Chapter 24

December 29th, 1987

It was Lily's twenty-third birthday, and all of them were currently getting ready for their meal out. Their friends knew what time to be at the restaurant for, and they planned to be there before the Del Mar/Twist household, so as to surprise Lily.

Jack came out of the bathroom to see Ennis sat on the edge of the bed, bending over as he pulled on his boots. He grinned and wolf-whistled. "Lookin' good there, cowboy," he said, walking over to his lover and sitting next to him. Ennis straightened up and smirked at him, pulling Jack close to him.

"Well, oughta scrub up proper for our girl's birthday, right?" he replied, and Jack nodded, leaning in to kiss him.

A little later, they finally finished getting ready and headed to town, towards the lights of the city. Ennis hoped that they wouldn't run into Pete tonight; it was the last thing they needed and all of them simply wanted to have an evening with their friends to celebrate Lily's birthday. All of their friends had watched Lily grow up under their care, and were all looking forward to the wedding as well.

When they parked outside the diner, Jack turned around in his seat and looked at Lily. "Listen...I know you said you just wanted a quiet dinner tonight, but...we've got a surprise for ya. Nothin' too big, but..." He smiled. "'ll like it." She tilted her head and a smile spread across her face.

"Alright then." They got out of the truck and stretched before walking into the restaurant. Ennis brought up the rear and glanced around at the empty street before walking in. When they reached the interior they were met with an onslaught of noise. Lily stopped in her tracks as she looked around; all of their friends were sitting around a large table and stood up when they approached.

Birthday greetings were called all around the group and they spent a good few minutes greeting everybody. They all then sat down and the owner approached, a smile on his face. Several waiters circled the table, pouring champagne into everybody's glasses.

"Happy birthday, Miss Twist," he said to her, shaking her head. "Dinner tonight is on the house for the entire group."

Ennis and Jack hadn't expected that. "Oh, we can't let ya do that," Jack tried to argue, but he shook his head.

"No, it's fine. Consider it my present for this wonderful young woman's birthday. Tell me, do you have plans for the weddin' dinner?"

"Yeah, we're doin' it," Jack replied, now smiling. "Back at the ranch. But we might still have a thing here afterwards. We'll let ya know, okay?"

"Sure. Anyway, feel free to place your orders. Have a good evenin'." He nodded to Lily again and walked away, and everybody turned to their menus.

"Well, I gotta admit, wasn't expectin' this to be on the house," Ennis remarked. "We was plannin' on payin'."

"It's alright. He's a nice guy an' he didn't seem to mind," said Lily, her eyes on the menu. The waiters were standing by and taking orders as people decided, and then they were left alone.

Jack tapped his glass with his fork and stood up, a wide smile on his face. "Well, we all know why we're here. Today is the twenty-third birthday of our wonderful niece, Lily. Me an' Ennis have known her since she was a baby, an' we've watched her grow up into the young woman she is today. She's our pride an' joy, an' we can't wait to see her settle into her life with Ben." He smiled down at her. "Happy birthday, Lily." He raised his glass and raised it to his lips, everybody copying his gesture.

To everybody's surprise, Ennis then stood up. He shifted a little. "Um, well...I agree with everythin' Jack just said, as you can probably tell. But...there's somethin' I wanna add to that. Even though me an' Jack wanted to be together back then, when we was younger than Lily, even...there was one drawback to us bein' happy. That we couldn't have kids. So when Lily was born, an' then when we was given custody of kinda filled a hole for us, I reckon. She was the kid we couldn't have on our own, an' we owe that to her mama." He smiled. "Happy birthday, Lily. Here's to plenty more." Everybody drank from their glasses again and he sat down.

Everybody turned off into their own conversations after this, and the food soon arrived. The meat and dairy products were from Brokeback Ranch, as were the vegetables. Jack thought about how good it felt to enjoy something that he and Ennis had created together. He figured that they deserved to reap the benefits of their hard work now and then.

