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As the tingles subsided, Kevin, Kenny, and Jake looked around in wonder, not as much at the beautiful house as the fact that they'd just moved halfway across the country in a few seconds.
"Welcome to Southcrest." Mark said with a smile at the awestruck expressions on all three of his visitors.
"Let's go in the study in case anyone calls." Zac said and led the way.
Everyone followed Zac, not being able to do anything but stare at the new surroundings.
"Do you live here?" Kevin asked in wonder.
"Actually, no... not technically. But I'm here more often than my own home." Zac said with a smile at Mark.
"What's going to happen to us now?" Jake asked as his amazement gave way to suspicion.
"I don't know. What would you like to happen?" Mark asked and gestured to some comfortable chairs.
Jake got an amused expression on his face before saying in a weary voice, "What I'd like ain't never gonna happen so why don't you tell me what's going on here."
Mark was about to give the standard 'Clan Short of Vulcan' history when the tone of Jake's voice made him reconsider and ask, "No, really. If you had one wish to make your life better, what would it be?"
Jake got a disgusted look on his face as he said, "You really want to know?"
"Yeah, I really would." Mark said seriously.
"I'd want the last two years to just go away, like they never happened. I wanna be thirteen again and not have to worry about anything. I wanna have parents and a home and food and be able to go in my room and close the door and listen to my music and forget about everything." Jake said as his voice went from angry to almost a whisper.
"Well, I can't do anything about making you thirteen again... you might talk to Cory about that one, he seems to be able to do just about anything. As far as the rest, we might be able to help you." Mark said in thought.
Jake stood up suddenly and nearly shouted, "You ain't gonna send me to an orphanage or a group home. I been dodging that for over a year and ain't been caught yet."
"I'm not sending you anywhere." Mark said calmly, then when Jake seemed to have settled down, he continued, "A lot of the guys we know are adopted. You won't be placed with anyone, but you may be invited to join a family. If you accept the invitation, you'll have your wish... except for the thirteen thing." Mark finished with a smile.
"It ain't that simple." Jake said with regret.
"Why not?" Mark asked in genuine concern.
"I'm a junkie. I'm hooked. No decent family's going to want someone like me who might steal from them or end up dead in an alley from an overdose." Jake nearly mumbled.
Mark was at a loss for words as a voice came from the doorway. "I wouldn't count on that."
Before anyone could make an introduction, Jake gasped, "You're him... you're Aaron Carter!"
Aaron nodded and watched Jake's reaction carefully.
"Aaron, this is Jake. Jake, I think you know Aaron." Zac said in an amused voice.
"Hi Jake." Aaron said with a smile at Jake's obvious star-struck gaze.
Jake's reaction was the last thing Aaron had expected.
Jake crumbled to the floor crying.
Aaron walked over to Jake's side, then looked around the room and said, "Why don't you take the new guys to the kitchen and see if you can find them something while I talk to Jake for a minute."
Zac and Mark both nodded, then Zac said, "Come on guys, let's give them some time."
Kevin and Kenny both walked hesitantly around Jake who was sobbing in the floor with Aaron crouched by his side.
"Come on." Mark said to coax them out the door, and then closed it.
* * * * *
"What's he gonna do to Jake?" Kevin asked with concern.
"He's just going to see if he can help him." Mark said as he led the way into the kitchen.
"How's it going guys?" JC asked, then saw Kevin and Kenny and asked, "You didn't pull a Cory did you?"
Zac and Mark looked at each other in question for a second before Mark realized what JC was asking, "No Josh, we didn't adopt them. Their apartment wasn't safe so we brought them here to figure out what to do next."
A moment of silence fell over the kitchen as everyone just looked at each other.
"Well, aren't you going to introduce me?" JC asked impatiently.
"Are you JC?" Kenny asked cautiously.
"Yeah. But the family calls me Josh. And the guy at the table engrossed in his game boy is my son, Justy." JC said with a smile, then glanced at the stove and stirred a bubbling pot of sauce.
