Charles beat Melissa to the hospital by only a few seconds, both meeting at the doors to the Emergency Room. Melissa's face was full of fear as her husband slid his arm about her shoulders as they passed through the doors together.
"Did they give you any type of information when they called you?"
"No," Melissa replied gravely. "They only told me that Vanek was involved in an accident and that we needed to get down here, at once."
Charles frowned at his wife's response but let it go. It wasn't her fault that the dispatcher didn't give Melissa any useful information. They approached the Reception Desk together, and the nurse glanced up at them with a pleasant smile.
"How may I help you, today?" The gray-haired woman asked.
"Charles and Melissa Conner," Charles told the woman. "We were called by emergency services regarding Vanek Vilnar-Conner."
The woman nodded as her fingers flew across the keyboard in front of her.
"Give me just a moment."
"Thanks," Charles said before he turned his attention back to his wife. "I still wish we knew what happened."
"Doctor Gillespie is waiting for you in Waiting Room 3, Mr. and Mrs. Conner," the nurse informed them. "Take the elevator to Level 3 and turn right. You'll see the sign for the waiting room, there."
"Thank you, ma'am," Charles replied politely before he led his wife towards the waiting elevator.
"I'm worried, Charles," Melissa admitted with a frown as the elevator doors slid closed.
"Me, too, love," Charles said sadly. "Let's just make sure that we have as much information as we can get before we call Harold."
Melissa nodded in agreement.
The elevator doors opened again on the third floor, and Charles led his wife to the nurse's station inside the waiting room. A man was leaning against the counter wearing a white lab coat, and he had dark brown hair with blue eyes. His smile brightened the room and seemed to help relax Charles's nerves.
"You must be Charles and Melissa," the man greeted them as he stepped forward with his hand out to shake Charles's hand. Charles returned the man's handshake as the doctor continued to introduce himself. "I'm Doctor Gillespie, the physician in charge of Vanek's case."
"How is he doing, Doctor?" Melissa asked, unable to contain her nerves any longer.
Doctor Gillespie smiled patiently. "Vanek is doing better than expected, Mrs. Conner. His femur was broken in two places, and his knee was dislocated-."
"Wait a second," Charles interrupted. "We don't even know what happened to him."
"Oh," the doctor said with wide eyes. "The dispatcher didn't give you any details about the accident?"
"Nothing," Charles replied with a frown.
"Vanek was hit by a car," the doctor informed the couple. "Luckily, the car only hit his leg-."
"I don't see how that's lucky, doctor?" Melissa interrupted with a frown.
"Mrs. Conner, Vanek was pushed out of the way by a child," the doctor said gravely. "If the boy wouldn't have helped your brother-in-law, Vanek would have taken a direct hit from the vehicle. That's why I am saying that Vanek is lucky, Mrs. Conner. I am not meaning to sound disrespectful or to make light of the situation, by any means."
"A boy pushed him out of the way?" Melissa asked in disbelief.
"Yes, Mrs. Conner," the doctor confirmed. "The boy must have put all of his strength into pushing Vanek out of the way. He's not very big at all. I'd say he's maybe ten at the oldest."
"Brown hair, green eyes?" Charles asked.
The doctor nodded and Charles looked at his wife.
"I need to talk to Vanek," he told her with a frown.
"I'll check on the boy," Melissa replied with a nod.
"I can't let you do that, Mrs. Conner," Doctor Gillespie started to say, but was cut off when Melissa pulled out her badge for the man to inspect. "Never mind, then. Mr. Conner, Vanek is in Room 307. I will be back in a few minutes once I take your wife to the Intensive Care Unit."
"Thank you, Doctor Gillespie," Charles said with a quick nod before the doctor led his wife away. Charles turned and went to find Room 307, so he could find out exactly what had happened.
The Vulcan was lying on his back with his left leg in a sling keeping it suspended slightly above the bed. His eyes were closed, and Charles considered turning around and leaving the man alone when Vanek spoke up.
"Hello, Charles," Vanek greeted him in a groggy voice. "Please, pardon any slips in my etiquette for the time being as the doctor's decided to inject me with heavy pain medication. I believe they might be planning on doing surgery on the break."
"It would be logical, Vanek," Charles said with a grin as he moved over to the side of the bed. "How are you feeling?"
"I do not feel any pain, at the moment," the Vulcan replied. "Is Melissa here?"
"She is," Charles told his brother-in-law. "Melissa went to check on the boy that pushed you out of the way of that car."
The Vulcan's eyebrows furrowed as he seemed to get distracted by a thought.
"So," he said hesitantly. "I did not imagine a child pushing me out of the way of the car?"
"No, Vanek," Charles replied. "You didn't imagine it. Guess what?"
Vanek just glanced at Charles curiously.
"I think it was Arys!"
Vanek's blue eyes opened in surprise.
"Impossible," the Vulcan declared. "He is too small-."
"What were you doing when the boy pushed you?" Charles interrupted the Vulcan's protest.
"I was talking to Harold," Vanek replied. "It was raining, as well."
"Would it be logical to say that you were distracted, Vanek?"
"It would," Vanek said with a nod as a brief look of understanding passed over his face. "I owe the child a debt, then."
"Only if he makes it, Vanek," Charles said gravely.
Vanek looked at Charles sharply as the human frowned.
"Was he hit by the car, Charles?"
Charles nodded sadly.
"Melissa will let us know when she gets back."
Melissa stared at the tiny figure lying in the middle of wires, machines, and hoses with disbelief and fear in her brown eyes. She couldn't bring herself to even step into the room. The boy was motionless other than the steady rise and fall of his chest as the machines pushed air into his lungs. The steady beep of the heart monitor gave her just a little bit of relief. Never in her career did Melissa ever expect to walk into a scene like this one. The longer she stood there, the more she dreaded approaching the boy.
'He's so small,' she thought grimly. 'How could he have ever managed to get the strength to push Vanek out of the way of the car?' Melissa frowned as another question popped into her head. 'Why would he sacrifice himself? He's just a boy?"
The woman felt a tear slide down her cheek as the image of her little brother's casket being lowered into the ground flashed through her mind.
"I won't let that happen to you," Melissa said with determination. She turned and poked her head out the door and waved to get the nurse's attention. "Excuse me, ma'am?"
