by Sue M
AU: Little Britches ATF – Little Ambassadors Series
My thanks to Katy for the checks and adds, and also for the awesome collage to accompany this story in the series.
Also to Nancy for looking it over for me, too.
Being almost the weekend should have made for happy boys, but it had been a fraught half hour of searching, since returning from school. When Ieuan found JD sitting inside the fort hugging his knees, relief swept through him like a tidal wave. He looked down at the tug to his sweater sleeve.
“Dad says they're twenty minutes out.”
Rubbing at his lightly stubbled chin, the boys' carer smiled at Vin. “Okay. You go and sit with him, and I'll bring out milk and biscuit…err, cookies.”
With a nod, an equally relieved and slightly trembling Vin ran toward the fort to keep the five year-old he considered a brother, company.
Friday 4th November and the school day had started out pretty much as any other; until after lunch.
During the afternoon session, and in deference to their American pupils, the teacher had sat them all down and revisited the story of Guy Fawkes, and the annual tradition the historical event of the 1605 foiled plot to blow up Parliament, had instigated.
All morning, chatter of who was doing what to celebrate Bonfire Night had the two little Americans curious. JD initially brushed off the building excitement with a comment about ‘Googlee-ing' it after school, but by the end of lunch, his and Vin's curiosity was such that they asked their teacher.
And so ended the impromptu lesson about Guy Fawkes; leaving a traumatized five year-old to ponder the idea of an effigy being burned on top of a bonfire. A soon as the boys and Ieuan arrived home, JD asked to use the bathroom, but instead slipped into the den to use the computer. When Ieuan and Vin became aware of JD sounding distraught, their trip to the empty den, and spotting the open URL explaining in graphic detail as to how Guido ‘Guy' Fawkes met his death was the only clue as to why JD had wailed, and then promptly disappeared.
Leaving Elvis and Ringo at the bottom of the fort's steps to impatiently sit and wait, Vin stealthily climbed up into the fort and sat opposite JD. He smiled when the little brunet stole a glance, and waited with a patience no child should possess, until his brother was ready to talk. He nodded his thanks when Ieuan's head appeared at the entrance moments before the man slipped in a tray with two glasses of milk and a plate of chocolate chip cookies, made by his own fair hand.
Moving to sit on a bench to wait, Ieuan smiled to himself at the memory of how proud he felt when his baking efforts were tasted by his little charges and declared to be ‘awesome'. It occurred to him that, despite only knowing these little guys a short while, there was nothing he wouldn't do for them. It felt good to be able to care like that again. He looked toward the fort, then at his watch. One way or another, JD's misery would soon be eased.
“JD, you wanna cookie?”
There was no reply, but once Vin began munching on one, JD's hand snaked out toward the plate to slide one his way. Before long, cookie crumbs, soft slurping sounds, and milk moustaches heralded a breakthrough. Vin smiled.
“They's just stupid, stuffed clothes that go on the bonfire, JD…just like a scarecrow.”
“They's called eff-ah-geees, and they's scary. I likes fireworks, an' burgers an' sausages an' stuff. Why they gotta spoil it by burning eff-ah-geees?”
Vin shrugged. “Dunno, but I guess way back it was to show bad people they couldn't hurt good people, ‘specially important people.” He took the opportunity to shuffle closer.
“'Like when Chris told us that to kill a p'liceman is a Fed'ral crime and can carry the death penalty?” JD quoted as he recalled Chris's talk with them after a particularly sad news report.
Vin nodded. “Yeah, I s'pose so.” He recalled that was another subject that had scared the socks off JD. Their dads were p'licemens. Scared him, too, actually. “Yeah, I guess it's like that.”
“So, burning a eff-ah-gee is to make folks remember not to do a really bad thing, like Guy Fawkes did?”
Buck's voice had both heads turn toward the fort's entrance. Vin grinned and scrambled across the floor. He hugged Buck, then squeezed past the big guy to find his father. Chris was standing with Ieuan and an excited Ringo and Elvis, the latter bounding back to his vigil on seeing one of his humans emerging. Chris waved to Vin, happily receiving a hug from his son when Vin reached them.
“I guess. Don't scold him for Googlee-in' without askin' first, will you, dad?”
Chris offered a tight smile. “We'll see. Maybe this time, he's learned a harsh enough lesson, huh?”
