Memories Part 3: And A Child Shall Lead Them

Chapter 36 - The Bear Arises

"Maybe next time you'll think before using me as an example!" Alexei giggled as he tossed Tyler off of the diving board... for the third time. The young Tzar then gave a small bow as once again, Tyler's previous prank victims gave him another standing ovation. He then climbed off of the diving board, rejoining Cory, Sean, Tracy, and Karl at their poolside table.

"It's times like this that make me wish I still had older family to run my country," Alexei muttered as he took his seat.

"I heard that," Tracy stated. "You're missing a big point, 'Lexei. Your people know that you're young.They won't believe that you understand their issues unless they know that you're not afraid of being one of them. Cory's not just our Patriarch, but he's out there with all of us doing just what we do; that's why everyone trusts his decisions, because we all know that he's been there."

"I'm afraid that there are centuries of precedent to prevent that in my situation," Alexei admitted.

Sean giggled. "Take a clue from my hot husband over here, he can't even spell 'precedent', so he just does whatever he thinks works!"

"I can too!" Cory exclaimed, "P-r-e-c- -i-d-e-n-t!"

"You just made Sean's point, Cory!" George sniggered over their commbadges. "If you are done proving that you are blond, Patriarch, Tommy Shaw is here with a couple of guests. I have had them checked by someone who's not blond, they're clean. Do you want me to direct them here?"

"Set mode BR-549. Proceed, George," Cory ordered with a smirk.

"Will do, Cory... WHAT THE HECK!" George replied in the voice of a five-year-old girl. "WHAT DID YOU DO?"

"It'll wear off... sometime!" Cory giggled. "Never insult the blond that wrote your program!"

Alexei smiled as he looked at his giggling companions. "You've made your point, Cory. I heard you pause to do that on purpose. Unfortunately, I know even less about how to show my people that I am one of them than I do about being a standard youth."

"No time better than now to start!" Tracy smiled. "You might want to lose the shirt though, bro."

Alexei shook his head. "My scars ..."

Karl interrupted. "Your scars are proof to your people that you have suffered and persisted until you could step up to protect them. They prove that you're not just cracking down on abuse to make yourself look good; they show that you've lived it. If you want your country to take your proclamation seriously, they need to be enraged by what was done to their Tzar."

"Uncle Alexei?" Emmy inserted, "Me and Misha's got the overrides all set for transmission over all of the Russian Federation. Just say go when you're ready!"

Seeing Alexei's surprised look, Tracy giggled. "Emmy must like you, 'Lexei! He's only that proactive for his favorite uncles!"

"I'm not sure if I should worry or be relieved," Alexei quipped. "Emmy, where will I need to stand to address my people?"

"Anywhere, I hijacked all of Georgina's cameras!" Emmy giggled.

A Moscow pub:

Dima had just taken a seat next to his friend Tanis at the bar when a steady tone came across every television screen in the building. "What now, has another group of idiots started something?" he groused.

"You know, this could be something good for a change, comrade," Tanis offered.

Both men fell silent as the tone ended and the now-familiar voice of Misha, the Crown Director of Publicity, announced "Comrades of the Russian Federation, please stand by for an address from His Highness, Tzar Alexei Romanov, Emperor of the Russian Federation of Family Clan Short of Vulcan, Protector of the Russian Federation."

This caused complete silence throughout the building, as even with Alexei having assumed his rightful place, public appearances of any sort were still extremely rare. Seconds later, the silence broke, as the screens switched to show a young boy wearing the Imperial Crown of Russia. Everyone viewing had no doubt that this was their Tsar, but until today they had only seen close-ups of his face while fully dressed in his Royal regalia. Today he was in a swimsuit, and for the first time his subjects could see the damage from his past. This sight galvanized his subjects, as a large number verbally swore on their lives to avenge the desecration of their Tsar.

"Comrades, I require your attention," Alexei instructed, his voice somehow firm despite his obvious discomfort.

"SILENCE!" Dima roared, since some occupants of the bar were still ranting. Most of the patrons knew Dima, and knew that his tone suggested a visit to the morgue if not heeded.

"He knows his people well," Tanis noted very softly as it was obvious their Tsar was waiting for people to calm down.

After a few more second of silence, Alexei continued. "The members of the former government responsible for my condition have been dealt with... permanently and personally. With us today are our Comrades, Patriarch Cory Short, Patriarch of Family Clan Short of Vulcan, his husband Sean Short, Historian of Family Clan Short of Vulcan, Director Tracy Butler, Director of the Alligator Alley Division of Family Clan Short of Vulcan, and his husband Karl Butler, Counterintelligence Director, Alligator Alley Division of Family Clan Short of Vulcan. Remember their faces; for any that harm one of them has harmed Mother Russia, and our vengeance will be swift and sure. All members of Family Clan Short are our comrades not only in word but by my decree; none are any less than any others of our Federation, and are equal citizens. Tracy and Karl were responsible for providing the intelligence data to their comrades within Family Clan Short, which had already included Mother Russia. Their providing of information which there was no other way that we could have accessed it, has made them Heroes of the Motherland, and they shall be treated accordingly."

Distracted by muttering behind him, Dima turned around. "Do you have a problem?" he growled.

"Those foreign brats don't deserv..." the patron at the table right behind Dima started to reply.

The man had picked the wrong place and the wrong time to state his opinion, as Dima had spent the last eighteen years of his life on the ground in the Russian Special Forces. The man's words were silenced by a large fist impacting his jaw with enough force to shatter it. Dima looked around the room, daring anyone to say anything with his eyes. "Those Heroes saved me and my unit's lives with their intel more times than I can count. The next one who disrespects my comrades-in-arms gets a broken neck, is that clear?"

Since nobody was stupid enough to argue, Dima turned back to his seat. "I miss much?" he asked as he sat down.

"Just Him acknowledging the actions of our Military, pretty much a recap of what he said to us personally after the battle," Tanis replied.

"Too bad that ass isn't able to hear it," Dima stated as he hooked a thumb at the unconscious form on the floor behind him.

They both turned their attention back to the screen in front of them, just in time to catch Alexei switching subjects. "The skills of our Comrades in the Armed Services prevented an invasion by aliens from another world, but now we have an even harder war to fight, and it is within our own borders. While forces no longer with us attempted to subvert my authority, they allowed criminal elements to make our country their home. I am not the only youth who has suffered the injuries from abuse to themselves, nor am I the worst. By the blood of my forefathers, I swear that the forces which abuse kids will be eradicated from our borders. The rules of International law are not enough. I have suffered the effects of abuse, and I believe that the punishments served under Vulcan Law are more appropriate, and as Mother Russia is part of Family Clan Short, we are to ensure that any and all abusers of our youth are apprehended and punished under the laws that we adopted as we were welcomed into the Family of our Comrades in Family Clan Short."