"Yes, Mrs. Conner?" The woman behind the desk asked politely. "How may I help you?"
"Would it be possible for you to get my husband up here?" Melissa asked. "I need him to verify that this is the same boy from earlier. He's in Room 307 with Vanek Vilnar."
"I'll call down there right away, Mrs. Conner," the nurse replied with a nod.
"Thank you, so much," Melissa replied before she ducked back into the room.
She walked over to the edge of the bed and couldn't stop another tear from rolling down her cheek as she reached out and placed her hand on the boy's bare arm. He had bandages all over his body, and there was a white collar around his neck to keep him from moving his head. The tube that was in his mouth jerked with each puff of air that was pushed through it.
"You're barely hanging on, aren't you, little one?" Melissa asked softly as she stroked the boy's arm. "You were so brave, today. There are adults that would have never done what you did. I'm so proud of you."
Melissa turned at the sound of her husband's voice and smiled gently as he joined her next to the bed. Charles bit back a gasp when he took in the face of the tiny boy.
"That's him, Melissa," Charles confirmed grimly. "That's Arys Conner."
"You described him perfectly, Charles," the woman said sadly. "I hope he pulls through this."
"Me too, love," Charles agreed. "Me, too. I need to get back to Vanek. Are you going to be okay?"
"I'll be fine, Charles," Melissa replied with a brief nod. "I need to call Kyle and let him know what's going on."
"I'll be back in a little while," Charles said as he kissed his wife's cheek before he took one last look at the boy. "I hope he's strong enough to pull through this. Did Dr. Gillespie give you any word on his condition?"
"Not yet," Melissa replied, not taking her eyes from the tubes and wires that were attached to the small body. "I'll ask him in a minute."
Charles nodded and kissed Melissa's cheek again.
"Send for me if you need me."
"I will," Melissa replied as her husband left the room.
The woman was lucky enough that the young doctor reentered the room a minute after her husband left.
"Are you certain that Federation Youth Services is going to take over John Doe's care?" Dr. Gillespie asked nervously.
"Is something wrong, Dr. Gillespie?" Melissa asked with an edge to her voice.
"It's nothing political, Mrs. Conner," the doctor said quickly to keep Melissa from getting angry for no reason. "It's actually regarding his condition and future treatment options."
"Oh," Melissa said as she visibly relaxed. "Whatever you tell me will be kept strictly confidential, doctor. Though, my husband and my brother-in-law have both taken an emotional investment in this child, as well."
Dr. Gillespie nodded in understanding.
"That works for me," the doctor said before he pulled out his clipboard. "First, Arys suffered substantial injuries to his person when he was hit by the car, Mrs. Conner. I don't have complete details about the accident; besides that, the boy was struck on the left side of his body. There was glass in some of his wounds, evidence that he struck the windshield of the car before he struck the asphalt behind the car."
Melissa gasped in surprise.
"He's lucky to even be alive," the woman said as she turned to look at the boy again. "How bad is it, Dr. Gillespie?"
The doctor sighed grimly before he pulled a chair over to the side of the bed for Melissa to sit in.
"That bad, huh?" She asked with a nervous chuckle.
Dr. Gillespie frowned before he started reading off the different injuries the boy had suffered from the accident. The last one is the one that made Melissa's heart fall. Arys Conner was paralyzed from the chest down. The boy would never walk again.
"I need to call my boss to let him know what is going on," Melissa said gravely.
"I'll be back in an hour to discuss therapy and treatment options, Mrs. Conner."
"Thank you, Dr. Gillespie," Melissa said before the man left the room.
Melissa pulled out her cell phone and hit several numbers before the voice on the other end picked up.
"Federation Youth Services Dispatch, how may I direct your call?" The voice on the other end asked seriously.
"Lieutenant Kyle Esparar, please," Melissa said.
"May I tell him who is calling?"
The line made a clicking sound before elevator music began to be piped over the phone's receiver. Melissa sighed as she waited for a moment before the music switched off, and she heard a brief ring before a young man's voice came over the phone.
"This is Lieutenant Kyle Esparar," the tenor voice said pleasantly. "How may I help you?"
"Lt. Esparar, my name is Melissa Conner, and I am a Case Agent out of the Ohio Valley FYS office," Melissa began nervously.
"Of course, Melissa," Kyle responded. "I know who you are. Arthur was very adamant that you should be the person to receive the Arys Conner case. What can I help you with, Melissa?"
Melissa sighed almost in relief. She hated breaking her chain of command, but this was something that she felt only the bosses of her boss would be able to handle.
"I've found the boy in question, Lieutenant Esparar," Melissa informed him quickly before she proceeded to tell the young man what had happened to the boy.
"Financial coverage for Arys' care will be completely handled by the FYS, Melissa," Kyle informed her. "I need to make a few phone calls in order to make sure that the appropriate channels in this matter have been notified. Your next step is to see if you can find the boy's parents."
"I might have an idea about that, as well, Lieutenant."
Charles made his way back to Vanek's room to find the Vulcan sitting up against the pillows while a nurse checked his leg, and another brought the man a small meal. The store owner stood off to the side as he waited for the nurses to clear out and managed to hold in his chuckle at the obvious look of discomfort in Vanek's blue eyes. Vanek answered any questions the nurses had but held his tongue otherwise. Charles couldn't wait to tease the Vulcan when the nurses were finished but decided that it would be better received when the man was off of his pain medication.
"You look as though you don't like being taken care of, Vanek," Charles said when the last nurse finally left.
"I am not accustomed to such treatment, Charles," Vanek stated plainly. "Was it him?"
"It was, Vanek," Charles said with a nod as he moved one of the chairs closer to the bed. "He doesn't look like he is doing very well, either."
Vanek frowned thoughtfully.
"This is my fault, Charles," the Vulcan stated. "If I would not have been distracted by the phone call from my T'hy'la, then the boy's aid would not have been needed."
"You can believe what you want to believe, Vanek," Charles said with a shrug. "I don't think Arys risked his life just so you could blame yourself, though. It was his choice, after all."
"I owe him my life, Charles."
"That you do," Charles said. "That doesn't mean that you need to beat yourself up over it, though."
"Hey, guys," Melissa interrupted as she stepped into the room.
"Hey, love," Charles said as he quickly rose and moved to his wife's side. He slipped his arm around the woman's shoulders as her entire body seemed to slump slightly. "Did Dr. Gillespie give you an update?"
