Tracy grinned as he piloted the Chevelle through the gate of the Jobs compound. After a long conversation during breakfast, it was decided that Tracy and Karl would take the Chevelle home, while Cory and the rest would meet them back at Alligator Alley HQ via Ezra taxi. Seeing as they couldn't travel without security, the Rat Pack decided to tag along; Micco and Takota joining the mob just because they could.
While Tracy and Karl compared notes about their recent adventures in Naples, the rest were in back receiving their Clan indoctrination speeches from Kyle and Tyler. "First thing you gotta remember," Kyle started, "is that the grownups give out more cookies when you give them cuddles. Old people are like that, you make them feel nice with cuddles and you get the good munchies."
Kyle had to pause, as Slider chose that moment to stick his head through the floorboard for his mandatory ear scratch and cuddle from Kyle. Once satisfied that HIS boy was okay, Slider quickly gave the new Clan members a welcome lick before jumping through the roof to see if Helen had any spare bones to munch on.
"How'd he do that?" Trey and Torrey exclaimed in unison as they wiped dog slobber off their faces. "YUK!"
Kyle and Ty exchanged looks, then Ty said "I'll explain, cuddlebunny." After pausing, Ty began, "A couple of months ago, we found the guy who had abused Kyle, and were in Chicago to get him. We were goin' through a park there when a puppy came running up to us. Kyle freaked out 'cuz the bad guy had made him do bad stuff with dogs, and Saint Mikey hadda' come in to save Kyle's head."
Pausing to make sure Kyle was still okay, Ty continued after Kyle nodded. "When Mikey was helpin', we found out that Slider had been a puppy that had played good games with Kyle. Slider recognized his friend, and had came over to play again. That's when Mikey did something special; I think he knew me an' Kyle were gonna become Mikyvis, because he made Slider into a Spirit Guardian and assigned him to Kyle. He gave Slider a really cool ability; since he wasn't really a doggy anymore, Mikey gave Slider the gift of bein' able to go anywhere he wants, an' doin' it without stuff like doors and walls stoppin' him. Slider has fun doin' it, especially stickin' his head through the shower wall and goosing Timmy!"
Conner asked seriously "What happened to the buttwipe that abused Kyle?"
Ty grinned. "After Brant played furniture bowling with him a bit and then had a snack, Kyle vaporized the bastard. It was fun to watch, I didn't know anyone could pee themselves that many times!"
"Hey Trace?" Adrian interrupted with a giggle, "That car behind us is gonna be turning on his pretty flashy blue lights!"
"Thanks for the heads up, Rat!" Tracy giggled as he began slowing down to somewhat close to the speed limit. "You think next time you can warn me BEFORE I get clocked?"
"Nope, I like seein' ya sweat, bro!" Adrian giggled.
As promised, the lights on the cruiser behind them lit up, signaling Tracy that he needed to pull over. As he was coming to a stop, Tracy commented "Any fines I get come out of the cookie budget for you leeches back there!"
Shortly after the car came to a stop, the State Trooper came up to the driver's window of the Chevelle. "Excuse me, Sir. Do you have a permit for flight operations below five hundred feet?" the officer asked with a smirk. "I've been waiting all day for someone to come flying by like you did."
Figuring he was screwed anyway, Tracy replied, "I got here as fast as I could, promise!"
The trooper laughed, "I deserved that! Actually, I just wanted to take the chance to actually check out one of the new Clan vehicles we've been advised were going to be out on the highways. It's not every day that you see a stretched Chevelle doing almost a hundred. I'm Sergeant Jake Reynolds, by the way."
Tracy relaxed, giggling "Director Tracy Butler, Alligator Alley; it's great to meet you, Sergeant. By the way, I still had one gear to go!"
"You got a warp nacelle under the hood or something?" Jake asked in awe.
"Naw, just a L78 built to Clan specs!" Tracy laughed. "You never know when you might need a little extra speed, especially out here."
"Agreed," Jake replied with a nod. Any further commentary was cut off as a grey Beemer came flying by at high speed.
Seconds later, Tyler exclaimed "Condition Red; that car has three kids in it that are being used as drug mules, their 'agent' is planning on 'disposing' of them in the wilds!"
Tracy shifted gears instantly. "Trooper Reynolds, Clan Short requires your services as backup; notify Dispatch that both of us are responding full code and request any units in the area provide backup."
"Yes, Sir!" Jake replied as he spun and ran to his cruiser.
Crossing his fingers, Tracy ordered "Emergency Override TButler94G62I81. Activate Intercept Mode. Acknowledge.
For the first time since they had began driving, a voice replied from somewhere in the dashboard. "Identity confirmed: Director Tracy Butler. Override accepted, Intercept Mode engaging once all systems online."
As the idling engine's exhaust took on a menacing rasp, the Chevelle seemed to sink three inches. In the front and rear windows, light bars dropped from the ceiling, immediately flashing red, blue, and green lights. In the rear, the trunk opened long enough for a rear wing to deploy, then closed without any assistance. On the dash, an amber warning lit, stating "Automatic Gear Selection Active".
"Emergency Intercept Mode initialized successfully," the voice under the dash confirmed as the glovebox flipped open and a weapons console dropped into place.
Tracy ignored Karl's exclamation of "Holy SHIT!" upon realizing just what he had at his disposal, since he was busy with a much more serious endeavor. As soon as he'd pushed in the clutch, the shifter had slipped into first gear. Now he was concentrating on the road, concentrating on where he was going as the car's AI left six pairs of black streaks on the pavement, one for each gear it had shifted into. Sometime during fifth gear, the speedometer had stopped climbing, as it now pointed straight down.
"Target acquired, range two miles," Karl stated as the car settled in at its top speed. "Get on his bumper, Trace; the Scoobies hooked us up good."
"Gotcha'." Tracy replied.
"Director, I have been informed the State Patrol has deployed spike strips four miles ahead." the Chevelle stated. "They will have no effect on my tires, but should assist your copilot in acquisition of the targets."
"Thank you," Tracy replied as the Beemer came into view. Without any action on his part, the Chevelle matched speed with the car ahead, closing in to the rear bumper carefully.
"Engaging magnetic lock," Karl announced as the Chevelle's bumper came into contact with the Beemer. "We're locked, he ain't goin' nowhere!" Karl added as his pressed a set of buttons on his console.
The effect of the buttons, while initially not visible to the occupants of either vehicle, quickly solved any issues of escape. The buttons activated a pair of phaser rifles mounted under the Chevelle's bumper; rifles that were aimed in a way that not only took out the rear tires of the vehicle ahead of them, but also a good part of the rims. The immediate side-effect of this was the Beemer's engine suddenly finding itself in a no-load condition, which allowed it to rev way above the redline before the driver could react. Within a second of Karl pressing the trigger, all eight pistons in the Beemer's engine decided to take a vacation in the culverts on either side of the highway.
To Tracy's surprise, nobody tried to run from the vehicle when he brought them to a stop. Giggles from the back seat answered his concerns, familiar giggles from his lead Rat. "Okay, what are you doing to them?" Tracy asked Adrian as he turned to look at him.
"Not much," Adrian giggled, "They just think there are twenty State Troopers surrounding the car pointing AK-47's at them!"
"That works!" Tracy laughed. "Okay, have you guys got a dump yet?"
"Yep," Tyler replied. "stand by for the report."
Tracy quickly reviewed the evidence in his head, then stated "Kyle, we'll need a group shield just in case, since he's armed. Let's move out, guys."
As they emptied out of the car, Jake pulled up behind them, another cruiser joining him. Two other cruisers came in from in front of the stop, giving the scene a roadblock on either side. Before Tracy could say a word, Conner and Jerome flew past him and headed right to the driver's window. After taking out the window with a double punch, the pair of Moroi boys reached through the hole and pulled the driver out without opening the door.
"Hold on, guys; we've got to do this right!" Tracy exclaimed as he quickly joined them. "No snacking before the trial!"
"But Dad!" Conner whined.
"You heard me." Tracy stated. "You can wait until dinner's served."