The picture zoomed in on Alexei's face, where his blue eyes bore into the screen, seemingly drilling into the soul of each and every person watching. "The honor of Mother Russia shall be avenged, I swear this on my dying breath." he growled.

Dima crossed himself multiple times as he tried to shake the chill that went down his back at the Tzar's words. All doubt he might have held about the readiness of Alexei to take his rightful place on the throne flew out the window, as only a Tzar secure in his power could dare to draw the line in the sand that had just been stated.

Throughout the Russian Federation, the very people who had been oppressed by the KGB in Alexi's name without his knowledge took notice. At one Siberian outpost that happened to be monitored by Misha in preparation for a rescue of the people sent there for resisting the KGB, a retired Army veteran commented "Only a fool crosses a wounded bear. Tzar Alexei III has broken his shackles; Mother Russia trembles at his fury. Beware his wrath, for the wounded bear has no mercy for those who cross him."

Misha quickly let Alexei know what he'd just heard. Alexei nodded once, as he replied via subvocal to move in immediately. Fully aware that he'd probably have a new nickname from his subjects, Alexei then ordered Misha to replay the audible for his country.

'... the wounded bear has no mercy for those who cross him,' the voice stated. Tzar Alexei gave his people a serious stare as he added "This bear is on the hunt, and those who have defiled Russia will pay for their actions. Major Orlov, if you wish your commission to be reactivated once you have returned home this week, I accept your oath. I bear these scars because I put my people above my own welfare, waiting for the time that I could take my place as your Tzar. I lived in agony instead of giving in to the wants of a group that viewed their own profit above the needs of the people. I have been beaten, raped, and even worse, yet I did not break in my resolve to take back what is rightfully mine for the sake of Mother Russia. Comrade Karl reminded me today that my scars are not a sign of weakness, but are proof that I survived the worst that corrupt adults could do. With the help of my Clan Short brothers, I have escaped the last shackles, and I'm proud to be one very angry Russian Bear."

"You have just made your Grandfather smile, Tzar Alexei," Tanis whispered as he crossed himself.

Both men's eyes suddenly locked onto the screen when two younger boys came up and took places on either side of Alexei. By the way the boys were standing, it was obvious that they somehow felt that they had a right to be on the camera. Alexei placed a hand on each of the new arrival's shoulders, then smiled at the camera. "For those who witnessed the events which happened before the accidental explosion in the kitchen, I am pleased to report that the injuries to the young boy were able to be healed. Unfortunately, the officer who attacked him was mortally injured while resisting arrest by my Royal Guard. As most of you were unable to learn the names of the two orphans who I found it necessary to intervene for, I will introduce them now."

With that, the older of the two boys, obviously freshly out of a swimming pool, stepped forward. Alexei moved his hand to the top of the boy's head, a loving smile on his face as he stated "People of Russia, open your hearts to Tsesarevich Daniil Mikhailovich Romanov. As of the same day we met, him and his brother are no longer orphans, but are my sons and heirs to the House Romanov." Alexei then guided the other boy forward. "Also open your hearts to his brother, Tsarevich Yegor Mikhailovich Romanov. Question this not; they are of the House of Romanov, and are the ONLY heirs to the title of Tzar. They are of my blood as if I sired them myself, and I will not allow any to tell them different."

Both boys spun to give Alexei a hug, his public declaration proving to them without a doubt that he really wanted them. As he returned the hug, Alexei added "I became their father because my heart could not bear to let them suffer another minute. Every country in the world currently has orphans living on their streets, I challenge you to make our family the first country that finds these orphans and provides every single one a loving, caring, and safe home. Family Clan Short has already set up the offices necessary in the Palace to provide for all of our people who need assistance to be able to afford adding to their families. This is not charity, this is what our Comrades are tasked to do in their mission to assist youth in need. There is more honor in accepting their assistance than there is in turning away a child in need."

Dima nodded his head. "Do as I do; Tzar Alexei is asking us to follow in his footsteps."

"Something tells me the choice is not ours," Tanis quipped as he watched their Tzar fawning over his new sons.

The blond that had been introduced as the Patriarch of Clan Short stepped up to gain the attention of the viewers. "To lead a nation, one must be a father or mother to their people. My brother Alexei has been taught well, but I can tell you from experience that having sons of his own will enhance what he already knew. As my brother, Tzar Alexei is being given the best technology that I have available to protect him and his sons. Fear not for your Tzar, because he shall be protected the same as me, and I'm not allowed to stub my toe without having twenty people making sure I'm okay while forty more try to kill the chair I stubbed it on."

Cory paused, then added "For those who are going to try to escape capture, this is your only warning. Harming a youth or trying to abduct them as you attempt to hide is an immediate death sentence. I will not allow a single Russian youth to suffer; they are now my family as much as they are Tzar Alexei's. The second that Tzar Alexei offered to join the Family of Clan Short, every citizen of Russia legally became his family. That makes every one of you my family as well, and I will stand by my brother's side to protect those who he has sworn to protect. Due to the wisdom of Tzar Alexei, you all have the tools to undo that which the dregs of society have thrust upon you."

"Look at his eyes," Tanis muttered.

"I see it; he's fought Death and walked away," Dima acknowledged. "I don't think that was a threat; that death sentence was a promise."

Both men fell silent, each trying to suppress the memories of their own actions in similar situations. By the time they had closed the mental doors once again, Alexei was back on screen, wrapping up his transmission.

"Tonight, my sons make friends with some of the most influential youth in the Universe. Tomorrow, I take my seat in the League for the first time as Tzar with no person speaking words I did not say.  I am the Bear, and tomorrow the world learns why others tried to muzzle me. Rest with pleasant dreams, my people."

With that, the screen shifted back to normal programming. Conversation quickly picked up, mostly wondering just where their Tzar was at, how he managed to take over the television from there, and what could have caused the scars he revealed. A few minutes later, medics arrived to assist the man still laying on the ground, with the local police right behind them.

One of the officers looked around the room after seeing the damage to the man's jaw. He spotted Dima, and shook his head as he walked over. "Okay, what did he do to piss you off?"

Dima shrugged. "Don't disrespect the Tzar in my presence."

"I thought as much," the officer sighed. "Swing by the station on your way home, you know the drill."

