dead, and it wasn't easy for him to just brush that aside.

"So...I been meanin' to ask you, Jay...why exactly are ya doin' this? You musta realised that we've got money, but Lily tells us yer house ain't nothin' to sneeze at. So what's the deal?"

Jay leaned forward, an earnest expression on his face. "I wanna get to know her, Jack. God knows I didn't do right by her or her mama all them years ago...just wanna make amends. I mean..." He bit his lip. "I ain't expectin' any of you to forgive me, 'cos I ain't too sure I could do it, either. I just...wanna build bridges." Jack stared him down for a few moments, and then nodded.

"Alright. But we're keepin' an eye on ya. If you ever hurt an' Ennis have got a shed full of shotguns. That's all I'm sayin'." Jay nodded and they returned to their coffee. A few minutes later, Lily came back, followed by Ennis and Ben. Ennis noted the hawk-like expression on Jack's face and shook Jay's hand before sitting down next to his partner. Ben was a little friendlier, given that he was engaged to this man's daughter. But there was still a chill in the air as they all sat down.

"So what're yer plans while yer here?" Ennis asked, his leg pressed against Jack's for support.

Jay looked at Lily. "Well, um...I wanna spend time with Lily, if she's up for that. need any help around here? I've worked on ranches for a good few years now."

Ennis and Jack looked at each other in surprise, taken aback by the offer. "Oh...well, we can always use an extra pair of hands with the stock. We'll show ya round after an' introduce you to our foreman. He'll give ya somethin' to do." Jay nodded and Lily breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe things would be alright.

While on their own, Ennis and Jack talked about Jay and the effort he was making to get into their good books. He was a good worker and they appreciated the help. Not only that, but they could see that it was making Lily happy to have him around. They mutually decided that they would lay off him a little and let him be, since he wasn't doing anything to give them cause for concern.

The day after Pete's attack on Jack, they went to the police station to tell James what had happened. The sheriff told them wearily that he would gladly arrest Pete if he could find him, but he was never seen in town except the times when they had seen him. This was making it increasingly difficult for all of them, because they weren't altogether sure what Pete was capable of. Ennis and Jack always stopped short of discussing the possible outcome of Pete's obsession with Jack, but they both knew what it was. Ennis held Jack close at night and promised him that he would do his best to prevent it. Neither of them knew if it was possible, but Jack appreciated the gesture. He told Ennis that no matter what happened, his heart would always belong to him, and that was that.

"We're gonna be okay," Jack kept saying. "No matter what Pete's got in his head, we're gonna be fine. Even if...somethin' worse happens, you an' me are gonna get through it. I'll always love you, Ennis. Nothin' can take that away."

Ennis kissed his forehead. "I know, darlin'. But I'd sooner not find out. I just want him to get caught an' locked up, then all this would be over. I just don't get why this is happenin' twenty years after all that stuff from when he was fired. I thought he'd moved on somewhere..."

"Me too...guess it didn't work all that well. It don't matter; he's gonna get what's comin' to him."

"Mmm...I hope so, Jack. Dunno what I'd do without you." Jack looked into his eyes and kissed him gently on the lips, stroking his cheek.

"You ain't gonna find out. It'll take more than an asshole like him to bring me down. Now come here an' give me some attention." They lost themselves in each other night after night; bonding and connecting and reaffirming their love for one another. It was the best way they knew of taking their minds off what was going on around them, and they knew that it would help them sleep so that they didn't have to lay awake, thinking and worrying. They just hoped that what they had would be strong enough to survive all possible scenarios.

One day during Jay's visit, Ennis and Jack went to the police station to talk to James about Pete. They'd already told him about the attack, and he called them to let them know what was going on. Both of them were very nervous about what he might have to say.

They held hands between them in the truck on the way over, Ennis stroking Jack's hand with his thumb. Neither of them really knew what to say, but they did plenty of thinking.

When they reached the station, they parked outside and looked at each other. They were both wondering what he might have to say to them. Ennis looked at Jack.

"You okay, darlin'?" he asked softly, squeezing his hand. Jack shrugged.

"I dunno. Just keep worryin' about Pete an' what he might do. I gotta admit...I'm a little scared, Ennis." His deep blue eyes were full of fear, and Ennis slid over to him, putting his arms around him.

"Darlin''s okay. I'm here...we're gonna be okay. I promise..." He kissed Jack's neck and rubbed his back, trying to inject some comfort into him. They didn't realise that they were being watched from down the road, but when they exited the truck the whole street was empty. Both of them headed up the steps and went into the station, looking around for James. They went to the front desk to ask for him, but there was no need. James's voice called out to them.

