Chapter 19

Thursday, December 16th 2010

Dear Jack,

I miss you more and more every day, and it never gets any easier. The only thing keeping me going is that I know we'll be back together soon. But I have to admit that having your shirt here with me makes it a little better. I hold it every night and it helps me get to sleep, like mine does for you. I'm glad we can help each other like that, Jack; guess it just shows how much we love each other.

We're heading for St Petersburg in Russia now, which is a long journey. We're just going through the English Channel right now, past France. I don't know where we're gonna be on Christmas Day, but there's talk that we might stop off somewhere for a day so we can celebrate. There's a possibility it might be in Denmark as we go through, which might be fun. I might be able to buy you a present for our anniversary again. I think of you every single day, and I can't wait until we're back together for good. This time next year, we will be. We'll have moved in together and everything will be okay again.

I promised you that I wouldn't hide anything from you about how the other guys treat me on the ship, so I'm going to be honest. It hasn't been easy for me lately ever since Mike ousted me. The other guys avoid me, apart from my friends. I hear snide comments when I pass a group of them, and sometimes one of them will approach me and say that I don't belong here.

I try to spend my spare time with either Richard or those other gay guys, which does help when it gets to be too much. I know I can't hide from the others forever but I just don't want to face them right now; it's too hard. I know that I should probably report them to the captain but I'm just too scared to do it. I'm sure that if they get the sack, there will be more guys waiting to take over from them.

Anyway, I'm really glad that you got on well with my mom when she called; that makes me happy because they're accepting you as my partner. Maybe one day, we could all go to dinner together, us and both sets of parents. That would be a great way for them to get to know each other since we're together.

I can't wait to be with you again, Jack. Every day brings us closer together and that makes it a little easier for me. We will be back together one day soon, and no matter how long we have before I have to go again, just remember one thing. The next time we see each other after that, it'll be for good. That's one thing to keep us going.

I love you so much, and I always will. Take care, Jack.

Love, Ennis xxx

Ennis sighed and put his pen down, reading over his letter. He knew full well that Jack had kept every single one of them, and he had done the same for the ones Jack had sent him. They would always keep the letters as mementos of the time they'd spent apart; one day they would look back on it and remember it fondly because the pain would be over by then.

He jumped when someone knocked on the door and wondered who it was, feeling wary.

"Ennis, it's me," a familiar voice called through the door. It was Paul from his group of friends; one of the pair who were secretly seeing each other right here on the ship. Ennis got up and opened the door. "Hey, you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just writing a letter to Jack," he replied, smiling. Paul nodded.

"I've gotta's not easy for me and Jim, having to be so careful all the time. But at least we get to see each other every day. I can't imagine what it's like for you guys."

"It's never easy, but we're coping," Ennis told him. "And I'll be back with him for good this time next year."

"Yeah, that's something. Anyway, I was sent up here to ask you if you wanted to join us for a few card games and a drink. You up for it?"

"Sure. I just want to post the letter first, so I'll come down after that," he replied, thankful that they were so welcoming towards him. Paul nodded and left, leaving Ennis to look around the corridor warily before shutting the door. He was still suspicious that Mike was watching him or stalking him.

He put the letter into the envelope and then left the room, dropping it off for the mail before joined the others downstairs. Now that the truth was out about him, he knew that he needed all the support he could get because of how nasty some of the others could be. It was good for him to surround himself with people who truly understood what he was going through; some of them were also seeing people on shore leave and knew how difficult it was. Ennis soon became aware that this group had a certain feeling of security about it; a solid group that he could go to if he wanted to be himself without the repercussions.

As they played cards, they talked about the men they were all seeing and how they looked forward to the next shore leave. Ennis loved talking about Jack and showing how proud he was to be with someone like that.

Ennis knew that Jack was happy that he had some good friends on here, and he wanted them to meet Jack as a result; no doubt they would get on very well. Being able to talk about Jack made things slightly easier than they had been before, when he was more or less on his own.

Ennis left the room a little later to go to the bathroom, and found himself face to face with Mike and his friends. Fear ran through him, but he stood his ground. "Are you gonna let me pass?"

"In a moment," Mike replied, his friends blocking the corridor. "Want a word with you first." Ennis folded his arms.

"Alright, then. What do you want?"

Mike stepped closer. "I want you to know...that it's okay for me being sacked, in a way. While you're back on here, I can take my revenge on that little queer you've been seeing."