"Meanie!" Conner pouted as him and Jerome dropped the man on the ground. "You're no fun!"
"Live with it!" Tracy replied. Looking down at the cowering, bleeding man on the ground, Tracy ordered "I am Director Tracy Butler, Family Clan Short of Vulcan Alligator Alley Division. You have been telepathically scanned and found to be in violation of twenty-seven sections of the Federation Safe Haven Act, as well as forty-nine counts of felonies at the State, Federal, and Federation level. As ordered under Emergency Session of the Federation Council, you shall be tried for all charges at once. Stand to receive judgement, Kraig Gallens."
When Kraig didn't immediately respond, Conner and Jerome 'helped' him, lifting him to his feet and slamming him against the side of the car. "Dad said stand, asshole!" Jerome growled. "If he says stand, you stand. If he says shit purple, you better shit purple. Understood?"
Kraig just nodded, his terror at the actions of the two boys manhandling him obvious.
"Kraig Gallens, I hereby find you guilty of all charges." Tracy continued, his voice flat. His eyebrows raised as he suddenly was given a heads-up from Tyler, then he continued. "You are sentenced to death, sentence to be carried out in the manner which you have performed in the past with six youth and planned to perform with the three youth in your vehicle. The sentence is to be carried out immediately."
Off to the side, Jake's eyes got wide as he exclaimed "Holy Mother of God!" The reason for his exclamation was slowly making its way onto the highway, Wayne and Takota riding on its back exchanging growls with said reason; a twenty-foot long alligator.
Kraig turned to run, only to freeze in place when he spotted Micco standing there with TWO Florida Panthers at his side, said panthers licking their lips in anticipation.
Tracy stated seriously. "You have made the mistake of performing your crimes on Miccosukee lands on multiple occasions, and shall be punished as is appropriate under Tribal Law. You have one minute from my mark to attempt escape; at the one minute point you are no longer a man, you are prey. Your time starts... now."
"SHIT!" Kraig exclaimed as he took off running for the side of the road. A path was quickly cleared for the three predators to follow; the strange part was that it seemed the three were formulating an attack plan as they exchanged glances. With Wayne and Takota now at Karl's side, Tracy announced "One Minute!", which caused the panthers to leap in pursuit as the alligator made his best speed to the nearby stream running near the highway. It took just over three minutes for the sound of an anguished scream to signify that the sentence had been delivered.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the destroyed Beemer, Adrian and Cody were busy calming the three boys who were so close to suffering the fate of their captor. "Don't worry guys," Cody was saying, "all that stuff you had to do ain't gonna mean anything no more. As long as you don't do it again, it's like you never did it."
"You can't promise that, you're just a kid too," thirteen year old Victoriano Buckingham replied.
Cody grinned, "Sorry Vic, but since my big brother is the Patriarch of Clan Short, yes I can! You ain't the first guys we've rescued who had to do stuff to survive, and you ain't gonna be the last."
"It can't be that easy," ten year old Hartwin Carling stated, his blue eyes showing his distrust. "You'll get us back to wherever you're going, the adults will put us in some orphanage, then a week later they'll sell us off to do it again. I've played that game before."
One of the troopers overheard, and without coming any closer he interrupted. "Up until the Battle of Earth, the drug lords might have got away with that, since they had friends in the right places. The State of Florida has changed the rules, and you guys are about to benefit from it. These guys are serious; they've been put in charge of stopping drug traffic throughout South Florida. In fact, during this operation they were our bosses, and have complete control of what happens now. As long as you are under their protection, any adult who tries to take you will end up in jail... or possibly as lunch, like what just happened to that jerkwad."
"Why should we believe you?" eleven-year-old Garry Johns asked warily. "It ain't like cops have done us any favors before."
"You're probably right;" the trooper admitted, "at least none that you would have seen. We're under different rules now; instead of catching you and turning you over to the court system, now when we find you we have to contact Clan Short and let them ensure your safety while they assist us in taking out the trash that used you. Believe me, none of us ever wanted to see your lives ruined because you were made to do something to survive, but the laws didn't give us a choice. Now those laws have been changed, and you no longer take the heat for something that was done to survive. Those of us behind the badge are relieved that the punishments are finally being delivered to the ones that deserve them instead of the pawns that they used to do their work."
"Okay, so what's gonna keep them from changing the laws again?" Vic spat.
"The Federation Council," the trooper replied seriously. "These changes don't just apply to Florida, or even Earth. The changes are Federation-wide, and there are serious issues if they are broken. While some places use Federation Youth Services primarily, the results are the same; and even then Clan Short can be called in if the situation is serious. Since the two work close together, either one can spot corruption in the other and halt it before it becomes a problem. Since FYS is a part of Starfleet Medical, most of the political influence that affects other departments has no effect on them."
"How do you know so much about it?" Garry queried.
"My wife is Starfleet Medical," the trooper replied with a smile. "We just moved down here because she was reassigned to provide support for the Clan Fleet in Ft. Lauderdale. Today is actually my first patrol along the Alley."
The three rescued boys exchanged looks, obviously using their eyes and facial expressions to discuss their thoughts on this information. After a minute or so of discussion, Hartwin looked over at the trooper. "Okay, thanks for the help."
"Thanks for taking a chance and listening," the trooper replied. "Once you guys get settled in, if you want I'll bring my family over to your Division Headquarters to visit; just let any of these guys know and they can set it up. I'd really like to sit down with you and see if the four of us can figure out ways to help other kids that have been caught in your former situation."
"We'll think about it, that's all I'll promise," Vic responded for the group.
"That's fair; I expect no less after what you went through," the trooper replied. "Enjoy your new life guys; from what I've been told it'll make up for the years you lost to those assholes."
As the boys turned their attention back to Adrian and Cody, Adrian asked "How in the heck did you guys do that? You were talking to each other without saying anything, and it sure wasn't telepathy!"
Vic grinned. "It's a trick you gotta learn to survive as a runner; you gotta have a way to talk to other runners without some cop or border patrol hearing you."
"That's pretty kewl!" Cody giggled, "You think you can teach us that?"
"If this Clan stuff is what the cop says it is, yeah, we'll teach ya'." Vic replied. "We gonna take off soon? I gotta piss, and this crap in my butt's getting uncomfortable."
"Are all three of you still carrying?" Adrian asked with concern.
"Yeah, that jerk was so scared he'd get caught he just picked us up and ran," Vic spat.
"Pee in the car," Adrian replied, "it's gettin' scrapped anyway. You're about to get your first look at the Clan helping out, and I think you'll like it."
"Whatever," Vic sighed before opening the Beemer's door and soaking the front seat. By the time he turned back around, Tyler was standing there holding three evidence bags containing the previous contents of all three boy's rectal cavities. "What the Hell!" Vic exclaimed, realizing he no longer felt the discomfort of 'carrying'.
"Hey guys, I'm Tyler!" Ty giggled. "You ain't gonna need this stuff anymore, so I'm gettin' rid of it for ya. Watch this!" With that, the evidence bags seemed to shrink until they 'popped' into nothingness. Since they were watching the bags, none of the boys noticed Tyler flicker.
"Where'd they go?" Garry asked in shock.
"Into the butt of the guy who put them in you... without the plastic bags protecting them. He should overdose in about another thirty seconds." Tyler stated seriously. "The fat bastard deserved it."
Seeing the confused looks, Cody explained "My little bro over there is what you would call an evolved human; when we get home I'll fill ya' in. For right now, just think of it like he can do a few things some alien races can do too, and a couple of things that nobody the Federation's met yet can do."
"I'll take your word for it!" Vic stuttered.
Ty smiled, amazed at how diplomatic Cody had been. "There's one thing I can do that only a couple of other races admit to; I can help you guys heal the damage from having that stuff shoved up there. You don't even gotta undress; do you want me to fix ya' up?"
Once again, the three boys held their silent conversation. Once the decision was reached, Vic stated "Go ahead and try it on me; if it goes okay then you can try on Hart and Gar."
