Life Renewed - Revised

Chapter Seven - Brothers In Arms

The next morning:

"If this is what retirement's like, I should have done it sooner!" Josh thought as he woke up before the sunrise from years of military habit. His bliss came in the form of the three munchkins snuggled into his sides; CJ and Chad on his left, and Willy on his right. Whispering so as not to wake them, Josh stated "Thank you Lord for trusting me with these angels!"

He had just closed his eyes after deciding it was not worth the chance of disturbing the boys for him to wake up. Seconds later, he was wide awake with his adrenaline maxed as he heard the one sound he never expected to ever hear again: the klaxon for General Quarters.

From somewhere in the ceiling of every room in the house, the klaxon was immediately followed by a young voice. "GENERAL QUARTERS, GENERAL QUARTERS. AI ANNEX SET CONDITION RED FOR MEDICAL INCOMING. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. GENERAL QUARTERS, GENERAL QUARTERS. AI ANNEX SET CONDITION RED FOR MEDICAL INCOMING. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."

Already on his feet and grabbing clothing, Josh vented "This better not be bullshit, or else I'm gonna chase down the motherfucker that did this and give them an enema with a firehose!"

"DAD!" three young voices chorused; their initial fright lessened as they giggled at Josh's profanity.

Josh turned his head, breaking his training when he saw the three faces looking at him. "You don't need to be scared, guys. All that stuff means that we have someone else coming that needs help like Willy did. All three of you grab a tee shirt out of my dresser, and we'll head over to see what is up."

Calmed by Josh's attitude, CJ, Chad, and Willy scrambled off of the bed and followed instructions. The three tee shirts had just dropped over their heads when the voice spoke again. "INCOMING CODE BLUE SHUTTLEPAD ONE; ETA ONE MINUTE! INCOMING CODE BLUE SHUTTLEPAD ONE; ETA ONE MINUTE!"

Josh shifted gears instantly. "CJ, Chad; go bring ER One's biobed online, then scrub up! Willy, you're with me; I hope Caleb updated your medical library, we might need it!"

Josh's confidence in their newfound knowledge lit a spark in the twins, who tore out of the room like their lives depended on it. While the twins took the skywalk connector from the house to the medical clinic, Josh led Willy around the corner to take the stairs to the first floor. They found Phil and his two boys descending from the third floor with confused looks on their faces; Josh just waved and yelled "Follow us!" before flying down the stairs. He led his group through the entertainment room, out onto the rear patio, and then under the skywalk towards the shuttlepad. As soon as he noticed that not only was a helicopter landing on the shuttlepad, but a second was landing in the ambulance access, Josh stated without stopping "Willy! You take the parking lot; take Phil with you, but you're lead. Ivo: run in and tell CJ and Chad to fire up ER Two as well. Ashton, you're with me!"

Willy was three-quarters of the way into the second helicopter before he realized what Josh had said, he'd just responded to the tone of Josh's orders without any second thought out of years of habit. Deciding to risk questioning his new Dad later, Willy climbed in with Phil following him and got a first look at the patient. "Status?" Willy asked the Montana National Guard corpsman working feverishly to maintain vitals.

"Adult series android, multiple head traumas, and excessive multiple skeletal fractures." the corpsman replied.

"Prep him to move; the biobed in ER Two is waiting for him," Willy stated. "Phil, give him a hand, we're gonna have to get him inside fast."

"Yes sir," Phil replied, already aware of the fact that Josh's decision had put Willy in a position of authority in the Clan.

"Let's hit it!" the corpsman announced as he secured the last of the equipment that needed to travel with them.

Willy hopped out of the chopper, and was surprised to see Johnny materializing just outside the rotor wash zone. "I've got the doors, bro!" Johnny yelled before sprinting towards the building. 

After adding this to his list of strange things that needed explaining, Willy sprinted after Johnny to get in place in ER Two. As he passed Johnny, he stated "Second door on the right!" before heading to the same door and slapping the access panel.

As soon as he saw CJ at the biobed controls, Willy asked "Can you find the doctor that helped you? This guy's is really messed up!"

"I can try," CJ said, obviously unsure if it was okay. He tapped on the new commbadge that he'd been given before they left Saint Mikey's, then asked "Antonio? Willy says we got a guy that's really bad here, he wants to know if you can help?"