No, Ennis thought fearfully. Not Jack, please...

"You can't do that," he replied, trying not to show his fear. "I'll warn him and he'll go to the police. We can get a restraining order."

"What good would that do when he's out on his own, at night?" Mike asked, lowering his voice dangerously. "All it would take is a blow to the back of the head and he'd be a goner. You wouldn't be able to do a thing."

"That's where you're wrong," came another voice behind them, and Mike turned to see the captain standing there, glaring at him. "When you reach land, I have arranged for a few police officers to arrest you for assault, harassment and blackmail. You will be taken back to Texas, your home state, and likely to face a criminal trial for your actions."

Ennis couldn't believe what he was hearing; could this really be true? "Sir, is that right? He's gonna be arrested?"

The captain smiled. "He certainly is. You might be called to give a statement, but I'm sure the police will get in touch with you about that. As for you, Mr Jones...I would advise you to stay away from both Ennis and his partner. Anything you say or do to either of them now will probably be used against you in court."

Mike seemed to know that he wasn't going to win this fight; he gritted his teeth and nodded before moving back down the corridor with his friends. Ennis breathed a sigh of relief. "I can't believe it...I never expected that. And to think that he threatened to...kill Jack..." The very thought made his blood run cold. "I couldn't stand it if he hurt Jack...because of me..."

"He won't do that," the captain assured him. "He'll remain in Texas until you come back for good next October. Then it'll go to trial and it's likely he'll be sent down. When he is released, in time, then you and Jack will be together and you can watch his back."

"We might have even moved by then," Ennis replied, thinking of how he wanted to move back to Knoxville. He still had to talk to Jack about that and he hoped that Jack would agree. "I mean, Mike won't know our address by then so he can't find us."

"I hope you're right, Ennis," the captain replied as they walked down the corridor together. "I'm happy to do whatever I can for the people who truly deserve it. That includes all of the gay men on my ship. I know of the small group that congregate for safety, and that they have welcomed you. I take it you've been spending time with them today?"

"Yeah, we've been playing cards. I just took a break to go to the bathroom."

"When you get back to them, you'll probably want to tell them what happened here. I want to ask you...will you give them a message from me?"

"Of course, Sir."

"Tell them that I fully support them and understand how difficult this is for them. Please tell them that if they ever have any trouble, they can come to me for help like you did."

"Sure, I'll tell them," Ennis replied as they reached the bathrooms. "Thank you for your help, Sir." The captain extended his hand and Ennis shook it.

"You're most welcome. But I do have one request," he added, and Ennis nodded. "Either during the next shore leave, or when you return for good, I would like to meet your partner. I want him to know that he is with a very brave and loyal man, and that he has every right to be proud of your relationship."

Ennis was taken aback, but very touched. "Thank you, Sir. I'm sure he'd love to meet you with all the help you've given me. I'll tell him the next time we talk."

"Okay. Good afternoon, Ennis," the captain replied, walking away. Ennis thought for a moment about these developments and then went inside.

When he was done, he looked around the corridor once more and set off back to the card games. Along the way he bumped into Richard and relayed the earlier events to him.

"So it looks like Mike's gonna be put on trial for everything he's done. The captain didn't say where it will take place, but my guess is Texas because that's where he lives. Either way, I'm gonna be called to give evidence."

"That's great," Richard replied, smiling. "I bet you're really happy that it's more or less over, right?"

"Yeah, definitely. I can't wait to tell Jack about it; Mike actually threatened to kill him. Makes me feel sick to think of that, to be honest."

"I know, Ennis. But you have to remember that it's not gonna happen now. You and Jack will remain safe, and one day you'll be together for good. That's what you have to hold on to."

"Yeah," Ennis agreed, sighing. "I am happy that it's over now, but...I think I'm still in shock, to be honest. I wish Jack was here right now so that I hug him..."

He thought of Jack, who would undoubtedly be smiling when he heard the good news. He loved it when Jack smiled and he was responsible for it; he lived to make Jack happy because Jack did the same for him. Everything was going to be okay now.

December 25th, 2010

It was now Christmas, but they had moved on further than Ennis had initially thought by now. Instead of spending the day in Copenhagen as he had thought, they had made it to Stockholm, Sweden. The captain had given the order that they could spend the day there and that they would move on the day after.

As a result, Ennis found himself walking around a Christmas market and gazing at the beautiful sights around him. It felt good to stretch his legs for once and see what the local area had to offer.

