Eric 382

Book 1

Near the end of Chapter 7....

Lance was watching Eric carefully carrying his own tray back toward the table when suddenly he stopped, tilted to the left slightly, and then collapsed to the ground. Everyone else noticed as well as the loud clanging if Eric's plate and glass hitting the ground could be heard.

Sean and Cory were both up in an instant heading toward Eric. "Tonio?" Sean called out.

Within seconds, another boy, about 9 years old, was standing over Eric, with a medical tricorder scanning him.

After a few seconds of looking at his readings, the small boy shook his head. "This doesn't make sense Cory, Eric is unconscious, but I can't see any type of injury or issue that would cause this."

Cory nodded and took out his communicator. "Cory to Doc Austin."

A few moments later, Doc Austin's voice responded. "Go ahead Cory."

"Doc, we have a medical emergency in the C.I.C. dining room. Eric, one of the new guys, has just collapsed and is unconscious. Antonio cannot find any problems in his scan." Cory spoke into the communicator.

"Understood. Doc out." With that, the communicator went dead.

Chapter 8

12:30pm EST - Wednesday, September 22nd, 2004

(C.I.C. dining room, Orlando, Florida)

By the time Doc Austin arrived in the dining room pulling a gurney behind him, most of the dishes and the tray that Eric was carrying had already been moved away by some of the nearby kids. The only thing that was left was a small puddle of milk on the floor.

"What do you have Antonio?" Doc Austin asked as he parked the stretcher near Eric, and started to lower it down.

Antonio was still scanning Eric with his tricorder and trying to make sense of the readings as he answered. "He's unconscious, in a comatose state, I can't find a cause. His blood sugar level is fine, his blood pressure is a bit low, but nowhere near danger level."

Doc took out his own tricorder and started scanning as well. "How exactly did this happen?"

Lance, who was not standing that far away answered. "He was just getting some lunch, and walking back to the table. He kinda stopped for a moment, and then collapsed."

Doc Austin nodded. "Did he complain about any headaches, stomach aches, dizziness, or anything else?"

"No." Both Lance and Brent answered.

Doc returned his tricorder to his belt. "Okay, it should be safe enough to move him. Cory, grab his feet and help me get him on the stretcher, I want to get him over to my office, the biobed there is still calibrated to him from yesterday."

Cory did as he was asked, and helped to get Eric on the stretcher. He and Doc Austin then lifted the stretcher up slightly as Antonio unlocked the trolly wheels into place. Antonio then took Cory's position and started to help Doc Austin wheel Eric out of the dining room.

Lance grabbed Greg, and Brent ran to grab the door for Doc and Antonio, then all 3 boys left to follow them to Doc Austin's office.

Antonio assisted Doc Austin in sliding Eric off the stretcher and onto the biobed, then both went to work on trying to diagnose Eric's problem. At one point, the Doc looked up and noticed that Brent, Lance, and Greg were still in the room. He was about to ask them to wait out in the waiting room, but as he realized that they were going out of their way to remain as quiet and out of the way as possible, so he decided against it.

Brent had no medical training, but he could see a number of the bar graphs and little arrows on the readout displays getting lower, which he figured could not be a good thing. A few moments later, the fact that two different alarms started to go off, and some of the bars that he was watching started to flash, seemed to confirm this.

"Heart rate is fluctuating and getting weaker." Antonio called out.

Doc Austin nodded as he continued to look at the biobed readings. "20cc of Metrazine."

Antonio ran over to a side table to prepare the requested hypospray, and then handed it off to Doc Austin, who promptly injected it into Eric's neck. Almost instantly the alarms stopped, and some of the bars started to go up.

"You did it!" Brent called out, before he was able to catch himself and cover his mouth with his hands.

"It's okay Brent, just try not to talk much." Doc reassured. "And no, he's not out of the woods yet, just a bit more stable so we can start some more in-depth tests."

Brent nodded while lowering his hands and allowing them to wrap around Lance instead.

A few minutes later, the door to the room quickly opened up as Cory walked in. Brent expected Doc to yell at him, or something. But neither Doc Austin nor Antonio even seemed to register the fact that he was there at first.

"How's he doing Doc?" Cory asked closing the door behind him, only this time a bit more quietly than how he entered.

"Stable for now, but we are still trying to find a cause, it's almost as if various parts of his body are just deciding to stop working as they should be working." Doc Austin answered as he moved over to another display panel.

Cory nodded and then looked toward Brent, Lance and Greg to make sure they were doing okay.

"Were you able to find any information on him?" Antonio asked.

"Actually, that's the weird thing." Cory turned his attention back to Antonio and Doc Austin. "We checked every database we have access to, and we could not find any record of Eric anywhere. It's as if he never existed."

Antonio grunted.

"I'll tell ya Doc, it looks like someone went through a whole lot of trouble to delete his existence from every known database, and then to wipe his mind completely clean of every event that ever happened to him up to a few weeks ago." Cory continued.

Something seemed to click inside of Doc Austin, as he stopped what he was doing and thought to himself for a few moments. "Antonio, reconfigure the bed to do an in-depth genetic profile please, include the RNA markers as well."

Antonio blinked at the doctor's change of direction, but instantly went to making the needed configuration changes. "In work."

"Sup Doc?" Cory asked, as he recognized the change of direction as well.

Doc Austin allowed his eyes to roll at Cory for a brief moment before going back to look over some of the readings that the biobed was providing him with. "It's just a hunch, but I might have an answer as to why someone would go through so much trouble."

Everyone remained quiet for several minutes as the intensive scan ran its course, and mass amounts of data started to flood both of the viewing panels that Doc Austin was looking at. A few moments later, Doc started to nod his head up and down, and then cleared both screens. "Antonio, reconfigure for cellular protein scans."

Again, Antonio seemed to be a bit surprised by the doctor's request, but immediately started the reconfigurations as asked.

Cory, Brent, Lance, and Greg all stood there staring at Doc Austin waiting for the explanation.

"Okay." Doc Austin started. "I believe I know why Eric cannot be found in any database, and all his memories up to a few weeks ago have been completely erased."

"Why's that Doc?" Cory managed to ask before any of the other kids were able to.

"Because Eric is only a few weeks old, and never existed prior to a few weeks ago." Doc Austin waited to see if anyone would catch on to what he was saying.

"How is that possible?" Lance asked. "He looks like he is at least 9 or 10."

Doc nodded in agreement. "Your right Lance, physically, he has the appearance of a 10 year old boy. However, without getting too complicated, the DNA which is contained in every cell in our body has something like a timer which can be used to track how old the body is. There are also certain types of cells that can only develop at a certain rate regardless of any other tampering, and everything points to the fact that Eric was born 3 to 4 weeks ago."

Brent and Lance looked at each other completely confused, but Cory seemed to catch on. "A clone?"

Doc Austin nodded.

Cory still seemed somewhat skeptical. "That would certainly explain why he can't be found anywhere, and why his memories only start a few weeks ago, but I thought human cloning has been outlawed."

Doc Austin agreed. "It has, but has something being banned or outlawed ever prevented someone from doing it anyway?"

"Good point." Cory nodded in agreement.

A small beeping sound could be heard coming from Antonio's panel. "I think I found something Doc."

Doc Austin walked over to Antonio and glanced at his panel and nodded. "That's what I was afraid of."

"What's wrong?" Brent's voice was filled with concern.

"It would seem that Eric's body is missing a key enzyme needed to allow his cells to create Type 2 and Type 8 Collagen's. Without those key enzymes, then all the cells in his major organs will gradually start to break down, just as they are doing now." Doc Austin explained as he walked back over to his terminal.

"Can it be fixed?" Cory asked.

The doctor started pulling up reference information on one of his screens. "I'm not sure yet. From what I can tell, the enzyme was periodically given to Eric either as a pill or an injection. Then if he didn't get it after a certain amount of time, he would die."

"Sounds like a good way to cover your trail." Brent sighed.

Cory nodded, "Yeah, makes sense, if you are doing something illegal, and your property gets away or is rescued, the evidence won't last long."

"And unless you were not as smart as Doc, and didn't know what to look for, the death would appear as dying from natural causes." Antonio added.

"I want to find whoever did this to him." Cory nearly growled.

"Me too." Brent agreed.

"Okay," Doc Austin caught both boys' attention. "It looks like we might be lucky. It seems that this particular behavior was intentionally designed to be fixable if needed. At least, I believe it's possible to have the biobed attempt to correct the problem."

"What are the risks, Doc?" Cory asked.

"Synthesizing the enzyme is not an issue. So if we do nothing, Eric will need to a special enzyme pill every day for the rest of his life. If he misses more than 2 or 3 days in a row, then he'll slip into a coma like he did today, and then die. If the biobed is successful at the repair, then his body will start producing the enzyme as it would normally do, if it fails, then we are just back to having to take the enzyme supplements."

"So there is no risk at letting the biobed try to fix him?" Lance asked.

"No, it's just a somewhat long procedure, and will probably take up to an hour to complete. Eric may feel a bit sick for the next day or two as his body gets used to its new configuration."

Cory Nodded. "Okay Doc, let's do it. I don't want this kid to have to take a pill for the rest of his life. I think a day or two of discomfort will be well worth not having to do that."

"I agree." Doc Austin went back to his biobed terminal. "Antonio, I'm going to need your help with the configurations."

Antonio nodded and walked over to doctor's terminal to see what he needed to do.

A few moments later, Cory's communicator went off. "Adam Short to Cory Short."

Cory opened up his communicator and pressed a button. "Cory here, what's up Adam?"

"We just completed a hostile rescue and are over at the camp administration building, but an issue has developed that we could probably use your help with." As if to strengthen Adam's point, in the background a boy could be heard screaming at the top of his lungs. "Get away from me! Everyone stay away from me or I'll do it!"

Cory sighed fearing that he knew what the problem was. "I'll be right over bro."

"Thanks Cory, Adam out." And with that the communicator went dead.

"Sorry guys, I need to run." Cory started to head for the door but stopped and just stood there for a few moments as if trying to hear some distant conversation. "Brent? Would you care to join me? I think you might be able to help out a little."

Brent was clearly surprised. "Me?"

Cory nodded. "You don't have to if you don't want to."

Brent looked at Lance, who gave a nod of support, then turned back toward Cory, and followed him out the door.

Brent had to walk quickly to keep up with Cory as they made their way toward the main entrance for Camp Little Eagle. "So, umm... what is it that you need me to do here Cory?"

Cory briefly glanced back toward Brent. "I just thought you might want to see how I handled a situation. You don't really need to do anything. But if you feel there is something you can do to help then by all means, do it. You're part of the clan now bro, no one is going to yell at you for being yourself."

"What if I mess up and say or do something wrong?" Brent hardly noticed that they had already walked past the front gate guard station.

"As long as your intent is to help out and do the right thing, then it doesn't matter. If you mess something up, you mess it up. Whatever it is, we can deal with it." Cory replied.

"Okay." Brent nodded, but was still not convinced. A few days ago, he was just normal Brent, now he had been flung head first into the clan, and the head of the clan was basically going to be looking to him to run his own section of the clan. He was still having trouble with making decisions for himself, let alone all the others that might be with him.

Adam met Cory and Brent just outside the Administration building entrance and started to brief them on what was going on. Basically, he and JJ were on a hostile rescue where a kid's mother was shot and killed in front of him. They had calmed him down and were helping him through the admittance process so that he could live at the camp, when somehow he had gotten a hold of a hand gun, and was threatening to take his own life.

"Can't you just stun him with a phaser?" Brent asked.

Adam seemed to really notice Brent standing there for the first time. "That's a good thought. However, he already has the gun to his head and the shock of being stunned could actually cause him to pull the trigger."

Brent nodded.

"Let's see what we can do." Cory said as he opened the door and the three walked in.

Inside, Brent did not find anything close to what he was expecting. Inside the main Administration lobby, standing against the back wall was a small, frail 9 year old boy with short sandy blond hair, and ragged blood stained clothes. Tears filled his eyes as his right hand was holding a pistol up to his head. Standing in a semi-circle around him where 3 adults and 4 older kids. The only person in the group that Brent recognized was JJ.

"It's going to be okay." One of the boys said semi-calmly. "I know you feel hurt right now, but you need to think about the future."

"It doesn't matter," the small boy shouted back. "There is nothing left here for me."

"Yes, it does matter. Every life is important, you matter just as much as anyone else," a second boy replied.

The small boy only seemed to get more upset. "I'm not going to spend the rest of my life in a foster home somewhere with people that only care about getting money for each kid they have! You might like that, but I don't."

JJ spoke up next with his voice full of compassion. "That's not true Darren. You won't be staying in a foster home, you'll be staying here in Camp Little Eagle, surrounded by people that care about you and want to help you."

"He's right." Cory added. "You're under the protection of both Clan Short and Federation Youth Services. No one is going to hurt you ever again. All of us really do want to help you."

Darren glared at Cory, anger now replacing the hurt in his eyes. "Where was all this help when my mom was killed? Why couldn't you protect her? She wasn't bad, she didn't deserve to die!"

Brent could see this was not going well. No one seemed to have an answer to his questions, and he could see the hurt and anger in his eyes. Brent could tell that for whatever reason, the boy seemed like he was at the end of his rope, and was on the verge of pulling the trigger. Brent couldn't figure out why he was even here, or what Cory expected him to be able to do. He didn't know anything at all about this kid or his situation. Having your mom killed in front of you would definitely be pretty crappy.

"Darren, no one here can answer that." One of the adults finally interjected. "The clan got there as quickly as humanly possible as soon as they got the call, but your mom was killed before we even got the call, there was nothing that could be done."

'What the hell?' Brent thought to himself. This was not what this kid needed to hear right now. Why don't they just rub it in further? Why does there need to be so much hurt in the world?

"You could have helped her! You could have saved her! You have fleet tech, I know you do. You could have used one of those biobed things." Darren cried out.

"She was already dead when we got there." The first boy commented. "Star Fleet does not have anything that can bring someone back to life after they are already dead and had lost so much blood."

"I don't care! You could have tried! You could have!" More tears filled the boy's eyes.

"Darren, please. Just put the gun down and we can talk this out." Adam added.

"No!" Darren shouted back. "You can't understand! No one can. There is nothing here for me anymore."

"That's not true," the second boy replied.

Brent could see that this was going nowhere fast. No one seemed to be able to get through to the small boy. Brent could understand why too. His entire world was shattered. He has no one left anymore, and he doesn't want to go through life feeling empty. In a way, Brent knew how the kid was feeling since that was the same way he felt when Randy was killed. Randy! Brent couldn't believe it, but he knew what he had to do."

Taking a step forward, Brent softly replied. "I can understand you."

Instantly, Brent realized that he might have made a very serious mistake, as all eyes turned toward Brent, and the kid's hand stiffened up as if to pull the trigger. One of the older boys seemed to try to make a motion with his head to tell Brent to step back, but now it was too late.

"No you can't!" Darren shouted back, his voice starting to tremble.

"I can." Brent kept his voice soft. "I never knew my mom because she died when I was 3. My dad died last month, and then my best friend was stabbed to death and ended up dying in my arms. I had no one left. I felt empty, alone and at the time I felt like the only thing I wanted to do was kill myself and be done with it."

For several seconds, Darren said nothing. He only stared deep into Brent's eyes as if looking for something. Finally, after what seemed like forever, he answered. "Why didn't you?"

Brent thought for a moment. "Honestly, I don't know. Maybe I wasn't as strong as you. Maybe it was because I was too afraid inside. But whatever the reason, I'm glad now that I didn't. Because although I felt like the world betrayed me and it hurt a lot for a while, I soon met more friends and now I'm in an even better position than I was." Brent could feel his stomach tightening up. He could only hope that he was doing the right thing.

The boy's arm that was holding the gun started to quiver slightly. "I'm not strong. I'm just a small little shrimp that no one is going to want. No one will want to be friends with me, so it doesn't matter."

"You're wrong. I'll be your friend, and every other kid you see here will be your friend." Brent replied, and continued on before the boy had a chance to challenge him. "Just look in our eyes. See if any of us are lying."

Darren glanced around the room looking into the eyes of each kid and each adult. Everyone he looked at, he saw the same thing. Whether it was because of this or because the small boy just couldn't deal with this any longer, Brent wasn't sure, but the boy lowered his now trembling hand and slowly allowed himself to sink down toward the ground crying. Two of the boys that he didn't know walked over to him, one taking the gun from him and handing it to JJ while the other picked him up, allowing him to cry into his chest.

