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As they went to the side, Ezra looked over at the wall. "Oh, crap... Peter forgot a patio door and ramp!" he commented out loud. Without warning, he froze time long enough to have a crew come in and add the door and ramp. Once it was done, he brought the occupants of the room back into normal time, just in time for a Samoyed mother with two pups to appear pulling a wagon containing a large pumpkin and three groundhogs. "Johnny, I think you have a delivery!" Ezra giggled.
Herman sat down slowly in a chair that had not been there a moment before. He looked the strange sight over for a few. His face would have made a Vulcan proud, especially since the swirling emotions and abject disbelief were ricocheting around inside his skull like a 50 cal. inside a safe. He looked Travis right in the eyes and asked him in a very quiet voice, "Now what was it you wanted to ask me?"
Johnny giggled as he watched Travis distract Herman with something more in his realm. "Lucas? Logan? Can you help us carve a good Halloween pumpkin after we eat lunch? Millie and her pups brought us the one I liked, and they're gonna watch us. The pups ain't never seen a jack-o-lantern!"
Lucas looked at Logan a bit uncertainly for a moment. His face furrowed. At first, he looked like he was going to leave, but then he grinned and said, "Sure, but I don't know anything about carving on no pumpkins, Johnny."
"Kewl! I can show you what to do. I bet you guys are really good at it. The pups can't wait to see what you do!" Johnny said, barely able to contain his excitement.
Several minutes later Johnny had all the implements necessary to carve the pumpkins. He was looking at Lucas and Logan expectantly. A look of fear gripped the brothers for a moment, but then they both got a look that can only be called mischievous.
"You thinking what I'm thinking, Lucas?"
"You mean the birthday cake specials?"
"Reading my mind like always."
Johnny just looked lost. "Uhm. Birthday cakes? What's some cakes gots to do with carvin' pumpkins?"
Lucas and Logan drew the confused boy close and they pressed their foreheads to his. The three whispered for a while, and the grin on Johnny's face grew so wide it threatened to pull his face in two. Soon all three boys were giggling like mad men.
This began to draw others to the giggling trio. As soon as they spoke with them the new arrivals would toss their heads back and howl with laughter, and enthusiastically ask Daileass for more pumpkins and lots of paper and pencils, pens, and markers so they could make their plans.
Herman was busy explaining his thoughts about the jump from the window. His main criticism was that, "You guys should have taken a moment to coordinate before going out the window. In that way you could have maximized the benefit of the surprise attack. It might have been possible to take all four helicopters out before they could respond. I would recommend surprise actions like this one where you concentrate on learning how to coordinate an offense or defense in a matter of seconds. It can make a difference in many battles. The side that can do it the quickest has a decided advantage in any combat situation. Do you see what I mean, Mister Leechman?"
"Yes General Sir. Uhm... Well how... I mean..." Travis let out an audible exhale of breath and seemed a bit unsure of himself.
"Go ahead, Mr. Leechman. The only stupid questions are the ones you don't ask. Never be afraid to ask a question, son, NEVER." Herman said, putting a reassuring hand on the boy's shoulder.
While Herman and Travis were talking, Lucas and Logan had become completely engrossed in their plans with Johnny for the pumpkin carving. The Samoyed pups were bouncing yipping, barking and growling as they added their own ideas to the mix.
Suddenly, Herman gulped and took a deep breath as he realized that he could understand what the pups were saying. He must be imagining... Now he was confused because he could swear one of the pups just asked if they could go sniff Lucas' and Logan's butts.
"Uh General Sir?" Travis said as he looked at Herman's confused face.
"I'm sorry, son, but I thought I just heard those Samoyed pups ask if they could sniff Lucas' and Logan's butts." Then realizing what he had just said, he froze for a moment. "Uhm... never mind, Mr. Leechman, just ask me again."
Travis couldn't help himself. He began to laugh, then stopped abruptly at the look on Herman's face. He snapped to attention. "I am sorry, General Sir. I meant no disrespect." The boy looked like he was about to cry.
Herman put an arm around the boy and began to laugh. "No problem, son. I must be losing what little mind I have left. Dogs can't talk... Uhm wait a minute. Maybe they can but people can't... You understood them too, didn't you, son?"
Travis couldn't help it. He burst out laughing again and Herman joined in with him. "Yes General Sir. Animals can talk although most of them don't have much to say that we would be interested in, but they do talk. Well, most of the clan can understand most earth based languages, and that includes animal languages. It is part of being accepted into the Clan."
"Right." Herman said with a bit of disbelieving acceptance in his voice. "Well, where were we before butt sniffing interrupted our conversation?" Travis just looked at Herman with wide eyes before bursting out in another bout of laughter. Soon Herman was laughing with him.
Ezra was looking at Herman with a satisfied smirk on his face. It served him right for trying to sidestep the box. Ezra of course knew that Herman knew more about the Clan than he let on. Herman had actually been excited when the offer to sell his house had come and he realized that he could stay within the Clan compound. The man was Clan material and had never stood a chance.
Travis stood up and extended his hand to Herman. "Thank you, sir. I can see that you really know your stuff, but I never thought a General would be so... I don't know how to say it, sir."
Herman looked at the boy and gave him a serious but friendly look. "Son. It has been my experience that when you don't know what to say, you should just spit it out as plainly as you can."
"Thanks, sir, but I mean I really don't know how to say it. I don't have the words. You are different... Uhm kinda like Adam. I would follow Adam anywhere because he is one of us. You know... I... Uhm..."
Herman patiently waited for the boy to continue. He could tell that the boy was suffering from some very conflicted emotions.
When Travis saw the gentle but serious expression on Herman's face as he patiently waited for him to continue he relaxed a bit. "What I mean, sir, is you don't act like a grown-up. Oh God! I... Well, I didn't mean... Oh shit." The last being said as his eyes lowered to point at the ground and his voice faded away to an embarrassed whisper.
Herman took the boy's chin in his thumb and forefinger. He raised his face and looked him in the eyes with a small crooked grin on his face.
"Son, I think I understand what you are trying to say. I am just another person like you; why should I treat you differently than I treat anyone else? I have always believed that how a person acts with you, and what they do, are far more important than what race, creed, or some other such nonsense they may be."
"But we're freaks...."
Herman slapped Travis in the face. Not hard, but enough to get his attention.
"Don't you EVER refer to yourselves as freaks EVER AGAIN! You have never been and never will be freaks. You are all wonderful people and that is all there is to it."
Travis started to say something else, but the tears in Herman's eyes, along with the serious and hurt expression on his face, made him change his mind. Instead, he threw his arms around the man and hugged him before turning and running out of the room. Herman began to follow, but was stopped by a restraining hand from Janice. Herman looked at her questioningly.
"Honey, I know you want to go to him right now, but you need to give him a moment. These kids are not used to the emotions they are having to deal with, and sometimes they need a little space. You just wait here and let me go talk to him." Herman made an attempt at a reply, but she shushed him with a finger to his lips. "You just save it for Travis, teddy bear. Trust me here."
All Herman could manage was a nod of his head. Travis had gotten to him in a way that few had before. He felt a connection to the boy and a need to help him succeed in life. It was then that he noticed the boy, Ezra he recalled, looking at him with a very self-satisfied impish grin on his face. Herman returned the look with his own mischievous grin and winked at the boy, who began to glow warmly as he giggled. Herman knew Travis was part of his life. It was just a matter of figuring out just what part he was and wanted to be. Well, he would just let it unfold as it would and deal with what was in front of him as always.
A couple of minutes later, Herman was growing impatient as he paced back and forth. He was beginning to be worried that Travis was taking so long...
As Marcie made sure the food would hold okay for just a while longer, the kids began gathering the supplies they were going to need. They began to break off into small groups, the older kids making sure the younger ones were included. It was something you would not often see, but it was SOP for the Clan and the UNIT. Everyone was having a blast. Plans were being made and soon all the groups had PADDs in addition to their other supplies.
Some of the adults noticed that the kids were doing some sort of calculations on their PADDs. They also took note that Daileass seemed to be helping everyone with the calculations. Suddenly several large and very heavy looking boxes began to appear. They all had locks on them and the U.N.I.T. emblem on all sides. Closer inspection showed that they had the words Danger, Flammable, and Explosives on them as well under a stencil that said "From the Labs of Jory Casey."
The adults present were certain this was going to be interesting. Mick looked at Bob with a grin. "Should I order the full hazmat suits now, or you think we can take the chance?"
Bob grinned. "Why ruin their fun? It'll wash off!"
"...blood does wash off, doesn't it?" Mick said in a tone that Bob was not so sure didn't contain a serious question.
"Yes... use cold water. Trust me, between Mini and Alien I learned that one instantly," Bob replied semi-seriously.
Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder and he was certain that he was in trouble, but as he turned he saw a multi-colored-haired boy grinning at him with laughter in his eyes.
"Do I need to talk to Grandma Teri?" Ezra asked mischievously.
Yep. He was in trouble all right.
Janice made her way out of the building and immediately headed around back to the firing range where she knew she would find Travis "working on his emotions." As she rounded the first corner she saw about twenty kids heading toward her. They were all going on about carving pumpkins. It made her smile. As she came around the other corner she found a lone Travis on the firing range. He had fifteen or so guns in front of him. Almost faster than she could follow he was grabbing guns and emptying their contents into the targets that were randomly appearing all over the firing range. He wasn't missing. In fact he was literally shredding the targets.
Janice stayed back with her hands over her ears, and let Travis finish working out his emotions. She shook her head and grinned as he grabbed the last gun... well, grenade launcher. Explosion after explosion after explosion shook her. She walked up behind Travis, who was still pulling the trigger even though the launcher was empty, and wrapped her arms around him.
