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Authors' Note: As everyone is well aware, the characters in the CSU who are analogs of real-world celebrities do not have the same characteristics as their real-world counterparts. Nick and Ashley, for example, are not a gay couple, nor is Aaron Carter gay and David Gallagher's boyfriend. This becomes important here as past story canon requires playing Jane Carter, Nick and Aaron's mother, and her second husband as evil persons. Needless to say, this is not intended to condemn the real-world Jane Carter, and Aaron's CSU stepfather was made up of whole cloth for story needs, and in no way is intended to characterize his real stepfather.
"A cast party?" Kevin Richardson was incredulous.
"Yeah. It's not quite as bad as it sounds," Nick Carter answered. "The Spelling organization's been a lot of help to us getting us bookings on shows they produce or invest in. And the cast and crew of 'Seventh Heaven' are professionals - it's not like some rich man's teeny-bopper kids wanting to book Backstreet for their birthday party. We're ending a tour in L.A. the day after they shoot the last episode for the season. And the kids that play the Camden children like our music, and asked to meet us."
"So what our liaison with Spelling suggested was that we show up, with family and friends, do a couple numbers as Backstreet, then relax at a party with other pros. It makes them happy, pays a debt we sort of owe Aaron Spelling, and gives us a chance to chill out with other pros." The lead roadie, who had brought it up to Nick, was firm in his demeanor. "I'll bet you Kristin would love a chance to socialize with people who aren't oohing and aahing about how her husband is in Backstreet, who are as much celebrities as we are."
"I'm planning on bringing the twins too. It'll give Aaron a chance to hang out with other child stars around his age, and Angel has a bit of a crush on David Gallagber." Nick added.
"The boy who plays Simon Camden on the series. He's about her age, and a very cute kid."
"You know, crazy as it sounds, you may have a good idea there." Kevin was unconvinced but warming to the idea. "After that tour we all could use a break, and from what I know of end-of-season parties, they're the perfect thing to unwind at."
A.J. spoke up. "I'm willing to give it a try." Howie and Brian nodded their assent.
The Richardsons were relaxing at a table with the senior members of the Seventh Heaven cast. Nick and Ashley came strolling by, with Nick's sister Angel talking angrily to them. As they passed out of earshot, Kristen asked, "What's that all about?"
A.J. spoke up. "You know that Angel - that's Nick's little sister, Aaron's twin, who was yelling at him just then -" he explained to the two Seventh Heaven stars - "had a bit of a crush on David?"
"That's not surprising," Catherine Hicks (who played the role of David's character's mother) said. "I helped him with some of his fan mail. Half the 13-year-old girls in America seem to want to drag him into bed, and aren't ashamed to say so in writing, either>" She laughed. "David is, um, not interested."
"I kind of got that vibe," Brian said. "Kris, the answer to why Angel is so upset is right over there." Eyes followed his pointing hand to where David and Aaron were sitting on a bench together, talking animatedly, eyes lost in each other's. "Looks like they're becoming good friends."
"To say the least," Stephen Collins interjected. The actor in real life exuded some of the same calm compassion he invested in his clergy character on Seventh Heaven.
"Uh-oh," Kevin muttered.
"What?" several people said.
"Well, Jane Carter and her new husband are very down on Nick about Ashley, for starters. Not much they can do about it; he's a legal adult. But if they get wind that Aaron's gay as well, there could be hell to pay."
"David went through some tough times himself," Stephen said. "One of the nice things about Seventh Heaven is that the plotline of the show kind of helped shape the cast and crew's attitudes. We're family. We helped David deal with it, come to terms with his sexuality - do the right thing for him. If this turns into what it surely looks like it's going to turn into, we'll help protect them and their relationship."
"Backstreet will, too," Kevin said decisively. "Only Brian and I are related by blood, but we're family of sorts too - the same thing you were saying. I know we can count on Howie and A.J. and Nick, and they know they can count on us. Dwayne from our backup band has a blonde girlfriend, and that caused some issues - though oddly enough it was his family, not hers, that had problems with an interracial romance. We stood by them, and we'll stand by Aaron - as Nick's little brother and a star in his own right, he's been on tour with us as often as not, anyway."
Catherine watched the two boys lean toward each other. "No doubt about it - that's young love in the works!" she said, smiling. "We'll stand by them - the Camdens may be fictional, but the cast and crew are real, and we feel the same way. And I'm so glad to hear your group does too!"