"C'mon Unca 'Lexei!" Timmy exclaimed as he took Alexei's hand and pulled him towards the pool. "You gotta take Dan and Yegs down the waterslide!"

"Go on, bro," Cory giggled, "We'll hang out at the bottom to catch you. Aaron says he'll start you guys on your swimming lessons tomorrow, but we're able to get you guys to a spot where you can stand up."

"Thanks, Cory," Alexei smiled, actually looking forward to playing with his new sons on the slide.

Later that afternoon:

"Okay you animals, settle down and take a seat!" Teri ordered loudly. "No food until your little butts are planted in the chairs."

Teri watched as a good part of her family tree finally stopped poking at each other and settled down for lunch. Once they were all seated, she smiled as she looked around the huge table. "As many times as I've accused you guys of trying to take over a country, I was only joking!" She paused to allow the raspberries to die down, then continued. "I'm really proud of you though; all of you have stepped up and shown Alexei and his boys that they really do have a family to count on. Alexei, as good as my boys are, there's one thing they can't do. You might be the Tzar, but you're still a boy, and sometimes boys your age need a parent's support and advice. I'd like to be there for you, if you think that you would like that."

"Why?" Alexei challenged, the fact Teri was Cory and Sean's mom being the only thing that kept him from rejecting her outright.

Half of the boys around the table started to stand, but dropped back into their seats when Teri stood up and signalled to stop. "All of you sit. Alexei has good reason to question me, and if any of you can't deal with it take it out of the room."

"But..." Adam started to reply.

"No buts, Adam," Teri replied firmly. "Alexei is expressing out loud things that some of you either dealt with yourselves or discussed with me in private. Each of you had your chance to wrap your heads around the offer, now give him his chance to do the same and make his own decisions."

"I still want to know why," Alexei challenged once again.

Teri nodded her head. "After what you've been through, I would have worried if you didn't question me. Just so you know, Sergei and I discussed this before I decided if I would ask you, as I do not want to overstep his bond with you. While he has guided you through the roughest part of your life, there are things that you are doing now that he has problems understanding; he is unsure as to how to proceed with helping you. I couldn't replace him if I wanted to, but between the two of us we could make your life a lot easier. Just about every other adult who would offer that would be out to gain something for themselves. I don't need another title, between Queen Elizabeth declaring me a Princess, and being the wife of the heir to the Vulcan House of Surak, I think I've got enough titles. Along with that, I have experience in something that is still very rare; raising sons who happen to be raising their own families. If you look around you, there is only one face here that I didn't have a choice in calling family, that is Sean. I've watched you with the rest of my boys, and I can tell that you're all becoming more than friends. If you're going to be their close brother in your heart, you deserve the same right that they have to count me as your mother."

Aaron had moved to stand by Alexei, and put his hand on Alexei's shoulder. "I think Mom's sayin' you need a place where you're not the Tzar, you're just one of the guys. Sergei is always going to see you as the Tzar; Mom's so used to all of us having titles that it doesn't mean anything to her anymore. You really fit in with all of us, and I know I'm speaking for all of my brothers saying we'd love to have you as close family, not just Clan family."

"What about what I let him do to me?" Alex whispered.

"If anyone ever tries that again against your will, I'll personally rip their balls off and feed them to the scumbag, then cut off his dick and shove it down his throat. Then I'll consider killing him." Aaron stated firmly. "You did what you had to do to survive, little brother. Learn from it, but don't let it define you." He smiled as he added "I chose to make her my Mom, and it was the best choice I've ever made."

"You gotta wait for the rest of us to get our turns, Airhead!" JJ quipped from the other side of the table. "No killing until we all get our turns!"

Alexei looked around the table, catching the eye of all of the members of his prospective new family. What he saw dug into his soul, as not one face seemed to be judging him, but they all showed concern for the mental stability of their brother. "I don't know what to do," he whispered.

Timmy came over and slipped onto Alexei's lap. As he cuddled into Alexei's chest, Timmy said "Unca 'Lexei? Daddy gets sad if he don't get time for fam'ly. Gran'ma says we can't be royals and chiefs all'da time, we gotta be fam'ly sometimes or we'll get mean. I don't wanna see you mean, I wanna have a happy Unca', an' you ain't gonna be happy wit' no fam'ly."

Alexei wrapped his arms around the little redhead, closing his eyes as he soaked up the comfort that Timmy seemed so good at giving. "I've got to be strong for my people," Alexi rationalized softly. "I can't look like I'm not ready."

"You're silly," Timmy giggled. "Daddy's only ready to be a Patr'ark cuz Gran'ma helps him, an' I'm a Chief cuz I can ask Daddy when I don't know sumthin'. Gran'ma helps Daddy and Poppa learn howta take care of me an' my broth'rs; you need a mommy to teach you to take care of Dan an' Yegs."

"Listen to the fireball," Aaron added. "He's right, trust me. I tried going on my own, and even though I'm older than you I still found out I needed an adult to help me with things I hadn't experienced before. You would look a lot weaker by not asking for help when you need it than you will by accepting a family that wants to have your back. Also, you'd be giving your boys an extended family; that means more than you might think."

Alexei opened his eyes, and looked over at Teri. "Why aren't you trying to convince me too?"

Teri smiled. "Because it is your decision, and you need to hear the advice from your brothers, not me. They have been in your position, I have not, so anything I might offer is just how I see things."

At that point, Alexei finally realized that this wasn't just Teri asking to stand in for his original family; this was her representing the entire family, expressing the group wish to include Alexei and his boys into their inner circle. With that in mind, Alexei figured out that it really wasn't just his decision. Keeping his arms around Timmy, he locked eyes with his boys, silently asking them to join him. Once they were at his side, he said "We are a family, which means what you wish is just as important as what I wish. I will not make a decision without your input on something as important as this, so tell me what you think."

Daniil and Yegor whispered between themselves for a full five minutes, then Daniil turned to their new Dad. "We'd like a grandma, and she acts like a really nice one."

Alexei nodded, then turned to Teri. "I agree with my sons, they deserve to have a grandmother. This I will allow, but I will not stand for them getting hurt. I will accept your advice, but I have no reason at this time to trust you enough to call you a mother. I've watched for the last four years as the person who was responsible for my well-being made himself look great in public but was a monster in private. I may re-consider once I get to know you better privately."

