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Leon finally finished his visit to the Fort Lauderdale Planning Commission. As he'd figured, the Clan hadn't bothered with the normal procedure of at least notifying local authorities of their plans. What did surprise him however, was that the officials were very forgiving of the oversight, and the meeting had a very productive outcome. Once they understood the influx of people having the Clan Fleet at the Port Authority would soon cause, they had quickly pulled up their city plot and had designated the areas that they were able to allocate to Clan expansion. Once Emmy was brought in to the conference, things moved quickly and the proper permits were issued on the spot for Emmy to initiate construction.
"Leon to Emrys," Leon asked after tapping his commbadge, "do you know if there are any pancake restaurants around here?"
"There's an IHOP over at the corner of SE 13th street and Highway 1, would that work, Uncle Leon?" Emmy responded.
Leon hit the remote unlock for his new Land Rover G4. "Could you load that in my nav console please, Emmy? IHOP sounds good about now, I need to wash the politics out of my head."
"Loaded! Uncle Kyle says they have awesome blueberry pancakes!" Emmy responded.
"I'll remember that," Leon chuckled, inwardly imagining Kyle decimating IHOP's menu.
As he climbed into the driver's seat, two teenagers in Clan Security uniforms appeared in his back seat. "Hey guys, did Emmy tell you I was getting food?" Leon chuckled.
"No, but if you're buying we'll accept," one of the teens responded. "Since you're going into public, you're gonna need security. I'm Jeff, and the runt here is Harry."
"I'll give you 'runt'!" Harry responded, trying hard to look serious.
"No killing each other on duty, guys!" Leon laughed. "I was wondering how long I'd get away with not having a couple of tails. Are you guys permanently assigned?"
"That's up to you," Harry replied. "If you get along with us, then you can request permanent. Consider this trip a live test."
"That works out," Leon stated. "Don't try to play adult and I'll be fine with you. When you need to act, that's the time to be professionals. Otherwise, be yourselves while watching for threats."
Jeff nodded. "Thanks for the heads-up, sir. Any time we get a new assignment, we never know what the person expects."
"You can call me Leon, or even Uncle Leon if you want to have a cover. Calling me 'sir' makes me uncomfortable when I'm off duty, and Divisional protocol is to lose the formality unless it is required."
"Okay, Uncle Leon," Jeff responded with a smile.
"So, where are you guys from?" Leon asked as he pulled out.
"Vegas," Jeff replied. "We were moved into the Clan compound up there, and since we'd both had some firearms training, we got the chance at Security and grabbed it. Julio over in Des Moines saw us during the Battle recovery, and had his guys give us our advanced training. We teamed up and did some escort duties over there, then Emmy asked Kerry if he had someone who'd like to hang out down here. Kerry asked us, we agreed, and now we're here."
"Well, welcome to Fort Lauderdale," Leon responded as he followed the driving directions on his Nav console. "I'm learning about this area myself, so if I seem lost I probably am."
"That's why we have Emmy," Harry giggled, "he won't let us get lost."
"At least not accidentally," Leon grinned. "Don't let him fool you, he's one-hundred-percent American eight-year-old, and is not above pranking anyone he thinks he can get away with it on."
"Thanks for the warning!" Jeff stated with a smile. "I hope he takes it as good as he gives it, though."
"He does," Leon replied. "Have either of you ever been on a ship?"
"Not me," Jeff replied.
"I was on a sailboat once," Harry added.
"I figured as much," Leon replied as he changed lanes. "Since you guys are going to be following me, that means you'll get to see pretty much all of the Iowa sooner or later. Knowing Emmy, he's already set up your clearances, if not we'll have to do that as soon as we get back. Shipboard life is a lot different from civilian life, even with the changes we're making since joining Clan Short. You're going to need to adapt to quite a few changes. Something as simple as leaving a hatch open when underway could be the difference between multiple people living or dying. The life of every person onboard is the responsibility of every other person onboard. We're working out weapon use inside the ship; it looks like phasers on stun are going to be the new standing order, as they have the least chance of causing damage that could cripple the ship or cause a deadly hazard."
"So you're saying that we need to re-train for incidents inside the ship?" Jeff asked.
"Not just you, but any new security," Leon replied. "Even with all of the changes to the ship, we still have high-pressure steam in some areas. A pinhole in one of those pipes can cut a person in half who walks past it. There are cables in the passageways that carry voltage that will fry you on contact. You're going to be hearing a lot of the original crew telling you safety procedures; unlike in a land installation, those are in place because there is a lot more danger."
"Okay, so the rules are there because it really isn't safe?" Jeff asked. "Can't it be made safer?"
"We've got teams working on that," Leon replied. "Since space is limited, there's only so much that can be done without redesigning the entire ship."
"Okay, that makes sense," Jeff nodded. "At least there are real reasons for the rules. Not like my old school, where they wouldn't let anyone hold hands because they were afraid it meant sex."
"I understand completely," Leon admitted. "There were a lot of old rules from when we were part of the U.S. Navy that were scuttled for just that reason; they no longer applied to the current fleet, or were unreasonable interpretations of normal activities."
"So you guys are actually changing rules?" Harry asked. "Who decides?"
"One of the first things I did was set up a team to review the rules needed onboard," Leon explained. "I picked the most outspoken member of the crew to head it. His team has made a lot of changes already, and is planning even more. Every person on the ship has input, the team looks at the request and figures out what the best adaptation will be."
"Are you sure that you're an adult?" Harry giggled, earning him a glare from Jeff.
"Only in body," Leon laughed. "Tracy and Karl said that they prefer their staff to be open to ideas from everyone no matter what their age. I fully agree with that. Experience has its place, but sometimes looking at something with younger eyes will spot a better way. That's already been proven as we rework shipboard procedures; things that should have changed with equipment updates were still done the old way, and the newer guys couldn't see a reason why. Once the people involved sat down and looked at it, there were major changes made that streamlined operations."
