by Sue M
AU: Little Britches ATF – Little Ambassadors Series
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be
Note: My thanks as always to Nancy and to Katy for their help and for the awesome collage Katy made for my story.
The news, to the boys, that Nathan would be spending Christmas with Rain's family, Josiah was once again in New Mexico and as yet, had not been in touch, and Ezra was travelling to Europe to spend Christmas and the start of the New Year with his mother and her latest significant other, was finally broken. The expected deep disappointment was eased with the once promised, and much anticipated trip to London. This trip was to see the infamous Christmas lights. Another was promised, before they headed home, to enable the family to see Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge, The Houses of Parliament, and many other attractions.
Saturday arrived, and after an early rise and a light breakfast, the four drove to the train station. Choosing the rail route into Paddington meant one change at Slough, but it made the going easier for the first leg of their big day. Exiting the underground station at South Kensington, the little family made the short trip to stop number one.
They stood in awe and looked up at the remarkable architecture of the Natural History Museum. Climbing its impressive steps, they entered through one of two huge oak doors and gasped at the vastness of the central hall.
JD's cry startled several people around them, including the man standing at the check-in gate, but no one minded, after all, he was staring at a giant, supported skeleton of a Diplodocus, affectionately known locally as ‘Dippy', and the sight was quite simply...breathtaking. Both men noted a sign that said entry was free, though donations were welcome.
"You don't charge?” Chris asked the man at the check-in.
"No sir, it's strongly upheld that our heritage be free to view for everyone.” He smiled. “But we never discourage an offered donation.”
Taking out their wallets, both men stuffed bills into the collection box, smiled when the man thanked them and, taking their sons' hands, continued on into the main hall.
It took some time to coax the boys away from the huge Diplodocus, but finally they crossed the main hall, and climbed the elegant stone stairs to the rest of the exhibits.
The four ambled through the vast museum, with its galleries identified by colours of Red, Green, Blue, and Orange. Having been some while since breakfast, they decided to eat in the restaurant in the Green Zone. The boys enjoyed choosing from the ‘Scoffasauras Menu', and each had a Scoffasauras Cheeseburger with fries, followed by Warm Chocolate Brownie Sundaes, and accompanied by milk for JD, and apple juice for Vin. The men chose British fare. Chris had Shepherd's Pie, and Buck Sausage and Mash. They went with Apple Pie and Custard for dessert, washed down with Cappuccinos with extra shots...to keep them caffeinated and energised.
All four decided that, out of all the exhibitions, their favourite was the Blue Gallery. It was packed with dinosaurs, fishes, amphibians, and mammals, to name but a few; not to mention its full-scale model of the Blue Whale in the large mammals' hall. Buck had been worried that the life size, animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex might be too scary for JD, but he couldn't have been more wrong. JD was apparently the only five-year-old in the world - well okay not the world, but at least the only one in the museum on that day - who wanted to pet T-Rex, and was somewhat put out that he wasn't permitted to. Finally dragging JD away from the exhibit, the little one had told Buck that; "T-Rexes is the coolest dinosaurs ever!"
There of course, were the inevitable visits to the various museum shops. In the Earth store, Vin chose a boxed selection of minerals and crystals, and two books; one dedicated to the study of Earth, and the other a craft book on the same subject, complete with marker pens.
JD went for the Dinosaur store in the Blue Zone, and chose a stuffed T-Rex and also two books, one to read and, like Vin, one to colour in. The men made a note of the web address for the online shop in the hope of purchasing some surprise t-shirts for Christmas when they got home.
Already tiring after their early start and restless night prior to their trip, the four headed for South Kensington Tube Station and the second leg of their journey...the shops and lights. Two Tube Station changes later, they reached Oxford Circus. From there they headed for Regents Street and a store the men knew the boys would adore.
The toy store professed to be the finest in the World...Hamleys.
