Chapter 11

November 1st, 2009

The weather was turning colder, and Ennis and Jack spent many a morning snuggled up in bed together for as long as possible, warming each other with their body heat. They both bought thicker quilts for their beds and had taken to filling up hot water bottles, putting them underneath the quilts at the end for their feet.

The two of them still went for the occasional walk in the park, but they weren't out as long these days, wanting to stay warm as long as they could. They had ultimately decided to go to New York for both weeks of their vacation, returning on the Sunday before they were due back at work. Jack was still a little nervous about going back, but he tried to focus on the fact that Ennis would be with him, and nothing would happen to him as long as they stuck together.

Jack had been at the gym for a few hours, and he shivered as he walked along the street to Ennis's building, wondering what Ennis was making them for dinner. He hadn't shown any interest in going to the gym, said he didn't really like going there, which was okay. They couldn't be completely the same, after all. And Jack didn't really enjoy working out, either, but knew that he had to in order to keep his body muscle built up.

He ran up the stairs to Ennis's floor and along the hall, knocking on the door. After a few moments, the door was opened by the man who had taken up a considerable residence in his heart, and he grinned. "Hey, bud."

"Hey, darlin'," Ennis replied, opening the door wider and greeting Jack with a kiss as he walked in, still shivering. "Cold out there?"

"Freezing," he replied, rubbing his hands together. "Everything okay?"

"Yep. You wanna take a shower before dinner?" Ennis asked, running his hands up and down Jack's arms and feeling how cold he was. He was concerned about Jack's health in this temperature. Jack nodded.

"Yeah, but first..." He leaned in close and was wrapped up in those strong arms, tongue darting out to part Ennis's willing lips. "Mmm..."

Ennis kissed him back, trying to get him warm. When they broke away, Jack was grinning. "Ready for a shower now?" Ennis asked, stroking his cheek.

"Wanna join me?" Jack asked slyly, trailing a finger down Ennis's chest. The offer was very tempting, but dinner was in the oven and he knew he needed to keep an eye on it. God knows how long they would be if they took a shower together.

"You know I would, darlin', but...the dinner..." His deep brown eyes were apologetic. "Sure wish I could." Jack nodded, a little disappointed but understanding. To make up for it, Ennis kissed his cheek and whispered, "Tell you be a good boy and eat all your food, and I'll tell you about a little game we can play called 'rodeo'. How's that?"

Jack's eyes widened and he pulled himself away, practically sprinting for the shower. Ennis smiled to himself and went to check on dinner.

Twenty minutes later, the two of them were sitting down to steaming bowls of stew, perfect food for this weather. Jack was freshly showered and feeling a great deal better than he had been, appreciative of Ennis taking care of things like this. He'd liked the feeling of coming home to Ennis (even if it wasn't his apartment) and thought he could get used to it. He had a feeling that the possibility of living together was on their horizon, but they didn't need to talk about that yet. In spite of everything they'd been through, they'd still only been together for about three months. Their relationship was technically still in its early stages.

"Mmm, this is really good," Jack said appreciatively around a mouthful of bread soaked in the stew. "You're a good cook, bud."

Ennis smiled. "Thanks...figured you'd be cold, so I thought something like this would be good." Jack's heart swelled at this admission of Ennis once again putting him first. He liked being taken care of this way, and had told Ennis so a number of times.

"It sure is." They fell silent, thinking about various things. Jack was thinking about their upcoming trip to New York. The last time he was there had only been a few months ago, but it felt like a lot longer. He knew that this feeling was mostly because of his relationship with Ennis and how it had taken off so quickly, making the weeks fly by. His mother would like Ennis, no doubt, and he wanted them to meet.

His father was another story. Jack knew that he wouldn't have to go anywhere near him if he didn't want to, for his mother would meet them in the city. But a part of Jack wanted Ennis to see where he'd grown up, and the house he'd lived in before going off to college. Maybe they could sneak over when his father was at work.