Melissa nodded, clearly fighting the urge to cry in front of the two men.
"Melissa?" The woman glanced up at Vanek as he spoke. "Is he going to live?"
"Good," Vanek said firmly. "That is all that matters. Melissa, will you be able to get the child placed in my custody?"
"Are you sure, Vanek?" Charles asked in disbelief. "Have you even asked Harold about this?"
"Harold and I have always supported the choices of the other," Vanek stated.
"This isn't just a career choice, Vanek," Charles scoffed. "Taking custody of a child is something that you both need to sit down and discuss. My brother loves children, but ever since little-."
Charles' voice trailed off and his eyes went wide in disbelief.
"It's not possible," Charles said, his voice distant.
"What are you talking about?" Melissa looked at her husband in confusion. "You look like you're having a stroke."
"Charles?" Vanek looked at the man in confusion.
Charles pulled out his cell phone and dialed his brother's number as fast as he could as Melissa and Vanek just looked at him in bewilderment.
"Harold?" Charles asked as soon as he heard the click of the call being answered. "What was the name of your son?"
"What?" Harold asked groggily, clearly woken up from a nap by Charles's call. "What are you talking about, Charles?"
"What was the name of your son?"
"Why?" Harold asked with an edge to his voice. The subject was one that he had clearly not thought about in a while. His voice trembled as he spoke. "Why would you bring that up?"
"It's important, Harold," Charles said earnestly. "I can't tell you what it is right now, but I promise that I will explain everything when you get home."
Harold sighed in defeat.
"His name was Harris Michael Conner," Harold finally replied. "But Theresa always called him Arys."
"Thank you, Harold," Charles said with a grin. "By the way, you may want to get your ass home?"
"What? Why?" Harold asked, his voice rising in concern.
"Your knight in shining armor's pride left a huge dent in the front end of a car, today," Charles said with a dark chuckle.
"What?" Harold screeched over the phone just as Charles ended the call.
"You are an evil man, Charles," Melissa said with a slight laugh.
Vanek's cell phone began to vibrate on the table sitting next to the bed.
"What have you gotten me into, Charles?" The Vulcan asked with a frown as he reached for the device. Vanek flashed a look at Charles that made his skin crawl.
"You know what, honey?" Charles asked suddenly. "Let's go hit the vending machines before we go back upstairs to check on Arys."
"Are you that afraid of Vanek, Charles?" Melissa asked smugly, knowing why Charles wanted to make his quick exit. "I thought you were planning on spending the day with your dear brother-in-law?"
"Oh, I'm sure Vanek doesn't need us hanging around, right this minute," Charles tried to say to cover for his sudden urge to depart. "Besides, we need to check on our nephew."
"What?!" Vanek and Melissa both asked in surprise.
"Did I not tell you that Vanek is a father?" Charles asked in mock surprise. "Wait, that's not the correct Vulcanword for it. What was it now? Oh, right! Vanek is an a'nirih."
With that, Charles quickly pulled his wife from the room with a grin on his face. Melissa looked at her husband in confusion.
"What is going on, Charles?" Melissa demanded.
Charles smiled, but remained silent the rest of the way to the vending machines.
Xander sat with his legs dangling over the ladder as he watched the entrance to the park, waiting for Arys like he had been doing for the past six hours. Darkness was beginning to settle across the park, making the shadows stretch out over the ground beneath. Xander felt a knot form in the pit of his stomach as he began to think about all of the possible things that could have happened to his friend. He had returned to the park to find Arys' backpack still sitting in the bush behind the outbuilding, telling Xander that Arys had not been there. Xander was surprised to find that Arys' claim about the backpack replenishing itself was true. There were four sandwiches in the bag, along with now three bags of cookies filled to the brim. Xander had one of the blankets wrapped about his shoulders to ward off the colder temperatures as night fell.
'Please, be safe somewhere, Arys,' Xander thought hopefully. He had made too many friends over the years that had gone missing due to unknown reasons that the blue-eyed boy couldn't explain. That was why Davie always told Xander when he was going to be leaving on one of his trips. It kept Xander from worrying about whether Davie was alive or dead. 'I'll find Arys tomorrow.'
Xander was certain the boy had just gotten himself turned around somehow and tried to put his worries to rest. Images of Arys, lying in a cold alley with only his hoodie to keep him warm, forced Xander to pack up the backpack and go in search of his friend. Xander dropped the backpack in the same hiding place as before and headed towards downtown, hoping he would stumble across any sign of Arys.
'I'll find you, Arys,' Xander told himself. 'Don't worry.'
Xander stuck his hands in the pockets of the hoodie and pulled the hood up over his brown hair. He didn't want to take the chance of anybody possibly stopping him for being out as late as he was. It made it harder for the kids that lived on the street to hide at night, though. There weren't many adults who stood under five-foot-tall, and he didn't want to give Youth Services any reason to take him in. He had managed to give them the slip once in his brief two years on the street, only to be caught the second time and forced into a boy's home. After the House Master had decided to abuse his powers, Xander gave them the slip and had been in hiding ever since.
Xander forced the memory out of his mind. Those weren't the memories he wanted to get back. He wanted the memories from before he woke up on the streets. Xander wanted to know who he was.
The air continued to grow colder as the night carried on. The wind whipping through the buildings made Xander shiver, and he slightly regretted his decision to leave the backpack behind.
'I could have used the blankets when I found Arys,' he thought with a roll of his eyes. 'It's too late to go back now.'
Xander carried on, hoping that it wouldn't get any colder as he searched alley after alley. His hopes began to fall when he reached the far end of downtown, not wanting to stroll into any of the residential areas on the south side of the city. The closer you got to the highway, the worse the neighborhoods got. Xander was on the verge of heading back to the park when he felt like something was urging him to push forward. He glanced around himself nervously, taking one last look at the lights of downtown before he headed off towards the strange calling sensation that he felt.
Xander walked in darkness for two blocks before he finally saw the flickering lights of a twenty-four-hour gas station and headed towards it with his head down. Xander had already been passed by multiple cops, but he knew he would stand out even more in the run-down residential neighborhood than he had in the downtown area. He had always found it easier to hide amongst the different groups of people whenever they happened to pass by, keeping him safe from prying eyes. It also helped that he could practically vanish whenever he thought about it. Xander was nearly to the gas station when he felt the pull suddenly coming from an alley to his left.
