Chapter 25

Ennis was sat on the sofa, biting at a nail. He hadn't been pleased to find out from Lily that Jack had gone to town on his own, but he was more worried than angry. He hoped with all his heart that Jack was alright, and he knew that Jack should be home at any time.

"I'm sorry that I let him go alone," Lily said, looking over at him with an expression of guilt on her face. He shook his head.

"Ain't yer fault. He gets stubborn like that. Maybe...maybe he's alright. I mean, it's true that we never saw Pete durin' the day, only at night." Just as he was saying this, he heard the crunch of tires on the driveway, and looked up hopefully.

A few seconds later, Jack burst through the front door and shut it quickly, leaning against it and breathing heavily. Ennis stood up. "Jack? What's wrong?"

Jack met his eyes and felt relieved that he was finally home, but he was worried about Ennis's reaction. "I..." Ennis's eyes clouded over.

"Did you see Pete? Somethin' happen?" Jack nodded.

"Yeah...I..." He swallowed hard. "I got the ginger ale an' left the store. The only parkin' space left was...on the other side of that alleyway. It was empty on the way there, but..."

Ennis stepped forward, fear working into his heart. "What did he do, Jack?"

"He grabbed me, pulled me back into the alleyway. I tried to get him off me, but...when I did, he hit me on the back with a tire iron." He winced a little. "It's sore but I don't think nothin's broken. I could drive, anyway."

"Shit...are you okay?" Ennis tried to come closer, but Jack recoiled, knowing that Ennis deserved to know the whole story.

"That ain't the worst of it. I landed on the ground, on my stomach. Next thing I know, he's...on top of me an' pinnin' me down. He was sayin' how I made him 'this way' an' that I was gonna pay for it. I tried to get him off me, an'...I heard him undoin' his jeans..." Jack was shaking again, ready for the explosion.

"Oh my God..." Lily whispered, hand to her mouth. Ennis was thunderstruck.

"He...he tried to..." He couldn't say the word, could barely hold it in his mind. But Jack understood, and nodded.

"Yeah, he did. But I swear, Ennis; he didn't do it. I kicked him in the back an' managed to get him off while he was in pain. I got outta there an' came straight here." The truth told, Jack felt himself relax. "I'm sorry, Ennis...I shoulda listened to Lily an' at least waited until her dad had called; let her come with me..."

Ennis was shaking his head. "Yer damn right you shoulda waited. ain't yer fault. He shouldn't have tried to do that." Their eyes met. " alright?"

"I'm fine, just a little shaken up. I should call James an' let him know. Pete's probably still lyin' there." He ran a hand through his hair.

Sensing that they needed to be alone, Lily cleared her throat. "Um...I'll call James an' tell him to come up here," she offered. Jack nodded and she left the room.

Ennis and Jack were looking at each other. "I'm sorry, cowboy. I shouldn't have been so stubborn." Jack thought his heart would break if Ennis didn't get his arms around him soon; was he really that angry at him? "Ennis...please say somethin'."

Ennis sighed and came over to Jack. "Darlin' sure yer okay?"

"Yeah. I swear, he didn't do it. Didn't even get my jeans undone or nothin'. I'm fine." Jack looked up into Ennis's eyes, seeing a mixture of fear and relief in there. Ennis bit his lip.

"You went out for ginger ale...for me..." Jack saw what was coming and grasped Ennis's shoulders.

"It's okay, Ennis. It wasn't your fault. It coulda happened if I'd gone out for somethin' else. From the sound of it, he was waitin' for an opportunity to get me alone. Please don't go blamin' yerself. It ain't yer fault."

Ennis nodded and touched Jack's face gently. "It ain't yer fault, either, darlin'." At last, Ennis put his arms around Jack and they embraced. For the first time since before he'd left, Jack felt safe again. He melted into Ennis's arms and nuzzled his neck.

"I gotta admit...I was scared, Ennis. I thought he was gonna..." Ennis stroked his hair.

"I know. Wish I coulda been there to get him off you. How's yer back? You wanna get it checked out?"