Soon everyone was around the crying boy offering their comfort and support. The crisis was over and somehow it was Brent that had resolved it.

After a few minutes, Darren was carried out of the administration building and taken to the medical center to be checked out and cleaned up. Adam, JJ, Cory, and Brent headed back to the C.I.C.

On their way back, Cory wrapped his arm around Brent. "You did a good job back there."

"It was nothing." Brent timidly answered. "For a second, I was scared that I was saying the wrong thing."

"It wasn't nothing." Cory corrected him. "No one there, including myself, was able to get through to him. You were able to use your past experience to be able to relate to him, and calm him down enough so we could help him. That's what a real leader does."

Brent allowed himself to smile a little. "Thanks."

"No, Thank you, bro." Cory gave Brent another squeeze as they continued to walk.

Cory and Brent walked into Doc Austin's office to find Lance standing near the end of the biobed holding Greg, and Eric still lying unconscious.

"How's he doing?" Brent asked.

"He's doing great." Antonio answered from the terminal he was working on. "The biobed was able to successfully isolate and repair the parts of Eric's body that were responsible for creating the missing enzyme. He's going to need to rest for another couple of hours while his body stabilizes itself more."

"There were a bunch of alarms going off at one point, and we weren't sure if Eric was going to make it or not because the bad people that did this to him made it tricky to fix." Greg added.

"Wow." Brent replied. "Thanks guys, I'm glad you were able to help him."

"It's our pleasure." Doc Austin put one of his terminals in stand-by mode. "It was mostly Eric. The kid's a fighter."

"How did things go with you?" Lance asked.

"Okay." Brent answered. "There was a 9 year old that was going to kill himself but we were able to stop him."

"Actually, it was Brent that was finally able to get through to him." Cory added.

Brent smiled as Lance wrapped his arms around him so both he and Greg could hug him.

After the hug was finished, Cory suggested that since Eric would be here for a few more hours, that they head over to C.I.C. and grab something to eat real quick. Then they could either hang out there until the rest of the clan returned from school or they could go back over to camp and finish up the rest of the school day there.

All 3 boys excitedly indicated they wanted to go back over to Camp Little Eagle to finish up the school day there with all of their new friends. Antonio decided to join them since Doc Austin could easily monitor the sleeping Eric on his own. With that everyone left the office, save Doc Austin and Eric.

12:00pm PST (somewhere in the desert...)

The first thing he felt as consciousness slowly began to return to him was the pain and pounding in his head. Not long after that, he felt the cool breeze blowing against his body which caused him to quickly realize that he was naked and laying on something semi-soft. The only thing Evan couldn't figure out before he opened his eyes was anything in regards to his younger brother.

When he finally did decide to open his eyes, he was mildly concerned when, other than a blur of colors, he couldn't see anything. 'This isn't good', he thought to himself as he closed his eyes again. Sitting there in silence, he tried to piece together what had happened. He remembered running away with his younger brother, Haden. He remembered being hungry and looking for food. He remembered seeing the smoke and finding the trailer... the trailer... that was it, that was what caused all the rest of his memories to flood back into him.

Evan could now remember everything; finding the old man, accepting his offer for breakfast, feeling weird after breakfast, trying to reach for something, anything and after that, nothing. What had he gotten himself and his younger brother into? He should have known better than to put them in a situation like this and to let his hunger get the best of him. Finally, after spending a few moments hating himself for the poor choices he made, he decided that there would be time to kick himself later. Right now, he needed to focus on how to get them out of the situation that they were in. And to do that, he had to figure out exactly what the situation that they were in was.

Daring to open his eyes again, Evan realized his vision, although still blurry, was not quite as bad as it was when he first woke up. Squinting a few times, his eyes finally began to focus. He was lying on his back, and he could see a wood paneled wall next to him, as well as a white ceiling. The only light coming in the room was light coming in through a window from outside.

Not knowing what to expect he slowly tilted his head to the side. If there was someone else in the room with them, it would probably be best if they didn't know that he was awake. Neither seeing nor hearing anything, Evan risked raising his head a little. He was lying on a mattress which was lying on the floor in the corner of a small room. Other than a single door on one side of the room and a window with security bars on the other, the room was empty.

In the other corner of the room, off the mattress and scrunched in a corner, he could see Haden, who was just as naked as he was. He knew Haden was awake because he could here an occasional sniff and see his entire body shiver from time to time.

"Haden?" He whispered as he quietly crawled closer to his younger brother, "You okay?"

Haden said nothing, and because his back was toward Evan, it was hard for him to get a good read on just how bad off his younger brother was.

Evan went to reach for his younger brother to do what he could to try to comfort him, but he quickly pulled his hand back, when at the lightest touch, Haden's entire body violently jerked away from him. "Oh Haden," he sighed as he could only imagine what his little brother had to be going through right now, and it was all his fault. "Find a way out of here first Evan, worry about blaming yourself later," he silently reminded himself.

As he stood up, he was able to confirm a lot of what he had guessed while he was laying down. Not only was there no sign of their clothes in the room, other than the child sized, urine stained, mattress, the room was empty. Walking toward the door, he slowly tried to turn the handle, only to find that it was locked. It looked like a standard lock you would see for a bedroom, only the handle was reversed and the lock was on the outside of the room, designed to keep people in.

Next, Evan walked over to the window. Not only was the glass misted so that other than allowing light to enter, it was impossible to see anything outside. More than likely, the intent was to prevent anyone from seeing anything inside. From the best that he could tell, going by the shadows, not only were there security bars on the inside of the room, but there were also security bars on the outside of the room. The window was definitely out.

"We're gonna die, aren't we?" Haden whispered as he twisted his neck around to look at his older brother. It wasn't until that moment that he could see both the dried and fresh tears on his face. Haden had obviously been awake a lot longer than Evan had.

"We'll get out of this somehow, Hade, I promise." Evan whispered back, still being careful not to speak too loudly, as he didn't want to draw any attention to them, at least not yet.

The wood paneling on the walls looked fairly cheap, so he started to make his way around the room, trying to push the wall in at different spots, trying to get an idea of just how solid it was. Unfortunately, it felt fairly solid, definitely not your typical trailer walls.

Looking up, he could see a single light fixture on the ceiling. However, he was a good 3 feet too short to reach it, before trying to do anything with it would even start to become an option. Maybe if he could convince Haden to sit on his shoulders, they might be able to do something, but even as he thought of that possibility, he knew there was no chance of that happening.

Looking behind him, Evan could see that his younger brother was still watching him very closely, as he was trying to figure out how they could get out of here. "Everything seems to be secured pretty good. The only thing I can really see so far is the door handle looks like one of those normal bedroom door handles, where you can stick a bobby pin or something through the little hole, to unlock it. But I don't have anything small enough to stick in it."

The way that Haden stared back at him, concerned Evan a bit. Was he about to break down again? Did he just crush the last of his little brother's hope? Was he continuing to make things worse with everything he said? 'This is not working,' he thought to himself. He was doing it again, letting his mind focus on how much he had messed up.

As Evan was thinking all of this, Haden began to slowly make his way back to the mattress and started picking at it.

"Whatcha doing?" Evan looked curiously to his younger brother.

Without looking up, Haden only muttered one word, "Springs," but that was enough. Immediately realizing the idea his younger brother had come up with, Evan joined his brother on the mattress and went to work picking at a weak spot in the material.

It didn't take long for Evan to make a good sized hole in the worn out mattress and to separate one of the small metal springs from the rest. From there he was able to get it straightened out, at least enough to shove it into the door handle. Moments later, he could hear the small 'click' which told him the door was unlocked.

Scared that unlocking the door was almost too easy, Evan slowly turned the handle and then carefully began to open the door. If there was another lock on the door, this is the point he would find out about it.

As it turned out, there were no other locks on the door, and it opened fine, revealing the trailer's hall. The first thing he did was to put a finger over his mouth to let his younger brother, who had made his way to Evan's side as soon as he saw the door opening, know to keep quiet. Carefully sticking his head out of the room, Evan listened carefully for any sounds. Hearing nothing he slowly made his way down the hall into the living room, with Haden following close behind.

The living room was both quiet and empty, and the door leading outside was closed. On the other side of the room near some chairs, Evan spotted their clothes in a heap on the floor. Kneeling down and motioning for his younger brother to do the same, they made their way across the room to their clothes.

'So far, so good,' Evan thought to himself as both he and Haden began to get dressed, 'So far luck seems to be on our side.' Just has Evan had thought this, his heart leaped as he heard the sound of someone talking outside the window. Carefully peaking out the window, he saw the reason why things were so quiet inside. In the yard out front, the old man appeared to be negotiating some prices with an older lady who had driven up to look at some of the garden gnomes that were being sold.

Ducking back down, Evan quickly went back to the process of getting his clothes on. Now it was a race against the clock, as he knew their time would be very limited. As soon as he finished, he reached into his pocket and smiled as his fingers wrapped around his pocket knife. Seeing that Haden had managed to finish getting dressed before him, he started making his way back to the kitchen. As they crawled along, Evan did his best to try to prioritize what he wanted to do in his head.

As they passed the phone, Evan stopped, and quickly cut the cord to it, he would cut the one to the cordless phone's base station in the kitchen as well. He also grabbed all the quarters and other loose change that was in an ashtray on the table. While at the table, he grinned as he spotted a plastic shopping sack. Grabbing the sack, he made his way to the refrigerator where he started to throw whatever food he thought they might need into it, sticking to only things that were unopened. He grabbed a few cans of soup, and other things from the pantry before the two boys made their way out the back door in the kitchen.

The first thing they saw outside was an old green Ford truck, which he assumed belonged to the man. With his pocket knife, he quickly made his way around the truck letting the air out of each of the tires. To finish things off, he opened the driver's side door and pulled out all the fuses he could get his hands on.

Seeing that Haden was right next to him, Evan made his way for the closest wooded area that he could find. Once they were away, and out of sight, he could worry about finding their way then. But for now, his biggest concern was getting him and his little brother as far away from here as possible.

About 10 minutes later, after they had already reached the edge of the sparse tree line, both boys heard a shotgun go off, followed by a man shouting, "Get back here you brats. There is nowhere for you to run."

"Come on," Evan edged Haden on back toward the foothills.

A few minutes later, two more gun shots were heard, followed by a final shout, "Bastards!"

"I think he found out about the truck," Evan grinned as both he and Haden continued to make their way back toward the hills.

3:30pm EST - Orlando, Florida

Two hours later, Teri went to Doc Austin's office to check in on Eric. Seeing that Eric was awake and that Doc had just finished his final set of tests and gave him a clean bill of health, Teri decided to take Eric back to C.I.C. with her since the rest of the clan should be returning from school very soon.

Teri's timing could not have been better, as she and Eric made it to the main entrance of C.I.C. at almost the exact time that the rest of the clan were making their way in for after school snacks.

Seeing Teri and Eric walking toward them, Brent and Lance waited briefly to give them time to catch up.

"Eric is good to go guys. Doc Austin would like to do a real quick check up on him tonight after dinner and right before breakfast in the morning, but unless anything else unexpected comes up, you guys should be good to go." Teri answered their unasked questions.

Brent gave Eric a quick hug and a sigh of relief as a looked up and thanked Teri.

Seeing the overly enthusiastic look on Greg's face, Teri couldn't stop herself from smiling. "Greg, you look like you enjoyed yourself at school today."

"Uh huh!", Greg started bouncing slightly in Lance's arms as he recapped his exciting afternoon, "I got to be in Timmy's group again and we learning stuff on computers and the teacher gave me some headphones and showed me how I could use it without being able to see the screen and after that we used the blocks to learn about division and then we were able to use what we learned about division to separate a bunch of eggs and then we got to learn about how the eggs can turn into baby chickens and then they let us hold some real baby chickens and it was cool because they were all warm and fluffy!"

Lance, Brent, and several of the older kids that were walking in while listening to Greg's bubbling couldn't help but laugh at the young boy's excited antics. "I guess you liked the school there?" Lance gave Greg a squeeze.

Greg's head started bouncing up and down, "Uh huh! Their school is actually fun! We never did any of that in my old school."

"We might have to stay here just for the school." Brent said as he and Eric sat down at one of the tables leaving room in the middle for Lance to sit down with Greg.

Cory placed a few of the books he was carrying down on the table near Eric, "That's actually an option. All of you are more than willing to stay here or over at the camp itself if that is what you really want." Seeing a nod from Brent, Cory walked over to another table where some afternoon snacks were laid out.

Picking up one of the books that Cory laid down, Eric seemed to study it intensely. "Heavy", he carefully said as he lifted it up and down slightly as if weighing it. "Book?"Eric hesitantly asked while glancing toward Lance and Brent as if to ask if he was right.

"That's right. Good job, Eric!" Jamie sat down on the other side of the table.

"We told you that you could do it!" Jacob added as he sat down next to his twin.

Brent and Lance both had confused expressions as Beau sat down between the twins with a plate full of cookies.

Jamie tried to answer their question, "We gave Eric the knowledge of words and language."

"But his head still needs time to sort out and put all those concepts together." Jacob finished.

Beau hesitantly jumped in as well, "And create relations to all of those things like weight and size and color."

"I think I understand." Brent said as he glanced toward Eric and saw him looking toward the half eaten plate of cookies.

Jacob moved the plate closer to Eric to indicate that he could take one. Picking one up, Eric observed it closely. "Cookie", he proclaimed moments before he took his first bite. Moments later, his face lit up as he nearly shouted his reaction, "Yum!" This of course, caused everyone else at the table to giggle.

"Add taste to that list as well." Brent half giggled as he received agreeing nods from the twins.

"Hey guys, how was your day at school?" Teri Short asked as she was drawn over to the table to see what all the laughter was about.

"I think they enjoyed it." Sean answered as he set a few books down near where Cory's were set.

Teri gave a knowing smile.

"Miss Short?" Brent tried to be careful not to interrupt anything else that was going to be said.

Everyone who had been a part of the clan for awhile noticeably flinched as Teri looked toward Brent. "Remember guys, it's okay to just call me Teri or Aunt Teri if you want."

"Sorry," Brent nodded, "Have you seen Neal? I thought he would be here when we got back."

Teri returned a knowing smile, "Since you guys will probably be leaving tomorrow instead of today, Neal and Richard had to leave to take care of a few things. They should be back by dinner."

Greg suddenly perked up, "So we get to spend the night here with Timmy again?"

"That's right, if you think you can put up with him." Teri joked.

"Uh huh! He's my friend now and I think he's cool!" Greg seriously stated as a matter of fact causing Teri and the rest of the kids at the table to giggle once again.

A few minutes later, as the last of the cookies were being consumed, Adam walked up to the table looking toward the twins, "Hey guys, you have a few minutes to help with some intelligence follow-ups?"

Jamie and Jacob looked at Adam, then briefly at each other before they and Beau answered in unison, "Sure."

"What's going on?" Lance asked no one in-particular as Beau and his twin boyfriends got up and walked to the other room.

"I think some of the guys are going to be doing some investigation work on how Darren's mom got shot." Teri answered as all the other kids already left the table, "I'm sure they wouldn't mind if you wanted to watch what they were doing."

Having nothing better to do Brent, along with Lance carrying Greg, headed into the other room as well. Soon, only Eric was left sitting at the table. Hesitantly, he reached over and picked up the empty plate the cookies were on and started to study it intensely.

Lance looked around the rather large room as they walked in, "I remember this room. This is where we arrived when you guys saved us yesterday."

"That's right," Cory answered as he looked up from reading some papers he was given by one of the other kids, "We call it Command Information Center, pretty cool, huh?"

"Uh huh." Lance answered as he glanced around at all the computers and work stations that were set up around the room, as well as the very large screen monitors that were hanging from the ceiling along one of the walls.

After a few minutes of watching, Lance noticed that Brent seemed to be a bit fidgety. "Okay?"

Brent nodded, "Yeah, I think I'm going to go for a walk, I need some time to think about stuff."

Lance looked a bit concerned, "Want me to come too?"

Brent shook his head, "No, I just need some alone time I think. Lots of stuff has happened so quickly, and I just need to wrap my head around it."