Xander hesitated before he finally pushed forward into the darkness enveloped alleyway. His heart was beating rapidly in his chest, and it was taking every ounce of courage that he had to keep pushing forward. He had to keep going, though. It was the only way the boy would be able to satisfy his curiosity over the strange sensation that he had been feeling. The houses on either side of the alley were dark with broken windows and no signs of life. The glass crunched beneath Xander's feet as he slowly made his way down the alley. He squinted his eyes, trying to see if he could find the source of the feeling he had been experiencing. Xander was standing next to a shed when he heard a slight whimper. The boy turned his head to the right.
"Hello?" Xander's voice cracked. "Is someone there?"
Xander thought he saw a bush next to the garage move and he stepped towards it.
"It's okay," Xander said softly. "I'm not going to hurt you."
"Do you promise?" A tiny voice asked out of the darkness. "You're not with her, are you?"
"I promise," Xander reassured the unknown person. "I'm alone."
The bush rustled slightly before a boy, no taller than Xander, stepped out into the moonlight directly in front of Xander. The boy was shirtless, and Xander could see bruises all across his torso.
"You've got to be freezing," Xander said as he quickly pulled the hoodie off and handed it to the other boy. "Put this on."
"Thanks," the boy said quietly.
"Are you okay?"
"I will be if she doesn't find me, again," the boy stated.
"Come on," Xander said. "I've got a place in the park where we can hide."
"Are you sure?" The boy asked quietly, his gaze directed towards the ground.
"Of course, I am," Xander reassured the boy. "I'm Xander."
The boy looked at Xander hesitantly for a moment.
"I'm Isaac," the boy said nervously.
"It's nice to meet you, Isaac," Xander stated with a brief smile. "Come on. This place gives me the creeps."
The boy smiled slightly before he followed along behind Xander.
Charles stood in the corridor and stared out across the dimly lit parking lot. The hospital was quiet, but Charles refused to leave as long as Melissa was there. His wife remained by Arys' side, the knowledge of who the boy really was stunned all of them, especially Vanek.
'It does make it easier for Vanek to take custody of Arys, though.' Charles thought. 'Harold is going to lose his shit.'
Charles pulled out his cell phone and called his brother as two figures entered the far end of the parking lot. One of the figures was wearing a hoodie and was limping slightly, while the other person was helping the one wearing the hoodie. Charles watched them as they progressed across the lot.
'They're children,' he noticed as he studied the two smaller figures that were trying to keep to the shadows created by the tall lamps standing throughout the lot. Then, Harold's voice came through the other end of the phone.
"Hello?" Charles's brother sounded tired.
"Hey, Harold," Charles said softly. "Are they sending you home?"
"Yeah," Harold replied with a yawn. "Admiral Morrow approved the request for leave himself and Starfleet had me on the first ship that they could spare within the hour. I should be in transporter range in four hours."
"Okay," Charles said as he made a mental note of the time that he needed to be there to pick up his brother. "Are you transporting into the new Springfield office?"
"Yup," Harold said. "Now, would you mind telling me why my husband was acting so strangely when I called him? I know you're up to something, Charles. Spill it!"
Charles chuckled smugly.
"I'll show you tomorrow, Harold," Charles said. "I promise. It's not the best news, but it's something you would never expect in a billion years!"
"Fine," Harold said with a sigh. "This had better be good, though."
"It is, Harold," Charles said with a smile. "Trust me."
"Not since you were four and you broke that vase," Harold said with his own laugh. "I'm worn the hell out, man. I'll see you in a few hours."
"I'll be the one with bells on," Charles said before the brothers ended the call.
Charles turned his attention back to the two boys. They were nearing the other end of the parking lot. The boy wearing the hoodie was struggling to stay beside his friend, each step appearing to be filled with agonizing pain. Charles frowned as he continued to watch them, wanting to make sure where they disappeared to before he got his wife involved. The two boys stopped and leaned against one of the lights near the edge of the parking lot. They were only there a moment before Charles saw the yellow flashing lights of an approaching security car. Charles wanted to see how the boys reacted if the car got closer to them. He saw the boy without the hoodie glance in the direction of the flashing lights before he glanced towards the end of the parking lot. Then, the boy without the hoodie reached out and touched the other boy, a moment later they were both gone from sight. Charles stared at the light pole in disbelief.
"They were just there," the man said aloud.
"What are you talking about, love?" Melissa asked quietly as she walked up behind the man.
Charles jumped slightly at the sudden presence of his wife, but quickly recovered as he pointed towards the light pole.
"Watch the bottom of that light, Melissa," he said with determination, refusing to take his own eyes away from what he was looking at.
The security car drove by the spot slowly, almost coming to a stop before it finally continued on its patrol of the parking lot.
"What's so important about a sec-?" Melissa's voice dropped as she watched the two boys fade back into sight. "Holy shit. Charles?"
Charles grinned smugly.
"It seems like we just found Arys' friend, and he isn't alone," Charles said with a grin. "Vanek is going to love this."
"What's going on, Charles?"
"Vanek told me about an encounter he had with Arys earlier, today," Charles explained. "He was watching Arys sitting on a bench when the boy suddenly disappeared."
Melissa turned her gaze back to the parking lot as the two boys finally made it to the end and slipped into the park on the other side of the hospital.
"At least, we know where to find them," Melissa said with a frown. "I'll go tomorrow to see if I can find them."
"No," Charles said gravely. "You won't, Melissa. Something tells me that you shouldn't leave Arys' side."
Melissa looked up at her husband in concern for a moment.
"Who are you, and what did you do with my husband?"
"I am the ghost of Christmas Past," Charles started to moan out, but couldn't help but laugh at the look his wife gave him.
"You're lucky I love you," she said as she flashed Charles a smile.
"I'll go check the park once the sun is up," Charles said with a note of finality. "I don't want you wandering around in the park, anyway."
"Don't worry," she said darkly. "I've heard the stories, too."
Melissa kissed his cheek.
"I'm going back in to check on Harris," she said with a smug grin. "Plus, I need to call Kyle and let him know what you found."
Charles smiled at his wife.
"I'll be with Vanek, love."