"Yeah, soon as James takes a statement or whatever, I'll go over there. An' I'll let Lily come with me, I promise. No more goin' out on my own until that bastard's behind bars."

They pulled apart and Jack saw that Ennis's eyes were now full of sorrow. It couldn't have been easy for Ennis to hear what had happened, he reasoned with himself. Jack took Ennis's face in his hands. "It's alright, Ennis..."

"Should go an' kill him myself for tryin' to do that to you," Ennis choked out. Jack gave a weak smile.

"Probably. But I don't want you goin' to jail. I need you here, with me. I'm gonna be fine, but I'm still shaken. I ain't never had nobody but you...back' I thought that if he did would take away what's yours. I'm yours, Ennis...always was. I can't let nobody destroy what we got."

Their foreheads collided and they slowly leaned in. Jack tentatively pressed his lips to Ennis's, hearing a hitch in his lover's breath and then felt him relax, knowing for sure that Jack was alright.

They kissed for a few moments and then embraced again; Ennis felt relief flooding through his heart that Jack was alright, and that Pete hadn't accomplished what he'd tried to do. He didn't ever want to lose Jack, and he vowed to himself that Pete would suffer for trying to hurt the love of his life.

The remainder of the day passed in what felt like a blur. James came to the ranch to take a statement from Jack, and at his tip-off went to town to try and find Pete. He called sometime later to tell them that Pete had fled the area. This did nothing to reassure any of them, but James swore he would keep a look out, and he had already had officers patrolling the city to try and find him. Rose had been upset to learn of what her son had almost been subjected to, but he tried to reassure her that he was alright, and that everything would be okay. Jack went for a check-up at the hospital, and apart from a bruise on his back, he was otherwise unharmed. He was just told to take some painkillers if he needed them.

Knowing that they needed to talk properly, Jack suggested to Ennis that they go for a walk across their property. They held hands as they walked, their fingers laced together.

They were silent as they walked, and before they knew it, they had reached the copse of trees at the base of their hill. At the edge, they decided to sit down on a log and take a break.

After a while, Jack spoke. "Well...guess we gotta talk, huh?" Ennis nodded. "Thing is...I don't blame you, Ennis. I'm the one who chose to go out, without lettin' someone come with me. It wasn't your fault, okay?" He brought his hand to Ennis's face and made him meet his eyes, looking at him imploringly. "I don't blame you, Ennis."

Ennis nodded and squeezed his hand. "I don't really blame you either, Jack. I shouldn't have gone out alone, an' it was a pretty stupid thing to do." Jack was nodding his agreement. "If I didn't love you as much as I do, I'd probably be sayin' it was yer own fault." He cast a pained look at Jack. "But I can't do that...'cos I've been so damn scared ever since he came back to town. We kinda figured out what he wanted anyway, so we shoulda seen it comin'." He sighed and shook his head. "It's not really anyone's fault but his. We both hate the guy, an' it ain't as if you ever led him on."

Jack bit his lip. "When he was on my back...he was sayin' how I made him that way...what did he mean by that?"

"Maybe...maybe he was havin' those thoughts about you, an' figured it made him gay. He probably hated that, an' hated you for triggerin' those thoughts. He probably thought that if he hurt you...the feelin's would go away." Ennis sighed. "It don't matter now, Jack. In a way...we've kinda been prepared for this happenin'. We tried to stop it, an' at least he didn't do it. If it had just happened outta the blue...I mighta got pissed at you for goin' on yer own. But...truth is...I can't never get mad at you, Jack. There ain't no point in gettin' angry about it now."

Ennis freed his hand and put his arm around Jack, pulling him close. "Darlin'...I ain't mad at you. I'm just mad at him...feel like I wanna rip his head off for doin' that to you. If he'd done it...I'd be out there with a shotgun right now, tryin' to find him. But...I don't wanna do that right now. I can't go gettin' worked up an' in trouble. I need to be here for you."