He thought about Jack and wondered how he was spending this day; Jack had talked about going over to Lureen's place to watch a movie or perhaps go to a party somewhere, and Ennis had to admit he was slightly envious. But he was happy that Jack could enjoy himself even though they were apart, and he would call later if he got the chance. He didn't care about the high charges of calling from so far away; it was worth it to talk to Jack for a few minutes.

He found a stall that was selling giant gingerbread hearts with icing, and he knew that Jack liked gingerbread. Looking through the display, he found one that, according to the sign in English, meant "my greatest love":

Min största kärlek

Ennis smiled and knew he had to buy this for Jack; it would mean a lot to him. He purchased it and carried on walking; it was snowing here and it felt like a lifetime since he had last seen some. He wished that he could spend time with Jack in the snow; throwing snowballs at each other, making snowmen and snow would be so romantic and maybe it would happen one day. They did get snow in Iowa so if he and Jack moved there, then they would be able to spend time like that.

As he walked on, he thought about the great news he'd had to share with Jack about Mike's impending arrest. As he'd predicted, Jack had been very happy about it and they were both confident that everything was going to be okay. Ennis did sometimes worry about the repercussions of having the captain's protection like this; it was bound to annoy the ones who wanted to hurt him. But he couldn't hide away and pretend that he was ashamed of who he was. He felt very proud to be with someone like Jack and they made each other happy.

He sat down on a bench to take a break and decided to call his parents; he had been trying to get into the habit of calling them more during his time away. He would call Jack later, when he was alone and could say anything he wanted to.

He dialled his mother's cell number and waited until it was picked up. "Hello?"

"Hey, Mom," he greeted her, smiling when he heard her voice. "Merry Christmas."

"Oh, you too honey," she replied. "Where are you?"

"I'm in Stockholm," he replied, looking around. Sometimes he couldn't quite believe that he was in this kind of position; to be able to see the world and get paid for it. Although it wasn't easy to be away from Jack for so long, he coped fairly well. "It's snowing here, really amazing."

"Sounds wonderful, Ennis. I always wanted big things to happen for you, and we're both so proud of you. Your father speaks of you with pride and affection, you know. To his friends from his army days; he even tells them about Jack and how proud he is that you've found someone to make you happy."

Ennis smiled and felt warm inside, despite the chill around him. He did still like to earn his parents' praise, despite his age and independency. It showed that he was doing something right with his life. "Where are you guys?"

"We're just on the ship, getting ready for the big dinner later. They really go all out for meals even at normal times, so we're looking forward to this. I hope you can have something good too; what's the food like on the ship?"

"It's pretty good, but I think I might try to eat something on land for dinner. Try the local food, you know?"

"Good idea. How's Jack doing?"

"He's great. We always miss each other helps to know that we'll be back together soon. And after my next shore leave, the next time we see each other I'll be home for good."

"That's definitely something to be happy about, Ennis. And you said that guy will be arrested, didn't you?"

"I did, yeah. The captain really let him have it and I'm glad for that. Mike...he...threatened to hurt Jack when he leaves. But apparently there's gonna be police there when we land to take him back to Texas. Then he'll have to stay there until I get back in October, and at some point there'll be a trial. But I'll feel a lot better when I'm back in April, so I can make sure that Jack stays safe until Mike is back where he belongs. Then it won't be so hard to leave him again."

"I know you're worried, Ennis. I would feel the same about your father. But just remember that you have many people on your side. It's all going to be okay."

"Yeah, I know. Anyway...I think I'm gonna carry on walking for a bit and then look into some dinner. I'll call again soon, okay?"

"Sure. I'll let your dad know you called, and give our best to Jack."

"Will do. Bye, Mom." He clicked off and stood up, stretching. Then he carried on walking and looking at the beautiful area around him. He silently vowed that if he ever had the money, he would bring Jack to all of these places and more; he wanted to share the experience with the one who meant the most to him.

That night, Ennis was back on the ship and trying to get to sleep. He'd been at the Christmas party and had drunk more than was probably wise, so he didn't feel too good right now. He wished that Jack could be there to rub his back or stomach; that would soothe him so much right now.

But he was alone and he was used to that by now, unfortunately. His cabin mate wasn't even back yet, and while he had previously been too scared to sleep with an unlocked door, he felt better about it.

