Author's notes

Hey guys! Unfortunately, this is the last full chapter of the story; the epilogue will be posted tomorrow. As you may know, my next story will be Fishin' Buddies, which is canon-based and covers Ennis and Jack's fishing trips across sixteen years (from 1967 to 1983). Hope you enjoyed this story, and that you enjoy the next one.

Kathryn xxx

Chapter 28

Around nine, they were informed that Ennis could be moved out of Recovery and to a private room. This meant that the kids would now be able to see him, and he was looking forward to it. Ennis told Jack to go back home and get a shower and something to eat while he was being moved, and Jack reluctantly agreed. He knew that Ennis would be okay with Linda around to keep an eye on things, and decided to do as Ennis asked.

When he got back to the ranch, he was bombarded with hugs from the kids and he thanked Sarah for staying with them.

"I'm just glad everythin's gonna be okay," she said as she pulled on her coat. "An' that they caught him."

"Me too. Okay, kids. Get yerselves ready, 'cos we can go an' see Ennis soon. I just gotta get a shower an' some food. Okay?"

"Okay," they chorused, clearly happy that Ennis was going to be alright. They left the room and Sarah smirked.

"He made you come back, didn't he?" she asked knowingly, and he nodded.

"Yep. Told me I oughta come back when I'm clean an' full. I guess he was right...been at the hospital since last night."

"I'll come by later, if that's okay," she said to him as he walked her out. "I gotta get home an' check my messages."

"Sure, it's fine. Thanks again." He waved her off and hurried upstairs to the bathroom. The sooner he got this done, the sooner he could be with Ennis again.

When he stepped out of the shower and back out into the bedroom, his eyes fell on the door. Right there, the two shirts were hanging together where Ennis had put them upon their move here. He smiled to himself and walked over to them, gently running his hand along his and then underneath to touch Ennis's. He liked how his was still on the outside, like he was taking care of Ennis somehow.

"We're gonna be okay, bud," he whispered, thinking of his partner and their future. Now that he knew they were going to have one, he couldn't wait to see what it might hold. He got dressed and then headed downstairs, finding the sandwiches that he guessed Sarah had made for him. While he wolfed them down he could hear the kids chattering away upstairs, and he couldn't help but smile at the change in them. He and Ennis had done everything they could to make their kids happy, and he was glad to know that they were smiling again.

The kids soon came downstairs just as he was finishing, and he then grabbed his keys. "Okay, let's go."

Ennis was settled into his private room, glad that he would have some peace and quiet. He kept looking at the clock, wondering when Jack would be back with the kids and hoping that it was soon. He wondered if Jack had had to use the power of attorney document to authorise the surgery, and he was very thankful that they had signed one.

Just as he was contemplating a nap, he heard the most wonderful sound; the voices of his children. He smiled and thought about just how lucky he was to have a loving family.

Jack shepherded the kids through the door after reminding them not to jump all over Ennis, and the girls rushed to his side. "Daddy!"

"Hey, girls," he said to them, stroking their cheeks and taking in their happy faces. "Hey, Bobby," he continued, ruffling the dark hair. "How're you doin'?" He knew from Jack that they had been scared and upset, so was very glad to see them smiling now.

"Better now we know yer gonna be okay," Junior answered. Jack sat on Ennis's other side and they exchanged a smile. They didn't need to say anything; they both just knew.

" our friend Sarah to thank for that. An' the doctors here. An' Jack told me how upset you was...didn't mean to scare you..."

"It's okay," Jenny replied, shaking her head. "Did they really catch him?"

"Sure did; he's gonna be locked away for a long time," Ennis assured them, and he instinctively reached for Jack's hand. "Gonna be a while for me to recover, an' I won't be able to ride for a few months, but I might be able to come home in a couple days."

"We're gonna make you breakfast in bed," Junior told him with a grin; Jack had agreed to it on the way over, but only with his supervision. "An' we're all gonna look after you."

"Sounds real nice, Junior. Lookin' forward to bein' home." He smiled around at them all and Jack could tell that he was happy to be back with them. He coughed and looked around. "There's no water in here..."