Before anyone could say anything, Aaron held up his hand. "None of you say anything until I'm done. Almost all of us have been in the position where our heath, safety, or mental stability have been in danger due to another person. NONE of us have had the fate of an entire country riding on our shoulders while we were being abused. NOT A SINGLE ONE! There is only one of us who really understands where Alexei's thoughts are coming from, and that is Kyle. If you didn't notice, Kyle's just been sitting there watching, and he nodded his head when Alexei made his decision. If Kyle can accept it, the rest of you better accept it as well, because it's not our job to make Alexei do things he's not ready for."

"Not bad for an overgrown blond, Airhead!" Kyle quipped before ducking under the table and crawling back out between Aaron and Alexei. Putting a hand on Alexei's shoulder, Kyle stated "You're still my brother, even if you're not ready to trust an adult yet. You ain't gotta call Momma Teri your mom to be family to me."

"Hey Aaron, did you forget I know all of Kyle's history now?" Cory giggled as he joined the group. "Alexei, Kyle was speaking for me too; I'm the only person alive that knows absolutely everything about his life other than Tyler. You're giving your boys a grandma; calling Mom your mom is not a condition of being one of my brothers. I was planning on asking you if you wanted that later today, to be a close brother instead of a Clan brother, but Mom decided to ask you about calling her your mom first without warning me. I'm sure some of these guys don't agree with your decision, but they'll live with it; we only look like we agree on everything in public."

"What's the catch?" Alexei asked warily.

"The catch is that you gotta let Kyle and me help you," Cory answered seriously. "You've got a lot of hurt and anger that you've tried to handle yourself; you have to let us help you slowly let it out before it builds up and destroys you. It doesn't matter if you ever accept Mom's offer, as long as you're able to heal from what was done to you. You'll never really be able to trust when you need to unless you let it all out."

Alexei thought over Cory's words. "I can see your point. I called in Adam Casey more from being desperate than from trusting him. You've earned what trust I can give by your actions. While I can say I would like to have all of you as brothers, I don't know if I can follow through in my heart."

"You're being honest, that's the first step to beating what that trash did to your head," Cory stated with a nod. "If you're willing to give it a shot, I know four people who have your back already; me, Kyle, Aaron, and Timmy. There are more, but I'm not gonna put words in their mouths, I'll let them tell you when they are ready."

"They'll tell you in private so it don't look like they're tryin' to look good," Kyle added, "They all like doin' it that way."

Alexei nodded. "I like that. I think I'll accept, at least I won't feel alone so much. Please don't make me regret it."

"I'll warn you now," Aaron added with a smile, "you're going to have arguments, and sometimes you won't agree with how a brother is doing things. That is part of being brothers, and you learn just as much from those times as you do when you agree on something. Your first argument is going to be the worst; but once you make it past that, you'll understand what I mean."

"Are you warning me about that concerning me, or my sons?" Alexei asked.

"Both;" Aaron admitted, "not only are you going to have to learn it, but you're going to have to guide the boys to learn as well. They're going to be watching and learning from you, and your example is going to be the one they follow. If you mess up, admit it to them; all of us screw up, but only the smart ones admit it."

"Now you're starting to sound like Grandfather!" Alexei prodded with a small smile.

"He'll get over it, his brain cell should de-rail any second now!" Justy commented from across the table.

"Bite me, Justy!" Aaron shot back.

"Nuh-UH!" Justy giggled, "Bones says next time I do that he ain't givin' me any shots to cover what I catch!"

Seeing the confusion on Alexei's face, Timmy piped up "They're just funnin' each other, Unca' 'Lexei. If they're smilin', they ain't bein' mean."

Alexei nodded. "Thanks, Timmy. I've wondered about that all day."

Timmy smiled. "Unca' 'Lexei? Grandma gives really good cuddles when you're sad, an' she don't care who your mommy is. Are you gonna let her give ya cuddles when you feel bad?"

"I'll think about it," Alexei offered.

"If you ain't ready for 'dult cuddles, but need some, tell me an' one'a the Tribe'll give you cuddles, okay?" Timmy stated seriously.

Alexei's eyes got wide at how easily Timmy had seen through him. Cory smiled, and commented "You're not the only one who has problems with adults, and Timmy's Tribe makes sure that anyone who needs cuddles, but can't stand the touch of an adult, gets the cuddles from one of them. You won't be the first, and nobody's going to say anything about it. In fact, sometimes I think his group knows when one of us needs a cuddle before we do; just think back to when he climbed on your lap."

Alexei glanced down at Timmy, and saw the exceedingly innocent face looking back at him. "I believe the phrase I've heard used is "Busted?" Alexei grinned.

"Yep, and I'm sure he's already started training your two!" Cory laughed.

Alexei nodded as both of his sons suddenly found other parts of the room more interesting. "There's one thing I do need to do, and Aaron's to blame for what I need to say."

"That's the most-used excuse Mom's ever heard!" Cory giggled.

Alexei nodded, then turned his head towards Teri. "Teri, while you seem to understand my reactions, I should have been more professional in how I responded to you. I may be twelve, but I've been trained on the ways to keep my emotional involvement from affecting how I interact with others. I wish to apologize for the way I reacted to your offer."

Teri nodded. "Apology accepted, Alexei. In the future, you can feel free to express yourself that way, though. I don't have the access that your brothers do to your history, so your emotional responses give me feedback on where you might be looking at things from without me having to ask questions that bring up bad memories."

"Thank-you, Teri," Alexei replied sincerely. In a way, her response had surprised him; he'd expected the acceptance, but didn't expect her stating the opposite of what most adults would say. Alexei filed it in his head as one more thing to discuss with Cory and Kyle in private.

Just about everyone headed back to their seats, all except JJ, who stood up and came over to Alexei. Whispering so that only Alexei could hear, JJ advised "Bro, don't worry. Brad and 'Roo were in the same spot you're in right now about accepting a new family. Don't do it until you learn to stop living like you did in the past, you'll appreciate it more."

Alexei rolled his eyes, his expression showing that he was getting tired of the subject. JJ grinned, then in a normal voice said "Bro, you wanna round up your triple-threat after lunch and come out on an op with me? I've got a new guy and his little brother who want some field time, so we're gonna stop by a few police stations to check in."

"OH CRAP!" just about everyone within hearing exclaimed.

Allowing himself a grin at the reaction, Alexi tilted his head, his eyes ordering an explanation.

"Y'all can bite me!" JJ giggled. "ONE time, me and Adam go out on a rescue and end up putting half the police force in Federation custody..."

"Uncle JJ, they should be finished repairing the lobby next month!" Emmy interrupted, drawing laughter from the room.

"Tracy, control your nephew!" JJ exclaimed.

Tracy giggled, "Emmy, tell Grandpa I said you can have a special treat!"