Vin nodded. “Uh huh.”
“Chris, I'm sorry…”
Larabee waved off Ieuan's apology. “No sweat. There are two of us and we can barely keep up with these little fellas. Lesson learned…by all of us. I'll install parental control when they go to bed.”
Normally, the boys would know to ask permission to use the internet, but the control would ensure they never found anything upsetting or inappropriate again.
Ordering a barking Elvis to stay, Buck drew his tall frame into the fort and sat next to his son.
“Sorry, Da.” The softly spoken apology was barely audible. Buck touched his forehead to JD's head.
“You know the rules.”
“We make them to protect you, son. I know there were so many questions you wanted answers to, but you gotta be patient and ask, okay?”
JD nodded, still not looking up from where his face was buried against his bent up knees.
“You wanna tell me what scared you?”
There was a long pause before JD spoke. “Don't like the burning man,” he whispered. JD finally looked at his father. “On top of the bonfire.”
Hugging the boy close, Buck smiled. “Not everyone does that these days.”
“Ieuan told me. You trust Ieuan, right?”
“Look, the Black Horse is having a Bonfire Night cook-out, complete with face painting, and fireworks. How about I call them, and if they don't do the guy-burning thing, we go there Saturday night and celebrate with them?”
Liquid hazel eyes fixed on the face of the man they worshipped. JD nodded and finally fell into the embrace Buck had been aching for. He kissed JD's head and cuddled the trembling form until the cool body shook no more.
“Come on, it's getting cold out here. Let's go inside, huh?” Without waiting for a reply, Buck gathered JD up in his arms, and carefully manoeuvred them out of the fort and down onto terra firma, and two very excited dogs.
Seeing the problem resolved, Ieuan ruffled Vin's hair, then JD's, and bid them goodnight and that he would see them Monday morning. Chris opened his arms and took JD into them to offer the little one a hug. Buck rested his hand on Vin's shoulder and gently massaged it, then the four headed into the beckoning warmth of their home, while trying not to trip over two yapping dogs circling them as they walked.
5:30 p.m. Saturday night, and the black Fiesta pulled into the pub car park. The Black Horse's owners had previously assured Buck they would not be burning any ‘Guys' and so Chris drove there and purchased four tickets for the event. The dogs, just for tonight, were safely ensconced in the den with Buck's iPod resting on its speaker base and playing a radio channel to hopefully mask noise from any upcoming festivities.
Dressed warmly in coats, scarves, mittens and their beloved cowboy boots from home…brought along because, by the time they returned to the States, the boys would surely have outgrown them…the little family eagerly awaited 6 p.m. and the main event.
While they did so, they feasted on jumbo sausages, kebabs on wooden skewers, and burgers in buns, and drank soda. Buck and Chris then watched with glee as their boys' faces were transformed into tigers via the magic of face paints.
With the firework display in full swing, Vin leaned back against the safety of Chris's legs and watched in awe. JD was happier in his father's arms so he could appreciate the array of dazzling, sparkling colours, while having the opportunity to snuggle in close when a particularly loud one bothered him a little. Buck knew the boys weren't really afraid. Of late, fireworks seemed to be louder than he and Chris had ever remembered. The vibrations went right through their bodies, so Lord knows how that felt for little ones.
As the fireworks drew to a close, a nice lady passed around sparklers. After she was happy they knew how to hold them, she lit the ends, which glowed red, then sparked into life. Both boys squealed with delight as they ‘drew' letters and shapes in the air with the fizzing sticks.
JD's sparkler died and it occurred to him he needed the bathroom. Buck indicated to Chris where they were going, and headed off, disposing of the defunct sparkler in one of several sand-filled pails along the way.
While Chris was acknowledging Buck, Vin accidentally dropped his fizzled out metal stick on the ground, and bent to pick it up to dispose of it safely, but his mitten got in the way. Pulling the glove off with his teeth, he again dipped down to retrieve the dead sparkler. Vin suddenly squealed in pain and tossed the stick to the ground. Alarmed, Chris squatted down to see why Vin was distressed and sucking his bare fingers. He looked at the dead sparkler, and his heart lurched when he realized that, in the dark, Vin had picked up the hot end by mistake.