"I'm Kenny Waite and this is my brother Kevin Harris." Kenny said timidly.
"Nice to meet you. Are you two hungry? I'm making this sauce for lasagna for dinner tonight, but it's almost noon so I can fix us all a nice lunch." JC said as he walked to the refrigerator and looked at the contents.
"Sure." Kenny said immediately.
"No, thank you." Kevin said quietly.
"You're not hungry yet?" Kenny asked with concern.
"I already ate today." Kevin mumbled.
"But you should really eat more than once a day..." Kenny began but stopped at the feeling of a hand on his shoulder.
"Kevin. How long have you been eating one meal a day?" JC asked seriously as he squatted to be closer to Kevin's eye level.
"Um, always." Kevin said with a lost expression.
"Kenny, if Kevin isn't used to eating three meals a day, it would make him uncomfortable, maybe even sick if we pushed him to try." JC said to Kenny, then turned to look Kevin in the eyes and said, "Kevin, you only have to eat as much as you feel comfortable with and only when you want to. We may offer you food if we're having some, or invite you to join us for a meal so we can enjoy your company, but you don't have to eat if you don't feel like it. Is that okay with you?"
Kevin looked at JC in wonder and nodded slowly.
"Why aren't you on tour with N*Sync?" Kenny asked curiously, breaking the serious mood.
JC stood up and walked to the stove again as he said, "We decided to take a few months off before we get back to the studio. Some of us are cooking up lyrics or music..."
"...Or lasagna." Justy said with a smile from the table.
"Did you lose your last Pac-man?" JC asked with a teasing smile.
"Pac-man? Come on Pop, it's time to move into the twenty-first century." Justy said as he shook his head.
"Actually, there's a pretty good Pac-man for game boy. I've got it and it's got really good game action. If I ever get my stuff, I'll show you." Kenny said seriously.
"I've seen it at the store, but I didn't think it'd be any good." Justy admitted.
"Well, I like it." Kenny said with a shrug, then noticed Kevin's lost expression.
Kenny realized that Kevin probably never played a game boy or owned a single video game.
"Can Kevin and I go outside for a minute? I mean, would you mind?" Kenny asked cautiously.
"Sure, the door's right there, just stay close enough to the house that you can hear when I call for lunch."
"Yeah." Kenny said and walked to the door, followed by Kevin.
"Were you still wanting to show me something?" Kenny asked before they reached the door.
"I left it in the hallway." Kevin said quickly.
"Go get it and I'll wait outside." Kenny said and went out the door.
* * * * *
As soon as Kevin and Kenny's group was gone, David walked to stand beside the twins and asked, "Did you guys happen to pick up where Kevin's mother worked?"
"A bar called 'The Flamingo' about five blocks from here, but she calls it 'The Flaming O'." Jamie said as he remained focused on one of the unconscious men.
A transporter beam resolved into the forms of four Starfleet security officers.
"JJ, can I have a minute of your time?" David asked quickly.
"Sure. What do you need?" JJ asked seriously as he approached and Gabe moved slightly away from the twins so he could divide his attention between the twins and the opened door.
"The mother works at a place called 'The Flamingo' about five blocks from here. Get someone to contact her and fill her in on the situation. The prisoners need to be taken into custody and someone will need to stay here until the door is replaced or repaired. We can't leave this place standing open." David said with authority.
"Why not? What could they steal? A twelve year old TV with a coat hanger antenna?" JJ asked seriously.
"When you have as little as this, every single thing is precious. You're head of security, see that this place is secure." David said, matching JJ's serious tone.
"Yeah, sorry. This place is really creeping me out. I can't imagine living like this." JJ said as he looked at the hopeless, barren room.
"I know. Seeing this helps me realize just how lucky I am." David said distantly, then noticed movement from one of the security officers.
"Anyway, notify the mother, transport the prisoners and secure the apartment. Can you handle that?" David asked as he looked into JJ's eyes.
