Chapter 12

They sat there for a long time, thinking about what they had just heard and what was going to happen now. Rose was sat in the middle with her two children on either side of her, holding onto her tightly. Jack was aware of the space beside him where Ennis should be, but there was nothing he could do about that. Ennis was still here, in some way.

Eventually, Becky broke away. "We gotta get Lily from Bill an' Mary," she said, sniffing and wiping her eyes. "I want my baby girl here with me."

Rose nodded and kissed her hair. "Alright. Jack, could you-?"

He nodded back at her. "I'll go get her. I'll see ya in a bit, girls." Rose rubbed Becky's back and he gathered himself, wiping his own eyes and heading out.

Jack got back into his truck and took several breaths before starting it up, backing out and heading for their neighbours' house. His head was filled with thoughts and he still hadn't quite registered the fact that his cousin and second best friend wouldn't live to see Christmas.

He recalled his and Becky's argument when she was first diagnosed. How she had shot him down about pressing charges, citing the fact that no matter what happened to Lily's father, she could still die and wouldn't live to see her daughter grow up, see any of the things that a mother should see. Every word came back to haunt him, now that she was definitely going to die, and he swore to himself that however long she had left, he would make sure that she died happy, knowing that she was loved by many people.

He arrived at Bill and Mary's house and got out, his heart and body feeling heavy. He knocked on the door and rubbed his forehead. Mary answered the door, carrying Lily, and she smiled when she saw him.

"Hey, Jack." Lily outstretched her arms and he took her, grinning in spite of himself.

"Hey, little lady. C'mere." He held her and tickled her under her chin. Mary smiled.

"I think she's glad to see you. I'm guessin' yer ready to take her, then?"

"Yeah, we just got back. Listen, um...we got the results from Rick."

Her eyes widened. "'d it go?"

Jack sighed, kissing the top of Lily's head as she buried it in his shoulder. "Rick had the results from the blood test, an'...he says...the syphilis is too advanced. She's had it for too long an' it's spread too far. There ain't nothin' he can do." He felt tears prick his eyes again and he thumbed them away.

Mary had a crestfallen look on her face, and she laid a hand on his shoulder. "Oh, Jack...I'm so sorry. How is she?"

"We just got back an' collapsed on the sofa. We ain't said much about it yet, but...she's been cryin'. They both have. I dunno what to do now, but I sure wish Ennis was here to help us. I need him an' he's too far away to do anythin'. Christ...he won't know for ages yet. His letter's gonna take about a month to get here, an' mine'll take about that long."

She nodded. "Well, at least he don't have a real big cause to worry yet. He can concentrate on bein' out there for now, an' that's important too."

Jack was stroking Lily's strawberry-blonde hair, so like her mother's. "I know. I ain't lookin' forward to tellin' him, though."

"I know,'ll find a way. Is there anythin' we can do?"

"Well, uh...I was thinkin' we could have everybody over in a few days, let 'em know what's goin' on. I'm gonna call everybody when I get back. God knows Becky could do with some support right now an' you know we love all you guys."

Mary nodded. "Sure. We'll be there. Just give me a minute an' I'll get her bag." Jack nodded back and he was left on the porch with Lily. He bounced her up and down a little bit and she closed her hand around his finger. He saw a lot of Becky in her, and she would grow up to be a living reminder of her mother while still being her own person. Mary came out with Lily's bag and he took it, slinging it over his shoulder and kissing Mary's cheek. He got Lily strapped into her baby car seat and drove back home, listening to her babbling and being unable to prevent himself from grinning.

He got her back home and took her in. His mother was in her chair, knitting. "Hey, sweetie."

"Hey, mama." He put Lily down on the floor near her toys, and she went straight for them. "Where's Becky?"

"She's restin'. Needs her sleep. How's Mary an' Bill?"