"Listen, sweetie. It's all right to like Herman. He is a good person, and I know he likes you. He wanted to run out here after you, but I told him to wait."
"He WANTED to follow me? Why in the world would he do that?"
Suddenly Travis pulled a gun from under his arm and put eleven shots into the head and torso of a target.
"That won't work, honey. You can't distract me with a little noise."
Travis broke down and put his head on her shoulder and sobbed.
Janice took Travis' chin in her hand and brought his eyes up to meet hers. "Baby, he loves you. I could see it in his eyes. You have touched something deep inside him..." She stopped mid-sentence as she saw Herman come around the building from the opposite side she had arrived from. Travis immediately spun around to see what she was looking at. When he saw who it was his body went rigid.
Herman didn't say a word. He just walked up and put his arms around the frightened boy and hugged.
"I'll leave you two alone so you can talk," Janice said as she walked away with a satisfied smile on her lips.
The adults looked on in amusement as pumpkin carving began to take over the room. Herman began to become concerned. Were these pumpkins coming from his garden? He sighed, resigning himself to the never-ending battle protecting his garden was. Then he began to grin and laugh before he blurted out loud, "Yes. Yes! Now this is what retirement should be!"
Realizing that he had said that out loud only embarrassed the man for a moment before it made him grab Bob in a bear hug. He put his mouth next to his confused-looking friend's ear. In a whisper that Bob could just hear over the noise the kids were making, Herman began to speak.
"Bob, don't you ever dare to tell those boys I said this, but thank you so much for bringing those two into my life. After what happened with... Well. I was not enjoying retirement anymore till they came along!"
Bob grinned at his old friend and gave a gentle nod of his head.
"Yeah. Me too... Me, too."
Both men wiped a tear from their eyes.
It was time for the kids to show off their pumpkins. The pumpkins were all lined up on tables in front of everyone and the only visible cutting was that the tops had been removed and were siting next to the pumpkins. They all had wires coming from inside and patches of various shapes and sizes all over the outsides.
Logan, Lucas, and Johnny were standing in front of everyone. Logan held his hand up and everyone got quiet. Johnny stepped forward, and began to speak. As he did the dogs made a bee-line to the door and retreated outside. All the kids were standing in front of the adults. There must have been fifty plus kids at this time and at least thirty adults.
"Thanks for coming, everyone. My buds Logan and Lucas did great with the pumkins. They never done it befores. Okay, you all ready?"
Everyone said yes almost at the same time. Logan stepped forward. His voice rang out.
"Three. Two. One!" All the kids dropped to the floor almost as one. "Fire in the hole!"
The pumpkins suddenly underwent an amazing transformation. There was a flurry of pops, cracks, and hisses coming from all around the room. The faces of the pumpkins now had images carved in them. No more than a second later there was a loud bang and some of the adults found themselves covered in pumpkin guts.
Janice, untouched by any of the airborne debris, looked at Mick as he wiped almost the entire contents of a pumpkin off his face. "I TOLD you that the boys would get you for your pranks sooner or later!" she laughed.
Herman, who had also found himself spared from the attack, sniggered at his neighbor. "I tried to tell you, Mick, a good soldier knows when to pick his battles."
The kids all got up and began to laugh, but the adults in the room were not about to leave it where it was. It started with Mick as he scooped the pumpkin guts off and hurled them at the nearest kids. Soon the adults all joined in and the kids were just as covered as they were.
Once the food fight had calmed, Julio tapped his commbadge. "Hey Daileass, could we get a little help with cleanup here? I think the General's compost pile could use a little extra pumpkin guts."
"Save the seeds for the squirrels!" Johnny quickly added, as a line of squirrels waltzed through the open door.
Suddenly the kids and Herman were once again completely free of pumpkin guts, and there was a small table on one of the larger tables that had a sign reading 'Reserved for T. T. S. R. D.' with a pile of seeds on it. "No problem, Director, but the adults are on their own."
"I see where we rate...." Mick mumbled as he started towards the bathroom to clean up. He made it about four steps before vanishing for a second. He returned... now not only clean and soaking wet, but also carrying a beaver in his hands. "Johnny, I believe this little guy has heard of you...." Mick quipped as he finished spitting the water from his mouth.
"Kyle was telling me about that... thanks for bringing him home, Daddy!" Johnny giggled as he came over and took the beaver from Mick. "Hi there, Benny!"
The beaver gave Johnny a toothy grin, and made itself comfortable in his arms. Janice and Marcie found themselves suddenly void of any pumpkin remnants, which caused them both to smile sweetly at Mick.
"Is anyone here hungry?" Marcie asked as the food reappeared next to her. Once the yells of 'YES' subsided, she added "Find a seat if you want to eat!"
The boys all scrambled to find seats, while Janice retrieved the baby Bob from his bassinet and began feeding him from the bottle that appeared with the food. The animals that had ran for shelter during the pumpkin explosion returned, all of the smaller ones joining the squirrels and Benny on the table near Johnny while the larger ones picked spots between kids to join the meal.
After the meal was complete Herman stood, tapped on his glass with his knife, and cleared his throat. Once he had everyone's attention he began to speak. "Guys. If any of you want to talk to me about anything, I live next door to Mini and Alien... Oh yeah... Bob lives there too. If you need to get in touch, they will be able to tell you how. Whenever I leave they watch my place for me, so they always know how to contact me."
Eoghan and Ezra, who had disposed of his aura, came over to Herman. "Sir?" Eoghan said, his voice uncharacteristically unsure, "May we speak candidly with you?"
"Go ahead, son." Herman replied.
"Sir, I need to be up front with you. Not only have you passed the background checks that I requested after meeting you, but you also responded well to the minor details of Clan and Unit life which are a daily occurrence. I have discussed the results with my men in Air Wing Charlie, and we have all decided that we would like for you to take command of our air wing as our parent. Before you make your decision, I believe a briefing by Ezra would be in your best interests."
Herman looked at Ezra. "How long will this take, Ezra?"
Ezra smiled. "I am, among other things, an extremely adept telepath, General. You may check my credentials with Mick and Bob, if you wish. Once you are sure that you wish to proceed, I estimate that it will take no more than two minutes. For the protection of the Air Wing, I will also ask now if you will allow me to perform a full scan of your memories. I hold a Zulu Foxtrot One security clearance level, so nothing in your memories will be compromised."
"Do it, Herman; he's not messing with you," Bob yelled across the room. "I knew he came back for something!"
"I second Bob's comment," Mick replied as he joined them. "I could tell by the way you were standing what you were asking, Ezra. You learned that one from your Dad."
Herman nodded. "In that case, feel free to proceed, young man, with both options."
Ezra nodded. "Just relax; it makes things easier for humans."
Almost two minutes later, Herman opened his eyes and looked around the room with a new appreciation of what he had experienced that day. "I had heard rumors... but... what can I say; you young men are something that no words can describe. I'm honored to even be considered as an advisor to your team; to be asked to be the parent of Air Wing Charlie is an honor beyond words. Eoghan, I'll accept on one condition. Each one of your team must ask personally. I will not say no to any of them, but I do not believe such a move should be done without individual attention."
Colin came over, leading the rest of the wing. "Ezra, next time you decide to break into the command network, could you at least warn someone?"
"I did... tomorrow!" Ezra giggled. "It's easier to issue security clearances that way!"
They stood and watched as Herman expanded his family, Colin doing the honors of making each one official. After he was done, Herman asked, "What is the procedure to contact Daileass? You told me about him, but not how to contact him."
"I thought you'd never ask!" Daileass giggled as a commbadge and earpiece appeared on the table. "You can just say my name though in here and in your house. I've got monitors in all Clan and Unit properties."
Herman nodded. "In that case, soldier, I will state this where all can hear it. When I heard you the first time, I assumed that you were a boy sitting at a console. I now know that you are more; you are a soldier serving his brothers in a way that no other could possibly achieve. Your humanity is never in doubt. It is time for me to call in some favors. You WILL be recognized for your efforts, without violating the secrecy necessary for your status. There is a clause in the regulations for issuance of the Congressional Medal of Honor which allows for key persons to advise Congress in the instance of highly classified operations instead of releasing the information to civilians. Your life is known to all of the proper types of personnel as of right now; and I will not sleep until the calls are made. I will not allow anything less for a soldier of your caliber."
Daileass replied respectfully. "Sir. If you're wanting to give me this honor for what I have done, then you will have to do that not only for me but for my brothers and for all the UNIT kids. What I have done, and what I have gone through, is no greater or no lesser then what they have."
Without warning, Logan, Adam, Alvin, Simon, and Theodore appeared in the room. Before anyone could say anything, Logan spoke up. "General, I am sorry for interrupting you, but there's a few things that you may need to know. First off, we all appreciate what you're trying to do here, but I am afraid that you may be doing this with some misinformation, or not all of the information. If you would please, explain WHY you want to give this honor to Daileass. I know you have already, but I need you to do it again where others that didn't hear it before can hear it."
Herman looked around the room. "May I enquire as to if everyone in this room is cleared for this discussion?"
Daileass was actually the one to respond to them. "We've hidden this for too long. Those in this room are our family. There is no reason to hide from our family, so yes... everyone in this room has the clearance to hear this."
"Well, this is about you and your brothers, so I will bow to what you want. Just be sure that you have thought about the consequences for you and your brothers in regard to who knows about this young man." The softness of Herman's voice betrayed his emotions.
