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What Normal Is

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Ireland is good. Michael likes being able to get up in the morning and not wonder who he’s going to be today. He likes that their house is far enough from the closest large city, it takes some time to get there. Riding a bicycle to the local town for supplies takes a bit of getting used to, but they don’t really need a car. And it’s good exercise, and, putting Charlie on the back of the bike with a helmet and taking him along, well, Michael thinks maybe, it’s nice.

X X X

They have aliases, good ones – Michael Urquhart had an Irish great-grandmother, and had immigrated to the United States, married, and made a small fortune. Enough that her son and granddaughter were quite well-off, and continued to prosper, and, when they passed on, left Michael enough money to return to Ireland, for great-granny’s sake. That he’d met a pretty Irish lady, Fiona O’Brien, made it that much better. Michael’s nephew traveled with them – his parents killed in a car wreck – and they made a good home in a house near the coast.

Michael doesn’t want to put a lot of pressure on those aliases. Not yet, at least.

X X X

Fiona O’Brien loved being back in Ireland. She took Charlie to the shore and taught him to ride his own bicycle to town. She wasn’t as fond of cooking, and sometimes complained about how much yogurt Michael went through in a week, but she planted flowers, and sometimes thought out loud that it’d be good to get a dog for Charlie, one they could name ‘Sam’.

Michael would always roll his eyes at her suggestion.

X X X

They don’t watch television. They have a radio, and sometimes, after Charlie’s in bed, Michael and Fiona dance to the music, their arms around each other, mostly swaying in place, staring into each other’s eyes.

X X X

Their lives are normal.

Simple.

Easy.

Michael lets out a long, slow breath.

Boring.

X X X

Their house is full of interesting things, if someone knew where to look. Most of them are very well-hidden to someone who isn’t a spy, who isn’t a gun runner, who hasn’t been on the run and hiding in plain sight before.

There are two guns, unloaded, but with bullets at hand, each hidden higher than Charlie can reach.

There are knives hanging on the wall, looking to the casual observer as if they were simple decorations.

They aren’t. Michael or Fiona makes sure they’re clean, sharp, and easily drawn if necessary, once a month.

There are burner cell phones, four, exactly, ready to use at any time.

And this is why Michael thinks they need a car, but then again, there’s a dock at the bottom of the hill, with a boat gassed up and ready to go. And there are weapons caches at careful spaces along the path, to make sure some people running could get to the boat safely.

X X X

Fiona comes back from a bike ride, Charlie riding with her, chubby legs pushing so hard. Michael watches them from the porch, a cup of coffee in hand, smiling faintly. They look good together, he thinks, and raises his hand. Charlie waves back, nearly running off the road in his enthusiasm. Fiona shakes her head as he gets back on track, but her smile is fond. They get close enough to talk, and Michael says he’s started dinner.

“We looked at puppies today, Unca Michael!” Charlie says, pushing his bike to the porch and up onto it.

Michael takes hold of the handlebar to help him with it. “Puppies?” He shoots Fiona a look. “They’re a lot of work, Charlie.”

“I know,” he says, sighing, “you always say that.”

“Your Uncle Michael just doesn’t know how much fun puppies can be,” Fiona says.

“You just miss have a big, bumbling guy around.” Michael sips his coffee as Fi pouts, pushing her bike up onto the porch.

“I don’t miss him.” She shoots Michael a look. “Either of them.”

“Either of who?” Charlie glances from one of them to the other.

“Old friends,” Michael assures him, and rumples Charlie’s hair. “Why don’t you tell me about the puppies?”

Charlie grabs his hand, and starts babbling while he leads Michael into the house. Fiona follows after, a serene smirk in place.

X X X

Ireland is nice, and normal, and the Urquhart-O’Brien household remains on the hill, with three people in it, living out their nice, normal lives. At least, until a letter arrives. A package, really, sent from the United States (the postmark from ‘Christmas, Florida’, makes Michael smile, considering the time of year the manila envelope arrives). He and Charlie ride home from town, and Michael passes off the envelope to Fiona, getting Charlie involved in helping him clean vegetables for tonight’s stew.

After putting Charlie to bed (and reading him Huey and the Gooey Kablooey for the umpteenth time), Michael meets Fiona in the living room of their house. She slaps a sheaf of papers in his hand. “Sam,” she says, “is of the opinion we need to meet Jesse and him in Bogata, and help with a problem going on there.”

Michael skims the papers. “Bogata?”

Fiona’s eyes narrow. “We have a child.”

“Are you saying you don’t want to go?”

She folds her arms. “Are you saying we should?”

Michael carefully slides the papers back in the envelope, and shrugs. “It’d be good to see old friends,” he says, complete neutral. “Get out of the house, into someplace different for a while.”

“We are caretakers for a child, Michael. We can’t just run off on a whim to help those idiots.” Fiona sighs, flipping the envelope with her fingernail. “It would be fun, though.”

He raises his eyebrows. “Fun?”

Fiona scowls at him. “Fun.” Michael smiles, his work-fake smile, and her stern expression melts slowly to something far more forgiving. “You have to admit, normal is boring.”

“We have a child,” Michael reminds.

“There are four of us, and one of him, we’ll be able to keep him safe.”

He considers for a few seconds, then raises his voice, knowing Charlie’s listening. “Pack your bag, Charlie. We’re going on a trip.”

X X X

Michael turns to Fiona, noting her hair is wound up in a knot at the nape of her neck. Charlie has a small bag in hand, his chin up, his expression serious. “All right,” Michael says, “let’s go to Bogata.” He opens the door of the rental car, ushering Charlie into the child’s seat.

Fiona slips into the passenger side of the car, wriggling to get comfortable.

Turning the key in the ignition, Michael automatically checks the mirrors, then reaches into the pocket of his jacket and pulls out a pair of shooter’s glasses. He slides them on before putting the car into gear and pulling it out of the car park.

They tried normal, he thinks, normal is boring. Time to get back to work.