Chapter 26

February 14th, 2010

It was finally Valentine's, and Ennis and Jack were approaching the restaurant in the city where they had agreed to have dinner. Their presents for each other were in their pockets, both of them feeling a little nervous about swapping them.

The past week had been a blur. Ever since Daniel Waters had been sent down it was as though life had slowed for them. They had gone to the Knicks game with Jack's father the week before and had gone to a Rangers game yesterday. Jack liked spending time with his father and bonding with him as much as he could while he had the chance. To his relief, his father had welcomed Ennis along and treated him like an equal, which he was very thankful for.

Back home, Lureen was still seeing the guy from their building and Alma had been asked out by a man who lived in her building, which made Ennis relieved because she hadn't been out with anyone since they'd split up. At least now he didn't have to feel so guilty about having moved on since their breakup.

Speaking of Alma, she and Jack had spoken about his concerns when it came to showing Ennis affection in front of her. She had done her best to reassure him that it was fine, and that she was happy for them both. It certainly helped that she was seeing someone now; at least she wouldn't be feeling left out anymore.

The pair of them entered the restaurant and looked around, Jack letting out a low whistle. "Nice...the pictures on the website didn't do it justice..." Ennis nodded and they were greeted by the maƮtre d', who showed them to a table in the corner, a little way apart from the rest of the tables. He seemed to guess that they didn't want any attention, being two guys here on this particular night.

He handed them both a menu once they were seated and left them to return to his post. "What do you want?" Ennis asked, looking over the list. The food all sounded delicious and the prices weren't too high; perfectly affordable for people of average income like themselves. He and Jack were making good money, but were by no means rich. Ennis knew how important it was for Jack to have money at his disposal, considering all the things he would need it for.

"Don't all looks great..." After a few more minutes of deliberating, he settled on the full steak dinner with all the trimmings, and Ennis opted for the same. The waiter took their order and they decided to have wine with their meal; they'd taken a cab here so that neither of them would have to drive after consuming alcohol.

As they waited for their food, they took in their surroundings. The restaurant was quite an upscale place despite its low prices, and it was decorated in red and dark pink decorations all over, including small hearts here and there. Their table had a tall red candle in the middle, and it was very romantic. Jack smiled and looked at Ennis. "I like this place."

"Yeah, me too. You, wanna swap presents?" he asked nervously, and Jack nodded. Ennis extracted the wrapped key ring he'd had made special for Jack, hoping he would like it. Jack handed him the small book full of love coupons, hoping that it wasn't too cheesy. "Here you go, Jack..."

Jack smiled as he revealed the key ring. On one side was a picture of himself and Ennis that Lureen had taken for them in the hallway a few weeks after they'd gotten together. Both of them had the picture in their apartments, but now he could carry it with him. On the other side was a white background with three words in black curly lettering; I love you.

"Aw, I love it. Thanks, baby," he said, kissing Ennis's cheek. "Here..."

Ennis flicked through the book, smiling as he read through the coupons. One was for a bubble bath made for two, plenty were for kisses, a movie night, a picnic, a massage...there were so many things that he could redeem them for, and he had to admit that he loved it.

"Jack...this is..."

"Not too cheesy, is it?" Jack asked, looking at him warily. Ennis shook his head and kissed him warmly, sliding one hand around the back of Jack's neck.

"No, it's not. This is great. Maybe...we can use some of them tonight. Like the bubble bath, or..."

"The one with twenty-five kisses?" Jack finished for him, eyes sparkling. "Can I kiss you all over?" Ennis shrugged and nodded.

"Yeah, I guess. Thanks, darlin'." The food arrived and they reluctantly pulled away so they could eat. Everything was delicious and well worth the money, and they had decided beforehand to pay half each, so that it was fair. Throughout the meal, Ennis thought about the coupon book he'd been given, and couldn't get over what a romantic gesture it was. It wasn't too girly, like flowers and chocolates, but it was perfect and still allowed Jack to show him how much he loved him.

