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JC walked into the study and was surprised to find a stranger held tightly in Aaron's arms.
Silence fell over the room for a split second before Jake exploded, "YOUR JC FROM *NSYNC!"
JC took an involuntary step back at the volume and felt the urge to run and hide as the fifteen year old boy bounded off the couch and nearly tackled him.
"He's a fan." Aaron said with an impish grin.
"Really?" JC asked with full sarcasm.
"I'm sorry!" Jake said quickly and released JC, then took a step back.
"It's okay. And call me Josh." He said with an amused smile.
"And this is Jake." Aaron said with amusement.
"Wait... Zac, that was Zac Hanson wasn't it?" Jake asked with disbelief.
"Yep." Aaron said with a full smile.
* * * * *
David and JJ walked to the security team and David asked, "Who's in charge?"
A tall woman with her red hair cut so short it was nearly a military crew cut stepped forward and said, "Lieutenant Mira Kelly."
"Lieutenant Kelly, this is Ensign Richardson. He's a security officer assigned to the Starship Enterprise and the Head of Security for Clan Short of Vulcan. You'll be following his instructions. Any questions?" David asked seriously.
"Who are you, sir?" Lieutenant Kelly asked respectfully.
"I am David Gallagher, a member of Clan Short and I am in command of this mission." David said as he held her gaze.
"Thank you, sir." Lieutenant Kelly acknowledged.
JJ pulled out his Starfleet ID and showed it to Lieutenant Kelly before saying, "I need one security officer to accompany Mr. Michaels, my intelligence team and the prisoners to TerraMain. I need one to contact the superintendent of this building and get the door replaced while the other two keep this area secure."
"Right away sir." Lieutenant Kelly said seriously and started issuing orders to her officers.
"It looks like you have this under control. Let me know if anything develops," David said in a quiet voice to JJ.
"Yes sir." JJ said in a playful whisper.
David smiled and said, "You're doing a great job."
JJ beamed with pride at the compliment before saying, "You too."
David smiled and opened his communicator before saying, "TerraMain, I have one to transport to the Southcrest Ranch in Orlando."
"Standing by," a woman's voice said.
"Energize." David said, still wearing his smile.
* * * * *
"Where's Pop?" Justy asked as he entered the kitchen, followed by Kenny and Kevin.
"He's in the study with Aaron and Jake. Did you need something?" Zac asked with concern for the worry showing on Kevin and Kenny's faces.
"Yeah, a ride to the hospital." Justy said seriously.
"Why do you need to go to the hospital?" A voice asked from behind them.
Kenny, Kevin and Justy turned to see David standing in the doorway.
"My Pop's in the hospital and I need to be there when he wakes up." Kenny said in an urging tone.
David set his other questions aside and said, "Which hospital? I'll take you."
"Orlando Regional Medical Center." Kenny said with relief.
* * * * *
"Flamingo. This is Lori, how may I help you today?" A woman's voice answered pleasantly.
"I need to speak with a Ms. Harris regarding an emergency with her son." JJ said as professionally as he could.
"I'm sorry, but Gloria doesn't work here anymore." Lori said over the phone.
"When did she quit?" JJ asked in surprise.
"Last night. She came in about an hour ago and picked up her last check." Lori said, sounding considerably less pleasant.
"I'm Ensign Richardson of Starfleet Security. Do you happen to know where I might be able to find her?" JJ asked in his most mature voice.
"No. But did you say this was about her son?" Lori asked hesitantly.
"Yes." JJ responded slowly.
"What's his name? I might have something here for him." Lori said seriously.
"Kevin Harris." JJ said immediately.
"She left a letter here for him." Lori said, sounding a little worried.
"Would you mind reading it to me? Maybe it tells us where she went." JJ asked, having a feeling it told anything but.
There was a long moment of silence before Lorie muttered, "That Bitch!"
"Excuse me?" JJ asked carefully.
"I always knew she was a bitch but listen to this."
Kevin and Kenny,
Sorry boys, you two are on your own. I did my best to keep you going this long but there's no way I can afford two of you. By the time you come looking for me and find this I'll be a few states away, so don't bother looking.
Go down the hall and ask that Mexican woman if she'll take you in. She always thought you were her business for some reason. If not, the cops can put you in a home somewhere. Face it, we'll all be better off this way. For what it's worth, I'm sorry, but at some point you've got to cut your losses. By the way, I left your birth certificate and stuff in the top drawer of my dresser.
"I can't believe any mother could do that." JJ said in disbelief.
"I worked with the bitch for almost seven years and I didn't know she had a kid. I thought she left this letter for a boyfriend she was dumping. I'm sorry I can't be any help Ensign but that's all I know." Lori said quietly.