Noticing in his mirror that Jeff was still glaring at Harry, Leon added "Jeff, back off. Neither one of you needs to be politically correct, and I'm not going to get mad at someone for speaking their mind as long as they do it honestly and are not intentionally trying to hurt someone. There is going to be a big difference in how the two of you look at things; the way the brain develops during your stage of life makes that certain. I'm accepting what you say with adjustment for that, and will let you know if there is something that I think you need to work on when talking with me or other Clan adults. You can teach by example, but don't try to make Harry into a mini-you."
Having arrived at IHOP, Leon pulled in and parked, then turned his head to look Jeff eye-to-eye. As he expected, Jeff was not happy. "Jeff, how old are you?" Leon asked as he got his first look at the auburn-haired teen.
"Fifteen," Jeff replied in a flat tone, his brown eyes boring into Leon's.
Leon nodded, "So as a fifteen-year-old, just how many children have you raised?"
"In my career, I've had to guide thousands of eighteen-year-olds into mature interactions with others, some of which started off less mature than you. When I give you advice, I fully expect you to decide on your own how to use it. But if I see you treating any other member of the Clan as less than you, I'm going to put my foot down hard, and keep it there until you get the hint. If you can't accept that, then call Emmy now and request reassignment."
Before Jeff could respond, Harry spoke up. "He's not like THEM, Jeff! He feels worried, kinda like Grandma Morrison felt when she was takin' to us."
Jeff twisted his head, obviously checking his partner's sincerity. Turning back to Leon, he stated "I don't trust most adults, not after my parent's died."
"I've been there," Leon replied seriously. "I've got the scars on my back and other places to prove it. Giving an adult who seemed to really care a chance saved my life. I'm part of the Clan because I understand being abused and want to help others recover no matter what their age. The Clan works because Cory has assembled a group of adults around him that he can go to when he's over his head to get advice. You wouldn't have been offered the spot over here if Clan Security didn't think there was something here that would help you recover. If you refuse the help, then it means they sent you out too early. When you're on-duty, I expect you to take lead over my safety. Off duty, it is MY job to ensure that you're getting the support that you need to recover and become the best that you can be. The question is, can you accept that responsibility to learn?"
Despite his anger at being lectured, Jeff managed to listen. Just before leaving Des Moines, Grandma Morrison had told him that someone would be saying something to him that he wouldn't want to hear, but that if he listened he might find the thing his soul was yearning for. "You're not my dad," Jeff stated weakly.
Leon quickly picked up on the base problem Jeff was suffering from; on top of the still unidentified abuse recovery, he was feeling abandoned with no family to call his own. Following his gut instinct, Leon replied "You haven't asked for that, yet."
"Nobody wants a fifteen year old kid who's lived on the streets," Jeff shot back. "I've been bounced around for four years, and had to run away from the last place! I'm only here because I got caught."
Leon shook his head. "That's where you're wrong. You're here because your Guardian Angel decided enough was enough, and that you were going to get your life back one way or the other. Mark, he's the Petty Officer in charge of rewriting the rules, adopted two boys during the Battle. One of them lost his last safe family member, the other was being abused in ways that bring back nightmares from my youth. His example is now the shipwide policy; if a youth in need is guided to anyone on board a ship of the Clan Fleet, the crew member has the responsibility to do whatever is needed to help the youth. Every single sailor in the Fleet is a full member of Clan Short, with the same rights and responsibilities of any other Clan member, no matter what their age. If you want a family, you have to ask. You can't get things without trying."
"You'll just say no, just like everyone else," Jeff replied, tears now running down his cheeks.
"Do you honestly think we'd still be sitting here talking if I planned on doing that?" Leon asked softly, fully aware that Jeff was emotionally unstable at the moment.
"You don't know us, you'll get tired of us and send us away," Jeff whispered.
Leon smiled, aware that he was getting through finally. "KT knows better than to leave his senior staff without intel. I know quite a bit, thanks to my subvocal. You're Jeff Sanders, born November second, nineteen-eighty-nine. While you've completed covert ops training, your instructors felt that you need to overcome the demons of your past before you would be safe for field work. Harry was in the last home you were placed in, and when you left you brought him with you. Since that day, you become violent if he is out of your sight for more than a couple of hours, unless you absolutely know who he is with and consider them safe. Both of your files are flagged to indicate that all procedures applicable to genetic brothers are to be applied to the two of you."
Making sure to prove his point, Leon turned to look at his blond passenger. "Harry, your last name is Cox, and I honestly believe that it should be a SHA violation to stick you with a name like that; even if you're the fifth one in a row of your birth family to carry the name. You're a level 1 empath, you carry marksman certification on every weapon that you've tested on, and even though you look twelve, you turned thirteen on March sixth. Your file says that normally you're pretty quiet, but that you're like a bear if you or your big brother are cornered; I heard something about one of the police officers that tried to capture you guys on the street is now unable to have children. When you told your trainers about him, you commented that he felt dangerous."
"Clan Intel followed up on your comment, and discovered that he was blackmailing street kids to either have sex with him or go to jail. Since you took care of the first part of his punishment, he was put on trial, found guilty by a Federal court, and is now on a class two Federation prison planet. Thanks to you, the Federal court asking the Federation to provide punishment has set a new precedent; any convicted criminal that is determined by the Federal level to be habitual and unable to be rehabilitated can now be reviewed by Federation courts for transfer to Federation facilities, as long as their crime also violates Federation law."
Leon turned back to Jeff. "I knew all of that before the subject of family ever came up."
Jeff had been taking all of this in, ready to jump in if any of the many subjects that Harry was sensitive to were brought up. He was surprised at how Leon danced around the sensitive subjects that he'd touched on, pointing out the good without going into the bad. It was obvious that Leon did his homework, and Jeff was sure there were things that Leon didn't say but was fully aware of. The fact Leon had taken the time to find out about them and still made the offer despite their past chipped away at the walls Jeff had built to protect himself and Harry. What finally made up his mind, however, was looking over at Harry and seeing the one thing that his 'little brother' had been missing for as long as he'd known him. Harry's eyes showed hope, hope that their running was finally over.
Putting his arm over Harry's shoulder, Jeff softly asked "What do you think, Runt? You wanna give it a shot?"
Harry scooted over to cuddle into Jeff's side. "You got us here. You decide, I trust you."