Almost immediately, Antonio replied, "I'll be there in ten seconds, CJ!"

By the time they had the patient transferred to the biobed, Antonio appeared in the room as well. As soon as he saw the quantity of warnings scrolling on the screen above the bed, Antonio looked around. "Which one of you is Willy?"

"Me," Willy acknowledged as him he and Johnny prioritized the injuries.

"I'm Antonio; if it's okay with you, I'll team with CJ to handle the brain and associated parts."

"Okay," Willy replied as him he and Johnny began the abdominal work that needed to be addressed first; fortunately, the corpsman had already handled external bleeding.

Antonio nodded, then turned to CJ. "Do you know how to separate status to the operator screen yet, CJ?"

"Yeah, Caleb showed me yesterday," CJ replied. "I'm sorry I bugged you."

"You didn't bug me; you did what every Doctor should do if there is too much for them to handle," Antonio replied with a smile. "Pull up the live diagnostics feed; we need to check his matrix."


ER One:

Unaware of what he'd dropped in the lap of his newest son, Josh had his hands full. His patient was a thirteen-year-old android boy who had been crushed under a rockslide. The good news was that Chad was unable to spot any failures in the parts that made him an android; the bad news was that there was serious damage to the parts that made him human. Realizing he was going to be in over his head, he'd called Doc Austin to see if there was anyone available to assist; to his surprise, Doc Austin decided to join him personally.

"I've finally got his heart stable; how's that lung coming?" Doc Austin asked.

"Seventy-five percent regeneration, and it's holding air again," Josh replied. "Thank God for these beds; anywhere else and his chances would have been less than one percent."

"Agreed!" Doc Austin acknowledged. "If you want to start on setting the bones in the extremities, I'm going to double-check his intestinal cavity; we'll close him up after I'm sure we didn't miss anything."

"Sounds like a plan," Josh replied. "Eighty percent; I think it'll hold now. Moving to the legs."


ER Two:

"I'm gonna kiss Marc for making me learn this even though I thought I'd never need it," Antonio stated as him and CJ triple-checked their findings. "What do you think, CJ?"

"I'm calling it," CJ replied, his mind finally wrapping around the responsibilities he'd accidentally took on. Raising his voice, he stated "Willy? Johnny? We need him conscious; we gotta migrate! I can shut down pain if you can get him self-supporting for at least fifteen minutes."

More than just about any other android, Willy and Johnny personally knew just how serious it was if their brother was making that call. "Give us three minutes," Willy and Johnny replied in unison.

Meanwhile, Antonio made the one call he never expected to have to make. "AI Annex, Doctor Barnes, to AI Headquarters, CODE P, CODE P!"

"Noah here, what you got, bro?"

"Adult series, multiple impacts to head, three percent remap area remaining. We're trying to get him conscious now to discuss options, then initiating migration. Physical condition is grade four. Doc CJ is at controls and concurs."

"Upload his serial and Caleb will prep a matrix," Noah instructed. "Let me know what he decides; if he goes for AI the Annex could be his new home."

"CJ just gave me the thumbs up, you should have his serial," Antonio relayed.

"Caleb's got it; ask CJ if he's comfortable with doing the upgrades before restoring. If not, Caleb will pop over and help."

"What you think, CJ?" Antonio asked.

CJ glanced at the terminal they had moved into position once they'd realized there were issues, then closed his eyes. After some thought, he replied "They wouldn't let me if I couldn't do it, so I wanna try."

"Good answer, CJ," Noah replied. "Don't worry; if you have trouble you can do just what Antonio did, you can call us for help. We don't always know the answers, but we do know who to ask!"

"Thanks, Noah!" CJ replied, comforted in knowing that even his hero Antonio asked for help.


ER One:

"How's he looking, Chad?" Josh asked as him he and Doc Austin stepped back from the table.

"The bed says about an hour, it's givin' him that IV stuff and he's got seventy percent power."

"That means about thirty to forty minutes; the bed can't figure for his own regeneration," Doc Austin clarified. "That's a really good sign though; it means our repairs took care of the major issues."

"Would you mind if I run over and see how Willy is doing?" Josh asked. "We should have seen or heard something by now."