Jack mentally shook himself and focused on the present, where Ennis was talking about something Alma had said about her parents.

"So I told her it was nothing to worry about, that's it's just how things go, but I don't know if she believes me," he said, not noticing that Jack wasn't listening. He looked up. "Bud?"

"Uh...what?" he asked, feeling lost. Ennis's brow furrowed.

"What's wrong?" Jack sighed.

"Just thinking about my dad...whether or not we might have to sneak over to the house when he's at work." Ennis took his hand.

"Darlin''ll be okay. Whatever you want to do, about either of them, I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere."

Jack looked into those warm, caring eyes and swallowed, hearing the unwavering support in Ennis's voice. He blinked a few times and nodded. Ennis lifted his hand and kissed it, determined to support Jack in whatever decision he made regarding his parents.

After dinner, they retired to the living room for a while to watch TV, Jack curling up against Ennis and sighing contentedly. He was beginning to feel better about the forthcoming trip to New York, knowing that Ennis would be by his side through all of it. Now they could start to make plans, like which restaurants they would go to, which parts of the city they would explore, and whether they might make the time to see a show or something. Maybe they would go to Times Square on New Year's Eve and celebrate with the throng of people that always gathered there.

When they grew bored with the TV, it was switched off and Jack gave Ennis a look. "So...about that cowboy game you mentioned..." Ennis smiled; trust Jack to remember and already have visions in his head. There was no doubt about it; Jack loved having sex with him. The thought warmed his insides.

"Uh, yeah...riding on a horse all day at the ranch...ideas come to you." He flicked his eyes to the bedroom. "You wanna go try it?" Jack nodded and they got up, half-running for the bed and eager to get onto it.

"So..." Jack said in between kisses as they started to strip off. "How do we do this rodeo thing?" He was breathing a little heavily in anticipation.

"Mmm..." Ennis replied, throwing their shirts to the floor. "Well, one of us gets on our back, and the other rides us. Like bull riding in a rodeo. And you have to stay on for at least eight seconds."

"Uh huh," Jack murmured, pushing Ennis down onto the bed and straddling him. "So who's being what? I reckon you should be the bull." He nuzzled into Ennis's neck. "I'd love to ride you, big boy." Ennis lay backwards, pulling Jack on top of him and drawing a laugh out of him. "Hmm..."

They kicked their jeans off and crawled up the bed, kissing and rubbing together. When they were ready, Jack pulled a condom out and put it on Ennis, and then coated it with lubricant. He got into position, eyes glittering. "Like this?"

"Yeah..." Ennis breathed, eyes sliding shut as Jack's muscles surrounded him. "Oh..." Jack settled himself down and laced their fingers together, eyes on Ennis.

"So what do we do now?" Jack asked teasingly, loving how he was driving Ennis crazy. He sure did love it when they got like this.

The deep brown eyes opened. "You have to stay on for eight seconds, and I have to try and buck you off." He smiled. "But we don't have to do that part." Jack nodded. He didn't like the idea of being bucked off, and he was glad that Ennis didn't want to do that.

"Alright..." He began to move, up and down as if he was trying to stay on a bull. Ennis thrust up into him, picking up the pace as it went on. He wasn't really trying to buck Jack off; he liked the feeling of being inside him too much. They moved together, well past the eight second mark and Jack shot in between them, groaning loudly. Ennis followed suit and Jack collapsed onto him, sighing. "Mmm...that was good..."

"Sure was, darlin'. You alright?" Jack rose up and Ennis slipped out of him, a drowsy smile on his face, clearly still drunk on love.

"Yeah. Be right back." He pulled the condom off Ennis and staggered from the bed, a little bowlegged. Ennis couldn't help but smirk at the sight. He no longer feared that he was hurting Jack by fucking him; Jack had reassured him that he loved it. He just had to try and believe that.

Jack came back and clambered over him again, kissing his neck. "That was something else, Ennis. It was a great idea." Ennis smiled up at him. He'd loved it too.