"Look at these!" Amanda said to her brother disgustedly. "News accounts from 41 states of children being abused or neglected, only coming to light by accident, or when the abuse is too great to ignore. And this government study - they paid $150,000 to get an estimate that there are three-quarters of a million kids without homes! Imagine if that money had gone to providing shelter for even a few of them!"
"We're doing what we can, you know that," Richard said calmly.
"I know - I don't mean to blow up at you. But it frustrates and angers me that so few seem to care - and those who do, get branded with insulting names."
Richard nodded ruefully, remembering the last set of rumors about himself and Bruce. "I thought that law that Sarek got pushed through would help."
"Having the law in place is one thing, Richard," Sarek said gravely. "Getting someone to actually use it when it's needed is a quite different matter."
"I made sure that both Spock and Chip are aware of how much we want to see it used to help save these kids," Amanda said.
"If the adults will not act to defend the children," Sarek said, "then it may be time to equip the children themselves to help themselves and each other."
"Let me know what I can do," Richard said.
"I shall," Sarek responded, "but I intuit that it will not be a matter of money and prestige, but of equipping them with the legal power. Vulcan's coming-of-age traditions may be of use - if we can somehow make human children the sons and daughters of T'Khasi. I must think on this."
"Can I get you anything, Josh? Chip?" Kristin was enjoying being hostess at the little two-couple dinner party.
Abruptly the early evening quiet was interrupted by the loud slam of the front door, followed by an irate, weeping Nick storming in.
"God damn it, I can't even talk to him - my own little brother!" he shouted angrily.
"Whoa, Nick! What happened?" Kevin asked with a sinking feeling.
"My mother is a real bitch!"
"All right, I sort of figured that. But what happened."
"I went to call Aaron - he and David were going to meet Ashley and me after his next concert for a weekend together. Mother intercepted the call. It seems Angel decided to spill the beans to her about David and Aaron. They have him on house arrest. They've been spending what he makes on concerts and records on their new home, anyway. Well, he now is not to go anywhere except his concerts. He's locked in the house, sees no one but family and his tutor. She told me 'the reason he thinks he's gay is because he's been associating with you and all your faggot friends.' I could hear that a-hole stepfather of ours berating him as a pansy boy in the background while she was reaming me out for having the effrontery to call my own brother."
"Oh shit! Now what?"
"Nothing we can do," Nick said. "She has legal custody of him until he turns eighteen. It sucks, but that's the law."
Josh had been listening intently. "Love?" he said. "Wasn't there something in your training about laws protecting kids?"
Chip thought. "Well, the Federation leaves most internal operation to the member planets or their nations, tribes, or whatever they're broken down into. They adopted the Safe Haven Act last year - Ambassador Sarek was behind that, I think. But that's mostly been used to get member worlds to tool up their child protection laws to a civilized level. In theory any Starfleet officer can invoke it to remove a child from an abusive environment. But it's never been done."
"Why not?" Kristin asked. "That's what the law is for, isn't it?"
Chip paused. "Nick? You're certain they're taking his money for themselves?"
"Yes. I told them it was illegal - they said he's their responsibility, so they're entitled to it."
"And this house arrest thing?"
"That too. I heard our stepfather tell him he wasn't 'prancing his fancy-boy ass anywhere without him or Mother there with him, to make sure he stays on the straight and narrow.'"
"Do you have any way to help him?"\
"Nope. I looked up state law before when there was a close call. She's got sole custody, and what she says is binding until he's of age."
Chip pulled out his communicator.
"Dodds to Enterprise."
"Uhura here, Chip."
"You're supposed to be on leave."
"They installed the new communications protocols and upgraded the software. I wanted to be here to run the tests myself, not delegate it."
"You've got to learn to relax on your time off, Nyota."
Uhura laughed. "Look who's talking!"
Chip blushed. "Is the Captain available?"
"Yes - switching you now."
A pause, then "Kirk here, Chip. What can I do for you?"
"Captain, am I correct that any of us can invoke the Safe Haven Act when a minor is in an abusive situation and local law is not protecting him?"
"That's what the law says. We've never had occasion to use it that way publicly."
"Well, sir, I'm sitting directly across from the older brother of a child star who appears to be in precisely that situation - owing to his sexuality, for what that's worth."
"You believe it's appropriate to invoke it, Chip?"
"Then the Enterprise will stand behind you. Let me know what you need.
"Beam me up, sir. I'll get in uniform aboard ship, and I'll want two security men with me."
"I'll send Lt. Thompson and Ensign Masterson, to meet you in the Transporter Room."
"Thank you, sir." Chip drew a breath. "Make sure Masterson has clear directions to the transporter room."