"Sir..." Daileass began. "I am fully aware of what the people in this room will learn, and to be blunt, what you know is not the full story. As soon as you explain what you know, I will fill in the blanks. But again, those in this room are family, and as such, deserve to know. I am also recording this and will make it fully available throughout the Clan network. The time for hiding certain things is over." Even though Daileass's voice was strong, everyone could hear the fear in it, although few knew why.
Herman looked around the room. "As you wish, son. As many of you are probably aware, Daileass is a young man who has experienced the loss of his body, yet has continued on within an electronic body. Unlike the expected response of most humans to such a situation, he has turned this event into a method to ensure the protection of those he considers family, both blood and adopted. During this, he has retained his youth and is without a doubt still a very honorable specimen of humanity."
Logan took a step forward. "Sir, would you like to explain the rest, or would you prefer I do? Many of the people here do not know even what you have already said, let alone the rest."
"Thank you, Logan. I know I don't have the full story, so I would like to let you tell everyone. However, please allow me to say something more." He paused for a moment and received a nod of the head from Logan. "Daileass, you were put through a hell few could imagine, and you have come out of it a better person than most people twice your age. Your humanity and compassion are inspiring. I am honored to know someone of your character. I cannot say enough how inspiring it is to see someone with the sheer presence of mind and will to perform to the best of their abilities and make a hard situation their own to control. So many give in to the situation and let it rule them." With that said, Herman called everyone to attention, snapped a salute, and gestured to Logan. "Son, seeing as you know more about this outstanding young man than I, please illuminate us."
Logan smiled. "By the way, Daileass, you're running out of auxiliary Liebert units... stop blushing!" That got a chuckle out of everyone, then Logan turned serious again. "Some of you know this, some of you do not. My brothers were created as General Adams and his team were trying to recreate the intelligence they saw in me. Unfortunately, while my brothers are highly intelligent, they did not succeed in attaining the level they wanted. Of course, they never could reach what they wanted because genetics are fickle like that. But that's besides the point." Logan sighed, and started to pace around the rather crowded room as he spoke.
"A little over three years ago, the good General decided that since they were not able to get what they wanted, they would try something else. They decided to go ahead and take a personality imprint from my brothers and transfer their memories, personalities, and everything that makes them, them, into a positronic matrix, and place that back into their bodies. Now, there is an argument raging amongst my brothers as to whether they actually died when that happened or not. I will not speak to that, since I feel that is something they each must decide for themselves."
"Now, Daileass is actually the oldest, and the first one they tried this on. What they didn't think about at first was the fact that a Positronic Matrix is actually significantly heavier then a normal brain. As soon as they stood him up, his neck snapped under the weight, and his body died instantly. They were able to save the brain though, and then made sure from that point forward, to reinforce the Cervical spine so it could handle the extra weight."
"Anyways, not being one to miss the opportunity, the doctors, under General Adams' orders, took Daileass and put him into different military vehicles seeing if he could operate things like ground vehicles, tanks, helicopters, airplanes, and even smaller ships. The question was, could he operate them as well as a human could, and if so, how much damage the different vehicles could take and still operate. What they either didn't know, or didn't care about, was the fact that Daileass was able to 'feel' each and every vehicle he was in, as if it were a body, because it was." Several people were able to hear a quiet sob escape from the speakers around the room before they quickly fell silent.
"At the time of their escape, Daileass had been placed in a shipping crate so he could be moved to a different base, where they were going to install him into a prototype bomber drone, to see if that would work as well. When I found him, we hooked him up to a computer system, and asked what he wanted to do. At first he had wanted us to simply destroy him, so that he could finally die. After he was reassured that he would never be used the way he was, and that he and his brothers had actually escaped, he readily agreed to become part of the base, with the agreement that he would always be the one to agree to any new systems or upgrades that we wanted to do BEFORE we did them." Logan paused for a moment to get his breath back, before he finished up. "That's almost all of it, but before I tell you the last part, are there any questions, or anything that I was not clear enough about?"
Mick was obviously agitated. "Give me five minutes with the bastards that did this ... and a Mikyvis to make it the longest five minutes in history."
Ezra looked at Mick. "I believe they have already been Judged, Mick. More than that is above my status to tell you."
"My God Son! A Congressional Medal of Honor is not nearly enough... It just..." Herman choked out as he fought back his tears. "I wish to apologize on behalf of the US Military men and woman who serve in order to protect. What was done in our name is shameful to us as a country and has sullied our name as military men and woman. That you and your brothers came from this humbles me." Herman fell silent. Tears flowed openly down his cheeks. His military had been injured by this. It deeply troubled the man. He still had contacts, and by God he would use them to ferret out anything else even remotely like this.
Logan walked over and stood directly in front of Herman. "General, Sir, do not allow this to sully your opinion of the country that you served for many years. What was done was done by a few evil men that used the military as a cover for what was being done. This was NOT sanctioned by anyone in authority to do such. We know that General Adams used his position to cover this up from anyone ever finding out about what was happening."
"People knew stuff, son. But I am sure you already know that. My honor as a warrior for my country has been smeared by them. I will not let this or anything like it stand. Now that I know, I will act. I am a good judge of people, and you have depth to you. I expect you know my reputation, and probably know what I am likely to do. Honor is not some intangible, it is the foundation that everything a warrior is comes from." Herman's eyes shone with the fierceness and determination of a protector. It was what he was to his core.
"And that, sir, is exactly why Daileass and my other brothers volunteered to go through what they did!"
"Yes Sir. I understand you perfectly." He looked the boy in the eye and extended his hand.
Logan nodded and took the General's hand and shook it with a smile.
Meanwhile Kris spoke up. "Okay... I understand the honor part, but what the fuck do you mean volunteered?!"
"What I mean is this. Something that very few people know is that I have the ability to see certain things in the future. Also I was in contact with my brothers mentally since they were old enough to speak mentally. Anyways, I knew what was going to happen, including what was going to happen to Daileass. When I explained to my brothers what would happen, and what would have happened had they escaped before the General was able to go through what he did. All of them, to a man, agreed to let it happen. My youngest brothers were only five years old at the time, and I made damned sure they understood what was going to happen... I made sure they ALL knew what was going to happen. Because it meant the most lives of our family would be saved, they all agreed to let it happen. That is what I meant my volunteering."
Herman again looked to Logan and received a nod. "Do any of you know what honor really is? I see honor in all of you. You have honor, and the most amazing thing to me is how you don't seem to know it. Do any of you know what honor means? I don't mean the definition you find in the dictionary. I mean inside yourself where you keep the the things that make you who you are. Do you understand honor there? When you volunteer to become a soldier you take on the real possibility of dying. You have taken on the responsibility for others' lives. When you do that you cannot fail, because if you do the ones you are protecting will be harmed or die. That is honor. That is what you all are. Honorable men." Herman had a respect for this boy and his brothers that not many could gain. For that matter he felt that type of respect for all the people involved in this 'Clan.' He knew the unfortunate reality of government. He was a General after all. Part of what he did was politics and it left a bad taste in his mouth. "Honor is a young man who takes in two boys and makes them his little brothers." he said as he looked Julio in the eyes. "Honor is a young man who protected his twin brothers, then kept going in the hope that one day he could find them. Honor is accepting the responsibility for a Division not because you want it, but because you are the best person to do the job." He paused and looked Ezra in the eyes. "Honor is having ultimate power, yet only using that power when no other option is possible."
"Sir, if I may?" Daileass's voice came over the speakers, still sounding a bit choked up. When the General nodded, Daileass started to speak and everyone could feel the emotion in his voice. "My brothers and I appreciate what you want to do with the medals. Please do not ever think that we don't. But to us, they really are just fancy pieces of metal. I do not wish to take anything away from those who have received them before, but to us, we don't really want that. To us, receiving those kinds of awards aren't needed. What we really want is something so much simpler, yet infinitely harder to achieve. All we want is for people to love each other. To have a family that cares for us, a mom and dad who know that we're different and don't care. Yes, we know that we could die at any time, and that doesn't matter to us. Because we know that if our lives were lost, we'd die making others' lives better. We'd die helping other kids find a family like we've found. That is what we want. To be able to help other kids find the love and family that we have."
"Yes, that is exactly what you're getting the medal for, Son. Honestly. I would never give a medal to someone who thought that the fancy pieces of metal were worth anything. A medal is a recognition of what sets you apart from most people. Most people on the Earth probably understand what you are talking about wanting. I bet most people want the same things. You and your brothers actively do something to achieve it. That is what a medal is about. It is saying this is someone who gets it done," Herman said as he gestured around the room.
"I'll put it this way, guys..." Mick added as he caught each of the clones' eyes, "people who go out looking for awards and medals end up dead or permanently disabled. A medal hound is more dangerous than the enemy in a combat situation. Some of the best men I have ever worked with have never earned the 'Good Conduct' medal or any of the other trinkets that have been created to make medal hounds feel good about themselves. If you put them in full dress uniform, though, the few medals that you would see tell the whole story. Each and every one that is on their chest tells the story of a warrior who did what was needed when the time came. Daileass, could you please fetch the General's dress tunic?"
"Okay...." Daileass responded. A second later, the General's dress white tunic, complete with all of his medals, appeared on a rack in front of Mick. Surprisingly, there were only two rows... but each of the awards held at least one gold pip on them.
"Could we get a cross-reference list of the awards on this tunic on the screen?" Mick asked. Once it was displayed, Mick commented on the various awards. "This is my point here... Herman has a 'Presidential Citation' with three gold pips, yet there is not a single 'Good Conduct' or any of the other 'fluff' awards in this set. The amazing part is that he has awards from every one of the services. Anyone who looks at this selection knows that Herman earned his rank and awards by being honorable, not by kissing ass."
