"Wait, can I talk to you for a minute before you talk to everyone else?" Zane asked cautiously.
Carson stopped his wheelchair and looked up at Zane curiously, then said to the others, "Go into the living room and we'll be there in just a minute."
Zane looked around and waited until everyone but Ben had left the room before beginning to speak. "I just thought it was important that you know some things before we go any further."
"Is it something I really need to know right this minute?" Carson asked hesitantly.
"I think it is." Zane said nervously, then continued, "You remember when you and I used to talk about the signal jammer?"
"Yeah. You came up with some really good questions. I actually had to get my dad's help on one or two things. But what does that have to do with what's going on now?"
It took a moment for Zane to work up his courage, but finally he said, "The reason I asked you about the signal jammer was because my grandfather had a tracking device surgically implanted into my chest. The only way I would ever have any chance of escaping from him is if I were able to block the signal."
Carson's eyes went wide with astonishment and he didn't seem to have any words.
Zane lifted up the edge of his hoodie and revealed the modified remote control device clipped on his belt.
"Is that... you made it? You actually got the signal jammer to work?" Carson asked as he stared at the device.
"Yes. This is the only reason that I can be here. But if something happens to my jammer, it could endanger everyone here. I thought you should know..."
Carson realized how serious Zane was and quietly said, "Thank you for telling me. I don't think that there's any way that your grandfather can get to you here, but we'll do our best to see that your jammer is protected until we can come up with a more permanent solution.
There was a moment of silence as Ben gave Zane an urging look.
As Carson seemed to be about to leave, Ben quickly said, "There's one more thing."
Carson stopped and turned his wheelchair to face Ben.
"Our grandfather had Zane drugged and taken to some hidden base or camp or... I don't know, prison or something. He was gone for over two years. He hasn't told me what was done to him there, and I'll never ask him to. But it's important that you know that there is a very real possibility that Zane has been brainwashed and that somewhere down the line, his programming is going to wake up and he could... betray us." Ben said reluctantly, choking on the last few words.
Carson looked at Zane with question.
After a long, hesitant moment, Zane slowly nodded and quietly said, "I know that I'd never try to hurt any of you, but it's possible that there's something inside me that's beyond my control. I'm really ashamed about it and I don't want to believe that it's true. But Ben's right, you need to know this about me so you don't accidentally trust me too much or with something that's too important."
Carson nodded, then looked at Oleksandr clinging to Ben's side and said, "I can smell something good cooking, so we should get into the living room and get this meeting started. The sooner it's over, the sooner we can eat dinner."
Oleksandr buried his face in Ben's shoulder.
Carson smiled at the action, then motioned for the others to follow him as he rolled toward the door.
Ben and Zane shared a glance at Carson's lack of reaction before following him out of the room.
* * * * *
"Excuse me," Lucas said, drawing the attention of the other adults.
Everyone turned to find Tommy waiting impatiently at Lucas' side.
"The luggage just arrived and Tommy would like for me to help." Lucas quietly explained.
"Everything's fine. I'll be here, keeping an eye on the kids, when you're finished." Gordon said assuringly.
Lucas gave a quick smile, then rushed away.
* * * * *
"I've got some soccer balls here! Who wants to play?" Mikey called out as he walked away from the 'pool house' where various toys, pool related and otherwise, were kept.
Ty grudgingly followed along, trying to carry three soccer balls without dropping them.
Ro, Bax and Max were the first to run up to Mikey, seeming to be excited about the prospect of playing soccer.
"Have any of you guys played soccer before?" Mikey asked as he handed Max one of the balls.
"I have, some." Ro said cautiously.
Bax and Max both shook their heads in the negative.
"Good. Then why don't you show these guys how to handle the ball while I see if anyone else wants to play?" Mikey asked as he handed Ro another ball.
"Yeah! Okay!" Ro said happily.
"C'mon. It'll be fun." Lazlo encouraged as Mikey and Ty walked up.
"I really don't want to." Jay said quietly.
"If you give it a try, it might be fun." Mikey said to Jay slowly.
An angry look crossed Jay's face.
"I just got out of the hospital this morning. My dad and my uncle found me last night and took turns..." Jay glanced at Lazlo at his side, then obviously changed what he was about to say, "...hurting me. The cops didn't even knock this time, they just kicked in the door."
There was a long moment of silence, then Lazlo quietly said, "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want you feeling sorry for me. You were so happy that I was here and... you wanted me and stuff. I guess I just didn't want to do anything to change that."
"Are you okay now? Do you need to sit down?" Mikey asked with concern.
"I'll be okay. It always hurts for a few days." Jay said quietly, then added, "But I just don't feel like running or kicking a ball or anything like that."
Ty looked Jay in the eyes and a silent message passed between them. No one else caught on to it, but Jay knew without a doubt that Ty had been through a similar situation himself.
A slight nod from Ty silently assured Jay that he wasn't alone, then Ty looked at Mikey with question.
"My grandpa is a doctor, I bet he could give you something for the pain." Mikey said seriously.
"It'll be okay. It always is." Jay said frankly.
"Here's a soccer ball for you guys. You don't have to do anything, but you've got it if you want to bounce it back and forth, or something like that." Mikey said as he handed a ball to Lazlo.
"Do any of you girls want to learn to play soccer?" Ty asked as he offered a soccer ball to the three girls standing in a rough circle.
Loquicia accepted the ball from Ty and looked at it as if Ty had just handed her an alien head.
"Mikey's going to show us how to play soccer. When he shows us what to do, you can use that ball to do what he does." Ty said simply, then turned and walked away, knowing that none of the girls were the least bit interested.
* * * * *
"Do you want to play?" Kev asked Dax as they stood, side by side, propped against the side of the house, just outside the back door.
"Not in the mood." Dax said simply.
"Want to talk about it?" Kev asked casually.
"Nothin to talk about. I just don't feel like running around, kicking a ball." Dax said honestly.
"It does seem kind of pointless, when you look at it that way." Kev chuckled.
"If you take the time to think about it, most things are." Dax said as he turned his head slightly to look at Kev.
"Wow! You're just a ray of sunshine, aren't you?" Kev laughed.
Dax gave a reluctant smile as he shrugged.
* * * * *
Mikey noticed one of the kids looking at him cautiously and walked over to him.
"Here." He said as he presented the soccer ball. "I'm Mikey."
"I'm Jamiah, but your brother calls me Jamie."
"What do you want to be called?" Mikey asked, still holding the ball out.
"Jamie, I guess. No one ever gave me a nickname before... well not a nice one. I kinda like it."
"Go on, take it." Mikey said as he moved the ball a little closer.
"What do you expect me to do with this, decorate it?" Jamiah asked as he stared at the ball held out before him.
