Cory snuck onto the stage that had been put up shortly after word about Tommy's cookout got around, turning into an open Clan-wide get-together. Peeking through the curtain, and trying to not be spotted, Cory took a chance to get a birds-eye view of the group gathering at Headquarters. As expected, the size of the Clan was starting to cause groups to form within the family. One obvious example was the triple-threat of the Northeast, Pacific Rim, and Des Moines divisions. The triplet Divisions had unintentionally become the public faces of the Clan for the Northern American continent during the Battle of Earth, as the three of them worked together to pull off the most effective refugee evacuation in recent history. While they were not being exclusive, they tended to gravitate back into their little group between excursions.
The next group was more cultural than experience. The Intel Field Services Division led by Dixon took the initiative to welcome their cousins in the Gulf Coast Division in classic Cajun style, and both groups stuck together in pairs or small groups as they got to know the rest of their extended family.
As expected, both of the technical divisions stuck together. AI and Oceanic had their own little geek-fest going, welcoming other geeks into the conversations as they milled around. The two divisions responsible for recovery bonded as well, with Las Vegas and Camp Little Eagle's Teddy Bear Patrol being almost inseparable.
Alligator Alley and the Miccosukee tribe were hooked at the hip, the pair of groups prowling through the crowd to meet new people while staying secure in their numbers. They were joined by the Clan Atlantic Fleet, who seemed to enjoy the escorts they had gained to show them around. The fact that they were passing out covers (sailor hats) to any of the munchkins that they could catch made sure that they got to meet just about everyone.
Cory smiled as he noticed that Alexei and his sons had joined up with the Collins family, Alexei in deep conversation with Nathan. "Told ya you needed to make friends, little brother!" Cory muttered. Looking around more, he found that the Headquarters residents had decided to take their positions as hosts seriously, spreading out to make sure everyone felt welcome. The Unit members were doing the same, showing that they were finally feeling comfortable in their position as part of the Clan core, while the Dragon Division made new friends as they officially met the people they were protecting in the background. Catching someone running out of the corner of his eye, Cory quickly shifted his gaze to see what was going on. As soon as he saw who was involved, he knew it was officially a party; Dmitry was chasing Dominic, as usual. He knew that if those two were here, other members of the Ark compound couldn't be far away.
Slipping back behind the curtain, Cory tapped his subvocal. "Hey Russ, we ready?"
"You're all set, Cory," Russ responded.
"Thanks, Russ," Cory replied before stepping through the curtain. "Hey everyone, can I have your attention?" Cory announced.
"NO!" a quarter of the assembled group replied before breaking out in giggles.
"Bite me!" Cory responded with a grin. "Y'all can suffer!" Cory paused long enough to allow the comments being shouted at him to taper off, then continued. "For those of you who don't know, I'm Cory; supposedly I'm in charge. I heard some things as I've been wandering around, and I figured that we'd better sort it all out before we all collapse from the awesome food that the chefs from all of the divisions have made for us. First off, if the commissioning of the Atlantic Fleet wasn't enough of a hint, the Gulf Coast Division and Intel Field Services Division are confirmed, as is the joining of the Miccosukee Nation with Alligator Alley. Next, I fully approve of Danny stepping up like he did when I was out of touch, and I authorize multiple dunkings the next time he tries to argue about taking charge when he's needed."
Cory had to pause as the crowd broke out in cheers at his announcement that they could dunk Danny.
"Cory, you're SO dead when I catch you!" Danny yelled.
"Bring it on!" Cory yelled back. "I'll bring lunch!"
"KEWL! WHEELCHAIR RACES!" Kyle yelled over the crowd's giggles.
"LEECH!" Cory and Danny yelled in unison, causing laughter throughout the crowd.
"Anyway," Cory continued, "I hear a few of you out there opened your mouths and stuck yourselves with some new jobs. Sorry, but you're stuck; your Directors all got their positions because I trust them, and when you trust someone for a position like theirs, you back them if they think someone fits a job. Just so all of you know, I do actually talk with your Directors, and we compare notes. I'm aware of what a lot of you have achieved, even if I don't make a big deal about it in public. Some of the new directors were not aware of the fact that they can issue ranks and commendations without having to get me officially involved; that's been fixed, so there are quite a few of you that have a surprise coming in the next few days. I'm going to let them have their fun in most cases, but there are a few people that either their Director requested that I make something official, or there's something that was done that both the Director and me consider important enough to do in public. While I handle some that I personally need to do, Kyle's going to catch the rest of you that I need up here and bring you back stage."
"You can run, but you can't hide!" Kyle loudly threatened with a giggle.
Grinning, Cory added "Alexei? Could you bring your new friends Nathan and Leof up here please, my little bear?"
Alexei's face broke into a huge smile as he took Nathan and Leof's hands and started towards the stage. In Russian culture, Cory had just declared to all who understood that he'd claimed Alexei as family, which made Alexei happier than he'd felt in years.
Triggering his subvocal as he watched his newest little brother make his way to the stage, Cory added 'Misha, go live please. It is time Russia knows just how much their Tzar means to me.'
'As you wish, Patriarch,' Misha replied formally. In a more relaxed tone, he added 'You do realize that this is getting to be a bad habit, don't you?'
'Yep, so live with it!' Cory giggled back.
