Sunday, August 13, 2017
Phoenix from the Ashes Part 7
Written by Snarks, PJ and Rosemarie
One by one, as the darkness grew, the other men gave up the search and headed back home, calling to the others that they'd had no luck.
James sighed and called Dusty, explaining the situation and asking him to be on the alert and to spread the word about the missing boy.
The sheriff shook his head, glad that James couldn't see his face at that moment. Anyone gone for nearly two days in the cold was either long gone or... he didn't like to think of the alternative. He agreed to put out a BOLO and wished the resort owner luck.
When the twins didn't return home immediately, Shorty began to get worried and called them.
"Don't worry, Shorty. We're fine and on our way home now. The horses are fine too. We made sure to rest and feed them along the way."
The veterinarian sighed in relief. All he needed was to have to launch a search to find two more lost boys. "Alright then guys, just go carefully and get home as soon as possible."
"Ok, Shorty," Jarrod said with a small smile. He was still worried about Phoenix, as he knew Shorty and the others were, but he couldn't help but to feel the warmth of the big vet's care and consideration even in a time of crisis. "We'll be home soon."
"Be careful," Shorty said again. "See you soon."
"C'mon, Jakie-pie. Shorty says to head in. James put out the word to the Sheriff... there's not much else we can do right now."
"Don't call me Jakie-pie," the younger twin groused at his brother, as he turned his horse around to head back to the resort.
"Whatever you say, Jakie-poo," Jarrod teased.
"Cut it ou...," Jake began. His eyes widened and he stood up in the stirrups, "Hey, Jare! Check that out!"
Jarrod looked in the direction that his brother was pointing, not sure what he was looking at until he saw a fine stream of smoke rising into the air. The two brothers looked at each other and then nudged their horses into motion toward the smoke.
Inside a large drainage tunnel, they found their Phoenix. He'd made a little nest of dead leaves and fir branches, and he'd had the sense to build a fire in the opening to keep himself warm. Despite that he was still shivering and his lips were tinted blue.
He saw the twins and his tired looking eyes opened wide. He drew back into the tunnel but there was nowhere to go as the other side was blocked by a large metal grate and more branches he'd placed in an attempt to keep the drafts out.
Jarrod and Little Jake got off their horses. Jarrod removed a blanket from his saddle bag and the two of them approached the teen carefully. "Phoenix... c'mon man, you know us," Jare said softly as he held out the item. "You don't have to be afraid of us."
"I don't want to be sent back!" ‘Keen said, his eyes tearing up and his voice thick. "I can't be! Not when I'm so close to my eighteenth birthday and I can actually be free! You can't let them send me back, guys, please! I love it on the resort and I don't want to go back! You can't let them take me!"
"Hey," Little Jake said in a calming tone, "we're not gonna let them take you anywhere, hear me?" He relieved his brother of the blanket and wrapped it around the shivering boy. Joaquin automatically burrowed into it, feeling better immediately.
"What?" Jarrod said, astonished. "Jake..."
"No, Jare. And once you hear what I'm thinking you'll agree."
‘Keen relaxed slightly and waited to hear what Little Jake had to say. Jarrod raised his eyebrows in a way that was so reminiscent of Shorty that his little brother couldn't hold back a laugh.
"Just listen, ok?" he asked his older brother.
"I'm listening," Jarrod replied, his tone dubious.
"They've already checked the cabins on the outskirts of the property..."
"Hush and let me finish!" Little Jake demanded. "They've already checked them and ruled them out as a hiding place. All we have to do is keep him safe and sound for... how many more weeks til your birthday, Phoenix?"
"Three," the boy answered, hope in his eyes.
"For three more weeks, and then we can say we found him and bring him back."
"Do you know how much trouble we'd be in..." Jarrod began, astounded that his brother would even think of something like that.
"It's the truth though," Little Jake replied, "mostly. I mean, we did find him... we just don't have to tell anyone exactly when. And then he'll be safe."
"Jake, I don't think this is such a great idea. If you think Shorty or even James or Jeff won't catch on immediately that we lied to them... that we let them continue to worry about him for three more weeks..."
"It's just three weeks," Little Jake said adamantly. "We can still go out and 'look' for him, and then... well... we can say that he knew his birthday had come and gone and that he let us find him."
Jarrod shook his head. "No, Jake! Can you imagine how worried everyone is going to be for those three weeks? What if it were me missing for three weeks and you didn't know what happened to me?"
