Chapter 26

The day after, Jack was hanging up the phone in the kitchen with a heavy heart. Jason Marcus was still missing, and nobody had any idea where he might be. The kids were keeping their ears peeled for any kind of news as to where he might be, but they had heard nothing yet. Not even his wife and daughter seemed to know where he might be.

In a few days, their week would be up and they would have to make a decision whether to stay or to go, and Jack couldn't shake off the feeling that they had lost this battle; it was very likely that they would have to leave. He felt like all of their hard work had been for nothing and now they would have to start over. At least his relationship with Ennis was solid; that gave him hope that things would work out in the end.

Ennis entered the kitchen and saw the look on his face. "No luck?"

Jack shook his head. "No, nothin'. They can't find him anywhere an' they can't find nothin' in the trees. Not even a scrap of shirt that mighta come off..." He shook his head, unaware of the impact of his words.

Ennis blinked at him and was hit by a sudden realisation; something that would make Jack believe once and for all that they would be okay. "Jesus..." he breathed, his mind whirring with thoughts and memories.

"What?" Jack asked, looking at him.

"I just had one of them things...where you realise somethin'...what's it called?"

" epiphany?" Jack replied, remembering Katie using the word a while ago. Ennis nodded and grinned, taking his hand. Jack had never seen him like this and he wondered what was going on.

"That's it...come on..." He started pulling Jack through the house to the stairs.

"What's goin' on?" Jack asked as he was pulled along the hallway to their bedroom. "Ennis, what is it?" At first he'd thought that Ennis was just trying to get into his pants, which wasn't unwelcome, but now he wasn't so sure that that was it. When Ennis wanted him, he made sure that Jack knew through kisses and fondles. Not to mention the look of pure lust in his eyes.

"You'll see." Ennis led him into the room and shut the door, facing him. "Look...I keep tellin' you that everythin's gonna be okay, an' you don't really believe me, do ya?"

Jack shrugged. "I wanna, but...I dunno."

"I know, bud. But...I think this is gonna help." He turned and took the entwined shirts from the back of the door, holding them carefully. "See?"

"What about 'em?" Jack asked, looking confused.

"Think 'bout it, Jack. You had these in yer closet for what? Twelve years? You took it, thinkin' that we might never see each other again. Yer mama said she saw you in yer room after Brokeback, holdin' 'em an' missin' me. An' when you came to Riverton in ' wanted us to live together an' you thought it might never happen."

"Right," Jack replied, remembering how miserable he'd been to realise that Ennis wasn't going anywhere. "Never thought we'd be more than fishin' buddies..."

Ennis nodded. "I know. The thing kept these shirts in yer closet all that time, hopin' that one day...I'd say yes. You never gave up on me, kept comin' back even though I hurt you."

"I kept comin' back 'cos I love you," Jack told him, stepping forward. "You know that..."

"I do now. An'...look at us now, Jack. We're together, for real. Got a family, a home, a business...everythin' we ever wanted, an' the person we only ever wanted it with." He looked at Jack, who couldn't help but smile.

"Yeah, that's true. Got a lot goin' for us, even with that bastard snoopin' around."

"Exactly. An' when you talked about shirts just now, I remembered these. This proves that no matter what...we can survive what life throws at us. Twelve years, Jack...these were together for all that time even though we was goin' through hell with wantin' to be together. Even when we was a thousand miles apart, they were together in yer closet. You see what I'm talkin' 'bout?" he asked, hoping that Jack understood.

Jack nodded, smiling wider. "I think I do...that it don't matter what he does to us. We're always gonna be together somehow."

"Right. An'...this is just a house, Jack. Just a bit of land. It could get burned to the ground an' wouldn't matter," Ennis continued. He didn't talk much, even these days, but when he did get going he could be quite inspiring. "We'd still have each other, an' the kids. That means more than a buildin'. We'd start over, 'cos we love each other." His speech finished, Ennis swallowed. "What d'you think?"

They looked at each other, and Jack remembered exactly why he loved this man so much. He didn't do much talking, and he still struggled with talking about feelings. But Jack thought that it made moments like this even more precious; when Ennis did talk about these things, Jack knew that every word came from the heart.

"I think that's one of the best things I've ever heard, cowboy," he replied, stepping closer and sliding his arms around Ennis's waist, a heartfelt smile on his face. "An' yer right...we can't let people like him take away what we've got. We gotta at least try an' fight for it, no matter what. But even if it is taken away...we'll be alright. We got each other." He rose up and kissed Ennis firmly on the mouth, thankful for the wonderful reassuring words he had just heard.

