Chapter 27

Jack's heart was racing as they reached the hospital; Sarah had had to tell the kids what was going on and all three of them were close to tears, but she promised Jack that she would stay with them while he sorted things out.

He parked the truck and dashed inside, leaving Sarah to bring the kids in at their own pace. He then spied their doctor, Dr Oberman. She was a very nice woman whom they had registered with not long after moving to the area, and was accepting of their relationship.

"Linda!" he called as he approached her, and she turned.

"Jack, thank goodness. Did Sarah find you?"

"Yeah...I've got my power of attorney," he told her, extracting it from his jacket pocket, and she nodded.

"Good. Come with me." She led him down to the ER and walked up to the doctor who seemed to be in charge of what was going on. "Ennis Del Mar's partner's here, ready to give permission for surgery."

"Partner?" the man repeated, and Jack could have throttled him. "Well, they obviously ain't married, so I don't think-"

"I've got power of attorney," Jack cut in, stepping close to this bigot. "I've got it in writin' that I'm allowed to make these decisions if he can't. Let me see him an' then prepare the surgery." His blue eyes were full of anger and desperation; all he wanted to do was to help Ennis.

The doctor sensed his defeat and nodded, clearly unhappy about being outwitted like this. "Fair enough. He's through there; you've got five minutes before we need to start operatin'."

"I'll see what I can find out, Jack," Linda told him, and he nodded as he walked through the doors. He stopped in his tracks when he saw the bed.

"Oh, cowboy..." Jack stepped to the side of the bed, looking down. Ennis was unconscious, with tubes running from him and hooked up to a machine. His stomach was swathed in bandages and Jack wondered what kind of damage had been caused. He knew there and then that whatever happened to Ennis, he would never rest until Jason Marcus was behind bars for a long time.

Jack gingerly took his partner's hand and stroked it, eyes threatening to spill their tears. He was terrified of what might happen to Ennis, and he prayed that everything would be okay.

"Don't give up on me, okay?" he said shakily. "You're my big tough can't let a bigot like him get the better of you. You're better than this, Del Mar. I heard once that when someone's unconscious, they can still hear people. So...I'm gonna say...please hold on. For me...for the kids...for our family. You've made me real happy these past few months an' I ain't ready to let you go...never will be." He sniffed and heard movement behind him; he turned to see Linda standing there.

"The doctor says...that he's got a lot of internal bleedin' in his abdomen. He's stable now, but they need to find the source of the bleedin' an' fix it up. They x-rayed his legs; one of 'em got badly bruised but should be okay."

"Sure am glad that bastard didn't get his head," Jack choked out, the tears finally trailing down his cheeks. "He'd be a lot worse..."

"It's a good job Sarah saw what was goin' on...that he was stopped before..." She trailed off and cleared her throat. "Anyway...they're ready for the surgery. You need to come with me an' sign some forms while they operate on him."

Jack nodded, looking down at his cowboy's face. He sniffed and leaned down, cupping Ennis's cheek. "I love you, Ennis. Always have an' always will. Everythin's gonna be alright...just focus on comin' back to us." He kissed Ennis's forehead and finally let go of his hand. At that point, nurses came in to wheel Ennis to the operating room and Jack was left with his fear and anger. Linda put a hand on his arm.

"Jack...the doctor...he ain't optimistic about Ennis survivin'...but they're good at what they do. I'm sure it's gonna be fine." He nodded numbly and followed her out, his heart already yearning for Ennis and praying that the surgery would work.

He signed the papers and went into the bathroom to compose himself; Linda promised to come and get him as soon as she knew something. Sarah was with the kids in the waiting room and he needed to calm himself down before facing them. He looked into the mirror and splashed some water on his face, noting how distressed he looked.

"You got me good, Ennis. It wasn't was you. Fell for you big time an' now look at us." He gulped and stared at his reflection. "You was right...those shirts stayed together all those years even when we were apart. An' now...even though yer fightin' for yer life...they're still together. That's gotta count for somethin'." He sighed and left the bathroom, bracing himself for the floods of tears that could very well come from the kids.