Getting them into the store was a challenge in itself. Little eyes bugged at the bright, festive Christmas lights that adorned the streetlights and hung high off buildings and across the busy street. Every store window sparkled and shimmered in jolly participation of the season, but it was the Hamleys' external display of Santa on his sleigh, and with their lit Christmas trees in front of a full width curtain of gold lights, positioned half way up the store front that had them initially staring in awe. Each Hamleys window was a working, winter wonderland, a cornucopia of models and toys just screaming to be on every child's Christmas list.
The men ushered the boys inside and straight through to the elevators. Hitting the top floor, the boys moved through shelf after shelf-loads of toys, and flitted from play area to play area. The store incorporated a firm tradition of letting children play. After all, how could a child decide what they wanted if they were not allowed to ‘test drive' the goods?
Trains chuffed high above and around the perimeter of each floor, while larger than life characters and one stilt-walker wandered around for photo opportunities. One floor had a puppet show, another, a magic show. There was face painting on one floor, too, but the boys passed. Chris and Buck couldn't help wondering if their lack of interest harked back to Bonfire Night. That aside, however, it was the action figure floor that almost gave the boys apoplexy.
Buck felt JD physically quake with excitement on seeing Spiderman cautiously and dramatically scrambling around, while a distant Wookie yowled as he moved through the crowds, a Dalek scooted, and a Transformer robot stopped to shake the boys' hands. No less enrapt with the whole exhibition, the two men had to agree with their sons. This was a truly magical place.
The big surprise of the day came courtesy of their Dads, but via information from Jane and Eric. When their children were little, there was one upheld tradition for the Greens that the little Americans were about to experience.
Tea with Santa and his Elves.
The men had booked them in for a visit with Father Christmas and tea with him and his Elves in Santa's inner sanctum. At 4:30 pm, they lined up with other excited, chattering children and parents, before being greeted and led into the enchanting wonderland that was Santa's Grotto. While enjoying a tea of mini sausage rolls, carrot sticks with mini humus dips, sandwiches, Satsumas, Christmas cupcakes and apple or orange juice, they were entertained with a show by the Elves, and got to keep the hat and Christmas Garland they made during the planned activities. Finally, it was time to meet the man himself, and the boys decided they would go together.
"Ho-Ho-Ho. Well...two for the price of one, this is very nice.”
Watched by their proud Dads, JD happily perched on the jolly Santa's knee, while Vin stood quietly at his side.
"Hullo, Santa!” JD hollered. “I's JD, and this is Vin. He's my brother...” he whispered in the man's ear. "An' he's my hero. You know, like Spiderman's a hero.” He moved back and grinned. "I like Spiderman.”
Vin heard, and blushed, and Santa smiled. “A hero brother, my, that is a very special brother indeed.” He watched the boy give a coy shrug. “Not a big talker, Vin?” Again, Vin's shoulders bobbed, but with a smile.
"Vin says talking's good when you got something to say. If not, listening's ‘portant, too.”
Santa gave JD a little squeeze and nodded. “Quite right. Tell me, what makes your brother your hero?”
JD toyed with the man's long, bushy, white beard as he spoke in one lengthy breath. “Well...he's a brother who keeped me safe from the trolls and gots me food t' eat and keeped me warm when it was cold outside and the blanket weren't fluffy enough and he cuddles me when I's scared and plays with me even when he'd rather jus' be quiet...”
Eyes glistening, Santa nodded. “My, my...a very special brother indeed.”
"I always knew you would be high on my ‘nice list', Vin.” He turned to JD. “As are you, John Daniel.”
As the little one clapped his hands with glee, Vin leaned in and whispered in Santa's ear. “It's okay, I know you're not real, I just do this for JD.”
Santa handed JD a snow globe to keep his attention, and then looked back at Vin. “Oh, but I am.” He noticed the look of disdain. "I know you see me here and wonder how that can be at this time of year. Well, in a way, I am here, but, also, I'm really not. It's magic, you see. I'm actually at home, and checking the list, twice, and happy to say that both you and JD are most definitely on the nice list.”
Vin checked JD was still occupied and again whispered to the man. "Mister, when me and JD lived in the warehouse, before our Dads saved us, you didn't come. We waited, but you didn't come. I told JD Rudolph wasn't helpin' that night and you got lost. But...I knew why you really didn't come, just like you didn't come th'other years I lived in the warehouse and such. You're not real.”
