Chapter 23

December 22nd, 1987

Ennis, Jack and Rose were just finishing a lunch of tomato soup, waiting for the sound of the cab that would be bringing Lily and Ben home. When they had called last night, Lily had told Jack that her father had given them a wonderful gift, and that they couldn't wait to show them.

The day after Pete's attack on Jack, he and Ennis had reluctantly told Rose about it, and she had been both shocked and disgusted by what they were being subjected to. They had then gone to the station and informed James of the incident. When they talked it over with him, they had mutually agreed that Pete seemed to start his assaults on them by hiding in the alleyway near the restaurant. With this information, they felt a little better; now they knew to avoid that area when walking around. They decided that in future they would do everything they could to keep away from the alleyway, even if it meant crossing the street to stay away from there.

As Jack was gathering the dishes to get them cleaned up, they heard the sound of a car stopping outside the front. His eyes met Ennis's and he smiled. "Looks like they're back." He wiped his hands on his jeans and went through to the living room, the other two following him.

Jack opened up the front door and grinned when he saw Lily and Ben making their way up the front yard, smiling and talking.

"Hey guys!" he called to them, and they smiled at him. "How'd it go?"

"It was pretty good," replied Lily as they walked up the steps. Jack took their on-flight bags and hoisted them over his shoulder. "Jay was real nice, an' his sons are alright." They followed Jack inside and greeted Ennis and Rose before everybody sat down.

"We've got some soup left over if you want it," Jack said, waving a hand towards the kitchen. Lily nodded.

"In a minute. There was somethin' we wanted to show you." She took her bag and started to rummage through it. Jack remembered her telling him that they had a surprise. She took out the envelope and exchanged a smile with Ben. "Here," she said, handing it to Jack, who by nature was sitting next to Ennis on the sofa. "Jay gave 'em to us as a weddin' present."

Jack looked at Ennis and opened up the envelope, pulling out the two tickets to Hawaii. "Woah...he gave you this? Tickets to Hawaii ain't cheap..." He looked up at Lily. "I take it this is for yer honeymoon?"

She nodded, smiling. "Sure is. We got to talkin' about the weddin', an' he asked us about our honeymoon. We said we didn't have anythin' planned yet. So...I guess he bought the tickets just this week. He musta paid a lot for 'em. When he gave 'em to us, he said they wasn't a bribe or nothin', he just wanted us to have 'em."

Ennis and Jack nodded and smiled at each other. Despite past grievances, they had to admit that Jay really was making an effort with Lily. He was clearly trying to do right by her.

"Well...I gotta say, Lily...he sure is tryin'. You gonna take this trip?"

"Yeah. I've always wanted to go somewhere like that, an' since it was a present..." She looked up at them. "You guys don't mind, do ya? I've been payin' for everythin' else. I dunno if you had somethin' planned for our honeymoon..."

Jack shrugged. "I know Ben's parents were gonna pay for it, but...I reckon they'll understand."

"I already called 'em," Ben replied. "From Texas. They said it's fine, that they'll pay for somethin' else if it comes up. They was talkin' about payin' for baby stuff once all that starts."

Jack smirked at them. "We don't want no little 'uns just yet, young lady. We'd feel like grandpas an' we ain't ready for that yet." Lily went red.

"We ain't ready for that yet, either. We both wanna be married an' settled before that happens." She thought for a moment. "Then again...if my mama had gone by that, I wouldn't be here, so..." She shrugged. "Guess it wouldn't be the worst thing if I got pregnant before gettin' married. But I do wanna be hitched before the baby's born."

Ennis and Jack both nodded their approval. "Good thinkin'. Anyway, you want some of that soup now? I can heat it up," Jack offered. Lily and Ben nodded and followed him into the kitchen. Ennis stretched out and sighed a little.

"Well, looks like they had a good time," said Rose, smiling at him. Ennis nodded.

"Yep. Sure am surprised about those tickets. I mean...if he got 'em just this week...they musta been pricey. Guess he really wants 'em to have a good honeymoon."

"Must do. Anyway...I'm gonna go do some readin' upstairs, okay?"