Sarah was trying to put on a brave face for the kids, but she was very worried about her friends. It was clear how much they loved each other and she couldn't imagine what Jack was going through right now; he would be terrified by what was happening.

"Is Daddy gonna be okay?" Jenny asked, looking up at her. Sarah bit her lip.

"I don't know, Jenny. We better wait 'til Jack gets back up here." Just then, the man himself appeared and she saw it in his face; things were bad. "Stay here." She got up and approached Jack, and he told her everything. "Oh, Jack..."

"I know," he replied, wiping his eyes. "Linda said she'd come up as soon as somethin' happened...just gotta wait here. An' I gotta tell the kids..."

Sarah nodded and shook his shoulder. "It's gonna be okay. You tell the kids, an' I'll get us some coffee." He thanked her and looked at the three small faces that were staring at him.

Telling the kids, especially the girls, was one of the hardest things that Jack had ever had to do. The looks on their faces when he told them that Ennis could die was the kind that he would never forget, and he prayed that one day he would see them smile again. Hopefully the surgery would work and Ennis would be okay, but Jack knew that he had to prepare himself for the worst.

How do you prepare yerself to lose the love of yer life? he thought to himself as the kids clung to him. The girls were both in tears and Bobby wasn't far behind; this was undoubtedly one of the worst days of their lives. I built my whole life around him...livin' in Riverton with him, bringin' our families together...settin' up a am I supposed to go on the rest of my life without him, after everythin'? It would be bad enough if he and Ennis hadn't gotten together, and they were still just fishing buddies. As it was, Jack could feel nothing but pain and fear. Ennis was tough, but this was beyond him. Jack didn't know how bad the bleeding was, and if it was even possible that it could be fixed. For all he knew, Ennis could be dying right now and there might be nothing they could do.

I'd know, Jack reasoned with himself as he held onto the kids. If he was dyin', I'd know. I'd feel it in my gut. He's gotta be fightin' down there. Keep goin', bud.

Sarah was sat opposite them, having returned with the coffee. It broke her heart to see the kids so frightened and she wondered how on earth they would get through it if Ennis died. She vowed that if that happened, she would do whatever she could to help Jack with the kids, even babysitting them if he wanted time to himself. She thought of her own ex-husband and his partner; they were just living together and had no legal documents of their own if something like this happened to them. She would have to talk to them about this.

"Jack?" asked a voice behind him, and he turned to see Fred standing there. "I heard what happened...are you okay?"

"Been better," he replied, and the kids sat up, staring up at the sheriff. "What's up?"

"Well...I need to take a statement from Sarah, since she was a witness. But it looks to me like Marcus has got himself another charge of attempted murder. If we find him, he's goin' down for sure."

"If you can find him," Jack repeated in a low voice. "So he's still missin'..."

"Yeah, but I think we're close to findin' him. Look...Ennis's truck was found parked across the road from where he was attacked. He mighta been over the road, an' then was on his way back when Marcus grabbed him. I had one of the boys tow his truck back to the ranch for ya. There was a bag...I'm thinkin' he bought somethin' before he went over the road."

"He was shoppin' for birthday presents," Jack told him, feeling guilty. "Shit..."

"Well...the bag's safely inside the truck. I just need to talk to Sarah..." He looked at her and she stood up.

"I was thinkin'...I could go to the ranch...make sure the truck's okay an' get that bag inside. If you want. An' I could call yer hands to ask 'em to make sure everythin' okay..."

Jack smiled at her. "That'd be great, thanks." He handed her the key to the front door and she went off with Fred to give her statement. Then he looked at the kids; they were huddled together like real siblings, and Jack swallowed. Even if Ennis died, these children would need him. They would be depending on him to take care of them even if it was on his own. He couldn't afford to break down now; he had to remain strong for them.

Linda appeared and he stood up, eyes wide. She held up her hands. "Steady on. They're still operatin' on him...looks like it could take a while. Certainly more than a few hours...a lot of blood vessels were burst by the attack an' they're doin' everythin' they can to patch him up. looks good. You just gotta have faith, Jack."