Alexei shook his head with a grin, glad that things were devolving to normal. "Are you sure that having the Tzar with you is appropriate?"Alexei asked.

JJ looked Alexei in the eyes. "I didn't ask the Tzar to join me, I asked my brother and friend Alexei Romanov to join me. You and Cory have something in common; neither one of you will put down your title and just take time for yourself unless someone gives you a swift kick in the ass to remind you. As a friend, it is my job to give you that kick, and as your brother I'm not going to stop until you listen."

"Ain't that the truth!" Cory groaned, earning him a slap from Sean.

Alexei grinned at Cory, "Patriarch, you really should train your husband to have more respect; it is very rude for him to instigate foreplay at the communal table."

The diversion worked, as now everyone else was focused on watching Cory and Sean trying to figure out how to respond. Grinning, Alexei said "JJ, it means a lot that you put being my friend first; not many have done that in my life. I'm in, it sounds like a good way to take a break."

JJ nodded. "The bonus is that even if someone recognizes you, they will ignore it since nobody would believe that you'd be out running around."

"Good point!" Alexei grinned. "Let's eat, this sounds like it might be fun!"

JJ couldn't hide his grin as his away-team for the day got their first look at Headquarters CIC. He just stood there holding hands with Adam as they watched Alexei and Nathan Collins leading their respective group around the control center, peppering Seth with an endless stream of questions.

After Nathan's experiences during the school raid in Des Moines, JJ took a chance based on Colin's report and accepted Nathan and his boyfriend / brothers into the Security team sight-unseen. This would be the first time working together, and JJ kept his fingers crossed that his trust in Colin wasn't misplaced. Nathan's group consisted of himself, his boyfriend Leofwyn, his little brother Lucas, Leof's little brother Lazarus, and Bruce's biological son Casey.

Alexei had his own little parade going, as he was accompanied by both of his new sons, along with his triplet redhead personal security. The three eleven-year-olds, Morgan, Maddox, and Madison, were obviously on a mission to make Alexei take kid time, taking turns tickling him if he started asking too many serious questions. While still hesitant, Daniil and Yegor occasionally got in a tickle themselves, their faces exhibiting huge smiles each time Alexei retaliated with tickles of his own.

Before he could forget, JJ stopped watching long enough to tap his commbadge. "HQ Security to Royal Guard. Logan, put down the chew toy!"

"Go ahead, JJ, he wasn't fighting anymore anyway," Logan replied with an obvious chuckle.

"You really need to cut down on KGB agents, all that fat isn't good for you!" JJ giggled. "Just letting you know, the full team's assembled as we discussed, and 'Morph issue is completed. Tell your guys to set condition 1, stand by for backup with no warning."

"Acknowledged, Sir, Royal Guard out." Logan replied, the wolverine hybrid boy switching gears instantly. He and his team had sworn allegiance to Alexei shortly after being advised of the abuse he had suffered, and they were normally his first line of defense. Only three people currently on-planet could override that; Jory, Cory, or JJ. Even then, JJ was smart, he didn't order them to stand back, he had called Logan as soon as he finished eating to discuss what additional measures the team leader recommended to complement the skills of the team. Both of them agreed that the only thing missing was phasenmorphs, and that due to their status Alexei, Daniil, and Yegor should have them anyway. The triplets ended up with 'Morphs as well, mainly because JJ didn't want to deal with a literal Royal temper tantrum.

Switching back to the show, JJ noticed that the two groups had now joined together again, and for the first time were actually talking to each other and comparing notes. His eyebrows raised when he saw Lucas suddenly wrap his arms around Alexei, burying his face in Alexei's chest. As him and Adam headed over to see what was wrong, Leof tapped his commbadge and announced loud enough for all the room to hear ""Minky Squad to Dutchman Control, Condition Bravo Alpha at Headquarters CIC. Repeat, Condition Bravo Alpha at Headquarters CIC."

"Acknowledged, Minky, Butterflies in flight. Control out."

Seconds later, CIC suddenly became very crowded, as every youth that had 'earned their wings' began transporting or teleporting in. Even the boys from Jersey responded, now that they were integrated with Northeast Division. By the time the third boy had appeared, however, Alexei found himself surrounded by a wall of friends, both new and the expected triplet protection.

Adam chuckled as he heard Alexei grumbling from within his flesh-and-blood prison. "Minky, stand down; all these guys are cleared."

While loosening the formation enough to let Alexei actually move, none of his protectors actually stopped scanning the new faces appearing, some of which were known to Nathan and his family, but others new to all of them.  Adam grinned as he quipped "Hey 'Lexei, Cory says that threatening to eat beans and garlic toast if they keep doing that makes them leave you room to breathe!"

"I will have to exchange ideas with him," Alexei grumbled as he wiggled his way out, Lucas still at his side and both of his sons following close behind him. "JJ, your little brother is going to suffer when I catch him; he told the telepaths that directors or higher are exempt from the rule about asking first."

"I know, he applied that to me too," JJ replied, keeping it serious. "There is good reason though; if you don't agree with his reasons, I'll help you 'convince' him to make you an exception."

Alexei stopped and tilted his head, surprised that JJ would allow his privacy to be violated. "Continue?"

JJ nodded. "Kyle's been with us from the start, and at first he didn't have control over his reading our minds. Due to that problem, he was able to catch it when we were getting overloaded and burning out, and he pointed it out to us. We do stuff that burns out adults, so them watching helps a lot. He also says it helps with his guys keeping you safe; if they know what you're planning, they can make the calls to have security ready if you need it and you don't have to worry about it. Usually he's got a 'room' in the head of the Clan leaders, where each of us can hang out with him and talk about whatever. He's not gonna do that for you until you tell him you're ready, but that means the telepaths are gonna watch you closer since Kyle's not in there to help you."

Alexei glanced over at Maddox, and rolled his eyes as his friend tried unsuccessfully to generate a halo. "Kyle's too little to make sense like that, I think I'll need your help giving him swimming lessons, right after we finish with Maddox. That explains why some things have went smoother than I was expecting, though. Tell him he has permission to move his scrawny little butt in, that way I can chew him out without being interrupted."

"This should be fun, too bad I can't see it!" JJ giggled as Alexei's eyes got wide. "The only two people in the Clan with harder heads than Cory, and now they're sharing a brain link!"

Adam quickly moved away from JJ, sure that retribution would be forthcoming. His caution was validated when JJ vanished, only to re-appear covered in snow with an adolescent brown bear cub. "C cc ccon gggrr attuu laatt  tionss it its a bb b boy!" JJ stuttered as he shivered. "Sss  si bbe eria's CCC COLD!"