Ennis wrapped his arms around Jack, pleased with himself for being able to get through what he'd been thinking and that he'd managed to make sense. He loved Jack with all his heart and just wanted to make him happy; that was all he'd ever wanted. They couldn't back down in fear now; they had a future to strive for.

While Ennis and Jack were trying to find some reassurance that everything would be okay, their children were at school trying to ignore further stares and whispers. Somebody had found out that Jack had nearly been shot and it had spread like wildfire; people were wondering who had done it and where they were now.

Bobby found it especially hard to deal with, because he was still terrified by the thought of someone trying to kill his dad. He could remember Jack taking him to identify his mother's body after the accident, and the nightmares he'd had for a while afterwards. While he was coming to regard Ennis as a second father and was starting to love him as such, he didn't know if he could cope with losing Jack after the last few months.

Junior and Jenny tried to keep Bobby away from the whispers, knowing that it was harder for him, but it wasn't easy when the whispers and stares followed them everywhere they went. The three of them wondered if they might be moving soon; they knew that their fathers had agreed to wait it out only a few more days before deciding.

"Think we will?" Jenny asked as they ate their lunch in the corner of the cafeteria. People gave them a wide berth these days, while still being very obvious about staring at them. "Think we're gonna move?"

"Dunno," answered Junior, chewing her sandwich. Their fathers always prepared great lunches for them and they knew how much they were cared for. "I know both of 'em are gettin' worried about what's gonna happen." She knew that Ennis was worried that Jack was the one being targeted, but she said nothing with Bobby so close. "Only got a few more days before they gotta decide."

"I think we will," Bobby said, looking downcast. "That guy's still doin' stuff an' they can't find him. Ain't safe for us here..." None of them truly wanted to leave; even with what was happening they still liked it here.

"Yeah..." The three of them fell silent, each thinking of the situation and wondering if some miracle would happen before their time was up. They knew one thing; even though Jason Marcus had done some terrible things to them in the past few weeks, it didn't seem to be affecting their fathers' relationship. Junior could remember hearing her mother and father arguing all the time when she was younger; they had even done it in front of her and Jenny one time. She remembered her father swearing at her mother and sometimes couldn't believe that the same man was so different now.

It made sense, of course; he was missing Jack and feeling miserable about being tied to a woman he didn't truly love, and was feeling angry about the whole thing because he'd thought there was no way out. Now he was a lot happier, and it showed. He and Jack were very affectionate with each other, and it reassured her that their love was strong and would protect all of them. Their fathers would do anything to keep them all safe.

"Look," said Jenny in a quiet voice, and the other two looked around to see Jessica Marcus sat with her friends and looking miserable. They were talking and laughing, but it was as if she wasn't even aware of their presence. "Glad to see she ain't gloatin'."

"Wonder if she knows what her dad tried to do?" Junior mused, and then glanced at Bobby. "Sorry..."

"It's okay," he replied, shaking his head. "At least he didn't do it." They continued to watch her, observing that she was doing a lot of thinking. Junior wondered what was going on in her head; her father was missing and now wanted for murder. She would feel sorry for her if it wasn't her family being targeted. As it was, she was actually glad to see that bully suffering.

"Hope they catch him," she said, turning back to her food. "Bet she won't be daddy's little girl then," she added waspishly. Jenny grinned at her and Bobby laughed, the tension of the moment passing.

"'s yer tutor, Bobby?" Jenny asked, steering the conversation to more pleasant subjects and trying to lighten the mood. Bobby nodded.

"She's great. She heard 'bout our dads livin' together an' she seemed okay with it. Said that they was both nice to her when she met 'em, an' we never talk 'bout it anyway. She said it ain't her business." He shrugged and smiled a little. His tutor hadn't seemed fazed at all when he'd confirmed that the rumours were true; she actually appeared happy for them.

"Wish everybody could be like that," Junior muttered, seeing that a few girls were looking at them. "Can't they just butt out?" She knew what her father would say; that while his relationship with Jack was nobody's business but theirs, other people would make it their business because that was what they do. Ennis and Jack had always given their children advice, especially after recent events.

"I know...but if we do move, we can start over where nobody knows us," Jenny told her optimistically. Junior nodded, but a part of her didn't want to leave; she wanted them to stand and fight their corner. It seemed like a good thing to do, but she knew that their fathers had to think of their safety. Even if it meant running away, they had to keep the danger away as much as possible.

As they finished their lunch, they saw Jessica stand up and glance their way. She said nothing; simply followed her friends out of the cafeteria. They looked at each other, once again wondering what was going on in her mind. Jack had told them that there were people in this world that they would simply never understand, not even as adults. Some people just seemed to live to cause trouble, but could never take the heat when it backfired. They were discovering that for themselves right now.

