Chapter 22

Ennis and Jack landed in Casper sometime later. They liked the feeling of being in their home state again, even though their real home was now in Georgia. They looked in on Cecilia and talked for a little while, and then drove up to Signal. After some time with K.E., they finally made their way to Lightning Flat. Jack had called up ahead to the people now living there, and they said he was more than welcome to come to the ranch.

As they drove, Ennis did some thinking. Jack had confessed to him what happened in the store with Pete, while he was there with Lily. He had initially felt as if he should track Pete down with his shotgun, but Jack's reassurances that he was fine calmed him down. He hated the thought of another man eyeballing Jack as it was. It had happened now and then, especially in the bigger cities, but Jack always told him to ignore it, for nothing would ever happen. But knowing that someone like Pete was after him...Ennis didn't like it one bit. He saw Pete as a real threat to their lives, and he was sick of living in fear of what he might do to them.

He tried not to think about it too much as they neared the ranch. Right now, he had to focus on Jack and his problems. They saw the house loom up in the afternoon sun, and Jack drew in a breath. When the ranch had been first sold to a new family, they had fixed it up and turned it around. Jack felt a little pang in his heart that it had never looked this good when his father had been in charge. If circumstances had been different, perhaps he and Ennis could have taken it over, but Jack knew that it could never have happened. He had never liked living at the ranch. Not just for his father, but for how cold and lonely it felt. Even with Ennis by his side, it might never have felt like home.

They pulled up at the ranch and got out, stretching. Jack recognised the current owner leaving the house for the barn, and they nodded at each other. He and Ennis then headed for the old family plot. The gate creaked with protest as it was opened, and they stopped in front of John Twist's grave. Jack sank to his knees and looked at the headstone. Ennis placed a hand on his shoulder and waited for him to speak.

"I just...I dunno what to feel about him. Never did. He was my dad...he was supposed to love me no matter what. He never shoulda let his issues with his dad affect his relationship with me, but he did. He took it out on me."

"Things was just different then, Jack. When our dads were born, guys weren't supposed to show what they was feelin'. Hell, we know that. But...even so, they sure wasn't supposed to be like yer dad. Beatin' on ya, puttin' ya down all the time. I mean...there was a time when he helped Alma's dad to try an' kill us. Nobody expects you to forgive him, Jack."

Jack put his hand over Ennis's and grasped it. "I know. But that ain't what I was after. I just wanna put it in the past for good. I dunno how..."

"Well..." Ennis knelt down next to him. "Think 'bout my dad, an' Lily's dad. What they a way, it wasn't all on them. If people hadn't decided that it wasn't okay for two guys to be together, then Earl wouldn't have been killed. An' if Jay hadn't been so young an' out of his depth, he mighta stayed with Becky an' helped her to raise Lily." Jack was silent, so he continued. "An' yer dad...if he hadn't felt betrayed by his dad, an' hadn't grown up thinkin' it was wrong, then he wouldn't have taken it out on ya. It wasn't about you, never was. Just...remember that yer a good man, despite what you grew up with."

Jack let Ennis's words wash over him, hearing the truth in them. He was right; it hadn't been his fault, or even his dad's when he thought about it. It was about the environment around them; certain things were labelled right and wrong, and people like his father took it to heart. Unfortunately, kids like Jack suffered for it.

"You're right." He sighed. "Remember when we was kids up on Brokeback, Ennis? Up there, it was like...we was so far away from all this. All that pain our dads caused us. When it was just you an' was perfect. I was so happy up there, an' for the most part I could forget about my dad. An' we spent some time wanderin' around after we got together. Came back to earth with a real bump when I brought you here an' saw my dad again."

Ennis rubbed his back. "I know. But...there ain't nothin' you can do about it, Jack. It's in the past where it belongs. He can't hurt you no more, darlin'. You've got so much more goin' on for you now. We've got each other. It's gonna be okay."