"Sure, Rose," he replied. She kissed him on the cheek and went upstairs. A few seconds later, Jack emerged from the kitchen. He looked around, rubbing his neck.

"Where'd my mama go?" he asked. Ennis pointed to the stairs and he nodded. Then he came around the sofa and planted himself on Ennis's lap, arms around his neck. "Got us some alone time, cowboy..." He kissed Ennis and nuzzled into his neck, purring a little.

"We can't do a lot, Jack...the kids are right in the next room..." He kissed Jack's neck and saw the deep blue eyes gazing into his. Jack nodded and rested his head on Ennis's chest.

"I love you, cowboy. I know things ain't easy right now, but...when I'm right' yer holdin' me...I know that nothin' can hurt me." He gave a deep, contented sigh. "You make me feel safe, Ennis..."

Ennis ran a hand up and down Jack's back and smiled, liking the feeling of Jack's solid weight against him. It felt right, and he never wanted to let it go, ever.

Two days later, they were hosting their annual Christmas Eve party at the ranch. As they put the finishing touches to the food, Jack found his eyes wandering to Ennis more than usual. His cowboy was wearing a deep red sweater that worked well with his blonde curls and brown eyes. Jack was wearing a blue sweater that Ennis had already pointed out made his eyes stand out. He was already thinking of dragging Ennis into a dark corner and slipping his hands up that sweater, feeling the warm skin. Maybe if he got a couple of glasses of red wine down Ennis's throat.

At seven, the first of their guests arrived; it was Rick Hardeman, along with his wife. They were accompanied by his sister Kate and her husband. Jack invited them inside and got them some drinks. The plan was just for people to walk around and mingle for a few hours, eating snacks and drinking wine. They had a few games set out to keep kids occupied, and the radio was playing Christmas songs.

"Hey, how's it goin'?" Jack asked as he re-entered the kitchen, slinging one arm around Ennis's shoulder and kissing his cheek. Ennis gave him a look, pausing from where he was gathering food onto a plate.

"You been in the wine already?" he asked, sniffing at Jack. He grinned.

"Yep, I'm in the Christmas spirit." He kissed Ennis's cheek again. "Sure love gettin' together with our friends like this." He sobered a little. "God knows we need to have some fun, blow off some steam after these last few months."

"I know, darlin'." Ennis glanced around; the kitchen was empty apart from Lily, and she had her back turned as she was picking out some sandwiches for herself. He kissed Jack quickly on the lips and exchanged a smile with him. "We'll be fine."

Jack nodded and cleared his throat. "Wanna go sit down somewhere?"

"Sure. I got enough food for both of us here. Let's go find a spot." Jack smiled at him and led the way back into the living room. He unabashedly held onto Ennis's hand; everybody present knew that they were together, and there were no unfriendly faces here. The pair of them found a spot in one of the armchairs. Ennis sat down and Jack sat on the arm, putting an arm around him and picking at the plate they were sharing.

"So...not long 'til the weddin', huh?" asked Kate as she looked at Lily. "You got everythin' sorted an' ready to go?"

"Yep," replied Lily, smiling over at Ben. "Just over two months to go. We can't wait."

"The ranch oughta be lookin' real nice at that time," Jack pointed out. "Always nice in spring."

"That's good. At least the weather's gonna be on your side. What about you guys?" she asked, looking at him and Ennis. "You didn't get to Brokeback this year, did you?"

"No, we really wanted a break. But we've been talkin' about goin' for Valentine's, right Ennis?"

"Sure have. We always like goin' back up there, just the two of us." He smiled up at Jack, lacing their fingers together. His lover's deep blue eyes sparkled down at him.

"How long has it been for you guys now?" asked Rick.

"Um...twenty four years since we got together. Twenty three since we got married. Been a long time..."

"Well, you guys have been together a lot longer than most marriages. Especially since you was just kids when you got together. An' at the time, what with how people thought about guys like wasn't easy, was it?"

They shook their heads in unison. "No, it sure wasn't. But...we pulled through, an' now here we are."

"You're an inspiration to all of us," Lily said with a smile, raising her glass. Jack looked down and saw Ennis blush a little.

"Dunno about that." Jack lifted his hand and kissed it, eyes shining.