"Enough already," Herman said. "I think the point is made, Mick. I've never been popular with, as you termed them, the 'medal hounds'. I've never believed in awarding people for breathing; when I authorize awards it means the recipient has performed an action above and beyond what most would consider doing in an effort to assure the success of a mission. In the entire span of my career I have never recommended any award near the level of a Medal of Honor; in my opinion I never believed that an action was worth that honor... until today."
Logan was clearly fighting back his own emotions, but he was able to say clearly. "General, on behalf of my brothers and myself... Thank you."
"It is my pleasure, Sir. I am honored to be able to do this," Herman said as he saluted Logan and his brothers.
Cory grinned inside his ape suit as his 'Tarzan' led him onto the arena floor. As he looked around, he was amazed at the setup that was laid out in front of him. Off on the north end of the floor, a curtained stage had been set up. Around the perimeter, it looked like the Midway of the State Fair, with games and concessions forming a horseshoe of things to do. The center of the floor consisted of tables and padded chairs laid out in a haphazard pattern, each having a Hallowe'en-themed centerpiece of some sort. Despite the fact that they had arrived early, the arena was already holding over a thousand kids, all running around and having fun as their parents watched from the comfort of the stands.
"Awesome!" Tyler exclaimed as he grabbed his fellow 'pirates' hands. "Avast ye mateys, thar be treasure over thar to be plundered!" he exclaimed in his best pirate voice as he pointed at the midway.
"Lead the way, Capt'n!" Kyle giggle as him and Fife followed Tyler.
"Wait up!" a Klingon-clad Casey exclaimed. "You ain't plunderin' without me!"
As the four boys ran off to begin their adventures, Tina pulled on Cory's fur. "Unca Cory! Look! A dragon!"
Cory turned to look at where she was pointing, and sure enough, an obviously illusional dragon was 'walking' across the tables towards them, being led by a strangely familiar 'wizard' and being followed by a growing group of little kids.
"Hi, Uncle Cory!" the little wizard said as he got closer.
The voice erased any doubt in Cory's mind as to the identity of the 'wizard'. "Hey there, Dylan! I thought you'd be helping out with the Orlando party!" Cory replied, mentally crossing his fingers that Dylan was not in a pranking mood.
Dylan giggled as he walked up to Cory and gave him a hug after handing his staff to JJ. He was dressed in a classic blue wizard's robe, covered in silver stars and moons. On top of his head, a three-foot-tall wizard's cap made sure he was easy to find. The costume was completed by a large wooden staff that he carried in one hand. "Don't worry, Uncle Cory, I'm helping the little ones have fun by doing 'magic' tricks," Dylan replied softly. "Besides, I am at the Orlando party... or I was ... or I will be ... something like that!"
The last bit had it's intended effect, causing Cory to laugh. "You're a nut, Dilly!"
"Yep!" Dylan giggled. "You've got a table by the stage, Uncle Cory. Julio's table is by yours; I'll make sure he finds it when his group gets here." Dylan made the rounds of the rest of the group, giving each of them a hug before kneeling down in front of Tina. "Hi Tina, I like your princess costume! Would you like to come with me and help me do magic tricks for the kids your age? Every Wizard needs a Princess!"
Tina nodded, a big smile on her face. Dylan took her hand, retrieved his staff, then turned to his group of 'followers'. "Cookie break! For my next trick, I'm going to make us all appear at the cookie table!"
The group of kids cheered, and a second later they vanished in a cloud of smoke, dragon and all. Cory looked down at where Tina had been standing, and shook his head. "Hon, I think our nephew has been practicing somewhere."
Sean nodded, his own impressions amazingly similar. "Yeah, but it looks like he's having fun with it. Something tells me this will be an interesting night!"
"Ancient Chinese Curse...." JJ giggled, his Spiderman costume showing each muscle of his body twitching in concert.
"I refuse to comment on grounds of not wanting to be pranked," Adam added as he rearranged his Batman cape.
"Chicken!" Cory giggled, getting him a nod of affirmation from Adam.
"There was no reason to insult chickens!" Bast giggled, his arm around Jeremy's waist. "Let's find our table, then raid the munchies!"
"Lead the way, sir!" Cory giggled. With Bast, Mont, and Jeremy leading the way, all three dressed in impeccable three-piece suits, the group found their way to the table reserved for them in front of center stage.
'Alpha squad reports entry secure... roll with plan Charlie Seven.' Larry announced as he scanned the arena from the edge of the entry ramp. Not only Larry, but the entire Dutchman team and Air Wing, had dressed as Secret Service Agents, complete with black suits, dark glasses, and ear pieces. At his announcement, the rest of the Dutchmen quickly moved into protective positions along the entry as the Air Wing circled the division staff and 'escorted' their charges into the arena.
"Don't you think this is going a little bit overboard?" Julio giggled as he was escorted in. Tucker was walking on one side dressed as Rambo and Ricky was on the other dressed as a cat.
"No, overboard is if I had let Eoghan bring his chopper like he wanted to," Colin laughed. "At least this is in character for their costumes, and they are following their training."
Logan smiled as he and Lucas personally escorted Mini and Alien. "Why do you think me and Lucas decided on Roman Guard costumes? Since our brothers were wearing togas, it made sense... plus we get to carry some awesome swords!"
Tucker looked the four boys over and grinned. "Like you'd even use the swords? All four of you are packing much more lethal weapons... not that anyone can tell, you did a great job of teaching Mini and Alien how to properly carry a concealed weapon, Lucas."
"Thanks," Lucas replied softly. "You trained them, so I wasn't going to let them go without their phasers. Tomorrow Logan and I are going to teach them about real weapons though."
"Yeah, nothing like a good 'BOOM' to keep you awake!" Logan giggled. "You know, Rocky, I don't remember the Terminator having a tail... I think we need to watch the series again to double check!"
"I won't argue with that!" Rocky replied from Jesse's side. "Maybe Colin will learn something!"
"Bite me, furball! I taught him everything he knows!" Colin replied with a grin.
"Whaaaatevvvverrrr, Day-Dream!" Rocky shot back, causing Jesse to almost stumble as he broke into a fit of giggles.
Julio shook his head as he smiled at the interplay between the group of boys that were quickly bonding into a core divisional family. "Hey, guys? Has anyone noticed if Patriarch Cory is here yet?"
Lewis hopped onto Huey's back, and quickly scanned the crowd. "Target acquired, bearing 295, range seventy-five yards. Target is stationary at a table near the stage," he announced professionally.
"Oh, this is going to be good!" Tucker chuckled as he watched Eoghan order his air wing to form a classic 'Flying Vee' to lead the group to Cory's table.
Cory and crew had just sat down when Mont started giggling. "Hey Cory, looks like Julio's got himself some security!"
Cory turned his head, and smiled as he saw the group heading towards him. "Hey JJ; when did you add that chapter to the security book?"
JJ laughed. "I didn't! You have to admit, it looks awesome though!"
A few seconds later, the incoming group arrived at the table. With a knowing smirk at JJ, Colin immediately ordered "Des Moines Division... Security Detail... FALLLL... IN!" as soon as they came to a stop.
With a 'you'll pay for this later' glare, JJ stood and approached Colin, who was now standing at attention waiting for him.
"Sir. Des Moines Division Security Detail standing by for inspection, Sir!" Colin barked, obviously enjoying what he was doing to JJ.
JJ said nothing, but walked down the line of 'secret service agents' checking sunglasses for smudges. He then reviewed the personal security, complementing the raccoons on their choice of costumes. Finally he reached the Toga Crew; the twins both standing with swords across their chests, along with Mini and Alien doing their best to match their little brothers. "Butterfly Hunters with swords... THAT is impressive!" JJ commented with a smile. "Hey Mini, who are the mini-Minis? When did you guys join Security?"
Mini proudly replied, "These are my little brothers Lucas and Logan. Alien and me are training with the Dutchmen, which means that we need to learn to act like Dutchmen. We're all brothers now; Dad adopted the entire team."
"Sweet." JJ replied. He then turned and went back to Doug. As he was going, he asked Daileass on his subvocal "Did Doug take a new last name?"
"Yep, he's a 'Busch' now... just like his other fourteen brothers." Daileass replied. "You've gotta see the recording; Bob's face was classic!"
"Get it to me after the party!" JJ giggled. "Thanks!"
JJ came to a stop in front of Doug. "Lieutenant Busch, I've been informed that you have taken in two additional persons for training. Is that correct?"
"Yes, Sir," Doug replied, his eyes showing that he was unsure at how this first official interaction with JJ was turning out.
"Good," JJ replied. "I expect you to cross-train with the personnel that you have taken in. You and your men are to spend time daily with Mini, Alien, and other civilian Division personnel experiencing everyday youth activities which do not involve military functions. Unless your team is on a Unit operation, you fall under my command; I require my personnel to participate in everyday activities unless the situation specifically requires otherwise. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Sir," Doug replied.
"Good," JJ said with a smile. "Your cross-training begins right now. Dutchmen, go have fun, that's an order."
"You heard him... Dutchmen, Fall OUT! Mini, you have lead," Doug ordered.
As Mini led the group off to investigate the attractions in the arena, JJ motioned for Robin to join him. With Robin at his side, he approached Eoghan. "Captain O'Reilley, did you hear and understand my orders to the Dutchmen?"
"Good. I hate repeating myself," JJ replied with a smile. "I know how much fun you guys have with the Dutchmen tormenting each other; Daileass gives us weekly videos of your latest exchanges. Making you guys hang out with the Dutchmen would be like making Bast sweep out an entire catnip warehouse... by the time it's over everything in sight would be destroyed!"
