by Sue M
AU: Little Britches ATF – Little Ambassadors Series
Disclaimer: Not ours, never were, never will be
Part 2: A Sense of Déjà Vu
With their time in the UK fast running out for the Americans, delaying the farewell barbeque wasn’t the best option, but the boys were still feeling the effects of saying goodbye to their schoolmates, and teachers, so Buck and Chris held off until literally two days before leaving. The penultimate day would be a run to the airport to get the dogs kennelled overnight, and then a round of last-minute checks before partially loading up the truck.
Ieuan offered to stay overnight with them so he could help get the boys ready; which while sincere, was also because he wanted to be close to them for their final sleep on UK soil. And maybe get some breakfast into them, too. Ieuan would then take the keys, and oversee the cleaning company Chris hired to leave the place in pristine condition. After that, for the very last time, the young carer would lock up the cottage and go home with Bear.
But first, a cookout to beat all cookouts. The guys would be buying food in for the farewell feast, but most importantly, all the food still nestled in cupboards, the fridge and the freezer would also be used up. Anything still remaining after that would go into the food recycling bin, leaving the cupboards bare.
Chris and Buck had no worries about the Denver side of the operation. Josiah, Ezra, and Nathan were already in the process of preparing the ranch for their homecoming. Francis would have moved out by the time the four got home, but planned to be around on their arrival to do a complete handover to Chris and Buck.
However, the two dads were warned that the house’s spare room resembled a cross between a Christmas and birthday gift store, and that maybe not telling the boys about it until after they rested might be wise. They agreed, but knew that plans made with the boys’ wellbeing in mind often had a habit of falling apart and usually due to the two dogged little tykes themselves.
In the walled garden, Ieuan and Chris were stringing up lights ready for the upcoming events when an unexpected hitch occurred.
All eyes turned to see JD, hands on hips, and standing close to the play equipment He pointed to the fort. “We still gots to pack up the fort to send it home in the ‘plane.”
Vin’s eyes glittered. ‘They could take the fort?’ It hadn’t been on his dad’s and Buck’s list. They must have forgotten to write it on there.
Ieuan stared at Chris. The blond nodded, and stepped away from the lights. Approaching the boys, he squatted down to gain eye contact. “Uh, boys – we can’t take the fort.” He could see JD’s chin instantly quiver, while Vin straightened and tried to be brave.
“But, the nice people who live here gave it to us.” Vin reminded, while JD nodded, vigorously.
Chris agreed. “Sure, you’re right, but only because they wanted your time here to be fun, and to make a safe and special place, not just for you two, but for any other children who might visit folk here.”
Vin’s eyes filled, JD flat out howled. “But, it’ll miss us!”
Chris pulled them both close. “Sure it will, but you have a real neat tree house to go back to. Right?”
Vin nodded slowly. “Yeah, I guess.”
Simply sniffing, JD popped his thumb into his mouth, a comfort he hadn’t resorted to for some time.
“Right, Li’l Bit?” Chris pushed. When JD also nodded Chris grinned, and then stood. “So, are we gonna give this awesome garden and fort a good ole U.S. of A. farewell party to remember?” Timed to perfection, Ieuan got the lights working just as Chris finished speaking. The accomplishment excited the boys, and suddenly, at least for now, the crisis was over.
“YEAH!” they chorused, and raced off to find more decorations.
Chris and Ieuan exchanged looks and puffed out their cheeks in relief. “Nice timing, Pard,” Chris praised.
Ieuan smiled. “More luck than judgment, but yeah, right on cue. Are we done with the lighting?”
“Yeah, I reckon that’ll do. I think the boys found some flags left over from the Jubilee to bring out, so they can decorate the fort with those.” Larabee looked at the little wooden stronghold. He would miss it, too. The structure had given the boys hours of entertainment, and definitely assisted the transition from Denver to the UK. At least they had lots of photos to look back on.
Buck coughed as a pall of smoke from the grill wafted into his face. He glanced towards the tables that Jane was steadily filling with food. “Ma’am, you’ve sure worked your magic with the food we got left over.”
Turning to go back inside the cottage, Jane smiled. “I had plenty of options to work with. What will you be grilling, later?”
“Aww, just some beef patties, franks, chicken, some ribs...”
Jane laughed. “Good Lord. No one will be able to move after that lot.”
Buck grinned. “That’s our aim. No one goes away hungry from a Larabee-Wilmington cookout.”
Jane patted Buck’s arm as she passed by. “So I see. Oooh!” She barely stopped in time before JD and Vin barrelled past her. “Hello, boys.”
“Hey!” Buck called. The boys stopped dead. “Y’almost ran into Missus Green there, guys.”
Vin and JD faced her. “Sorry Missus Green,” they said together.
She smiled. “Apology accepted, thank you.”
“Where’s the fire?” Buck asked.
Vin and JD glanced at each other before both pointed toward the flaming grill. “There, Da,” JD replied. The pair shrugged and went on into the house.
Buck and Jane looked at each other, and then both burst out laughing. “Well I guess that told me,” Buck chuckled. Eric joined them.
“Something amusing you?” he asked. He noted Jane’s expression sobering. “Jane?”
Unexpectedly, she sobbed, and hurried into the house.
“Hmm,” Eric said as he watched her go. “She’s been a bit weepy for days, now.”
Buck sighed. “While it’ll be great to get home, it’s gonna be real tough leaving y’all behind. I just hope you, Ieuan, and Jane make good on our offer to come visit us some time.”