When they were finally done, they slowly made their way outside and Jack called them a cab, sitting down on the wall outside to wait. Ennis sat beside him and pulled him close, leaning in for a kiss. Jack met his lips eagerly, sliding his tongue against Ennis's and running his hand through his lover's curls.

"Love you," he murmured when they broke apart, nuzzling their noses together. Ennis smiled, looking relaxed and happy.

"I love you too...first time in my life that I've ever enjoyed this day. It's been really special, Jack..."

"Sure has. Never thought I'd be as happy as I am with you...wanna use some of those coupons when we get back?"

"You bet," Ennis replied, thinking of all the possibilities the little book held. The rest of the night looked like it would continue to be very romantic.

They got back to the house around nine, offering a hurried goodnight to Jack's parents before heading upstairs, like a pair of teenagers instead of men approaching thirty. With the door safely locked behind them, the two of them came into each other's arms and kissed, immediately finding each other's tongues.

" wanna?" Jack murmured, starting to kiss Ennis's neck.

"Uh huh..." Their jackets were shed and Ennis pulled out the coupon book. "Um..."

"What do you want first?" Jack asked, lying down on the bed with a seductive gleam in his eye. "Anything you want."

Ennis flicked through the book and spied a coupon for twenty-five kisses. Thinking it was a good place to start, he ripped it out and handed it to Jack, who nodded.

"Alright. Come on over here..." Ennis sat down on the bed and Jack started to kiss him, first on the lips and then slowly travelling his body, pulling Ennis's shirt out of his jeans and kissing his stomach. Twenty-five kisses were planted on Ennis's body and Jack didn't waste a single one of them. "What next, baby?"

"Um..." Ennis flicked through the book once more and paused. One of them said, a night of slow, romantic lovemaking with someone you love. "This one." Jack looked at it and smiled, the seriousness of the moment seeping into his heart as he realised what Ennis wanted.

"Are you sure?" he whispered, stroking his lover's face.

"Yeah..." Jack nodded again and they slowly undressed, pausing now and then to kiss or just to look at each other. Jack then grabbed a condom and the lube and settled between Ennis's legs, gazing at him lovingly as he prepared himself.

"Just relax, know I won't hurt you..." Ennis nodded and allowed Jack to penetrate him, trying not to gasp out loud at the feeling of being taken. Even though he'd bottomed many times during their relationship, he would never quite get used to that initial pain. But he knew it was well worth those few moments; the rest of the time he would be feeling nothing but bliss.

Jack soon pushed all the way in and settled himself, knees braced on the bed and leaning on his elbows on either side of Ennis. "You ready?" At Ennis's nod and the slight squeeze he gave with his legs, Jack began to move inside him, slowly thrusting and keeping his eyes fixed on Ennis's face. He loved these moments; when they made love face to face they could each see how the other was feeling and the pure pleasure of what they were doing. Jack especially loved it when he was on top and he could see Ennis's look of sheer bliss; it moved him to know that he could make another human being feel like this. It let him know that no matter what else, he was doing something right in his life. He knew he made Ennis happy; he'd been told so often enough by the man himself.

They rocked together slowly, Ennis raising his hips in time to meet Jack's thrusts and softly moaning. Jack leaned down to kiss him, tongue sliding in smoothly and drawing Ennis's out. He felt Ennis's legs around his waist squeeze him harder and knew the signs; Ennis was getting close. He thrust a little faster and moved his mouth down to his lover's neck, determined to leave his mark and let the world know that Ennis was his; the man who made him happy and the one he wanted to be with for the rest of his life.

"Jack..." Ennis choked out, breathing heavily. "Close..."

"I know...come on, baby...come on..." Knowing that it would push Ennis over the edge, Jack moved one hand down Ennis's stomach to take him in hand, stroking him in time to his thrusts and hearing his moans get louder. "Come for me, baby..."

