Epilogue

After Ennis's return, he and Jack soon started packing up the apartment in preparation for their move. Both of them thought that they might as well get on with it, since they were getting married in the spring.

The first thing they did was to pick out engagement rings together. They found a jewellery store and Jack immediately spotted a pair of plain silver bands.

"What do you think of these?" he asked, pointing to the case. Ennis looked closely at them and nodded.

"Yeah, they're nice. And we could have something specially made for our wedding bands later on. I like those."

"So do I," Jack agreed, and they smiled at each other.

They spent Jack's birthday on the twelfth together as their last night in the apartment, ready for their new life together. Ennis bought him a brand new watch, since his old one kept stopping.

"You really like it?" Ennis asked, looking nervous. Jack smiled at him.

"I love it," he assured his partner, leaning in for a kiss. "I'm so happy that you're here with me..."

"Me too," Ennis replied, kissing him back.

Afterwards, they moved up to Ennis's apartment in Knoxville. Jack was greeted warmly by Ennis's parents and made to feel like one of the family, which made Ennis happy. He had always wanted them to get along, and it looked as though everything would be okay.

In November, Mike faced the court in Texas for the crimes he had committed against Ennis. Jack came with his partner for moral support, and gave an encouraging look as Ennis made his statement to the jury. With the statement from the captain that had been made, the case concluded with Mike being sentenced to a minimum of five years without parole. Not only that, but he would also be subject to a restraining order that meant he had to stay away from Ennis and Jack upon his release. Ennis couldn't believe it.

"It's over," he sighed as Jack held him. "He's finally got what he deserves."

"He has," Jack agreed, squeezing him. "Now we can concentrate on our future."

They did this very well, preparing for their first Christmas together. They were looking forward to spending this romantic time of year with each other.

At the end of November, the pair of them gathered their families at a rented hall in Jacksonville so that they could celebrate their engagement properly. They both enjoyed meeting each other's families, and it felt as if they knew each other even better after listening to the stories they were told.

"I'm enjoying this," Jack said as they sat together, watching their families mingle. "We're bringing all of these people together."

"For life," Ennis added, smiling. "You and me...it's a forever kind of thing. I know that for sure."

"So do I," Jack replied, resting his head on Ennis's shoulder. "I always hoped that we'd reach this point, Ennis. There was a time when I thought...we might not. It wasn't easy..."

"I know. Either one of us could have decided it was too hard, and said that it was over. But we stuck to it and managed to make it through to the other side. We made it, darlin'."

Jack nodded. "Yeah, we did..."

Christmas was a great time for them. The city was covered in snow by then, which Jack hadn't seen much of in his life. But he loved enjoying it with Ennis; having snowball fights and making snowmen together. After the two and a half years they had spent missing each other for so long, they both felt as if it was their time to have some fun and just be together.

While they spent the day at work or walking in the park, their evenings were spent in front of the TV and a warm fire. They had always loved doing this together and it was even more special since they were engaged.

"This is the life," Jack sighed, stretching and smiling. "I could really get used to this, you know."

"Good, because you might as well." Ennis kissed Jack's cheek and felt happiness running through him.

The first few months of 2012 were largely uneventful for them, which they liked. They spent most of their time planning the wedding; it had been arranged for a local registry office which would be decorated beautifully for them. The invitations were ready to be sent out by the end of February, and they liked keeping on top of things.

The night before the wedding, Ennis slept at his parents' house and the rest of the attendees were in hotels. Lureen was keeping Jack company in the apartment and they talked about everything that had happened so far. She had even managed to find herself a boyfriend; one of the crew on the ship.

"Things have happened so fast," Jack admitted, looking into his wine glass. "I mean...until he came back, we hadn't spent much time together. And then he asked me to move in and marry him. But you know what?" he asked, looking up at her. "I'm not scared of any of it. I want all of this with him and I wanna be with him for the rest of my life."

"You love him," Lureen pointed out, smiling. "It makes sense for you to want all of this, Jack. I know he feels the same."

"Yeah," Jack agreed, smiling back. "He's a wonderful man, and we want to make each other happy. I really got lucky."

"I'll say. I know it wasn't easy for you guys, being apart for so long. You were pining for each other and that's never easy to deal with. And it would have been so easy for you to cheat, without him knowing, but you didn't and I admire that."

Jack shrugged. "I wanted him; it's that simple. And if I'd done it, I would have just felt guilty. It wouldn't be right...I'd never forgive myself, ever."

The morning of the wedding was bright and clear; perfect conditions. Jack looked out from their balcony after dressing in his suit, smiling to himself. Today was the day, at last.

"Ready to go?" asked Lureen, poking her head out. She was wearing a blue cocktail dress with matching heels; it worked well with her flaming red hair. Jack nodded.

"Yep, let's go."

When they got to the registry office, he immediately spotted Ennis; they had decided to go in together. "Hey...you look good," he said, leaning in close for a kiss. Ennis grinned.

"So do you...well, are you ready for this?" he asked, looking excited. Jack took a deep breath, clearly nervous in spite of his happiness.

"Yeah, I am," he replied, and they walked arm in arm into the room. There was a soft melody playing in the background by Ennis's cousin Maria, who could play the harp. The pair of them walked down the aisle, eyes only for each other as they approached the minister.

"Family, friends, we are gathered here today to witness the marriage of Ennis Del Mar and John C Twist Jr. This is a joyous day for two people who had to wait for their happiness due to Mr Del Mar's service in the Navy. But through it all, he had a partner who was willing to wait for their day."

