NOTE: While the basics are covered in one of the scenes here, the full story behind the new family that you will meet in this chapter is told in "The Mikyvis Chronicles - Concert Series Chapter 1". If you have not read that yet, Chapter 2 covers how Conner meets Rayn as well!
"Let me guess, Timmy's responsible for there being a camp set up in the courtyard?" Alexei asked as they took the shortcut towards Cory's section of the core Clan common house.
Cory nodded. "Yeah, Sean and I are letting him run with it. It gives him a place to invite other kids that is just for them, and it's something that he can be proud of because he set it up himself. Don't be surprised if your two start bugging you to do it too back at the Palace; knowing Timmy he's already giving them pointers."
Alexei glanced at his sons, and shook his head with a grin when he found both of them attempting to grow halos. "I think it's too late; it looks like Timmy's already got to them!"
"At least I'll have an idea where Timmy's running off to!" Cory quipped. "You might want to warn your kitchen that they're about to be invaded by rugrats."
"You would let Timmy go all the way to Russia?" Alexei asked in shock.
"Why not? You're family, and I can't think of any reason to keep him from visiting family," Cory explained. "All joking aside, Timmy's really good at letting us know if he wants to go somewhere, even if he does decide to not tell the party on the other end that he's going to visit sometimes. There's only a couple of places he's got that freedom, and your place is one of them."
"Why?" Alexei asked.
"Because you've proved that I can trust you with my favorite son," Cory explained. "I've watched you with your boys, and I am satisfied that you will be just fine watching out for him."
"Thanks," Alexei replied. "I still don't understand why you trust me already."
Cory smiled. "Bro, you've proved everything I learned about you it the time that you've been here. Even though I'm the Patriarch, if there had been any reason the guys found that you would have caused problems, they would have made me change my mind; they kinda overprotect me, sometimes without my knowledge. Add that I'm an empath, so I'd feel it if you were playing games. Before you ask, you're not on any kind of trial here, and I didn't check up on you after the normal checks I do before introducing someone to my family. I don't invite just anyone to my house; I decided that you were special after getting to know you in person. I think we have a lot more in common than you think, both of us were put in the position of being leaders before we were really ready for it emotionally or intellectually. Both of us have kids that we took in because our hearts told us that we'd be the best chance they had for normal lives. Both of us had events happen which put us in danger of death just because of who we are, and we're overcoming what those events did to us. That's the big stuff everyone can see, and I really want to find the little stuff that only we'll know about."
"You've been hanging around Vulcans too much," Alexei quipped, "you're sounding logical!"
Sticking his tongue out, Cory put his arm over Alexei's shoulders. "That's another thing, I like your sense of humor! C'mon, let's see if my kids left a house before Nathan's group gets here."
"After meeting them, I'd say there's not much chance of that," Alexei replied as he snaked his arm around Cory's back and put his hand on Cory's far shoulder. "In fact, I might need to borrow them the next time I need to invade a country!"
"I'm not sure there'd be much left when they're done! Cory laughed as they reached the courtyard door. "Especially if they make Timmy mad!"
As they walked through the door, Cory instructed "George, assign access level Alpha to Alexei."
"Confirmed, Your Highness," George replied.
"Watch it, bit breath; I CAN make the voice I gave you before permanent!" Cory threatened.
"You wouldn't!" George whined.
"If he doesn't, I will," Alexei stated. "In our residences, we are families, and titles are not appropriate unless there is an official function in progress. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Alexei," George replied, his tone indicating that testing Alexei's threat was not on his 'things to do' list today.
Shaking his head, Cory grinned. "I think you just got added to the list of people that the AIs won't mess with, bro!"
"Good," Alexei replied. "Just what is access level Alpha?"
"Full access," Cory explained. "Most of the time, visitors are limited to certain areas of the house. Family that doesn't live here and friends get more access, but there are still areas that are secured. Alpha access means you have the same access as someone who lives here, and are allowed into the secure rooms that let me do stuff here instead of having to go to the Headquarters building. I'll bet Timmy's already set the same for your boys."
"Why?" Alexei asked as both of his boys decided looking around was more important.
"For the secure areas, if you need them, there probably isn't going to be time to sort out access then," Cory replied. "For the rest? I consider you close family, even if you ain't accepted it yet. That means you're on the list of about a dozen people, not counting Timmy's group, who have full access."
"While I still don't really understand why, I think I'm starting to accept that all of this is really happening," Alexei admitted. "Thank you, I hope I'm up to the pedestal you're putting me on."
"I'm just giving you what you're supposed to have had all along," Cory explained. "Just go with it, my little brother. Your pain is over, now you're getting the rewards."
Cory's method of addressing was not lost on Alexei, who came to a stop as he realized just what Cory had said. By adding and stressing the word 'my', Cory had made it plain to Alexei that his statement of brotherhood wasn't just words, but was from the heart. Unable to express the feelings that shot through him at this realization that he was wanted despite having allowed himself to be used, Alexei did the only thing he could; he twisted around and buried himself in Cory's chest as he gave him a massive hug.
Cory returned the hug, whispering "You're never going to be alone again, my little brother; this I swear on my life." After a pause, Cory added "Boys, you can go find Timmy, he's here somewhere."
As his sons ran off, Alexei risked a glance at Cory's face, and felt the last of his walls fall as he saw the resolve in Cory's eyes. His heart warmed as he accepted that he was no longer alone; he once again had family to turn to when he needed support.
Cory maintained his hold on Alexei until he was sure that his little brother had accepted the gift that Cory was giving him. Once he was sure he'd achieved his goal, Cory kissed the top of Alexei's head. "C'mon little brother, we've got a bunch of kids to check up on."
Alexei grinned as he accepted Cory's hand and walked alongside him. Cory led the way into the Rec room, and Alexei's eyes grew wide at the room which was the size of a small house. "You think that you have enough room?" he quipped.
Cory giggled. "I dunno, it gets kinda crowded in here sometimes!" Spotting new faces in the crowd, he detoured towards where Timmy seemed to be holding a conference. "Hey Gizmo, who'd you hijack this time?"
"You're goofy, Daddy!" Timmy giggled. "Unca Tommy broughted us somea his friends, an' we's showin' them our brudder Tommy sing'n onea der songs!"
Tilting his head, Cory addressed Tommy Shaw. "Hey Tommy, you think you could cover the little points Timmy missed, things like introductions?"
Tommy laughed as Timmy, who was resident on his lap, stuck out his tongue at Cory. "Hey, he covered the important things according to my Timmy Translator! Cory, this is Lou Gramm and Mick Jones from the band Foreigner. Lou and Mick, this is Cory Short; he's the nutcase that claims all of these boys as his. I don't recognize his friend, so I'll let Cory introduce him, assuming Cory remembers his name without Sean's help."
"Bite me, Tommy!" Cory shot back. "This is my brother, Alexei. So, did I understand right that one of my newest sons is making an impression already?"
"Let's just say I've been trying to talk him into releasing a recording of his cover of "I Wanna Know What Love Is," Lou replied. "He's of the opinion that it isn't good enough."
Alexei was suddenly glad that he was really good at remembering names, as he scanned the room for Tommy. Once he found him, he spoke up. "Tommy, I would like to hear the song, could you join me while we listen to it?"
Tommy responded "Okay, I guess, Uncle 'Lexei." before making his way over to join Alexei and Cory.
Once Tommy had joined Cory and Alexei, Timmy shouted "George! Play it again!"
As a group, the room watched the performance that Tommy had arranged to honor DJ. By halfway through the song, Alexei had silent tears running down his face, and had pulled Tommy into a cuddle with one arm while latching onto Cory with the other. As the song wrapped up, Alexei whispered along with the final chorus. After exchanging a look with Cory, Alexei softly stated "Tommy? I think you and me understand what that song means to someone who has been hurt. Please, you need to share it, you put something in it that only someone who has felt unloved can express."
Tommy turned to reply, and saw the tear-stained face of Alexei. Recognizing that his newest uncle was letting his emotions show for the first time in a long while, Tommy nodded. "If you really think so, Uncle 'Lexei, I'll do it."
"Thank you, my little singing angel," Alexei whispered before leaning his head into Cory's chest.
"I'll call Grandma, Dad," Tommy whispered. "Uncle Alexei needs you and her."
"Thanks," Cory replied as he wrapped his arms around Alexei to comfort him. As Tommy ran off to call Teri, Cory guided Alexei over to the recliner and sat down with the little Tzar on his lap. "Let it out, my little brother; it will hurt you if you keep trying to keep the pain inside," Cory advised softly as he pulled Alexei into a firm cuddle.
Wordlessly, Alexei melted into Cory's chest, finally giving in and letting the tears free that he'd been holding in for years. Neither boy noticed it when DJ intercepted Nathan, Leof, and their brothers, quietly filling them in on what they had missed before taking them over to join the rest of the family and meet the guests.