That did it. Ennis groaned in Jack's ear and shot between them, muscles clamping and squeezing. Jack soon followed him into orgasm and then collapsed onto him, panting heavily. "Are you okay?"

" that coupon thing..." Ennis felt Jack laughing against him. "Where'd you get it, anyway?"

"It was this print off the pages of coupons and then just cut out the ones you want. I started on it a couple weeks back, when we first talked about Valentine's." He rose up off Ennis's chest and smiled down at him. "I'm glad you like it. There's twenty coupons in all, and you've used two. Plenty more for us to use..." He nuzzled their noses together, drawing a smile from Ennis. "You want anything else?"

"Not from the book tonight. Kinda tired now. But...can we for a while? Remember how when we got together, we used to stay up for hours just talking? Especially after having sex?"

"Sure, I remember. Kind of stopped doing that, didn't we? Real life got in the way...but I'd love to." Jack climbed off him and removed the rubber, tying it and placing it on the nightstand. He knew he would have to dispose of it in a few hours before they left; their flight home was very early since they had work at nine and they could only get a few hours of sleep. They could only really sleep for about an hour anyway here, so it didn't feel worth it. Jack was sure they could sleep on the plane, but he wasn't looking forward to work for once. He didn't know if he would be able to get it up while so tired and jetlagged, but neither of them had been able to get the day off and they'd wanted to spend Valentine's in New York. As a result, they would have to get to work just a few hours after arriving home.

The two of them talked for the next few hours, reminiscing about the early days of their relationship and noting how far they had come since then. By the time they were on the plane at two in the morning, they felt closer than they ever had done before.

Two days later, they were back home on the West Coast, and life was continuing as normal. Lureen introduced her new boyfriend to the other three, and Alma's relationship with her new friend was picking up quickly. Both Ennis and Jack were glad to see her happy, both for different reasons and the same reasons.

Ennis and Jack's relationship was as strong as ever. They saw every new day together as an achievement, not least because of Jack's condition. Jack had often said how having the virus meant that tomorrow was no guarantee, so they had to live life to the full as much as possible. He and Ennis told each other at least once a day that they loved each other, and they were never in any doubt of their feelings.

However, there was still a black spot on their lives. Ennis still hadn't seen his parents since the disastrous dinner back in October, and didn't speak to his mother on the phone often. He had put his foot down and was adamant that he wouldn't set foot back in the house until they apologised to Jack and were willing to accept the relationship. While Jack didn't like that Ennis was on the outs with his parents because of him, he was touched that Ennis was willing to defend him, and them as a couple.

He was thinking about this as he waited for Ennis in the coffee place at lunch, sipping a cappuccino and scrolling through his phone, deleting old messages. There were still some from before he'd moved here, and he was happy to delete traces of how miserable he'd been before he'd met Ennis. He had so much to look forward to now, and he fully intended to put all of his efforts into their future together.

"Hey," said Lureen, tapping his shoulder. "You guys want something for lunch when he gets here?" Jack shook himself from his reverie and nodded.

"Uh, sure...maybe a couple of toasted sandwiches or something."

"Okay, cheese or ham? Or both?" she asked, noting it down in her pad. Jack shrugged.

"Both." Just as she was walking away, he saw Ennis entering the building, looking at his own phone with an unreadable expression on his face. He sat down opposite Jack and sighed, clearly a million miles away, and then looked up wearily.

"Hey, bud."

"Hey yourself," Jack replied, leaning over for a kiss. "What's with the face? Something happen at work?"

" mom called when I was walking over here..." He looked at his phone once more, barely noticing when Lureen poured him some coffee. "Uh, thanks." She nodded and left them to it, knowing that whatever might be wrong, Jack would be the one to get it out of him. Jack certainly had a knack for drawing Ennis out; quite a feat considering how closed-up he could be. It was just one of the many reasons why they were a perfect match.