Melissa nodded and returned to Arys' side without another word. Charles took one last look out across the parking lot before he went to see if Vanek was awake, yet.
'I hope you're ready for this, brother,' Charles thought as he stepped into the elevator. 'Your entire life is about to change.'
Xander helped Isaac climb into the jungle-gym before he went to retrieve the backpack from its hiding place. When Xander returned, Isaac was curled up in the corner with his arms tightly wrapped around himself.
"Are you okay, Isaac?" Xander asked in concern.
"I don't know," Isaac whimpered. "My entire body hurts."
Xander frowned as he pulled items from the bag. He handed Isaac one of the sandwiches along with one of the bags filled with cookies and a bottle of water.
"Eat this," Xander said. "It might help."
Isaac hesitated before he finally took the offered snacks. The boy glanced at the sandwich before he tore into it like he hadn't eaten anything in over a week.
"Slow down, Isaac," Xander said softly. "You'll make yourself sick if you eat too fast."
"Thowwy," Isaac mumbled between mouthfuls of the sandwich. "Thoooo goood!"
Xander smiled and giggled lightly at the blonde-haired boy before he reached deeper into the bag and pulled out the two blankets. He put one around Isaac's shoulders before he wrapped the other around his own narrow frame. Then, Xander felt around in the bag until he found another hoodie.
'What's this?' He asked. 'I thought Arys was wearing the other hoodie? Where did this come from?'
Xander frowned as he pulled the hoodie out of the bag. It felt warm like it had just come out of a dryer, and though Xander felt like he was being watched, he couldn't bring himself to question the strange hoodie. Xander knew what he needed to do.
"Hey," Xander looked up at the smaller boy and smiled as he held out the hoodie. "Isaac?"
"Yeth?" Isaac looked up with a mouthful of sandwich.
"Trade me hoodies," Xander said. "This one is probably warmer than the one you have on, Isaac. It's been buried in the blankets all day."
The boy looked like he was about to say something, but Xander quickly put his hand over the boy's mouth.
"Chew your food, first," Xander said with a giggle. "We've got all night."
Isaac giggled and quickly swallowed the bite of the sandwich he was chewing on.
"Sorry," the blonde-haired child said shyly. "My mo-."
Isaac's expression fell almost immediately.
"It's okay, Isaac," Xander reassured the boy. "She won't find us here."
Isaac looked up at Xander, and the older boy gasped as the younger boy's gaze locked with his own.
"Do you promise?" Isaac asked, almost desperately.
Xander reached out and patted Isaac's arm.
"I promise, Isaac," he told his friend. "I'll never let your mother hurt you, again."
Isaac nodded and sniffled slightly.
"Sorry," Isaac mumbled.
"Don't be," Xander said with a smile. "We'll figure this all out."
"You should put that hoodie on," Isaac said. "You need it. I've got this one and a blanket."
"Just trade me, Isaac," Xander said with a roll of his eyes. "It'll make me feel better. Please?"
Isaac smiled and giggled but quickly pulled the hoodie off of his body and handed it back to Xander. The small boy sighed happily as he put the new hoodie on.
"This is nice, Xander," Isaac said with a grin. "Are you sure you don't want it? I feel bad-."
"Don't, Isaac," Xander stated firmly. "We have the blankets, too."
Isaac frowned but nodded.
"Okay," he said shyly.
"Sorry, Isaac," Xander said. "I'm just worried about my friend, Arys. He went missing, today."
Isaac's blue eyes went wide in horror.
"Was it them?"
Isaac nodded mutely.
"My mother's church," the small boy said quietly. "The pastor says mean things about people. He tells his followers to keep their children in line by not sparing the rod. He took my mom from me." Xander could feel himself beginning to tremble in anger as the small boy sitting across from him sniffled. "She used to love me. My mom. She used to tuck me in at night, tell me bedtime stories. "Isaac sniffled again and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. "Then, she joined them, and that's when everything changed. I can sort of remember my dad, too. They started fighting after my mom joined the church. Their marriage didn't last much longer after that. My mom started going to these church meetings, and she would send me to the neighbor's house so they could watch me. Apparently, they were members of the same church."
"How old are you, Isaac?" Xander asked quickly.
"I'm nine," the boy replied nervously. "You're not going to throw me out, are you?"
"No!" Xander said, failing to maintain control of his emotions. "Listen, Isaac. I know you barely know me, but I would never hurt you. Those church people sound awful. I always thought God wanted you to love your neighbor, not spread hate and dissent."
"They used to hit us," he said in a haunted tone. "One of my friends, the Pastor, beat him to death because they caught him kissing another boy in his school. It was horrible, Xander. The Pastor kept screaming that homosexuality was wrong, and anybody that took part in it should be put to death. My mom made me watch, Xander." Isaac was visibly trembling. "That was last year, and I can still hear his screams of pain."
Xander was halfway through every curse word he could come up with, while not saying a word to expose his true feelings to his new friend. Xander didn't want to frighten Isaac. He had already been through enough.
"When was the last time your mom fed you, Isaac?" Xander asked mostly to change the subject. He didn't want Isaac dwelling on the death of his friend. "You're skin and bones, man."
"It's been four days," Isaac admitted. "She's been so angry the past week. She kept mumbling that they shouldn't have attacked, and that they deserved what was coming to them since they attacked too soon. It was so confusing, Xander. She beat me like she always does, then she locked me in my room for four days. I had to wait until she fell asleep before I climbed out of the window. Then, you found me."
Xander nodded thoughtfully.
"We should get some sleep, Isaac," the eleven-year-old said. "It's going to be a long day, tomorrow."
Isaac watched as Xander shifted the backpack around so they could use it as a pillow. Xander patted the floor of the jungle-gym.
"Get comfy, Isaac," Xander said, not noticing the look of fear on the smaller boy's face.
"We're gonna' sleep together?" He asked with a tremble in his voice.
"Yeah," Xander said without looking back. "It'll be warmer that way."
"But we're both boys," Isaac frowned.
"What's wrong with that?" Xander asked. He froze when he glanced back and saw the look on Isaac's face. Then, he remembered what Isaac had just told him. "Oh, never mind."
'How do I fix this?' Xander asked himself as he sat down and crossed his legs. "There's nothing wrong with being gay, Isaac."
