Author's notes

Hey guys! This is the last full chapter of the story, but I will be posting the epilogue tomorrow. And don't forget, the first chapter of my new story, A Place To Call Home, will be posted on Monday.

Happy reading!

Kathryn xxx

Chapter 29

Ennis tried not to break the speed limit as he headed for the hospital, but it was an effort considering what was going through his mind and how worried he was. He prayed with all his heart to whoever might be listening that Jack would be okay, or at the very least that he would get a chance to say goodbye and tell Jack he would always love him.

He promised himself there and then that if, by some miracle, Jack did pull through, that he would never put him through anything like the past few days ever again. He would never walk away, and would never break Jack's heart again. Being separated, even for just a few days, had clearly torn through both of them and Ennis was unwilling to experience it again. He just had to tell Jack how sorry he was.

When he finally reached the hospital, he quickly found a parking space and rushed inside, hoping to find someone he knew. Lureen was in the waiting area, looking like she hadn't slept in days. "Lureen!"

She looked up as he approached and let out a cry of relief, springing up and hugging him. "Thank God you're here," she said, clearly close to tears. "It's been awful..."

"Where's Jack?" Ennis asked immediately, and she pulled away.

"Upstairs, I'll take you there." He willingly followed her, completely forgetting about the elevator and choosing to run up the stairs instead. Up on the third floor, Lureen led him to Jack's room just as his doctor exited it.

"Ennis, good to see you. Lureen said she'd get you here."

"What's going on?" Ennis demanded, trying with all his might to not just barge past Rick into the room. He wanted to be prepared for what he might see.

"As Lureen probably told you, Jack has acute pancreatitis, brought on by the Videx in his HIV medication. It seems that his body started reacting badly to it, which was causing his stomach aches earlier today. And his enzyme elevation is quite high, needs to be brought down."

"Is he gonna be okay?" Ennis asked uneasily, trying not to feel sick. Rick bit his lip.

"I'm...cautiously optimistic. He's on an IV and saline, and we're keeping a close eye on him. He's off his meds right now while we try and figure out how to fix this. He's still unconscious but he could wake up at any time."

Ennis nodded. "Can I see him?"

"Sure, he's right in here. I know you two broke up, but...I'll make sure the other doctors know that you're to be treated as family. You'll be able to stay in his room tonight, but we only have a chair in there. I'll have someone bring you a pillow and blanket."

"Thanks, Rick." Ennis nodded and headed into the room, bracing himself for what he might see.

Jack was laying there, black hair standing out against the white pillow, skin a little pale. Ennis felt his stomach churning as he walked over and sat down in the chair, pulling it up close so he could take Jack's hand. It was warm and familiar, and he'd missed this immensely.

"Darlin'...I missed you so much. I'm so sorry I wasn't there when this happened, but...I'm here now, and I'm gonna take care of you as much as I can. When you get out of here...I'm gonna be there. I'll look after you..."

He kissed Jack's hand, gazing at the beloved face that he'd seen in his dreams, wishing that Jack would wake up.

It occurred to Ennis then just how strongly he felt about Jack. Seeing him lying there, not even conscious, gave Ennis the opportunity to think about that. Jack was his soul mate, and had been even when they were apart. He'd seen Jack in his dreams every night since they broke up, and no force on earth could have stopped what he felt for the man. Their love was like a force of nature, and Ennis was determined to fix his mistake.

There was a knock on the door and Lureen came in, carrying a blanket and pillow. "Here. I said I'd bring these in for you." Ennis nodded in thanks and she placed them on the floor by the chair. "Are you okay?"

He shrugged. "Don't know. I just wish he'd wake up..."

"I know. The thing is, Ennis...he never stopped loving you. When he was at my place, he was talking about moving back to New York." At Ennis's look of hurt, she carried on quickly. "But only because he was hurting so much. He thought that if he went back, it would help him get over you. But I could see in his eyes that he didn't want to get over you. And I'm sure that when he wakes up, he'd be more than willing to take you back. He never really lost hope that you would come around and ask him for another chance."

Ennis nodded. "I was an idiot and a coward. I know that now. I thought that us being apart was for the best, but...I was so wrong. The best thing for both of us is to be together. I realise that now and I wish it hadn't taken something like this to knock some sense into me."

"I don't think any of us do," she said softly, touching his shoulder. "But it's all water under the bridge now. I'm sure that Jack will be fine, and that you guys will work it out. You're Ennis and're meant to be together and we all know it."

He smiled at her a little. "I guess. He's the love of my life...and I'm never gonna let him down again."