Dima and Tanis were once again at their favorite hangout, and had just finished watching a very close rugby match. As they were finishing their drinks, once again a tone sounded over the televisions throughout the pub. "Comrades of the Russian Federation," Misha's voice announced, "Please stand by for a presentation by Patriarch Cory Short, Patriarch of Family Clan Short of Vulcan, and Hereditary Prince of the Family Romanov of Russia."
Both Dima and Tanis waved for a refill as they pondered the additional title that Misha had used. Dima spoke first, his voice thoughtful. "Hereditary Prince? That explains a lot."
Tanis nodded. "He has the blood of the Tzars in his past, he must be a natural leader."
Dima nodded his agreement as he turned in his seat. Raising his voice loud enough to be heard throughout the pub, he stated "Anyone who fails to respect OUR Prince Cory is leaving on a backboard. IS THAT CLEAR?"
The regulars quickly agreed, then proceeded to warn anyone not aware of how protective Dima was of the Royal Family. Things quieted down just as the screen changed from the Family Clan Short crest to show Cory on a stage, with Alexei and two boys that nobody recognized walking up to his side.
Once Alexei had joined him, Cory asked, "Would you please introduce your friends to those who don't know them, my little brother?"
There was a collective gasp throughout the pub, even from Dima and Tanis. Cory's tone made it plain that in his mind, their Tzar was blood. On top of that, instead of becoming a recluse after taking back the throne, it appeared that Cory had persuaded Tzar Alexei to open up socially.
Unaware that he was on camera, Alexei gave Cory a quick hug, then announced "Everyone, this is Nathan Collins and his boyfriend Leofwyn Collins. They just moved to Headquarters, and are gonna be working with JJ. They're both really awesome, so if you see them walking around, say hi and introduce yourself!"
Cory grinned as both subjects obviously blushed from their heads to their toes. "You earned that, guys. There are only four other living people who have the heart of my little bear in friendship like you. One is a childhood friend, and the other three are out there in the crowd with their new big brother that Alexei arranged for them. Nathan, do you know what 'S.W.A.T.' means?"
"Yeah," Nathan replied as he got his blush under control, then gave Alexei an one-armed hug to show there were no hard feelings, "it's what I'm gonna do to Dylan for introducing Uncle Bruce to your family! The only reason I ain't doing more is the Clan set me up to meet Leof and Alexei."
"Jory! I've got two dozen cookies on Nathan!" Cory quipped.
"GOT IT, BRO!" a young voice yelled from the crowd.
Soft chuckles were heard from throughout the pub at the antics on the screens. Tanis shook his head as he commented "I think Prince Cory is wanting us to see that Tzar Alexei is receiving help in recovering from what he suffered through."
The next few seconds changed the mood in the pub considerably. Most of the regulars were either veterans or active duty military. Cory motioned for Nathan and Leofwyn to join him; as they moved to be next to him, Misha gave each of them a close-up face shot. The close up of Nathan caused almost immediate silence, as his eyes still reflected the inner pain of what he'd recently had to do.
"I've seen enough," Dima growled loudly. "Those young men should never have that look. Tomorrow I go to the Palace; it is time to act, and swear allegiance to Prince Cory in the name of Tzar Alexei personally. Any who wish to join me, meet here at daybreak!"
The whispers throughout the pub signaled that Dima's statement was being relayed to the far corners, with some patrons quickly texting their families to start the discussion about following along.
On screen, Cory now had Nathan and Leofwyn on either side of him. "For those who don't know, S.W.A.T. stands for Special Weapons and Tactics; they're the guys who step in when it's too dangerous for the regular guys. Think of them like the last step before the Unit guys have to be activated. JJ says that he expects the teams will be a mix of Unit trained members and Clan members with special skills, and he's picked Nathan and Leof to lead it. Before you freak out, Nathan, I was told something by Leon; he's the Captain of the Iowa. Being in charge isn't that hard if you have a structure under you that you can trust to handle everything but the big yes or no questions. Jory, JJ, and I are gonna put that together for you, then give you the chance to approve or modify who we picked to help you out."
The relief was obvious on Nathan's face as he replied "So you're not just expecting me to figure out how to run this myself?"
"No way!" Cory replied, "That's how me, Sean, Kyle, and JJ had to do it, and it sucks! I only make the Directors learn the hard way now!"
"YOU SUCK, CORY!" a group of voices yelled from the crowd.
"HE SWALLOWS TOO!" a single voice added.
"You're sleeping with the rugrats tonight, Hon!" Cory threatened with a blush. "There's only one thing, Nathan. Even though you're running this as part of Headquarters, you'll have authority throughout the Clan. To make sure that the rest of the Federation understands the authority that JJ is giving you, you really need to start using your Family Clan Short Fleet ranks. Misha, could you please assist Sub-Commander Nathan Collins, FCS Fleet Security, and Sub-Commander Leofwyn Collins, FCS Fleet Communications, with the uniform upgrades we discussed?"
"Interesting," Dima commented as the two boys vanished. When they appeared a few seconds later, he smiled. "It appears Prince Cory has found the right resources to prepare his staff; while those are obviously dress uniforms, the wearer could see action while wearing them and not be at a disadvantage."
Tanis glanced at Dima, then smiled himself. "I would say our comrade's survival means just as much to him as if they were family. If that is true, Tzar Alexei is in honorable company."
