Runaway by Clouddancer
Summary: At age 8, Mark leaves home and meets an unusal mentor who helps guide him in learning some new skills.
Categories: Battle of the Planets Characters: Chief Anderson, Mark, Original Character
Genre: Drama
Story Warnings: Mild Adult Situations, Mild Language
Timeframe: Prequel
Universe: Alternate Universe
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 21 Completed: Yes Word count: 44639 Read: 75527 Published: 01/02/2011 Updated: 12/14/2011

1. Chapter 1 - Anderson by Clouddancer

2. Chapter 2 - May by Clouddancer

3. Chapter 3 - mid June by Clouddancer

4. Chapter 4 - Anderson by Clouddancer

5. Chapter 5 - July by Clouddancer

6. Chapter 6 - Evening by Clouddancer

7. Chapter 7 - late August by Clouddancer

8. Chapter 8 - Next Day - The Park by Clouddancer

9. Chapter 9 - Anderson by Clouddancer

10. Chapter 10 - September by Clouddancer

11. Chapter 11 - November by Clouddancer

12. Chapter 12 - Anderson by Clouddancer

13. Chapter 13 - December by Clouddancer

14. Chapter 14 - March by Clouddancer

15. Chapter 15 - May by Clouddancer

16. Chapter 16 - June by Clouddancer

17. Chapter 17 - October by Clouddancer

18. Chapter 18 - October - Mark's View by Clouddancer

19. Chapter 19 - October - Phoenix Foundation by Clouddancer

20. Chapter 20 - October - Police Station by Clouddancer

21. Chapter 21 - Anderson's View by Clouddancer

Chapter 1 - Anderson by Clouddancer

A brown haired man sat at his large wooden desk, in his office on the fifth floor of the family owned building, behind him a bank of windows allowed in the daylight. His desk was littered with files and reports for his review. They contained data on only a few of the projects his company was handling at the moment, information he had not looked at for several days due to his wife's funeral the previous Thursday.

The phone on his desk buzzed as his assistant called in, "Sir, I know you asked not to be disturbed, but I have Eastbourne Elementary School, on the line. They say they will only speak with you. Should I put them through?"

"Yes, thank you and Paula, and could you see to a refill please?" The man sighed as he reached for the phone.

The be-spectacled man tried to clear his head of all the data he had been assimilating as he thought about Eastbourne School, the beautiful, old private school his 7 year old son, Mark, attended. Why would they be calling at? … He had to check the time … 9:23, was it really only that time? … in the morning?

Resenting that he was being pulled from his work the man crisply spoke into the mouthpiece, "John Anderson."

"Mr. Anderson. This is Mrs. Anastacio from Eastbourne's Safe Arrival Program, we are sorry for the loss to you and your family."

Oh, it was going to be another condolence call John thought and let his mind wander back to the report he had been looking at as the voice droned on, "We called your home and your housekeeper told us you could be reached at this number. We were under the impression that your son would be returning to school on Monday, yesterday. We do understand that this is a difficult time for you and your son but with his absence again today we were wondering when Mark would be returning to classes."

"Excuse me!" John exclaimed in shock. In his mind he ran over the last sentence before stammering back, "He was not ill when I left home but I will check into the matter and let you know what has happened. Thank you for notifying me."

Chief John Anderson, second in charge of the Phoenix Foundation after his father, returned the receiver to its cradle and sat at his desk, his brain running in circles. He had a driver take Mark to school every day. What had happened?

It was then that John's brain skipped in its tracks. What? ... TWO days? When John had eaten dinner with Mark last night, he had given the impression he had attended classes yesterday. What had he been doing instead? Where was he now? What the hell was going on?

A call to the housekeeper revealed that she has not seen Mark being returned home but she would check and see if the boy had slipped in. And then to the driver, "Yes, Mark was dropped off at the gates to the school as usual. No, I did not watch to see if Mark entered the building. Honestly, I never have Sir." After completing the calls Chief Anderson sat back in his chair wondering, what to do now?

That was how Paula found him when she stepped in with the coffee. And like any good personal assistant, after she discovered what the problem was, she took matters into her hands and contacted the school to inform them of the situation and then made contact with the police.

Shortly after that John Anderson felt his father, Samuel, at his side. His loud, forceful voice argued with the Police Officers demanding answers and immediate results and sending dark intimidating glares when the officers tried to explain their position. John knew his father could be very domineering and demanding, but then shouldn't you be if you had helped to establish a company in innovative technology and then run that company as it become a leader in its field like the Phoenix Foundation had become.

Chapter 2 - May by Clouddancer

On this May evening, darkness arrived quickly to the city streets due to the light rain falling. In an unloading area behind a red-bricked grocery store the light on the corner of the building flickered on. The form of a boy emerged from the shrubbery and into the light at one end of the paved dock. It stumbled along the fence line and over to the large waste dumpster against the wall of the building where the boy climbed up and huddled out of the damp and wind on the lid for a moment.

A man with black hair, tied back with a leather lace at the nape of his neck forming a shoulder length tail, stepped around the corner of the building. He was wearing a long dark coat that billowed around his legs like a cape, as he moved. He jumped over a puddle and into the circle of brightness shining on the wet ground from the light attached to the corner of the building.

As he felt a pulse of mental Power washed over him, he became uncertain, and quickly stepped back into the shadows, to look around. It had been many years since he had felt something like that. His disoriented mind could not remember when, or why, he had last felt raw unfocused energy like that but something inside reminded him that he had not felt it since he had been banished to this planet nearly 10 years ago.

Taking a deep breath, to settle his mind, he sent out a thin cord of mental awareness and did a quick scan of the area, trying to find the source of this new energy. Trying to assess if it could be dangerous to him. As he worked the man remembered that at one time he had had much greater abilities; doing something like this would have been done almost in his subconscious. At least those who had forcibly removed him from his home planet, and felt it necessary to tamper with his mind and Powers, had left him some, minor abilities. Enough to be aware and to protect himself when necessary.

The scan gave him no information on the source of the power, but the man could tell it was getting stronger. It was beating through his head now, instead of the pulsing he had first felt. Stepping around the corner for a second time, this time making sure he stayed out of the ring of light staining the ground, the dark man tried to trace the energy, to feel his way to its source, but it was so unfocused all he could tell was it was coming from his right.

Turning in that direction, he saw the industrial dumpster in the dark corner. Its back against the building and one side along the fence. It was on this dumpster the owner of the grocery store would place dented tins for the dark haired man to take, as well as day old bread and other items that could be safely consumed if left unrefrigerated. This dumpster was always the man's last stop of the night before he headed to his shelter for the night.

Tonight though there was something … someone moving on top of the bin.

For a moment forgetting what he had been sensing the grey-eyed man stepped towards the bin and bellowed, "Get out of here! That food is mine! Find your own!"

As the lean man moved forward he saw the form lurch up, one hand reaching to grasp the fence railing above its head, a black sneakered foot slid on the wet lid and then the form fell to the ground and lay still. The pounding in the man's head stilled and the heat of Power, radiating from the form, shimmered into the night.

Apprehensively, the cloaked man approached the form on the ground and saw not a teenager, as his mind had first told him, but a youth. As he bent over for a closer look at the boy's face his eyes widened in shock.

"Shirra! You're only a baby! Why are you out here, alone?"

The man looked around, his eyes searching the buildings, shrubbery and the treed area behind him, then down to the boy as he muttered, "You are too young to be out by yourself. And you're far too young to have powers that burn so bright. Why has this been allowed to happen?"

Again the dark man looked around before he rolled the child over, cradled him against his chest and brought his coat around to stop the rain from falling on the boy. "Where are your parents boy? And why has no one provided you with mental protection? Shielded you from your Powers. I don't think much of your parents if they let one as young as you burn so brightly. Your Powers will burn you out, perhaps kill you, if they are allowed to continue on this course." The man ended angrily while he checked the boy's body for injuries.

"Since I can not find any injuries I am going to assume the reason you are unconscious is because your Powers had control of you. After what I saw you are probably mentally drained and you now need rest to recover."

A flash of lightning, followed shortly by a loud rumble of thunder brought heavier rain. "What am I going to do now, hmmm? … I cannot leave you out in this and I don't intend on standing here until someone comes looking for you. Come, my shelter is just through those bushes, and from there I can watch and see when your parents come looking."

While he spoke the dark haired man made another sweeping search before he stood, lifting the boy and carried him to the edge of the unloading area. Passing through the long grass and bushes the lean man walked towards a few large crates and a larger metal box container he had assembled among a small group of trees.

"Welcome to my home, child. It's not much, but it suits me most of the year."

The man stepped into the shelter and laid the boy on a blanket, covering him with a second rough blanket before he continued, "It will provide protection from the rain and it will allow me to see if I can do something about your abilities."

The man removed his coat, draped it over a bin by the door and shook his head, dislodging rain droplets from his hair, before moving to kneel beside the boy. "Now, lets see if I remember what to do, shall we? Or more to the point, whether "they" left me enough Power to do what needs to be done to help you."

He reached out and placed a slender hand on the boy's shoulder while muttering to himself as though reciting a formula, "Before first mental contact can be made you must make physical contact. Which is why it is easy for parents to do this, they always have contact with their children. It is then a simple step to establish shielding after that."

When the grey-eyed man touched the child, the boy shifted his head, so the man soothed him with a gentle shush and a sorrowful smile, "Don't worry, boy, I will not tamper, like was done to me, I am only going to do what should have naturally been done as your abilities began to develop."

The man then steadied his breathing, closed his eyes and slipped into a light trance. The two remained that way for about twenty minutes as the rain continued, the thunder rumbled and lightning flashed across the city. When the man finally opened his eyes he furled his brow and looked at the still unconscious child.

"Well that was … educational. I cannot find exactly why your powers flared up, but I did find unfocused paths and put a damper on them. After we talk I will see if I can set up a specific shield. That job will be much easier now that I have done the initial work. Once the shield is in place then I will only need to reinforce it a few times, to ensure it remains strong. What I don't understand is why you don't have a focus. At your age you should at least be able to Mind Speak. And yet I can tell you don't even have the knowledge that you are Rigan."

The man got to his feet, stumbling as he moved to look out of the shelter at the rain. Then he turned to the child and said, "That exhausted me, I have never used what is left of my powers that extensively. I need to rest, but before I do I need some food to restore the energy I used, and to help ground myself. I need to see what food was placed on the dumpster you were on. I will be just a few moments little one, then we shall both get some sleep."

8888

Next Day

As grey daylight crept though the heavy rain and into the shelter the dark haired boy opened his eyes, looked around and then jerked upright, blue eyes widening in shock and amazement as he pushed the blanket off his body. The boy looked at the lean man, curled loosely on his side, opposite him and then quietly got to his feet.

As the boy took a silent step towards the entrance of the shelter the man spoke, "I wouldn't boy. You will be soaked in less than a minute if you go out in that rain."

Startled, the boy spun around. He then narrowed his eyes as the man finished saying, "Before you leave you could at least offer a thank you, for giving you shelter from the storm, and food to eat."

The boy's eyes widened slightly and then narrowed again as he gave a slight shake of his head before replying softly, "I don't remember eating anything."

"No, you haven't, but you will before you leave. I don't want you to collapse halfway across the loading area, because you are light headed from hunger, and then make me go out in the rain to bring you back." The man said, with a smile. He then slowly and carefully sat up; the man did not want to frighten the boy, who still showed every sign that he was ready to flee.

The black haired man reached to the back of the shelter and pulled out a bag with some sliced bread in it and a container of peanut butter. As he turned back the boy was still standing near the entrance to the shelter.

"Come on, sit down." The man said as he pointed to the blanket where the boy had slept. Some of the rigidity left the boy but the child did another check to ensure he would still have access for a quick get away. While the boy was looking the man noted again how tiny the boy was, even though he was sitting and the boy was standing, both their heads were at the same level.

As the boy crept back to the blanket and sat, the man pointed to the food items and said, "This is not much, but it was all I was able to find last night after I brought you here."

The man spread some peanut butter onto a slice of bread, folded it and handed it to the boy, who looked at it uncertainly before finally lifting it to his mouth. The boy filled his mouth with a bite of the sandwich, quickly swallowed and then took another large mouthful.

The lean man frowned as he looked down at the package of bread and then towards the boy again. That was when the boy's outward condition registered. What had once been a crisp white shirt was now crumpled, torn and smudged with dirt. The boy's dark pants were in slightly better shape, but only because they didn't show the dirt. The child's face looked thin and pale and there were scratches and a bruise on one cheek.

Wanting to get some information from the child the man asked, "How long have you been on the streets boy? When did you last eat?"

The boy's response was a shrug of his shoulders as he pushed the last corner of the sandwich into his mouth and looked towards the entrance. Guess the boy was on the verge of fleeing, the tall man made a second sandwich and handed it to the child. He had begun making a third sandwich for himself so he didn't notice the boy freeze when he asked, "What is your name boy?"

When the boy did not respond the man looked up and saw the boy had become tense again and was deftly shifting towards the entrance. The child's eyes were darting around looking outside of the shelter, contemplating another place to hide.

Hoping to calm the boy the man quietly reasoned, "Well I can't keep to calling you 'boy' can I? And you and I need to talk when we are done eating. I would like to be able to call you something."

The man then lifted his sandwich to his mouth and took a bite; his eyes remained appraisingly on the boy. When he had swallowed the mouthful, he tried a different approach, "Since you don't seem to want to answer those, lets try this one instead. Where are your parents?"

The boy did not answer but at least he remained seated and his gaze had returned back to the inside of the shelter. Finally the man sighed, "Not going to answer that one either, huh? Well I know you can talk since you did earlier. So what will you tell me? How about your age, how many years have you had? You look about … six?"

"I'm 7!" The boy snapped hotly, as he lifted flashing eyes to meet the man's. "I'm turning 8 next month."

"Ah, so you found your voice again!" The man responded playfully. "Now will you tell me your name?"

When the boy gave a shake of his head, the man mused, "Well, then I guess I will call you Little One until you are willing to give me your name, or any name for that matter." He then smiled at the boy and giving a bob of his head said, "You, may call me Charlie."

After he gave his name Charlie noticed the boy relaxed and his jaw dropped open in surprise. When he reached to take hold of the boy's hand, which was holding the remains of the forgotten sandwich the boy flinched away.

So instead the man said, "Please finish eating Little One. You would do better with sandwich in your stomach than flies, don't you think? Not that there are many flies around in this weather." Charlie finished with a smile.

Charlie tossed the last bite of his sandwich into his mouth and then pointed to the boy's, "Would you like another?"

Even though Little One shook his head Charlie sensed the boy needed more to eat so he made one more sandwich and handed it to the boy before he wrapped the remaining slices of bread up, sealed the peanut butter container and returned them to their positions at the back of the shelter. From the corner of his eye he watched to ensure the child did not leave. When he turned back, the boy was finishing his meal.

Charlie waited for the boy to clear his mouth before asking, "Can you hear your parents calling?

Charlie's brow furled with uncertainty as the boy turned his head and apprehensively looked out of the shelter towards the unloading area.

"No, Little One, not with your ears. In here … there." Charlie said as he first pointed to his own chest and then towards the boy's chest.

The boy shook his head, "Why would I hear them in there? You hear with your ears. Besides I can only hear my friends inside."

After he spoke the boy froze his eye opened wide with fear but Charlie did not pay attention since the statement had surprised him making him blink before trying to clarify, "Your friends? You can hear your friends, but not your parents? That is unusual to hear friends before you can hear your parents. Are your friends close? Is that why you can hear them? Where are your friends?"

"They're all around, out there." The boy nervously waved his hand towards the entrance of the shelter. "I can hear them all the time. The Chief doesn't like it when I say I can. So I don't tell him any more."

As the boy spoke, Charlie felt his mind going blank with shock and confusion. Was he missing something, or were the two of them were talking about different things? Maybe he did not understand this language quiet as well as he thought he did, "Your friends are all around you? And you hear them all the time, what do they say to you?"

"Lots of things." the boy said with a shrug, relaxing a little. "Like, when it's safe to go somewhere. Or, when I can do something. Sometimes they tell me where something is if I need it or have lost it. They tell me where to hide and sometimes when to hide. They talk to me when I'm hurting or in trouble." This time Charlie did see the boy suck in a quick fearful breath and stiffen.

When Charlie did not react to the announcement, mostly because he was not sure how to react, Little One slowly began to relax again. Then the boy must have decided it was okay to continue so he closed his eyes and tilted his head in concentration.

"Right now, some of my friends are talking about the two cats walking along beside the fence heading towards the truck trailer over there. The cats are not hunting right now, but my friends say stay away, cats are always trouble." The boy gave a small smile and rotated his head further as he continued, "Ohhhh! I nearly missed that …. There is another cat sitting by a mouse hole behind this shelter. That one they do have to stay away from."

When the boy turned back to face him, Charlie tried to hide his shock, but knew he had been unsuccessful because the boy dropped his head and mumbled, "I'm sorry! I promised I wouldn't tell stories any more. The Chief says I have a good imagination, but he says I'm too old to keep pretending I have 'imaginary' friends."

"That was a story?" Charlie asked, trying to discover the truth. He thought he had felt a hint of Power as the boy spoke but by the time he had noticed it, the flicker was gone. And then Charlie was unsure what he should be thinking when he saw, over the boy's shoulder, two cats, a black and a grey, walk towards the battered tractor trailer in the unused corner of the loading bay.

Charlie eyed the boy and amazed, began to say, "You were just using your P …." before his brain caught up to his mouth, and he finished his thoughts internally.

'…. Powers! Why did I not sense them? Or …. I sensed something but … what? What did I miss? And you haven't even been told about Powers. Who am I kidding; you haven't even been told you are Rigan, why would I think some one would tell you about Powers? But, what kind of Power do you possess? I don't recall learning about one that allows you to hear animals.'

'No!' Charlie berated himself. 'Don't go there right now! Get him using them again, so you can trace the source and stop them from burning him out. That's, what matters. Then worry about the type of Power he has. If you have time, before someone comes looking for him, that is. Just get him talking, what was it this Chief friend had said? ….'

"Using your imagination?" Charlie finished what he had been saying. Then he decided if he could get the boy telling a "story" it might encourage the boy to use his Powers again, so he continued with "Your Chief friend is correct, you have a very good imagination. You would make a very good storyteller, Little One. Can you tell me more about the two cats?"

The boy never looked up during all this and appeared to be curling into himself. It took a gentle, "I really love to hear stories. What are the cats names?" Before Charlie finally heard a very faint, "Momma loved when I told her stories too."

It took a moment before Little One slowly raised his head and looked out towards the loading area. After some thoughtful introspection the boy finally began, "One is called Shheryl, the other is Merrum. They don't like this weather. Merrum asked Shheryl if she could tell when the rain would end, because she doesn't like to hunt in the rain."

Shheryl says, "If you would use your ears you could tell the rain is already getting lighter. It will not be much longer, and then we can go watch the hole under the tree root. The one beside the fence."

"I don't want to hunt there." Merrum says. "Didn't you see the puddle? I just washed my coat and I don't want to get mud in it again."

"It is not like Alexx will notice mud in your coat." Says Shheryl.

"I don't care what Alexx thinks. I will not be visiting him again. He may be a worthy male, but if he doesn't know what an unrestrained cat like I am is worth then he is welcome to that house cat he keeps yowling after." After a pause Merrum continues, with a whine, "I am tired of mouse. Do you think we could get fish today?"

"You plan on sitting all day in the ….'

The boy's brows pinched together and then the boy turned to Charlie and asked, "Is there a fish market near by?"

"No." Charlie shook his head and then, after a moment's thought finished with. "But there is a Fish and Chip shop over in the next block."

Maybe that is what Shheryl meant …. store/shop ... sometimes my friends use words that I cannot explain. It only makes sense in their language. Shheryl said, "Do you plan on sitting there all day in the store begging like a dog would?

"No" Merrum responds. "But maybe the man will remember and give us some fish like last time."

An exasperated Shheryl explains, "We got fish last time because we caught a mouse. The man has fixed the problem and there will be no more mice in that store."

"Maybe we can make him think there are mice still there." Merrum excitedly exclaims.

"How do you propose to do that?"

Merrum thinks for a while before finally saying, " We could always bring a mouse into the store, let it go and let him see us catch the silly thing."

"It might be a good plan but that means we need to catch a mouse to start with. Which is what started this conversation. If we are going to catch a seed eater we may as well eat it and not bother wasting our time with the begging."

Merrum sighed resignedly, "I guess you are correct. Well the rain is letting up and if we are quick the mice will be leaving their holes for their first check after the storm. Perhaps we will not have to wait in the mud too long. Come on!"

8888

During the story Charlie had been monitoring the boy. Trying to find the source of his Powers - where this ability was coming from. It was incredible, last night raw Power had been rolling off the boy, now though his Power was so hidden he could not find it. As the boy finished the story Charlie saw the two cats race out from under the trailer and across the loading area towards the bushes alongside the fence line.

To continue the fiction he had begun Charlie said, "That was amazing, Little One, a very good story to start the day. Now that the rain has let up, perhaps we should head off as well. We have a lot to do today, including seeing what we can do about finding your parents, before we see what we can find for lunch."

Chapter 3 - mid June by Clouddancer

Over the next six weeks, Charlie continued to try and discover Little One's real name, and who or where his parents were but the boy never gave a response. Charlie had asked a few friends if they could discover anything about a missing boy. But for some reason, they either were not able to obtain the correct information or they had not got back to him.

What interested Charlie the most was that no one appeared to question the fact that he now had a child with him. Maybe this part of the city was like that. In this predominately Asian neighbourhood where guns, violence and gang wars were the norm, they did not want to interfere with one man who had a small child. Especially since that man appeared to be a savior to them.

Charlie was unsure what had drawn him to this part of the country, or this city in particular. But when he reached this neighbourhood he knew he had to stay and help. He could see how desperate the people were for assistance from the criminal activity in the area.

It had taken the inhabitants of the neighborhood a few months to accept him. But after he had stepped in when a storeowner was being harassed, the citizens began to recognize his skills and welcomed him. Now they offered him small items in exchange for the sense of safety and advice he provided while he remained in the area. Through the years Charlie had fallen into a routine and now with a boy at his side he continued to follow as much of it as he could, with a few enjoyable additions.

The first addition had begun that first day and had quickly been worked into the pattern. After one truck or another had woken them, while it reversed up to the loading dock of the grocery store, Charlie would begin assembling their morning meal and the boy would regale him with a story from one of his friends. One morning it might be a mouse, the next a bird. Rabbits and cats also seemed to frequent the child's 'stories'.

Once they had finished their meal and had cleaned up, the two would move through the loading area and head along the street in front of the grocery store. Charlie and the boy might help a merchant unload a delivery truck that had brought supplies to the store. Or they would help elderly people with their chores around the apartment buildings. They might take groceries or medicine, from the Acupuncturist and Herbologist Ling Chu, to some person Charlie had heard was ill.

Just before noon Charlie and the boy would appear at one location or another to help serve the lunchtime crowd. When they were done they would sit and enjoy a meal of their own before heading off again to assist in other ways around the neighborhood. By walking the streets and stopping at the local church or temple or looking in the various shop windows and businesses, Charlie could discover the latest neighbourhood news and what assistance he could be.

Two mornings a week Charlie would lead Tai Chi classes at the temple and on Saturday's he held two different self-defense classes. During these times the boy would sit on the stones and talk to one of the temple monks or sit by the pond and watch the fish swimming.

As night approached and businesses closed the two would make their way back to the shelter. Sometimes carrying small packages of food or other useful items. Other times knowing their meal for the evening would be the offerings that Shing Lee the grocer placed on the metal bin.

Another bonus Charlie discovered, shortly after he found the child was an improvement in the quality of food Shing left. Shortly after the boy had arrived, Charlie had spent a morning working in the grocery store, helping to stock shelves. Now that Mr. Lee and his wife knew of the boys' presence they had begun placing food and milk appropriate for a young boy in a container on top of the bin.

Very early in their relationship, Charlie discovered that all the activity and walking exhausted Little One and the boy would quickly fall asleep as soon as they had finished eating. Six weeks later, Little One had adjusted to all the activity and although he would settle down after they finished their evening meal, he would remain awake and Charlie was able to question the boy about events from his life before they met. Often getting short responses for an answer.

