Disclaimer: I don't own either Suite Life or the Honor Harrington Book Series. I would like to thank sol invictus for betaing this.
"You know, it's getting to the point where I am starting to almost like going to the kids' parent-teacher conferences," Ken smiled as the pair walked toward John Adams Elementary's front doors, the blustery wind whipping around the yard as the human wave trampled the unforgiving concrete under their feet.
"Well, this is coming from a honors student when he graduated high school, that's not surprising." Joanna fired back at her boyfriend with his furry shadow in his usual position.
"Speak for yourself. It took quite a lot of studying for me to do that. I was in the top 1 percent of my class, thank you very much. Were you not tutored?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact I was, considering the ulcers and rashes, let alone the sleepless nights, I would put security through at a normal school." Joanna paused as her voice misted. "Though it would have been fun, I think…." The black haired woman shrugged. "Or at least less boring."
"I can see that, being surrounded tutors a lot. They say being in an elevated position is easy."
Joanna's granite eyes stared back. "They have no idea…"
The wind was their only companion as they entered the school. The armsmen checked the path ahead, professionally paranoid but steady in their procedure. Practically sure of any lack of threat considering this visit was private and unannounced, their worst fears buried. Of course, there was the matter of avoiding the students dashing down the hallways or doorways opening in their faces.
The convoy moved steadily, with purpose, their human bubble deathly silent.
It was shattered.
"Ken! Ken!" A second passed as the voice registered in the Captain's brain but instinct took over as his sight caught the screaming bullet of Tom Connelly, the sneakers on his feet a blur. Ken swerved around Joanna touching the shoulder of the detail's point man, whose arm had sneakily found its pulser holster on his waist. A simple stare stopped it cold as Tom drew up in front of them, unaware of the intricate dance just performed between the pair.
Joanna pulled even with Ken as Tom breathed heavily in and out as words died in his throat. Ken bent down to the boy's level as Alexander balanced himself with a treecat's paw lying on Ken's head. Time drained as Ken waited.
"Zack…Cody…" Tom froze as Ken's hands wrapped themselves around his upper arms. His words were gentle but stress was evident.
"Breathe, Tom…what happened?" The boy looked at Joanna then back at his godfather. His breathing slowly calmed but in its place were rapid fire words.
"They were pulled from their class. It was odd because they didn't do anything wrong. I went after class to see what happened. They were in the principal's office. Some lady was with them. She was talking to the principal. I didn't mean to sneak up like that. I just wanted to know what happened to them."
"Its okay, Tom. We understand." Ken's smooth words gave him a break but his presence solidified his courage as Ken rose to his feet but Tom's quick peek saw the man's right hand still grasping his shoulder.
"Did this woman say who she was, by chance?" Tom swallowed as he looked past Ken to the princess as a sense of nervousness came over him. He quickly answered as if he wanted to run from the words at the situation's urgency.
"She said she was from the Massachusetts Department of Children and Family and she was here to take the twins out of school." Tom stopped as Ken and Joanna exchanged troubled looks. He looked down only to push himself to continue. "I tried to stay but I was afraid of getting caught so I left the office. I couldn't hear anything else but I did see them leave.
"They both looked terrible. Like they seen a ghost. I wanted to reach out and talk to them but they left so fast, I…" A heavy weight fell on the boy's shoulders. "What could have caused them to pull them out of school like that? Is it even legal? "
"I….We are going to find out what's behind this." Tom detected something from Ken's voice but could not recognize it but he did see age appear on the brown haired man's face. Ken turned and put one foot down before pausing.
"Do you have a ride home, Tom?"
The boy responded without hesitation. "Yes, I can take the late bus. It leaves in five minutes."
"Good. Go home. We'll handle it from here." Ken's voice was leeched dry of emotion but Tom's worry reached out.
"But what about Zack and Cody? They cannot just leave like that!" Joanna answered the desperate questions.
"Tom, I understand you're worried. You're not the only one, trust us on that. Let us figure this out. But thank you for telling us this, you are a true friend."
Tom blushed as he smiled at the compliment but before anything was said two words exploded from Ken's mouth.
"Let's move." Joanna stared at Tom, seeing his stare at Ken as the man moved back down the hallway from which they came. Only she wondered what the godson was thinking about at that exact moment as he bit down on his lower lip. But Joanna turned away, leaving the brooding child to himself.