Jeff couldn't resist his small smile. Since the day he'd taken him under his wing, Harry would never make a decision if he agreed with what he thought Jeff was thinking. If he didn't agree, he'd make it clear why. That little quirk had forced Jeff to learn to consider what would be best for both of them before making any serious decision. Looking at the current situation, Jeff realized that while he could probably get by without a family, Harry really needed that support network. He also knew that Harry would insist on a package deal; no matter how good the parent or parents were, Harry wasn't about to release his dependance on Jeff anytime soon.
When Harry twisted and put an arm around his chest, Jeff finally made his decision. No matter what he needed, his brother needed the security of a family. Since Leon seemed to be able to live with the horrors of their past, he was probably their best chance at a normal life, and passing it up now could ruin any chance of it in the future. Turning to Leon, he asked softly "Did you really mean it that you'll adopt us?"
"Yes," Leon responded. He then added "Remember that everyone has things in their past that they had to do to survive. Those things only become problems when you let them eat you up inside. Part of being a family is helping each other get over the bad and turn it into a way to keep others from having to go through the same things."
If Jeff didn't already guess that Leon knew more than he said, that comment proved it. That helped his decision immensely, since it meant that they wouldn't have to keep secrets to avoid being kicked out. With the butterflies in his stomach doing cartwheels, Jeff cautiously asked "Could you be our Dad?"
Leon smiled at the two teens. "I would be honored to be your Dad. Please tell me you guys want the last name Schmidt; if not, could we at least change your little brother's last name to Sanders so there's no argument about your relationship?"
'He's good!' Jeff thought. 'He knows how embarrassed Harry is about his name, and just gave him some choices without pointing out the real reason to change it.' Rubbing his cheek on Harry's forehead, Jeff stated "That choice is yours, Runt."
"What name are you gonna use?" Harry asked softly.
"Whichever one you decide," Jeff replied seriously. "This is your wish being granted, so I'll go with whatever you want."
"I love you, bro," Harry whispered as he considered the options. While taking Leon's name would make them more of a family, he really wanted to be connected with the one person responsible for getting him out of the hell his life had become. Unable to decide, he whispered "I dunno, I kinda want both choices."
Barely overhearing, Leon decided to help Jeff with the spot Harry was putting him in. "Harry, you don't have to choose between them, if you want to mix the choices together you can."
"We could be Sanders-Schmidt and you wouldn't be mad?" Harry asked hopefully.
"No, I would be proud that you care so much about your big brother that you want the world to know that you're related," Leon replied with a smile.
"Okay, we're gonna be Sanders-Schmidt!" Harry exclaimed as he tried to crush Jeff's ribs.
While trying to breathe, Jeff wheezed "How do we make this official?"
Leon chuckled. "Harry, let your brother breathe! Just a second and we'll be all done." Leon tapped his commbadge, "Emmy, you sneaky little devil, I'm sure that you were listening, you want to do the final paperwork?"
"Who, me?" Emmy replied innocently, "I wouldn't do that! Kerry says to tell you that everything's handled already, though!"
Leon rolled his eyes as he heard the two AIs giggling over the commbadge. "Thanks guys, I expected no less."
"That's it?" Jeff asked in surprise.
"Yes," Leon replied, "You are officially my sons now, and just as soon as we get out of the car we're going to have our first family hug. If someone doesn't like it, I'll have turret three target their house!"
"The scary part is I think you'd do it!" Jeff giggled, the feeling of having family he could possibly trust making him relax for the first time in a long while. Taking the hint from Leon opening his door, Jeff managed to scoot out with Harry securely attached to his side. A few seconds later, both teens found themselves being willingly pulled into the embrace of an adult male for the first time in years.
Once he was sure that his new sons had regained control of their emotions, Leon stated "I think we'd better go inside while they still have food left. Both of you can get whatever you want, our family doesn't have any money issues."
"Okay, Dad!" both teens replied, their smiles reflecting their joy at being part of a real family. Jeff finally realized that Leon had parked in the far corner of the lot, and asked "Why did we park over here?"
"Because I knew that one way or the other the two of you would need some privacy while you sorted out what you wanted to happen," Leon replied seriously.
"Thanks," Jeff smiled.
Leon put an arm over each of his new son's shoulders, and the trio made their way towards the main entrance. Just as they reached the sidewalk, a redheaded boy about Harry's age in worn clothes walked up to them. "Sir, do you have a dollar that you can spare?"
Leon immediately recognized the signs of malnutrition setting in, and exchanged a quick glance with Jeff. "I'll do you one better," Leon offered. "Since I'm celebrating adopting my new sons, why don't you join us for a good meal that you don't need to worry about the cost of?"
"What do I have to do afterwards?" the boy asked suspiciously.
To Leon and Jeff's surprise, Harry beat them to an answer. "You'll have to go with us to the mall so all of us can get some new clothes, then you gotta come with us when Dad shows us around the Iowa. He's the captain!"
"While we do all of that, we'll discuss why you're in the position of having to beg, then we'll do something about it," Leon added. "You just asked for help from Clan Short, even though you didn't know it. If you let it, your life is about to change for the better."
Jeff recognized the expression on the new kid's face, and added "Dude, I spent the last year on the streets protecting Harry from the crap you gotta do to survive; he had enough of that in the dump we ran away from. Thanks to Clan Short, we just got adopted because WE wanted it, and we got to choose who adopted us. The streets suck, and we're gonna make sure anyone we can help gets the help they need."
"How do I know you ain't shittin' me?" the boy asked.
Leon replied seriously, "All three of us have scars to prove what we've lived through. While I've recovered enough to be able to show mine, I'm not certain that either of my sons are ready for that step yet. Even I have not seen their scars, I only know about them from their medical reports."
Jeff thought over Leon's comment, then stated "If Dad can show his, it's time someone saw mine because I wanted them to. C'mon, we'll go wash up in the bathroom while Harry and Dad get us a table."
"We'll see you guys at the table," Leon smiled, hoping that Jeff was doing what he thought he was doing. Even though the kid kept his distance from Leon, he followed along and turned with Jeff to go into the men's restroom. Leon immediately went to the wait station, pulling out his ID. Once he had the attention of a waitress, he stated "I'm with Clan Short, and need to see the manager."