Kirk chuckled. "He's getting much better at finding his way around ship, Chip. Scotty's Petty Officer will be expecting your call to beam up. Kirk out."
"Dodds out." Chip turned to Nick. "Give me the precise location of your mother's home." After Nick did so, Chip looked at Josh. "Babe, nobody has ever played out what happens after Safe Haven is invoked like this. I think it would be best if I legally retain custody after I invoke it. We can talk to a court afterwards if Nick wants to take custody of Aaron. But for Aaron's own safety, I think it's best for us to be the people who keep him for now - if you're willing."
Josh smiled. "I love having Justy as a son. And Aaron's been a part of our lives ever since we met. Bring him home, love."
Flanked by Brady Thompson and Paul Masterson, Chip beamed in to the patio area behind the sprawling Carter home. At his nod, all three advanced to the door.
"Here, now, who are you and what are you doing here?" an angry man said as he pushed the door open, a baseball bat in one hand. Brady and Paul drew their phasers.
"I am Lt. Cdr. Charles B. Dodds of the U.F.P. starship Enterprise, and my companions are Lt. Brady Thompson and Ensign Paul Masterson, also of the same ship. Are you Fred Bagwell?"
"I am, and this is my home," Bagwell said in a hostile tone. "What business do you have here?"
"Chip!" Aaron called out from the door, as his mother grabbed him and pulled him back.
"Jane Carter?" Chip addressed her. "Would you and your son be so kind as to step out here?"
"Take him back inside," Bagwell ordered.
"That was not a request," Brady said. "Step out here, please, ma'am, and you too, young Aaron."
"Is this your property, Mr. Bagwell?" Chip asked, his arm gesture taking in house and grounds.
"It is, not that that is any of your business," Bagwell answered. "You still have not answered my question, why armed Starfleet officers are trespassing in my yard."
Ignoring the question, Chip continued, "And title to this property is in your and Mrs. Carter's names - not in her son's name?"
"Yessir, it is. Now explain your presence or leave."
"Of course, Mr. Bagwell. Mrs. Carter, where did the money come from to buy this large and expensive house and grounds, in a high-priced area?"
Jane Carter stood mute. Aaron mumbled something.
"What did you say, Aaron?" Chip asked. Aaron looked terrified. Chip smiled at him, and said, "You're not in any trouble, Airboy. Just repeat what I thought I heard."
"She said I didn't have any choice, that she was saddled with me and deserved a nice place," Aaron said in a low voice.
"So it was money you earned?" Brady asked.
"Yes," Aaron said. Jane slapped him across the face.
"Aaron, why haven't you come to visit me and Josh, and the other guys in the bands?" Chip asked.
"You're that queer guy that's shacked up with the singer from N*Sync!" Bagwell blurted out in recognition.
Chip reddeneed with anger, controlled himself, and said, "Answer my question, Aaron."
"They won't let me leave here unless one of them is with me at all times," Aaron said.
"We're keeping him away from you queers - he's been picking up bad ideas from you perverts," Bagwell said belligerently.
"Articles 12 and 17," Chip observed to his escorts.
"I concur," Masterson said.
"I concur, and note the slap as evidence under Article 68," Brady added.
"Recording, Nyota?" Chip asked. A beep from his belt acknowledged that she was. "Then as authorized by Article 9 of the Safe Haven Act of the United Federation of Planets, I, Charles Bryant Dodds, an officer of Starfleet, hereby assume custody of the minor human child Aaron Charles Carter II, and terminate all custodial arrangements heretofore held over him by Jane Carter Bagwell."
"I, Brady Thompson, an officer in Starfleet Security, bear witness," Brady added.
"I, Paul Masterson, an officer in Starfleet Security, bear witness," Masterson echoed.
"You can't do this!" Bagwell shouted, reaching to grab Aaron.
"Freeze!" Masterson ordered, aiming his phaser. Bagwell froze.
"Charges may or may not be brought against you for violation of the Safe Haven Act," Chip addressed Bagwell and Mrs. Carter. "Taking one step to restrain him now would force our hand to arrest you immediately." Then, to Aaron, "You're coming with us. What happens after that is your decision. But if you like, you can stay with Josh and me. Nick's waiting to see you, and he was arranging to get David there by the time we get back."
A slow smile and wide eyes came across Aaron's face as he realized that his nightmare was over.
"If you leave with them," Jane said to him, "you are no son of mine. Go party with your pansy friends, but don't expect to ever call me mother again."
Aaron reacted as if he'd been slapped again.
"Get us out of here, Nyota," Chip said disgustedly. "Four to beam up."