Thanks to everyone for taking the time to read and comment (as always). And I know this is getting a bit repetitive, but apologies for the big delay. Doing my best not to leave it too long but life is busy at the moment. Hope you enjoy it!
4 weeks ago…
His eyes flew open, his hearting thumping violently, to the sounds of heavy booted footsteps in the hallway, and the shouts and screams of the people at the other end of the hall. He could hear doors crashing open and the shouts of the guards as they dragged workers from their beds. They were coming!
“Get up!” he whispered to his wife, jumping out of the bed, “The guards are coming!”
He hated to see that look on her face. That look of fear and dread that he knew far too well. He’d seen it far too many times before and it made him feel utterly powerless! He couldn’t protect her! He couldn’t keep her safe. No matter how much he liked to pretend that he could.
“Pack a bag!” he whispered, as he turned and put his arms out to lift the kids off the top bunk.
They were already sitting up, and Bo was staring down at him with eyes wide with terror. He looked frozen to the spot and his little hand was gripping his sister’s arm tightly. His fingers were digging in and turning white, but Lin was simply staring at the door, and listening to the noises of the guards in the hall. He could see her shaking as she held her brother’s body close.
It broke his heart that they had to go through this nightmare time and time again. They’d seen far too much in their little lives.
“Come on!” he coaxed, as he lifted Bo out of Lin’s arms, “Shhh shhh… It’s okay!”
In an instant, both young children were out of the bed and were standing behind him, backed up against the wall. He was using his body to shield them as best he could and preparing himself for the moment that door flew open.
Jiao grimaced at him as she put together a small bag, stuffing inside it some essential belongings. Just a few clothes, and a doll that she’d made for the kids out of some scraps of material. She’d already hidden the small amount of money that they’d saved, slipping it into her underwear when she thought that Cheng and his family weren’t looking.
He put his hand out to her and softly caressed her belly. He didn’t say anything and neither did she. They didn’t have to.
He pushed her gently to stand behind him with the kids.
It was clear from the noise outside that the guards had almost cleared the room next door and they would be coming to them next.
He looked behind him then, glancing down at the children, and giving a nervous little smile in an attempt to reassure them. The children looked up at him, silent and trembling. Bo was holding his mother’s hand tightly with his little pudgy hand. Unfortunately, this was not the first time that there’d been a midnight raid, so the kids were well trained. They knew to stay quiet. They knew to stay close too and not to let go. It didn’t mean they weren’t scared though… especially after what had happened last time.
“They’re moving us!” whispered Cheng, huddling in a similar way with his wife and children on the other side of the room. They looked just as frightened. “I heard Rooster...” he said, keeping his voice low.
With that, the door flew open and Cheng never got to finish that sentence…
“Daddy!” squealed the little boy, as he wriggled free and ran straight at Kyle as he opened the door. “Where you go?!” he demanded to know, “You not here for cornfwakes!”
Kyle couldn’t help laughing, as the little boy hugged his arms around his leg, and then grinned up at him with the cheekiest crinkly-eyed grin. Dax was obsessed with breakfast cereal and insisted on feeding both him and Ben in the morning. He’d obviously been upset to find that he wasn’t there.
“Daddy had to go help Auntie Ricky” he said, as he reached down and hoisted him up into his arms, “But I’m back now… but what’s this?!” He pretended to look behind Dax’s ear in a theatrical way and then looked at him wide-eyed in mock surprise, “Have you got a cornflake stuck behind your ear?!”
“No!” squealed Dax, pulling his head into his shoulders in a playful way.
“I think you do!” he teased, putting his mouth behind the boy’s ear and making a sort of ‘nom nom’ noise. He giggled hysterically and threw his hands up to cover his ears.
“Noooo!” he squealed again, giggling like mad as he wriggled in his dad’s arms.
“It’s okay” said Kyle, laughing as well, “I think I got it…” He grinned as he started to carry him back towards Phoebe. “You gonna give mummy a kiss?” he asked, as he leaned him towards Phoebe.
Dax immediately planted a kiss on her cheek and then snuggled back with his head on his dad’s shoulder.
“Good to see you Pheebs” said Kyle, giving her a kiss on the cheek as she handed him a yellow Minion towel for Dax, “Wasn’t expecting you for a day or two.”
“I got an earlier flight” she said, smiling up at him and the small boy in his arms, “Couldn’t wait to see you all!” She gave him a concerned look as she helped him wrap Dax in the towel and start to dry his hair. She couldn’t help noticing how pale and drawn he looked.
“I’m glad you’re here” he said, in a tired sort of way, “I could do with a mate right now… Things are…”
“Yeah” she said, “I know… Ben filled me in… I was here when you called earlier but I wanted to surprise you”
“Well, mission accomplished” he said, looking out towards the hallway, “Where is he?”