Jack smiled at him and kissed his cheek. "I love you, Ennis. I thought you'd get mad at me for it. Thinkin' that I'd led him on or somethin'...or that I deserved it for goin' out alone. I was scared that you was gonna think I wanted it, an' that you'd leave me..." Ennis put a hand over his mouth.

"Shh...that ain't gonna happen, Jack. I ain't mad at you, I don't blame you, an' I sure as hell ain't gonna leave me. It's been way too long, an' we're past all that. I love you more than anythin', an' I can't live without you. I know you didn't lead him on; you hate the guy as much as I do." He smiled a little at Jack. "Darlin'...tell me the truth. You sure yer okay?"

Hearing Ennis's words, Jack relaxed and smiled back. "I'm fine. I was shaken up at first, 'cos that ain't never happened to me before. But...soon as I got back, I was so relieved to be home an' back with you. Gotta admit, though...I was worried about yer reaction until just now. Guess I should know better than to doubt you by now." He gave a nervous grin. "just glad to be back here, where I belong."

They leaned in and their lips met, tongues curling around each other slowly and arms wrapping around each other's bodies. Jack melted into Ennis's embrace and just let himself go, enjoying the moment. His fright during the attempted attack felt insignificant, compared to what he was feeling now. All that mattered was that he was safe in Ennis's arms, and nothing could hurt him now.

When they pulled apart, they kept their faces close. "I'm yours, Ennis," Jack whispered. "All yours, an' nobody's gonna take that away, ever. I swear. Even if he'd done heart will always belong to you, baby. It did ever since Brokeback. He coulda done it, an' he woulda hurt me...taken what's rightfully yours...but it wouldn't matter in the long run. We'd find a way back, 'cos we love each other. It's you an' me, sweetheart. That's the way it's supposed to be." He kissed Ennis again and hugged him, closing his eyes and smiling as he felt Ennis's warmth under his hands.

Ennis held Jack close, relieved that his partner was alright, and that they were growing closer to getting Pete locked up. Jack was still whole and unhurt, and Ennis didn't ever want to let him go ever again. His long-time desire to protect Jack from those who would hurt him reared up inside him again; he would do everything he could to keep Jack safe; he meant the world to him, and Ennis never wanted to lose him.

The next day, things were slowly returning to normal. Ennis and Jack were back to being themselves, for the most part. They didn't have sex the night before; Ennis thought it was too soon, and he didn't want to make Jack feel uncomfortable. Jack was alright with this for now; he understood that Ennis was simply trying to respect his feelings, and he appreciated it. They were currently trying to remain focused on helping James to find and arrest Pete; there would be plenty of opportunities for them to be together physically once this was over.

At the moment, the two of them were in the office, going over the books. Jack liked having something to concentrate on; it took his mind off everything else. Besides, he liked seeing the financials; the ranch was turning in a solid profit every year, and by now they were pretty much set. Whatever happened in the future, they knew that whoever inherited the ranch would be taking on an established, successful business. Hopefully Lily's descendants would make it even bigger and better.

As they looked over their records, Jack glanced up at Ennis now and then. He'd wondered just how frightened Ennis must have been these last few months, with their suspicions of what Pete might try to do. His fears had been confirmed only yesterday, and it couldn't have been easy for him, considering how much he loved Jack. But as he thought about all of this, Jack dreaded to think how bad it might have become if Pete had done what he'd intended. Jack liked to believe that he and Ennis would be able to work it out, but he wasn't too sure of the reality. He was just grateful that this wasn't the case.

He sighed and got up out of his chair, walking around the desk to Ennis. He took the papers that Ennis was reading out of his hand and placed them on the desk, earning him a surprised look from Ennis. Jack slid onto Ennis's lap and kissed him. He felt Ennis's arms automatically wrap around his waist.

"What's this now, rodeo?" Ennis asked, a smile gathering at the corners of his mouth. Jack shrugged.

"Just wanted to be near you. You doin' okay?"

Ennis gave him a look. "Shouldn't I be askin' you that? After what you went through?" Jack stroked his cheek.