"This'll only take a second or two," Tyler explained as Vic's midsection began to glow. Once the glow faded, Vic shifted around a little before asking "How'd you do that? My insides don't itch anymore, and my butthole don't feel like a friggin' cave!"
"I'll explain on the way home," Tyler replied, "but right now just think of it like this is what you would have been back there if you hadn't been forced to do what you did. Are you okay with me fixing up your sons?"
Vic's mouth dropped wide open. "My sons!" he sputtered, "Dude! I'm not old enough to be a dad!"
Ty grinned. "For the last year, you have kept them at your side, and did your best to protect them. If I'm old enough to have eight sons thanks to Clan Short, you're old enough to officially take the position that you've held in their hearts for a year."
Vic looked at his two companions, and suddenly realized that Tyler was right. They weren't friends, they weren't traveling buddies; they were family, and they looked up to him as their leader. "Yeah, fix them up. I need to talk to someone about this family stuff and making it real, though."
"I'll handle the paperwork on the way home!" Cody giggled. "I think you'll make a great Dad for them."
Adrian giggled as he cuddled up to Cody. "Chill, hon; give him a chance to talk with Trace so he understands the help he'll get. Vic, the choice will be given to all three of you; you don't have to rush into it, but once you're ready you'll have all the help you'll ever need."
Vic relaxed, the smiles that graced Hart and Garry's faces already telling him what would happen. "Thanks, Adrian. By the way, you look familiar, but I don't know where I've seen you."
"Probably on Dad's commercials he let me do!" Adrian giggled. "I'm Adrian Jobs, my Dad owns Apple."
"Why are you part of Clan Short if your dad's Steve Jobs?" Vic asked.
"Because I wanted to help, and Dad agreed it would be good for me to get outta the rich family circles," Adrian explained. "We just left his house; I bet he'll come over to meet you once he hears we rescued you on the way back."
"You gave up being a rich kid to help kids like us?" Vic asked in shock. "Why?"
"Because being a rich kid sucks too, just in a different way," Adrian explained. "Everyone expects you to be a little adult, and you can't be seen hanging out with people that don't make the same amount of money as your family does. It really sucks, because you really end up having no real friends, just people trying to get on your good side to get some of your money. Now I've got lots of friends who don't care who I am, I'm starting my own family with my boyfriends Cody and Ezzy and our two sons, plus I get to do stuff because I earned the chance to do it."
Vic considered the response seriously. "Okay, I think I see that. It kinda makes this more real, I can't see a dad like Steve Jobs letting his son do stuff like this if it wasn't for real; if he's letting you do it, thats like he's doing it too."
"Actually, as of a couple of days ago, he IS!" Adrian giggled, "He's making the official announcement tomorrow, Apple is going to be publicly supporting our Division and the Clan."
"Nice!" Vic said with a smile, "Does that mean I get a discount on an iMac? I've always wanted one."
Adrian smirked as he replied "I dunno. Would you rather have a discount on an iMac, or the free Mac Pro I like giving to new families?"
"I think you broke him, Ads!" Cody giggled as Vic slid down the Beemer, ending up sitting on the ground with his eyes wide in shock. "I TOLD ya to be more careful!"
"Take the Pro!" Gerry giggled as him and Hartwin dropped to the ground on either side of Vic.
"Yeah, Dad!" Hartwin added, earning both boys a hug from their soon-to-be-dad.
Vic gathered his wits, and asked "Are you serious, Adrian?"
Adrian nodded. "Actually, yes; I made arrangements with Dad to make sure new families got a Mac Pro for their main computer. It helps a lot, and there's software that's set up for it by Clan programmers to help out with stuff. Most families have the computer as a low priority when starting out, so we're helping them out some."
Vic nodded. "Okay, that makes sense. Thanks, dude."
Adrian smiled, "If it helps you as a family, thats my thanks, but you're welcome."
Holata allowed himself a small grin as he saw the now-familiar Chevelle slowing to turn into the entry of the Tribal grounds. "Father, our guests are arriving," he announced over the radio before straightening his own ceremonial clothes. The growls of juvenile alligators on either side of the drive told him the message was received.
As Holata signaled Tracy to stop the car, both sides of the entry drive exploded in a mass of mini-braves in full dress. Going over to the driver's window, Holata waited for Tracy to roll it down before instructing "Director Tracy, Father has instructed that you leave your vehicle here. We shall give you escort as befits your status to the Tribal Meeting that has been called."
Before Tracy could respond, a pair of giggles from the back told him that one of his newest Divisional Officers had been plotting behind his back. "Holata, it seems your little brother has spent too much time with our Patriarch. Lead the way, brother."
The resulting procession a few minutes later resembled a miniature war party; with the Clan guests being escorted by thirty braves aged between five and fifteen. All of the braves were in full dress; the younger ones carrying ceremonial spears and bows, while the teens and a few tweens were armed with rifles. Holata led the procession, pride in how his tribal brothers were carrying themselves obvious. As he led the group through the reservation towards a large open structure on the far side, other tribal members fell in behind the procession.
Upon reaching the pavilion, Holata twitched his fingers, signaling the other tribal youth to rush forward and form honor columns on either side of the path leading to a raised platform in the center of the building. Chief Osceola was waiting there, also in full ceremonial dress.
Coming to a stop at the edge of the platform, Holata announced "Chief Osceola of the Miccosukee Nation, the Clan Short Family of the Miccosukee Nation is honored to present Chief Tracy Butler of the Alligator Alley Tribe of the Family Clan Short Nation."
Tracy had been considering his options during the walk. Since Tyler was busy calming the new guys who had never visited the reservation, that took out that method of escape. Strangling the Chief's youngest son or his eldest in the middle of a group this large was pretty much out too, so the best option he had left was to follow along with whatever plot the mini-Chief had devised. With that in mind, Tracy stepped up on the platform and approached Chief Osceola. Once there, he clasped forearms with Osceola as he stated "Chief Osceola, it is an honor to once again visit your lands."
"It is us who are honored," Chief Osceola responded formally, "as we have been advised that recently you led your tribe to prevent a triple travesty occurring on our lands. In following the ways of our people, you have pushed back the darkness brought by men of evil to the Everglades. As the Family Clan Short Nation has proven their brotherhood to the Seminole Nation, so now by actions you have proven that your offer of brotherhood was not just words. As you have welcomed our people into your tribe as family, so now in front of the Miccosukee Nation and the Great Spirit we shall seal the bonds of brotherhood and join both Nations as one."
After deciding that he'd sit down later and write out the hit list of people who put him in this position, Tracy replied. "As Chief of the Alligator Alley Nation of Family Clan Short, I speak for my Nation as I accept your offer of brotherhood, and as is tradition among our Elders on Vulcan, so shall it be between us. All that is ours is now yours as well."
"As our brother Nation, all that is ours is yours as well," Chief Osceola replied. "My youngest has informed me that you have made arrangements to acknowledge my station within your Nation. As you have completed the trials of a brave, are you prepared to receive your tribal warrior name?"
"I would be honored, Chief Osceola." Tracy answered, Kyle now helping him in his head with plotting revenge.
Chief Osceola reached down into a pouch on his waist, retrieving an ornate beaded necklace. As he placed it around Tracy's neck, he stated "The Miccosukee Nation recognizes the honor and skills of Chief Tracy Butler of the Alligator Alley Nation, and welcomes him as a Warrior in the Miccosukee Nation. All Nations shall from this point forward recognize him as Micco Lakni-ko:wî - Chief Yellow Panther of the Miccosukee Nation of Family Clan Short."
Tracy had to mentally restrain himself from immediately checking out the five-pound example of Native American beadwork that now adorned his neck and over half of his chest. "I am honored Micco Osceola, and shall uphold the Nation's honor in all I do."
Nodding, Chief Osceola announced "Let the celebration begin!"
Tracy finally took a chance to sit down, having spent the last two hours dancing, eating, and being welcomed by every member of the tribe. As he looked around, he saw Wayne, Trey, and Torrey were in a spirited game of 'tag' with other young tribe members. His older sons were making new friends as well, while Vic and his family were deep in conversation with one of the Tribal elders. Just as he started to look for the Rat Pack, Karl joined him, a blond-haired boy of obviously mixed parentage holding his hand. As Karl took a seat next to Tracy, the little seven-year-old took a seat on Karl's lap, pulling Karl's arms around his little belly.