"What'cha doing, Dad?" Harry asked as the waitress went to get the manager.
"Making sure that your new friend isn't hassled by the staff," Leon explained.
Harry smiled. "Okay, thanks! He's pretty scared, I think he's only been on the street a couple of months."
"That's my guess too," Leon acknowledged. He noticed someone who appeared to be management heading towards them, and whispered "Showtime!"
"May I help you, Sir?" the man asked as he got close.
Leon smiled as he held out his ID. "I'm Commander Leonids Schmidt, Family Clan Short of Vulcan Atlantic Fleet. As I'm sure you were aware, there is a youth that has been requesting financial assistance in your parking area. At this moment, the youth is with my eldest son in your sanitary facilities cleaning up, and will be dining with us. As the youth is now under Family Clan Short protection, it would be prudent for your staff to extend the same hospitality to him as they would any other youth."
Before the shocked manager could respond, Harry held out his ID as well. "Sir, I am Lieutenant Harry Saunders-Schmidt, Family Clan Short Security. Be advised that adverse reactions to the presence of our guest will be dealt with under applicable laws if necessary."
The manager glanced at both IDs, quickly determining that his guests were with Clan Short. With that in mind, he replied "While normally I would have an issue with this, I will make an exception due to the fact that you are trying to help one of our local youth that is in trouble. I wish you luck; some of us have tried to give him more assistance than he asked for, and he refused it."
"In that case, it might be best that we're seated before he returns," Leon suggested.
"I know just the waitress to assist you," the manager replied, "Jenn is popular with the kids."
Two minutes later, Leon and Harry were sitting across from each other in a booth. Leon looked over at his youngest son, and commented "You do realize that you might just be getting another brother, don't you?"
"Why do you say that?" Harry asked, tilting his head.
"Because your big brother is very protective of people who are not ready to take care of themselves," Leon explained. "When he had nobody to count on, he concentrated on you, but now he can take a chance and maybe give you more family. It won't mean he loves you any less, it means that he wants you to experience being brothers with more than just him."
"So you're telling me don't be jealous, because Jeff still loves me?" Harry asked.
"That's part of it, but also you're going to need to help Jeff with teaching him the things Jeff taught you."
"Okay, I can do that!" Harry replied with a smile. "Here they come!"
Jeff and the new boy walked up to the table, Jeff taking the seat next to Leon. Harry quickly scooted out, telling the boy "I need to be able to get up quickly; even though he's our Dad we're still his security detail, so we can't be tied up in a corner."
"Jeff already warned me," the boy replied, his face revealing that he was still in shock over something that he experienced in the bathroom.
'Interesting,' Leon thought as he watched the boys set the real-life chess game up, 'those two just set it up so he can't just run out the door. I'll have to remind Harry that next time he tries that, being seated in the back corner of the bench kind of gives away the fact he's plotting something!'
Jeff gently nudged Leon's ankle with his foot. "Dad, this is Gerry. He just turned twelve on the Fifth. He's under Clan protection, and Emmy's started the family trace."
Leon nodded. "Thanks, Jeff. Gerry, since Jeff has put you under Clan protection, that means that as his Dad I'm allowed to help make sure that you have everything that you need. The first thing you get is a real meal. Choose anything that you want, and don't worry if you can't finish it. It is normal to not be able to eat as much when you've been without food for a while. From what I've been told, eating something really sweet if you haven't eaten for a while will usually make you sick, so be careful until you get used to eating again."
Gerry eyed Leon suspiciously. "Thanks, I guess. I still wanna know what you get outta this."
"I get to sleep at night knowing I helped get another kid safely off the street," Leon answered honestly. "Not everyone is out to use you, it just seemed like it because of the people that you had to deal with."
Gerry nodded his head, his body relaxing. "I think that makes sense; you're not making comments or looking at me like guys usually do."
The waitress started heading their way, which caused Harry to signal for a pause in the conversation. Once she arrived at the table, she passed out the menus and asked "Can I get you anything to drink?"
"Coffee please," Leon replied. "Black and strong, I'll take the oldest pot you have."
"Same here," Jeff replied, looking at Leon for approval.
"You're living on a Navy ship, why not get used to it!" Leon grinned.
"You're both weird!" Harry stated with a grimace. "Chocolate milk and an orange juice, please."
"That sounds good, but..." Gerry started to say, to be interrupted by Leon.
"He'll take what Harry ordered," Leon stated. "Gerry, I'm the Captain of the flagship of the Clan Fleet. Money isn't a problem, so don't try to be cheap. You don't need to try to make brownie points by going cheap."
"Gotcha," Gerry stated with a small smile. "It looks like I get the same thing Harry wants!"
"I'll be right back with the drinks," the waitress smiled. "Let them help, Gerry; you'll thank them later. Don't be stubborn like you've been with the rest of us."
"Okay, Jenn," Gerry replied with a blush.
"Speaking of that," Leon commented, "there's no need to discuss any of our history at the table, guys. That can wait for while we're driving or back on the ship, the public doesn't need to hear your private affairs."
Gerry finally truly smiled, since he now knew he wouldn't be trapped into saying what he'd been through in public. "When did they start letting kids live on ships?" he asked as he picked up the menu.
"Halfway through turning a Romulan ship into fish food," Leon replied with a grin. "When Mark adopted his two, he made the decision that they would live with him. It's taken some work, but with the help of the UNIT we're working out the final details. With all the extra space on the ship thanks to technology upgrades, making room for families isn't an issue."
"Did that Mark guy ask before he did it?" Gerry asked.
"No, in fact he told me that is what was going to happen," Leon admitted. "The thing is, his job is to adapt the shipboard policies to being part of the Clan. Unless I see a major problem that I can't think of a resolution for, when he makes a change it is put in effect immediately with my approval assumed. Since he answers directly to me, I usually know about any changes first because we've already discussed it. That was an exception, but it also was a case of him enforcing standing Clan policies."
"I thought Captains made all the rules?" Gerry asked, obviously confused.
"We approve the rules," Leon explained, "but we have people that we've put in place to make them."
"That makes sense," Gerry nodded.
The waitress returned with the drinks, asking "Are you ready to order, or do you need more time?"