"Look Vin, i'ss snowing at the North Pole!”
Vin glanced around Santa and grinned as JD shook the globe. “Neat.”
Addressing both boys, and aware their fathers were struggling to hide their emotions, the jolly man spoke. “I'm sorry I missed you when you had no home. I lost track of you, Vin, and then JD too, for a while, but I kept looking, and one day, I found you both. I made sure I was here for your visit today, so I could tell you both how wonderful you are, and to thank you for being good for your Dads, and your Uncles.”
JD nodded, and tiredly rubbing his eyes, offered back the globe. “Thank you; that was fun.”
"You're welcome.” Santa smiled. “And you may keep it. I have one for Vin, too, if he'd like it.”
Seeing the man turn to Vin, JD gently and exaggeratedly tapped the man's shoulder. He smiled when the ruddy-faced, be-whiskered man looked back at him. “'Scuse me Santa but, I need to go pee.”
"Oh, I see.”
"Missus Potter said I should al'ays say when I need to go ‘cause i'ss bad to hold it in.”
Santa opened his mouth, but had no words. Vin giggled, and then JD giggled at Vin, which lit up the old man's face. He reached into the sack at his feet and handed Vin a snow globe, which the boy happily took.
Vin's eyes sparkled as he shook it. “Thank you, sir.”
JD scrambled up to stand on the man's knee, cupped his hand to his mouth, and whispered into Santa's ear.
"Vin p'etends he don't believe in you, Santa, but he does really. He's just scared to say so 'cause you missed us out a couple times. Thank you for lettin' us come see you so's Vin will know you's real.”
The red-suited man set the little one down and with glistening eyes smiled at the pair. "I'm so very pleased we had the chance to meet today.” He released the boys back to their fathers, then waved a gloved hand. “Bye bye.”
Chris leaned into Buck as the beaming little ones approached. “This guy's awesome. I'm gonna call the store's customer service and tell them so.”
Buck nodded. “Nice touch. You're right, he is good.” He squatted to hug his son, cooing at the snow globe JD held before popping it into a bag. Holding Buck's hand, JD skipped off alongside his father. “I need to pee, Da.”
"I heard, Li'l Bit, and half the store.”
"Half the store needs to pee too, Da?”
"What? Uh no, I meant, uh...shoot, where's a bathroom when you need one?”
Vin smiled at a chuckling Chris. “That was fun.”
Chris ruffled his son's hair. “Cool, I'm glad you enjoyed it.”
"Da...Chris! Did you hear him say how we's good boys for you, and Unca Nathan, and Unca Josiah, and Unca Ezra? Huh?”
"Sure did,” Buck replied.
"And then he tol' us we's both on the nice list - ooooh, I really gotta go to the bathroom.”
Buck's brow furrowed at JD's comment and he glanced at Chris. ‘Uncles?' he mouthed. Chris simply shrugged.
As they walked away, and just before exiting the grotto, each boy looked back at Santa, waved, and grinned.
The man waved back. “God Bless, boys.”
Exiting Hamleys was not the easiest manoeuvre Chris and Buck had devised. Their cunning plan to work down through the floors instead of up was a stroke of genius, until the elevator doors opened on the ground floor. Before them were two teams of four men, dressed in the matching, and available-to-buy vest for the toy being demonstrated, while performing an all-out Nerf battle.
Buck and Chris couldn't help but be impressed at the elaborate show, and how it maintained its momentum, while not hitting a single onlooker. It quickly became evident that Vin and JD were entranced by the whole spectacle, even to the point of picking ‘sides'.
The unforeseen problem arose at the battle's conclusion. Eager to get the tiring boys out and to the tube station, the two men urged them forward, but they were still enrapt with the demonstrator's excited tone as he practically bellowed over his microphone about this year's ‘must have' toy – the Nerf Vortex Nitron; a beast of a multi-disc firing weapon which, apparently, promised to keep children occupied for hours, even days on end.