Leof was the first to recover from his shock. "Ya' know, once we finish with Dylan, you and JJ are next! Some warning might be nice!"
"Actually," Nathan muttered, "if Dylan helps I might let him off the hook."
Smiling, Cory commented "Hey guys, I could have make you Directors, so don't complain!"
"You try it, and Sean's gonna be feeding you with a straw," Nathan threatened.
Cory gave both of them a one-armed hug, then said "Don't worry, you still have a little sanity left, so you don't qualify. Do you mind hanging out while I handle one other thing?"
"Yeah, as long as it don't involve us," Nathan replied warily.
"You're both safe this time," Cory giggled. "Get over here, my little bear."
The pub fell silent, the planning of those who were considering joining Dima and Tanis taking a back seat to the curiosity of what was in store for their Tzar. They watched as Alexei joined Cory, standing with his back to Cory's chest, holding on to Cory's arms which were now crossed across his chest. The look on Alexei's face reflected the peace he felt being held by Cory, a peace that was obvious to all that watched.
"Tzar Alexei has found family," Tanis stated factually.
"Yes," Dima agreed.
The camera zoomed in on the two faces, both obviously happy. Cory then spoke. "After talking with Dad, I found out that something I told my little bear here had a logical resolution. I didn't want to make him a Patriarch within the Family, because it would look like an empty title with the other titles Alexei holds. Dad explained to me that as the leader of his Russian family, Alexei has earned the honorific of being introduced as Patriarch, even though his position is not a Vulcan Patriarch. While it seems weird as a human, after looking at it with my Vulcan training I can see the logic behind it. To make him a Vulcan Patriarch, I would have to separate the Russian people from the rest of Family Clan Short as a sub-Clan; you are part of my family, and I would never dishonor you in that way."
Alexei's eyes grew wide. "Are my people watching this, my lion brother?"
"Of course, my little bear," Cory replied. "How else can OUR people know what we are doing to ensure the entire Federation knows how honorable the Tzar of the Russian Federation is?"
"You're a goof," Alexei commented as he relaxed back into Cory's chest again. "How much did our people see?"
"Just everything from before the time you introduced Nathan and Leof," Cory replied. "You need to let them see you relaxing too, little brother. They're all your family, and family worries if all they see you do is work."
"Stop being right already!" Alexei grinned.
The pub broke into laughter at the antics of their Tzar and Patriarch. Every single one of the patrons relaxed, now understanding that Cory had staged this to show them that their leadership was working hard at bringing things back to normal. There was a secondary effect however; those that were on the fence about pledging their help suddenly found a new respect for the teen that obviously took their Tzar under his wing. They were seeing glimpses of the child that they had known before the death of his elders; between the statement that Cory was a Prince and the effects he was obviously having on Alexei, the patrons were now fully in support of their Patriarch.
Dima looked around, catching the eyes of friends at various tables. With a nod, he turned back to Tanis. "We are activating."
"I expected no less," Tanis acknowledged. "Tzar Alexei and Patriarch Prince Cory deserve no less." he added as both men paid complete attention to the screen.
Cory and Alexei both grinned as they heard Misha in their subvocals. '... one of the General's men stopped for a drink at a local pub, and it seems he stumbled on a hangout for reserve and retired Special Forces. I've checked them, and they all check out, along with their families. He says they plan on coming to the Palace tomorrow to request a position at Headquarters. Logan wants to know if you want him to speed things up.'
'Get me some names, then tell Logan to have fun,' Alexei responded.
"Hey Nathan?" Cory asked.
"What now?" Nathan asked, sure that something he would hate was coming.
"I think we might have just found you some help," Cory replied. "Hang around, you get first shot if it works out."
"Julio warned us about your 'help'," Leof quipped. "I want a Mikyvis standing by before you do anything!"
"He's just mad that I gave him the title to go along with the job he was already doing," Cory grinned.
Alexei shook his head with a grin at the antics of his friends and brother. Just then, Misha filled him in on the last bit of information he needed. After stepping forward, his posture shifted, and the Russian people saw him visually shift gears. "Bryce! Report to the Palace, assist Logan with his mission."
"I'm on it, Uncle Alexei!" Bryce replied as he popped out with Xandor.
Alexei nodded, then stated "A member of the Palace Guard has informed my staff of an event he witnessed." He paused, his next words leaving no doubt who was in charge. "Dima Krovopuskov and Tanis Sokolov," he stated in Russian, "the Crown has heard your oath of support for our Family in Clan Short, and accepts your proposal. The Royal Guard shall arrive at your location shortly to assist you with preparation and transport."
"Umm, I just understood that..." Nathan muttered.
"Kyle updated your language dump," Cory explained, "even though you had basic Russian before, with your new job you both get the full list, even the animal languages from Timmy."
Rolling his eyes, Nathan giggled "Minky is gonna freak!"
"I finally get to understand Minky? Sweet!" Leof added.
"That'll be fun!" Alexei giggled. "By the way, incoming!"
Alexei's warning came just in time, as fifteen surprised adults (and a grinning Mikyvis) appeared in front of them. Within seconds of arriving, they spotted Alexei and dropped to their knee with their heads bowed. "Arise, my people," Alexi stated formally. "As you have swore allegiance to my brother, your status is as family. From this point forward, you are not required to kneel in my presence. While I understand our people showing their respect in this way, I would be more comfortable with a simple salute, as the Russian people are my family, and they are not as servants to me."