Lance was about to protest, but decided against it and only nodded his head instead. He was rewarded a few moments later as Brent reached around and gave him a loving kiss on the cheeks and made his way for the door. Wishing that he could somehow help Brent, he continued to look toward the door that Brent walked through for several minutes until he noticed something pulling at Greg.

"Hey Greg, you want to help us sort out papers? William says you can use his eyes to look through." Timmy cheerfully asked as he and Ricky stood in front of Lance.

"Are little kids allowed to help?" Greg asked hesitantly.

Ricky giggled, "Of course, we helps out our brudders all the time!"

Seeing Greg nod, Lance set him down, only to have Timmy and Ricky grab each of his hands and quickly drag him to another part of the room where they had a large stack of papers waiting for them.

Noticing that Eric was not there, Lance glanced back toward the dining room and saw that Eric was walking around, lifting up every object he could find, apparently feeling it for its weight. Sighing inwardly, he went back to watching the clan do their work, and thinking about Brent and everything they had been through the last few days.

Greg, along with Timmy, Ricky, and a few of the other younger clan members sat in a circle, and had made a game out of sorting some color coded papers. Each piece of paper had a color coded bar at the top of it and each kid had 4 piles of papers in front of them. Timmy would start by taking the next paper on the pile, and then they would pass the paper around the circle until it got to the kid whose color it was. The objective was to see how quickly they could get the paper around the circle to its right place without messing up the paper.

The 'game' turned out to be a big success as all of the papers got sorted out in no time.

"So, what is everyone working on anyway?" Greg asked as the sorted piles were starting to be neatly stacked on a nearby table.

Timmy thought about the answer for a few moments, "A bad man hurt Darren's mommy and they are doing a bunch of research stuff to find out everything they can about it."

Greg was surprised, "Wow, that's cool. Can they find good people too?"

"Uh huh!" Timmy smiled, "My daddy and poppa can find anyone in the whole world."

"Can they find my friend?" Greg carefully asked.

Timmy tilted his head a little and thought about Greg's question. "Let's go ask," with that, Timmy grabbed Greg's hand and started leading him to the other side of the room where Cory was standing.

"Daddy? Can you help Greg find his friend?" Timmy looked up toward Cory with as much seriousness as a 6 year old could show.

Seeing the look on Timmy's face, Cory reached down and picked up Greg. "I don't know. What friend are you looking for Greg?"

"Doug," Greg answered. "He was my best friend where I used to live and we shared a room together and I could see through him really good, and... and..." Greg lowered his head and his voice became a whisper, "and he got hurt really bad when he tried to save me from the fire."

Cory gave Greg a loving squeeze, "We'll do our best big guy."

"What's his last name?" Noah asked from one of the computer terminals across from Cory.

Greg started to tear up, "I don't know."

"Douglas Booking," Lance answered as he walked up to see what Greg was talking to Cory about, "They took him to a hospital when our home burnt down Sunday night."

"Do you know which one?" Cory asked, still hugging Greg.

Lance shook his head, "No, we ran away the next day when we found out they were going to split all of us up, so I never found out."

"Found him!" Caleb called out from the computer next to Noah's, "Douglas Gerald Booking, 7 year old male, admitted to Blank Children's Hospital at 11:15pm on Sunday, September 19."

"Can you see his status?" Cory asked

Caleb's fingers started to fly across the keyboard, "Give me a second to bypass their security. They are using a pretty old firewall, so shouldn't be a problem."

Calen and CD entered the room with towels draped around their necks, and started to walk toward the small group that was forming around Cory.

"Got it!" Caleb said with excitement, only to have his smile replaced with a frown as he read the screen, "Cory, you need to look at this."

Cory handed Greg back to Lance before he walked to where Caleb was at and read the screen slowly shaking his head as rage began to grow in his eyes.

"What's wrong?" Lance asked, not sure if he wanted to know the answer.

Instead of answering, Cory glanced around the room briefly before taking out his communicator, "Cory to JJ."

A few moments later, the communicator crackled with JJ's voice, "Yeah Cor?"

"JJ, I need you to put together a team so that we can take a trip to Blank Children's Hospital in Iowa to 'visit' Greg's best friend."

There was a moment of silence before JJ's voice responded, "So I should plan on us bringing home one more than we leave with?"

"Unless they have a damn good reason to explain why almost nothing has been done since he was admitted 4 days ago to treat the massive amount of burns he has, probably."

A few sighs and gasps could be heard around the room as everyone suddenly realized what had Cory upset.

"Understood, give me about 15 minutes to finish up what I'm working on, and I'll be there."

Cory nodded, "Thanks bro. Cory out."

"So Greg, you interested in going to visit your best friend?" Cory asked as he walked back to Lance to place his hand on Greg's shoulder.

"Yes!" Greg nearly bounced out of Lance's arms.

Cory smiled, "Okay, let's get a team together. I think mom should probably come on this one and Jamie and Jacob, if one of you guys could tag along, and has anyone seen Brent?"

"We saw him at the pool before we came here," CD answered. "He looked like he was sad about something."

Lance looked toward Cory, "If you tell me where the pool is at, I can go get him."

Cory glanced toward Sean as the two seemed to wordlessly talk to each other, "That's okay. I think I need to have a quick chat with Brent anyway."

Lance nodded.

"Everyone that's going be ready to go when I get back." Cory called out as he grabbed another communicator from the table, and headed out the door.

After leaving C.I.C., Brent spent some time wandering around lost in thought. The size of the clan's compound continued to amaze him, but then, most of what he knew about the clan amazed him. It didn't take long for Brent to find his way to the large Olympic sized indoor swimming pool.

Brent sat at the edge of the pool just dangling his feet in the water, and thinking. Things had been so hectic the last few days that he never really had a chance to stop and catch his breath. He was really starting to wonder if running away was the right choice. He found an uncle that he didn't know he had, which was cool. But then, he was being chased by someone with a phaser and before he knew it was being thrown head first into the center of Clan Short.

The indoor pool itself was not what impressed Brent. What he thought was really cool was how the entire floor above the pool was filled with apartments, and how at any time during the year, day or night, you could always run down stairs and take a quick swim. As if to prove his point, Brent saw a few of the kids that lived upstairs run downstairs and go swimming for a bit. They even invited Brent to join them, but he really was not that interested in swimming and the kids didn't stay in the pool long, so soon things became quiet again so he could continue his thinking.

Thinking that he heard a sound behind him, Brent turned around but found no-one. What he did see, however, was a cookie sitting on one of the tables behind him. Thinking that it was odd that someone would leave a cookie lying around, he got up to investigate. An oatmeal raisin cookie was lying on a napkin with 'for Brent' scribbled in the corner of it.

"Add thoughtful to the list," Brent mumbled to himself as he took the cookie and went back to where he was sitting on the side of the pool to eat it. One of the kids that asked him about going swimming must have left it for him, thinking that it might cheer him up or something. Brent realized that just sitting on the edge of the pool must have made him look like he was sad about something, when really he just needed some time to think. One thing was for sure, that cookie was really yummy. In fact, he was starting to wish that whoever left it, would have left 2.

A few minutes later, Brent heard another sound behind him. This time he decided not to turn around right away, expecting that it might be the cookie fairy again. It didn't take long for someone else to sit down next to him.

"Cory!" Looking at who was sitting next to him, Brent was somewhat surprised, "I guess you're not the cookie fairy."

Cory got a confused look on his face, "Cookie fairy?"

Brent was about to explain about the mysterious cookie that someone had left for him but as he thought about it, it just seemed like something silly. Surely, Cory had much better things to worry about. So instead, Brent simply sighed shaking his head. "Never mind."

Although still curious about what Brent was talking about, Cory decided to let it go for now. "Actually, I just wanted to check to see if everything was okay. A few of the guys had mentioned you were just sitting here next to the pool."

Brent nodded, "I guess I just needed somewhere quiet to think for a bit. So much has happened over the last few days, I am still trying to get my head wrapped around it."

Cory took his sneakers off and let his feet dangle in the pool as well, "Yeah, I guess you're kind of right. Things can get really crazy around here sometimes. I think the problem is a bunch of us have gotten used to the insanity, so it's easy to forget that the new guys aren't as use to it."

Brent smiled as he nodded his head in agreement.

As Cory and Brent sat there enjoying each other's company a noise behind them made them turn. There, where the first cookie had been, two more were lying...

...And the only hint to their appearance was a silvery laugh, the rustle of silken wings and a sense that all was right with the world for at least that one moment...

"I think I see what you mean about a cookie fairy." Cory put the last bite of the oatmeal raisin cookie in his mouth.

"Does stuff like that happen around here often?" Brent asked as he finished his cookie as well.

Cory shrugged, "Around here almost anything is possible."

Brent smiled. He wasn't sure why, but he was feeling a bit better, "What if I can't do it?"

"Do what?" Cory turned toward Brent, giving him his full attention.

Brent thought for a moment, "What if I can't be the leader you are expecting me to be? I don't know if I can go out and rescue kids like you do, and build large homes like you have."

Cory couldn't stop himself from smiling, "Is that what you think I am looking for; someone that can go out and find more kids?"

Brent shrugged, "That seems to be what you do a lot."

Cory nodded, "I guess I can see how it might look that way. But very few of the guys you see around here are here because we went out actively looking for them. Maybe it's luck, or coincidence, or that older brother of mine that calls himself a Saint, but for whatever reason, things just seem to happen and work out. Kind of like when we got Jamie and Jacob. We were just going to eat dinner, and we ran into them at the restaurant."

Brent smiled slightly when Cory made his joke about Saint Mikey.

Cory continued, "As far as building stuff. There is very little around here that we actually built. A lot of it was built by Starfleet for us. I hear Neal has a pretty sweet house that you guys will be able to live in, but if it ever gets to the point that you need an addition, or something else built, just let me know and I'll do my best to make it happen for you."

"To be honest Brent, if you had come here with the idea that you would go and try to rescue every kid you found, I would be really hesitant in putting you in charge of the Nevada group. Do you want to know the real reason I think you would make a good leader?" Cory asked his question while waiting a few moments for what he said to sink in.

Brent nodded.

"A couple of reasons actually," Cory began to answer, "First, because you work well under pressure. That can be important under tight situations. Second, because each of your guys looks up toward you and respects you. You can't have a leader no one is willing to follow; most importantly, because you care about all of your guys and because you are always willing to be there for them. Too many people think that because they are a leader, everyone should serve them, when most of the time it's the opposite, the leader is there for his guys."

Brent was shocked and not really sure how to respond. "How can you say all that about me? We haven't really been here that long; at least not long enough for you to be able to tell all of that."

Cory grinned as he could tell he was starting to get to Brent, "Actually, you have. Every time something has happened to Greg or Eric, you were right there with them. Last night, you were the one who was thinking ahead and came up with an idea so Lance didn't have to feel embarrassed about his sleepwalking. When you made the choice to run away so that you, Lance and Greg wouldn't be split up, they were the ones that followed you. When you chose to go with Neal, they followed you. When you started getting shot at, you were the one that led everyone else to a safe place to hide before you could be rescued."

Brent was now even more shocked, "How can you know all that?"

Cory tapped the side of his head with his finger. "Did I happen to mention that we have some really good telepaths in the clan?"

"Oh yeah," Brent sighed while taking a few moments to digest everything that was said, "I think I understand what you're saying. I just never really looked at myself like that."

Cory wrapped his arm around Brent, "Maybe you should."

Brent nodded, "I guess the main thing is that I'm scared I might mess up and you will be mad at me."

Cory tightened his arm around Brent slightly, "If you mess up, you mess up; you learn from it and move on. Everyone makes a mistake from time to time. I'd never be mad at anyone for making a mistake. Besides, if you're ever not sure of anything, you can always get in contact with either me or one of the other guys pretty easily."

"With the communications terminal?" Brent asked.

"Nope, with this..." Smiling, Cory let go of Brent and reached into his pocket and pulled out a Starfleet communicator.

Taking the offered communicator, Brent examined it closely, "Seriously?"

Cory nodded, "How else are we going to be able to stay in constant contact with each other? You didn't think you would have to sit in front of the communications terminal all the time, did you?"

Brent finally allowed himself to smile, "No, I guess not. But I don't know how to use it."

"Oh, that's not a problem. I'll show you how when we go to help Greg rescue his friend Doug from the hospital in a few minutes." Cory stood up, and after shaking his feet off, started to put his sneakers back on.

It took a few seconds for what Cory had just said to fully register, "Huh? Doug... hospital.... rescue?"

"See, I told ya that you worked well under pressure! Now come on, David should have everyone else ready to go by now." Cory grinned as he waved toward Brent, and headed out the door.

"Wait!" Brent yelled as he quickly stood up and threw on his sneakers, not bothering to dry his feet off, so he could try to catch up with Cory.

As Brent and Cory walked into the main C.I.C. area, Teri had just finished getting an update on how the investigation work for Darren was going.

"Hi mom," Cory called out getting her attention, "Okay, everyone going on the field trip to Iowa, gather around."

Lance walked over carrying Greg and gave Brent a kiss on his cheek. "What was that for?" Brent asked curiously.

Lance smiled, "No reason, just felt like giving you a kiss."

Just as Teri and Jacob were walking over to the group, Gabe entered the room walking toward Cory as well. "Hey Cory, JJ is going to be... umm... tied up a bit longer than he was expecting with Adam, so he asked me to go as security instead."

Cory nodded, "Is there a problem that I should know about?"

"Nah, things are going a bit... umm... slower than planned over at camp, nothing to worry about." Gabe gave Cory a look that told him he would tell him more later.

Cory shrugged, "Fine with me. I don't really think there is going to be a problem, but it's best to have at least one person with security training with us just in case."

"Thanks," Brent finally answered Lance and brought Lance and Greg into a quick hug, "Both of you are awesome. Now, let's go find Doug."

"Brent, would you like to do the honors?" Cory asked, causing Brent to break his 3-way hug.

"Huh?" Brent wasn't sure what honors Cory was referring to.

Cory grinned, "Well, now that you have your communicator, there is no reason you shouldn't start using it. So how about contacting Terra Main and getting us transported to Blank Children's Hospital?"

"Umm," Brent stuttered, "I'm not sure what to do."

"Do you remember what I did when I brought you guys here the other day?" Cory asked.

Brent nodded.

"Just do the same thing. If you miss anything, I'll be right here to help out." Cory finished.

"Okay. Umm... Lance, could you set Greg down next to you, since I don't think we can be touching in a transport." Brent looked toward Cory.

Cory nodded, "It's safer and easier if no one is touching. But in an emergency situation, it's not a problem, just makes the transport a bit more complicated on the tech side."

Lance set Greg down so he was standing next to him, but not touching. "I'll be right here next to you," Lance whispered which got a nod from Greg.

Seeing that everyone else was ready and in position, Brent took out the communicator, and fumbled with it for a few seconds, trying to figure out how to flip it open. After it was clear that he was not having much success, Gabe, being closest to him, leaned over and showed him the right place to push to get it to flip up.

"Thanks," Brent blushed slightly, and then cleared his throat as he pressed the active button, "Brent Knocks of Clan Short to Terra Main."

A few moments later, a voice answered, "This is Terra Main, how may we be of service Mr. Knocks?"

Using as professional of a voice as possible, Brent answered, "Terra Main, we are requesting 7 to be transported from my location to the main entrance of the Blank Children's Hospital in Iowa." Brent held his breath hoping that he had said that right.

A few seconds later, the voice answered, "Stand by Clan Short."

'Stand By?' Brent thought to himself. He couldn't remember Cory being told to stand by. What if he said something wrong? What if they figured out he was just a kid and got mad at him? Nah, that didn't make sense, because Cory was a kid as well.

Another few seconds went by until the communicator came back to life with a new voice, causing Brent to jump slightly, "Clan Short, This is Terra Main transport control. Confirming request to transport 7 from your location to the Blank Children's Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. You are second in line."

"Confirmed Terra Main," Brent answered and thought for a brief second before adding, "and thank you."

Cory, Gabe, and Jacob smiled toward Brent.

About 15 seconds later, the voice from the communicator returned, "Clan short, you are now first in line. Ready to transport on your signal."

"Energize!" Brent's voice was filled with relief and excitement. He had done it!

In less than 2 seconds, Brent found himself surrounded by shimmering light. A few seconds after that, the light went away, and he found himself about 30 meters away from the main hospital entrance. As Lance reached down to pick Greg back up, Cory walked over and gave Brent a hug. "Great job Brent, you did that perfectly."