He nodded and looked at the kids. "Maybe they should go home...I don't want 'em sittin' 'round here all night."

Sarah touched his arm, having returned from talking to Fred. "I can take 'em back, if you want. I need the key to yer truck anyway..."

He nodded and handed it over. "There's a spare to Ennis's truck on the inside wall of the livin' room. Could you put it the garage? An'...can you stay until I call? Ennis could be in surgery for hours..." He swallowed, knowing that he was looking at several hours of being sat here. The prospect was bleak but he had to do it.

"Sure, I ain't got no plans for tonight. I'll stay as long as you need me to." Jack turned to the kids and told them to go back with Sarah. There were some protests, but Jack told them he would feel better to know that they were at home in their own beds, and Sarah promised that she would look after them. The kids relented and hugged Jack before leaving with her.

Fred sighed. "Well...I better get back an' step up our search for that bastard. Hope everythin' goes okay, Jack." He left and Jack sat down, hands over his mouth as he stared at the wall.

In the operating room, Ennis was fighting for his life as he was operated on. He had heard Jack's voice telling him to hold on, and he was doing everything he could to do that. He wasn't ready to leave yet; he wanted to spend his life with Jack and share so much more with him. Their love was a force of nature, and nothing could tear them apart.

October 4th, 1975

At around one in the morning, Jack had fallen asleep in the waiting room. He was dozing lightly, unable to properly rest when he was so scared about what was going on. Linda had come to find him a couple of hours ago, and had told him that things were looking up, but she couldn't say for sure whether or not Ennis would pull through.

Jack had tried to eat, but the food in the cafeteria all tasted like sawdust in his mouth when he was feeling so sick. He'd called the ranch and said goodnight to the kids, promising that he would call again as soon as he knew something. He was very grateful to Sarah; she had quite possibly saved Ennis's life and was now taking care of the kids while he waited for news; he was very glad that they had some friends around here.

He jerked awake and blinked at the bright lights, sitting up. There were a few people waiting around, mainly those who were there for pregnant women about to give birth, and he wished that he could be here under lighter circumstances.

Not knowing what else to do, he decided to go for a walk to the hospital gardens. The sound of his boots bounced off the walls as he walked down empty corridors, shuddering slightly. This was a very cold place when you were on your own, and he wondered what was going on down in the operating room. He dreaded going back to find Linda waiting to tell him that Ennis had died, and he prayed that it wouldn't happen.

Out in the garden, he approached a wishing well and took out a quarter, thinking of his partner. "I...I wish...for Ennis to make it through the surgery. An' for him to wake up so we can be together for a long time." He threw the quarter into the well and sat down on the edge, elbows braced on his thighs. Everything was still and silent around him, and he looked up at the sky. A memory came back to him at the sight of the moon.

"Anythin' interestin' up there in heaven?"

"I was just sendin' up a prayer of thanks."

"For what?"

Jack smiled to himself. At the time, Ennis had turned it into a joke about the harmonica, but not long ago Ennis had told him the truth - that he was thankful for Jack coming back into his life after four lonely years. Jack had suspected that it was the truth anyway, but that Ennis had felt unable to say it. He could say a lot of things now.

I miss him, Jack thought to himself, looking back down at the ground. I just want him back...please pull through, cowboy.

He sighed and got up, deciding to go back inside out of the chill. When he reached the waiting room, he saw Linda making her way towards him. He froze and could feel his heart racing. "Linda?"

She smiled at him. "He's gonna be okay."

Relief flooded through Jack and he felt light-headed. He staggered to a chair and sat down, hands over his eyes. "Oh God..." Linda grasped his shoulder.

"The surgery was a success. Like I said before...he's had a lot of internal bleedin', an' he got kinda torn up in his stomach. But they fixed him right up again an' stitched him up."

Jack looked up at her. "How long will it take for him to recover?"

