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Dan, Josh, Helen, Matt, Adam, Jamie and Kelly were sitting and talking in the living room of Teri's sprawling house when seven pillars of light appeared in the center of the room. "There they are," said Dan. "I wonder how it went."
"You really need to ask?" scoffed Helen. "From what I've seen just since I've been here, those guys know their stuff. They'll pull it off all right."
"You're right, Helen," said Matt, "but we were given the impression that this one contained more elements of imminent danger than some interventions we've done."
"That's true," admitted Helen, as the shimmering pillars solidified into Zac, Jacob. J.J., Tyler and Mark, along with two other kids. The two new ones looked positively out of it.
"Here," said Helen, "let them sit on the couch. How did it go?"
"Well, other than the fact that I had to shoot a cop and have him put under arrest by the Federation, great," said J.J.
"Don't tell me you shot another cop," said Dan, chuckling, to his son.
"I had to, Dad; he was interfering with a Clan intervention, and had information on the conspiracy to kidnap and murder Jed and C.J. Besides, I only stunned him."
Mention of the two new kids prompted Dan to shift his attention in their direction. He sat down on the couch next to them. "Hi," he said, "how ya doin'? My name is Dan. You want to tell me about what happened to you?"
C.J. said in a small voice, "It's like I told the lady back at that other house: our mommy and daddy got killed by a bad man." Tears began to trickle down his face. "W-we left our backpacks on the porch at our house, an' I had a letter for Mommy in mine, that I was s'posed to give her when I got home." He broke into sobs. "Now I can't give it to her at all, an' - an' I don' know what my teacher's gonna say...."
Jed looked Dan right in the eye and wailed, "please, please, don't let anyone hurt my little brother like they did our Mom and Dad." Then, he was gone, like a light had gone out somewhere inside him. He curled up into a little ball in the recliner, and completely withdrew into himself.
Dan said softly, "early stages of catatonia, just like what happened to Cory over a year ago. I hope we can get through to him in time to keep him from completely shutting down like Cory did."
Just then Cory and Sean walked in arm in arm. "Are they back..." he started to ask, then noticed the expressions on the two new boys. "Oh, no," Cory whispered in dismay. "Not again!"
"Not exactly," Dan said. "Jed's not amnesic, but he seems to have gone into catatonic shock. With you, we really didn't know what was going on until it was too late, and that was why you suffered for over a year before coming back to yourself. With Jed here, I think if we're patient and understanding, we can bring him out of it without putting him in an institution."
"God, I hope so. That place wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't home."
Cory sat down beside Jed. "Hi, there, buddy. My name's Cory. What's yours?"
"I want my mother," he muttered belligerently, "and you can't get her back!" Then he started to whimper and folded back into himself.
"No, bud, I can't get your mother back for you, but I can be your friend. And all of us here will take good care of you and love you as if we were all your mothers."
"Go 'way!" ordered Jed from within his fetal curl. "I don' wanna talk about it."
Helen said quietly, "It's about time to start fixing dinner. Should I go ahead?"
Dan looked at his watch. "God, is it that late? Yes, go ahead, Helen. We all need to eat sooner or later. Whatever you were planning for dinner will be fine."
For the next hour Dan and the rest tried to work with Jed, to get at least some response out of him while Helen bustled about in the kitchen with dinner preparations. Zac and Mark excused themselves and left to walk across to Southcrest, letting everyone know they'd be on call if needed. When she called everyone to the dining room to eat, Jed still refused to budge. Helen insisted on a plate being fixed for him and placed on the coffee table within his reach, in case at some point food should become interesting to him.
It was an unusually somber air that pervaded the dining room that night as Clan Short gathered for their evening meal. Concern for Jed Templeton filled everyone's minds and made the usual bantering and horseplay that went with a community meal seem inappropriate. They talked softly among themselves, some conversation revolving around the subject of how best to deal with Jed.
Tyler and Kyle sat with Ceej, gently but unobtrusively monitoring his thoughts and emotions and trying to make him feel welcomed and included in the group.
Ceej ate quietly, but at one point asked tearfully, "Will I ever get to go back and see my mommy?"
All conversation immediately stopped. How do you answer a question like that from an eight year old? Helen gamely and compassionately stepped into the breach. "Honey, your mommy and daddy have gone to Heaven to be with God. God needs them there to help him with stuff in Heaven, so they're going to be gone a long, long time."
"Do you s'pose God has a eng'neering thing for Daddy to do for him?"