"Hey!" Bast exclaimed. "Not everything would be destroyed ... maybe ... if I was careful ...."
"Point made!" JJ laughed. "As I was saying... when it comes to fine control and quick reflexes, air squads have the best training out there. Your lives depend on it. Robin could learn a lot from you, and in turn you can learn to just be kids sometimes from him. As of right now, you are to go with Robin and have fun. If any of you get stuck in the rafters, you're on your own. One other thing... it seems that Colin is having memory issues; I'm tasking your team with keeping him on his toes."
"Understood, Sir. I'm sure Robin will be happy to assist," Eoghan replied with a smirk. "Move out, Robin has lead!" he added as he spun to his wing.
JJ watched the group follow Robin, then turned to Colin. "Now, about your memory, Colin...."
"What?" Colin replied innocently. "And what did I do to deserve you setting the 'Mad Irishman' loose on me?"
"You forgot my standing orders on introductions." JJ replied. "Just be glad I didn't set Bryce loose on you!"
"You wouldn't...." Colin began.
"Try me." JJ interrupted. "Hey Julio, a bit of advice... keep a whip handy with this one!"
"Naw, I heard he enjoys it... I'll stick with threatening health food!" Julio replied. "Hey Cory, how'd the car trip go?"
"It went good; I think Biff ended up with writer's cramp helping everyone with their new cars... not to mention the thousand karts that Kyle bought." Cory giggled.
"Only a thousand?" Julio laughed. "What about the rest of us?"
"You're as bad as he is!" Sean and Cory said in unison. "Should we go attack the games?" Cory added.
"Lead the way, Boss!" Julio replied. "One Clan invasion, coming up!"
Cory was surprised to see just how well Dylan had behaved during the party so far. When he wasn't doing 'magic' tricks for the little ones, he was playing air guitar on the speakers set up for the party music that had been playing. As a group, everyone took a break from their celebration when Dylan announced that he was holding a costume contest. As everyone watched, he brought groups of contestants on stage, and issued awards for multiple categories. Julio and his group cheered loudly when Logan and Lucas won the "Best Old World" prize, while Ezra's 'Wolverine' costume won the prize for "Best Costume on a Non-Human".
As the contest finished, Dylan stood midstage and waved his hands, seemingly causing the lights to slowly dim. "Hey guys and girls... did someone say they wanted more music?"
The crowd yelled in unison, obviously wanting to see what trick Dylan had up his sleeve this time. The area near the stage became completely dark, while perimeter lights ensured the safety of the thousands of kids in the building. The roped-off platform near the north ramp suddenly came to life, the sound and effects units glowing and the occupants scurrying to get in position. In the ceiling of the arena, static sparks began jumping from beam to beam, culminating in a bolt of 'lightning' which struck to the right side of the stage.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls..." Dylan began as he appeared in the exact spot the 'lightning' had just struck, "We promised you a band, and now it's time to party! Culminating a three-year multi-dimensional multi-universe concert tour which crossed 73 timelines, bringing you songs from throughout the known and unknown musical dimensions, I give you the one ... the only ... the multi-universal sensation ... the band known as 'Time Touched'!"
The Arena lights dimmed as Dylan pounded the base of his staff on the stage. A blue ball of energy appeared on the top of the staff about the size of a softball, then quickly grew to the size of a basketball before flying towards center front stage. As the ball of light reached center stage, tendrils of static energy began to spring from it in a 360 degree arc from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, making a curtain of blue static. With a sudden flash and a burst of smoke, the ball exploded. As everyone's eyes tried to adjust to the sudden darkness, the Arena echoed with a group of young voices singing....
"We built this city ... we built this city on rock... and... roll ... built this city... we built this city on rock and ro...ooo...ooolllllllllllllll.............."
Cory's eyebrows shot up as he recognized some of the voices on the stage. As his eyes adjusted to the light, they confirmed what his ears were telling him. Up at the front of the stage, Austin and Beau were handling the main vocals, Conner and Tanner's fingers were flying over a pair of keyboards, CD had his birthday bass out and cranked, Joey was keeping the beat on a huge drum kit, and the most shocking was Timmy prancing around the stage on lead guitar dressed as a cowboy.
As the song wound down, Toby came up to replace Beau, a guitar slung over his shoulder. As Tanner hit the opening notes of 'Here I Go Again', KC replaced Timmy on lead and Pauly took a seat at the second drum set, his Vulcan costume amazingly realistic in Cory's eyes.
The song finished, and Austin stepped up to mid-stage. "DES MOINES!!!" he yelled, causing the assembled kids in the crowd to yell back at him. Once they had settled down, he continued. "We've been on the road for a LONG time, but we saved the best for last... look out Iowa, Patriarch Cory's kids are back home ... and we're gonna ... ROCK ... THE ... ROOF ... OFFA ... THIS ... ARENA!!!"
The crowd exploded again, and it took almost a minute before Austin could speak. "Just so you're up to date, let me introduce the band. Guys, come up here as I introduce you. I'm Austin, as you heard, I do lead vocals, sax, and synthesizer. Beau sings, plays trombone, and shakes anything that'll make noise. Brandon plays bass and rhythm guitar. CD sings, and pretty much plays anything with a string. Calen sings and also plays sax and the synth. Back on my right, Conner tickles the piano, the keyboards, and does vocals. DJ handles some of the lead vocals, and plays trumpet as well as acoustic and rhythm guitar. Joey sings, plays hot drums, and occasionally picks up a violin. KC handles vocals, the steel guitar, lead guitar, and cello. Leo does vocals, flute, harmonica, and tambourine. Pauly is competing with Joey, he also handles drums as well as the shaker box. Over there on my left, Tanner handles vocals, keyboards, and the Hammond Organ. Timmy is trying out for the world's youngest lead guitarist, and also plays acoustic and sings. Our last member is Toby, who sings, plays acoustic and rhythm guitar, and plays a mean electric violin. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we are the one ... the only ... WE ARE THE 'TIME TOUCHED'!"
The assembled band took a group bow, then scattered as Leo took the microphone from Austin. "Any of you guys heard of 'Fleetwood Mac'?" he asked as Pauly headed for his drums, Timmy grabbed a guitar, and Brandon picked a bass. As the kids yelled their acknowledgment, Leo grinned. "They've gave us some great advice, y'all need to listen .. and whatever you do ... 'Don't Stop'!!"
Tanner fired up the keyboards as Conner started making the concert grand on his side sing. As Brandon and Pauly sang their respective vocals, Cory and Sean shared a smile at their youngest son's drumming and singing.
"Are those ALL my brothers?" Fife asked from his seat on Sean's lap, his fur quivering with excitement.
"A couple are your nephews, and a couple are only part time, but pretty much they are!" Sean replied with a smile.
Cory was about to comment, when Dylan appeared on his lap. "Hi Uncle Cory! Do you like our little surprise?" Dylan asked, an unusual worry creeping into his voice.
Cory smiled. "I think it's kewl, Dilly. I didn't know the guys could all play like this. It sounds awesome!"
Dylan smiled, almost glowing with happiness. "We all spent some outside-time time practicing, and then we toured for about three years before coming here to play for you."
"Nobody looks any older...." Cory commented as he looked over at his sons on the stage.
"I took care of that... we toured some places where time runs opposite of what it does here." Dylan said proudly.
Kyle and Tyler were listening in, and both giggled at their son's ingenuity. "Way to go, Dilly!" they chorused.
Dylan cuddled into Cory's chest with a contented sigh. "Wait until you see what's coming next!" he giggled.
They didn't have to wait long, as CD grabbed his bass and prepared to lead directly into 'Help is on it's Way'. Austin and Tanner took vocals, Timmy was on acoustic guitar, KC had lead and Brandon swapped to rhythm guitar, Tanner followed CD's start with the keyboards, and drums were handled by Joey and Pauly. The reason for the double drums was obvious about halfway through the song, as the lights dimmed and the two young boys broke into a 'drum war', the acoustically-tripped lights in their kits strobing madly as each tried to outdo the other. After a five-minute solo, the rest of the band kicked back in, a grinning Timmy now playing from atop KC's shoulders while KC continued playing lead.
The song ended, and Timmy hopped from KC's shoulders to grab his electric guitar for 'Gemini Dream', while CD, Brandon, Conner, and Tanner immediately launched the music. DJ came up to sing, and Joey took the drums. Throughout the song, Timmy danced alongside Brandon and CD, all three smiling widely. Cory had to giggle, because it appeared that Timmy was starting to get a little fan club at the base of the stage.
"Hey DES MOINES!!! 'Do You Feel Like We Do'?!" DJ announced as KC joined him for vocals. Timmy hit the first few chords of the Frampton tune, with CD joining in as soon as he swapped his bass for a double humbucker Stratocaster. Both drums came alive, and Tanner filled out the band with the keyboards. At the eight minute point, the reason for CD's instrument change became clear as he hooked up the vocoder and began making the guitar talk... literally. CD got creative with his guitar vocals, slipping in a 'We love you Dads' and a 'Des Moines Rocks!' among other things.
After the song ended, KC came up and pulled the two guitarists under each of his arms. "Let's hear it for our two miniature guitar masters!" he announced as the platforms behind Joey's drums started to fill with brothers bearing their favorite brass instruments. The 'fan clubs' for each of the two boys made their presence known, trying to outdo each other in noise. KC let his two grinning brothers go, then announced "We're gonna slow things down for a few. Dad, Pop... you're our inspiration, and while the words of this song might not fit, the title does. This next song is by a band we know as 'Chicago Transit Authority', and it's called 'You're the Inspiration'.
