Chapter 1: Meeting Connor
Markus has a somewhat peaceful life for a ten year old.
He gets up, he eats, he sleeps, he paints, he plays and he puts actually edible food on the table - even if he sometimes has to rely on his and Dad’s carer, Michael, for help sometimes.
Then there had been a boy in his class when starting middle school.
He was smaller than he was, with big, brown eyes that looked at everything with both hope and fear, small hands fiddling with the edge of his collared shirt, the formal outfit giving him the appearance of a small noble, like from the stories Carl and Michael used to read to him before bed.
They’d been going round, saying their names, the usual ten-year-old banter amongst them, when the teacher had said “Connor.”
Connor had stood, the teacher giving the bland, yet open smile that all of them would usually get.
“Want to say something about yourself, Connor?” she smiles.
Connor seems to find it hard to figure out something to say, before he finally says “Hi, I’m Connor, I like dogs.”
He quickly sits down again, as the teacher hums.
“What’s your favourite type, then?” she asks, trying to coax more information from him.
Connor turned sheepish.
“I like all of them, because they’re always so happy and friendly…” he says.
Markus doesn’t know what to think.
Though, apparently, North - a long-time friend and who was sat next to him, did.
“He’s gunna get eaten alive!” North whispers.
“North, do you want to say something?” the teacher asks.
“No, just that, pomeranians are my favourite!” North says.
“Well, then, North, since you just so happen to come after Connor on the register, would you be so kind as to introduce yourself, to?”
Any discomfort that had been emitted from Connor was swamped over as North stood.
“I’m North Kozlov! I live in an apartment with it just being my Dad and me and I like dogs, too!”
The teacher chuckles, before continuing on with the register.
Markus is… Well, easiest said, he wanted to look after Connor, so, after his name was called, he simply said “I’m Markus and I like painting.”
Of course, Simon had joined in on Markus’ wish to take care of the smaller kid in their class, who was too thin and fawn-like for them to not take care of.
Especially when they found out about Conrad, who was in Simon’s level set; Connor’s twin who, after simply saying “are you OK?” to his twin and gets a nod in return, runs off to play with his friends from his own group, the more outgoing twin noticeably taller and slightly chubbier.
“What is his problem ?!” North yelled, as Connor had trots over to them bag over one shoulder and visibly OK with his twin’s decision, despite the air of despondency around him.
“It’s fine; I’m used to it,” Connor said gently, giving a small, hopeless smile.
Simon had beaten Markus to the punch of throwing an arm around their new friend’s shoulder.
“Well, that boy’s missing out!” Simon grins, “I also have a twin, though Daniel’s grabbing our lunch now! We swap out depending on who’s turn it is!”
“Yeah, we may have known you for only about four and a half hours, but to us , you’re a friend we want to keep!” Josh agrees, as the little group go to find a place to sit on the grass for lunch…
“Um, is he the only brother you have?” Josh asks, curious.
They’d all been together for three days and Connor had settled in and opened up to them a bit more, though, otherwise he tended to enjoy just watching them interact and talking about nonessential things from that day.
Today, however, Josh had just shared Physics with Conrad, who had completely and utterly spooked him out; the .
“Oh! Um, well, in my family, it’s my Mom, Conrad, who’s my twin, and Conan, our big brother! He’s really cool!” Connor smiles, lowering his sandwich slightly, “Though we all have to study or play strategy and puzzle games all the time, because Mom’s really strict and wants all three of us to get good jobs in future, she optimizes both the time we play and rest and the time we study for maximum efficiency.”
“Is that why she always has you and Conrad wear suits?” Markus asks, surprised.
“She believes that if we grow up knowing how to maintain a professional image, then we have a higher chance of maintaining a healthy work ethic, though on the weekends we get to wear what we want.”
North lowers the plastic-fork-load of pasts to stare at Connor in surprise.
“What the hell?!”
Connor’s smile turns on her, as he tilts his head slightly.
“According to what I have read, in England, where they have a mandatory school uniform, most kids there just undo their ties and untuck their uniform once outside of school, much like Conrad, Conan and I do. More recently, even children as young as five and seven are wearing full-out school uniforms with blazers and clip-on ties, given the adults all want to push for a more sophisticated outcome from their students, even if their education system literally ends up with yearly, almost seasonal, strikes being put on by the teachers in an effort for better pay from a country that is led by people from the upper echelon of their society.”
Connor hums, “It is not my place to say it, given this is Detroit’s best public middle school that we’re attending, but actually there’s many holes in many education systems globally, though it’s mostly work ethic and such in countries like China, South Korea and Japan that results in such high grades; even teachers have to go in during the holidays if they even want the slimmest chances of a promotion in Japan…”
North chuckles, breaking Connor from his momentum.