A little later, Jack did manage to drag Ennis into a dark corner of the porch for a little make out session. Ennis leaned against the wall with Jack in his arms, pressing close. Their lips met in deep, slow kisses, punctuated by sighs and smiles at each other.

"So...apart from Pete comin' back, it's been a good year in all, huh?" Jack murmured, stroking his hand under Ennis's sweater and across his stomach. Ennis nodded and pulled Jack closer so he could nuzzle into his neck.

"Sure has, darlin'. Gonna be another good year too. I sure wish we could just get Pete out of our lives an' get on with things. Hate feelin' nervous every time we go out, even in the middle of the day. He's always there somewhere, an' even if he's just watchin' us...I don't like it."

Jack pulled back and kissed him. "I don't either, but there ain't nothin' we can do just yet. I reckon we should just stay away from him as much as we can, an' hope that James will catch him, or that he'll get bored an' leave."

Ennis sighed and rested his forehead against Jack's, closing his eyes. "I hope so, Jack. Dunno how much more of this I can take. Every time Pete gets near you, I just...I can't help thinkin' about what he might do to you. Scares the hell outta me..."

"Shh...let's not think on it right now. It's Christmas, let's just have some fun, okay? Come on." He took Ennis's hand and led him back inside to the festivities. They sat on the sofa together and engaged in the conversation between the other guys present.

At midnight, everybody clinked glasses and embraced. Ennis and Jack leaned in and kissed, feeling free to do so amongst their friends and family.

"I love you, Ennis. Merry Christmas," Jack whispered, stroking his cheek.

"Love you too, darlin'. Merry Christmas." They kissed again and hugged warmly, for the moment forgetting about their troubles. All they wanted to focus on tonight was each other.

After the clock struck midnight, their guests gradually started to leave, and they set about cleaning out the house. They finally went to bed at one in the morning, and Jack was still feeling a little frisky, which didn't go unnoticed by Ennis. He took Jack by the hand and led him up to their room.

Once inside, they moved into each other's arms and kissed softly, eyes sparkling in the moonlight shining through the window. Ennis ran his hands down Jack's back and gently squeezed his ass, making him moan a little. He then ran them back up and started to undo Jack's buttons, the silvery light illuminating Jack's skin. Ennis couldn't help but touch him, leaning in to kiss at Jack's chest and whisper something that Jack couldn't hear.

"Ennis..." Jack sighed, his eyes sliding shut. "Come on..." He was tugging at Ennis's hand, trying to pull him to the bed. Ennis pulled away and lifted Jack's shirt from his shoulders, pushing it to the floor. He allowed Jack to do the same to him and they fell onto the bed together, kicking their boots off and pressing close together. Their jeans created a friction between them and they were both desperate for their skin to make contact all over.

They rolled apart for long enough to remove their jeans, and then came back together, arms and legs twining them into one. Ennis pinned Jack on his back and looked down at him, eyes dark. From this position, the moonlight was falling across the bed where Jack lay, and Ennis thought he looked just like an angel, and all he wanted was to lose himself in this man's body. Jack gazed up at him, fingers twirling in his curls.

Ennis leaned down and kissed Jack lightly, just with his lips. He then rubbed their lips together and kissed the mole above Jack's mouth. "Darlin'..." he whispered. Jack sighed.

"Ennis...please..." He was growing harder by the second and he wanted to feel Ennis inside him. His cowboy nodded and gently rolled him onto his stomach, pulling him up onto his knees.

"This alright, Jack?" he murmured, mindful of Jack's issues with this position. Jack exhaled and nodded.

"Yeah...wanna feel you..." Ennis gazed down at Jack's broad back, seeing how smooth and perfect it was. He left a trail of kisses down Jack's spine until he got to darker places, and then worked his tongue in, making Jack gasp a little. "Oh, God..."

"Feel good?" Ennis whispered, stroking Jack's back. He nodded.

"Sure is...but...wanna feel more...please..." Ennis heard the need in his voice and grabbed the lube, smearing it over his fingers and working them in. Jack pushed back and moaned a little. To Jack's surprise, Ennis lay down next to him on his side and pulled him over, so that Jack's back was against his chest.