With Tanner taking the lead vocals, and most of the front stage harmonizing with Austin's backup vocals, the boys showed that ear-blasting rock wasn't their only skill. Conner kept it going as the song ran out, going directly into Styx's 'Come Sail Away'. KC took vocals, with Conner and Austin backing him up.
As the song began to pick up its pace, Julio and his crew migrated to join Cory and his group. "When did your kids learn to do this?" Julio asked with a grin, trying to be heard over Timmy and KC's lead guitars.
"Ask Dilly, I have no idea!" Cory replied. "Whoa... AWESOME!!" he added as the laser light show began with the synth solo.
"I'm not telling!" Dylan replied innocently. "You gotta ask them... AFTER you get home!"
"You should know better than to ask, Cory. I swear, sometimes you give us blonds a bad name," Lucas said after leaning over to where Cory could hear him.
"Bite me, Luca... whoa!!! Did you just TALK!?" Cory exclaimed as he pulled Lucas on top of him and Dylan.
'You're pretty observant for a Squishy!' Lucas sent to Cory, trying not to interrupt the rest of the boys hearing 'Carry on Wayward Son'.
Taking the hint, and knowing the toga-clad boy in his lap would hear him, Cory responded mentally as well. 'You're pretty brave for someone whose head is inches from a Fuzzymore while laying on the lap of a Mikyvis. You wanna fill me in, midget?'
'I'm not worried about you; your aim is a legend!' Lucas sent as he stuck his tongue out at Cory. He relayed a question through Logan to get Julio's okay, then replied as he got the thumbs-up from his Division Head. 'I'll take this slow, since I know squishies like you can't handle real telepathy,' Lucas sent with a grin, which grew wider as Cory flipped him the bird. He then proceeded to fill Cory in on the happenings within the last day at the Des Moines Division Headquarters, including details that could not have been reported verbally. They stayed in conversation through DJ singing lead on 'No More Mr. Nice Guy' and 'Bang Your Head', finally completing the conversation as the opening notes of 'Another One Bites The Dust' hit their ears.
They both looked over, having immediately noticed the stronger bass notes. Cory grinned as he saw both CD and Brandon on bass. As they watched, the two young bass players handled vocals as well, giving their own feel to the song.
"They're singing the next one for me!" Dylan giggled. "They say that it's what my tour schedules feel like!"
DJ and Tanner adjusted their microphones as Timmy grabbed a Strat and KC grabbed his Les Paul. Conner took over keyboards, while Brandon took bass and Pauly took drums. The band launched into 'Twilight Zone', with DJ and Tanner both center-stage putting the emotion into the song. The drummers swapped once again as the final notes fell, and Tanner immediately went into 'Turn Me Loose'.
At the last drum beat of "Turn Me Loose", the stage went dark. A single blue spotlight came up, highlighting Joey sitting at his drum kit. With flashes of light from his drum's audible-triggered strobes, Joey launched the band into 'Land of Confusion'. Cory's jaw dropped as he heard Joey doing the lead vocals, not a single trace of his speech impediment in his voice. On the rest of the stage, lights came up as the other members supplied the background vocals, showing the two bass players, Timmy on lead, Tanner on keyboard, and Pauly on the electric drums. By the time the song was done, you couldn't hear the backup band members doing the "Ohhhh.. ohhh. ohh..." lyrics; the audience was into the song as well, and were quite vocal in their assistance.
Once again, the stage went dark. This time it was backlit by a soft light which pulsed with the notes being played by Tanner on his synthesizer. As he did a very convincing imitation of helicopter rotors in the distance, Conner came in on a second keyboard. With an explosion of light and sound, the band launched into 'Fantasy', KC and Timmy mirroring each other on guitar while Brandon and Pauly did their duties with bass and drums. Tanner and DJ handled vocals, DJ hamming it up near Tanner's keyboards.
After his last vocal section, DJ began dancing his way back stage and around the drums, up onto the riser, where he was met by Leo, Beau, Austin and Calen. Fantasy ended with the siren like synthesizer part and three synchronized blasts of sound from the entire band. Without more than a second's pause for the audience to cheer, Conner, Tanner and Joey began the introduction to "Silly Love Songs".
With a snare hit from Joey, CD began playing the memorable, booming bass line, ending sharply, but with the sound echoing around the arena. The band began again, with Brandon joining CD on bass and KC singing the lead vocals. The first time KC sang, "Cos here I go... again!" the horn section came blaring in.
The horns harmonized with Tanner's synthesized strings during the chorus. At the second verse, behind the rest of the band and the vocals, the horns played the familiar syncopated harmony. Behind KC's lead, Joey repetitively sang "I love you."
Adding to the dramatic impact of KC singing, "Well, what's wrong with that? I need to know," Joey's drums flashed with every hit from the triggered strobes. At the middle instrumental break, the four-person horn section began grooving, dancing with the music and always keeping their horns swinging in sync.
Cory glanced around at his family and friends, pausing briefly to grin widely at Kyle and Tyler dancing around, swinging their little butts around, the swords hanging from their pirate costumes also swaying, and swatting their butts. All around the area within Cory's view, the assembled kids were dancing and having fun; the most amusing being the 'Secret Service Agents', who were trying to look like they were doing their job while dancing. JJ and Adam were dancing along with everyone else, their hands on each other's hips.
The best part of the song was near the end when the vocalists were singing three different parts in a 'round' fashion. As the song wound to a close, the harmonized '...What's wrong with thaaaat....?' echoing through the arena, the entire band worked their way to center stage for a group hug. As the hug broke, Conner motioned for the stage to clear. A few seconds later, the only ones left on stage were Conner, Timmy, DJ, Pauly, CD, and Toby. Timmy and DJ each took a seat on a suitably-sized barstool, both holding acoustic guitars. Pauly quickly got set up at his drum kit, while CD and Toby bracketed the two guitarists with violins in their hands. Tanner and Timmy began picking the first chords of "Dust in the Wind", Conner taking lead vocals with DJ and Timmy harmonizing. After the first stanza, Toby and CD kicked in with their violins.
Timmy went directly into the next song, "Love Song", playing the opening notes as KC came up front with an electric guitar strapped to his shoulder. Toby replaced DJ, picking up with his acoustic to match Timmy. As KC sang the first stanza, Joey sat at his drums and Brandon picked out a bass. At the end of the second stanza, KC prepared to join with his acoustic guitarists, slowly upping the tempo until Joey and Brandon kicked in. KC egged the audience on, getting them to sing along with him whenever it was time to sing "Love will find a way...".
As Timmy played the final chords, the lights dropped except for a single spotlight on Conner, who was sitting at his concert grand piano. He began the solo for "The Load Out", singing as he played the notes on the piano. In the semi-darkness of the rest of the stage, KC set up his pedal steel guitar, CD picked his bass, Tanner took his spot at his keyboards, Joey sat at his drums, Timmy and Brandon grabbed guitars, and Austin brought his sax down to front stage. The rest of the band assembled on either side, and once the song had led into "Stay" they joined in, providing backup vocals to Conner.
Once the song wound down, Timmy came up to center stage and announced "We need to take a cookie break! We'll be back in a few minutes, so y'all don't go nowhere!"
As Timmy came off stage he was surprised to see Takamura with three boys, a dog, and a cat suddenly appear just a few feet in front of him.
"Greetings, Munchkin. I hope I am finding you well."
"Unca Taco!!!" Timmy exclaimed as he launched himself at Takamura. "Did you bring cookies?" he added with a giggle.
"Of course," Takamura responded, pulling some no-bake chocolate and peanut butter cookies from inside the left sleeve of his Gi.
Prince and Shelley (the dog and cat) intercepted the little redhead, and began winding their way through Timmy's legs, making it almost impossible for the little guy to move.
Timmy put the cookies in his waist pouch after a quick sample, then quickly picked up the mini Chihuahua and held him in one hand while he assisted the cat with climbing into his other arm. Once both were comfortable, he giggled, "You're new! I gotta take Unca Taco ta meet Johnny, you wanna come 'long? Me an' Johnny's been talking through William when I ain't singin' or playin'."
The little dog let out a series of barks, yips, and growls. He seemed very serious. Shelley, however, didn't seem very moved by the whole thing and draped herself casually around Timmy's neck like a white stole and began purring contentedly.
Takamura gently ruffled Timmy's hair and introduced the three boys to him.
"Don't be so impatient, Prince. We will get there soon enough. Timmy, let me introduce you to my young friends. They all help me out when I am 'Traveling' and are all very special to me. This is of course Jake," he said, indicating the nine-year-old with green eyes and dirty blond hair.
"These two over here are Thomas," he said, pointing to a nine-year-old with short black hair and dark brown eyes, "and this is Billy," he indicated by pointing to the shy looking four-year-old with blue eyes and platinum blond hair. "They came along to offer support to Jake."
Timmy giggled. "Kewl! C'mon, guys, you can help me an' Johnny plot while we're tryin' these cookies out!"
Takamura let a smile play across his face as he watched them follow the little red-headed spitfire. Within a few seconds, Timmy had wiggled his way through the mob and was introducing his new friends to Johnny, furry ones first of course.
As the introductions progressed, Bob looked over to see what the little redhead was up to. His eyes went wide, and he quickly sat down as he exclaimed, "Oh my dear Lord in Heaven!!!"
Takamura's smile changed slightly, taking on a hint of sadness, as he made his way toward Bob. He knew the man was going to need a bit of support as he had never fully dealt with his loss. Putting a hand on Bob's shoulder, he whispered in his ear.
"It was his time, Mr. Busch, but I know that doesn't make the pain you felt and still feel any less. He is a wonderful boy. You should be proud of him. Now go say hello to your little boy."