"As you wish, my Lord," Tanis replied his head still bowed despite returning to his feet.
"Nathan, your first job is training these guys to understand that I don't talk with my toes," Alexei quipped.
Thanks to a quick mental update from Bryce, Nathan now had names to match the face that had appeared. "Lieutenant Colonel Krovopuskov, prepare your team for review."
"Yes, Sir," Dima replied, saluting Nathan out of habit before turning and ordering "Form Up!"
The new arrivals quickly fell into two ranks, coming to attention at Dima's orders. Nathan glanced at Cory, rolling his eyes when Cory motioned for him to handle it. "Bryce, give them the basic dump," Nathan ordered. "My throat can't do Russian, it ain't used to it."
"Done, Uncle Nathan," Bryce replied a few seconds later, giggling at the surprised looks on most of his target's faces.
"Thanks," Nathan replied before turning to the adults in front of him. "First, if I hear of any of you hurting a kid, I'll shoot your balls off," Nathan warned. "If you think I'm joking, ask the guys who were on the op with me a while back what happened to the cop." Nathan scanned the faces in front of him, then continued. "Good, I see that you understand. When you're on an operation, your training comes into play; otherwise you are no different than any one of us, including Alexei and Cory. That means none of this bowing or saluting bullcrap any time you see them unless it is some official crap that someone thought up. That kinda bullcrap is what got this world into the mess it's in now, and it's gonna stop. We're all living beings no matter what we look like, so save the worship moves for when you gotta impress the people watching."
After another pause to make sure his point was taken, Nathan continued. "Later on, all of us will sit down with JJ to figure out just what him and Cory plotted behind my back to stick me with as a job. For now, I think you'd be better off getting out there in the crowd and getting to know the kids and adults that you're gonna be spending the rest of your lives around. Most of us don't bite, but the munchkins might try to smother you with cuddles if you let them. Any animals you see are friends of Cory's son Timmy, and they've been invited to the party, so don't worry about them, they ain't dangerous to anyone who is supposed to be here. Any questions?"
Coming to full attention, Tanis asked "Sir, what would be your preference for how we address you?"
Nathan shook his head in exasperation. "Just call me Nathan, okay? You're authorized to address Cory as 'Shithead' though, since he's the one that put me in this position without warning me."
"NATHAN!" Bruce Collin's voice yelled from the laughing crowd.
"What, Uncle Bruce?" Nathan yelled back, trying out one of the innocent looks he'd taught his little brother Lucas.
That was the final straw, as the group at attention broke into chuckles at Nathan's actions. Satisfied that he'd made his point, Nathan ordered "Get out there and make some friends; Bryce will find you when he brings the rest of your families over. Alexei and me will catch up with y'all one at a time after we give Cory his hourly swimming lesson."
"You heard Nathan, Fall out!" Dima ordered. As the rest of the team quickly made their way offstage, Dima and Tanis made it clear that they had something to say to Nathan personally.
Noticing the pair waiting, Nathan asked "Did I miss something"
"No, and neither did we," Dima replied. "Nathan, even over the cameras, I was able to see in your eyes that you recently had to perform a termination. From experience, I know that it is something that you need to talk out, preferably with someone who has been there. I've been on both sides of that conversation more times than I would wish on anyone, but as a fellow survivor of situations which cause you to either consciously or unconsciously make that decision to act, I am honor-bound to offer my assistance with helping you come to terms with what was needed."
Nathan's face clearly showed the pain he felt at the subject being brought up. Something in Dima's voice kept him from lashing out verbally. After closing his eyes while he once again pushed his feelings into the background, Nathan opened them to find Dima giving him a knowing look.
"When I saw your eyes, I had to do the same thing," Dima stated softly. "You, me, Tanis, and Cory will have our personal memories of what we had to do for the rest of our lives; what I offer is the experience I have in removing the pain."
Nathan glanced over to where Cory, Leof, and Alexei were talking. Surprisingly, Cory turned his head, locking eyes with Nathan before clearly giving him a nod. Turning back to Dima and Tanis, Nathan replied "I guess that might work; I hope you don't hate me when you find out what I did."
With a serious face, Dima stated "Nathan, I did not reach my rank by judging soldiers on what they found necessary to do in those situations. I'm not going to change that now; from what I have learned about the leadership of Family Clan Short, whatever you did and however you did it were the right decision, or else you wouldn't be standing here in the position you're in. People don't get promoted for making bad decisions; obviously you made the right one, since Cory made it a point to promote you on a transmission that was seen in multiple countries."
"You've got a point," Nathan admitted.
Just then, Bryce walked up, a pair of eight-year-old twin boys under his arms. "Hey Nathan, maybe next time you'll listen to the Mikyvis in your head!" Bryce giggled.
"Yeah, we gotta talk about that, brat!" Nathan replied, glaring at Bryce's innocent expression.
"Uncle 'Lexei told me to look out for you, so I made a room in there," Bryce stated with a shrug of his shoulders. "He's my Uncle, so I gotta listen to him!"
"Alexei!" Nathan yelled, "You're just as bad as Cory!"
"Thanks!" Alexei yelled back.