"Who's your new buddy, hon?" Tracy giggled.
"Muraco," Karl replied with a grin. "Muraco, meet your new Dad!"
"Can I check out your necklace, Daddy?" Muraco asked Tracy, who was mentally adding his husband to his revenge list.
"Go ahead, lil' guy," Tracy replied as he dared Karl with his eyes to explain this one.
To their surprise, the little guy took the burden off of Karl, who was lost about how to explain this diplomatically. As he fingered the strands of beads covering Tracy's chest, Muraco started talking softly. "Wow! I gotta Chief for a daddy now! I ain't never had a daddy, and now I got a Daddy and'a Poppa! Momma said I needed to say why she gave me to you so you don't think she's bad. Ever'one knows Momma was drugged by a hotel guest b'fore I was born, an' the tribe found out and fed him to the 'gators. She loves me, but I know I make her sad 'cuz I was born after the bad guy hurt her."
Tracy went pale, immediately understanding what was being insinuated but not said. Clearly Muraco's mother had been raped, and had the strength to raise the result of the attack for around seven years, if his guess was right. Someone had made sure that the boy knew that any negative reactions to him that she had were not his fault, and had ensured he had an age-appropriate explanation. Tracy could easily understand how this would be best for both Muraco and his mother; the boy had the chance to learn that she loved him, and would understand as he got older the sacrifices she made by keeping him until now. The mother could now move on with her life, recovering from her ordeal while knowing where her son was and that he was safe. The additional benefit is that contact between them was unrestricted by the passing of her son to Tracy and Karl to raise. In the split second it took Tracy to consider all of this, he decided that Karl was right; that wouldn't lessen the planned dunkings, however.
Leaning over to kiss the top of Muraco's head, Tracy said "I think your Mommy wanted to give me the best gift in the Universe for my Naming, so she gave me you."
Muraco's face sprouted a huge smile as he whispered "Poppa Karl was right, you're a special awesome."
Tracy's reply was delayed by the arrival of the Rat Pack, serious looks on all four of their faces. "You're adopting Muraco?" Cody asked.
"Yes, we are." Tracy replied, something telling him his little Rat Pack had uncovered more information by the tone in Cody's voice.
Kyle took over from Cody. "Good; Aunt Hachi is gonna be seein' Dad to help her get better."
Next up was Tyler. "Muraco, do you want to legally become the son of Chief Yellow Panther and his husband Karl Butler?"
"YES!" Muraco replied with a rapid nod.
Adrian spoke next, his voice obviously hiding anger at something. "As stated in the Safe Haven Act, and as codified in the standing orders of Family Clan Short, siblings are to be given priority to be adopted by the same parents. As such, it has been determined upon investigation of the events leading up to the birth of Muraco that he has a half brother which he was unaware of. The Rat Pack of Family Clan Short has investigated the status of the half-brother, and has found that while his birth conditions were similar, the environment of his childhood was unlike Muraco's; in fact it violated multiple sections of the Safe Haven Act." Pausing, Adrian tapped his commbadge. "Emrys, deliver Lt. Hawkins and the subject he is escorting to my location."
Tracy and Karl exchanged worried glances, the only Hawkins they knew was...
Lt. Jason Hawkins appeared next to Tracy, a ten year old blond holding his hand with fear written on his face. The entire group unconsciously shivered as the air around them suddenly became ten degrees colder. By the look on Jason's face, along with the flush of his skin, Tracy immediately knew that somebody, somewhere, had crossed the line to the point that Adrian had called in 'The Iceman'.
Addressing the eight year old redhead, Tracy commented "Jason, I know that it was bad if you were called in. Relax, bro, before you accidentally freeze something. Let Ty help you with the emotions if you need to; he's good at that."
As he was speaking, Tracy stood up and walked over to the two new arrivals. Noticing that both of them were on the verge of tears, Tracy pulled the pair into a three-way hug. "Let it out, guys," Tracy whispered.
Without prompting, Karl and Muraco joined the cuddle, quickly joined by Adrian, Cody, Kyle, and Tyler. Seconds later, the rest of the family joined in, along with the new friends in the Tribe they had made. In the center of the growing mob cuddle, two boys let their pain free; one releasing the pain of his life, the other releasing the pain of what he had learned while helping his new friend.
The tribe was once again gathered for a ceremony, only this time the youth of the tribe were honored by being instructed to sit on the platform, half on either side. In the center stood Tracy, Karl, their sons, Adrian, and the two soon-to-be added sons of the Butler family.
The recently-united half-brothers stood nervously holding each other's hand, their appearance providing a stark contrast as to their previous lives. Both boys wore ceremonial breechclouts, the only other decoration on their bodies being beaded necklaces provided by Muraco's mom, Hachi. Seven-year-old Muraco was obviously healthy, his dark Native American skin contrasting with his bright blond hair and making his sky blue eyes seem to glow. His brother, Alfie, had obviously not fared as well; despite being ten, his waist was the same size as his younger brother, and he was only three inches taller. His pale skin was covered in freckles, and his wavy blond hair was styled for the first time in his life. While his eyes were the same color as his little brother's were, they didn't have the same glow of life.
Chief Osceola stepped onto the platform, his Medicine Man at his side. Turning to address the assembled tribe members, he stated "Our Brother Nation has stepped forward to assist one of our own who was tasked by the Great Spirit with a task which made the heart heavy. The Great Spirit has now made known the purpose of the Task, and has Gifted us with the honor of uniting two brothers. From Darkness, Light shall overcome; let this joining of brothers lost lead both Nations as one to overcome the Darkness and bring Light upon the world."
Without prompting, the Medicine Man placed his hands on Muraco and Alfie's heads, beginning a chant in the Old Tongue which was only completely followed by Kyle and Tyler; the dialect was not one which they included in language dumps on the request of Yist.
What surprised Kyle the most was that, even without knowing the dialect, both of the new boys seemed to understand the Medicine Man perfectly; even replying at appropriate times in the same tongue. While he might be able to explain Muraco, this was the very first interaction with the Tribe that Alfie had ever experienced. Mentally, Kyle made a note that he was going to tickle Mikey until he got an explanation from his big Angel brother.
Jason interrupted Kyle's eight-year-old mind plotting. "I understood that! The Professor just taught us about it, he's gonna fix their spirit bond with the blood brother ceremony!"
Kyle giggled, glad they'd invited the only Moroi to ever freak out Colin to join the Rat Pack. "Yep, betcha Trace pees himself!"
"I got a cookie that says he passes out!" Jason replied. "I wonder if Karl brought those smellin' salt thingies?"
"I got it covered!" Cody giggled as he joined in. "Mom told me I gotta watch out for the three matching big goofs we call big brothers!"
"Here we go!" Jason exclaimed, causing all three to turn and watch the ceremony. They were surprised to find that it was nothing like what they expected. First the Medicine Man removed a wooden bowl from his pouch, quickly sprinkling various powders into it as he chanted continuously. He then retrieved a deerskin flask from his waist, carefully adding a liquid that was obviously not water to the mix. he then stated something which caused both boys to extend their right hand towards him. Using a quill from his medicine bag, he pricked each of their index fingers, squeezing a drop of blood from each into the mixture in the bowl. once mixed thoroughly, he began chanting once again as he used the mixture to paint the left side of Muraco's face, then the right side of Artie's face. The ceremony was completed by the boys wiping the remnants from the bowl with the same finger that was pricked, then completing their brother's face by drawing a line from between the eyebrows to the tip of the nose. The boys remained standing looking into each other's eyes, holding hands.
With a hand on each of the boy's heads, the Medicine Man intoned "The Blood of the Shadows is banished from the Spirits of these Braves. With the Great Spirit as Witness, I Bind the Braves Muraco and Artie as full brothers; none shall have the power to undo this binding."