A St John Ambulance man was with them instantly and ushered them inside. There, he held Vin's burned fingers under running water, all the while telling the sobbing child he was a brave boy, and that it was an easy mistake to make in the dark. Watching helplessly, Chris felt sick to his stomach, and could only nod when the man suggested a visit to A&E. The blond closed his eyes, despondent that their night would end in a trip to the ER.
To get to the pub's toilets, Buck and JD had to walk from the display field on one side of the pub and across the car park to get to a door. JD chattered as they walked and Buck laughed while his son retold all of what they had both just been watching. As they rounded a line of cars, a large, loose and clearly terrified dog bounded full tilt into them, knocking Buck over, while taking JD clean off his feet and backwards to the ground. Buck would never forget the sickening ‘crack' as the back of JD's head met solid concrete, or the whoosh of air when it left JD's lungs; all the while not fully registering the pain to his left elbow from when he landed on the ground.
For a few moments, it was as if time stood still. Buck clambered to his feet, and when JD was able to take a breath, his pitiful, high-pitched wail had Buck's knees almost folding. People who had seen the incident, or heard the cries, came running to their aid. Instinctively the terrified father scooped his son up and held him close. Seconds later, it registered with Buck that the hand resting on the back of his sobbing son's head was coated in blood.
“Oh sweet Jesus.”
Suddenly aware people were talking to him; a trembling Buck's liquid eyes gazed around at the throng. “My boy…my son…he's bleeding…”
The blood oozing through Buck's fingers was testimony to the seriousness of the injury and the pub's proprietor, Phil Connors, took control. He placed a folded dish towel over the head wound for Buck to hold and called out toward the open door nearby.
His barman was instantly at his side and clutching car keys. “One of the regulars just told me what happened.”
“Would you take them to the hospital, now, please?”
“Maybe an ambulance?” One voice from the crowd called out.
Time was of the essence so the barman began urging Buck toward his car. While contemplating a visit to the ER, another thought was penetrating through the sheer horror of holding his bleeding, and suddenly quiet son close. ‘Chris'.
“Chris…Vin, my…I...we have family here,” Buck cried as he stared frantically around. “CHRIS!”
The pub owner nodded. “I know them. Go ahead, I'll find them.”
“No…” Suddenly JD went limp. “JD!”
All protests died on his lips as Buck's terror went off the scale and with a motionless JD in his arms, he ran after Alan to get his boy the help he needed. “Find Chris!” he hollered.
“You have my word,” Phil assured.
Holding onto Vin inside the pub's kitchen, Chris's frightened gaze focused on the man wrapping his son's fingers in a moist bandage and then Saran wrap. “I can't leave until I find my family.”
“Tall, dark-haired guy and his chatty little double?”
Chris nodded, his head resting against Vin's in an attempt to comfort him.
“I know them.” He guided the pair to an upholstered couch in the lounge. “Wait here and I'll find them for you.”
As he disappeared, Chris pulled a softly sobbing Vin in tighter.
“Sorry, Dad,” Vin sniffed.
Chris moved to look at the boy. “You've got nothing to be sorry for. I should have been paying more attention...so I'm sorry.” They cuddled tighter, Vin bravely fighting the pain, while Chris's guilt increased alongside his need to find Buck and get the hell outta there.
“It was a accident…” Vin whispered, hoping to ease his father's conscience. The squeeze from his dad told him he had helped.
Chris looked up when someone finally approached. He recognized Phil instantly. “Have you found Buck and JD?”
The man paused. “Sort of.” Keeping the drama as low as possible, he told Chris what had happened.
Vin cried harder, and Chris paled further. “Oh God.” He stood. “We have to go.”
“Let Polly go with you. Alan's already heading to the hospital, so he can bring her back.”
Grateful for the offer of his wife to accompany them, Chris declined. “No, it's okay, I can manage the trip to the ER but...thanks.”
Time to take control, he decided; after all, he was an ATF Team Leader for Christ's sake. Problem was, facing down weapons fire, and carrying his injured boy in his arms to visit the hospital were two very different prospects, and as Chris fought to stay within the speed limit during their fraught journey, he figured he'd rather have the first scenario any day.
Clutching a quiet JD close, Buck exited Alan's car and hit the ground running. He raced toward the automatic doors at the front of A&E, barely waiting for them to slide open before bursting through into the ER unit.
“Help! Help me, my son's hurt!”