She nodded her approval, and then looked at her watch. "It's that you're here, I'm gonna go back to my place. I'll call Jack's work and tell them he won't be coming in. You gonna call the vet's?"

"Yeah, I will. Thanks, Lu." She gave him a smile and closed the door behind her, leaving him to look at Jack's face and hold his hand.

A few hours after Lureen left, Ennis grabbed a bag of chips from his overnight bag and opened them up, suddenly ravenous after his scare. He knew that Lureen would be taking care of most things in the outside world, so that he could stay with Jack, and he was very grateful to her.

He was relieved that Jack was likely to recover from this, and he couldn't wait for Jack to wake up so they could talk. There was so much that he needed to tell Jack, and he'd been storing it all up over the past few hours.

Ennis knew exactly what he wanted to say, and he hoped it would be enough to repair some of the damage he'd caused Jack this past week. He knew he'd hurt him, and he was ashamed of himself for it. Hurting Jack was the one thing he had always promised he would never do, and he'd gone and done it. Ennis knew in his heart that even if Jack forgave him for it, he might never forgive himself.

As he sat there, holding Jack's hand with one of his and eating with the other, he couldn't help but think about the future. Assuming that Jack did forgive him and they got back together, then what? Would he still be allowed to move in? Where would they live?

Thinking it over, he knew a few things. Jack would need to be close to a hospital, regardless of where they lived. It was just too much to hope for that this would never happen again, and he wanted to be sure that Jack remained close to medical help when he needed it. Ennis would move to another country entirely if it was what Jack needed.

Also, he thought about his own concerns. It was clear to him that while he loved Jack and was prepared to see this through, he would need some help. Maybe there was some kind of counselling for people in magnetic relationships, someone who could help them deal with the realities of it and the very real possibility of infection.

Ennis looked at Jack's face and sighed to himself. He still loved Jack so much, and knew that he always would. Jack being positive had never changed how Ennis felt about him, and this time apart hadn't changed anything, either. Ennis knew in his heart that Jack needed him, now more than ever, and how on earth could he walk away from that? He needed Jack just as much.

There was one other thing that he thought on as he looked at his beloved Jack; his fear of being infected, the fear that had driven him away. As he thought about it, the more rational his thoughts became. So what if he got infected? It wasn't as though he would drop dead there and then. And yes, there was the possibility he could end up where Jack was now, but for all he knew it might be a rare occurrence. He could still live for a number of years without getting sick, and they could both live without either one of them getting AIDS. People still died from the virus, he knew that, but with the advances in drugs the number was shrinking.

With all of this in mind, Ennis decided on something. If he was destined to become positive, if getting HIV was going to happen at some point in his life, then he would rather it was from Jack than any other source. He didn't want to be infected, but if it happened then he would have to deal with it. And if he had Jack by his side, at least he would be with someone who could help him through it; someone who loved and cared about him. That alone was enough to relax his mind and simmer down his fears.

He smiled to himself a little. "Guess I was all worked up for nothing, bud. I'm so sorry, Jack..." He leaned forward and clasped Jack's hand tightly. "I'm sorry I walked away and hurt you like that. I was such a coward...making the biggest mistake of my life."

Ennis paused for a moment, thinking. He'd heard that when people were unconscious, they could still hear when someone talked to them, especially someone they had a strong bond with. "Jack...I never should've left that night. I should've stuck around and talked about it, let you calm me down. But I didn't...and I'll always regret that. The thing is, darlin''ve always been braver than me. Right from the beginning, I've admired how brave you are. I think...I think I'd be okay with having HIV as long as I had you with me, but I'd never be as brave about it as you."

He started to stroke Jack's hand, and looked up at the clock. It was now almost two in the morning. "I love you, Jack...please wake up. I wanna tell you how sorry I am, and that I wanna start over. I...I'd still love to move in, if you'll have me. I wish we could get married, so you'd know how much I love you. But if just living together is all we're ever gonna have, I'd settle for that. I'd be happy with anything you can give me, just as long as you love me and let me stay in your life. I promise, I'll never hurt you again."

Ennis lowered his head, squeezing Jack's hand ever tighter. He almost jumped a foot in the air when a voice came out of nowhere, breaking the silence.

"Gonna hurt my hand if you squeeze it any tighter, bud," came the soft whisper, tinged with amusement. He looked up and thought he was hallucinating.

Jack was smiling at him, bright blue eyes looking at him with warmth and love, just like he remembered. And Ennis could feel him squeezing back.

Ennis couldn't believe it; Jack was awake. "Jack?"

"Hey, you," Jack said softly, heart soaring at the fact that Ennis was here, by his side. "You sure are a sight for sore eyes."

He continued to smile at Ennis, who couldn't help but return it. "Glad you're awake, bud..."