"Thanks, darlin'." They kissed slowly and leisurely, Ennis's arms coming up to wind around Jack's neck. Jack nuzzled his nose into Ennis's hair above his ear, liking the scent from the aftermath of their lovemaking. "Love you, you so much."

"I love you too," Jack whispered back, kissing Ennis gently on the lips. He laid himself fully on top of Ennis, quietly nuzzling each other in the half-darkness. After a while, Jack moved off him and they dropped off, both of them warm and sleepy.

Ennis awoke a little later to the sounds of shifting around, and he looked over to see Jack moving, clearly unable to settle. "Bud?" Jack looked over at him. "What's wrong? Can't sleep?"

Jack sighed. "No...I'm restless. Can't stop thinking about what might happen when we get to New York. How am I gonna be when we get near the park? Will I even be able to walk through it?" His eyes were large and imploring. "I don't know..." Ennis rolled over to face him, running a hand along his arm. He didn't really know what to say to Jack, and he wasn't too sure how to provide the comfort that Jack needed.

He shuffled closer. "Baby..." Jack smiled a little at the endearment. "Don't worry, okay? It'll be alright. I'll be there, you know that. Be right there with you..."

Jack nodded. "I know. Thanks, Ennis. I just wanna make me really happy. So much..." He swallowed. "I love you."

"I love you too," Ennis replied, trying to inject some kind of comfort in his words. "We're gonna be alright, I promise." He moved forward and kissed Jack once more, before nudging his shoulder. "Turn over." Jack did so and Ennis spooned up behind him, one arm around Jack's waist and holding him tightly. He kissed the back of Jack's neck. "There anything I can say, or do...?"

Jack sighed. "Not really, except what you're already doing. This is just fine, Ennis." He closed his eyes and settled down, feeling safe and protected. Ennis closed his own eyes and rubbed Jack's stomach until he fell asleep.

November 6th, 2009

It was a Friday and Jack had just come back from his lunch break, having spent some time with Ennis and picked up a new subscription of his meds. He went to put them in his locker, wary of any prying eyes that might be around. His co-workers knew he was gay but he didn't really want them finding out about this. He didn't know that he was being watched by a co-worker named Darren, who had never liked him for all the attention the girls gave him.

Darren had been relieved to find out that Jack was gay, especially so when the girls stopped hounding him. But there was something about Jack he wasn't sure about. He was a little secretive and when Darren saw him smuggling a white bag into his locker, he hovered where Jack couldn't see him.

"Damn," Jack cursed as a box fell out of the bag, picking it back up and putting it into the bag, stuffing it in his locker in case anybody came by. Darren saw the name on the box; Videx. He knew it was a HIV medication and his mind whirred. Jack was positive.

He watched Jack working for another hour, curious as to why he hadn't said anything. He personally thought that Jack had a nerve being around clean people. Jumping to conclusions, Darren thought that Jack was promiscuous, which fit every stereotype he'd heard of gay men who lived in the city. He felt anger bubbling up inside him as he watched Jack happily chatting away to the girls. How dare he, a voice whispered in his mind. He's got no right...

When Jack went into the storeroom, he followed and closed the door a little so they didn't have any witnesses. "Jack."

Jack turned around and looked surprised. "Darren? What's up?" Darren gave him a look of pure hatred; the way the girls fawned over him in spite of what he was. How would they react if they knew? "Darren?"

"I know," he spat out. "I know about you." Jack raised his eyebrows, not yet concerned.

"What, that I'm gay? Everybody here knows that." Darren clenched his fists.

"Not that. You dare to come out here amongst decent people...and everybody still fawns over you." He was shaking with anger.

"I don't have a clue what you're talking about," Jack replied, genuinely confused.

"I saw what you were putting in your locker...I saw that box fall out." Jack felt his heart rate increase. "It was HIV medication, wasn't it? You've got AIDS."

Jack kept his temper in check. "I don't have AIDS, I'm HIV positive. There's a difference."