Ty, who had been watching the whole thing let his ever present stony facade break for a moment as he smiled at the question, then he said, "Mikey wants to teach us how to play soccer. He said you don't have to be big or strong or good at it, but it might be good if we know how to play some of the games that they play here."
Jamiah accepted the ball and turned it around in his hands a few times before saying, "I think I'd rather just decorate it."
"Do what makes you happy, Jamie." Mikey said from Ty's side.
Jamiah looked at Mikey with surprise.
"This isn't gym class. I'm not going to make you do anything. Tommy thought that this might be something fun for everyone, but if you don't want to play, then don't. No one's going to be mad at you or anything like that." Mikey explained simply.
"Oh." Jamiah said with surprise, then quietly added, "I suppose that I could try it. I guess that if I don't like it, I could still just decorate the thing."
Mikey chuckled, then said, "I tell you what, Jamie. If you want to decorate it, you can get with my mom. She has some scrapbooking supplies that would probably be real good for that."
Jamiah's eyes went wide at the suggestion.
Mikey noticed and conspiratorially said, "I bet that if you talk to her after dinner, she'd be happy to show you her scrapbook stuff. And if you enjoy doing things like that, I know she'd love to have some help."
"No one would mind if I did something girly like that?" Jamiah asked cautiously.
"Mind? My mom's been trying to get one of us guys interested in doing that stuff with her for as long as I can remember. Trust me, Jamie. You offer to help her do her scrapbooking and you'll be the son that she always wanted." Mikey finished in what seemed to be a serious voice.
Jamiah's gaze fell to the ball in his hands as he thought about what Mikey had said.
* * * * *
Brother Jacques, Ken, and Gordon were standing and more or less watching what the kids were up to.
They weren't really talking to each other, but all of them seemed to be on guard, ready to intervene if any of the kids started having a problem.
All attention turned to Mikey as his voice rose and he started telling the other kids the basics of passing the ball back and forth, using only their feet. He then had Ty stand a few feet away and demonstrated what he was talking about.
Ty did a decent job of returning the kick, much to his, and everyone's, surprise.
Mikey smiled proudly at him, then encouraged the others to form into groups and practice passing the ball to each other.
Misti, Annie and Loquicia had the ball sitting on the ground as they chatted amongst themselves.
Bax and Max were soon kicking the ball back and forth and seemed to be having a great time doing it.
Ro had some experience handling a soccer ball and didn't need much practice, but Lazlo seemed to have two left feet... possibly three.
It didn't matter though, because Lazlo had Jay standing a few feet away, and whenever he made a kick that came within twenty feet of Ro, Jay was telling him what a good job he was doing.
When Jamiah walked up to Ty and Mikey, seeming to be uncertain of what to do, Mikey asked Ty to work with him while he helped out the others.
All the adults on the sidelines were smiling at the way the kids were getting along and were pleased that they seemed to be happy.
Suddenly, Carson's voice came over a speaker from under the eaves of the pool house.
"Everyone, can I please have your attention. I really need for everyone to come to the living room in the main house, like, right now. We've just learned some things that I think all of you will want to know... and some of it's pretty bad. Can everyone please just come to the living room right now?"
* * * * *
"What's going on?" Ryan asked his son as he walked into the living room.
"Would you turn on the TV for me and hand me the remote? There's some stuff I want to show everyone." Carson asked hopefully as he turned on the laptop sitting on his lap.
Ryan picked up the remote and turned on the TV, then looked at his son curiously.
"Let me tell everyone at once. Then, when it's all done, I'll tell you whatever else you want to know. You'll probably want to pass some of this information on to the community, so they can prepare." Carson said gravely.
"Can you at least tell me what this is all about?" Ryan asked cautiously.
"Let's trust him to do it his own way." Deb said as she took her husband's arm.
"Tommy?" Carson asked as he looked around.
"Yeah." Tommy said as he stepped away from Lucas.
"You said that you did some stuff to prepare, just in case. When I'm done telling my part, do you want to tell everyone about that?" Carson asked seriously.
"If you can give me a minute or two, I'd like to call Uncle Karl and make sure of what's done before I start telling people about it." Tommy said honestly.
"Yeah. This could take a few minutes, especially if people have questions," Carson said frankly.
Tommy nodded, then hurried out of the room to make his call.
* * * * *
"Ro? Where's Bax?" Bug asked as he saw Ro walking into the room alone.
"Bax and Max went to see if Oma Shoupe needs help. I think the twins went with them, too." Ro said as he glanced behind him.
"Have you talked to your dads yet?" Bug asked gently.
"No. I haven't seen them." Ro quietly replied.
Bug looked around and spotted Reginald and Walter walking into the room.
"Hang with Lawrence and Roris for a minute. Let me see what I can do for you." Bug said as he looked Ro in the eyes.
"Thanks, Bug. I hope you'll be able to get them to let me do stuff, but even if you don't, thanks for trying." Ro said sincerely.
"It's what we do." Bug said with a grin, then walked away.
* * * * *
"Excuse me, I know we haven't been introduced, but I'm Madelyn Murten."
Ben looked at the woman and said, "Yes. I saw you in the kitchen. I'm Ben and this is Oleksandr."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, both of you." Madelyn said with a smile at the boy, then continued, "I know that this may be none of my business but, well, that's never stopped me before. I noticed that Oleksandr seemed to be unusually 'attached' to you and asked a few questions... what I'm trying to say is that my husband is a doctor. I've already talked to him and he'd like very much to examine Oleksandr to be sure that he isn't in need of some further medical attention."
"Thank you. I suppose that now that we're done traveling, that getting Oleksandr some help is the next thing I should be thinking about." Ben said thoughtfully.
"As I understand it, Oleksandr isn't related to you by blood or in any formal legal arrangement, is that right?" Madelyn asked carefully.
"Yes. But he doesn't have anyone else." Ben said frankly.
Madelyn nodded thoughtfully, then slowly asked, "Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I gathered, you were sort of thrust into this 'fatherhood role' rather suddenly and without much time to really think it through."
Ben nodded his agreement to her accurate assessment.
"Now that you've arrived here, there is time to explore other options, if that's something that you're interested in." Madelyn said carefully.
"How do you mean?" Ben asked slowly as he held Oleksandr a little bit tighter.
"I'm just saying that you helped out Oleksandr when he needed help and when there was no other choice. Now, you can decide what it is that you want to do next. You don't have to automatically take care of the boy, just because you arrived with him." Madelyn said simply.
"I've never felt like I had to. Brother Jacques and the twins were always there and would have taken over for me in a heartbeat if I had even hinted that I didn't want to take care of Oleksandr. There hasn't been one second that Oleksandr's been with me that I wished that he wasn't." Ben said seriously.
"Is there a problem?" Dax asked as he approached.