Closing his communicator and returning it to his pocket, Brent seemed a bit confused, "Why did they transfer me? That didn't happen when you took us to Orlando."

Cory smiled, "When you sent your first message, you just asked for Terra Main, so you got someone from their main communication center. There is nothing wrong with what you did, but by putting the transport request in as part of your first communication, your request can be immediately forwarded to transporter control, bypassing the initial communication officer."

Brent smiled, "Okay, I think I understand now. That was actually pretty easy."

"Told ya it would be," Cory grinned, "Okay guys; let's get Doug before Greg bounces out of Lance's arms."

Teri lead the way as the group entered the hospital lobby. Lance was somewhat surprised at the contemporary look and feel of the inside. It did not look at all like what you would normally expect inside a hospital. There were lots of bright colors and bold patterns used, while at the same time not looking too 'child-like'.

Teri stopped and stood at the desk until she saw that she had the nurse's attention, "We are here to see Douglas Booking."

The front desk nurse looked somewhat surprised at the large number of kids in Teri's group, "These are all family?"

Teri smiled as she pulled out her Federation I.D. "Actually, Brent, Lance, and Greg are family. Ensign Short and Ensign Michaels are Starfleet officers escorting me, and Jacob is with me as Federation Youth Services liaison."

The nurse appeared as if she was about to argue with Teri for a moment, before she noticed that Cory and Gabe had their Starfleet I.D.'s out along with Vulcan I.D.'s, and that Jacob was showing a Vulcan I.D. as well. Deciding that it would be best to not argue, she started writing up the visitor passes.

"Man, your mom doesn't mess around, does she?" Lance asked a few minutes later as the group was walking toward the elevators.

Cory allowed himself to giggle a little. "Let's just say, we have a bit of experience dealing with hospitals."

"Where to?" Gabe asked once they were all in the elevator.

"Third floor, room 309," Teri answered.

Once the elevator doors opened, the group piled out and made their way down the hall, around the corner, and past the nurses' station. Only a single, middle aged, blond haired nurse was sitting at the station as they past. Cory and Gabe were partially expecting her to try to say something as their large group passed. As such, they were pleasantly surprised when the lady simply nodded and smiled.

The pleasant feelings ended as soon as they made it to room 309 and saw the state that the small 7 year old boy laying in the bed was in.

"What's wrong?" Greg asked sensing the silence and uneasy tension, "Did we find him? Did we find Doug?"

Before anything could be said in response, Teri turned and left the room.

"We found him," Lance whispered to Greg as he hugged him tighter. What he didn't tell him was the state that they had found him in and the fact that, even though he had been here for several days, it didn't look like much of anything had been done. Sure, he had clean bandages over most of his body, but it was also clear that not much had been done under those bandages, especially with the pained expression on the boys face.

Swallowing hard in knowing that the boy was conscious, Cory took a few steps toward the bed and did his best to hide his disgust from his voice. "Doug?" he asked softly, "Doug Booking?"

"Hu?" The boy moaned.

"Excuse me," a rather loud woman's voice called out from behind them, "You lot will need to leave, this patient is not allowed to have visitors."

The boys turned around to see a tall, Asian looking, woman making her way into the room.

Before the woman had a chance to say anything else, Cory already had his Starfleet ID out, "Actually ma'am, as of now Doug Booking is no longer a patient of this hospital and is under the protection of Clan Short and Federation Youth Services on the grounds of gross neglect."

"I don't really care who you are," The lady shot back, "This patient is not allowed to have visitors and you will all leave now before I call security and have you escorted out."

Cory grinned, "That sounds like a great idea. Go ahead and call them, maybe they will be able to help you understand what 'no longer under your care' means."

"Listen, you little brats..." The lady's voice started to fill with anger before she was cut off with by another voice.

"Melinda!" The voice called out as everyone looked toward the door to see the blond haired nurse standing next to Teri, "I think you were saying you were about to go on break?"

The Asian nurse, Melinda, glared at the blond nurse, "We can't just let these kids come in here and start pushing us around."

"This is a bit larger than us," the other nurse replied, "Besides, you already know how little we have been able to do to help the kid with all the insurance restrictions. These people will be able to give him the help he really needs."

Melinda looked at the kids and then back toward the other nurse, until she finally huffed and made her way past the kids, and the other two women, who had already made their way into the room, and then out the door.

"You will have to excuse Melinda," The blond haired nurse said as she walked over to check on Doug, "She's been under a lot of pressure lately. We all have actually."

"That's no reason to be rude," Gabe shot back.

The nurse nodded as she began to disconnect the wires that were hooked up to Doug, "Your right, it's not. We've all read the memos and have heard about some of the things you guys have been doing. I can't really give you guys a valid excuse for her actions."

"That's okay," Cory paused for a moment before catching a glance at the nurses name tag, "Mrs. Campbell, we all have our good days and our bad days."

"Thanks," The nurse smiled toward Cory as she placed some of the wires on the table next to the bed, "But please, call me Gina."

Cory grinned and nodded, "You got it, Gina."

"Excuse me," Brent interrupted getting the attention of everyone else, "Earlier you mentioned something about insurance restrictions, what did you mean by that?"

Nurse Gina started on the last set of wires as she explained, "In short, Doug's insurance had him classified incorrectly, as a result of that, given his injuries, he was bracketed as a low survival probability and as such, the type of treatments that the insurance companies are willing to pay for is very limited. He's clearly a healthy young boy, or at least was before the accident, and we have been going through the process of getting his classification fixed, but in the mean time, any actions we would have taken above and beyond those absolutely necessary to stabilize him would have made anyone involved, including the hospital, financially liable."

Even though she had finished what she was doing, Gina stayed at the side of the bed, looking down at Doug, "The whole process takes about a week, in a day or two, the approvals would have gone through and we would have been able to start to give this little guy the treatments he needed to really start healing. In the mean time... well... it's hard for us."

"It's a struggle for her, and the other nurses," Jacob commented softly, "whenever this type of situation comes up, to keep their professional demeanor, while at the same time dealing with the hurt and grief for the kids that are stuck in limbo and the hatred toward the amount of red tape they have to go through."

Cory nodded in agreement. Although he appreciated Jacob's insight, and caught on to both what he was saying and not saying, he didn't need a telepath to know what Gina was going through. With that in mind, he reached in his pocket and handed the nurse a card.

"What's this?" Nurse Gina asked looking at the card Cory handed her.

"It's my business card," Cory replied with a serious expression on his face, "That has all the information you need to get a hold of us. If you guys ever have any situations like that happen in the future where the needed treatments for any kid are being refused or delayed because of bureaucratic B.S., then I want you to call us. Please excuse my language, but it's this kind of crap that we won't stand for."

After casting a doubtful look toward the young teen standing in front of her, Gina glanced up toward Teri.

Teri, for her part, sent a reassuring smile toward the nurse, "What he's telling you is the truth. You mentioned reading memos about Clan Short. Well, I can assure you that you were only getting a part of what these guys are capable of. These kids don't know the meaning of 'no' and don't know what limits are. I can't count the number of times I've seen them accomplish in hours what it would take adults like us weeks or months to pull off. They also have the power and authority not only from Starfleet, but also from Vulcan to cut through any type of red tape that may exist, when the safety and well being of a child is at stake."

Nurse Gina nodded and looked back toward Cory, "I'm sorry for doubting you. Even after having read about you guys, I'm still in a bit of a shock to think that you guys would show up here and that you would be offering to help us out like this, even when things didn't really get off to a good start."

Cory grinned, "Actually, this was pretty mild compared to some of the other fun we have had at other hospitals. And to be honest, because of our bad past experiences, we were all prepared for another major fight here. In fact, one of the reasons I don't have any problems helping you guys out in any way that we can, is that you have reminded me that there still are a lot of good people in the medical profession. And, not every bad situation has to mean a bad nurse or doctor is behind it."

"Your very wise and perceptive for someone so young," Gina nodded, "I can see why your Clan is doing so well."

Cory blushed slightly.

Not intending to have embarrassed the teen, Gina quickly moved on, "Anyway, Doug is all yours. Actually, he's a bit over-due for his next dose of pain medication, which I can give him real quick before you leave, if you would like."

Cory shook his head, "Thanks, but that won't be necessary. I'm not sure how familiar you are with Starfleet biobeds, but we will transport directly from here to the main Federation Youth Services hospital facilities in Orlando, Florida where we will be using one to help heal him."

The nurse sighed and nodded. "I'm well aware of their capabilities. I've read a lot about them, but as far as I knew, they were still not available to civilian facilities."

Cory was about to answer, before he was cut off by the nurse, "But, like Mrs. Short had said, you guys are good at cutting through red tape, so it's not really a surprise you have them. In that case, I will rest much easier tonight knowing that he will be in very good hands."

After a final smile and handshake with Cory, Gina made her way out of the room. Before walking through the door however, she turned toward Teri, "Oh, I'll make sure that Doug is listed as being transferred to the FYS medical facilities and will let the insurance companies know where they can shove their delays."

"She catches on fast," Gabe commented as everyone else grinned and nodded.

"Can I touch him yet?" Greg asked from Lance's arms.

Lance was clearly torn between what to do. He knew how much Greg had been restraining himself and how impatient he was to feel his best friend, but he also knew how bad Doug was hurt and how important it was to get him back to Orlando. Finally, his internal debate was resolved after getting a nod from Cory.

"Just for a moment," Lance answered as he moved himself and Greg to the side of Doug's bed, "But he's still hurt pretty bad and we need to get him back to Camp Little Eagle's hospital so they can help him." After he said this, he bent himself down enough so that he could place Greg's hand on Doug's unburned hand.

"Doug?" Greg said excitedly as he held onto his friends arm.

At the same time that Jacob felt a small burst of undirected mental energy come from both Greg and Doug, Doug opened his eyes completely and tried his best to turn his head toward Greg. "Greg? Is that really you?" the slightly older boy asked as he gripped Greg's hand.

"Uh huh, it is," Greg answered as he bounced slightly in Lance's arms, "I have so much to tell you. I missed you so much."

Doug smiled and looked like he was about to say something before his head tilted and his eyes rolled back before closing, while at the same time his arm went limp.

"Greg, you need to stop," Jacob nervously called out, "He can't handle that much pulling right now."

Lance quickly separated Greg from Doug and took a few steps back, while Cory looked toward Jacob, waiting for him to explain more.

"Cory, we need to get Doug to a biobed. Now!" Was the only thing Jacob said.

That was enough, however, to put Cory in action as he had his communicator out and opened in what looked like a single move, "Cory Short of Clan Short to Terra Main, Requesting emergency medical transport for a party of 8 from my location to the Federation Youth Services Hospital in Orlando, Florida."

"What happened?" Greg's voice was full of fear and concern as Lance held on to him tight.

Cory's communicator crackled to life, as the calm voice of a young man responded, "Emergency medical transport to FYS Orlando for 8 from your location acknowledged, Clan Short. You have been moved to the front of the queue, and are next in line. Stand by."

Seeing that Cory was busy, Lance looked over to Gabe, "Do I need to put Greg down before we..."

Before Lance had a chance to finish his question, he could already feel the light tingling sensation and see the telltale shimmering sparkle effect associated with transports that he had been getting more and more familiar with over the last several days.

Within seconds, room 309 was completely empty.

Having been given a heads up a few seconds earlier from Terra Main, Dr. Anderson had just enough time to grab a stretcher, along with his two assistants, and make it to the transport receiving area. Moments after he arrived, blueish-white sparkles, which signified an inbound transport, became visible.

By the time the transport was complete; Dr. Anderson had his tricorder out and was moving toward the only boy lying on the ground. "Status?" he asked calmly as he began to scan his patient.

Cory was the first to speak and give his report, apparently having had some experience at this in the past, "Doug Booking, age 7, was involved in a structure fire Sunday night, the hospital that he is being transferred from did only the absolute minimum to keep him stable. He appeared stable when we first saw him, and their nurse was preparing him for transport, but then something happened which caused him to pass out. Jacob might be able to provide more insight there."

Dr. Anderson nodded and took a step back to let his assistants carefully transfer Doug onto the stretcher.

"I'm not sure how much I can add," the small telepath stated, "Greg and Doug are best friends, and have been for a while. This is the first time Greg was around Doug since the fire. When they touched, I felt some type of energy emanate from them. After that I got the impression that Greg was trying to mentally pull on Doug, and that's when we saw him pass out, and I asked Greg to stop."

"Take him to Critical Care 5," The doctor informed his assistants who had just finished getting Doug in place. As soon as they started to leave, he turned back to Cory, "Well, you weren't kidding about doing the absolute minimum to keep the kid stable. He's literally right on the edge. I'm not sure what Jamie, or is it Jacob?"

Jacob grinned, "It's Jacob."

Dr. Anderson nodded, "I'm not sure what Jacob was explaining. And, to be honest, I don't really understand the whole telepath thing that well. But, I can tell you that almost any type of additional strain mentally, physically, or otherwise would probably have been enough to push him over the edge."

"Can you help him?" Greg asked from Lance's arms.

"Greg?" the man asked questionably.

Lance and a few others nodded. At the same time, Teri's communicator went off, causing her to quickly step to the side to answer it.

"I'm pretty sure we can, Greg," Anderson answered, "But there is something else I need you to do in the mean time."

"What?" Greg asked curiously.

"I need you to not blame yourself, okay? They same thing would probably have happened just from the stress of the transport."

Greg nodded and hugged Lance tighter.

Cory sent a glance toward the direction that Doug was taken, wordlessly asking if they would be allowed to be in the room with them.

Dr Anderson shook his head, "We're going to need to remove most of his bandaging to let the biobed begin the process of healing him. I don't really think that's something you guys are going to want to see.

Greg deflated.

"How long will that take?" Lance asked as he did his best to comfort Greg.

"A lot of that depends on Doug," the doctor answered, "Give me a few hours and check in with me later this evening. I should be able to give you a much better idea then."

"Thanks, Doc," Cory nodded.

Anderson returned the nod, "Now, if you guys will excuse me, I'll go get Doug started."

After Doctor Anderson made his way down the hall, Teri walked back up to the group, "That was one of your rug rats checking up on us. They started dinner a few minutes ago, and Timmy is apparently guarding the meatloaf, not letting anyone get seconds until you get there."

"I raised him well," Cory joked as everyone other than Greg giggled. With that, the group made their way out of the medical center, out of the camp, and across the street to the C.I.C. center where Helen's homemade meatloaf awaited them.

As Cory and the others entered the dining room area, the scene that they walked into was almost humorous. Apparently, Ricky and several of the younger tribe members decided that Timmy needed help in his efforts to guard his dad's meatloaf from those that were trying to steal it. As such, the younger kids were organized in a half circle around the main serving area, while several of the older kids were making half-hearted attempts to sneak past them. Even the eagles were getting involved, squawking and flapping their wings in an effort to help 'their' kids.

"About time you guys got here," JJ said as he met the group at the door and stole a quick kiss from his boyfriend, "I wasn't sure how much longer we could go without an all out war breaking out."

Cory grinned, "You know you were enjoying it."

"Daddy!" Timmy called out across the room, having spotted Cory, "You need to come get your dinner quick, we've been protecting it for you."

Seeing Helen and a few of the other kitchen helpers standing and smiling at the kitchen door, Cory made his way across the dining room, and lifting Timmy into his arms. "Thanks Fireball," he said as he gave his son a quick hug, and then moved him back so Timmy could see his face and know that he wasn't mad at him with what he said next, "But you know, Helen always has enough food so we not only get to eat as much as we want for dinner, but can usually have some for lunch the next day."

Timmy looked toward the 1/4 pan of meatloaf that was left out of the 4 pans lying on the serving table, and then looked back to Cory. "But Dad, there is only a little left. That's not enough."

"I was about to bring out a few more pans," Helen called out from the kitchen doorway, "But I didn't want to get caught in the cross fire."

Timmy looked at Helen and then back to Cory and scrunched his face, "Oh. Sorry Daddy."

"It's okay, I'm not mad at you," Cory smiled and made sure his son knew he was telling the truth, "In fact, I'm honored that you and the rest of the tribe would stick up for me like that."

Seeing Timmy smile back in reply, Cory let him down. "Okay guys, everyone back up and let Helen bring out meatloaf for round 2, and then everyone can dig in."

