Part 14

“I left them just through those trees and up the rise,” Justin said as he clambered out of the jeep and started to head towards the woods.

“JT slow down. Patience is a virtue remember. You don’t know who might be lurking in the darkness waiting to shoot you in the back.”

Justin hovered at the edge of the trees. “Point taken,” he said. “Split up and circle around?”

Kirkpatrick grinned. “I’d say so. One thing though, did you leave them a way of protecting themselves?”

Justin caught his bottom lip between his teeth and gave a low hiss. “A Beretta M9.”

“You gave a breeder who has never probably even seen a gun before, never-lone held one, a semi automatic weapon?”

Justin winced. “Yes.”

“Well that’s just great! And what’s to stop them from getting spooked and blowing our heads off?”

“I couldn’t leave them defenceless,” Justin said, justifying his actions.

Kirkpatrick huffed, “I guess not.” He slammed a fresh ammunition cartridge into place. “You go left, I go right.”

Justin nodded in agreement and readied his own weapon. “Hey CK, keep your head down.”

Trystum huddled in the darkness, his face tearstained, his baby clutched to his chest. Joshua had been gone for too long. Memories of shouting and threats of opening fire still haunted his thoughts. The only thing that kept him hopeful was that no shots had been fired. Joshua, his beautiful Joshua had sacrificed himself in an attempt to protect him and Caleb. He rocked the drugged infant taking comfort in the small warm body, at a loss of what else he could do. If he went chasing after his teenage son all he would be doing is handing himself and Caleb over to the south.

A small sound in the trees caught his attention and he held his breath, straining his ears. “Josh?” he whispered. He jumped at another sound, this time behind him. Barely containing a terrified whimper he pulled his blanket tighter around him as if it would protect him from the enemy forces that were surrounding him.

Justin crawled over the ground approaching the place where he had left his new husband and father-in-law. He kept low just in case Joshua got a little nervous and decided to open fire on him. In the distance he saw the shadowy figure of Kirkpatrick moving in on the makeshift camp. Justin made a two-toned bird call and was replied with a low warble. Keeping low Justin made his way into the camp. “Josh,” he hissed. “It’s Justin.”

A relieved cry of “Justin” rang out as Trystum answered him.

“Its ok CK, they know its us.” Justin moved directly to his father-in-law and hugged him with relief. He pulled back and caressed the face of the tiny boy sleeping in Trystum’s arms. “He’s perfect Trystum, so small. Josh I’m so proud of you.” He turned looking around for his husband as Kirkpatrick entered the campsite. “Joshua? Trystum where’s Joshua, where’s my husband?”

The older man began to cry. “I begged him. I begged him not to go. I wanted him to take Caleb and leave. I begged him Justin.”

Frantic Justin seized his father-in-laws shirt and shook him. “What happened Trystum? TELL ME!”

“There were voices, southern voices. They sounded so close. Josh said he’d lead them off, that he would come right back. He didn’t come back Justin. He didn’t come back.” Trystum began to sob heartbrokenly. “Save him Justin. Save my baby!”

Justin shrugged off his combat jacket and tipped his pack upside down looking for something.

Kirkpatrick hovered behind him. “JT what are you doing?”

Justin kept searching. “I’m going after my husband.”

“That’s a negative soldier. We cut our losses and we get the hell out of here.”

Justin jumped up and pushed the older soldier, making him stumble back a couple of steps. “My husband is out there. If the Rebs have got him he might as well be dead. He needs me.”

“Our orders were to retrieve the breeder and child then report back to St Charles. We have both so we are out of here.” Kirkpatrick grabbed his wrist. “Trystum and the baby are priority. I’m sorry for Joshua, really I am, but orders are orders.”

“How can you say that? You know what the breeder camps are like. You’ve seen them. Men turned into breeding cows. Beaten and degraded when they should be loved and cherished. I can’t let that happen to Joshua. I can’t.” Justin shrugged Kirkpatrick’s hand off his arm and carried on looking through his pack.

Chris swore under his breath and picked up a pallet of camouflage paint that had fallen to the ground. “Looking for this JT?”

Justin took it. “Thanks.”

“One hour Justin then I take Trystum and the baby and go. We’ll wait for you at the jeep.”

Justin gave a small grin. “They’re Rebs, an hours all I need.” He smeared the black and green makeup over his face and checked his ammunition. “One hour,” he said checking his watch.

“Then I’m gone,” Chris answered pressing his point. Justin shouldered his rifle and slipped silently into the trees. Chris swore again and turned his attention to Trystum, who was staring pasty faced after his son-in-law. “Come on Tryst, let’s get you and little Mr. to safety.

Justin moved noiselessly through the trees, pausing every now and then to check he was still on the right track. Joshua had left a trail that a blind man could have followed. Justin bent down and touched the ground, Josh had fallen in this place then he had scrambled across the ground. Heavy boots had followed him, catching up with him then dragged him away. Justin searched around, one, two, three, six different sets of tracks, Indicating they were the same squad that they had evaded earlier. Justin stayed crouched on the ground, listening, and then began to follow the tracks.