"No, Dax. This is Madelyn, her husband is a doctor and she was saying that we should let him look at Oleksandr, to be sure that he's going to be alright."
"Yeah. That's probably a good idea. If the wrong thing gets torn up back there, it can lead to blood poisoning or other stuff that can kill you." Dax said frankly.
Ben paled at the words.
Dax noticed and quickly said, "If Oleksandr had something like that, he'd be sick with, like, fever and stuff. Don't worry. I'm sure he's okay."
"Thanks, Dax." Ben said, then let out a sigh of relief.
"Dax?" Madelyn asked cautiously.
"Yes, Ma'am." Dax said as he turned his attention to her.
"Please excuse me if it sounds like I'm being nosy, I'm just trying to understand who the people are that are related to Oleksandr." Madelyn said cautiously.
Dax thought for a moment, then carefully said, "Well, at first, we were just two people who were living at the same homeless shelter. Then Olex got put in a foster home. Now, I guess he's like my little brother. I've been through a lot of what he's been through and when he needs me, I can help him deal with things... it can be a tough thing to get through."
Madelyn looked at Ben inquiringly and received a regretful nod of confirmation.
"Although I wanted to do what's best for Oleksandr, I wouldn't have done a very good job if it weren't for Dax. He not only understands what Oleksandr is feeling, but also what kind of help he actually needs." Ben said with a smile of respect for the teenager at his side.
"As soon as Carson is done with his little production, whatever it is, we'll take Oleksandr to see my husband to make sure that this little angel has nothing to worry about." Madelyn said as she smiled at the boy perched on Ben's hip.
Oleksandr, as expected, hid his face in Ben's chest when he noticed her attention focused on him.
* * * * *
"We need to talk." Bug said as he walked up to Walter and Reginald.
"How is Ronan?" Reginald asked quickly.
"Right now, he's feeling pretty shitty. It's fucking with his head to feel like he loves you and hates you at the same time." Bug said frankly.
"He hates us?" Reginald whimpered.
"Well, DUH! You treat him like a five-year-old and embarrass him in front of all the other kids, fuck yeah he hates you." Bug finished with a roll of his eyes.
Walter and Reginald were speechless.
"Guys, he doesn't want to hate you. He doesn't want to be mad at you. I don't have all the answers, but... shit! Cut the guy some slack! I know that you can't turn him loose to do whatever he wants, I think he's already got some of them-there, 'abandonment issues' you're always hearing about, so the last thing he needs is to feel like you've given up on him. But he needs a little bit of freedom. All kids his age need to get a feel for what it's like to be their own person."
"What do you recommend that we do?" Reginald asked anxiously.
"It looks like Bax and Ro and Max have become good friends. So let's let them have some fun together. If it starts to get too out of control, either you or I can handle it." Bug said simply.
Reginald looked at Walter with anticipation.
Finally Walter said, "I think we need to have a little talk with our son to let him know that we still love him..."
"...and trust him..." Reginald interrupted.
Bug slowly nodded and waited for more.
"...and that, in future, we will try to give him more freedoms and treat him like a young man, rather than a child." Reginald continued as he watched for Bug's reaction.
Bug gave a slight smile and nodded his approval.
"We will also let him know that, if he misbehaves while he's with you, you will have our complete support in whatever corrective action you decide needs to take place." Walter finished seriously.
"That works." Bug said simply, then smiled as he saw Oma Shoupe walking into the room with Walt on her arm and Bax, Max, Ken and Kev following her like her own personal entourage.
* * * * *
When Carson saw the older man standing just inside the living room door and looking on with a questioning look on his face, he quickly said, "Mr. Crante, will you please ask Lydia and Marie to come in here, too? Everyone needs to be in on this."
Mr. Crante nodded once and quickly left the room.
"How long is this going to take? We left some things cooking on the stove and we can't leave them for very long." Deb asked her son quietly.
"What I've got to say won't take very long, but what follows could take some time." Carson said frankly.
"I'll go turn off the stove, but remember that most of the people here are from different time zones and that they're probably getting awfully hungry by now." Deb said frankly.
"I'll remember." Carson said with one last look into his mother's eyes before she hurried out of the room.
"I guess we'd better get this started." Carson said to his father as he moved his wheelchair so that he was sitting near the big screen TV, but not obstructing anyone's view.
The muttering voices of people quietly talking amongst themselves didn't dissipate.
"Can I have your attention!?" Ryan called out and clapped his hands a few times over his head.
Carson looked at all the people gathered before him and tried to hide the nervousness that he was feeling.
"Any of you who know me have noticed that I'm interested in computers..." Carson began.
"And the Pacific is wet." A voice said loudly.
Carson followed the sound of the voice to find that Tommy had returned and was walking to join him at the front.
"Okay. Yeah. I'm more than a little bit interested in computers. What this has to do with all of you is, well, I'm pretty sure that all of you have heard what happened to President Bryce and his family yesterday."
Carson paused and noticed that everyone seemed to be paying attention and that quite a few people were nodding in response to his statement.
"I think that to explain what happened today, you need to see this." Carson said, then hit enter on his laptop.
Immediately, a movie file started playing on the enormous wide screen TV.
"Is this... President Bryce?" Doris Teeter asked hesitantly.
"That's right. I was on my computer watching as it happened." Carson said, then looked at his laptop so he could keep up with what everyone else was seeing on the big screen.
There were gasps and even a few sobs as those gathered watched the unedited video of what had transpired the day before.
When the helicopters finally disappeared from view, Carson stopped the video and waited for a moment for everyone to collect themselves.
"I've been watching the news ever since I arrived, and none of what I have just seen was reported. All that they've been talking about is what Ashwood's and Bryce's people have 'claimed' happened." Oma Shoupe said seriously.
"I sent the video out to some other people on the Internet, so the truth could get out. But the national media isn't interested in the truth, they're interested in 'spin' and in keeping their corporate masters happy." Carson said frankly.
"I wish I could say that you're just being cynical, but after what I've just seen..." Walter trailed off helplessly.
"Okay. The reason that I wanted to show you what 'really' happened yesterday, is so that you'd know that I have access to things that not everyone else does. What you're about to see just happened, I mean, like, just... within the hour." Carson said and was about to start the video when he thought better of it.
"Parents, you might not want the younger kids seeing this." Carson said, then paused before quietly continuing, "I'm probably going to have nightmares from what I've seen today. A lot of you probably will, too. But I'm asking you not to close your eyes. Look at it. Look at what's being done to us!"
Looks of concern traveled around the room at Carson's words.
Without further prelude, Carson started the video.
Once again, what he showed them was completely unedited.
The room was filled with silent shock as everyone watched the video in horror.
