Chapter 16

They stayed that way for what felt like an eternity, Jack holding Ennis until his sobs faded away. He was unwilling to let go of him, just wanted to hold him here forever and make all the pain go away.

As he held Ennis, he suddenly remembered something. "Shit, Ennis! Yer stitches! Come on, get up." He dug his boot heels in and gently brought Ennis up with him, keeping a firm grip on him. He brought them both into a standing position, and pulled his head back so he could look at Ennis. His eyes were a little red and Jack's heart nearly broke.

"Baby..." he said softly, cupping Ennis's cheeks. "It's okay..."

Ennis sniffed and wiped at his eyes. "Sorry, Jack, but...I..."

"Shh..." Jack soothed, stroking his cheeks. "You wanna go inside? My mama an' Becky wanna see ya." He saw Ennis nod.

"Yeah, okay." Jack grabbed Ennis's bag from the ground, which he'd dropped as they'd collided, and slung it over his shoulder. He then took Ennis's hand and led him to the house, feeling fiercely protective of him.

Rose, Becky and Lily had moved to the front room by now, and the two women smiled as they entered. They immediately noticed Ennis's red eyes, but declined to comment out of respect for his feelings.

"Ennis..." Rose stood up and walked over to him. Jack was worried that he might recoil from physical contact, but this wasn't the case. Ennis smiled and let her embrace him, her standing on her tiptoes to reach around his shoulders. Becky stood up slowly and walked over, handing Lily over to Jack. When Rose prised herself away from her son-in-law, Ennis turned to Becky.

" you feelin'?" he asked her in concern.

She smiled up at him; he was taken aback by how pale and gaunt she was, but he could see that her eyes were still very much alert. "I'm copin'. Just takin' one day at a time. Come here..." She reached up and hugged him tightly, and he could feel how thin she was; she hadn't felt like that the last time he'd hugged her, six months ago. He wondered how much time she had left and was thankful that he would be here when the time came.

They broke apart and Jack moved forward with Lily, her bright blue eyes alight with interest. Jack wondered if she would recognise Ennis.

Ennis looked down at her, hoping that she would know his face. After a few moments of looking up at him, Lily giggled and reached up for him. All four adults smiled in relief.

"Looks like she knows ya," Jack said, handing her over to Ennis, whose gentle face and calm demeanour would have been enough to make her trust him, even if she hadn't recognised him. Jack's heart filled with love at the sight. He could tell that holding Lily was calming Ennis down, at least for now.

They all moved to the sofa and chairs, as a family.

"How you doin', Ennis?" asked Rose. He tried to smile.

"Okay, I guess. Just...tryin' not to think on it much, you know?"

She and Rose both nodded in understanding. They knew that Ennis would have to think about it at some point, but they knew that right now he needed a bit of normality.

Lily squirmed and Ennis let her go, and she headed for her toys on the floor. With Ennis's hands now free, Jack took hold of one and laced their fingers together. Ennis smiled at him.

Becky yawned. "Think I'm gonna go fer some more sleep, if that's okay." The others nodded.

"Sure, honey. I don't mind takin' care of Lily." Becky smiled in gratitude and got up, kissing all three of them on the cheek before heading upstairs.

"You wanna go for a ride, bud?" Jack asked Ennis.

Ennis shook his head regretfully. "Can't. Back in L.A. I talked to the nurse who was keepin' an eye on me. Told her I do a lot of ridin' an' she told me not for a few weeks yet." He looked at Jack with pain in his eyes.

Jack winced as he remembered Ennis's stitches. "Shit, sorry, cowboy. I forgot. You wanna do somethin' else?"

"Could we just go fer a walk?" Ennis asked, and Jack's heart yearned to make him feel better.

"Sure thing, bud. Come on." He dragged Ennis up by the hand and Rose kissed them both as they headed out.

They walked slowly, with no real destination in mind but happy to be here together. Jack was very happy to have Ennis back with him, holding his hand, but he felt as if this was the calm before the storm. Ennis had been so distraught when he'd arrived and Jack had been quite taken aback by the onslaught of emotion from him. It seemed to have died down now, after the initial flood, but Jack had to wonder if it might come back. He remembered his vow to himself to look after Ennis no matter what, and he would be sure to see it through.