Every level of the huge toy store had presented the two fathers with a hurdle, but with numerous areas set up for children to play with and test out many of the toys available to buy, the men had been able to watch their children, and work out which items to purchase online for delivery once they were home; along with eventually allowing the boys the indulgence of buying a small Transformers pack to pacify them for the duration.
Now the men were faced with a new challenge. It wasn't so much that the boys asked for these ‘must have' toys, because they didn't...ask, that is; it was the wide-eyed pleading stares, that alerted the men to the looming issue. Buck waved one hand.
"Not these, guys. We can't have anything too big, remember? We can't fly back to the States with big toys, and you wouldn't want to leave them here, would you?”
"But...” JD couldn't articulate his need. He really did understand the parent telling them they couldn't leave with one...was right; but it didn't stop him from hoping.
"We can carry ‘em onto the plane,” Vin said softly.
"Vin, we struggled getting here, Remember?” Chris reminded. He pointed at one of the many boxes stacked close by. “'Sides, it says ‘from eight years'. JD's too little.” The wail from JD caught both men and several passing shoppers by surprise.
"I's too little...I's sorry, Vin...”
Buck snatched up his son and thumbed away an emerging tear. “No, no...it's not just that. We really would have trouble getting them home...yeah?” He smiled when the little one slowly nodded. Buck realised that JD was warm, and looking very tired, as was Vin, and he hoped his next words would ease the situation.
"How about, seeing as you guys have been so good, on the way home from the station, we pick up a Mickey D's and have that for supper, huh?”
The boys' heads nodded and their smiles slowly returned, hinting that a crisis had been averted. Chris nodded his approval, and they finally made their way out of the store, and back into Regent Street and its glorious festive lights.
Inside the tube station and heading for the escalators to take them down to the platforms, the four walked along the tiled, advertisement-adorned passageway inside the underground station. Suddenly, a frightened cry went out. Sensing something bearing down on them even before he looked, Chris instinctively snatched Vin up off the ground at around the same time as Buck hoisted JD into his arms. With a look between the pair that spoke volumes and transferred responsibility for the boys solely to Buck, Chris thrust Vin toward Buck's extended hand a millisecond before the blond took off after the man racing past them clutching a screaming woman's purse.
The ear-splitting stab from the boys' high-pitched, fearful wails perfectly complimented the pain from the hand of terror clutching and squeezing Buck's heart right then. His inclination was to follow his partner, but there was no way he would leave their sons. All Buck could do was cuddle the frightened, quaking little ones in close. He glanced back to see that the lady who had been assaulted and who was now crying and sitting on the ground, was being taken care of by concerned onlookers. Knowing there was nothing more he could do for her right then, Buck tightened his hold on the boys and followed after Chris as fast as possible.
‘Man this dude's fast.'
For the first time since working in the UK, Chris missed his gun. Even though he could not have drawn it from its holster while running in a public place, having it on him was always reassuring, and would have added weight to his order for the perp to halt...probably.
Instead, he had to apologetically dodge and swerve around and through confused, often frightened commuters and shoppers to keep up with the purse snatcher who, Chris assumed, was apparently hard of hearing; a conclusion drawn owing to the fact of him frequently calling out for the man to ‘stop', being constantly ignored.
"Stop! A-T-...” ‘Shit' “...Police!”
Chris would later ponder the likelihood of bad timing, or fate's interjection at the point where he caught up when, making a flying tackle to the man's legs, the pair went sailing over the edge of the ‘down' escalator and proceeded to ‘bounce and roll' down the spiny, metal moving staircase, while somehow miraculously failing to topple folk using the escalator like nine-pins.
On hitting bottom, and winded, battered, and unable to move for several seconds, both men lay there and groaned. Gut reaction kicked in and, ignoring the throb to his right hip, the blood interfering with the vision in his left eye, and the too-many-to-count aches over his body, Chris forced himself to his feet and fisted the man's jacket.
"Consider yourself under arrest, jackass!” he hissed out through clenched teeth. He probably would have appreciated the burst of applause for his efforts had his ribs not felt as if they were holding a contest for ‘one hurting the most'. To his surprise, the man still clutching the snatched purse attempted to wriggle free. Chris glared at him and shook his head.