"The school was certainly caught off guard by this." Joanna almost sprinted up to Ken. His legs were burning up the distance by the millisecond.
"No doubt…." Her uncertainty stirred him. "If it's not one thing, it's another."
"You know, we could give him a ride home."
"I know, but right now I want to tackle one thing at a time and the twins are first priority." Resignation showed as he answered his girlfriend. "Any other time I would but not now."
"Car's up and ready." Lt. Powe poked into the conversation with the update.
"Thanks Alice." The guard's CO responded with silence to the gratitude. "Push the speed limit, will you? Not reckless but be expedient considering we know where to go."
"Route's already planned and set." A tinge of satisfaction colored Ken's face, matching Joanna's hidden stress as the doors opened and shut behind them as the group rushed towards the vehicles.
"May I ask your reasoning for Zack and Cody's removal from their school? It seems abrupt to say the least." Ken's words reached to the small audience in front of him. Confusion, tension and energy all rolled over them.
"Abrupt, Captain? No, not at all. The decision was made after considering the circumstances." Serenity disrupted the swirling emotions for a second. The buds on the tree branches spoke to the changing weather conditions, mirroring the human ones inside the room.
"Circumstances, Ms. Oliver?"
"You see, Captain, we found out about a little investigation your own people were doing on you. There's no way you don't know about it, is there?" Ken's silence answered the question without need. Oliver's hands tapped a folder and Joanna's eyes narrowed as she sat watching the whole thing until an impulse broke through her control.
"How?" Oliver looked at her opposite for a few quiet seconds, examining her. Then spoke.
"It was not even us at first. We did not even know it was going on. You see, they called us. The military investigators. They asked us for some information on Ken as a foster parent." Olivia saw Ken's face stretch to his skull as she continued. "It was strange. Just his status and situation as a foster parent along with any reports we have made. Of course we wanted to know why. So we asked but they refused to go into specifics, saying they were looking into you."
Oliver stared at Ken and then wondered about that treecat. The creature stiffened as she talked while Ken's knuckles started to whiten.
"You can't blame us for our actions. It was discretion on our part considering everything that has happened to both of them." The foster parents stayed mute so she continued.
"But we refused to give them any info on you." Ken's eyebrows rose in shock and a little color returned but the coloring in stopped when the words strayed, losing any positivity.
"Their simple request made us wonder and we delved deeper, asking questions of the cops." The silence was expanding with each breathing until the Grand Canyon could fit inside. "They cooperated fully with the Department of Children and Family hence the reason for the report under my hand and the removal of Zack and Cody from John Adams Elementary this afternoon. "
Mrs. Oliver waited for Ken and Joanna to digest everything before continuing but Ken stopped her as Alexander's eyes dug into her.
"You wondered how two foster children ended in a back alley, beaten up and nearly dead on a freezing Boston night?" Oliver confirmed his question.
"The obvious people to look at are the foster parents themselves since they were supposed to watch and care for the children." The foster system supervisor's voice tone could have chipped titanium steel with its sharpness.
"That's only justified…" Joanna spoke softly with resignation but resolve broke through. "But we'd never hurt them."
"I like to believe you, I really would. We can never have enough foster parents. But something forced those two into the bitter cold that night and I must figure out why and how. And I must know if it can happen again…" A cold draft mixed with Oliver's words as her doggedness pushed at the suspects in front of her. Countermanding her desperation for more help for her wondering souls.
"It was me. Only me." Oliver's voice was severed for a few seconds as she watched Ken sit down in a chair. The treecat bunched on his legs, his silted green eye stared straight at her.
"It is something so stupid. I realize that now." A sigh floated to Oliver, whose patience lengthened. Even a shallow smile appeared and then melted from Ken's face. "Its amazing how chaos just seems to follow sometimes, doesn't it?"
Humor died as Oliver's face tightened and Ken continued.
"It was a party. One with a political tilt, I must say. Everything was going fine for the most part. VIPs and other embassy staff around. The boys were supposed to be upstairs."
"It had to be pretty bad for you to get angry like I think you did." Oliver's shot was countered by Joanna.
"He was under control. He'd never even yelled at them, even after they destroyed food, glass and bowls. In front of the majority of the Manticorean delegation including our planetary ambassador.
"Actually they ended up looking some insane mixture of food and drink after being thrown into a blender.