"Go ahead," Doc Austin replied, "I'll stay here to help Doc Chad and Ashton if anything pops up."


ER Two:

Josh froze as he walked through the door to ER Two.  His first shock was seeing Antonio and Johnny in the room, quickly followed by realizing the semi-twin androids were closing up a body bag on what looked to be an adult. Phil and Ivo were cleaning up from what appeared to have been major surgery, while Antonio and CJ were concentrating on a computer terminal. "Oh shit, I'm sorry guys," Josh stated, breaking the silence.

"Did you save yours?" Willy asked. "CJ migrated ours; he's doing upgrades now then he's gonna send it to Caleb to upload.

"I called Doc Austin," Josh replied, "and between us and Chad the boy is doing good; we're just waiting for rejuvenation. I really didn't mean to stick you with the worst one."

"Actually, you put the best chance he had on the job," Antonio interrupted. "Willy and Johnny understand from experience about failing bodies; and they know just what needs to work to be able to be stable enough to migrate. Between them and CJ, we were able to migrate his personality instead of losing it from positronic matrix failure. It was close, but we did it."

"Why did you put me in charge?" Willy asked, his tone questioning yet accusing.

"Because I know that you have the knowledge in that cute little head of yours to handle things, son," Josh explained. "I'm sorry about how I did it, that's a habit from the military. I only started to worry when I didn't hear from you; I was never worried about you actually doing what was needed."

Johnny tilted his head. "Umm, I don't know how, but I'm getting Willy's memories and stuff. I think I know what's wrong. Willy feels like you ordered him like his old caregivers would, to make him do stuff"

"Thank you for helping your brother, Johnny," Josh acknowledged. "Willy, orders are not a bad thing; for the rest of your life, you're going to be giving them and taking them. They become bad when they're used to take advantage of you, or to make you do something that either hurts you or goes against what you know is right. There are going to be medical situations where you are giving me orders, that's just the way things work. Now that you can think about it, what kind of order did I give you?"

After some thought, and a few amazed glances at Johnny, Willy replied "You couldn't go to both places, so you had to send someone to the one you thought was less urgent. You put me in charge for some reason, then went to take care of the other patient. It wasn't a bad order, but it doesn't make sense."

Josh smiled. "Who has the most medical knowledge, you, Ivo, Ashton, or Phil?"

"Me, since I have medical books in my memory storage."

"So, who would be the logical person to put in charge of an unknown medical situation?" Josh prodded.

"Me, I guess," Willy admitted.

Josh nodded. "Yes, you. Right now, I'm very proud of all FOUR of my boys, because you stepped up and handled an issue that we didn't have time to prepare for. Not only that, but you included your new brothers Ashton and Ivo in the process, giving them a chance to show how great they will fit in with the rest of you."

"What am I, chopped liver?" Phil accused with a grin.

Josh chuckled. "No; according to Doc Austin, you and I are about to become the audience to something that will scare the shit out of us. We get to watch as our new sons become full-time Clan Short brothers, with all of the insanity that goes along with it. Today was the first step, and all six of them passed with flying colors."

Just after Antonio had Ark teleport the body out for an autopsy (to isolate the causes of the positronic and mechanical failures), Phil, Chad, and Ashton entered the room with their patient. The thirteen-year-old android was bracing himself on Ashton, whose expression telegraphed that he was not planning on letting go anytime soon.

"Where's Nigel?" the little redhead asked with worry, his piercing green eyes scanning the room.

"He's gettin' his body replaced," CJ replied quickly. "Hi, I'm Doc CJ; we were able to save his personality, but his matrix was messed up so we're getting him a new one from Charleston."

"I'm Andrei, Are you an android too?" Andrei asked, obviously unsure about the kid calling himself a doctor.

"No, but our brothers Willy and Johnny are," CJ replied. "We just did the same stuff for Nigel that we did yesterday to get Johnny outta Willy's body."

"Why'd you call yourself a doctor? Human kids can't be doctors," Andrei stated as fact.

"In Clan Short, they can," Noah interjected as he walked in the doorway. "CJ? Marc and Danny said to tell you great job, all of the programming updates look good. Marc is remote linking your terminal for upload, so watch your screen for the countdown to activate. Haden's downstairs running pre-launch on the AI core, so we should be ready to go in a couple of minutes."