Any doubt that may have been held about the ceremony was erased as every person present felt an unnatural chill run through their very core. The biggest miracle, however, was only witnessed by Muraco; he witnessed Artie's eyes go from their lifeless blue to a glowing sky blue that matched his own.
Adrian stepped forward, the subtle glance from the Medicine Man telling him it was his turn. Tracy and Karl followed him, both obviously nervous about the crowd watching their every move.
"Brothers and Sisters," Adrian began, "I am Adrian Jobs, son of Steve Jobs, Jessica Tanner, and Kara Tanner. I am a Commander and Head of Operations in the Alligator Alley Nation of Family Clan Short. I joined the Nation because I wanted to help others; unlike a good part of my brothers and sisters I was never abused. I suffered most from the isolation that society causes when your parents have money; if it wasn't for the two guys next to me, I'd be hiding instead of speaking to all of you. Tracy and Karl took me in as their little brother because they cared, not because of who I was. It is because of them becoming my big brothers that I have the strength to overcome my own demons. I'm proud to be able to thank them in the only way they'll accept, by helping someone else find family."
Adrian had to pause, namely because it was impossible to speak while sandwiched in a double hug. Once he extracted himself, he continued with a big smile.
"Ya' know, brother hugs are awesome! I've already handled the boring part, which was making sure the entire family was willing to add two more to their mob. None of them hesitated, by the way! I want some other special guys up here with me before I start, though. Ya' see, there are a few of us that Tracy and Karl take care of, Trace calls us his 'Rat Pack'. What that really means is that he considers us special little brothers, so special that he goes outta his way to make sure we get time to catch up on bein' kids. Cody, Kyle, Ty, Jason! Get your butts up here!"
Never ones to disobey the orders of the 'head rat', the four boys began to make their way towards the platform. To their surprise and amusement, before they had made it halfway there, they found themselves 'crowd surfing', their giggles echoing over the crowd. After two full circuits, they were finally guided to the platform, Chief Osceola helpfully retrieving them and putting the giggling boys on their feet.
"That was FUN! Can we do it again?" Kyle exclaimed, a huge smile on his face.
"Maybe after we're done, bro!" Adrian giggled, "I wanna try it too!"
"Kewl!" Kyle grinned. "C'mon, hurry up!"
"Get over here, lil' bros!" Tracy giggled, "Let Adrian finish before you surf any more."
All four of the new arrivals collected their hugs from Tracy and Karl, then reassembled next to Adrian. "Give us a second, we really should be in uniform for this," Adrian explained before tapping his commbadge. "Emrys, please outfit the Rat Pack in full dress uniform."
"Aye, El Capitan!" Emrys replied smugly. After a couple of flickers, all five Rat Pack members were outfitted in frilly dresses.
"EMRYS!" the group exclaimed in horror.
"OOOPS!" Emrys giggled before following the original order, causing the boys to flicker again before appearing in their uniforms.
"Anyone want a base AI, cheap?" Adrian muttered not-so-quietly.
Only Karl caught the angelic expression on Tracy's face; Karl decided that it would be best not to ask, as he didn't want to be on whatever list Tracy was in the process of executing.
The sight of five pouting Clan members in full uniform didn't help with the crowd's chuckles, which took a full two minutes to settle down. Once he recovered, Adrian introduced his fellow Rats, then began the adoption. Having picked up on a stray thought that Tracy let slip, Adrian stated "Will my soon-to-be-waterlogged big brother Tracy and his equally guilty husband Karl please join us?"
"What'd I do?" Karl asked in shock.
"You married him!" all five Rat Pack members replied in unison.
This brought more chuckles from the crowd, as they could see the obvious brotherly bond between the Rat Pack and the leads of Alligator Alley. Once everyone else was in position, Adrian turned to the stars of the show, only to find them in a tight hug, the painted sides of their faces pressed together. Going on a gut feeling, Adrian yelled "Hey Pabs; cleanup in Alligator Alley!"
Pablito popped in, wearing nothing but a speedo and his wings. "What is it, I'm triple-parked!" he stated before noticing the two boys. He twisted his head, looking at the shocked Medicine man. "Nice job, dude; the last few people who tried that way fucked it all up. You got it, I just need ta' give them a hand." Pablito then put a hand on each of their heads, causing both bodies to be encased in a golden glow. "Stop screwing off and become one spirit already, ya' bums." Pablito intoned as the glow became blinding. Once it faded, Pablito nodded then said "Hurry up, I'll see ya' at home. We got some cookies to raid!" He then grinned at Tracy before vanishing.
"That was one of your Guardian Angels," Adrian explained to Muraco and Alfie, who were obviously confused. "Don't let him fool ya', he's got a heart of gold. He gave Morris and Malcom to your new parents just because he thought they would be the best parents for the twins."
Muraco and Alfie mutely nodded, both obviously still adjusting to whatever had just happened inside them.
Adrian decided to take the chance, and continued with the ceremony. "As a Commander in the Family Clan Short Fleet, I hereby invoke the Safe Haven Act in regards to the youths Muraco and Alfie of the Miccosukee Nation. Muraco's birth mother Hachi has requested voluntary permanent transfer of custody due to events filed previously. Family Clan Short accepts this transfer, and shall provide needed assistance to Hachi as well as full visitation rights. Any other claims to custodianship of Muraco, his effects, or his creations are hereby nullified indefinitely. Alfie, formerly Alfie Pritchard, is under custody of Family Clan Short after the trial and conviction of his former caregivers. All claims of any sort, custodial, legal, financial, or otherwise are hereby nullified indefinitely in regards to the youth currently known as Alfie of the Miccosukee Nation. As Alfie and Muraco are related by blood, Family Clan Short procedure states that they shall remain together unless both state otherwise. Do either of you wish to live separate from your brother?"
"NO!" Alfie and Muraco responded in unison.
"Good choice!" Adrian smiled. "Now for the fun part! Micco Lakni-ko:wî and his husband Karl Butler have expressed their desire for you both to join their family; do you both want this to proceed?"
Muraco and Alfie both nodded. "I like them, they don't act mean and they listen to me when I talk," Alfie added.
"I know," Adrian replied, "They're really good at that."
Adrian then turned to Tracy and Karl. "Micco Lakni-ko:wî and Karl, Muraco and Alfie have expressed their desire to join your family and accept you as their parents. Are you willing and able to take them in, treating them just as you treat your other children, asking for assistance from your elders in situations which you are unprepared for?"
"Yes!" Tracy and Karl responded in unison.
"Are you willing and able to provide their physical and social needs to the best of your abilities, including unlimited cuddles and cookies?"
"We'll see about the cookies!" Tracy giggled. "All the rest, yes!"
"Sorry guys, I tried!" Adrian giggled as he glanced back at the two boys.
After signaling Wayne to prepare the family pounce, Adrian finished. "I hereby approve the adoption of Muraco and Alfie into the Family Butler, headed by Tracy and Karl. All other family claims other than membership of the Miccosukee Nation and the mother status of Hachi are hereby nullified."
It took a whole three seconds for the Butler family to bury their parents and new brothers in a family pounce. As was required of little brothers, the Rat Pack held up scorecards rating the pounces. The rest of the youth on the stage gave a respectful thirty second pause before joining the pile, whoops of joy drowning out any comments by responsible adults.
Tracy and Karl led their giggling group out to where the Chevelle was still blocking the entry. The entire group was comparing notes about the new friends they'd made; even Kyle and Ty had made new buddies that they were looking forward to having visit them at home. As they reached the car, Tracy noticed what looked like a dozen Florida Highway Patrol vehicles staged at the exit onto the highway. Once everyone else had climbed into the back seat, Tracy and Karl got in. Just as Tracy was buckling up, a familiar face appeared at his window.
"No fair, Jake!" Tracy giggled as he rolled the window down, "I wasn't even moving yet!"
"I know; this is the only way I can catch you!" Jake laughed. "Seriously, we are under direct orders from the Governor to provide you an expedited escort directly to your Compound in Ft. Lauderdale."
"Why? What's wrong?" Tracy asked, suddenly worried.