"Maybe. But hell, Ennis...this kinda thing affects both of us. When I hurt, you hurt an' all that. It's true...if it had been you...God knows I'd feel like my heart was being ripped out, especially if he'd done it..."

Ennis nodded. "Sure did give me a turn when you told us what happened. It's weird...when me an' Adam was in that bomb attack in Vietnam, I thought it was the scariest thing that I'd ever go through. But...thinkin' about someone hurtin' you like that...makes me think that this is worse. Just strange is all."

"Ain't that strange, when you think on it," Jack reasoned. "I mean...we've always been more scared for each other than ourselves, right? An' that's just 'cos of how we feel." He smiled softly. "You know how I feel 'bout you, cowboy."

Ennis smiled at him. "Me too, Jack." They kissed again and Jack rested his head on Ennis's shoulder. They stayed that way for a while before moving again to return to their work.

When they came in for dinner, they were surprised to see James there, waiting for them. "I came by an' Lily let me in," he said, indicating their niece who was busy at the stove. "Got some news that yer gonna like." He was smiling by now, which they hadn't expected. Lily had her back turned, concealing an optimistic grin and biting her lip. Ennis and Jack sat down, their hands immediately clasping.

"What is it?"

James sighed. "Pete's been arrested."

Relief flooded through both of them; their tormentor was off the streets and heading for justice. "Really?"

"Yep. Been searchin' for him since last night, an' we finally tracked him down about two hours ago." He leaned forward. "Jack, in your statement you told me that you kicked him in the back. So, as what you might call a stroke of opportunity, I went to the local pharmacies to check out their lists, to see if they might have prescribed pain medication for him. It was a long shot, but I thought it would be worth the effort. Turns out that he was prescribed some painkillers, 'cos you got him pretty good. At my request, the receptionist gave me his details, includin' his current address. We traced it to a small house just outside town. It's not where he was livin' back in the sixties; that was taken over years ago. It's just this new place, ain't much of a house, to be honest. But we found him. I took some officers with me an' arrested him a couple of hours ago."

Ennis and Jack turned to smile at each other. To everybody's surprise, Ennis lifted their joined hands and pulled Jack's to his lips, his eyes full of love for the man sat beside him. Jack tore his eyes away. "Well...that sure is somethin', James. So what's happenin' now?"

" comes the interrogation. We've got some other things to do, so it won't be until tomorrow, I reckon. But we'll keep him in a holdin' cell until then. An' I'll call you as soon as it's over an' we have information. If there's enough, we can take it to trial; hopefully get him a longer sentence this time. We'll need you to testify, Jack. Probably the rest of you as witnesses."

Jack nodded. "We'll call Greg an' let him know." He was still their lawyer, even after all this time, and a good friend too.

They invited James to join them for dinner, but he had to get back to the station. Still, as they all sat down, they raised their glasses to freedom and to friendship, and for the first time in a number of months, Ennis and Jack felt truly safe again.

January 8th, 1988

Two days after James told Ennis and Jack about Pete's arrest, he called them to say that the interrogation was over, and that he was on his way to the ranch. He said he had plenty to tell them, which gave them hope that it was finally over. He also told them that Pete was still being held until the trial, which unfortunately wouldn't take place for a couple of months. Still, at least Pete would be off the streets until then. This gave both of them a sense of peace.

Just as they were finishing lunch, there was a knock at the door. Ennis and Jack looked at each other. "Guess that'll be James." Jack nodded and stood up. He went through the house to the front door and opened it; sure enough, the sheriff was there.

"Hey, James," said Jack, extending his hand.

James nodded, smiling. "How are you doin', Jack?"

"I'm fine," he replied, waving James in. Everybody else was walking in from the kitchen and stood around. "So what's up?"

"Well...there's a lot you guys should hear. Pete told me a whole lot, an' it won't be easy to repeat it."

Jack motioned for him to sit down on the sofa with himself and Ennis, while Rose sat in her chair and Lily and Ben curled up into the chair they shared. James sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. Jack felt Ennis clasp his hand. "So...what's the deal?"