October 3rd, 1975

On Friday, Ennis found himself thinking about two very important events coming up. Jack's birthday would be on the 12th, and Junior's on the 15th. He was looking forward to spending both days with both people for the first time, and wondered what he would buy them. They still had plenty of money even though they weren't yet making any, but he didn't like spending too much after the financial hardships he'd had in his life. He and Jack had both grown up poor and were now teaching the kids the value of money.

While Jack was in the office paying bills and the kids were at school, he went into the kitchen and picked up the phone, hoping that the right person would answer.

"Twist Ranch," came the pleasant female voice he'd hoped for, and he smiled.

"Howdy, ma'am. It's Ennis."

"Ennis!" said Rose, clearly happy to hear from him. "How are you, honey? Everythin' okay? Jack told me about that man tryin' to shoot is he?"

"He's just fine, ma'am. We're talkin' 'bout movin' soon, before it gets too bad."

"That's a had high hopes for that place. But if it keeps you safe, that's more important."

"Sure is. Anyway, I wanted to ask you somethin'. You know Jack's birthday's comin' up."

"I sure do. My baby's gonna be thirty-two," she replied, sounding proud that her son was a strong adult now. "He's just grown up so fast..."

"They do, ma'am. Junior's gonna be eleven on the fifteenth."

"A double celebration!" she exclaimed. "Well, you gotta be thankful for that. So what did you wanna ask me?"

"Well, me an' Jack ain't never celebrated birthdays together until last month, an' I was wonderin' what to get him. He got me some boots from this Western place in town..."

"Hmm, know Jack loves his rodeo stuff, even if he don't do it no more."

"Yeah..." Ennis tried not to let his mind wander to his birthday night, when he and Jack had played rodeo. "I know he maybe somethin' that reminds him of that?"

"I think that'll do just fine. He's very lucky to have you, Ennis. I know it wasn't always easy, an' people got hurt for it, but I'm glad it all worked out. An' if you do decide to leave...don't be strangers, okay? Come an' visit whenever you want."

"We will, ma'am," he replied, feeling a little bit like he had a mother in his life again. He knew that Rose thought of him as a son-in-law, and he couldn't remember Alma's parents being so welcoming. He truly was better off with Jack.

"Okay, I best be goin'. Give my love to Jack an' the kids," Rose told him. "Bye, Ennis.

"Bye, ma'am." He hung up and smiled a little, and then felt the urge to go and find Jack. He wanted to be near his partner right now.

He found Jack still in the office, completely distracted by what he was doing. Ennis smiled to himself and leaned against the doorframe. "Hey, bud."

Jack looked up and his face lit up at the sight of him. He grinned and his eyes practically shone. Ennis liked the feeling of walking into a room and knowing that somebody would be happy to see him. "Hey yourself. Where've you been?"

"On the phone with yer ma, askin' her what I could get you for yer birthday," he replied, walking over to the desk and shuffling his feet. "Talked to her for a minute..."

"She's really somethin' ain't she?" Jack replied, sitting back in the chair. "Come 'round here..." Ennis did so and he leaned against the desk near Jack, feeling a little shy. "No...come here," Jack said again, pushing the chair out a little and patting his thighs. Ennis raised his eyebrows.

"You kiddin'? That chair ain't gonna take both of us." Jack shrugged.

"Worth the risk..." They looked at each other, thinking of just how well those three words applied to them right now, and Ennis nodded. He gingerly sat on Jack's lap, feeling very unsure of himself. Jack was usually the one who did this, but he had to admit he felt comfortable. Jack slid his arms around Ennis's waist and kissed him on the cheek. "There...ain't this good?"

"Sure is," Ennis replied, cheeks reddening as he held onto Jack. "Never done this before..."

"I's usually you holdin' me." He looked into Ennis's eyes. "You ain't the only one who can look after people. I can do it too."

Ennis nodded and rested his forehead against Jack's. He knew it in his heart, but he would never stop wanting to protect Jack from the people that would hurt him. It was just in his nature to look after the people he loved.

"I know you can, darlin'. Can't help it, though..."

Jack squeezed him. "It's okay...I appreciate that you just do it 'cos you love me, an' the kids.'s gotta be hard, havin' all that on yer shoulders. I just want you to know that it's alright to let me do it too, okay?" Ennis pulled back and smiled at him.

"Okay, bud." They kissed and then he sighed. "Well...better make a start on them presents. Reckon I gotta go into town."

Jack bit his lip. "You sure it's safe to go on yer own? I mean...we think he's after me, but..." He hated to think that they were wrong; that Ennis was the one Jason was after or that he was just going for the first one he could. Neither of them were safe.