His own emotions rising, Eric nodded. “God willing.” He instantly perked up and chuckled as two little boys hurried past him with the garlands they were carrying flapping and trailing behind them as they ran. He squeezed Buck’s arm.
“I’ll go follow that trail, and leave you to cook.”
Well into the warm evening the party was underway and a huge dent successfully made in the food. Chatter and laughter floated on a faint breeze as, along with Ieuan and the Greens, JD and Vin’s teachers and headmistress, the neighbours, Polly and Phil Connors, and barman Alan from the Black Horse Pub, and several cops the two men had befriended over their time serving with UK Law Enforcement, enjoyed the company of the Americans one last time.
Between romping in and around the garden, and finding many delicious delights dropped around the grounds to feast on, Elvis, Ringo, Bear and Hamish, plus several of the neighbours’ dogs were having the time of their lives. Occasionally the boys, and Ieuan would play with them, too, causing occasional mayhem, and much amusement all round.
Eventually, despite how hard they fought it, exhaustion was catching up with the little ones and Buck and Chris knew they needed to get them to bed.
“Let me,” Ieuan insisted. “This party’s far from over. Spend time with your friends and neighbours while you can. The boys will be fine with me putting them to bed – if that’s okay with you.”
Buck and Chris gratefully accepted. Ieuan took each boy’s hand and helped them say a joint ‘goodnight’ and ‘goodbye’ to the people there, most of whom they would never see again. Luckily they were both too tired to appreciate the enormity of their farewells, and with hugs from their dads, and waves all the way to the kitchen door, they headed in with their beloved carer.
Deciding they were too tired for baths, Ieuan got the pair to shower. In fresh PJs, and snuggled down in their beds, the boys barely heard two pages of Children of the New Forest, before both were snoring softly. Ieuan remained sitting on JD’s bed, and time ticked steadily on as he stared at the slumbering children who helped him discover how to be happy again. His tears flowed freely as memories of their time together at Waltham Park, and in Wales on the farm, played like a slideshow in his mind. Trying to compose himself, Ieuan stood and took a precious hand in each of his.
“I always knew you’d have to go home someday, but I had no idea it would hurt so much. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do this,” he whispered. He rubbed at his chest to ease the pain settled there before squatting down between the beds and placing a hand on each boy’s head.
“You two have become like little brothers to me. I can’t bear to see you go, but I also know you can’t stay. It’s been a great year, and because of the self-belief you and your dads have helped me to build up, I’ll finally be able to move on with my life.” Swiping at his eyes, Ieuan stood.
“You four are very special to me, don’t ever forget that. No matter what happens in this life, I will never forget you.” He moved to the bedroom door, took one last look at the angelic pair, and left.
In the corridor, he closed the door and without turning around, spoke.
“How long have you been there, Buck?”
Emerging from the shadows, Buck looked guiltily at the young Welshman. “Long enough. Sorry. I noticed that you’d been gone a while, so I came to see if you, uh, if everything is alright.”
Still puffy-eyed, Ieuan turned to face Buck. “As alright as I can be knowing half my heart is about to be ripped from my chest,” he replied.
Buck nodded his understanding and glanced at the boys’ bedroom door. “They have a way of getting to you, don’t they?”
“Yeah...and not just them.”
The two men looked at each other. Buck reached out and cupped the back of Ieuan’s neck. “We’re gonna miss you, too, buddy.” He coughed to clear the emotion clogging his throat. “You said you were moving on with your life. Was that just a comment, or a hint of a real plan?” Buck relaxed the hand holding onto Ieuan and the pair began walking down the stairs.
The Welshman smiled. “A real plan. I’m going into teaching, Primary school – something I thought I could never do after...you know.”
“Neat. So, you’re qualified?”
“Well, I got my History degree at Aberystwyth University, so I’ll need to sign up with the Open University for a year or two to get my teaching qualification.”
They walked into the kitchen. “You’ll make a great teacher.”
Ieuan looked at Buck and saw the sincerity there. “Thanks Buck. That means a lot to me.”
“Shoot, if you can take care of JD and Vin, you can handle just about any kid, I reckon.”
The pair laughed, grabbed more beers from the fridge, and rejoined the festivities.
The party moved closer to the house to ensure the boys were safe while asleep. During the move, some neighbours, the visiting cops, and the folk from the Black Horse Pub bade their final farewells. Those left carried chairs and tables of food closer to the grill and the kitchen and broke open more beers as most got their second wind and began munching on the ample food remaining as they chatted.
“So, will you go back to carrying a gun once you’re home?” one neighbour asked.
Chris flipped the last of the burgers, grabbed a beer, took up a seat, and nodded. “Sure. Once Buck and I return and settle, we’ll be re-activating our Federal unit, which entails carrying a firearm.”
“Have you missed wearing a gun?” Eric Green enquired.
“Not as much as I thought I would,” Chris replied. “At first, it was instinctive to reach for it, and I felt the loss of the weight at my hip, but apart from then, one or two early incidents, and the day at the river when the guy on the boat fired at Buck, I haven’t wished I had it at all.”
“I can’t imagine having to use a gun,” another neighbour commented. “Have you ever shot anyone? Oh, Lord, have you ever had to kill someone?”
Chris took a swig of his beer. “My dad taught me how to fire a gun when I was seven. It’s a big part of American heritage, and although some folk choose not to be armed, many are, and have passed on the skill and know-how from generation to generation. When I think Vin’s ready, I’ll teach him how to shoot, and I guess Buck will do the same for JD; though it’s not a subject that’s come up as yet.” He took another drink. “And, yeah, I’ve fired on perps, as to whether I’ve killed anyone; that’s not a subject I like talking about, especially on home territory.”