"Don't worry Ma'am, Kevin and Kenny are under the protection of Clan Short of Vulcan. What that means is that they won't be separated, they'll have plenty to eat and they'll never have to wonder if someone cares about them. Honestly, if their mother is that kind of person, they're a lot better off with us." JJ said with certainty.
"Thanks Ensign Richardson, I feel a lot better knowing that they'll be okay... are you single?" Lori asked hopefully.
"No ma'am, I'm not. Thanks for all your help. Someone will be down soon to get that letter." JJ said and hung up the phone.
The two security officers stationed in the hall looked at each other with question at the roar of childish laughter that came from inside the apartment.
* * * * *
As the twins completed their mind meld with T'Prang, the Vulcan woman sent to assist them, she asked, "May I ask a question."
"Of course." Jacob answered immediately.
"You seem distracted. Are the memories you retrieved causing you distress?"
Jacob shared a look with Jamie and glanced at Gabe before answering, "No, we were trained to compartmentalize those memories. In human terms, we can distance ourselves from them by looking at them as 'part of our job'."
"Your statement seems inconsistent with the evidence at hand. You are in distress." T'Prang said firmly.
"I noticed it too. What's wrong?" Gabe asked as he walked to stand between the twins.
"It's Kevin. We saw what his life has been like and... it really bothered me." Jacob said in thought.
"Is that not part of your job, just as it was with these two?" T'Prang asked curiously.
"No. It's not the same. The constant attacks on his self image, the degrading remarks from everyone whose opinion he's supposed to trust and the almost constant teasing that he had to put up with make me... us feel bad." Jacob said quietly.
"I do not understand." T'Prang said in thought.
"I guess it's because we tease people sometimes. Not in a mean, hurting way, but still..." Jamie said introspectively.
"It makes us feel like we're somehow responsible for hurting him." Jacob said darkly.
Silence fell over the room until it was broken by Gabe, "I understand what you're saying. If it was me feeling this way, what advice would you give me?"
Jamie and Jacob stared into each other's eyes for a long moment before Jamie said, "We would tell you to talk to Dan and get help dealing with it."
"There you go." Gabe said simply.
"Fascinating." T'Prang said as she watched the exchange.
All three looked at her in question.
"Dealing with emotions is unfamiliar to me. It is fascinating to see the process of introspection, identification of the emotion causing the distress and the resolution to the problem." T'Prang said seriously as she raised both her eyebrows, which was the Vulcan equivalent of bouncing and clapping like a school girl.
"Glad to help." Jacob said as he saw the humor in the situation.
"A copy of the report will be forwarded to your Clan's headquarters. Do you require any further assistance?" T'Prang asked, back in full Vulcan control.
"No thank you. We are done here. You performed your duties perfectly as expected. Live long and prosper, T'Prang of Vulcan." Gabe said as he gave the appropriate salute.
"Live long and prosper, Gabriel, Jacob and James of Clan Short." T'Prang said as she returned the salute.
* * * * *
"Kenny, could you tell me about your Pop? This is the first I've heard of him." David asked as they left Southcrest.
Kenny looked at David hesitantly, but finally said, "He was my Dad's boyfriend. He's been a father to me for the past three years."
David glanced at Kenny and recognized the apprehensive look on his face. "It's okay, Kenny. Aaron's my boyfriend. No one's going to think twice about your dad being gay." David said with assurance.
Kenny visibly relaxed before saying, "Good, I was worried that you wouldn't let me see Pop."
"I'd never do that. Kenny I need to ask you something really serious, okay?" David asked carefully.
"Okay." Kenny said hesitantly.
"I'm the one whose in charge of what happens to you and your brother. I need to know about your Dad and your Pop so I can make the best decision for you. Can you tell me about them?" David asked seriously.
"Yeah." Kenny said and thought for a minute before continuing.
"Dad and Pop were great most of the time, but sometimes, usually late at night they used to fight. I could hear what they said, so I know more than they think I do. When they'd fight, it wasn't the bad kind of fighting, but like arguing. Pop was trying to make Dad understand that he loved him. Dad and Pop knew each other for about eight years. Pop always loved Dad, but after Mom, Dad didn't want to be married or anything like that. Pop got to be his friend, but wouldn't sleep with him because he did want someone to marry. He wanted to marry Dad, but Dad swore that he'd never get married again." Kenny said distantly.
"So how did they finally get together?" David asked with interest.
"When Dad found out he had HIV, the only person he could talk to about it was Pop. They talked and cried all night and Pop stayed at our house for about a week before he finally went back to his apartment. About three days later he came back and asked Dad if he could stay the night. I guess Dad was scared enough or lonely enough or something that he said 'yes'. It was about a week later that Pop moved in and lived with us for the next three years." Kenny finished with a smile.
"How was it living with your Pop?" David asked casually.
"Pop's cool. He wanted me to stay with him after Dad died, but then he said I couldn't." Kenny finished sadly.