Barely managing to stifle a grin, Helen replied soberly, "That may very well be why God needs your daddy, Honey."
"Maybe if I tell Jed that, he'll listen and understand better."
"He might, at that," Helen agreed."
"Let's hope so," Dan muttered under his breath.
When the meal was over most went back to the living room. Ceej knelt on the floor in front of Jed, laid his head on his brother's knee and said, "Jed, listen to me. This nice lady says that Daddy had to go to Heaven to help God with a eng'neering thing, and won't be back. And God won't hurt Daddy like that bad man did." Jed reached for Ceej's hand, but otherwise there was no response.
Kenny and Deacon volunteered to go to the kitchen with Helen and help with the cleaning up. J.J. and Jacob sat down with Matt Barnes to go over what they had found out in Arkham; John joined them when he arrived home from his office at the spaceport. The youngest ones went to the rec. room to watch videos until bedtime. They tried to get Jed and Ceej to go with them; Ceej went along reluctantly, but Jed refused to move, staying sullenly in his recliner. The adults and older kids stayed in the living room, their attention focused on Jed. Sounds of light banter soon began filtering in from the rec. room, as the kids offered their (sometimes hilarious) commentaries on the videos they were watching. Jed never even pricked up his ears.
The situation was pretty much the same by the time bedtime rolled around. When the adults tried to get Jed to go to a room that had been made ready for him and C.J., he just told them to "go 'way," just as he'd been doing all afternoon. So, rather than force Ceej to sleep all alone in the room set aside for him and his brother, Kyle and Tyler invited him to sleep with them for the time being.
"No hanky-panky, you guys, while you've got company," Teri warned.
Tyler gave an eye-roll. "Yes, Mom," he agreed with a wink. "We know."
"Well, looks like they're gone," Maureen said in a dazed whisper. "I wonder what will happen t' those poor little darlin's."
"Well," Tanner began, "probably not much at first. There is a psychologist who lives there, a Ph.D.; he will try to work with the boys to make sure that they haven't suffered any lasting trauma. They'll probably have dinner with the Clan, do something for recreation, then go to bed. I've no doubt that when they heard about this, the first thing they did down there was get a room ready for them.
"Tomorrow, if they seem up to it, someone will probably take them and buy them some clothes and stuff."
"Oh, God, that's right, they left everything they owned behind, didn't they?"
"That often happens in cases like this, Maureen. And with those two especially, it may be just as well - to avoid reminding them of what happened today."
"Speaking of dinner, I guess it's time we had some too, eh? I was going to defrost a couple of steaks for Jonas and me; that all right with you guys?"
"Whatever you were planning is fine, Maureen. We realize we're kind of butting in here a little bit; we'll try not to be any more in the way than absolutely necessary."
"We need to find someplace for you guys to sleep, too. You two don't mind sharin' a room, do you?"
D.J. and Tanner exchanged a look. "Ah, no," D.J. replied. "That'll be great, in fact." Then he went on, "Uh, Maureen, if I may be so bold as to suggest..."
"Yes, D.J., what is it?"
"Um, it might be a good idea if you let Harry stay here tonight as well. Remember, that cop said that he was looking for two boys."
"Merciful heavens, you're right!" She began to mumble to herself. "I've no idea where I'm going to put them all....All right, first things first. First, Harry, we've got to let your mom know you're spending the night. We'll worry about the rest later. Jonas, you get three more steaks out of the freezer and start defrosting them all in the microwave. Also get out that big package of Ore-Ida Steak Fries, and two cans of green beans. I'm gonna call Harry's Mom." She picked up the phone and punched out a number.
"Hi, Abbie, it's Maureen, Jonas' mom....Yes, he's here. Listen, there's something you need to know. You know the Templetons?....Right, George Templeton, the one that worked for Jones and Rutledge....Right, well, he and his wife were killed at their home earlier today --"
You could hear the "WHAT?!" that came across the phone line from clear across the room.
"Yeah, that was pretty much my first reaction, too....I'd just as soon not say, the less you know about that the better for you. The point is, our sons found their two boys hiding out near the playground. The kids apparently got home from school and then fled as soon as they saw the crime scene. Well, they brought the boys to my house, my son apparently having some notion that there was something I could do." She chuckled. "You know how it is when your kids sometimes think you hung the moon? Well, in this case, it wasn't me, it was Harry that came up with the idea that got those kids out of danger. It's best you not know right now, but what I'm leading up to, Abbie, is that Jonas inadvertently put me, himself, and Harry in danger now, too....Abbie, please, it's a long story, but believe me, right now, Harry's safer if he stays at least the night with me.... Absolutely, an' I'll guard him with me own life. We'll keep you posted as much as we can without endangering you....You too. G'night.