Nobody had harassed him for a few days now, which he was very happy about. He guessed that word had gotten around about the captain telling Mike about his criminal charges, so the other guys who hated him were probably too scared to say anything to him now; maybe they thought it just wasn't worth facing the same.

He sighed and wished he could roll onto his back, but he didn't want to do that if he was about to throw up; he'd even placed a bucket beside his bed just to be safe. He pulled Jack's shirt closer to his chest and tried to drop off, but it wasn't easy when his stomach was churning. He knew why he'd drunk so much; he'd been in the mood to celebrate the good turn of events now that he and Jack were going to remain safe. And since his friends had been there, he'd gotten caught up in the whole thing. Still, it had been a lot of fun.

Ennis sat up and knew that he wasn't going to get any sleep anytime soon, so he decided to go for a walk. He got dressed in off-duty clothes and took his phone with him, just in case. Although he and Jack had spoken earlier, he knew it wouldn't be too late in the States and maybe Jack might still be awake.

He slowly walked through the corridors, glad that the ship didn't move at night; he would definitely throw up if it did. When he reached the deck, he sighed as the cold night air hit his face; just what he needed right now.

He walked over to the railings and looked out over the city, which he had loved exploring. There was just something about seeing a brand new place like this which he'd never given thought to before. Having grown up in Iowa, until joining the Navy he'd never really fathomed the idea of there being far-off countries like this. But they were always there in the world, just waiting to be discovered. This was surely a dream job despite how difficult it could be, and he was very grateful that Jack was so understanding of his need to see this through.

Ennis pulled his phone from his pocket and dialled Jack's number; he had no idea what time it was there; it was midnight here so maybe it was still early where Jack was.

He dialled Jack's number and waited for a response; Jack soon picked up. "Two phone calls in one day? I'm getting spoiled," Jack said, clearly smiling.

"Hey, bud. Hope I'm not disturbing you...what time is it there?"

"Just gone six," Jack replied. "Still early yet. What about you?"

"Midnight. I can't really sleep. Had too much to drink at the party earlier, you know?"

"Oh, Ennis...I don't know what to suggest. If you feel sick...maybe try to drink some water?"

"Tried that. I'm up on the deck; thought the fresh air might do me good. Seems to be working."

"Good. I guess you had something to celebrate, huh?" Jack asked, and Ennis knew he was grinning.

"I really did. Mike's probably gonna be sent down for what he's done, and we'll be back together soon. Not to mention the holiday season. My friends were there so it was a lot of fun."

"I'm glad for you, Ennis. I don't feel so guilty about having fun, knowing that you're doing the same. If you were still suffering, I'd feel bad about enjoying myself without you."

"You don't need to be, Jack. I'm really doing okay now that this is over. And soon enough I'll be back with you."

"Yeah. So how was the food over there?"

"It was pretty good. Not sure what all of it was, but it was nice. And there's a great atmosphere here, you know? I really liked the market." He still wanted to show Jack all of this; maybe one day.

"I miss you," Jack said suddenly, sounding wistful. "I mean...I think about you all the time. I want you to finish your contract like you need to, but gets really hard."

"What gets really hard?" Ennis asked with a grin, trying to cheer Jack up. He heard Jack laugh.

"You know what I mean, dumbass. But yeah...I'll admit that you're right," he conceded. "I can't wait until you're back home."

"Me neither, Jack. I remember your birthday when we spent all day in the bedroom...that was so much fun, right?"

"It really was. I'd love to do that again, maybe if you're here for our anniversary?"

"Sounds good," Ennis agreed. "I got you something, by the way. I'm sure you'll like it."

"You old romantic," Jack replied. "I love you so much, Ennis. You know what? Now that the other guys know about you, maybe we can go for dinner one night?"

"Yeah, I'd like that," Ennis agreed. "You're right; there's nothing to be afraid of anymore. They don't want to go the same way as Mike, so they'll leave us alone. Anyway...I'm feeling a lot better now."

"Glad I could help. Get some sleep, Ennis," Jack told him affectionately. Ennis was touched by how much Jack cared about his wellbeing.

"Yep, will do. Night, you."

"Love you too, sailor. Night." Jack clicked off and Ennis smiled to himself before heading back to bed; this talk had done him the world of good.

December 31st, 2010

It was New Year's by now, and they were getting closer to Russia every day. Ennis had heard that the captain was aiming for them to be there by the middle or perhaps the end of January, which meant they would certainly be back in the States by April. He hoped that they could make it back before his and Jack's anniversary so that they could spend it together; last time had been so much fun.