The neighbour raised an apologetic hand. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Chris smiled. “You didn’t. These days - I’m a Dad first and a cop second, and so what I talk about where work is concerned, I kinda try and keep for the office.” Looking around the grounds, and the people gathered, he took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “It’ll be good to go home, but I’m sure gonna miss you folks, and this place.”
Eyes dewy with tears, Jane sniffed and answered. “You all will be greatly missed too.” The others nodded. “Getting to know you four and watching you integrate into the community and UK life has been an experience Eric and I will always cherish.” She smiled. “You’re good looking, good humoured, good company...” she raised her glass. “...And good friends. God bless you all.”
“Did I hear someone talking about me?”
All eyes turned to Buck and Ieuan.
“How’d you figure that?” Chris asked, but with a tone that suggested he already knew the answer.
The pair sat down. “I distinctly heard Jane say ‘good-looking’.” Buck bobbed his eyebrows as he sipped his beer. “She sure as hell couldn’t be talking ‘bout you, Pard.”
Everyone laughed, including Ieuan. The group continued on chatting, drinking and eating, and succeeded in putting off the difficult final farewells until gone 2 am.
Driving back from Heathrow the next afternoon, Chris was glad the boys said goodbye to the dogs at the house. Watching two confused pets being led away by two of Heathrow’s kennel maids had been very unsettling. Thank God it was only a day or two before they would all be home in Denver together. As he drove, he could still hear the boys' confused voices in his head.
>> ”But Dad, you said they was flyin’ home with us.”
“They are, Vin, but the airline likes to settle animals overnight before flying them out.” He noted JD clinging to Elvis.
“But they’ll be lonely.”
Chris looked helplessly at Buck who nodded for him to go on. “Yeah, they will, but in a couple of days we’ll all be home together.” He crouched down next to the little one. “And then they’ll be so happy, they’ll forget about being alone for one night. Like it never happened.”
Vin kissed Ringo’s head. “Promise?”
Chris touched a hand to his heart. “I swear.” <<
Walking into the house Chris was shocked by how much the place echoed. The moving van had taken their sealed crates at 7am one morning almost two weeks ago, and the boys enjoyed tracking their progress home on the internet. When those went the place looked emptier; now however, the place was stripped bare of drawings, and accumulated nick-nacks, more resembling the house they moved into a year ago.
Chris smiled. The house that very much became a home.
Tonight, they and Ieuan were having supper at the Green’s. Buck and Chris were both looking forward to it and dreading it, as the end of the night would be the final farewells with Eric, Jane, and Hamish. Buck was worried about Ieuan cooking for them in the morning, but Chris figured the boys would be upset to leave him anyway, so why deny them the time together. It would be the hardest goodbye of all, but there was nothing, short of taking Ieuan with them, that could be done about it.
Wandering through the house, Chris aimed for the TV noise in the den. Peeking in he saw Buck sitting on the sofa with his arms around each little one snuggled into him. They were watching a children’s TV programme called ‘Horrible Histories’ and by the way Buck was chuckling too, suggested it was better put together than the usual run-of-the-mill kids’ programmes.
Vin got up, stood in front of his father, and rested his head against Chris’s abdomen. The blond’s hand stroked the boy's fair curls as he watched JD kneel on the sofa and wrap his little fingers around Chris’s free hand. A look passed between him and Buck.
“All good, guys?”
Vin looked up at his dad. “Are they okay?”
“Did they cry?” JD asked, dangerously close to doing so himself.
Chris manoeuvred his hand so he could hold JD’s, and took Vin’s in his other. “Yes, they’re fine; and yes, Li’l Bit, they cried some...” Both boys’ eyes filled. “...But, when their kennel maids introduced themselves and took their leashes, they trotted off happily.” Chris squeezed their hands.
“They’ll be on the same flight as us, and when we’ve landed, one of your uncles will be bringing them home once they’re released. You’ll be seeing them in no time.”
Buck attempted to change the subject – a little. “Of the four good outfits packed for home, the boys finally decided what to wear to the Green’s tonight, and what to wear home tomorrow.”
There was a small pause until both boys nodded. “Uh huh,” JD answered.
“Khaki pants t’night and jeans to go home,” Vin confirmed.
Chris smiled and nodded approvingly. “Great choices.”
At the Green’s later, Jane decided to end the little family’s last visit in the same way as their first, with a roast chicken dinner and raspberry trifle for dessert. It had been a risky decision, but in the end worked out well by prompting several hours of hilarious reminiscing.
Buck and Chris hadn’t missed how buoyant Ieuan was and were quietly concerned. They knew the young Welshman was upset about them leaving, but watching him laughing and telling tales right along with them put them on their guard. They would need to be extra mindful in the morning; both men sensed a ‘crash’ coming on.
The ‘Thank You’ cards the boys had made stood proudly on the Green’s mantelshelf. Jane nodded to them, and then smiled. “When you get home, a little surprise from us and Mair and Iolo will arrive.”
Chris and Buck stared curiously.
“Who’s Yolow?” JD asked.
Vin nudged him. “Ieuan’s dad, silly.”
As JD put a hand to his mouth and giggled he saw Ieuan nodding. “Oh yeah! I'd forgotted.”
"Forgotten," Chris corrected.
"You forgotted, too, Chris?" JD asked, innocently. He was confused as to why the grown-ups chuckled, but it quickly passed at Vin's next question.
“What’s gonna come in the mail?” Vin asked.