When the dinner was over, Lily then stood up and raised her glass, smiling. "I wanna thank you all for comin' tonight. I wasn't told about you guys bein' here until we parked outside, so I was a little blindsided. But I'm glad yer all here, 'cos I've grown up knowin' an' lovin' all you guys. It's only just over two months until the weddin', an' I know things are gonna get hectic nearer the time. But I want you all to know...I'm real glad to have grown up around you guys. An'..." She looked at Ennis and Jack. "I'm proud to have been part of my uncles' lives together. They've been a real inspiration to me. I love you both, an' I wanna thank you." She raised her glass and finished off her drink.

For a while after, they all sat drinking coffee and talking as the evening wore down. At last, people bid their goodbyes and started to leave. Eventually, it was just the Del Mar/Twists. Jack slung an arm around Ennis and kissed his cheek as they watched Lily and Ben.

"We did good, right?" he asked, nodding at them. Ennis smiled and nodded.

"We sure did, darlin'."

That night, everybody crawled into bed quite late. Ennis had thought that he was tired, but one swift glance from Jack soon changed that, and his body parts awakened in response.

When the bedroom door shut behind them, Jack was soon on him, pulling Ennis to him from behind and slipping his hands under Ennis's jeans to pull his shirt out. He ran his hands over Ennis's stomach and kissed his neck, feeling his lover melt under his touch.

"Want you," he murmured, pressing his crotch against Ennis's ass. "Wanna be inside you..." He kissed his neck again. "Can I...?"

Ennis nodded, feeling limp all over. "Yeah..." Jack turned him around and then started to undress him, their eyes glued together as Ennis' clothes were swiftly removed. Jack then gently pushed him down onto the bed.

"Lay back," he whispered, mouth brushing Ennis's ear. He pulled back as he watched Ennis shuffle backwards to the pillows and lay down, their gaze never wavering. Jack then slowly undressed himself, seeing Ennis grow rapidly harder as more of his skin was exposed. Jack threw his clothes to the chair and kneeled on the bed, crawling up to meet his lover. He leaned over Ennis and kissed him slowly, prising his mouth open with his tongue. They kissed for several moments until Ennis was pressing close, trying to pull their bodies closer together.

"Jack...please..." The need was clear in his voice and Jack felt his heart flutter a little at how Ennis was willing to be in such a vulnerable position. There was a time when he would never have allowed Jack to do this, but that was all over with now.

He nodded and pushed Ennis's hip with his hand. "On yer side, cowboy. Come on..." Ennis rolled onto his side, facing away from Jack and drawing his knees up. Jack grabbed the lube and smeared a couple of fingers with it, working them inside and nuzzling into Ennis's neck. "Just relax,'s alright..." He pushed further in and listened to the quiet noises slipping from Ennis's mouth; a mixture of pain and pleasure.

He saw Ennis nod at him and withdrew his fingers, preparing himself properly. He then scooted up and got into position, rolling Ennis further down and placing one leg in between Ennis's to straddle him from behind. With one hand between them, he started to push in, biting his lip as he went and trying not to hurt his lover. Ennis gritted his teeth and pushed back, trying to let Jack in. They connected as one and Ennis sighed. "Jack..."

"Shh..." Jack wrapped one arm under Ennis's neck and held him steady, feeling Ennis clasp his hand tightly. He then placed one hand on Ennis's hip and waited. "You ready?" Ennis nodded, breathless, and Jack started to move, taking it slowly so as to make it last as long as he could.

They moved together in rhythm, Ennis pushing back with every thrust and sighing. Jack was kissing at his neck and collarbone, worshipping every inch that he could reach. Ennis tilted his head back and their lips met softly. Their tongues played together and Jack's hand slipped over to Ennis's stomach, and then further down. He felt Ennis moan into his mouth when he took hold of him, slowly stroking him in time with his thrusts. Ennis felt warmth spread through him as he felt Jack all around him, and he'd never felt more completely at peace as he did now. Everything felt right, and he knew that this was the path he was supposed to have chosen. Since being with Jack, he'd started to believe in fate; that they were truly supposed to be together. There was simply no other explanation for the fact that they felt to be two halves of the same soul.