Realizing he'd already lost, Nathan shook his head. "Okay brat, who're your friends?"
"Andrei and Mikhail," Bryce replied with a smile. "They're Uncle Dima and Uncle Tanis' new sons!"
"Sons?" Dima and Tanis exclaimed in unison.
"Here we go again!" Nathan muttered. Recognizing the looks on the faces of the twins, Nathan retrieved them from Bryce. "Guys, give them a minute; they need to let their heads catch up with their ears," Nathan explained as he gave the twins a squeeze. "Bryce likes surprises, so just wait for things to work out, okay? Which one of you is which?"
"I'm Andrei," the boy on Nathan's right stated softly. "How come we understand you? You ain't speaking Russian."
Nathan smiled. "Bryce is pretty special, and he knows how to teach your heads to understand different languages," he explained carefully. "I bet he wanted to make sure you felt like you fit in better in your new home, so he made it so you can understand all of the new friends that you're going to make."
"Uncle Nathan?" Bryce interrupted, "Mikhail's vocal chords never grew. Dad and Pop said I have to ask you if it is okay to teach him the full list of sign languages along with the ones he can hear?"
Nathan almost asked why he had to be the one to decide, but then he realized what was happening; Kyle had decided that he trusted Nathan with guiding Bryce to make decisions like any other human. "You're going to have to teach his parents and brother too, plus any future family," Nathan explained. "The first thing you have to do is ask Mikhail; IF he says yes, then you'll need to ask Andrei, Dima, and Tanis before you do each of them. Ask out loud, not in their heads."
Bryce smiled and nodded as he filed Nathan's instructions for future situations. He then came over to be in front of Mikhail, taking note of the additional instructions Nathan gave him mentally. "Mikhail, I can teach you sign languages like I taught you to understand English. You'll still need to practice them, but you'll know what they look like, and which ones are which language. Would you like me to do that?"
Mikhail's face broke into a huge grin as his head bobbed up and down in the universal sign of 'yes'.
"Okay, I'm starting now," Bryce replied, closing his eyes as he concentrated on getting things exactly right. Once he finished, he quickly exchanged a few question-and-answer sign language tests, then turned to Andrei. "Do you want me to teach you what I just taught Mikhail?" Bryce asked.
"Yes, please," Andrei replied.
Once done with Andrei, Bryce stood up. "Dad says he just checked with Mr. T from school, and Mr. T says that you two should practice with each other so you both get good at it."
'Okay,' both boys signed with grins on their faces.
Dima and Tanis had been talking off to the side while Nathan was helping the twins, and came back to stand in front of Nathan just as Bryce was finishing. Dropping to one knee to be less intimidating, Dima addressed the new arrivals, his voice surprisingly soft. "Mikhail, Andrei?" he asked, hoping to get their attention. Once they were both looking at him apprehensively, he continued. "Myself and Tanis needed to decide if we were able to give you the support that you both need. Since neither one of us has been a parent before, this is not something we would normally just jump into."
Noticing the dejected looks beginning to show on the twin's faces, Dima gave them a smile. "Don't worry; we decided that with our new jobs we would have the time to be the parents that you deserve. Welcome home, sons!"
Dima barely had time to brace himself as Andrei and Mikhail did their best to bowl him over. After a few seconds of nudging the two boys latched onto him into position, Dima stood up, effortlessly lifting the pair with him. Tanis joined the hug, sandwiching the boys between himself and Dima as he also welcomed them into the family.
As the new family bonded, Nathan put an arm over Bryce's shoulder and took him off to the side. "You got lucky that time, little guy," Nathan stated softly. "Families ain't something to prank about; Julio told me what Q did when he got the triple twins, and I don't think it was funny then either. Getting new parents means a lot to orphan kids, you really need to prepare the parents before you bring the kids over, even if you ae sure they will fit."
"Sorry Uncle Nathan," Bryce replied honestly.
"Just learn from your mistakes," Nathan advised. "You wanna fill me in on where they came from?"
Bryce nodded. "I found them in an orphanage in Moscow. Nobody wanted them because of Mikhail's problem, so I told the staff who I was and got their permission to bring them here to find parents. Their parents gave them up as babies; they couldn't support two more kids. I did check with them, and they said that if I could give them a better life, go for it. They think it would mess the boys up if they came back into their lives."
Nathan tilted his head. "At least you got that part right. Make sure that Dima and Tanis know what you found out about their son's birth family too, okay?"
"Okay, Uncle Nathan," Bryce replied. "Daddy says that you're one of the big bosses now, that's why he wants me to be the one that's always able to help you if you need it."
Nathan nodded. "I kinda understand; since I'm going to be running some dangerous stuff sooner or later. I guess I'm kinda like a Director now, even though I don't wanna be. You're gonna learn to be a regular human if you're gonna hang around me, though. I don't like having to guess what surprise is coming next."
Bryce nodded. "I understand, Dilly's doing the same thing with Uncle Cory's kids. DJ and KC made him do stuff like them, and he says it's actually really fun."
"Good, I think you're gonna fit in really good," Nathan said with a smile. "Talk to Seth about a uniform; you're getting one the same way the rest of the team gets one. I'll talk to Cory about your rank."
"But I'm not supposed to..." Bryce started to reply.