Jack felt a weight lift from him that he hadn't really been aware of until now, as it was leaving him. He knew it now; it had never been his fault, and now he was loved and appreciated. His life now was so much better than anything he could have had while living with his father. Amongst all of the things he had, the most important one was the wonderful man sat with him. He leaned into Ennis and felt a kiss on his head.

They sat there for a while, just thinking, and then Jack sighed. "Well...I reckon I got what we came for. You wanna get us a hotel room, bud? Go lie down for a while?"

Ennis smiled. "Sure, darlin'."

December 12th, 1987

A week later, Ennis and Jack were back at home and the household was preparing for Christmas. Jack hadn't said much on the way home, but Ennis could tell that he was feeling a lot lighter than he had been. It seemed that he'd finally put his father firmly in his past, where he could no longer hurt him.

Right now, the entire household were going Christmas shopping. Keeping in mind that none of them should be wandering around on their own, they came up with a system. Ennis and Jack would buy presents for the other three, who would buy presents for them. They would then all meet up and switch around so that everybody had a chance to buy for everyone without anybody seeing what was bought for them. Jack had briefly considered voicing his thought that it would be easier if they all split up, but he knew that Ennis was only trying to protect them all, so he went along with it.

He and Ennis walked through the shopping mall together, looking around in various shop windows for anything that caught their eye. The entire building was decorated for the holidays and Christmas music was playing from somewhere. Jack had always loved sharing this with his partner throughout the years, just the sense of doing something like this together. It was normal, but to Jack it felt special. They were doing something that every other couple did together, and he liked the feeling of being a part of this kind of life.

As they walked, he glanced into a shop window and put a hand on Ennis's shoulder. "Hey, wait a sec. Look at that..." Ennis turned to see what Jack was pointing at. They'd stopped outside a bookstore and Jack was pointing to something in the window. It was a book entitled Mountain Ranges of the West. Jack looked at Ennis. "Wanna take a look?"

Ennis understood what Jack was saying and he nodded. They stepped into the shop and Jack found the book on the shelves. After a few seconds of flicking through, he suddenly paused. "There it is..." Ennis looked at the page. There was a beautiful colour photograph of Brokeback Mountain against a clear blue sky, looking as majestic as ever. Jack lightly trailed his fingers over the picture. "That's our place, cowboy..." He and Ennis had never seen a picture of the mountain in a book before, and Ennis knew without a doubt that they would be walking out of this shop with the book in tow. He smiled at Jack.

"You wanna take it, bud? Tell you what, I'll pay. Call it an extra present for us both." Jack looked lovingly into his eyes.

"Okay. But...I say we pay half each." Understanding passed between them and Ennis nodded. Jack handed him half of what the book cost, and Ennis took it to the counter, bringing out the remaining half of the money. Jack was still smiling when they left the shop.

They decided to stop for a bite to eat at a small café. Over the years, Ennis had become a lot more comfortable about being seen with Jack in public. The people living in the area knew them as the owners of Brokeback Ranch, and thought nothing of them being in town together. Even if anybody suspected the true nature of their relationship, they never suffered any abuse. They might get the occasional second glance, but nobody ever confronted them. Maybe that was why it was so hard for them to deal with the torrent of abuse Pete was throwing at them; they'd gotten so used to being left alone to go about their private lives in peace.

They spilt a large tuna melt and had a side of fries each, enjoying the warmth of the café. It was very cold outside and the mall itself wasn't much better, with the doors opening all of the time. They were sat in the corner of the café, just the two of them in their own little world. As they ate, they talked about their forthcoming Christmas party and what they would need to get for it. Jack was looking forward to buying some red wine; it made Ennis very frisky, which made him very happy.

"So, what are we doin' for Lily's birthday? I know she said she don't want a big party, but we gotta do somethin'," Jack stated, looking up at Ennis as he ate. They always liked doing something special for birthdays, and this year was no different.

" about the five of us just go out? Have dinner at the restaurant? I bet she'd be happy with that. Or, you know..." Ennis picked at his fries. "Maybe we could invite our friends. I reckon the manager would put together a couple of tables for us, if we asked. Hell, we've been supplyin' that place for over twenty years." He looked up at Jack. "Whaddaya think?"