"Who are you?" Andrei asked, frustrated at the lack of clear answers.

"Lieutenant Commander Noah Barnes, Assistant Director of Family Clan Short AI Division," Noah responded. "I answer directly to Director Danny Page, and am equal to Medical Director Marc Furst. Going by the info Doc Chad sent us, you must be Andrei Chapman, am I right?"

"Danny Page has been missing for years!" Andrei exclaimed.

"Marc found him, but trust me, he's still not all there!" Noah sniggered. "Since I'm sure these guys were too busy saving the two of you, let me help you with figuring out where you're at and who everyone is." Noah pointed out each person as he continued. "That is Doctor Austin Michaels MD, head of Federation Youth Services Medical, and the munchkin cuddled up to him is Doctor Antonio Barnes MD, SMC, head of Family Clan Short Medical Services. That big guy is Phil Hartman, F.Y.S. Dietary Director for the Montana AI Annex. The son of his that you're cuddled with is Ashton, and his twin is Ivo; they're Family Clan Short Recovery and Support, AI Annex. The last big guy is Doctor Josh Michaels MD, FYS Director of the Montana AI Annex. The last four are his sons; the twins with different color hair are Willy Michaels and Johnny Furst, they're the Assistant Directors of the Family Clan Short AI Annex, while their brothers are Doctor CJ Michaels, AMD, and Doctor Chad Michaels, AMD, who share the title of Director of the Family Clan Short AI Annex."

"WHAT?" all of the residents of the house, including Johnny, exclaimed in unison.

"Told ya Danny's not all there," Noah giggled. "He musta forgot to tell you yesterday!" Noah then pulled two silver communicators out of his pocket, passing them to CJ and Chad as he added "He forgot to give you these too, Directors! He just proved that androids get senile with old age!"

"You're gonna be SOOO waterlogged when you get back!" Danny's voice announced from the speakers.

"Gotta catch me first Old Man!" Noah shot back.

"To save my sons having to cuss," Josh interjected, "maybe you can answer this, Daniel... WHAT THE FUCK!"

Surprisingly serious, Danny's voice replied. "Josh, Cory insists on being present if something major happens. The situation with Willy and Johnny qualified, and as relaxed as Cory seemed he was evaluating the newest family in the Clan. By the time you found Phil in your kitchen, he'd already had a conference with his mom Teri Short, Director of F.Y.S., and your friend Mike. After Teri Short made a couple of calls, your Military Medical License has been accepted and activated Federation-wide; you are now actively a part of Starfleet Medical, with all the rights and responsibilities that go along with it. Cory was watching CJ and Chad too; he sat down with Marc, and they both agreed that the pair of them had already proved their former male caregiver wrong. They are the only two people who were not involved in the development of the upgraded series of android bodies who have been authorized to access the core programming. Trust me, neither Marc nor I will give that level of access to just anyone; in fact, despite the years of practicing that you've had, we wouldn't give it to you at this time. The only one that was in this room that could have made the call for migration was CJ, and he did it after verifying there was no other option. Antonio knows enough to know what to look for, but at his own request he doesn't know the details that go into making that call - it is out of his comfort zone, and we respect that. Between CJ, Chad, Willy, and Johnny, you've assembled a team that can't be beat, as they proved today. The fact that help was called in proves it, since even us androids only have two hands to do things."

After a pause to collect his thoughts, Danny added "Cory has declared you guys a Sub-Division, and Teri decided that due to your capabilities F.Y.S. requires on-site representation. Marc declared CJ and Chad as his equals, while Noah and I will still be responsible for the Divisional things that CJ and Chad don't need to be bothered with. Today, you guys proved we made the right choices when Nigel and Andrei came in."

"You, me, and Cory are going to have a long talk really soon," Josh threatened. "Make sure that you have multiple fire extinguishers ready for your ears and asses."

"DAD!" CJ, Chad, Willy, and even Johnny giggled, their shock already turning to pride at their accomplishments.

Phil looked at Noah as he asked "Okay, you've tossed out things like SMC, FYS, AMD... WTF?"

"OMG..." Danny replied with a laugh.