"Guys?" Leon asked, already knowing what he wanted without looking.
All three boys nodded their heads that they were ready, so Leon glanced at Gerry. "Go ahead, Gerry."
Quickly figuring out that Leon did that on purpose, Gerry rolled his eyes. "Could I have the double blueberry pancakes, please?"
"Do you want the whipped topping?" Jenn asked.
"I better not this time," Gerry admitted, glancing at Leon.
"I think you made a great choice, Gerry," Leon stated, earning him a smile.
Jenn turned to Harry. "What will you have, cutie?"
Trying hard not to blush, Harry replied "Could I have a Cheeseburger Omelette please, with the pancakes?"
"Sure thing, honey," Jenn replied, causing Harry to fully lose his control and fall into a full body blush.
"That's what you get for being cute, Runt!" Jeff sniggered.
"JEFF!" Harry whined.
"Jeff, you're up," Leon managed to state between chuckles.
Acting as if he'd done nothing wrong, Jeff replied "Could I please get the Breakfast Sampler with pancakes, and a side of Corned Beef Hash? Over easy on the eggs, please."
"Nice snack," Leon chuckled. "You're growing and need it, though."
Jeff smiled, as that was not the response he'd expected. "Thanks, dad."
Turning to Jenn, Leon smiled. "I'd like the Belgian Waffle Combo, over easy on the eggs, sausage, and toast on the side please."
"I've got it; I'll bring everything out as soon as its ready," Jenn replied. "If anyone needs refills on their drinks, just wave me down."
Once Jenn headed in to place their order, Leon shook his head. "Gerry, in case you haven't figured it out, Jeff and Harry are closer than most genetic brothers. Jeff knows that I've already drawn the line as to when he goes too far, so don't be surprised at their normal banter."
"I wish I had that," Gerry whispered.
"I'm in charge of granting wishes," Leon stated. "Once Emmy gets back to me, I'll see what I can do to grant yours."
Gerry stared across the table, amazed that this adult wasn't making blanket promises nobody could keep. 'This might be for real,' Gerry thought, 'it looks like they really do want to help me!'
"You guys take the back seat, I'll sit up front with Dad," Jeff stated as they crossed the parking lot, Gerry under one of Jeff's arms. "Dad, I've already had Emmy load your Nav console with directions to the nearest clothing store; I want more security with us before we hit the mall to do the real shopping for the three of us new guys."
"That makes sense," Leon stated. "You okay with waiting until tomorrow to hit the mall, Gerry? Before you even think it, yes, you WILL be going to the mall with us, no matter what Emmy finds concerning any existing family you might have."
A few minutes later, they pulled into the lot for T.J. Maxx. Gerry's eyes grew wide as he realized where they were going. "No way, only rich kids get to shop here!"
"Since Emmy hasn't got back to us yet," Leon explained, "I'm making the assumption that you're going to be around a while. That means you get exactly the same things your brothers get."
"Brothers?" Gerry stated in shock.
"That means Dad agrees with me and Harry that you're a keeper," Jeff explained.
"Don't argue with your big brother, he's hard-headed," Leon added as he chuckled at Gerry's amazed expression in the mirror.
Jeff quickly twisted his head to stare at Leon in shock. Noticing the attention, Leon added "You can't argue the point, Jeff; how long did we sit in the car sorting out your future?"
"Okay, you got me this time," Jeff admitted. "C'mon, I need to teach a pair of runts how to dress!"
"Ignore him, his brain shrinks the bigger his weiner gets," Harry giggled as he helped Gerry out of the back seat.
Leon realized just how fast this conversation was heading towards the gutter, so he stepped in and stated "You guys can compare weiners when we get home, right now we need to raid the clothing department."
"You heard Dad, we need to hurry up so we can compare weiners!" Harry giggled as he took Gerry's hand and started pulling him towards the store.
Leon and Jeff both followed behind the two tweens, both shaking their heads. "You know, I think Harry's found more than a brother," Leon stated as they walked.
"I think so," Jeff admitted. "He doesn't usually like physical contact, not even from me unless he's in a cuddle mood. I almost choked on my food when he slid over and put his arm around Gerry."
"I didn't know that about Harry," Leon admitted, "I'll make sure I don't crowd his space, then."
"Don't worry, he gives good signals," Jeff advised Leon. "He doesn't freak out, but you can tell when he isn't comfortable."
By this time, they had reached the entrance, and both of them started looking for the wayward tweens. Once they located them, they had to stop and watch as Harry grabbed various shirts off the shelf, holding each one up to Gerry's chest before deciding if they looked good or not. Leon and Jeff exchanged amazed glances, then Jeff stated "Next time, we get sizes and leave them at home!"
"I'll second that!" Leon replied. "Go find some things for yourself, I'll try my luck at keeping Harry from destroying the store. Ten shirts, pants, your preferred underwear, and some sturdy shoes. Make sure that you grab some hoodies; the sea breeze gets chilly at times. The ship has a pool, so a swimsuit too if you like swimming."
"Gotcha, Dad," Jeff replied as he turned towards the Young Men's section.
Leon walked over to the boys, smiling as he saw the grin on Gerry's face at the treatment he was getting from Harry. "Harry, which one of these is the keep pile?" Leon asked gently.
Harry pointed to a pile of about twenty shirts on the corner of one of the tables. "That one! Me and Gerry are the same size, so I'm pickin' out for both of us!"
"That looks like a good start, why don't you go grab a basket while I help Gerry with cleaning up the pile of ones you didn't like?" Leon suggested.
"Okay, Dad!" Harry replied, twisting to go back to the front of the store.
Once Harry was out of hearing, Leon started picking up the discards and re-folding them. As he put them back on the shelves, he told Gerry "Don't be afraid to grab something that you like but Harry doesn't. If the two of you want to share clothes, that is between you; but I want you to make sure you have things that are just yours."
"What if I don't end up staying?" Gerry asked as he moved a couple of shirts onto the keep pile.
"Then you take everything that was bought for you with you," Leon explained. "None of this is temporary; anything I tell you that you can get for yourself is yours."
Gerry put the shirt he was re-folding down, then came over and gave Leon a quick hug. "Thanks!" Gerry stated with a glowing smile.