"You gotta be freakin' kidding me, man.”
Beginning to wish he had his cuffs on him, too, Larabee was relieved to see several policemen hastily pushing through the gathering throng of spectators to take the man from him. Chris identified himself, then urged one cop to reach into his inside jacket pocket. Doing so, the officer flipped open the extracted ID wallet, read it, and nodded to the wilting visiting agent.
If it were not for those familiar calls, Chris felt sure he would have quickly been just a puddle of pain on the floor; but the cries rallied him and, shakily turning to his approaching family, he gave his much welcomed kick-ass grin.
He so wanted to take Vin into his arms, but knew he would never be able to hold him. Buck seemed to know and kept a firm grip on the boy with the quivering lower lip and who was reaching out toward the cut over Chris's eye.
"I'm okay, Cowboy,” Chris said, softly, raising his hand to take Vin's outstretched one.
JD was not bothered about subtlety. He out and out sobbed at the dishevelled appearance of a man he considered a ‘second dad'. “Chris!”
Unable to raise his other arm right then, Chris brushed a soft kiss across the back of JD's extended hand. "No sweat, Li'l Bit, it looks worse than it feels.” Chris didn't consider himself to be lying; because he couldn't see the damage, so he therefore had nothing to compare it with.
All eyes turned to the limping, bruised man being escorted to an approaching electric buggy as he called out. “I'm in fucking agony. I'm going to sue you, you bastard pig!”
"Watch your mouth!” Buck barked, inwardly satisfied to see the man shrink before his eyes.
"Can we go home?” Vin whispered, his liquid blue eyes shimmering in the glow from the overhead fluorescent lights.
Even as Chris was nodding, a paramedic was holding his good arm. “Best you get checked over first, Officer.”
Chris's small nod heralded the moment Buck's nerves kicked in. Larabee had to be in pain to go quietly like that.
"I can take you to the hospital.”
Buck turned his head to find another cop at his side. “Huh?”
"I assume you want to follow your friend?”
Offering a tight smile, Buck nodded. “Sure, sure, that'd be good, thanks.” He watched Chris being helped to another cart.
Vin looked hopefully toward his father who was saying something to the paramedic helping him. Seconds later he looked back at Vin and nodded. Understanding, Buck kissed Vin's head, set the eight-year-old down, and watched him run to his father's side. He inhaled sharply, releasing when he saw the boy just stop short of grabbing the injured man. Father and son then got into the cart, and the small vehicle whirred off toward the elevators.
Turning to a distraught JD, Buck kissed his boy's forehead. “Come on, son, let's go get our family.” He felt like crying himself, if only at the idea their two boys had been traumatised by an incident he and Chris would normally not have batted an eyelash at.
With a slow, sad nod, JD laid his head on his father's shoulder and snuggled in under Buck's chin, revelling in the comfort the warm body offered, and the affectionate, safe arms enveloping him. “Is Chris gonna be okay, Da?”
"Sure he is, Squirt. Hell, me and Chris are used to a few knocks. Once we're home, and he's rested up some, he'll be as good as new.” He smiled when JD raised his head and a misty, hazel gaze locked with his. “JD?”
The boy sniffed. “You said ‘hell'.”
Buck couldn't help but momentarily smile wider, before becoming more serious. “Hmm, I did, didn't I?”
The little one gave several exaggerated pats to the man's chest. "S'okay...you's stressss...upstet...” JD rubbed his nose in frustration. “Sad. You don' have to pay the swear jar.”
"Well, I surely appreciate the thought, Son, but a deal's a deal.” Buck leaned in. “Maybe though, we can cut Chris some slack in the next few days, huh?” His heart melted to see the infamous Dunne grin return.
"Yeah,” came the breathy reply.
An exhausted Buck stepped off the train and, through the gloom of the sparse lighting, smiled on seeing a familiar form waiting for them on the platform of Windsor Royal Station. Ieuan hastily stepped forward and instantly took charge of two sleepy boys.
"Thanks for this, man,” Buck said.