They reached the bench outside the barn and sat down, still holding hands.

"Nice day," Jack commented, looking up and around. "Havin' a good summer, huh?"


Jack looked at him, and then down at his hands. He noticed Ennis's bare ring finger and remembered where his ring was.

"Oh..." He reached under his shirt and brought up the chain holding Ennis's wedding ring, a smile on his face. "Here..." He lifted it over his head and unclasped the chain, putting it in his pocket. He held out the ring.

"Can I put this back on?" he asked, looking hopeful.

Ennis smiled, and this time it reached his eyes, to Jack's relief. He let Jack take his hand and slip the ring on where it belonged. They both looked down at it, Jack running his thumb over it and thinking about the day they'd swapped these up on Brokeback. Their eyes met and they both shifted forwards into each other's arms, holding onto each other for comfort.

A little later, they returned to the house for some more food. Even though there were a number of hours left until dinner, they found themselves ravenous after recent events. Jack found some peanut butter in the fridge so set about making everybody some sandwiches. His mother was still in the living room with Lily, and they figured that Becky was still asleep. The two of them decided to eat their fill and then wrap up whatever was left.

As they ate one-handed, Jack suddenly thought of something. " that yer home, you wanna call yer brother an' sister? I told 'em what happened when I got the telegram, an' that you'd be home soon."

Ennis thought for a moment, and then shook his head. "I dunno. I ain't really up to talkin' much yet. I wanna, but..." He bit his lip.

Jack squeezed his hand. "It's okay. I understand. You want me to call 'em, an' tell 'em that you'll call 'em when yer ready?" Ennis smiled and nodded.

"Yeah, that'd be good. Thanks, bud."

"No problem." Jack finished his sandwiches and drained his glass before getting up, kissing Ennis's cheek as he did so. He went to the phone and started dialling. As he waited, he turned so that he could meet Ennis's eyes across the kitchen.

"Cecilia Wilson."

"Hey, Cecilia. It's Jack."

"Oh, hey Jack. What's up?"

"How are you guys? Did you, uh...go to the funeral?" he asked, cautious of any reaction from Ennis, but his head was down. Jack grew concerned for him and hoped that the long-term effects wouldn't be too bad.

"We did. Tom was real shaken up. They got real close these last couple of years an' then to have this happen..." She sounded quite upset, and he couldn't blame her.

"I know. How's Pete?"

"Oh, Jack...he...he looked lost. Don't really know what he's gonna do now."

"Right. I'll call him sometime. Anyway, I got some news."

"Oh?" she asked hopefully.

"Yep. Ennis is back home. Got back a couple hours ago."

"Really?" Cecilia sounded much more alive now. "That's great! Where is he?"

"He's here, in the kitchen. But he says he ain't up to talkin' to people right now. No offense, Cecilia."

"Oh, that's okay, Jack. No worries. I understand he's been through a lot, an' that he's got some healin' to do. There ain't no rush. Just...let him know I'm sendin' my best to him, okay?"

"Sure, will do. Give my best to Tom, alright?"

"Yep. Bye, Jack."

"Bye, Cecilia." He hung up and decided to wait a moment before calling K.E. He went over to Ennis, who had finished eating and was now biting at a hangnail. He went around the table and leaned over Ennis, crossing his arms around Ennis's neck and pressing their cheeks together.

"Cecilia sends her best," Jack said softly, his words half-lost in Ennis's cheek.


Jack sighed, knowing what had affected him. "Sorry, cowboy. I forgot about the whole funeral thing. I know it probably ain't what you wanna hear 'bout right now..."

Ennis covered Jack's arms with his hands and leaned back into him. "S'alright, Jack. Only right that you ask 'bout it. Wouldn't expect no less of you, bud..."

Jack kissed his cheek and held him tighter. "Thanks, Ennis. Just one more call an' that'll be it for now, okay? We can have some more quiet time together, if ya want."

"I'd like that," Ennis murmured, feeling secure in Jack's arms. They stayed that way for a moment, and then Jack suddenly roused himself.