" most cases with somethin' like this...could take a few months. But you'll be glad to know that he might be able to come home in a few days. Most recovery can be done at home as an outpatient. He'll need to be on drugs to thin his blood, to prevent blood clots. But he should be alright." Jack grinned.

"Thank God...I can't believe it..." He stood up and rubbed his jaw. "Can I see him?"

"In a minute; they're takin' him to Recovery. I'll come an' get you when you can see him, okay?"

Jack nodded and watched her go, feeling happy for the first time in what felt like days. Ennis was going to be okay. He was torn up and would take a long time to recover, but he was alive. He sat back down and covered his mouth with his hands, unable to believe it. He wouldn't have to face the rest of his life without Ennis; they would be together for a long time.

He headed to the phone and called the ranch, knowing that Sarah was by the phone.

"Brokeback Ranch."

"Sarah, it's me."

"Jack? What's happened?" She sounded apprehensive, and he couldn't wait to tell her.

"He's gonna be okay," he told her, grinning uncontrollably.

"Oh, Jack...that's wonderful! Have you seen him?"

"Not yet, but in a minute. Could you tell the kids?"

"I sure will; we'll be by tomorrow. Congratulations."

"Thanks, Sarah. Bye." He hung up and started pacing, unable to sit still after the shock and relief. In just a few minutes, he would be able to see his cowboy, maybe even talk to him. He couldn't wait to hold Ennis's hand and see those brown eyes again; he especially couldn't wait to kiss those lips. Sex would have to be discussed now that Ennis had been injured in such an area, but he didn't care. He'd gone for months without sex with the man he loved before, and he could do it again if he had to.

"Jack?" asked a voice, and he turned to see Linda, still smiling at him. "You can see him now." He grinned and followed her down to Recovery, and she let him into the room. "Stay as long as you want." He nodded and entered the room, eyes fixed on the man in the bed. Ennis was still out of it, but Jack knew that he was going to be alright. That was all that mattered to him right now.

Jack sat by Ennis's bed and immediately took his cowboy's hand in both of his, stroking with his thumb and looking into Ennis's face. It was clear that this wasn't yet over, but at least they could see a gap in the trees. Hopefully Jason Marcus would be caught soon and sent down.

He wondered what they would do now. They had agreed that if someone got hurt, they would move, but he didn't know if that would be wise with Ennis in this condition. They had two trucks and Ennis couldn't drive for a while, and both trucks would jostle him anyway. He knew that Sarah had a car and would probably be able to get Ennis back to the ranch for him, but then what?

Maybe he'd been right; that the other residents of the area didn't want to actually hurt them. Marcus was the only one who had actually done anything. Jack hoped that they wouldn't have to move after all. Perhaps even the residents would be shocked by what Marcus had done.

"Been through the ringer these past few weeks, huh?" he said quietly, looking at Ennis's hand in his own. "Ain't been easy with everythin' that's happened...but yer still the best thing that ever happened to me, bud. Can't regret a minute of the time we've spent together since Brokeback. I'm real glad that we're together now...I can look after you."

He smiled a little and swallowed past a lump in his throat. "I love you so much...can't wait to see yer eyes an' hear yer voice...missed you so much, cowboy..."

He felt Ennis's hand squeezing his and looked up; the eyelids were fluttering and he felt a jolt run through him at the sight. "Ennis?"

Slowly, the eyelids fully opened until those deep brown eyes were looking at him. Jack's heart melted at the sight of them; he'd missed this. "Jack..."

Jack grinned and leaned over him, cupping his cheek gently. "Hey,'re you feelin'?"

"Mmm...been better," he mumbled. "What...?"

"You remember what happened?" Jack asked him quietly, now sitting on the bed and yearning to be closer to him. Ennis blinked.

"Yeah...son of a bitch grabbed me...had a tire iron..." He looked at Jack, remembering his fears that Jack would be the one who was attacked in such a way. In a way, he was glad that it was him. "Heard you...talkin' to me."