Medical staff was instantly at his side and guiding him to a curtained area. Within seconds a doctor was bending over the bed and checking JD's eyes with a pencil light. He smiled. “Alright there, little man?”
Buck craned his neck to see a pair of hazel eyes searching for him.
Clutching the little hand held out, Buck kissed the pudgy knuckles and forced a smile. “Hey squirt, how you doing?”
JD's still painted, though heavily streaked face crumpled. “Baddie head.”
“I know, baby, but the Doc here's gonna fix you right up.”
“Sir, was he unconscious at any time?”
“Yeah, ‘bout five minutes, maybe.”
The doctor made a note. “I'll be sending him to x-ray, but first, I need to ask you some medically related questions.”
“Shoot…uh, I mean, sure, go ahead.”
Exhaustion warring with fear, Chris approached the desk in the A&E department's reception. He found it less than comforting that he knew the drill, which compounded his guilt further.
Due to his age, Vin was soon being carried through by Chris to the children's triage area. It was then that Chris realized there were several burns-related folk waiting around, and he wondered if these types of celebrations, here or back home, were worth the possible risks. He also wondered if his judgment was coloured by the events of this evening.
As he took a seat in the vibrantly painted waiting room, he kissed Vin's clammy head. ‘The poor kid must be in so much pain' he thought; and so far he hadn't been able to do a damn thing about it.
“You okay, Dad?”
“You okay? You're awful quiet.”
Chris stared at his son, and for the first time since the fireworks display, he smiled. “Yeah, I'm good, Cowboy. You?”
“It stings, but I can wiggle ‘em. See?”
Demonstrating by waggling his bandaged fingers, Chris felt a flush of relief. ‘Maybe no nerve damage?' Then again, he didn't miss the flash of pain on Vin's face when he did his little wave.
The pair looked toward the nurse who smiled at them when they caught her eye. Standing, Chris followed her into a curtained area. The doctor there nodded.
“Hi there, Tiger.” At Vin's frown, the man indicated to the boy's painted face, which made Vin grin, and eased some of Chris's concerns to see it.
“I'm Doctor Powell. I heard your celebrations didn't end too well.” Gently, he took the boy's hand and began to unwrap it. “Let's take a look, shall we?” After several long minutes of detailed examination, he stepped back and smiled.
“You must have fast reactions, young man. The tips of these two fingers and your thumb will likely blister, but the Jelonet swabs I'll apply will soon take care of all that, and I'll give you something for the pain. Looks like you were lucky.”
Chris's eyes closed momentarily at the confirmation of no nerve damage. “I'm sorry we wasted your time...”
“What? No,” the doctor assured. “Always best to be safe, and this most definitely needed medical attention. Rule of thumb is, if a burn is bigger than a 50p piece, or there's more than one, you should seek help. I'll give him something for the pain, too.” He smiled and ruffled Vin's hair.
Chris met Vin's gaze and nodded at the unspoken question in the boy's eyes. “Sir, we have family here due to an unrelated incident. Could you maybe find out where they are, and how they're doing?”
The nurse in the room smiled. “No problem. Tell me their names and I'll do that for you.”
From behind a screen in the x-ray department, and wearing a lead apron, Buck called out to reassure his boy that he was right there. The white, temporary bandage wrapped around JD's head stood out in stark contrast to the little one's raven hair. It took a few tries to get clear shots with JD wriggling, but soon he was heading back to a side ward just off the children's main casualty area.
Holding JD's hand, Buck walked wearily alongside the wheelchair an orderly was pushing. He barely glanced around, but something caught his eye and he halted the little entourage.
In the waiting room, and bringing Vin into his arms as he stood, a visibly relieved Larabee approached. Even though he knew what had happened, it was still a shock to see the little one's head bandaged. Buck however, had no prior knowledge of Vin's accident and gawped at the heavily bandaged hand tucked protectively between Vin and Chris.
“Later,” Chris promised, his tones hushed when he felt Vin getting heavy as the little boy, having seen his family was in one piece, quit fighting the pain medication and started to drift off.
“Y'okay, JD?” The tired drawl was barely audible as Vin snuggled against his father's chest.
JD sniffed and brought his and Buck's hand up to wipe at his tears. “I gots to have my head glued on.”
Chris had to smile at that and he bent his knees to stroke JD's cheek with the backs of his fingers. The orderly gave a little cough, and Buck urged his family to follow them.