"I'll get you some," Jack told him, and kissed him on the forehead as he got up. "Kids, keep him company for a sec." He left the room and Ennis watched him leave. He barely registered when the kids started talking; all he could think about was the wonderful man who had gone to get him some water, just because he needed it. Ennis believed Jack when he'd said that he was standing by him, and he felt like he'd been wrong up on Brokeback; this was not a one-shot thing. This was a forever kind of thing and he was glad for it. He never wanted to be without Jack ever again, and his earlier thoughts of swapping rings and making promises came back to him. Maybe now was a good time for it.

Jack came back with a pitcher of water and a glass, and smiled widely when he saw his family there. "Here you go, bud." Ennis took it gratefully, eyes on Jack's beloved face and wondering what it would look like if he were to suggest what he was thinking. There was only one way to find out.

October 5th, 1975

The next day, Katie and Joe came to the hospital to see Ennis. Jack had called them and his mother the day before to tell them what had happened and that Ennis was going to be okay. His mother was especially worried, now seeing Ennis as a second son, but Jack had assured her that he would look after Ennis.

He'd wondered about Ennis's brother and sister, and whether or not he should try to get in touch to let them know. But they'd never spoken about it and he didn't want to do anything behind Ennis's back. He wasn't even sure what they might think about Ennis's current living situation. Given how their father had tried to raise Ennis and K.E., Jack figured that Ennis's brother would be less than happy about it.

Jack was sat with Ennis in his room when their neighbours came in; the kids were in the waiting area in the kids' corner, with Linda keeping an eye on them so that the two men could have some time alone.

"Least they caught that bastard," Jack commented, playing with Ennis's fingers. Ennis nodded. He was relieved that their problems seemed to be over for now; he needed to recover and wanted to focus on that instead of worrying about a bigot who wanted them dead.

"Yeah. He won't be causin' us no more trouble, darlin'. An' it coulda been a lot worse, like you said." He knew that if it had happened to Jack, he would be in bits; it made sense that Jack had been so worried about him when they loved each other so much.

Jack looked at him. "Sure am glad I didn't lose you...dunno what I woulda done."

"Don't think on it," Ennis told him, squeezing his hand. "Ain't gonna do no good, an' you'll just make yerself ill."

"I know," Jack replied, shaking his head. "An' I'm real glad we're together...I can help you get through this."

"I wouldn't want no-one else to do it, bud," Ennis said with a smile. "You an' the kids...that's all I need." He knew it now; this was his true family. The people who loved him and would take care of him. He'd never felt more detached from his brother and sister than he did now, and he didn't care too much. They probably wouldn't accept this relationship anyway.

Jack was just thinking about kissing him when there was a knock at the door. "Hey," said Katie, poking her head through. They both smiled at her.

"Hey, come on in." She and Joe entered the room, clearly very glad to see Ennis doing well. He'd had no setbacks yet and had made it through the night; that was a good sign.

"How're you doin', Ennis?" Joe asked as they sat down on his other side.

"Pretty good. They think I can go home soon, maybe even tomorrow."

"That's great. I couldn't believe it when Jack called us...we thought that he was after Jack..."

"We all did," Jack told her, shrugging. "Guess we were wrong."

Ennis shifted. "I had a thought...that maybe he was after Jack, an' when he saw that I kept gettin' in the way an' protectin' Jack...maybe he changed his mind."

"He musta known that he couldn't get to me with Ennis there," Jack added, squeezing his fingers. "So..."

"Well, at least they caught him," Katie said, smiling. "That's a plus."

"Sure is. An' you know...Fred reckons he's gonna go away for a long time. Hopefully this'll be the end of it." Jack sincerely hoped this was the case; he needed to focus on helping Ennis to get better and not worry about other things. He just wanted to help his man.

"You know...I was wonderin'...when yer outta hospital, what then? I know you said you were gonna move if someone got hurt..."