Adam shook his head, trying hard to keep his giggles from becoming full laughter. Once the bear finished licking the snow from JJ's face, Adam scratched it's ears and escorted it over to Daniil and Yegor. "Welcome to the family! Timmy must really like you, he usually doesn't ask Kyle for pet pickups!"

"Is he friendly?" Yegor asked warily.

Adam nodded with a smile. "Yep, Timmy picks friendly animals for his friends to cuddle and play with."

Yegor carefully reached out and rubbed the tip of the bear's nose. In return, the bear gently leaned forward and licked Yegor's cheek.

"Eww!" Yegor giggled as he wrapped his arms around the bear's neck. "You're silly, Senya!"

Adam grinned as  Daniil joined his little brother in welcoming their new friend. Noticing Alexei's expression, Adam added "Timmy likes his friends to have living cuddle buddies."

Alexei nodded, allowing a smile as he watched his boys fawn over their new buddy, growling playfully as they cuddled into his fur. "Could someone please dry JJ? His teeth chattering are getting annoying."

JJ flickered, now in dry clothes and no longer freezing. 'Thanks for the break on Archnania, Lil' bro,' JJ thought, getting a mental hug in reply. "Okay, now that the circus is over, could someone please explain the sudden invasion?"

Almost all of the new arrivals looked over at Jake Busch, who was just finishing a bag of popcorn. "Can I request an encore?" Jake giggled as his brothers pushed him and Thomas forward.

JJ shook his head with a grin, knowing that any reply would just encourage the Des Moines group.

"Meanie!" Jake quipped before becoming serious. "Alexei, has Kyle explained to you what 'Butterfly Hunters' are?"

"Yes, but he said that you have to explain why I need to know about it," Alexei responded.

Jake smiled. "I used to be dead, but I was needed here so I was given back my life. You have two very special boys, both of them lived lives that scare me. With your permission, I'd like to give them the second-highest award in the Clan. While you were having fun, Tyler helped us vote, and we all agree that Daniil and Yegor have earned the honor of joining the Butterfly Hunters."

Alexei smiled as he turned to his sons, who were both looking at him with wide eyes. "You both overcame a life that most boys could not handle. You will honor the Romanov linage if you accept this award, since you honestly earned it on your own. These boys saw the same bravery that I did, and they want you to have a reminder that you can beat the worst life throws at you if you try."

"It also means that no matter what, every single one of us is your brother, just like you guys are to each other," Alien added. "We're all family, and we take care of each other."

"Maddox says we need to take it, because we're like our new Dad and we don't give up," Daniil commented softly.

"He's right, and I'm proud of my brave sons," Alexei confirmed. "You have to make the choice though, not us."

The two boys whispered for a minute, then Daniil replied "Yegor says I have to take it, because he thinks everyone is right."

"I'm gonna take it too, Daniil says we wouldn't have our new Dad if it wasn't for me," Yegor added.

Alexei nodded with a smile. "I believe you've made the right choice. Go ahead and accept your award."

It was obvious that Alexei's words of approval meant much more to the two boys than the award. With their heads help high, they made their way over to Jake, ready to perform their first actions as sons of the Tzar. Not to be left out, Senya 'escorted' his new friends, causing quite a few giggles from the group.

Once both boys were in front of him, Jake began. "Tsesarevich Daniil Mikhailovich Romanov and Tsarevich Yegor Mikhailovich Romanov, you have proven to all that know you that you have the strength and courage to continue on despite everything seeming to be against you. We voted, and we all think that you've both earned the right to be called Butterfly hunters. As of today, you have earned the right to bear the official Butterfly on your right shoulder, and from today forward you are authorized to add the suffix 'BFH' after your name."

Jake paused, looking at Alexei as he continued. "This will be the first awards since I came back. I think I can still do special ones, but if this don't work Dad's got temporary ones until our usual guy can do the tattoo. I really wanna do it though, because I think you guys are really special."

Jake had both boys remove their shirts, then started to attempt to draw on Daniil's shoulder. He was just about to give up when Thomas stepped in behind him and wrapped his arms around Jake's chest. To everyone's amazement, the pair began to glow, and Jake's touches began changing the pigmentation of Daniil's skin. Once Jake was satisfied with his work, he placed a kiss of approval just below it, then moved over to Yegor. He finally finished Yegor, then turned to Senya with a smile. "You wanna see?"

The bear cub nodded, then wiggled between 'his' boys until he could twist his head to see their shoulders. After giving the new awards a lick of approval, he settled back so that he could give each of them a lick on the cheek.

While still holding Jake, Thomas looked over to Alexei. "All countries and most planets that have been occupied for a lot of time have a guardian spirit, usually native animals. The bear is not only your nation's symbol, but the brown bear is also your region's guardian. We can't see a lot of stuff that we used to see, but me and Jake can still feel some stuff. You gotta ask Timmy if he knows more, but Senya feels like he's been touched by Russia's guardian."

Alexei grinned. "After meeting Timmy, I would not be surprised if he arranged it!"

"You learn quick!" JJ giggled. "Beware the Fireball, he will cuddle you into submission!"

"Tell me about it!" Alexei giggled.

Jake smiled, "Alexei, you wanna be the first  human to see?"

"What am I?" Thomas pouted.

"The hottest being in all the Planes!" Jake replied, earning him a very involved kiss.

"Get a room," Alexei giggled as he made his way around his sons to look at their shoulders. His eyes grew wide as he saw what Jake had created with just his finger. Both boys now bore a camouflage butterfly holding a rifle, with a ghostly image of the Palace in the background. The  one point that stood out to Alexei, however, was the heads of the butterflies; both had bear heads that surprisingly resembled Senya. "These are amazing!" Alexei commented, "They're exactly what I'd expect to see my favorite Crown Princes of Russia display as proof of the honor they have been granted."

"Yeah, awesome job, Jake," a familiar voice stated as Alexei felt a hand touch his shoulder, a hand that seemed to dispel all of his stress and worry.

"Hey Davie!" Jake giggled, "You STILL on break?"

"This ain't no break!" Davie laughed, "I'm just hanging out down here because you guys put a lot of the kids needing a little help in close groups after the battle. I need to be here anyway, because a certain royal brother of mine isn't going to argue his way out of adding the letters BFA after his title."

Davie gave Alexei's shoulder a squeeze at the last part, making it clear that the royal brother was in fact Alexei.