Jane continued. “Well, Mair and I talk a lot these days, and she and Iolo are coming down to visit, soon, so we decided to put together a food care package of things from the UK that you love, but are hard to buy in the US.”
“You mean, things like...Penguins, an’ mincemeat...?” JD asked, hopefully.
“...An’ Weetabix, and Ribena...ooh! And Crunchies?” Vin continued.
Jane clasped her hands together and chuckled. “Yes! All of those things, and lots more. It should be with you in a few weeks.”
The boys clapped. “Yay!”
“Uh, what do you say, boys?” Buck reminded.
“Thank you!” they chorused.
Eric winked at Chris and Buck. “Ieuan and I will be adding some rather fine wines and I have a decent Scottish Malt you might like.”
“Got a rather special Madeira Malt from a Welsh distillery.” Ieuan bobbed his eyebrows. “And a limited edition Penderyn Port Wood. Bottled whiskey sold at cask strength, really good. I have them at home, so you can take those with you tomorrow.”
Both men looked humbled. “Wow, I'm lost for words,” Chris said around a tight throat. “Thank you.”
“Yeah, thanks, that’s real nice of you,” Buck reaffirmed.
“Least we can do,” Eric said, his own emotions rising. “It’s been a wonderful year.” He raised his wine glass, and smiled when the boys did the same with their glasses of cola. “To special friends. You enriched our lives, and you touched our hearts, creating memories that will stay with us always.”
The glasses clinked together as Eric’s words embraced the friendships that had been forged over the year, and that would live in their hearts for eternity.
Later, Buck and Chris stood in the doorway of the boys’ room and listened to the sobs and sighs of the slumbering pair. Just as expected, the goodbyes were painfully sad. Not only did Jane break down, but Eric, also. The pair had hugged the boys for a long time, neither willing to let go, and receiving no protest from the little ones.
With Bear staying with the Greens so he wouldn't get underfoot the next morning, Ieuan helped by taking both boys in his arms, and as he walked the weeping pair the short distance home, Chris and Buck took their turn with the older couple. This was no time for emotional distance and the Americans had embraced the man and woman while wishing them all the best.
When they turned to go, and with the boys out of earshot, Buck and Chris reminded them that they would always be welcome in their home. As expected, the Green’s were very grateful for the offer, and promised to think about it, which was why the men were glad the boys weren’t around to place undue pressure. They very much wanted Eric and Jane to visit, but they also wanted it to be their own decision.
With a quick goodnight to each other, and one last look around the nightlight bathed room, Buck and Chris went to their own rooms for their last UK sleep.
Next morning, despite the early hour, the smell of bacon, pancakes, and brewing coffee welcomed the little family. Ieuan whistled as he cooked, and swung each boy around when they ran in to wish him good morning. Sitting at the kitchen table, and as they ate the delicious and ample meal, no one mentioned that it was their very last one together.
“What time are you leaving?” Ieuan asked.
“Figured we’d head out around eight,” Buck replied. “We want to have a nice, relaxed journey, plus we have to turn in the rental.”
“Good idea,” the Welshman nodded, while glancing at the clock. ‘one more hour’. “I’ve packed you some sandwiches, and Welshcakes.”
“Woohoo!” the boys yelled. “Thank you.”
“And don’t forget the cookie men we made the other evening. The tins need to go in your hand luggage or suitcases.”
The little ones nodded.
The four chatted about everything from the weather to the time difference between their two countries before Ieuan stood and cleared the plates.
“We’ll do that,” Chris insisted.
“No problem,” Ieuan smiled as he loaded the dishwasher. “The maid service is coming in at midday.” He pointed to the crockery. “These will be dry and ready for storing by then. When he or she’s done I’ll lock up and wait for the key to be collected.” He ushered them on.
“Go on, go get ready, and I’ll see you again before you leave.” He caught the liquid eyes of his boys and turned quickly away. “Go on, don’t want to be late, do you?” His eyes closed as two little bodies wrapped themselves around him, and his hands came down to massage and caress their hair and necks. This was killing him, and he hoped they couldn’t feel him trembling.
“We’s gonna miss you,” JD whimpered.
“Will you miss us?” Vin sniffed.
‘More than you could ever know.’ He crouched down and hugged them. “Of course I will. You’re my little pals. But you have to go home; your family are waiting for you. Promise me you’ll Skype me in a couple of days. You can tell me all about your trip.”
Ieuan kissed each head tenderly, then patted their butts to get them moving. “I’ll make sure Bear's here to see you off,” he promised.
8.05 am and Chris slammed the rear door of the Freelander for, he hoped, the final time. He'd asked twice already if that was everything, and been told 'yes', only to have one of the boys find another object. With the boys clutching their chosen travel items, they and Buck walked slowly out of their UK home and toward Chris. The four stared back at the property and considered all the happy times they’d had here.
Together they walked to the walled garden and Chris and Buck watched while JD and Vin said their goodbyes. They hugged their fort, and JD even kissed it.
“You know we’re gonna have to consider getting one of these, don’t you?” Buck asked.
“Uh huh. Already thinking the same thing, Pard.”
Leaving the garden, they met with Ieuan and Bear. The boys fussed the big dog, and while they ran around with him, the three men walked back to the car.
“All set?” Ieuan asked.
“Yup,” Buck nodded. “Denver, here we come.”
They stopped and Ieuan held out his hand. “I’m really glad I got the chance to get to know you. Thanks for everything. Have a safe trip.”
Buck huffed. “You think you're getting away with that?” he warned only moments before he hugged the young man. “Take care, Pal,” he whispered.
Unable to speak, Ieuan nodded.