"Whatever. You've got a damn nerve being around here, where there's normal people. So how many guys did you have to do it with to get it? I know about your type; you'll fuck anything that moves."

Jack's mouth fell open. "What the hell? You think I've been sleeping around? You can catch it without doing that, you know. And it's none of your business anyway."

Darren was nearly growling. "Damn well is. The way the girls give you those puppy dog eyes...makes me sick. How would they feel if they knew the truth?" Jack felt himself panicking.

"You don't have to tell anyone. It's not like they can catch it by just touching me on the arm or something. Besides, I'm seeing someone. I'm not about to mess around on him." Darren shook his head.

"Goddamn queer," he spat. "They deserve to know what you are. You've got no right being here." He made to turn and walk back out.

"Darren, please," Jack called after him, terrified of what might happen now. "Please don't tell anyone. It's my business and I don't want them knowing." Darren turned and looked at him with narrowed eyes.

"We'll see." He turned back and left the storeroom, returning to work. He wasn't going to tell anybody yet, but he would bide his time. He just knew that he couldn't watch Jack being happy for much longer. Ire rose in him every time he saw someone being friendly to Jack.

Jack leaned against the shelf, reeling in shock. This was the last thing he'd expected today, and he didn't know what to do. He didn't think that Darren would expose him right away, but it might only be a matter of time. Would his co-workers really want to get rid of him if they knew? It wasn't as if he was going to infect any of them. He was very happy with Ennis and wasn't about to go fooling around, with a man or a woman. It seemed as though Darren was jealous of the attention the girls gave him, even though it was purely platonic and they no longer had any ulterior motives.

He rubbed his face with his hands, trying to calm himself down. There were still a few hours to go until he could get out of here and take sanctuary in Ennis's arms, and he would just have to live with that. He grabbed the cell phone that he'd come in for and headed back out to his customer, knowing that Darren was watching him. For the rest of the day, he tried to keep himself at a distance, hoping not to disturb this very delicate balance right now. At any moment, Darren could decide enough was enough, and announce it to the entire store, maybe even over the loudspeaker. That would make him wish for the ground to open and swallow him whole.

Jack contemplated leaving the job, while he still could, but he didn't have any other options right now. He needed the money and didn't want to leave unless he was absolutely sure that it was for a good reason. He knew he had to talk to Ennis about this, and get his opinion on what to do. Ennis would know for sure, or at least he hoped so, because he didn't.

Ennis was worried about Jack; he'd left a message on his cell asking him to meet him at his place as soon as possible. So here he was, hurrying along the street to Jack's building, wondering what on earth had happened in the few hours since he'd last seen him.

Jack was pacing in his place. He'd been unable to focus on work after his encounter with Darren, and had begged off the rest of the afternoon, telling his boss that he was feeling unwell. Since he was a good worker, his boss had bought it and let him go. He needed to talk to Ennis soon.

He jumped when he heard a knock on the door. "Jack?" He rushed over and opened it up, relieved to see Ennis. "What's wrong?" he asked as Jack led the way inside.

Jack folded his arms. "Someone at work knows I'm positive." Ennis's eyes widened.

"Shit...are you alright?" he asked, coming closer. Jack shook his head.

"No, I'm panicking...what if he tells the others? Being gay is one thing, but...having this..." His breath was starting to come out in short gasps, his eyes wide and fearful. "What if I have to quit my job? And what if other people find out and I can't get another one? I'll run out of money...won't have insurance...and I need the meds..." He couldn't breathe, and Ennis walked up to him.

"Jack, calm down," he said, concern filling him up. "Come on...if you don't calm down you'll have a panic attack..." He felt Jack trembling and went into the kitchen, where he knew Jack kept some paper bags. He brought one back and held it to Jack's mouth. "Breathe into that, darlin'..." Ennis led Jack to the sofa and lay him down on his back, straddling him and looking down at him intently. "Breathe..."

Jack took several deep breaths, looking up into Ennis's calming face, the deep brown eyes full of concern for him. When he was calmer, he drew the bag away from his face. Ennis touched his cheeks. "You ready to tell me now?" Jack nodded.