"What happened?" Jack asked, looking around and seeing the IV drip he was hooked up to.

"You remember being at Lureen's place? You collapsed and she got the paramedics to bring you here. You've had acute pancreatitis, Jack. It was caused by that Videx remember, the one that Darren saw when he figured out you're positive?"

"Oh, yeah..." Jack replied, remembering. "That stuff's been more trouble than it's worth." He looked at Ennis, who was still holding his hand. "I'm glad you're here."

"Lureen called me; told me what happened. I've been here for a few hours." Ennis swallowed. "Jack...I'm so sorry for everything..."


"No, I've gotta say this. I was an idiot to walk away from you. I thought it was for the best, but...seeing you like this, I know now that us being together is the best thing for both of us. I was a coward..."

Jack squeezed his hand. "You were scared...I understand. I told you it was okay if you wanted space."

"But...I broke your heart," Ennis told him, knowing it was true. "I don't know how you can bear to look at me right now."

"Because I still love you," Jack told him earnestly. "I never stopped loving you, and I never gave up hope that we would get back together."

"Lureen told me you were thinking of moving back to New York," Ennis said quietly, hoping to keep the hurt out of his voice. Jack lifted Ennis's chin with his free hand.

"I only thought about it because I felt so alone. I always hoped that things would work out for us, but by then I'd stopped believing that it would. I thought that I might see you with someone else, and that would have been the thing to make me really want to leave here. So...I didn't wanna get over you, but I thought I would have to."

Ennis nodded. "I'm sorry I put you through all of that...I've missed you so much these past few days. Kept dreaming about you...that we were still together. When I woke up and saw you weren't hurt so much and I knew it was all my fault."

"Baby..." Jack sighed, stroking Ennis's hand with his thumb. "I was never angry with you for it. I was just upset. And...I do still love you."

"I love you too," Ennis told him, looking into his eyes. " there any chance we could get back together? Is there a future for us?"

Jack smiled and nodded. "Yeah. I was gonna ask the same thing. But yeah...I reckon there's still a good chance for us. And if we both wanna get back together so much, I think we should. I'd love to still have a future with you."

"Okay..." Ennis was relieved; Jack still loved him and was taking him back. "I swear, Jack...I won't fuck this up again. Gonna be the man you deserve..."

"Sounds good enough to me. Come up here..." Jack motioned him closer, and Ennis sat on the bed close to him. They moved into each other's arms, slowly wrapping one another close and embracing. It was warm and familiar and everything they remembered.

Ennis buried his nose in Jack's hair, welcoming the familiar scent and thanking whoever might be listening for making sure that Jack made it. He would do everything he could to make this up to Jack.

Jack made a soft purring, contented sound, running his hands up and down Ennis's back, feeling as though his heart would burst with how happy he was. "Ennis?"

"Yeah, darlin'...?" Jack pulled his face away.

"What happens now? Are you still moving in?"

"If you'll have me," Ennis replied, hope in his eyes. Jack nuzzled their noses together.

"Sure I will. But I have to ask...what if this happens again? What if another condom breaks? What if you get infected?" he asked, needing answers before anything else was agreed.

"Then we'll deal with it," Ennis told him firmly, determined to be a little braver about the prospect. "If I get it, then that's it. Nothing I can do about it, so...I'd just have to learn to live with it." He cupped Jack's face. "And I was hoping...that if it happened, I'd have someone who can help me. Someone who loves me and will be able to help me live with it."

Jack couldn't believe that Ennis's fears had simmered down just like that. "You mean that? You were so scared before..."

"Yeah, but sitting here...watching you...I got to thinking. I'm scared of being infected. Can't deny that. But...I'm more scared of losing you. So...if putting myself at risk like that is what I have to do to be with you...I'm prepared to take that risk."

The look in his eyes was enough to make Jack believe him. It was honest and sincere, and Jack finally believed that Ennis was capable of being with him. " really can do this?" he asked, remembering what Ennis had said about needing to think about everything.

"Yep," Ennis said with a nod. "I finally figured it out." He smiled and pulled Jack close again, stroking his hair. He'd missed Jack so much and was more than willing to step up now. "I love you, Jack."

Jack pulled away and smiled, eyes a little watery. "I love you too." Their lips finally met in a sweet kiss, full of tenderness and love. Their promises to each other were sealed and locked away in their hearts, where they could never be harmed. As they kissed and held each other, both of them felt that there was nothing on earth that could keep them apart now. There was no obstacle that they couldn't overcome as long as they stuck together.

After Ennis and Jack were reunited, they spent the next few hours trying to get some sleep. Rick came in to check on Jack and was pleased to see him awake.