"I'll be fine," Ennis reassured him with another kiss. "Just...stay in the house 'til I get back, okay?" Jack nodded and let him go, trying to ignore the bad feeling stirring up inside him. He didn't know for sure what might happen, but he didn't like being away from Ennis right now. They only stood a chance of staying safe if they were together.

Ennis parked the truck and started walking down the street, wondering what he could buy for his partner and eldest daughter. He did have some ideas in mind; Junior was into books and Jack's mother had informed him that Jack would be happy with something that reminded him of rodeoing.

"I ain't gonna do any more rodeoin'," Jack had told him a few months ago. "I could afford it,'s too dangerous now. Besides, you probably wouldn't be able to cope if you saw me fall off, right?"

"Probably not, darlin'," Ennis had answered, and Jack had kissed him on the cheek in response. He did like how much they cared about each other. They always had, but could only now really show it.

He loved the fact that he and Jack could spend birthdays together now; Alma had tried to make him happy on his birthday in past years, but his head had been filled with thoughts of Jack. Neither of them would ever stop feeling guilty for how they had treated their wives during their marriages, but there was nothing they could do about it now.

As he walked, he thought about their life together so far. It hadn't all been smooth sailing, and things weren't getting any easier where Jason Marcus was concerned, but he had to admit that he was still happy with Jack. No matter how far apart they were physically, his mind would always wander back to those blue eyes and that dark hair, not to mention those dimples when Jack smiled. He was well and truly in love.

He stopped in front of a bookstore and looked at the window display, thinking of Junior. She liked the mystery novels that she'd had for the past few years, and he figured that a new one would be well-received. He stepped inside and browsed for a while, helped by the sales assistant. He was always nervous in public, and wasn't sure exactly what people thought about him and Jack; just because they weren't being attacked from all sides didn't mean that nobody hated who they were.

After selecting a book for Junior, he was about to go to the cash register when something caught his eye. There was a book with the image of an unknown bull rider on the cover, in the middle of bull riding. Thinking of Jack, he picked it up and rifled through. It was a book of every rodeo that had taken place in the sixties, and he smiled as he thought of Jack up there, wowing the crowd. He then remembered that day on Brokeback by the fire, when Jack had imitated riding a bull and had fallen over with a loud crash. That was the moment when the two of them had started to bond, and Ennis had felt like he was finally starting to have a good time. That summer had been filled with so many good memories and they had kept him warm on those cold nights when they had been apart.

Ennis continued to flick through and then paused, staring at the photo. The rider was unmistakeable; it was a younger Jack on top of a bull, clinging on with one hand in the air. The caption stated it was from June 1964, just a year after their summer together. He couldn't help but grin; Jack would love to see this. His mind made up, Ennis closed the book and headed to pay for them, feeling happy that he had managed to do this without being too nervous. As long as people didn't say anything, he could more or less handle it.

When he'd paid and left the shop, he put the bag in the truck and was about to start off home when he spied a jewellery store across the road. Tilting his head, he walked over and stopped in front of the rings. A deep desire surfaced inside him and he thought of Jack. He could remember telling Amy that he would only marry again when it became legal for him to marry Jack, but maybe they didn't have to wait for that to have some kind of commitment.

Ennis knew that he wouldn't be comfortable having a big ceremony in front of other people, but that didn't mean that he and Jack couldn't make some promises to each other, maybe even swap rings. He sighed and turned away, needing some more time to think about that.

Before he could cross the road again, he was grabbed from behind and dragged down the alleyway next to the jewellery store. He struggled, but was thrown to the ground and saw a flash of metal. His attacker had a tire iron. Fear rose up in him and he tried to stand, but his legs were hit and he crumpled. He felt blows to his arms and shoulders, and then doubled over when his stomach was hit. Blinded by pain and tasting blood, he tried to get a look at his attacker as his vision swam; it was Jason Marcus.

"Hey!" called a female voice; he recognised it but could barely register it. "Get the hell away from him!" Jason ran and he heard a clattering as the tire iron fell to the ground. He groaned and everything started growing dark. Then he saw Sarah Green's face come into focus. "It's okay,'re gonna be okay. There's an ambulance comin'." She had been in town with someone wanting to buy in the area. She'd seen Ennis being dragged down the alleyway by someone with a deadly weapon, and had known that she couldn't prevent it from happening. After telling her client to go inside a shop and raise the alarm, she had rushed to her friend's aid.

"Jack..." he croaked, screwing his eyes shut against the pain. He'd always feared Jack being attacked by someone with a tire iron, and they had thought that Jason was after Jack. They had been wrong, and now he might never see Jack or the kids again.