Alexei's eyes grew wide for a few seconds, then he grinned. "I can't expect my sons to do more than I'd do myself; so what I told them applies to me. Nice try, but you know I wouldn't tell them to do something I won't do, so why are you really here, Davie?"

"You're good!" Davie giggled. "You'll have to wait to see, I've been given instructions for the newest Butterfly Ace from Up High. Also, I'm helping the Lost Ace be here for the awarding."

Alexei pulled his boys into a double hug. "Guys, I've learned never to argue with your Guardian Angels; they always win. One thing you need to remember, no matter what other titles any of these guys or you hold, they are your equals by being awarded the same honor that you just accepted. They're your brothers now."

"Does that mean they won't hurt us?" Yegor asked hopefully.

Alexei nodded as he kissed the top of Yegor's head. "Exactly, little bear. It would break their honor to hurt one of their own."

"Is it okay if we go meet them?" Daniil asked hopefully.

"Go ahead, compare your butterflies with your brothers," Alexei giggled as he gave the two boys an extra squeeze. "I'll bet each of you has something unique about your award."

Watching as both boys scrambled to meet their new friends, Alexei smiled then turned to Jake. "What do I need to do?"

"You'll know," Jake giggled. "First thing is you gotta suffer through my brothers; they take this pretty seriously."

Alexei nodded, "Let's get started then."

As if he was waiting for the word to be given, Colin suddenly commanded "Kerry, outfit the Aces in full dress uniform."

"Yes, Sir," Kerry replied seriously. Seconds later, the few that had been deemed Butterfly Aces found themselves outfitted in full Vulcan dress uniforms, each bearing the ranks and awards earned by the respective person, as well as ceremonial swords. All conversation came to a stop as the first Ace was assisted by Davie to make his presence known, his translucent form recognized by almost half of the room.

Bob Busch had also ordered his own uniform, and stepped forward to begin the ceremony with wet eyes. "As all of you are aware, to be declared an Ace does not bring congratulations. An Ace is one who has went above and beyond what society expects of a person, to the point that it would not be expected of any person of that society to attempt it. As of the issuance to Alien, this honor is only issued upon agreement of all living Aces, after nomination by a Butterfly Hunter or one of a limited list of Clan telepaths. As I introduce the previous recipients of this honor, I ask those watching to salute them in the appropriate way for your society."

Bob paused, the shock evident on his face as Daniil stepped forward and mimicked what he'd seen when his birth dad had been in the military. "Butterfly Hunters, FALL IN."

Despite not being military, the boys who had earned their butterflies had a good idea of what their new brother was up to. While definitely not up to military standards, they made a valid attempt at lining up and coming to attention. Daniil patiently helped his hunter brothers arrange themselves into a semi-ordered facsimile of a formation, then he moved into the point position.

"Hunters, Ready ARMS, Present ARMS," Daniil ordered, having silently warned the boys what to expect next while helping them to get organized. He'd heard his dad talking about people passing out from locking their knees, so he had also told his new brothers to just stand relaxed instead of trying to stand at attention. Since most of the boys had no weapons, they followed procedure and saluted, while the few who were armed brought their weapons in front of them.

Bob gave Daniil a nod, then continued. "Daniel Scott, BFA," he began, snapping to attention and saluting as a ghostly figure of a 12 year old boy walked over, came to attention, and returned the salute. After returning the salute, Daniel stepped back, coming to attention once in position.

With tears freely flowing at the sight of his lost player, Bob moved on. "Lucas Busch, BFA," he announced next. Lucas followed the example of Daniel, ending up three feet in front of Daniel, facing him.

Going down the line, Bob listed each recipient in order, each of them taking a spot in line by alternating sides. "Logan Busch ... Spencer Busch ... Colin Busch ... Alien Busch ... Mark Morrison ... Kary Morrison"

Once Kary was in position, Daniel ordered in an echoing voice "Aces, ATTENTION. Draw ... SWORD,"

While nowhere close to the performance of a drill team, the Aces still managed to form an arch without anybody getting hurt. Both Alexei and Bob were aware of the proper procedures, moving into position at each end of the arch formed by the swords. After coming to attention, Bob stated "Tzar Alexei Romanov, your presence is requested for decoration."

Alexei, now in his formal clothes as well, passed under the arch at a measured pace, coming to a stop and returning Bob's salute once past Mark and Kary.

"Tzar Alexei Romanov, over the last four years, you have suffered abuses which would break most adults," Bob began. "Throughout that period, you maintained your loyalty to the people of Russia at the risk of your own life. By declaration of Patriarch Cory Short, Patriarch of Family Clan Short of Vulcan, the designation of Butterfly Ace is the highest award within Family Clan Short, only to be issued upon agreement of those who have previously been presented the award. This award is not one that earns congratulations, but is a permanent mark to indicate that you have been recognized as a person who has performed above and beyond the capabilities of most of the sentient beings of the Federation. By order of the Butterfly Aces, I have been instructed to issue you the designation Butterfly Ace, and authorize you to affix the suffix 'BFA' to any and all documents bearing your name."

"I accept the nomination," Alexei responded regally.

With Alexei's acceptance, Jake and Thomas stepped forward, having figured out that it now took both of them to enable Jake's drawing skill. As they helped Alexei bare his right shoulder, Davie joined them, mouthing 'Mandate' at their curious looks.

Shrugging his shoulders, Jake went to work on Alexei's tattoo, with both Thomas and Davie in constant contact with him. As the drawing took shape, it became apparent that it was an injured brown bear, obviously enraged. On the bear's side was a camouflaged butterfly, with blood red eyes and bloody crossed swords. The bear was standing on the word 'ACE', done in bloody letters. Once Jake was satisfied with his artwork, he kissed the bottom of the tattoo, which affixed his signature. Not breaking contact with Jake and Thomas, Davie leaned over and kissed it as well, which caused a halo to appear above the butterfly's head.

"Alexei Romanov, Our Father has recognized your suffering," Davie stated. "Your injuries from that which was Not Meant To Be have been healed, and your scars Shall no longer limit you. The marks of your suffering Shall remain as a badge of Honor. As has been Mandated, so has It been Done."

Alexei turned to face Davie, and for the first time in his life dropped to one knee with his head bowed. "My eternal thanks, Guardian of my family," Alexei stated softly.

"Bless you, Alexei," Davie replied, understanding that as the Tzar of Russia, Alexei would feel slighted if Davie didn't allow him to show his respect. "You may rise and show your subjects the Mark of Honor which you now bear, brother."

Alexei stood up, coming to attention and holding position to allow whatever camera was being used to focus on his shoulder. After a pause, Daniel ordered "Aces, Return ... SWORD." He paused for a few seconds, then added "Fall OUT."