"Well, better get it over with." He prised himself away and went back to the phone, dialling K.E.

"K.E. Del Mar."

"Hey, K.E., it's Jack."

"Oh, hey Jack. Sarah said you called about a week ago. Couldn't believe it when she told me 'bout Ennis."

"I know, an' Adam too. Cecilia said Tom's all cut up; don't know what to do with himself. An' I know Pete ain't much better. He's lost everythin'."

"Shit...that's awful. So what's happened now?"

"Well...Ennis is back home. Got back a couple hours ago." Jack couldn't help but smile at this.

"Oh...that's great, Jack. How is he?"

"Injured, an' traumatised I think, but he'll be okay, I'm sure."

"Good. Give him my best, okay?"

"I sure will. An' you to an' Sarah too."

"Thanks. Bye, Jack."

"Bye, K.E." Jack hung up and then rubbed his forehead. When he turned to Ennis, he was alarmed to see that his partner had his face in his hands.

"Ennis? What is it?" He rushed around the table and gently grasped Ennis's shoulders. "What's up?"

"I just..." He shakily brought his face out of his hands. "Seein' Adam lyin' there like that...dyin', blood all over him...made me think of..."

Jack was way ahead of his thoughts, and his stomach clenched. "Oh shit...Ennis..." He snaked his arms around Ennis's neck and tried to comfort him. "It's okay..."

"I just...I hadn't thought on it since I was in hospital, an' talkin' to K.E. just now made me think 'bout it, rememberin' that he saw it too..."

"Ennis...I'm sorry..."

He shook his head, once more holding onto Jack's arms. "Ain't yer fault. a lot of shit to deal with, in my head...ain't gonna be easy."

"I know. But...I promise, Ennis...I'm gonna help ya as much as I can. Before...the attack...when you was still out there...I made myself a promise. That no matter what happened to you out there, or what it did to ya...I'd do whatever I could to make it better. To help ya through it. I made vows to you, an' I'm gonna stand by 'em. Yer my husband..." he finished in a soft, soothing voice.

It worked; he could feel the tension draining out of Ennis's body as he relaxed. He sent up a prayer of thanks that his words were sinking in, that Ennis was listening. Maybe they would be able to get through this, if they worked together. That was something to aim for.

That evening, they were all about to go up to bed for some sleep, something that they all needed very much. Jack was wondering how Ennis might want to handle the sleeping arrangements; he had seemed okay with physical contact earlier, but a few hugs with family members were different compared to sharing a bed with a lover. Jack would never force Ennis into anything, especially not after what had happened, but he wasn't sure if Ennis would even want to share a bed with him. It might be too soon.

They were the last to go up, and Jack stood around awkwardly, rubbing his head. "Hey, d'you wanna handle the sleepin' arrangements?"

Ennis looked at him, confused. "Whaddaya mean, bud?"

Jack seemed nervous and hesitant. " wanna share, or...?"

"Course I do. It's our bed, ain't it?" Ennis asked in confusion.

Jack looked at him, heartache in his face. "I just...if we share..."

Ennis suddenly started to understand Jack's predicament. "Oh...Jack,'s okay. We can share."

"You sure?" he asked, looking worried. "Look, if...if you don't wanna...I understand. It's probably way too early for us to do anythin', an' that's okay. You've been hurt, in all kinds of ways, an'...I don't want ya feelin' like we gotta go straight back to havin' sex on yer first night back. It's alright an' I don't mind waitin'."

Ennis was touched by Jack's declaration. He honestly hadn't been bothered by the prospect of sharing a bed with Jack. He hadn't even thought about sex, but now that Jack mentioned it, he wasn't sure that he was quite ready for that yet.

"'s okay. Yer right, it is too soon for us to do anythin'. I just ain't ready yet. Sorry, bud."

Jack shook his head. "Don't worry 'bout it, cowboy. You still wanna share? I don't mind sleepin' on the sofa until yer okay for us to share."

He looked at Ennis, who was clearly thinking about this. Ennis shook his head.

"No, Jack...I...I wanna share, even if we can't do nothin'."

"Are ya sure?" Jack asked, moving forward with a soft expression on his face.