Jack smiled at him. "I think you've got a mighty fine idea, cowboy. Tell you what, on the way home we'll stop by the restaurant an' ask him. I bet he'd be fine with it."

Ennis nodded and they carried on eating. Jack glanced around, and when he determined that nobody was paying them any attention, he slowly ran his foot up Ennis's leg, biting his lip in a seductive way. Ennis's eyes widened. "Jack..."

He didn't respond, but his foot travelled and ended up pressed against Ennis's crotch. He rubbed again and could feel Ennis getting hard. Ennis shook his head, trying to restrain himself from leaping over the table at Jack and taking him then and there. "Bud, if you quit that now, when we get back I'll give ya a good seein' to. Alright?"

Satisfied with this promise, Jack removed his foot and smiled sweetly. "You got it, cowboy. Can't wait." They finished their food and then headed back out, looking for more Christmas presents to buy.

That night, Ennis and Jack were getting ready for bed, cleaning their teeth in the bathroom side by side. Their eyes wandered to each other and drifted over each other's torsos. At the moment, they were wearing pyjamas against the cold, but Jack had a feeling that pretty soon, their clothing would be removed as they turned to other activities.

When they were finished, Ennis pulled him close and kissed him. "Mmm, you taste good, darlin'."

Jack smiled against his lips. "Come on, cowboy. Wanna go an' get warm." He took Ennis's hand and switched off the bathroom light as they left, heading for their bed. They had a thicker quilt on for these colder months, and Jack had always loved snuggling with Ennis on cold nights and mornings. Ennis would hold him tight in his arms and keep him warm.

They crawled into bed and pulled off their pyjamas, shuffling close together. Jack noticed that Ennis's eyes were alight with interest as they looked at each other, and he felt anticipation running through him.

He reached out and trailed a finger along Ennis's bicep. "So...reckon we can warm each other up now?"

"You bet. How'd you want it, bud?" Ennis whispered, running his own finger over Jack's cheek. Jack thought for a moment.

"Want you inside me," Jack murmured, smiling a little. Ennis nodded and planted a light kiss on his mouth.

"Sure thing, darlin'." He leaned in closer and pressed a hand to Jack's chest, coaxing him to roll onto his back. Jack did so and pulled Ennis up on top of him. The quilt made a cosy heat for them and they felt safe and warm. They kissed a few more times, Jack's hands running up and down Ennis's back, feeling his lover's hands gripping his hair gently. He moaned a little and pulled his mouth away.

"Ennis...I love you so much...just wanted to say it." Ennis smiled down at him and kissed him again.

"Love you too, Jack. I know things ain't been easy lately. What with Pete prowlin' around an' preparin' for the weddin', an' then us goin' up to Lightnin' Flat. I reckon you've been through the wringer, huh?"

Jack nodded. "I guess. Been tryin' to take it one day at a time. It was a good idea for us to not leave the ranch on our own. I mean, it was really freaky when I saw Pete at the store, but he didn't try nothin'. Maybe it was 'cos of Lily bein' there, an' runnin' into Kate too."

"I just wanna keep ya safe," Ennis whispered, stroking Jack's cheek. "Don't want nothin' happenin' to you."

"It won't, Ennis. Not so long as I've got you." He tilted his head. "What about you? Is any of this freakin' you out?"

"You know it is, Jack. Scares me somethin' awful to think about what Pete's after, an' what he might do to you. I mean..." He bit his lip. "What if he...?"

"Shh..." Jack shushed him, caressing the back of his neck. "Don't think on it right now. Just...let's forget about it for the moment. Let's just focus on where we are right now; together, an' alone. That's all that matters."

Ennis nodded and leaned in again, kissing Jack softly. His hand reached for the lube, only to find it in Jack's hand, waiting for him. They smiled at each other and Ennis took it, reaching under to prepare himself while gazing down into Jack's trusting eyes. He put the tube back and lifted Jack's legs, winding them around his waist and positioning himself.