"How did you know?" Isaac asked suddenly, his eyes wide with fear. "I- I- I-."
Xander quickly pulled the smaller boy into a reassuring hug.
"It's okay, Isaac," he said softly.
"They're going to kill me, though," Isaac whimpered. "Nobody is ever going to like me, Xander. I'm an abomination. You should have heard what she said about those kids during the funeral that was on TV!"
"That's it!" Xander said, suddenly happy. Isaac just looked at the boy in confusion. "Clan Short! They'll help us!"
"But the FCC-?"
"The FCC doesn't matter, anymore," Xander said firmly. "We just need to get to someone from the clan."
"They'll help us?" Isaac asked in fear. "My mom is a member of the church that attacked them!"
"I don't think they would hold that against you, Isaac," Xander told his new friend. "It's not your fault that your mom is such a bitch."
Isaac giggled quietly.
"Thanks, Xander," the boy said. "Are you going to be okay sleeping next to me?"
"Why wouldn't I be, Isaac?"
"Because I'm gay, Xander," Isaac said as if it should have been obvious.
"So? What does that have to do with anything?"
"Aren't you scared that I might touch you?"
"Aren't you touching me, now?" Xander asked.
"Not like a 'hug' type of touch, Xander," Isaac said as he sat back and blushed.
"Isaac," Xander said in a serious tone. He reached out and took the boy's hand in his own. "I'm gay, too."
"Oh," Isaac said shyly. "Sorry, Xander. I didn't mean to pry."
Xander stretched out on the floor of the jungle-gym and patted the spot next to him.
"Come on, Isaac," the boy said with a grin. "Let's get some sleep."
"Okay," Isaac said nervously as he took the spot that was offered to him. He mumbled sleepily as he made himself comfortable. "At least, I won't be in Hell alone."
Xander stifled his gasp and put his arm around Isaac's slim frame.
"God will always love you, little one," Xander said quietly. He had no idea where the words were coming from, but they felt familiar to him and gave him peace. Then, his thoughts shifted to his other friend. 'God? I don't know if you can hear my thoughts, but there's a boy - his name is Arys. He was supposed to meet me here, but he never showed up. Can you please keep him safe? I've never asked for anything since I've been on the streets, just give me this one thing. Please? He's so scared, and he doesn't belong here. He doesn't deserve to be alone.'
Melissa was startled awake by the sounds of heavy footsteps in the corridor outside Arys' room. She had barely cleared the cobwebs from her mind when the door slammed open and four men wearing black suits stormed into the room with guns drawn. One of the men pointed his gun directly at Melissa.
"Get out," he ordered before Melissa could form a coherent thought.
Melissa felt her heart race in her chest as the other men moved to the bed and began disconnecting Arys from the different hospital machines. The machines that were keeping him alive.
"What?" Melissa asked in confusion before her fear for the boy's safety took over. "What are you doing? You're going to kill him!"
"I said get out, bitch!" The man with the gun pointed in Melissa's face shouted angrily. "I will remove you from this room. The boy is no longer your concern."
Melissa felt her hopes begin to fall as she stood from her seat, but she had a sudden idea.
"I'm calling Teri Short," Melissa said offhandedly as she went to step out of the room.
"That won't be necessary," one of the other men stated. "We've already cleared it with F.Y.S.."
"No," Melissa said firmly. "I think it is necessary."
Melissa pulled out her cell phone and dialed Kyle's number.
"This is Lieutenant Esparar," Kyle's voice came over the receiver.
"Kyle, it's Melissa," she spoke in a low voice. "There are some men here that are trying to take Arys. They're saying that F.Y.S. approved it."
"Do NOT let them take the child, Melissa," Kyle replied with anger in his voice. "Your security detail is incoming, Director."
The line went dead, and Melissa dropped her phone back into her purse as she turned to face the men.
'Kyle must have thought I was somebody else,' Melissa thought grimly. 'I'm just a Case Agent, not a Director.'
"Would you like to tell me who you are?" She asked in a casual manner.
"Keep unhooking the boy," the man that had originally pointed the gun at Melissa said before he sneered at the brown-haired woman. He aimed the barrel of the gun in Melissa's face, but she didn't flinch. She heard the unmistakable sounds of transporter beams in the corridor behind her. "You should have just fucking listened to me, bitch, and stayed out of this!"
Melissa maintained her calm demeanor, listening to the man just outside of the door that was whispering to her. The other men continued to unhook the different machines, taking side glances at their supposed leader.
"Hurry up, guys!" The man said. "HQ is standing by to-."
The man's voice fell silent and his eyes widened into a look of disbelief as a yellow flash of light exploded against his chest. He crumpled to the floor with a hollow thud a second later, and twelve men ran into the room with their phasers drawn and directed towards the other three men.
"What are your orders, Director Conner?" The man standing beside her asked in a serious tone.
"Arrest all of them for attempted kidnapping, and for pulling a gun on a Federation Agent," Melissa said with a tremble in her voice. 'Did he just call me Director?'
"Yes, ma'am," the Starfleet Officer said before he ordered his men to arrest the three intruders. Then, he glared at the unconscious man in the middle of the floor. "And this one, Director?"
Melissa glanced at the man before she redirected her attention to the security officer. "Lock him away until I can have a mind-meld performed on all of them. I want to know who ordered them to kidnap my nephew!"
"I'll tell you everything!" One of the men began to plead as the security detail was escorting them from the room.
"I don't need you to tell me anything," Melissa said darkly before she moved over to Arys' side. She reached out and took the boy's small hand into her own, barely able to control the anger she felt at the men that had invaded her family's small moment of happiness. "Get someone in here to reconnect all of these machines, Lieutenant."
"Right away, Director!" The man said before he pointed to one of his subordinates to go get someone from the medical staff. "Director Conner, I am Lieutenant Daryl Greyson. My unit is permanently assigned to your division."
"I'm sorry," Melissa interrupted the man with a confused look on her face. "Why do you keep calling me 'Director'?"
"You must have been promoted," the man said with an absent shrug.
"This is my first case, though," Melissa tried to protest. "I'm barely holding it together, as it is. I mean, I had a gun pointed in my face, today!"
"Yet, you kept your calm during the entire ordeal," Lieutenant Greyson informed her. "I've seen men with years of experience piss themselves when they found themselves in the same type of situation. In my opinion, you're the perfect person for the job, and I'm happy to serve as your personal security detail."