Ennis and Jack looked at each other; it was true that they had said that, but now they weren't so sure. Clearly, Jason Marcus had been their main problem; other people in town had talked about them, but hadn't done anything. Maybe they would be happy to live and let live.

"I dunno," Jack admitted at last. "We might hafta stay a while with Ennis like this...he can't do much travellin'." He looked sorrowfully at his partner, who felt uneasy about staying around here much longer. But Jack was right; he couldn't move around much right now in his condition.

"Maybe it'll be okay with that guy in prison," Joe suggested, and Jack nodded.

"Yeah, maybe."

"You know what we should do, when yer feelin' better?" Katie said, looking around at them all. "All of us should go an' have dinner somewhere. You guys, the kids, us,'ll be fun. Maybe even Linda an' Fred if they wanna come."

Ennis smiled at her. "I'd like that. When we moved here, we didn't know for sure if we was gonna make any friends. Guess we better appreciate the ones we got."

"That's for sure," Jack agreed, smiling. "Maybe we could stay after all...but we gotta talk about that."

"We know. Just do have friends. We told you right from the moment we learned the truth...we're on your side an' we'd be happy to defend you if we had to."

Ennis and Jack looked at their friends, genuinely humbled by the support that was offered to them. They hadn't expected this when they had gotten together and then decided to move, so they knew that they had to accept any kind that they found. Both of them were truly grateful that they weren't alone.

After a while, Katie and Joe left and offered to take the kids for a few hours, which Ennis and Jack accepted. As much as they loved their children, they felt like they needed some time alone right now after what had happened. They bid goodbye to the kids and Jack settled back in his chair, taking his place by Ennis's side where he belonged.

When they were alone, Jack sat on Ennis's bed and leaned down to kiss him. Their lips met gently at first, and then Ennis slid his hand around the back of Jack's neck and held him there, pushing his tongue into Jack's mouth. It would be very frustrating to feel desire for Jack and not be able to do much about it, but at least they could still kiss.

"Mmm," Jack moaned when they pulled apart, eyes alight with interest. "Well, you sure are healin' well. Sure wish we could do more..."

"Me too, bud. Won't be able to for a while yet..." Ennis found Jack's hand and squeezed it, wishing that he could physically show Jack how grateful he was to him. But this would have to do for now.

"Well...I've always got my right hand," Jack replied with a grin. Ennis shook his head.

"Ain't fair. You had to do that for months between our trips. When we got together...I wanted to make sure that you never had to do that again. It ain't no fun on yer own. We gotta figure somethin' out, Jack."

"Alright, we will. Maybe we could just give somethin' a try an' see how it goes. If it pulls yer stitches too much, we won't do it. There's gotta be a way we can both get off without havin' to jerk off. We'll work it out, cowboy." He nuzzled their noses together and saw Ennis smiling at him. "At least we can share a bed again."

"Yeah...lookin' forward to that. Missed you somethin' awful, bud."

"God, me's where you belong, Ennis. In bed by my side. It's where I always wanted you to be, even when you was pissin' me off by refusin' to live together. Hang on," he added, covering Ennis's mouth when he saw he was about to speak. "It's okay. I forgave you for that a long time ago. I know why you kept sayin' no, an' it's okay. I loved you anyway, an' I still love you now."

He pulled his hand away and cupped Ennis's cheek gently. "Love you so much, Ennis...don't ever forget that, you hear me? 'Cos it ain't goin' nowhere, an' neither am I. Yer stuck with me for life now."

Ennis smiled. "Wouldn't have it any other way, darlin'." He kept thinking about his desire to swap rings with Jack and make promises to him; it seemed like a good thing to do in the light of recent events. They could reaffirm their love for one another and their devotion, and it would give them something to point to when talking about their relationship.

He thought about how much he'd changed over the past few months. Back on Brokeback, he never would have thought that he and Jack would end up together, or that he would be thinking about making a commitment to the man. It just proved how much happier he was with Jack; he was a changed man these days.

"Can I ask you somethin'?" Jack asked, taking Ennis's hand.

"Sure, bud." Ennis thought that Jack could ask him absolutely anything; they had agreed to be honest with each other no matter what.