When the screen went dark, Carson finally spoke, "We lost the signal for a few minutes. I haven't cleaned up this video yet. Like I said before, this only happened a short time ago. Just hang on and the video will come back on."
"Where did this happen?" Carson's father, Ryan, asked as he wiped tears away from his eyes.
"Breckenridge, Texas." Carson said simply.
"How... I mean, why..." Oma Shoupe asked as she held two children, Ro and Max, in her arms, comforting them. Bug was beside her, holding onto Bax.
"I don't know. All we've been able to put together is that it was a setup. Everyone was brought together under false pretenses, tempers were riled up, then someone fired the first shot. Beyond that, you know as much as I do about the whole thing." Carson said honestly.
"It was either Bryce or Ashwood, wasn't it?" Walt asked firmly from Oma Shoupe's side.
"Ashwood. If you look really close..." Carson was saying when the video came back on.
The room was silent as everyone watched the brief seconds of fighting on the screen before the video signal was lost again.
"Is that all of it?" Gordon asked as he held Misti, Annie and Loquicia close to him. Lucas was right beside him holding Lazlo and Jay firmly.
"No, it'll be back in a few seconds." Carson said and had to fight not to close his eyes at what he knew was coming next.
Before anyone could respond to that, the video began again, only this time there was not one living thing in the scene before them. Only the fire and smoke coming from the school building proved that it wasn't a frozen, still-image.
Carson pointed the remote behind him and turned off the television.
"Why?" Doris Teeter asked as she held her husband desperately.
"No one that I've talked to has any answer for that. But there are some other things that you should be aware of." Carson said reluctantly.
The looks of dread directed at Carson made him inwardly curse because he knew that none of them had the slightest idea of how bad things really were.
"We've gained access to some plans. They're supposed to be used to remove the 'undesirables' and control the masses. We don't have all the details of what they're going to do, but we know where they're going to strike." Carson said gravely.
"I tried calling my work, to explain why I didn't come in today and I couldn't get through." Marcus Teeter said cautiously.
"We couldn't get through either. The operator said all the lines were busy and to try again later." Reginald said as he looked around.
"Orlando has been taken. There's no land line, cell phone, Internet... From the look of it, Asswipe's goons have even taken over the local news and radio stations, because there aren't even any satellite links available." Bug said as he continued to hold Bax close to him.
"What about Chicago!?" Dax asked in panic from Ben's side.
"I don't know, Orlando is the only place we tried to call. But you should know that Chicago is on the list of targeted cities for whatever Ashwood's plans are." Ben said regretfully.
"What about Kansas City?" Jeremy asked, breaking a moment of silence that had fallen over the room.
"It's on the list. That's all I know." Carson said regretfully.
"Where can I make a phone call? I need to warn some people." Lucas asked quickly.
"Each of your bedrooms has its own line." Ryan said loudly enough to be heard over the escalating voices.
As small groups of people began to file out of the room, Carson noticed Mr. Crante and the maids standing just inside the door.
"If you need to make some calls or if you need to leave, I'll understand." Carson said simply.
"I think that keeping busy will be the best thing for us right now." Mr. Crante said in an introspective tone.
"I know that you're going to be busy taking care of everyone else. But be sure to take care of yourselves, too. Let me know if there's anything that any of you need." Carson said seriously.
Mr. Crante nodded once, then left the room, immediately followed by the two maids, Lydia and Marie.
* * * * *
"This is why you had to leave while we were eating ice cream, isn't it?" Dax asked Ben seriously.
"Not exactly. What you just saw hadn't happened yet. I was called into Carson's room because he wanted to get everyone together who figured out that some bad stuff was coming, so we could help him predict what might be coming next." Ben said honestly.
"Okay. But Carson said that he knew some of what Ashweenie was planning to do to the cities on his list." Dax said slowly.
"Yes. It's this thing called 'Operation Starshine'. We don't know all the details of it, but we've been able to figure out a few things." Ben said as he shifted Oleksandr on his hip for a better grip.
After a long moment of silence, Dax looked Ben in the eyes and said, "I know that you're probably not supposed to talk about that stuff, but I really need to know everything you know."
"I trust you, Dax, but why?" Ben asked cautiously.
Dax looked around and was surprised to realize that while they were walking, Ben had automatically led them back to their rooms on the third floor.
Dax went into his room and motioned for Ben and Oleksandr to follow.
* * * * *
Ben sat down on the bed and placed Oleksandr beside him as he watched Dax pace the room.
"I can't tell you everything. Okay?" Dax started out.
"Okay." Ben said softly.
Dax nodded, then continued, "The reason I need to know that stuff is because my father is someone kind of important in Chicago..." Dax trailed off, then amended, "Really important."
Ben nodded that he understood.
Dax was lost in thought for a moment, then seemed to come to a decision.
"My mom and dad were never married. I know that's no big deal, but to my dad's family, I guess it kinda is. They're like Shiite Catholic, or something. Anyway, so my dad wasn't ever around and I guess that's a bad thing, but the whole time I was growing up he was calling me all the time and he always told me that he loved me and... from what I've heard, there's plenty of guys who grow up with their dads in the same house with them and never hear it at all."
Ben nodded his agreement to the statement.
"So, you know, shit happens, my mom starts blowing all her money on drugs and stuff and making herself sicker and weaker and, well, she died." Dax finished simply.
Ben could see that although it hurt Dax to talk about it, that he wasn't anywhere near losing emotional control.
"Okay, so when she died, I went to live with my dad. I'd never lived with him before. I'd never even been to his apartment before. I told you before that he's important. He's got some money. It isn't in-your-face obvious, but that apartment was NICE."
Ben smiled at the statement.
Dax's mood darkened as he continued, "About two weeks after I moved in with Dad, he was at work... he has to work a lot. Anyway, he was working and I was watching TV or surfing the Internet.. I don't even know, now. But the next thing I know, someone is grabbing me."
Ben looked at Dax with surprise. He didn't have any idea that the story was about to take a turn like this.
"The guy, he took me, tied me up, threw me in his trunk, and drove me to some little rat-infested dump across town. He had me for about two days. He was trying to get my dad to pay ransom for me, but he fucked up. He untied me when he wanted to turn me over or something when he was fucking me. He thought I was unconscious. So, while he was asleep, I went into the kitchen and got the biggest knife I could find. I went into the bedroom and started cutting that fucker's throat as hard as I could, I wanted to cut his head completely off."
Ben's eyes went wide with shock. He glanced down to see how Oleksandr was doing and found that the little boy had fallen asleep, sitting up, clutching his bicep.
"The guy woke up and when I saw the look in his eyes, I figured that I was probably dead. He yanked the knife out of my hands and was about to stab me with it when his eyes rolled up and... that's it. He was dead."
"Good." Ben whispered.