Fifteen minutes later, and with x-rays in hand, their doctor from earlier, Doctor Sanjit, returned. He sat down with the rest of the gathered group and spoke. “JD has a hairline fracture...” He paused at the looks of horror.
“I know it sounds terrifying, and it's not to be taken lightly, but it's basically a tiny fine line across the Occipital bone, here...” He pointed to a spot at the back of his head. “We need to keep JD here tonight, and I suggest a few days off school, but by midweek, and as long as he refrains from sports, or anything too boisterous for two weeks, he can go about his daily routine as normal.” He paused to let the two men take in the information, before looking to Buck.
“I assume you'll be staying, Dad?”
Buck nodded. “Yes, absolutely.” He glanced at Chris. “Oh...”
“I'll call Eric and Ieuan about the dogs, then I'll get this little tyke home. We'll come back in the morning. Vin has to have his bandage changed, anyway.” He noted JD was in a gown. “What about clothes for JD?”
Buck nodded. “Yeah, bring fresh clothes for JD, and some toiletries for me tomorrow, would you?”
“You need to get that checked out, Mr. Wilmington.”
Buck looked at the doctor. “What? And it's Buck.” When he raised his arm, the men could see Buck's ripped jacket and shirt, and bloody elbow.
“Jeeze, Buck. Why didn't you say you'd hurt yourself?” Chris asked, gently taking the torn, bloody arm in his hand to get a better look. It was that moment when the pain from the injury, coupled with shock from the night's events, hit Buck and he began to shake. Chris pulled him close and touched foreheads.
“Hey, Pard,” he whispered. “Hang tough, for the boys...and for me. Just for now.”
Buck nodded. “Aww shoot, I'm okay...it's just...you know.”
Chris sighed. “Yeah. Boy, do I know.”
A nurse came in. “A bed's opened up on the children's ward,” she informed.
Doctor Sanjit nodded. “Thank you. Would you get Mr....err, Buck's arm cleaned up please, Nurse?”
She smiled. “Of course. Come with me?”
“Da?” JD looked scared that he and his father might be separated.
Buck squatted next to the wheelchair. “It's okay, Li'l Bit. You go ahead with Chris and Vin, and I'll be right up, yeah?”
JD's lip quivered. “Okay. Da?”
“You want for me to kiss it better for you?”
Buck sniffed and smiled. “Maybe later?”
JD nodded, then winced at the movement. Chris's hand rested on his shoulder. “Easy there, son.”
Unable to work out how this little family unit worked, but appreciating that it clearly did, Doctor Sanjit promised JD he'd check in on him later, wished them all luck, then left. Buck kissed JD's paint-streaked cheek, and after being told where JD was heading, left with the nurse. The orderly tucked away the admission papers, smiled at Chris, then asked them to follow him.
“You've got some swelling, and there's some grit in the wound. You'll need a few stitches, too.”
The nurse's words and the sting of the cleaning solution finally broke through Buck's daze and he hissed. “Okay. Anything broken?”
“Just skin. After I've stitched and dressed it, I'll give you some iodine swabs and bandages to take home. Contact your GP surgery on Monday, and the practice nurse will check and change the dressings for you.”
“And JD...my son?”
“He'll need to come back here to outpatients in a few days, so we'll check his wound, then. He won't be able to have his hair washed for a week, but the ward nurses will sponge out some of the blood and re-bandage the injury before he goes home tomorrow.”
She turned to the tray at her side. “Just stitching you now. Won't be a minute.”
Buck was too numb to care. All he wanted to do was get back to JD, and find out what the hell happened to Vin.
Chris looked up when Buck approached JD's bed which was situated at the end of the children's ward, and next to the window with a view of the patients' garden, not that they could see it in the dark. He stood and gestured to the sling. “Bad?”
Buck shook his head, his gaze on JD, and Vin who was sleeping on the bed with his arms around his slumbering brother. “Nah, just need to keep it supported for a day or two is all. “How are the boys?”
“JD had his blood pressure taken and I gave permission for him to have some painkiller. He didn't like having his blood pressure taken, said the cuff pinched. Vin's good, just a little sore, but as you can see, his painkiller is working nicely.”
“How'd he get hurt?” Buck's gaze moved to Chris's eyes, and he could easily see the pain and guilt reflected there.