"Well...I was thinkin' about yer brother an' sister. I thought about gettin' in touch, tellin' 'em what's happened. But...I didn't wanna do anythin' behind yer back. you wanna get in touch?"

Ennis looked up at him, and then down at their joined hands. He wasn't sure how to respond to this, but he did appreciate how Jack had wanted to ask him first before doing anything.

"I dunno, Jack. I ain't sure how they'd take it...especially K.E. 'cos he was there that day...when we saw Earl. If I hadn't met you...or if I'd turned you away that first night...I mighta ended up like my old man. Maybe K.E. did end up like him. What if he finds out, an' comes here to hurt us? We don't need that."

Jack was stroking his arm lightly, taking in his words. "I know, baby. If you don't wanna get in touch, I understand. An' I won't do nothin' if you don't want me to. Just a's important."

"Yeah, it is. But...yer my family now, Jack. You an' the kids. It's you I wanna be with, an'...I can't see K.E. an' Cecilia acceptin' that." He shrugged. "Just the way it is...we ain't even seen each other since '63. At my weddin'."

"Yeah, you said...been a long time." He kissed Ennis's hand. " don't gotta do nothin' you don't wanna do. I'd never force you. It's up to you, bud." He looked directly into Ennis's eyes. " matter what you decide, I'm gonna support you. Whatever decisions you make...about yer brother an' sister, about Marcus...I'm standin' right by you. Okay?"

"Sure. Come back here..." He pulled Jack back down to him and they kissed again, warmth spreading through them and filling them with happiness. It was almost over now, and they would soon be able to get back to their lives. When they were done, Jack started stroking Ennis's cheek with a smile on his face.

"Been in love with you for twelve years...never thought I'd have all this. Sure am glad we got it now."

"Me too, darlin'. An'...if you ever end up like this, you gotta know I'd do anythin' I could to help. You know that, right?"

"I sure do," Jack said softly, getting up and sitting back down in his chair. They linked hands again and Ennis turned to look at him, just drinking in the sight of Jack smiling at him. He would never tire of that sight as long as he lived. Jack was smiling at him, because he loved him, and that would be enough to make him believe he was worth something. He'd found what he'd always wanted out of life, and he knew that he would never lose it. There was no force on earth that could stop their love for each other.

October 6th, 1975

The day after, Ennis was allowed home. The doctors were pleased with his progress and had prescribed the drugs that would prevent blood clots, and were happy to discharge him.

Since the kids were at school, it gave Jack the opportunity to focus on getting Ennis home in one piece; as he'd thought, Sarah's car didn't jostle Ennis too much and it was a smooth ride back to the ranch. As she parked, Jack got out of his truck and headed immediately for the passenger door to make sure that Ennis was okay.

"You alright, bud?" he asked as he held the door open. Ennis nodded.

"Yeah, fine. Could you, um...?" He looked helplessly at Jack, unsure of how to get out without aggravating his stitches. Jack reached a hand inside and slowly helped him out of the car, praying that nothing would become torn up. They were finally getting back on track now.

"There, how's that?" Jack asked him as they stood together, one arm around him. Ennis smiled gratefully.

"Better. Thanks, rodeo."

"You guys need any more help?" Sarah asked, and Jack shook his head.

"It's okay. I can take it from here." She nodded and got back in the car, starting back down the driveway. Jack turned to Ennis. "Welcome home, bud." They embraced warmly, glad to be back in each other's arms after what felt like an eternity. They'd missed each other even though they'd barely been apart, and both were thankful that it had only been a few days.

"Glad to be home," Ennis murmured in Jack's ear, and he looked up at the house - their house. He smiled and gave his partner a squeeze. "Come on, let's get inside." They broke apart and Jack took his hand, offering his unwavering support. When they reached the steps, Ennis grabbed the handrail and removed his hand from Jack's grip. "Wanna try this myself...but stay close, okay?"

"Sure." Jack stayed right behind him with his arms outstretched, ready in case something should happen. Ennis slowly made his way up the steps, putting both feet on each one before going higher, and he made it to the top, sighing.