"I've got it. Do you think these guys are going to take me seriously?" JJ asked as he glanced at the security team watching them.
"Let's find out." David said and led the way to the group.
* * * * *
"Jake, can you tell me?" Aaron asked in a quiet voice.
"I was... your music... before my life went to shit. I'd listen to your music..." Jake said through his sobs.
"I'm glad you like it. Come up here on the couch, tell me what's wrong." Aaron said and stood to move to the couch.
Jake got up on shaky legs and took a seat on the couch, the other end from Aaron.
"Jake, you can sit by me if you want. I promise not to bite." Aaron said with a small smile.
Jake scooted over and tentatively touched shoulders with Aaron.
Aaron responded by draping an arm over Jake's shoulder and pulling him into a gentle hug.
"Tell me what's wrong Jake." Aaron said quietly.
"I used to listen to your music when I was at home. My parents would fight and I'd put my headphones on and listen to you and for a little bit, everything was okay." Jake said and slumped down a little in the couch so he could rest his head on Aaron's shoulder.
"I've had my own parent issues. I know how much it can hurt." Aaron said soothingly.
"Then when my mom died... I had to hit the streets. I thought I'd be better off. I've heard about how you get beat up all the time and gang raped in those group homes." Jake said in a distant voice.
"What about your dad?" Aaron asked gently.
"He went to prison for killing mom." Jake said slowly.
"Oh..." Aaron said as he thought.
"Mark was talking about me maybe getting a family but..." Jake pulled back to look into Aaron's eyes.
"I heard. It's okay Jake. We can get you help." Aaron said with assurance.
"There's no help for someone like me. I tried once. God, it hurts. I don't have words to tell you how much it hurt when I tried to kick it." Jake said as tears started rolling down his cheeks.
"I know a Doctor, we call him Doc Austin. I bet if we asked him he could find someone to help you the right way so you don't have to go through so much pain." Aaron said as he began a slight rocking motion to soothe Jake.
"I got no money. No insurance, nothin. The government cut back on the rehab programs so there's a waiting list for a year or more to get into the ones that're still open. Most of the church one's don't want a whore, not a male one anyway, the ones that would take me take longer to get into than the government rehab." Jake said with regret.
"So you've been checking into it?" Aaron asked with hope.
"Yeah." Jake said in a defeated whisper.
"Then I think we'll probably be able to help you. I can't say how yet, but there's a really good chance... But I'd like to know one thing." Aaron said seriously.
"What?" Jake asked, sounding a little scared, as if Aaron was about to withdraw his offer of help.
"Why did you take the drugs to begin with?" Aaron asked slowly.
"To feel good." Jake said in thought.
"I get the feeling that you were using the drugs to fill a spot in your life where something was missing. If you try and quit the drugs and that empty spot's still there, the drugs are probably going to seem like the only thing that will stop the emptiness. If you can figure out what that something is, then maybe we can fill that empty place with something good and all you'll have to beat is the physical addiction." Aaron said in thought.
"How'd you come up with that?" Jake asked in wonder.
"Because I had my own empty spot. I tried to fill it with brooding and self-pity. I pretty much closed myself off from everything and everyone I loved because I was missing that one thing in my life. If I couldn't have that one thing in my life, I didn't feel like I wanted anything." Aaron said distantly.
"What were you missing?" Jake asked curiously.
"A mom." Aaron said in a small voice.
"I heard about that. My life turned to shit about the same time as yours. So did your mom finally take you back?" Jake asked with interest.
"No, I found a new mom. She loves me just the same as if I was born to her. And I love her with all my heart." Aaron said in peace.
"I'm glad. I don't know what mine is, but I don't think it's a mom. We were never close..." Jake said darkly.
"What about your dad?" Aaron asked carefully.
"He's a murderer." Jake said seriously.
"Yeah. But do you miss having a dad?" Aaron asked, seeing a glimmer of something in Jake's response.