"It is my job to decide what you're supposed to do," Nathan interrupted. "Your job is to listen and learn; if your Dad and Pop didn't want that, they wouldn't have assigned you to me."
"You're pretty smart for an old kid!" Tyler giggled as he popped in next to Nathan. "Bry, Dilly's the one that suggested this; he learned so much from DJ and KC that he thinks it would be great for his not-a-twin twin to do it too. There's a lot of little stuff that you can only learn by doing it."
"I'm gonna get that little twerp," Bryce muttered under his breath.
"No, you're not," Tyler stated firmly. "He's been spending every minute he could spare trying to find the perfect person to show you your roots. Out of the entire Clan, he decided that Nathan was the only choice; not only as a teacher, but also as a possible best friend if you let it happen."
"Bryce?" Nathan interrupted, "Brothers don't put that much work into something to be mean. It sounds like he's trying to give you a gift. Give it a chance, even though I wanna know what makes me anything like DJ or KC. I've managed to keep Lucas from being killed when he blurts out someone's most embarrassing thoughts, so you shouldn't be any challenge."
"What about Xandor?" Bryce asked. "I'm not going to have to give up my boyfriend, am I?"
Nathan shook his head. "Nope, he's gonna be welcome whenever you're around; who knows, him and Leof might even become friends too."
Bryce thought everything over. At first, he had figured that his parents were just pranking Nathan. Now, after everything he'd heard, he realized that Dylan had schemed to make his brother learn the lessons that Dylan had learned from his cousins. While Bryce normally was the 'lone wolf' of the Mikyvis boys, he was now being pushed to integrate himself with a group within the Clan. While normally he'd have a problem with this, he actually did have the feeling that Nathan could be a good friend, and he wanted to see where it could go. Deciding that arguing would just make things difficult, Bryce nodded his head as he said "Okay, I can live with that."
Nathan grinned, reading between the lines in Bryce's response. "It could be worse. You could have been stuck with Julio!"
"Anything but that!" Bryce giggled, "He's too much like Uncle Cory!"
"I'm telling your Uncle that you said that!" Tyler giggled.
"Kewl!" Bryce exclaimed, "He's fun when he tries to pay back for stuff!"
Just then, Timmy walked up, giving the group an almost deadly glare. "We can't sing if you're talkin'. Daddy's got your seats, get to sittin'."
Nathan's eyes grew wide, while Tyler started giggling. "Okay, Chief!" Tyler replied before popping the entire group over to join Cory, Alexei, Dima, and all of their families.
As he dropped into his seat, Nathan asked "What's up with Timmy? What's that Chief stuff?"
Tyler smiled. "He's the legal Chief of the little guys, and usually he only puts his foot down like that if there's something that needs to be done. Don't worry about it, when he does that usually something good is going to happen."
Turning to Cory, Nathan stated seriously "Dude, you have weird kids."
Cory shrugged his shoulders. "Naw, mine are normal; just wait until you meet Prez and Keith's family!"
As if they had been paged, a shout from the field immediately got Timmy’s attention. "Redhead Brigade, UNITE!"
Spinning to the sound, Timmy giggled, "Its not that kinda emergency, Unca Prez. Stand down the jets and stuff till after the show." Waving, Timmy added, "Hi Unca Keith" He then warned, "Daddy did you invite Rimmers too? They’re here!"
Turning to Timmy, Cory replied "It ain't a party without the Rimmers, Gizmo!"
KC walked up to center stage as the rest of the band took their places. "Hey Y'all!" KC started. "Before we begin, I wanna say something. A lot of you have asked some of us what's so special about DJ. Here's the thing; Deej has taught all of us just how brothers stand up for each other, and he shows us by his actions how we should be helping others. Today, we're all making friends with a family that all of us were involved in rescuing in one way or another. I'm talking about the Schaffer family; and just for the record we all consider them honorary brothers. We have a certain song we play for when we decide that an emergency rescue is needed. Today, DJ decided that he wouldn't stand for something he found out about one of our new honorary brothers, and he made it his mission to fix it."
"Hold on to your seats, 'cuz we're going to give the pervs who were abusing Ferris a proper Time Touched sendoff!" With that, KC turned around and pointed at Pauly and Joey, who were sitting at the ready with their sticks in the air. Both boys nodded, then seconds later the HQ compound exploded in a thunderous drum roll before the two boys dropped into the beat of their extraction theme song. Timmy and Brandon jumped in a few seconds later with their guitars, with CD on bass.
Fife joined KC, the pair blasting the crowd with the vocals for "Hair of the Dog". They got the point across clearly, the Short family wouldn't stand for abuse at any level.
After they finished the song, the band paused long enough to get in position for their first song of their actual concert. DJ came to the front, giving KC a hug before taking the microphone. "Hey Y'all, now that my brothers are done trying to make me into some kinda hero, we're gonna get serious. This isn't planned, we're just lettin' y'all sit in on one of our practice sessions. Let us know what ya' think, okay?"
The assembled crowd gave him a roar of approval, then DJ stepped back as Tommy took front stage. "The talkin's over, so it's time for some music!" Tommy announced.