A few minutes later, Teri and Grandma Lizzy marched into the room, followed by a group which contained quite a few new faces. Spotting Cory and Alexei, Teri immediately headed over to them with Grandma Lizzy on her heels. "How's he doing, Cory?" Teri asked as the two of them came to a stop.
"My little brother has a lot of pain he's letting out," Cory replied softly as he gave Alexei a squeeze.
Grandma Lizzy reached out and caressed Alexei's shoulder. "My little cousin, do not fret for how it might appear if you accept that which Cory is offering you. Your people look to you as an example, little bear, and accepting a new family to support you is one of the most honorable things you can do. They need you to be human, that is the only way that you will earn their trust and support. You've been hard-headed since the day you slapped the doctor back after you were born, cousin; it is time to allow yourself to open up to your new big brother and allow him to help you learn to make the most of the position that you have finally been able to take."
Alexei turned his head, and with a half-grin he replied "I'm hard headed? Grandpa said that you kicked the doctor, then had him arrested for assault once you could talk."
"The elder Alexei tended to exaggerate slightly," Grandma Lizzy sniggered. "You inherited his determination with his name, little bear. Alexei would support you seeking a family to support you now that your original one has been stolen from you. I am aware of the actions of Prince Cory upon discovering your past; suffice it to say that your sentence of your tormentor pales in comparison to the retribution delivered to his accomplices."
Teri had been studying the two boys, and suddenly realized what seemed unusual. "Mom, hold on a second. Alexei, I know that you've been welcomed as a brother by most of my family and most of Dan's group as well." Teri paused, glancing over to where Sean was busy interacting with his family and guests, then continued, "Right now, Sean is keeping everyone else occupied to allow you time with Cory. That means two things; one, he has accepted you as a close brother himself, and two, he recognizes that you need Cory time. The important part of that is that only one other person has ever been given that sort of protection, just like that same person is the only one who Cory has completely adopted without Sean or me being involved. That person is Kyle, and if I know those two Kyle is just as involved in adopting you as Cory is. You've been chosen as a close brother by the only two people that nobody in the Clan will argue with; that is something that very few people can claim."
Looking up into Cory's eyes, Alexei softly asked "Why?", his insecurity obvious in his tone.
Cory returned a soft smile. "Because my heart says that we are family, my little brother."
Alexei stretched up and gave Cory a quick peck on the lips, then whispered "I love you, my brother" before dropping back and pulling himself tight against Cory's chest.
"I love you too, my little bear-brother," Cory replied honestly as he wrapped his arms around the now-fragile twelve-year-old Tzar on his lap.
Teri smiled at the pair, then softly stated "I'll let your twins know that they've got a new brother to welcome, Cory. Call me if you two need anything, but for now Mom and I are going to help your husband welcome the newest residents of the Headquarters compound. Tell him I said to keep you updated over your Bond-link."
"Okay, Mom," Cory smiled. "Thanks, from both of us."
Teri replied "You're welcome, my sons," then turned and followed Grandma Lizzy towards the other side of the room. They exchanged amused smiles as they got closer and were able to see that Timmy had decided to welcome the nine younger members of the group that had came with them. The fact that his welcome consisted of a mass cuddle pile seemed fitting, considering what the boys had been through.
"Well Sean," Teri asked as they joined him and the new adults, "Has your nephew's latest abduction confused you yet?"
Sean shook his head. "I gave up trying to figure out Dilly long ago, Mom! From what Julius here was saying, it sounds like the boys all had some fun."
Teri was about to respond when Tommy Shaw spoke up. "The safe zone's over here! Timmy promised no new kids for anyone hanging out by the couch."
"That'll be a first!" Teri quipped as her, Sean, and Elizabeth carefully circumvented the kid pile to join the rest of the adults.
Once they were all together, Sean did introductions. "For those who don't know them already, these are the newest residents of the Headquarters Compound, Julius and Viola Schaffer. The mob that Timmy is indoctrinating belongs to them. This is my mom, Teri Short, and that is our Grandma, Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth. Everyone, this is Tommy Shaw, Lou Gramm, and Mick Jones. Tommy's known for his guitar playing in the band 'Styx', and the other two are from the band 'Foreigner'. Lou and Mick came over to see why Tommy was bragging about his new nephews and their band, and so far they've resisted Timmy's attempts to abduct them."
"Give him time!" Grandma Lizzy commented. "I am sure he'll succeed."
"That's what we're afraid of, Mom!" Tommy sniggered. "Do I want to know how Julius and Viola ended up living here?"
"Would you believe an alien abduction?" Julius asked seriously.
"Have a seat, this I've gotta hear!" Tommy exclaimed. "Lou, Mick? You're probably about to hear just why I like the way these guys operate."
Mick and Gramm just sat back, their arms crossed as they waited for the explanation. Neither one had totally believed Tommy's rendition of how he ended up as part of the Clan, so they were sure this wouldn't be anything unusual.
After getting comfortable, Julius began. "It was our natural son Creston's birthday, but I was called in to work security at a concert that was being held that day. The place we used to live at didn't care if you had family obligations or not; you either worked when they said or were fired on the spot."
"One second," Viola interrupted, "Just to make it clear, we're not from this Universe's timeline. Some things you're going to hear will seem strange, but that is how things were there. For example, where we come from Florida is under water; when I was little, Orlando had beaches, but it finally went under shortly before I graduated."
Viola's comment got Mick and Lou's attention, as their arms were no longer crossed and they were obviously curious now.
Nodding his thanks at his wife, Julius continued. "When we had our pre-concert meeting with the promotion manager for Time Touched, I had my first encounter with Dylan. Without saying it directly, he insinuated that if one of us saw a child in trouble we were to let him know for some reason. Considering the fact that child protection laws were ignored back there, his offer was seemingly putting himself out on a limb. The thing was, I knew of two boys who I was really worried about their welfare, and I was sure that they would manage to sneak out to try to see the concert; if they didn't, I was planning on seeing if Dylan could check on them anyway. As luck would have it, the boys came to the concert and entered through the same gate that their father had brought them through hundreds of times when he wasn't able to leave them at home. In this case, old habits probably saved their lives."
"I had to keep up appearances when I spotted them, so initially I acted as if they were in trouble until I could get them in private. Once I got them to the Security Office, I called for Dylan and crossed my fingers. That was the point when I found out that Time Touched wasn't just playing games when they said they travelled timelines; I also made the discovery that you never piss off Dylan. When it was all said and done, the two now-healed boys ended up with new families in the Pacific Rim Division, and Dylan decided that he wanted to save our family."
"The next thing I knew, Dylan had taken me home and charmed his way into joining Creston's birthday party, which was just starting. After a few dozen Mikyvis Miracles, which entertained Crezzy's friends to no end, Dylan offered the group of friends a chance to escape their own abuse, which all of them accepted. That's when things got interesting, as Dylan called in a few of his friends. What they came up with was abducting our entire house, with all of us inside, in the most spectacular way they could think of. After passing out purple hard hats to the emergency crews that were gathered to figure out why our house was glowing, they levitated the entire thing and flew us across the city of New Boston, breaking the sound barrier as they crossed the center of downtown, then jumping dimensions. Now we have our house in a corner lot here in the Compound, and we've gained eight new sons in the process."
"We play'd 'Come Sail Away' for the adub'shun!" Timmy giggled from the pileup him and his new friends were in.
"Somehow, that seems fitting!" Tommy sniggered.
Lou shook his head in wonder. "Tommy, I take back all the comments I made about you eating spiked brownies. Even your warped mind couldn't think up something like that and tell it with a straight face."
"We'll have to work on that, Uncle Tommy," Sean giggled.
"He doesn't need the help, trust me!" Mick groaned in mock agony. "I guess 'Welcome home' fits about now; but I'm curious as to how these boys are such a big draw."
"What would you say if I told you that there is an inter-dimensional Top 100 music chart?" Sean asked with a grin.
"I would say it sounds interesting, since it appears that there actually are multiple dimensions," Mick replied.
"Not only multiple dimensions, but multiple universes within each one," DJ explained as he took a seat. "They're visual too; you wanna see what we have on the charts?"
Mick nodded. "That sounds interesting, can you do it here?"
"Yep," DJ nodded. "George, I need a holographic receiver!"
"I've already began initializing the link, Deej," George replied as a device that looked like a very thick, oversized dinner plate appeared on the coffee table in front of Mick and Lou. "The link is stable, so you can bring it online."
DJ reached out and manipulated a series of touch switches along the rim, then stated "Search for 'Time Touched', play in order of highest to lowest."
The rest of the band, as well as the nine new boys, all gathered around to see just which songs were where on the charts. After a few seconds for downloading the list the search generated, the hologram formed, with a 'Time Touched' logo floating in midair.
"The search for 'Time Touched' has generated seven results. Chart position order selected, starting with current highest charting performance."