"Nothing that I'm aware of," Jake shrugged. "We were told that after your actions today, we're to provide you the same services that we would provide any other high-ranking diplomat. If it makes you feel any better, we're under the same orders regarding Patriarch Short if we catch him out driving."
"You DO realize that Cory and I'll take this as a challenge?" Tracy smirked.
"Of course; I'm looking forward to the game!" Jake laughed. "We're ready when you are, Director. Please, this once, no outrunning your escorts!"
"Okay, but next time all bets are off!" Tracy sniggered.
Jake gave Tracy a thumbs-up before turning and jogging back to his car. By the time Tracy had the Chevelle turned around, every police vehicle had their lights going, and two cruisers were blocking oncoming traffic from both directions. As Tracy started moving, he saw four Harley motorcycles speed off eastward, obviously running interference. he was waved in behind four cruisers, with the remaining vehicles falling in as a rear guard. Minutes later, he was lazily cruising along at an even 100 MPH in the left lane, the right lane being occupied by stopped vehicles with their occupants openly staring at the stretched Chevelle as it flew past.
The part of the return trip that excited the boys in back the most was when they neared the Port Authority exit. Thanks to the two-way communications used by truckers, word had spread ahead of the convoy. This gave time for every trucker in the area to get into position alongside the highway with every light on their rig activated. As the convoy approached the rearmost truck, air horns began blasting; over two hundred trucks saluting the occupants of the Chevelle as they made their way into town.
Once Tracy pulled the car into the garage, he parked it then laid his head against the steering wheel. The next thing he knew, a familiar set of strong hands was lifting him from the seat and into a hug. "Let it out, son," Bryant whispered in Tracy's ear. As Tracy latched on he began sobbing and rambling disjointedly. After extracting Karl from the other side, Clyde performed the same service for his son. The rest of the car's occupants watched quietly, every single one learning an important lesson about trusting family to be there for you. Unconsciously, the Rat Pack formed their own cuddle, Takota cuddled into Micco's side, and the Butler kids formed their own mass cuddle. Learning quickly, Vic pulled his two sons into a cuddle as well.
Once Tracy and Karl had calmed enough to walk under their own power, Bryant and Clyde escorted the entire group to Tracy and Karl's apartment. As they were walking, Bryant ordered "Emmy, if the world's ending contact Hawaii. Every single one of these boys is off duty and are not to be disturbed for ANYTHING, understood?"
"Yes Grandpa!" Emmy replied. "Daddy Cam wants to know if they're okay."
"Tell their brothers to come over to Tracy and Karl's place," Clyde stated, "They're being pulled off duty as well to be there for their family."
"Gotcha Grandpa Clyde," Emmy giggled.
The group walked into Tracy's apartment, only to find Pablito sitting there watching Looney Tunes on one of the big screens. Pablito turned his head, stating "Hey Trace; Petey's already made the rounds and set everyone up, so you can chill. I pulled guard duty tonight, and after the fun at the beach I ain't lettin anyone fuck with you. Oh, Gramps Bry and Gramps Clyde; I take credit for Morris and Malcom, my Boss is at fault for the rest."
"So, who all are we having dinner with, again?" Javyk said nervously, just after they walked into the Orlando CIC, coming through the door that lead from the Ark System Control.
"My parents, my brothers, and all the family that goes with them," replied Kendall as he took Javyk's hand. Sure that Javyk wasn't going to run away, Kendall started to lead them out of CIC and towards the main building, where most of the adults lived.
Rylan, who was following behind them, grinned, "That means, plus us, it'll be eighteen people, give or take a few."
"Eighteen... that's... that's a lot of family," said Javyk, in a shaky voice.
"I gotta admit, Javyk, seeing you nervous ranks pretty high on my list of favorite things," chuckled Rylan as they entered the building.
Kendall shot Rylan a look that clearly said 'you're not helping', before squeezing Javyk's hand and replying, "Come on, Jay, you know it won't be that bad. My parents like you, remember? Dad even offered to be a dad for you, if you should ever need it, and that was before we were dating."
"I... I know," acknowledged Javyk, as he attempted to take a few deep breaths. "But I also haven't see them all that much SINCE we started dating."
"It'll be just fine," said Kendall, as they reached the dining room doors. "Besides, this is you keeping your promise to Dad that we'd show up for dinner, like we're supposed to. You're showing them that you're the responsible young man that I keep telling them that you are."
"Right, responsible," stated Javyk, as he continued to take deep breaths.
Rylan rolled his eyes, "You'll be fine, Javyk. Can you honestly tell me that there is any situation that you can't face, as long as Kendall's with you?"
Javyk turned and looked at Rylan, in surprise, "I... thank you, Rylan. No, there isn't. We can do anything."
"That's what I like to hear," said Kendall, as he leaned in and gave Javyk a quick peck on the cheek.
Javyk took one more deep breath and then nodded, "I'm ready."
Kendall grinned, as he opened the door and lead them inside.
Before anyone was able to get their bearings, Kendall's little brother Cody flew through the air and tackled Kendall, taking Javyk down with them. "KENNY! JAVVY!" the five year old giggled as he bounced back and forth over his victims, giving them both hugs and sloppy five year old kisses.
"Aaah, no, no, no", shouted Javyk as he held out his arms, to try to keep Cody at bay. "I'm not okay with this! Personal space! Oh God, he's making a mess of us! Aaaaahh!"
Rylan chuckled as he slowly moved over to help separate Javyk from the mess of arms, legs, and giggling little boy, "Ark, please say that you got this on record."
< Yes, I have. I've already tagged it as blackmail material, for later arguments with Javyk. > .
Kendall giggled as he helped Javyk clean off his face, Cody grinning as he claimed a piggy-back ride on his big brother. "At least Cody didn't lick your face this time, he IS getting better!"
"That's like saying losing all of your fingers is better than losing the whole hand," Javyk said with a shudder. He took a few steps back from them before continuing, "I'm still not big on being touched. And I don't know if being attacked really helps much."
"You don't seem to have a problem with Kendall or I touching you," Rylan practically sang at him.
Javyk's eyes narrowed, "I'm dating him, so I want him to touch me." He paused for a moment and then added, "And you don't try to cover my face with digestive liquids."
"I can't say I've ever thought to give it a try," Rylan replied thoughtfully.
Javyk glared at him, "I hate you."
"Stop pickin' on Kenny's kissy-friend!" Cody announced seriously from Kendall's back. "I f'got cuz I'm happy to see Javvy, I wasn't pickin on him!"
"Looks like you've got a body guard, here, Javyk," smirked Rylan, before he replied to Cody. "I promise, little guy, I only do it because I love him. My name's Rylan, Javyk is my cousin. What's your name?"
"I'm Cody, an' if you hurts Javvy I'm gonna show ya what Matty taughted me!"
"I'm not looking to try and hurt him, I promise," Rylan said gently. "Besides, Javyk spends enough time hurting himself just in his day to day work."
Cecil chose that point to try to calm things down as he joined them. "Cody, stop trying to kill the guests, son. You'll have to excuse him, Rylan; he's been getting protective of his family since we let him meet Timmy. Come on in, guys. Javyk, I'm glad that things finally settled down enough for you to join us; lately I have been wondering if Fate was trying to send me a message!"
"No worries, I understand," replied Rylan.
Javyk stood up a little straighter, and made sure to make eye contact, before answering, "Thank you, sir. I apologize for causing Kendall to miss any family dinners, before the last few weeks. Once we get going, we sometimes lose track of time. We'll do our best to try and be on time, starting today."
Cecil smiled. "Sometimes there will be higher priorities, that comes with the job that you two have chosen. I understand that, and as long as you are making an honest attempt I will have no problems."
As Cecil stopped, Cody announced "Nicky, stop growlin' at Javvy and come over and say hi and 'member you promised notta be a meanie like you was last time! He's Kenny's kissy-friend and that makes him our brother too, Timmy says so an Timmy knows evrythin'!"
"Kissy-friend, I love it," Rylan chuckled, as he elbowed Javyk in the ribs and whispered, "Come on, Javyk, relax a little bit. You're going to strain something. His family doesn't bite. They hug, kiss, and lick, apparently. But they don't bite."