He nodded. "I, um...I been sleepin' alone for six months...missed ya somethin' awful, darlin'. I...I don't wanna be alone no more..."

"Aw, Ennis...s'alright. You don't gotta, if you don't wanna be. I know you probably need some company right now, given everythin' that's happened, an' that's okay. You want me to sleep in the bed with ya, I will."

"Jack, I...I think I'm gonna start havin' nightmares, 'bout what happened. I...I don't wanna be alone if that happens. Gonna need ya there." His voice broke with the last few words, and he sounded quite choked up. Jack just nodded.

"No problem, Ennis." He took Ennis's hand and squeezed it. "Come on, then." He led Ennis upstairs and to their bedroom, enjoying the quiet of the house around them. They quickly checked in on Lily before reaching their room; they'd adopted a routine of checking on her whenever her room was passed, to make sure that she was okay.

They reached their room and Jack let Ennis in first, closing the door behind them. "Hey, Ennis?" he asked, looking at him.

Ennis turned. "Yeah?"

"You, want a massage, with the oil? I don't mind, an' you look like you need one."

He was glad to see a genuine smile spread across Ennis's face. "Sure, that sounds good. Thanks, bud."

"No problem. Get yerself comfortable." He gestured to the bed and watched Ennis start to undress. He didn't want Ennis to freak out to feel him naked on top of him, so he grabbed a pair of pyjama bottoms and started to undress too. He put on the pyjamas and headed for the bed, where Ennis was lying face down, getting himself ready. Jack crawled onto his side of the bed and shuffled up to Ennis.

"You ready?" he asked softly, nuzzling Ennis's ear with his nose. He heard Ennis breathing in a relaxed way.

"Yeah. Go on, Jack..."

Jack kissed his ear and slowly slid on top of him, covering him with his warm body. He reared up onto his knees and reached for their massage oil, unused after so many months. He got some on his hands and warmed it up, before starting to rub Ennis's shoulders with it. He heard Ennis make a soft purring noise and smiled to himself.

"Just relax, baby," he whispered, rubbing Ennis's back. "Let it all go..."

"Mmm..." Ennis buried his face in the pillow and tried to lose himself in Jack's caring touch, not thinking about anything else. Jack stayed in the upper area, unsure of how far to go, and was soon finished.

"That better?" he asked, leaning low over Ennis and kissing the base of his neck.

"Real good, darlin'. Thanks..."

"Ain't no problem. You know I'd do anythin' fer you. You wanna try an' get some sleep now?"

"Yeah. Promise you'll stay?" His breath hitched and Jack could sense his need to have him close.

"Sure do. I ain't ever gonna leave ya alone, not until yer ready fer it. Gonna stick to ya like glue, cowboy, at least until you can handle bein' on yer own. That alright?"

"Yeah. Thanks, bud. Could ya...hold me tonight?"

"Course. An' every night as long as ya want me to." Jack slid off him onto his side and gazed at him in the darkness. He leaned forward and kissed Ennis softly on his lips; their first real kiss since his return. Ennis then turned onto his other side and Jack spooned up around him, holding him around his stomach.

"Night, baby," Jack whispered, holding him close. He felt Ennis take a shuddering breath.

"Night, Jack." He fell asleep to the feeling of Jack gently rubbing his stomach the way he loved, and for the first time in six months, he felt safe and loved. Everything would be alright as long as he had Jack here to hold him.

Becky lay in her bed, trying to get comfortable. It had been an eventful day, for sure. She was very glad that Ennis was home and in one piece, even if he did have stitches. She knew that the mental scars could last for a long time, and would only heal if Ennis was helped. She wondered if he might need some kind of therapy in order to get through it, and if Rick might be able to help him. He hadn't been able to help her, but that wasn't his fault. Maybe he knew somebody who could help Ennis. She'd heard of therapists who dealt especially with war veterans, and maybe Rick could put him in touch with one of them.