"Perks of the new job, Director," Daryl said with a smug grin. "Welcome to the life of never going anywhere alone, again. Now, we need to work out a security schedule for our mutual friend here. I want two guards on him at all times and two assigned to you. You have the final say as to who may come and go from this room, and no medical procedures or transfers will be done without your full permission being granted. Do you have any questions, so far?"
"Only a million," Melissa said with a nervous chuckle. "I need to call Kyle."
Melissa pulled out her cell phone and turned away slightly from the man as she dialed her boss's phone number.
"I was wondering how long it would be before I heard from you, Director Conner," Kyle said as he answered the phone. "How is Arys?"
"He's safe, sir. Thank you for the help. But did you really promote me to Director?" Melissa asked in disbelief.
"Yes, Melissa," Kyle told her seriously. "We clearly need someone overlooking the Ohio Valley area, and you're the only person I would recommend for the job. Teri is already pushing the file through the system. Now, let's discuss your salary."
"Hello?" Charles groggily answered the obnoxiously vibrating cell phone. It took Charles several seconds to clear the cobwebs out of his and remember that he had fallen asleep in the chair next to Vanek's hospital bed. The sun was just beginning to shine in through the window, and the man glanced over to see that his brother-in-law was still sleeping soundly. He quickly stepped out into the hospital so he wouldn't wake up the Vulcan. Harold had warned him regularly that Vanek was usually grumpy if his slumber was disturbed.
"Charles," Melissa's voice sounded tense as she started talking too quickly for Charles to understand. "You have no idea what just happened to me! I was in Arys' room when a bunch of men came in and just started trying to take him away! One of the men was threatening me with a gun-."
"Wait, what?" Charles was already pushing the button for the elevator when his wife mentioned that men had gone into Arys' room. "They threatened you?"
"Yeah, but it's okay, now! I called Kyle and he sent a security detail here," Melissa tried to explain.
"I'll be there in a minute," Charles said darkly as the doors slid open for the elevator.
He stuffed his phone back into his pocket and waited for the elevator to stop on the fifth floor of the hospital. Charles didn't let the doors open all the way before he was marching towards Arys' room. He frowned and pulled Melissa into his arms when she met him in the waiting room.
"Are you okay?" Charles demanded as he held his wife at arm's length and checked her over with his eyes, looking for any injury that she may be hiding from him. "Did they get Arys? Who threatened you?"
"Relax, Charles," Melissa tried to say calmly.
"No," Charles said, barely containing his anger. "I'm going to destroy them!"
"Charles," Melissa said firmly. She shrugged off his arms and grabbed his cheeks in her hands, forcing him to look her in the eyes. "Look at me. I am okay. The men have already been taken into Starfleet custody. I'm safe, and Arys is safe. You need to take a deep breath and relax for me before I introduce you to my new security team."
"What?" Charles asked in confusion. "How much did I miss, Melissa?"
Melissa grinned smugly.
"First, you're going to do what I told you to do, love," she told her husband.
Charles sighed before he took several deep breaths, counting to ten on each exhale to calm his nerves. Melissa finally smiled happily and patted her husband's arm.
"Are you ready?"
"Yes, dear," Charles said with a grin.
Melissa told him about the men coming into the room, and Charles struggled to maintain his calm until his wife told him how she had heard transporter beams.
"That was the only reason that I didn't freak out, Charles," she told her husband honestly. "It was the security team beaming in, and Lieutenant Greyson was talking to me, telling me not to worry about anything. It all happened so fast, Charles." Melissa's almond brown eyes went wide in disbelief as she told the story. "They shot the guy with the gun, and they had the other men subdued in seconds. It was amazing." Melissa smiled. "Anyway, I called Kyle and learned that I've gotten another promotion."
Charles looked at his wife suspiciously. She just grinned at him.
"Come on," she said as she took his hand in her own and pulled him towards Arys' room. "I'd like you to meet my personal security team."
"Why do you need a security team?" Charles asked. "Are you in danger?"
"It's just a precaution, Charles," Melissa said with a light laugh. "Perks of the job."
"What is your new job, dear?"
"Your wife is the new Director of the Federation Youth Services - Ohio Valley Division," a man in a Starfleet uniform said as he stepped out of Arys' room with a pleasant smile on his face. He had light blue eyes and black hair that was cut short in the usual military fashion. He appeared to be in his mid-twenties, and there was a fierceness about the man that gave Charles a sense of security regarding his wife's safety. The man extended his right hand out to Charles. "I'm Lieutenant Daryl Greyson. It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Conner."
Charles quickly accepted the man's handshake.
"Please, call me Charles," he told the Lieutenant with a smile. "My wife tells me you saved her from a crazy man."
"I was just doing my job, sir."
"Thank you," Charles said gratefully. "She's the love of my life."
Daryl nodded humbly towards Charles before he excused himself to go check on his men. Melissa turned her attention to her husband as Charles pulled her tightly against his chest.
"I love you, too," she whispered softly as he held her.
"I owe that man," Charles said quietly.
"It's been handled by his new salary," Melissa said with a shrug of her shoulders.
"Wait," Charles' direction of thought changed again. "Did he call you 'Director Conner'?"
"Yep," Melissa replied.
"That's a very steep promotion," Charles said skeptically.
Melissa poked her husband in his stomach with her finger.
"Are you doubting me?" She asked with a mock scowl.
"Absolutely, not." Charles wasn't stupid. He knew better than to ever doubt his wife's capabilities, especially when she set her sights on something. She had been trying to work her way up through the F.Y.S. since 1993, but without a true 'Division' in place, promotions were few and far between. "I was just wondering why?"
Melissa's brown eyes suddenly went wide as she looked behind her husband. Charles jumped at the sound of a young man's voice coming from behind him.
"She's the only person I would ever trust to run this area, Mr. Conner."
Charles turned around slowly until he found himself looking into the hazel eyes of Kyle Esparar.
"I didn't mean any disrespect, sir," Charles quickly apologized.
"I know, Mr. Conner," Kyle said with a grin. "Also, just call me Kyle, please? I get enough of being called 'sir' and 'lieutenant' in diplomatic meetings."
If you're Kyle, then you can call me Charles," he said with his own smile as he shook Kyle's hand. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you."
