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One of the sure signs of a career sailor is their sleeping habits. Only sailors can sleep like a baby through a winter North Atlantic storm, yet be wide awake seconds after a piece of equipment on the other end of the ship comes online unexpectedly. The higher in rank a sailor is, the more sensitive they are to the nuances of their floating home...
"What in the Hell!" Leon exclaimed as he sat up in his rack, the slight vibration of the main engines being brought online having triggered his sixth sense. His hand was halfway to his commbadge when his question was answered ship-wide by a voice he recognized as belonging to KT.
"This is NOT a drill! General Quarters, General Quarters, all hands man your battle stations! Set Condition Zebra, rig for emergency maneuvers! Report ready status to the Bridge. I repeat; This is NOT a drill! General Quarters, General Quarters, all hands man your battle stations! Set Condition Zebra, rig for emergency maneuvers! Report ready status to the Bridge."
Seconds later, as the great ship shuddered from her screws trying to get a bite in the water of the harbor, the 1MC announced "UNDERWAY, SHIFT COLORS!" just before the ship's horn began emitting its warning to any nearby vessels that the Iowa was on the warpath.
By this time, Leon was fully dressed, and exited his stateroom to find his sons staggering from their own berthing. Jeff and Harry were not only fully awake, but were armed to the teeth. Gerry was awake as well, and was trying to get Harry to share a weapon or two. Petey had his teddy bear in one arm, and had an equally-confused Tigger at his side. Sam and Sammy both seemed distracted, as they were quickly catching up on the intel.
Looking over his boys, Leon quickly decided where he thought each would feel most comfortable and useful. "Sam, you can give me a sitrep once we're on station. You, Jeff, Tigger, and Petey are with me on the Bridge. Sammy, take Harry and Gerry down to CIC, they'll be more help there. Make sure their clearances are maxed.
Jeff smiled at Leon. "Thanks, Dad; I wasn't sure who needed to go where."
"I wouldn't expect you to, Jeff; it takes years to figure that out onboard," Leon stated as he returned the smile. "Let's move out!"
Having two sons who were part of the ship's AI has it's advantages, as the group suddenly found out. Without warning, Sam and Sammy followed orders, transporting their assigned group to the proper location.
Leon's group appeared on the bridge, which led to the OOD announcing "CAPTAIN ON DECK!"
Looking around, Leon found that KT was just where he expected, in the Captain's chair. With his sons following, Leon strode over to the chair. "What's going on, KT?" he asked.
"Atlantic Fleet passed on a distress call from a passenger liner outside Burmuda. Initial intel states one of the Brit ships that is still not accounted for is attacking them, we are assuming they are leftover rogues from the Battle. We're the closest help, and I did a full scramble."
Leon nodded. "May I suggest you worry about the Task Group, and I'll handle the Iowa's details?"
"I like that, this thing's a monster!" KT giggled. "Attention on the Bridge, Leon has the Conn!"
"I have the Conn," Leon acknowledged. Looking back at his sons, he noticed how nervous Petey seemed, so after stealing a hug he suggested "Petey, why don't you go ask Uncle Mark to show you how to honk the horn? If you can do that, then Uncle Mark can help me."
Petey's eyes lit up at the possibility of getting an important job. "Really? YEAH!" He then twisted around and ran over to Mark, yelling "Uncle Mark! Daddy say you gotta teach me horn blowin'!"
Grinning at Petey's enthusiasm, Leon added "Sam, hook up with your twin and keep KT updated with info from CIC. That should save a lot of time. Jeff, I'd like you to take charge of Bridge security please, work with your brother if you need to sort out if somebody is supposed to be here."
"Yes Sir, Dad!" both older boys replied with grins as they gave Leon sloppy salutes.
Leon pulled both imps into a hug, then began his rounds to get a full overview of the ship's status.
Ralph Harrison couldn't help but smile as he watched Mark's first rescues intent on understanding the massive bank of radar screens in CIC. In all the time he had been Executive Officer of the Iowa, this had to be the most aware he'd ever seen his team in CIC during an operation. Due to the stream of questions from their trainees, the rest of the team had stepped up their awareness to cover for whoever was answering them.
"Lorin! The rail is NOT a balance beam!" Ralph exclaimed as he spotted Mark's furry son 'patrolling' the radar bank... on the rail behind it.
"I know that!" Lorin giggled as he reached out and swatted at the sweep on one of the displays. "Got it!"
Before he had a chance to reply, Ralph's attention was distracted by the arrival of three new kids, none of which bothered with using the hatch. The oldest of the three waved, saying "Hi Ralph, I'm Sammy! My blond little brother is Harry, and our other brother is Gerry. We're Leon's kids, and I'm part of the ship's AI. I'm your relay to KT, Harry's working with the Intel team, and Gerry's going to be roving intel."