Cheering was heard throughout the dining room as a very large path was opened up for Helen to wheel the cart with the meatloaf through.

After being let down, and taking a few seconds to whisper something into Ricky's ear, Timmy ran over to where Lance was holding Greg. "Hey Greg, you wanna come eat with us? We saved you a spot."

Greg shook his head in Lance's chest, not bothering to look up which caused Timmy's expression to change to one of concern.

Seeing this, Lance did his best to try to try to calm Timmy down, "We just rescued Greg's best friend Doug. But he's hurt pretty bad and is over at the Camp Little Eagle Hospital. Greg's a bit worried about him."

Timmy looked strangely at Lance for a few moments, and then smiled, "Oh, okay. Duke says Doug will be fine and you can go visit him after we're done with soccer. Oh, and I need to go get seconds before they're gone. Just in case Helen didn't make enough."

As Timmy ran off, Lance blinked, "I'm not sure if I'm ever going to be able to get use to this."

"Don't worry," Brent answered, "I'm sure this is only the beginning."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Lance replied.

"You guys have no idea," Beau sniggered as he and the twins walked by with full plates of their own.

"Hey Brent. Hey Lance," Eric called from where he and Kyle were sitting.

Glad to see Eric up and apparently okay, Brent quickly made his way over to the table, with Lance and Greg close behind. "Hey Eric," Brent smiled before looking with concern toward Kyle, "Is anything wrong Kyle?"

Kyle grinned as he got up from the table, "Nah, I was just keeping Eric company while we were waiting for you guys to get back. We had a few things to talk about, and I helped arrange things in his head a bit better."

"Wow, Thanks Kyle," Lance replied as he stood next to Brent.

Kyle smiled, and then made his way to another table.

Thinking nothing more of it, Lance sat Greg down next to Eric, "Sit here next to Eric, I'm going to go get us some food, okay?"

Greg nodded.

A few moments later, Eric looked down at Greg, as he tried to think of something to say. He wasn't sure what he wanted to say; only that he felt that he should say something. "I'm glad you found Doug."

"Thanks," Greg answered.

Moments later, Greg heard Kyle's voice in his head, 'Do you trust me?'

'Yes,' Greg thought back.

'Good. I did some checking in your head, and in Doug's. First, you need to know that Doug was really weak when you guys found him. Not even the doctors and nurses who were watching him had any way to know how bad off he was in his head and how much that was affecting him physically.' Kyle sent.

'Will he be okay?' Greg thought back, starting to get concerned.

'Now that you guys found him and he knows he hasn't lost you, he will be. I wanted you to know that, so you would not feel bad about yourself when I tell you the next part. When your minds touched, it was too much for him. Not because you did something wrong, but because of how weak he already was.' Kyle continued.

'Why did my mind do that? Is it the same reason I gave some of the telepaths headaches yesterday?' Greg's thoughts became more concerned.

'Something similar, but still different. I don't know for sure exactly what it means yet, but I can tell you that very soon, I think your head is going to learn some cool tricks that you will like.' Kyle carefully answered.

'Will I be a telepath like you guys?' Greg asked.

'No, your mind isn't organizing itself like the other telepaths in the clan, so I don't think it's that. You'll know it when it happens and if you want to tell others about it, you can, or if you want to keep it to yourself you can. It's your choice. The only thing you need to do is have faith in yourself, okay?' Kyle replied.

'Okay, I'll try' Greg answered just as Brent and Lance were sitting down with plates of food.

'Thanks. I know you will.' Kyle said as his voice slowly faded away from Greg's head.

With the majority of the excitement apparently having occurred before they got there, the remainder of dinner was relatively uneventful. Everyone seemed to be lost in their own thoughts.

A few minutes after they started eating, Teri walked into the dining room with Neal at her side. As soon as he saw them, Neal made his way over to where Brent, Lance and the others were sitting. When Lance asked about Rick, Neal informed them that Rick decided to stay back at their house tonight so he could work on getting their rooms ready for when they arrived at their new home tomorrow.

A few minutes after this, Cory stood up and made a few announcements, as he seemed to normally do at meals. Among the more important things that he said, he stated that since everyone seemed to have so much extra energy, that they would be organizing some soccer games in the large field starting as soon as dinner was cleaned up, and everyone made it outside. He also let everyone know that for anyone who wanted to, they would be making a nest in the C.I.C. overnight room. Although he made sure to make it clear that it was completely optional, they did not see anyone who didn't seem to be planning on being there.

Since most of the kids were starting their seconds when they arrived, Brent and the others were among the last people to leave the dining room, and make their way to the field. By the time they got there, several teams were already being formed between the clan kids, and a number of other kids from Camp Little Eagle that came over.

Brent was the first person to be snatched up by a team. However, it wasn't that long before several of the kids were calling for Lance to join them as well. At first, Lance tried to get out of not playing by saying he was going to stay there with Greg. However, when Eric, who had already decided he wanted to watch a few games before he tried to play, removed Lance's excuse by saying he would stay with Greg, Lance too was dragged into a team. The younger kids that made up the tribe even tried to get Greg to join them, but he was too lost in his own thoughts about Doug, and about what Kyle had told him, to have much interest in the game.

Although the kids seemed to be willing to give Greg his space, Duke, Timmy's spirit eagle, had other plans. Duke had shared his sight with Greg before, and decided to do so again. At first, he sat on a tree branch that wasn't that far from one of the goals, showing Greg that he would have a good view of the field. However, as time went on, and Greg continued to sit next to Eric, Duke began to fly circles around the field, and then began to fly circles around one of the goal posts until Greg got so dizzy that he fell backward, even though he was sitting on the ground.

"Duke!" Greg called out his he tried rubbing his eyes.

With time called in their game, Timmy looked toward his eagle, and then walked over to Greg, "Duke says that he'll stop flying in circles if you play soccer with us."

At first, Greg's expression was one of anger, but then it quickly melted, "I can't play good."

"That's okay," Timmy smiled, "Most of us can't play good either, but it's still fun."

Greg was about to say something else, until Duke focused on the goal post again. Not wanting to deal with any more circles, Greg reluctantly agreed. To Greg's surprise, once he got out on the field and started running around with the other tribe members, he actually started to enjoy himself.

Although the older kids controlled the ball a good amount of the time, the smaller guys were having fun just running around and trying to get into the right positions. At the same time, the older kids were very careful in making sure that the younger kids got the ball sometimes as well, so that everyone felt like they were part of the game.

Although Greg had a little practice at walking around using the sight he got from Duke's point of view, there were several slips and falls involved, especially the first few times he tried to kick at the ball as it got near him. However, as time went on, he started to get the hang of things better. Near the end of the game, he was actually able to make things fairly difficult for players. Since part of the game was keeping track of your opponent, and watching where they were looking to get an idea of where they would be sending the ball, with the way Greg was getting his point of view, and the fact that he didn't offer any such body signals, he honestly pulled off a few good fake outs.

As the sun had almost completely disappeared behind the horizon, Greg was starting to really enjoy himself, so much that he was a little sad when the games were finally called and it was time for everyone to head back inside. His sadness did not last long, however, since on their way in, Justy walked up to them and informed them that he just got a call from the hospital over at Camp Little Eagle and if they wanted to, they could go visit Doug for a little bit before bed.

Justy didn't have to ask them twice, since by the time he looked up to see what their answer was, they were already on their way heading in the direction that would take them out of the compound and over to Camp Little Eagle.

Evan waited patiently at the top of a small hill for Haden to catch up with him. He wanted to go ahead a little to get to the next hill to see if that would give him any better clues as to where they were at. Unfortunately, it didn't. Despite not really knowing where they were at, Evan figured they were making fairly good time. He had kept himself and his little brother going for a good hour after they made their escape earlier in the day. Only when he was sure they were a good distance away from the old man did he dare stop to grab some lunch.

They ate as much as they could for lunch, since he wasn't sure how well the food was going to keep in the hot sun, especially the stuff from the refrigerator, something he failed to account for when he was grabbing food. But then, at the time, his main thoughts were on getting Haden and himself out of there alive and not on being picky about food. In all, they took about an hour break.

Since then, they had been on the move for a good 3 hours and had made some good progress. He was hoping to get to the lower foothills of the mountains ahead of them before they had to stop for the day, but somehow he didn't feel they would make it. About an hour after lunch, Evan first started noticing it, Haden's demeanor changed slightly. He figured there was something wrong, but it wasn't really bad enough yet for him to say anything about it. Knowing his little brother w enough to know it would be useless to ask him, they continued on. But for the last hour, Haden's pace was gradually getting slower.

Now, watching Haden as he made his way toward him, Evan could definitely see a slight ting of pain in his eyes. "You okay, bro?" he asked as Haden came to a stop a few feet away from him.

Haden shook his head, "I don't feel so good."

"What's wrong?" Evan asked.

Haden shrugged his shoulders as he took another sip from his half-empty bottled water.

Evan felt Haden's forehead. Even as he did so, he knew that it was meaningless out in the hot sun, but he had cared for his little brother for so many years, checking for a temperature was one of the first things on his list. Evan was at a loss for what the problem could be. Already having suspected something was wrong awhile ago gave him a bit of time to think or possible causes. He had already eliminated lunch, since he was very careful to have only grabbed unopened food that couldn't have been tampered with and he had eaten the same meats that Haden had.

The only thing he could think of was that Haden was just getting worn out. They had probably spent more time outside over the last three days than Haden had spent over his entire life. Physically, his little brother was just not cut out for this. The more that Evan thought about this, the more it seemed to make sense, because even he was starting to get worn out.

Something inside him continued to edge him forward. If only they can go a little further, then somehow he would get his brother somewhere that he would be safe. The further he went, however, the harder it was to believe that voice, since things seemed to be getting worse for them as they went, instead of better. Where exactly could he take Haden and really know he would be safe? If he couldn't trust adults anymore, then who was left? More and more over the course of the day, he found himself wanting to give up and admit defeat. Every time he did, however, he would look back at Haden and realize that this was easily ten times worse for him, and he was still holding strong. If his little brother could stay strong, then so could he. If not for himself, then at least for Haden.

"You want to stop for a while?" Evan asked, as he caught himself lost in thought.

Haden shook his head.

Evan sighed, "Okay, we will go a little further. I think there will be some better shelter for us over the next ridge, so we can probably stop there for the night." As he said this, an idea came to him on how to better figure out where they were, but he would have to wait until it got dark, and it would be better if they were in a higher place.

After taking another sip of his water, they continued onward. Unfortunately, they had only made it another 20 minutes or so before Haden groaned and collapsed.

"Haden!" Evan nearly screamed as he ran to his little brother fearing the worst.

"My stomach hurts," Haden said as he lifted his head up to look at his older brother.

"Like you're going to hurl?" Evan asked with concern.

Haden shook his head, "Just hurts."

Evan nodded and took a quick glance around. "Okay, I think we've gone enough for the day, we'll make camp here for the night."

Haden shook his head, "I'll be okay."

"No you won't bro," Evan replied forcefully. "We're going to find you somewhere comfortable to lie down, and I'm going to get a fire going, and maybe we can warm up a can of soup for dinner."

Haden nodded.

Evan went to work and 30 minutes later he had a strong fire going, had a can of soup heated up for Haden and a can of stew for himself. Haden seemed to eat dinner fine, which Evan thought was a good sign. Shortly after dinner, Haden decided to go to sleep. Evan kept a close eye on his younger brother's breathing and pulse to make sure he really was just going to sleep and that it wasn't something worse.

As Evan sat in front of the fire, keeping an eye on Haden he really hoped that it was just a case that his little brother was completely wore out and not something worse. But deep inside of him, there was a growing fear that it was something worse, even though there were no other signs of it.

A few times during the early evening, he wanted to do some scouting around their area, but that was not really that productive, as he also didn't want to be away from Haden for more than 5 minutes at a time.

Finally, as the darkness of night set in and the fire slowly burnt itself out, Evan looked up to the sky for what he was hoping to see. When he found what he was looking for, his heart sank. Last night, he remembered looking up in the sky, and seeing the glow created by all the lights in Las Vegas. He had hoped to use them tonight to make sure they were going in the right direction and to get a better idea of how much further they had to go. When he looked at them, however, not only were they dimmer than they were the night before, but he quickly realized that they had been going in the wrong direction all day. They were going deeper into the desert.

Hearing his little brother tossing in his sleep, Evan walked over and laid down next to him, draping a protective arm over him. "I'm sorry Haden," Even whispered softly, "I don't think I can save us," With that, a single tear rolled down Evan's face.

About 30 minutes later, after the final embers of the fire had gone out and Evan was about to drift off to sleep himself, he did something he had not done in years. He folded his hands, looked up at the stars and said a simple prayer, something he had not done since it become clear that God was not going to save his little brother from the constant beatings and abuse from their father.

"Please God, I know your probably really busy and maybe haven't had time to listen to me in the past, but if you are ever going to hear my prayers, please hear them now. Please God, find a way for my little brother to be safe. I tried my hardest, I really did. I tried to be strong for him, but unless you can help him," Evan's eyes began to tear up as he whispered his prayer, "Please God, I pray that you find some way to save Haden. Thanks."

After a few more minutes, and a few more tears, Evan drifted to sleep.

After giving them a quick idea what to expect, Dr. Anderson lead Brent, Lance, Greg, and Eric into the Critical Care 5 room. In the center of the room was a biobed. Lying on the bed, wearing only a light pair of underwear, was a small 7 year old boy with dark blond hair. Although the scorched and blistered skin that was there previously was now gone, the skin that was there was still 'bubbly' and had a look to it that it could easily fall off if one was not careful.

"Doc? Is that you?" Doug's voice sounded coarse, and broken, "Is Greg with you?"

"I'm here," Greg called out from Lance's arms, as Lance walked closer to the biobed.

Although Doug's body was being held down by a force field, his head, neck, and good arm was not, so he struggled a little to lift his head up far enough to see where the voice was coming from. As soon as he saw that it really was Greg he smiled and let his head fall back onto the bed.

"I missed you Doug, I really did," Greg said when Lance stopped next to the biobed.

Doug reached up with his good arm, and took hold of Greg's hand, "I did too."

As soon as the two boys touched, a small beep sounded from one of the consoles on the side of the room. Looking slightly concerned, Dr. Anderson walked over to investigate.

"What's wrong?" Brent asked as he followed a few steps behind the doctor.

"I'm not sure," the man said as he pressed a few buttons and looked at the display, "Okay, this is odd. There was some type of brief bio-electrical energy spike that the biobed registered a few moments ago."

Looking back toward Lance, Brent couldn't stop himself from smiling when he saw the huge smile on Greg's face as he looked at himself through Doug's eyes.

"Out of curiosity," Brent asked a bit softer so only Dr. Anderson could hear him, "How come Doug's skin still looks messed up a little?"

Dr. Anderson checked a few more displays before he finally turned toward Brent, "Well, like I told you earlier, Doug's body was in pretty rough shape and was very close to having been pushed too far. I had the biobed repair his body as much as I thought possible without stressing his body too much. Even though the biobed is repairing, that repairing still puts some strain on the body."

"So he's going to have to heal the rest of the way on his own?" Brent asked with concern.

Dr. Anderson shook his head, "Oh no. After getting a good night's sleep, and having the bio-bed push a good amount of nutrients into his system, tomorrow we should be able to push the healing further. If things go according to plan, by Friday, he should be as good as new, and ready to go home."

"Cool!" Brent said, sounding a lot more relieved.

"Keep in mind," Dr. Anderson reminded, "That is the best case scenario. If any unexpected complications come up, that time could get pushed back to either Saturday or Sunday."

"What's going on?" Lance asked as he walked up to Brent.

Seeing Lance with empty arms, Brent looked up to see that Greg was sitting on the side of the biobed chatting away with Doug, "Is that going to mess anything up?"

Dr. Anderson glanced over and shook his head, "Nah, he should be fine. Looks like you have him positioned far enough away from the retainer fields, so he shouldn't accidentally bump into them."

Brent nodded and then did his best to answer Lance's question, "We were just talking about Doug's treatment plan. Dr. Anderson said that he might be released as early as Friday, or it might take as long as Sunday."

Lance nodded, "Cool, I'm sure that will make Greg really happy."

Brent agreed, "It's been awhile since I think either of them has really been happy."

Dr. Anderson frowned and shook his head.