Tonight the boy was lying on his back, his head resting on a coat and eyes closed, when he asked, "Charlie? Why do you live out here and not inside a building?"

"Because, Little One, this is what I am used to. Where I am from, when you have certain skills, we do not live close to other people."

The child's blue eyes opened and Charlie could see the questions in them, so he continued, "Like you, I have special skills Little One. Only, my skills allow me to feel and hear people, not animals. When too many people surround me I loose myself."

Charlie could see confusion on the boys face. "How do I make you understand? I feel pain and emotions from everyone around me and then I cannot focus on myself, or my feelings. I forget who I am."

Charlie saw surprise surge behind the boy's eyes before the child quickly looked away. Charlie smiled to himself and wondered if Little One's Powers felt similar to what he had described, but the boy was not ready to admit it to him yet.

'Don't worry Little One.' Charlie thought to himself. 'I won't push. I can't help you if I frighten you and you run away from me too.'

Charlie knew he was on the right track when the boy looked back and asked, "Does everyone feel that?" He would continue to let the boy question and reach his own conclusions and not push him.

"No they don't Little One. People down here …." Charlie started and then corrected himself, "Most people around here do not have that skill. Only very special people."

"I don't think the Chief has the skill. So, why would I?"

"I suspect he doesn't either. You have mentioned the Chief before, is he your father?"

"Yes. Well … kind of. He and Momma adopted me when I was a baby."

It was a good thing the boy had closed his eyes while he spoke because Charlie felt his body tense with shock at Little One's words. And he thought to himself, 'Adopted? To an outsider? No Rigan parent would allow that to happen to a child, would they? The rule has always been keep blood with blood.'

At least that was the way it had been when he was forced from the planet. Who knew what had happened in the years since he had be banished to this one. Maybe the war had become so bad on Riga … but would they really send an untrained and unshielded child away without at least ONE of his parents? Or without someone to act as protector, or guide until kin could reclaim him?

Powers created bonds, ties that could not be broken except by death. It connected family members: parent to child, child to sibling, and given time, husband to wife. These bonds began while a child was in its mother's womb, and strengthened as the child aged. This bond allowed family members to know their kindred were safe and alive, and also to know if a family member had died.

Charlie looked out of the shelter entrance and continued thinking, 'The one Rigan I spoke to since being here told me he had been on a refugee ship sent to Earth, but everyone had been under strict instructions to blend in; not to reveal who we are? The people of this planet are not quite ready to know about other beings or about Powers at this time.'

Charlie returned his gaze to the boy while thinking, 'The hints I have gotten from you, lead me to believe you do not know about Riga. More and more I am thinking your adoptive parents are not Rigan either. That would explain the lack of shielding you had. What happened to your Rigan parents Little One? Why was no one sent to act as your Guardian while you were down here?'

The boy's whispered voice broke into Charlie's contemplation. "Can you make the voices stop? How do you make them stop?"

"No Little One, that is the reason I stay out here, my ability to control what I feel from others has been taken from me. I can teach you how to control your skills, but I cannot stop them. Besides I do not think you would want to stop your abilities."

The child's blue eyes opened again, wide with entreaty, "Why not? They get me into trouble."

Charlie gave a soft, dry chuckle before responding, "Yes I am sure it feels like they do. That is why you must learn to control them. So they do not get you into trouble."

"But, I want them to stop. I want to be normal. I NEED to be …" Little One stopped and looked away, nibbling his lower lip. Charlie knew the boy was censoring something and wished the boy could relax enough to tell him what was bothering him. It was frustrating that the child continued to keep all these secrets.

When Little One looked back it was to ask, "Why won't you make them stop?"

"Little One, even if I could, I wouldn't do that. I have a feeling that when you tried to stop the voices, when you tried to shut them out, or turn them off, that was when they burst out the way they did. Your skills are kind of like a balloon. You know what happens when you fill a balloon up with too much air? It explodes. Well you stopped your abilities and they built up inside of you until they exploded. Does that make sense Little One?"

"I think so." The boy sounded uncertain, but after a bit he continued, "So how do I stop hearing my friends all the time? And why don't I hear as many when I am with you? Do you tell them to be quiet?"

"No Little One, I can not talk to your friends like you do. What do you mean they are quieter?" Charlie questioned softly.

"When I am with you there are not so many voices. It is like they're …" Little One struggle to put into words what he was feeling. "I can't hear them as well, or … it's like you said, I can hear myself, my thoughts and feel my feelings again. But when you are not close everything is all mixed up again, it's louder. Its like … I don't know. Like when I walked into the big hall during the Chief's Christmas Party and everyone was talking, nothing made sense, it was all noise. That is what it is like when you are not beside me."

"I think the reason the voices are quieter is because I am helping you, by stopping them."

The child looked up excited, "So you CAN stop them!"

"No! I guess what I should have said is, I'm helping to control or filter them. I have set up blocks, shields I call them, and probably only a few of the voices get through, maybe only the loudest ones. I cannot stop your abilities, but what I can do is teach you how to control them, or filter them like I do. That is the difference between stopping and controlling them, Little One. To stop them they would continue to build up until they burst out and could hurt or kill you. Controlling them means you allow only the sounds through you want to hear. Now let me think about this for a moment." Charlie finished, and then fell silent contemplating what the boy had told him, trying to find a language Little One would understand.

"At this big party you mentioned, what did you do to help conversations make sense? To stop hearing all the noise and to understand what one person was saying to you?"

The boy twitched his shoulders in a shrug before responding, "I listened very hard. Sometimes I move closer to the person. Or I would have them say it again, but louder."

"Then, for the next little while, that is what you will learn to do with your friend's voices. You need to separate the voices from each another, just like you did with people's voices. At first you may have to move closer to listen to the voices you want to hear and ignore or block the ones that you do not want to hear, or do not need to hear. But you will have to be careful because you do not want to block all the voices and have them build up inside of you again."

"That sounds h …" The boy stopped speaking and jerked upright, facing the opening of the shelter.

Little One's breath had stilled and his face had drained of colour. Suddenly there was pain in the boy's eyes and Charlie heard a low moan escape from the child before Little One threw himself out of their shelter and raced towards the loading area.

"No, boy! Wait!" Charlie yelled in panic. Thinking Little One was running away Charlie jumped up muttering, "Shirra! I should have connected to him when I had the chance."

When Charlie stood up he could see the boy at the edge of the pavement looking to his left. Charlie made a dash towards the child but by the time he got to where the boy had paused, the child had already raced off. That was when the man heard a spine tingling yowl followed by a scream from the boy who was charging towards four laughing teenagers.

The child shouted, "Leave her alone. Leave her …" Before he crashed into the backs of two of the youths, knocking them against the brick wall that stood beside them, and himself tumbling on top of them.

Charlie had time to think, 'That is not the proper way to approach a mismatched fight,' as the child struggled to get up. Then one of the two standing youths laughed as he swung his leg back to kick at the new opponent. Charlie's body reacted before he was aware of his brain sending the signal.

As the teenager's foot connected with the child's ribs Charlie yanked the youth backwards allowing gravity pull him to the ground. Charlie then dropped into a fighter's stance facing the last standing teen. The boy backed off a step, and then turned, grabbing his friend by the back of the shirt and ran. When Charlie turned around to face the other two youths they were stumbling to their feet and raced off after their friends.

Charlie took a deep breath, detecting an acrid smell, and looked down at Little One to assess his condition. Only to discover the boy was sitting on his heels, reaching towards a black mass lying at the foot of the wall. Just as he touched the lump it gave another sickening howl, this time lashing out at the boy. When the boy snatched his arm back he had scratches down it and across the back of his hand.

Finally Charlie's brain made sense of the jumble of sights, sounds and smells it had been receiving. This blackened lump was a cat and it was howling in pain. Those four senseless idiots had been tormenting the cat and it looked like they had burned most of its hair off.

Flicking his focus back to Little One's face, Charlie realized that was what the boy had heard from the shelter. The boy was so caught up in it he was feeling the animal's pain and suffering.

Shaken, Charlie reached for the boy, "Little One, come away please."

"No Charlie, do something for her." The child pleaded not taking his eyes off the burned body.

"Little One, I can not help your friend. I think she is beyond help from anyone."

The child reached towards the cat again. This time he managed to brush his fingers along her head and shoulders. "You don't understand, she can't die. She has babies, they need her."

"Sometimes it is better if we let things go."

The boy shook his head and then whispered to the cat, "You need to look after them. You can't leave them. You can't. Not like Momma left me. Please! … But …? Okay, I promise. I will." After speaking the child reached out and brushed the cat's shoulder before his arm and head dropped.

Charlie stood and watched in silence for a few moments, wondering what the boy had just promised. That was when he noticed the pool of blood on the pavement beside the boy's right foot.

What?

Charlie looked at the child's feet; there was no protection on them. In his haste to leave the shelter Little One had not slipped on his shoes. Charlie traced the boy's path with his eyes and saw in the grass, where they had stepped onto the pavement, the glint of glass. One of the drivers must have dropped a bottle and kicked the glass off to the side.

"Little One." He said quietly, trying not to let his panic be heard. "Let me look at you."

"Huh?"

"You are hurt I need to look and see how bad."

The boy moved from his kneeling position, shifting his leg and putting weight on his foot to help him stand. Little One then gave a yelp, falling on his back to the ground. Charlie grabbed and held the boy's ankle as he helped the child untangle his legs. And then, as the boy lay back Charlie looked at his foot. Running across the ball of the boys foot blood was welling from a cut. Charlie lightly ran his thumb across the cut to see if he could feel any debris in it, but the boy gave another yelp and tried pulling away.

Holding tightly as the boy kicked and pulled Charlie tried to calm the child, "Shhh, Little One, I need to make sure it is clean."

As he spoke, Charlie ran his eyes over the boy's body. Seeing the scratches the cat had left and remembering the kick that had impacted with the boy's ribs Charlie declared, "No! I need to get you medicine and make sure nothing is broken or gets infected."

Charlie pulled a rag from his pocket and wrapped it around the boy's foot before he lifted the boy in his arms. How he got to Ling Chu's Herbal Shop on the next block, Charlie did not remember. He did remember racing to the back door and banging on it demanding help.

Ling let him into the room at the back of his shop and Charlie placed the boy on one of the cots Ling used for patients. Next, Ling asked the boy to drink something from a cup. Shortly after drinking the boy had relaxed and was drifting towards sleep. Then Ling was able to remove a piece of glass and some grit that was embedded in the child's foot and then he dressed the wounds on the boy's foot and arm.

With the incident over, and Little One in a drugged sleep on the cot, Charlie sat beside the boy thinking about the conversation the two had been having in the shelter. He had learned some more about the boy, not just about his Powers but also some new information about the child's family; his father and mother.

Ling unobtrusively approached and nodded towards the boy, "What do you plan on doing with him? He needs to stay off the foot for several days. And then, until the tenderness goes he may not be able to keep the pace you are use to."

"Thank you Ling, I understand." Charlie bobbed his head giving a bow of respect to the ancient gentleman and then continued on another topic, "Has your son obtained any news about the boy?"

The elderly man shook his head before he spoke, "I spoke to him three days ago and he has discovered nothing new. From what he was telling me it is amazing how many children go missing or disappear every week in this city. The police suspect many of the disappearances are because of the Huan Gang. Little One is lucky it was you who found him and not one of Huan's men. With his dark hair and those blue eyes he would have made the Huan's a lot of money if they sold him as an 'entertainment' slave."

"Or worse, for harvesting organs." Charlie responded as he reached out and ran his fingers along the child's bandaged arm. "Or maybe that would be the better option. It would not hurt his spirit as much. He can only die once."

Charlie paused before giving a tired sigh, "I fear leaving him alone over the next few days. I would like to continue with my rounds, but if I leave him alone Huan's men may find him. Perhaps the monks will allow me to leave him in the temple with them."

Ling reached out and placed a hand on Charlie's shoulder, "Leave him with me, my friend. He will not be a problem, as you can see I have no other guests at the moment and I have more than enough room, you know you are welcome to stay as well."

Shaking his head Charlie said, "No I can not. I am used to the open spaces. In here it is too closed in." For all the years he had been on this planet, that was the easiest excuse Charlie had been able to find, without having to explaining the effects from his Powers. "I thank you though, for offering to look after him. By the way, do you know of any Chiefs? He says his father is a Chief, but I am not sure what he means."

"Chief? It is usually a title. Although I don't think it's a military title. They are usually Chief Something or Something Chief I think. Perhaps a Firefighter or a Police Officer?" Ling pursed his brow in thought, "You would think if his father were in one of those positions they would have made more noise about a missing boy, especially knowing what is going on in this city. I will give my son this new information when we next speak and we will see if it leads anywhere."

"Thank you, for everything you are doing Ling. The boy also mentioned that his mother is dead. I do not know if that will help, but you might pass that on as well. I must go but I will be back in the morning to make sure he knows I have not abandoned him."

Charlie got to his feet and headed back to the shelter for the night. As he walked through the loading area he looked to his right and saw the form of the cat still lying beside the wall. Charlie stood in thought for a long while and eventually moved towards his shelter. When he returned he was carrying a towel. He used it to cover the cat's body before picking up the small bundle. As he moved past the backdoor of the store he grabbed the shovel, that was used to pick up garbage and spills from the loading dock, and then he turned up the bank behind the wall and started digging.

Over the next few days a restless Little One stayed with Ling Chu. At times the boy appeared agitated as he sat at a table and helped the Herbalist by using the mortar and pestle to grind herbs and other items for Ling to mix into remedies for his customers. When Ling was not busy with customers he would talk to the boy about the different herbs, oils and the other natural remedies around them. Once or twice the wise old man would notice the boy limping towards the store's back door or he would find Little One standing outside the door looking in the direction of the shelter.

Charlie ensured he visited every morning and evening, bringing food or treats for Little One and having conversations about his day. When he arrived the evening of the third day, Ling was examining the boy's foot, as he had done every evening, and declared that the child was fit enough to do some walking the next day. That is when Charlie informed the boy that during their next visit to the temple Charlie was going to start teaching the boy how to defend himself.

Chapter 4 - Anderson by Clouddancer

A month had passed since Mark's disappearance. The police were now treating the case as a runaway and were assigning resources as such. Bulletins had been sent to all police forces in the city and across the State containing Mark's description but so far there had been no sightings.

On the first day Mark went missing John thought he might get a call from the kidnappers, or from someone who was trying to use Mark as a bargaining tool, but no calls came. Over the next few days John had hoped Mark would walk through the door and say he was sorry, that he did not mean to disappear.

The days turned into a week and Joel, his 18 year-old biological son, began to show anger at what he saw as his father doing nothing to look for his missing younger brother. Angry words would be spoken and then Joel would go off somewhere only to return even more resentful.

Today, had been the worse argument between the two since Mark's disappearance.

Joel had marched into his father's office declaring that the Chief needed to put more resources into finding Mark.

"Father you have a shit load of agents in this building doing nothing more than sitting on their asses. The least you could do is send them out looking for Mark." Joel had shouted.

"Those agents are not for my personal use Joel, and you know it. And tell me, if I had any agents to spare, where exactly would you like me to start them searching?" John Anderson declared defensively.

"Send them into the city. Have them search the neighbourhoods. Do you know what is out there? Have you any idea what it is like out there? Do you?"

"I have seen the newspapers and watched the news reports on TV Joel. I've read the police reports. I know what it is like."

Joel snorted in contempt, "How can you? You have never been out on the streets. The papers don't give you half of what it is like. There are gangs out there father, gangs that use knives and guns to kill each other. Gangs that…"

"Enough …" Anderson yelled back hating the pang of fear his son's words had evoked.

"Do you know what I've discovered?" Joel dropped his voice to a whisper. "There is one gang, the Huan Gang, who the police suspect are taking children. Not to make them members in their gang, to carry drugs or do other illegal activity, but to sell them. Sell them as slaves, as … " Joel swallowed and for a moment he could not continue. "… As prostitutes. Or the gang will target specific children and take them so they can sell their organs on the black market. When they are done harvesting the organs they need they dump the bodies."

Anderson had to close his eyes; he did not want to hear this. "Don't ... Stop Joel." He whispered.

"Do you want that for Mark? Do you father? He is alone on the street, perfect prey for that gang. Send some agents out to look for him." Joel pleaded.

Anderson tried reasoning, "Son I already told you, I do not know where to tell the agents to start looking. You say the city, but how do you know he is there? What makes you think he is in the city? Mark could be anywhere by now. Sending agents out, just to search, is a waste of resources this company does not have right now."

Suddenly anger was back in Joel's voice, "He is your son! An 8 year-old boy, father, or have you forgotten that he turned 8 yesterday. How can looking for him be a waste of resources?"

Anderson's analytical mind noted the tactics Joel was using, switching from anger to reasoning and then to pleading all in the effort to convince his father to do more to search for Mark. When this had failed Joel had returned to anger.

John was brought back to the moment as Joel continued with, "At least I am concerned about Mark even if you are not. And since I am an agent who, at this time, has not been assigned any duties, I will go searching for my brother myself. Don't expect me back until I find him, Chief." His son spat the last word at him and then turned and left the room slamming the door as he went.

Anderson winced as his son use his formal title and knew, for the moment, Joel no longer thought of him as a father.

Chapter 5 - July by Clouddancer

Once Little One's foot had healed the two went back to their routine of helping around the community. Now though, when they went to the Temple, Charlie ensured the boy was not sitting around waiting while he instructed classes; the child had his own tasks to perform.

Charlie decided the boy's first lessons needed to focus on balance. On the first day back after Little One's recovery the dark haired man led the child to the Koi pond where he located a stone that was smaller than the boy's two feet. Little One could stand on the surface of the stone with one foot or on the balls of both feet but the boy would need to maintain this footing or he would slip into the water. Charlie told the boy he was going to teach his class and the boy was to remain dry but also stay on the stone. While he conducted the class the man observed the boy from the corner of his eye. The child stood firm and tall only shifting his weight to relieve his tired legs and feet and moving his head to watch the activities around him but never left his perch.

The next time they visited, Charlie led the boy to the same stone.

"Stay." The man ordered.

"But it's boring." Little One insisted.

It was at that moment Charlie decided the boy could practice two skills at once, strengthening the control of his Powers as well as practicing balance.

"You see that fish there?" Charlie pointed to a fish at random, one that was motionless under a lily pad. "That white one there, with the black spot on its head, I want to hear a story from it when I get back."

"But Charlie, there are so many. How do I get it to talk to me?"

"I told you the other day, you need to focus."

The boy looked around at all the fish in the large pond and then turned back with sorrowful eyes, "I can't."

Charlie nearly relented but all he allowed himself to say was, "A story from that fish. Focus." Hoping he was not making a mistake, before he turned to his students.

An hour later Charlie returned to the pond and called the child away. As the boy approached, Charlie could see his eyes were gleaming with mischief and he wore a secretive smile.

"Were you successful Little One?" The man asked, unsure if he really wanted to know the answer.

The boy looked up, his eyes slightly narrowed and then a giggle escaped before he replied, "If I told you yes, you would have no way of knowing if I did talk to him."

Charlie gave a dry chuckle, if that was all the mischief the boy could think up, he would manage, "Where did that thought come from?"

"From him." The boy blinked at Charlie, still trying to keep a wide-eyed innocent face, but it quickly broke into another grin, "Keir, the black headed fish you told me to talk to."

"So you did manage to talk to it … him?" When the boy nodded Charlie replied, "Good. You can tell me the story while we have lunch."

On their third trip to the Temple, the man again led the boy to the pond and this time pointed to another fish. This time he purposely chose a fish that appeared to be more active, swimming around the lilies in the pond. Charlie was surprised when, in the middle of his lesson, he saw Little One crouch down, and reach an arm out to brush his fingers through the water.

A short time later one of the temple cats approached from behind the boy, as the cat leapt onto the child's shoulder Charlie was sure Little One would loose his footing and slip off his precarious perch. But Charlie saw the boy make a tiny shift to allow for the additional weight of the cat and not slipping from the stone. Little One now appeared to be having a conversation with the cat lying across his shoulders and a fish that kept circling around him, forcing the boy to constantly shift his body, to continue the conversation.

Charlie was surprised at how quickly Little One had found his balance. In fact it appeared the boy had natural balance. Whatever position Little One was in he instinctively found his center of mass and balanced himself.

When his class was finished and his students were departing Charlie approached the boy and the cat jump from the child's shoulder. "Well done Little One. I think I may have chosen a lesson that was too simple for you. Next time we visit I will have you try something different, perhaps a little more difficult. Were you told any interesting tales?"

"I don't know. Chansu says," the boy waved his hand indicating the cat. "Fish tell slippery stories. She says that what fish say is not always factual. They like to … say flashy things. Fish don't really lie, she says, they just stretch the truth … they can twist it or add to it, but if you look really hard you can find the truth. So now I don't know if what Talia, the fish, told me is true or not."

Charlie was surprised to learn a cat was instructing a child in what could be considered a life lesson, but instead he responded with, "Does it matter, if what you heard was only a story?"

On their next visit to the temple, Charlie brought Little One to the Zen garden. When they arrived he instructed the boy, telling him the only way he would be able to move around the garden was to remain on the stones or the logs. Little One was not allowed to touch the sand that surrounded the objects. Charlie explained that by stepping on the sand would disturb the hard work the Temple monks had spent creating that day.

The stones and logs in the Zen garden were arranged in such a way that one needed to step or jump to the next one. Charlie knew the boy would only be able to move around a small portion of the garden, between eight stones and a few logs. To reach the rest of the garden required larger steps or jumps, which the boy's legs could not reach until he mastered his focus and control.

After several weeks of failing to get beyond the initial stones the boy balked and insisted he was going to work in Ling's shop instead of returning to the temple with Charlie.

Nor did the boy join Charlie on his next few visits to the temple. One day, after instructing his defense class, an elderly Monk approached Charlie and asked after the boy.

"He has been missed the last several days. Is the child ill?"

"The boy is fine Luang Puu but I don't think he is enjoying the lesson I have assigned him." Charlie replied as he and the monk walked along a path and down some stairs leading to the entrance gates to the temple.

When they reached the bottom of the stairs Charlie paused and looked over his shoulder towards the Zen Garden before shaking his head and saying, "I wanted to help him learn to control and strengthen his body, I wonder if I am doing this the wrong way."

After a thoughtful pause Luang Puu responded with, "Perhaps his spirit needs to learn to soar before his body learns to be strong. One must have a strong spirit before one can have a strong body, do you not think so, Master Charlie?"

Charlie looked at the Monk for a long moment before nodding his head and replying, "Or at least one must not have a broken spirit before one's body can be strengthen. I suspect something broke Little One's spirit before I found him."

Charlie paused once again before he continued, "I think I should talk to Little One about his lessons. Thank you Luang Puu, our talk has been very helpful. Unfortunately, I must see who requires my help serving the noon meals before I talk with the boy."

Charlie left the temple grounds smiling. For the first time in days he felt like he had a solution that would help the child.

Later that afternoon Charlie arrived at Ling Chu's store to find the boy sitting on the floor with the shop cat stretched out in his lap while the boy rubbed its tummy.

Charlie had the fleeting notion to wonder why Little One had this affinity with cats before he set their lunch on the counter and said to Ling, "Sorry I am late. The lunch crowd was busier than usual today and it took longer to serve everyone."

"That is not a problem, we had some tea while we waited. Didn't we Little One."

Charlie glanced at the boy as the child nodded. As the man looked into the huge blue eyes and pale face the thought 'he's so small and fragile' entered Charlie's mind before he shook it aside and said, "Come on Little One, I have brought rolls to eat today and while we are eating we need to talk. Well, I need to talk, you need to listen."

Little One stood up and Charlie lifted the child, positioning him on the counter. Being just over 6 and a half feet tall, Charlie wanted to look Little One in the eye without straining his neck or back, or appearing to loom over the boy while they spoke.

Charlie then opened the box containing the food and held it while the boy selected from the Egg and Spring Rolls inside. He set the container down before he choose a roll and then motioned to Ling Chu that he may select some as well.