Jack smiled. "I thought you might. I told you to fight an' come back to me...looks like you do listen, after all." Ennis managed to smile back and laced their fingers together, the warmth of Jack's hand soothing him. Their hands fitted perfectly together.

"How bad?"

"Mostly in yer stomach...lot of internal bleedin'," Jack replied, stroking Ennis's face. "They stopped it an' managed to fix you right up. Got a lot of stitches, I reckon." He bit his lip. "I'm just glad Sarah was there. He coulda got you in the head..." Ennis squeezed his hand, seeing that Jack was struggling. He knew that when he hurt, Jack hurt too. He felt the same whenever Jack got hurt.

"S'okay, bud. Gonna be alright. Can't dwell on what mighta been, right?"

"I know. Scared me enough as it was. I...I was terrified, Ennis. Thought I was gonna lose you..." Tears filled his eyes and he couldn't hold them back. Ennis reached up to catch them as they fell.

"'s okay. Darlin'..."

Jack sniffed and tried to compose himself. "Just so relieved that yer gonna be okay. Saw Linda...she was around this whole time. Told me that you're gonna take a few months to recover, an' you gotta be on drugs that'll prevent blood clots."

Ennis nodded. "Whatever it takes to get better, I guess. What about ridin'?"

"Probably not for a few months," Jack replied, and he saw Ennis's eyes lower a little; he loved riding and would miss it. "Sorry, bud. An' um...about sex..."

"Could we? Even with them stitches?" Ennis asked, looking hopeful. He didn't want to give up his sex life for a few months if he could help it. Jack shrugged.

"I dunno...I could ask Linda. But...seems to me like you can't do no thrustin' with them things, so maybe we gotta figure out another way. Maybe we could, but I'd have to be in control. I can't see how you'd be able to fuck me without thrustin'..."

"Guess not," Ennis lamented, sounding wistful. He did like it when Jack was on top, but he would sorely miss not being able to do it the other way. "Well...just gotta be thankful I'm alive, then."

"An' I am," Jack told him, squeezing his hand. "You gotta know that I am. I missed you so much, Ennis. The kids were in bits, but Sarah's at the ranch with 'em, an' I called her when Linda told me you was gonna be okay. They'll know by now."

Ennis nodded, looking peaceful. It would take them a long time to get their lives back on track, but they were prepared to do it because they were back together now. As long as they held onto each other, they would be okay. "Hey, Jack...there is one thing we can still do..." He looked up at his partner, who smiled serenely at him.

"Yep, there is." He leaned down and kissed Ennis at last, softly on the lips. They kissed a few times and when they pulled apart, both were smiling. "Mmm, missed that."

"Me too." He then yawned, feeling sleepy from the drugs. Jack cupped his cheek, knowing that he needed his rest after what he'd been through.

"You can go to sleep if you want. I'll be right here, promise." Ennis nodded and his head turned to the side, closing his eyes as Jack got up and took his position back in the chair. As Ennis dropped off and Jack sat by him, both of them knew in their hearts that everything would work out and they would be able to continue with their life together.

A few hours later, Ennis was still asleep and Jack was watching him, his heart finally beating at a normal pace. He felt more relaxed now that Ennis was going to be okay and that they had talked. Now he couldn't wait to get Ennis home so that he could take care of him. Jack vowed there and then to stand by his man during the recovery no matter what.

Ennis stirred and Jack leaned forward, wanting to see those brown eyes again. When he did, his heart soared and he smiled. "Hey, cowboy. How're you doin'?"

"Mmm..." Ennis smiled sleepily at him. "Little better than before. Come up here..." He gestured and Jack sat on the bed, close to him. Their hands found each other and they gazed into each other's eyes, feeling as if their lives were finally calming down after all the drama of recent weeks. "What time's it?"

"Just after five," Jack informed him, squeezing his hand. "If we were at the ranch, we'd be wakin' up soon...havin' some fun before gettin' up." He grinned and Ennis nodded.

"Yeah. day, huh?" he replied, lamenting the fact that things would have to be different for a while. "I gotta get better first..."