His thoughts were pushed to one side as he felt Jack pushing further in, thrusting a little quicker now but as gentle as ever. Jack was being so kind with him and he could feel the overwhelming bliss approaching swiftly. He reached his free hand back and slipped it into Jack, smiling through their kiss when he heard Jack moan.

Jack then broke his mouth away in a gasp and moved even quicker, trying to get to that wonderful place together where they would be one. Ennis started to shake and he let out a low groan as he felt himself slip over the edge, spilling into Jack's hand. Jack gave a few more thrusts and followed suit with a moan in his ear, his eyes screwed shut.

They collapsed together, breathing heavily, and Jack slowly pulled himself out, still seeing stars. Ennis rolled onto his back and stretched like a cat, thoroughly contented. He looked over at Jack and ran a hand over his glistening chest, smiling. He figured that he wouldn't be moving very quickly or easily tomorrow, but he didn't care. If he had a hitch in his step, that was just a sign of being well-loved by his man.

Jack opened his eyes and smiled over at Ennis. "You alright, cowboy?" he asked breathlessly. Ennis nodded and moved over into his arms.

"Yeah. That was real good..."

"Mmm..." They closed their eyes and pulled each other closer, occasionally pressing kisses to each other's skin and rubbing with their hands. They were satisfied for tonight and would sleep well; they always did after a particularly good time, like this one.

After a few moments, Jack spoke. "Ennis...just want you to know how happy I am, an' that I don't ever wanna lose what we got." He felt Ennis kiss his chest.

"I know, Jack. Me neither. But we gotta believe we'll be okay, or we're gonna go crazy with worryin'. Let's just not think on it right now, alright? Just get some sleep."

"Yeah. Night, cowboy."

"Night, darlin'. Love you." Ennis yawned and relaxed again.

Jack smiled up at the ceiling, feeling as if his heart would burst with happiness. "I love you too."

December 31st, 1987

It was New Year's Eve, and they were once again preparing for a party with their friends. This time, though, they would be holding it during the day. Jack had done a little research, and he had located a gay bar up in Atlanta. He had then mentioned it to Ennis, who had agreed that they could take an overnight trip up there for the celebrations. They would be able to kiss at midnight, and in public. Ennis didn't mind so much these days about openly showing his affection for Jack in front of others; things were a lot different now than they had been, and nobody in a place like that would hurt them for kissing; there would probably be a lot of other couples there too.

In the early afternoon, their friends had arrived and were milling about, talking. They understood that Ennis and Jack wanted to take a night away together, so had made their own plans for the countdown.

"Hey," said Jack as he flopped down onto the sofa, next to Ennis. His cowboy greeted him with a smile.

"Hey, darlin'." There were people in the room, but that didn't stop them from pressing their lips together for a few moments. Jack then rested his head on Ennis's shoulder. It was too early for alcohol, and Jack had worried that it might be a bit of a wash-out for New Year's, but he had been reassured that it wouldn't be. Their friends just wanted to be with them.

"You doin' okay, bud?" Jack asked in a soft voice, and Ennis nodded.

"Yep. Just...can't stop thinkin' about what this comin' year might bring. I sure hope that we don't see much more of Pete. Hope James catches him soon."

"I do too, but we can't go worryin'. We just gotta get on with our lives an' try not to worry. It's all gonna be okay, Ennis." He kissed Ennis's cheek again. "You want me to get us a plate of food now? Somethin' to share?" Ennis nodded.

"Alright." Jack patted his leg and got up, heading for the kitchen. Ennis drank his coffee and stared out the window, hearing the voices of their friends float through the house. A lot of people were outside, the kids playing with Storm and a couple of barn cats that had wandered over. It wasn't too cold out, so a lot of the adults were sat on chairs, watching the kids.

Jack came back into the living room and sat back down with Ennis, positioning himself so that his back was to the arm of the sofa and his legs were draped across Ennis's lap. He set the plate on his own lap for them to pick at, and they relaxed there together, listening to the quiet sounds all around them.