"Now Little One, I want to talk to you about the lesson I assigned you at the Temple." Charlie started and then paused as the child's eyes rose to meet his and then dropped, worry written on his face.

"Child, I know we have not known each other for very long, but I want you to trust me. I am not going to ask you do anything you do not want to do, I promise." Slowly the boy's eyes rose to meet his again but there was still uncertainty in them.

"Good boy." Charlie whispered before continuing in a more normal voice. "I asked you to practice in the garden because I wanted you to learn a few things. To be able to defend one's self, I believe a person needs to have five things: balance, focus, timing, judgment and control. Once you have mastered these. then you can work on strength and flexibility. Your work at the Koi pond showed me you have excellent balance. In the Zen Garden, I was testing your focus and control; could you focus your intent and control your body and emotions to make the jump to the next stone. When you succeeded with that, then you were to begin your lessons in my class where I would assess and begin to work on your timing and judgment."

As he spoke the boy's face change from wary to one of interest and curiosity.

"Unfortunately, I made a mistake. One thing a teacher should do is let his student know what is expected of him. I did not do that. I did not let you know why I wanted you to complete the activity or what I was looking for. Please forgive me." Charlie finished by giving a small, apologetic bow.

When he stood upright and looked towards the child again, the boy's eyes were huge and his mouth had dropped open. Charlie had to smile as he quietly asked, "I take it no adult has ever admitted to you that they make mistakes?"

"Uh, uh." Little One slowly shook his head before an astonished "No!" Slipped out. He then gave a slow blink before asking, "So, can I start practicing in your classes?"

Charlie let a surprised "Huh," slip out before saying, "What?"

How did the boy's mind leap thoughts so quickly? Was it just this boy or were all children like that? Or had telling Little One that he was going to learn to defend himself become the boy's sole focus? It was during times like this Charlie wished he had had children of his own, so he could have more knowledge when dealing with this one.

Little One interrupted his musings by responding, "I practiced in the Zen Garden, just like you asked, so now can I join your class?"

"No, Little One. I said when you succeeded, then, we would begin your defence work. You have not been successful in the garden yet."

While the boy spoke his next words his pitch rose until it ended in a scream of frustration, "But I can't do it. You saw that. It's too hard. I can't do it. I'll never be able to do it. I hate you. You promised to teach me to fight. Now you wont. You lied to me."

"NO!" Charlie roared over the child's voice. He was startled at how the words 'I hate you' and 'you lied to me' hurt, especially from someone he had known for only a few months. After his shout, silence filled the shop and Charlie took a deep breath, centering his thoughts and feelings. He then moved towards Little One, hoping to offer some comfort but the boy flinched and tensed.

Hitching in his breath Charlie stepped back and observed the boy who was hunching his shoulders and appeared to be trying to curl in on himself. With fear tightening his heart Charlie began softly, "Little One, please. I never lied to you. I never promised you I would teach you how to fight. One as small as you would be unlikely to win a fight. I did promise you I would teach you how to defend yourself. That is something entirely different from fighting, and is much more practical for you. I do intend on teaching you defence, but first you need to finish the lesson I assigned you."

"But I can't do it." The boy mumbled bitterly.

"Child, a six year old can not …" The man began and was startled when the boy's head snapped up, his eyes narrowed.

"I'm 8." Little One declared hotly.

Charlie raised both hands in mock surrender and said, "Okay. An eight year old." He then gave a smile at how the boy's eyes blazed and said, "THAT, is the fire I prefer seeing in you."

The man paused to let his statement sink in and then tried again, "An eight year old can't be successful at something new on their first try. Even most adults need several attempts when they try something new."

"I've tried for two weeks."

"Six days, Little One. We go three times a week, remember? Those two weeks are really only six days. I think you need to give it a little longer."

"How much longer?" Little One asked moodily, and then louder "And if I still don't make the jump? Then what?"

"IF you don't succeed then that tells me something in itself. And then I will find something that will strengthen your focus and control. But please give it at least a couple more weeks, Okay?"

Charlie looked at the top of the boy's bowed head and wondered what more he could do or say to make the child feel better. Looking around the store for an answer Charlie's eyes settled on the container with their forgotten lunch. He was just reaching for it when he heard an almost silent whisper from the boy, "I'm sorry."

Whipping his head around to stare down at the boy Charlie uttered a confused, "Huh?"

The apology had stunned the man making his mind had gone blank. He couldn't imagine what Little One would be apologizing for.

"I said I hated you." Little One clarified sadly, his head still hanging, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean what I said. I was hurt, and angry."

As the boy finished speaking, Charlie felt everything become clear and he responded just as softly, "And when I shouted at you, I was hurt as well. Little One you need to be very careful what you say when you are angry. Words can be very powerful things."

When the boy lifted his head Charlie searched Little One's eyes, and noticed his face was still strained. The man whispered, "I forgive you Little One. I am not angry at you."

As soon as the words were out of his mouth the tension left Little One's face and body. Relieved that this incident appeared to be over, Charlie turned and reached for the lunch container, placing it beside the child.

"There is still food in here. I hope you have room for it." He said and smiled as Little One reached for another Spring Roll.

Chapter 6 - Evening by Clouddancer

Charlie and Little One spent the rest of the afternoon doing errands around the neighbourhood and then, as evening arrived, they headed back to the shelter. After walking up the alley Charlie collected the supplies left at the back door of the Lee's grocery store and turned to find Little One standing beside the battered trailer parked at the edge of the loading area, where Shing Lee stored old equipment, his head tilted as if listening to something.

Calling the boy away the two move to the shelter where Charlie made sandwiches using the cheese and cold cuts provided by the Lee's while Little One drank the milk that had been left. As Charlie put the leftover bread away, the boy announced he was heading out. Since it was now remaining light for longer, Little One would leave the shelter for a short time, never moving further than a shout away. Charlie was not sure what the boy did while he was off, but he always returned with new stories from his "friends".

"You've finished eating already?" A surprised Charlie turned and spotted the child zipping closed the pouch he had begun to wear around his waist the past few weeks.

"Then off you go. Come back with some good stories to tell me." Charlie gave permission and then reached towards the milk carton and wrappings saying, "I will take …"

"No! I'll throw them away." Little One quickly responded, grabbing the garbage and running off.

As the boy disappeared through the tall grass Charlie muttered to himself, "I can feel you are up to something. What are you hiding Little One?"

Charlie finished stowing the last items before he moved to follow. As he exited the shelter the man caught sight of the boy. He had returned to the trailer and was cracking the door opened. He then reached up to place something inside before kicking off the ground and struggled to pull himself through the opening. While two little legs dangled out the opening Charlie silently walked up. Just as Little One began pulling his legs into the darkness Charlie reached out and grabbed an ankle to pull the boy back.

The boy gave a startled yelp and rolled onto his back. The force of the movement banged the man's shoulder against the door, causing it to swing open further and letting more light into the interior. With the added light Charlie spotted three small shapes dart behind some boxes. His mind interpreted the after image to be that of cats, or more specifically kittens.

Charlie ran his eyes around the interior of the trailer noting a plastic lid on the floor with milk in it. As his eye's moved to the boy's panicked face, Charlie's mind flashed back to the afternoon, nearly a month ago, when Little One crouched in front of a dying cat.

"… Charlie, do something for her… She has babies…. "Little One had pleaded with him.

The man's eyes darted back to the spot he had seen the kittens disappear, across to the "dish" of milk and back to Little One's face, while thinking to himself, 'Oh, Shirra! You took on looking after those kittens.'

A bewildered Charlie questioned, "What have you been doing Little One?"

The boy raised his chin and resolutely said, "Someone needed to look after them. They were too little to look after themselves when their mother died, but look …"

Charlie heard the boy give a chirping noise. When the kittens heard the call their heads appeared from around the boxes. Still lying on his back, Little One reached towards the fluffy creatures and one of them approached his hand.

"See?" He said as he stretched to pick up a white kitten with black on its head and four black paws. "They are nearly ready to look after themselves. They are eating solid food and their eyes are changing and everything." The boy finished breathless with excitement.

Charlie glanced at the kitten in the boy's hand, to the other two, who were slowly moving towards the dish of milk, and then back to Little One, who had pulled the kitten against his chest.

As he looked past the kitten and down the boy's body, Charlie noticed that Little One's shirt had rucked up under him exposing his torso. It must have happened when he pulled on the boy's leg. Which reminded him he still had Little One's ankle in his hand. As Charlie released the ankle his eyes moved across Little One's belly again and he felt a wave of concern run through him.

'How could I have miss this?' He thought. This afternoon he had brushed off the pale face and hadn't really noticed how light Little One was when he lifted the boy onto the counter. "He is a small child after all." He had thought to himself.

"Little One, what have you been feeding those kittens?" Charlie whispered in horror, pulling his eyes off of the concaveness of the boy's stomach and up to the child's face.

Still whispering he said, "When did you last eat?"

"You saw me eating lunch." The boy said bravely, setting the kitten down, where it could race towards the milk, joining the others.

Charlie's eyes narrowed slightly as he made eye contact with the boy. When the boy closed his eyes and turned his face away, Charlie exclaimed in frustration, "Little One, we just ate. And drank, but it looks like you gave most of that away to these kittens." Charlie finished, jerking his head towards the milk but his eyes never left the boy's averted face.

When Little One still did not respond Charlie decided he needed to press the issue, "Little One what did you do with the sandwich I made for you?"

Charlie saw one of the child's hands twitch towards the pouch around his waist and then dropped to his side. Charlie reached for the pouch. Unzipping it he discovered the sandwich with only one bite taken from it.

As Charlie glanced at Little One's face the boy tried to defend himself, "I was going to put the bread in the milk, they still like that. I would have eaten some of the meat and cheese."

Frustrated and gritting his teeth, Charlie searched the pouch a second time and then frowned as he pulled out some Spring Rolls from their lunch.

The boy defensively said, "They like the pieces of fish and shrimp inside."

"Boy, if I was not so upset about you starving yourself I would be talking to you about this habit of palming food. You have become a little magician, haven't you?" Charlie paused before continuing, "Why? Why are you doing this to yourself?"

"They were hungry and I promised I would look after them."

Mentally Charlie shook his head. That was really not the answer he was looking for, but then it really was not the question he should have asked, since he had already known the answer. Charlie had reached that conclusion, as soon as he saw the shape Little One was in. Just like it would be pointless to ask whom Little One had promised.

"Little One this is not good for you. It is not healthy. You are a young, growing child, you need food just as much as they do." Charlie began, indicating the kittens as he spoke. "Without enough food you loose your energy, become weak and …"

Charlie trailed off as another thought entered his mind. Weak … that was why the boy was not being successful in the Zen Garden. Charlie set this thought aside; he would talk to the boy about it later.

"Charlie, I couldn't let them die." Little One pleaded.

"No." Charlie agreed. "Just like I can't let you die. You need to eat. Now!" Charlie ordered as he ran his eyes across the child's mid section again.

"But they're hungry." The boy said as he sat up to watch the kittens.

"You gave them your milk. That will have to be enough for them tonight. You are going to eat these, and I am going to stand and watch until you do."

Little One's head swung around and he stared at Charlie. As the boy opened his mouth to speak Charlie tilted his head menacingly. This was the harshest he had been since they met and although Charlie worried what it might do to their relationship he was not about to let Little One starve himself. When Little One closed his mouth and looked away, Charlie knew he had won.

"What would you like to start with, a roll or the sandwich?" Charlie asked making it clear Little One had no other choice.

The boy took one of the rolls from Charlie's hand. Just before he took a bite he asked, "Can't I j-just …"

That was as far as Little One got before Charlie's glare forced him to stammer to a halt. As the boy raised the Spring Roll to his mouth, Charlie considered what he could say to ease the tension between the two of them.

"Little One," He began as he picked up the kitten, closest to him, it happened to be the same kitten Little One had held earlier, "Look …"

"NO! Don't hurt him!" Little One shouted in distress, dropping the Spring roll from his fingers and snatching the kitten from Charlie's hand. "I'll do anything you want. I promise. I'll eat all the food. I'll … I'll do anything for you. Just don't hurt them. Please. I'll promise, anything."

The boy pleaded, radiating fear, as he scooted deeper into the trailer, as far from Charlie as the clutter would allow.

Shocked, Charlie took a step back. His eyes running around the interior of the trailer Charlie noted that the other two kittens had disappeared and Little One was trembling with his back against a box and the wall of the trailer. The boy's knees were drawn up; arms and legs encircling the kitten, clutching it to his chest.

Still feeling the fear being emitted by the boy Charlie took a shaky breath and spoke gently trying to calm the child, "Little One, I'm sorry. I was not going to hurt him. I wanted to show you something. I wanted you to see …"

One of the kittens distracted him by giving a meow and stepping out from behind a section of old shelves. It then began climbing over some metal brackets towards the roll that had been dropped on the floor. Charlie was mildly surprised when the boy waved his hand and hissed at the kitten, encouraging it to dart back into hiding.

"Little One, you have to trust me. I am not going to hurt any of them. I only want to help you, the way you are trying to protect them."

Charlie took a step towards the trailer but when he saw the boy stiffen even more he retreated.

Deeply concerned Charlie stood in thought before asking, "Does he have a name?"

It took a while before Little One nodded his head and then said, "Only the one his mother gave him, not a … a people name." The boy stammered unsure how to explain what he meant.

"There's a difference?"

Charlie could only call the look the boy gave him disdain. Well, at least it was better than the fear the boy had just been showing he thought with an inward smile.

Then Little One responded, "You could not pronounce his cat name. If he decides to stay with people then they will give him a name."

"I think that makes sense." Charlie commented after he had considered what the boy said. He then paused trying to decide if he could return to his biggest concern. Maybe if he went about it in a gentler way.

"Little One, you have been doing a good job protecting and caring for these kittens, but … it has not been good for you. Look at him Little One, his tummy is so full it is round. THAT is what I wanted to show you. That is why I picked him up. They are all so well fed I think they can manage without a meal for one night. Whereas you … you really need to eat." Charlie finished, shuddering as he remembered the boy's hidden stomach.

As he finished Charlie saw Little One freeze, his eyes widening with fear. When he turned to where Little One was looking he saw a black bundle pounce on the Spring Roll that had been dropped. Behind the black kitten followed the second one, who also attacked the food. As the two kittens began pulling the roll apart, Charlie suddenly understood why Little One reason to be tense.

Stepping to the side, away from the kittens, Charlie looked towards the boy and saw the third kitten clambering out of the boy's embrace and race towards the food.

"I guess we can let them eat that one." Charlie said with a smile, trying to lighten the mood. "The rest though are yours and if that is not enough to fill you, I will make more sandwiches when we get back to the shelter."

Charlie saw the boy's eyes move from the kittens, to him and then back. So to reassure the tense boy he calmly said, "I promise you I will not hurt them Little One. I will stay as far from them as you need me to, but I want to see you eat, you need food more then they do right now."

Knowing how unnecessary it was for the child to allow himself to go hungry just to feed these kittens and not understanding where Little One would get such a notion Charlie became angry.

"Little One, from now on, if we don't have enough food, and I don't think that will ever happen, I, would rather I went without food then see you go hungry. Do you understand me?" Taking a calming breath, he rushed on, "Now … I have a sandwich and two rolls here. Are you going to come and get these? Or will you start with what is left in that pouch of yours, and then eat these?"

Charlie knew he needed to get the boy eating. Little One gave another look between Charlie and the kittens and then shifted, pulling a roll out of the pouch at his waist and took a bite.

Pulling his shoulders back and then letting them slump forward Charlie realized how tense he had become. The more he thought about it he recognized it was not his tension alone, he had been picking up the boy's anxiety and fear. Once again Charlie wished he had not been cut off from his Powers. The problem with not having the use of his shields was that strong emotions tended to get through, unless he really concentrated on stopping them. Although recently he had begun to think things were getting better.

As Charlie refocused on the boy he noticed Little One was beginning to relax. Charlie nodded as the child popped the last piece of the roll into his mouth, glanced towards him and then pulled out a second roll. Watching this, Charlie decided that if Little One was given enough emotional and physical room he should recover.

 

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It had taken time for Charlie to convince Little One to eat all the food he had secreted in his pouch without giving any to the kittens. It had taken longer for Charlie to convince the boy it was safe to leave the trailer, but eventually Little One had felt secure and surprisingly he brought the kittens with him when he left. Charlie smiled though when he noticed the boy making sure his little form was always between him and the kittens.

When they got back to the shelter Charlie decided to reinforce the sense of safety the boy needed, so he had elected to sit outside with his back against a tree while Little One had settled down on his mat. Now the boy was curled on his side facing the wall of the shelter, his breathing slow and steady. Charlie saw no movement from the kittens either. Actually, he couldn't see a kitten at all, hidden as they were by Little One's body.

Charlie pushed himself away from the tree and quietly moved into the shelter to settle down on his sleeping mat. Giving a glance towards the boy showed one kitten lying in Little One's arms, the top of its head brushing the boy's chin. The other two kittens were curled against Little One's chest and stomach.

After lying down, Charlie found himself reaching over Little One's ribs and letting his hand brush the boy's stomach. It had scared him to see the boy so thin. For a moment he had believed he had failed the boy, but now feeling how round and full Little One's belly was Charlie felt better. As his hand pulled away and rested on Little One's ribcage Charlie realized this was the first time he had touched the boy for any reason other than to protect him or move him to safety. The boy was good at avoiding anyone's touch and kept a very large personal space around him.

As he continued with his thoughts, Charlie realized it was unusual for Little One to sleep facing the wall. Usually his back was to the wall, as though watching for something that might be coming. Charlie wondered if this change of habit was from exhaustion or it was a sign that the boy was beginning to trust Charlie. Finally he had to admit that Little One probably felt the greater need to protect the kittens.

Gently Charlie removed his hand and let his head drop to rest in the crook of his other arm, but his eyes remained on the boy. Dredged up from somewhere Charlie recalled hearing that children had a natural trust of adults. Or was that a natural dependence? Either way, some one had done something to destroy Little One's trust. Shattered it enough that the boy believed he could no longer depend on adults, at least not to keep himself or his friends safe.

While the boy had been eating Charlie had questioned the boy further on his actions of the last few weeks.

"Little One, I don't understand why you felt it necessary to starve yourself."

"I promised I would look after them. They were too young to go looking for their own food. I needed to give it too them. Now they are almost ready to start hunting and then they will catch their own food."

"But why didn't you tell me about this? You did not need to keep it a secret from me. I know about all about your friends and I understand your connection to them. I would have helped you. Why didn't you ask?"

It took a while for Little One to give more than a shrug in response. And before he spoke, Charlie saw the boy's eyes loose focus as he looked inside himself, "No one believes. I promised not to let anyone know. I have to keep it a secret, keep THEM a secret. He will hurt them if he knows. I can't let him know."

"What? What do you think will happen if I know about the kittens?"

"… Hurt them." Little One mumbled in response, his voice was still distant. "He said he would k-ki … hurt them. I'm never having more pets. No more. I can't let him hurt them too. I can't let him know."

Charlie had caught his breath as Little One spoke. Letting his breath out with a hiss Charlie said, "Some one hurt one of your pets. Who, Little One? Why?"

Unfortunately the hiss brought Little One back to himself and Charlie saw the boy close his defences around himself. After that the man could get no more answers on the topic.

Now as he lay in the shelter watching the boy, Charlie recalled the evening's earlier discussion, and he heard the distressed echo as the boy cried out, "Don't hurt him! I'll do anything for you! Just don't hurt him. Please."

The words rang in Charlie's ears only this time, as he squeezed his eyes closed, he heard the deeper meaning behind the words and once again felt the boy's pain build inside him.

Quickly opening his eyes, to avoid sinking into the anguish, Charlie looked at the boy and whispered softly, "Who Little One? Who caused you such pain? Who did this to you?"

At the whisper one of the kittens, the white one with a black cap, lifted its head and rested it in the valley created between Little One's hip and ribs. Charlie looked into its eyes. "Him" Little One had said it was male, Charlie remembered with a sad smile and then he addressed the kitten.

"Has your master told you who? Does he have the courage to whisper to you whom it was who hurt him … or why?"

Charlie gave his head a shake. "Look at me, talking to you as if … as if you could understand me." Charlie paused to look at the kitten, which stared back at him intently.

"Do you? Do you understand what I am saying little Monskootch?"

Charlie gave a dry chuckle and rolled onto his back to look to the roof of the shelter. "Shirra, look at me! Here I am trying to hold a conversation with an animal."

Charlie's eyes slid to the boy. Sighing he muttered, "Little One, what have you done to me? Now I am trying to be like you, as if I don't have enough difficulties of my own." The man finished with a smile.

Shaking his head, Charlie's gaze returned to the kitten. "Monskootch, I need your help. If you happen to understand me, I want you to help me convince your master he can trust adults again. Maybe we should start by asking him to trust me, so I can help him learn to trust others. He needs to realize he should not be so independent. As much as it is a good quality, at his age he does not need to do everything on his own."

Charlie closed his eyes unable to hold back the tears and felt one roll down each cheek and drip past his ears. Taking a shaky breath he finally muttered, "What did someone say to you Little One … What does one do, to convince a child that they can no longer trust adults? Oh Little One perhaps it is a good thing you do NOT tell me who did this to you. This is the first time I have ever wanted to "force" someone to feel pain, to make them feel even a few of the emotions I got from you."

Sighing Charlie rolled onto his side and pulled a leg up. Through sleep-glazed eyes he looked at Little One and was surprised to find his hand reaching out. He managed to stop its motion just before touching the boy, but he still felt an incredible need to curl his body around the boy, offering protection from all that had hurt him.

Charlie's eyes drifted back to the kitten he'd begun thinking of as Monskootch. It was still watching him, ears twitching. Charlie reached his stalled hand towards the kitten and with a finger he stroked its head knowing as he did so that this kitten, which had known him for only a couple of hours, trusted him and allowed his touch and yet Little One would not allow such a thing yet.

As Charlie gave the kitten's head another rub he whispered to it, "Do you think since you know I am safe, we can convince your young master the same thing?"

All he got in response was a loud purr as the kitten closed its eyes. Was Monskootch enjoying the treatment he was being given or was that a yes Charlie wondered as he drifted off to sleep.

Chapter 7 - late August by Clouddancer

A dark haired man walked towards the garden, deep in thought, so he did not notice the form shadowing him on the other side of the hedgerow. The shadow's head had popped up as the man passed and jumped from stone to stone, to a log and then on to a new stone, following the man but hidden by the thick green hedge. As the angular-faced man stepped between the two yews that marked the entrance to the gardens the form leapt at him, threw its arms around his neck and squeezed its legs around his waist. The weight of the form forced the man to take a step backwards, at the same time he raising his arms.

"Did you see Charlie? Did you? I did it!"

Charlie's ears relayed the voice to his brain even as his arms were wrapping around the small form clinging to him. Then he felt a wave of emotions wash over him; excitement, joy and … at first he couldn't identify the other feeling.

Just as he identified it as pride, Charlie felt the emotions shift to panic, and then fear and finally the outpouring of emotions were shut off. Little One unlinked his arms and unwrapped his legs from Charlie's waist and slid down Charlie's chest to land in the sand at his feet.

This burst of emotions followed by nothing caused Charlie to take a staggered step and fall to his knees rocked by the abrupt change.

To the man's dismay, Charlie heard Little One mutter fearfully, "I'm sorry."

"No! Little One, wait! …"

What did I do Charlie chided himself? The first time Little One's dares open his emotions to me, I don't respond and he closes himself down again. I can't let that happen. Say something, anything to let him know it is okay.

Meanwhile Charlie had been saying. "… It's okay, when I am happy I like to get hugs as well. I was shocked that's all. I was deep in thought and not paying attention to what was happening around me. For a moment I thought you were an attacker. Now, tell me again, what you were you saying."

Charlie looked at Little One's face and could read the uncertainty on it. After he made a few quick glances, to make sure Charlie really meant what he said, the boy's eyes finally meet his, and then the child's face beamed, "I did it. I made the jump."