“He picked up his dead sparkler off the floor, but found the hot end. No nerve damage, thank God, just a couple of juicy blisters and some swelling. He'll be okay in about a week.”
Buck winced. “Damn, nasty. Could have been worse, though,” he added, in the hope of making Chris feel a little better.
“Oh hell yeah, but this is bad enough.”
In a rare moment, the two men drew close and briefly embraced. “Quit blaming yourself,” Buck whispered into Chris's ear.
“I will if you will,” Chris replied.
Taking up seats in the reclining chairs either side of the bed, Buck jerked his chin toward the boys as both men spoke in hushed tones. “Why don't you stay? Be a shame to wake Vin, now.”
Chris shrugged. “Let's see how it goes. If Vin wakes, I'll take him home. If he doesn't, I'll have to check in anyway. You hungry?”
Buck adjusted his strapped arm for comfort. “No, but I could kill for a coffee.”
Chris stood. “I'll go get us some.”
Buck nodded but didn't watch Chris leave; he studied the boys, instead. Vin was out for count. JD was sleeping, but a little restless. Poor kids. Buck could see pink stains on JD's pillow where blood was seeping through the bandage, and also rubbing off his hair, but he had been warned that might happen for a while, so wasn't too concerned. Buck closed his eyes and pushed the pads of his thumb and forefinger across his aching eyelids. ‘Damn. Sorry, JD'. With a sigh, he rested his head back against the chair. If he never saw another Bonfire Night again, it would be too soon.
Chris rested his forehead against the coffee machine. ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK!' His last profanity was punctuated by a thump to the machine. Stepping back, he sighed and placed coins into the slot and waited for the first cup to fill.
‘Sorry, Vin'. Their poor little ones...and Buck. How quickly a fun evening had turned into a nightmare; and all he could think about now was ways to have been more vigilant. What could he have done differently to keep Vin safe? With coffees in hand, Chris went back to Buck and the boys. If he never saw another bonfire night again, it would be too soon.
He figured he must have drifted off, for the next thing Buck knew; Chris was wafting coffee under his nose. With a nod of thanks, he and Chris gratefully sipped at the strong brew while the two friends kept an, albeit comfortable, silent vigil.
When the Fiesta pulled into the yard for the second time that morning, it brought all four of the little family home. With faces scrubbed clean of face paints, JD chattered, but nothing like his usual mile a minute; and Vin was more talkative than usual, which set the group dynamics askew, adding to the stress of the previous evening. Buck cursed at being one-handed and had to be physically restrained by Chris from taking off the sling until he'd gotten an appointment at the GP surgery.
Chris's mood was not much better, and his efforts to hide the fact just made him more tetchy. It soon became evident they were all in need of sleep, but a steady stream of visitors from Ieuan, various neighbours, to Jane and Eric Green returning the dogs, halted any possibility of rest before lunch.
Having listened to their account of the previous night, and seeing how bitter the men seemed to be about it all, made Jane especially sad. So far, all the experiences of life in the UK for the family had been positive, and seeing them so unsettled was distressing.
At one point, JD broke some of the tension by sitting on Jane's lap and announcing that he had to have his head glued on; but mostly he was subdued. Vin, however, uncharacteristically went down the route of demonstrating how his bandaged fingers couldn't be used for poking into orifices; which was hilarious, but had the dads wondering if the boys had somehow swapped minds during the night.
After Sunday lunch, the men took the boys upstairs and into bed with them. The need to be close was paramount, and the fact the boys curled up tightly in their fathers' arms demonstrated how in need of comfort they were, even if they weren't openly asking for it.
No one woke up until it was almost 6 p.m., and no one particularly cared. Chris had already called work and was told to take a few days to sort the children and themselves out, so no one was worried about having to get to sleep later.
It was when he was in the kitchen drawing water from the faucet to fill the coffee pot to make coffee, that Chris noticed a bright glow close to the walled garden.
Racing out of the back door, with Buck hot on his heels, both men halted abruptly on seeing their neighbours, led by Eric, Jane, and Ieuan. All were dressed warmly and standing close to picnic tables laden with finger foods and metal urns that they would discover held tomato soup, coffee, and tea. Eric stepped forward.
“We didn't want you boys to go home to the US with bad memories of Bonfire Night, so we all pulled together for a little Mews celebration.”