The guests all left in the early evening, and Ennis and Jack went upstairs to prepare for their drive north. They would find a hotel near the bar and stay there overnight. Once in a while, they liked to go away together, just for one night. It felt as if they were sneaking away in secret for a quickie, unknown to anyone else. Both of them found that they liked the thrill of it, and the sex was usually some of their best.

After a few long, lingering kisses, they finally prised themselves away from each other and grabbed their overnight bags, heading downstairs. They said goodnight to the others and were soon off in Jack's truck, driving off into the gathering darkness. It would take them a couple of hours to get to the city, and they figured that they would be there in time to get ready for the celebrations.

They reached the city at ten and found a hotel that had a room spare. The pair of them spent a little while preparing for the night out. Jack had brought their favourite cologne and they dressed in a clean pair of shirts. Ennis was wearing a crisp white one and Jack a blue denim one. Without even discussing it beforehand, they had picked out shirts that were reminiscent of the shirts they had worn on Brokeback; the ones that Jack had swiped and were now hanging on the back of their bedroom door.

Jack smiled and pressed his hands to Ennis's chest, his eyes alight with happiness. "You look real good, cowboy," he murmured, bringing their mouths together a few times. "Let's go an' ring in the New Year together, okay? Then we can have our own little celebration when we get back here." Ennis smiled and nodded, and they left the hotel, walking a little down the street to the bar.

The building was a riot of noise when they walked in; it was almost eleven. Ennis had been right; there were many other couples here, from the look of things. Most of the patrons were men, but he saw a few lesbians too. Everybody seemed to be relaxed and having fun, and he had to admit that he liked the notion of there being somewhere safe for people like them to go and be themselves.

They got themselves some beers and sat at a table in the corner, looking around and listening to the music. Emboldened by where they were, Jack reached across the table and flexed his fingers, looking hopeful. Ennis smiled and brought his hand up, lacing their fingers together on the table and squeezing. Jack grinned and sipped his beer.

At five to midnight, they looked up at the screens, which was showing Times Square and the ball about to drop. "Here we go, bud," said Ennis, not letting go of Jack's hand.

"Yep." They looked at each other, and soon enough the countdown was starting. "I love you, Ennis, with all my heart," he said as everybody was counting down. Ennis smiled.

"I love you right back, Jack. So much."

"Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Happy New Year!" The cheering was deafening as everybody cheered and kissed. But all of this went unnoticed by the two figures at the table in the corner, their hands still entwined and their mouths fused together.

January 3rd, 1988

Ennis and Jack were out at dinner together, enjoying another night on their own. They liked to go to dinner at least once a week, just to talk and gaze at each other over the table. Jack especially liked running his foot up and down Ennis's leg, making him squirm. Whenever he did that, Ennis's blood was usually up by the time they got home.

They were talking about the wedding as they ate. It was now just two months away and the plans were firmly in place, for the most part. The marquee and the decorations were safely stored away in the barn, including the tables and chairs. Their order of food and champagne was ready for them and being held by the restaurant owner, who didn't mind storing it for them. Most of the food was their own, and they knew that it would be a wonderful wedding. Both of them wanted to make it special for Lily; they had done everything they could for her ever since Becky died, so they wanted to give her a good send-off into married life.

"So," said Jack as he was finishing off his steak. "Do you reckon Lily's gonna invite her dad after all?" Lily and her father had spoken on the phone a few times, usually once a week, but she had made no mention of inviting him to the wedding. Jack had a feeling that she didn't really know herself, and hadn't made up her mind.

Ennis shook his head. "I dunno, bud. Maybe she ain't decided yet. Can't say I blame her. I mean...if we'd had a big thing for our weddin', I doubt I'd wanna invite my dad even if he'd wanted to come. Sometimes it's hard to let go of that little bit of doubt, you know?" Jack nodded, understanding what he was saying.

"I guess. Doubt I woulda invited my dad either. But at least Jay's tryin' to make an effort with her. Things are goin' better than I thought they would. Time was, she wanted nothin' to do with him. They've come a real long way."