"What is it about all of you new guys not using hatches?" Ralph grinned. "I'm still recovering from two armed gorilla boys appearing in front of me with their brothers!"
Sammy grinned, then a hatch appeared in front of him and his brothers. After opening it, all three giggling boys stepped through, then Gerry dogged it down before it vanished. "That better?" Sammy giggled.
"Smartass!" Ralph laughed. "Take your stations, guys; if you have questions, just ask any of the crew."
The boys split up, Gerry grabbing a hug from Harry before heading over to a station that seemed to be purposely isolated from the rest of the equipment. As he reached the console, he realized that there was one operator watching a screen and a Chief behind him wearing sound-powered phones. "Hi, I'm Leon's new son Gerry," he said shyly. "Whatcha' doin'?"
"I'm looking for radars from other ships," the petty officer at the console replied. "I'm Marvin, welcome aboard shipmate!"
"Thanks! Can I watch?"
Marvin reached over and flipped down a padded bench next to his chair. "Have a seat, Gerry. Strap in, we're supposed to be rigged for emergency maneuvers."
After getting fastened in, Gerry asked "Why do you gotta look for radars?"
Marvin smiled, answering without taking his attention from the screen. "We can see radar before it can see us, so we can be ready for anything coming at us."
"So you see other ships?" Gerry asked, his curiosity aroused.
"Ships, airplanes, shuttles, missiles, pretty much anything with a radar," Marvin explained. "Sometimes we can even identify the name of the ship, if they have something unique about their system - that's why there's a 'scope over there by your feet."
Gerry looked down, seeing the little screen with a pulsing wavy line on it. "Why is it pulsing?"
"That would be a spinning antenna - we see the pulse when it is pointing at us; that's one of the radars on the Brown."
"Kewl!" Gerry exclaimed. "What are all those funny icons on your screen?"
"Those tell me what the computer thinks it sees," Marvin grinned, "Then I decide if the computer is right. I then tell the XO what I've decided over the sound-powered phones."
"Why does the guy behind us have them too?" Gerry asked.
"That's our Chief, Vance Jones," Marvin grinned. "He's on the Weapon's channel, that way he can tell them things that need their response."
Having been paying close attention to the interaction, Vance came over to Gerry's side. "Hi, Gerry, welcome aboard! Would you like to listen in on the phones so that I can help Marvin?"
"What if you need to say something?" Gerry wondered.
"Then you'll just press this button and say what we tell you to say in a normal voice," Vance offered. "Mark's kids can do it, so you'll have no problem!"
"I HEARD THAT, CHIEF!" Cris yelled from across the space.
"Point made!" Vance chuckled. "You up to joining the team, Gerry?"
"I'll try," Gerry replied nervously.
"Don't worry dude," Marvin assured Gerry. "Vance is here to step in to help if anyone has trouble. That's either one of us, that's how being a team works."
"Okay," Gerry replied, relaxing with the knowledge that he wasn't alone. "Why do you have onea those red boxes next to you?"
"Why don't it..." Gerry started to ask, then stopped. After listening for a second, he repeated what he'd just heard. "Long range radar says they have a fast moving unknown heading our way at 320 relative."
"Tell them acknowledged, no signature," Vance stated as he took over the radio comms from Marvin. "Task Force Brownie, this is Super Elf. Team Echo to alternate 3, Team Echo to alternate 3. Super Elf out."
Vance switched to a different handset, and had just coordinated the other two ships to look when a buzzer went off on the console. It took Marvin a full fifteen seconds to make the call, then he told Gerry "Start calling out that label and number, count to five in your head, then call it out again. Keep it up until one of us says to stop."
Gerry nodded, his eyes wide. Pressing the button on his handset, he announced "Tommy Alpha 317 relative..."
Marvin hit the handle on the red box Gerry had commented on earlier, ringing klaxons throughout the ship. Picking up the 1MC, he made the announcement that sent shivers down everyone's spine. "General Quarters, Missile Inbound; General Quarters, Missile Inbound! All DC teams prepare for impact; stand by for evasive maneuvers. Non-essential personnel clear the weatherdecks. I repeat; General Quarters, Missile Inbound; General Quarters, Missile Inbound! All DC teams prepare for impact; stand by for evasive maneuvers. Non-essential personnel clear the weatherdecks. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."
Not knowing what else to do, Gerry kept repeating the status as he listened to the sound of the radar on the speaker above his head. "Why's it getting faster?" he asked between announcements.
"It's narrowing the scan," Vance started to reply, just as the signal went steady. "Oh shit, we have a lock. Marvin, go active."
Gerry didn't even think as he started his next update; he repeated Vance's statement as part of the report. "Oh shit, we have a lock, going active! Tommy Alpha 204 relative!"
Realizing what he did, he turned to Vance, only to get a thumbs-up from the chief. Marvin was mashing buttons as he instructed "Gerry, announce port ECM active, tell ECM launchers to clear for launch."