"You did? When?" Charlie hoped his voice sounded excited and not just relieved at seeing the joy return to the boy's face.

"Just now. Twice! I did it again when I was following you."

"Congratulations Little One! Would you like to show me?" Charlie asked as he pushed himself to his feet.

Little One's head nodded in excitement. As the boy turned and moved towards his starting stone Charlie felt the glow of pride return to the boy and the man knew he had done the correct thing. As the boy stepped on to the first smooth rock Charlie moved and sat on a stone beside a bush inside the hedged garden.

In just under six weeks the boy's entire demeanor and physique had changed. Little One was not looking weak and pale any more, every day he had grown stronger now that he was eating properly. And it appeared he was opening up emotionally and finding his confidence, his actions today seemed to be proof of that. Day by day, as they had worked together around the neighbourhood, Charlie had seen the boy begin to relax and occasionally Charlie would see a smile but until this point the boy had still never voluntarily touched Charlie, or anyone for that matter.

Little One turned his head, checking to see if Charlie was indeed watching and then refocused and stepped to the second large stone. The boy successfully made the jump to the third rock, but Charlie knew it was this next leap that, to this point, had been the boy's nemesis.

Charlie held his breath as Little One's whole body tensed. The boy took a step back, relaxed his stance, and then retook the step and leapt across the space to make a perfect two-footed landing on the large boulder.

"Good work Little One!" Charlie roared, knowing the boy now had access too much more of the garden should he wish it. Little One turned to face him, a satisfied smile on his face.

"Now I don't suppose you could make it to this stone do you?" Charlie challenged as he pointed to a stone between the two of them.

Little One took two steps across the top of the bolder he stood upon and looked to where Charlie pointed. The boy's smile fell and his face paled as his eyes rose to look at the man. Charlie knew the space between the two stones was more than the boy could handle, it was more than some men could manage, but he wanted to see what Little One would do. Would he use good judgment? Could he work out what was really being asked of him?

Little One's blue eyes, which had not left Charlie, suddenly narrowed. As the boy took half a step back his chin rose in challenge and suddenly Charlie found himself afraid. Little One was going to try the jump and Charlie was going to find the boy with a broken arm, leg or worse.

Leaping up Charlie snapped out, "Little One, No! I'm …"

Even as Charlie began speaking Little One had turned on the balls of his feet took two steps, pushed off and flew across to the stone he had come from. Relief made Charlie's legs give out and he collapsed back to the stone under him. He calmed himself as Little One returned back one more rock and then continued in a circular path to the stone Charlie had pointed at. As the boy made the leap to the final boulder Charlie briefly closed his eyes, opening them to find Little One staring at him with an eyebrow raised.

"Congratulations Little One, you have been more than successful, today." Charlie whispered, hoarsely.

The boy gave a wide smile but then quickly shifted his gaze to look at something in the bushes behind the man. It was only then that a loud tut, tut, tut caught Charlie's attention. A bird was protesting from the bushes and another from a tree above and to his left. The next thing Charlie knew the bird in the tree launched itself from its branch and swooped straight at him, forcing him to duck as it flew past his head. On its return arc Charlie felt the red-breasted animal clip his head and fall to the ground fluttering in the sand. Fearing the animal may be hurt, Charlie rose and took a step towards the bird only to watch it scuffle a few feet across the sand and then stop and begin its fluttering again.

When the same thing happened a second time a giggle made Charlie glance towards Little One whom was now sitting on the enormous boulder observing him. It appeared the boy was trying, unsuccessfully, to hold in his laughter. "It's not funny Little One." Charlie growled. "She is hurt."

Charlie's comment and a series of twitters from the bird had the boy rocking with laughter. When Little One lost his balance and rolled off the boulder to land in the sand at its base Charlie took a step towards the boy, and relaxed as Little One gave a cough and sat up. The bird meanwhile, began its tut-tuts again and moved towards Charlie.

"You've all gone crazy." Charlie muttered, only to hear the boy give a barked laugh followed by another cough.

Finally the boy spoke, "Don't you know anything Charlie? HE, is playing broken wing; trying to protect his babies. The mother is in the bushes, next to the nest, telling you off as well. You should hear what she has to say." The boy giggled before continuing, "Even the Monks know not to go near that part of the garden right now."

Charlie turned towards the bushes he had been sitting beside and could hear the other bird still squawking at him. "Okay, so I have not been paying attention to things around me today. Is this bird hurt or what?" Charlie responded waving his hand at the bird that still fluttered on the ground in front of him. "He did hit me after all. Maybe his wing is really broken."

Little One stood up and walking around the rock, looked at the bird and vocalized some tuts back at it. The bird turned its head, looked at the boy, and then flipped its wings back into position, bobbed its tail a couple of times and finally spread its wings and launched itself into the air.

Charlie blinked and looked at Little One, "What did you say to it?"

"I told him he was being silly. You would not know what to do with its babies." Then Little One looked Charlie up and down. "Besides someone your size couldn't make a meal out of something as small as they are right now." Little One gave a mischievous smile before finishing with, "Maybe when they get a little bigger he might need to worry."

Charlie shook his head in resignation before he playfully growled, "Making me out to be the bad guy are you?"

Charlie took a menacing step towards the boy and as Little One turned and fled, Charlie chased him. Just as the boy reached the sand marking the edge of the garden, Charlie's arms snaked out and caught him. Charlie stood up, pulling Little One into his chest, and was not surprised when he felt the boy tense in his arms.

"I'm very proud of you Little One." The man whispered into the boy's ear and then as he spoke his next words Charlie felt the boy relax.

"Since you did so well today I think it is time for you to start in my classes. Don't you?"

The child twisted his torso so he could face Charlie. Eye's aglow he replied breathlessly, "Really? Today?"

As he walked down the path, still clutching the boy, Charlie gave a chuckle, and had to shake his head at Little One's enthusiasm, "My lessons are over for the day. We will start next week. Besides," Charlie looked down at the boy's stomach, which had grumbled loudly while he spoke. "I think it is time we put some food into that bottomless cavern you call a stomach. Hmmmm?"

Little One nodded his head but still questioned, "You really mean it? You're telling the truth, you're going to let me start practicing how to fight?"

"Yes Little One. On Tuesday you will join my beginners DEFENCE class."

Charlie felt the boy's body tremble and because of their close physical contact his Powers were able to tell him it was from excitement. Little One squirmed in Charlie's arms so the man stopped walking and lowered the boy to the ground. As soon as Little One's feet touched the flagstones he ducked out from Charlie's arms and rushed along the path, stopping short of the gated exit from the temple grounds and turning back.

As Charlie approached he could feel Little One studying his face. "Tuesday right? You wont forget?" The boy implored, before ending sadly. "Three whole days is a long time to wait."

Smiling Charlie took another few steps towards the boy and saw Little One's face once again break into an excited grin. Then the boy turned and bound the last few steps towards the gate, opening it and waiting for Charlie.

While he continued towards the gate Charlie realized he enjoyed seeing Little One look so happy. He was acting as a child should instead of some frightened creature. And his laughter – it was almost infectious, as long as you were not the one being laughed at.

After stepping through the gate Charlie turned to watch Little One as he closed the door and then the man voiced what he had been thinking, "It is good to see you so happy Little One. I hope I will get to see more of it."

After the boy closed the gate, Little One grabbed a shocked Charlie's hand and bounced along beside the man as they set off down the street. Charlie allowed his mind to wander over the events that had happened in the garden.

'So you like talking to birds to do you?' He thought. 'I wonder if we can push this a little further? If I recall correctly …'

Charlie looked down at the boy beside him and inquired, "Since you have had such a successful day today how would you like to do something fun tomorrow, to celebrate? Would you like to go to the park?"

When Little One looked up to answer, Charlie could read the response in the boy's eyes, even before he spoke, "Yes!"

Chapter 8 - Next Day - The Park by Clouddancer

Weekends at the park were family days so the park was always busy. On summer weekends it was even busier because more families wanted to get outdoors in the nice weather. Families could sit and picnic around the lake located in the center of the park. The lake was large enough that at one end there was a public beach but at the other end the lake was quieter and more naturalized. Along one side of the park there was an amusement area with children's rides, games and lots of vendors selling food. Across the lake from the amusement grounds there was a covered pavilion where people could sit and listen to live music or they could shelter from the sun or rain.

The park could be entered through one of four gates. It was through the gates nearest the naturalized section of the park that Charlie and Little One walked into the park and milled with the crowds. Charlie had no intention of moving towards the amusement area. With his sensitivity to people it would become too much for him, he would become overwhelmed by everyone's feelings. But it appeared the cheerful cacophony of music lured, not only Little One, but many other children as well. Once they reached the rides, games and booths the two roamed and watched people as they raced around and stood in lines for the rides.

One ride in particular attracted Little One's attention and he stood and watched as the vehicles moved up and down on their arms while they turned around a central base.

Noticing Little One's fascination, Charlie leaned down and whispered in the boy's ear, "I am sorry I cannot get you tickets for it, Little One."

"Its okay." The boy muttered distractedly. "Do you think it would feel like you're really flying?"

"I am not sure Little One. It might."

"Some day I am going to fly my own jet." Little One said with certainty.

"It is very good to set goals Little One. Just remember sometimes it takes a lot of courage to reach your goal."

They stood and watched as another group of children boarded the little jets and enjoyed their ride. Then Little One sighed and declared, "No, it wouldn't be like flying at all."

"Oh?" Charlie questioned in surprise.

"It doesn't go high enough."

"And you want to go higher?" The man said incredulously.

"Yes." Little One stated confidently, "I am going to touch the clouds."

After they spent some more time watching the rides and observing the game booths, Charlie purchased some food for a meal and extracted Little One from what was rapidly becoming a confusion of sights, sounds and emotions to the man. Charlie led the boy back to the quieter end of the lake, away from the noise of the rides and the crowds of families swimming and playing on the beach, where he found a spot under a tree for them to sit and eat.

After eating they cleaned up the wrappers and while Little One ran to throw the garbage away Charlie spotted his reason for bringing the boy to the park. He was uncertain how to proceed to the next step, should he be direct or should he be subtle about it. Looking around Charlie noticed Little One had been invited to play a game of soccer with some other children in the open grassy area. Charlie lay back and closed his eyes. This section of the park always calmed him, here he could relax and reconnect to parts of himself that he usually needed to keep closed. It had been a while, since before meeting Little One, when he last visited the park and done this.

Charlie did not know how long he meditated, but Little One's breathless return and drop to the grass brought the man back to present.

"Did you have a good time?" Charlie asked without opening his eyes.

"Hmm mmmm."

"Who won?"

When he did not get an immediate response Charlie opened his eyes to find Little One's eyes narrowed in thought, his head tilted to the side. "I'm not sure." The boy finally decided. "Everyone I guess. It was not a real game. We got all mixed up and kept switching sides. It was a kind of a free-for-all I guess." The boy ended with a shrug. "What have you been doing?"

"Listening." Charlie stated as he sat up.

Little One's brow furled as he looked around, "To what?"

"More to what's inside myself instead of what's outside."

"Oh."

Charlie could tell from his tone that Little One did not really understand, but the man wanted to push on so he asked, "What do you hear?"

The boy took a breath and was about to answer when he looked at Charlie a question in his eyes. Charlie gave a wry smile and said, "Yes, I mean with your ears."

With a nod Little One closed his eyes and started listing things, "… The crickets, the leaves in the wind, some birds … the music from the rides. I can also hear people shouting over at the beach but of course they are quieter because they are further away."

"Anything else?"

Little One stared at Charlie and after a few moments challenged, "You want to know if I can hear any voices from my friends don't you?"

Charlie gave a chuckle, "I should have know to just come out and ask. Yes, I mean can you hear any of your friends."

"Like I said, there are the crickets and grasshoppers in the grass and birds in all the trees. And …"

Charlie interrupted, looking around "Wait a minute you hear ALL those crickets? There must be hundreds of them chirping in the grass out there."

At Little One's nod Charlie question again, "You hear every single one of them! Individually?"

The boy nodded emphatically this time, "If I listen for each of them I can hear each one."

As he thought about all the 'noise' the child must be hearing Charlie reassessed what he was going to ask, "Maybe it's a good thing I'm teaching you how to filter out voices."

"Oh, that's easy to do with insects. There are so many of them and they are tiny and quiet most of the time, and they do not really have much to say. It's more … Look at me. I'm here. Look at me. I'm here." The boy chirped with a smile. "Birds … usually are always singing about the nice weather, how high they can fly, or about their eggs or their chicks. Mice … are quieter during the day, that's to be expected I guess, but at night they chatter on and on about the food they have found."

"And you hear this all the time."

"Ummm, not really any more, only when I listen for them, but before you found me … yeah, kinda. It got worse just before we meet."

Amazed Charlie said, "Now I think I'm beginning to understand why you were in the state you were when I found you. When that noise, the voices, get too much for me I am able to move away, come to a place quiet like this, but for you … there is no where to go, is there? There will always be animals or insects around." Charlie paused and looked at the boy before continuing, "Now I am almost afraid to ask you to do this but … what else do you hear around us?"

"It's okay Charlie, I told you, you made most of the voices go away and you are helping me stop the others, filter I guess you call it." The boy said and then tried to clarify, "I guess I can still hear the voices if I have to, but if I don't listen, if I don't concentrate on them, then I can ignore them. It's only when there is one that REALLY wants to tell me something and it is very loud or is close to me. Then it stands out."

Little One then turned his head and focused on what he could hear. "Well, besides the crickets, grasshoppers and birds I told you about? … Those ducks over there are fighting over the grass … there are two rabbits eating dandelions and sunning themselves in the tall grass over there, they wont come out until the people are gone…. and that dog over by the field is barking because he is bored and thirsty, he also wants to chase the ball … That's it." With those last words Little One shrugged his shoulders.

"That is all? You can't hear those over there?" Charlie asked as he pointed to the large white birds on the island in the middle of the lake.

"Those what?" the boy questioned and then his eyes grew large. "Wow! Are those real swans?"

Little One looked to Charlie for confirmation and after the man's nod the boy turned his attention back to the birds. Charlie smiled at the boy's reaction but noticed his intense concentration and felt a build up of energy.

Eventually the boy said, "No, I can't hear anything. They are too far away."

"Can you call them over?"

Little One started to stand up but Charlie placed a hand on the boy's shoulder and shook his head, "Try it from here."

Confusion crossed Little One's face but he dropped back to the grass and opened his mouth. As the boy took a deep breath his eyes flicked to Charlie and he exhaled loudly.

"You don't mean with my voice do you?"

When Charlie shook his head indicating 'no,' Little One sat pensively before muttering solemnly, "I can't do it. They are too far away. If I can't hear them they can't hear me."

After Charlie said, "You just need to focus and use your ability." Little One gave him a cold, hard glare.

Charlie had to smile and chuckle at the look. "Okay, I take it you think you can not do this. Let's look at it another way then. Pretend you are in a large room, the one you told me the Chief likes to hold parties in, and you want to talk to someone on the other side of the room. What would you do?"

"I'd move closer to them and hope I can get them to look at me."

"Well you can't do that this time, there are too many people in the room, or in this case, a lake between you."

"Then I would shout at them… Only I would need to know their name, instead of shouting 'Hey!' and have everyone look at me. And I don't know their names yet." Little One said as he pointed towards the swans.

"So, we have ruled out two methods you could use, what else is there?"

"At school I used to …" Little One gave a secretive smile and his eye's flicked to the ducks at the water's edge and then up to Charlie. "Do you think ducks and swans talk to each other?" he asked.

Before Charlie could respond the boy turned back to the ducks and gave a few quacks to draw the bird's attention, and shortly, two of the birds turned and started swimming across the lake.

Little One then turned back to Charlie. "In school, when we were not supposed to talk, we would pass notes with messages to each other. Sometimes we had to pass a note to someone so it could be handed on to the person we wanted it to go to. I asked the ducks if they could pass on a message from me." He announced proudly and then his eyes narrowed. "That was allowed wasn't it?"

"I don't have much say now, do I? It has already been done." Charlie noted and gave a smile. "Although I had hoped YOU would call them over, not use this round about method. Still, if it works."

While they waited to see if they got a response, Charlie reminded himself that he had not intended the lesson to be about if the child could reach the swans from this distance but to see if the boy could focus his ability and speak with the swans when he had other distractions around him. That seemed pointless now that he had learned the boy was already filtering out 'noise' from insects just to hear another animal.

"They're coming! It worked!"

At Little One's excited whisper Charlie looked up to see the two swans slipping into the water. The man continued to shift his eyes between the boy and the birds and when the birds were about a third of the way across Little One's face suddenly broke into a huge smile. Little One started to rise and then his head darted around to look at Charlie. The boy bit his lower lip and sat down heavily with a sigh, his eyes returning to the swans. But Charlie could feel Little One vibrating with excitement.

The man realized he had just discovered the distance Little One's hearing extended and knowing he would not keep the child sitting much longer Charlie said, "Oh, go on! Just remember to bring me back a good story."

Released, Little One sprang from his seated position and raced to the bank waiting for the swans to arrive. Smiling to himself, Charlie lay back, closed his eyes and waited for the boy's return.

This time when the boy came back he was much quieter. When Charlie opened his eyes he observed the boy as he sat watching the swans swim down the lake towards the beach.

"Well?" Charlie questioned quietly.

"They are going down to see if anyone has any bread for them. Their names are Mina and Tandr. They arrived a couple of months ago, after they lost their eggs to some foxes at another spot. Mina says she likes it here and wants to make her nest on the island next year. It will be safe from foxes she says." Little One ended with a yawn and lay back on the grass with his eyes closed.

Sudden concern made Charlie sit up and take note, "Are you tired?" To which the boy gave a nod.

"Hungry?" After a pause, Little One gave a second slow nod.

Charlie knew that using Powers could exhaust a person. A person needed food and rest after they had extensively use of their Powers; the food helped to ground the person, as well as providing energy, and rest allowed them to recharge. But a simple thing like Mind Speaking should not exhaust someone. Then again, the boy was just learning to use this ability and Charlie had asked him to push, or reach, a fair distance several times today. All that, compounded with the excitement of the amusement park and the soccer game, had probably taken its toll on the child.

"Come on Little One. We need to get moving if we are to find some food. We will not find anything if we lie around here. Let's see what we can find during our walk home."

Charlie pushed himself to his feet and looked around. As he did he noticed two men approaching them from different tangents. The Huan Gang? Charlie wondered. This would be a perfect place for them to take a child he realized, as he looked around at all the children. Hiding his fears Charlie reached down and helped Little One to his feet and then continued to protectively hold the boy's hand as the two headed towards the gate they had entered from.

When they reached a bend in the path Charlie took a moment to glance back and saw the two men standing and talking. Charlie relaxed deciding he must have made a mistake, with those two anyways. They were still in Huan territory and children were still going missing.

Unaware of the agitation Charlie felt, Little One slid his hand from Charlie's grasp as they stepped through the gates and raced down the sidewalk stopping to look in store windows. Setting his fear aside Charlie began considering where he might acquire food supplies for their evening meal.

When he reached a corner cross walk Charlie realized the boy was no longer beside him. Panic struck again and the man whipped around tracing his route with his eyes. Relief washed over him as he saw Little One standing with his face pressed against a store window. Wondering what had caught Little One's attention, Charlie returned along his path, noting the store was a Hock Shop.

Stopping and leaning against the wall beside the window Charlie called, "Little One?"

"It's a real airplane." The boy whispered enthralled by what he was looking at. "Well, it's a model but it can really fly. I built a model at home but I didn't know some could fly."

Turning his head to glance in the window Charlie noticed a yellow remote controlled plane sitting among some other items being offered for sale. In the collection was also video camera. A few minutes later Charlie managed to entice Little One away, not realizing the camera had been intentionally placed in the window, by the owner of the store, with the hopes of capturing the images of the numerous thieves who constantly broke into the stores in the area.

Chapter 9 - Anderson by Clouddancer

John Anderson was in the boardroom, wrapping up a meeting with some clients when his assistant walked in, handed him a note and began collecting mugs and plates that were scattered around on the tables from lunch.

As John finished what he was saying he flipped the note open and glanced at it. The information written upon it disquieted him. Catching the eye of his assistant, Paula, he raised an eyebrow and at her nod he then returned his attention back to the men around the table.

"I am sorry gentlemen I really must take this. Once you have obtained the data and additional information I require we shall talk again. Ms. Conflitti will ensure you find your way out." He said nodding to his assistant before leaving the room through the door that lead to his office.

When he got to his desk he picked up the telephone receiver and punched a button before placing it to his ear and speaking, "John Anderson. Sorry to keep you waiting."

"No problem Mr. Anderson." The female voice on the other end began. "I know you are a busy man. I am Captain Parks from the 51st Division Police Department. I have some news I would like to report on a missing persons case you filed a few months ago."

"Mark! My son! You found him! You have him?"

"No sir. Not exactly."

After a pause John inquired, "What do you mean? … Not exactly."

"Sir we had a possible sighting yesterday at Anaka Park and..."

Anderson cut the Captain off, "Yesterday! Then why am I only being informed about this now."

"I am sorry, Mr. Anderson, if you would let me finish. The detectives who saw the boy were not certain it was your son when they first spotted him. It was only when they returned, after their shift and were filling in some paperwork that they realized the child resembled your son's description."

"What happened? Why did they not get him when they saw him? How could they let him go?" John knew he was rambling so he paused taking a deep breath to steady himself.

"Well sir. We had some undercover detectives in a park in China Town. The park is known to be a collection site used by the Huan Gang. It appears when one of the detectives first spotted the boy he was standing on a pathway beside the lake admiring some birds. The detective called for assistance, and by the time the second detective arrived the boy had moved over to a man sitting further up the bank. As the detectives moved to approach, the man and boy got up and left. My detectives decided they must be father and son, since the boy made no fuss when he left."

John felt a wave of anger wash over him and he shouted, "That still does not explain why I am only being informed of this matter now and not this morning. I don't suppose your Detectives happened to see which direction my son left?" It was probably too late but now he finally had a location to start searching. Perhaps if he could reach Joel with the information it might ease some of the tension that had risen between the two of them.

Captain Parks placating said, "Mr. Anderson, please. Yes, the Detectives did notice the direction the two headed and we have been doing some further checking this morning, which is why we are only informing you now. We located some digital footage taken by a camera a block from the park. If possible, we would like you to come down to the station and identify the boy in the video."

"I shall be there as soon as I can." Anderson responded excitedly.

After John hung up the phone he called for his car and driver. Feeling hope burning for the first time in months John Anderson rode down in the elevator to meet his car. It would not be long now and he would have Mark back.

Chapter 10 - September by Clouddancer

For some reason, not all the students had appeared for the intermediate defense class. At least, Charlie thought of this as his intermediate class. Every student had advanced beyond the beginner skills and a couple, like Timti, had been working with Charlie for several years and were taking part in citywide competitions.

With the smaller number of students, Charlie had to do some rearranging to partner up each student with a person of the same skill set. There were only a few pairs he would need to keep an eye on. If he kept this session to the basic skills, things should progress smoothly.

Charlie did not like the idea of placing Little One with the much more advanced Timti, who was not only four years older than Little One but also topped the boy in height and weight. Unfortunately, the other students in today's class were adults and that would be a huge disadvantage to Little One, who was still new to these skills. But both boys had promised to behave themselves and that had been the deciding factor.

Little One had proved to be a quick study in the area of self-defense and had just joined this group. It probably helped that the boy participated in the three other sessions each week instead of only the one a week, like most of the other students. When Little One first started, Charlie could tell he had never had any training in this area but, as he had noted a few months earlier, Little One had very good balance, timing and judgment.

What the boy needed to work on was his focus and control, and to build up his strength. Since Little One had begun, he had proved to have the tendency to become a little overenthusiastic and lose focus. Then, Charlie corrected himself, after only a month that was likely to happen with any student. Besides, Little One was still only 8 years old and had not had a lot of time to mature.

Charlie began the class with warm-ups, moving among the students he occasionally stopped to correct someone's positioning or to make a comment. Charlie then split the class, asking the main group to run through the basic kicks, throws, punches and blocks, and holding back one pair to teach them a new defensive pattern.

