Chapter 75: Epilogue

Another day. Clayton sighed as he strolled into his office and surveyed the mountain of papers on it. It was sloppy again, a sign that he was happy and content with the way things were going; after all the fuss and turmoil of the last few years, it was nice to have things return to 'normal' again—or at least, what passed for normal at his base. Nothing was ever actually normal at Joe base, there was just 'hectic' and 'less hectic'.

But he couldn't help the smile that lit up his craggy features as he turned on his computer, opened his email, and saw an email from Shana waiting there. It had been a few weeks since she, Terence, Cam, and Charlie had left the New York City metropolitan area; Shana had announced her intent to take everyone home to visit her family "because Dad has to have a chance to get sloppy over the twins," and also because she said Cam deserved to get thanks from her family for delivering the twins during the hurricane. Clayton didn't think that Cam would be getting much by way of thanks from Shana's sister, but Shana's father, mother and brothers were going to express their appreciation. Of that he was certain.

He forced himself not to open that email first thing; there were a couple of emails that required his attention, being marked 'high importance.' Lieutenant General Johnson had been confirmed by the President in his post as the G.I. Joe project's new supervisor, no suitable replacement having been found for Clancy; Clayton wasn't protesting that move, and neither had Johnson. Johnson hadn't approved of the way that Clancy had left the major decisions up to Hawk, taken credit when things went right, then blamed it on Hawk's decisions when things went wrong (which, despite Clancy's efforts to discredit Clayton, hadn't happened often) and Clayton was looking at a couple of meetings in the near future with Johnson as they hammered out some concrete rules about where Hawk's responsibility would end and where Johnson's would kick in. "Clancy ran a pretty lax ship. I'm not tolerating that. Things are going to be different from now on," Johnson had promised, and Hawk had no doubt of that.

A couple of messages about possible missions; an insurgent group in French Algeria had taken hostage a group of traveling exchange students, of French, American, and Swedish nationality; the UN was asking for volunteer black ops troops from the governments of the kidnapped students to join the task force to hunt the insurgents down and bring the students back. Hawk filed that in mind as something to ask Allie; this was right up her alley (no pun intended), and she and Courtney had been feeling somewhat lost since Shana had left. This would be a great way to get the two of them off base and keep them busy enough until the novelty of Shana's absence wore off. Right now her presence, and Terence's, were keenly missed, and although Cam hadn't been with them for anywhere near that long, he still got an occasional, "How's Cam?" from several members of Joe base.

A message from Lieutenant General Johnson, this one about a new female recruit. I got this woman you have to meet… and it made him smile even as he closed it and marked it to be read later. Although Shana had left some very large shoes to fill, the events of the last few years had shown Clayton that there were more exceptional women in the world, and in the military, than just Shana; he'd simply never seen it before, or he'd never really looked. He was determined to correct that oversight now; Cam, Liv, and Alex had shown him that.

And finally, he got to Shana's email.

Hey, Clayton! He could almost see her effervescent smile, hear the laughter in her voice as she bubbled happily. We landed safely in Atlanta, all six of us. Dad met the twins; he's ecstatic, and they seem to love their grandfather. My mother, too, is thrilled, and my brothers are just tickled that they're uncles now. Siobhan doesn't seem to care much one way or another, but then, that's Siobhan. Sometimes I can't believe we have the same parents.

Sean and Dad have taken it in turns to see that the caretakers' cabin at the edge of the Atlantic is fully restored and ready for us to use. They did a good job of it, put in exactly what I would have put in. Cam and Charlie have a room of their own, and Terence and I have a room, and there are two more rooms, ostensibly for when Evan and Erin get bigger and they need separate rooms when we come to visit my family in Atlanta. The master bath has been greatly expanded (Cam will never admit it, but I saw her eyes light up at the sight of the hot tub in the bathroom!) and the kitchen has been modernized and updated. There's a family room with a big-screen TV now, too, and it's big enough for all of us, Dad and my brothers included, to sit and watch TV.

The bed and breakfast is doing very well. The rent has been paid promptly every month, the guests all rave about it, and get this, Clayton, the caretaker even had a paranormal team come through to do an investigation. Sarah must have had a blast pulling pranks on them because there's a digital picture frame on the hall table by the guestbook with photos of the 'apparitions' they caught while they were here. The plantation's become one of the more popular tourist attractions in the area, and even people who don't want to stay the night will tour the property just to take pictures, hoping to catch something. Sarah must be having herself a marvelous time.

Clayton could well imagine a mischievous little girl ghost having fun pranking the bed-and-breakfast guests. In fact, it sounded like something Shana herself would have done if she'd been capable of it when she was younger. He had to fight the smile.

The last time we were here Cam was still recovering from the events on Kennedy's island, and that tempered her enjoyment of the visit. This time, she's healed, the trials are all behind her, and she has nothing to do but enjoy herself, and that she's definitely doing. Dad was overjoyed that he finally has a dancing partner, and almost every night winds up with him standing her up for a quick dance. She loves Irish dancing, and she took to it so naturally that Dad asked her only half-jokingly if she wasn't sure she didn't have Irish in there somewhere.