"Ennis! Jack!" They turned to see him smiling and waving them over. "Come on in, guys." He led them into an interview room, motioning for them to sit down. They did so and he sat down. " I thought about what you guys told me, an' I've filed the report. How are you doin', Jack?"

He nodded. "I'm okay. Healin' up real nice. So, um...what's goin' on?"

"Well...based on what Pete's done in the past an' what he did the other night, plus the statements from the witnesses an' from Rick about yer injury, I've got enough to get a warrant for his arrest. I'd be happy to do that, if I could find him. But I gotta admit, I ain't never seen him around. I ain't sayin' that yer lyin', 'cos I know you wouldn't. An' Rick sent me a copy of the medical record from you bein' shot, Jack." He sighed. " the moment, we're kinda stuck. I'd like to arrest him, but I can't find him."

Ennis and Jack looked at each other, both pairs of eyes full of weariness. Neither of them really knew what to say or do. In an attempt to keep some kind of control, Ennis took Jack's hand again firmly.

"So what happens now?" he asked, looking at James unsurely. The sheriff sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Ain't much we can do, I'm afraid. We're doin' everythin' we can to catch him, an' we will. Don't worry about it. In the meantime, just be careful. All of you." He cleared his throat. "You told me of your suspicions that Pete might...have some kind of feelin's for you, Jack. Like...some kind of obsession. I'm goin' to find out where Pete's been livin' all these years, see if I can dig up anythin'. Mental records or somethin'. There might be an explanation as to why he's been harbourin' all these feelin's all these years. He shoulda let them go by now, but he obviously hasn't."

Jack nodded. "I know. We've been talkin' about it. Neither of us really know what to do."

James sighed. "Well...all I can say is to be careful. Jack, I know Ennis asked you not to go out on yer own, but I would advise all of you to heed that advice. Never leave the ranch on your own, especially at night. When yer outside workin', try to have someone else around, even if it's just one of your hands. An' be careful. Keep yer eyes open, okay? If anythin' happens, let me know immediately."

They both nodded at him and Ennis squeezed Jack's hand. "Sounds fair. We'll do all that. Um...was there anythin' else?"

"Not right now, that was all. Good luck, guys." They stood up and shook hands, and then Ennis and Jack left, out into the daylight. Once outside, they glanced around. From the top of the steps, they could see a few people walking around, but there was no sign of Pete. They did see Kate Hardeman leaving her shop and walking down the street to the local restaurant, most likely looking for lunch. The idea sounded good to them.

"You wanna bring some lunch back with us?" Jack asked, pointing towards the restaurant. Ennis nodded.

"Sure." They walked across the street and headed inside, greeting Kate as they came up to the counter beside her, placing their order.

"Hey, guys. Jack, how's yer arm?" Jack smiled at her.

"Healin'. We've just been talkin' to James about it all. He wants to arrest Pete, but...he can't never find him. So things are just kinda up in the air right now. Anyway...we was just gonna get some lunch to take home for everyone. You okay?"

"I'm great. Business is real good. How are the weddin' plans goin'?"

They both smiled at this. "Real well. Actually, Lily's dad came over here a couple days ago to spend time with her. Gotta admit, he's makin' an effort."

"That's good." They stood talking until Kate's order was ready, and then she left. A little later, their order arrived and they made their way back to the truck, smiling at each other. As they made their way home, their hands found each other again across the seat. Jack held onto Ennis tightly, glad that he had his strong, dependable cowboy to look after him. He was usually capable of fighting his own battles, but he had to admit that he needed Ennis right now. In his heart, he knew that Ennis would protect him.

One night, Jack was on his side of the bed and trying to get his brain to shut down so he could sleep. It seemed that over the last couple of days, it became harder for him to drop off. He just couldn't shake off the feeling that Pete wasn't finished with him; that he was planning more. Jack just hoped that it wouldn't be too bad.

On the other side, Ennis was slipping into a nightmare, and he started moving restlessly.

He was in the kitchen, waiting for Jack to come in from checking on the horses. It was getting late and they would be heading up to bed soon. He couldn't wait. He heard someone shouting from a distance and he ran outside, wondering what it was. The hands on duty were waving at him and gesturing to the stables, looking panicked.

