"Come on Ralph…you have to do it eventually…"
Ralph didn't reply, he just held Nimrod tighter to him, unable to let go. He could feel everyone's eyes on him, telling him to do the right thing. But he couldn't, he just couldn't.
Jack put an arm around him, "He'll be fine. You know you can't keep him forever. Think about what's best for him"
The captain of the ship stood in front of the two boys patiently, his eyes focused on the blonde who was holding the baby protectively. He had no idea of the bond between the boy and the child. But he could imagine it was a strong one. The boys had been marooned on the island for several months; he had every right to be reluctant to give up the baby he looked to as his own. But it wasn't his own. It turned out Nimrod had a family back in England. A family that missed him very much.
Realizing that Jack was right, Ralph slowly bent his head down and kissed the pale little forehead, feeling a tear fall down his cheek. He allowed Jack to kiss him as well, before holding him out for the captain to take with trembling arms. The scene overwhelmed Simon and he hastily wiped away his own tears before anyone noticed. The captain gently took the baby from the child and handed it to the ship's first aider.
"Does he have a name?" he asked Ralph.
Ralph's lips trembled, making him unable to speak without bursting into tears. Jack intervened.
"Nim. His name's Nim"
"Nim.." the captain let that name sink into his mind, "Very distinguished. You boys did a very good job looking after him. He seems in good health. He'll be taken good care of, don't you worry"
Ralph didn't say a word, he just bowed his head and hurriedly walked past the captain, into one of the cabins. The door shut abruptly, making the littleuns jump. Jack made a move to go after him, but was stopped by the captain.
"Let him be lad" he said gently, "He needs to be alone."
Hours later, Jack summoned up the courage to knock at the door of Ralph's cabin. The blonde had refused to eat the food given to him and after walking past his door a few times, Robert had told the others that he could hear crying coming from the other side of the door. After receiving no reply, Jack opened it and found Ralph sobbing on one of the beds, his head plunged into a pillow. Jack had never been very good at comforting people, so he just sat down next to Ralph and put a hand on his shoulder to ease the pain a little, giving the younger boy time to pull himself together.
"Ralph…he'll be alright."
The sobbing ceased and then came a sigh. The blonde sat up, his eyes red and sore, his forehead beaded slightly with sweat.
"I know…I just miss my baby."
"He wasn't yours Ralph. He has a family already."
"I still love him."
"So do I. But you knew from the start that he'd have to go home eventually. We're just kids ourselves Ralph. Any longer on that island and we wouldn't have been able to cope."
Ralph opened his mouth to argue, then realised Jack was right and sighed again. He wound his arms around the red-head and put his head on the crook of his neck.
"I forgot how wise you are Jack Merridew."
Jack laughed and kissed the top of his head. A thought suddenly struck him and he pulled away from Ralph gently.
"Ralph…there's something I want to show you."
"What is it…? Jack, take your hands away from my eyes, I can't see."
"That's the point. Now no peeking until we get there."
He led Ralph out of the cabin and onto the deck, where Maurice was attempting to herd the littleun's into an orderly line. When they got to the bow of the boat, Jack took his hands from Ralph's eyes.
"What do you think?"
Ralph stared out at the sunset in the horizon, feeling a grin spread across his lips. The sky was full of colours, the intensity of the light calming his broken heart almost instantly. The sun was like a great big romantic, inspirational fire in the sky. He could feel Jack's arms winding round his waist and a warm pair of lips met the side of his face.
"It's amazing" Ralph whispered, leaning back in the embrace.
"Yeah it is. It's the second most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life."
Ralph blinked and looked up at him, "What's the first?"
A grin spread across the red head's lips, "Now Ralph. I don't think I need to answer that, do I?"
Ralph could feel his cheeks burning and he simpered coyly, planting a kiss on Jack's cheek. The older boy craned his head over to the other end of the boat where Simon and Roger were doing a dip kiss, whilst the littleuns gaped at them. He smirked.
"Honestly, look at those lovebirds. And they call us disgusting."
Jack jumped at the sound of his name and instantly unwrapped his arms from around Ralph's waist. The captain stood in front of them, holding something in his arms.
"It seems this little one wanted to say a proper goodbye."
At the sight of Ralph, Nim whined furiously and held his little arms out for the blonde to take him. Ralph did so with slight uncertainty and thanked the captain in a small voice.
"What's wrong?" Jack asked when the captain had moved on, "I thought you wanted to spend more time with him."
"I do…but the longer I spend with him, the more painful it is to let him go."
"I know Ralph" Jack put his arms round him again, "But when you get home you'll see Harry again won't you? And that'll be just like having Nim around."
"And I'm pretty sure his family will be damn grateful to us for keeping him alive for them. They'll let you stay in contact with him for sure."
"Yeah…maybe they will. I guess it isn't too bad. At least we don't have to feed him anymore."
"Or change him"
"Or run around panic stricken every time he wanders off."
"See? It's not all bad is it? You hear that Nim?" he called down to the baby in Ralph's arms, "You're finally going home. How does that feel?"
The baby studied him with his blue eyes, then opened his mouth and muttered a word that made both Jack and Ralph gasp and then start laughing and crying at the same time.