"Yeah. Anyway, I hope she decides soon. Only a couple months now, an' we've got the space if she does wanna invite him, so it's her choice. Wouldn't make much difference to us, but I bet it does to her."

Jack nodded and they fell into silence, finishing their meal. When they got outside, they stretched and breathed in the cool evening air. Jack smiled at Ennis. "You ready to go home, cowboy?" he asked, his eyes telling Ennis exactly what was on his mind. Ennis smiled and put his arm around him, starting to walk across the road in order to avoid the alleyway where Pete had been lurking.

"Sure am, darlin'. House should be quiet when we get back, so let's not try to wake everyone up, alright? Think you can keep it down?"

Jack grinned and kissed Ennis's neck. "I'll try, cowboy, but I can't make no promises. When we get goin'...I can't help myself. It's what you do to me."

"Mmm..." They lazily kissed as they walked down the street, keeping an eye out for anyone that might see them. But the street was empty and silent. Jack would have felt nervous if he didn't have Ennis with him. But as it was, he felt safe.

Neither of them noticed a figure emerge from the alleyway, tire iron in hand. He cast his eyes to where they were walking and growled in frustration; they were clearly onto him and were now avoiding this spot.

As he watched them, he weighed up his options. He had to do something about these urges, no matter how much he hated having them.

That queer made me this way, a voice whispered in his mind. That damn Twist, with those eyes and that ass. I was normal before I came to work for them. He did this, and must be punished. Hurtin' 'em don't work; they just pick themselves up an' carry on. Ain't gettin' the message. Even messin' with the shingle on their barn didn't keep 'em apart long enough for me to get him. They keep avoidin' this alleyway; must've figured it out.

He drew back into the darkness as they crossed over the road again to get to their truck. As he watched, Ennis pinned Jack against it and they kissed for several moments. In spite of himself, Pete couldn't help but let his eyes travel down Jack's body. He despised himself for having these thoughts, and was convinced that it was Jack's fault. For over twenty years, he'd tried to deny these feelings, to no avail.

Only one thing to do. Killin' him would probably set everythin' right again. But...maybe I can get some before I do it. He's queer; he's used to takin' it up the ass. He'd fight, but that can be taken care of. Get him on his stomach back here; he won't be able to move. That'll do it. This is his fault; he made me this way, so he should suffer. An' he will. He'll pay for doin' this. I'll rip him a new one an' then send him to hell when I've finished with him. I ain't queer. This is the only way to save myself from bein' like that. I've gotta take care of things, an' soon.

This decided, he watched as Ennis and Jack got into their truck and drove away, before finally leaving his hiding spot. The next time he caught Jack on his own, that would be it.

Ennis and Jack returned to a silent house and made their way upstairs, still kissing and laughing quietly. They fell onto the bed together and started to undress, running their hands everywhere.

A little later, Jack was on his side with Ennis behind him, moving slowly. As he was held, Jack felt safe and loved, and completely unaware of the danger that awaited him.

Over the next few days, Ennis was struck down with a cold, and was spending a lot of time in bed, surrounded by tissues and vapour rub. Jack had spent some time with him, but Ennis had shooed him away, not wanting him to catch it. By the fifth, he was feeling well enough to get out of bed for a little while, but was still feverish.

As he lay in bed, he let Jack put his hand on his forehead to feel his temperature. "Yer still burnin' up, cowboy. You feel sick at all?"

Ennis shook his head. "No, just clammy. I hate this."

"I know you do, baby. Listen, I'm gonna go an' do some work, alright? I'll be back up soon to check on ya." In truth, he was considering going out to get Ennis some ginger ale for his fever, but he wasn't about to tell his cowboy that just now. Ennis would just worry and tell him not to go, and Jack was determined to get him some help anyway. Once he had the ginger ale and was back home, Ennis could ream him out as much as he wanted; Jack just wanted to help him get better.

Ennis nodded. "Alright, darlin'. See ya later then." Jack kissed his forehead and left the room, closing the door quietly.