The voice suddenly changed to the DJ who announced the charts. "At the Number One position, we have an unusual performance from 'Time Touched', one that shows a side they rarely present on tour. While their youngest guitarist Timmy has proven to be quite versatile, this selection has made the multiverse take notice of his future possibilities. Here is 'Time Touched' singing their remix of the Alpha Prime song by Pat Benitar titled 'Hell is for Children'."
Since even most of the band wasn't aware of Timmy's practice session in the family room right after Mitch had arrived with his family, all of them paid close attention to the viewer. Once Timmy found out that it was a recording of the practice session, he started mumbling under his breath while blushing so brightly that you couldn't see his freckles. As his brothers started commenting positively on the performance, Timmy asked "Gran'ma? I know I ain't 'posed to fry nobody 'less theys bad, but can Red an' I PLEASE try ta' stun Unca Quint?"
Trying hard not to laugh, Teri replied "While I'm sure some of your brothers would consider it a public service sometimes, I'm afraid that it wouldn't affect him, Gizmo. Besides that, he DID tell you that he was submitting it for publication."
"Aww mann..." Timmy pouted.
DJ smiled, pulling Timmy into a cuddle. "Lil' bro, you've done a great job with that, and you deserve what you've earned. That song wouldn't have worked like that if it was anyone but you, Pauly, KC, and Austin; Uncle Quint was right, you hit it exactly the way all of us were discussing it being done."
"But 'Time Touched' is ALL of us!" Timmy argued. "I don' wanna be doin' music stuff wit'out all my brothers!"
Mick realized that Timmy was taking the conversation in a direction that DJ was not prepared for, and decided to assist him. "Timmy, even though the rest of the band wasn't on stage with you for that, they still were a part of it. Most experienced bands have certain songs which only use certain members; the song doesn't work with more people or different people. The four of you did something with that song that made it deliver a strong message, without changing what Pat was trying to say. If that had been one of my songs, and you were in my band, I would absolutely insist it was published just the way you did it. Working together sometimes means that you need to step back and let your bandmates follow their vision; what I'm hearing here is that your bandmates are proud of what you accomplished and support you in how you performed."
Lou nodded. "You know, Timmy, I think a big part of what made that song work is your age. You little guys made it more real when you sang the lyrics, something an adult has a hard time doing. When your brother Tommy covered our song 'I Wanna Know What Love Is', his age made the words mean more than I could ever do. You four just did the same thing; your ages made the song more 'real' to the listener."
"But I don' wanna be a singer I wanna just play my getars," Timmy countered.
"You don't have to give up your guitars," Tommy Shaw chuckled. "I sing lead while playing lead on a lot of songs, munchkin. You guys are really good at having the right person singing each song; this just happens to be one that needs you, Pauly, KC, and Austin to make it work. I'm pretty sure that your brother Tommy is going to be covering a lot of Lou's vocals, just because he's got that 'feel' down right. Things like this not only make the whole band better, just because now your brothers KNOW that you will do whatever it takes to get a song right, but it also shows the fans that you guys are not afraid to try something different. I'll bet that now the rest of the songs you guys have done are going to see more airplay too. Music is weird like that; once you have one song make it to the top, people who ignored you before suddenly want to hear what else you've done."
"I guess," Timmy admitted, obviously still not happy about the practice session upstaging the other songs they'd released on the interdimensional circuit.
Realizing that Timmy wasn't going to give in any more, Tommy tapped his leg. "Tell ya what, why don't you give me some of your famous cuddles while you introduce your fan club to us, then we'll watch the rest of the list."
"Okay," Timmy replied before giving DJ a quick hug, then taking the offered seat on Tommy's lap. "They're my friends tho, not my fan club!"
"I think they're actually both," Tommy chuckled. "That's a good thing though, because you can count on them to tell you if you're not doing something right."
After the requisite rolling of his eyes, Timmy introduced the new arrivals. "That's Creston, his parents and friends call him Crez or Crezzy. He's eight."
Crez stood up, flicking his light chestnut hair out of his brown eyes. "Hi! Hey, Timmy, can I introduce my brothers?"
Timmy nodded, "Sure!"
Smiling, Crez reached out and pulled a slim, copper-haired, seven-year-old with sad blue eyes to his feet. "This is Anton, but we call him 'Ton. He'll be eight at the end of December." Crez gave 'Ton a hug, then picked his next victim, a seven-year-old with auburn hair and brown eyes. "This one's Roc, he's really good at math!"
Moving down the line, Crez introduced Aarno, who was eight with light brown hair and hazel eyes, Ren, a medium blond seven-year-old with brown eyes, JD, ann auburn haired eight-year-old with hazel eyes, Iggy, a seven-year-old who had dark brown hair and eyes, and then Mika, who was eight with auburn hair and blue eyes. With a grin, he turned to the last boy, a thin young boy with light blond hair and green eyes, then gave him a big hug and a quick peck on the lips before stating "This cutie is our youngest brother and my best buddy, Crey! He's seven, but he gives the best cuddles."
Julius and Viola exchanged knowing looks at the display of affection that Crez just showed with Crey. Leaning over to whisper in her husband's ear, Viola quipped "I think YOU are going to need to give him 'the talk' sooner than you expected!"
Teri overheard Viola despite her attempt to keep it quiet, and reached out to place a hand on each of their shoulders. "You're probably too late, if those two are anything like my boys. The good news is, there are two boys who have been given the responsibility of guiding the younger ones as they explore their emotional and physical growth. You can count on Crez and Crey being taken off to the side and given not only guidance as to what the rest of the boys have learned, but also limits that they have placed on all of the little ones, with explanations of why the limits are there."
"You let the boys handle that kind of thing?" Julius asked in surprise.
"I'll tell you something about Timmy," Teri responded, "He's Cory and Sean's first son. On top of being very responsible for his age, he's also gifted with an extremely high IQ. That makes his curiosity go off-the-charts at times, and he won't settle for what we'd consider age-appropriate answers. As the Clan was forming, a couple of the boys showed that they had a natural skill with the younger kids, a skill that gave them insight into just where to stop when giving the kids guidance about living as Clan members. Cory noticed that they were stepping up and handling things that he really wasn't prepared to handle, so he offered them positions that matched what they were doing, which both of them accepted. Kelly's the lead, since he was first, and he's assembled a small team as the family has grown. With the histories of some of these kids, they're not going to trust an adult, but they will trust an older kid who is their Clan brother."
Viola nodded her head. "That really makes sense, once you think about it. Crezzy's been trying to 'adopt' all of them into our family since he met each of them, just because he felt that they needed parents like he had. It has only been recently that most of our new sons would actually interact with us openly, so your family's setup sounds like a logical response to the problem they saw."
Teri grinned. "Trust me, if Creston is anything like my two, this first group of brothers he added is just a test run; by this time next month he'll double the number!"
Everyone else had been paying attention to the introductions, so none of them had noticed that DJ had spent a few seconds staring at one of the new boys before vanishing suddenly. Just as Teri issued her warning about adding more kids, DJ popped back in with a thirteen-year-old light-blond-haired boy under one of his arms. Within seconds of arriving, the new boy's hazel eyes lit up as he exclaimed "ANTON!" and broke free of DJ's hold.
"FARRIS!" Anton screamed as he tackled the older boy, then latched onto his chest for dear life.
DJ turned to Julius and Viola, his expression dead serious. Before he could say a word, Teri stated "You're about to see why I don't question these boys. I know my grandson, and by the look in DJ's eyes I can tell you that not only is he serious, but he'll do whatever he thinks is right to fix the injustice he just dealt with."
Nodding his head at his grandma, DJ began speaking. "Upon investigation of data provided by Anton Wilhelm Schaffer, it was determined that a welfare check was required for his half-brother, Ferris Justis Haverley. Upon arrival at his home, the investigation discovered that both parents were using the subject for personal pleasure. As this usage was non-consensual and involved foreign objects which were causing bodily harm, a summary trial using the applicable laws of the timeline was held immediately. Both parents were found guilty of all charges, and were delivered the maximum sentence allowed for their crimes. As Ferris is now an orphan, Family Clan Short has taken him in as a Ward of the Clan until such time as a permanent placement has been arranged."
DJ paused, taking the time to look at the two brothers locked into a reunion cuddle. "Clan policy is to reunite siblings unless one or the other requests otherwise. As it is obvious that the two of them share a close bond, I shall require that they are kept together in the same family. As you have already adopted Anton, it would be preferred that you maintain his newfound stability. If you are unable to accept another son, at that time we will begin to look for alternate possibilities. Please do not feel pressured; while we will do what is best for the brothers, we will not isolate you from Anton in the process."
"You gotta adopt us a big brother, and Ton says Ferris is the best ever!" Creston interrupted as he led the rest of his brothers over to give their opinions.