Jack was worried. Ennis had been gone for a long time, and it was almost time for dinner. Despite his promise not to leave the house until Ennis got back, Jack had to pick the kids up when they were finished, and he didn't see Ennis anywhere in town on the drive through. This wasn't like him, and with every minute that passed Jack grew even more worried. He hated it when they were apart under normal circumstances; this was much worse because he had no idea what was going on.

"Where's Daddy?" Jenny asked, sensing his discomfort at not having Ennis around. He bit his lip, unsure of himself. He didn't like lying to the kids about anything, and they had both promised that there would be no more lies now that they were together.

"I dunno, Jenny. This ain't like him." He looked at the clock on the wall and decided to call Fred, just in case something had happened. He didn't like to think about it, but if something had then he just had to know.

"Sheriff Sanders."

"Hey Fred, it's Jack Twist," Jack started, praying that nothing bad had happened to his cowboy. "Listen...Ennis went out a few hours ago, lookin' for birthday presents. He shoulda been back by now an' he ain't. Have you heard anythin'?"

"Sorry, Jack. I've heard nothin' over here. You had any more trouble with that Marcus guy?"

"Not recently...but I'm worried. He should be home..." He looked at the kids, trying to stay calm for their sakes. If he worried too much, then they would start to worry too.

"Try not to panic, Jack. I'll see what I can find out an' get back to you."

"Alright, thanks." He hung up and was even more worried. What if Ennis was lying in a ditch somewhere, alone and dying? What if he was staring up at the sky and thinking of him in his final moments?

Don't think like that, Jack told himself, trying to banish such thoughts. They sure wouldn't help in keeping him calm. He got out some soup and bread rolls, knowing that the kids would be getting hungry. As scared as he was that Ennis was in bad shape, he had to at least try for some normality for now. The time for panicking would most likely come of its own accord.

He tried to eat, but could barely concentrate when he was so worried. What if they were wrong, and Marcus hadn't been after him at all? What if he'd changed his mind after the failed shooting? It was true that Ennis often protected him, and had saved his life that day. Maybe Marcus had noticed this and adjusted his plan, changed his target? Jack would never forgive himself if Ennis died trying to protect him.

"Daddy?" asked Bobby quietly, seeing how scared he was. He'd never seen Jack like this before, and he wasn't sure how to handle it. Now it was clearer than ever how much he and Ennis loved each other. "Don't the sheriff know where Ennis is?"

"He don't, son. Hasn't heard anythin'." Jack couldn't even put on a brave face for the kids, not when he was so worried. He knew in his gut that something was wrong; he just didn't know what. He didn't even know exactly where Ennis was. He wanted to get up and go look for his partner, but what if someone called while he was out, and they had news? What if Ennis himself came home and was fine; that he'd just had a flat? Jack knew he had to stay put just in case; at least until he heard something.

Half an hour later, there was a frantic knock at the door, and he went to answer it. Standing on his porch was their realtor, Sarah Green. She looked as bad as he felt and his heart dropped to his stomach. He could tell that this wasn't a social visit.


"What happened?" he asked, knowing that she knew where Ennis was. The look in her eyes was enough to confirm that.

"I...I was in town with a client...saw him on the street. Jason Marcus grabbed him and pulled him down the alleyway. I got my client to call an ambulance 'cos I knew somethin' was gonna happen. Then I went down there...Jack, he...he had a tire iron."

The blood drained from Jack's face and his heart started hammering; the worst two words that could be put together. Ennis had long feared that he would be attacked by someone in that manner, and yet Ennis was the one who had been. "Oh God, no...what...?"

"We got him to the hospital...they got him stable but they can't operate on him without your say-so an' they're runnin' out of time. You gotta bring your power of attorney..."

He nodded, determined to do whatever he could to save Ennis's life. He would do anything for that man. "Okay. Will you come with us, stay with the kids while I sort this out?"

"Sure." Jack disappeared inside the house and told the kids to get ready, then went into his desk drawer in the office to find the power of attorney document. He held it close to him for a moment, praying that Ennis could be saved and very glad that he could give permission for surgery.

When they were ready, they all piled into the truck and headed for the hospital. Jack prayed that Ennis could somehow hear his thoughts, telling him to hold on and not give up. He'd often wondered if he and Ennis had some kind of psychic connection, and he hoped that it would work for him.

Don't you dare let go, Del Mar, he thought as he tried not to break the speed limit. You promised me we were gonna have this long life together...can't go breakin' yer promise now. You told me we could be together for a long time. Just hold on...I'm on my way, cowboy.