"I don't... I mean... yeah, I guess." Jake said in confusion.
"Try to imagine having a dad, not your dad, but the dad of your dreams. What would it be like?" Aaron asked in an almost hypnotic voice.
"He'd want to do stuff with me, I mean like go places and see things." Jake said in thought.
"Tell me someplace you'd go." Aaron said as he shifted back into the couch to be more comfortable.
"Graceland." Jake said with a smile.
"You an Elvis fan?" Aaron asked with surprise.
"A music fan. I'd like to visit anyplace that has to do with music." Jake said peacefully.
"I think you ended up in the right place then. Do you know whose house this is?" Aaron asked with a smile.
"I thought it was yours." Jake said seriously.
"Well, I live here... hang on a minute." Aaron said as he disentangled himself from Jake and went to the desk to press the intercom.
"Josh, do you have a minute to come to the study?" Aaron asked into the 'All Call'.
A second later a voice said, "Yeah, if Zac will watch over lunch for me."
"Leave some for us Zac, or you're going swimming." Aaron said with a smile, then went back to the couch.
"Josh?" Jake asked with concern.
"Just wait." Aaron said with a smile.
* * * * *
"Can I go with you guys?" Justy asked as he followed Kevin out the door.
Kenny looked at Kevin with question.
"I guess. But you can't laugh or make fun of me." Kevin said in warning.
"I won't. What do you have in the bag?" Justy asked with excitement.
"My pictures." Kevin said and sat on the grass in the shade of a tree.
Kenny and Justy sat on either side of Kevin, waiting for him to pull out the pictures.
"I need to find the right one." Kevin said slowly and started to dig through the pictures, careful not to let the other two boys see.
"Is that a gun?" Justy asked as he recognized the outline in the side of the pillowcase.
"Yeah." Kevin said as he continued to look for 'the right one'.
"Now I REALLY won't make fun of you." Justy said seriously.
Kenny looked at Justy and smiled.
"Here it is." Kevin said in triumph and pulled the picture out of the bag.
"What is it?" Justy asked in confusion.
"It's Gabe." Kenny said in wonder as he stared at the picture.
"You can see it?" Kevin asked with excitement.
"Yeah... can I touch it?" Kenny asked hesitantly.
"Go ahead. You're the only other person who can see what I see." Kevin said happily.
"It looks kinda like a little dog to me." Justy said as he looked at the picture more closely.
Kenny touched the picture and said, "His name is Gabriel Mark Michaels, he's twelve years old... he has a brother... named... 'Sitting Eagle'?"
"How can you do that?" Justy asked in wonder.
"I don't know. I can sometimes know stuff when I touch something. Like where it's been, who's touched it and stuff like that, but I've never been able to see stuff like this before... do you know Gabe?" Kenny asked as he looked up from the picture.
"Yeah, and all the stuff you said about him is right. What else can you see about him?" Justy asked as he looked into the picture again.
"Lots of stuff, two other brothers... and some stuff he probably wouldn't want anyone to know about him." Kenny said in thought.
"You mean that he's gay and has a boyfriend?" Justy asked curiously.
"Yeah, you knew?" Kenny asked in surprise.
"Sure. Me and Gabe and Trav are good friends." Justy said proudly.
"How did you draw this? I mean, we just met Gabe." Kenny asked in wonder.
"I just drew it. I don't know what it's going to be till I'm done... then I can see things no one else can in the pictures. But I don't see as much as you. I just see Gabe. I can see right now that he's really serious, a little worried." Kevin said as he studied the picture again.
"It's because he's at your apartment. He's trying to stay focused on everything around him." Kenny said as he looked deeply into the picture.
"What other pictures do you have? Can we see them?" Justy asked with excitement.
Kevin thought for a second before saying, "Yeah. But be careful with them, they're important to me."
"I promise I'll be careful." Justy said solemnly.
Kevin carefully pulled out a stack of pictures on various types of paper and laid them on the ground.