"I don't see what's so funny in this situation, Captain. Not at all. I want to know what happened. Exactly what happened. " Oliver's laser scalpel tone sliced into Ken's joking, who steadied himself and restarted the tale as slight popping noises were heard as a treecat's claws poked holes in the officer's clothes.
I took the boys to the main lobby to talk… You know the incident, punishment, their reasons for being there"
"Were you alone?" The short question confused ken.
"I guess so. There may have been some hotel employees or guests walking in and out as we were talking. I'm not sure exactly, I was concentrating on the moment.
"And if I may ask, where were you during their talk?" Oliver's glance zeroed on Joanna, who remained unmoved by the other's woman's searing expression.
"Cleaning up after them. I knew Ken could handle them by himself. I trust him." Joanna broke the stare down to look at her boyfriend. "The second he realized he made a mistake, he went after them. He led the search and he found them. What does that say about him? Running into the cold and rain instead of letting the police do all the work?"
"To you it may seen it may seen he's trying to handle his responsibilities. To others, it looks a person who can't handle it all. Or at least trying to fix his mistakes. Mistakes, I might say, does not make it good for him." A narrowed set of eyes would shredded anyone else did nothing to Oliver, but Ken stopped the silent fight while his eyes twitched between the two women.
"Yeah, I'd admit I lost my temper a little. I was upset at the boys for what they did. I never should have taken it out on them. But I did." Ken's eyes solidified as the uncertainty disappeared and intensity filled them. "But I could never look myself in the mirror again if I did not go after them. As for my responsibilities, they can be burdens but I have taken steps to lessen them."
"How so?" The words dripped wonder and a lesser poison than before.
"I cut my responsibilities with the Foreign Office to allow myself more time here. I pretty much travel within this country mostly to NYC and I can make it back within an hour. For everything else I take phone calls and read and review reports and other things. A lot less stressful. The ambassador understands considering the circumstances. I know my limitations and worked around them."
"I see…" A low grinding screech interrupted her words as the occupants stared at this newcomer.
Ken's mind was empty of all conscious thought as the sight of the woman filling the doorway. Her auburn hair framed her youthful medium toned face. Her gray eyes scanned the room, her expression unreadable.
Almost. He had seen her masks before. The first day he saw her when he was almost 12 years old. Her short auburn hair flickered in the chilly Sphinxian wind. Her gray eyes staring into his tortured soul…
He forced his mind to stop twisting and spinning, staring at the love of his life as she too recognized this woman.
"Excuse me miss…I am afraid you've interrupted a private meeting."
"I apologize for that but I'm afraid I have to be here if only to provide another point of view. My name is Sarah Jane Connelly" The visitor's retort broke Oliver's mask.
"Why? This only involves Captain Myers and his girlfriend here." Gray eyes twitched toward Ken for a second until they returned, accompanied by slow breathing.
"Under most circumstances, you would be correct. But I cannot sit by and watch two boys being taken out of the home where they live. As a mother and as a friend, it would be impossible." Sarah smiled as Oliver caught on to her self-description but she was way ahead of her.
"I am sorry for being rude but you see I've known Ken since we were a little older then the twins."
"So you won't deny you would be biased right now"
"No doubt. But what would cause you to take two children out of school without even telling the people currently responsible for them?" The question was answered by Ken, not Oliver. Sarah turned her head toward her childhood friend.
"I'm under investigation. JAG investigation." The description shocked his fellow Sphinxian. She whipped around toward the speaker.
"For what?" Ken started to answer but Oliver interrupted froze his response.
"He assaulted a man and then another was killed in front of him. By his treecat, it would seem." Joanna butted into the conversation.
"Those actions made sure the twins stayed alive after they ran into some unsavory people." Sarah stared at Joanna for a half-second as her brow lowered in concentration then turned back toward Oliver.
"So you took the kids out of their home because of what I am pretty sure is an unfinished investigation?"
"No, we took Zack and Cody out of the danger they could be in with Ken?" Sarah held back a laugh.
"Really? I doubt that. I've known him for over 30 years. Granted, he has his faults but who doesn't? I mean, he will be neither the first nor the last parent to be annoyed at something their child has done. I can attest to that. Besides, he's only human."
"When I asked him to be my son's godfather, that choice was not taken lightly. I trust him with watching over my son. And to add to that, I know for a fact my son has been around for the last couple months and had no problems. As a matter of fact, he sort of enjoyed it. Granted, being a five star hotel helps…"
"Thanks a whole lot." Sarah smirked at Ken's mock disgust. Oliver steamrolled over the humor.