After he was sure the two understood the new routine, Charlie sent them off to continue practicing at their own pace. Charlie then stood back, his eyes roaming over the pairs of students, making sure everything was proceeding well. Again, he circulated among the students, his eyes constantly returning to the two mismatched pairs.

Beginning to relax, Charlie stopped for a moment to watch Timti and Little One. The two boys were working well together and so far Little One was doing very well, appearing to stay focused.

Charlie had been surprised to see the boy with a look of intense concentration upon his face and then, sometimes even in the middle of class, the boy would immediately switch to playful exuberance. It was during those times the boy would lose his focus. Charlie watched the two boys move through another series of kicks and blocks and then, smiling to himself, he moved on.

Checking the time Charlie decided he had another five minutes before asking the students to begin their cool down. Circulating around the room one last time, he stepped up to a pair, to make a correction in their stance, when over their shoulders and saw Little One falter and stumble, tripping towards Timti, when he should have been moving away.

All Charlie could do was watch, as the scissors kick Timti had been stepping into connected with Little One's ribs and the smaller boy dropped to the ground. By the time Charlie reached Little One, the boy was curled on his side, coughing and sputtering, trying to capture a lungful of air.

"Relax, Little One. You will breathe easier, if you just relax. Take slow, deep breaths." Charlie said.

The boy turned his head and looked at Charlie with pain filled eyes. And when he opened his mouth to speak, Little One wound up coughing again.

"Master." Charlie glanced up at Timti, vaguely noticing the other students gathering as well. "I am sorry, I shouldn't have allowed that to happened."

"It's okay, Timti. I will talk with you shortly." Charlie responded, before returning his attention to Little One.

"Little One! Child, move your arms please. I want to check your ribs. I need to make sure nothing is broken." Charlie said, as he ran his hands over the boy's ribs, back and chest. As he worked the boy's breathing settled, but the child winced every time Charlie touched his side.

"I think they are just bruised, Little One. Are you having trouble breathing? No pains in your chest?"

After the boy shook his head to both questions, a relieved Charlie sat back on his heels and continued, "I think you need to rest while we finish class."

"No, I'm okay! I can finish." Little One said, as he pushed himself into a seated position, wincing during the change of position.

"All we are going to do is our cool down, you don't need to do this. You are NOT doing it!" Charlie said forcefully and then calmed down again. "Stand up and let's get you to the bench."

After Little One was seated, Charlie turned back to the class and led them through the cool down routine, keeping a watchful eye on the boy. Then, as the other students gathered their belongings and left, he pulled Timti aside for a chat. Afterwards, Charlie approached Little One and sat on the floor in front of him.

Charlie was silent for a few minutes before starting the conversation, "Are you going to confirm what Timti said? Or am I going to have to remove you from class?"

Little One looked up with huge, shocked eyes.

"You can't…" slipped out before he bowed his head and whispered, "I'm sorry, Charlie." After a long pause, the boy continued, " I … I asked Timti to show me the scissors kick. I know you have not showed it to me yet, but I've been watching him, and I was going to try it, but … something went wrong."

"Obviously!" Charlie snapped and then, realizing the anger was uncalled for, he calmed down and asked, "Child, do you understand why I am upset with you?" Charlie waited until Little One looked up at him, tears in his eyes.

"I have told the students in my classes many times, not to attempt something until I show you how to do it; then I can be beside you if something goes wrong. You have heard me say it countless times over the four months you have watched me teach. I know I told you again, a week ago, when I offered you the chance to join this class. Little One, you are a quick learner and you have a natural instinct for this, but if you cannot follow my rules, I will have to remove you." Charlie knew he was being hard on the boy, but he had to make Little One understand. The next time the boy could be seriously injured.

When Little One looked up, he looked dejected, "I'm sorry. I really am. I won't do it again." He sobbed.

Hearing the boy's sob, Charlie felt a lump form in his stomach. "Then maybe this has taught you something." He whispered. He wanted to reach out and comfort the boy, but was unsure if Little One was ready to accept the physical contact. Unsure what he should do, Charlie stood up, making the excuse of needing to put away the mats. A short time later the boy came to help, like he usually did at the end of class.

When they finished, Charlie looked down at an extremely unhappy looking child. Kneeling in front of the boy Charlie said, "Little One, you don't need to worry. I believe this experience has taught you something. And I do believe you, when you say you won't do it again. At this time, I am not going to remove you from class. Okay?"

The boy responded with a quiet, restrained, "Kay."

 

PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF


Little One remained subdued for the rest of the day, and it began to concern Charlie. Now, as the two were settling down for the night to sleep, Charlie observed the boy wincing and shifting as he tried to find a comfortable position.

Charlie offered a blanket to cushion the injury and commented, "I think you are going to be sore for a few days. It is a good thing we do not have class again until Tuesday."

Once Little One looked at Charlie and said regretfully, "I'm sorry.

Charlie rolled onto his side, folding his arm so he could prop his head on his hand. The boy had been repeating those words a lot today. It needed to stop, now.

"Little One." He said firmly, "I have had enough of hearing apologies about the incident this morning. I have already told you, that I believe you will not attempt doing something like that again. I have also told you that, as long as you continue to follow my rules, I will not remove you from class. The incident is done with, the lesson has been learned. Now we move on, okay?"

Charlie instinctively reached out to rub the boy's arm, but saw him flinch. Sighing Charlie closed his eyes, even after all this time the boy still shied away from physical contact, even if it was meant to be comforting contact. No, a hug this afternoon would not have been accepted. Charlie would have to find other ways to show the boy how much he cared.

When he opened his eyes, Charlie could see Little One's brow was knotted in concentration. The man opened his mouth about to ask what was wrong, but decided to let the boy work it out for himself. Little One would approach him when he was ready.

Charlie lay back, closed his eyes, and listened to the boy's breathing become slow and steady. He had just decided the boy had drifted off, when a sleepy voice asked, "Do you think Timti's grandfather hurts him?"

Startled into full wakefulness, it took Charlie a moment to respond. As he rolled his head to look at the child he said, "You've met Timti's grandfather, we've delivered groceries to him. Do you really think he could hurt someone?"

Little One shrugged his shoulders slightly before saying, "I don't know ... Maybe."

Charlie barely heard the last word, and after a long pause the boy continued almost as quietly, "Sometimes people are different when other people are around than when they are by themselves."

"I guess that could be true, but Timti's father loves him, he would not let someone hurt him. Especially not his grandfather."

"What if his father was too busy to notice, or to listen to Timti, or thought he made up stories?"

"Then Timti should tell someone else." Charlie sat up concerned, "Little One, what makes you think Timti's grandfather hurts him? Did Timti say something to you?"

"Oh, no! Nothing like that! I … I just wondered why Timti wanted to learn to fight. Why he needs to be so good at it."

Charlie felt that Little One had just backtracked around something, but he could not identify what it might be. So the man decided to answer Little One's statements, hoping it might draw out what had been left unsaid.

"Little One, there are lots of reasons why people want to learn to fight. Even you have a reason, one you have not told me. As for Timti being so good, well he has been practicing for a few years now, he began even before I started working with him. He wants to enter competitions. He has one next weekend, at a big intercity meet."

As Charlie finished he saw panic race across the boy's face.

"What is it, Little One?" He asked with concern.

"Are you going with him?"

"No Little One. I am needed here." The man responded with a gentle smile, to which the boy gave a huge sigh, finally closing his eyes and settling down to sleep. Charlie realized that although he could not offer Little One physical comfort, his continued close presence was enough, for now.

Chapter 11 - November by Clouddancer
Feeling uncomfortably warm, Charlie woke up.  As his sleep muddled senses returned he noted he was, as usual, in his shelter but this morning not only did he have a cat curled against the small of his back, not an unusual occurrence these days, but he also had a blanket covered boy plastered to his chest, which was very unusual, considering Little One rarely allowed any physical contact.

Smiling to himself Charlie closed his eyes and lay in peaceful contentment, but eventually the heat became too much.  Who knew that two little bodies could generate such a heat?  Peeling the boy’s back from his chest, Charlie pushed himself into a seated position.  As he moved toward the entrance, he saw clouds forming as he exhaled and felt a wave of frigid air brush past him.  Looking out, he realized what had caused Little One’s unconscious motive to snuggle close; on the ground lay a thick coat of frost.

“And here I thought we had made a break through.”  Charlie whispered, as he turned back and draped his own blanket over the boy.   And then he moved the cat, so he too was lying next to the boy before saying to the cat, “You keep him warm for a bit, Monskootch.”

Charlie then returned to the entrance and sat, leaning against the wall and thinking.  His eyes moved between the boy and the frost on the ground, and then back.

“We are going to have to do something to keep you warm, Little One.“ he spoke quietly to himself.  “I have seen the winters here, lived through two of them in this shelter.  If you are reacting this way now, I know you will not do well when there is snow on the ground.  Warmer clothing and extra blankets will do for the next few weeks, maybe a month, but not as the temperature drops below freezing during the day.”  Charlie slowly shook his head.

“I can survive winters outdoors because I have been taught how to raise my internal temperature; make my body generate more heat.  I guess, since you too are Rigan, I could teach you but … “ Charlie gave a long sigh and leaned his head against the wall of the shelter, closing his eyes.  “Little One, anyone who enters a mind, or tampers with a mind, leaves a mark on it.  One that can be traced.  I really want to leave as few mental traces on you as possible.  I assume you have a Guardian somewhere, and when they find out I have played with your mind, if they know what to look for, they could find me.  And, although I would love to tell him how I feel about not shielding you, I really do not want to be found.  Not when I do not have the Power to protect myself, like I did when I was on Riga.”

Charlie opened his eyes and looked at the sleeping boy.  “No, I really do not want to play with your abilities any more.  Setting up those shields is enough.  But what do I do about you and the cold?”

Turning and looking at the buildings around them, the man said,  “I guess we could move indoors, but where?  I know Ling Chu would be happy to welcome us; he is always inviting me to stay in that back room.  But I also know that the winter months are the busiest for him – that is when he has the most patients. The two of us would take up cots that could be used for his patients.  So where else to go?  Is there someone else who would be willing to put up with us for the next few months?  Maybe an abandoned basement?”

Charlie continued to ponder the matter until he heard Little One’s breath catch.  The boy gave a small grunt, and then stretched before opening his eyes.

“Good morning, Little One.  You will notice it is a bit chilly this morning.”  A smiling Charlie declared merrily.  He was not going to alert the boy to his concerns, but the man had decided that this morning he would start looking, and inquiring, about shelter for the two of them.

It had surprised Charlie, once he started asking, at how easy it was to find a place for them to spend the winter nights.  He did not know that the city had such a thing as Rescue Shelters.  The Mission House Shelter was only a 15 minute walk from the China Town area, and it not only provided shelter but also food, clothing and medical care to those using the facilities.  Most importantly, it had a room for families, where the two could sleep together, not housing Charlie in a separate area from Little One.

Every morning the week before the two began staying at the Rescue Mission, Charlie would awake to find Little One curled up against him.  Then one evening, shortly after they had stretched out under their blankets, the boy tipped his head and looked at Charlie with big forlorn blue eyes.

“Charlie …. I’m cold.”  The boy entreated.

The man could see Little One appeared to be shivering under his blanket. 

“Come in here.”  Charlie said as he raised one corner of his blanket allowing the boy to slide in against his side.  Charlie wrapped his arm around Little One’s shoulders and the boy pillowed his head on the man’s arm. 

Charlie closed his eyes and suddenly realized … only a few moments had passed and yet the boy now showed no sign that he was cold.  Realizing what the boy had just done, the man smiled and found he had trouble pulling it into a frown.   When he had finally mastered, what he hopped was a severe look, Charlie shifted and rolled onto his side to face the boy.

Lifting his head to look down at the child he called, “Little One.”  And then waited until the boy’s eyes opened and locked onto his.

“Don’t try that on me again, alright?”

When the boy nodded, Charlie continued, “Have you ever heard about the, “Boy who Cried Wolf?”

“Uhhh huh! Yes.”  The boy nodded.

“Well you need to be careful Little One because, that endearing look you just used on me, one day you will use it and find it does not work. You have used it to manipulate people too often.  Does that make sense?”

After a pause the boy replied, “Yes.”

“Little One, you did not need to pretend to be cold so you could curl up with me.  You could have asked.  I would have said yes.”

“I’m sorry Charlie.” Little One whispered, and after studying Charlie for a moment he closed his eyes.

Feeling delighted at what had been accomplished, after all these months, Charlie watched the boy for a long time.  Finally he bent his head to whisper in the boy’s ear, “I am proud of you Little One.  And I am very happy you feel comfortable enough to want to snuggle.” 

He then rolled onto his back, where he felt the boy tuck in tighter against his side, and then smiling to himself Charlie fell asleep.

Chapter 12 - Anderson by Clouddancer
Samuel Anderson, President of the Phoenix Foundation marched up to his son, just  as he was entering the reception area that connected their offices, and demanded, “John, why have you not proceeded with the arrangements for this years December party.”

“Father, “ John began tiredly, “With everything that has happened this year to my family, you will have to forgive me if I have not felt like partying.”

“Your feelings have nothing to do with it.  I have told you that many times.  You do what is expected of you to keep up a public face.  The employees of this Foundation expect this celebration, and you need to honour that.”

“Fine, I will ensure someone follows up on the arrangements.  But with Barbara’s death, Joel not speaking with me, and Mark missing I will not be attending.”

“Oh, you will attend John.  You will show the employees of this company that you continue to go o,n even after the loss of your wife.  As for that mongrel you call a son, forget him.  I have been telling you for years he is worthless …”

“Father,” John raised his voice and snapped, “I have told you before you will not refer to Mark in that way again.  Do not use that word around me, and I pray to God, Mark has never heard you refer to him that way.”

“That boy,” sneered Samuel, “Is not worthy of the Anderson name and if he remains missing all the better for us.”

“No Father.  It might make things better for you, but not for me, I love him and miss him too much.  And now, I know where this conversation is headed, we have had similar ones far too many times. I will not have this argument with you again and definitely not here.  Mark will be found, and I will bring him home.”  John asserted walking into his office, closing the door behind himself.

“He won’t, if I have anything to say about it.”  Samuel muttered viciously under his breath, before he turned and stepped into his own office.
End Notes:
Since I have been trying to keep each month and each characters point of view separate, I decided to post this as a separate chapter.  Sorry it is so short.
Chapter 13 - December by Clouddancer

Charlie had been following Little One as they made their way into China Town when the boy stopped dead in his tracks in front of a newsstand. Charlie, who had been looking towards the Lee's grocery store, walked into the boy and very nearly tripped. As it was he had to reach out, to grab hold of Little One, so the boy did not fall to the snow-covered sidewalk.

"Are you alright Little One? What's wrong?" Charlie questioned.

The boy turned from the stand and said, "Do you know what day it is, Charlie?"

"Ummm, Sunday?" The man responded, after some thought.

"Yeah, but the 24th. Of December. It's Christmas Eve, today." Little One said with a hushed whisper.

Charlie blinked and thought, "Christmas Eve? Why did that sound familiar?"

Dredging up a memory, from one of his first years on this planet, he remembered someone telling him something about a celebration when adults wished they could return to their childhood, a simpler, easier time in their life, and when gifts were given to each other.

Charlie's eyes widened, Ohhhh, now he understood some of the conversations he had been hearing at the shelter. Bewildered the man turned to look at Little One.

While Charlie had been thinking, the boy had been looking at the buildings and streetlights up and down the street before he commented, "I guess they do not have much of a celebration here at Christmas, they probably have bigger celebrations for their New Years. What do you think?"

"I am not sure Little One. I have never paid much attention to the celebrations in this land. What would you be doing, if you were home?"

The boy thought for a bit, before responding, "I don't know. The Chief would have had his big Christmas party by now. The one for all the people who work for him. In the big room I told you about." Little One clarified for Charlie, before racing on with, "And Momma would have decorated the house and tree and …"

Suddenly Little Ones eyes dropped, filling with tears, "Momma's dead." He whispered, before taking a ragged breath.

Oh, Shirra! I should have remembered that when I asked him about home, Charlie thought to himself and then, trying to distract the boy, he said, "Then the Chief would be doing something special with you instead, this Christmas."

Little One emphatically shook his head, "No, he's too busy with work, he doesn't have time for me." The boy sobbed.

Charlie dropped to his knees, pulling Little One in against his chest, where the boy began to sob uncontrollably.

A disquieted Charlie found himself rubbing the boy's back and muttering, "Shhhh! It's okay, Little One. It's okay. Cry and let it out."

"I'm not… supposed… to cry." Little One said around gasps. "HE said… I-I can't lo… love her… I'm… not g-good… enough… to love… her. HE said, I-I'd hurt… the Chief… b-by crying."

"Little One, listen to me." Charlie murmured. "It is okay to cry. Crying lets the hurt out, and allows you to start healing. You need to cry."

Charlie held Little One against his chest until he heard the sobs die down and felt the trembling stop.

"Better?" Charlie asked when the boy was quiet. "Perhaps we should find something different to do today."

Little One pulled away, his eyes earnest even though they were red, "No, Charlie you promised you would deliver groceries to the Teng's, and you told Chu you would deliver some medicines for him today."

Charlie somberly looked at the boy, before saying, "You have a considerate heart Little One, don't ever loose it." Charlie then realized his knees were cold and wet, so he stood up. "How about you stay with Chu, and help him grind some medicines, while I do the deliveries for Mr. Lee? I will see how long that takes. Then when I am done, we will see what we can do."

As it turned out, Charlie spent all morning delivering groceries to several of Lee's housebound customers. It was after lunch when he finally made it to Chu's Herbal Shop, and then he had a bunch of deliveries to do for the Herbologist. When all the deliveries were finished, it was getting dark.

The two returned to Mission House for the night, and after eating in the Soup Kitchen they went upstairs to their sleeping mats. Charlie was lying on his back with Little One curled beside him, his head resting on Charlie's chest.

"Little One." Charlie eventually ventured to say, and once the boy raised his head Charlie continued, "While doing my rounds today, I talked to everyone we usually help. They all said there would be no work for us tomorrow, so it looks like we will have the day to ourselves."

Charlie gave a smile, and then said, "I think the staff here have something planned for tomorrow, for those of us who stay regularly. If you would rather not be here, we could find somewhere else to go, something else to do."

"It's okay. We can stay." The boy replied quietly after some thought.

"Little One, if it gets to be too much for you, remembering …" Charlie was unsure of the reaction he would get if he mention the boy's mother, so he tried delicately, 'other Christmas', let me know and we will find somewhere to hide. Okay?"

The boy's eyes welled with tears and Little One nodded his head, before burrowing it in Charlie's chest.

"I just wanted to let you know, Little One, so there were no surprises for you in the morning." Charlie gently voiced, before laying his hand on the boy's shoulder.

The boy responded with a sorrowful, "Thank you, Charlie."

"Little One, are you sure you don't want to go home? Tell me who your father is. Who YOU are, and you could be home for Christ …."

As Charlie spoke, the boy jerked upright with a jolt, his eyes widened in panic.

"No!" Little One shouted, cutting Charlie off, before continuing in a hoarse whisper, "Don't make me! I won't go! I'm not going back. I'll leave before you make me go back."

Charlie quickly sat up, reaching towards the boy, who had been creeping away as he spoke. As he stretched out his arm, Charlie saw Little One flinch, and then stand and run towards the door. Shirra, he had not expected this kind of response. What should he do now?

"Little One, don't … stop, please. I'm sorry. Don't run! Please don't run." Charlie felt he needed to make the boy understand, before he left. "Little One we have made a connection. If you run away and get hurt, or if the Huan Gang get you, I … I don't know what I would do."

The boy had stopped, and half turned when he reached the doorway, assessing Charlie's next action.

"Little One, please." Charlie whispered, as he pushed himself to his feet and took a step towards the boy. Only to see the boy flinch and take another step back.

Charlie closed his eyes briefly, trying to decide what to do next. Unsure of his intent, he squatted down, arms resting on his thighs, hands dangling between his knees. He stayed in that position for a few moments, as the two studied each other, and then Charlie suddenly found his hands coming up in a shrug.

"Little One …?" He whispered again.

Charlie ignored the angry mutterings of the other guests in the room and focused his full attention on the boy. He did notice a staff member approaching from behind Little One. If she got too close, too soon, what would the boy do? As the woman continued to advance, Charlie felt his anxiety rising, when suddenly Little One's posture relaxed, and the boy broke eye contact, looking down.

Charlie nearly sagged in relief, he did drop one knee to the floor, before whispering hoarsely, "Little One, I am sorry."

And then the boy walked to him, wrapped his arms around Charlie's neck and buried his head in the man's chest. Charlie tentatively encircled the boy with his arms, tightening them when the boy gave no sign of a struggle.

"I am sorry, Little One." Charlie whispered into the boy's hair. "I promise, I will not ask again. I will wait until you are ready to tell me. I will not make you do anything you are not ready to do. You have become too important to me, Little One, to push you away like that."

Charlie squeezed his eyes shut and then looked towards the ceiling, thanking whom ever was watching out for them. As he brought his eyes down he saw the volunteer standing in the door.

"Sir, you were told when you signed in …"

"Please forgive us." Charlie cut her off, and then offered a partial explanation, "The boy's mother died earlier this year, I think it has only just hit him now. You can understand, I think, with the celebrations and all."

The woman offered, "I'm so sorry Sir. If either of you need any counseling …"

"Thank you for the suggestion, we will be fine now." Charlie was not going to correct the lady of her assumption.

Charlie then realized that he had begun to care very deeply for Little One, love him in fact. He knew he was going to have to send the boy home at some stage, and when that happened it was going to be very hard. But for now, he was not going to advertise that the boy was not his son.

After the volunteer had nodded and walked away, Charlie continued to kneel, holding Little One against his chest and unconsciously rocking him. When Charlie did eventually move, he realized that the boy was half asleep.

"Let's get you under your covers, Little One." Charlie murmured into the boy's ear, and then picked him up and returned with him to their sleeping mats.

 

PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF

 

The next morning, Charlie was woken by excited voices around him. His first instinct was to check to ensure Little One was still beside him. Turning his head he was greeted by a pair of blue eyes staring at him.

Charlie gave a hesitant smile and a tentative, "Hello."

The boy blinked and gave a half-hearted smile, before muttering a timid, "Hi Charlie ..."

Feeling the tension, Charlie sat up without taking his eyes from the boy's.

"Little One do not worry. You were a mess of emotions yesterday, and I did not help by saying what I did. You look much better now that you have rested though."

Relaxing and giving a sigh, Little One rolled onto his back and stretched. As he did his foot kicked something, and the boy quickly sat up to find a box with a bow on its lid.

"Charlie?" Little One questioned in surprise, turning his head to look at the man.

Charlie frowned and shook his head, before commenting, "Not me! I told you yesterday, I don't know much about the celebrations here."

The boy turned back to the box and lifted the lid. Inside he found a pair of knitted mitts, along with a matching hat, as well as an assortment of toiletries.

Charlie gave a chuckle, "I would say someone noticed you were going outdoors without being fully clothed."

As he looked around the room, Charlie smiled as he observed all the children appeared to have received boxes, and the boxes that had been opened seemed to contain contents similar to Little Ones.

The two got dressed and then headed down to the Soup Kitchen, where they collected food and found a table to sit. As they finished eating, Kevin, the Director of the Mission, joined them. While Little One was taking their trays to the clean-up cart, Kevin began a conversation with Charlie.

"I understand you've lost your wife."

"Yes." Charlie responded instinctively. Realizing, after he spoke, that technically it was true. His wife was on Riga, he hoped, and he was here, so she was 'lost' to him, since he could not return to his home planet.

Kevin sat quietly, his eyes following Little One's progress and Charlie wondered if he owed the man a better explanation, "Well, really the boy's mother …." Charlie faltered, how was he going to explain this?

"I'm sorry, you don't need to explain." Kevin turned back to Charlie. "I was informed, this morning when I arrived, that there had been a situation last night, and I thought I should mention some of the other services we provide through the Mission. Your son seems to be doing well today, but please remember if there is anything …"

Kevin was interrupted by a loud crash from the kitchen, wincing he got up while saying, "Sorry I really need to see what is happening in there, we are a little short staffed today. A machine has broken down, and unfortunately, today being what it is, I can not find a repairman on such short notice. So things are not going as well as I had hoped."