Ennis kissed Jack's neck and prepared himself, slowly pushing himself into Jack and hearing him breathe shakily with anticipation. "Just relax, darlin''s alright..." Jack surrendered himself to Ennis's touch and lay there, letting him take over. When Ennis was fully inside him, he waited for a few seconds to let Jack adjust to being filled, and then he began to slowly move inside him, one leg over Jack to give him better access. He worked his right hand under his lover's neck to clasp with Jack's left hand. His free hand then trailed down Jack's stomach, working through the dark hair for a moment before moving lower down to take hold of Jack.

They moved together slowly, silent except for the occasional sharp intake of breath and whispered word. Ennis stroked Jack in time to his thrusts, kissing the back of his neck. "I love you, you so much," he breathed into Jack's ear, seeing his hair flutter. Jack sighed and tilted his head back.

"I love you too, Ennis...more than anythin'." Ennis thrust a little quicker and Jack felt himself nearing the edge, his eyes screwing shut and his breath coming out more sharply. "Oh..." A few more thrusts and Jack was gone, moaning aloud and spilling over the sheet, his muscles clamping up. Ennis felt Jack's muscles tightening around him and it set him off, releasing deep into Jack and groaning against his lover's back. When they were finally done, he slowly pulled out of Jack and held him close, nuzzling into his sweaty neck and licking at it. Jack made a soft purring sound. "Mmm...Ennis..." He stretched. "Let me turn over..." Ennis did so and their eyes met.

"You alright, darlin'?" Ennis asked gently, stroking his face. Jack smiled and nodded.

"Sure am. That was a damn good Christmas present...better than anythin' you could find in a store." He smiled dozily. Ennis gave a low laugh.

"Guess so. An' at least we could have this one in private. Ain't sure I coulda done that with an audience..." Jack's smile widened.

"Yeah. Just 'cos they know we have sex, that don't mean they wanna see it. I mean, we wouldn't wanna see 'em." He yawned. "An' with us, it ain't a big deal if we fall asleep straight after. I've heard women are like that. Get all worked up if their fella falls asleep right after."

"Reckon we need to, at our age," Ennis mused, threading his fingers through Jack's hair. "Time was, we could do it several times a night before fallin' asleep."

"You ever miss that?" Jack whispered. "When we had all that energy?"

"Sometimes," he admitted. "But...I reckon this is better. With all them years behind us, an' everythin' we've been through together...I dunno, makes it kinda special when we do it now. All this' we still want each other. Ain't no mean feat..."

"I know..." Jack yawned again and closed his eyes, shuffling close to Ennis and resting his head on his chest. Ennis kissed the top of his head and held him in his arms, closing his own eyes and following Jack into blissful dreams.

December 25th, 1987

Christmas Day dawned bright and sunny, but as cold as ever. Ennis and Jack held each other close under their warm quilt, pressing kisses into each other's skin and stroking each other off. They then lay there for a while until they heard the others moving around. Jack dragged Ennis into the shower for an early Christmas present. He turned Ennis around to face the tiles and slowly pushed into him, their moans reverberating around the bathroom.

When they finally emerged down the stairs, they could smell bacon cooking in the kitchen, and followed their noses to where the others were. Lily was at the stove, making breakfast and Rose was sat with Ben at the table. They all looked over when Ennis and Jack entered, and broke into smiles. "Hey, guys," greeted Lily. "This is nearly ready, you can just sit down. My treat today."

Ennis and Jack smiled back at her and did so, sitting next to each other in their places. She was soon serving bacon, eggs, sausage and toast for all of them, and they had two pitchers of orange juice on the table. Lily had certainly inherited her mother's cooking abilities.

"Mmm, this is great, Lily," said Jack, waving his fork at her. She smiled at him. "Sure is nice to eat somethin' I didn't hafta cook."

"Especially considerin' yer cookin' skills," Ennis interjected, smirking at him. Jack punched him lightly on the shoulder.

After breakfast, they put the dishes on the rack for washing, and then went into the living room to open their presents. Everybody sat down and Jack distributed the presents between them.