James cleared his throat. "Well, first off, I told him that he was bein' held for three counts of ABH, including the shot to your arm, punchin' you an' assault with a deadly weapon." He hesitated. "An' for attempted sexual assault." Ennis's hand squeezed Jack's tighter. "He didn't deny any of it, he owned up to it all. So then I asked him why he did all of that, 'cos it's clear it was more than just hate an' resentment for bein' fired all those years ago."

At this, Jack nodded. "We figured that out. The way he would look at me sometimes...comes as no surprise that he tried to do that."

"Well, he told me why. It seems as though ever since he was employed by you, he developed sexual feelin's for you. An' he comes from the kinda background you can imagine. Homophobic father that passed on his values to his kids. Pete hated feelin' that way, an' tried to ignore it while workin' for you. He thought that you made him that way, Jack, just like he told you. So when he was fired, he gladly left. But his feelin's never went away, which prompted the abuse he showed you the first time around."

Jack was silent, remembering those months when Pete had shown them his hate. Ennis's thumb was running over his hand.

"So, it seems as though that while he was in jail, he had time to think on everythin'. An'...I'm sure you've heard about what happens in the showers of prisons." Jack's eyes widened.

"Was he...?"

James nodded. "Yep. More than once. I realise it ain't much of an excuse to try an' do the same to you, but it sure explains things better. He kept thinkin' that it was your fault; that you turned him into somethin' he hated. Once he got out, he figured that all his problems stemmed from you. What happened to him in prison damaged him mentally and physically. I don't think he developed any kind of disorder, but still. He thought that if he hurt you in some way, then his problems would go away."

Ennis was shaking his head. "That's fucked up. Ain't Jack's fault if Pete's gay or not. We of all people should know that it's just there, an' can't be decided for you."

"I know that, especially after meetin' you guys. But it's what he said. So...when hurtin' you by normal means didn't work, he gave in to his urges an' tried to do worse. Oh, by the way...he's also admitted to damagin' yer property. The shingles on the barn roof."

Ennis and Jack looked at each other in surprise. "That was him? What...?"

"Well...he somehow snuck onto the ranch an' loosened them. Seems that he was hopin' one of you would fix them. If Jack fixed them, Pete hoped he would fall off an' be killed. If Ennis fixed them, same thing, but then Jack would be alone. Pete hoped he'd have an easier time of gettin' to you if Ennis wasn't around."

Silence fell over them as they took in this news. Jack was shocked that one man could hate him so much like this, and do all of those things. It wasn't right that Pete had been subjected to what he had in prison, but Jack couldn't feel sorry for him; not when Pete had tried to do the same to him.

He sighed. "Well...guess it's done with then. Just the trial, right?"

"Pretty much. He's admitted to everythin'. He's gonna have a psychological assessment an' we're gonna keep him at the station until the trial." He hesitated. "You the main victim, you have the right to go an' talk to him. He'd be handcuffed, an' there would be an officer there. Ennis could be there too, if you want. It's up to you."

Jack looked at Ennis, unsure of what to say. "I dunno, James. Can I think on it?"

"Sure. I've gotta get back to the station, but feel free to call if you wanna come over. I'll see myself out." He stood up and shook their hands, telling them to take care of themselves.

When he left, Ennis and Jack flopped back down on the sofa, Ennis wrapping his arm around Jack's shoulders and stroking his hair. Nobody quite knew what to say about all of it, but they did plenty of thinking.

Eventually, the other three left the room, leaving the two cowboys alone. They looked at each other and held hands again, not speaking.

That night, everybody went up to bed, needing rest. Over dinner, they had talked some about what James had told them, and how it all made sense. They all agreed that while it was unfortunate that Pete had suffered through what he had in prison, it wasn't a good enough excuse for his attack on Jack. As an example, it was pointed out that while both Ennis and Jack had grown up in hard childhoods of abuse and neglect, they were kind, decent men who knew how to look after a child. They loved the people they lived with, and it showed.