"Mary answered, I dunno where Bill was. She asked about today, an' I told her." He flopped onto the sofa, kicking off his boots. "She sends her condolences for her an' hopes she gets better. I, uh...I was thinkin' we could have everybody over in a coupla days, you know? Let 'em all know. I know they'd all wanna talk to her. That alright?"

Rose nodded, smiling. "That sounds good, Jack. I'm sure she'd like that." She was silent for a moment. "Would do her some good to see all our friends. They all love her an' it's good for her to have a lot of support around her."

"Yeah. I'm gonna call K.E., Cecilia an' Pete too. They'd all wanna know too. I'll call them later."

"Alright, sweetie. It's a good idea." She carried on with her knitting, but after a few minutes she heard him sniff, and looked up to see him blinking back tears.

"Oh, Jack..." She got up and sat beside him, letting him burrow into her arms like he had when he was a child. He may be a grown man now, but he would always need her, just like Becky. What he needed most of all was Ennis, but she would have to do her best to comfort him until Ennis returned.

June 3rd, 1966

Ennis was taking a break from RVN, sitting on the ground and taking a drink of water. Adam was a few feet away, talking to another soldier.

He was thinking about Jack and what might be going on back home. He was still very worried about Becky. He knew that his letter wouldn't arrive for another week yet, and he thought that by the time it got there, there might be more news. But when Jack sent one back, by the time he got it things might have changed again. He knew that as long as he was out here, he would dread the next letter from Jack and what it might contain. He would always be expecting Jack to tell him that she had died and that their lives were falling apart.

Adam finished his conversation and came to sit beside him, groaning a little as he sat down. "How you doin', Ennis?"

Ennis nodded back at him. "Alright. Keep thinkin' about Becky an' how she's doin'. They should have got the results back by now, since Rick put her on the strongest dose an' all. Should know by now if it's worked. I just wish I could call so I'd know sooner. Drivin' me mad with all this waitin'."

"I know. Wish I could call Pete so I can be sure he's alright," Adam replied, taking a sip of his own water. "Course, the best thing would be if we could go home altogether, then we wouldn't have to deal with none of this." Ennis nodded his agreement.

"Sure would. I just wanna get back to Jack an' help him. God knows he's gonna need someone an'...his mama does a real good job, but..." He sighed. "I don't wanna sound arrogant or nothin', but...he told me that no-one looks after him better than me. He keeps tellin' me that, an' I hope he was tellin' the truth."

Adam nudged his shoulder. "I reckon he was. He don't never lie 'bout stuff like that, does he?"

Ennis shook his head. "No, but...I'd like to believe it. Makes me feel like I'm doin' somethin' right with him." Adam smiled in amusement.

"I think you are, Ennis. We saw you guys together, more than once. We both think you guys are real good together. We know you do right by Jack an' make him happy. Don't put yerself down, Ennis. I'm sure Jack don't think of ya as anythin' less than perfect." He smirked at him.

Ennis smiled. "Maybe. I keep tryin' to show him how strong I feel on him, an'...I think it's workin'. "

"I'm sure it is." Their lieutenant barked at them that there were only five minutes left of their break and they sighed in unison.

"Hate this. We don't get long to take a break. It don't never stop here, does it?" asked Adam.

"Sure don't. I hope this goes quick so we can get back home. But...I was told we could be out here for years. Hope it don't come to that. I wanna get back home more than anythin'."

"I know, Ennis. An' you will, one day. We both will. We'll get back home an' you'll be able to sort out this mess."

"I hope Becky's gonna be alright. I know Jack's goin' crazy over there tryin' to keep things goin'." He bit at a hangnail.

Adam chuckled. "I bet he is. You wanna be careful that he don't overdo it. You don't want him gettin' ill too. That's the last thing you guys need."