As Kevin stepped away from the table, Little One darted through the door from the kitchen, and ran towards Charlie.

"Was that you, Little One?" Charlie asked, glaring at the boy.

"What?" Little One froze confusion written on his face.

When Charlie's eyes darted to the door Little One had just come through, the boy said, "Ohhh …. No."

And then Little One grinned, his eyes bright with merriment as he continued, "But you should have seen it. There are pots and pans and dishes and knives and forks everywhere, and they keep piling up, and the machine to wash them is broken, and you can fix it, can't you? I told them you could, just like you fixed the one at the Black Dragon."

When the boy took a deep breath, after the long mouthful he had just uttered, Charlie shook his head and gave a chuckle, "What are you doing? Volunteering me without my consent?"

Kevin broke in smiling as he said, "Sir, don't worry, I do understand how boys can do things like that without thinking. I have two of my own. A little older than he is."

"But he can fix it. Charlie is good at fixing things. He can fix anything!" Little One declared proudly, looking at Kevin. "And if he can't, we can wash the stuff ourselves. We do it all the time."

Charlie reached out and grabbed Little One's chin. Gently turning it towards himself, he said while chuckling, "Little One, you really must learn to not volunteer yourself, or others, until you know the size of the job."

Shaking his head in resignation, Charlie stood up and said to Kevin, "But the boy is correct, I do enjoy fixing things, and have proved to be quite successful at it. If you have some tools, I will take a look at this machine that is in need of repairs." He then looked down at Little One, before giving a sly smile and saying, "And maybe, for his punishment, while I am looking at the machine, you can keep this one out of trouble by taking him up on his offer to wash pots and pans for you."

It was late afternoon before Charlie left the kitchen area again. After fixing the dish washing machine he then offered to help with the food preparations, since they were still short of kitchen staff. While he worked Little One kept returning, from whatever he was doing, to report to Charlie, or to let him know what was happening.

Charlie kept an eye on the boy's demeanor, and during a break sat the boy down to remind him of their talk last night and what they would do should he become overwhelmed. But every time Little One entered the kitchen, his face and eyes were beaming with pride.

Eventually Charlie looked up and saw Kevin approaching.

"You came to the Mission House for food and a place to sleep, not to be miss-used like this." Kevin said with a smile. "Although you have been a great help to us today, and we could still use your help, I really feel I must send you off to be with your boy on this special evening. Go find your son, tell him to he has done enough serving of others, find a table and sit yourself down. I will make sure someone brings YOU both some food."

Charlie looked around at the clutter in the kitchen and opened his mouth to protest, but Kevin halted what he was going to say by taking Charlie's shoulders, guiding him towards the door and pushing him out of the kitchen. "Go, go! I gather a "Special Guest" will be arriving shortly, with gifts for the children." Kevin ended with a wink.

Special Guest? Charlie wondered what that meant, and then shrugged it off, deciding it must be one of those things you need to understand the nuances of the language to understand. As Charlie's eyes roamed the room looking for Little One, his attention was captivated by what he saw.

The room had been transformed during the hours he had been in the kitchen. Shiny decorations in red, green, silver and gold were hanging from the ceiling, walls, over the door and on the center of the tables. In one corner of the room the tables had been pulled away, and a small tree was adorned with lights and ornaments. The room was now filled with people, and most had finished eating and were now sitting and talking, but some, the late arrivals, were still eating.

Little One had described what was being done in here, but Charlie had not expected this. Finally Charlie spotted the boy, he was laughing and talking to a group of children seated at a table. In his arms was a basket ,full of dirty plates and utensils, which presumably were to be put on a cart for wheeling into the kitchen.

Intercepting the boy, Charlie took some of the dishes and helped place them on the cart. Then taking the boy's hand Charlie informed him, "We have been released from our duties, Little One. The director has told me to find a table and food will be brought to us."

Charlie turned back to the room, and had begun to look for a spot to sit, when he felt a tug on his hand.

"Come on there's a table over here." Little One giggled, as he led the man to a table beside a wall.

Charlie looked down at the boy and chuckled, "It should have occurred to me that you would know where to sit, considering you have been working out here all afternoon."

Shortly after they sat down, a volunteer brought over two plates with some Christmas dinner on it. "Please take as long as you need, tonight the Kitchen will remain open later than usual, to ensure all are well fed. Kevin says you may even return for more if you like." The volunteer stated.

While they were eating, Charlie saw a few Mission volunteers move to the corner, where the tree had been set up, and began singing festive songs, inviting the crowd to join in. After five or six songs, a man in a red suit with a flowing white beard stepped into the room. Confused, Charlie glanced down at Little One.

When their eyes meet, Little One crinkled his brow and asked, "Don't you have a Santa where you come from? I thought everyone knew Santa Claus."

Charlie shook his head and stated, "No."

"You have been living here for …." Little One furrowed his brow again, as he considered, and then giving up he shrugged his shoulders and pronounced, "Years, and you don't know anything about Christmas or Santa?"

"I guess I have not needed to know."

Turning his eyes back to the activities around the tree, Little One leaned against Charlie. The man lifted his arm and placed it across the boy's shoulder, which allowed Little One to snuggle in closer and tilt his head and rest it against the man's shoulder. Santa had been given a chair and was now sitting down, while the children in the room were invited to visit with Santa. When they were done, each child was presented with a wrapped gift, which they took back to their tables and opened it with their families.

Feeling Little One's warmth against him, Charlie was about to ask if the boy was okay, if they should leave, when the boy asked, "Who is he?"

Taken aback, Charlie shook his head, "Santa?" He questioned.

"No, I mean really. Santa's not real, you know. That is someone in a costume. Momma told me all about Santa a couple of years ago, when I was six."

"Well since you are so well informed, perhaps you would like to let me in on this secret." The man whispered slyly.

"Well, Santa is supposed to be someone who gives presents to girls and boys all over the world. But he can't be a real man because no one can give gifts to everyone on the same day. Instead, Momma said Santa is really inside all of us. When we do something nice for someone, not expecting anything in return and feel good about doing it, then we are being Santa. But it is only at Christmas time that we say it is Santa, the rest of the year it is …" Little One paused trying to remember the word he needed, but all he could come up with was, "being nice. You are kind of like Santa." Little One finished, looking up at Charlie.

"Oh?" Charlie blinked in shock.

"Well you do things for people all the time, and don't want anything for what you do, except maybe some food and clothes. When you do those things, don't you feel good inside?"

Charlie did not get a chance to answer, because at that moment a volunteer walked up and looking at Little One said, "Santa would like to see you."

The boy sat there with a stunned look on his face, and then Charlie felt the child's hand slip into his. When little One tilted his head to look at Charlie, the man bent down and spoke into the boy's ear, "If you want, I will come with you?"

Suddenly all apprehension left the boy's body, and he relaxed and smiled, "Just don't go anywhere, okay?" Little One whispered back. To which Charlie smiled and nodded.

As Little One followed the volunteer, Charlie muttered to himself, "For all the grown up talk, I keep forgetting you are still so young. Still needing the security and comfort from an adult."

From his table Charlie, watched as Little One sat on Santa's lap and talked to the man. The boy even laughed at something the bearded man said, and then he whispered into the man's ear. When he left, Little One was handed a present, which he carried back and placed on the table as he sat down. Then the boy announced, "That's Kevin."

"Are you sure?" Charlie asked, examining the costumed man more closely.

"Oh, yes!" The boy said with a certainty.

The two sat in silence as a few other children went up for their visit. And then looking down Charlie saw the brightly wrapped present again. "Are you going to open this?"

Little One reached for the box and held it in his hands for a few moments, before turning it over and beginning to carefully unwrap it. But it got to be too much for the boy and he eventually tore the paper off. When Little One turned the box over, through the cellophane lid he could see a model jet. "Oh wow!" The boy whispered. "It's a two seated Viper!"

That is when some of the questions the Mission staff had asked of Charlie earlier in the month made sense. The boy took the lid off the box and reverently reached in to lift the jet out of the box. After spending some time examining the model, and exclaiming over things that attracted him, Little One got up and "flew" the jet around the room. Eventually the boy was attracted to a group of children, and they began creating games with their gifts.

As the children played, Charlie moved around the room, having conversations with various people. At one point a family arrived late for their meal. Deep in a conversation, Charlie did not notice a concerned Little One had observed their entrance. Or that, when the family had finished eating, Little One had walked over to their table and started a conversation, convincing the son to join in the game the other children were playing. What Charlie did notice was Little One handing his jet to the other boy, and the two taking it in turns to play pilot and co-pilot while racing around the room shooting at various imaginary targets.

Eventually Kevin had to call closing, and as people left for their homes or headed upstairs to their beds, Little One rejoined Charlie and sat down beside him, breathless and glowing with excitement.

"It looks like you had fun tonight." Charlie commented.

Little One nodded his head emphatically, "Yeah, I loved being able to play like that."

"If…" Charlie began and cut himself off. He had been about to suggest that little One would have school friends to play with, if he went home, but at the last moment Charlie remembered his promise from last night. Instead, Charlie stood and walked towards the stairs to head up to their sleeping mats. As they were climbing Charlie stopped.

"Little One, where is your present from Santa."

"I gave it to Eric. He said he could keep it safe. Besides it wasn't fair that he didn't get a gift like the rest of us, just because his family was late, and "Santa" didn't know he was coming."

Charlie continued looking at the boy in confusion, so Little One continued to explain, "Besides, where am I going to keep something like that? I can't carry it with me all the time. And if I leave it somewhere, it will probably go missing. Eric says they have a house to live in, just sometimes they do not have enough money for food, which is why they come here. So now he will be able to keep the fighter safe in his room, where it won't get lost."

When the boy finished he stepped around Charlie and continued up the stairs. Charlie stood thinking and realized that, sometimes Little One seemed to have more wisdom than most adults, himself included. He also seemed to be very thoughtful and giving. Charlie wondered if that was something he had learned from his mother, along with the spirit of Christmas.

Chapter 14 - March by Clouddancer

For the rest of winter, Charlie and Little One followed a regular pattern. Sleep and eat at the Rescue Mission, walk the two blocks into China Town to perform their daytime activities and then return to the Mission for their evening meal. Charlie continued his classes at the temple three days a week and Little One continued to participate in each class. The boy was relaxed and appeared to enjoy the slow paced movements of the Tai Chi classes, but in the self-defense class the boy seemed tense. He did show great concentration though and very rarely lost his focus or, since his misadventure in the Fall, attempted things beyond his ability.

One day early in March, Charlie was putting away mats after the Saturday morning fitness class, when he heard shouting in an outer great room of the temple. Stepping from the room, he identified one of the voices as Little One's. Jogging towards the sound, he spotted a Monk coming though another door and moving towards the commotion as well. As the two moved further into the hall they saw two boys fighting. One of them was Little One, who was throwing fisted hands in an uncontrolled flurry and yelling, "Take it back!"

"Stop it!" Charlie thundered, as he stepped behind Little One. He then reached out and grabbed the boy's collar, pulling him away from the other boy and placing his body between the two combatants. At the same time, the Monk had moved to the other boy's side, pulling him out of reach and then checking for injuries.

Little One's anger now focused on Charlie, "Tell him to take it back." He shouted at the man, while struggling to get away.

Charlie had never seen the boy's eyes look so enraged. Taking hold of both of the boy's shoulders, he gave Little One a sharp shake before loudly repeating, "Stop it Little One." At the command, the boy's eyes narrowed, his nose flared and his lips rose in a snarl.

"I want you to take a deep breath to calm down." Charlie said evenly, watching as the boy took the requested breath. But the rage did not dissipate and suddenly Little One twisted his shoulders, breaking free of the man's grasp. Then Little One clenched his teeth and let the breath he had held, out in a loud growl.

Making sure he was still between Little One and his opponent, Charlie decided to try and reason, "Little One…"

The boy ignored what the man was saying allowing his eyes to flick over Charlie's shoulder and then he spat out, "He shouldn't have said it, HE needs to take it back."

"Little One, look at me." Charlie tried, and when Little One continued to glare over his shoulder, the man firmly snapped, "Little One."

The boy's eyes jerked to Charlie and finally the man explained, "I do not understand what this is about. And until you are calm, we will not get anywhere. Now take some breaths and let them out, slowly."

Little One followed the instruction, but after inhaling his second breath he snarled out, "He is not a mongrel, tell him to take it …."

"When you are calm I will listen." Charlie cut the boy off. Which caused Little One to growl in his throat and then twitch his shoulders. After clenching his hands, the boy finally took the requested deep breath, slowly releasing it. After taking his second breath, Little One closed his eyes and exhaled. With his next exhalation, Little One's hands and shoulders relaxed.

Charlie took that moment to glance towards the boy behind him, and realized that it was Nathan, one of the children about Little One's age, from the Tai Chi class he had just taught. The child looked fine, except for maybe a bruised cheek and a torn shirt. Looking back to Little One, Charlie noted he had continued with another deep breath and now his face appeared relaxed and calm.

"Little One." Charlie started, and when the boy opened his eyes the man saw they were now calm.

"That is not like you! I have never seen you that enraged. You can be a real tiger, growls and all." He commented with a smile, trying to lighten the mood before asking. "What happened?"

Little One's eyes narrowed again, and for a moment Charlie wondered if he was going to have to wait for the boy to calm down once more. When Little One did speak, the boy's voice was cold and hard, "He called Monskootch a mongrel. He has no right to do that. Just because Monskootch is not like the Siamese cats, here in the temple, he has no right to judge like that. I told him Monskootch was just as good, maybe even smarter than they are. And I said that he should take it back. Nobody should say they're better than someone else."

"You are correct Little One. No one has a right to judge someone else. But fighting when you are angry is not the way to solve a problem. One does better by staying calm and using your words. Anger clouds your mind, and then you cannot think clearly." Charlie paused to let the words sink in before finishing with, "Now if you are calm enough, I think you need to go and talk to Nathan. You owe him an apology."

Little One's stance stiffened in anger, and he curled his lips and hissed, "I am not going to say sorry when he was the one who called the names."

"Little One, you are letting your anger rule you, again."

"But he star …."

"Ah!" Charlie cut the boy off.

"But …"

This time, Charlie only needed to raise his hand.

The boy seethed for a bit, before finally sagging and bowing his head. When he brought his head up again, there were pools of tears in his eyes.

Sighing Charlie said, "I know what you are trying to do, and those tears are not going to work with me either. Go and talk to Nathan and listen to him. You may be surprised at what he has to say."

"But Charlie." The boy whispered pleadingly, before realizing that was not going to be successful either. Little One dropped his head as he gave a long sigh, and then slowly scuffled to the other boy and said, "Nathan …"

"I'm sorry." Nathan replied in the silence. "I should have known you wouldn't like me saying that, most people wouldn't. But it slipped out, we say it all the time. It's what we call our dog; she's a mixed breed. We got her from the pound and we don't know what breeds her parents are." Nathan paused for a moment before continuing, "But you are right she is smart, I think she is smarter than the Chow who lives two doors down from us."

Both boys giggled, and then Little One grew solemn again, before he apologized, "I'm sorry I hit you Nathan."

"It's okay." Nathan responded with a one-shouldered shrug.

"Is your Mom going to be mad when she sees your shirt?"

"Yeah. But I will just tell her it happened in class. She'll believe me. Hey! Lets see if anyone is practicing with the weapons." After Little One nodded the two boys ran off, heading in the direction of the aforementioned room.

As the two boys left, the Monk moved to Charlie's side commenting, "Wouldn't it be nice if all grudges could be solved as quickly?"

"It would be nice if all arguments were that simple to solve." Charlie said with a wry smile. He then continued, "Please explain to me, if you can. I gather from that conversation," Charlie nodded towards the spot the boys had stood. "A mongrel is an animal of mixed parents. Yes?"

"Yes, that is correct. A mongrel is a mixing of breeds, or even an unknown breed. Unlike our Siamese cats, where both their parents are of Siamese lineage."

"We do not know who Monskootch's parents are. And what I do not understand is this then: he IS a mongrel. So why would it upset Little One if he were called one?"

The monk gave a shrug before saying, "That I cannot explain Master Charlie. Some people take offence to a word, or how that word is used or phrased. Perhaps if young Nathan had called Monskootch a mixed breed, Little One would not have taken such offence. I am sorry I can't be more helpful."

 

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A week after the event at the temple, the weather warmed up and Charlie felt the two could return to the shelter behind the Lee's grocery store. The man and boy ensured everything was in order at the shelter, collected a few items that needed to be replaced, and then settled in as if they had never left.

Over nine months had passed since Charlie had found and taken in the boy. By now, the man had grown extremely comfortable with the boy's presence. And there were signs Little One was becoming much more confident. He was moving greater distances from Charlie's presence, although never completely out of sight. More and more the boy would run in front, knowing which stores were coming, and stop to look in a store window, or drop behind as something new captured his attention, or someone stopped him to ask a question, and then he would have to race to catch up. So when Charlie walked passed the bakery with Little One trailing behind, his mind did not register the four young men in their early 20's standing near the curb, leaning against a street lamp and newspaper boxes

Charlie did hear the boy's yelp and a voice saying, "This street urchin is a beautiful catch."

Quickly turning, Charlie saw Little One, arms pinned to his side, by one of the four men and a second thug closing in. Panic was beginning to show on the boy's face as Charlie walked towards the captors saying quietly, "Let the boy go, please."

"Get out of here Old Man, this is of no concern of yours." One of the second pair of ruffians snarled, and then both men moved from leaning against the streetlamp to stand in Charlie's path. The two assumed they had now thwarted Charlie. While the two impeded Charlie, the thug who had approached Little One reached out and grabbed the boy's chin, tilting his head up.

"God, those eyes. The boss will love those. The boss will love breaking you in and seeing that innocence crushed. Have you ever been used by a woman, boy? How about touched a man?" The thug questioned as he bent down, letting his hands trailed down Little One's chest, while the boy stood frozen. And then the hands rose once more and tore Little One's shirt open, buttons popping to expose the boy's chest and torso.

That is when then self-defense training Charlie had been teaching Little One kicked in and the boy began struggling and screaming, "Someone help me! Charlie, help!"

When he heard the word 'Boss', Charlie realized these men could only be members of the Huan Gang. He tried taking a step forward, but the two gangsters before him raised their hands and pushed Charlie back. One of the men saying, "You were told Old Man, this has nothing to do with you. Forget you ever saw anything and go about your business. That boy belongs to us now."

Charlie glanced around, and noticed that the other pedestrians had either frozen in fear, or had shrunk back against the wall of the building. If only one of them could be trusted to do something while he distracted the men.

The goon crouched before Little One, laughed at the boy's shouts, and began to caress the boy's chest. "I wouldn't bother with your shouting boy, no one here is going to help. Can't you see that? They are too afraid of us to do anything. You're mine now." The man sneered possessively.

Whether it was the comment or the touch Charlie was unsure, but Little One began wriggling, twisting and turning even harder while kicking out with his feet. While the two men tried to restrain the boy, one of Little One's feet connected with the shin of the thug crouched before him forcing the man to his knees.

The brute holding Little One, tightened his grip and lifted the boy off the ground. As he had been taught, Little One immediately went limp, becaming a dead weight in the man's arms, forcing the brute to stagger and lower the boy to the ground.

As soon as Little One's feet touched the ground, he again began his shouting and struggling. The brute brought his hand up to cover Little One's face, hoping to smother the screams, and immediately discovered that was a mistake, because Little One growled and bit down into the heel of the man's hand, drawing blood.

When the brute jerked his hand away to examine it, his grip loosened on Little One. Enough to allow the boy to turn and spit the blood from his mouth at the brute and then begin kicking, clawing and biting the man still holding him, all the while Little One continued to growl viciously.

For a moment, Charlie thought Little One was going to get away, but the goon the boy had first kicked stood up and reached into his jacket, removing and unfolding a telescopic stick he was carrying. The goon raised the club intending to use it on Little One.

With so many generations of Rigan's fighting Spectra, the planet had become rooted in war. Every person on the planet, when they reached a certain age, were taught to fight. Charlie knew his skills should surpass those of the men surrounding Little One. Once he had been taught HOW to fight, he had then been taught how to AVOID confrontations, unless forced to face them. Even though a deep-rooted instinct had been telling Charlie that he should be aiding Little One, the man had also hoped that this incident could be settled without violence on his part. Besides, Little One was doing exactly as he had been taught, and he had almost made his escape, but seeing the thug raise the club, instinct finally won out and Charlie reacted.

<< Little One, run! To the Check Point. >> Charlie mentally ordered.

Charlie raised his foot and kicked out at the gangster on his right, breaking his left leg and then he spun and used his arm and hand to strike at the second thug's chest, forcing the air from his lungs. The thug fell to the ground gasping for breath. Taking two long strides forward, Charlie reached out and grabbed the stick from the third abductor's hand, wrenching the goon's arm backwards in the process. This man dropped to the ground, clutching his strained arm.

Only seconds had passed, but a check showed that Little One had freed himself and, following his instructions, had begun charging up the street. Unfortunately the fourth abductor had taken off after the boy. As Little One rounded the corner, the goon in front of Charlie rose and turned, preparing to face off with him. When Charlie backed off a step he realized the second attacker, the thug he had struck on the chest, was getting up as well.

Both men reached for Charlie and then, so it appeared to the other pedestrians, quickly fell down, and had difficulty rising. Charlie took a step, intending to follow the path Little One had taken, but the police chose that moment to pull up in their cars, stopping everyone from leaving the scene – someone must have had the sense to dial them. It was only then, that Charlie realized he had instinctively sent a telepathic message to the boy.

"Oh Shirra, what have I just opened up? Now I AM going to have to do some meddling. Especially if I am not supposed to let you know you are Rigan." Charlie thought to himself.

The three abductors were taken into custody and then off to hospital, with numerous broken bones and dislocated joints. The police investigation of the altercation proved to be unrewarding. There were too many eyewitnesses, all with contradictory and very unlikely stories. But all the witnesses agreed that Charlie had never moved, except to take a club from one of the men's hands, after the thug had threatened to use it on a boy. It was only Charlie who knew that the speed of his attack had made it appear as if he had not moved.

It was nearly three hours later when Charlie was able to walk into the quite alley of the checkpoint. When they first met, the two had set this meeting place up in case they ever became separated; Charlie had never expected to have to use it. Looking left and right as he walked up the alley to the dead end, he saw nothing but some torn and broken furniture and garbage strewn about. Part way along he noted a pair of cats glaring at him from the seat of a chair.

"Little One?" he whispered as he reached the end, panic gripping him. "You had to make it. Please, you have to be here."

A louder call of the boy's name caused a rustling and then a bang as a ratty, ripped sofa tipped over and a small form wriggled out from under it. Then, torn shirt fluttering, Little One charged into Charlie's arms, thumping against his chest. Charlie, who had bent down to catch the boy was knocked over, and landed on his tailbone.

"Charlie!" The boy sobbed, pulling himself tightly against the man. "I thought you were one of them still chasing me. It took you so long to come. I didn't think you were coming. I thought they did something to you. I was so scared. I didn't know what I was going to do."

Wrapping his arms tightly around the boy Charlie sat clutching the trembling form. A brush against his legs made the man look around, where he noticed two cats winding themselves between the boy's legs and against his own stretched out legs and his back. A quick glance towards the chair, for confirmation, and Charlie realized he was smiling, "I see you found yourself some sentinels here."

"I told them to let me know if any men were coming, so I could hide. I couldn't make them understand how to know when you were coming though. Animals sense things differently and …"

"It is okay Little One, you do not need to explain." Charlie cut the boy off, while gently rocking him. "I am sorry it took me so long to get here. The Police came and needed answers. They asked everyone lots of questions and they would not let me leave until they were finished. As soon as I could get away, I came right here. And then, when I got here, I did not see you and became worried that the last man had caught you."

Charlie trembled, hugged the boy tightly again and then he sighed, loosening his grip. "But you are here. You are safe. And with two protectors who may have better senses than I have. Even if they cannot tell me from a member of the Huan Gang." Charlie ended jokingly trying to lighten the mood.