"All stations! Port ECM Active, ECM Launchers clear for launch. Tommy Alpha 220 Relative." Gerry announced, picking up on the procedure from the others on the circuit. After a few seconds, Gerry relayed "Port and Starboard forward and aft report clear for launch."
"Firing full salvo, port" Marvin announced.
"Firing full salvo, port!" Gerry echoed. "Forward port reports twelve in air, aft port reports twelve in air. Turrets one and three firing timed concussion rounds."
"Port reloaded forward and aft! Launchers clear." Gerry added thirty seconds later, just as the tone went from steady to pulsing. "It lost lock, prepare for additional decoys!" he announced without prompting.
"All tubes, port and starboard," Marvin stated as he started flipping the covers up.
"ECM, stand by for all tubes fire," Gerry relayed. "Clear for fire!"
Marvin started going down the line, emptying all of the ECM launchers. Gerry reported the launch status on each as fast as they reported in, then added "CIWS has acquired incoming and is responding."
A few seconds later, Marvin announced "Signal Lost!"
"Signal Lost," Gerry echoed. After a few seconds, he added "Acknowledged, Fire Control reports no return from target." After another pause, he responded "Acknowledged, Sonar. Splash recorded, no additional turbulence detected."
"All hands, relax battle stations, maintain condition Zebra," Leon announced from the bridge. "Excellent job, everyone."
Vance looked at his two companions, then tapped his commbadge. "ESM to Ops."
"Ops, go ahead Chief."
"Request permission to call in Shack to relieve current watch, Sir."
"Permission granted, take your watchstander and unwind - you included."
"Understood, and that is a plural, our newest team member is Leon's son Gerry," Vance replied with a smile at Gerry.
"Understood, I'll update the roster. I'll have the store open up so you can get him his uniform, tell Petty Officer Schmidt I said thank-you."
"If the look of shock on his face means anything, I think he heard you," Vance chuckled. "ESM out." Pausing, he tapped his badge again and stated "Bill, bring your crew down for relief; we need to take a break, especially our newest watchstander."
"Gotcha, Chief. We're on our way."
Gerry sat with his new friends on the mess deck, enjoying his milkshake as his companions told him silly sea stories. Every few seconds, he'd turn to look at his sleeve, making sure that the crow and rocker signifying that he was a Petty Officer Third Class, EW, was still there.
Marvin smiled at the awestruck tween sitting next to him. "It's real, buddy, that's all yours. You earned it, just like the medal I'm betting your Dad's gonna give all of us."
"But... I'm just a kid," Gerry protested for about the fiftieth time.
"Actually, you're a member of Clan Short, and more importantly, you're my son," Leon announced as he snuck up on the group. "A son that has made me very proud. Your big brother and boyfriend are trained for this kind of thing, you don't have that training yet, but you just played a big part in taking out that missile. According to our intel, that was the only one they had left, so we are safe until we get closer. After leaning down and giving Gerry a hug from the back, Leon added "You picked one of the hardest jobs on the ship, but you've already proven you can do it."
"I just repeated what they told me to say," Gerry whispered.
Leon took a seat next to Gerry, his glance telling Vance that he was up.
"Gerry, I never told you to announce that it had locked on," Vance explained. "I didn't tell you to announce when it lost lock, and I really wasn't expecting you to know to relay the information from the other departments. That was all you, and it was something that I've seen people who are older than you never pick up. All those questions you were asking before things went crazy were not only good questions, but you followed up with things that showed you actually understood the answers. It takes a lot of smarts to do this job, and you've showed us that you have them."
Smiling, Leon added "Caleb made you the person in charge onboard for our new AI, and now you've been accepted as one of the team of EWs. You can stop worrying about not being smart enough, in the last day you've proven to all of us that you're exceptional."
Now exhibiting a full-body blush, Gerry commented "If anyone wakes me up, I'm gonna kill them. Nobody's ever said that stuff about me."
Marvin grinned. "First off, this isn't a dream, and thanks to your help it didn't become a nightmare. The people who didn't notice you before were too absorbed in themselves to pay attention to you, so they lost out. I think we've talked too much, so why don't you finish your shake and we'll go check out those launchers that you were talking to."
"AWESOME!" Gerry exclaimed as he started sucking down his shake, only stopping long enough to clear an episode of brain-freeze.
The arrival at the scene was relatively anti-climatic compared to the excitement on the way over; something about a sixteen-inch shell taking a tour of the rogue ship's CIC shortly after the Iowa attained visual contact took the fight out of most of the rebels. It still took over three hours to clear both ships of terrorists and repair the damage that would have sank them. The passenger ship's screw and shaft were beyond repair, while the rogue ship lost all controls for the engines when the Iowa fired the warning shot through CIC. Once both ships were rigged to allow rudder control, the O'Bannon and Iowa lined up and used their new tractor beams to put their respective recoveries under tow. At a much saner pace than their trip to the scene, they proceeded back to Fort Lauderdale, with most of the Clan youth taking shifts to care for the civillian passengers. Gerry was absent, but for good reason; he spent the entire trip back exploring every piece of equipment maintained by his new division.