"I know. I got faith in him an' I'm sure he'll be alright. An' he's got his mama to keep him sane. If he starts freakin' out about anythin', she'll be there to slap him upside the head an' calm him down." He smiled in affection at the memories. Rose always knew how to handle Jack when he started panicking, and Ennis had learned from observing her with him. He was very glad that Jack had his mother there to help him. Ennis knew that she had been good to Jack while he'd been growing up, one of the only bright spots in his life, and even though he was now a grown man, he still needed her. Ennis felt a little better knowing that she was there, and he was a little more optimistic about Jack's capability to cope with whatever was going on.

Adam looked at him. "He's real close to his mama an' Becky, ain't he?"

Ennis nodded, thinking about them. "Yeah. He never liked his father, so...I guess they were the only ones he loved growin' up."

"Until you came along," Adam reminded him with a smile and another nudge of the shoulder.

"Well...I guess." He looked up at the sky. "I ain't never gonna know what made him attracted to me. He's told me a million times why he is, but...I can never see it."

"Ennis, we've been over this. He is attracted to you, he loves you. That's all there is to it," Adam said simply.

He nodded. "I know, hell, I dunno. I ain't never thought of myself that way. God knows why he thinks of me that way, but...I guess I just gotta accept it." He smiled to himself. "Yer right, he does love me...that's all that matters, I guess."

Adam nodded. "Yep. Like with me an' Pete. I never had no confidence either, could never see why he liked me, but...I just learned to accept it. That's all you can do."

"Yeah, I guess. Anyway...we better get movin'," Ennis said with a sigh.

"Yeah." They were soon being barked at to return to training, and they stood up. Adam clapped Ennis on the shoulder. "Let's get goin'."

They went back to training, and Ennis tried to keep his mind off things back home. He just had to have faith in the idea that Jack would be okay, and that Becky would be okay. It was the only thing he could do to stay sane.

That morning, Becky wandered downstairs in her nightgown and dressing gown, seeking breakfast. It was still quite early and Jack wasn't awake yet, so she'd tried to be quiet as she crept downstairs.

She'd been doing a lot of thinking lately, ever since Rick had given her the horrible news about the lack of effect the penicillin was having. She knew that Rick was doing everything he could to try and find something that could help her. He'd mentioned having a friend who worked at a hospital in New York, and he had asked him to try and find something that might work. His friend was doing everything he could to do as he requested, but he wasn't optimistic. The only cure that they knew of at the moment was penicillin, and since that wasn't working the outcome was bleak.

She watched Jack every now and then, to try and see how he might be coping with everything. She could see that he was trying not to let things get to him, and for the most part it seemed to be working.

Lily was growing in leaps and bounds, and despite what was going on, Becky loved to watch her. She was definitely starting to resemble her, as Jack had always said.

Physically, she was feeling so-so. She alternated between feeling weak and normal, and when she woke up there was no way to predict how she might feel each day. Mostly, she was feeling okay, but there had been some bad moments. Just yesterday, she had been unable to leave the second floor. She'd barely left her bed, only a couple of times to throw up and then stagger back in again.

She went into the kitchen to find her mother, sipping coffee. "Hey," she said in surprise. Rose smiled at her.

"Hey, sweetie. You want some coffee?"

Becky shook her head and went to the fridge. "No, I want some juice, I think." She served herself some and sat down opposite her.

"You okay? How you feelin' this mornin'?" she asked, looking over her face for signs of how she was feeling.

"I guess I'm okay today. I know yesterday was real bad though. Could hardly move except to throw up." She sipped her juice.

"I know, honey," Rose said softly, covering Becky's hand with her own. "But it'll be okay. I'm sure that Rick's friend will find somethin' that can help you."

Becky tried to smile. "Maybe. But...we gotta be realistic, mama. It might not work, you know that. If penicillin don't work...what could?"

Rose sighed. "I know. But..." She squeezed her hand. "Sweetie, I had to give you up when you was just a baby. I had to watch you be raised by someone else, an' you know I love Maria like a sister, tore my heart apart. Watchin' you an' Jack spend time together an' not knowin' how you was really related. I wanted nothin' more than to tell you the truth, but you know why I didn't."