Dax nodded, then his voice became distant as he said, "I put on some clothes... I don't think they were mine. Somehow, and I don't even know how, I was with it enough to take the knife with me. I made sure it was really clean, and then I dropped it into a dumpster outside a restaurant. After that I kinda wandered. I think I was roaming around for two days, but I'm not sure. I was just reliving everything that sick fucker had done to me, over and over again in my head, until I found myself at Father Doherty's rescue mission."
"Father Doherty took me in without a single question. He took me to a room and made sure that I was 'with it' enough to bathe myself. He came to check on me later and made sure that I had a good meal before he even asked me my name. I didn't want to give out too much information, and Father Doherty never pushed me about it."
"It took me three days before I was able to bring myself to call my father. But my dad was great about everything. I told him everything that happened and he said that everything was under control and that I wouldn't be getting into any trouble over any of it."
"Your dad's that powerful?" Ben asked cautiously.
Dax nodded seriously, then continued, "After I told him everything, my dad wanted to send someone to pick me up. I thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest as soon as he said the words. I think my reaction scared him a little, because he sounded really worried when I had calmed down enough to talk to him again."
"Panic attack?" Ben asked cautiously.
Dax nodded, then said, "I told my dad that I loved him and trusted him and didn't blame him for a single thing that happened to me, but that I felt safe with Father Doherty at the mission. I told him that I needed time to sort through the junk in my head and that as soon as I could manage it, that I'd move back in with him and that we could be a family."
Ben nodded that he understood.
"I know that my dad loves me, but I always got the sense that he was kinda ashamed of me for being a sissy. Everyone my dad knows is big and tough and... well. I just don't fit in there. So I stayed at the mission where I felt like I fit in and I was around people that understood me." Dax ended with a shrug.
"I can understand that." Ben said softly.
"But I still love my dad, and if I can tell him what's going on, maybe it'll make a difference and he can... I don't know, do something." Dax said as he looked into Ben's eyes.
"Thanks for telling me all of that, Dax. It sounds like your dad is a really good man. And if he's as rich and powerful as you say, then maybe he can do something. How about I tell you everything that I know, and then I'll leave you so you can talk to your dad while I find the doctor to look at Oleksandr." Ben said gently.
Dax thought for a moment, then quietly asked, "Would you mind staying with me? My dad might need some kind of details or something. And besides, I want to go with you when Oleksandr sees the doctor. Just because some asshole has an M.D. after his name doesn't mean that he's a decent person. No one's going to hurt Olex as long as I can help it."
"How about this? I see a computer over there. So while you're making your phone call, I'll check my email. I've probably got about three tons of spam built up." Ben asked with a smile.
"Ben, I love you." Dax said sincerely.
Ben's eyes went wide at the statement.
Dax giggled, then said, "Don't worry. I know you're not into guys. You're probably one of the straightest, straight guys I've ever met. Besides, I love you the other way. You make me feel safe, like Father Doherty does. You take care of Oleksandr and even your cousin, Zane. I feel like I can be myself around you and that you'd never hit me, or hit on me or... even act ashamed of me. There's not too many people I know like that, I could probably count them on one hand."
"I love you, too, Dax." Ben said gently, then held out the arm that wasn't currently being held captive by Oleksandr, to invite Dax into a hug.
Dax happily sat at Ben's side and allowed himself to be hugged firmly.
Ben then slightly guided Dax to face him and leaned in to give him a firm, but gentle kiss.
The kiss was chaste, but not the least bit uncertain.
Finally, Dax pulled away and looked at Ben inquiringly.
"When I was a little bit younger than you, I discovered the difference between 'love' and 'in love'. That kiss, that was 'love'. There wasn't anything sexual behind it, but it was the next step beyond a hug. I thought that with what you just said, that I should share that with you. If you ever want to be hugged or held or if you feel like you need a kiss, all you have to do is let me know." Ben said as he held Dax's gaze.
Tears welled in Dax's eyes as he said, "All this time, I thought that I was looking for someone to love me, and until this minute, I didn't know what it was that I was asking for."
Ben chuckled as he responded, "I know, Dax. I know exactly how that feels."
* * * * *
"What's up?" Bug asked at the worried look on Zane's face.
"I need to call my dad in Chicago to warn him about what's going on." Zane said as he tried to break himself out of his shock.
"Studmffn's father said that there's a phone in each room. You can call from there." Bug said frankly.
"I don't have the number. I only just met my father for the first time yesterday, and he was getting ready to leave at the same time we were leaving to come here." Zane said anxiously.
"Does anyone know where he was going?" Bug asked curiously as he held Bax a little bit tighter.
"Jake and the twins probably do." Zane said as he looked around.
"Do you know where they went?" Bug asked cautiously.
"No. But Jamiah was with them, he's right over there, so he might know where they are." Zane said frankly.
Bug released Bax from the hug and turned him, "Are you going to be alright if I go talk to Brother Jacques and the twins for a few minutes?"
"I'm not a baby." Bax said frankly.
Bug smiled and said, "I know that you're not, Bax. But even the adults were shaken up by what we just saw. It was really fucked up and horrible and it's nothing to be ashamed of if you don't want to be alone after seeing something like that."
"I'll be okay." Bax said as he looked Bug in the eyes.
Bug smiled, then gently said, "Alright. But if you're not okay for some reason, you just come and find me. Deal?"
Bax nodded confidently.
Bug patted Bax on the shoulder, then walked to join Zane where he was talking to Jamiah.
* * * * *
"They said that they went to your room to try and call Chicago." Zane said frankly.
"Okay. If we hurry, they might already be talking to your dad." Bug said hopefully.
Bug and Zane rushed out of the living room and through the doorway that led to the 'Big House'.
* * * * *
"Ben?" Dax asked from his place on the bed, with his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone.
"Hmmm?" Ben responded as he turned his attention away from the computer.
"What's your last name?" Dax asked casually.
"Weston. Why do you want to know?" Ben asked curiously.
"My dad wanted to know. I think it makes him feel better when he knows where I am and who I'm with. I'm not sure why... but I guess it kinda makes me feel better, too."
"Well, my full name is Brian Keith Weston and I'm from Orlando. If he's trying to do a background check on me, he's not going to find much. I'm a pretty average guy." Ben said before turning his attention back to his computer.
"You're not average. Not at all." Dax said with a smile, then went back to his phone call.
It had taken Ben nearly fifteen minutes to sort through and delete all the spam that had accumulated in his email account.
He was used to his email application doing that for him and was astounded at the volume of spam that it had been automatically sorting out for him.
Once he was finally done, he opened the email that he had been waiting for.
There were actually three emails from his fiancÃ©e, Melissa, but rather than read them in order, he decided to read the most recent one first.