"Ya know, this is getting to be a bad habit!" Stevie joked as he left the guard shack. "Why's the Iowa attracted to passenger ships in trouble?"
Tracy grinned as he put an arm around Karl's waist. "I dunno, maybe it's a fetish?"
Dustin shook his head at the trio. "I'm glad I'm the sane member of this Division!"
All three of his companions stopped, staring at him in shock. "Sane?" Karl exclaimed, "You married Stevie and you call yourself SANE?"
Karl took off running, Dustin hot on his heels. Stevie and Tracy exchanged shrugs, then jogged after their husbands through the growing crowd of families.
At the far end of the pier, DJ and Dilly were deep in conversation. "I just checked with Leon," DJ stated, "he says Tommy and Simon want a pickup, and are inviting Damon and Kar to come back early too."
Dylan nodded. "Emmy's been talking to Sam, Sam says they are shook up a little by that missile attack. Uncle Peter's dropping a house by Alligator HQ for Leon and Mark to take their families to, I think that'll help. Caleb's putting an extension for Sam in it."
"Okay, that's under control, do you want to check in with Uncle Mark, then bring back any of the guys who need to unwind?"
"I'm on it, Uncle Deej!" Dylan replied before popping out. He returned seconds later with Tommy, Simon, Karlin, Damon, and Fuzzy.
After taking one look at the group, DJ somehow managed to pull all four boys into a hug. "It gets better once you stop thinking about it, bros," DJ advised softly. "The first time you get in that kind of danger is scary, I've been there. All of us are here to talk about it, okay?"
"When they said missile, I realized we were in the middle of the ocean," Tommy whispered. "What woulda happened if it'd hit?"
DJ gave the side Tommy was on a squeeze. "Honestly, with the shields the Iowa has, not much little bro. The thing is, the guys on the Iowa don't count on their shields, they try to take out the weapon before it gets there. If you guys weren't safe, I wouldn't have let you go out there."
"You woulda done that?"
DJ nodded. "You better believe it, I gotta take care of my little brothers."
All four boys relaxed, the assurance that DJ believed they were safe calming their worst fears.
Once he was sure that his brothers were okay, DJ gave them one more squeeze. "Hey Tommy, you ready to join us in public? There are a lot of worried families here on the pier, so we thought they might like a little music to take their minds off of things while they wait."
"I don't know all of your songs yet," Tommy commented.
"I'm waiting right now on Archnania for you," DJ giggled. "Dilly will take you to meet me, and we'll get you up to speed. Once you're ready, Dilly will bring you back to now to join the rest of us."
"Did someone spike your cookies?" Tommy asked seriously.
Kar managed to control his giggles long enough to help DJ. "He's not crazy... yet, Tommy! Damon and me's been to that Archnania place. It's really kewl, and the crown prince plays a wicked trumpet! Fuzzy came from there, so you know it's real. Dylan will explain the time stuff to you when we get there. I think you and Simon are gonna like it."
"Has Uncle Deej confused you yet?" Dylan giggled as he re-joined the group. "If not, can I help?"
"Remember, I'm there already, Time Brat!" DJ laughed as he pulled Dylan into a cuddle. "Take all of them up, I think Kar and Damon will help Tommy and Simon adjust faster."
"Gotcha!" Dylan giggled. Him and the four boys seemed to flicker for a second, then he added "Chance is on his way, Uncle Deej!"
"That's a lot of songs!" Tommy giggled. "Thanks for lettin' us take the break, bro - it helped a lot with being scared."
"I knew you needed it, but you would have argued if I'd told you before you left," DJ smiled. "Simon, Russ is already in the loop and is expecting you to help with the boards. Kar, you did really good with the backup choir, so you've got your spot if you want it. Damon? You can help Simon on the boards if you want to hang with him, or you can join your brother."
"Sweet!" Kar replied with a grin.
Damon looked between Kar and Simon, obviously torn between who he should be with. Noticing it, Kar gave his little brother a hug. "Go hang with Damon, little bro. He needs you."
"Thanks bro, love you," Damon replied as he returned the hug. Once he broke free, he took Simon's hand then the pair ran off towards the sound deck.
"You're learning the big brother job pretty quick," DJ stated as he gave Karlin a cuddle. "Great job, bro."
"Thanks, DJ," Karlin replied with a smile.
Dylan stepped to the front of the stage. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls from all planets of the Federation, may I have your attention please. For your entertainment while we wait for the Clan Fleet to return, Family Clan Short is proud to present the one.. and... only... TIME TOUCHED!"