Before Little Jake had a chance to answer, Jarrod continued.
"If I'd been missing for three weeks and just came back from wherever without a word, would you just say, 'Oh, nice to see you,' and then go on about your merry way as if nothing had happened?"
"A week then!" Little Jake argued. "Just one week, until we can figure out what we can do. Please, Jare? One week."
"Please," ‘Keen said quietly. "One week. Please. If you guys can't think of some way to keep me out of the foster care program in that time.... well... maybe it won't be as bad as Ick always said it would be... and maybe..." I can find my brothers, he thought.
Jarrod sighed. "Phoenix, from what I understand you were about to tell all anyway. They were going to know everything about you, where you came from... everything. So, what's the difference if they sleuth it out or if you just come out and tell them?"
"When me and Mutt walked in, Heath said they were going to have to send me back," the boy said, panic rising in his voice.
"They might have had to anyway," Jarrod said quietly, "once you told them your story. I know that if there's any way to keep you here, James will find it. He's got a good friend who's a lawyer who takes care of resort matters, and I know he'll go to bat for you. You have to trust him, Phoenix. Besides, I know no one is in those cabins, so if anyone saw any smoke coming from that direction they'd head straight for it. Fires are rare in the winter here, but Con and Brian, our rangers, are always on the lookout, and would sound the alarm if they saw smoke. We do get the occasional squatter and have to chase them off, and you don't want to come face to face with Duke and Coral when they think the resort is in any sort of danger."
"One night then," Jake persisted. "One night in one of the cabins, until we can talk to James about this."
"You know that Shorty will have our hides if we tell them we found Phoenix and didn't bring him right back," Jarrod replied. "They're not going to care about our intentions, just that we didn't do what we were supposed to do."
"Jacob, stop and think, please." Jarrod told his brother firmly. "Phoenix, come on back to the resort with us. Everyone is worried sick about you."
‘Keen thought for a moment and then asked worriedly, "Will Shorty... do you think he'll... do to me what he does to you guys sometimes?"
"That's another thing we have to worry about," Jake said as though making a point. "If we give him one more day, we can talk to Shorty..."
The twins stopped and looked at their young friend.
"One night, please," ‘Keen said, a plea in his voice. "One night for you guys to talk to Shorty and James and the others, and... and if... they say they won't... you know... I'll come right back."
"Promise?" Jarrod asked, "Do you promise that you won't run away again? If we tell Shorty we found you and then you disappear again... he'll make sure we don't sit comfortably for a week."
"Will he really beat you that hard?" the boy asked, concerned.
"Shorty doesn't beat us. He spanks us... there's a huge difference. And no, he won't harm us. We might not be comfortable for a day or two, I was exaggerating when I said a week," Jarrod admitted. "But I still think that you coming right home with us is the best thing to do. Even one more night of not knowing where you are is going to cause them a lot of heartbreak and worry. I know you don't want that for them."
The boy sighed. "You're right. I don't want to do that to them. They've all been so good to me. I don't want to cause them any more worry than I already have. I'll go with you."
Jarrod smiled. "You made the right decision, Phoenix. Come on, let's break down this camp and put the fire out, then we can head home."
‘Keen looked glum as they did as Jarrod had suggested.
"Why do you look so unhappy?" Jare asked, care and concern in his face and voice.
"I don't know if I'm allowed to call the resort 'home', all things considered."
"You're as much a part of the resort as we are, Phoenix. You belong with us. Even if we have to cut through some red tape to get you back, we'll find a way to do it," Little Jake replied earnestly. "And like we said, the resort lawyer is a cutthroat kind of guy. If there's any way to keep you on the resort, he'll figure it out, and you'll be safe."
"And if he can't?"
"Try to stay positive," Jare said. "Be realistic, and prepare for any contingency, but in the meantime, just try to think positively."
"Fine. I'm positive I'm going to be sent back," Joaquín said bitterly.
Jarrod gave the youngster a gentle smack across the back of his head, causing ‘Keen to grin. "Watch much NCIS do you?" he asked with a small grin.
"One of our favorite shows," Jarrod replied.
"Gibbs rocks. I hear that in real life he's as big a Brat as the rest of us," Jacob said, grinning. "I wish I could meet Mark Harmon. He's just so... amazing."