Becky nodded. "I know. I don't blame you for any of it, mama. I know why you had to let me go."

"What I'm sayin' is...I had to watch you grow up an' not know who I really was to you. I've missed you all these years, wanted to spend time with you. It was one of the reasons I wanted to live here. I wanted to be with Jack an' Ennis, but...I hoped we could reconnect, you know? An' we've done that, right?" Becky nodded. "So...considerin' how long I've had to live with not havin' my baby girl with me, I can't just give up hope, you know? I have to remain optimistic about things. I don't wanna lose you again, Becky." She brought a hand to her daughter's cheek as she said this. "Once was bad enough. But I always had hope that I'd see you again one day. If you die...I won't have that."

"Mama..." Becky was lost for words. "I dunno what to say. I didn't know you was thinkin' all that."

Rose smiled sadly. "I'm a mama. It's my job to worry about my kids an' do my best to make sure they're alright. You know how that feels, right?"

Becky nodded. "I guess. I'm always tryin' to make sure that Lily's okay. An' yer right. We gotta try an' have faith that whatever Rick's friend can find will work. It's all we got left."

"Yeah, honey. We gotta pull together." They heard Jack moving around upstairs and Rose patted her hand. "I'll get some breakfast together, you wanna go get dressed?" Becky nodded and kissed her cheek before going back upstairs, leaving Rose to think for a moment before starting breakfast.

Becky passed Jack on the way to her room. "Hey," she greeted him. He clapped her shoulder.

"Mornin'. You okay?"

"I'm fine. Yer mama's makin' breakfast an' she's got coffee goin'."

"Alright. You up to joinin' us today?"

She nodded and smiled. "I reckon so. I'm just gonna get dressed." He kissed her cheek and made his way downstairs. Becky got dressed and then went into the nursery to rouse her own daughter. She got Lily dressed and they went downstairs to the smell of bacon. Despite what was going on in her body and what the outcome might be, she knew that she could always count on her family to keep things as normal as possible. She was very grateful for them being in her life. It even made her grateful to Lily's father, on a level, for she wouldn't be here if she hadn't gotten pregnant. She would still be in Texas, left to deal with her illness on her own.

She sent up a prayer of thanks that it hadn't happened that way, for there was nowhere else on earth that she would rather be, and no other place that she would rather spend her last days. She was home and if she should die here, she would die happy. That made things a little better, and it set her mind at ease.

That afternoon, their friends came by the house to give Becky their condolences and support. They all knew that she was ill, but they had only just learned how bad it was. At Jack's request, Bill and Mary had spread the word to all of their friends. Jack had already called Cecilia and K.E. to let them know what was going on and that, unfortunately, he was yet to tell Ennis. They both gave messages of support and he promised to call as soon as he heard from their brother. He also called Pete in Ohio to exchange news of their other halves and their lives.

Becky seemed to be faring okay today, as far as he could tell. She didn't appear too sick and she was even able to go out to the stables and spend time with the horses. Jack knew that they gave her comfort and he was glad for it. He didn't spend too much time out there, for they reminded him of Ennis too much and sometimes the memories served as painful reminders that he wasn't around. That would get Jack missing him even more.

He'd had a dream of Ennis pretty much every night for the last week, and not all of them had been good ones. He still had nightmares and they did nothing to make him feel better. To his dismay, Ennis's scent had dissipated from his sheets and pillow, so he'd finally allowed his mother to wash them. He'd looked through Ennis's clothes for anything that still carried his scent, but found nothing. He'd thus started to sleep while holding the shirts to his chest more and more to try and give himself some comfort.

He was thinking about this while trudging up the back steps towards the kitchen from the barn, and he heard voices. He went inside to find their friends and their hands already arrived as planned.

"Hey," he greeted them all, taking off his hat and smiling. They all called their own greetings to him and he joined them at the table, where his mother had her arm around Becky, who was holding Lily.