"You will," Jack assured him. "I'm gonna look after you, Ennis. Just like I told you the last time we saw each other before all this. In the office, remember? I said I could take care of you, an' I'm gonna."

"I know, bud..." He'd never particularly liked being taken care of in the past, because he hated feeling weak. But he knew that he needed it now, and was willing to accept it from Jack. "Glad yer gonna be there, darlin'."

"You'd do it for me," Jack said simply, and it was true. They would have done anything to help each other.

"Sure would." Just then, there was a knock at the door and Dr Oberman stepped in.

"Hey, glad to see you awake, Ennis. How're you doin'?"

"Okay," he answered her as she checked his vitals.

"Good. Everythin' looks okay here...reckon you might be able to go home in a few days."

Jack smiled down at him and kissed his hand, glad to hear this. "That's good. Missed this one somethin' awful."

"It's true, Ennis...he was in bits an' he ain't left the hospital since you went into surgery." Ennis looked up at Jack, the words warming his heart.

"Well...gonna be okay now."

"You sure are. By the way...the sheriff's here to see you. I wanted to check if you were awake first...can I let him in?"

Jack looked at Ennis, who nodded. "Sure." Linda left the room and he sighed. "Guess we shoulda seen this comin'."

"Maybe they caught him," Jack said quietly, playing with Ennis's fingers. "You never know..."

"Yeah, maybe." Ennis hoped it was true; he didn't want that man around when he was trying to recover. He couldn't protect Jack right now, which gave Jason Marcus full scope for attacking him.

Fred came in, smiling when he saw them together. "Hey, guys. Sorry about what's're you feelin', Ennis?"

"Been better...but doin' okay," he replied, and Fred walked to the other side of the bed. "Somethin' happen?"

"Well...I've got some good news for you. We found Jason Marcus an' arrested him."

Jack's face lit up and he looked down at Ennis, who looked surprised. "Really? How?"

"Well, for one thing, those fingerprints on the tire iron were definitely his, an' I had the statement from Sarah. I had a team searchin' the area outside town...seems like he's set himself up in a little shack about five miles from yer ranch. They found him while he was sleepin' an' got him."

Jack sighed and squeezed Ennis's hand again. "Thank what happens now?"

"Well, he's bein' charged for two counts of attempted murder, an' there's evidence that he's the culprit for both. There's gonna be a trial next month an' we need at least one of you there to testify. Jack, you could be there for when he tried to shoot you. An'...Ennis, if you can't make it, Sarah's willin' to do it."

Ennis nodded. "I'll see how I feel then...but if I can't, then she can." He smiled at Jack. "Least things are workin' out now."

"Sure. Just wanted you guys to hear the good news...he's locked up at the station now, an' as his victims you have the right to visit him. It's completely up to you, an' there's no rush."

They looked at each other, unsure of what to think. Neither of them really knew if going to see their attacker would accomplish anything; he would just sneer at them and feel no remorse. Jack didn't want Ennis going near him in such a state; he just wanted to bring Ennis home and keep him safe. He knew that if Ennis wanted to go, then he would respect that decision and go with him if Ennis wanted him to. He would stick close to Ennis for the next few months while he recovered.

"Well...we gotta think about that, Fred," he finally said, and Ennis nodded.

"I know. Anyway, you can come by anytime you want this month. I'd better get back to the station. So...take care of yourselves an' yer kids. I'll see you soon."

"Yep. Bye, Fred," Jack replied as the sheriff left. When they were alone, he sighed. "Dunno what to think 'bout all that."

"Me neither...dunno if I wanna see him..."

"Well...if you do, I'm gonna be there with ya," Jack told him firmly. "I love you, Ennis. You know that."

"I sure do," Ennis replied, a soft smile on his face. "An' I love you too, darlin'." Jack leaned down and kissed him, and then nuzzled their noses together the way they both liked.

"Gonna be just fine, cowboy."

"Yep...always just fine with you."

Jack cupped his cheek. "It's you an' me, baby. You an' me 'til the wheels fall off."

"Sure enough."