"All that aside, we'd better get going," Jarrod said. "I know that if we don't check in soon Shorty's going to send out a search party for us, and that's going to be a disaster. Ready to go, Phoenix?"
The youngster nodded and shrugged, the best he could do under the circumstances.
They got up on the horses just in time as it began to snow lightly. 'Keen flipped up his hood and adjusted the blanket so that it covered his head, appreciating the extra warmth it provided.
Jarrod looked up at the sky. "Looks like it's going to be a long one. The sooner we get back and warm the better. I'll call Shorty and tell him to spread the word," Jarrod said, taking out his cell phone and making the promised call.
"Bring him straight to the infirmary," Shorty ordered. "I'll meet you there."
"Ok, Shorty, bye for now," Jarrod said, turning off his phone and tucking it back into his inside jacket pocket to keep it from getting more wet from the snow. He could feel Joaquín shivering behind him and stepped up the horse's pace just a little, mindful of the packed snow and ice beneath it.
Shorty called James and Jeff who both breathed sighs of relief before heading out to the infirmary themselves while Brody, who was grateful that it was snowing so there was little chance that he'd be disturbed while he was working, manned the office.
James called Heath who immediately put the blankets and a set of the young man's clothes in the dryer and started the warm cycle. He would keep them in there until the youngster was actually returned.
Jeff called Mutt who had been feeling guilty and depressed since losing the lad in the woods.
"I know those woods like the back of my hand," he'd said, angry with himself, "I just don't know how he got away from me without my being able to track him."
"He's small and wiry, and not likely to make many tracks on frozen ground," Jeff had assured him. "You did the best you could. I know you did, as does James, so there's no reason to feel badly."
Mutt hadn't been convinced until Jeff offered to help him relieve the guilt he was feeling.
Mutt had laughed, finally, and declined the offer.
The three boys returned forty-five minutes later and were treated to cocoa, which Heath had made sure would not be too hot and possibly burn the youngster's mouth or fingers.
‘Keen endured the physical, answering every question respectfully and promptly. He knew this was not the right time or situation for his usual attitude. Heath didn't lecture him at all during his exam, which he was grateful for. As soon as they were done, the doctor took the youth's clothes out of the dryer and gave him privacy to get changed. "Meet me in my office when you're done, alright Phoenix? We'll be waiting for you there." He looked deeply into the young man's frightened eyes. "Are you ready to do this now, Hon?" he asked kindly.
The teen swallowed hard but nodded and managed a small smile for Heath's sake. The older man smiled back and patted him on the shoulder before heading out.
All of the men fairly jumped up when Heath entered his office. He smiled and made a gesture for them to relax and sit back down. "He's in very good shape all things considered. He ate snow to keep hydrated, but it wasn't the most nutritious meal, so he's lost a little bit of weight. Luckily we've managed to bulk him up some while he's been with us so the weight loss isn't as bad as it could have been."
Before James could ask, Heath continued, "His fingers and toes are fine. No frost bite. He's a smart kid, building that fire and holing up like he did. He admitted that he'd gotten lost and couldn't even find his way back to the lodge."
"So, he stayed put and waited for someone to find him?"
"From what the twins said, he didn't want to come back. Apparently, the only part of the conversation he heard was me saying that we might have to send him back. That's when he panicked and ran."
Just then there was a timid knock at the door and a very guilty looking Joaquín slipped in.
Without a word, Shorty got up and strode quickly to the boy, gathering him in his strong arms and hugging him for all he was worth.
The youngster returned the hug with all the strength he could muster. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
"It's ok now, Hon," Shorty whispered back. "It's alright now and you're home, that's all that matters."
"Welcome back, Phoenix," came Gideon's tired but relieved voice from the speaker phone.
"Welcome back," James and Jeff echoed. They also sounded worn out and ‘Keen felt another pang of guilt assail him. According to the twins on the ride home, all of the men of the resort had been out looking for their runaway for the past two days, hardly sleeping and rarely eating. Thinking of food made his stomach growl loudly.
"I'm so sorry," he said, looking sadly at the group of men who had been so worried about him. He'd never have believed that anyone would miss him even for a day when his own mother hadn't missed him or even reported him missing after weeks, months. His stomach had ached at the thought that she was just glad to be rid of him. "I just... I just... got scared. I didn't mean to worry you all. I honestly didn't think you'd care that I was gone. I've been nothing but a burden since I got here."