"Everything looks great, Jack," he told him as he wrote in the folder. "Your enzyme elevation's gone down and your temperature's gone. Looks like having Ennis here did you the world of good."

Jack smiled and looked over at Ennis, who was holding his hand again. "Guess so. When can I go home?"

"A couple of days, I think. We need to keep an eye on you until we're satisfied that you're healthy enough to be out of here. And when you are released, you'll be off the meds for a few months."

"Is that safe?" Ennis asked unsurely.

"Yeah, as long as he's eating properly and exercising. I want you to come here once a week for blood tests to make sure you're alright, and then after a few months you'll be put back on the meds. Your body needs a rest. And don't worry about the Videx; we got it sorted out so that it shouldn't irritate your body."

Jack nodded. "Okay. Thanks, Rick." The doctor smiled and left, leaving them alone.

The two of them were silent for a few minutes, and then Ennis checked his watch. "I need to call work, tell them I can't come in today."

"You should probably shower, too," Jack advised him. "Been sat there all night. Tell you what...why don't you just go back to your place, do whatever you have to and then come back? And can you call my parents? I'll be fine for a few hours."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, go on." Jack smiled as Ennis got up, and then leaned down to kiss him.

"I love you," Ennis murmured against his lips. Jack kissed him again.

"I love you too."

Ennis reluctantly left, sending a message to Alma to ask a favour, and then calling Jack's mother to tell her what had happened.

While he was gone, Jack laid there and thought about the past few hours. He'd been so happy to wake up and find Ennis there, and he was close to tears when Ennis had reassured him that he could do this, and was no longer so scared of being infected. Ennis had promised to stand by him and take care of him; Jack had heard every word while he'd been unconscious and was happier than ever to have Ennis in his life.

About an hour after Ennis left, there was a knock on the door. It was Alma and Lureen, to his surprise. "Hey, what are you girls doing here?"

"Lureen told me what happened," Alma replied as they sat down, placing the flowers on the bedside table. "And Ennis just sent me a message to ask me to come and sit with you while he's out."

Jack shook his head in amusement; Ennis truly was taking care of him. "Shouldn't you be at work?" he asked Lureen.

"I asked my boss to let me have the morning shift off. Just means working tonight instead, as well as this afternoon. I wanted to see you."

He smiled at her. "Thanks for helping me, Lu. Ennis told me what you did when I collapsed."

"Are you guys back together now?" she asked, and he nodded.

"Yep, we're back on track. Everything's gonna be okay."

"What about how scared he was before?"

"Well...he said that while he is still scared, he's more scared of losing me. So...he decided that he's willing to put himself at risk if it means we can be together."

"Wow..." They were both impressed by Ennis's change in behaviour, and were pleased that these recent events had knocked some sense into him.

"Oh, here..." Lureen went into her bag and pulled out his cell phone, wallet and keys. "You had your phone and keys with you when you were brought in, so I kept hold of them. And I went to your apartment and got your wallet, just to keep it safe more than anything."

Jack nodded and took hold of his keys, immediately finding the key ring with the photo of himself and Ennis. He couldn't help but smile, knowing now that everything would be okay.

Ennis completed his errands as quickly as he could, wanting to get back to Jack as soon as possible. The coupon book that Jack had given him was now safely in his nightstand, and he hoped that they would get to use more of it, especially the last coupon; the one for a life together with the man he loved.

He'd calmly told Karen what had happened, and while she was upset that Jack was in hospital, she was pleased that Ennis was there and that they were back together. Ennis promised her that he would look after Jack and she knew he would. Everything was sorted out with both his and Jack's work; he knew Lureen had called the clinic on Jack's behalf and his own boss was sympathetic. Ennis knew how lucky they both were to work with people who not only accepted their relationship, but also acknowledged how important it was that Ennis remained by Jack's side.

When he finally returned to the hospital, he paused outside Jack's room. Lureen and Alma were talking to Jack about him, and Jack had a rapturous expression on his face. It was crystal clear that Ennis had undone the damage he'd caused, and had repaired the heart that he'd broken.

"Hey," he called softly as he entered, and Jack couldn't help but grin at the sight of him.

"Hey, bud." He sat up as Ennis took his place by his side, reaching for his hand and lacing their fingers together. They remained like that as the conversation turned to other things, and both of them were comforted by the gentle pressure of each other's hand. Everything had turned out okay for them, and they once more had hope for the future.

Alma and Lureen left soon after, leaving them alone. Ennis leaned forward and kissed Jack warmly, happy that things were working out for them.

"How you feeling, bud?"