Since he knew that Melissa was outside the U.S., she was probably insulated from most of the chaos of the past two days.
After a few seconds of reading, Ben went back to read the oldest email, to make sense of what he was seeing.
* * * * *
"What's wrong?" Oleksandr asked as he reached up and wiped a tear away from Ben's eye.
"It's a grown-up thing. Nothing to worry about." Ben said as he tried to fight down his tears.
Oleksandr looked up at Ben uncertainly for a moment, then shifted around on his lap and put his arms around Ben to hug him firmly.
"Thank you." Ben whispered as he returned the hug.
"What's wrong?" Dax asked as he walked to Ben's side.
Ben found that he couldn't make his voice work, so he pointed to the computer's monitor.
After a long moment of reading, Dax quietly asked, "Did your girlfriend just break up with you by email?"
"FiancÃ©e. Yeah." Ben choked out.
"What a bitch!" Dax said as he continued to read.
"She said that me not having a passport is just another example of how I can't keep up with her and her family." Ben muttered as he continued to hold Oleksandr tightly.
"Talk is cheap and so is she. If she hasn't got the class to tell you face-to-face, or at least tell you on the phone, then you don't need her. You deserve someone better." Dax said firmly.
"Her family has nothing but money. Ever since we were in high school together, they've always looked down on me because my dad has to work for a living." Ben said regretfully.
"Fuck them! Fuck her! Seriously, I'd have more respect for a skanky trailer trash Beyonce wannabe who'd break up with you face-to-face than I do for your rich-bitch and her fancy fucked up parents."
"Don't hold back. What do you really think?" Ben chuckled.
"I love you, Ben. That's what I really think." Dax said frankly.
Ben swallowed the lump in his throat, then quietly said, "Melissa and I have been together since high school. I know that she told me that she loved me before, but I don't think she ever said it so I believed it as much as I do when you say it."
"You deserve better, Ben. You deserve someone who really loves you. Now you've got that with me, so I know that you'll be okay. I guess what we'll have to work on next is finding someone who really loves you and has a pussy."
"Yeah. That's what we need to do." Ben laughed past his tears.
"But until then, we'll be alright." Dax assured him.
"You're right, Dax. Thanks."
"I love you, too." Oleksandr said, then to prove his point, he gave Ben a big sloppy kiss on his cheek.
"I've got two people who love me. So I've got no reason to be sitting here, feeling sorry for myself." Ben said with a watery smile, then gave Oleksandr a kiss on the cheek in return.
* * * * *
"Fuck!" Bug said as he approached his room in time to see Brother Jacques, Ken and Kev walking out.
"We were just making a phone call, Bug. Nothing happened." Ken said quickly.
Bug blinked with confusion for a moment, then said, "That's okay, Ken. I trust you guys with Brother Jacques. I just said that because we were trying to get here before you hung up. Zane wanted to talk to his dad."
"We couldn't get through. All the lines are down." Kev said regretfully.
"Just like Orlando." Bug said with a look of concern at the others.
"Add Kansas City to that list." Jeremy said as he and Hank walked down the stairs.
"Shit." Bug whispered.
"Let's go to the living room and see if anyone else was able to get through." Zane said cautiously.
"Yeah. And besides, I don't want to leave the boys on their own for too long." Bug said as he turned.
* * * * *
"Has anyone been able to get through to anyone on the phone?" Bug asked loudly as he walked into the living room, which still had a dozen people, mostly children, talking quietly.
"Doris and I were able to get through to our daughter and son-in-law in Portland, Oregon. But we haven't been able to get in touch with anyone back in Florida." Marcus said as he watched Doris talking with Roris and Lawrence.
"Well, I guess that's something." Bug said absently.
"What about the Internet? Has anyone tried that?" Zane asked as he looked around.
"I know it's blocked in Florida, but it might still work in other parts of the country." Bug said frankly.
"Do you think Carson would mind if I used his extra computer to try? I really need to get in touch with my dad to let him know what's going on." Zane said urgently.
Bug looked around. When he didn't spot Carson, he said, "He's probably already back in his room, trying to make sense of all this."
"Ben! Were you able to get through to anyone?" Zane asked quickly when he spotted Ben carrying Oleksandr into the room, followed closely by Dax.
"I didn't try, but Dax was able to get through to his dad in Chicago." Ben said frankly.
"You did? Just now?" Zane asked with surprise, then dashed away, toward Carson's room.
"What's up?" Ben asked curiously as he approached Bug, Brother Jacques and the twins.
"No one's been able to get through to Chicago, Kansas City or Orlando except for you guys." Bug said frankly.
"Oh. Well, Dax didn't have any trouble, did you, Dax?" Ben asked the boy at his side.
"Actually, I did." Dax admitted shyly.
Ben looked at Dax with surprise.
"When I tried to call my dad at work, I couldn't get through. There was a recording saying something about the phones all being down. So when that didn't work, I called my dad on his Sat-Phone." Dax said shyly.
"Your dad has a satellite phone?" Bug asked in an impressed voice.
"Yeah. He carries it all the time, but only four or five people have the number. It's supposed to be for emergencies only." Dax said cautiously.
"Do you remember what we just saw on the TV? I think this qualifies." Bug said frankly.
"Maybe you could call your dad and ask him to pass along a message. Would you do that?" Ben asked gently.
Dax thought for a moment, then reluctantly nodded.
"Come on, then." Bug said as he started walking to Carson's room.
* * * * *
Bug stopped suddenly.
Zane was just inside the door, waiting silently as Tommy was talking to Carson, Deb and Ryan.
"We can come back later." Bug said, not wanting to eavesdrop on their conversation.
"No. This concerns everyone." Ryan said as he gestured for the group to come fully into the room.
"To recap, Tommy saw what was coming and started making preparations. He has people getting all the vacant housing, campgrounds and local lodgings ready for occupancy." Ryan said seriously.
"We might not need it, but with what we just saw on the TV..." Tommy trailed off.
"You should know that no one has been able to reach Chicago or Kansas City by phone." Bug said seriously.
Carson looked at Bug with surprise, then quickly turned his wheelchair and docked it.
"Except Dax. His dad has a satellite phone." Brother Jacques interjected.
"Satellite, yeah. I didn't think about that." Carson said absently as he kept the majority of his attention on the computer before him.
Everyone watched and waited to see what Carson came up with.
"I've got it." Carson said suddenly, causing most of the people in his bedroom to jump.
"What is it, son?" Ryan asked with concern.
"Well, the problem with Orlando is different. It is completely blacked out. If what I'm seeing is right, the people within Chicago can still talk to each other, but we can't call them and they can't call us. I'm not sure if Chicago can talk to Kansas City. I really can't get a lot of information from here." Carson said as he focused his attention on his screens.