"Yeah. It's this guy called Darren. He's been there longer than me. You know how I had to get some more meds today? Well, I didn't get chance to bring them home before I had to go back to I put them in my locker. The Videx dropped out and he saw it; must already know what it's for."

"Then what?" Ennis asked calmly, now rubbing Jack's stomach.

"He cornered me in the storeroom...told me he knew. Saying stuff about how it wasn't right; people being nice to me when I have this thing. Called me a goddamn queer. Said...that I didn't deserve to be out around clean people..." His head fell back to the arm and he closed his eyes. "Shit..."

"Is he gonna tell everybody?" Ennis asked. Jack shrugged.

"I don't think so, at least not yet. But the threat's there...what if he does? He he hated the girls fawning over me, even though they all know I'm not interested. Sure, I'm friendly with them, but we're all just friends."

Ennis nodded. "Sounds to me like he's jealous. Is he good-looking?"

"I guess...why?"

"Maybe...before you came along...the girls used to fawn over him, and now he's jealous. So now he has a way of getting back at you." He ran his hands through Jack's hair. "You see?"

"So what am I gonna do?" Jack asked, looking tired and worried. Ennis thought for a moment.

"'re not gonna panic, for one. This guy...he's just jealous and a bully. He's not worth worrying over. And don't worry about your job, or money. I've got money, and I'd be more than happy to cover things like the meds until you get another job."

"I don't wanna live off you, take advantage of you..." Jack sighed. "That's not right."

"I'd be happy to do it, darlin'. Let's just see where things go, alright? Don't worry just yet." He leaned down and brushed his nose against Jack's, looking into his eyes. "I'll take care of you, I swear..."

Jack gulped and could feel prickling in his eyes. Ennis saw it and lay down on top of him, covering him with his warmth. He nuzzled into Jack's neck and felt his trembling subside, calming down at last.

"I love you, Ennis...sure am glad I've got you on my side." Ennis kissed the side of his face.

"I'm always gonna be here for you, Jack," he promised. He then rose up and looked around the apartment. " want some dinner?"

"God, yeah," Jack replied, rubbing his face. "What's in the kitchen?"

"I'll find something," Ennis told him, kissing his cheek and getting up off the sofa. Jack sighed to himself and then looked over to his backpack, lying near the door where he'd dropped it as soon as he'd walked in and forgotten all about it. He got up and went into it, extracting the bag of medication boxes and heading into the bathroom to put them away.

Ennis found some tomato soup for them both, and put plenty of bread on the table; he figured that Jack would want something hot and simple after the afternoon he'd just had. Jack walked in, sniffing with interest and went straight into Ennis's arms, now smiling. "Thanks for taking care of me," he said softly, and Ennis kissed him.

"It's okay, bud. Just as long as you're not panicking anymore..."

"I'm fine," Jack reassured him. "Whatever Darren decides to do...I'll just have to deal with it."

"We will," Ennis corrected him gently, taking his hand and leading him to the table. Jack nodded and they sat down, looking forward to a hot meal.

"Yeah." They settled down to dinner, Jack eating ravenously. Ennis was pleased to see that he was alright now, and vowed to himself that no matter what Jack's co-worker might do, he would be right there by Jack's side to help him through it.

It was now Sunday evening, and the two of them were out at their favourite Chinese place. They didn't normally go out on a Sunday, but they were determined to have at least one date night a week.

The weekend had been uneventful. Jack had been a little on the quiet side and even though Ennis knew why, he wished that he could get Jack to stop worrying. It wouldn't do him any good; it sounded as though nothing could change Darren's mind if he decided to expose Jack's HIV status to their workmates. Ennis doubted that it would have any effect on Jack's ability to get another job.

Still, as he looked over at Jack, playing with his food distractedly, Ennis couldn't help but feel sorry for him, and he wanted nothing more than to wrap Jack up in his arms and tell him that everything would be alright. He'd done his best on Friday night, slowly making love to Jack and kissing everywhere he could reach. Jack was very responsive and seemed alright after that, but had spent yesterday and today in a funk, worrying about what might happen.