"So, I guess you all heard, huh?" he asked, looking around at them all. They all nodded.

"Yeah, Mary called us," Kate replied, looking at him and Becky sadly. "We're so sorry, Becky."

Becky smiled back at her; they'd become good friends in the time they'd known each other, being similar in age. "It's alright, Kate. Ain't nobody's fault."

"Except that guy's," Jack mumbled in a low voice.

"Leave it, Jack," Becky said quietly to him. "What's done is done."

Jack sighed and rubbed his forehead. "I know. But...still riles me up that he gets off without no charges."

"I told you, it won't do nothin'. I don't wanna fight about it, Jack."

He could tell that she was getting distressed, so he let it go. In respect of her feelings, he changed the subject. "So, um...Ennis wants all you guys to know he's thinkin' on us all, an' I'm sure he'd be grateful that yer all here supportin' us," he said to the room at large.

Rick smiled. "I'm sure he would, Jack. An' if there's anythin' that can stop him from worryin' too much, that's a good thing, right?"

Jack nodded. "Yeah. He needs to concentrate on what he's doin' right now. Won't do him no good to worry himself into gettin' himself ill. Then I'll start worryin' an' it'll all fall apart."

"That really is the last thing we need," Becky remarked with a smile, bouncing Lily on her leg. "We'll just go in circles an' we'll all get sick. Sure don't need that."

"Anyway..." Jack started, looking around again. "Any news from town at all?"

"Well, your meat's real popular," replied James, the sheriff. "See it everywhere I go. Your milk too. You guys are doin' real well."

Jack smiled. "I just crunch the numbers, Ennis is the one who keeps it runnin' every day, usually. Without our hands I dunno where I'd be. Probably woulda gone bust knowin' me."

"Don't say that, Jack," said Rose. "You've done a real good job an' we all got faith in you."

"Well...I gotta say, Ennis taught these guys real well." He smiled at their hands. "Except fer that Pete, you're all real good guys. You know how me an' Ennis appreciate everythin' you've done for us. An' not just the work either."

"S'alright, boss," replied Dave. "When you told us how it was with you guys, we didn't care much 'cos you was gonna pay us. But...after gettin' to know you, we don't care no more 'cos...we don't see what's so wrong about it." The hands all nodded their agreement. "Yer just two guys who happened to fall in love, an' yer just tryin' to make a livin' like the rest of us."

Jack smiled more fully at them. "Thanks, Dave. Means a real lot." He sighed. "Sure wish more people could think like that. I got no idea what people are like out there. Ennis said he ain't never heard no remarks or nothin', but...I'm scared he'll get found out. They'll tear him apart if they find out. He'll be humiliated, made fun of. I dunno how he'd respond to that, you know?"

Rose patted his arm. "Don't worry, Jack. I'm sure he'll be fine. He ain't stupid an' I'm sure he won't get found out."

He tried to smile at her. "I hope so, mama. I just...I don't want him to go through that."

"If he does, you'll just have to be there to help him back to his feet, alright?"

Jack nodded. "I know, mama. I will be." He looked down at his hands and made himself a promise there and then. Whatever state Ennis returned to him in, he would do everything humanly possible to help him through it. He made himself that promise while running a finger over his wedding ring, his vows to his husband fresh in his mind.

The next day, active service finally began. They were moving further away from camp now, where they knew any kind of danger could await them. They were out in the sweltering heat all day with no letup and by noon it was starting to get to them.

Their lieutenant had them trawling through thick grass and jungles, constantly on full alert for any sign of enemy. Ennis's heart was in his throat all the way through and Jack was never far from his mind. If he was going to die out here he wanted his last thoughts to be of his other half, then it might not be so painful. But then what about Jack? He would truly be left alone to deal with what was going on back home.

But he had to concentrate on what he was doing right now. He had to do his best to make sure that Jack was not left alone to deal with anything.