With a wave of his arms, the empty stage was suddenly filled with musicians. Both drum kits were occupied, Jamie and Jacob were on rhythm guitar, Timmy was at lead with his favorite Telecaster, Brandon was on base, Tommy and Fife were in position for lead vocals, and the rest of the band were in position for either the orchestra or backup singers, with CD conducting the entire affair.
Joey kicked off with drums, Timmy immediately jumping in on lead. Seconds later, CD fired up the entire orchestra. Tommy stepped forward, singing "Yesterday I would not have believed..."
The band's performance of Chicago's 'Alive Again' got the attention of just about everyone who had ignored the initial announcement; those who had never heard of them suddenly were intrigued by a group of boys who dared to start off a set with such a complex song. The boys immediately went into 'We Built This City', Tommy and Fife continuing to share the vocals, while CD used the orchestra to rework the musical score. Next was the band's rendition of the ELO version of 'Roll Over Beethoven', with KC taking lead so that Timmy and Ricky could dance along to the music.
Toby came out to take lead as the band shifted around during the opening of 'Keep The Faith', Timmy joining KC on lead. Tommy and Fife stayed up front as well to back Toby's lead.
As the song wound down, Fife came forward. "Welcome to Fort Lauderdale, everyone! I'd introduce all of my brothers, but we'd still be here tomorrow night!"
His joke cause a wave of laughter, as he'd expected. Once it settled down, Fife continued, "We've got just enough time to slip in one more song before the Fleet arrives, then we're gonna take a break to help y'all reunite. From us to you, 'Don't Stop Believin'!'
Fife's estimate was right on the money, as the song finished with the ship's horn of the Iowa announcing their arrival. Out of respect, the Fleet waited to dock until the tugs had guided the passenger liner into the first berth, then they slipped into position and performed their synchronized docking maneuver, to the delight of the crowd. The remains of the attacker were docked at the end of the pier, and were immediately boarded by Clan Intel teams.
True to Fife's word, the band joined the sailors in trying to reunite families as fast as possible. Two hours later, the crowd had relocated back to the pier. To everyone's surprise, only one person was left; a five-year-old boy who had watched his parents and older sister being tortured to death by one of the rogues. Jeff had walked in on the situation, and wasted no time in sending the attacker into the afterlife; from that moment the little boy had been securely attached to Jeff's side. Tracy found the two on the mess deck, sharing a chocolate shake. As he sat down next to them, he gave the little guy a quick rub on his back.
"Hey Jeff, who's your friend?" Tracy asked, trying to appear as if he didn't already know who the little blond boy was.
Knowing there was no way Tracy would not already know more than he knew, Jeff played along. "He's Todd Young. Todd, that's Tracy, he runs the Division our ships report to."
"You ain't gonna take me are you?" Todd asked as he slid closer to Jeff.
Tracy shook his head. "Nope, I won't take you. I'd heard that Jeff made a new friend, and I wanted to meet him." Tracy tapped his commbadge, asking "Hey Emmy, could you get me my PADD?"
"Sure Uncle Tracy!" Emmy replied as the PADD appeared in front of Tracy.
Tracy made a big show out of opening the report that he already knew the contents of, even reading it through to verify his memory. "Hmm, it seems that you're gonna need a new home. What do you think about having Jeff as your new Daddy?"
"Can I? Really?" Todd exclaimed, his head bouncing.
Jeff just stared at Tracy in shock, trying to process the bombshell his Director had just dropped into his lap.
Tracy giggled at the show. "You know what word to say, Jeff; you've proven yourself with Harry. Don't make me get your Dad to prove me right!"
Jeff looked down, and found himself looking into a set of bright green eyes, wide with hope. Any fight he might have had was lost with that one look; Jeff knew that he had become the one bright spot in the worst day of this young boy's life, and the wrong response would probably break him. "Yes," he said softly as he picked up his new son and cuddled him. "Todd Sanders-Schmidt," he added as he kissed Todd's head.
"Done!" Tracy announced with a smile. "You're never gonna regret it, Jeff; trust me, seeing my mob brightens my day no matter what happens. Now, as a proud Uncle, I get to give him his first Welcome Home gift. Emmy, tell Wayne he said yes."
A few seconds later, Wayne appeared next to Tracy. He was holding a large teddy bear, which was holding a live kitten. Smiling at the little guy latched onto Jeff, Wayne announced "Hi, I'm Wayne, Daddy T 'dopted me after my daddies died in the battle that just happ'nd. I brought you a teddy bear to cuddle with, and Socks wants to be your new kitten!"
"See, Wayne knows how you feel, lil' guy," Jeff said softly. "He brought you gifts that he knows help. I'll be right here, why don't you check them out and thank him, he likes hugs."
Todd carefully climbed down, sneaking occasional looks to make sure Jeff wasn't leaving. He leaned over to look at the kitten, only to get his nose licked. After another glance at Jeff, he reached out and took the kitten in his arms, cradling it like a baby. Once he was more sure of himself, he sat down on the deck and softly petted Socks' belly, earning him a contented purr.