"You have not been a burden, young man," James said sternly. "Quite the contrary. Shorty and Mutt said you've been a big help to them, and Alfred said that you are doing well in your studies once you learned the right techniques to do so. You've made us all proud."
"Except for when I ran away," Joaquín said quietly.
“We can talk about that later,” Jeff replied. “In the meantime, if you’re hungry I brought you some soup and toast. Let’s see if your stomach can handle that, all right?”
‘Keen was about to say he didn't think he could eat when the scent of the food caused his stomach to rumble loudly once more. Sheepishly, he nodded and sat at the table with the rest of the men. He felt a little awkward, eating in front of them, until Heath caught on and began pouring coffee for everyone. Shorty brought out a bag with some of the leftover croissants and bagels. Once the men began to eat, Joaquín didn't feel as self-conscious, and he nibbled on the toast, dipping it into the soup and eating slowly at Heath's direction.
“Is everyone mad at me?” he inquired worriedly after he'd finished. He wasn’t sure if Shorty intended to wallop him, or maybe it would be James, which scared him even more. Would someone decide he was more trouble than he was worth and send him away after all? His stomach knotted.
James saw the worry on the youngster’s face.
“Don’t concern yourself with anything other than feeling better,” he said in a soothing tone. “You’ll still have to go easy at first Phoenix. Remember, you're going to be feeling the effects of your adventure soon."
‘Keen grinned ruefully and said, "I'm already feeling it. It feels so good to be warm and dry again. My muscles ache a little and I'm just plain tired."
"That's understandable. You've been out in the cold for a couple of days, I'm sure you were shivering, and once your stomach can handle more we'll have to get you fed again. You need to replace the calories you lost during your... trip," Heath said, arching an eyebrow.
Joaquín had the good grace to look embarrassed.
Shorty turned toward the teen and gave him a small smile. “I told you before, you’re not the first one to run away, and you won’t be the last. But, Joaquín, this had better be your last time doing it.”
“I’m in a lot of trouble, ain’t I?” the youngster asked, looking forlorn. It wasn’t lost on him that Shorty had used his real name.
“ ’Aren’t I?' ” James corrected automatically. “And yes, you are, but as I said, don’t concern yourself with that right now. All you need to concentrate on right now is getting better. Heath will continue to check on you and we want you hale and hearty.”
Joaquín smiled at the so very paternal tone of James's voice, but he couldn’t help but worry what was going to happen to him once he was pronounced fit.
There came a knock at the door and James called for whoever it was to come in. Joaquín's stomach dropped when he saw that it was the sheriff.
“Hello Dusty, glad you were able to come,” James greeted the lawman who was a friend of the resort.
“Happy to oblige James.” He looked at the young man. “This is the teenager you called me about?”
James nodded. “Yes, it is.”
Dustin Grayson looked at the boy and said, “Nice to meet you, Phoenix.”
Phoenix blushed but nodded his head in the Sheriff's direction. He had no idea how one addressed a Sheriff so he remained silent.
"I had to call him, Joaquín," James explained. "We had called him to report you missing, so he has to take the report of what happened."
The lawman poured himself a cup of coffee, selected a bagel and sat down with the others to hear the youngster’s story.
Joaquín nodded but remained silent, looking at the floor, the walls, anywhere other than the men waiting at the table.
"Well," Shorty said quietly, "Phoenix, are you ready to tell us about yourself?"
The young man nodded, though it was plain on his face that he didn't want to talk about it. "Where do I start?" he said aloud, more to himself than to the waiting men.
"At the beginning," Gideon said, "Take your time."
Joaquín took a deep, calming breath and began to tell his story.
NCIS and its characters are the creations and property of:
Created by Donald P. Bellisario and Don McGill
Cote de Pablo
Theme music composer Numeriklab
Opening theme "NCIS Theme"
Ending theme "NCIS Theme"
Composer(s) Joseph Conlan, Brian Kirk
Donald P. Bellisario
Gary Glasberg (2009–16)
Shane Brennan (2007–15)
Chas. Floyd Johnson
Avery C. Drewe
Cinematography Billy Webb
Production company(s) Belisarius Productions
Paramount Network Television (2003–06)
CBS Paramount Network Television (2006–09)
CBS Television Studios (2009–present)
Distributor CBS Television Distribution
No Copyright Infringement is Intended.