Daniil did an about-face, now facing the hunters. "Butterfly Hunters, Order ARMS." He paused as well for a few seconds, then added "Fall OUT."

Now that the ceremony was officially over, Daniil and Yegor rushed to Alexei's side, giving him a double hug. As they broke their hug, Alexei opened his eyes to find Daniel patiently standing in front of him, a smile on his face. "As the first Ace, our brothers seem to think it's my job to be the first to welcome you to the family. Davie says we can hug, if that's okay with you."

Alexei smiled as he replied "This will be a first for any of my family; it's not every day that you get to hug a deceased hero!"

"I'll take that as a 'yes'," Daniel giggled as he moved forward and wrapped his arms around Alexei.

Alexei returned the hug, his features relaxing as he felt the peace radiating from Daniel. Whispering so that only Alexei could hear, Daniel stated "I know that you feel uneasy about some of the offers that you've received from Cory's family. Now that your physical injuries are healed, your spirit can start healing. They understand your hurt, and will wait for you to heal before deciding on their offers. Oh, I'm one of your Guardian Angels now; I watch out for all of my Ace brothers."

Alexei gave Daniel a squeeze. "Thank you, that means a lot coming from you," he replied softly. "Is it wrong that I don't think I deserved this though?"

"Not you too!" Daniel sniggered. "Mini argued it, and lost. I've got a little advantage, because I've seen what you went through. Trust me, if you didn't deserve it, one of us would have questioned it. That didn't happen; all of us agreed as soon as you were nominated that you deserve it."

"Who nominated me?" Alexei asked.

"Saint Mikey, through Nathan's little brother Lucas," Danny replied seriously. "Jake picking the boys is normal for him, and him and Bob are the only ones that can declare an Ace without us voting on it, even though they have both said that at least some of us have to agree with them. This is the first time anyone knew I was there for a new Ace, and I don't know when the next time I'll be visible will be."

"Why am I the first one?" Alexei asked.

Daniel smiled as he replied "Because you and I have something in common, brother. While you had more happen, both of us have been mentally abused, and both of us put our lives at risk to save someone else from death. Nobody else knows about the abuse from my father, because my Mom left him before I joined the team. I died saving some neighbors from a house fire, you would have joined me if Logan hadn't took out that cop when you saved the boys who became your sons."

"Okay, if you put it that way, I'll agree with you," Alexei giggled. "You want to take a shot at Kyle? He's arguing with me about him deserving one."

"I'll handle it," Daniel replied. "Plan on a private awarding soon; Kyle has been through enough already. Davie says I need to say my goodbyes to everyone, so I'll catch ya' later, okay?"

"Okay, and thanks ... bro," Alexei replied with a grin as they seperated.

Daniel heard something in Alexei's tone, and realized that he'd somehow earned the one thing Alexei was currently unwilling to give; his trust.  He pulled Alexei back into a hug, smiling as he said "Ya know, technically I'm a year older than you, so that makes you my little brother. None of the other Aces have seen my butterfly, I think it's only fair that my little brother is the first one to see it."

"I wish you were really my big brother," Alexei whispered.

"Let me see what I can do," Daniel replied seriously. "These angel wings gotta be good for something!"

"Thanks, bro," Alexei giggled softly, Daniel's wing comment lightening his mood some. "How'd you get a tattoo after you died?"

Daniel smiled as he replied "Jake gave it to me while he was dead; that's where he learned he could draw with his finger. Him and Thomas are the only two who have ever saw it."

Alexei smiled, "Can I really see it?"

"You gotta let go so I can turn around, bro," Daniel giggled. Once Alexei released him, Daniel turned around, his shirt vanishing once his back was turned towards Alexei.

Alexei's eyes went wide as he saw the Ace butterfly bearing a halo, engulfed in flames. Underneath the word 'Ace' was an image of Daniel's headstone. 

Daniel Scott, BFA

April 9, 1991- May 7, 2003

He gave his life so others may live

Alexei crossed himself, then leaned forward to kiss the image of the headstone. "I am honored to be your little brother," Alexei stated softly.

Daniel turned around, pulling Alexei back into a hug. "I'm proud to have a little brother like you."

30 minutes later:

Once Daniel had collected hugs from all of his friends and fellow Aces, everyone but the original group and the living Aces went back to whatever they had been doing. As Alexei collapsed onto a nearby couch to try to recover his emotions, Alien came over and took a seat next to him. "You gonna be okay?" Alien asked, obviously concerned.

"I don't know," Alexei replied honestly. "It's all just too crazy, I don't know what I'm feeling right now."

"Been there, done that!" Alien replied. "What you need is to take a nap with your sons in your arms. If you want, Mark can join you; he's a touch empath, so he'll be able to help you get things back under control, and can help you understand what you're feeling."

"But I promised JJ that we'd go with him..." Alexei started to protest.

"And an Ace never breaks his promises if at all possible," Alien finished. "You need a break, and if you don't mind being off-planet for a minute or two, you, Mark, and the boys can go check out the Unit's training planet. A couple of minutes here is the same as a week there, so you'll have plenty of time to relax and re-center yourself. Don't be surprised if Lucas tags along, I think he needs some quiet time with Mark too."

"Why do I get the feeling you are not going to give him a choice?" Alexei asked with a tilt of his head.

"Because I'm his big brother?" Alien giggled.

Alexei smiled, realizing that one of the things he was feeling felt like an invisible 'push' to do what Alien suggested. "You're teaching Daniel bad habits! We'll go, I think Daniil will really enjoy it."

Alien's eyes grew wide. "Teaching Daniel bad habits?"

Alexei nodded. "Yeah, he's my big brother now."

"So THAT'S why none of us could see his butterfly until after you kissed it," Alien exclaimed. "Congrats, I think you just made the best choice in your life; Daniel's awesome."

Alexei's smile grew huge at the praise. A few seconds later, he stated "We need to get going, Kyle says he'll meet all of the Aces there..."

To Be Continued...

Author's Note:

I only stopped it here because there is so much more left to happen in this story arc. As usual, the characters went in unexpected directions, so the scenes that I'm intending to write have been pushed to the next chapter.

The current thread with Alexei has turned into much more than I expected, as he was hiding just how deeply he'd been emotionally hurt by his abuse. For those who have never been through emotional abuse, this is a small sample of what it does to a person; fortunately for Alexei, he has a group of new friends who not only understand, but are willing to help him through the beginning stages of recovery.

Hang around, this is far from over!