“Oh, he popped out to get us some pizza” she said, with a smile, “He didn’t feel like cooking… and he didn’t think you’d want to either… after the day you’ve had.”
“Good call” he said, “…Not sure I have much of an appetite though.”
“More pizza for me then!” she teased, “I could eat a horse!”
“Nothing’s changed there then!” he retorted, with a mischievous grin.
Heyyy!” she scolded, giving him a light smack on the arm, “That’s not very gentlemanly!”
He gave a little snort and then looked towards the kids’ room. “And Gracie?” he asked, “Did Ben take her?”
“No… she’s sleeping” she smiled, “You can stand down… I’ve got her.”
“Better get this one dressed then” he said, with a little nod, as he went to sit down on the couch. There was a colourful pile of clothes on the sofa, all blues and yellows. Dax was a little bit obsessed with Minions. He set the little boy down on his feet in front of him and started trying to dry his hair.
“Noooo!” moaned Dax, as he started to pull away. He hated having his hair dried and he hated getting dressed.
“No, come on Dax” said Kyle, “We need to get you dry…”
He looked across at Phoebe and gave her a little wink before turning his attention back to his son. He was hoping that she’d play along with him.
“Why don’t we see how fast we can get you dressed, huh?” he asked in a playful kind of way, “Mummy Pheebs came all the way from America to see what a big boy you are… That’s really far! She had to travel on an airplane and everything!”
The child turned to look at her with eyes wide with wonder. “Airpwane?” he asked, “In the sky?”
“Yep!” laughed Phoebe, “On an airplane!”
Kyle stuck his arms out and started making the ‘neeeeeeeh!’ sound of an airplane and Dax copied him exactly. Phoebe couldn’t help laughing at the sight of the little boy dressed only in a hooded towel. He was like a funny little ‘flasher’, completely naked at the front, but with absolutely no sense of embarrassment.
“Okay, mate?!” said Kyle, wrapping the towel around him again to dry him properly, “Let’s get you dressed before Dadda gets home, yeah?”
“Nooo!” he moaned again, his lower lip starting to tremble as he got ready to throw a tantrum.
“Tell you what Daxxie?!” said Phoebe, taking her phone out, “Why don’t I time you? If you can get dressed in one minute, there’ll be a treat for you!”
“Tocolate?” he asked, with a smile stretched from ear to ear. He couldn’t say ‘Chocolate’ properly, not unless they made him repeat it over and over endlessly. He’d get the ‘ch’ sound only on about the tenth attempt.
“Maybe” she grinned back at him, “You’ll have to wait and see!”
He clearly took it as a yes, and glanced excitedly at the handbag that was lying on the floor. She always brought him chocolate from the airport and there was always a game involved before he got to have it. This time, it was getting dressed. He wasn’t thrilled about it, but she could see that he was weighing up his options.
“Do we have a deal?” she asked.
“Deal” he said, nodding and turning back to his daddy with his arms in the air. “Dax get dwessed weally fast!”
“Okay, Mummy Pheebs” said Kyle, picking up a t-shirt with a space rocket on the front and nodding at Phoebe, “Start the clock!”
A couple of minutes later, a very happy (and fully-clothed) little boy was sitting in the middle of the floor watching cartoons. His face was smeared in chocolate, and his fingers too, making the bath he’d just had seem rather pointless.
“So?” said Phoebe, as Kyle joined her at the dining table and slumped in the chair beside her. She pushed a glass of wine in his direction with a sad little smile. “Brax is in China?” she asked, “…Like, China, China?!”
“Yeah” he sighed, “China, China… but we don’t know where.”
“How messed up is that?!” she said, shaking her head incredulously, “I mean… Brax in China… I just can’t picture that.”
“It’s not the first place I would have looked either” he replied.
“But he’s definitely there?” she asked, “I mean… Ben said you saw him in some video footage or something?”
“Yeah, we saw him” he nodded, “He’s in some prison camp… or I don’t know, like a factory where they keep you prisoner…”
The haunted expression on Brax’s face flashed through his mind, and he felt his stomach tighten, and a sort of achey pain at his heart. He hated the thought of him being kept there like that. Ten years of slavery! Even if they got him back, what kind of state was he going to be in?!
He rubbed his face in a tired kind of way. This whole thing was really getting to him now.
“I mean, Pheebs” he said, “It’s just so weird. He was there! Right there! I could see his face on that screen… after ten years! He’s alive and he was just there! …I mean, there was a BBC reporter just wandering around this prison camp, and he must have seen him there… but he did nothing about it… He just filmed all these people being treated like slaves, and then he just left them there…”
“I guess that’s just what reporters do?” she sighed, “They can’t get involved.”
“**** that!” he growled, “Those people were being kept there like prisoners… and they waited a year to put it on the TV!” He shook his head in an angry and exasperated way. “A year ago, Pheebs! Maybe we could have found him! …Now there’s nothing there! They don’t know where the **** he is anymore! In ****ing China! If that’s not a needle in a haystack, I don’t know what is!”