In addition to their presents from each other, Ennis and Jack also received two bottles of Old Rose whiskey from Cecilia and K.E. They would certainly be put to good use.

"Aw, thanks, Ennis," said Jack as he unwrapped his gift; a decorative rodeo belt buckle. "Where'd you get it?"

"That mall up in Atlanta we went to for shoppin'. When I was there with Lily, there was this place that had all this western stuff. I saw that buckle an' thought you'd like it. can't wear it, but..."

"S'alright, I'll put it up on the mantelpiece or somethin'. Thanks, cowboy." He pressed a kiss to Ennis's cheek and smiled at him, making him blush.

"Yer welcome, darlin'." Jack stood up and displayed the buckle proudly on the mantelpiece, admiring it as the sunlight shone across it. He sat back down next to Ennis and smiled warmly at him.

The rest of the presents were opened and words of thanks were exchanged. Lily and Ben went back into the kitchen and Rose started clearing up the wrapping paper. Ennis and Jack decided to go out for a ride on their horses.

In the stables, they were greeted by one of the barn cats and Jack knelt down for a minute to stroke it, a smile on his face.

"You know, cowboy...we oughta bring 'em somethin' later. Some warm milk, I reckon," he said, glancing up at Ennis. He nodded and waited for Jack to stand up again, taking his hand and walking to the stalls with him.

They saddled up Signal and Lightning, riding out across the land and sticking close together. Now and then, Ennis reached out with a gloved hand and stroked it across Jack's thigh or arm, smiling at him. Jack smiled back and leaned over to kiss his cheek. They didn't want to be out for too long in the cold, so didn't go up to their hill as normal. Instead, they just checked over the cows and the chickens, before leading the horses back into the stables. They brushed the horses down and gave them some sugar cubes, before heading for the doors.

Jack shivered and burrowed his hands into his pockets. Before he could walk out the door, he felt a pair of arms snake around him and pull him close, rubbing up and down his stomach. He smiled and relaxed into the embrace. " then, who's this?" He felt a pair of lips kiss his neck and warm breath in his ear.

"Someone lookin' for a sexy rodeo cowboy," Ennis murmured, pressing his crotch into Jack's ass. "Know where I can find one?"

"Mmm...dunno. Maybe you oughta...probe a little deeper. You know?" He could feel Ennis's erection and he swallowed in anticipation. Ennis released him and turned him down, pulling him back into an empty stall. He pressed Jack against the wall and unbuckled both sets of jeans. With a hard, deep kiss, he then spun Jack to face the wall and pulled their jeans down. "Hurry up, Ennis...don't want nothin' gettin' frozen..."

"If it does, I'll warm it right back up again," Ennis breathed into his ear as he pulled out a small bottle of lube and smeared it over himself. He pushed into Jack steadily, holding him still by the hips. They moved together quickly and roughly, grunts and groans escaping from their mouths until they reached their climax in unison. Jack felt Ennis pull out of him and sighed, a smile on his face.

"Well? What's the verdict? Did ya find a sexy rodeo cowboy?" he breathed. He pulled his jeans up and Ennis turned him around.

"Sure did, darlin'." He pulled Jack close and kissed him gently, hands running up into his hair. Jack moaned softly and melted into Ennis's embrace, feeling relaxed and happy.

When they broke apart, Ennis kept their faces close together. "I love you, Jack. Sure am happy we're here still, an' that we managed to get through all that bad stuff when we was younger. Never thought I'd ever be this happy."

Jack smiled at him, stroking his cheek. "Me neither. Love you so much, baby." They kissed again and then embraced, nuzzling into each other's necks and sighing. Eventually, they would return to the house to be with the others, but for now they just wanted to be alone together.

That evening, after a large Christmas dinner that Rose cooked for them, everybody gathered in the living room to wind down. Ennis and Jack had always enjoyed spending the holiday with family, and had become accustomed to spending it with friends too.

They all sat in their respective seats as they watched It's A Wonderful Life, drinking the last of the wine and lazily snacking on the remains from the party the night before. Jack sat with his head on Ennis's shoulder and his legs curled up at his side. Ennis's arm was around him, occasionally stroking up and down his arm. As he pressed his lips into Jack's hair again, Jack felt contentment settle in his stomach and he smiled, reaching for Ennis's hand and lacing their fingers together, squeezing gently.