"You're welcome," Leon replied, returning the hug before Gerry could slip away.
Once Harry returned with a cart, they loaded it with the shirts then moved over to the pants. Before they started, Leon advised them "For now, just get some Levi's blue jeans. We'll worry about dress clothes tomorrow, but you guys need jeans for everyday life on the ship. You'll thank me the first time you sit on a hot deck. Both of you try on a pair, since there might be just a little difference in your sizes. Ten pairs each if they have enough to cover you, if you grab different styles, try them on. You'll want them a little loose, not only because they shrink, but because you can use them as a life preserver if somehow you fall overboard."
The last line got both tween's attention, which led to them seriously considering each style of jeans before grabbing the size they thought they wore and heading for the dressing rooms. After a couple of tries, they finally settled on sizes that fit loose but were not too baggy. Amazingly, they actually ended up with the same sizes, which just about cleaned off the shelves by the time they were done.
"Okay, get swimsuits next if you plan on using the ship's pool," Leon instructed.
Leon chuckled as Gerry got even with Harry, going through six different styles and colors of swimsuit before he'd allow Harry to choose between the two he liked the best. Once Harry made his choice, Gerry put the other one in the cart as well, taking Harry's fun away. They then hit the underwear, tee shirts, and socks, before moving over to the shoes. Before the two boys could get started, Leon held up his hand. "Guys, this is the one part that I need to give you the okay on. I don't care if the shoes are in style or not, but I do care if they are going to be safe for you on the ship. There are a lot of things that you guys have no experience with that are everyday hazards on the ship. I'll get you one pair of shoes when for you're ashore, but they won't be worn onboard unless you are coming or going. You get two pair for onboard, since they will wear out a lot faster. Those are going to be workboot-type shoes with non-slip soles."
Considering how lenient Leon had been with the rest of their shopping, neither boy saw a reason to argue about the shoes. They made it a point to check with him on the styles they were interested in, and accepted his judgement without question. By the time they finished, Jeff had rejoined them, pushing his own cart full of clothes.
"Dad?" Jeff asked as he shifted things around in his cart, "Will these shoes be okay?"
Noticing that the shoes were sitting on top of a pile of jeans, Leon picked them up and checked the specifications. "These will be great, Jeff; you even found composite toe guards in your size on one pair. Between these and the jeans, you should be all set if you decide to help any of your shipmates with heavy work. Good job!"
It was hard to tell who had the bigger smile; Jeff due to being praised for his choices, or Harry and Gerry for their first sight of how Leon treated people who did things right. The moment was short-lived, however.
"Commander Leon Schmidt and party, please contact the nearest Customer Service Associate for an important message. Commander Leon Schmidt and party, please contact the nearest Customer Service Associate for an important message. Thank you."
"What in the Hell?" Leon muttered as he quickly looked around for the nearest service desk. Spotting an occupied one nearby, he ordered "Gerry, Harry, take the carts and follow me. Jeff, you have rear guard; Security Alert, guys."
Gerry's eyes grew wide when the rest of what he hoped could be his new family pulled phasers from hidden holsters as they quickly shifted places. Gerry grabbed the contents of Jeff's cart and threw them into the cart him and Harry had been filling, then pushed the other cart out of the way.
"Great idea, Gerr," Jeff acknowledged. "Runt 1, take point. Runt 2, that cart is a weapon, use it if needed. Proceed with mission, Commander."
Leon nodded, then turned to follow Harry. There was something really strange going on, as there was nobody that he could think of that would have paged him instead of calling him on his commbadge. Since he'd obviously not planned on coming here, the list of people who would know where to find him was even smaller.
Leon almost ran into Harry as the boy came to a sudden stop. "Wait here," Harry ordered. "Gerr, if anyone tries to run towards Dad, ram them with the cart and then duck. Jeff will stop you if they're friendly."
While mentally noting that he needed to commend the three boys for their teamwork, Leon watched as Harry approached the counter, his weapon clearly visible. Once sure that he could be heard without yelling, Harry stated "I am Lieutenant Harry Saunders-Schmidt, Clan Short Security. Our party was paged for a message."
The man behind the counter started to smile at the kid playing important... until he made eye contact. The second he saw the ice in the grey eyes of the young teen, he realized two things. One, this wasn't a game; and two, the boy had been forced to kill before by situations beyond his direct control. Without a second thought, he responded as he would to any fellow veteran. "Staff Sergeant William Hannoly, US Army, Retired. Give me one minute and I will retrieve the message, Sir."
William picked up the phone, dialing the main Customer Service Counter. "Joyce, this is Bill. I have Commander Schmidt's party at Watches. What's the message?"
Bill listened for a few seconds, then replied "Page the nearest associate to Watches, I'm escorting them myself."
He listened again, then sternly stated "Good, you can pick up my employee card when I bring them up. I only took this job to get out of the house anyway, so it's no major loss to me."
Obviously there was a reply, but William didn't bother to listen, he just slammed the phone down and turned back to Harry. "All they said is that your party is needed for a conference in the employee break room. If you follow me, I'll take you up there as I'm leaving."
"Stand fast, Sergeant," Harry ordered, having overheard bits and pieces of the other side of the conversation. His empathy had picked up on one thing, the fact this man in front of him carried the same inner pain he did from taking another life. There was no mistaking that particular pain, and Harry knew it. Tapping his commbadge, Harry ordered "Emrys, I need a priority two records scan for Staff Sergeant William Hannoly, US Army retired. Deep search authorized, report to subvocal. Subject is six feet to the east of my location for positive identification."
"Acknowledged, Lieutenant. Estimated response in forty-five seconds." Emrys replied, already partially aware of the situation from the active monitoring that began the second a security alert was called.
William's estimation of the young officer in front of him quickly climbed a few notches. While he wasn't to sure of how much information the boy on the remote end could get in forty-five seconds, he knew that it would be enough for the decision to be made as to his leaving the store on his own two feet, or strapped on a cot. Personally, he'd prefer to walk, but at this point it was out of his hands.
Harry tilting his head slightly told William that he'd find out the answer soon enough; either he'd be allowed to escort them, or he'd be subdued.