"I see your point but these two have to be protected. Especially in these unique circumstances." Joanna locked onto the end of the sentence and dragged it out into the conversation.
"This would not be because we are from the Star Kingdom, would it?"
"It has to be factored in but I'm more worried about Ken and you, Ms. Zyrr." Oliver's concentration missed Sarah's s eyebrows raising at Joanna's "last name". The mother bit her lip as the name processed through her mind. Her eyes widened as the final answer revealed itself… Meanwhile the conversation continued.
"You seem to be steady as a rock, which is wonderful. Ken's temper is an issue I'd rather not see but I do see he has tried to decrease the amount of pressure on him. Which is good to see. But one huge issue has me worried, not currently but in the future. As a matter of fact, it almost prevented Ken from becoming a foster parent in the first place." Oliver's final sentence drew massive confusion between the Mantioreans but she answered her own mystery.
"You see Captain, your job in your foreign office along with your off-planet origins offered us a massive problem on trust. As well as stability."
"Stability?" Ken's one word question bared a smile on Oliver's face.
"Movement in your career is common so we are afraid of you being reassigned and leaving us with two kids with no guardian to watch over. I must admit I was more than happy when Joanna showed quite suddenly. It provided more stability to the situation after she took and passed all the requirements and safety tests needed. Still, I can't help but wonder if there would be a major foreign office incident that would force you to make choice between dumping the kids on us, maybe losing everything, or running ." Ken rose to the feared imaginary situation.
"I agree with you about Joanna's presence. She helps more than you know. You don't have me cutting my losses and running for it. Not when it comes to the kids. That would be disgraceful. In any instance we would try everything to keep out of any public fight. They should not be used as weapons in political battles. No point disrupting their lives more than they already have been," Joanna added.
"Besides, even the idea of doing any such thing would anger a lot of certain people back home. Let alone me, I might add." The temperature in the room dropped suddenly but it did not stop Sarah's eyebrows at the mere mention of who Joanna could be talking about. The window behind Oliver darkened. Oliver nodded but a frown wandered onto her face as she started to talk again.
"What if your star nation decides leave this planet? I didn't think you would be allowed to stay under such circumstances. " Oliver turned toward the foster parents but instead her answer rose from Sarah.
"I am pretty sure you will not have to worry about that." Apprehension ceased Oliver's face as Tom's mother continued. "You see, our society is based around a strong monarch who refuses to go back on her word on anything she agrees to. On matters of principle, she does not adhere to opinion polls. If the Star Kingdom were to run and completely sever any connections from the situation, it would damage us in ways that would be irreparable. It would stick to all of us for a very long time, especially the monarch. No offense, but a couple hundred years is a very long time to bear such a burden."
"The phrase 'Our word is our bond' sums it up quite nicely," Joanna added to the conversation and went further. "As for staying, if we had to go in case of emergency or something, it would depend upon the situation. I am sure Ken would be allowed under certain circumstances and gave our people warning. As for myself, the likelihood is not good, unfortunately. I hope that was answered to your satisfaction."
Oliver nibbled on her lip as the seconds passed. The other three occupants and one treecat waited for the Department of Child and Family supervisor's thoughts to piece themselves together. In the empty space of time, one man's brown eyes met anther's gray and smiles were exchanged and quickly forgotten as all refocused on the questioner.
Oliver's eyes closed then opened as the tickling wall clock counted off in monotone.
"Okay…I've decided….I decided Ken you can, for now, keep the twins with you." Ken let a breath he did not know he was holding as the words hit him.
The smile on his face said it all.
"Thank you" A warm smile melted Oliver's stony edifice. Ken and Joanna rose from their seats while allowing Sarah to leave before them. Oliver's words stopped the foster parents before they made it to the door.
"I am going to be honest with you. If the investigation goes against you, my decision might change on the matter."
Joanna responded clearly. "We understand completely if we were in your position." Oliver shook Ken and Joanna's hands and watched them leave her office and glanced at Sarah, who simply nodded back. She sighed, then rubbed her eyes. A stack of open files greeted her as she strolled back to her desk.
Okay I liked this chapter than I thought I did when I first finished it. A writer is his own worst critic. Anyway the next chapter should be coming at a decent clip. So please read and review. Until next time.