"Okay, but how about getting in touch with my dad? Is there any way you can do that?" Zane asked hopefully.
"Probably, but it could take some time. You might be better off talking to Dax's dad if you're wanting to get through to your dad right away. I'm not exactly sure how to get around the blockade, yet. I'll get there, but until I do, I think that the satellite phone is your best bet." Carson explained slowly.
"Do you think your dad will mind?" Zane asked Dax hesitantly.
Dax thought for a moment, then said, "If you want me to give my dad a message to pass on to your dad, I don't think he'd have a problem with that. But I really don't think he'd like me giving out his number."
"Yeah. If it's only for emergencies, I can see that. But it'd be great if he'd help us." Zane finished hopefully.
Bug handed Dax the cordless phone from beside the computer with an expression of sympathy.
"Thanks." Dax whispered, then dialed the phone.
Ben moved close to Dax's side to support him.
"Dad? I'm sorry to call again so soon, but we just found out that we can't get through on the phone to anyone in Chicago. Some of my new friends here are wanting to get a message to Father Doherty... do you remember him?" Dax asked slowly.
"Yeah. He's a really good man." Dax smiled, then became more serious as he continued, "All of us from the mission are worried about him."
Dax listened for a moment then turned to Brother Jacques and asked, "Do you know where Father Doherty was going next?"
"Saint Barney's" Brother Jacques said simply.
Dax repeated the words to his father, then slowly nodded as he listened.
"Thanks, Dad. I really appreciate you doing that." Dax said with a tender smile.
Everyone watched with surprise as Dax hung up the cordless phone.
"Did he say no?" Zane asked in confusion.
Dax smiled as he said, "He said that he's going to send someone over to Saint Barney's with a sat-phone, so that you can talk to your dad directly. He's going to have your dad call you at this number, as soon as he gets the phone."
There was a long moment of silence, then Bug finally said, "Dax, your dad is awesome."
Dax smiled and nodded his agreement.
"Well, if you guys will excuse me, I need to take Oleksandr to see the doctor now." Ben said as he cuddled the boy at his side.
"He's probably in my office, I can take you." Ryan offered gently.
"Thanks." Ben said, then looked to see that Dax was following.
"This makes no sense..." Carson muttered, mostly to himself.
"What's that?" Ryan asked as he turned and looked back at his son. Ben and Dax stopped and waited to find out what Carson had found.
Carson looked up with surprise, obviously not realizing that he had been speaking aloud. But with all the expectant gazes on him, he finally said, "There's no rhyme or reason to any of this. I can get through to places like Portland, Maine and Little Rock, Arkansas without any resistance at all. But Chicago, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh have all had their phone systems cut off. Then there's Orlando... well, and now Newark, New Jersey, they're completely impenetrable. I can't find any way to get any information at all to or from either of them."
"What does it mean?" Ryan asked slowly.
"I have no idea. It seems so... random. But if it's intentional, I can't figure out why anyone would go to so much trouble..." Carson said in frustration.
"I'm going to take these guys to see your grandpa. Call us if you figure anything out." Ryan said warmly to his son.
"Yeah." Carson said with a quick smile at his father, then turned his full attention back to the computer screens in front of him.
After one last look at his son, Ryan led Ben and Dax out of the room.
* * * * *
"I thought that I'd find you here." Ryan said as he walked into his office.
"I hope you don't mind that I've made myself at home?" Dr. Murten said with a grin that expressed that he already knew the answer.
"No. You're free to use my office at any time. However, your grandson, Tommy, has been making quite a few arrangements on behalf of the company and it wouldn't surprise me if I started getting some calls to approve a few of his expenditures."
"I'll page you if anything comes in that needs your attention." Dr. Murten said congenially.
"Boys, this is Doctor Fred Murten. I'm not sure I know all your names, so I'll let you introduce yourselves." Ryan said as he backed away slightly.
"I'm Ben Weston, beside me is my friend Dax and in my arms is Oleksandr. He's the one that you wanted to take a look at." Ben said simply.
"Well, Ryan, why don't you step out of here so we can begin. I've already brought in the things that I might need for an examination." Dr. Murten said in a friendly, yet firm tone.
"Call if you need me for anything." Ryan said immediately, then withdrew from the room.
"Oleksandr, before we begin, I need for you to know that I'm not going to hurt you and that I'll do whatever I can to make this as comfortable as possible for you. However, some of what I may have to do might be a little bit scary for you, so who would you like to have in here with you to keep you safe?"
"I want Ben and Dax." Oleksandr said firmly.
"Okay. I just wanted to be sure that you wanted to have both of them here." Dr. Murten said simply.
"Dax knows what I feel before I know. And Ben loves me." Oleksandr explained.
Dr. Murten chuckled, then said, "My job would be so much easier if everyone had people like that accompanying them."
Oleksandr smiled happily as he hugged Ben a little bit tighter.
"Do you know what happened to him?" Dax asked cautiously.
"Only in very general terms. And knowing my wife, I'm sure that she made a few assumptions along the way." Dr. Murten said frankly.
"Olex was raped and beaten by his foster father." Dax said simply.
"Can I assume that the man isn't here, with you?" Dr. Murten asked cautiously.
"He's back in Chicago, as far as we know. Oleksandr ran away and found his way to the homeless shelter where we were just before we left Chicago." Ben said seriously.
"I see. It's good to know that he's out of the picture. That will simplify things for us." Dr. Murten said as he looked at Ben.
Ben nodded his agreement.
"I suppose that we'd better get down to it. The sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can all get to lunch... or dinner. I'm not sure what meal it is that they're making, but it sure smells good." Dr. Murten said with a smile.
Ben and Dax both slowly nodded; apprehensive about what was coming next.
"Relax. We're going to do this as slowly and easily as possible to keep from causing Oleksandr any unnecessary trauma. We'll take as long as we need to... but knowing that there's food waiting might motivate all of us to move a bit faster."
Ben chuckled his agreement.
"Before anything else, let's do the basics." Dr. Murten said as he put his stethoscope in his ears.
* * * * *
"Did you hear the doctor? You did exactly the right thing for Oleksandr." Ben said warmly as he carried Oleksandr out of the office as Dax walked at his side.
"Yeah. I would'a felt really bad if he said that I'd done something wrong." Dax mumbled.
"You were perfect. And he said that Oleksandr is healing up just fine. That's thanks to you." Ben said seriously.
"Thanks, Ben. No one ever really trusted me before. If it wasn't for you believing in me, I wouldn't have been able to help him." Dax said honestly.
"I'm hungry." Oleksandr said suddenly.
"Let's head to the kitchen to see what we can do about that. I think from the smell, that there must be something really good just about ready to eat." Ben said cheerfully.