“C’mon, Kyle?” she said, gently squeezing his knee, “This is good news! He’s alive! That’s a hell of a lot better than what we thought a week ago!”
“Yeah” he said, “I guess.” He ran a hand through his hair and gave a heavy sigh. “I just want him home, Pheebs…”
“I know” she said, “We all do.”
He glanced across at Dax on the living-room floor and gave a sad little half-smile. The boy was crashing two toy trucks together and making explosion noises as sound effects.
“The last time I saw Brax” he said, “I was sitting in the visitor’s room at the prison… with a face so beat up I looked like I’d been hit by a truck…”
She grimaced a little because she knew what had happened that day. It still amazed her that he’d been able to hold himself together like that. He’d been beaten and raped, and yet he’d managed to limp out to meet Brax. He was a lot stronger than he sometimes seemed.
“My… my boyfriend had just died” he continued, “And I… I don’t think I’d ever felt more empty… or… or broken in my life…”
He wasn’t looking at her. He was just watching Dax as he played on the floor, his eyes glazed and vacant. Lost in the memory…
“I was angry with him… Brax, I mean… I was angry at life, but I took it out on him… I said some horrible things… and…”
“C’mon, Kyle…” she said, “He knew you loved him.”
“I know” he said, glancing up at her and nervously biting his bottom lip, “…But that’s how he remembers me… That broken angry mess… He doesn’t know that I made a life for myself… that I’m married… to a great guy… and that we have two beautiful kids…” He gave a heavy sigh. “He doesn’t know…”
“Kyle, come on?” she said, tilting her head at him. She could see the tears welling up in his eyes.
“He… he doesn’t know anything… a-anything at all about my life” he stammered, the tears finally rolling down his cheeks. He wiped at them a little angrily with the back of his hand, frustrated at himself for getting upset. He didn’t want Dax to see him crying, so he held his hand up beside his face to shield his view. “I just… I want my kids to know their uncle…” he said.
“They will!” she smiled, “The cops know where he is now…”
Kyle started to say something but she cut him off.
“Granted, China is a pretty big place” she said, with a cheeky little smirk, “But the guy did send you a note in a dildo a couple of weeks ago, so he’s definitely alive! They’ll find him!” She squeezed his knee again and nodded at him encouragingly, “They’ll find him!”
He looked up at her and gave a sad little laugh. She was nothing if not optimistic.
She stood up to pour herself another glass of wine and took the opportunity to gently caress the side of his face.
“He’s coming home, Kyle” she assured him, “He is… I know it!”
He smiled at her and picked up his glass to clink off hers.
“So?” he said, “New tour, huh?”
“Yup!” she nodded, as she took a mouthful of wine, “Four whole weeks! And I’m headlining!”
“Wow!” he exclaimed, “That’s amazing, Pheebs! Hitting the big time?! I knew you could do it!”
He was proud of her pursuing her career in the way that she had and really throwing herself into her music. It looked like it was really paying off!
She gave him a sarcastic little smile and took a sip from her wine glass.
“Yeah! Phoebe Nicholson! …Wooooh!” she exclaimed, with her hands thrown theatrically in the air. “You’re looking at a top selling artist!” she said, pointing at herself with both thumbs, “A household name! …Turns out, I’m huuuuuge…”
He was smiling from ear to ear and looking decidedly impressed.
“In Asia!” she laughed, “No-one knows who I am in America, or in the UK… but somehow my sound really resonates with the Asian market… Japan, Thailand, China…I leave in two weeks!”
“China?!” he gasped, “You’re going to China?!”
She furrowed her brow at him. "Yeah" she said, "But, Kyle? ...It ...it is a pretty big place..."
“And that’s the final decision?!” asked Cameron, “I mean… this is a breakthrough, Sir… We actually know…”
He was leaning over his desk and pinching at the skin above his nose. He had a tension headache, not made any better by this phonecall. The man on the other end kept cutting him off and talking over him. He wasn’t getting a word in edgeways.
“But, Sir?!” he pleaded, “I just…”
He sighed, as he got cut off again, and then nodded, even though the man on the other end couldn’t see him.
“Yes Sir, I understand” he forced out through clenched teeth.
He was angry, but he couldn’t allow his true feelings to shine through. Not when speaking with a superior, and definitely not with the Director of the Agency. Even if he didn’t agree with him.
“Okay, Sir… yes” he said, “I’ll speak to the family… break the news to them… Leave it with me.”
He hung up the phone and sat back with a heavy sigh. He didn’t know how he was going to tell Ricky and the boys. Part of him wished that he’d never shown them that video. It was going to be so much harder for them to accept now, and they were going to hate him for it. He’d probably just ended his relationship with Ricky too?