"Well, that takes care o'that. Yer Mom's fit t'be tied right about now, but she says it's all right if you spend th'night here."
Harry said, "Thanks, Maureen, I don't know as I'd have had any idea what to say to her."
"That's all right, son, we've all gotta work together till this thing blows over. Jonas, how're you coming with those steaks?"
"Just about ready to go into the broiler, Mom."
"All right, how do you guys like 'em?"
"Medium's fine, Maureen."
Maureen's oven was one of those that has separate compartments for broiling and baking, so she was able to get the steak fries and the steaks done at just about the same time. Once the green beans were heated in the microwave, and some rolls defrosted, dinner was ready.
"These steaks are simply great, Mrs. McConnaghey," D.J. said.
"Why, thank you!" she replied. "But I told you, it's Maureen to you."
"Just like Teri," Tanner said with a grin. "Call her 'Mrs. Short,' and she'll chew you a new, uh, butthole."
"And don't call her 'Grandma,'" D.J. giggled, "even though she sort of is our grandma."
"How old is she?" Maureen asked.
"In her late 30's," Tanner answered. "But she's D.J.'s brother's grandmother by adoption, so she's sort of ours as well."
"So you're a part of Clan Short because you're family?" Jonas asked.
"No, we were a rescue like most of the guys. We didn't find out about the relationship until afterwards. It's kind of a long story."
"I wonder what'll happen to Officer O'Doul," Harry mused.
"That's the cop that was here?" Tanner asked. "Let me guess: J.J. stunned him and had Starfleet take him into custody, right?"
"Yeah, how'd you know?" Jonas asked.
"He's got a history of taking out cops that interfere with interventions," D.J. commented. "But what about his car?"
"Oh, damn," Maureen said suddenly. "There's a police car sitting in our driveway right now! I'll be needin' to hide it, for sure. Perhaps in my garage, with the doors closed?"
"Not good, Mom," Jonas said. "That's about the first place they'd look if they come here, and I'll bet someone knows that O'Doul was dispatched here and never checked back in afterwards."
"I know!" said Harry. "There's an abandoned barn way back in the fields on the old Winthrop place. If we pull it down behind your house right now, I could drive it out there after dark."
"Sure, and I can't be letting you risk yourself like that," Maureen interjected sternly. "You aren't even old enough for a license, Harry Johnson!"
"If I get stopped driving O'Doul's cop car," Harry said, "not having a license would be the least of my worries. But I've driven before on back country roads; I know how, and I know a pretty sure way to get the car there without getting caught. Besides, I get the feeling we're already in pretty deep..."
"You can say 'shit' under the circumstances," Maureen said with a smile. "And yes, I believe you're right. I cannot give you permission to risk yourself like that, Harry. I'll be in my study working on a story for the paper about what happened today. Don't be letting me catch you doing it. And, Harry..."
"Be careful, son," she said, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek.
Harry blushed and said, "I will, Maureen."
"Mom," Jonas said with a smile.
"You dropped your accent!"
"Why, sure and I did!" she said with an exaggerated brogue and a big grin. Everyone laughed.
"All right, then," she said. "Harry, ye better be pulling the paddy wagon around back of the house. Jonas, will ye be rinsin' the dinner dishes and puttin' them in the dishwasher?"
"We can help," D.J. said.
"No, and what kind of a hostess would I be if I were to be lettin' guests do chores? You two be relaxing and let Jonas entertain you when he's done loadin' the dishwasher."
"She's right, Deej," Tanner said. "We should probably be on the alert in case there's trouble tonight, and we can do that sitting where we can see out the windows and just talk with Jonas, and Harry when he gets back. Here, Harry, carry my communicator with you. If you get in trouble, push the red button; it's an emergency call-for-help signal."
"Thanks," Harry said, heading out the door to move the car.
Entering her study and booting her computer, Maureen went over to her files. "I know there's some stories on things Scordo's been involved with. Let me see...."