"Thanks, bud."

"No problem, cowboy," Jack told him, putting a hand on his shoulder. "I'm always gonna be here for you." Ennis took his hand again and they made their way inside, feeling comfortable at last now that they were home. Ennis had never liked hospitals, and he was very glad to be home.

"Sure wish the kids were here...but I don't want 'em skivin' off..."

"They'll be here soon enough," Jack told him softly. " you wanna lie down or what?"

"Maybe I could try the chair," Ennis replied, thinking of his armchair. He didn't use it often; only when Jack wasn't around because they liked to sit on the sofa together. Jack nodded and they went into the living room. He helped Ennis into the chair and brought the ottoman over to put his feet up.

" want somethin' to eat or drink?" he offered, sitting on the arm of the chair. Ennis nodded.

"In a sec...wanna just sit here with you for a while." Jack smiled and settled himself back so that they were parallel to each other. Ennis squeezed his hand. "Thanks again, darlin'. For everythin'."

"Just wanna help you," Jack replied, playing with his fingers. "You know how much I love you, Ennis. Feels like we lost so much time tryin' to be who we weren't...makin' up for it now."

"Sure are. I know this wouldn't have happened if I wasn't queer, but...I know that I'm real glad I've got you. It's worth it, Jack." He looked up into Jack's eyes, all the emotions he was feeling plain on his face. "Wouldn't trade this now."

"Me neither, bud. An'...I know it's gonna be a while before yer feelin' yer best, but I'm gonna be right here through all of it. Promise you that."

They looked lovingly at each other, thinking about everything they had been through already and how strong they were because of it. If any good had come of their recent experiences, it was that their relationship had been tested and had been found to be solid. It was the aftermath of the attack, and nothing had changed. They were still devoted to one another and were willing to see things through. The torrent of abuse on them had only reconfirmed for them that they wanted to be together, and that nobody could take it away from them.

After a while, Jack got up to put some lunch together for them both, and as he passed a window he saw Jamie and Sam working outside. He was very grateful to both of them; they had carried on working and taking care of things while he was focused on Ennis, and he thought about giving them a pay increase.

He came back in a little later with the sandwiches and juice, and when his eyes met Ennis's he couldn't help but smile. Their hearts belonged to one another and what they felt could be read on their faces. He sat by Ennis on the floor as they ate, just talking about the kids and the ranch and anything but the attack. It felt good to talk about less intense topics and just focus on regular, day-to-day things. This was how a life together should be, and they hoped to get that back soon.

"So I was thinkin'...what are we doin' for Junior's birthday? Eleven's gotta be a tricky age."

"Sure is. Maybe we could go out for dinner, the five of us. Never had the money for that before."

"Right. If you want, we could do it after mine but before hers, like a double celebration." He looked up at Ennis, having finished his lunch and now holding his partner's hand. Ennis nodded.

"Sounds good. Hopin' I can get around better by then."

"We'll work it out," Jack told him, and Ennis believed him.

The kids came home in the afternoon and were very happy to see Ennis back, giving both him and Jack plenty of hugs now that their family was back together.

After a quiet evening with the kids, Ennis and Jack made their way upstairs. Normally, they would be full of anticipation for what they were about to do, but things were different now. Neither of them were quite sure exactly how far they could go without causing Ennis more damage, but were willing to give it a try because they'd missed each other.

Jack helped Ennis to undress and got him under the covers, his help much appreciated. When they were comfortable, Jack turned to him and sighed.

"Well...alone at last." He lightly trailed a hand along Ennis's chest, looking at the stitches. The wound wasn't too nasty-looking, and it didn't seem to bother Ennis too much. But he didn't want to hurt his cowboy just because he was horny. "You wanna try somethin'?"

Ennis nodded and brought Jack's face down to his, kissing him softly on the lips and starting to relax. He loved kissing Jack, always had, and now they could do it every day for the rest of their lives. Jack leaned over him but didn't touch his stomach, wanting to keep Ennis at ease and avoid hurting him. "Mmm..." They pulled apart and Jack smiled at him. "You've always been a good kisser," he murmured, but Ennis shook his head.