"Can you tell me who each one is?" Justy asked as he looked at the top picture and only saw a vague shape of a yellow bird.
"This one is Cathy. She's happy a lot." Kevin said with a smile.
"She lives with her grandmother. The woman adores her and treats her like a princess." Kenny said as he looked into the picture.
"She didn't used to be happy. She was sad most of the time, sometimes scared." Kevin said as he continued to look at the little bird.
"Yeah. Her mom was nuts and treated her really bad. She was finally put in a mental hospital and now Cathy gets to live with her grandmother and grandfather." Kenny said as he radiated contentment.
"When I didn't have any friends, I'd sit in my room and draw these. For a long time, these were my only friends." Kevin said quietly.
Kevin picked up Cathy's picture and sat it aside and said with a giggle, "This one is Ricky."
"That's Sitting Eagle, that's Gabe's brother." Kenny said quickly.
"Yeah, he was born with the name Ricky, his name in the Seminole tribe is Sitting Eagle." Justy explained.
"Oh, that makes sense." Kenny said, then waited for the next picture.
"This one..." Kevin looked at the picture with worry.
"She's dead." Kenny said and looked away from the picture.
"Her name was Janice." Kevin said as tears welled up in his eyes.
"Do you know what happened to her?" Justy asked quietly.
Kenny nodded as a tear fell down his cheek and he whispered, "Please don't ask me to tell you. Kev, would you please put her picture in the bag. It hurts to look at it."
Kevin reverently took the picture and carefully put it back in the pillowcase.
As Kevin moved Janice's picture, he revealed then next one in the stack.
Kenny was staring in disbelief at the picture before him.
"I only have a few adults. But he seems nice. His name is Allen." Kevin said as he looked at the picture drawn on a brown paper bag.
"It's Pop." Kenny said in a gasp, then laid both hands firmly on the bag to feel everything he could.
Justy and Kevin shared a concerned look.
"He's alive." Kenny said in a flood of relief.
"I can't feel him, is he okay?" Kevin asked with concern.
"Yeah. Let me see... he's asleep... he's in the hospital!" Kenny said and pulled the cell phone out of his pocket as quickly as he could.
After a long minute of waiting for the phone to be answered Kenny finally said, "Tiffy? How's Pop?"
"Calm down Kenny. He's going to be fine. Dad found him passed out on his bedroom floor so he called an ambulance. As far as we can tell, he took some sleeping pills..."
"...was he trying to kill himself?" Kenny asked desperately.
"No. He took just what he was supposed to. The problem is, he hasn't slept much in the past week and when the pills took effect, they completely knocked him out. The doctors say he's going to be fine. He just needs to rest." Tiffany said with assurance.
"Thanks Tiffy. God, I've been so worried about him. Thank your dad for me." Kenny said in relief.
"Yeah. How are you? Was David able to help?" Tiffany asked with concern.
"David got us out of there. We're in Orlando." Kenny said happily.
"Then you need to go and see your Pop. The doctors said he should be waking up in an hour or so." Tiffany said assertively.
"Which hospital?" Kenny asked quickly.
"Orlando Regional Medical Center, room 312."
"I'll be there as soon as I can. Thanks again Tiffy. If it wasn't for you, my brother and me would both be dead right now. I owe you my life." Kenny said seriously.
"Are you being overly dramatic?" Tiffany asked only half teasingly.
"No." Kenny said without a drop of humor.
"Do you want to pay me back?" Tiffany asked in a serious voice.
"Anything Tiff." Kenny said immediately.
"Be there when someone needs you. That's all I did. If you can do that, we're even." Tiffany said firmly.
"I will. I promise." Kenny said with a smile.
"Now get your bony butt over to that hospital and see your Pop." Tiffany said with a chuckle.
"I'm on my way. Bye Tiff." Kenny said quickly and waited for her 'bye' before turning off his phone.
"Justy, do you think you can get me a ride to the hospital?" Kenny asked hopefully.