Chris approached and surprised the Welshman with a quick embrace. “Couldn’t have done it without you, Ieuan. Thank you.”
Before Ieuan could reply, excited voices caught their attention. The three smiled to see Bear and Hamish running around like crazy while Jane and Eric had a final cuddle with the boys. They moved to join them and another round of goodbyes took place.
All too soon it was time to leave. The boys clung to Ieuan, but the Welshman was soon urging them to get in the car. All strapped in, the four looked from their windows. Chris fired up the Freelander and with a honk of the horn, pulled off with two very confused boys in the rear. For that matter, Buck and Chris felt more than a little unsettled, also.
Eric, Jane, and Ieuan waved. Suddenly, Ieuan squatted, resting one hand on the ground to steady himself as body shook, and tears flowed in keeping with the shattering of his heart. Jane and Eric looked at each other in alarm. This was not good.
The bond the boys had forged with Ieuan was strong and the little ones were troubled at the way they and he had parted. As Chris went to round a bend, the pair saw Ieuan almost doubled over.
“Da, we’s gotta go back!”
Startled by the outburst, Chris slammed on the brakes, but before he could ask anything, Vin had unbuckled himself and JD. Each boy opened their doors, jumped down, and hand in hand ran back toward the trio.
Racked with sobs Ieuan looked up. Dropping to his knees, and crying openly, he threw open his arms to the incoming human missiles. The three bodies slammed together and all three hugged hard, and cried loud.
“My boys, my boys! Dwi'n twp! I’m such an idiot.”
“We thought you didn’t love us no more,” Vin stammered out.
“I love you more than I could ever say,” Ieuan confessed. He pulled back to see their tear-stained faces matching his own. “I wanted to be strong for you. I wanted you to be able to walk away and look forward to going home, and be not upset about leaving here.” He gratefully accepted a tissue from Jane to wipe his running nose.
“You’re like little brothers to me. I’ve loved every day we’ve had together. So much so that I became selfish and wished they would never end.” He forced a smile. “But your family love you, and miss you, and it’s time for you to be with them again. Just remember that here, in a little part of England and Wales, for some of us it will also be a little bit American.”
Ieuan’s words were as much for Chris and Buck as the boys. Now it was time to soften it a little. Time to finally say goodbye.
“You’re the best kids in the whole wide world. We’ve laughed a lot, yeah?”
Still crying, the boys nodded and hugged him again.
“Promise me you’ll Skype me every week.”
“Will you come an’ visit us?” JD rasped out between sobs.
Pulling back, Ieuan kissed each boy. “I promise I’ll try. You remember I told you I wanted to be a teacher?”
“Well, I have a lot of work to do to get there, and when we talk; I’ll let you know how I’m doing, and you can let me know how you’re doing. Deal?”
Vin and JD each kissed his cheek. “Deal.”
Chris was visibly affected by the sad scene, while Buck, Jane, and Eric openly wept. But now it really was time to go. Even as Chris thought it, Ieuan stood, bringing the boys up in his arms as he did so. He walked over to Buck and Chris and handed each child over before stepping back.
“Love you,” he said, before blowing a kiss, followed by his customary parting raspberry. He couldn’t help but grin at the boys’ giggles. Seconds after the little ones were strapped in, and following more energetic waves, the truck rolled on down the drive. As it rounded the bend and out of sight, Ieuan realized Jane and Eric were back next to him.
The Welshman turned toward them, and as Eric placed a hand on the lad’s back Jane opened her arms to let the young man they had grown very fond of, into her comforting embrace and finally, truly, let his emotions out.
It was a quiet trip to the airport, interspersed only by occasional soft sobs from the boys. Buck made several attempts to get the little ones talking, but it just made them sadder, and once actually caused JD to start crying again, so he passed over fresh tissues, and just kept a fatherly eye on the pair. When they pulled into the parking slot allocated to the metallic orange Freelander, Chris shut off the engine and turned to the boys.
"Hey, listen up. I know leaving our friends behind is real tough right now, but try to focus on the upside, huh? We're going home, and back to family. Besides, like Ieuan said, we can Skype 'em, which isn't the best, but it's more than folks had in the past."
Vin frowned. "Why didn't they have Skype? Was it 'cause lots of people didn't have computers?"
Chris offered a small smile. "I guess there were folk who didn't have computers, son, but no, it was because Skype wasn't available. All that was on hand was the phone."
Vin nodded his understanding. A frowning JD was building to a question, so Chris quickly continued.
"It'll take around ten hours to get home. You can chill out and maybe sleep on the plane but it'll be late afternoon in Denver when we touch down so you'll have time to get some sleep in your own room after we reach the ranch. You'll have all the next day to check out the place, settle the dogs in, go see how the horses are doing but most importantly, visit with the friends we haven't seen for a whole year, and spend more time with your uncles." As he expected, the mention of the three men waiting to greet them, and the familiarity of home, got the boys smiling. Chris knew there would be relapses, just like when they came to the UK, but as back then, they would deal with it.
Buck quickly found a luggage cart and soon Chris was locking the Freelander. Pocketing the keys to hand over to the rental desk inside the airport, he took one last look at the vehicle. The blond smiled to himself at the memory of seeing the metallic orange truck that first day. He had ordered black, and even though he was initially mortified by the brightness of the truck, Chris had actually grown fond of it over the year.
The mix of emotions dampening the boys' enthusiasm saw their wheelie luggage stacked with the rest of the bags for this trip. Buck pushed the trolley, and Chris held the boys' hands as they walked toward the check-in desk. On arrival, Buck pulled out the passports and tickets from the document wallet around his neck. Both men went on alert when the check-in operator spent a long time verifying the tickets. At last, she smiled.