"I think at your age you can figure out WTF, Phil" Noah giggled. "The rest? F.Y.S. is Federation Youth Services, S.M.C. is Starfleet Medical Corps, A.M.D. is an MD specialized in Androids, and OMG is Old Man Groaning, which is what Danny did since he has to look the abbreviations up."

"Danny? If you need help dunking a certain little smart-ass Assistant Director, give me a call," Phil announced. "Now that all of that is explained enough to confuse the rest of us, what is the status of Nigel?"

"I've been listening to you while Stevie helped me get up to speed on Divisional procedures," a voice announced from overhead. "Thank God you're okay, Andrei! Give Caleb and Marc a few more minutes, and they'll have my remote body ready to activate."

"Where are you? What do you mean remote body?" Andrei asked, starting to panic.

"Calm down, Dwarf," Nigel stated. "Turn those ears on that you never use and listen to Doc CJ; I found us a home just like I promised, and he can explain the decision I made when they rescued my imprint from my matrix before it failed completely."

Andrei pulled Ashton with him over to where CJ was sitting, "What does he ..."

Aston put his hand over Andrei's mouth. "Slow down. CJ's our little brother, and nobody's gonna threaten him, even by using a mean voice. When you know what him and Chad went through, you'll understand."

Andrei nodded, the tone of Ashton's voice telling him he wouldn't like the results if he didn't listen.  "I'm sorry. Do you know what Nigel was talking about?"

CJ nodded. "Yeah, Nigel's matrix was just about to crash, hard. We got his imprint out by migration, then Marc and Caleb put him in an upgraded matrix. We got him conscious to migrate, and we asked him if he wanted to be brought back, and if so, did he want just a body or did he want to be a base AI. He decided that he wanted to help us like we helped you and him, so we told him about the types. He picked the one that gives him a body that he can jump into when he wants. I'm guessing he's already in the Base AI, but it sounds like Marc and Caleb just about got his body he can use ready too."

"I've never heard of that," Andrei admitted.

"That's because that option is a recent development of Clan Short," Antonio explained. "This gives the androids who are tired of trying to live with humanity yet still want to help others a way to do that. It's a lot better than just choosing to live or terminate."

"What about me?" Andrei asked softly.

"You're gonna live with us; I promised Nigel that we'd give you a family again," CJ replied.

Upon hearing that, Josh moved to join them, Doc Austin on his heels to head off any possible issues. Josh squatted down to be at CJ's level, then asked "Did you really decide that you wanted another brother before you met him?"

"Yeah," CJ nodded weakly, "Am I in trouble?"

Josh reviewed the things he'd learned when he was given the twins before he replied. "You'll never be in trouble for helping someone who needs it, son. In the future, please talk to me about your decision first, okay?"

"You're not mad?"

"No, I'm proud that you made a decision on your own to help. You're part of Clan Short now; that means that helping a kid in trouble is one of your jobs. We've got to sit down and plan how we'll do things, but knowing that you feel safe enough to add a brother to our family means more to me than any rules."

Josh turned his head to Andrei, who was obviously lost. "Andrei, your new little brother might not have known the details, but he knew enough to be able to add you to our family. All of your new brothers had medical emergencies that I was involved in helping to repair, so you'll fit right in. Here's the thing; I just busted my ass to make sure that you had a chance to continue life. Having you in my family means I can make sure that life is the best it can be, and I'm looking forward to including you in the insanity that comes with being a Michaels."

"But I'm an android..." Andrei started, only to be shushed by Josh's finger.

"I know that you're an android; so are Willy and Johnny," Josh stated. "That doesn't change a thing, it just means I get to watch your mind grow even if your body doesn't. It also means that I can help you learn that you're just as human as the rest of your new brothers."

"You'll get tired of me just like everyone else, even Nigel don't wanna keep me," Andrei whispered.

Josh glanced at Austin before answering. "Son, I think you've got a few things backwards. If I understand this correctly, Nigel just made a choice to put himself in a position where he doesn't have to worry about losing you again. From what I've seen at Clan Headquarters, now he can protect you no matter where you are, and he has access to things that can get you out of there instead of you getting hurt like you just were."