"So...what's wrong?" Jack asked, placing his hand gently over Ennis's. "What did she say?"

"Nothing she hasn't said before...same stuff about wanting to see me. I don't know if she really is sorry about what they said, or if she's just saying it so that I'll talk to her." He shrugged. "Don't really know what to do."

Jack thought for a few moments, during which Lureen brought over their sandwiches. The pair of them tucked in and ate in silence, Ennis clearly thinking over what his mother had said.

"I don't know, mom...I told myself I wouldn't come back up there until I was sure you're both sorry for what you said about Jack. I can't risk that happening again; things are going really well for us now...I don't wanna wreck it."

"Ennis...please consider coming up here sometime. It's true that we're not...completely okay with you seeing Jack, but...if he means this much to you...we might be able to get used to it. You just have to give us a chance."

Ennis bit his lip and he paused outside the coffeehouse, knowing Jack would be waiting for him in there. "I need to think about it, okay? And I need to talk to Jack."

"Alright, honey. Let me know how it goes..." He clicked off and entered the building, staring at his phone.

Now, as he ate the food with Jack sat opposite the table, Ennis wondered what to do. If he was honest with himself, he wanted to see his mother. But no matter how much he missed her, he still couldn't quite forgive what she and his father had said. They might never accept his relationship with Jack, the one thing he would never give up for anyone, and it hurt him. Jack saw the look in his eyes and leaned over.

"'ll be okay. I promise..." he said gently, hoping to reassure his worried lover. He didn't like it when one of them worried.

"How do you know?" Ennis asked, feeling hopeless. "What if I just can't bear to look at them ever again because of how small-minded they are?"

Jack shrugged. "That might not happen. Look...when my dad told me he has cancer and I didn't know what to do, you said I'd do the right thing for me. Same for the trial when I had to testify. Now I'm saying the same to you. You'll do the right thing for you, and I'll support you no matter what. Alright? You were there for me, and now it's my turn." He smiled a little and took Ennis's hand, squeezing his fingers.

Ennis couldn't help but smile back, not when Jack was being so sweet to him. He nodded and squeezed back. "Thanks, darlin'." They continued to eat until they were done, and then Jack moved over to sit next to Ennis, settling under his arm and leaning in. The two of them slowly kissed, lost in their own little world away from everything else. This was what they lived for, and nothing else mattered as long as they had each other.

That evening, the two of them had dinner at Jack's place and then sat together on the sofa, drinking wine and watching TV. Jack was resting his head against Ennis's shoulder and felt relaxed, but he knew that Ennis's mind was elsewhere after that phone call.

Jack wasn't really angry about what Ennis's parents had said anymore; he kind of understood why they had reacted that way. They were just concerned for their son and his wellbeing, and Jack could admit that he might feel the same if it were his son. Still, he could sense how hurt Ennis had been by it, especially the suggestion that they break up so Ennis could find someone who wouldn't be a risk. And it was understandable that he was hesitant to go back up there, unwilling to put them both through that again.

He sighed a little and put his glass down, turning to Ennis. "Come on, to me. What's going on in there?" He tapped Ennis's head gently. "Tell me..."

Ennis looked at him and nodded in resignation. He could never keep things from Jack for long. "Thinking about my parents...wondering what to do."

"I know," Jack said quietly, rubbing his arm. "I don't really know what to tell you, bud. If we go up there, the same thing might happen again. I know you don't want that...for either of us. But I can tell that this is weighing on your wanna see them again, don't you?"

"Yeah," Ennis admitted, staring into his wine. "I do, but...I can't go through all that again, and I don't want you going through it again either." He looked up at Jack, face full of raw emotion that told Jack just how much Ennis loved him. "All I ever wanted...ever since we got together...was for you to be happy, and safe. Don't want you being hurt again..."

Jack smiled a little and leaned in, head against Ennis's chest and wrapping an arm over his stomach. "'s okay. I can handle what they say to me...I'm a big boy."