With that, Timmy, DJ, and KC began strumming the opening notes to the Doobie Brothers' "Listen to the Music" Tommy took lead vocals, with DJ, KC, and Timmy harmonizing on the chorus. As the song finished, Tommy stepped to the front of the stage. "Hey Austin, you're needed up front with your sax!" Tommy yelled towards backstage before turning around. "All Y'all's about to get a special treat!" he announced to the crowd. "A bit ago, a few of our brothers were practicing their version of a song, and Uncle Quint decided to record it. It was put out on the Interdimensional music charts, and we just heard that it shot up to Number One! The artist that plays the song likes what they did, so she just gave the okay for us to release it here at home. All of us are proud of what our brothers did, and to show that, we're going to share it with y'all while they're recording a live cover of Pat Benatar's "Hell Is For Children". Let's hear it for Timmy, KC, Austin, and Pauly... as always, they are TIME TOUCHED!"
Once the roar of the crowd began to settle, Timmy began the lead-in to their version of the song. As the song progressed, it was obvious to the rest of the band that performing live was having an effect on their brothers; there was an obvious increase in the emotion that all of them were putting into the song. By the time they reached the final chorus, they had unexpected assistance, as the youth in the crowd joined in with all ages singing along. Before the final guitar note had a chance to fade away, the crowd was on their feet giving the quartet a standing ovation.
DJ came up to join them with Pauly on his hip. As soon as he saw the tear-streaked face of his redheaded half-brother, he squatted down and pulled Timmy into his free side. "Great job, guys; it sounded awesome. KC? You got it, I'm gonna take these two out to Dad and Pop for cuddle therapy." DJ stated as he stood up with both boys on his hips.
"Gotcha," KC acknowledged before coming over and giving Timmy and Pauly quick kisses on their foreheads. As KC headed over to discuss the next song with Tommy, Toby, and Fife, Austin took his turn showing his support to his brothers, then DJ headed offstage to deliver them to their parents.
Cory and Sean had been keeping themselves amused as they watched Alexei, Dima, and Tanis fielding thousands of questions from their recent additions to their families. Alexei had managed to keep up with his two boys, but Dima and Tanis were floored by Andrei asking enough questions to cover himself, Mikhail, and possibly half of the rest of the crowd. Occasionally Mikhail would insert his own comment or question in sign language, but it was obvious that Andrei was asking most of the questions for both of them. The pair of newly-ordained fathers were holding up well overall, patiently answering the questions they knew the answers to, and asking for help from the surrounding group if they were stumped.
Their attention was diverted as they heard Timmy starting to sing, both boy's 'daddy radar' kicking in at warp speed as they picked up on there being something different in Timmy's voice. While neither boy noticed it, the other parents in their little group noticed as well, shifting their attention to the little redhead on stage. The four younger boys noticed, shifting their attention to try to figure out what their daddies were looking at.
By the time the song was almost done, Dima and Tanis were watching Cory and Sean, fully prepared to provide escort through the crowd if they decided to storm the stage. Fortunately, DJ's appearance at the end of the song calmed them slightly, the fact that he was obviously just as concerned showing them that Timmy was not being left alone.
The crowd fully cooperated with DJ, giving him a clear path to Cory and Sean. The rest of Time Touched watched from the stage, making sure that their favorite fireball reached Daddy safely. As DJ made his way towards Cory and Sean, Ferris and his brothers fell in behind him, silently escorting their new friend.
When DJ reached the group of parents, Timmy and Pauly dropped off of his hips and homed in on parental laps. As expected, Timmy latched onto Cory, sobbing quietly, while Pauly cuddled into Sean's chest. Within seconds of Timmy settling in, the Schaffer boys were lined up single-file, each of them leaning in to give Timmy a hug. They each then went to Pauly, repeating the hug, then took up what could only be considered guard positions around Cory, Sean, Timmy and Pauly.
Ferris was last in line, and unlike his little brothers he felt the need to speak aloud. "We saw you watching us, Timmy. Thanks for singing that for us, I could see how much it hurt you." Pausing long enough to lean over and kiss Timmy's forehead, Ferris added "Our Hell is over, little guy, and it's all because of you guys on stage that me and my brothers have a chance."
Cory managed a small smile, now understanding why Timmy was so upset. "Ferris, you just proved to your little brothers that you really accept them, I can feel it. I don't think I want to know the details of what y'all went through; if it affects Timmy, Pauly, and DJ this bad, I'd probably end up wiping out a planet. I do know that the hardest part of abuse is realizing it's over; Timmy would pick up on it if your brothers haven't reached that point yet, which means he still feels them as being stuck in the abuse, but there's nothing he can do to rescue them."
After a quick glance at his brothers, Ferris nodded. "I guess I'm going to have to learn to fix that. Don't worry, Timmy; I'll take care of helping my little brothers."
Glad that Ferris had taken the hint, Cory prodded gently "DJ does it by example; that's why our family is so close."
Ferris tilted his head. "You sound just like I always thought a Dad would sound like."
"Thanks," Cory smiled. "I wish I really had the time to be the Dad my family needs, though."
Aaron had walked up behind them, wanting to check on Timmy. On overhearing Cory, he yelled "JJ! Grab the jumper cables, Cory's brain cell stalled, AGAIN!"
"Bite me, Airhead!" Cory grumbled.
"That's Sean's job," Aaron replied. Holding out his hand to Ferris, he added "Wazzup? I'm Aaron, Cory's big brother."
As he shook Aaron's hand, Ferris replied. "Ferris Schaffer. All the little guys glaring at you are my little brothers."