"Is there a problem?" Lance asked with concern.

"Huh?" Dr. Anderson replied, "Oh. No, there is no problem. I was just looking at some of the partial diagnostics data that the biobed was reporting from Greg sitting on it. How long has he been that way?"

Lance sighed, "As far as we know, it's a genetic defect, and he was born that way. Not even the biobed's are able to fix it."

Dr. Anderson nodded.

The three of them, Brent, Lance and Dr. Anderson stood there for several minutes and watched as Greg and Doug continued to catch up with each other. Eric had stayed near Greg just in case he needed anything.

A few moments later, after checking another display, Dr. Anderson sighed, "I hate to have to do this, but Doug is getting a bit too over-stressed for comfort."

Lance nodded, understanding what the doc meant, and made his way back toward Greg, "Sorry kiddo, we are going to need to leave soon."

"Leave? Why?" Greg said, not bothering to change where he was looking, but instead held Doug's hand tighter.

"Because if you want Doug to be able to come home Friday, he's going to need to get his sleep and get his energy built back up."

"Friday?" Both Greg and Doug asked excitedly.

The doctor smiled, "If everything works out well, yes."

"Cool!" Greg replied, "There are so many new friends I met, you're going to love meeting them all."

Doug smiled.

Greg did his best to try to look in the direction where he thought Dr. Anderson might be standing, "Is it okay if I stay until he goes to sleep?"

Anderson thought for a few moments, "I don't think there will be any danger of you sitting there, so it will really be up to Doug. But just so you know, I'll be having the biobed put him to sleep so he gets as restful of a sleep as possible, so he will fall asleep very quickly."

"I'd like it if Greg could stay," Doug answered.

Anderson nodded, "Okay. In that case, go ahead and say your good nights."

"Good night Doug," Greg said turning back to his best friend, "Hurry up and get better so you can come home with us."

"I'll try," Doug smiled, "Good night, Greg, I'm glad I didn't lose you."

"I'm glad I didn't lose you too," Greg smiled back.

A few moments later, Doctor Anderson pressed a few buttons at his desk terminal and, almost instantly, Greg could see the image that he was getting from Doug starting to go dark. After a few brief seconds, the image was gone completely, while Doug's arm and the rest of his body went limp.

Once Greg carefully lowered Doug's hand until he felt it touch the bed, Lance picked the smaller boy back up, "I know you didn't really have to do this, so thank you doctor."

Doctor Anderson nodded and smiled, "Are you kidding? After seeing how happy this made both boys, that was a treatment far better than the biobed could ever have provided."

"You'll let us know if there are any new developments?" Brent asked as they got ready to leave.

"You bet, although I am not really expecting any," the man answered.

With that, the four boys made their way out of the hospital, and back toward C.I.C., following a path that was beginning to become very familiar to them.

By the time the boys made it back to C.I.C., the nest had already been setup in the overnight room and many of the kids were already finding spots and settling down for the night. After taking a few minutes to say goodnight to Neal, who was in the dining room talking with some of the other adults, the boys made their way into the overnight room as well.

As soon as they had entered the room, Timmy and Ricky, who were already dressed in the proper clan sleepwear, made a bee-line toward them.

"Hey Greg," Timmy called out, "You wanna sleep over where we're at? We saved a spot for you."

Feeling Greg squirm slightly in his arms, Lance gently lowered him to the ground, at which point Timmy and Ricky each took one of Greg's hands, and began leading him over to where the rest of the tribe was at.

"Timmy said you got to meet your best friend tonight, is that true?" They heard Ricky ask as the kids got further away.

"Uh huh!" Greg said cheerfully.

After finding an open spot in the nest, both Brent and Lance began stripping off their clothes as well.

"Hey guys," Cory called over from a few places away after he saw that both Brent and Lance had taken everything off, "You guys remember that none of us will mind if you two want to sleep in boxers, right?"

Brent looked toward Lance and then nodded toward Cory, "We know. Actually, we talked it over today, and basically, since we've been here over the last few days, we are really starting to feel like a part of the clan. I guess what I'm trying to say, is both of us are fine with it."

Cory smiled, "Okay, whatever you two feel comfortable with."

A few moments later, Brent spotted Eric sitting on one of the blankets not far from him, looking back and forth between Brent and Timmy. "Eric, you okay?"

Eric padded over in his official clan sleepwear toward Brent, "I'm not sure what to do."

"Not sure what to do about what?" Lance asked as he joined the conversation.

"Well," Eric answered as he glanced back toward where the tribe was sleeping, "The last two nights I had been sleeping with Greg and the tribe and tonight they invited me to sleep over there with them again."

"I don't see a problem with that," Brent commented.

"But," Eric looked down toward the sheets, "I'm bigger than they are. I'm older."

Suddenly, both Brent and Lance realized what the problem was. Over the last few days Eric's mind had been organizing and re-arranging itself a lot. As a result, Eric had been growing in maturity rather quickly. Initially, his level of maturity was closer to that of the younger tribe members, so him hanging around them made sense. But now, Eric was getting to the point that he was starting to realize he was older than them and starting to question if he should still be hanging around them or not.

"Eric, you are allowed to do which ever you feel more comfortable doing. It doesn't matter how big or old you look. Timmy and the rest of the tribe like you and they have invited you to sleep with them. So, if it's something you want to do, no one will say anything. Or, if you want, you can sleep over here with us. It's your choice."

Eric spent a few moments considering his options, until he finally looked seriously toward Brent, "If you don't mind, I think I would like to sleep over here with you, Lance, and the other older kids."

"Of course we don't mind," Lance smiled as both he and Brent moved over a little to make room for Eric.

A few minutes later, the lights in the overnight room were turned out. A few minutes after that, the few people that were still awake were able to here the soft rhythmic breathing of all those who had already fallen asleep.

"Mmm," Brent softly moaned as consciousness slowly filled his mind while a warm gentle hand rubbed circles on his chest, "That feels good."

"I can see that," Lance giggled as he gave Brent a kiss on the cheek.

"Hey!" Brent sat up, now wide awake, and quickly began to turn red as he realized exactly what Lance was referring to. Looking around the room he saw several of the other boys already awake and starting to move around, "Lance."

Lance's smile quickly disappeared as he saw the hurt and embarrassed expression on Brent's still red face, "Sorry."

"Don't worry about it Brent," JJ stated seriously as he and Gabe were walking by on their way to hit the shower, "That's nothing to be embarrassed or upset about dude. It's something that happens to all of us whenever we've been asleep for awhile. Other than some of the little guys checking you out, and in Timmy and Ricky's case, taking notes, no one is going to tease you or say anything about it."

Gabe gave his boyfriend a squeeze, "Now if your boyfriend will do something about it or not is another story."

JJ play swatted Gabe on the head, "Hey, be nice."

Gabe giggled, "Seriously though guys, JJ is right. We're all guys, and most of us are gay, so no one is going to say anything. Besides, you should have seen Lance when he woke up a few minutes before you."

Now it was Lances turn to turn red, which caused Brent to smile.

Grinning at each other, JJ and Gabe continued on to the showers.

After they left, Lance looked back toward Brent, "I'm sorry about that, I didn't mean to hurt you."

Brent nodded, "It's okay. I was more surprised than anything. I think that's the first time anyone has ever woke me up like that. Besides what JJ and Gabe said made sense. Looking around, I've already seen two other guys sporting their wood, so..."

Lance reached over and wrapped Brent in a hug as he whispered into Brent's ear, "Love you."

"Love you too," Brent replied as he squeezed a little harder.

As the hug broke, both boys noticed that just about everyone was awake now and starting to make their way to the showers. They decided that it would probably be a good thing to get their sheets folded up and to do the same.

As they were finishing up, Cory knelt down between them, "Hey guys, it looks like you two have things worked out already, but I just wanted to make sure you both knew that JJ and Gabe were speaking for all of us. No one will make fun or tease either of you just because of a little morning wood. Although, I should probably warn you that the little guys will sometimes make the best of it by using that as an excuse to practice their sword fighting skills."

Neither Brent nor Lance could prevent themselves from giggling at the images that suddenly popped into their heads.

Seeing that his comment had its desired effect, Cory continued, "Seriously though. I don't know if anyone has had a chance to mention this, but with all the couples we have here, between all of us, we've had to work through a lot of different experiences, so if you ever have any questions about anything, you can ask one of us. If we don't know the answer, we'll at least know who will and I promise, no one will make fun of you."

Brent smiled, "Thanks Cory, that makes me feel a bit better."

"No problem," Cory grinned as he patted Brent on the back. "By the way, if you two don't mind, try and sit up front with Sean and me at breakfast. I think some of the guys are going to want to say goodbye to you before they head off to school."

Before Brent had a chance to say anything in response, Cory was already up and heading toward the showers with Sean. When he looked toward Lance for an answer, the only thing he got as a reply was a shrug.

Putting Cory's cryptic message aside, they both decided that now would be a good time to follow the others to the showers.

Twenty minutes later, a freshly clean and fully dressed Brent and Lance made their way to the C.I.C. dining room for breakfast.

"Have you seen Eric this morning?" Brent asked as they were walking.

"Not since we left for the showers. I thought he was right behind us," Lance looked behind him as if expecting Eric to be standing there. "And for that matter, have you seen Greg?"

Brent thought for a moment, "Now that you mention it, I don't think I have since he got dragged off by the tribe last night."

As if on cue, when Lance turned around, he found Ricky standing in front of him, looking up at him with a concerned expression. "Hey Ricky, you okay?"

Ricky nodded, looked behind him and then back toward Lance, "Greg needs you."

Lance and Brent shared a concerned look with each other, before Lance glanced back toward Ricky, "Where is he?"

"This way," Ricky answered as he turned and lead them down the hall.

The two boys followed Ricky down the hall and into the main dining room area. He was leading them toward the front where a bunch of kids were already starting to gather around the serving area.

"Now!" they heard a high pitch voice call out as they were about half way across the room. Lance stopped and glanced in the direction that the voice came from, only to see a Greg rapidly flying toward him.

Fortunately, Lance had fairly good reflexes and managed to catch Greg in mid-air before he had a chance to hurt himself, "Whoa!"

"I did it!" Greg squealed in delight as both Timmy and Ricky ran up to stand in front of him and Lance.

"Did what?" Lance asked, now even more confused.

"Pounce. Timmy and Ricky were teaching me to pounce." Greg giggled as he settled down into Lance's arms.

"It's an official tribe rule. Everyone in the tribe needs to know how to pounce before they are allowed to go home." Timmy stated as a matter of fact.

Ricky nodded, "And he did a really good pounce too."

Lance gave Greg a squeeze, "Good job. But what do you say we pounce some breakfast before it's all gone?"

"Yeah!" Greg giggled as they finished making their way toward the front.

A few minutes later, Lance was setting down two plates of eggs, beacon, and toast, one for himself and one for Greg. He was slightly surprised to see Eric already sitting down and eating. "How did you get here before us?"

Eric shrugged, "I just took a shower, got dressed, and came here."

"I see you found Eric?" Brent stated as he sat down with his own breakfast.

Lance grinned, "Actually, he found us."

"Morning boys," Neal said as he sat down, "Sleep well?"

"Morning Neal," Brent, Lance, Greg, and Eric said almost in unison.

"It was cool, I got to sleep with all my new friends and tell them about Doug and how much better he was getting and that he might get to go home on Friday. Then this morning, Timmy and Ricky taught me how to pounce," Greg bubbled.

"Um, that sounds good." Neal commented which caused the others to giggle.

"Do we still get to fly home today?" Lance asked.

Neal nodded, "Yup, if you guys still feel up to it."

Four heads started nodding very quickly.

For the most part breakfast was relatively uneventful, including getting seconds and for some of the kids, thirds. Near the end of breakfast, Cory stood up to make his announcements, as he typically seemed to do at meals. What happened next, however, greatly surprised all of the guys.

"Hey guys," Cory started and waited for the noise to quiet down a little, "I know everyone is eager to get across the street and get started on school stuff, so I'll try to be brief."

Expecting to hear a bunch of groans, Lance was mildly surprised to see a bunch of heads nodding and kids who really were interested in getting over to school. But then again, having actually attended some of the classes yesterday, he could kind of understand why.

"This morning after breakfast, while we are heading over to school, some of our newest clan mates will be heading home to start their new life," Cory continued after a small amount of cheering and table banging, "Guys, before you go, there are a few things we would like you to have."

After Cory said this, Timmy walked up behind Greg, Justy walked up behind Eric, Sean stood behind Brent, and Gabe stood behind Lance. At the same time, each boy placed a gold herringbone necklace around the neck of the person they were standing behind.

Once each boy had their necklace on and saw the necklaces that were being put on around the necks of the others, Cory continued, "When Aaron first had these made for us; it was at a point of time that our clan was going to be split up for awhile. What he told us then still holds true now. Distance means nothing. We are clan, but more importantly we are family. Any of us are just a call away and visiting each other is just a transport away. These necklaces are a physical symbol of that. They are a constant reminder of what you are a part of. If you ever have any doubts that any of this is true, just reach up and feel your necklace."

As Brent got up and walked up toward him, Cory added one more thought, "Aaron was also nice enough to get us lots of extras. So when Doug gets better, we have one for him. Plus, anyone else that might become part of the clan with you guys, we will have one for them as well."

Brent stood next to Cory for a few moments, with a single tear slowly making its way down his cheek, "I wanted to come up with something really cool to say," Brent began, "but the only thing I can think of is to say thanks. Thanks Cory, for everything." With that, Brent gave Cory a strong hug.

When the hug broke, all 4 boys suddenly found themselves getting hugs from nearly everyone else in the clan, as everyone said goodbye to them in their own way.

"You'll call us?" Timmy asked after the tribe got done giving hugs to Greg.

"Uh huh," Greg nodded, "As often as they will let me."

One by one the clan made their way out of the dining room, until finally; it was just Brent, Lance, Greg, Eric, and Neal along with Teri and Dan who were going to take them to the air field.

"You guys ready?" Neal asked.

After getting nods from each boy, they made their way out of C.I.C. and toward Dan's waiting car.

It took less than 10 minutes to drive from the compound to the air field. Before the boys knew it, they were pulling up to the fence, where only a short distance away, a Cessna Citation CJ4 personal jet had already been wheeled out and was being prepared for takeoff.

"Are we going to fly in that?" Brent asked excitedly as the car came to a stop.

"That's right," Neal answered.

Moments after the car stopped, Lance grabbed Greg and all four boys made their way toward the waiting plane. The three adults, who didn't seem to be in as much of a rush as the boys were, took a bit longer to get out.

"Well," Neal commented as he looked over to see the boys carefully inspecting the outside of the plane, "Here goes nothing."

Teri smiled as she took Neal's hand, "Don't worry Neal, you'll do great. Remember, if you ever have any questions or problems, I'm just a phone call away, no matter what time it is."

"Thanks, Teri," He said as he gave her a hug goodbye.

"Which reminds me," Teri said as the hug broke, "I should have all the paperwork back for Doug by the time he's ready to be released. I've also prepared a few extra sets of paperwork for any other kids you might decide to adopt on the way home."

Neal grinned, "Thanks, but I don't think I'll be adding any more any time soon."

Teri only smiled and nodded.

"Don't forget, you can call me whenever you would like to setup those psych appointments." Dan said seriously as Neal moved to him next.

"Psych appointments?" Neal asked curiously.

Dan nodded, "Yeah, to help you deal with all the additional kids you will be getting."

Neal groaned.

"Take care, Neal," Dan said seriously as the two men shared a goodbye hug with each other.

With a final nod, Neal turned and made his way for the plane, "Come on you guys, let's get everyone on board and buckled up." As they were making their way on board, Neal gave the attendant that was exiting the plane a generous tip.

With most of the preparation work having already been done for them, it didn't take long to get everyone inside, buckled up and for Neal to complete the pre-flight checklist before they were rolling down the runway to prepare for takeoff.

Although the flight from Central Florida to Southern Nevada took a little under 3 hours, all the boys were enjoying themselves so much with looking out the windows and pointing things out to each other, that the time seemed to pass unusually quickly. Even Greg seemed to be enjoying himself as everyone else took turns telling him about all the different things they were seeing. While at the same time, part of Greg's thoughts seemed to be elsewhere.