"The medic told us that looked like he threw himself on top of you," Antonio interrupted. "He saved you, and almost terminated himself to do it."

"Does that sound like someone who wanted to get rid of you?" Josh asked softly, giving Antonio a nod of thanks.

Andrei shook his head, tears beginning to run down his face. Josh held out his arms, simply stating "Come here son, it's okay to cry."

After a few seconds of hesitation, Andrei collapsed into Josh's arms, latching on to the man that appeared to be his new Dad like he would never let go.

With a nod of approval, Doc Austin added for Andrei's benefit "Jamie already approved you, Josh. You're classified as approved for any long-term placement of androids; that was handled as soon as the terrible twosome learned about Willy from your then-nephews. It takes a special adult to be able to love a son that doesn't grow physically for as long as you live, and you're one of them."

"Call Jamie and tell him I expect him and Jacob here for breakfast so they can meet their newest big brother," Josh replied with a smile of thanks before resuming full concentration on the emotional young teen in his arms. 


Thirty minutes later:

"Thanks for the help, Marc," Josh replied before closing the communicator that Doc Austin had issued him before heading home with Antonio. "What do you think, Nigel?"

"I think you have a chance due to Willy and Johnny," Nigel replied over Josh's subvocal. "Andrei was forced to watch when a friend of his was terminated because the family didn't want him anymore. That's when he ran away before he was next, and now he's got a major phobia about having medical procedures done on him. If you approach it right, he might go for it."

"Keep your fingers crossed," Josh commented as he left his study to join the rest of the family in the dining room. He stopped in the entry, smiling as he took in the sight of the group that shared his once-empty house. CJ and Chad were sitting in two chairs that had been pulled away from the table, appearing to be halfway through telling everyone but Phil about their adventures in Charleston as they saved their twin android big brothers. 

CJ noticed him first, pausing as he clearly wondered if he was in trouble. "Hi, Dad," he said softly.

"Hey little buddy," Josh replied cheerfully, "Thank you for helping, I was trying to figure out how to get your new brothers up to date. I'm going to help Phil with brunch; why don't you guys let me know when you've explained everything and answered any questions, then we'll bring out the food."

"Okay!" CJ smiled; his fragile confidence boosted by the acceptance. As he returned to where he left off, Josh headed into the kitchen to see if Phil needed anything.

"How's it going? Josh asked as he rounded the corner into the main kitchen, where he found Phil setting up a bank of waffle irons.

"A lot better than the way I was woke up," Phil quipped. "Nigel was able to get me a copy of the cookbook library that Clan Headquarters uses, so don't be too surprised if you see some exotic meals occasionally."

"That sounds interesting," Josh replied. "Where will you keep all the supplies, though? Our pantry and freezer are not that big, and that would be a lot of pre-processed ingredients."

Phil grinned. "The pantry and freezer are just for holding things that are either better pre-packaged or quick snacks. Anything else, I can either have Nigel get for me from Clan supplies when I need it, or I can pull it up on the replicator. The best part is that all of the Clan's food preparation specialists are on our own network, so we can ask each other for help and tips."

"You sound like you're in heaven," Josh chuckled.

"I am, I'll never have to serve food that was steamed in a bag to reheat it ever again!" Phil replied. "What are the boys up to?"

"CJ and Chad are getting everyone up-to-date on their adventures in Charleston," Josh replied with a smile. "I told them to let us know when they were done; not only is it good for them and their recovery to talk about it to their brothers, but I'm sure they'll do better than I would at saying it in a way the rest of the boys understand."

"Probably so," Phil nodded. "It's a plus on my side too; I've always thought waffles come out better if the batter has time to rest."

"Are we having anything with them?" Josh asked, noticing nothing else was cooking.

Phil nodded. "Pacific Rim offered to help out since we're just getting set up and started the day with a medical emergency. They're going to send over bacon, sausage, and fresh fruit toppings for the waffles, and I'll do eggs to order if anyone wants them. One of their five-star chefs is going to swing over tonight to help me get the kitchen set up the rest of the way and to make sure Nigel knows what we need to watch on stock levels. I should be fully up and running pretty fast." 

"Well, at least one of us has a plan," Josh sniggered.

"Dad?" a hesitant voice asked from the doorway to the kitchen.