Tears began streaming down Bob's face as Takamura lifted him to his feet and gave him a shove in the direction of his boy.
Bob managed half a step before he found Mini and Alien under each of his arms, with the twins orchestrating the Dutchmen clearing a path for Bob to be reunited with his deceased son.
Billy could not grab hold of Jake's hand outside of the Astral Realm, but that didn't stop him from trying. Thomas on the other hand put a hand on his shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze.
Jake looked up at his father. His voice was very small as he held up a hand in a sort of wave.
"Uhm. Hi daddy."
Mikey had seen what was coming, and quickly appeared next to Takamura. "You know, I think trouble follows you, Uncle Taco!" Mikey said with a grin as he dramatically waved his hands. "One reunion override, coming up!"
"Don't sass your elders sonny. Even if it is the truth. I was cursed a long time ago. My brother once said to me that we would live in interesting times and his words have followed me for thousands of years. It's not my fault. I blame my misguided elder brother," Takamura said, trying in vain to keep the smirk from showing on his face.
Bob, meanwhile, was still in shock at seeing his son. Logan shook his head and announced with a grin, "Dad, if you don't give our brother a hug in the next ten seconds, I'm going to put you over my knee!"
"If I don't do it first, right after I get done with the so called Saint over there," Takamura responded while wagging a finger at Mikey. The mischievous grin could no longer be concealed on his face as his eyes sparkled with the youth of his soul.
Mikey stuck his tongue out at Takamura, then guided Jake to stand in front of his father. "Go ahead; I've made it so the two of you can interact with each other," Mikey said softly.
Without a word, Bob dropped to his knees and pulled Jake into a tight hug, silent tears running down his face. The rest of the boys watched with small smiles, wordlessly giving Bob time with Jake.
Lucas looked over at Logan, and said with a giggle, "Not too bad for a squishy; I give him an eight on the hug!"
Logan shook his head. "Naw, seven point five; I don't hear any ribs cracking."
Mini grabbed the twins and put them (willingly) into twin headlocks. "You two freakazoid goofballs need to keep your day jobs; comedy is not your strong point!" he giggled.
The twins broke free, and wrapped Mini in a double hug, his pet name for them causing both to feel the need for brotherly love.
Not a word was spoken between the father and son for a few moments, but it seemed like an eternity to those watching them. Takamura, seeing that Mini, Alien, Lucas, and Logan were not going to make a move, reached out with his mind and literally grasped each boy by the seat of their pants and deposited them with their father and brother. He gave them a telepathic command. "Let your father and brother know how much you love them right now."
Alien was the first to comply, and by the time the other three had separated from their own hug and joined him, the word got out over the mind-link. A few seconds later, Bob and Jake were completely hidden from view due to all of Bob's sons joining the hug, literally looking like a ball of miniature Secret Service Agents from the outside.
While all of this was going on, Timmy, Johnny, Prince, and Shelley were in serious discussions about various things, including the value of cookies and how to pull off Timmy's latest idea. Occasionally they looked over at the actions occurring around Bob, but seeing as there was nothing happening that they could be involved in, they kept to their plotting.
Meanwhile Billy had become very shy. There were just too many people around that he didn't know. A look at Takamura was all it took for the boy to be lifted onto the man's back. He wrapped his arms tightly around his neck.
"Little one. I need to breathe in this realm. Please ease up on my neck," Takamura said very gently to the little four year old.
Billy blushed so violently that from his neck to top of his head he turned bright red. He felt safe and loved when he was with Takamura, and his gentle teasing made him feel like a real boy and not a freak.
The ball of kids surrounding Bob began to break up, Jake splitting off with Mini, Alien, and the twins as they gave Bob room to catch his breath. Bob glanced up at Takamura, and seeing the little boy clinging to his neck, Bob decided that his presence would be helpful. He made his way over to the pair, and gently pushed a lock of hair from Billy's eyes. "Jake says that you're his little brother now. Can I get a cuddle from my new son?"
Billy let out a little yelp of fright and vanished. Bob gave Takamura a startled look.
"Don't worry, Mr. Busch. You did just what he was hoping you would do, but he never thought it would happen in a million years. I will have a talk with him."
Bob blinked his eyes in surprise as Takamura was suddenly standing in front of him holding Billy's hand. It was as if no time had passed.
Takamura asked Bob in his head if he could have a quick talk with him. As soon as Bob said yes, he found himself standing in what appeared to be the same place, but everything seemed to be insubstantial.
"Billy is a very unusual child. He can do something that only one other being I had met before him was able to do. He can travel physically through the astral realm. At one time I was only aware of the being who taught me how to travel being able to do this without causing themselves terrible bodily and mental harm. That is until I met Billy in the astral realm. He has been living in the astral realm for a long time. I have yet to determine how long. That is why he is in some ways older than his physical age would have you believe, but at the same time he is still very much a child. I would say he could not have been living in the astral realm for more than a year or so. It is obvious to me that he had something very bad happen that triggered his mind taking him into the astral realm, but he cannot seem to remember it and has asked me not to try and help him remember yet. He just keeps saying it isn't time yet. Other than your son and his friend Thomas, I am the only one he will talk to besides Logan Hayes. He thinks of your son as his big brother, but he never thought you could think of him as a son. You need to be very careful with him. Just be there for him and he will eventually come to trust you. His mind is strong but undisciplined still. He needs to learn and come to trust over time."
Bob nodded, and everything seemed to return to normal. Bob looked directly into Billy's eyes as he softly said, "I know all about waiting for the right time to deal with the past. I recently had a reminder as Mini was able to open those locked doors in his head and finally deal with the horrors of his past. Takamura's description of you is inaccurate; you have a special gift, Billy, and just like my other sons with special gifts, my only concern is helping you make the most out of the gift that was given to you."
Billy looked into the Bob's eyes as if he was searching the man's very soul. In a small voice he finally spoke to him.
"Uhm. Jake's... Ma biwg brudder. He nice. Nawt like da udder peepawls."
The boy seemed to visibly lose his nerve and he looked at the floor. He grabbed at himself with his left hand. Soon he began twisting his shirt with his other hand while one foot made small circle on the floor. His whole body eventually wiggled self-consciously.
Bob smiled with understanding. "Jake has always been able to tell good people from bad people. Since he likes you and made you his little brother, that means you must be really good people."
Billy took a deep breath. Then at the break-neck speed that only little children and over-caffeinated coffee junkies can muster, he let the rest spill out.
"Da bawd peepawls dey huwted me wots an mawde mys hawr and eyes wook nawt da same sows down sees me fowr weal an dey hitted me an i cwied an nowse bawdies wuved me..."
The little boy ran forward and grabbed Bob in a bear hug.
Bob managed to hoist Billy up so that he could hold him in his arms, Billy shifting his hug so that his little arms were wrapped around Bob's neck. "If I have any say about it, nobody will ever hurt you again, Billy," Bob said softly. "If you let me, I promise I will make up for them not loving you by loving you double. If I ever find those people that hurt you, I'll send one of your big brothers after them; he's called 'Nightmare' because of what he does to people that hurt kids, and he gets really mad if it is one of his brothers that gets hurt."
Billy suddenly kissed Bob on the cheek before wiggling out of his arms.
"Dank yous. I gawts gows nows. sees ya waiters?" The last part said in a small almost frightened voice betraying the child's insecurities.
Bob barely managed to get out, "Of course you can see me anytime you want to..." before the little boy just was not there any more.
Takamura let out a sigh as he released the breath he had not realized he was holding.
Bob smiled. "Make sure Billy knows that he is welcome at any time."
Takamura smiled warmly and placed a hand on the man's shoulder.
"Mr. Busch, he already knows what is in your heart. He can feel it from you just as I can. He is just not ready to believe that it will last."
"It'll last," Bob replied with a smile. "Just as surely as me setting Teri loose on you if you don't start calling me Bob, he's got a family here."
"Of course, Mr. Busch, whatever you say, Mr. Busch." Takamura deadpanned as he stood at attention and fired off a salute. 'I've been spending too much time with Juan' was his thought as soon as he realized what he had just done.
"Ohhhh TERI!!!!" Bob called out loudly as he waved for her to join them.
While his Dad was talking with Billy, Jake was investigating the temporary tattoos on his brother's arms. "This was my favorite butterfly," he said quietly as he ran his fingers over Mini's arm. "I wish I could sign it; you're my brothers now, and I'd like to make it special."
Mikey overheard Jake, and responded with a twinkle in his eyes. "If you love your brothers, that love will make anything possible, little one."
Jake smiled as he once again ran his fingers around the edges of the temporary tattoo. This time, however, the tattoo seemed to glow as his finger crossed it. The colors changed slightly, and it seemed to sink into Mini's skin. Jake leaned over and kissed Mini's arm just below the left wing; when he lifted his head, his name was clearly present underneath in his trademark nine-year-old scrawl. He made his way around all of his new living brothers, gifting those who were not aces with one or another of his favorite drawings, while making each of the aces' arms uniquely their own.
Takamura's first thought was that Teri needed to meet Morgana before he would need to worry about her, but then he nixed that idea as soon as it entered his head. No, she didn't. She was doing just fine on her own. His next thought was to telekinetically gag the man and then remove him from the room, but the Mikyvis would never let that stand, so he tossed that away in disgust just as quickly. Then he realized that Teri had already seen Bob's gesture and was coming toward them.
"That will not be a problem, Bob," Takamura said in his most dignified voice.
"You're EVIL, Dad!" Jake yelled over at Bob.