"You ready, darlin'?" he whispered, and Jack nodded.

"Yeah...come on, cowboy..." Jack squeezed his legs around Ennis's waist and nipped at his neck. "Come on..."

Ennis put on hand between them and started to push in, feeling Jack raise his hips to try and help. He slid all the way in and pressed his chest against Jack's, hands tangling in his hair. He slowly began to thrust into him, kissing at Jack's collarbone. He took it slowly, knowing that they both needed a little comfort tonight. Ennis thrust quickly yet gently into Jack, careful not to get too rough.

Jack's eyes fell shut as he felt Ennis moving inside him, sighing in contentment. "Oh...Ennis...feels good..." Ennis lifted his head and kissed Jack's mouth, pushing his tongue in to meet Jack's. He thrust a little quicker and shifted, looking for Jack's sweet spot. A sharp intake of breath told him when he'd found it. Jack's legs were shaking around him and he kept going, sucking and kissing at Jack's skin on his collarbone.

"Come on, darlin'. Come for me..." That did it; Jack gave a yell and shot between them right at Ennis's chest, the overwhelming bliss claiming him as he saw stars. Ennis groaned in his ear and released into him, filling him up with everything he had.

Ennis collapsed onto Jack's chest and sighed, having just enough energy to pull out before he fell back down, his muscles relaxing. Jack ran his hands up and down Ennis's back, smiling peacefully. He saw a little sweat on Ennis's neck and leaned in, licking it off and making Ennis purr.

"Mmm...Jack...don't go gettin' me riled up. Can't go again just yet..." Jack gave a low laugh that went straight to Ennis's groin.

"Can't help it, cowboy. Yer just so damn sexy." He kissed the side of Ennis's face. "Think yer gonna be able to go again, or you just wanna go to sleep?"

"Just wanna sleep, I think. Sure are gettin' lazy in our old age, huh?" He felt Jack shaking with laughter.

"Guess so. But you know...I reckon it makes it more special. Always been about more than sex with us. An' it ain't like we get bored with what we do, huh? You still know how to drive me crazy."

Ennis rose up and smiled at his lover. "Yeah? Back at you, rodeo." They kissed again and Ennis settled against Jack's chest, unable to move as they fell asleep.

Three days later, Lily and Ben set off for Childress, to visit her father. Both of them were very nervous, but they felt as if this trip would be good for them. Since getting together in college, they'd been on a couple of trips together, but this one was different. Jay had told his two sons about Lily, and he had arranged for them to be at his house when they arrived. They normally lived with their mother during the holidays, but they had come to Texas to meet their half-sister. To Lily's relief, Jay had told her that they were looking forward to meeting her. Their names were Bill and Darren, and they were both a couple of years younger than her. She was looking forward to meeting them.

The pair of them landed in Texas and looked around; Jay had offered to meet them at the gate, and his sons were at his house. Sure enough, when they got there, he was waiting for them.

"Hey, you two," he greeted them, shaking Ben's hand and then turning to Lily, looking nervous. She spared him, lightly kissing him on the cheek. She'd become more comfortable around him as time had passed.

" ready to go?" he asked them, and they nodded.

"Yep." They collected their bags and then piled into Jay's truck, heading for his house. Childress was a little warmer than Georgia, but not by much. There was a smattering of snow around, and there were Christmas decorations everywhere.

When they reached the house, Lily spied a pair of trucks on the driveway, and knew that they belonged to her half-brothers. She drew in a deep breath and felt Ben clasp her hand.

"Gonna be okay, honey," he said softly to her. "He already said that they're lookin' forward to meetin' you." She nodded.

"I know. Still, I'm kinda nervous." They pulled up and Jay turned to them.

"You ready to go in?" he asked them, and they nodded in unison. He led them into the house, calling out to his sons. They were both sat on the sofa in the living room, watching TV. When they saw Lily, they stood up, smiles on their faces.