Viola knelt down to talk to her midget mob. "Boys, you don't need to have Crezzy speak for you anymore; each of you are our sons and we really want to know your opinions. None of you are any less than Creston in our family. Before Julius and I decide, we need to know what each of you think."
All seven new boys were surprised at their voices being important to their new parents, but they had no problem taking advantage of what they were sure was a temporary situation. Since most of them knew Ferris from being friends with Anton, the consensus ended up being that they all wanted to have a big brother to turn to.
Now that they knew how the boys felt, Julius and Viola exchanged glances and made their decision. "You don't need to look into alternatives. After everything that has been done for us, we would be selfish if we didn't open our home to the brother of one of our sons, as long as that's what he wants as well."
DJ allowed a small smile. "Good answer; you're going to fit in great with the other parents. While I had him being helped by the doctors to heal his injuries, Ferris stated that he doesn't care as long as he's with his little brother. Based on the review of the prospective parents as submitted by Dylan Richardson, Family Clan Short finds that the logical placement for Ferris Justis Haverly is with the family of Julius and Viola Schaffer, and he shall take on the surname Schaffer as expressed in mental questioning while reuniting with his biological half brother. This placement is permanent, and all documentation required by local and regional authorities shall be provided by Family Clan Short."
"I told you so," Teri sniggered, "the additions have begun!"
"Bite me, Grandma!" DJ giggled. "I'm just doing what Dad and Pop taught me to do for brothers."
"I'm sure Tanner wouldn't appreciate teeth marks other than the ones he leaves in private, Deej," Teri replied with a smirk.
"GRANDMA!" DJ exclaimed as he turned beet red almost instantly.
"Busted!" Teri replied.
DJ quickly made his way to safety, before Teri managed to embarrass him more. Julius shook his head, then told his expanding family "I think it's time to welcome your new brother, guys. try not to break anything, okay?"
"I think DJ's been taking lessons from you," Alexei whispered as he shifted around on Cory's lap. "He didn't ask, he just did it."
"I think he's just trying to be an example for his brothers," Cory replied softly. "He's really become a great big brother, I'm proud of him."
After a few seconds pause, Alexi softly stated "I wish Grandfather was here. I know he would like you, but I still would like to hear his thoughts."
Cory smiled as he noticed the background noise fading to silence. "I think your wish has been granted, my little brother."
"You're getting pretty good, Tigger," Mikey giggled as him and Candy faded into view.
"Just so you know," Candy added, "there's a running pool Up There about which one of you, you or Joel, is going to drive the Book Of Life into retirement first!"
"Who's that?" Alexei asked softly.
"The funny looking one is our big brother Mikey, and his girlfriend is Candy," Cory replied with a grin. "They're Patty's biological parents; Candy was really desperate that night!"
Mikey grinned. "You know, that's the first time since I died that you've been comfortable enough to make a comment like that! I'm glad that you're finally finishing your healing."
Cory grinned, then asked "Did you hear Alexei's wish or something?"
Mikey nodded. "Of course; I've been keeping an eye on both of you. Alexei, are you ready to talk to your personal Guardian Angel, little brother?"
Alexei nodded, suddenly nervous at how his actions were viewed. He twisted around on Cory's lap, pressing his back into Cory's chest as he pulled Cory's arms securely around his stomach.
"Relax, little one..." Mikey advised before a semi-transparent figure began to take form between him and Candy. "Tzar Alexei the Second, we Grant you the Time to comfort and advise your grandson."
The new arrival was a big man, obviously regal by the way he held himself. The care in his eyes was obvious, accentuated by the small smile on his face. After taking a few seconds to take in the sight of his grandson being comforted by Cory, he spoke. "My little bear, rest easy; the one who defiled you has suffered the ultimate justice. While I was not able to intervene, I was able to witness on your behalf once you arranged for his earthly punishment."
"I'm sorry for being so weak and letting him do that," Alexei whispered as he pulled himself even tighter into Cory.
"You have no reason to be sorry, my little one. You acted when you could, and remained strong until that time arrived. You have honored your bloodline by your resolve to stand by your people. Now it is time for you to move on; you have sealed your past in history, now you must leave the past behind you and move forward using the lessons that you have learned. Let your brother guide you, as he has proven his honor."
"You're not mad?" Alexei wondered, obviously unsure.
"Why should I be?" his grandfather chuckled. "You need a family at your age, and I couldn't be happier at your choice. Right now I see a perfect example of why; you are being comforted by someone who obviously cares for you. I can see that Cory loves you no matter what your past was or who you are; that is what you need at this point in your life, no matter what you think."
"What about Poppa and Momma? Won't they be mad?" Alexei asked.
"They're mad that they couldn't protect you, but they are hoping that you take this opportunity, my little bear. Fear not, as all they want is the best for you, and they trust Teri after watching what she has done for the rest of her family. They have watched as you took in your sons, and have watched as you were honored for surviving your abuse and coming out of it still caring and compassionate. They agree that you are much too young to not have a family to turn to, so do not think that you are dishonoring their memory."
Finally, Alexei asked the most important question he had. "Papaw? Why'd you have to die? I want you back, I miss you."
After placing a ghostly hand on Alexei's shoulder, the elder Alexei softly replied "As Cory has sworn to protect you here in this life, I was Called to protect you from the Other Side. Even though you didn't see me, I held you when you were at your weakest, and fought to keep Others from taking advantage of you, Others that you've never seen. I promise, I'll always be at your side, as I've been since the day I moved on. I don't know if I will ever get the chance to talk to you again like this while you are alive, but you can be sure in your heart that I'm here with you."
More to reinforce the statement than anything else, Cory quipped "Ya know, sometimes I think there are more spirits here than people!"
"You have no idea how close you are, my little lion," Grandfather Alexei replied. "It is time that you take on the title which has been lost to knowledge in your hereditary line, Prince Cory Short."
"Another title?" Cory mock-complained, inwardly surprised at the familial address that the elder Alexei had used.
The elder Alexei chuckled. "I am sure that Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth was planning on telling you sooner or later. In the early 1600's one of your male ancestors provided a service to the Tzar that endeared him to the Royal Family, and he was Decreed a Prince as if he was born into the line of succession. The title passes through the male offspring, so yourself and your brother Cody have the honor of the title from birth. Due to the politics of the time, your ancestor never publicized his coronation to protect his family, so the title was never formally acknowledged by later generations."
Thanks to the distraction, Alexei giggled as he quipped "So Cody really IS a Royal pain?"
"You could say that," the elder Alexei chuckled. "It is time for me to get back to my eternal job of trying to keep up with you, my little bear. Know that your predecessors believe that you have restored honor to the throne, and are watching you as you grow into your hereditary role."
"I love you, Papaw," Alexei acknowledged. "I'll always miss you."
"I love you too, my little bear," Alexei II replied lovingly as he started to fade. "I am proud to have you carrying on my name."
As soon as his grandfather was gone, Alexei twisted and cuddled into Cory's shoulder. After kissing his brother's head, Cory looked up to where Mikey and Candy were watching with smiles on their faces. "Thanks for bringing Alexei's grandpa to see him. I think he really needed to know that he didn't disappoint his family with what happened."
Candy nodded. "You're welcome; but that wasn't just for Alexei, Cory. He wanted to make sure that you knew that your decision to adopt Alexei as your brother was supported by the Royal line. You DO realize that the linage applies to your adopted sons, don't you?"
Cory grinned. "Are you sure that you want my kids to think they are royalty by family?"
"You're already a king in their eyes, Tigger," Mikey chuckled. "I doubt this will change anything."
Rolling his eyes, Cory giggled. "I think I'll leave being Royal to my little brother here. You get to break the news to Mom though, bro; I'm planning on being far away when she finds out!"
"I always knew you were the smart brother," Candy sniggered. "I'll make sure Mikey handles it for you."
"Hey! You're supposed to be on MY side!" Mikey exclaimed with a grin.
"When you become cuter than your little brother, I'll think about it..." Candy prodded as they faded away and the room slowly returned to normal.
"I think they're married or something," Cory giggled as he shifted Alexei slightly to a more comfortable position. "How you doing, little bro?"
"Better, I'm not as worried now about what happened," Alexei admitted. "Do you still want me after what Papaw said?"
"There's nobody dead or alive that can change me wanting you to be my brother," Cory assured Alexei as he gave him a squeeze. "You're stuck with me, my little bear."
"Can ... Can I call you my lion like Papaw did?" Alexei asked softly.
"Only you can call me your lion, my little bear," Cory replied. He knew just what that would mean to Alexei, as an animal nickname was a personal form of endearment in Russian culture. In Alexei's case, his stated identification with a Russian bear sealed his nickname; but Cory's new nickname seemed to be a family choice that Alexei wished to continue.
While Cory was thinking, Alexei leaned up and kissed Cory's cheek before adding "You're my favorite big lion prince."