The answer came quickly, as Harry ordered "Sergeant Hannoly, post."
"Yes, Sir," William replied as he came to attention instinctively.
"On October twenty-ninth, nineteen-eighty-three, did you willingly and deliberately disobey a superior oficer's orders by rescuing a child from a building containing persons known to be actively engaged in actions to overthrow the government of Germany?"
"Yes, Sir," William replied, in shock that a sealed record had been opened so easily.
"When brought to task for said violation, did you then report observances that you had made of conduct higher in your chain-of-command that were violations of the UCMJ yet not reportable due to friendships within the same chain?"
"Yes. Sir," William replied, now beyond shock.
"As I understand it, you were granted retirement at one rank lower than the one you held due to the repercussions your revelations would have on any future promotional considerations. Is that correct?"
"Yes, Sir," William answered once again.
"What is the current status of the child you rescued?" Harry continued.
"Scott's completing his final year of Medical School," William replied with obvious pride.
The next thing he knew, there was a second, even younger, boy standing next to Harry. The difference between the two was obvious, as the younger boy was in full uniform... and appeared to be a General.
The boy tapped the Clan badge buried under his other awards, then spoke. "All AI installations, open official log." He paused long enough to allow the logging to begin, then continued. "I am General Jory Short, Commanding General of the Terran Guard. At the request of Lieutenant Commander Harry Sanders-Schmidt, the actions and trial of Staff Sergeant William Hannoly have been reviewed for legal process. I have determined that Sergeant Hannoly acted fully within the scope of the UCMJ and global treaties on the treatment of innocent civilians. While retirement for his own protection was logical, the reduction in paygrade was inappropriate and is hereby nullified. In addition, his re-enlistment code is to be immediately upgraded to the highest level. The US Army is hereby instructed to investigate the actions of others involved and to ensure that the UCMJ is applied in all cases where it is required by military law. End log."
"Thank you, General," William stated, still trying to comprehend what just happened.
"You're welcome," Jory replied as he stripped off his uniform, revealing a tee shirt and board shorts underneath. "At ease already, and next time you call me Sir, I'm promoting you to an officer, First Sergeant!"
"That wasn't my rank! I still had two years to go before I was even eligible!" William protested.
"If you don't tell them, I won't!" Jory giggled as he started piling various weapons and explosives on the cart that he'd been carrying somewhere in his uniform. "There, I'll leave the rest, I should be able to travel light with this bunch around," he added as he looked over his pile. "Hey Emmy, hide this crap where I don't have to see it!"
"Okay Uncle Jory!" Emmy giggled as the uniform vanished.
Harry reached out and tapped Jory's shoulder, then crossed his arms as he stared down the younger boy.
"You're getting good, that almost scares me!" Jory smirked. "You've been shifted to Intel, since that's where you've belonged all along. I've just been waiting for you to realize that you had it in you to take charge. Jeff's still Security lead, but you need the extra rank to give you authority when Intel has to step in. You guys will work it out, you have a Dad that's an expert in these kinda things."
"You better be glad there's not a pool here," Harry muttered. "William, would you mind showing us to that meeting before I strangle my boss?"
"Something tells me that would be an interesting fight," William chuckled, "but I don't think this is the best place to find out. Follow me."
As they started walking, Jory slipped back to talk to Gerry. "Hey dude, I'm Jory. When did you join the security team?"
Not really feeling threatened by a younger kid, Gerry replied "I'm Gerry. I guess I joined a few minutes ago. Leon said something about a security alert, then everyone but me had a weapon, so I grabbed the cart."
"I like that!" Jory smiled. "You're gonna fit in good; using what you have available keeps a lot of people from getting hurt."
"I don't know whats gonna happen yet. If I don't have family to go to, where will I stay?"
"I've got a secret for you," Jory stated seriously. "Due to something that happened in his past, Harry's been watched a lot closer than most guys by us guys at the top of the security chain. Until today, we didn't know for sure if he would stay good or become bad if anything ever happened to Jeff. We know now, and the two people responsible are you and Leon."
"Me? I didn't do anything!"
Jory shook his head. "You didn't know it, but you're the first youth besides Jeff that he's said more than 'hello' to in all the time we've known him. He said more to me today than all the other times we've ran into each other put together, and he's never joked with me before. When the two of you started actually talking, Emmy sent out an urgent flag to me and JJ, so we could be ready to jump in if things went bad. Leon got him started on opening up, but you've actually become an important part of his life that he won't let go of any time soon."
"How do you know so much about it?" Gerry asked, trusting the sincerity of Jory's voice.
"I'll just say that him and I are both learning to recover from the same thing," Jory explained. "In time, he'll be able to tell you, but let it happen on his terms. My anchor is the blond nutcase that runs the Clan; just by being yourself you have became Harry's anchor. He's going to plot every way he can to keep you around. Oh, one thing I learned from Cory already; don't worry about the anchor thing being the reason for any other feelings you guys have. You can be friends, brothers, or even more and it will be just that. He'd keep you around as his anchor even if he hated you, and you would know that he hated you. It's an Empath thing, they don't hide their real feelings."
"Okay, that makes me feel better," Gerry admitted. "Do you do this for all the new kids in the Clan?"
"Nope!" Jory grinned, "Just the ones I plan on promoting once they figure themselves out!"
"Oh, great!" Gerry moaned as he rolled his eyes.
The conversation was halted by them entering the hallway to the employee break room. Noticing the two store security guards waiting with what looked like a manager, Jory twisted his head and said "Jeff, your turn!"
"Finally!" Jeff grinned as he made his way to the front.
Just after he was in place, the manager pointed at William and ordered "Secure his badge and uniform, then escort him from the premises."
Jeff knew his little brother well, and by that he knew that Harry had seen something in William that allowed him instant trust. Knowing that the worst thing that would happen was getting chewed out, Jeff tried a tactic he'd heard other guys laughing about someone using. Figuring putting Jory on the spot would be sweet revenge for his promotion of Harry, Jeff stated "As you are already aware, we are with the Family Clan Short Fleet. As First Sergeant Hannoly is not only an active member of the Fleet, but is also the liaison between the flagship and the Terran Guard, I'll let you decide. Do you want this to be an interplanetary incident, an international incident, or are you going to be reasonable and accept his resignation while allowing him to proceed to the meeting that you are delaying?"