Aaron glanced around, then after leaning over and giving the top of Timmy's head a kiss, he stated "Have a seat and call your tribe in for a pow-wow; while Cor's taking care of Gizmo, I'll give Deej a hand and fill y'all in on some stuff."
After a nod from Cory, Ferris shrugged his shoulders before waving for his brothers to join him. Ton quickly claimed his prime spot on Ferris' lap, but the rest of the brothers formed a half-circle behind the pair, keeping a contact-free gap.
Despite his reputation, Aaron quickly noticed the divide, and decided to address it first. "Guys, I had George fill me in on ya' as soon as KC said you were honorary brothers. Y'all are makin' it hard on Ferris and Ton making y'all a big family in your hearts if you won't even trust them to cuddle with you. Ferris already has experience being a big bro; y'all gotta let him teach ya how to be little brothers."
"Why should we listen to you?" JD challenged.
"Because you ain't the only ones around here who have suddenly found yourself with a new big family," Aaron replied. "When Momma Teri offered to become my Mom and give me a family, it took me a little bit to learn about being a big brother. Since I've got a big brother by blood as well, I had someone to give me help. Nick helped me, and since I'm our nutcase Patriarch's brother now, I'm making sure that all of our family knows the things I learned. KC called you honorary brothers; that means you're family even if you don't share our parents."
"I told JJ that someone besides him shoulda taught you diplomacy, bro," Cory sniggered. "I'm sorry guys, but Sean and I's kids making you family means you gotta put up with Airhead here. If he gets too annoying, just gang up on him and toss him in the nearest pool."
"I love you too, brat!" Aaron commented as he shook his head. Turning his attention back to JD, Aaron continued. "Guys, the reason everyone feels safe around here is that we all have our group within our families that we trust to have our backs. While I love all of my brothers, there is one group within our family that I unconsciously go to when I need support; the group that was responsible for getting me to open up and accept our Mom as my own. Sooner or later, your family is going to grow; that's a fact after the way your parents stepped up to help Ferris by accepting him and then supporting him when the past caught up with him. Right now, things that happened since you guys got here have caused you to split into three groups, unintentionally. Creston and Crey are dealing with major changes to how they expected the future to play out, Ferris and Ton have started bonding with your new parents, and the rest of you are trying to figure out how you fit in with the changes to your reality that you see happening around you. I heard that your reason for telling your parents you wanted Ferris in your family is that you wanted to have the big brother that Ton always bragged about; you gotta let him BE your big brother before you can have that.
"You're to old to make sense like that," JD commented with a tilt of his head.
"Busted, Unca Airhead!" Timmy softly giggled from his Daddy cuddle, earning him a squeeze of agreement from Cory.
Smiling at Timmy's comment, Ferris replied "Thanks Aaron; I think coming from someone that they don't know is gonna make what you said more real. Where we came from, if I had said what you said, anyone old enough to talk would believe I was only saying it to get something for me. DJ and Tanner showed me how it is different here, but I was still trying to figure out how to explain it to my brothers." Ferris somehow managed to turn around with Ton on his lap, then addressed the rest of the boys. "Guys, Ton filled me in about what happened at the birthday party. I'll make a bet that just about all of you accepted Dylan as a friend so quick because he obviously wasn't from where we came from. He thanked you for that by getting you to someplace where you can be safe, but now you are gonna need to learn to forget how you were taught to react from back there. DJ showed me that we can use our past to help others recover from things that happened to them. If you want me to teach you that, you gotta let me be the brother that you asked for."
Noticing the confusion of his brothers on how to react, Crey stood up, took Creston's hand, and proceeded to move over to cuddle into Ferris' side. "Guys, you all know that I'm lots older than I look. Ferris just made it official that he wants us as his brothers, now we either have to accept it or reject him. Make your choice, I'm accepting him; I'm too old to let this chance pass me up."
Ferris put his free arm around Crey and Creston. "Thanks, bro. Now get back to kid time and keep your boyfriend occupied, okay?"
"Yes, SIR!" Crey replied before sticking his tongue out at Ferris.
JD suddenly realized what Aaron meant by the groups, as he felt the remaining brothers watching him to see what his reaction would be. 'I don't wanna be the one making decisions for everyone else!' he thought as he begged with his eyes for some help.
Ferris noticed the expression on JD's face, and commented "Guys, it's okay to let JD speak up if you're afraid to ask a question, but it ain't okay to make him make decisions for you."
Iggy immediately took the hint, standing up and moving over to take residence on the free side of Ferris. "Sorry, JD," he acknowledged softly.
Roc, Aarno, Ren, and Mika sheepishly followed suit, each of them letting JD know that they didn't mean to do it. Finally, JD stood up, coming over to stand in front of Ferris and Ton. "Ton? If it's okay with our big brother, can I share his lap with you?"
"Can he, bro?" Ton asked in way of acknowledgement.
Ferris smiled. "Make some room, Monkey; you gotta help cuddle too."
After a few seconds of preparation, JD took his seat on the lap of his new big brother. Not a word needed to be said, as his face and posture clearly showed that he had decided that Ferris had earned his trust.
After coming around to be in front of the now-clustered brothers, Aaron sat on the ground and continued. "That's better! Now, I'll get you guys up to speed on some of the things you'll find different around here..."