Bob grinned and stuck his tongue out at his son, resulting in a flurry of giggles.
Teri walked up and joined them at that point. She smiled at Takamura, her eyes twinkling with mirth. "Has the Taco pup slipped his leash again, Bob? I'm sure I can find a stronger one if needed."
"My leash is freely and happily given, child." Takamura's eyes glinted with the infinite mischief of his soul. "You don't get to be my age by fighting losing battles, nor to do you go to war with someone when there is nothing to fight over. You have my infinite support." Then he gave Teri a warm hug and a gentle kiss on her cheek.
"You do realize that you're managing to disappoint my two little Time Boys, don't you?" Teri replied with a smile. "They were so looking forward to popping a corner in here for you to stand in. Who are your little helpers?"
"I will stand in a corner any time if it will make them happy. They are my family and I will always try to do my best for them in all things. I cannot solve everything, but I will always strive to not make things more difficult than they are. You came into my children's life. Genesis and all that it was before it took that name is the responsibility of my family. As I am the eldest member of that family alive, it is my responsibility. You have given these children something that I could not dream possible except through many, many years of hard work and sacrifice. I stand ready to help."
Takamura smiled gently at Teri, then gestured to a nine-year-old with short black hair and dark brown eyes standing off to the side trying very hard to just become part of the scenery.
"This is Thomas. He is trying very hard to be unnoticed right now, but I would never let that happen."
Takamura grinned as Thomas noticed him gesturing and talking about him and the boy began to fidget. He made a gesture to the boy to come forward.
"Thomas, please come here. I would like to introduce you to Teri Short. I have told you about her and her two sons, Sean and Cory."
Thomas came forward and shyly took Teri's hand in his. "Uhm. It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Short. I'm Thomas. Oh. You already know that. I am just running off at the mouth again. Uh. Sorry. Uhm."
"You're too young and cute to worry so much," Teri said with a smile. "You want to climb up here for a cuddle? We can discuss which works better for you while you catch up on cuddles, calling me Aunt Teri or calling me Mom."
Thomas sighed contentedly. He sank right into Teri's arms as he remembered being in his own mother's arms before he had died some four years ago. He missed his family, and to be honest he was feeling jealous that Jake was getting to speak to his father. He silently cried into Teri's chest as he mumbled something about how much he missed cuddling his family.
Teri rubbed his back, softly whispering to him as he released his pent-up emotions. Bob and Takamura both just stood and watched silently; acutely aware of the healing which only Teri could do.
As Thomas calmed down, Teri kissed his forehead. "You know, you've got a really big family now," she told him softly. "All you have to do is ask, and your special brothers will help you visit when you want cuddles from any Clan mom you choose,, as well as letting you join in with your new brothers when they're playing games or watching movies."
Thomas stared wide-eyed at Teri, then he looked at Takamura.
"That goes for me too, little guy," Bob added sincerely.
"But I can't let Uncle Taco..." He paused briefly at the use of the nickname and chuckled. "I mean I watch stuff for him and all. You know. I need to do it."
Takamura smiled broadly at Thomas. "It is true that you are my eyes when I cannot be there to see, and my ears when I cannot be there to hear, but you are important. Not what you can do for me, but you. You need to seriously consider what she has said and be with your family as much as you can and want to."
Before Thomas could respond, Bob added, "You're my son too, you know. I saw it in Jake's eyes when you and him interacted... he's declared you his brother, which means you're my son as well."
"Thank you, Sir. I really appreciate it very much." Thomas said as a blush crept over his face. He felt a warmth in his soul that grew. He felt it when he was with Jake, but this was more intense. He didn't feel so alone. The ache for his own parents was much more tangible, but it was now tinged with warm fuzzy memories. He was with people that really cared about him. Him the person. These were rare people and they were trying to become less rare by spreading who they were to others. He grinned and for the first time in four years felt complete, the way he had when he was alive with his family. Sometimes bad things happen so that good things... He laughed out loud. "Thanks... Pop and Aunt Teri."
Before he knew it, he was the subject of an 'adult-kid sandwich'. Over with his new brothers, Jake looked over and smiled; his closest friend since the day of the accident was happy for the first time in years.
Takamura smiled warmly. "I am most satisfied now. Thomas looks far happier than I have seen him in years. So Teri. The little one who looks somewhat like Mini and Bob is his son Jake. He and Thomas hang around together in the Astral Realm with me. He is my other assistant. He also helps me to watch things when I can't watch them. I am most proud of both of them and the way they take care of little Billy. However, that little guy is now hiding in the Astral Plane. I will introduce you some other time, but I believe that Bob can tell you a bit about him. I also have a couple of furry friends, that have attached themselves to your grandson who is shooting daggers at me because he still needs to introduce me to... I believe it was Johnny, lil' spitfire?" Takamura gave Timmy a wink.
Timmy nodded as he commented. "You old peoples are too slow!" At Teri's tilted head, he quickly added, "Not you, Granma... Granma's ain't never slow, an' they ain't old 'neither!"
Takamura chuckled at Timmy's comment. "Very smoothly recovered, little man. You show great potential."
Timmy giggled as he watched the three adults, with Thomas on Teri's hip, come over. As soon as they arrived, Timmy began introductions. "Unca Taco, this is Johnny, he's an animal friend like me! Johnny, that's Unca Taco... he's old, but he's kewl cuz he knows where all the awesome aminals hang out!"
Takamura knelt down so he was eye level with Johnny and held his hand out to the boy as he looked him in the eye. "Well hello there sir. It is very nice to meet you."
Johnny tilted his head and giggled. "It is an honor to meet you as well, sir." he replied in a passable British accent as he shook Takamura's hand.
"Spot on there chap. I am chuffed as nuts that we can be family," Takamura said as he played up his own British accent.
"Aye Laddie; 'tis best when ye' be giv'n ye kindred quality time," Johnny replied, switching to a Scottish accent that would make Cory's father smile in glee.
In a perfect Irish accent Takamura replied to the youngster while his eyes danced with even more mischief than usual. "Maith mo buachaill. An gceapann tú gur féidir leis an munchkin beag inis dom cén fáth go raibh sé chomh tábhachtach chun freastal den sórt sin a lad fíneáil chomh duit féin?" (Well my boy. Do you think the little munchkin can tell me why it was so important to meet such a fine lad as yourself?)
Both Johnny and Timmy giggled, obviously having fun with this 'game'. Johnny caught his breath, then replied. "Now, y'all knows that thar ain't no rushin' no kin time. Them thar fields be pick'd when they be ripe."
"Watashi wa nani mo rippana musuko o isoi tsumori wa arimasen." (I have no intention of rushing anything honorable son.) Takamura said in the modern version of his native tongue. He was quite enjoying the game as much as the boys.
Timmy grinned as he heard Johnny reply in Seminole. "The Great Spirit shall reveal the time as it is due. Mother Earth is honored by the things Tvmketv-Lvmhe has passed on that you have done."
Takamura replied in a series of coos and clucks in the manner of a pigeon. "May your nest have many eggs and your beak find much to eat." Which basically meant 'thank you'.
Cory and Sean, meanwhile, were much too occupied to really pay attention to the activities of the other kids. As a matter of fact, their eyes were so clouded with tears of joy that they could barely make out each other. While Timmy was plotting his extra surprise for them, the rest of their sons and grandsons formed a line to get some long-overdue attention from the pair of boys.
CD had managed to be first in line for Cory's lap. After stripping Cory of his ape head, CD leaned in to kiss Cory's cheek. "Are we doing okay, Daddy?" he asked in a small voice.
Cory pulled CD into a tight hug. He caught the eyes of the rest of the boys, letting them know the answer was for all of them. "You guys are awesome. I'm proud of all of you."
CD latched on tight, obviously not letting go anytime soon. "I missed you and Pop sooo much..." he whispered.
Cory began rubbing CD's back as he replied, "I understand, little one. I love you, and I really do love the surprise that you guys came up with."
"Timmy and I came up with a lot of it," CD replied shyly. "Timmy's claimed last cuddle though, he says he ain't lettin' go until we gotta play again."
"You mean you'll give up your spot for Timmy?" Cory asked.
"Nope, we agreed we're sharing... everyone else gets the other side of your lap!" CD giggled. "You're all of ours, but me and Timmy's in charge of collecting cuddles for everyone."
Sean, on the other hand, was transfixed by the narrative which Leo was giving him. Once Leo had been assured that he was missed, he launched into a detailed review of every single concert that they had performed, describing the various places they had visited and how they had adjusted their sets to the audience. The realization of the sacrifices his family had made to prepare for this one day were what brought the tears to Sean's eyes... this one concert was an act of love that each of the boys had consciously given up contact with everyone else to ensure it was perfect for their parent or grandparent.
Each of the boys took their time with both Cory and Sean, sharing the lap with the two "Lap Monitors", who never moved from their positions. Those who were not occupied with Cory and Sean took their turns at welcoming their newest brother/uncle, each in turn taking the time to bond with Fife once it was explained to them what the bonding meant.
Just as Joey came up to take his turn on Cory's lap, KC came over and tapped on CD's shoulder. "Hey Superfreak, grab an axe and get your skinny butt on stage, the Chief needs ya."
"Stuff it, Crash," CD replied with a giggle. "I'll be right back, Daddy. This is gonna be fun!"
KC 'helped' CD down, then looked over at Sean and Leo. "You too, Lion-Boy!" he giggled.
As DJ 'assisted' Leo off of Sean's lap, Leo playfully whined, "Uncle Deej, Crash is pickin on me!"
DJ laughed. "You love it and you know it, Leo. Get up there with your uncles, I'll be right there after I steal a hug from Pop."