"I've been waiting to meet you, as well, Charles," Kyle said honestly. "Especially, after Melissa told me how you swore to find the boy."
"I felt connected to him," Charles said as he took an absent glance towards the door before his gaze fell on the lamppost where he had seen the two boys vanish. He turned his attention back to Kyle. "I'm sorry, Kyle, but I'm going to have to cut this short." Charles glanced at Melissa, who was looking at him like he was crazy. "The boys, remember?"
Melissa suddenly nodded and pushed her husband towards the elevator.
"Go, already," she said urgently.
Charles looked down and found himself looking into one set of brown eyes and one set of gray eyes. One of the tiny boys had brown hair, while the other had silvery-blonde hair. Both of the boys were looking up at him; one with a smile, and the other with a look of concentration.
"Charles. Melissa, let me introduce you to Kyle Richardson and his significant other, Tyler Short," Kyle Esparar said as he motioned to the brown-haired boy before he motioned to the other one. "Kyle and Tyler are both members of Clan Short, and both capable of reading minds to certain degrees." Kyle Esparar informed the man. "Before I let you go rescue these two boys, would you mind letting Tyler check you out?"
Charles looked down at the small boy in disbelief.
"You don't think on the surface," the gray-eyed boy said softly as he studied Charles for a moment.
"Go ahead," Charles said after Melissa nudged him with her elbow. "Do what you need to do. Those boys need my help, and all we're doing is wasting time."
The boy known as Kyle giggled lightly.
"I like you, already," he informed the man.
"He's good," Tyler said with a brief nod towards Lieutenant Esparar. Then, he looked at Kyle. "Are you going to take him, or am I?"
Kyle giggled before he reached out and took Charles's hand in his own. The next thing Charles knew, he was standing near a jungle-gym in the back corner of the park with the brown-haired boy still holding his hand. Charles looked down at the boy in disbelief; his heart was beating rapidly in his chest.
"What just happened?" Charles asked in confusion. "Who are you? How did you do that?"
"I believe the boys that you were looking for are up there," Kyle said pointing at the jungle-gym with another laugh. Charles followed Kyle's direction and saw the two lumps cuddled together through the bars of the jungle-gym. Charles couldn't help but frown in concern when he saw one of the boys sit up and try to wake up the other boy.
"Isaac?" The boy's voice drifted to him and sounded like it was filled with worry. "Isaac, it's time to get up. Isaac?"
The boy's brown hair covered head suddenly popped up over the railing and looked around the park until he locked eyes with Charles.
"My friend isn't waking up!" The boy cried out desperately. "Will you help him?"
"I promise to help both of you," Charles said reassuringly. "No matter what."
Charles took one last look at the small boy beside him.
"Can you tell Melissa to make sure that there are two beds, ready?"
"I already have," Kyle told him with a nod. "Do what needs to be done, Charles. They're counting on you. I've got more help waiting for us at the hospital."
"Thank you, Kyle," Charles said, already running for the jungle-gym. He stopped at the ladder and held up his hands to show that he wasn't carrying anything. The brown-haired boy had the deepest blue eyes he had ever seen before, and he felt himself getting lost in them for a moment until he shook his head. "Hey, kid. I promise that I'm not going to hurt either of you, okay?"
The boy looked hesitant as he considered the man's words carefully.
"I know you've probably been through a lot," Charles continued. "But I would never hurt a child. I'm one of the adults you can trust."
The boy finally nodded.
"Please," he said with a whimper. "Help Isaac. I found him last night when I was walking around looking for my friend Arys."
Oh, shit, he thought miserably. It really is the same boy that was helping Arys.
"What's wrong?" The boy with the blue eyes asked in fear.
"Arys was involved in a car accident, yesterday," Charles said softly. "He's actually in the hospital next door."
The boy slumped back against the bars of the jungle-gym in defeat, a look of horror on his face.
"Arys?" The boy asked in disbelief.
"Yes," Charles said reluctantly. He glanced around and saw the backpack nearby with four sandwiches sitting next to it and three bags of cookies. "Let's get this stuff cleaned up, really quick. We need to get your friend to the hospital."
The boy nodded mutely before he quickly stuffed everything back into the backpack. Charles kept one of the blankets out and wrapped it around the boy with blonde hair that was refusing to wake up.
"What's your name?" The boy asked Charles.
"I'm Charles Conner," he replied. "What's your name?"
"I'm Xander Croft," he said absently. "At least, I think so."
"I'll help you get everything figured out," Charles promised as he pulled Isaac into his arms and climbed down from the jungle-gym. Kyle was waiting for both of them.
"Hi, Xander," Kyle said with a brief wave. "I'm Kyle. I'm going to do something that is going to freak you out-."
Xander suddenly vanished from Charles's and Kyle's sight.
"Never mind," Kyle said with a giggle. "Let's go, then."
"I'm rea-," Charles managed to get out before he was suddenly standing in the corridor outside Arys' room.
Three doctors quickly moved in and took Isaac from him and disappeared into one of the other rooms. Melissa stepped out into the hallway at the sound of all the commotion.
"Did you find them, Charles?" Melissa asked before she suddenly froze in her spot as her eyes fell on the brown-haired boy standing next to Charles. Her brown eyes went wide in disbelief and she was clearly unable to form any kind of solid thought. Charles looked between his wife and Xander, trying to figure out the connection between the two of them. His wife looked like she had just witnessed somebody rise from the grave, while Xander looked as though he had no idea who Melissa was, or why she was staring at him the way she was doing.
"Melissa?" Charles asked in confusion. "Are you alright?"
Melissa stepped forward towards Xander and touched his chest with the palm of her hand.
"You're really here," she said in disbelief. "How is this possible, Alex? We buried you clear back in 1985."
Xander looked at the woman in confusion.
"I don't know what you're talking about, ma'am," he said softly.
"You don't remember me?" Melissa asked with a hitch of sadness in her question. "I'm your older sister."
As usual, special thanks to all of my editors for going through and keeping me from looking like a complete idiot, and the guys involved with the CSU for letting me take part in their journey and for letting me use their characters!
If you wish to get in touch with me regarding this story or any of my other stories; please, email me at email@example.com ;- Please, put the story title in the subject line so you don't get lost in my Spam Folder!
Stay Safe & Healthy!