"Your tickets have been upgraded to Premium Economy." She handed them their ticket wallets and boarding passes, and pointed. "Your lounge is marked 'Club Terrace' and is the first door on the right after the hand luggage check."
Buck stared at her as if she had two heads. "Ma'am, you sure you're not mistaking us for someone else?"
The woman's smile broadened and she read from her screen. "No, sir, the transfer was made yesterday. The credit card was registered to Mr. Ezra P. Standish."
Buck and Chris looked at each other. JD's voice piped up.
"That's our Unca Ezra."
Chris shook his head as he grinned. "Man that guy is full of surprises."
"Whoo-wee," Buck cheered. "More space and better food. Sign me up!"
JD and Vin giggled as Buck did a little dance before he leaned over the desk, kissed the operator on the cheek, and then pushed the baggage cart toward the next station.
The operator laughed. "British Airways wishes you all a pleasant flight."
"Oh we will, Darlin'," Buck called back, grinning. "We surely will."
The first half hour of their three hour wait passed without too much incident. There were free nibbles and fruit to keep rumbling tummies at bay, and despite having access to the array of restaurants in the departure area’s food court, Buck broke out the sandwiches Ieuan made and packed.
"Good to see you remembered them," Chris teased.
"Says the guy that couldn't find the wallet with all our passports, tickets and money," Buck quipped back.
"They were safe - just couldn't recall where I'd put them," Chris defended.
Chris looked at his son.
"JD an' me's pretty hungry."
A grinning Buck ducked his head and Chris nodded. "Sorry, Cowboy; kinda got carried away there, didn't we?"
There were only a handful of travellers waiting in the Club Terrace Lounge, making the two fathers very mindful of how their sons behaved; but they needn't have worried, as always, they were their usual, charming selves.
A young couple sitting with their backs to the picture windows were struggling to keep their hands off each other. Chris was convinced they were only doing so because of the boys.
However, the middle-aged couple sitting opposite were smitten with the boys' accents and were happy to let them, well, mostly JD, chatter away about their year in the 'Yoo-Kay'. JD showed them the picture he carried of 'Heaven', and cheerily explained the story behind it, and Vin was happy to let them see his book from the Queen that he decided to travel with.
"So, now you're going home. Where is your home?" Judith Langston asked.
"Denver," Vin replied.
"That's in Col-uh-rah-do," JD informed, happily.
"Have you missed home?" Colin Langston inquired.
"Sure," Vin nodded. "And we missed our Uncles, Miss Nettie, and our schoolfriends, and I missed my horse, Peso..."
"...An' we missed Missus Potter, an' my Da's horse, Beau, an' Chris's horse, Pony, and our treehouse."
The couple smiled. “No wonder you’re keen to get home,” Judith said.
"But..." Vin looked to JD.
Judith sobered. "Yes, Vin?"
"We're really gonna miss Ieuan..."
"Yeah, Y-eye-yan, an’ Bear, an' Mister an' Missus Green, an' Hamish..."
Judith and Colin looked up when, just as the boys got teary, their fathers were right there.
"Sorry about this. It's been a tough coupla days."
Tempting the boys back with a promise of Welshcakes, the four barely noticed a group of three men come into the lounge and sit somewhere behind them.
Boarding time grew closer. As all cameras except Buck's were packed away, Buck loaned it to Vin so that the boy could happily snap away through the lounge window at the planes on the runways. Also, at the nice man behind the bar, Mr. and Mrs. Langston, the honeymoon couple who gave him a cheery wave as he did so, the three quiet men in the corner behind them, though neither of them seemed to notice, and JD lying on his belly on the floor playing with two horses that Chris fashioned from the tin foil from their sandwiches. JD had ended up with both when Vin decided he wanted to take photos instead of play.
Proud of his efforts, Vin took the digital camera to Buck so he and Chris could view the photos taken. The men grinned or chuckled at each one until the photo of the three men seated somewhere behind them came up. It took a few seconds for the familiar face to register, but even with freshly dyed blond hair, they would know the face of Jacob Tobias anywhere.
The two fathers instantly snapped into agent mode. Buck cautiously glanced back at JD and groaned to see his son playing on the floor very close to the fugitive. During the incident at Windsor when Buck, Vin and JD took a dive into the river, neither of them saw the man on the boat who fired, so JD was happily oblivious to the proximity of a criminal who had fired on children without a second thought.
Chris curled his fingers around Vin's wrists and drew the boy close to face him. "Don't look around, and I need you to listen real carefully. You know of the men behind us, close to where JD is playing?”
“One of them is the guy who fired at Buck and you boys at the river last month."
Little Tanner's blue eyes widened a split second before taking a glimpse of JD's position. His eyes filled. "JD..." he whispered.
"...Is fine as long as we stay calm," Chris soothed. Having passed through airport security, there was no chance of the men having weapons but, as he well knew from his SEAL days, there were plenty of ways to kill a person.
"Vin, I need you to be a big boy for me, son. I have a real important job for you."
Vin swallowed and nodded. "Okay, Dad."
Chris smiled, proudly. "Take the camera with this photo of the men sitting behind us and approach the Langstons. Tell them to keep smiling when they look at it and you quietly explain who it is, then tell them to get up and follow you. I want you to guide them to the windows and point at the planes outside, and then slowly make your way toward the doorway on the left. It'll take you outside this room. Chris slipped him his ID.