Jonas turned off the tap at the kitchen sink, switched on the dishwasher, and walked to the front room, where Tanner was looking out the window. D.J. was talking into his communicator. "Nothing to report yet, Tommy. Zac's friend Harry just went to hide the police car. Tanner had him carry his communicator, and showed him the panic button. If you get an emergency call from Tanner's communicator, don't stop to ask questions; dispatch a security team. Jonas - he's the guy who found the two boys - just walked in; I'll sign off and talk with him. D.J. out."
"Tommy out," came from the communicator. D.J. punched the standby button.
"What happens now?" Jonas asked.
"If we're lucky," Tanner answered, "nothing. We hang out and talk until bedtime, get some sleep, and more of the same tomorrow. Either Tanner or I will be standing watch until we can get the situation resolved."
"Not to be a smartass," Jonas said, "but what can you two do?"
Tanner pulled out his phaser without taking his eyes from the window. "We're both commissioned ensigns in Starfleet, and can take action as needed. Show him your I.D., Deej."
D.J. did just that. "When we finish studying Federation law with Matt or Brady, we'll be promoted to lieutenant."
"J.G.," Tanner interjected.
"Well, yeah," D.J. added. "Let me explain. From your mother's perspective, we're two boys who are guests in her home, right?"
"Yeah," said Jonas.
"Unless I miss my guess," D.J. continued, "either Zac or J.J. declared you under the protection of Clan Short, right?"
"I think he said that," Jonas said, trying to remember.
"I'm pretty certain one of them did," D.J. said. "In any case, if they forgot to, either of us can do that right now. So consider it done. What that means, though, is that your house is now legally under diplomatic immunity. We're all legally a part of the House of Sarek, the leading family on Vulcan, and you and your mother and Harry are now under our legal protection. That means that Arkham cops, Maine State Police, or even the F.B.I., have no authority here. Sarek gets very offended at any insult to his extended family, and you do not want to anger a Vulcan, believe me! Clan Short is legally empowered by the laws of Vulcan and the Federation to step in whenever there's abuse or a threat to kids or teens anywhere. That was invoked for ... was it Jed and C.J.? ... and by extension, for you, your mom, and Harry."
Harry came back in from moving the police car behind the house just then. "What's that?" he said. "What's Vulcan got to do with this?"
Tanner picked up the explanation, motioning D.J. to keep watch for a bit. "D.J. just explained it all to Jonas, but the quick and dirty of it is that you guys are protected from any cop problems under Federation law, thanks to the fact that we're all legally joint citizens of the U.S. and the planet Vulcan government. Either J.J., Zac, or D.J. just now placed you two and Jonas's mother under Clan Short protection."
"But you're only kids like us!" Harry said.
"Wrong," said Tanner firmly. "D.J. and I and all the Clan members are legal adults under Federation law, responsible for our actions and each able to act in behalf of the Clan as a whole ... when it is logical to do so."
"And protecting those who intervene for two boys whose parents have been murdered is deemed logical by Sarek and our Patriarch," D.J. said, staring out the window at a truck going by.
"They've got valid Starfleet I.D.'s," Jonas said in a mildly stunned voice.
"How'd you get to be part of this Clan?" Harry asked.
"That's a pretty long story," Tanner responded. "I was orphaned and put in a foster home with a couple of creeps, just down the street from D.J. His mother was dead and he was living with his father."
"Who was a real creep too," D.J. threw in. "He and Tanner's foster parents had hidden cameras in our rooms and bathrooms, getting pictures of us undressing and jerking off and such and selling them on the Internet. When he caught us making out, he tried to rape me, and Tanner let him have it with a baseball bat."
"We got the hell out of Dodge," Tanner continued.
"You guys were living in Dodge?" Harry asked.
"No, dork," Jonas interjected with a chuckle. "It's an expression that means they left town. But what happened to the girls?"
"What girls?" Tanner asked.
"The girls you were making out with," Jonas responded.
"No girls," Tanner answered. "We were making out with each other."
The two older boys looked stunned. "So you guys are gay?" Jonas asked.
"Yeah," said Tanner. "You don't have a problem with that, I hope?"
"No," said Jonas. "Heck, I used to fool around with a couple of friends before I started going out with Holly." Harry's eyes grew large at this revelation.
"What happened with you and her, anyway?" Harry asked.
"We broke up," Jonas answered. "She didn't care about me as a person; what she wanted was to be the girlfriend of the jock image I had at the time."
"So she didn't love you, but was doing it to be popular?" D.J. asked.
"Yeah," Jonas responded sadly.