"Really?" mumbled Javyk nervously, "I'm pretty sure the look I'm getting from Nicky is the same look a Moroi gets right before they eat."
Kendall gave his twin a warning glare, then told Javyk "C'mon, let's say hi to everyone. If Nicky gets outta line, we'll sic Cody on him."
Overhearing the comment, Cody growled, the growl seeming menacing to at least himself. He then giggled as he added "I'll help inner-dewce everyone! We got new guys!"
"Thanks, Cody," said Rylan as he walked with them. "Javyk might have already met some of the family, but I've really only been able to meet anyone that either has walked through Ark System Control, or was up at the AI Hospital."
With Cody acting as a guide, the group quickly made the rounds of the two families attending; for not only were Cecil and Angela's family present, but most of Helen's family was present as well. Nicky tried to squeeze between Javyk and Kendall only once; the five-year-old foot of Cody, who was maintaining his position on Kendall's back, impacting only inches away from a very sensitive area of his body made him decide that the other side of Kendall was just fine.
As Javyk, Kendall, and Rylan sat down, at the Evans family end of the table, Javyk took note of the fact that Cody was insisting that he sit next to Nicky.
"I get the feeling that Cody's sitting over there to keep Nicky from being cross with me," Javyk whispered to Kendall.
Kendall looked over at Cody and grinned, "That's a distinct possibility."
"Hmmm, I've never had an attack brother before," Javyk said with a grin. "I'm not sure I've earned it, but I'm happy to have the help.
"Well, you make his brother happy," commented Rylan, who was sitting to Kendall's left. "That might be enough."
Javyk glanced at Nicky really quick before saying, even softer, to Kendall, "I do feel a bit guilty, though. After you pointed out to me why Nicky's mad at me, I can't say that I blame him."
While not hearing the conversation between Kendall and Javyk, Cecil was easily able to guess what it was about as he took his seat. He noticed Nicky's glare , and was about to say something when Nicky jumped in his seat and turned towards Cody. "Nicky, you asked for that," Cecil stated just loud enough for Nicky to hear. "We talked about this already, son. If it wasn't for the things that your twin brother and Javyk were doing instead of being here, Earth might just be a pile of ashes now. It's okay to miss your brother; it is NOT okay to treat the person he loves like crap because you're jealous of the time they spend together. Behave; after dinner the three of you can sit down and you can express your feelings properly without hurting the other two."
"But Cody..." Nicky started to respond.
"Cody is happy his brother and brother-in-law were able to make it finally." Cecil explained calmly. "He's making sure that you don't ruin it, because he wants to do this more. Make your choice; a bruise on your leg to remind you of the promise you made to Cody, or spending tonight alone in your room because you let your temper override what you know is right to do?"
Nicky hung his head. "Sorry."
"Apology accepted, now please participate like the great kid I know you are." Cecil replied gently.
Javyk stared at Cecil, with a shocked and surprised look. His mouth slowly opened, as if he wanted to say something, but no words came out.
"Nice to have family again, isn't it?" Rylan said gently to Javyk.
Javyk just closed his mouth and nodded, as if saying anything might be his breaking point.
Rylan grinned, and then turned his attention back to Cecil, "Oh, that reminds me, thank you for inviting me to join you guys tonight."
"Kendall told me how close you and your cousin are, so I had to see for myself if the rest of his remaining family was as impressive as Javyk is." Cecil replied.
"I will say that cute runs in the family, however!" Angela added as she took her seat on the opposite side of Cecil as where Javyk sat. "You two must share an impressive bloodline!"
"Javyk's butt is cuter than Rylan's is, though!" Kendall added helpfully.
Nicky glanced at Rylan. "Prove it!" he stated with a smile.
"Well, thank you for saying so, Angela. We've always had pretty good looking family members," Rylan replied to Angela. "Though, I think the idea of attractive family was mostly wasted in Javyk's family. They cared more about how big your brain was, not how cute you might be. Javyk seems to be the first member of the Creo family, in a long time, that fell for someones looks just as much as their big brain."
Rylan then turned to Nicky and grinned, "Not sure I'd have anything to prove, though, Nicky. It's a well known fact that Javyk DOES have a nicer ass. You can ask Kyle, if you don't believe me, he was there when we woke up. But Javyk spends way more time squatting to pick up heavy equipment than I do. I think that's what does it. I end up just building something to pick the stuff up for me."
"Y'all done got it wrong!" Tommy chuckled as he helped pass out the first course. "Ain't noone but Nicky who can be tellin' whose butt is cuter than each other to him. Botha 'dem got cute tight butts, though!"
Rylan laughed, "Well, he'll have to excuse me, for now, but I'm sitting on mine. It's serving a purpose, other than being ogled. That, and we're having dinner. But I'm sure Ark could provide dimensions, to hold anyone over, until after dinner."
"Hey Ark? Could I see some evidence? Pictures work!" Nicky asked aloud with a smirk.
"Daddy! Nicky's bein a weirdo 'gain!" Cody complained with a giggle.
< I think I might have to agree with Cody. Wanting to look at your brother's boyfriend's gluteus maximus, only to compare it to his cousins? That is not a request I am normally used to filling. I am quite sure that a request like that should be routed to our dispatch department. >
Rylan shrugged his shoulders, "Not really sure that's something worth looking at hours of Ark footage for, but whatever floats your boat. I can give you the computer access, if you want it."
"Does the size of our butts really matter?" Javyk asked in confusion. "I don't see the importances of figuring something like that out."
"Boys, I do not believe that Rump Roast is on tonight's menu," Cecil commented, "besides the fact that I'm sure that neither party is wishing to be on tonights menu. At least some of us are not interested in eating Javyk or Rylan's butts!"
"Wait, what? Someone wants to eat us?" Javyk asked with a perplexed look on his face.
"Oh God..." Kendall blushed, hiding his face in Javyk's chest. "Jay, we need to talk."
"See, Javyk, this is why you need to spend more time around other people. He's too de-socialized to really get what any of that meant," grinned Rylan. "I gotta say, though, you don't see confused Javyk all that often."
"Hey, I know things!" Javyk replied indignantly, as Kendall started to whisper into his ear. "I...what?! Oh, jeez..."
"You know, this reminds me of the time when Javyk..." Rylan started to say.
However, just as soon as he started Javyk's hand came flying across Kendall, to land firmly over Rylan's mouth.
"We'll have none of that," stated Javyk.
Shaking her head, Angela sniggered "Eat up, boys; the main course is waiting!"
As if on queue, Rylan suddenly felt something nudge his left arm. He turned to find Gabe passing him a pan. He quickly accepted the pan, served himself some, and then passed the pan on to Kendall.
Looking down at the food, Rylan could tell it was some kind of ground up meat, with a root vegetable, small round green things, and something mashed and whipped on top of it.
"Umm, Cecil, if you don't mind me asking, what exactly am I about to eat here?" asked Rylan. "I think that might be ground cow, but...what else have I got here?"
"It's one of the comfort foods from the older European countries," Cecil replied, "They call it Shepherd's Pie; and before you try it Nicky, there are no shepherds involved in the ingredients!"
"Dad! I wouldn't say something like that!" Nicky protested, his grin saying otherwise.
"Yeah you would!" Kendall giggled. "I woulda done it if you didn't!"
Rylan nodded, "Okay, cool. But what's the white stuff?"
"I thin' ith potato," Javyk said around a mouth full of food.
"You never did care what it was you were eating, as long as it was deemed eatable," giggled Rylan.
"You're wrong!" Kendall laughed. "He agrees with me; those funky fish that some people put on pizza should be outlawed!"
"YEAH!" all of Helen's family yelled in unison.
Javyk shook his head sadly, "Fish on pizza. Dubious food, completely uneatable. And I thought that this was a somewhat civilized culture before I was introduced to that idea."
"I love you, Javyk!" Tommy yelled from the other end of the table.
"Umm, and I love you, random family member," mumbled Javyk, as he took another bite.