"Dax!" Oleksandr said as he held out his arm to be held.
After a moment of hesitation, Dax walked to Ben's side and was pulled into a firm hug.
"Thank you." Oleksandr said as he hugged Dax firmly, still maintaining his ever-present grip on Ben.
"Glad to help." Dax said as he gently returned the hug and tried to fight back the tears that were threatening to fall.
* * * * *
"Is my grandpa still in there?" Mikey asked as he approached Ben.
Mikey was leading a pair of boys a little bit older than he was and there was a trio of boys, closer to his own age, following them.
"Yes, but I think he was wanting to get something to eat." Ben said thoughtfully.
"We won't take long." Mikey said seriously, then looked behind him and said, "Come on guys."
"Is anything wrong?" Ben asked with concern.
"Lots. But we've got it covered." Mikey said frankly.
"We don't have to do this. I'm fine." Jay said firmly to Mikey.
"You're hurting... and you don't have to be. I don't know what your dad and your uncle did to you. I don't care. All I know is that my grandpa can make you stop hurting and it'll just take a few minutes." Mikey said impatiently.
"Did they hurt you in your butt?" Oleksandr asked quietly.
Everyone froze at the innocent question.
Jay looked Oleksandr in the eyes and recognized the understanding.
Slowly, Jay nodded.
Oleksandr released his grip on Ben and held both his arms out to Jay.
Half out of instinct, to keep the boy from falling, Jay reached out and accepted Oleksandr into his arms.
"It happened to him, too." Ben whispered as he watched Oleksandr hug Jay earnestly.
"Is he okay?" Jay asked in a whisper.
"He will be." Ben said simply.
Jay could see that Ben was a tower of strength and no trace of pity could be found in his eyes. He looked at Dax and found that he was looking into the eyes of a kindred spirit, a survivor.
Finally, he pulled out of the hug enough to look at the young boy who had been hugging him.
"Don't be scared. Ben won't let no one hurt you." Oleksandr said seriously.
Without thinking, Jay looked over at Ben.
Ben smiled weakly, then said, "I'll do my best, anyway."
"Come on. Before Grandpa leaves." Mikey urged, breaking the spell.
Ben watched as Mikey, Lazlo and Jay walked down the hall and entered the office that they had just left. Immediately following them were Ro, Bax and Max.
* * * * *
"Well, this is a surprise! What can I do for you boys?" Dr. Murten asked pleasantly as he settled back behind the desk.
"Jay got hurt... erm, well..." Mikey faltered and looked at Jay helplessly.
"You just helped that blond kid, right?" Jay asked simply.
"Yes. That was Oleksandr." Dr. Murten said slowly, beginning to get an idea that something might be wrong.
"I get the feeling that the same thing's wrong with me that was wrong with him." Jay said frankly.
"Oh. I see." Dr. Murten said gravely, then looked at the five boys behind Jay before asking, "Do you have any family here with you?"
"No. My family did this to me." Jay muttered in a voice of barely restrained rage.
"Is there someone, an adult, who can be in here with you. I'd really feel a lot better about doing this with an adult present." Dr. Murten said frankly.
"I can go get one of my dads. They're your dads too, now, so I know that they'll want to help." Lazlo said quickly.
"No!" Jay said immediately.
Lazlo froze in his tracks at the command.
"I overheard your dads talking about me. They don't know if they can handle an abused kid. I heard them say it. They're the last ones I'd want in here with me." Jay said firmly.
"Wait here. I know just who you need." Bax said, then, before anyone could question what he was doing, Bax hurried out of the room.
"He's getting Bug. You won't have to worry about him, he can handle anything." Ro said with absolute certainty.
"You don't need to do that. It doesn't hurt that bad." Jay said with obvious frustration.
"Grandpa, tell him." Mikey implored.
"You don't have to hurt... what was your name?" Dr. Murten asked gently.
"My name is Jayson Kale, but I'd rather be called Jay."
"That's fine Jay. And I won't examine you if you don't want me to. I'm here to help you, but only if you want me to." Dr. Murten said simply.
Jay took a moment to focus on his breathing and calm down before he quietly said, "As long as I'm here, I wouldn't mind if you gave me something for the pain. But I'd really rather not talk about what happened last night."
"If you can give me the basics in fifty words or less, then I'll only ask about the things that I need to know." Dr. Murten said honestly.
Jay looked around at the other boys, then at Dr. Murten with frustration.
"Let's just wait..." Dr. Murten began to say when the door flew open.
"Bax! What the fuck is up with you?" Bug asked as Bax dragged him into the room.
"Jay needs someone to stay with him that won't lose their shit if things get too real." Bax said seriously
Bug looked around the room and finally asked, "Which one is Jay?"
Jay raised his hand as the others looked at him.
"Okay. I know that you don't know me, but Bax says that you need someone like me, so I'm here." Bug said simply.
"If that's alright with you, Jay." Dr. Murten said as he watched for Jay's reaction.
"Yeah. I never wanted any fuss. Can we just get this over with?" Jay asked hopefully.
Dr. Murten nodded once, then looked at the group of boys and said, "The rest of you, please wait outside. This shouldn't take very long."
Uncertain looks passed around the group before the boys finally funneled out of the room.
* * * * *
"Fifty words or less, huh?" Jay asked cautiously.
"Just tell me what I need to know to give you the help you need." Dr. Murten said frankly.
"My dad and my uncle got me this time. They took turns fucking me. The cops busted in the door and took me to the hospital. Child Division got me and gave me to the guys who brought me here." Jay said simply.
"No one here's giving you any trouble, are they?" Bug asked firmly.
"No. Everyone's been really nice since I got here." Jay said quickly.
"Anyone messes with you, tell me. I'll take care of it." Bug said seriously.
"Um, yeah. Okay." Jay said with surprise.
"Come here." Bug said and pulled Jay into a firm hug.
Jay was surprised that the skinny young man had such a strong grip.
"I can't promise that you'll never be hurt again. All I can promise is that I'll try to keep it from happening as much as I can." Bug said as he continued to hold the boy.
"I think I believe you." Jay said with surprise at his own words.
"Good... Doc. You ready?" Bug asked firmly.
"Yes. I suppose that I am." Dr. Murten said with a smile at Bug's commanding presence.
Bug released Jay from the hug as he said, "Let's get this done so we can all get something to eat."
TO BE CONTINUED...
I always find it difficult to decide what to comment on. I don't always know what I can safely say without giving away too much, and ruining things for people.
So I will just say that I hope the next chapter is as interesting as this one was.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
Good to see the group starting to come together. The bad events are bringing them closer and hopefully they can manage to keep safe.
I wonder where we will be in the next chapter. Maybe we need to go to Europe and fix the ex-fiancee (fix as in spay).