Wayne helped by picking up the teddy bear and setting it on Todd's lap. He then sat down next to Todd, putting an arm over his shoulder. "Daddy T says big boys cry too. When your new Daddy takes you home, you gotta cuddle him and cry or you'll feel bad for a really long time. You gotta promise you'll do it."
"I promise," Todd said softly. "Thanks for the bear and kitten."
"You're welcome," Wayne replied. "You wanna bring your Daddy over to my place to play tomorrow? You can bring Socks too, he was born there."
"Okay," Todd said with a nod.
Sensing that the day was about to catch up with the little guy, Tracy interrupted. "Jeff, why don't you take Todd to see his new home, and we'll catch up with you tomorrow?"
Taking the hint, Jeff nodded. "Sounds like an idea; he's got a grandpa and some uncles to meet yet."
As if he'd been called, Petey came through the hatch onto the Mess Deck. Reading Jeff's expression, Petey giggled "Emmy said I got a nephew, and he needs help with his teddy bear!"
Quickly figuring out who was the new nephew, Petey came over and took a seat on the deck, giving Todd his best smile. "Hi, I'm your Uncle Petey. Who's your furry buddy?"
Not sure if he should trust this new kid, Todd replied "His name's Socks, and he's MY kitty!"
Petey nodded. "I've got a kitty too; he's a tiger kitten. His name's Tigger. If you want, I can help you carry your teddy bear, and we can introduce them."
"He ain't gonna eat Socks?" Todd asked warily.
"He likes getting his food from the cooks," Petey giggled. "He won't hurt any animal friends. Our cousin Timmy is an Indian Spirit Guide, and he can talk to animals. He's already talked to Tigger, and I bet Tigger will help Socks learn the rules on a ship."
Todd spent almost a minute examining Petey's face before deciding that he was being sincere. "Daddy, can we go meet Tigger?"
"Sure thing, Todd; him and Petey live with us. Say goodbye to your Uncle Tracy and Wayne, then we'll head up to the stateroom."
"Bye!" Todd said with a wave of his un-occupied hand. "Thanks for the teddy and the kitty."
"You're welcome, Todd," Tracy replied with a smile. "Enjoy your new family!"
"Seeya tomorrow!" Wayne added as he scrambled onto Tracy's back. "Giddy-up Daddy!"
With one final wave, Tracy instructed "Take us home, Emmy!", then the pair vanished.
"How'd he do that?" Todd asked in shock. "Is he magic?"
"He used a special machine that Emmy runs that can move you between places," Jeff explained. "I bet if you ask Wayne tomorrow, he can tell you all about it."
"Okay!" Todd smiled, satisfied with the basic answer for now. "Are we goin' home too?"
"I think that if you let your Uncle Petey carry your new teddy bear for you, I can carry you and Socks and we can go up to your new home," Jeff replied as he held out his arms.
Todd looked Petey in the eyes. "Okay, but you better not hurt him!"
"I'll be careful," Petey promised.
With that handled, Todd let Petey pick up his bear, then climbed onto Jeff. With Petey in the lead to handle opening hatches, the family headed towards the upper decks.
"Has anyone seen Jeff?" Leon asked as he relaxed with the rest of the family in the stateroom.
"Last I saw, he was comforting a little guy on the Mess Deck," Harry offered.
"He better not eat all the midrats!"
"I doubt he'd even make a dent in them," Leon chuckled. "He's not the first teen to raid the chow line!"
"Petey went to find him, he said Emmy told him about a surprise," Gerry commented, taking a small break from running his fingers over the rank insignia on the sleeve of his new dress whites, which were laying in his lap.
Leon smiled as he stated "You made me very proud today, Gerry. Not just for what you did when we were attacked, but also because you didn't wait to be told what to do. You found something that interested you, and then put your full attention into learning about it. You earned that patch on your arm; don't let anyone tell you different."
"Thanks, Dad!" Gerry replied with a big smile, giddy from actually being praised by the adult he now called 'Dad'. The cuddle he got from Harry sealed the deal, as he finally felt like he had the family of his dreams.
Just then, the hatch to the stateroom opened, and Petey led Jeff and Todd into the room. "Tigger!" Petey called out, wanting to let his furry friend know that he was home.
As Tigger came running to pounce Petey, Leon noticed the boy trying to hide in Jeff's shirt. "Who do you have there, Jeff?" Leon asked.
"He's Todd... I kinda adopted him because he had no family and Tracy said that I was ready to be a Daddy and..."
Leon held up his hand. "Slow down, son. You don't need to justify it; Todd needed a daddy, and you felt like you'd be the right one for him. You've been a combination of big brother and father figure to Harry for a while; now you've been given a chance to be even more to Todd. I think you need it just as much as Todd does, so you have my full support. Take a seat, and then we'll all take turns meeting your new son, okay?"