But Cam's past isn't completely behind her, and we were reminded of that, rather unpleasantly, by an incident in the grocery store our first night in Atlanta. We were picking up something to cook for dinner and were standing in the checkout line when this nutjob walked by. He saw Cam and he did a double-take, and then real loud, in the middle of the store, he yelled 'whore' at her. Before any of us could say anything else he launched into a diatribe about how he'd seen a video online with a lot of men using her, and he called her a loose woman and a whore for letting all those men have a turn at her and he told her she was going to go to hell unless she asked God for repentance.

My Dad was furious, Clayton, I've never seen him so angry, but before he could say anything, Charlie lunged at the guy and the next thing any of us knew, he was on the floor nursing a jaw that was probably close to being broken. I think Charlie would have gone after him again if Cam hadn't grabbed his arm.

Terence and Sean hauled the guy upright and Dad said to him loud enough that everyone who'd seen the fight could hear him, and he told the guy that Cam had been a victim of child rape, and that if the guy saw the video, then he was guilty of looking at child porn. And at that point, two guys toward the back of the crowd came up, introduced themselves as off-duty police officers, and they offered to take the guy off our hands and place him somewhere where the details 'could be looked into', as they put it. Turns out Dad knew them from working with them on security for some government functions that Siobhan and her husband attended over the last year and they recognized him in the grocery store.

Cam was mad at Charlie for 'creating a scene in the store. He was equally upset with her for not sticking up for herself. He kept telling her none of what happened to her was her fault, she didn't want any of it to happen, and no one has the right to call her a whore. She told him to just ignore it, and it would settle down over time, and that was when Dad asked me if there was any legal way to get adult entertainment websites to take down any videos, photos and images of Cam, knowing she was underage when those videos and pictures were taken.

I could kick myself, Clayton. It's so obvious that I should have seen it already. Abbie can put out a notice in the adult entertainment industry that any images of Cam are child porn and threaten to bury them in charges if they don't take the images off, and the websites will do it, since charges of having child porn on their servers would get their site shut down faster than Charlie had that nutjob decked on the floor. As soon as we got home I called Abbie and we had a little chat, and she promised she'd get the ball rolling on that. Charlie and Cam made up (you know she can never stay mad at him, they're too much in love and she knows he was just trying to help her) and you know the making up part's always the best part of an argument!

Clayton chuckled to himself as he closed the email. He could well imagine Charlie's fury at someone who called his wife derogatory names in public; he could also imagine Cam not protesting because somewhere in there deep down she still felt (as Shana said Charlie had told her) that the whole thing had been her fault. Charlie's going to spend the rest of his life telling her none of this was her fault. Eventually she'll hear it so many times she'll believe it. I'll cross my fingers for that day.

The warm happiness that he felt persisted well into the next day, and a quick email from Shana the next day just reinforced it; Abbie had sent an email to Shana telling her she'd filed the appropriate paperwork with the FCC to have any images of Cam removed from national communications servers, and she'd even called Homeland Security, who had recently absorbed the National Communications Center and the National Cyber Security Office, and told them to be on the lookout for any images of Cam that hadn't been erased. It won't do anything about images of her on private networks, private computers and servers, but if they ever run across any during the course of an investigation they can add child porn charges because it's been clearly proven that she was underage when they were taken.

And then, a surprise a few days later; an email from Terence. He wasn't usually one to write long chatty emails and letters, so when Clayton saw the size of the file he was certain it was a picture. He wasn't prepared for what he saw when he opened the email though. Shana, standing next to what looked like an absolutely enormous wolf.

Shana probably won't tell you about this so I will, Terence wrote. We got home to our cabin in the very early morning hours yesterday and when we got up around nine we went out to do our morning exercises. There was this incredibly huge wolf standing out by the treeline, and as soon as he saw us he ran straight for us. Shana didn't even have time to turn and run; he was really fast. And he knocked her over and started licking her face. It was Timber, the wolf cub we'd saved while on our honeymoon; the wildlife preserve had nursed him to a young adult and taught him how to hunt, then released him back into the wild. He found his way back to the cabin, probably remembered it, and we found signs where he'd been denning nearby. I think he was probably waiting for us to come back.

Clayton sat back and laughed, long and hard.

Shana's email, a few days later, was much more descriptive.

I swear, Clayton, this was the last thing I expected. We walked out the front door and there was this huge wolf standing there. He's not a full adult yet but he just looks so huge…anyway, he headed straight for me as soon as he saw me, and I thought I was going to get attacked. Terence was frozen; Timber was just moving too fast, there was no way either of us was going to get to a weapon before the wolf got to me…and then he just started licking me all over, whining, and his tail was waving, just like a really really big dog.