"That's Tommy," whispered Kendall.
"Even I know that," added Rylan. "He's like, super awesome."
Javyk glared at Rylan, "Of course you know who he is, you probably work with him."
Cody giggled. "Nope, but Uncle Tommy make super-awesome cookies!"
"Good job, munchkin, you confused everyone!" Nicky giggled. "Rylan, give him a break; it takes weeks of being here constantly to figure out who is who."
Cecil nodded, "That's the truth! So guys, are there any projects you're working on that you can talk about?"
"Actually, we've been working on a ton of amazing projects!" Javyk said excitedly. "Like, right now we're working on this new bio-synthetic material, that allows us to make all kinds of different shapes, and weave it in a ways that allows us to interact with existing bio-electrical components."
Kendell giggled, "We're working on new armor, that can talk to the Phasenmorphs. But we're finding it can be used for larger stuff too."
"Exactly!" continued Javyk. "We might be able to use it for larger applications, since the structure doesn't lose cohesion or cause any signal degradation as it gets bigger. If there wasn't already a good solution for limb replacement, then we'd be suggesting a good alternative, using this new material. But we've got a whole bunch of other ideas for it too!"
Nicky's face mirrored his amazement. "That sounds hard! How do you know what to do? What does Ken do to help?"
"Well, sometimes we don't really know what to do, we just start with an idea" Javyk replied. "For example, in this case, we only had the original biological profile of the Phasenmorph to go off of. But we knew that the structure of the Phasenmorph could be built on, because the Vifer share the same biological makeup. Kendall deduced that if we can reproduce Vifer tissue on a large scale, and keep it alive with the same self-sustaining tech that a Phasenmorph uses. Together we were able to figure out a way to make it so that we can create large amounts of bio-synthetic material, that can live without forever, without having a central brain. This allows the Phasenmorph to then link into the material and become the brain for it."
As smoke began pouring from Cecil's ears, Nicky gushed "Wow, that sounds awesome!"
"Wow, we've been here for two hours," Javyk exclaimed, as they walked out of the dining room.
Rylan rolled his eyes, "Well, you did spend at least thirty minutes, between you and Kendall, explaining the cellular absorption of Vitaferrum, in the Phasenmorph's host's body, and how that affects the thought and energy transfer rate between the two."
"Actually I'm surprised Dad didn't stop us," added Kendall.
"Nicky kept asking questions," said Javyk. "So I figured it was okay to keep going."
"It was fun getting to hear about what Kendall's been working on!" Nicky said in his defense.
"I suppose we should... ummm... talk now?" Javyk said uncomfortably.
"Right... so, I'm going to go bug Helen for the recipe for tonight's dinner," Rylan said, picking up on the tension. "Hey Cody, do you think you could introduce me to Helen? I've never actually spoken with her other than just a few comments tonight at dinner."
"Sure!" Cody said excitedly, as he grabbed Rylan's hand and started to drag him back into the dining room.
Rylan grinned, as he was dragged off, "Good luck guys. And Javyk, try not to make an ass of yourself. I'll be back in a few minutes."
Javyk glared at Rylan and stuck out his tongue, which caused Rylan to cackle to himself as he pulled the door closed behind him.
"Yeah, I might as well not beat around the bush here," Nicky stated bluntly. "But before tonight, Javyk, I flat out hated you."
"Nicky!" Kendall started to say in a disappointed tone.
"What? Was I NOT supposed to be ticked off at him?" Nicky quickly replied. "From almost the moment we arrived here at the Clan Compound, this kid we didn't even know just steps in and practically kidnaps you! And I'm supposed to be okay with that?"
Kendall sighed loudly, "I know, and that's partly my fault. I kinda got caught up in the excitement of someone thinking that I was more than just some dumb kid. And before you say anything, I know that you've always pointed out that I'm smart. But it felt different coming from someone I didn't know, and... it wasn't until later, when that surprise wore off, that I realized I was seriously missing you."
"Sure, but if it was just that, then it wouldn't have taken Dad saying something about missing dinners before I started to see you again," Nicky mumbled, as he looked down at the ground. "You've been so wrapped up in what you've been working on, and until tonight I didn't even know WHAT you were working on. All anyone would tell me was 'something important', like that means anything."
Nicky looked up at Kendall with tears in his eyes, "Ken, you're my twin. Not getting to see you much of the last few weeks has been torture. I've been seeing you less and less, especially now that you're actually dating Javyk. And it was even worse with everything that's been going on the last few weeks. People have been getting hurt, Clan members have lost family. What if I lost you?"
Kendall quickly rushed forward and pulled Nicky into a tight hug, "I'm sorry."
"No, this is my fault," Javyk said firmly. "I didn't really understand what I was taking Kendall away from. So, until he mentioned something to me, I was completely oblivious to what was going on. I... I don't have the same kind of family that you guys do, so I didn't understand. He had to spell it out for me."
Javyk took a few steps closer and looked Nicky in the eyes, "From now on, I'll make sure that we're at every dinner... maybe breakfast too. And you have permission to come visit us in the lab any time you want."
Nicky gave a weak chuckle, "I guess that's a start."
Just then the door clicked open again, announcing Rylan's return.
"Everyone good in here?" Rylan asked gently, trying to test the waters to see if he was interrupting or not.
Nicky nodded, "Yeah, I think so. Not perfect, but I think we'll get there from here."
"Good! I'm glad to hear that," grinned Rylan.
"Weren't you supposed to be talking to Helen?" Javyk asked suspiciously. "And what did you do with Cody?"
"Wellll... Helen told me that she wouldn't give me any recipes unless I started showing up at the table more," replied Rylan. "And I left Cody talking to Jimmy and Davey... okay, left might be the wrong word. More like I got dragged into a conversation that I knew nothing about, and Cody rescued me and told me to go check on you guys. I swear, that kid's a saint."
"Yeah, he's a pretty awesome little brother," said Nicky. "Even if he did spend the first part of dinner kicking the life out of my right leg."
"So, what are the plans for the rest of the evening?" asked Rylan.
"Would... would you guys be interested in maybe playing with Lego's for a little bit, before bed?" Nicky said, the uncertainty evident in his voice. "Dad got us a few new sets that I haven't been able to build yet."
Kendall grinned, "Yeah! That actually sounds like fun!"
"Play? I don't really... play," mumbled Javyk.
"What he means to say is, yes, he'd love to since it'll help build those social skills of his," quipped Rylan, earning him a glare from Javyk.
"Okay... you guys will have to show me what to do then," said Javyk.
"Alright, sounds like a plan, lead the way bro," Kendall said excitedly to Nicky, as he finally released him from their hug.
Josiah slowly opened his eyes to find Koushiro leaning over him, with a very concerned look on his face.
Josiah grinned and started to stretch, "Good morning."
"Yes, but of what day?" Koushiro said gently. "You've been asleep for about a week."
"What?!" Josiah said in shock, as he quickly sat up. To his surprise, he was no longer laying in a cave, but instead he was laying on a stone bed, in a courtyard lined with cherry trees and fountains. "How did I... we're at the temple?"
Koushiro nodded, "I carried you the rest of the way up the mountain when I couldn't get you to wake the next morning."
"Oh...sorry about that," Josiah said, in a slightly embarrassed tone.
"It's alright," replied Koushiro. "Jenrya, your high priest, was here with us until just a few minutes ago. He went to check on some visitors that we've received. He should be back shortly."
"Well, I should warn you now," said Josiah. "He probably isn't going to like what I have to tell him."
Koushiro grinned and stated, "You aren't staying."
"How did you know?" Josiah said in surprise.
"You found what you were looking for," answered Koushiro. "I can feel it. You're whole again. But you have a life outside of here now, so you have a reason to be out there. You asked if I would help you, so if you still want me to, then I also figured we can't do that from here either."
"I did ask for your help. Thank you. And I do have a life..." Josiah started to say but then what Koushiro told him when he woke up suddenly came back to him. "Oh my God! You said I've been asleep for a week?! Gavin must be freaking out!"
"You're damn right I am!"