"Did he say why?" David asked as he tried to keep at least *some* attention on his driving.
"He said that no one would let a boy live with a gay man who wasn't related to him. He said that even if he wasn't gay, because he's single, they probably still wouldn't let him have me." Kenny said sadly.
David nodded in thought as he made the turn into the hospital parking lot.
* * * * *
"This has got to be a dream. Aaron Carter, JC and Zac Hanson." Jake said to no one as he stared into space.
"I think you broke him." Aaron teased.
"I've seen this before, 'Celebrity Overload'." JC said in thought.
"What can we do for him?" Aaron asked in a half-serious voice.
"Invite Backstreet over? That should either cure him or kill him." JC said with a smile.
"Seriously, Jake's got some problems and I was hoping that maybe you could think of some way to help him." Aaron said as he dropped the playful expression completely.
"Give me the short version and I'll see what I can do." JC said and took a seat on the couch, the other end from Jake.
Aaron took a seat beside Jake and said, "His Dad killed his Mom and was sent to prison. Since then he's been living on the streets and got hooked on drugs... the hard kind."
"I see. What do you think we should do?" JC asked in thought.
"Honestly, I think he needs a Dad, the same way I needed a Mom. I know he has to go through Rehab and all that, but I can just feel inside me that the only way it's going to do any good is if he knows without a doubt that he's got a dad waiting on him when he's done." Aaron said tensely.
"Trust your instincts, Aaron. Do you have any likely candidates for fatherhood?" JC asked as he shifted to face Aaron fully.
"Not yet, but do you remember how it happened with Jamie and Jacob... or Justy for that matter? Didn't it just, I don't know, feel right?" Aaron asked with difficulty.
"It really did. I hope you can pull this off, Aaron. Your friend looks like he's going to need a lot of support." JC said as he looked at Jake who seemed to be coming back to reality.
"He'll never have to worry about that. I'll be here for him whenever he needs me and I'm sure David will too." Aaron said confidently.
"What?" Jake asked as he looked at Aaron and JC.
"Aaron was just saying that whatever happens next, he's going to stick with you. And you can count me in on that too. I'm sure as soon as Chip gets back to Earth, he'll sign on too." JC said with a smile.
Jake looked from JC to Aaron and tears began to flow again.
"Come here buddy, let it out." Aaron said and pulled Jake into another hug.
"This is where I came in." JC said and got up off the couch.
"Any advice?" Aaron asked as JC walked toward the door.
"Talk to David." JC said seriously, then closed the door behind him.
* * * * *
"Excuse me, the guys in the hall said you're in charge?" A police officer said incredulously.
"That's right. I'm Ensign Richardson from Starfleet Security, I'm here in my capacity as Head of Security for Clan Short of Vulcan." JJ said and showed his ID.
"Okay... I was just wondering what happened here. Did you break in the door?" The police officer asked in a disbelieving voice.
"Officer..." JJ looked at the officer's name badge and continued, "Officer Chase, there were two children left unattended in this apartment. They were made aware that they were targeted by an individual known as 'Spade' and became concerned. One of the children contacted my Clan and requested assistance. We arrived and surveyed the situation, then while we were preparing to transport the children two large men who I'm assuming worked for the aforementioned 'Spade' broke down the door and attempted to cause bodily injury. Both were subdued and are now in custody of Starfleet Security at the Terra Main facility."
Officer Chase blinked twice before asking, "What happened to the kids?"
"They are in Clan Short's custody." JJ said succinctly.
"What about their parents?" The officer asked.
"The father is dead, the mother abandoned them last night. She left a letter at her place of business stating that she would not be returning." JJ said in nearly Vulcan calmness.
"It sounds like you've got it all handled, I'd just like a few details for my reports. What were the children's names?" Officer Chase asked as he pulled out a notepad.
"Kevin Harris and Kenneth Waite." JJ said quickly.
"And their ages?"
"They are eleven." JJ said seriously.
"And your age?" Officer Chase asked with a smile.
JJ couldn't help but smile in response as he said, "I'm twelve."
"Can I see that ID again?" Officer Chase asked suspiciously.
JJ handed over his ID and waited as Officer Chase looked at it carefully.
"I just had to see for myself that it was real. The guys at the station aren't going to believe this." Officer Chase said with a chuckle.
"The custodian is here to replace the door." One of the Starfleet Security officers said from the doorway.
"Good. When the apartment is secure, your services will no longer be required. I will be leaving soon, but I will be sure to make note in my report of your professionalism." JJ said, then turned his attention back to Officer Chase.
"I think that's all I need, where can I get in touch with you if I need any more details?" Officer Chase asked seriously.
"You may contact me through either Starfleet or the Vulcan Embassy." JJ said with a matching serious tone.
Officer Chase nodded and started to walk away.