As Alexei was saying that, a still-blushing DJ came over to stand near the chair. Alexei spotted him first, and commented "I think it's DJ's turn for cuddles, he needs them more than me."
"Don't you dare try to sneak off, little brother!" Cory giggled. "Scoot over some, you can help Deej too."
Taking the hint, DJ shortly was occupying the empty space that Alexei created on Cory's lap. "We're not squashing you, are we Dad?" DJ asked with concern.
"You're fine, son," Cory assured him. "What's wrong? You look like you've been run over by Timmy's Tribe."
"I had Bryce take me back to New Boston; I was checking to see why Anton was so sad, and his surface thoughts told me that his brother might be in danger. Their parents were just as bad as that piece of crap that created me, the only difference is that they actually managed to get the kid to do stuff with them."
Cory gave DJ a squeeze. "I understand; seeing them brought up some bad memories, didn't it?"
DJ nodded, silent tears starting to make their way down his face. "Why?" he whispered. "I don't want to remember that stuff."
Alexei reached over and turned DJ's face towards him. "What were the crimes, and what punishment did you deliver?"
"The biggest was they were planning to murder him because he was getting too old," DJ replied softly. "There was rape, filming a minor performing indecent acts, and a whole bunch of others. The laws there give the death penalty if there are more than five rapes on someone's record; they were into three digits each. Both of them were turned to ashes on the spot."
Alexei nodded. "I have been used, and understand how you feel DJ. The hardest part is you always worry that you'll be too strict judging someone who is doing what was done to you. I don't fully know the laws there, but in Russia I would commend you for being fair. You picked the crimes already committed to judge them, even though they planned to do the only thing worse than rape. I don't know if my opinion means much, but I think you judged them on THEIR crimes, not the crimes of your past. Don't try to group them together; they're not related."
"Your opinion means a lot, little brother," Cory interjected. "Something else you said means even more though; you understand. Both of you are hurting right now over the past, and I can only show you both my love, since I've never been through what you had to live through. I really think you two and Tanner need to sit down and spill your guts to each other; we all know that it helps when people who have suffered the same can openly discuss their past with others that understand it."
Alexei allowed himself a small grin. "You know what, DJ? We can't let Cory be right so much, he's going to get a big head. By any chance does this semi-castle have an indoor pool?"
"Of course," DJ nodded, glad for the distraction. "You get his feet, and I'll show ya how to get there!"
"You wouldn't..." Cory started to challenge before realizing that having both of them on his lap removed any possibility of escape. He fought their plot just enough to keep up appearances, despite his guess that Alexei had made the suggestion just to get DJ's mind on other things.
"Try Timmy's bedroom!" Cory shouted to Viola, who was trying to locate four missing sons.
The reason she was looking for them was that Peter had popped in to let them know that he'd made what he called 'minor' changes to their house to account for their expanded family. Knowing Peter and his crew, Cory immediately offered to escort them over to check it out; he was sure the reaction would be hilarious! Now him, Sean, Alexei, DJ, and Tanner were waiting patiently for the fun to begin, once all of the Schaffer boys were located.
A few minutes later, Viola appeared following the missing boys, shaking her head in between amazed glances. As soon as she got within normal voice range, she announced "Julius, you'll be glad to know that our sons consulted with experts on how to properly climb trees. How Timmy managed to get an annex to his room that contains a jungle, among other things, I don't really want to know; but according to the monkeys living there our boys are certified for basic climbing now." She paused and then added "Dylan and I are going to have a LONG talk!"
"Hey, at least we didn't have to send Doc Austin in to rescue you!" Sean giggled. "Him and Dan have got really good at helping parents after they see Timmy's little collection!"
"Back where we came from, half of the creatures I saw were extinct," Viola stated. "Some for millions of years, according to the archeologists!"
"Some of them are extinct here too," DJ snickered. "My lil' bro don't care though, he just bugs his uncles and cousins until they get him one of what he wants."
Sensing the probable response, Tanner interjected "Something you need to realize is that Timmy's a Spirit Guide. When it comes to non-human beings, Timmy is able to communicate with them, and they honor him by not hurting him or those he associates with. You'll probably see an alligator visiting pretty soon, that's Allie, she's part of Timmy's welcome wagon. If she's in uniform, it's for real; Grandma Lizzy made her a member of the Royal Guard."
"That should be interesting, I've never seen a live alligator," Viola admitted. "I expected strange things after Dylan staged a dragon fight in my living room before we moved, I'm glad I prepared myself!"
Grinning, Cory stated "He inherited that from his Dad. The dragon illusion thing is one of Kyle's favorite things to do when he's playing with his gifts. Sometimes it is good to escape reality long enough to clear your head; when he does that it helps everyone who is playing without them knowing it."
Crez had reached the end of his patience, and interrupted. "When are we goin' to see the house? Crey and me wanna see our new room! Peter says we're gonna love it."
Cory paused to really look at the pair, then smiled. "Let's head over, we can finish this talk after the boys settle in. I think meeting all these new people is getting to Crey and he needs some quiet time to collect Crezzy cuddles and relax."
"They're sharing a room?" Julius asked as they headed towards the door.
Cory nodded as he walked alongside Julius as Viola hung back to make sure the entire mob made it to their destination. "Petey's part of the same branch of humanity as Dilly, and he wouldn't do something like that without a reason. Either them sharing a room is going to cause something really positive to happen, or there is no other option because of a fixed point in Time. Don't try to find out why, sometimes knowing can actually change things."
"I'll remember that," Julius replied. "It's one thing to watch time-travel movies, but living it gives you a whole new perception about paradoxes."
The conversation was interrupted by two things: Peter catching up with them holding a large pizza pan full of cookies, and the group rounding the corner to get their first look at the outside of the house. Peter grinned as everyone's jaw dropped; you had to look really close to even find where the old ranch-style house still existed in the new design. "I'm gonna drop these off in the dining room, then I'll show you around!" Peter exclaimed with a giggle before flickering. Now with just a single cookie in his hand to test for quality, he asked the million dollar question. "Whadda you think, will it hold your family?"
"That's a MANSION!" Julius exclaimed. "I could NEVER afford that!"
"He asked if you liked it, not if you could afford it," Alexei clarified. "It is our responsibility to ensure that your family has housing which suits the needs of those living there. If Peter had not taken the initiative, either Cory or myself would have requested it."
"If your eldest didn't beat us to it, bro," Cory added. "Ya know, that house has more curves than an Iowa country road!"
"Wait until you see the back!" Peter giggled.
Viola pulled Peter into a cuddle. "If what you did to the outside is any kind of example, I can't wait to see the inside. I know you promised to arrange for extra bedrooms for the boys, but I never expected it this fast or this much!"
"Your boys really need to know they have a forever home," Peter explained. "I moved it to the top of my list because of that. Giving them things they thought were only in movies is a bonus."
"Hey Petey?" Cory asked, "Ya think we can start with Crez's bedroom? Crey needs to wind down, so they can watch the tour on his monitor. George says he'll link in with them and he'll pass us questions or comments. George is going to follow along with us with the security cameras."
"Sure!" Peter replied a second before the entire group found themselves in a large bedroom overlooking the front yard from the new second floor.
"Hey! You kept my walls!" Crez screamed as he began running around to check out the room, Crey on his heels and just as excited. "Whoa! Look at my TV, Mommy! It's GINORMOUS!"
"I see that," Viola smiled. "Peter, why does this room look like it was set up for two people from the start?"
Peter tried his best angel imitation. "I guessed that Crey is going to share it?"
Viola shook her head with a grin. "So you play matchmaker on the side I see. If both of them agree to it, I have no problem with them sharing a room. Obviously, it's not going to be crowded. Won't they need another bed?"
"Ya hear that, Crey?" Crez exclaimed as he skidded to a stop. "We really getta share! We even got a big bed to cuddle on all night without worrying 'bout fallin' off!"
Crey didn't say a word, instead he wrapped his arms around Crez and pulled him into a tight hug, his smile saying more than any words could.
"As you were saying?" Peter giggled. "Just so everyone knows, we made this bedroom special for these two. I can't give you the reason, but I can say that they'll need the extra privacy. This bedroom has a private bathroom, and with the hallway it's a little bigger. Like the rest of the bedrooms, all of the windows are one-way; you can look out, but nobody can look in unless you talk George into adjusting them. He's tied into the entire house, just like all of the other houses in the compound, so anything you need you can just ask."
Julius glanced over at Crez and Crey, who were still hugging with their cheeks touching. "I think it might be a good idea to start the tour; I'm sure these two will catch up on things when they have finished comforting each other."
Peter smiled as he waved his arm. "Okay, follow me!"
With Peter in the lead, the parade began. It didn't take long for it to come to a halt, however; once the entire group was in the hall it only took seconds for the boys to run ahead to check out the first feature they saw.