"Hey, guys. This is yer half-sister, Lily Twist. An' this is her fiancé, Ben Slater," Jay introduced them, and Lily smiled at her half-brothers. "An' Lily, Ben...these are my boys, Bill and Darren Brookes." He rubbed his arm. "Tell you what, I'll get us all a drink an' you guys can talk." He disappeared into the kitchen and left the younger ones.

" sure is nice to meet ya, Lily," said Darren. He had their father's eyes but red hair, probably from their mother. Bill had dark hair like Jay, but green eyes, most likely also from their mother. "Dad told us everythin' about you. He, um...he told us that it ain't been easy for you to trust him."

Lily and Ben sat down and got comfortable, and Lily cleared her throat. "Yer right. Took me a while to believe that he really wanted to get to know me, an' that he wasn't after money or nothin'. Um...did he tell you about who I live with?"

They nodded. "Yer uncles? Yeah, he did. Tell you what, we was surprised...that sorta thing wouldn't fly over here. But we both met gay guys in college, an' they're both cool. We wouldn't mind meetin' 'em. Dad said they're real nice."

"Yeah, they are. They're real protective of me, too. When they was thinkin' that he might hurt me, they watched him like a hawk. I know it made him nervous, but he proved himself."

Bill smiled. " the way, congratulations about yer weddin'. It's in March, right?"

"Yep, the fifth. Should be real nice on the ranch at that time. It's always beautiful in the spring." She took Ben's hand. "We're lookin' forward to it, an' everythin's pretty much sorted now."

"Great. Um...are you thinkin' of invitin' Dad?" Darren asked, looking at her nervously. She bit her lip.

"I dunno yet. I was thinkin' about it, but...I really feel like we need to give it time before I can. You never know, things might get better for us."

"Sure." At that moment, Jay came back in with drinks for all of them, sitting down as the conversation turned to their week together.

Lily's half-brothers stayed at the house for the visit, and they all went to a rodeo and dinner together. Lily and Ben called Ennis and Jack halfway through the week to swap news, and were relieved to find that everything was okay on the ranch. Pete hadn't been sniffing around and her uncles were alright. They were busy preparing for the Christmas party and making dinner plans for her birthday. All of their friends from town would be joining them at the restaurant for a large celebration.

On their last night at Jay's house, Lily and Ben were asked to sit down in the living room, and then the other three came in with what were unmistakeably presents. Lily's eyes widened. "What's all this?"

The others sat down. "Well, since it's yer birthday in a week...we figured we'd buy you somethin'. Just a little way of sayin' that...well...we kinda like you, sis." Bill smiled at her and she felt a little choked up.

"Oh, guys...thank you." Bill had given her a new pair of shoes, which would be perfect for the wedding. Darren had gotten her a new pair of earrings, and even though she was wearing her mother's at the wedding, she loved the new pair and would wear them often.

Jay then handed her an envelope. "I don't want ya to go thinkin' of this as some kinda bribe or nothin', an' I know it won't make up for all the years I wasn't there for you. But...I really wanted to give you this. I hope you'll take it." Lily took it with a confused expression on her face and opened it up. Inside were two return tickets to Hawaii.

While Lily and Ben were away in Texas, Ennis and Jack decided to go out for a meal together one night. They invited Rose, but she didn't like interrupting their alone time, and she knew that they needed to take some time together on their own.

As they sat in the restaurant, Jack was smiling at Ennis warmly, making him blush a little. "Jack...whaddaya lookin' at me like that for?" he asked, seeing Jack's smile widen.

"Nothin' much...just thinkin' about how much I love ya. I mean...whenever I look at you, I start thinkin' about our life together. Everythin' we've shared, an' what we've been through. The good an' the bad. I know it ain't always been easy, but...I wouldn't change nothin'. Even the bad stuff, 'cos I reckon that made us stronger. You know?" He paused while he saw Ennis take in his words.

"I know, darlin'. An' yer right...the bad stuff was good for us in the end. If we hadn't gotten through that, I dunno where we'd be right now. An'...I reckon we've got some more bad stuff comin' our way, with Pete around. But...we'll be okay, Jack. I promise." He smiled back at Jack, who nodded.