One thing that he needed to do was ask Jack about moving with him to Iowa. He knew in his heart that he wanted to live there again, because he loved it there. But he was also aware that if Jack simply couldn't leave his apartment, then that would be the deal-breaker; he would respectfully stand down and honour Jack's wishes. It meant more to him for Jack to be happy, rather than himself. He did like Jacksonville, after all, and could see himself living there full-time with Jack.

But he would certainly try to ask Jack what he wanted to, and he hoped that Jack would accept. He'd thought about his desire to propose, but it wasn't the right time yet. He knew that asking Jack to live in Iowa would be a big enough request, and that he had to give Jack time to get used to the idea if he did say yes. Asking Jack to marry him would be too much right now and he knew that.

He was shaken from his reverie by Richard calling his name. "Ennis? You in there?" he asked, looking amused as he shook Ennis's shoulder. Ennis blinked.

"Oh, sorry. Was miles away just now."

"Miles away with Jack?" Richard asked with a knowing grin. Ennis looked sheepish but he nodded.

"Yeah. Thinking about shore leave. I'm thinking about asking Jack to move in with me, in Iowa."

"That's great," Richard replied, sitting down. They were on a set of steps up on deck, enjoying the bright, albeit cold, sunshine. "So you're gonna ask him when we get back?"

"Yep. And...I've thought about proposing to him but it's way too soon for that."

"Yeah, probably. You don't wanna scare him, and you don't want him to say yes just so he won't hurt you."

"Exactly. If he says yes, I want it to be because his heart's in it. I want him to be sure of what he's saying. So I'm gonna leave that for now and just focus on asking him to move in with me. Knoxville is so far away from where he lives and he's never lived anywhere but Florida. It's gonna be a huge thing I'm asking of him and I don't know how he's gonna react. What if he just can't do it? I'd be fine with it, but what if he then starts feeling guilty because I wanted to move back and he's holding me back...?" He sighed. "I'm going in circles here, aren't I?"

"Pretty much," Richard agreed, nodding. "Just calm down, okay? We going to that party now? You look like you could do with a drink."

Ennis nodded and stood up, knowing that he could do with some relaxing right now. "Yeah, come on."

They found Ennis's friends at the party, and some of them were wary of Richard at first but Ennis swore to them that he was trustworthy. Soon enough, the entire group was in a corner and drinking, talking about their lives back in the States.

"So anyway...I heard a rumour," said one of them, looking proud of himself. "About Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Wanna hear it?"

"Are they making it even worse than it already is?" Ennis asked, sighing to himself.

"Nope. I heard...but you didn't hear it from me...that there's talk of them repealing it completely," the guy replied, smirking. An excited murmur ran through the group. "A friend of mine works in the government, and he told me. But you can't say where you heard it from, okay? It's all under the radar right now. But you never know...this time next year we might not have to hide."

"Ennis won't have that problem," said someone else, half-smiling at him. "He's gonna be gone by then, right?"

"Yep. I'm settling down with the man I love," Ennis replied, smiling back. "And I can't wait for that day when I go back for good. We're both looking forward to it."

"You'll invite us all to the wedding though, right?" asked Paul, and Ennis nearly choked on his drink.

"What? Who says we're getting married?" he asked, feeling flustered.

"Well, it seems logical to me. You've been together...well, it'll be two and a half years by then. And you're gonna be living together...sounds pretty simple to me."

"Yeah, but I don't know where we'll be living yet. So that influences whether or not our marriage would be legal," he pointed out, but even as he spoke he could suddenly see why it was so important for them to live in Iowa; it was the only way for them to marry legally right now, unless they moved to a different state entirely that also allowed it. Going to Iowa seemed like the best option.

"That's true, but I just figured it was on the cards, given everything you've been through lately." The others nodded and agreed with this, all of them looking at him as if they knew they were making sense.

Ennis smiled weakly and went back to his drink, not entirely sure what to do now. He loved Jack very much but he didn't want to scare him off or make him feel guilty. If Jack accepted a proposal from him, Ennis wanted it to be for the right reasons; that he was ready and willing to get married. Unless Ennis was sure of that, he didn't want to ask Jack just yet. He didn't want to do anything that would put strain on their relationship; he just couldn't bear it if he lost Jack.