Adam was here with him amongst the others, also keeping his eyes peeled. Ennis wondered if he was thinking about Pete as much as he was thinking about Jack. Most likely, given how close they seemed to be. He was extremely grateful to have somebody here who understood how he was feeling, who wouldn't judge him for it. The two of them had gotten along quite well before, but this experience had strengthened their family bond. With Adam being his brother-in-law's cousin, Ennis felt a little closer to Tom's side of the family and he liked it. He loved having a family around him once more.

They made their way down a deserted trench, slowly just in case. Every now and then they were barked at to get down and shut up, but Ennis could still hear a few of the others whispering to each other. After their lieutenant had checked the area ahead, he would return and they would continue. It was harrowing to be walking along like this and know that at any moment they could be attacked, and Ennis had a feeling he wasn't the only one who was feeling jumpy.

In the afternoon, the heavens opened and poured down on them all, making them groan and mumble about the weather out here, which made the lieutenant yell at them again to stop complaining. Ennis longed for a letter from Jack, to distract him from all of this, even for a few minutes. Anything would be better than this hellhole.

During a much needed break, Adam came up to Ennis. "You got a minute?"

"Sure, what's up?"

Adam nodded in the direction of the others. "See that guy over there?" Ennis looked; it was the young soldier from the barracks whom he'd had a suspicion was gay. At first he'd thought he was wrong, but after a while he'd become surer of these thoughts.

"Yeah, what about him?"

"He keeps lookin' at ya. In a way I don't think our lieutenant would like if he knew." Adam looked at him meaningfully.

Ennis raised his eyebrows, remembering the young man. "I remember him from the barracks. Had a few thoughts that he might be like us. He really been starin' at me?"

"Yep. You want me to warn him off?" Adam offered with a slight grin.

Ennis shook his head. "Nah. He ain't done nothin' yet. If he tries anythin' I'll let him know I ain't interested. I'll just make him think I ain't like that."

Adam nodded. "Good idea. Don't wanna go outin' yerself." He kicked his foot around. "I know you'd never cheat on Jack, Ennis. Not even fer a few minutes to take yer mind off things. Just thought I'd let ya know."

"Thanks. An' you know I would never cheat on him. Ain't in me to do that. Gotta feel kinda sorry fer the kid, though. Hankerin' after someone he's servin' with in a place like this. If it had been someone else he was after he woulda been pounded by now, but I'll let him be. At least until he tries anythin'. He ain't done no harm."

"Right. Anyway..." Adam sat down beside him and started drinking from his water bottle. "Been meanin' to ask ya somethin'."


"When you an' Jack got hitched, how did ya decide what to say in yer vows? I been rackin' my brains an' I just can't think how to start." He looked at Ennis helplessly.

Ennis rubbed the back of his head, wishing it was Jack's hand running through his hair. "Uh...well, it wasn't all that easy fer me. I ain't the best person fer talkin' 'bout stuff. I just..." He looked out around them. "Just talked 'bout how I feel about him. 'Bout how lonely it was growin' up with not a lot of love, an' just how damn happy I am that I got him. He makes me real happy," he finished quietly.

"Hmm...I guess I could do that. I don't think any of us had the best upbringin', did we? An' yer right, we oughta be damn grateful for what we got now. Just hope we don't lose it," Adam replied, also looking around them.

"Just gotta pray we don't," said Ennis in a quiet voice. The lieutenant yelled at them to get a move on, and they both stood up, following the others and marching on. Ennis had a deep fear in his heart that something was about to go wrong, but he didn't know what. Of course, there were plenty of possibilities, but none that he would like to see. He looked up into the clear blue sky, so reminiscent of Jack's eyes, and he sent out a thought to his lover, hoping that he would hear it and know he was thinking of him.

"Please God...let us all stay safe," he whispered. "Let me return to him. Let Becky live." He lowered his head and started walking, now unsure and scared of what awaited him at the end of this journey.