"Yeah, we will." Their food came and the conversation turned to Lily and Ben, and how things might be going in Texas. They both hoped that everything was okay, and that Jay was doing right by Lily while they were over there.

"Wonder what his other kids are like?" Jack mused as they ate. "You reckon they'll be good to Lily?"

"Yeah, probably. An' even if they ain't, Lily can take care of herself. I reckon that Jay wouldn't have told 'em about her if he thought they might be funny with her." Jack made an affirmative sound in his throat and they carried on eating, making their way steadily through the large steak dinners they had ordered. Jack kept running his foot up Ennis's leg, giving him a smoky look that told Ennis exactly what they would be doing when they got home and in bed.

They left the restaurant and made their way down the street to where they'd parked the truck, Jack's thumb through Ennis's belt loop as they strolled. In the gathering darkness, he felt safe enough to make this gesture.

Just after they passed the alleyway, Jack felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned without thinking and was met with a right hook to the face. He gave a yelp and staggered backwards, hand over his eye. As he blinked the white spots out of his eyes, he saw that Ennis had Pete Dawson pinned against the wall, hands grabbing the front of his jacket in bunches.

"What the fuck are you playin' at?" he growled in Pete's face, eyes blazing with fury. Jack stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder.

"Ennis, don't. It ain't worth it..." But Ennis didn't move, just glared at Pete. Their assailant was struggling against Ennis's grip but couldn't break himself free.

"Get the fuck off me," he snarled, glaring right back at Ennis. Exasperated and desperate to get away, Jack tugged at Ennis's arm.

"Ennis, please...just let him go. He ain't worth you gettin' in trouble. I just wanna get home. We'll report him to James tomorrow, alright? Let's just get outta here; I think my eye's gettin' puffy an' it's hurtin'." This, more than anything else, convinced Ennis that they should leave. His need to look after Jack pushed his anger aside. He finally let go of Pete and stepped away, to Jack's relief. As much as Jack wanted to see Pete put in jail for a very long time, he didn't want Ennis getting into trouble. And he was starting to feel his face stinging.

"Get outta here," Ennis growled at Pete, and he turned tail, running down the street into the darkness. Jack turned Ennis to face him and saw the anger melt off his face, replaced with a look of concern. "Are you alright, darlin'?" he murmured, touching Jack's face gingerly. Jack sighed and nodded.

"I'll be fine. Let's just go home, okay? Put some ice on this thing." Jack grabbed Ennis's arm and pulled him down the street to the truck, determined for them to get home.

Back at the house, they entered the empty kitchen. Rose was clearly upstairs in bed, so they would at least be spared having to relive the encounter for tonight. Ennis seemed to have quelled his anger for now, and he took over the task of taking care of Jack's injury. He sat Jack down in a chair and got some ice out of the fridge, wrapping it in a dishtowel and bringing it over to Jack, placing it on the growing bruise. Jack winced a little and then relaxed as Ennis sat next to him, taking his free hand.

Neither of them spoke for several minutes, but then Ennis sighed. "Sorry about blowin' up like that, Jack. I just...I saw what he'd done to you, an'...just saw red."

"I know," Jack replied, half-smiling at him. "I know you just wanna protect me, an' I like that you wanna do that, but...just try an' keep a lid on yer temper, alright? I don't want you gettin' in trouble. But...for what's it worth, I appreciate it. I can fight my own battles well enough when I have to, but I was glad to have you there tonight."

Ennis kissed his hand. "I know you can take care of yerself, Jack. But I was glad to be there, too." Come on, let's go up an' lie down. I reckon we need some sleep, huh?" Jack nodded and went upstairs while Ennis locked up. He then joined Jack in bed and pulled him close, intending to hold him and make him feel safe. Jack relaxed in Ennis's arms and closed his eyes, knowing that as long as Ennis held him, nothing could hurt him. This was how things were supposed to be.