"AWESOME!" Ferris shouted. "Check it out! You can see ALL the way up and down!"
"Look bro, we've got a POOL in the basement!" Ton added as the rest of the brothers ohhhed and ahhhed.
"Now THAT is unexpected," Julius commented. He headed over to check out the current object grabbing the attention of his sons; a 10 foot by 16 foot glass walled shaft that extended from the basement to the roof. On the side towards the room they just left was a spiral staircase which led to the floor above them. The steps of the stairs were carpeted with the same red carpet of the hallway, and the entire thing was enclosed in a rounded glass enclosure.
Viola walked over to the far side of the shaft, and shook her head in wonder. "Two more staircases, AND an elevator? Just how big IS this place?"
"Only four floors, not counting the basement," Peter answered innocently.
"We arrived with a house that had one floor, and a few hours later we've found out that it is four times taller, four times bigger going by what I've seen outside and in this hallway, and it grew a basement pool?" Viola stated in shock.
"I was in a hurry, I'll probably have to add a few things last week," Peter giggled.
"Just roll with it, you'll stay saner that way," Cory laughed. "Seriously, Peter's in charge of making sure everyone has the space they'll need for their place in the Clan. Most of the time, even I don't know what's being done until after he does it; however he's been right every time."
Viola nodded. "I think I'll take your advice, even though I have no idea how he pulled this off."
After multiple tries, Julius and Viola managed to peel their sons off of the glass, then spent the next few minutes reminding the rest of their guests that there was more to see. Once he had their attention again, Peter explained "There are bathrooms by the stairwells; those are single-person unless you're really friendly with each other. The main bathroom is two-story, it's the door Alexei is standing by. The door off to his left is a single bathroom that is for when girls visit, just in case they don't want to use the ones by the stairs. The bedrooms are on this floor and the next one, all except the master bedroom. This floor has eight bedrooms, one of which is for if you get a sister. Upstairs are another five bedrooms, and the master bedroom is on the first floor."
"Ten kids, thirteen bedrooms?" Julius commented. "With Crez and Crey sharing a room, that leaves four free. Do you know something we don't?"
"Dilly said that Crez is like Cory, so I give you a week before you're calling Peter for an addition!" Alexei giggled.
"Watch it, my little brother, I can easily arrange for your palace to become extremely crowded!" Cory threatened with a grin.
"You just proved my point!" Alexei laughed before giving Cory a quick hug.
Shaking his head at his husband and new brother, Sean spoke up. "I'm going to guess that Peter set things up like usual. If so, right now the rest of the bedrooms are just basic rooms with a bed and your personal computer. DJ and Dylan have already let me know their plan; DJ and Tanner are going to take Ferris and Ton to pick out things to make their rooms theirs, while Dylan and his husband Thomas are going to take the rest of the boys to outfit their rooms. Any physical changes that are needed Peter will handle once everyone has a room picked out."
"Why isn't Ton coming with the rest of us?" JD asked, obviously not happy.
DJ answered for Sean. "Ton's still dealing with almost not seeing your new big brother ever again. He needs some time with Ferris to recover, and Ferris really needs to know in his heart that his blood half-brother is safe before he'll be able to be the big brother that the rest of you want."
"Howda you know?" JD asked, obviously more curious than offended.
"Timmy's my half-brother by blood," DJ explained. "I've been through something like what Ferris and Ton are going through, so I can help them."
"That's the only reason Dylan is letting us do it," Tanner added. "He doesn't normally help new guys go pick out stuff to settle in, but for the first time ever he's doing it - just because you are his new friends, and he wants to make sure his friends are happy."
"Okay," JD replied with a nod. "I guess we'd better find out which rooms we gotta use."
Before anyone could say or do anything, Julius interrupted. "Actually boys, I think that you should all look at the bedrooms and then pick out which ones you want. There are enough extras for each of you to choose one for yourselves, but if you decide that you want to share with someone you can. Your Mom and I are going to stay out of it unless there's a problem, and even then we'll just help you to figure out a solution. Just make sure that ALL of you look at all of the open rooms before picking the ones each of you likes."
Noticing that the boys were staring at Julius like he'd grown an extra two heads, DJ sniggered. "That's what REAL parents say, guys! Hurry up, the cookies that Peter brought are getting cold!"
The mention of cookies had it's intended result, as the assembled group scrambled to start checking out the two floors of bedrooms. Cory giggled as he commented "That's why DJ's the favorite big brother of our sons; not only does he care about all of them, he knows what's important!"
"Thanks, Dad," DJ responded, his smile a mile wide at the praise from Cory.
Surprisingly, it didn't take long for the boys to sort out their living arrangements. One of the features that Peter didn't mention was the biggest hit for them, the one-way exterior walls. These were under George's control; the exterior walls of every room could be turned into one-way glass. That way, the occupant can see out, but from the outside the wall looks normal and solid.
Once Peter had ensured that the boys were familiar with the two-level restroom and the location of the toy closet on the third floor, he took them up to the fourth floor. At that point, the boys received another surprise; hidden doors. Their eyes grew wide when they saw Peter, Cory, and Sean walk right through what seemed like a solid wall at the top of the stairs, but their surprise turned into excitement as they tried it themselves and found that they were in a huge room.
DJ grinned at their reaction. "This room is going to be reserved for just Clan members, which includes all of you that are under eighteen. This will probably be the last time you adults see this room, since after today it'll be set up with some seriously classified stuff. Don't worry though, George will work with you to find the boys and have them join you if possible. If they're tied up, he'll tell you what he can; and if there is something they need you for he can give you temporary access to that area of the room."
"Why do you do that?" Viola asked.
Julius beat everyone to an answer. "After what I saw these boys dealing with like it was everyday business back in New Boston, I'm fine with the boys having a space where they can separate their duties from their family life. Considering how fast Dylan arranged for us to add them to our family, I'm sure that they have stories in their history that would give both of us nightmares."
"Good guess," Sean answered seriously. "I know the histories of every single Clan member in Florida, and a lot of members in our other divisions. If someone tells you their past, that means that you've earned their ultimate trust. That takes a lot for any of these guys, and all they want in return is your help in overcoming what was done to them. The last thing they need is pity."
Viola nodded. "Warning accepted, Sean. All I can ask is that our sons let us in to help if we're needed."
"The only ones that can make that choice is them," Sean responded as Peter led them to the far side of the room.
The whole group took time to enjoy the next surprise, the room at the front of the fourth floor with floor-to-ceiling glass that gave them a birds-eye view of the compound in front of the house. Cory had the fun of playing tour guide, as he pointed out the various points of interest to the new Clan members.
Peter then took them on a quick round of the various balconies, then guided them into the basement. After showing them the game room, pool, and locker rooms, they went upstairs to the main level. The entertainment room that occupied the former master bedroom area was a big hit, mainly because of the fifteen-foot wide television on one wall. The expanded living room was next, with a slightly smaller television that was only five feet wide.
Everyone was required to stop to say 'hi' to the goldfish as they passed by, under direct orders of Roc. Julius and Viola took the opportunity as the boys did their duty to check out their new master bedroom. Viola loved the sitting room that served as an entry, as it had an unobstructed view of the general surroundings through the glass shaft that extended through all of the levels. The expanded bedroom, closet, and master bath met with the approval of both adults, and they made sure that Peter knew that they appreciated the work he'd put into it for them. After a pass through the formal, semi-formal, and outdoor dining areas, Peter headed towards the kitchen, ignoring Viola's muttering about the formal table seating sixteen, with the breakfast bar holding an additional five and the overflow tables adding six more seats.
Most of the boys headed out to the basketball court as their new parents followed Peter into the kitchen, confident in their knowledge that that particular room was going to be off-limits anyway. The exceptions were Ferris and Ton, with Ton joining mainly because his brother was joining. Once Peter had went over the expanded storage that he installed, the two boys started paying more attention as he began pointing out the new appliances.
Viola noticed their interest, and decided this was the perfect time to prove her acceptance of them was not just empty promises. "Ferris? Ton? Peter's given us better appliances than I've seen in some restaurants. Something to think about is that most of the best chefs back where we came from were male, and they started learning by cooking with their parents. Both of you are welcome in the kitchen any time I'm in here, and once you've learned how to safely operate all of these appliances you'll be able to come in here by yourselves."
"What's the catch?" Ferris asked, not totally trusting his new parents yet. "Whatta we gotta do because you're letting us do this?"
While not used to being challenged in her own home by someone under her care, Viola thought back to the veiled warning that Sean had given her earlier. As she read the posture of her newest eldest son, she noticed how he'd shifted to protect Ton. With that in mind, she carefully replied "You have to take everything that you have had to live through and file it under the 'I won't let this happen to anyone ever again' part of your brain, then you need to allow us the chance to show you what parents who care about their sons are like. Your little brothers are going to follow your example; while I'm sure that you'll come to protect all of them, first you need to make sure that you're not protecting them from something that will help them recover from that hell-hole that we all came from. Dylan brought us here because we were not like the other parents back there; the only way we can prove that to you and your brothers is if you let us."