"Find one of the armed cops at the security check, show them the photo you took, and my ID with my cell phone number inside. Tell them there are two Federal Officers in the lounge observing a dangerous fugitive. Can you do that for us, Vin?"
After another quick glance to JD, Vin straightened and nodded. "I can do that, Dad. You can count on me." He leaned in. "Should I grab JD too..."
Chris barely shook his head. "We don't want to alert them. JD might fuss, and the last thing we need is for that man to recognize anyone. We've been lucky so far, let's keep it that way, huh?"
The two agents didn't know where the young couple had gone, and hoped it was a restaurant or similar. Even as both men held their breaths while Vin carried out his father's instructions, Buck was in hell. His instincts screamed to grab JD, but he also knew that, for now, JD was unaware, and safe, and while that remained so, getting the room cleared and help in there was a priority.
Vin was scared, and his little heart pounded, but it wouldn't be the first time he'd needed his street smarts to stay safe. He waved at the Langstons, and with the camera in his outstretched hand, he set the plan into action.
Despite being anxious, Chris watched his son with an inner glow that only a parent possessed. He maintained a healthy grip on Buck's arm. He trusted Buck with his life, but he also knew, from personal experience, that when your kids were under threat nothing would stop you from defending them. If this went belly-up, they would both be switching to father mode. It occurred to him that his grip on Buck was just as much about grounding himself than watching out for Buck. Now if he could just figure out how to prevent his heart from bursting through his chest any moment.
Buck had done enough undercover work to know that timing was everything, but some days it was just so Goddamned hard to focus. From his seated position he was calmed a little to see the Langstons doing so well. Lord knows how they must have felt when Vin filled them in. He was also proud that Vin didn't look back as the three disappeared out of the door. He felt sure the kid must have really wanted to.
Clutching Judith's hand, Vin hurried toward the security check, dragging the woman along with him. He headed directly toward the two vested and armed policemen. "Officer! Sir!"
Officer Callum Randall of the Metropolitan Special Operational Unit looked directly at the child calling out to him and his colleague. Cradling his semi-automatic in one hand, he raised his other in a halting motion. "Wait there!" His hand dropped to rest on the CS canister on his duty belt just below his ballistic vest as he moved toward Vin.
"What's the problem, here?" He eyed the adults for an answer, but it was Vin who offered it.
"This is my dad's ID, and this is a picture I need to show you." He pointed back toward the lounge. "In there are two Fed'ral officers, and real dangerous foo-gitive." His face saddened. "My little brother's still in there, too. He was playing too close to the men to get him away without a fuss. Please, mister, please call my dad's cell and help 'em."
Judith and Colin Langston nodded their agreement.
“One of these three men?” Randall asked.
“Yes,” Vin said. “The blond one.”
As Officer Mason moved a reluctant Vin, and the Langstons away from the area and radioed for backup, Officer Randall called Chris's cell.
Through the buzz of thoughts going through his mind, Buck heard JD's voice. The boy was still on his belly and playing out some cowboy fantasy.
"C'mon, Sheriff, we gotta find us a posse an' round up the varmints."
Buck shook his head slightly. Of all the games to be playing right now. 'Nice one, son.' He felt Chris's grip tighten when his cell rang. The blond stood and walked calmly toward the lounge windows as if attempting to keep the volume of his call down, while also succeeding in keeping his identity secure.
"Hey, good to hear from you. I was hoping you'd call."
Buck saw Chris's hand rest on the window, his thumb upward, to let his partner know Vin had succeeded. As the brunet tried to listen, he glanced at JD and took a steadying breath. Not long, now.
Standing with the other officer, Vin watched as the policeman he'd asked for help, spoke to his dad.
"Agent Larabee? Can you talk? My name is Special Firearms Officer Randall." The officer listened. "Your son informs me you are currently observing a fugitive of the UK. He plans to fly out? Is he alone? Is there anyone other than you, your partner and your other son in there with them right now?" His eyes scanned the food court close to the lounge. "I'll talk to the lady and gentleman who came to me with your son, in order to get a brief on the other couple. Hold on, we'll soon be with you, Agent Larabee." He smiled. "Yes sir, your son's with another officer and is fine."
"Well, we're flying out soon, so we'll be seeing you in no time. Bye." Chris closed his cell and taking great care to keep his features hidden from Tobias's view he crossed the floor and sat next to Buck.
"Well? Is Vin safe?"
"All set, and Vin's okay." Chris looked at Buck. "While there's nothing I'd like more than to take down this sonofabitch ourselves, our priority is to the boys. Vin's waiting, and JD needs to be safe."
Buck nodded his agreement. "Maybe they'll let us get a few licks in after, huh?" he said, dryly. His attention switched to JD who suddenly stood. "Shit!"
"Da! Vin's horse broke."
Any other time and the fact that the two make-do horses were identical, JD's grumble would have been funny, but today it made two of the three semi-bored men look up, causing Buck and Chris's hearts to clench. Surprisingly, one man held out a hand.
"Hey, little man. Let me take a look."
Chris heard Buck's near-audible squeak as JD, thinking it was okay to talk to the guy when his dad was right there, happily skipped the short distance and placed the bent horse into the waiting hand.
"Can you fix it, Mister?"
Tobias glared at his partner as if to say 'what are you playing at?'
The bodyguard shrugged apologetically and quickly twiddled with the foil. "There, how's that?"
JD clapped his hands and squealed gleefully. "Thank you, Mister. Now Vin and Chris won't be mad at me." He took the re-shaped horse and held it up. "Lookit, Da! i'ss all fixed."