Near the end of the flight, as things were starting to settle down and Lance was taking his turn sitting in the co-pilot seat up front with Neal, Brent took some time to reflect on the events of the last few days as he looked out his window, watching the passing mountain ranges. It had been an interesting last 3 days. Actually, it had been an interesting last 2 weeks. So much had happened, they had met so many people and have seen so many amazing things, how would their life go now?

In a way, Brent was glad that they were moving out west, since things would probably not be as crazy. But in another, he was kind of sad that he would be leaving behind all the adventure. As crazy as the last few days were, it had probably been the best few days of his life.

What would the future bring? What other new friends would he make? How will living with Neal and Rick end up working out? There were so many questions and so few answers. The only real answer he could come up with was that now that he was a part of Clan Short, life was going to be different. Whether that would be a good different or a bad different, only time would tell.

As he continued to look out the window, in the distance ahead of them, something caught his eye. Sitting up straighter, he blinked and looked again to make sure his eyes were not playing tricks with him. When he was sure, he quickly unstrapped himself and made his way up front.

"Hey guys," Brent called out as he pointed ahead and to the side of them, "Is that someone waving a bag or something over his head?"

Both Lance and Neal looked in the direction Brent was pointing. Sure enough, they saw the shadow of someone waving something in their direction. Neal made a small change to their course so that they would almost fly over whoever it was. As they quickly approached the person, they were able to see that it almost looked like two people. One was lying down next to the one standing up.

"It looks like they need help," Lance commented.

Neal nodded and made a note of the coordinates, "They are a good 10 miles out from the city, so yeah, they probably do. Everyone get buckled in, we'll be landing in a few minutes."

Evan woke up with the heat of the sunlight beating down on his cheek. Seeing that Haden was still asleep, he decided to go ahead and start getting something together for them to eat for breakfast. A good 15 minutes later, he made his way back to where Haden was sleeping to wake him up.

"Haden," Evan spoke softly as he lightly shook his younger brother's shoulder.

After a few moments went by with no reaction from Haden he tried again, this time shaking him a little harder, "Haden, time to wake up bro."

'Something is wrong,' Evan thought to himself as he began to panic.

"Haden, wake up," Evan said louder.

After still getting no response, Evan quickly checked for a pulse which he found. He also checked and saw that Haden was still breathing.

"Haden, wake up please!" Evan half shouted and half cried as he shook his brother rather hard.

A few moments later, Haden's eyes fluttered and opened slightly, "Huh?" the small boy moaned.

"Haden!" Evan said as he gave his younger brother a hug, "You really scared me bro."

After getting no response, Evan looked back and noticed that Haden's eyes were closed again.

"Fuck!" Evan cried as he grabbed the food sack with what little food was still in it, then picked up Haden and began to head toward the small hill that he wanted to make camp at last night.

'Why, God? Why?' Evan thought to himself as he slowly made his way forward. Why did things have to go so incredibly wrong? How could he have ever thought that he could have gotten his younger brother to safety? The only thing that has happened over the last three days is that he made one mistake after another. And now, in all likelihood, the one person who he cared about the most in the world was probably going to end up dying as a result of his fuck-ups.

As he walked forward, he continued to question everything, including why he was even bothering to try to take Haden anywhere. What did he hope to accomplish? Maybe this was just a way to make things even worse? Was it possible for him to do anything worse than be the cause of his little brother's death? And, more importantly, would he be able to live with himself if Haden died?

After walking for about 10 minutes, he had nearly reached the top of the small hill that he was shooting for. Already, his arms were feeling really worn out, which in itself was odd for him, as he was use to holding Haden for hours at a time.

"Don't die on me, please Haden?" Evan half cried as he laid his brother down and slumped down next to him.

Evan was near the end of his ideas and he knew it. They had traveled a day in the wrong direction, now something was really wrong with Haden and he was getting overly wore out himself. Normally, he was really good at coming up with ideas to keep him and his brother safe. Right now he couldn't think of anything.

As he sat moping something in the distance caught his eye. 'Could it be?' he asked himself. As the object got closer, he was sure of it. Some type of airplane was flying toward them. Not only that, but it seemed to be flying unusually close to the ground.

Quickly dumping out the rest of the food in the plastic sack, Evan stood up and started vigorously waving it over his head. In all likelihood, they would never see him, as far away as they were and as small as he would be. But with no other ideas, he had to do everything he could.

Evan's heart leaped as it looked like the plane had turned slightly in his direction. Maybe there was hope? Maybe they would see? He continued to wave the sack over his head.

For a long while, it looked like he might be in luck. But as the plane got closer, he saw that it wasn't actually going to pass over him, but instead pass a good ways off to his side. In addition to that, as the plane very quickly flew past him, it gave no sign that anyone had seen him.

After the plane flew by, Evan stopped waving the sack around. As the plane disappeared from sight, he slumped down to the ground next to his brother and landed so that his head was on Haden's chest. "I'm sorry Haden. I failed you."

Evan wasn't sure how long he was lying on the chest of his younger brother. He just knew it felt like awhile. There was really no reason to do anything else. In all likelihood, by the end of the day, they would both be dead; another casualty of the desert.

Regardless of how long he had been there, at first he didn't hear the sound of the approaching vehicle. In fact, he might even have fallen asleep for a short time. But as it got closer, he woke up and saw the approaching jeep. 'A dream?' he asked himself as it got closer.

As the jeep came to a stop, a light brown haired thirteen year old was the first to jump out, followed shortly by a ten year old, followed a brown haired twelve year old who was carrying a six year old. Finally, the driver, an older man, possibly in his early thirties joined them.

"Over here!" the oldest boy called out, "Are you guys okay?"

"No," Evan cried, not really sure what to say, "You need to help him; I can't get him to wake up."

Brent took out his tricorder, and then closed it almost as soon as he looked at it and instead took out his communicator.

"How bad?" Lance asked.

"Bad," Brent replied as he opened the communicator, "Brent Knocks of Clan Short requesting emergency medical transport for seven from my location to Federation Youth Services, Orlando Florida."

"You need to help him, please don't let him die." Evan continued to cry out.

"We are," Lance tried to reassure him.

Moments after Lance answered, everyone there was engulfed in blue sparkling energy and a few seconds later were gone.

Brent, Lance, Greg, Eric and Neal were sitting in chairs that were setup in the hallway of the FYS Hospital as they waited patiently for any word on the two boys that they had just rescued. Other than the older boy mentioning that his name was Evan and his little brother was Haden, they were not able to learn anything else about them before they were taken to critical care rooms. Dr. Anderson informed them that he would give them more information as soon as he had it, but that was almost 20 minutes ago.

The boys had come up with many possible reasons to explain why they would find two kids nearly dead ten miles away from the city. Eric stated that perhaps they were bored and wanted to go for a really long walk. Lance suggested that their parents might not have wanted them anymore and drove them out there, then threw them out of the car. Greg, on the other hand, thought that it might have been an army of monsters that took them out of their house and out into the desert. Although the other boys didn't give much credit to Greg's theory being accurate, they simply didn't have enough information to go on. The only thing they all agreed on was that they were getting bored of waiting.

After they had sat there another ten minutes, Brent could here footsteps walking toward them. Expecting to see Dr. Anderson as he looked up he was mildly surprised to see a small eight year old with shoulder length brown hair instead.

"Hey guys," Kyle grinned as he got the attention of the rest of the group, "You just can't seem to get enough of this place, can ya?"

Brent did his best to try to smile back but his concern over the current situation made that difficult, "Hey Kyle. Actually, we found two kids in the desert when we were flying home. When we landed, Neal drove us out to where we saw them, and well, the younger kid looked like he was nearly dead, so I called for an emergency transport here," Brent paused for a few moments, "I hope I didn't overstep my bounds or anything."

Kyle shook his head grinning, "You saw something that needed to be done and took action to do it. That's what being part of the clan means."

Brent sighed with relief and smiled toward the younger boy in front of him, "Thanks."

"So what brings you here Kyle?" Lance asked.

Kyle's smile instantly changed to an impish grin, "Nothing much. I just figured Neal would like to meet his two newest sons."

Neal nearly choked as he looked at surprise toward Kyle.

"What?" Kyle asked as he tried to do his best angel impression, "You have been thinking so loud since you've gotten here that if their parents abandoned them, or if they were in trouble, you would gladly let them stay with you and the boys, so I went ahead and got the ball rolling for you. Aunt Teri should be over in a bit."

Neal only shook his head and muttered something about telepaths. However, his slight blush told everyone else that Kyle had been right.

"Come on guys," Kyle waved for everyone to get up, "Let's go check on your new brothers."

"Dr. Anderson asked us to wait out here until he had more information for us," Brent replied.

Kyle's grin only got larger, "It'll be fine, come on."

With that all the boys and Neal followed Kyle down the hall, through the large double doors, then down the critical care hall. Finally, he stopped outside of room eight and glanced toward the rest of the group, "Three seconds."

Brent was just about to ask what Kyle meant by that when, about three seconds later, the door to the room opened and a surprised looking Doctor Anderson looked down at them.

"How did you... I was just going to..." The doctor tried to figure out what to say until his eyes fell on the small eight year old that was in front of the group, "Ah, Kyle, I should have known."

Kyle put his best innocent expression on as he waved up toward the doctor.

"Forget it, the whole innocent look isn't going to work," Anderson smiled, "Since I was just going to come get you guys anyway, you might as well come in."

The group followed Anderson into the room, which looked surprisingly similar to the room they visited Doug in the night before. Sitting on the biobed they saw a nicely tanned, short brown haired boy who looked to be either eleven or twelve, finishing the process of putting his shirt on. As the group entered, the boy watched them very carefully.

"Hi Evan," Kyle said as he led the group to stop next to the bed.

Evan looked at the kid that was about the same size as his younger brother. "Do I know you?" He asked cautiously.

Kyle shook his head, "Nope, not yet. I'm Kyle and you and your brother are safe now."

Evan looked at the doctor, then toward Neal, and back to Kyle, "Right."

Kyle followed Evan's gaze and looked at the doctor as well, then back to Evan.

"Well, I need to go check on Haden," Doctor Anderson announced, "Neal, would you care to join me? I'm sure the boys will be fine here for a few minutes."

"Sure," Neal agreed as he followed the doctor out of the room.

After the two adults left the room Kyle looked back toward Evan, who already seemed less nervous, "We can do this one of two ways. I can explain this the short way, which might leave you with a headache, or a can explain this the long way, which will take a bit longer and may or may not leave you with a headache."

Evan blinked as he had no clue what to think about the younger boy in front of him, "I'd really like to be able to go check on my little bro, and since you claim that both options might lead to headaches, I'd rather get whatever it is you plan to do to me done and over with, so let's go for the short way."

"Okay," Kyle smiled and took a deep breath, "First, I know about you and your brother because I'm a telepath. Right now, I probably know more about you than you know about yourself. But don't worry, other than Cory, who's the head of our clan and possibly Brent, who's the brownish-blond guy standing next to me, I won't be sharing anything personal that I might learn about you or your brother with anyone else. Oh, and to answer the questions your thinking right now; Yes, I'm for real. No, this is not a dream. No, you didn't die in the desert. Yes, I know things like you living at 6532 Brook Cottage Lane and the number you just thought of is eight."

Kyle watched Evan gasp in surprise, but before the other boy had a chance to say anything, he continued, "Second, I know about your mom and your father, what your father has done to your brother and why you felt you needed to run away. Even if you might not feel this way right now, you need to know that you've done the right thing. I know you don't trust me yet, but you and your brother are safe now and I can pretty much assure you that what has happened in the past will never happen again."

Evan looked like he was about to argue, but again, Kyle did not give him the chance, "Third, I know you haven't heard of us yet, or at least don't remember hearing about us, but me and all the other guys you see here are part of Clan Short of the family of Sarek of the planet Vulcan. That means, instead of being restricted by earth laws, we fall under Vulcan law. In short, not only do we know how to get things done, but we have the power to do it. You and your brother are now under our protection. Neither your father, the Las Vegas police that he thinks he's friends with nor any other agency on earth can touch either of you. And, assuming you agree to it, before you guys leave here today, you'll be members as well."

Being as shocked as he was, Evan didn't even bother trying to say anything, so Kyle was able to get another deep breath in before he continued, "Forth, I know you really don't trust adults that much. A lot of us in the clan have had similar experiences. But the adults that are part of the clan are not like the other adults you have met. They are what other adults should be like, supporting, loving, and caring of kids. Every adult that we allow to get anywhere close to the clan has been scanned by myself and several of the other telepaths, so we know for a fact that they won't do anything to hurt you. It's going to be hard to accept at first, so the only thing I'll ask is that you give some of them a chance before you judge them."

"Fifth..." Kyle started to say before he stopped, and his face paled, "Okay, I wasn't expecting that." Kyle tilted his head slightly, and remained silent for a few moments before he continued, "Fifth, the slime ball you guys ran into this morning will be dealt with but I think we are going to need your brother's help with that, so I think that's good for now."

The room was silent for nearly thirty seconds as Evan sat there, still trying to take in everything that Kyle had told him. Finally, he rubbed his forehead as he looked toward Kyle, "Okay, you're right, that does give you a headache. Um, would you mind repeating all that again?"

Kyle got a panicked look on his face, "Huh?"

"Just kidding," Evan answered causing Kyle to grin as well, "To be honest, I'm not really sure what to say. That's a lot of stuff to take in. Can we go see Haden now? I'll think about everything you said, okay?"

Kyle nodded, "Sounds like a great idea. Common."

Evan jumped off the bed and followed Kyle out of the room with the rest of the group close behind. They didn't have to walk that far, only one door down to critical care room ten. "Seven seconds," Kyle said with a grin.

As Evan tried to figure out what Kyle meant, the other kids giggled. Sure enough, about seven seconds later, the door opened. At first, it appeared that Dr. Anderson was in the process of explaining something to Neal. However, as soon as they saw the group of boys standing there, both men jumped back in surprise.

"Kyle?" Anderson sighed, "Should I plan on you being behind every door I open now?"

Kyle grinned.

"Haden!" Evan nearly shouted as he pushed his way past the two men and made his way toward the biobed where his nine year old brother was laying with nothing on other than a pair of boxer shorts. "Haden, are you okay?" He called out, as he lightly shook Haden's shoulder.

Getting no response, Evan turned to the two adults, "What did you do to him?"

"Evan, it's okay," Kyle said calmly as he walked into the room, followed by the rest of the kids, "The biobed is keeping him asleep right now."

"Why?" Evan glared.

"That's how the biobed works," Kyle replied, "It puts a person to sleep while it's healing them. Well, that's mostly true. The biobeds can heal people that are awake, but that is a longer, slower process. By having it put people through a sleep cycle while its repairing them, that's fastest and bestest way."

Evan looked back toward his brother, whose face seemed very peaceful and content. "He looks fine."

"He does now, because the biobed healed him. But how do you think he would have reacted if he woke up in a strange place, with a strange man hovering over him?" Kyle asked.

"He would have freaked," Evan agreed, "So when can we wake him up?"

Doctor Anderson walked over to his desk and pressed a few buttons on the console, "Right now. I just turned off the biobeds forced sleep mode so you should be able to wake him up normally."

"Let's give them some room guys," Kyle said to the others, as he backed everyone up to the wall where Dr. Anderson and Neal were standing.

Evan turned back toward his brother, "Haden? Time to wake up, bro."

After a few moments, Haden's eyes began to flutter and then open. He scanned the ceiling of the room for a few moments and then sprang up with a panicked look on his face.

"It's okay Haden, I'm right here." Eric soothed.

"Evan?" Haden looked at his older brother with eyes full of concern, "Where are we?"

"We're..." Evan looked around the room as if that would give him some type of clue, "Actually, I don't know where we are, but these people saved us."

"From outside?" Haden asked questionably.

Evan nodded, "Yeah. Are you feeling okay?"

Haden felt his chest with his hand and nodded, "My stomach isn't all in knots anymore. And... and I feel a lot better."

For the first time since he woke up here, Evan smiled, "Cool."

"Hello Haden," Kyle smiled as he walked up and stood next to Evan.

Haden looked the small boy brown haired boy over carefully, "Who are you?"

"I'm Kyle," Kyle answered as he held up a set of clothes to Haden, "And I think these are yours."

Haden blushed as he took the offered clothes and quickly started to put them on, "Why does everyone keep trying to take my clothes off?"