Ferris looked around the group. Julius was holding Viola's hand, and as he locked eyes with Ferris he nodded his head, signifying that he fully agreed with his wife. The rest just seemed to be waiting for his reply, all except DJ, who tapped the side of his head and then nodded with a smile when Ferris looked at him.
There were only two people out of the entire group that Ferris had any feelings of trust towards; his little brother, who was now snuggled up to his side, and the boy who had not only saved him, but had terminated the demons that he'd been unlucky enough to have to call parents, then brought him to his brother. Ferris understood that somehow DJ knew what was in people's heads, and so far his savior had kept every promise that he'd made. Unconsciously feeling trapped, Ferris had backed up against the back counter. Now confusion set in, and he sank to the floor with silent tears flowing from his eyes, his little brother securely held to his side.
Realizing how fragile Ferris was currently, Viola softly stated "Boys, I'm going to come over and sit next to our sons. When you're ready, I'll be right there for you so that I can hold you while you cry out some of your pain. I might not understand what you've been through, but I do understand that you'll need help to heal from it. I'll be that help if you let me."
Ferris nodded, his mind unsure about an adult saying it was okay to cry; for thirteen years he'd always been told the opposite. He fully expected the other shoe to drop when Julius moved to make sure that Ferris knew he was being spoken to directly.
Julius dropped to one knee so that he wasn't towering over the boys. "Ferris and Ton, I'm not going to let Peter finish the tour until your Mom tells me that she thinks you're BOTH ready. While you're working out how your life has changed and are crying out your pain, I'll be outside teaching your brothers some basics about basketball so that Ferris will have an easier time when they ask him to teach them what he knows. Ferris, DJ might not have allowed me to find out what all was done to you, but he did make sure I knew what you like to do. You worry about feeling better, and I'll worry about teaching your little brothers to at least hit the backboard, okay?"
"Yeah," Ferris managed to squeak.
"I'll be outside if you need me, sons," Julius stated as he stood up and turned to go outside. As he left, everyone but the two boys, Viola, DJ, and Tanner followed him.
Noticing the question silently being displayed on Viola's face, Tanner explained "We ain't going nowhere until Ferris gets his head back under control. I know where what he's feeling right now can lead, thanks to numb-nuts here, and I'm not gonna let him anywhere near that path if I can help it."
Knowing better than to try to defend himself, DJ added "What my blunt boyfriend is trying to say is that Ferris is not alone. I had some trouble adapting to Clan life and having adults around that I could trust, and I tried to make some really bad choices because of it. I didn't save him to let him go through what I did, so the two of us are in this with you to help him heal."
Viola nodded. "Reading between the lines, I'm going to assume that youth suicide to escape the situations that they were placed in is not an accepted alternative in this world. There is no need to dance around it; going by the state that Ferris is in at the moment, I can just about promise that not only has he considered it, but the tools to do it are probably back in his former bedroom in New Boston. After the things I have overheard when Ton thought I couldn't hear him, I really hope that Ferris reconsiders the idea. Ferris is exactly the type of big brother that I would want for all of the boys; and yes, that includes Creston. I know they were all excited when you brought Ferris back, because that meant they would get to share the great big brother that Ton bragged about."
Tanner's face was dead serious as he looked up. "George, two beanbag chairs now, and drop into Level Three Secure mode for all mics monitoring this area. DJ's gonna tell Ferris ALL about what he learned when his brain misfired. In detail."
DJ turned to protest, until he saw the fire in his boyfriend's eyes. At that point, he just nodded, understanding that Tanner had picked up on something that made this necessary.
"Mom says to tell you we're ready!" Ton announced as he joined the group out on the basketball court. "Ferris promised me he ain't gonna kill himself now."
The simple statement from Ton quickly showed the cultural differences between the Schaffer family and the rest of the group. While Julius and his boys just smiled at the news, the rest of the group, including Peter, immediately started the shift into full Clan mode. Expecting the sudden shift, Ton added "Uncle Tanner said to say put your fuzzymores away, he'll explain it later. What's a fuzzymore?"
Quickly digesting the mental response from DJ about the cultural differences, Cory relaxed. "It's a living weapon that can hide on people's arms. The Clan guys who are in charge of protecting everyone get them once they are ready."
"Oh, so Ferris is gonna get one?" Ton asked hopefully.
Cory took long enough to quickly scan the hopeful faces of the Schaffer boys, then replied "I'm gonna let your Uncle DJ make the decision of when Ferris is ready for one. That work?"
Ton nodded with a big grin. "YEAH! Uncle DJ is awesome! He unnerstands why Ferris was gonna kill himself, and he told us all about what he learned that made it so he's not wanting to do it no more. He says on good worlds kids ain't gotta do that to be safe, and this is a good world, even though some kids goof and still do it instead of gettin' help."
Julius could almost feel the tension from his Clan guests, so he spoke up. "Back in New Boston, suicides didn't even make the news. While not exactly encouraged, if a youth was suffering in his home, he or she would be well informed of options to get it right the first time by their eighth year of school. With that in mind, I would much rather my boys consider the topic as one they can freely discuss in front of me, so that I can help them learn the options available to remain alive."
Realizing that his emotional training since birth on the subject was clouding his ability to consider the other viewpoint, Cory allowed himself to slip into Patriarch mode. Once he'd considered the logic behind both viewpoints, he stated his conclusion. "While the logic of taking one's own life has numerous faults, I also find that it is illogical to assume failure to discuss the possibility of a person making that illogical choice would deter the action. Julius has proposed a remedy for the situation which brings an acceptable level of logic into an illogical situation. Until such time as a permanent resolution may be found, his proposed solution of open discussion shall be the most valid option."
Before another word was said, Alexei ordered "Misha, I find Patriarch Cory's logic to be sound. His determination is to be adopted by the Russian Federation as the minimum standard that all Crown officials shall follow. I have spoken."
"I have heard and will publish your declaration, Tzar Alexei III." Misha responded.
"That is all," Alexei replied.
"Showoff!" Cory giggled, having slipped back to his normal mode. Pulling Alexei into a cuddle, Cory added "You just had to do that, didn't you, little brother?"
"I can't have my government thinking I forgot them, now can I?" Alexei replied with a grin.
"Oh, I'm sure Misha doesn't give them that chance," Cory giggled. "You'd be surprised at how much the AI guys do in our names without telling us!"
"Unlike you, I've asked Misha to give me a nightly list!" Alexei laughed. "You know how bad I am about surprises."
Julius felt the eyes of his sons boring into him as they awaited his reaction to Cory's act of asserting his right to dictate how things were to be done. "Cory, please understand that I am not used to abiding by rules set by anyone other than my wife or myself in my home. With that in mind, I have to acknowledge that you handled it quite well, and after hearing your analysis I would have stood by whatever you decided. You took the time to look at both sides of a subject which you obviously have set ideas about, then made a decision despite your personal feelings. You've earned my respect, and if I am uncomfortable with how things are done I now know who I can go to so I can understand the reasons behind the rules. Alexei, while I had no idea that there was still such a thing as a Tzar, if you were serious I commend you on your choice."
Quickly stepping in before Alexei slipped into his angry bear imitation, Peter explained "Uncle 'Lexi, you gotta remember that governments are different in different timelines. Where they came from, the last of the Russian Royal Family was executed over a hundred years ago. Uncle Julius, he really is the Tzar of the Russian Federation; he's just taking some time to be a normal kid for a while when he doesn't have to do any Tzar stuff."
"My apologies, Tzar Alexei," Julius stated with a small bow. "I'm definitely going to need to get updated on our new home."
"I accept your apology," Alexei replied, trying to ignore the plodding of his big brother. A few seconds later, he gave in, moving a couple of steps towards Julius before stopping well out of the reach of the adult. "I'm sorry too," Alexei stated softly as he hung his head. "I should know better; I was getting mad because of not thinking that you ain't native to here."
Noticing that Alexei was exhibiting some of the same body language signs that some of his new sons still showed, Julius squatted to be less threatening before replying. "Alexei, I accept your apology. It takes a strong man to admit he's wrong when he could be silent and nobody would know the difference. Make your mistakes while you're young, because then you can learn from them and stop them before they become bad habits. I'll bet that you have some very proud ancestors right now after you just proved your maturity like this."
"Thank you," Alexei whispered just loud enough to hear before quickly stepping back and taking up residence under Cory's arm.
"Okay guys, we better get back in there before your Mom sends out a search party!" Julius told his sons as he stood back up. "The last I heard, it looked like Ferris and Ton were thinking about learning to cook, so the rest of you might like to see what they're going to be learning about."