“Oh, um, sorry, I didn’t mean to say that much…” Connor says, turning bright red.
“So, you know a lot,” she grins.
“Eidetic memory, all three of us inherited it from our Mother,” Connor shrugs, “What about you guys, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Sure, sure!” he grinned, “Well, I live with my dad, my brother, and our carer, though Leo’s a year older than me. Dad got in an accident while we were little with my Mom, and Leo’s Mom had left Dad. So, we got Michael! He helps Carl about the house and I get to also help! Leo prefers playing and stuff all the time, even though I love it when I get him to actually play with me, because Leo is actually pretty good at Chess, despite being a sore loser. Otherwise, my Dad’s an artist,” Markus smiles, though a giggle escapes at that point, “To the world he’s “Mr Carl Manfred! The now-disabled painter!”.... But for Michael, Leo and I… He’s just Dad , right? Because he’s always been there for us, no matter if he’s had to take us to a party or two because the babysitter isn’t there, or that he’s painting a huge acrylic piece for his next display… I want to be like him in future, or at least, like him!” Markus grins.
Connor’s eyes widen.
“C-can I ask something?” he asks.
Markus nods, an entertained grin on his face at the sudden way Connor completely lights up.
“W-would you happen to mean the painter who’s friends with Elijah Kamski, the inventor and young multi-millionaire for his advances in Clean Technology?!” Connor asks, eyes widening with a bright sparkle.
Markus pauses, trying to remember who he means, before giving a firm nod as he finally recalls a tall man with dark hair.
“I met him! He was nice when he wasn’t creeping other people out!” Markus says.
Connor smiles broady.
“You’re interested in Mr Kamski’s work?!” Josh asks, Markus glancing between the two as Connor grins , eyes sparkling.
“He’s my D- my Father! Were not allowed to see him and apparently Mom got a restraining order put on him, but the few times that I hazily remember, he was the best !” Connor grins.
“A restraining order?” North asks.
“Yup! It means D- that Father isn’t allowed within a 70 feet radius of us and that he isn’t allowed to contact us directly. If he does see us or we see him, he then has to distance himself back to that 70 feet radius, or we have to do it ourselves. So if he were to come to our school, he’d have to leave again, or if we were to see him inside the museum or something, we’d have to go home or somewhere outside of that 70 feet. Since Father remarried for a third time, I thought I could try and ask her about it, but…” Connor gives a light shrug, “Mom says we aren’t allowed near her, as she files under the ‘order, despite her being out newer step-mom.”
He turns to North.
“Your Dad sounds really awesome, by the way; what does he do?”
North lights up.
“He’s a cop! PC Kozlov! Though everyone jokingly calls him “PC Tough-Love” because he’s the best at maintaining the law! My Russian Great-Grandpa got us over here during World War Two, by first having our family move to China, where my Grandpa met my Grandma, who was half-Indian - she’s awesome , by the way - then we came over here ! A mish-mash of cultures all descended to me !” North pauses, “Though Mom left, I remember; I was eight then and Mom wanted to return to Scotland, though Dad wanted to stay in America, since this country is best off financially. Both of them got really, really angry, then really, really sad, so Mom left…” North frowns at the last remark, “Though, I know my Dad’s got a crush on one of the women at the station, now! So it’s not like I’ll be Mom-less forever!”
“Feel lucky; my parents are still together, but I then have to fulfil two sets of ideals, which also differ from eachothers quite a bit,” Josh smirks, “My Dad’s a lecturer at the University of Detroit Mercy, so he sometimes like teaching me the stuff he lectures on. Otherwise, my Mom’s a judge; there’s a fourteen year age gap between them with my Mom being the older one.”
“Wow, they actually managed to find love through eachother, despite that?” Connor asks, a small note of awe entering his voice.
Josh’s surprise is palpable, before his face lights up with a grin of his own.
“It is kinda is, isn’t it?” he grins, “Also, they are pretty good, for parents, that is; I always know they’re there for me, whatever happens.”
Connor grins, before turning to Simon.
“What about your parents?” Connor asks, looking over at Simon, who is drinking from his carton of orange juice, blue eyes shining with warmth.
“Mine are normal,” he shrugs, “Daniel and I get pampered and- oh! Hey! I was just telling Connor about our parents, given the others have said about theirs!”
The blonde that sits by Simon is, indeed, practically Simon’s reflection.
Though, Connor also notices the large hash of scars on one side of Daniel’s face.
Daniel notices, instinctively touching it.