"Anytime, mate, you know that.” He hugged the boys, who were clutching their packages from Hamleys tightly; and gestured toward Chris. “How's he doing?”
"Painkillers kicked in good by the time we left Paddington, so it was a bitch changing at Slough, but we're here. We had to leave our other packages with the guys at Chelsea Police Station.” He stifled a yawn. “Boy, I can't wait to get home.” Feeling Chris sagging, and aware of the numerous bruises Chris had collected during his tumble down the escalator, he carefully pulled the injured blond in tight. “How we doin' there, Stud?”
Chris's long, slow blink, glassy stare, and delayed reply made Buck grin. “Jussss' peachy, Pard.” He wobbled and leaned into a supportive Buck. "Whooo, what a rush. Where are we?”"How strong were those painkillers?” Ieuan asked.
"Dad threw up an' they had to give him a shot,” Vin said, quietly.
Ieuan looked alarmed, Buck shook his head. “All tests were good, but we've had a lot of junk food today. What with that, the tumble down the escalator churning his stomach like a washing machine, and them giving him something before fixing his dislocated shoulder...which didn't fully agree with him...I guess he got a little nauseated.”
Ieuan shifted JD's weight a little when he realized the little one was now sound asleep on his shoulder. “Let's go home, yeah?”
Vin nodded, his gaze never leaving his father's drooping form.
"Sssomeone stole the bones outta my legs. They've gone all floopy...look...”
Buck chuckled, he couldn't help himself, Chris was a hoot when drugged up and still awake. “Yup, they're ‘floopy', alright.” Avoiding the strapped arm, he got a better hold on Chris and half-walked, half-carried the blond to Ieuan's car. Their own Fiesta sat parked in a corner of the car park bathed in lamplight.
"We'll come back for that in the morning,” Ieuan promised.
"You're a pal, Ieuan.”
Strapping in the boys, the Welshman smiled. “The feeling's mutual, my friends.”
"...Best get some ssssleep...we're going to London tomorrow...”
Buck buckled Chris securely into the front passenger seat and slipped into the back seat directly behind him. “Sure thing, Pard.” He shook his head. “Man, what a day.”
Signalling to exit the car park, Ieuan looked in his rear view mirror at Buck. “Not a good one?”
"Oh yeah, we had a blast. The ending was a bit rough, but...” he chuckled, but his gaze flashed with pride. “...Chris got his man.” Noting the puzzled look from Ieuan, who had only received the most basic of information from Buck, the man himself proceeded to fill him in.
“...’Donalds...” JD muttered in his sleep, unaware he was even on his way home, and that all anyone truly wanted, was to get there as fast as possible.
Three days on, and Ieuan looked up from cleaning the Aga, to see Chris shuffling into the kitchen. The latter smiled at the man approaching him, surrounded by excited dogs, which Chris patted, and sent back to their baskets.
"Ieuan, you really don't need to do this, man. I'm feeling fine, now.”
The Welshman grinned, stirred the coffee he finished making, and placed it on the table Chris was easing himself down next to. With Buck in work, Jane and Eric visiting their children, and the boys in school, Ieuan had happily volunteered to stay with Chris during the day.
"I'd say it's my pleasure, which it sort of is, but not the circumstances that prompted it.”
Sipping the brew, Chris nodded. “Point taken and I'm still very grateful for all you've done.” He watched Ieuan take a seat and slide over a pile of mail. “Thanks.” Chris idly opened several, stopping to read one.
Ieuan noticed the man go pale.
"What the fuck? I gotta call Buck.”
Setting down his mug, Ieuan looked at his friend. “Bad news?”
Larabee swallowed around the lump forming in his throat and lifted his stunned stare from the paper in his hand to meet Ieuan's concerned gaze. “The purse snatcher I took down...”
"The bastard's suing me.”
Continues in Dashing Through the Slow
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South Kensington Tube Station
Natural History Museum
Hamleys Toy Store
Hamleys Santa's Grotto
Nerf Vortex Nitron
Take Home Gifts
Regent Street Lights
London Christmas Lights
Windsor Royal Station