"Does that mean we ain't gonna get hit with a pan if we go in there?" Iggy asked warily.
"If ANYONE even threatens you with a pan or anything else for going into a common room in our house, they're going to have to have whatever they threatened you with surgically removed from inside their butt." Julius stated. "That's a promise; and I won't be gentle putting it in there. This is YOUR home, and while there may be limits for your safety or to protect privacy, at no time are punishments that harm you allowed."
"You're not just saying that because Uncle Cory's here, are you?" JD challenged.
"No, I really mean it, JD," Julius replied. "Also, while you are doing really good at saying out loud what your brothers are thinking, there are better ways to word it. It is called 'diplomacy', and it is something that any large organization needs people to do. I bet that Cory has a team that does just that, and you might just have a natural skill that they could help you learn to use."
"Hey JD?" Cory interrupted, "Xain is supposed to be swinging by my place tomorrow, and I can have him stop over and fill you in on what your Dad is talking about. If he agrees with your Dad, he'll tell the school to add the training to join his team to your normal classes at school. Speaking of school, Mr. T said to tell you that he expects to see you in class tomorrow, 'Lexi; he said that being the leader of a country doesn't get you out of learning about the universe."
"When did I start school here?" Alexei asked in shock.
"I had George take care of it while you were sleeping on my lap," Cory giggled. "The first day is placement tests, so you won't be too lost."
"You're weird," Alexei stated as he shook his head. "The bad part is, something tells me that there's no way I can get out of it."
"Nope!" Cory and Sean chorused.
With a huge grin at Cory's plot to get Alexei integrated with the rest of the Clan, Peter took the lead and escorted the entire group back into the kitchen. When they arrived, they found Viola standing in front of the central cooking area, explaining some things to the two boys under her arms.
"... We're going to have to see if Peter can arrange for some sort of platform for you boys to use the cooktops," Viola explained. "The charbroiler is the most dangerous for you to lean over, it can give you bad burns really quick."
"I've already installed the Tommy and Tyler modifications!" Peter giggled.
"Oh, I thought all of you got lost trying to find your way back in!" Viola joked as she noticed the group entering the kitchen. "Just what are those modifications, Peter?"
Peter grinned as he opened the door of a cabinet in the tall unit at one end of the island, revealing a control panel. "Ty and Tommy gave me this idea, and Fife programmed it! Whoever is using a station just needs to touch the picture of the station they are using, the computer in here figures out their height and then adjusts the station to the safe height for them. For the griddles, if the oven door under the griddle is opened, it will raise up enough to be able to open the oven all the way automatically."
"Doesn't that block the bottom drawers?" Viola asked.
"Nope, the station does the same thing if it would block them opening on the range and charbroiler stations," Peter explained. "This is a lot safer than a platform, since you can't fall off accidentally."
"What stops one of their friends from doing that and getting hurt because they don't know the safety rules?" Julius asked seriously.
"Fife thought of the fix for that," Peter explained. "The first person to activate the controls is considered the primary user. Either me, Fife, Tommy, or Tyler can reset that, and Tommy and Tyler have hard-coded access. Anyone else using it has to have the primary user touch the station picture after they do the first time they try to use that station. Once this is activated, the appliances can be locked out so that they don't work after you are done cooking by any authorized user. If you do that, then only people who have been approved by the primary user can turn it back on."
"So you're saying that, as an example, let's say that Ton is not comfortable with flames yet," Viola tried to clarify. "With this, I could allow him to use the griddle and oven when he wanted, and not worry about him accidentally catching himself on fire?"
Peter nodded. "Exactly. The key thing is that once you have granted access to use a station, it means that you trust the person to be responsible with it. Tommy made us take out the 'parent must be here' controls; he said that 'you either trust them or you don't, there ain't no half way 'bout it!'"
"Not bad, Petey!" Cory giggled, "You just need a little more drawl!"
Snickering at the confused adults, Sean explained "Tommy's our little brother, and sometimes his redneck speak is so bad that Texans need to hire a translator!"
"That thar' boy ken rustle sum ser'us vittles tho!" Alexei quipped in a Russian-accented imitation of Tommy.
"I done herd that!" Tommy exclaimed as he appeared next to Alexei seconds later. "Y'all's funnin' to much, the yung'uns ain't git'n no learnin' if y'all's gonna flap y'alls gums like a 'gator chewin' gum!"
Rolling his eyes, Sean stated "Everyone, this is Tommy. He's our family chef, and the sole reason that we had to form a diplomatic corps!"
"Bite me, bro," Tommy grinned, "Ya's just jealous cuz' ya ain't even able ta' be makin' ice cubes wit'out burn'n the water!"
"He's got you there!" Cory, DJ, Tanner, and Alexei giggled in unison.
"All y'all can bite me!" Sean groused.
"Are you really the family chef?" Ferris interrupted.
Tommy nodded. "Me an' Ty is; Ty may be little, but he makes mean gumbo!"
"I'm Ferris, our new Mom says she's gonna teach me and Ton how to cook."
"I'm Tommy, glad to be meetin' ya'. You ken do it if you ain't as hard-headed as Sean. Cory's gotta put the 'p'nut butter on Sean's flapjacks so the dufus ain't acc'dent'ly cutten hisself!"
Noticing that the two adults were quickly trying to form the words to chastise Tommy, Sean spoke up. "Don't worry about it, I actually am really bad around food. Like Aunt Helen says, she buys pre-sweetened cereal because I screw up putting sugar on it. I'm proof that not everyone can cook, and when these guys bring it up they're showing that not everyone can do everything. I have things I do that confuse the heck out of Tommy; things like my memory. Sometimes I'll watch someone make something I like, then tell Tommy exactly how it was made a week later."
"Yep!" Tommy giggled. Obviously shifting gears, he turned to Viola and Julius. "I'm gonna try to use my communications voice so y'all understand me. Since Cory forgot AGAIN, I had George do introductions for me. Ma'am? Have you ever teached a kid how to cook?"
Realizing it was a serious question, Viola shook her head. "No, Tommy, but I remember how I was taught."
Tommy smiled. "That's okay. Ya might wanna get with Aunt Helen for some suggestions; she's been really good with teaching me and Ty things we don't know. Iff'n its okay with y'all, Ferris an' Ton are welcome to come over and join me and Ty when we're cookin' up a treat for our brothers. We make lots, so they can feed their brothers too."
Viola considered Tommy's offer. "I really need to learn to adjust for my suddenly larger family before I make too many plans."
Tommy nodded. "Yep, big families are fun! Ya want me to ask Aunt Helen to come over? She can give ya tips while we's making a welcome supper for y'all! She's the head cook for ALL of Mom's family!"
"That might be a help..." Viola managed to reply before Tommy tapped his commbadge.
"Aunt Helen? You wanna come over to the Schaffers to make a welcome supper an' start helpin' Mrs. Schaffer with learnin' big family cookin'?"
"Teri already warned me I might be needed, Tommy. Ty's grabbing your favorite apron, then we'll be right over."
"Thanks, Aunt Helen!" Tommy replied with a grin. Turning to the rest of the group, he stated "It's gonna get a mite bit crowded in here; iff'n any of y'all wanna watch, ya' might be wantin' ta scarf a seat over at that thar bar. We got more chairs if theys needed. Iff'n you're cookin' or helpin' we got plottin' to do." Ferris an' Ton getta learn if they like cookin' or not today!"
"For those who don't want to watch, the garage has your new bicycles and your new three-wheel ATVs in it," Peter added. "Sean's a certified instructor for the ATVs, so some of you can start your lessons. There are spares for the rest of us to ride along."
"We're gonna watch, George said it'll be funny!" Creston's voice announced from the breakfast bar, causing everyone to turn in surprise. Julius smiled as he found his first son sitting at the bar with Crey on his lap, both wearing contented smiles.
"Are you two feeling better?" Julius asked. "How long have you been sitting there?"
"We just got here," Crez replied. "George helped us get here! Crey and me talked with a kid named Adrian who came over after George told him about us. He helped Crey and me understand what our new life is gonna be like, so Crey ain't feelin' funny in his belly anymore."
"That's good news, you had a bunch of brothers that were worried about you two," Julius stated. "Are you sure you don't want to try out the new toys that Peter gave you?"
"Naw, our brothers need fun without worryin' 'bout us having fun," Crey stated softly. "We ain't gonna be a family if they always watch out for us and don't try to become brothers with each other."
As most of the group stared wide-eyed at Crey, Tommy thought for a second, then shot a question at Crey in Acadian. Crey's eyes grew wide, then he replied in what was obviously a close dialect to what Tommy had said. After a few fast-paced exchanges that nobody else could follow, Tommy tapped his commbadge as Crey sat back on Creston's lap with a huge smile on his face.
"Tommy to 'Tonio, Code Alpha at the Schaffer house, repeat, Code Alpha at the Schaffer house."