Neither man could speak, so Jane did. “Why don't you and the little ones bundle up, and we'll have us some fun?”
Buck looked back to see Vin and JD peering around the back door. “Wha's going on, Da? Why's the grass ‘n stuff in a big heap and on fire?”
Glancing at JD, then back to Eric, Chris finally found his voice. His handsome face broke into a wide smile. “Thank you.”
“Hurry up, boyos,” Ieuan cried. “Brass monkeys are looking for welders out here.”
With a chuckle, and ushering the dogs inside, the men retreated to the house and scooped up their boys. “Come on, we're having a party.”
“We are?” Vin asked. “Why?”
Shutting the dogs in the den much as they had the previous evening, the group once again donned coats, hats and mittens. Buck carefully eased a hat over JD's bandage so only a small corner peaked out.
“Okay, Li'l Bit?”
“Uh huh. Why a party, Da?”
“'Cause everyone was sad y'all got hurt yesterday,” Buck replied, deliberately not referring to himself, or the anguish both he and Chris suffered over the injuries.
“Will there be sparklers?” Vin asked, a look of concern on his face.
“Not sure. Let's go see, huh?” Chris suggested, as he took Vin's good hand, and Buck did likewise to JD. Their injuries had made the men especially protective of their boys right then, and not yet ready for them to walk too far without them.
“Wha's a welder, and why does the monkey need one?”
Once outside, the four could see the bonfire's flames licking eagerly at the wood and trash within. Eric set off a bottle rocket, which caught the boys by surprise, but they squealed in delight at the trail and eventual explosion of sound and light high above them, to pop and glitter vibrantly in the black, velvet sky.
Encouraged, he set off more, while a neighbour lit several Roman candles lined up on one path, and Ieuan set off two Catherine wheels nailed to wooden stakes in the ground. The spectacle overwhelmed everyone as the fireworks kept coming until there were no more in the tins.
“We have sparklers. Would you like one?” Jane asked.
Seeing Ieuan light one and draw shapes in the air with it, the boys agreed, and, despite a tentative start by Vin, were soon following suit. Several packs later, all traces of bad memories and fear of them had gone for Vin. JD was already unperturbed, but when standing on the ground, constantly and anxiously looked around him. Eventually Buck realized JD was watching out for loose dogs. He picked his son up and smiled.
“Baby, the dog that bumped us yesterday was scared. He didn't mean to hurt you. Animals should never be outside with fireworks going off. Do you understand?”
JD tugged at the corner of the bandage peeking out from under his hat, and nodded. “Uh huh.”
Buck drew Vin in. “What I'm saying is, yours was an unhappy accident. And Vin's was due to him wanting to do the right thing with his dead sparkler, and not because he was goofing around. Tonight, our friends have gone to a lot of trouble to show us why this holiday means so much to them. How do you feel about it now?”
The gathered friends listened with bated breath.
“We think Bonfire Night is cool,” Vin announced.
“Yeah! C-o-o-o-o-o-l!” JD agreed.
The two men looked at each other, smiled and nodded their agreement.
Everyone cheered and went about the business of sharing out the food and drink. One of the neighbours came out of the walled garden and gave a thumbs up. Ieuan took the boys' hands and led them over.
“In here is a friend of mine...Carl. He's an art lecturer. Come and see what he's been doing.”
With Ieuan and the boys, Chris, and Buck, leading the way; they stepped inside. The boys gasped as every surface held pretty multi-coloured lit tea-lights, and on the grass was the image of Guy Fawkes' face, mapped out in more flickering tea-lights. Everyone applauded.
“Is they birthday candles?” JD asked. “Gonna need lots of puff for those.”
Laughter erupted, and music started up, which played from a portable iPod speaker dock until most of the food was gone, and the boys were too tired to stay up any longer. Holding their sleepy sons, Chris shook hands for both him and Buck.
“You guys should know, you've carved a special place in all our hearts,” Buck assured, making a mental note to drop in and thank the folks at the Black Horse Pub, too.
“As have you all in ours,” Jane reciprocated, to the nods and agreeable noises of everyone gathered.
With a fond goodnight, the two men went inside, stripped their sons of most of their clothing, and put them to bed. Whatever else this year abroad had to bring, the memories made so far would be ones they would carry with them for a lifetime.
Continues in Poppies and Poems
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The Whole Thing
St. John Ambulance