When he got downstairs, he saw Lily sat in her chair, reading a bridal magazine. "Hey." He grabbed his keys, wallet and jacket, knowing that her eyes were on him.

"Where are you goin'?"

"Gonna go get Ennis some ginger ale for his fever. Yer grandma always gave me that when I was in that state."

Lily sat up straighter. " ain't goin' alone, are you?" Jack nodded.

"Yep. Figure I won't be long. Half hour drive each way, five or ten minutes in the store, tops. Ain't no trouble."

She stood up, her eyes wide. " can't go out alone! Pete's out there, an' you promised Ennis you wouldn't. Please, Jack...let me come with you. It's a bad idea to go alone an' you know it."

Jack sighed and put his wallet in his pocket. "Lily, I know what I said, but...I'm gonna be fine. Besides, ain't yer dad due to call anytime? You gotta be here for that. I'll park right in front of the store, won't go too far. I promise."

Lily was biting her lip, not liking this one bit. She had already figured out in her head what Pete might try to do to Jack, and she was scared for him. If Ennis wasn't laid up, he would probably hit the roof over Jack's plans. She knew that his worst fear was something happening to Jack.

"I dunno, Jack...what if Pete's around?"

"We ain't never seen him durin' the day, only at night. I reckon I'll be fine, Lily." He walked up to her and put his hands on her shoulders. "I promise. See ya soon, alright?"

Reluctantly, she nodded. "Alright. Be careful, Jack."

"I will." She kissed his cheek and let him go.

The drive to town was punctuated by his favourite songs on the radio, and he whistled and sang along to them. He honestly thought that he would be alright as long as he parked close to the store.

But when he got there, he cursed to find that the strip of road in front of the store was full of vehicles. There was only one space left, and the alleyway lay between it and the store. He chewed his lip, wondering if it would be alright. He shook his head and parked. After several deep breaths, he got out and started walking. The alleyway was empty, to his relief, and he kept walking. When he walked into the store, Pete emerged from his own truck, and snuck into the alleyway to wait.

Jack bought the ginger ale and put it in his pocket, relieved that at least half the task was over; now he just had to get back in one piece.

As he was passing the alleyway, he suddenly felt a pair of hands on him. One was on his mouth and the other wrapped around him, pinning his arms so that he couldn't free himself. Jack made a muffled sound and tried to wrestle off his attacker, but he was too strong.

He was pulled backwards into the alleyway, still struggling. Jack managed to prise the arms from him, but then felt a sharp pain across his back as he was hit with a tire iron. He fell to the ground, on his stomach. "Ugh...dammit, Pete!"

Pete didn't reply, but he was soon on the ground too, straddling Jack and pinning him down. "Yer gonna pay for this, queer. Doin' this to me, tryin' to make me as sick as you."

"What?" Jack struggled, and grew afraid when he could clearly feel Pete's erection pressing at his ass. "Get the hell off me!"

"Ain't gonna happen," Pete hissed in his ear. "Sure hope you saw yer boyfriend this mornin', 'cos it was the last time yer ever gonna see him." Jack continued to struggle, but when he heard the unbuckling of a belt and unzipping of jeans, he froze with fear. They had been right all along.

Shit...he's gonna...Jack desperately tried to free himself, hoping that it wouldn't happen. Thinking back to his bull riding days, he remembered how the bulls would try to buck him off, and how the mare on Brokeback had tried to do the same. He had to be quick; he could feel Pete's hands snaking around his lower stomach.

Focusing on his task, he put as much of his energy into his legs as he could, and with all his strength, he brought them up, satisfied to hear the groan escape from Pete as they connected with his back. With Pete distracted and blinded by pain, Jack rolled them both over until Pete was on the ground, hand clutching his back. Jack sprung up and looked down at him, wiping his mouth of gravel. His attacker was still lying on the floor, so Jack fled, out of the alleyway and down to his truck.

He fumbled with the keys for a moment in his shaking hands, and then got himself in. When he gathered his wits enough, he put the truck in gear and headed home as quickly as speed limits would allow.