The service was beautiful, and everything they could have wanted. They exchanged words of love to each other, promising to stick together no matter what life handed them. They both knew that they could withstand anything that came their way; they were so strong. Rings were exchanged; specially made silver rings with personal inscriptions inside the bands. It meant a lot to them.

"Ennis and Jack have exchanged their vows and their rings," said the minister when they were done. "By the power vested in me by the state of Iowa, I am now happy to declare that they are legally married. You may now kiss," she added to them, and they grinned before doing so. Ennis held Jack close to him during the kiss, finally feeling content. He now had everything he'd ever wanted in life.

When they broke apart, they were soon engulfed in hugs from family and friends. Even Ennis's friends had managed to make it as they had hoped, giving their congratulations to the happy couple. It gave them hope that they too would have this.

"I'm so proud of you," Jack's mother said to him, kissing his cheek. "I know it wasn't easy when he was away so much, but look at you now..."

"Thank you...for supporting us," Jack told her, nodding. "It means a lot to both of us that our parents could get on board with the whole thing. His folks are really nice and I like living there, but you know I'll always love you guys."

"And we love you," she replied, hugging him again. He caught Ennis smiling at him and grinned back. They were going to be fine.

They had rented a dance hall for the reception, and the whole congregation was soon there with the wine flowing and the buffet almost ready to go. Ennis and Jack looked at each other happily as people helped themselves to food, soon kissing softly in their own little world. They'd been doing a lot of that lately, ever since their engagement.

"So...you guys ready for the first dance?" Lureen asked mischievously during dinner. They nodded, Jack's leg entwined around Ennis's underneath the table.

"Yeah, think so. We've been practicing," Jack replied, remembering when Ennis had booked dancing lessons for them both. It had been a welcome surprise and he had appreciated the gesture. "He knows how to tire me out..." He hadn't realised the double entendre of what he'd said until Lureen started laughing and Ennis had gone pink in the face. "Um, I mean..."

"Save it for the wedding night," she said to him, still giggling. He shook his head. He hadn't meant to phrase it like that, but at least his parents weren't in earshot. No parent wanted to know about their child's sex life, he figured.

They did have a first dance together, to a romantic song that they both loved. Jack looked up into Ennis's eyes with a smile on his face as they swayed, wondering how they had managed to get to this point. "God, I love you..." he sighed, closing his eyes.

"Same to you," Ennis replied, kissing his cheek and hearing an 'aww' sound coming from nearby. He suspected that it might be his mother because she was so happy he'd found someone he really loved. "You're amazing, you know that?"

"If I am, it's because of you," Jack replied, grinning. "And I was smart enough to keep hold of you through those months apart. I just knew that I wanted to be with you no matter what."

"I feel the same," Ennis told him, leaning in for a proper kiss as they danced. Afterwards, they retired to a pair of chairs and clinked their champagne glasses together. "I think we did well today. Everybody seems to be having fun, don't they?"

"Yeah. And look at us," Jack said, indicating the pair of rings they were now both wearing. Jack loved them and could fondly remember picking out both kinds. He wanted to share a lot of things with Ennis, and now he would be able to. That made him happy.

After the wedding, they spent their time working and getting used to living together. Ennis remained in touch with his friends and Jack made sure that his parents were okay; he knew how much they missed him.

Life passed without much incident, except for Jack getting food poisoning one time from a restaurant. They sued the place for a nice sum which they put away for their future and Jack recovered well, although it took some coaxing from Ennis to get him eating out again afterwards. Jack appreciated his patience and understanding.

When they had been married for a year in 2013, the talk occasionally turned to children. They both wanted a family, but didn't know how to go about doing this. They turned to their doctor and lawyer for help, and it was concluded that they would adopt a child together. The only person that they could have asked to be a surrogate was Lureen, and even though she'd once told Jack it would be fine, he didn't think he could ask that of her. This was the best way.

It took some time, but in the summer of 2013 they received a call to say that there was a three-month old girl in need of adopting. They learned that she was called Katie and agreed that they were ready to do this. Besides, they took one look at her and knew they wanted to.

They brought her home and soon got used to being parents. It wasn't always easy, especially with sleepless nights and less sex than they were used to, but they adjusted. They made good use of her naptimes to be together in the bedroom, making the most of the time they had.

Both of them loved this new life, despite everything it demanded of them. They were coping very well and Ennis's parents were willing to take Katie if they wanted to go out for an evening, or just to get some sleep. Both were very grateful for this, as it allowed them some time alone together; that would keep their relationship healthy.

"I'm knackered, but it's so worth it," Jack sighed one night as they lay in bed together, cooling down from a blissful bout of lovemaking. "I think she's amazing, I really do..."

"So do I," Ennis agreed, holding him. "This life, the one we wanted...it's worth all the waiting we had to go through and the stress from being parents. I wouldn't trade this for anything in the world, Jack."

"Not even the high-flying life of the Navy?" Jack asked, grinning at him. Ennis shook his head.

"Not even that," he replied, nuzzling Jack's hair. "I'm much happier here because...if I was still with them, I'd still be missing you. And I'm glad that's not the case anymore...it got to be really bad. Only had your shirt for company."

Jack glanced over at the bedroom door; the day after Ennis's arrival they had agreed to put their shirts together on a hanger and put them on the bedroom door. This was a reminder of how far they had come together and how much they had endured to get to this new life. It really had been worth it, though.

"I love you, my husband," Jack said softly, stroking Ennis's chest. Ennis kissed him.

"I love you too." He held Jack close and felt very glad that he'd decided to take that particular route in Jacksonville over four years ago. It had led not only to Jack, but to a life that he would always be happy in.