When Ennis and Jack got into bed, they left their pyjama bottoms on; for one thing, it was still cold, and for another, Ennis was still hesitant about getting too close to Jack. The last thing he wanted was to make Jack uncomfortable or bring back some bad memories. It would be even longer until Jack would let him take him from behind. Ennis couldn't help but feel that they were back to square one where that position was concerned.

Still, when they were lying down and Ennis opened up his arms, Jack came eagerly enough, smiling and nuzzling into Ennis's neck as he was held. He appreciated that Ennis was keeping a distance sexually out of respect for his feelings, and he was very grateful.

They were silent for a few moments, and then Ennis spoke. "How you feelin', Jack? Yer back okay?"

Jack nodded. "I'm fine. Had some painkillers in the bathroom while you was in here. Should be okay." He kissed Ennis's chest. "I sure am glad I didn't have to go through this alone...dunno what I'd do without you."

Ennis buried his lips in Jack's dark hair. "You don't have to worry about that, darlin'. I'm right here, an' I ain't ever goin' away. I know you need me, so I'm here. I...I'm yer husband, Jack. It's my job to look after you when you need it." He placed a couple of fingers under Jack's chin and lifted his head up to look into his eyes. "It's gonna be alright, Jack." He leaned in and lightly pressed their lips together. Jack turned until he was half-lying on Ennis's chest, looking up at him.

"Cowboy...I ain't quite ready it yet. I think I need to wait some. Thing is...with what Pete nearly did, an' thinkin' about what he went my mind, I've still got sex in my mind as somethin' bad, an' you know how we can get when we're caught up in each other. I just...I don't want us to be doin' it, an' then right in the middle I start freakin' out. I know it's gonna happen if we do it tonight. An' if it does...that'll hurt us both. I'll get scared, you'll feel guilty...that's like poison, Ennis."

"I know. I don't mind waitin', Jack. We went for months without doin' it back in the sixties, even after I got home. I reckon we can wait a few days, you know. Besides, I've got my right hand if I need it." They both smiled at this and Jack rested his head on Ennis's chest, running his hand through the fine blonde hairs. Ennis looked down and watched Jack's hand move across him, his rings set on his finger. They were a symbol of their connection and love for each other, and Ennis realised that Jack was right. Even if Pete had done what he'd set out to do, it wouldn't matter in the long run. It would hurt him like hell, and it wouldn't be easy to get through it, but they would still love each other. They would find a way through it to the other side.

When Jack's hand stopped moving, Ennis thought that he had fallen asleep, but then he heard Jack's voice again, softer this time. " think I should go to the station, talk to Pete like James suggested?"

Ennis chewed his lip. He wasn't entirely sure what it would achieve. Would it really help for them to talk to the man who had caused them so much pain? What could he say to justify his actions?

"I dunno, Jack. It's up to you. If you wanna go talk to him, maybe give him a chance to explain himself, if he can, then I ain't gonna stop ya." He stroked Jack's hair. "If you do wanna go, an' you want me there with you...I'll be there. Right by yer side."

Jack smiled a little. "Thanks, Ennis. I was gonna ask you anyway. I dunno if I wanna see him. I mean...James told us pretty much why Pete did those things, so is there anythin' else Pete could say? He shouldn't have taken it out on me the way he did. Ain't no two ways about it."

Ennis sighed. "Darlin''s up to you. If you wanna go, then I'll come with you. If you don't, that's fine. We'll just get through the trial an' that'll be that. Either way, we're gonna be okay. I'm standin' right by you, always." He pulled his arms around Jack tighter. "Just go to sleep, Jack. Forget about it for now, an' we'll deal with it in the mornin'. Just get some rest." He heard Jack sigh and settle down closer to him, relaxing all over and melting into Ennis's arms.

After he was asleep, Ennis stayed awake for a little longer, thinking about what they had gone through recently and what might happen now. At least their troubles with Pete were pretty much over now. Whatever Jack decided to do, Ennis vowed that he would support him without question. In all the ways possible to them, they were married, and it was his duty to stand by Jack, as his partner had done so many times for him.