Josh turned, only to find Chad peeking around the doorway. "You're okay, Chad; we were just talking while we waited for you guys to finish. Come on over here and give me a cuddle. Do you think you answered everyone's questions?"

While watching Phil for any sudden moves, Chad rushed to Josh's side, only relaxing once he was under Josh's arms. "I think so," he answered, more to Josh's chest than anything.

Realizing that a problem could easily develop unless it was addressed now, Josh exchanged glances with Phil before picking Chad up so he could speak face to face. "I'm proud of you, little buddy. But there's something bugging you that I think we need to discuss, before it makes you do something that could hurt feelings."

"Am I being bad?" Chad whispered; his fright obvious.

"No, and I think if you listen, we can make sure that you don't do something bad without meaning to," Josh replied, keeping his voice soothing. "Do I feel like I'm mad?"

Chad shook his head, relaxing some with the reminder that he could feel Josh's emotions. "You feel kinda worried."

"You'll feel that a lot, good daddies always worry about their sons," Josh replied, earning him a small smile. "I noticed that you're scared of Phil. I understand why, and I think I can help you and your brother be a little more comfortable around him while you get to know him."

Josh paused as he felt the tingle that told him Chad was verifying his truthfulness. "Just remember, buddy, most adults are not like your former father. I've known Phil since way back before you were born, while he and I were still in school. We even dated for a while, but he wasn't comfortable with my decision to join the military. If I didn't trust him around you and your brothers, he wouldn't be here no matter what anyone says. I bet if you talk to Ivo and Ashton, they can help you know him better too, and help you decide if you want to trust him."

Out of the corner of his eye, Josh caught the sight of familiar tufts of hair popping around the doorway. "The rest of you get in here for cuddles too," Josh chuckled.

The rest of the mob sheepishly stumbled in, ashamed at being caught. Ashton and Ivo quickly took refuge under Phil's extended arms, while Willy, CJ, and Johnny rushed to claim spots attached to Josh. Noticing that Andrei was unsure, Josh prodded "You too, son; don't let your brothers steal all the best spots!"

Still unsure, Andrei tried to join the outside edge, only to find his brothers shifting him around until he was under Josh's free arm, with Willy and Johnny making sure he couldn't slip out.

"Okay guys, and yes, this includes Ashton and Ivo. The last three days have been nuts, and I know it's getting frustrating with everything that's been changing. We all need to try to slow down and help each other so that little things don't become big problems. All of you had something bad happen in your past that led to you being here. It doesn't matter how bad it was, what matters is that we all work together to make it so the bad doesn't rule your life. Even though Phil and I haven't gone through what you guys have, we still know how to listen, and it is possible that we've got ideas that might just work in your situation. All seven of you can help each other; that is what Clan Short was built on, and that is the reason all of you are able to be here today."

Feeling Andrei's head shifting under his arm, Josh added "Yes, you too Andrei; most hospitals would have lost you trying to figure out how to handle an android. You and Nigel are the very first patients that we've had here, and the only reason that the medical building exists is because Clan Short got involved when I discovered what was being done to CJ and Chad. This morning, I woke up to the best feeling in the universe, three boys who trusted me to protect them in their sleep cuddled next to me. It wouldn't surprise me if Johnny did the same thing in Charleston last night."

"Yeah, Marc and Danny!" Johnny giggled.

"Nigel," Andrei's voice added from somewhere near Josh's left armpit.

"I had a pair of shoulder thieves too," Phil added, earning him a pair of giggles.

"See, all of you already have something in common," Josh chuckled. "I've got three boys as my sons who just happen to have the most advanced example of an artificial brain that has ever been developed on Earth, and two more boys as sons that I swear snuck in an upgrade when I wasn't looking. Think about that; all five of you are boys, and you're my sons. I don't own any of you, but I've committed to being responsible for your well-being for the rest of my life."

"But I'm just a..." Andrei started to say before being cut off by Josh.

"You're just a BOY who happens to have some amazing technology helping you to live," Josh corrected, lovingly but firmly. "You're just as much a human as everyone else in this room, son. I've seen inside of you, so I should know."

"Cheater!" Andrei whispered with a soft giggle, realizing there was no way he could win this argument.


To Be Continued...