"Where should I send a copy of our reports so that you'll get them?" JJ asked quickly.
"The eleventh precinct." Officer Chase said.
"Be expecting a large report. Telepathic testimony tends to yield a lot of information." JJ said with a smile.
Officer Chase's eyes got wide as he realized the implications of the statement.
"Thank you Ensign, I'll put the information to good use." Officer Chase said gratefully.
JJ smiled and nodded.
"Ensign Richardson?" One of the security men called from the door.
"Yes?" JJ responded.
"This woman is concerned about one of the boys. Would you like to answer her questions?"
"Of course, send her in." JJ said and walked to the door to greet the new arrival.
* * * * *
"What's his name?" David asked as he stood at the nurses station on the third floor.
"Allen Thompson." Kenny said quickly.
"Is Mr. Thompson allowed to have visitors yet?" David asked hopefully.
"Let me see... no. But give me a second, his doctor is right over there, I'll ask him." The nurse said and hurried away.
"She likes you." Kevin said with a smile.
"What?" David asked in surprise.
"Did you see the way she was checking you out? She likes you." Kevin said as he started to giggle.
David looked up from Kevin in time to see the nurse looking back... and not at his eyes.
Kenny broke up into laughter at David's 'deer in the headlights' expression as the nurse and doctor approached.
"I'm Doctor Reynolds. Aren't you David Gallagher?" He asked hesitantly.
"Yes, I am." David said with a smile, not quite used to being recognized.
"I think my daughter has every picture of you that's ever been published. What can I do for you today?" Dr. Reynolds asked pleasantly.
"We're here to see Mr. Thompson. Your nurse said he wasn't able to have visitors yet." David said in a business-like tone.
"That depends, is one of you two Kenny?" Dr. Reynolds asked the two boys.
"I am sir." Kenny said quietly.
"Then we'll all go see him together." Dr. Reynolds said as he led the way down the hall.
"Is my Pop going to be okay?" Kenny asked hopefully.
"He sure is. He just needed to get some sleep. That's why I wouldn't let him have any visitors. He took some sleeping pills yesterday that knocked him out. He woke up for a while this morning, then fell into a natural sleep. He's been sleeping all day, so it's time for us to wake him up and see how he's feeling." Dr. Reynolds said as they reached the door to the room.
David's cell phone rang and he stopped just outside the door.
"I'll stay out here and take this." David said to the others as he answered the call.
"This is David."
After a minute of listening David said, "That's it, I tried to give her every benefit of every doubt. I wanted to believe that she had Kevin's best interests at heart. But for her to abandon them like this... Pull out all the stops. Take every bit of evidence we've collected and nail her for every single thing she's ever done. Start with child endangerment and criminal neglect then add anything else you can think of."
After another moment of silence David asked, "Really? Do you think so? Yes, I'd like to talk to her..."
* * * * *
"Mr. Thompson, it's time to wake up. You have some visitors." Dr. Reynolds said in a soothing voice.
"Where am I?" Allen asked in confusion.
"In the hospital Mr. Thompson. You've been sleeping for approximately twenty-two hours." The Doctor said quietly.
"Have you heard from Kenny? He must be worried." Allen said groggily.
"Hi Pop." Kenny said as he approached the bed.
"Hey cute stuff, what are you doing back? I thought you had a new family in Chicago." Allen said as he leaned off the bed to hug Kenny tightly.
"I didn't like it there... this is Kevin." Kenny said and pulled his reluctant brother to the side of the bed.
"Hi Kevin." Allen said with a gentle smile.
Kevin looked carefully at the man. He had dark brown wavy hair and hazel eyes that looked miles deep and spoke of love and devotion.
Kevin hesitantly put out his hand to shake.
"I'm Kenny's Pop, so that means I'm your Pop too. Come here and give me a hug." Allen said warmly.
Kevin's resistance couldn't hold up to the warm smile and he fell against Allen as if he'd been hugging him all his life.
"You too cute stuff." Allen said and pulled Kenny in to make it a three-way hug.
After a long and much needed hug, Allen finally asked, "What happened? Why are you guys here?"
Kenny and Kevin looked at each other for a second and neither could think of where to begin.
"Would you guys mind if I told him?" David asked from the doorway.
Kenny and Kevin gave identical shakes of their heads.
"Doctor Reynolds, is there someone who could take the guys down to the cafeteria for some ice-cream? I'd like to have a few minutes to tell Allen their story." David asked hopefully.
"I could do with a cup of ice cream myself." Dr. Reynolds said with a smile.
David pulled a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket and handed it to Kevin.
"This is for ice cream for both of you. Eat it in the cafeteria and when you're done, buy some for me and your Pop. Can you do that?" David asked as he looked into Kevin's eyes.
"Yes sir." Kevin said quietly.
"Go have fun." David said and watched as the boys left the room.