Chapter 15

July 1972

It was the middle of summer now, and the two men were making the most of the warm weather. They were camping out near a river, which reminded them of the campsite on Brokeback. That had been near a river; Jack could remember washing his clothes the morning after their first night together, and how he had half-hoped that Ennis would see him naked there.

After they had lunch, the two of them went riding through the trees on the horses Ennis had brought with him; they were his pride and joy after his girls, and Jack knew that they meant a lot to him. He'd always loved it when Ennis brought the horses.

"Sure is a nice day," he commented, looking around as they passed a thicket. "Always reminds me of bein' on Brokeback..."

"Yeah," Ennis agreed, smiling at him. He held the reins in one hand and reached across with the other, touching Jack's. Their hands linked together as they rode, and they were completely at ease. Ennis liked holding Jack's hand; it didn't feel weak at all. It was just one of the ways in which he could show his affection. "You wanna stop for a while?"

"Sure." They dismounted the horses and let them wander, heading for a log. When Ennis had sat down, Jack took his place next to him and rested his head against Ennis's shoulder. Their hands linked again and they sat in silence for a few moments. Jack felt that this was where he was supposed to be; by Ennis's side no matter what. He wanted to live with Ennis so much, for he knew that it could be a very sweet life for both of them. He knew deep down that they could make each other happy.

Ennis was thinking the same thing. He often wondered what it might be like to live with Jack; to be with him all of the time on a ranch of their own. He wanted to see a smile forming on Jack's face when he told him yes to the sweet life. But every time he tried to say it, the words died in his throat and he was unable to get them out. All he could do was hope that Jack knew it anyway.

As they were both thinking, their eyes were drawn to several feet away. A buck and a doe had appeared from through the trees, walking together slowly. Jack had always loved how calm and serene they were; they actually reminded him of himself and Ennis when they were walking. "Look..."

Ennis nodded. "Yeah. Sure are a fine sight. My girls love seein' pictures of 'em." He took a deep breath. "Jack...I, um...I want you to know...means a lot that yer here with me. I like comin' out here an' meetin' you. Work ain't always easy, so...I like bein' able to just take some time away. An'...I like seein' you."

Jack smiled up at him. "Same to you. Feels good to get some time to ourselves." He hesitated, wondering if he should tell Ennis of his true feelings. What's the worst thing that could happen?

He opened his mouth, and saw the look of puzzlement of Ennis's face. "Jack?"

"I, um..." His nerve failed him and he shook his head. "Never mind." He looked away, leaving Ennis wondering what he'd been about to say. Had Jack been about to tell him...?

No, it can't be, he thought to himself, also looking away. We know not to talk 'bout that...if that gets out, I won't be able to say goodbye to him again. An' then...he could get hurt. People would find out...

"You okay?" he asked, holding Jack a little closer. Jack nodded.

"Yeah, fine. Come here..." Jack leaned up and kissed his cheek, and then Ennis turned to kiss his lips. They kissed for several moments, trying to convey without words how they felt. Ennis pulled Jack closer to him, by the hips. Jack gave a soft moan and pulled his lips away. "Damn, always get my blood up doin' that..."

Ennis smirked. "Serves you right fer not keepin' yer hands to yerself." He lowered his head to Jack's neck and started nibbling at it, wondering if he should give Jack a hickey. If he did it under Jack's collar, then nobody would see it.

"You brandin' me?" Jack asked in amusement, tilting his head to the side to give Ennis further access. He wrapped his arms around Ennis's neck and just enjoyed what his lover was doing to him. It wasn't often that Ennis lavished attention on him, so he made the most of it when it happened.

"Reckon so," Ennis replied, gently biting the skin. Jack smiled and closed his eyes.

"Fair enough." They sat there for a while until Ennis was done, and he admired his work. "You finished with that now?"

"Yep. Looks good." Ennis smiled at him and kissed him on the lips again. "You ready to keep ridin'?"

"Sure." They got up and retrieved the horses, and then continued down the trail. Jack could feel his skin tingling where Ennis had branded him, and he wished that he could show it to the world; it was a symbol of Ennis's love for him and he was damn proud of it.

As they continued to ride, Ennis found himself wishing once more that they could have a life together. But he was too scared of what might happen to Jack if the wrong people found out. He couldn't bear the thought of losing Jack permanently; the man meant too much to him. If keeping them apart for most of the year kept Jack safe, then it was just how things had to be.

Jack thought about his failed attempt to tell Ennis that he loved him, and he was starting to understand why Ennis found it so difficult. Things were so unsure between them and nothing was certain. They just had to take one trip at a time.