Jeff smiled, relaxing now that he knew he had Leon's support. "Are you okay with Grandpa's suggestion, Todd?" Jeff asked as he tilted his head to place a kiss on Todd's forehead.
"Yeah," Todd replied softly. "Can Petey sit with us?"
"Of course," Jeff replied as he headed over to an empty couch. "I bet Tigger joins us too!"
A minute later, Jeff was seated with Todd on the left side of his lap and the teddy bear on the other. Petey snuggled up to Jeff's right side, while Tigger sprawled across Petey's lap and rested his head on the exposed part of Jeff's right leg. Socks took up residence on Todd's lap, laying just right so that he could stretch out and randomly lick Tigger's nose.
"I think the furry guys are becoming friends," Jeff observed, getting an approving giggle from Todd, who was watching them while petting Socks.
Harry decided that he should go first, and came over to kneel in front of the couch. "Hey Todd, I'm Harry. I don't know if I'm your uncle or big brother though. Jeff was my Dad kinda until your new Grandpa adopted us, so you gotta decide what you want me to be."
"Can you be my big brother? I ain't never had a big brother before," Todd asked hopefully.
Harry stood up, quickly taking the seat next to Todd. "I'd love to be your big brother!" Harry replied as he joined the cuddle.
"Thank you for proving my point, Harry," Leon stated, "Now you might want to give Jeff a hug too; I think you broke him."
Harry turned his head, and found that Jeff was smiling with tears running down his face. He wormed his arms around to embrace both Todd and Jeff, then pulled them into a loving hug.
Gerry looked over as well, and smiled as he saw the obvious love shared by his brothers. He decided to join them once the cuddle broke, and mirrored Harry's approach of Todd. "Hi Todd, I'm your Uncle Gerry. Me and Harry are boyfriends, but you can cuddle with us anytime you wanna."
"Why you got dots all over you?" Todd asked as he looked Gerry over. "Are you sick?"
Gerry tilted his head as he tried to decide how to take the comment. Harry rescued him, explaining "Those are freckles, lil' bro. People with red hair like Gerry usually have them; they're normal and part of his skin. I think they're cute!"
Todd carefully reached out, pulling Gerry's arm closer to see. "Whoa, those are kewl!" Todd exclaimed as he started running a finger over Gerry's arm. "Look Harry, this bunch looks like a doggy!"
Sensing the obvious innocence in Todd's voice, Gerry couldn't help but giggle as another of the walls in his head fell to the side. For the first time in his memory, he allowed someone to comment on his freckles without taking it personally.
Leon sat back and watched, understanding that the boys were not just starting their bond with Todd, they were taking their first hesitant steps as a family. As he watched, Gerry took his favorite seat on Harry's lap while keeping one arm across Todd so that his new nephew could trace the freckles. He noticed Sam and Sammy seemed to be hesitating, so he prompted "He's your nephew too, get over there and say hi."
"But we're androids..." Sam started to reply.
"Yes, you are, but that doesn't make you any less human," Leon interrupted. "You're no different than your brothers, so get over there and join them."
Sam and Sammy exchanged smiles, Leon's words helping them feel more secure in their new family. The pair got up and walked over, internally unsure of the thoughts of the rest of the boys about them. "Hi Todd, I'm Sam and he's Sammy. Can we be your uncles too?"
"Daddy! Double uncles!" Todd giggled. "How doya tell 'em apart? Does that mean I can get double cuddles? Are you both x'actly the same?"
Sam grinned at Todd's enthusiasm. "Look at our ears, little guy; I have an earring in my right ear, and Sammy has one in his left ear. You can have cuddles anytime you want, though."
"We're the same for now, at least until we decide who wants what hair style," Sammy added. "Confusing people isn't as fun as it sounds, they keep asking who they are talking to."
"Can I get a double hug?" Todd asked, trying out his puppy-dog eyes.
Unable to resist his expression, Sam and Sammy knelt so they were at the right level, then carefully gave Todd a twin-hug. From somewhere in the pile, Todd giggled "I like double hugs!"
Buried under the growing pile, Jeff added "I'm sending you two swimming the next time you forget that we're all family. Got it?"
"You're pretty brave for someone littler than us," Sam sniggered.
"I'm older in my head, little brothers, and don't forget it!" Jeff laughed. "When you finish your cuddle, grab a seat."
Leon slipped into his stateroom while the last of his new sons bonded, coming out with a camera. He kept it hidden until the twins took their seats, then quickly got a photo of the entire pile of boys.
"DAD!" Jeff protested.
"I needed a picture of my family," Leon stated in defense. "All of you took a big step tonight, proving with your actions that you're really a family. When you get older, you're going to look at this picture, and remember the day that you stopped being a group of boys that were adopted by me, and started being one big family. I'm planning on taking a lot of pictures, that way you all have reminders of the happy memories that you're going to create together."