Kirkpatrick was torn. His duty was to protect the new born baby and his father but every fibre of his being was screaming at him to follow Justin. He consoled himself in the fact that he only knew one person better at being a soldier than JT and that was himself. He checked his watch; there was still thirty minutes to go. He looked over his shoulder at the breeder huddled in the back seat of the jeep cuddling a tiny bundle.

“Are you warm enough?” he asked concerned for the older mans health.

Trystum nodded, coughing slightly. “I’m ok.”

“What about the child, is he warm enough?”

Trystum hugged his baby. “I got him pretty wrapped up, he’s fine too.”

Chris swivelled around in his seat. “It must be an amazing feeling. You know, knowing that you created that tiny person inside you.” Chris gazed at the child for a while. “He’s really pretty, what did you call him?”

Trystum gave a little contented smile. “Caleb. Joshua named him.”

“That’s a nice name. Trystum will you be able to give him up when the time comes?”

The older man sighed. “I keep asking myself that, and the answer is yes. I feel protective towards Caleb but not love.”

“Joey’s a good man. I’ve known him for ten years. I’ve never meet James but no one has. I know he keeps a photo of him locked in his desk. He’s told me about him, you know, over a bottle of scotch. I think he’s a good man too. He’s definitely a brave one.”

Trystum kissed his son’s wrinkled forehead. “It’s good to know, thank you.”

Chris checked his watch again. “Come on JT. Where the fuck are you?”

Justin watched, concealed by the thick woods as the sentry did his rounds. He had been observing the camp for fifteen minutes; he had to make his move soon if he was going to make the rendezvous with Kirkpatrick. Circling around he crouched in the shadows waiting. The sentry sat smoking a cigarette, obviously bored and tired. Justin moved in silently, creeping up behind the unaware soldier, grabbing him across the mouth and pulling his head back. With one swift movement he slashed the man’s throat, gagging him with his hand until he stopped moving. Noiselessly he laid him on the ground and moved further into the camp. He dispatched two more southerners with equal ease. He paused in his progress, looking for his husband. Justin’s blood boiled at the sight of his gentle lover enveloped in the embrace of a dark haired officer. Joshua still wore his robes of office and that encouraged Justin to believe that the innocent teenager hadn’t been molested …. Yet.

He took a step towards his husband, who was lying on his side near the campfire. He froze and dropped down low as one of the rebel soldiers sat up and yawned. In a split second Union and Rebel eyes met. Justin moved on instinct alone. Throwing his knife at the surprised man. The rebel made a strangled gurgling noise as the knife embedded itself up to the hilt in his throat. It was enough though to alert the two remaining men. Justin drew his gun and shot the man nearest to him before turning it on the remaining man.

Richardson woke with a start, pulling his weapon free of its holster. He grabbed Joshua by his throat and pulled him in front of him as a shield. Justin swore and rolled over the ground as Richardson fired at him. He scrambled behind a tree and sat with his back to the trunk breathing hard.

“Let the breeder go Reb. You have no quarrel with him,” Justin shouted as he slammed another cartridge into his automatic.

“What and let the Union have him? I’ll slit his throat first,” Richardson answered.

Justin laughed. “Well you see now we have a problem because if you kill him, I’ll kill you.”

Richardson squeezed Joshua’s throat making the slim boy start to choke. “The boy’s not worth dying for Blue Coat. Go while you still can.”

Justin flattened himself on the ground and wormed his way behind the rebel. He lifted his gun and fired.

Richardson’s eyes went wide, blood leaked from his mouth and he stumbled forward falling on top of his hostage. Joshua cried out with fear as the dead man pinned him to the dirt. Justin ran to him, rolling the dead body off him and gathering him in his arms. The young breeder tore his veil aside and littered his husbands face with salty tear-flavoured kisses.

The veteran soldier hugged his husband tightly. “I’ve got you. You’re safe, you’re safe baby. You’re safe.”

Joshua sobbed incoherently. “I thought; I thought …he said he was going to; Justin hold me. Please hold me.”

“It’s okay now baby. Justin is here.” The older man smashed his lips against his young husbands, lapping at his mouth until Joshua’s lips parted and invited his tongue inside. They held each other for a long time, just rediscovering each other’s flavour.

Reluctantly Justin broke the kiss and stroked Joshua’s unruly curls. “We have to go my love. We can’t stay here.”

Joshua nodded and dried his tears on his sleeve. “Trystum had the baby. They are all alone.”

“They are safe too. They are with CK.” Justin checked his watch, swearing loudly. “We have to move ….now.” He took Joshua’s hand in his and dragging him behind him started to run. They had less than two minutes to make it back to the jeep.