"I understand," D.J. said. "That's what I love about Tanner; even when I was suicidal, he was there for me, caring about me as an individual. How I felt was the most important thing to him."
"That's great," said Jonas. I'm really happy for you two. But how'd you get from running away to joining Clan Short?"
"We spent that night at a campground," Tanner continued, "and the next morning we met Russ and Sara, who were camping there too. They're our parents now. They took us to their home in Utah."
"I thought you guys were from Orlando," Harry said.
"We are," D.J. answered.
"We all moved there," Tanner said. "Russ got hired as the sound tech. for N*Sync and Aaron Carter, and Sara became the Camp Nurse for Camp Little Eagle - that's the residential camp the Clan and the Seminole Tribe run for abused and endangered boys."
"How'd he get that job?" Harry asked.
"Simple," Tanner answered. "Jacob or Jamie was here earlier, right?"
"Jacob, I think he said his name was," Jonas answered.
"Well, Jacob and his twin brother Jamie were adopted by Commander Chip Dodds of Starfleet and his husband, who is JC of N*Sync. Aaron lives with them and is a Clan member, along with his boyfriend.
"Anyway, we took the bus from Russ and Sara's to Des Moines, where Teri was living at the time. And my foster parents and Deej's father caught up with us at a layover at the bus terminal in Cheyenne, Wyoming and were going to grab us back or kill us.
"Sean -- that's Teri's second oldest son - landed a Starfleet shuttle in the bus station parking lot, and they stunned and arrested the three creeps. D.J.'s father is dead and my fosters are now on a prison planet, hopefully turning big rocks into little ones."
"You gotta be kidding!" Harry exclaimed.
"It's the God-honest truth," Tanner answered. "I've got news clippings at home about all of it."
"We picked up two younger brothers too, that were on the bus and we made friends with," D.J. added. At his gesture, he and Tanner traded off watching out the window.
"It's starting to get dark," Harry said. "I'd better go hide that cop car before someone shows up looking for it."
"You gonna be OK, Har'?" Jonas asked concernedly.
"Yeah, sure," Harry answered, trying to look nonchalant and heroic. "I'm going to cut over up at the corner and take Old Mill Road out of town. There's a dirt road that leads back to the Winthrop place, that nobody ever goes down any more. Then across the fields to the old barn, and hike back to here. It's less'n a mile from there to here as the crow flies. The drive there will be the longest part, 'cause it's out and around. I ought to be back within the hour."
Harry picked up Tanner's communicator and headed for the back door.
"I hope he'll be OK," Jonas said worriedly.
"If he does get stopped," D.J. reassured him, "if he just pushes the panic button, they'll beam in four guys with phasers and the authority to protect him. That's what I was setting up with Tommy while you rinsed the dishes."
Maureen answered the phone on the second ring.
"Maureen? Josiah Brewster here."
"Oh, hello, judge."
"It seems your boy there did the trick," Josiah chuckled. "I just got faxed some paperwork from the Federation Youth Services Bureau that they have intervened under the Safe Haven Act in the matter of Jeremiah Sarles Templeton and Christopher Judd Templeton of this county, and that temporary custody has been granted to something called Clan Short of Vulcan, which I assume is what you folks were talking about."
"Josiah, ye don't know the half of it! After what's happened here today, I'd not be surprised to see a pooka appear and offer me three wishes!"
"It sounds like you've got quite a story, if you haven't been hitting the uisquebaugh." Josiah answered with a chuckle. "Anyway, I thought I'd call. The note with it said to regard the information as confidential, due to an ongoing murder investigation that the Federation will be intervening in."
"That's good news. Maybe we can finally get that Randall Scordo dead to rights."
"I should have known his filthy hands would be in on this. Anyway, for your personal information, I filed formal award on my confidential docket confirming the material that was faxed in, and granting temporary custody of the boys by Maine law to this Clan Short. It's more or less meaningless, since when the Federation takes jurisdiction our hands are tied, but at least it keeps things neat at this end, and shows that Maine can cooperate with them.
"I'll probably be driving up to Arkham in the next day or two; there's a couple of custody cases where I'd like to see the homes personally before I rule, and it'll give me a chance to take you to dinner, if young Jonas will let an old widower take his mother out for the evening."
"Go on, you old dear," Maureen said with a warm smile. "It sounds like you've kissed the Blarney stone yourself. Thanks for the news, and if Scordo's tame coppers don't throw me in gaol before then, I'll be glad to take you up on that."