He sighed and covered Jack's hand with his own, making him jump a little. "Easy, alright?" Jack sighed and put his chopsticks down.

"No...can't stop thinking about what Darren might do. I'm gonna be so nervous around him and won't be able to concentrate; I'll probably get fired anyway."

"Jack..." Ennis said slowly, thinking. "Have you thought about quitting your job? Leaving on your terms before the shit hits the fan?"

Jack was silent as he thought this over. He had considered this, and Ennis was right; maybe it would be better for him to leave now, or soon, before Darren could do any damage. But he was concerned about money, and what might happen if he couldn't find another job soon. No matter how bored he was in the job and how scared he was of what might happen, the job and the money was stable and gave him security.

He sighed. "I don't know, bud. I've thought about it, but...I can't just up and leave; I need the money."

"I know, darlin'," Ennis replied, squeezing his hand. "The offer still stands, you support you if you do lose your job or leave. Whatever you need." Jack managed a small smile.

"Thanks...I appreciate it, but...I don't like living off people." Ennis nodded.

"So what are you gonna do if he tells people and they want you to leave?" he asked, running his thumb over Jack's knuckles. Jack considered.

"I'll just have to go. But...they might not. Just because he's got it in for me doesn't mean they all do. And I'm sure the others are smart enough to know that they're not gonna get infected by just being near me."

"Right. You have to..." Ennis paused; he'd been about to say, "You have to think positive," but a part of him thought that this was too close to home. He cleared his throat. "You have to stay upbeat, Jack. When you told me you were positive, and we spent time talking about it...I noticed how you didn't let it get you down. You were so full of life and always had a smile on your face. What happened, bud? I've never seen you this miserable..."

Jack lowered his eyes. "Guess I spent so long pushing it to the back of my mind all this is happening, everything's just spilling out all at once. I..." He looked up into Ennis's eyes. "I never went for therapy after the attack. Felt like I was weak for letting it happen. And...I ran away from New York, like a coward. I didn't have the guts to stay and work through it." Ennis took his other hand and looked into his eyes, heart yearning to make Jack feel better.

"Darlin''re not a coward. Lots of people run from things like this because the memories are just too painful. Besides, we're going back over Christmas...maybe while we're there, we could try something. Like a walk in the park, together." Jack was nodding. "And I'd be right there with you, showing you that...there's nothing to be afraid of. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time; that won't happen again."

"Okay," Jack managed, holding onto Ennis's hands tightly. "I'd feel safe if you were there."

"And maybe you should think about therapy," Ennis continued in a soft voice. "Talk about what happened, and how it makes you feel. I think it'd do you good."

"Would you come with me?" Jack asked, looking hopeful. "If I decide to do it...would you?"

Ennis gazed into his eyes, thinking. He'd never been particularly good at talking about feelings; it just seemed to come naturally when he was with Jack. But if sitting in on the therapy sessions would help, he was all for it.

"Alright," he replied, seeing Jack smile. "Yeah, if it'll help...I'll come along. When do you want to go?"

"Can we get Christmas and New Year's out of the way first? We've got that trip coming up." Ennis nodded and released his hands, pleased to note that Jack had some of his usual spirit back, and was eating properly now. He sighed in relief and returned to his own food, hoping that nothing bad was about to happen. He loved Jack so much and only wanted him to be happy and healthy.

After dinner, they went back to Jack's place and sat in front of the TV for a while with glasses of wine, Jack's head resting on Ennis's shoulder and body curled up against him. They then retired to the bedroom, where Jack lay on top of Ennis and slowly thrust into him, searching for reassurance which Ennis tried to give, moving beneath him and letting Jack take whatever he needed. When it was over, they smiled at each other and Jack burrowed into his arms, closing his eyes. Ennis followed a little later, thinking about tomorrow and what it might bring.