Little One gave a muffled whisper into Charlie's chest, "They know you now Charlie. That is what they were doing, scenting you and marking you so they will know."

Charlie tightened his grip around the boy again before he spoke, "Little One, if I had not come back, you could have gone to Ling Chu, and he would look after you. This alley is behind his shop, as you know. Remember that Little One, Chu will always help you."

Feeling a peaceful contentment settle over him, Charlie continued to hold the boy against him. Little One rested his head on the tall man's shoulder and his forehead pressed into the hollow of his neck. The man could feel both their heartbeats slowing from the racing pace they had attained.

Finally the boy stepped away and looked at Charlie, his eyes dancing excitedly as he said, "Charlie I did exactly what you said to do in class and it worked. I did the dead weight thing and I kicked and wriggled, twisted and bit … I didn't like that part. I bit so hard I got blood in my mouth. You didn't tell us that could happen … but I did it, just like you said we should."

"Yes I saw! You looked like a little tiger, with your scratching, biting and growling. I knew you could do it, Little One. I believed in you and you did an excellent job! I am proud of you, my Tiger."

The boy tilted his head to the side and narrowed his eyes in thought.

"What is it?" Charlie finally asked.

"I like Little One better."

Pulling the boy against his chest again, Charlie smiled and replied, "Then Little One you shall remain. But if I hear you growling during training, do not be surprise if I start calling you tiger."

Charlie's eyes clouded for a moment as he entered an involuntary trance state and, his voice devoid of inflection, declared, "There are many other names that you will be known by."

Charlie blinked as he came out of the daze, not realizing what had happened, and brought his hands up to the boy's shoulders to nudge him back a step. Seeing the confused look on the boy's face Charlie asked, "What? Am I not allowed to tell you how proud I am of you? Or is it that you still can not believe me?"

"No, that's not it. It's… Charlie, can you…? Do you see things that might happen sometimes?"

Thrown off guard, Charlie sucked in a breath of air. This was hitting too close to home. Where would the child get that idea? Clairvoyance WAS one of his skills, certainly not his main one, but it was strong enough to predict large or important events, ones that affected great numbers of people. And there had certainly been others who could do a better job at it than he could. And he had definitely never been able to predict the future of individuals like the Prime clairvoyant could. But that power had been cut off, along with many others when he had been banished to this planet.

Seeing alarm grow in Little One's eye's, Charlie laughed off what the boy had asked by saying, "You don't REALLY believe people can tell the future do you?"

As the boy opened his mouth to respond, Charlie quickly changed the subject by reaching out and examining the shirt the boy still wore and then saying, "I think we are going to have to see about getting you a new shirt. Only two buttons remain and …" Charlie swallowed as he remembered how the man had touched Little One and what the 'would be abductor' had implied for the boy's use.

Somehow, Little One seemed to pick up on what the man was thinking because he stated, "Charlie, I know they would have taken me."

Then the boy lowered his eyes, leaned against Charlie once more, wrapped his arms around the man's neck, and whispered haltingly, "I think, I understood what they wanted."

Charlie hugged the boy tightly, rocking them both very slightly as he murmured, "I will protect you Little One. I wont let them near you. They seem to be hunting our streets again, but I wont let them get you. You will be safe with me."

"You're mine!" Charlie finished by saying, unconsciously echoing what the abductor had said only a few hours earlier. Only this time it was said lovingly.

Charlie unwound the boy's arms from his neck and stood up. He then reached down and lifted the boy into his arms; the boy's small form and slight weight were not much for the man. Leaning his forehead against Little One's, Charlie commented with a smile, "I still can't believe you are 8. You are too small."

"That's because you are too tall." The boy lifted his head and raised his chin confidently. "You need to shrink a little, then I would look like I was 8."

Relieved that the boy was not pulling away from his touch and that he was still able to crack jokes, Charlie threw back his head and gave a roar of laughter before remarking, "Perhaps you are right Little One. Although, sometimes, when I compare you to other children in my classes, I do wonder about your height."

With one hand, Charlie closed the shirt across the boy's chest, feeling the need to cover the child from unfriendly eyes, and announced, "Let's go see if Ling Chu has any shirts that would fit you. Then we can get rid of this one and then find some food that will help you grow taller."

Smiling and in happy spirits they both left the alley.

 

Chapter 15 - May by Clouddancer

The months following Little One's near abduction were busy ones for Charlie. He now spent extra time on the streets ensuring that the Huan Gang knew of his presence. It appeared, after the first few attempts of extortion, petty larceny and abduction had been thwarted, that the gang had been reminded that interfering with Charlie was not something they wanted to do.

Also, the pedestrians who had seen Little One's escape were talking about it and soon Charlie found his classes at the temple over crowded. Parents were enrolling their children, so they would know how to get away should a similar situation occur to them, as had happened to Little One. Husbands encouraged their wives so they could learn to protect themselves and men were registering so they could protect their family and their property.

Within the first month Charlie found his defense classes so full he feared he would have to turn people away. And then the Monks declared that they too would hold self-defense classes on the days Charlie was not at the temple. The Monks had decided they would become more active in helping the people of the neighborhood become more self-reliant.

Now, Charlie was not the only one patrolling the community, the Monks could also be seen policing the streets, helping the elderly and aiding those in need. Within a few short months the community had become a quiet and peaceful again.

In May, Charlie had time to realize that he and the boy had now been together for a year. And he still did not know much more about the child's past than he had when they first met. Sitting one evening with his back to the tree next to their shelter, Charlie thought back over the year and about how much the boy had changed.

When they had first met, the child had been timid, scared and spiritless. Now, even after the attempted abduction, the boy was confident, happy and energetic. Although, it seemed the boy had two sides to this personality. One side appeared wise beyond the child's 8 years. He was focused and disciplined, and was able to talk philosophically about subjects he should know nothing about. And then at other times, Charlie would turn around and the child's other side would show itself. Little One would laugh, play jokes and wear a grin that lit up his face. Charlie loved seeing this energetic boy the best, this boy was relaxed and his laugh and smile made Charlie feel good about what he had done to help the child.

Charlie tilted his head against the tree, listening to the quiet sounds around him, and realized that he had not mentally relaxed like this in months, the last time was at the lake with Little One, back in the Fall. Which was very unusual, since normally the sounds and emotions, from the people around him, had his mind reeling and he needed to seek solace to maintain a balance. Now, he had just spent the entire winter in close quarters, with others at the Mission, and had none of the usual affects.

Opening his eyes, the man turned his head, and looked towards Little One playing with Monskootch in the bushes. Maybe touching the boy's mind …? Charlie smiled to himself and shook his head. That could not be it, the mental link he had with the boy required he expend MORE energy and be in closer contact with a mind, which meant he should be reacting sooner, rather than it taking longer.

Charlie could feel something had changed though. His channels, which had been purposefully blocked before being banished to Earth, appeared to be … relaxing. Giving him more access to his powers, making them easier to reach. That should not be happening though, not until he returned to Riga and was granted the right. And then, as far as he knew, only one person, or really an item that person wore, could open his channels and return his powers.

Charlie sighed and rested his head against the tree again. He knew that he was never likely to meet this man. He was stuck here on this planet, and the person he needed was on Riga. If there ever were a reason for the man to visit Earth, first Charlie would have to learn about it and then have to plead his case to him. Closing his eyes, Charlie sighed again, there were far too many factors if his return to Riga was ever to happen.

Charlie heard a rustling to his right and then a small growl, opening his eyes he saw Little One launching himself at him. As Charlie's large hands came up and wrapped around the boy's waist, he felt Little One's hands clutching the material at his shoulders and heard an excited shout, "I got you, Charlie."

"You most certainly did." The man laughed back, and then a wrestling match ensued. Mostly consisting of Little One climbing or jumping on top of Charlie, while trying to "pin" him and the man tickling the boy until he pulled away. Finally, a panting Little One called a halt and the two rested, the boy on the man's chest, in the gathering darkness.

Sometime after the light on the corner of the store flickered on, Charlie shifted the boy's weight saying, "Come on Tiger. Time for bed."

Little One gave a sleepy mumbled response of, "Not a tiger."

Smiling the man whispered, "No, you are right. A cub maybe. But you will be one someday." Charlie closed his eyes briefly and whispered abstractedly, "A tiger with wings of white. Just remember though, until you are strong enough to be a tiger, you need to find other tigers who will protect you."

Charlie stood, picking up the sleepy boy and carried him into the shelter. As he was laying the child down, Little One said with a yawn, "Charlie, tigers don't have wings."

Which caused the man to blink in surprise, "You are correct Little One."

Why had he made that comment to the boy Charlie wondered? After Charlie lay down and closed his eyes he got another flash of an older Little One, cloaked in wings of white and with the grace of a tiger, using stealth to hunt faceless enemies.

Chapter 16 - June by Clouddancer
It was almost a month later and Charlie was again sitting outside the shelter while Little One was playing, when Charlie recalled part of the very first conversation he had had with Little One.

"I'm 7! I'm turning 8 next month." The boy had claimed.

Charlie did some quick calculating, that conversation had happened in May, which meant the boy had turned 8 in June, with Little One correcting Charlie most of year. Now they were approaching the end of June again and ….

As Little One went racing past, Charlie halted him by asking, "Little One, when is your birthday?"

Charlie was surprised when the boy stiffened and turned his back, giving a shrug. Determined the man tried again, "I remember, during one of our very first conversations, you told me your birthday was in June."

"I don't remember that." Little One hedged.

"Really? That's funny I recall it quite clearly. That is one thing about my people, most of us have very good memories. Should I tell you exactly what you said?"

"No, you don't need to." The boy rushed in, turning to face Charlie. "You're right, it's in June."

And then Little One tilted his head considering and after blinking his eyes in amazement the boy said in surprise and with a touch of pride, "My birthday is already over. I'm already 9."

"Tilliksteerl ula dinasinek! Aphshokol adakeath na'sharozum."

It took Charlie a moment to realize that he had just spoken in Rigan. Mentally berating himself, the man tried to cover. Smiling he said "Sorry, I was saying Happy Birthday in the language I was raised in."

Little One continued to stand before him, brow pinched in concentration.

"Little One? What is it?"

After a moment the boy responded, "That didn't sound like it was ONLY Happy Birthday. It sounded like two sentences to me."

Twitching his lips in irritation, Charlie wondered for a moment if the child's ability to speak to animals allowed him to notice these complexities in language and then sighing muttered, "You are correct. The first phrase WAS Happy Birthday. The second was wishing you a long life." Which was as close to the translation as he was going to go. The man finished with, "I think tomorrow we should get you a special treat to eat, to celebrate. Should we go to the bakery? Or would you prefer somewhere else?"

Giving a shrug, Little One offered, "It doesn't matter." And then the boy looked up and giving a radiant smile, "Can we get an ice cream at Gastronomic Delights?"

"Of course we can."

As the boy ran off to continue his games, Charlie considered Little One's responses to his questions and they made him wonder why a child would be so reluctant to celebrate a birthday.

Perhaps it was fear of what he might discover, that made Charlie never question the boy further on the matter.

Chapter 17 - October by Clouddancer

Charlie remained busy through the summer and did not notice as the season changed to fall. As things began to slow down, Charlie decided to give himself a day of relaxation. The weather over the last week had been cool and damp, but upon waking Charlie realized it was going to be a beautiful, but mild, day. Perhaps the last one of the year before the weather changed as winter approached. Charlie chose to take Little One back to the park to celebrate, and to give them both a change of scenery. This visit would be their first since early Spring.

When they arrived at the park, it looked like a number of people had had the same idea but the two managed to find a quiet place beside a group of trees. Charlie lay back with his arms crossed under his head, watching as Little One wandered down to the lake, where the boy dropped fall-coloured leaves into the water and watched them blow across the surface. The man found his eyes drifting closed as he watched and as the warmth of the day and the peaceful atmosphere lulled him.

A shout followed by something landing across his legs startled Charlie to wakefulness. Jerking into a sitting position, he noticed Little One sprawled across his legs and a flock of ducks, geese and four swans surrounding them.

"Sorry Charlie." Little One said apologetically as he pushed himself upright. "We were playing and they knocked me over." The boy's cheeks reddened.

Charlie chuckled and when he'd composed himself commented, "I take it from your embarrassment that that is not exactly what happened, but I will let it go. Is that Tandr and Mina? Who are the other two swans with them?"

"They are their cygnets." And then Little One clarified for Charlie. "Their babies. They had two this year. They will be flying south soon, now that it is getting colder and the babies have their flight feathers."

While the boy spoke, the ducks began waddling towards the lake and then stepped into the water, swimming out and along the bank. Charlie commented drolly, "Is my conversation not stimulating enough for them?"

"Charlie, that's not …" The boy began, and then his eyes narrowed in mock anger as he understood Charlie was joking. "They are heading to the beach to see if anyone there will feed them."

"So, besides annoying the water fowl, what else have you been doing while I was asleep? How long was I sleeping anyways?" The man questioned, not expecting a confirmation, since neither of them wore a watch.

The boy gave a shrug, before remarking, "I don't know, long enough for me to explore almost everywhere. I even played Frisbee with a family, and their dog, Sam. Sam is very good at catching a Frisbee. But they left for lunch a while ago."

Charlie smirked to himself; trust the boy to know the name of the dog, but not those of the family or children. And then he corrected himself, knowing the boy he probably did know the family's names, he just felt they were not important. Looking around, Charlie judged a few hours had passed and he confirmed it with his internal clock. Little One's comment about lunch, made Charlie aware that he had not planned this excursion very well. He had brought nothing to eat or drink. Checking his pockets he found he had some money in them.

Glancing towards the boy the man asked, "Are you hungry Little One? I can get us something to eat from one of the vendors at the amusement park, if you would like."

Little One eye's shone with delight. "Yeah! Could we have a sausage in a bun?"

"I will see what I can do. I cannot guarantee what I will find though. You stay here and finish up with them, while I go and see what I can find." Charlie said as he nodded towards the swans.

Charlie cut across the grass before intersecting with the path leading up the bank towards the amusement park. He glanced back once and saw Little One walking towards the lake, the swans trailing behind. Once in the Park, Charlie located a vendor who was selling sausages and while waiting in line he began to shift about apprehensively. Looking around Charlie tried to pinpoint what the problem was. As he stepped up to place his order, it occurred to him what was wrong. The boy was not around. Since Little One's near abduction, Charlie had become so accustomed to the boy always being nearby and now he was not in sight. In fact ...

Oh Shirra! He had left the boy alone, in a park he knew was the hub for Huan Gang activity.

Forgetting his order, and with fear gripping his heart, Charlie raced in the direction he had come. Halfway there, the man heard a wave of sound. Charlie increasing his pace as he realized it was not just human voices he was hearing but animal calls as well. A dozen strides further and everything became still. Silent. And Charlie froze, heart cold, as he became aware that somehow the mental connection he had created with Little One had been cut.

Stomach churning and muscles trembling with reaction, Charlie took a few slow steps until he could see over the rise and down the slope to where he had last seen Little One. There he saw a few people mingling around, looking up the path towards the gates, but he could see no sign of the boy. Charlie changed his direction, hoping he was making the correct decision, and raced across the grass to the gates, where there was a large crowd of people.

Stopping behind the crowd, he fearfully asked, "What happened?"

"The police say they found a young runaway," One man responded. "They had a real struggle getting him into their car. The boy kept yelling and fighting them."

Relief made Charlie stagger backwards. It was the police that had Little One, not the Huan's. And then relief turned to grief as Charlie realized, "Little One would be returned to his father and he would no longer be able to see or help the boy."

Closing his eyes from the sorrow and emotional pain, Charlie leaned against the iron rod fence and wondered how someone as small as Little One could leave such an large hole inside?

While he was dwelling on this, he unintentionally picked up a conversation between two policemen, who were standing on the street, the other side of the fence.

"That kid bit me. What do you think, could I sue his father?"

"Hey, it is part of the job, right?"

"I just hope he doesn't have any diseases, after running the streets for so long."

"I doubt it. Who ever this Charlie was, seemed to have looked after the child. The boy looked clean and fit. Beside that leather jacket you were wearing would have prevented the boy's teeth from getting through. Although it looks like you are going to have one nasty bruise though."

"The others are continuing to check the park for the abductor, right? This Charlie the boy was yelling for."

"Davos are you really sure the boy was abducted? I think you might be wrong. I don't think this Charlie could have been a member of the Huan gang, we've both seen the condition of the remains from the children that that gang have made disappear."

"Get with it Archie, a kid does not run away unless they have a reason. Did you ever have a chance to see the place that kid came from? It's a fucking mansion. You know who his father is, right? What reason could that kid have for running? He has everything. And if he doesn't I am sure all he has to do is ask "Daddy" and it is thrown at him." Davos finished, his voiced laced with sarcasm.

"I guess you are right." Archie sounded uncomfortable with that assessment though.

"That's what makes me so certain he was abducted. Besides his father could think of no reason for the boy to runaway. What I can't understand, is why the Huan Gang would take the boy and not ransom him, or do something worse with the body. Why keep him and do nothing. Usually they discard the body in the first month after they take the parts they need or they enslave the child and ship them to where they would be most useful. The kid's father could probably get his hands on millions if the Huan's had even tried ransoming him. That is why I want to talk to this Charlie. See what he was thinking. Maybe he was keeping the boy for himself."

A car door opened and then slammed closed.

"You heading back to the precinct?" Archie asked

"Yeah, as much as I would love to stay and look for the abductor, I have to write this up. Hopefully when I am done the paperwork you guys will have brought Charlie in, so I can help interrogate him."

Then the car drove off.

Numb and dazed, Charlie walked from the park and back to his shelter, where he lay down. It was long after midnight when Charlie became aware of where he was. Eyes closed he listened; only to realize he wasn't going to hear what he was listening for, the boy's gentle breathing. Hot tears prickled behind his lids.

Opening his eyes and roughly turning over Charlie spotted a black a white cat curled on Little One's blanket. "I lost him Monskootch. I lost him." Charlie whispered to the animal and then felt a tear glide down his cheek and drop onto his blanket. "I knew I was going to have to give him back. I just didn't think it would be this hard, or that it would happen this way; not without saying good bye!"

Charlie flopped onto his back and heard Davos, the Police Officer's words echo in his mind, "Akiddoesnotrunawayunlesstheyhaveareason."

"I never discovered your reason Little One. You never told me why you ran away." Charlie whispered to himself and then grit his teeth, trying to contain the tears. For the next few hours the Policeman's words rang in Charlie's ears over and over, tormenting him.

And for the first time since meeting Little One, while listening to the silence instead of the quiet movements from a sleeping boy, or being constantly brushed by the boy's uncontrolled emotions, Charlie heard to his own rational thoughts, and was able to pull together and connect all the fears Little One had haltingly whispered to him.

Only now, did it make painful sense why the boy had runaway.

"I don't ever want to have any more pets. He said he would kill them."

"I'll do anything you want. Just don't hurt him."

"HE said I couldn't love her. That I'm not good enough to love her."

"Do you think his grandfather hurts him?"

"What if his father was too busy to listen, or thought he made up stories?"

Charlie groaned. "Was it your Father or your Grandfather, Little One? Who is it that was hurting you? I did not see bruises when you arrived, but it took you long enough to stop flinching when you were touched. Maybe the marks had faded by the time I was able to get close enough."

Suddenly Charlie sat up and yelled, "SHIRRA! What did I do?" Before wailing, "What did I do? I promised I would protect you and I sent you back to him. I should have taken you away from here, away from this city. I should have …"

The man dropped his head into his hands, elbows resting on his knees and moaned aloud, "Little One, I am so sorry."

Charlie sat like that for a long time, his mind racing over other things Little One had said and contemplating if there was anything he could do, any little clue that could help him find the boy.

Finally, as it was getting light, Charlie pushed himself to his feet and left his shelter, grabbing his coat as he went. When he got to the grassy edge of the pavement he looked around and then turned back to look at his shelter, closing his eyes briefly he whispered, "Shirra! I miss the boy's quiet footsteps."

The sun was just rising when Charlie walked into Ling Chu's herbal store.

Ling looked up and exclaimed, "Master Charlie you do not look well. Are you Ill? Is something wrong? Can I help?"

"I do not think you can, Ling. The police found Little One yesterday, by now he should be home. Only, … last night, I remembered some things he said, or tried to avoid saying and … I think he may have been abused. I think that was why he left home and why he did not want to return. But, I cannot decide if it was his Father or his Grandfather who was hurting him. I have to find him. I need to be certain he is going to be okay. If I am right … I need to get him away from there."

"But Master Charlie, you do not know where to begin to look for him, any more than we knew where to return him when he appeared."

Charlie shook his head, "No, I do not. A mansion somewhere is all I know. That and that his father is a Chief who has big Christmas Parties." Charlie gave a wan smile at this, and then finished with, "Please let everyone know what has happened. I will check back with you when I can."

With that Charlie left the shop and began his search.

Chapter 18 - October - Mark's View by Clouddancer

Smiling, Mark watched Charlie walk towards the amusement park to purchase food for them.

As the man neared the top of the rise, the female swan Mina captured the boy's attention by honking, "Where is he going, Balamir?"

Balamir was the name all animals called him. When he was much younger, Mark had questioned the name and his friends had explained that it was a title he deserved. They explained that a good translation was: One who Speaks to All, or Animal Speaker. They called him Balamir because he could understand and speak each animal's language.

"He is going to get us some lunch." The blue-eyed boy responded before he rose and moved towards the lake, the four swans following.

"Ohhh, do you think he will bring back some French Fries? I have tasted them and they are especially nice."

"Mina! Human food is not good for you. Leave it for the ducks, although they shouldn't eating it either, you will be sick and not be able to fly south with Tandr and your young."

While he spoke the two cygnets had waded into the water and Mark sat down on the bank. He plucked some reed grass and threw it towards the water for the cygnets to catch and eat. Mina joined them in this make shift game of catch.

"Balamir, do you know you are being watched?" Asked Tandr, the male swan who had remained on the bank with the boy.

Mark quickly looked around, "What? Where?"

"Over there, the man with the smoking stick and blue shirt. He is talking into one of those box things."

"Cigarette and he is talking on a phone." Mark corrected off handedly, as his eyes roamed around and spotted the man the swan was pointing out. The man began to advance and Mark felt a tremor of fear as he remembered the incident in the Spring, when the men from the Huan Gang had nearly caught him.

"Charlie!" He whispered nervously. And then Mark stood and backed away, trying to remember everything Charlie had taught in his self-defense classes. Move away if you think you are in danger. Don't stay by yourself, move to a place where there are more people. Safe people.

A quick look around, and Mark saw a cluster of adults with some children with them. They were safe. Adults with children were always safe – weren't they? The group he had spotted were moving away following the main path. Looking back, to confirm the man was still approaching, Mark took off at a run, hoping he would be able to catch the crowd.

Mark neared the group just as they were cresting the hill, when suddenly a pair of black-sleeved arms wrapped around Mark's chest, holding his arms tight to his chest, and a voice said, "I've got you! You are not getting away from us this time."

Full panic set in and Mark began to struggle and fight, just as Charlie had taught him, unaware that his panicked mind was reaching out to every animal in the area and they were now calling in agitation, as they moved towards the boy's location offering protection.

Mark screamed to the group in front of him, "HELP ME! He's not my father! Help me! Charlie, help me!" And saw a few of the adults stop and turn to face him.

Then, a few other lessons from Charlie flashed through Mark's fear filled mind. He stomped on the man's foot, only to realize the man was wearing protective footwear, he was not going to be able to hurt his assailant that way. Twisting and winning an arm free, the boy elbowed the man; this time to find the aggressor's chest and stomach appeared to be protected by something more than the jacket he wore.

While he fought to break free, Mark absently noticed that the first man he had seen, the one with the cigarette, had approached the group of people and had begun talking to them.

The assailant holding Mark, hefted the struggling boy and took two staggered steps towards the exit before stopping.

"NOOOOO! Charlie! Help me!" The boy screamed, before turning slightly and biting his attacker's arm, only to find he got more black leather in his mouth then the arm underneath.