If Brent and the others had not sensed how much tension there was in the air and how scared the smaller boy seemed, they might have laughed at the statement. As it turned out, they all managed to remain silent.

"The doctor had to take them off so that the biobed could heal you." Kyle replied.

"Oh," Haden slid off the side of the biobed so that he could properly pull up his pants.

"What was wrong with him?" Evan asked Kyle.

"I think a better question would be: what wasn't wrong with him?" Doctor Anderson answered as he pulled up a report on his screen, "His electrolytes were dangerously low, the rest of his bio chemistry was way out of whack, he was severely dehydrated, there were practically no nutrients in his body, his muscles were significantly overworked, there were multiple signs of past physical trauma and untreated internal injuries, and finally, trace elements of Midazolam."

"What's Midazolam?" Brent asked.

"It's a type of drug used for its fast acting sedation properties," Anderson answered.

"Oh," Evan got everyone else's attention, "That old guy. He drugged us or something and... well... I don't know what he did to us, but when we woke up, our clothes were gone. I was in such a hurry to get Haden and me away from there; I forgot to look where the address was at."

Kyle nodded, "Haden didn't forget, did you?"

Haden looked at the boy that was nearly the same height as him with surprise, nodded as he reached into his pocket, pulled out a scrunched up envelope and handed it to Evan, "I took it when you were getting food."

Evan looked at the envelope, "It looks like an electric bill, for a Mr. Doubly Schwinger?" Evan handed it to Kyle.

"You did a good job in grabbing this Haden," Kyle grinned as he put the envelop in his pocket, "I can promise you guys this much, before today's over, that scum bag will never hurt another kid again."

At the mention of his name, Haden quickly took up a position behind his older brother.

"Lance?" Greg asked from Lance's arms, "Before we go, do you think I can visit Doug again?"

Doctor Anderson looked toward Greg, "If he's going to be well enough to go home tomorrow, I need to keep Doug asleep right now, so the biobed can heal him."

"That's okay," Greg replied, "I just want to let him know that I'm here and that he needs to get better so he can come home soon."

"I'll take him," Kyle offered, "That way I can also let him use my eyes so he can see Doug."

Looking at Greg and seeing him nodding his head, Lance let him down.

"Come on Greg," Kyle said as he took the six year old's hand so he could lead him out of the room, "While we are visiting Doug, I can also tell you about your new brothers."

"You're serious about that new brothers thing, aren't you?" Lance tried to ask, but Kyle and Greg were already out the door.

"I'm pretty sure he was serious," Brent offered.

"What do you guys mean by brothers?" Evan asked.

As Brent and Lance tried to figure out how to answer Evan's question, Teri Short walked into the room, "Okay, where as that little leech?"

"He left with Greg to visit Doug about fifteen seconds before you arrived," Eric offered.

"Why does that not surprise me?" Teri asked before she turned toward Neal. "I'm guessing Kyle didn't fill you in on any of this?"

Neal shook his head, "Other than telling me that we were going to meet my two newest sons, not really."

Teri sighed, "Well, believe it or not, you do have a choice in this matter."

Neal nodded, "I appreciate that, but if Kyle says they're mine, then that's good enough for me. I'll take them."

"Wait, you're going to go with what a kid says?" Evan asked in disbelief.

"Yes," Neal answered flatly, "From the stories that Teri and the others have told me about him over the last few days my husband and I would more than trust Kyle enough that if he said that we, along with our boys, would be the best place for you and your brother to be so you would have the best chance of healing and growing, then we would gladly take you in in an instant. That is, if both of you were willing to have us."

Evan searched Neal's eyes for any signs that he was lying, just like most other adults did, but as hard as he looked, he couldn't find any. "Why would you even want us? You don't know anything about Haden or me."

"It doesn't matter," Neal answered honestly. "From what little I've been able to piece together so far, you both seem to be very nice kids who have been through a pretty rough life. And if you two will have me, and Kyle says that I could help both you the most, then the rest doesn't matter. I can't think of anything that either of you could say to me that would cause me to not want to love you."

A look of longing and hope crossed Evan's face, but went away almost as quickly as it appeared. "But, my brother is..." he looked back at his brother, and then back to Neal, "Different."

"Evan? You know Kyle is a telepath, right?" Teri asked and waited until she got a nod from him. "Well, I'm pretty sure Kyle has scanned Neal's mind as well and that he never would have recommended him if he thought that Neal would not be able to accept Haden for who he is, no matter what that is."

Evan nodded.

"But the choice is still yours," Teri continued, "If you decide you don't want to live with Neal and Rick and their other boys, then you won't. It's as simple as that. I'll do my best to help you find another family to live with, or you will be able to stay at Camp Little Eagle, where you can meet, live, and grow with a bunch of other kids that have been hurt by people they trusted as well. There are lots of choices that you have now."

Evan's head was swimming. Never before had he met adults who were willing to give him and his brother choices and now he was in a room with several of them. Not only that, but one of them, Neal, seemed to be willing to not only treat kids like they were humans instead of baggage, but to also take the advice of a kid over his own. And that kid... Kyle... there was something about him that Evan couldn't really put his finger on. The possibility that he could be a real telepath was almost unbelievable, but then again, he was answering every question and thought he was thinking without missing a beat. Maybe this Clan Short would be a good thing, maybe it wouldn't. But if there was one thing that the last few days had hammered into Evan's head, it was that he could not take care of and protect Haden on his own, and that sooner or later, he would be forced to accept the help of an adult. From everything that he's seen, the adults here would probably be his best bet.

After taking a few more seconds to think, Evan turned around to face Haden, "I think we should live with them."

Haden began to very quickly shake his head, "I don't want to go with any adults Evan. I want you," the boy pleaded.

"Hade," Evan's eyes teared up a little, "I can't take care of you myself. I nearly killed you. I don't see why you would want me."

"I don't care. You're my brother," Haden sighed, "besides, what if he hurts me like all the others?"

"He will never hurt you Haden, I will promise you that," Teri answered. "But just in case, I'll make sure that you and Evan both have my phone number, so if any adult ever tries to hurt you, you can call me on that number and we will come get you. I don't know if your familiar with how Starfleet transporters work, but it lets us go almost anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds."

Haden looked a Teri and then back to his brother, "But what if he's mean? Adults can be nice sometimes and then be mean. What if that happens?"

"Haden?" Teri asked and waited until she knew she had his attention, "How about this? You and Evan live with Neal and his family for a week or two. If you don't like it, then just give me a call and we will find somewhere else for you and your brother to live."

Haden spent several seconds looking back and forth between Teri, Neal and Evan. Finally, he sighed, and gave a very small nod.

Evan knew exactly what that response meant. To Haden, it meant that he was giving up fighting; he would give Evan the final choice and accept what Evan decided. It was probably the closest thing to a 'yes' that Haden would have been capable of giving. With his prayer seeming to have been answered last night, Evan said another silent prayer, praying that he was able to make the right choice for not just himself, but for Haden as well. Finally, turning toward Neal, Evan nodded, "Haden and I would like to try living with Neal."

Almost instantly, Neal, Brent, Lance, and Eric were next to Evan giving him hugs and welcoming him to their family. While being very careful not to touch Haden, they each gave Haden very big smiles. At one point, through all the fear and concern in his face, it almost looked like Haden smiled back.

"I'll go ahead and get the paperwork going," Teri commented. "Dr. Anderson, is there any follow-up medical information Neal needs to be aware of in regards to either boy?"

Anderson shook his head, "Haden should probably take it easy for the next few days and let his body build its reserves back up. Getting him some of those chewable vitamins would probably not be a bad idea either, but other than that, they should each be fine."

Teri nodded, "Great, then that means we just have to wait for..."

Before she could finish her sentence, the door opened as Kyle and Greg walked in.

"Speak of the devil," Teri commented, which caused Kyle to stick his tongue out at her, which then caused everyone else to giggle.

"Did you get to see Doug?" Lance asked as he picked Greg back up.

Greg nodded his head, "Uh huh. I told him he needed to get lots of sleep so he could come home tomorrow and Kyle said he was having good dreams about me."

Lance gave Greg a warm hug, "I'm glad to hear that."

"Well Neal, you were right. You didn't get more kids after you got home. You managed to find yourself some more kids before you got home," Teri joked.

Neal grinned, not really knowing what else to say.

"Seriously though. I think you guys are just about set for the whole 'getting to your house' thing again. But before you go, there are a few papers they are going to need you to sign first," Teri stated.

"That's fine, lead the way," Neal offered as he and the kids followed Teri out of the room.

Once Critical Care room ten was empty, save for himself, Doctor Anderson smiled. It was reasons like this that he really loved his job.

As Teri and Neal sat at the front desk, filling out the various paperwork that needed to be completed, all the boys were sitting together, quietly talking amongst themselves, getting to know Evan better and giving Evan a chance to get to know them better as well. Haden stayed glued to Evan's side.

Although everyone was careful to not get too close to Haden and to make sure he had the space he seemed to require, Brent couldn't help but notice how closely Haden was paying attention to everything that was being said. He also had to wonder what could have been so bad to cause a kid as cute as Haden was to be literally scared of everything.

"Well guys," Kyle said as Teri and Neal walked over to the group, "I think it's about time for me to get back to class and for you guys to get to your new home."

Once everyone had a chance to say goodbye to Kyle, he waved and headed out the door.

"Brent?" Teri asked, "You know how to call Terra Main to request a transport, right?"

Brent nodded, "Yeah, I've done it a few times now, but... um... What do I call our destination?"

Teri thought for a moment, "Neal and Rick's house should be listed as the Knocks-Downing residence in Henderson, Nevada."

Brent nodded.

"Oh, and Neal," Teri smiled, "I took the liberty of having your Jeep transported to your house."

"Thanks," Neal smiled back.

"Hey Evan?" Lance asked, "Have you and your brother ever been transported by Starfleet transporters before?"

"No," Evan replied.

Once Teri said her final goodbyes and walked out the door, Lance gave Evan and Haden a quick rundown on where to stand and what to expect, while Brent called Terra Main on his communicator to arrange for the transport.

As soon as Haden first felt the tingling sensation going through his body, he squinted his eyes closed, fearing the worst. A few moments later when the tingling stopped, he still kept his eyes closed. "Are we there yet?" he asked carefully.

"Uh huh," was the only reply that his brother could give.

As he slowly opened his eyes, Haden saw that they were not only outside, but standing on the sidewalk in front of a large two story, white and yellow house which had two large garages attached to it. There was also a fairly good distance between this house and the next house on either side of them.

"Welcome home guys," Neal said cheerfully, "Come on, I'll show you around and you can all pick out your bedrooms."

As Neal made his way to the front door, everyone else followed him. The first thing they saw when they entered was the rather large living room that they had walked into. There was a big screen TV, a nice stereo system, a couch, and several comfortable looking recliners. On the other side of the room, a bunch of the furniture seemed to have been moved out of place to make room for a large looking computer and video conference terminal, which looked exactly like the ones they had seen in Orlando.

As the boys started to look around, Neal began to point things out to them, "Down that hall leads to the bedrooms. There are three bedrooms on this floor and five bedrooms upstairs that you guys can pick from. Through there is the dining room and kitchen, it's also where the master bedroom is at, which is where Rick and I will be sleeping, and that sliding door leads to the back porch and to the pool."

Just as the boys were beginning to gawk at the pool and how huge the back yard looked, Rick walked in from the dining room, "Hey guys."

"Rick!" Brent, Lance, Greg and Eric called out as they all went to give Rick a hug.

As the hug broke, Rick carefully walked toward Evan and Haden, who were still standing next to the sliding door, "Hello Evan, hello Haden."

At the mention of his name, Haden quickly hid behind his older brother.

Rick knelt down, as Evan glanced behind him and then toward Rick, "Haden gets a little... shy, sometimes."

"That's okay," Rick answered softly, "I know it will take time for Haden to feel that he can trust me. He can take all the time he wants; I won't do anything to force him or you."

"Me?" Evan asked, slightly surprised at being included, since he was not the one that had problems being near strangers.

Rick nodded, "You've been Haden's protector for a pretty long time. You've been hurt by the same adults that have hurt Haden. Maybe not in the same physical way Haden was hurt, but you were still hurt mentally and emotionally. So it's going to take you time before you can start to trust adults as well."

Evan blinked. He had spent so much time worrying about his little brother; he hadn't really given a lot of thought to himself. Now that he thought of it, Rick was right; a lot of his decisions over the last few days have been based on his distrust toward adults. If this Rick guy could not only see that in him, but also be willing to give him his space and respect and wait for him, maybe... just maybe... not all adults are mean and evil.

"Thanks," Evan nodded as he couldn't really think of anything else to say.

"You're welcome," Rick answered as he stood back up.

"Okay guys," Neal jumped in, "How about all of you go pick out which bedrooms you would like. While your doing that, Rick and I will get something put together for lunch."

At the mentioning of food, Rick and Neal very quickly found themselves as the only two people left in the living room.

"I'm glad your back, babe," Rick said as he planted a passionate kiss on his husband's lips.

Neal smiled as he returned the kiss and gave Rick his own version of a passionate kiss.

When the kiss broke, Neal walked over to the large sliding door and looked out at the deck and swimming pool, "Do you think we are doing the right thing?"

Rick walked over and wrapped his arm around Neal, "What do you think?"

Neal thought for a few moments and nodded, "I think we are."

"I think we are too," Rick replied as he gave his lover another kiss. "Come on love, if we don't get that food ready like you promised, this might be a very short relationship."

Neal smiled as he followed Rick into the kitchen, while his mind swirled with questions and thoughts about what the future might bring.


General Notes:

Please don't mind the broken shells laying around... one of the editors cracked up!

Author's Notes:

Well, here it is... the long awaited chapter 8 of book 1. Please keep in mind that just because I did not end the chapter in a cliff hanger, does not mean that it's the end of the story. Actually, I ended the chapter in the way that I did for a number of reasons.

As some of you may have already read in the story discussion forums, the Eric382 story is in an interesting position. As of the end of chapter 8, Eric382 is on Thursday, Sept 23, 2004, while the rest of the main CSU stories are just starting November, 2004, which puts Eric382 a good 5 weeks behind everyone else.

On one hand, I have a rather large story arc planned out for book one which shows the core issues that each character has, and how, over the course of the next month, they are able to help each other in resolving those issues. On the other hand, due to my not being able to write for over 2 years due to real life issues, the story has fallen way behind everyone else, and in addition to not being able to interact with any of the other stories, there is also a much larger story arc that is planned which would not be able to happen without the growth that each character goes through in book 1.

The way that I've decided to handle this, is to write both sides of the story at the same time. This means that I will be starting to release book 2 chapters without book 1 having been complete. This may seem weird at first, but in effect, they are two separate story arcs that just happen to link together.

Book 1 you can think of as the prequel... It introduces the core characters, and sticks to those specific characters while they learn about Eric, where he came from, and try to help him rescue his other clone brothers. During this time, Brent and the others, although a part of Clan Short, are not an official division, and pretty much stay in the background in regards to other clan activities.

Book 2 you can think of as the main story... It starts at a major point of transition for Brent, Lance, and the others, and follows the events that happen once they have learned to have confidence in themselves, and are able to take the next step of becoming an official clan Division.

As of right now, I have about 300+ pages of book 2 written, which roughly equates to a good 7 or 8 chapters worth of text. However, due to the fact that Haden and Evan end up being very significant characters in Book 2, before I started posting book 2 chapters, I felt that it was important to at least get chapter 8 of book 1 posted to wrap up a number of 'loose' ends.

In addition to finally rescuing Haden and Evan, and showing how they end up being accepted by Neal, Rick, and the rest of the boys, this also gets us out of Orlando, and to our own area in Nevada. Tomorrow in story time (Friday, September 24, 2004) is when Multimapper's 'One Door Closes" story begins.

So, there we have it. I hope that everyone will continue to enjoy reading book 1 chapters as I'm able to get them written, but I also hope that everyone will enjoy reading the book 2 chapters as well.

Editors Note:

We learn so much about the boys in this chapter. We finally have Evan and Haden escape and get rescued. The interaction with the Clan, finding out who Eric is, saving another young boys life, moving to Nevada and Evan and Haden meeting Rick. Wow. So much happens in this chapter. I loved every moment.

I am looking forward to Book 2. And I think the readers are really going to enjoy where you are taking this story.