In different circumstances, Ennis would have made some joke about that comment, but he was too distracted and tired. "I know, darlin'...but I can't help it. After everything you've been through...I just wanna protect you. Wanna keep you safe..." He wrapped his arm around Jack and pulled him closer. "Can't ever lose you..."

"You won't," Jack promised him. He knew that Ennis's greatest fear was losing him, either by him dying or them having to break up for whatever reason. All he could do was reassure Ennis that it would never happen, and the more he did so, the more he started to believe it himself. "I promise, won't lose me."

He rose up and gently kissed his lover, drawing his tongue out and hearing a soft moan. Without speaking, and staring into each other's eyes, they got up and headed for the bedroom, Jack switching off the TV. It was quite a strange phenomenon; whenever their passion and love for each other grabbed them, there was no force on earth that could stop them from showing each other how they felt.

Jack led Ennis into the bedroom, shutting the door and gently pushing him down onto the bed, kissing him softly. He coaxed his lover to lie back as he lovingly undressed him, smiling warmly at him. When they were both naked, they crawled up the bed and got under the covers, kissing dizzily and hands roaming.

"How you want it?" Jack murmured, kissing Ennis's neck. Ennis had to bite back a whimper at the feeling of Jack's lips on his skin.

"Wanna be inside you," he breathed, cupping Jack's ass with his hands. "I...I wanna...feel you there..."

"Sure," Jack replied, understanding the comfort and reassurance that Ennis was trying to find from him. He'd learned that there was no better way of reassuring each other; this ultimate act of love could work wonders on both of them.

He rolled onto his back and pulled Ennis to lie on top of him, hands buried in his curls which were starting to darken with sweat. "Come on..." Ennis grabbed the lube and a pair of rubbers, quickly preparing them both, tongue still lost in Jack's mouth as his desire grew. He pushed Jack's legs up to rest over his shoulders and gazed down at him, eyes hazy with lust. Jack nodded and settled into position, hands grabbing fistfuls of the sheets to brace himself.

Ennis slowly pushed into him, hearing the soft gasp as he penetrated Jack's body. When he was fully inside, he saw Jack open his eyes and look up at him, eyes full of trust and love. Ennis opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it again; he realised that no words were needed right now. They could tell each other how they were feeling without verbally expressing it.

They made love for what felt like several blissful days, savouring every moment and using all of their senses to experience it. Jack strained for the finish line, feeling himself lift his hips even higher to meet his lover's thrusts.

Ennis took hold of him with his free hand and started to jerk him off, eliciting a low moan from Jack. He thrust a little quicker and buried his face in Jack's neck, sucking and kissing a particular spot. Jack groaned as he came, hot and hard into the rubber and wishing, not for the first time, that Ennis could swallow it down and taste him. That was one thing that they would never be able to do.

Still, he lay panting as Ennis finished and collapsed onto him, head spinning from the encounter. "Damn," he breathed, the first word spoken in what felt like hours. "God, I love you..."

"I love you too," Ennis murmured, nuzzling Jack's neck and sighing in contentment. "Thanks, darlin'..."

Jack lifted his legs away from Ennis's shoulders and relaxed, wrapping his arms around his lover. "No problem, baby."

February 18th, 2010

As luck would have it, both Ennis and Jack finished work early on Thursday, so they decided to spend the extra time outside before retiring to Ennis's place for dinner. The two of them walked through the park hand in hand, enjoying the warm spring weather and the quiet all around them. As they walked, both of them were doing a lot of thinking.

Jack was reflecting on everything that had happened between them lately, and all the good times they were having. He felt ready for Ennis to be his partner, and for them to have a real life together. Even though they couldn't get legally married, thanks to Proposition 8, he knew that they would still have some rights as a cohabiting couple, and he was eager for them to make the most of it. He ultimately decided to ask Ennis formally to move in with him, and made up his mind that he would do it tomorrow. Jack couldn't wait for them to live together; despite the fact that they were always together, this would make it official, and he knew it would make them both very happy. It was something that they both wanted.