The movie went to a commercial break and everybody stretched. Jack looked at Lily. "So, you figured out yet what you wanna do for yer birthday?" He and Ennis had already made the reservations at the restaurant for themselves and their friends for the night of her birthday, but he liked surprising her.

Lily shrugged. "I dunno. I told you I don't want no fuss."

"How about the five of us just go out for dinner then?" he asked, keeping his voice even so as not to give anything away. Lily smiled.

"Yeah, that'd be good. Thanks." There was a pause, and she cleared her throat. "So...are you guys really goin' up to Brokeback for Valentine's? I know you've missed it."

They nodded. "Yeah, we have. Sure would be nice to see the place again. An' with all the stuff we've been through lately, with Pete an' everythin'...I reckon it'll do us some good to go back up there, just the two of us."

"I bet. Speakin' of which, has he had any luck catchin' Pete yet?" she asked, looking between them.

"Not yet. He's been hangin' around that alleyway where we always see Pete, but he ain't seen him. He just ain't been around."

Ben bit his lip. "Maybe...he'd have more luck if he was around when you guys are? That way, if Pete goes after ya, he's right there to arrest him."

Ennis and Jack glanced at each other. "We thought about that, but...we don't like the idea of puttin' ourselves on the line like that. An' since it appears to be me that Pete's after, Ennis don't like the idea of usin' me as bait."

"Sure as hell don't," Ennis agreed, the very thought sending chills through his spine. "I don't want nothin' happenin' to Jack if I can help it." Jack smiled at him and brought his head back down to Ennis's shoulder.

At that point, the movie came back on, and they all fell silent. As they watched the TV, all of them felt their thoughts wandering to Pete, and they wondered what it might take for it to be enough. Ennis couldn't bear to think about the possible outcome, and he silently vowed that he would do whatever he could to protect Jack.

Jack, meanwhile, was also thinking about what Pete might try to do to him, and while he was a quite scared by the possible line of attack, he knew that Ennis would keep him safe as much as he could. He figured that as long as he didn't leave the ranch on his own, especially at night, he would be okay. That was all he could hope for. Ennis knew that he could fight his own battles when needed, and that was fine. He knew exactly when to step back and let Jack take control of the situation. But in these circumstances, Jack felt as if he needed Ennis there to take care of him and try to prevent whatever Pete was planning.

The movie finally ended and they all got up, stretching and yawning. Lily offered to lock up, so everybody else went upstairs. Ennis and Jack walked down the hall to their room, hand in hand as they walked barefoot along the carpet.

When they reached their room, they shut the door behind them and turned to each other. Both were tired and in need of sleep, but certain parts of them awakened when they were alone like this. Ennis opened up his arms and Jack moved into them willingly, smiling with interest. They kissed softly a few times and then moved into the bathroom to take care of business first.

They emerged and put their clothes on the chair in the corner before climbing in under the thick quilt. Both were shivering as they got under, and immediately turned to each other in an effort to warm up. They moved into each other's arms again and continued their kissing, running hands all over each other. When they were ready, Ennis rolled on top of Jack and they locked their arms and legs around each other before moving together, groins fused together. They thrust against each other and kissed deeply, feeling their love for one another coursing through them like blood.

Jack rolled them both over and rubbed himself eagerly against Ennis, liking how closely connected they were even without penetration. Sometimes all they needed was to be close, and this way made them feel more like equals during sex, as neither of them was really in control.

He felt Ennis slip a finger into him and that was it. He spilled in between them, moaning into Ennis's neck and feeling Ennis swiftly following him, the warmth blooming in between their chests. He relaxed on top of Ennis and then rolled off him onto the side, breathing heavily. Ennis reached out to him and pulled him close, nuzzling into his damp hair and sighing.

"Merry Christmas, rodeo," he said tiredly, his voice barely more than a whisper. Jack smiled and returned the embrace.

"You too, cowboy." They relaxed under the warm quilt and were soon drifting off, dreaming of each other and the wonderful life they had together.