"Wasn't the first time we did it, that second night..." he protested. "I was a mess..."

"Maybe, but it was still good. You got the hang of it eventually," Jack told him, stroking his face. They kissed again and Ennis sighed.

"Jack...don't think I can do much tonight. I'm tired, an'...kinda scared of rippin' them stitches," he admitted, feeling guilty about depriving Jack of sex when he'd promised that he would never do that again. "Sure am sorry..."

Jack shook his head, squeezing his hand. "It's okay, bud. I can wait a while until yer ready. Ain't no big deal. We've got the rest of our lives for this, Ennis...ain't goin' away ever again." He smiled and Ennis couldn't help but return it; Jack's smile was just infectious.

"I love you," he murmured, and Jack kissed his hand.

"I love you too." They looked at each other for a moment, and Ennis felt like the time was right to ask Jack about them making a commitment.

"Bud...there was somethin' I wanted to talk to you about. You know happened? Well, I was across the street lookin' at this jewellery place..."

Jack furrowed his eyebrows. "You was lookin' for somethin' for Junior? But I thought you got her that book...?"

"I did. Wasn't lookin' for her. Was just...lookin' an' thinkin'. Um..." He cleared his throat, trembling slightly. He was becoming a little tongue-tied with verbalising what he was feeling, but he had to get through it; he wanted to share this moment with Jack and make him smile.

"Ennis?" Jack asked, wondering what was on his mind. "What's wrong?"

"Nothin', I just...alright, I..." He looked up into Jack's warm, caring eyes and his heart filled with love. "I was thinkin'...about you an' me...swappin' rings."

Of all the things Ennis could have said, Jack was not expecting that. His eyes widened and he blinked. "Oh. Right...really?"

"Yeah," Ennis replied, smiling a little. "Swappin' rings...makin' some promises. Reckon we oughta since we're shacked up together. Think it's time to make it official, right?"

"I...I guess," Jack replied, mind reeling. He hadn't been this shocked since Ennis had asked him to live with him, and he was feeling pretty much the same now as he had been then. A mixture of shock and happiness, and he liked it.

"What d'you think, bud?" Ennis asked, hoping that Jack would say yes. This was the best proposal he could offer Jack, and it would have to do until the law changed - if it ever did. "You wanna?"

"Are you...askin' me to...marry you?" Jack asked slowly, wanting to be sure he'd heard right. "At least, as much as we can?"

"Yeah," Ennis told him, holding his hand tightly. "I ain't askin' for a big thing, 'cos that ain't us. But...maybe just somethin' between you an' me."

Jack's face broke into a grin, the thought of marrying the man he loved filling his mind. He'd wanted this for so long, and now it was being offered. He would be a fool to say no.

"That sounds like a real good idea, cowboy," he said, grinning wider. "An' my answer's yes."

Ennis grinned back at him and pulled him down for another kiss, heart soaring. Jack had said yes, and it felt like they were finally healing from all the bad times they'd had in their lives. Ennis especially felt like he was making up for all the times he'd hurt Jack, saying no to any kind of life together and making him miserable. Maybe now he could even forgive himself for the punch back on Brokeback.

"I love you so much," Jack breathed when they pulled apart. "Swear to God I do..."

"Me too, darlin'..." Jack lay down next to him and buried his face in Ennis's neck, hugging him tightly. Ennis held him close and rested his nose in Jack's hair, happiness running through him. "Was thinkin'...maybe we could do it on Valentine's next year..."

Jack grinned into his neck. "Yer full of good ideas tonight, bud. Sounds perfect."

They lay there together, breathing in unison and thinking of their forthcoming wedding. It didn't matter too much that it wasn't legal; it meant the world to them after twelve years of pain and longing. They were a family now, together with their kids, and they both had everything they had ever wanted out of life. Neither of them were ever going to let go now; they would hold onto each other regardless of what was thrown at them, and their future was sealed.