She hoped that Jack would be able to help Ennis with the trauma he was likely to be suffering in the coming months. She'd heard that nothing worked better than comfort from a trusted lover. Maybe Jack would be able to help him. She knew that Ennis trusted Jack beyond all others, and that Jack had been the first person to find a way in through the armour that Ennis had built up around himself. He'd gotten in where nobody else had, not even Alma from what they'd told her. They did feel sorry for her, especially Jack for having essentially stolen Ennis from her, but they had tried their best to make amends before starting off for Georgia. She wondered how Alma was doing these days; she knew that she had married her friend from back home, so maybe she was happy. She knew that it had eased Ennis's mind to hear that she was doing okay.

As for herself, she could steadily feel herself getting worse as the days passed. She was still throwing up every now and then, and she kept getting headaches. She knew deep down that she would be spending more and more time in bed from now on, which she didn't like, considering that Ennis was home. He was, in a way, her brother-in-law, and she wanted to be around him now that he was back home. She loved him as much as she loved Jack and prayed, for their sakes, that he would be okay.

Down the hall, Rose too was thinking about Ennis and Jack, and what the next few months might be like. She remembered a few male friends of hers going off to war around twenty years ago and a couple of them coming back traumatised. They had struggled to get back to a normal life after coming home; one of them had even taken his own life because he couldn't cope. She hoped with all her heart that it wouldn't come to that; ordinarily Ennis was in no way the type for that, but she knew that war could change everything. They would probably have to keep a close eye on Ennis for any signs of severe trauma.

She was quite worried about Jack, and how he might cope with everything that was going on. Becky was ill, there was the ranch to consider, there was Lily to bring up, and now Ennis was back, and likely to need help at some point. There was a lot going on in their lives right now and she wondered if Jack might be stretched to breaking point, if he might crack and have a breakdown. She hoped that wouldn't happen; the last thing they needed right now was for Jack to become too affected by everything. They had to remain strong as much as possible and band together as a family if they had any chance of getting through this. They had gelled together so well after she and Becky had come to live here, and Rose knew that despite their problems, there was nowhere on earth that she would rather be. She loved her two (or rather three) children and her granddaughter more than anything. She wouldn't trade in any of this for a family with no problems.

She'd heard Ennis and Jack come up to bed, softly padding along the hall to their room. She had wondered about their sleeping arrangements and if they would share. Would Ennis want that kind of intimacy? Even though she knew it could be a long time before they did anything, she wondered if Ennis would be able to sleep in such a small space like their bed, so close to another body. She knew that he trusted Jack not to force him into anything, but still.

She had thought a lot about Becky lately, and how she was doing. She was still very ill and was getting steadily worse. She'd been to see Rick a couple of times, even though he couldn't actually do anything for her. They were still good friends, like with everybody else in town, and he could still offer her some moral support. She was very glad that they had such good friends here in town; people to offer them support as needed. She wondered if they would have their friends over at some point. She knew that they would want to see Ennis now that he was back home, but he might be too traumatised just yet to have too many people in the same room. He might be too agitated and might close up. She knew that it would have to be discussed between him and Jack before it could happen, and that Jack would honour his wishes no matter what. Personally, she thought it might be good for him to see their friends, but it was his call.

She sighed to herself and put her book down, unable to read with all the thoughts buzzing around her head. She settled herself down and turned off the light, hoping that they could all get through this with minimal damage to themselves. In her heart, she prayed that they would all be able to cope and that there wouldn't be too much heartache at the end of it.

Down the hall, Ennis and Jack were still sleeping in their spooning position, lost in their dreams of each other. Ennis had drifted off to the feeling of Jack rubbing his stomach in the gentle way he did to soothe him. He had always loved that feeling.

He was back in the jungle, hearing the bombs hit and feeling pain all through his body. He looked down at Adam, lying there as he died. He was white and still shaking, and there was nothing he could do.

He looked around helplessly, not knowing what to do. Adam was dying and he couldn't save him. What was he supposed to do now?

In his sleep, Ennis started to make noises of discomfort and started shifting around. He didn't stir Jack yet but he was becoming agitated.

He turned back to face his dying comrade, but the dream had changed. Now he was looking on a very familiar face, bloodied and torn apart, the white hair full of dirt and blood. The pants were bloodied too; a complete mess of a corpse. He stood up in alarm and started backing away, completely horrified. He couldn't take his eyes off the figure and now he really didn't know what to do. He had to get away from here, and fast.