"Okay," Jack replied, nodding. "Better than I was, even without the meds." He was quiet for a moment, and then decided to ask the question that was on his mind. "Ennis...I have to ask you something..."

"Yeah?" Ennis was stroking Jack's hand with his thumb, liking how their hands just seemed to fit together naturally.

"Well...before you said you weren't gonna be scared if you got infected. I wanna believe that, but...did you really just change your mind, after all that?"

Ennis had predicted that Jack might not have fully believed him, and he didn't blame him after what had happened. "Yeah, darlin'. I had a lot of time to think it over. Like I said, I'm more scared of losing you. And...if getting HIV is supposed to happen to me at some point...if it's on the cards for me in my life...I'd rather I get it from you, instead of from anything else. At least I know I'd have you to help me."

Jack nodded. "Yeah, you would. And I really wanna believe that you won't bolt again. But when you did the other've gotta know how much it hurt me."

"I know," Ennis told him softly, cupping his cheek. "I know it hurt you and I can't tell you how sorry I am for that. I've never wanted to hurt you, bud."

Jack smiled at him. He figured that in time, as life moved forward for them, he would believe Ennis's words. All they had to do for now was love each other, and they did that very well.

"Well...guess that's that, then. So...are you still moving in with me? Or do you want us to get a place together?"

Ennis shrugged. "Well, we agreed we'd live at your place for a while, then maybe move when we hit thirty or something. I think it's best if we live near a hospital, Jack. I'd feel better if you were close to medical help when you need it."

The sweet words caught Jack off-guard, and he had to blink back tears. He figured that the drugs they had him on were messing with his emotions. Ennis saw his watery eyes and sat up on the bed close to him.

"Hey...what's wrong?" he asked softly, wiping Jack's eyes with his thumbs. Jack shook his head.

"Nothing's wrong...that's just it. I'm happy, Ennis...we're back together and making all of these plans...just makes me realise how much I love you, and how much I missed you."

"Oh, darlin'..." Ennis sighed, and moved closer to take Jack into his arms. "It's okay...I promise, I'll never let you down again."

Jack pulled away. "I've never asked you to promise me anything, Ennis. I won't ever force you to stay with me if you'd rather leave. That's why I didn't stop you the other night...I just wanted you to be happy."

"I wasn't happy, being away from you. I was miserable, Jack. And I'm making promises to you whether you like it or not." Ennis smirked and then turned serious, taking both of Jack's hands in his. "I promise to stay by your side no matter what. To love you as best I can, and to look after you. I'll never hurt you ever again. I swear..."

He looked imploringly into Jack's eyes, seeing them fill with fresh tears. It was clear that the drugs were making him more emotional than usual. "Ennis...I...I can't..."

Ennis knew what he was saying, but he wasn't hearing it. "Yeah, you can. I wanna do this for you, Jack. For us. You need me, and I need you. So...that's just how it is. I'm sure that when I need you, you'll be there. And I'm here for you now. You don't have to worry anymore, because I'm not going anywhere. I'm right here."

The tears leaked down Jack's cheeks and he took a shuddering breath. "Ennis...I can't ask you to do that. For one thing, it's not fair. I'm gonna need you more than you need me, and we both know that. I'm the one who's ill."

"I don't care if it's not fair," Ennis told him firmly. "I love you and I'm gonna be here for you. didn't ask me to do it. I'm offering."

He let go of Jack's hands and wiped the fresh tears away, seeing a smile finally cross Jack's features. "Okay," he said croakily. "If you're really promising all this stuff...guess I can't really say no."

Ennis leaned in close for another kiss, sweet and long and full of promises to each other. Everything had been sealed now, never to be broken. When they pulled apart, Ennis pulled their foreheads together, gazing into Jack's eyes.

"You're the love of my life, Jack," he murmured, seeing Jack gulp.

"Right back at you, bud. Can't wait for you to move in with's gonna be great."

"Yeah, it is. day...we could move to another state. One that says we can get married legally."

Jack heard the potential proposal in Ennis's statement, and he grinned. "I'd love that. Do you really picture us getting married?"

Ennis looked right at him, not blinking. "I do."

They clasped hands and could feel each other's pulses, their hearts beating together.

"I do too." Jack pulled Ennis close again and they held each other, knowing now that nothing would drive them apart ever again. They'd been to hell and back and had still found a way to move forward together, leaving the past where it belonged. Their love was like a force of nature, like a tall oak tree that could be affected by nothing, not even the strongest wind. And deep down, Jack knew in his heart that he'd found everything he'd been looking for his whole life, especially the last five years. He wasn't perfect, and their life wasn't perfect, but they had everything they needed right here, in their arms.