He recognized Terence too; went up to Terence and sat down, then rolled over to get his belly rubbed. And he settled right in, just like we were when we were on our honeymoon. Except he's too big to fit on the dog bed we bought him. He spent the first night sleeping on the rug next to the bed—on my side, and you have no idea how annoyed I was when I woke up the next morning and put my feet on the floor—and stepped on a big walking rug! He gave me a hurt look and I had to pet him to soothe his hurt feelings while Terence laughed his head off.

I don't think Timber knew what to make of the twins when I introduced them—cautiously, Terence had his hand buried in the wolf's ruff when I went to pick up Erin. And I was all ready to slam the door of the bedroom if Timber showed any aggression to the babies. But he kind of sniffed her cautiously and backed away, and just watched for a while. He was sitting on the rug in the kitchen when I opened my shirt to feed Erin, and I swear I saw a lightbulb click on over that furry wolf head when Erin started to nurse. He just had this look, like he'd suddenly figured it out; the alpha female to his chosen pack had puppies. He sniffed Evan when I introduced them later, and then just sat down and watched us.

There's no way I'll leave the babies alone with him—he's a wild animal, after all…but later that day when I put both of the twins down for naps and closed the door, and Terence and I went to air out the bedsheets and finish our unpacking and settling in, when we went back to get the twins up from their naps Timber was stretched out napping in front of their room door. And when we went to bed that night, he didn't sleep next to my bed, he slept in front of the twins' room door. The next day, some furniture we'd ordered—changing table for the twins' room, couple of dressers for baby clothes—came in, but when the furniture people got there and tried to carry the changing table into the kids' room, Timber stood in front of the door and growled at them and refused to let them in. Terence and I had to go in and pick up the twins before he would stand down.

Clayton could just imagine the looks on the furniture delivery peoples' faces when they saw this wolf standing in front of the door refusing to allow them in. Looking at Terence's picture, if that wolf stood on his hind legs his head would be about on level with Shana's; not even Clayton would dare risk those wolfish teeth. If that wolf sticks around, Shana and Terence will never have to worry about bullies picking on the twins. Not with that kind of protector.

And at the end of the week, another email from Shana reinforced his impression. Days have settled into a quiet sort of routine, Shana wrote. We get up in the morning and Timber's lying on the hall floor in front of the twins' bedroom—we got a thick shag carpet so he'd be comfortable, and he seems to like it there. So we'll get up, check on the kids, go to the kitchen. I make coffee while Terence goes for a run—with Timber. I swear that darn wolf enjoys it. When Terence comes back I go for a run (rather shorter) and Timber goes with me, then when I get back we all have breakfast. I bought Timber some dog food, but he just nibbles; I don't think he likes it. After breakfast he whines at the door, so we open the door and let him out. I emailed Cam to ask her about that (well, she is Wolf tribe!) and she said that wolves have a natural instinct against fouling the den, so it makes sense that he's potty-trained.

The third morning we were home Snake Eyes and I packed the twins in backpack carriers and went out with spraycans to mark the trees, with Timber following along. After that day, he started vanishing every morning—one morning Terence followed him and found out that Timber was 're-marking' every tree we'd marked (in his own wolfy way, if you know what I mean) and he was, in effect, patrolling the property. I don't know how he knows to do that, but he's behaving exactly as if we were his pack and he's a member.

Clayton sat back and laughed. And laughed some more when he got an email from Terence a few days later with a picture showing Timber sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, a couple of dead rabbits lying on the floor in front of him, and Shana plainly having fits about the wolf bringing dead animals into her house. Timber had a puzzled expression on his face as he looked at the camera, which Terence was plainly behind; that expression spoke of hurt and bewilderment. Timber had brought home meat for the pack after a successful hunt and didn't understand why his pack's alpha female was having hysterics.

Terence had simply written under the picture, we had rabbit stew that night. I managed to get Shana to understand that if she didn't accept his 'gift' she'd hurt his feelings. I think when deer season starts this fall, we'll have plenty of meat on the table and in the freezer. Cam sent us instructions on how to tan the rabbit hide with the fur still on; if all goes well, the twins will have fur blankets on their beds for the winter.

Clayton laughed until he cried—then printed the picture to show Allie, Courtney, and of course Alex and Liv. He had a feeling that life in the O'Hara household was going to be very, very interesting.

Author's note: And that's it. That's all for the fourth book in the series. We're not done yet; as you might have guessed from the general tenor of the last part of this book, the fifth book in the series is going to be about the kids. Auggie, Evan and Erin will be joined by a few other of the 'Second Generation' of Joes and as kids will, they'll be getting into and out of scrapes. Look for it! And if a story about the next generation isn't your thing, well, I am pleased that you've followed along so far and hope you enjoyed reading as much as I had writing it. It's not going to go up immediately—I'm still writing it—but keep an eye out for it in the future.

See you soon for 'Second Generation'!