As he backed away, he saw the face of the figure change before his very eyes. Gone was the withered old face, and in its place was a younger one, still smooth. The bright blue eyes were striking against the pale skin but Ennis gained no joy from looking at them. They were no longer full of life; were now dead. The black hair was full of dust, and the body was still the same; covered in blood and torn up.

"No...oh God, no..." He couldn't take it anymore. He turned and fled through the trees as fast as he could. But another bomb hit soon after, the force of it blasting in his face.

He jerked awake, shuddering in Jack's arms and gasping for breath. Jack was finally roused, and he grew alarmed when he saw the state that Ennis was in.

"Ennis?" He leaned up on his elbow and gently started to shake him. "Come on, wake up..."

He felt Ennis shaking; he was somewhere between sleep and waking, and Jack knew he had to get him awake properly. "Ennis, come on..."

"...Jack..." he finally gasped out. "Jack..."

"It's okay, I'm here," Jack soothed, running his hand along Ennis's arm. "I'm here, baby..."

Ennis turned slowly onto his back, and Jack was saddened by his expression. "Jack..."

"Shh..." Jack shushed him, cupping his cheek. "It's alright."

"Nightmare," Ennis choked out. "Adam...then Earl...then you..." He looked utterly terrified and Jack didn't quite know how to comfort him. He'd been afraid of that dream materialising once more, especially after what had happened. He knew that what Ennis had seen as a boy scared him, and it scared him even more to see Jack in that way. It made some sort of cruel sense that watching Adam die like that would cause the nightmare to come back to him.

"'s okay. Just a nightmare. I'm okay, see?" He brought Ennis's hand to his beating heart for reassurance, and he felt Ennis's fingers pressing at his chest for comfort. "We're both safe. Yer safe, with me, where you belong."

He watched Ennis's frightened face slowly change as he calmed down, taking deep breaths. "Jack...don't want you endin' up like that..."

"I know you don't. But I ain't yet, an' I don't plan on goin' nowhere right now. You need me, right?" He saw Ennis nod. "So...I ain't goin' nowhere. I promise."

"You...can't go promisin' that," Ennis said shakily. "You don't know..."

Jack sighed. "I don't. But...I can promise to at least try. Everythin's gonna be okay, I swear. You believe me?"

"I...I wanna, but..." Ennis swallowed. " fuckin' scared..."

Jack leaned down and let their noses brush together. "I know, Ennis...I know you are...I am too, to tell ya the truth. But...we gotta have a little faith. Let's just take one day at a time, okay?" He ran a hand through Ennis's curls and watched his face.

Ennis sniffed a couple of times as their foreheads pressed together, looking down to where his hand still rested over Jack's beating heart. When he looked up, his eyes were a little bright and he was clearly still a little shaken, but at least his breathing was normal now.

"Okay, bud. Jack, I...I gotta say thanks for everythin'. You takin' care of me, an' with Becky ill an' all..." He looked quite choked up and Jack couldn't help but gently press their lips together for a second.

"Can't deny that it ain't easy, but...I love you guys, an' I wanna make sure yer okay. You've always been lookin' after me, Ennis. When my dad wanted to have us killed back in Lightnin' Flat...when I got hurt in Texas...when Alma was spittin' hate at me...then all the shit we had to deal with from Pete...then my dad dyin' an' all..." He smiled to himself as he thought of all the times Ennis had taken care of him. "You've always done right by me when I needed it. It's my turn now, cowboy. Let me take care of you fer a change. I can do it too, an' I wanna." He pressed in close and looked straight into Ennis's eyes. "Just let it all go," he whispered. "Don't worry no more..."

Ennis closed his eyes and shifted closer to him, seeking more sleep. Jack quickly checked Ennis's bandages on his stomach; they seemed okay, so he settled down with him. They were in an awkward position, half on their backs and half on their sides, but Jack didn't care as long as Ennis was comfortable. Looking after him was his priority now, and he swore to do everything he could to see this through; to protect him and chase all the nightmares away.