Ennis, meanwhile, had decided that he was willing to go and see his parents up in Mill Valley, but only if they both apologised directly to Jack, even if it was over the phone. He wanted them to understand that their words back in October had hurt both himself and Jack, and that it didn't matter in the end if they were accepted. He knew he loved Jack and that they would be moving in soon; it would hurt if his parents never spoke to him again for this, but at least he would have Jack. That was the most important thing right now.

The two of them sat down on their usual bench and settled back, still holding hands and observing the scenery around them.

"Sure is nice right now," Jack noted. There was blossom on the trees again and they could hear birds chirping.

"Yeah," agreed Ennis. He looked at the beauty of the scene around him, and then looked at Jack. There was no comparison; Jack was more beautiful. He smiled and leaned over, kissing Jack on the cheek.

"What was that for?" asked Jack, sounding amused. Ennis shrugged.

"Don't know...just felt like doing it. I're more beautiful than all this..." He blushed at his own words, but Jack grinned and kissed him warmly on the mouth.

"Aw, sure are cute when you blush..."

"Shut up, Jack," he replied, going even redder. Jack laughed and leaned against him, closing his eyes. Ennis kissed the top of his head. "You ready to head back and get some dinner?"

"Yeah, you bet." They both stood up and started walking towards Ennis's apartment, Jack hoping that it would be for one of the last times. He would definitely ask Ennis tomorrow to move in with him, formally and for real. Maybe he would cook him a romantic meal with candles and everything to make it seem like more of a proposal. Jack figured that that was what it was, or at least as close as they could get to one.

They entered the apartment and Ennis sat Jack down on the sofa, kissing him lightly. "I'll take care of dinner, darlin'. You make yourself at home." Jack smiled at the sweet gesture and took off his sneakers, stretching and pulling out his cell phone. There was a message from his mom about the coming weekend, and one from Lureen suggesting that the four of them meet up for dinner sometime.

Soon enough, the smell of cooking chicken filled the air, and Jack sniffed with interest. Ennis was a very good cook; he couldn't deny that. He wasn't too bad in the kitchen, but Ennis was far better. Jack looked forward to their coming life together.

He got up and entered the kitchen, stopping in the doorway and leaning against the frame, smiling to himself. Ennis was so focused on his task, and Jack loved how he put so much effort into everything he did, like he truly cared. Jack knew deep down that Ennis liked cooking for him; delicious healthy meals that would do him good, and he appreciated it very much.

"Something smells good in here," he commented, smiling further when Ennis looked at him.

"Thanks, potatoes and gravy to go with it...know you like this kind of thing..."

"I sure do," Jack replied, coming into the kitchen to stand near him. "Good comfort food on a chilly day." He kissed Ennis's cheek and went into the fridge for the orange juice, pouring two tall glasses and setting them on the table. The smell coming from the oven was making his mouth water.

The pair of them sat down to dinner and started to talk about their day. This was one thing that they were both looking forward to from their life together; to come home and see each other and have dinner together, talking about what they'd done that day. It would be very domesticated, and Jack knew that he needed that stability. His life had been pretty erratic over the five years before he'd met Ennis, and he was looking forward to settling down with the man he loved.

"Good chicken," he commented to Ennis, covering up his silence. Ennis smiled at him shyly, pleased with the praise.

"Thanks, darlin'," he replied, reaching out his foot to touch Jack's. They played footsie for a few moments and then continued to eat, looking forward to what they would be doing later that night.

When they went to bed that night, curled up around each other after some satisfying lovemaking, both of them felt a sense of inner peace and tranquillity, like all was right with the world.

Neither of them were yet aware of the harsh challenge that awaited them; something that would truly test the strength of their relationship.