Fear gripping his heart, he ran at breakneck speed into the stables, praying that Jack was alright. When he ran inside his blood turned cold. Jack was lying there, face down in a puddle of his own blood. Standing over him was Pete Dawson, holding a shotgun. At the sight of him, Pete fled into the darkness. Ennis made his way to Jack on shaky legs and turned him over, his mind screaming with fear. Jack's eyes were shut and the wound on his head was bleeding profusely.

Ennis sat bolt upright. "Jack!" he called out, eyes staring into the darkness. Jack grew alarmed and sat up, moving closer to him.

"Hey...Ennis, are you okay?" He placed a hand on Ennis's shoulder, and this made Ennis turn to look at him. His heart rate slowed.

"Jack..." He tried to talk but couldn't; he was too shaken up. Jack sighed and wrapped his arms around Ennis, rubbing his stomach.

"It's alright, it's alright...I'm here. I'm okay. What happened? A nightmare?" Ennis nodded, gripping Jack's arms were they encircled him.

"Yeah...I was in the kitchen an' heard the hands yellin' for me. Went outside an' into the stables. Pete was there, an'...he'd shot you in the head. You was lyin' there in yer own blood..."

"Oh,'s okay..." Jack rocked them back and forth, trying to soothe his frightened lover. "It wasn't real, I'm right here. Shh..." Ennis slowly calmed down, but he was still shaky.



"Um...can we...?" He hesitated, biting his lip. "I mean..."

"Sure, if you wanna. How'd you want it?"

"I...I want ya in me..." he whispered, still shaking. Jack kissed his neck.

"Okay. Just lie back, come on..." Jack pulled him backwards and they lay down, him cradling Ennis's face as he leaned over him. He kissed Ennis softly. "It's alright, Ennis...I'm right here." Ennis nodded and allowed Jack's kisses, trying to lose himself in them. Jack grabbed the lube and smeared some on his fingers, manoeuvring them between Ennis's legs and watching his face. "This okay?"

Ennis nodded and closed his eyes. "Yeah...keep goin'...want you..." Jack kissed him again and removed his fingers, slicking himself up and getting into position. He slid Ennis's legs over his shoulders, taking care to avoid them touching his injury, and he ran his hands along them, looking down into Ennis's eyes.

"You sure you wanna do it?" he asked softly, seeing how vulnerable Ennis looked. "We don't gotta if you can't..." Ennis let out a shaky breath.

"I do, Jack...please..." His eyes were pleading for Jack to fill him up and make him forget the nightmare, if only for a few minutes. Jack nodded and slowly pushed into him, seeing his eyes cloud over with lust. "Oh..."

Jack slowly entered him and then settled in place, hands on either side of Ennis's body as he leaned down. He kissed Ennis deeply as he began to thrust into him, taking it slowly and ever mindful of how vulnerable he was feeling. Ennis sighed at how gentle and tender Jack was being with him; he always seemed to know exactly what Ennis needed from him, and this was one of those moments. Ennis was scared and needed some comfort, and Jack was happy to provide. After all, Ennis had done this for him a number of times in the past.

They moved together slowly, kissing and holding onto one another. Jack moved his mouth to Ennis's neck, kissing and softly biting at it, and then turned to the other side. Ennis's eyes were closed at the loving attention Jack was giving him even as he was inside him. Sex for them had almost never been just about a release; the only time was during their bad spell in the aftermath of Ennis finding those papers. But that was a long time ago; since then, their couplings had been filled with love. They always gave the other parts of each other's body equal attention. It was this that made it feel like making love, and both of them knew this.

After a few more thrusts, Ennis felt himself release between their stomachs and he shuddered all over, triggering Jack's own orgasm. He groaned into Ennis's ear and then relaxed, collapsing onto Ennis's chest. They lay there for a minute, waiting to get their breath back. Jack kissed Ennis's stomach and then looked up at him, seeing his flushed face.

"Are you okay?" he whispered. Ennis nodded, his legs sliding off of Jack's shoulders limply.

"Better than I was. Thanks, Jack..."

"Ain't no problem." Jack moved off him and rolled onto his back, pulling Ennis close to him. He wrapped his good arm around Ennis and kissed the top of his head, hearing him sigh with contentment. "Glad I could help."

" you, Jack."

"Love you too. Try an' get some sleep, okay? Yer gonna need it." Ennis nodded and closed his eyes, trying to do as Jack suggested. He hoped with all his heart that nothing else would happen to Jack; that they would be alright and Pete would be arrested soon. It was all he could hope for now.