Before the manager could answer, one of the guards grabbed Jeff and tossed him against the wall before lunging towards William. Almost everyone moved back to escape his reach; Gerry decided his instructions from Jeff still stood, and rammed the shopping cart into the guard as hard as he possibly could. Since the guard was already slightly off balance, Gerry's attack drove him into the wall of an adjoining hallway. The guard stopped being an issue at that point, as the back of his head impacting the wall knocked him unconscious.
"That was one vote for Interplanetary," Jory growled. "Emmy, take out the trash, give him to Uncle John."
"Next vote?" Jeff asked, now crouched with his phaser trained on the remaining guard and manager.
The guard held up his hands. "I'm outta here! William, we still on for going up to visit Scotty next week? It looks like my schedule is wide open now."
"Scott'd kill me if his favorite uncle didn't show," William laughed. "I'll get you the details as soon as I finalize them, Jake."
"Don't go to far," Leon added. "I think I might know some people who would be interested in your services."
"He can wait outside!" the manager spat, "Along with his friend, since they've both been fired. I'm calling the police, and all of you are being charged with trespassing and attempted theft; there is a sign that clearly states no merchandise beyond this point!"
"Where's that coin that Dilly gave me!" Jory yelled, "I can't decide between interplanetary or international!"
"I'd suggest 'Obstruction of an Interplanetary Dignitary on Official Business'," a new voice added from the back of the hall. "My apologies, I'm David Simmons, General Manager. Store security notified me as soon as they saw what was happening; fortunately I was just walking up to the door when they called. Before these gentlemen send you to your own private Federation security cell, Matilda... you're fired. Bill and Jake, if you still wish to take the opportunities that you've been offered, I give you my best wishes. If it doesn't work out, you still have a place here."
"I like the way you think!" Jeff snickered before tripping his subvocal while keeping the manager at bay with his phaser. "Family Clan Short Security, Lieutenant Sanders-Schmidt to Federation Security."
"Proceed with traffic, Clan Short."
"Could I please have a pickup of a female offender, along with someone to collect evidence from this location?"
"Will this one need medical assistance?"
"Not yet, but it can be arranged if you want!" Jeff replied.
"Thanks for the offer, but we'll pass. Your escort is preparing to beam down now."
"Thank you, Clan Short out."
Seconds later, two female Federation Security officers appeared, along with a very large male officer. As the two females quickly secured the manager, Jeff put his phaser away and welcomed the male officer. "I'm Lieutenant Sanders-Schmidt, Clan Short Security. She's going up on Obstruction of an Interplanetary Dignitary on Official Business; if you need it, I can arrange for telepathic evidence to be submitted by this time tomorrow. See what the store security has first; pictures make it more real."
"I'm First Lieutenant Oscar Handley, and I appreciate the help, Lieutenant. I'll be in contact if we need anything more. Is there someone available to grant me access to the security room?"
"I'm the General Manager," David stated as he joined them. "If you'll follow me, I'll get you in, then I need to come back here to make sure these gentlemen have anything they might need."
As Oscar and David left for security, Jeff carefully opened the door to the break room just enough to listen in and try to catch a glimpse of who was waiting.
As the door was cracked open, "UNO!" was heard by everyone in the hall. Shaking his head, Leon groaned "I know that voice, stand down from Security Alert. I wonder if I'd get a reward for drowning Adrian Jobs?"
"You love me too much!" Adrian shouted, obviously tuning in to Leon's thoughts of revenge. "Get in here already!"
With Jeff in the lead, the group quickly entered the break room. All but two of them froze when they saw who was inside. Besides Adrian; Stevie Jobs, Jorge Butler, and an eight-year-old redhead that Leon had never met were sitting at the table, obviously having just finished a game of Uno. While Jory suddenly decided to pay attention to his watch, Leon went over and scratched behind Jorge's ear. "Did you at least get to win a hand this time, Jorge?" Leon asked.
"RwRahh!" Jorge replied, holding up a paw with two claws extended.
"Good job, someone's got to keep the Rat in line," Leon chuckled.
"One minute! Pay up, Adrian; no-one passed out!" Jory exclaimed.
"Emmy?" Leon said, realizing Jory was in on this.
"I've been waiting for this!" Emmy giggled as Jory seemed to flicker, then was suddenly very wet.
"I think I just made a whale piss his pants!" Jory quipped as he grinned at Leon. "Could I get a towel, Emmy?"
"Sure!" Emmy replied as a dozen washcloths appeared on the table next to Jory.
"A little bigger, please?" Jory asked.
"Okay!" Emmy responded, this time dropping a eight-foot by twelve-foot towel at Jory's feet.
"Close enough!" Jory commented as he dropped down and started rolling around on the towel.
Motioning for the sane contingent of the room to take a seat, Leon sat down as well, then asked "Okay Stevie, now that the clowns have lightened the mood, is there a reason you guys needed us right now?"
Stevie smiled, "Actually there is. You're free to adopt Gerry if you want, we caught his only living relative getting ready to burn down her house while her son was sleeping. Split personalities, and the shrinks don't think she'll stabilize. She's in protective custody, and Aunt Teri's making sure that she gets the best help we can find. There's more, but you'll have to talk with Aunt Teri to find out what it is. This little guy is Petey, he's eight and he's Gerry's cousin. Since we figure that you're adopting Gerry, we told him that he could see if he likes you as well, then he could get to know his cousin."
Leon looked over to see what Petey thought, but was unable to tell for sure since the young boy was now firmly sandwiched between Gerry and Harry. "I'm thinking I'm about to become a grandpa," Leon chuckled.
"Not this time," Adrian said as he decided to grab a cuddle from his favorite Captain. "Gerry and Harry are still working out their past, I can hear it in their surface thoughts."
"Jeff, do you have any thoughts?" Leon asked.
"Yeah, if this is what it takes for Harry to be this happy, I'm all in!" Jeff replied.
Leon nodded, "Well, since they're busy, does someone want to get things ready for them to make their little brother official?"