The shock of the bite made the man curse, "God dammit boy! Stop struggling and come with me. You don't need to worry any more. We will get you away from here, to somewhere you are safe. You don't need to fight any more."

While he spoke, the man raised a hand and boxed Mark on the side of the head, stunning the boy, and then used his other hand to expertly bend Mark's arm behind his back and pull the wrist up. With Mark in this controlled position, the assailant was able to push and propel the boy to the exit and towards a car sitting in front of the gates. Marching Mark to the car, the attacker aggressively pulled open the door and forced the boy in before slamming the door closed again.

As he was forcefully thrown in the car, Mark's mind tried to make sense of the jumble of gold letters printed on the car's door … POLI … Police. Then his head hit the opposite side of the car with a thump, and Mark felt darkness close in as his eyes fluttered closed.

Unconsciousness stilled Mark's mind, and the animals that Mark had mentally contacted fell into a stunned silence before murmuring confused vocalizations and returning to their normal behaviour.

The thud of a door closing woke Mark. He had only been unconscious for a few seconds, but he still needed to reorient himself when he opened his eyes. A Police car … his mind repeated again, and the boy gave a quiet sob of relief, this was not the Huan gang that he had first feared, he was safe. From that situation anyways.

"I am going to take you down to the station boy, where we can contact your father." Said a quiet, benevolent voice from the front of the car.

"No! I need to …" Mark knew he should let Charlie know what had happened to him. Sitting up he tried the door, to see if it would open, and was not surprised when it didn't.

"You need to what? Don't worry; you are safe now. No one can get you. You do not need to be concerned that Charlie will keep you from your family any more. We will get you to the precinct and then home, where you will be safe with your father. Charlie wont be able to hurt you any longer." The officer relayed in a relaxed, easy-going tone.

At the man's mild tone, Mark turned to look at the back of the man's head. Then as the car pulled away, Mark turned to gaze out the back window and scanned the crowd of people standing by the gates, wishing he could see Charlie one more time. Hoping that the man would understand what had happened and know where he had gone.

Chapter 19 - October - Phoenix Foundation by Clouddancer

Paula Conflitti, Administrative Assistant to Chief John Anderson was working at her desk when the phone rang. Knowing her boss was in meetings for the day she wondered who would be calling.

As she was picking up the phone the President of the Phoenix Foundation, Samuel Anderson, stepped into the reception room located outside of the company's head officers rooms. Hearing his son's assistant gasp he paused to listen in on the conversation.

"He is in meetings all day, but I will see if he can be disturbed."

"What..?" Paula yelped, listened to the person speaking a moment longer and then responded, "I am sure he will be overjoyed to hear this, I will let him know right away. Please hold the line."

What is it Paula?" Samuel asked as Ms. Conflitti put the caller on hold and was pushing her chair back so she could stand.

"It is a Captain Parks from 51st Division. They have found Mark and would like to speak with his father."

"I will take the call. My son is not to be disturbed; the meeting he is in is a very important conference. I will deal with this."

Samuel then snatched the receiver from Paula's desk and placed it to his ear as Paula pressed the button to release the call.

"This is Samuel Anderson, my son is in a conference at the moment and cannot get to the phone. How may I help, you?"

"Well Sir," A female voice on the other end began. "John Anderson's son, your grandson I suppose, was located a short time ago and has been brought to the Station. We are hoping Mark's father will come to the Station and sit with him while we question him. Then Mark will be able to return home."

"As I have said my son is in the middle of a very important meeting and will not have the time to get to the station, but I am sure we can come to some arrangement for the boy's return."

"Ahhh … Yes Sir." Captain Parks began hesitantly. "I am sure Mark could be brought home in a squad car, but we need to question him about what happened. You do understand, we need to find out why Mark never returned home or why he never contacted you."

"Are you sure you need to go to all the trouble?"

"Sir, IF Mark was abducted, then we need to get a description of the person who did it."

"Yes, yes do what you need." Samuel responded in irritation. "And, I give you authorization to question the boy without a parent present, if that is what you require to finish this."

"Thank you sir, that will have to do. The questioning will probably take a few hours. When we are finished, should I have someone take the boy home? Or should I expect someone to meet him at the station?"

Exasperated Samuel finally growled, "No, No. There will be no one home to meet him. And as I have already explained to you everyone is too busy to make it to the station. You had better have him brought here to the Foundation."

"Very well, Sir. In a few hours then."

"Thank you. Oh and thank you for putting in all the resources you did to find the boy. It will be great to see his face back here again." Samuel said in a conciliatory manner, realizing he might need the services of the Police Department again and it was always best to keep them on friendly grounds.

Samuel Anderson then returned the receiver to Paula and told her, "Please don't disturb my son on this matter, I will ensure he gets the news when he is available. He does not need to be distracted by these events at this moment, since the boy will not be returning for a few hours."

He then turned and left to attend to the job he had originally stepped from his office to complete.

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Chapter 20 - October - Police Station by Clouddancer

Several hours later, at the Police Station, different police personnel had been in to talk to Mark and assessing his physical state. Now it was George Wong, the Police Psychiatrist, turn to evaluate Mark's mental state. He had been questioning the boy for about 10 minutes. Finally he was getting down to what Detective Davos Walsh considered the useful part of the questioning.

"Mark, I gather you wont give the Detectives any information about Charlie. Why are you protecting him?" George asked quietly. "You must know we can keep you safe. You don't need to worry about him taking you away."

Once more Mark felt his anger rise, it seemed to have be doing that a lot over the last few hours, "I already told him." Mark jerked his chin towards Detective Walsh, who was sitting along side Wong, "He did not TAKE me. Charlie FOUND me. I wanted to stay with him, he was helping me."

The boy's statement caused Detective Walsh to slam the palm of his hand on the tabletop and he snapped, "You're lying boy. You're protecting him. He told you to say that, didn't he. And he made you believe that what he was doing was okay. There are all sorts of studies on these kinds of situations."

His feelings hurt, Mark stiffened and yelled. "I am not lying! I don't lie!"

Walsh gave a sarcastic snort and said, "Everyone lies, boy."

Dr. Wong watched as Mark had bristled with anger after Walsh spoke, and the psychiatrist knew that intimidation was not the way to get the answers they needed. Wong turned towards the man beside him and got his attention.

"Detective, you will not get the answers you are looking for from the boy if you keep up that attitude. You are only antagonizing him when you say he is lying."

In the silence followed, Mark clenched his jaw and glared at Walsh.

Then pointing out of the room Wong suggested, "Why don't you go and get us something to drink? Would you like that Mark? A soda perhaps? You have been in here for a while now, you must be thirsty and maybe hungry."

Mark turned a patronizing look on Dr. Wong and then rolled his eyes before turning away. Davos shifted and bristled at the boy's actions. Detective Walsh found dealing with this defiant child worse than dealing with hardened criminals.

Following the psychiatrist's advice, Detective Walsh pushed back his chair and stomped from the room. After the door swung closed, the amused psychiatrist spoke to the boy sitting across from him. He had been able to interpret the boy's actions of the last few moments even if the detective was not willing too understand them.

"Now that the detective is gone, perhaps we can have a more civil conversation. What do you say?"

When he only got a shrug from the boy Dr. Wong continued with, "Mark if you could tell us a little about Charlie or where he might be, then we could go and talk to him. It is our job to keep children safe, and we can't do that if you don't help us."

Mark narrowed his eyes and shook his head, indicating the negative, before he allowed a heavy sigh to escape. He still had not turned to look at the doctor.

"You don't listen very well?" Mark said sullenly.

"Mark we are trying to protect you."

Mark turned and glared at the Doctor before announcing vehemently, "I don't need protecting. Not from Charlie, anyways."

Surprised by the response, Wong questioned, "Whom do you need protection from?"

Once more Mark quickly turned away from the psychiatrist and gave another shrug. Then, knowing he may have just revealed too much, the boy pulled his legs up, resting his heels on the edge of the chair he was sitting on, and protectively wrapped his arms around his legs.

Dr. Wong knew the action as one of defense, so he decided to stop that line of questioning and inquire about another subject, hoping it would help Mark relax and begin responding again.

"The paramedics tell me you have a bump on your head. How did you get it?"

"When the Detective threw me in the car, I hit my head on the door."

"Detective Walsh said you were fighting him. That is why he had to be a little rough."

Mark looked up and glared at the doctor before stating sarcastically, "Well maybe if he had told me he was a Police Officer I would not have fought him. I thought he was one of the Huan Gang again."

Shocked, Wong blinked, and then asked "Again? You've had an encounter with the Huan Gang? How did you get away from them?"

"Yeah. They tried to take me a couple of months ago. He said he liked my eyes … but Charlie got rid of them while I ran to the safe spot."

"And that means Charlie is not a member of the Huan Gang?"

When Mark nodded his head in response the Psychiatrist next asked, "Is that how Charlie made sure you would not leave him? By telling you he would "get rid" of you, like he did those men? Or did he say that he would give you to them, if you tried to leave him?"

Mark gave the man a piercing stare before shaking his head, rolling his eyes and giving a long, suffering sigh.

Getting the hint Wong smiled indulgently before saying "Okay I understand. Charlie didn't kidnap you, he is your friend. But why should I believe your story? Why should I believe that you CHOSE to run away, and CHOSE to live on the streets with Charlie for the last year and a half? What made you run away in the first place?"

Mark dropped his head, resting his cheek on his knee, which were still pulled up to his chest. From this position the boy studied the doctor and when the man did not ask any further questions, Mark turned his head away and closed his eyes. George Wong sat and waited until he eventually heard the boy whisper, "You wont believe me."

"Why wouldn't I believe you, Mark? If it is true, I will believe you."

"You may, for a bit. But then HE will come and you will change your mind. HE always makes people do that. I … can't … I've tried …"

A little voice whispered in Mark's mind, "HE makes everyone stop believing in me. HE tells them I lie." But he could not voice this. He had promised to never tell anyone. And the few times he had let it slip ... Mark shuddered internally at the thought and could feel tears burning behind his lids, but he was not going to let them form. He was stronger than that. He had managed before he ran away. He could do it again. He would have to. Besides, Charlie thought he was strong, so he would have to be.

There was a knock on the door while Mark was fighting with his tears, and Detective Walsh opened the door and handed a can of soda to Wong, who took it and set it on the table in front of Mark. When Mark was finally able to push the tears aside, he took a breath and asked, "When is my father coming?"

"I'm not sure. I heard someone spoke with him and he granted permission for us to speak with you. Do you want me to ask when he will be arriving?"

After Mark nodded, Wong left the room allowing the door to swing behind him but it did not latch tight. As Mark sat vacantly staring at the soda can, he picked up snatches of conversation coming from the other side of the door.

" … busy with meetings … "

" … boy'shidingsomethingnotsure …" From the psychiatrist.

" …. Father's VP … he can hire a private professional to talk to the boy ..."

Eventually, Dr. Wong returned with news Mark had already figured out, "I'm sorry Mark. The person we contacted at the Phoenix Foundation says your father has been busy with meetings all afternoon and will not be coming to get you. They asked if we could take you to the Foundation when we are through. Your father will meet you there."

Mark nodded his head, but inside he had to fight with his emotions while he was thinking, "You should have known, he's always too busy. You've never been important enough." And then a tiny voice began to whisper in his mind, "Don't let it hurt. Pretend you don't feel. You don't get hurt if you can't feel."

And then, just for an instant, Mark imagined Charlie's arms wrapped around him, like had happened at Christmas, and Mark knew he was going to cry. Instead he bit the inside of his cheek until the pain erased the tears and he began an internal chant, one that had stopped sometime after Charlie had found him, "You have no emotions. You feel nothing. Don't let anyone in and you can't be hurt."

This intonation was interrupted momentarily when Dr. Wong asked, "Mark, I would feel better if we could continue talking before the detectives returned you to your father. Would that be okay?"

Mark gave a shrug, and then tuned out as the doctors voice droned on. Instead he remembered the few times when the Chief and he had had fun together. Once they had gone on a trip, another time they had built a model airplane and another they had told jokes while sitting by the pool. And then Mom had become sick and those times had disappeared and HE was around more and more often.

Mark had hoped that maybe if he could become better … If he could change in some way, the Chief would start doing some of those things with him again. Maybe …

A query from Dr. Wong stopped Mark's line of thought, "Would you like to go home now?"

"You don't need to ask me anything else."

"I have been talking to you for 15 minutes and it appears you are not listening to me. I doubt you are going to provide any more information today. So, no! I don't need to talk with you any more. Although I will be passing on a recommendation to your father, that he find someone for you to talk to about your experience this past year. You need to talk to someone about anything that is bothering you."

Ten minutes later Mark was being escorted by a pair of Police Officers to their vehicle, when Detective Walsh stepped up and began, "Kid, I'm sorry I was so forceful with you when I grabbed you at the park. But you were not making it easy for me."

Looking back at the man Mark said, "Why didn't you tell me who you were? Like they do on TV."

"Kid, you need to learn, there's a big difference between what you see on TV and what happens in real life."

Mark gave the Detective a penetrating look before saying, "It would have made things a lot easier if you had told me who you were. Then you probably would not have needed to chase me."

Then as Mark followed the two officers he noticed a woman with Captain stripes walk up to Detective Walsh and heard her mutter, "The little Tiger is correct Walsh. Next time identify yourself before chasing a suspect."

After a nod the detective questioned, "Why did you call him a Tiger, Captain?"

As Mark left the room the woman responded, "I thought it was you who described him as such when were talking?"

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Chapter 21 - Anderson's View by Clouddancer
Author's Notes:
Thank you TJ for Beta reading this story for me.  And thank you for everyone who has waited patiently for me to complete this story.

John Anderson had just completed a long and arduous meeting, and after walking his guests to the elevators he returned to the boardroom, leaving the door open. While gathering the files and paperwork that remained in the room, he overheard his personal assistant announcing, "Stephenson, from security, just called, the police have arrived, should I inform your son?"

"No, don't bother. I will get the boy myself." John heard his father respond.

His thoughts still running over the results of the meeting, it took him a few moments to take into account what had been said. Police? … Boy? With his face pulled into a mystified frown John stepped to the door and queried, "Paula what was that about? The police are downstairs? Why?"

"I am sorry Sir. I didn't know you could hear, your father was in the room or I would have informed you. It's about your son." Paula declared and then she stammered as she saw pain etch itself on John's face, "I … Sir, I'm sorry. I had assumed your father had told you." And then she continued in a rush, "The police found Mark early this afternoon. Security just called to say he is downstairs with them."

Upon hearing this, John's legs weakened and his knees gave way, lurching him sideways against a wall where he slid down to sit in a heap on the floor. Then John heard a shout, sounding like it was coming down a tunnel, "Sir … Sir, are you okay? Cindy, get him a glass of water!" Paula directed to his father's assistant, before repeating, in what seemed a much cleared and closer voice, "Are you alright? Can you stand, Sir?"

John nodded his head in assent before opening his eyes and whispering, "They found Mark? The police have had him all day. And no one could be bothered to let me know?"

Paula softly assured "Yes Sir. I am sorry. I thought you had been told. I didn't know you hadn't. Or me telling you would affect you in this way. When the police called earlier, your father told me he would notify you. He said that your meeting was more important than you knowing Mark had been found."

John's eyes flashed and he snapped vehemently, "Nothing has been more important to me than finding Mark, do you understand?"

"Again, all I can say is I am sorry. I wont let something like this happen again. I should have known to get a message to you with this information. I am YOUR assistant, not your father's. I should have reported to you."

Nodding and using Paula's hand for support, John pushed himself to standing. When he was on his feet he looked at his assistant and whispered, "Mark's downstairs?" and was shocked by the longing he heard in his voice.

This time it was Paula who nodded before responding, "Security Agent, Peter Stephenson called to say Mark was at his station with two officers. They should be here shortly."

And as they heard the ding signaling the arrival of an elevator, they both turned and looked out the receiving room door.

PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF PF

As the Police car pulled into the curved parking area in front of the Phoenix Foundation, Mark took a deep breath and looked warily at the structure. After parking their vehicle, the officers exited, one of them opening the rear door to let Mark out. The two officers continued their conversation as they escorted Mark into the building and past a group of men, dressed in business suits, who were exiting the building. When they reached the security desk in the main foyer, they waited for a guard to call the administrative offices.

"Someone will be down shortly." Stephenson said to the Officers, as he hung up the phone and then added, "You are welcome to leave Mark here, I will ensure he gets to his father."

"I'm sorry, we can't. We were given instructions to hand this letter directly to his caregiver." One of the Officers stated while displaying an envelope, and then returned it to his jacket pocket.

"Very well." Stephenson declared and then turning to Mark greeting him by saying, "I am happy to be the first to welcome you back, young sir. You are looking well."

Mark gave a smile and a slight nod of his head, in recognition of the man's words, "Thank you, Peter. I …"

Mark would have continued, but the chime from the elevators in the unusually quiet lobby, interrupted him and, wanting to see if it was someone to escort him upstairs, Mark turned. As the door opened and the man stepped out, Mark stiffened, and briefly closed his eyes.

"No, not HIM." Mark thought to himself, and then mentally reminded himself, "You have no emotions. You're not afraid. HE hurts you worse, when he knows you are afraid. You feel nothing and then he can't hurt you."

Samuel Anderson stepped out of the elevator and, wearing a false smile of greeting, he walked towards the quartet at the security desk. But his dark, cold eyes were focused on Mark.

"Well boy, we are glad you've returned." He said, hoping the three listening would not hear his insincerity. "I case you didn't realise, while you were away, many resources were used to find you. I hope you appreciate the effort."

The man reached out and took Mark by the shoulders, pulling him against his body in the pretense of a hug and continued his charade by stating, "You appear to have grown."

Pushing Mark back a step, Samuel turned the boy to face the two Officers and then, gripping each of Mark's shoulders, the man focused on the men and said "My son, John, and I are very appreciative of everything you have done to find the boy. I had almost given up hope of his safe return. Please let Captain Parks know how much we appreciate you returning him to us."

"Thank you, Sir. We were only doing our jobs, but we will ensure your kind words are passed along to our Captain." One of the officers replied, giving a bob of the head, before continuing, "She asked us to relay some information to you. First, Mark did not provide us with any information about his abductor. Instead he is insisting that he ran away. Dr. Wong, our department Psychiatrist, has spent some time speaking with the boy, to assess his state of mind, and he has written a letter recommending continued sessions with a mental health professional. All the information is here."

The Officer pulled the sealed envelope out of a pocket and handed it to Samuel before finishing with, "Dr. Wong insisted he would be checking on the boy in a month, to see if his recommendations have been followed and to discover if the lad has remembered anything new."

Samuel Anderson gave a grunt, and while sliding the envelope into the inner pocket of his suit he commented, "I would think the doctor would be too busy to have the time to concern himself with one silly boy. Please inform him he does not need to concern himself with the matter. We do have a Psychiatrist on staff, here in the building, and the boy can visit with her. We will ensure she knows to contact your Doctor to keep him updated. Now, if there is nothing more, I will let you return to your duties. Once again gentlemen, I thank you for your time."

As the Officers were turning to leave, Samuel tightened his grip on Mark's shoulders and gave a slight shake, "I think you should thank the men for all their effort, boy?"

Mark gave a stiff nod and responded woodenly, "Thank you for returning me to the Foundation. I am sorry your department had to waste so much time."

Wearing a feigned smile, Samuel Anderson watched as the Officers left the building, his fingers slowly curling and digging deeper into Mark's shoulders. Finally, as the Officers departed the lobby and walked down the exterior stairs to their waiting vehicle, Samuel turned, said a few parting words to Stephenson, and marched Mark to the elevators, where he punched the button to go up.

After the two stepped into the lift and as the doors were closing Samuel slammed Mark against the back of the elevator and snarled, "So you have returned have you, Mongrel? Don't think for a moment, that your running away has changed anything between us. You are still worthless, and as soon as my son realizes that, I will have you as mine, to use, as one of your status deserves to be treated. Don't ever forget that. I hope I will not have to remind you of the rules I demand you follow."

"No, Sir!" Automatically dropped from Mark's mouth, while trying to keep the quiver from his voice.

As the elevator jerked to a halt Samuel reached out to grab Mark's shoulder, but fear made the boy pull away. Realizing what he had done, Mark glanced at the man, where he saw satisfaction and victory gleaming in his eyes. HE knew Mark was afraid.

"Just wait until I can get you to MY home, you will regret this. You will pay for distracting my son from his work." The man snarled, before the door opened. And then, rearranging his features to display a pleasant smile, Samuel pushed the boy out and across the hall into the reception area of the administrative offices where he announced, "Look who has returned."

John Anderson stared at the boy for a moment, before uttering in a ragged whisper, "Mark?"

The Chief then closed the gap between himself and Mark, before dropping to his knees in front of the boy. John tentatively reached out and touched Mark's arm, reassuring himself that the boy was really there. And when he was certain it really was his son standing in front of him, tears rolled down his cheeks as he pulled Mark to his chest and wrapped his arms around the boy in a tight hug. "Oh God! It's really you! You're really here! You're back!"

John suddenly pushed Mark away, mostly to look at him but also wanting to yell at him. He wanted to tell Mark how it had hurt him when he had left. He wanted to ask Mark why? But seeing the boy's face, the Chief became overwhelmed with emotions, so he ended up pulling his son against himself and wrapping him in a hug, before he finally whispered, "Don't EVER do that again. Promise me you will never run away again."

Anderson was not aware that his father had moved about the room and was now standing a few feet behind him, but Mark's eyes had tracked Samuel as he moved. What John did notice was Mark had not relax; the boy remained rigid. The Chief also did not see, like Mark's did, Samuel's eyes narrow as John continued to hug his son.

As the Chief was about to question Mark about his stiffness, Samuel Anderson cleared his throat and spoke, "John I don't think making a scene out here is a good idea, everyone can see. Nor is holding the boy so close. You do not know what bugs or diseases he picked up while he was living on the streets."

"Father, let it be, bugs can be gotten rid of."

Leaning back John examined Mark, running hands up the boy's arms, brushing his cheek and then hair before saying, "Besides he looks good to me." And then he directed to Mark. "You have grown. About 4 inches I would say. Whatever you were doing this past year, you have done a lot of growing."

"You should get him over to medical to make sure he is … clean. Oh, and by the way John," Samuel waited until his son pulled his eyes from Mark to look at him, "The Police are recommending you have him seen by a Psychiatrist. Here is a letter from their offices. I will leave you to deal with it."

Samuel stood holding the letter, waiting for John to rise to his feet and step towards him. After handing the letter to his son, the man turned and walked into his office where he quietly, but forcefully, closed the door behind him.

The Chief took the letter, and while folding it and placing it in his suit pocket, turned back to Mark. As he reached out to brush a lock of hair from his son's forehead, John absently noticed that Mark looked more relaxed, his eyes appearing less anxious. He then whispered, "Welcome back Mark. You do look healthy, but I think you need a haircut."

Then it crossed John's mind to wonder if Mark's apprehension was because John himself had not gone to pick his son up from the Police Station. So bending to kneel again he explained, "I am sorry I did not pick you up from the Station. Your Grandfather did not tell me you had been found. I only knew about it a few moments before you arrived."

As he spoke, the Chief saw tension ripple across Mark's face at the mentioned of his father, and he made a mental note to speak with Samuel about the matter. John then threw his arms around his son once more and squeezed hard, observing that this time Mark returned his hug.

They remained that way until the boy began to struggle and said, "I can't breathe."

Laughing, John released Mark and knelt back only to reached out to rumple Mark's hair, making his son pull away in pretend anger. At the reaction the Chief lightheartedly commented, "You are going to have to get used to me doing this, son. I have missed having you around. Until I get used to you physically being here, and not thinking you are some figment of my imagination, I will be wanting to touch you a lot."

And true to his word Chief Anderson did keep Mark close to hand. Throughout Mark's examination in the Medical Wing, and again during their ride home to the mansion, John kept reaching out to reassure himself that the boy's presence was not an illusion. As they were driven home, John Anderson was content to let Mark leaned against his body and doze. Tomorrow would be soon enough to question the boy on why he had run away.

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