"Stop being right, I can't argue with you!" Jeff pouted.
"I'm sure you'll figure out something else to argue about," Leon laughed. "I'd be worried if you didn't; you being Todd's dad is going to affect how you look at things, and you're going to have different ideas about raising him than I will. I'll try to help you avoid mistakes, but you're going to do some things because of things that you've seen that I won't understand. I get the best part of the deal though, I get to be a grandpa, which is something I never expected."
"Whadda Grandpas do? I ain't never had one," Todd asked shyly.
Leon smiled as he came over and knelt in front of Todd. "Grandpas answer questions that Daddy's don't know the answers to yet. They tell stories about things that happened before their Daddy was born, and they make sure their grandsons are getting lots of cuddles. The most important part is that they know what to do if their grandson needs to cry but doesn't want to make his daddy sad."
Leon glanced up and saw Jeff's smile of appreciation. Nodding slightly to let Jeff know he had it handled, Leon continued. "You and your Daddy have had a really rough day. I'll bet you that Socks would love to visit with Tigger while you and I practice our cuddles, and your new big brother can show your uncles how to help your Daddy feel better when he has a bad day."
Todd twisted to look up at Jeff. "Are you gonna let Harry make you feel better, Daddy? Is it okay for Grandpa to cuddle me?"
Jeff smiled at his new son. "I think your Grandpa's got a really good idea, son. He hasn't taught me the best ways to cuddle the bad stuff away yet, and I want you to only have the best. I'll let Harry help me, as long as you let Grandpa help you."
"Okay, Daddy," Todd replied before turning back and lifting Socks up to rub his cheek on the kitten. "You wanna go play with Tigger while I cuddle Grandpa, Socks?"
Socks turned his head and purred as he gave Todd's nose a lick, then wiggled free to move over onto Tigger's back, causing Todd to giggle.
"I'll be back, Daddy," Todd stated as he held his arms out to Leon, ready to find out what was so special about Grandpa hugs.
"Come on little guy, we'll relax in the special Grandpa chair," Leon said softly as he pulled Todd into his arms and stood up. "Harry; you know what Jeff needs. You and Gerry need to help Sam and Sammy learn what to do. Petey, you have a big job too, you get to help Tigger and Socks get to know each other, and you can help Tigger show Socks his new home."
The last part earned Leon a big smile from his youngest, as Petey had been wondering how he fit into what was happening. He purred at the two felines, and seconds later the three of them took off to explore the cabin. Leon sat down in his favorite chair, and helped Todd find a comfortable position. After guiding Todd to lay his head against his shoulder, Leon whispered "You know something? I've cried a lot in this chair. Big guys know when to cry, and good families help each other when they need to cry. Your old Mommy, Daddy, and sister are watching you right now, and I know they want you to let your hurt out with your new family."
Todd looked up at Leon, the tears already starting to flow. "Are they really watchin'?"
Leon nodded. "I know the Guardian Angel for our family, and he'd make sure that they know you're safe and being helped before he helps them go to Heaven. He's watching you with them, and he'll make sure that they know that you're going to be okay."
Reassured by the words of his new grandpa, Todd snuggled in tight to Leon's chest as he let loose the tears that had been building up inside him all day. As Leon began to silently encourage Todd, Jeff found himself surrounded by his brothers, who were softly talking him through releasing his own pain.
Davie smiled as he watched his charges comfort their family. Turning his head, he nodded at the three translucent spirits standing next to him, stating "He'll be better soon, he knows that he's got their support now."
"Is that boy really ready to take on being a father?" the female asked.
"He's the reason that Harry's still alive," Davey explained, "Without him, Harry would have never survived his emotional pain. He's been standing in as a father for a while, he just never realized it."
She nodded, then smiled as she saw Todd snuggle tighter against Leon. "Todd never knew his grandfathers. I think the Captain's going to be good for him."
Davie smiled "They'll be good for each other. Our Father looks out for those left behind when the Book of Life calls their parents away while they are young. While it was your Time, Todd has a long life ahead of him, and he'll be the glue that holds his new family together."
The man turned to Davie, smiling at the scene they were watching. "That boy Jeff never gave Todd a chance to feel alone. I thought he was unique, but I now see that he's just like the rest of his family. I couldn't wish for a better family to take care of Todd in our absence."
"Todd's happy, even though he misses us," the teen girl added. "He's gonna do good, I see it already."
Nodding, Davie commented "It is Time, you are being Called Home. Rest easy, as I'll be watching him." With those words, he spread his wings wide and began to glow. "As you Came from the Host, so Shall you return. The Word is Given, follow the Light."
Once the three vestiges faded away, Davie dipped the tips of his wings down to touch Todd and Jeff's heads. "Go in Peace, brothers," he whispered, "your Love will heal all wounds."