Waiting to board a plane had caused enough tedium for all three men to instinctively look toward Buck and Chris. Jacob Tobias audibly cursed. "Fuck!"
JD turned and as he gasped, put a hand to his mouth. "Aw, Mister, that's a real bad, word."
Several things happened at once.
Buck was already on his feet. He could see Tobias eyeing up JD and vaulted over the couch in an instant. He threw his heftiest punch at the nearest man to them; snatched JD up into his arms, and moments later jumped another sofa and hunkered down.
Chris was a mere second behind Buck and waded into the fray the instant his partner was clear. With one goon out for the count Chris first lashed out at Tobias, then did a rearward kick to the other thug's gut.
As they hit the floor and rolled just in front of a second sofa, a confused JD howled. "Da! You's hurting me." His eyes went wide and frightened as Buck's body curled around him and a large hand clamped over the wee one's mouth.
"JD," Buck hissed. "I'll explain, but right now, you gotta trust me." JD looked into his father’s earnest gaze and slowly nodded.
Buck relaxed the hand over JD’s mouth. "Right now I need to be a cop. I need to help Chris; and I need you to hide here for me."
For a second, JD clung tight and it looked as though Buck was staying, but just as quickly, the little one let go and nodded. "'Kay. Where's Vin?” he sniffed.
"Vin's safe. I promise you Li’l Bit, we'll talk real soon." Kissing his son's forehead, Buck stood and turned the couch over so JD was in the gap underneath its back and seats. He barely got to Chris in time before a metal trash can in Tobias's hands would have crunched down onto the back of Chris's skull.
"Shoot at me and my kids would you? Jerkass!" Buck spat at Tobias. He head butted the fugitive and without glancing back to see the man crumple to the floor, he walked away. Buck already knew the guy was down, because his own nose and head hurt like fuck.
Just as the remaining goon's hand reached for his ankle, Chris stomped on it. The lounge door burst open and a mass of armed cops swarmed in and ordered everyone to hit the deck and link their fingers behind their heads. Buck and Chris instantly complied; however, seconds later, when one of the armed cops kicked at the overturned couch and hollered for whoever was under there to come out, Buck was up on his knees and being threatened by several well-aimed semi-automatics.
"It's my son, JD," Buck pleaded. "MY ID’s in my front jeans pocket. I'm ATF Federal Agent Buck Wilmington and my kid's hiding under there. I put him there for safety."
Relaxing his hands, Chris propped himself up on an elbow and rolled back to see an armed officer approaching. "Yeah. Are you Officer Randall?"
"Yes sir." Randall glanced at the officer near the couch and indicated for him to lift it.
Officer Jones raised up a part of the couch and smiled at the wide eyed little boy staring back at him. "Hello. Who are you?"
"I'z JD. Who's you?"
"My name's Ritchie." He eased the couch upright just as Buck approached and snatched JD up in his arms. He buried his face in the crook of the boy's neck.
"Oh, baby boy, you were so brave."
JD quietly clung for a few moments, but despite the fact that he was shaking, with a room full of armed cops JD's curiosity got the better of him."Did you an' Chris get 'em. Can I see?" He was trying to wriggle free. "Where's Vin, Da?"
Chris joined them and kissed JD's head. "Hey, Lil Bit. Vin'll be here, soon."
Outside and too far away for Vin's liking, the boy had watched more armed cops arrive. They were hurriedly briefed and soon ready to go. He desperately wanted to sneak in with them, just to make sure his family was okay, but he knew that not only was it wrong, but his father would blow his top if he did so.
All at once, an officer close to the front of the group called the order to go, and Vin's saucer-sized blue orbs and his pale, scared features watched them move in. All he could do now was wait - a long, painful, lingering wait.
Inside the lounge, JD pulled his arms from around his father's neck and stared at the squashed foil in his hands. He looked at Chris in dismay. "Ooh, I squished 'em both."
Chris couldn't help but chuckle. "No sweat, I'll make you some more. There's still some foil left over." Both men regarded each other. A few bruises, and the odd cut, but all good.
JD beamed. "'Kay." He sighed. "Can I see Vin, now?"
A noise at the door had the three heads turn that way.
Before JD could get free, Vin and the officer bringing him in were with them. The little Texan leapt into Chris's arms. After a short, private reunion between father and son, the four huddled together in a group hug and both boys finally gave way to the fright they'd had. The two men knew that due to their success the incident was not the stuff of nightmares, and were confident the boys would make a great story of it when they were home and settled.
Chris kissed Vin's head. "You did great, son. We're real proud of you. JD, too."
Vin blushed and snuggled in tighter.
Callum Randall walked away from the investigative hullabaloo and slapped both men on their backs. "Great work, Agents. You have really great kids, there, too."
Larabee pointed first to himself, then Buck. "It's Chris and Buck, and yeah, our kids are pretty darn special."
Vin raised his head off his father's shoulder to glance up at him. "Swear jar, Dad," he whispered.
Chris chuckled. "Sorry Cowboy."
Chris noted the activity around them. He and Buck answered a few more questions and watched as the three criminals were led away. Several minutes after that the Langstons and the young couple were brought back into the lounge. Officer Randall thumbed toward the check-in.
"You'll be boarding in fifteen minutes. We have a Doc here to check you all out, and then, hopefully, you can go home."
Chris nodded and smiled. Home. He could hardly wait.
Part 3: Family
Part 2 Links
Aberystwyth – pronounced ‘Aber – rist – wi-th’
Horrible Histories - Charles II Song
Children of the New Forest
Airport Club Terrace
Airport Armed Police
BA Premium Economy (World Traveller Plus)