“Snowboarding accident when we were little, i-it’s a bit-”
“Off putting when people stare at them, yeah… Sorry,” Connor says, directing his gaze back to his lunchbox; two sandwiches (now one), an apple, apple juice and a small packet of gummies.
“Scars?” Simon asks, frowning.
“W-well…” Connor says, before shaking himself, “So, what do your parents do?”
Daniel gives Connor a sympathetic look as he shoves a fork-full of pasta in his mouth.
“Mum’s a Doctor, Dad’s a Psychologist… I think we even got Markus jealous of how easy our family dynamic slots itself together around us four, given we remember to communicate and actually like eachother enough to know we can express our emotions without any trouble!” Daniel grins, dragging the conversation away from the scars Connor apparently had…
Chapter 2: Connor's First Sleepover
You wouldn’t-, at that stage of life, you wouldn’t think that someone you’re so close to could- could be harmed in such awful ways.
All Markus knew was his feeling for Connor turning from friendship into something… Something stronger .
It started off as little hints; Connor liked keeping the tank-top he wore under his clothing on during PE and changing. He and Conrad would always wait, side-by-side like little soldiers, for their mother at the playground entrance, a third, taller boy at Connor’s side who looked exceedingly similar to the other two, yet with this sort of distance between him and the twins that didn’t feel healthy in the slightest.
When asked about it, Connor had laughed and replied “That’s Conan! My big brother! He’s just withdrawn and analytical instead of being like other people!”
Connor turns down any sleepovers offered, he’s quiet in class and tries to avoid trouble as much as possible, to the point that he’s even submissive to even any other equally-withdrawn kids in their class.
In the end, Markus manages to get Connor to visit for a weekend, with the promise that no one would laugh at him for bringing along the large toy he usually sleeps with.
They didn’t realise he meant big until they saw it.
The toy was a large sheepdog, the tail reaching Connor’s knees as Connor’s hands were wrapped around it’s chest, its nose up by the top of Connor’s head.
“I’ll be here to pick you up at midday on Sunday, alright?” Mrs Stern states.
Connor nods, as Michael’s watching the pair with a neutral frown.
She drives off, leaving Connor with his backpack and toy.
“Come on, Connor! Why don’t you meet Carl!” Michael smiles, as Markus quickly grabs Connor’s hand, Connor’s eyes wide with surprise, before a warm smile covers his face…
When Connor meets Carl, Connor seems to shift, hiding his toy behind his back, though noticeably clinging to it with a vice-like grip.
“Good afternoon Mr Manfred! My name is Connor!” Connor smiles, as he offers a free hand.
Carl chuckles softly, taking it.
“Carl’s fine, Connor; I see you also have a large friend you can’t go without!”
Connor blushes, as he finally lets Carl see the stuffed toy.
“Lucy’s my bestest friend, next to Markus…” Connor admits, giving a small smile.
“I still have mine, they’re in a drawer by my bed, though I take them out when i need the company,” Carl smiles.
Connor’s face fills with awe.
“B-but Mom says that once Conrad and I are twelve we’re too old for plushies…” he manages.
“Well, when your mother comes to pick you up, how about we see if I can persuade her otherwise?”
Connor grows noticeably shocked, before hugging Lucy tighter, looking at the floor.
“N-no thank you, Mr Manfred,” he stammers, before running over to Markus, noticeably perturbed.
Carl frowns, as Markus quickly gives his father a questioning look, before guiding Connor from the room.
Michael wheels Carl back to his current artwork.
“No child should be that scared at the mere mention of parents talking ,” Carl frowns.
“Mrs Stern seems quite controlling; Connor was completely silent on arrival and Mrs Stern looked Connor in the eye whilst telling him when she’d be coming to pick him up on Sunday… Should I give the Lieutenant or Mr Kamski a tip-off?” Michael frowns.
“We’ll wait until the kids have settled in, then we’ll talk to Markus and ask him about Connor. Depending on his answer, we many ask Elijah about that officer who looked after the boys during the trial - Officer Hank Anderson?”
“Lieutenant Anderson, Carl; Elijah was talking about Hank’s promotion the other day.”
Carl grumbles under his breath, as he picks up his paints and returns to his artwork…
The afternoon is peaceful, as Connor gets introduced to video games,his eyes widening and mouth hanging open.
“That’s so cool!” he grins, “I mean, Conan, Conrad and I each get a nintendo and my favourite games are the Ace Attorney and Professor Layton games! Even if Mom says that me trying to collect them all is bad, she can’t really say no to the levels of difficulty the game’s puzzles create.”
All six of the others look at Connor with confusion.
“Don’t you have any games like this at home?”
Connor shakes his head, smiling warmly.
“For recreation we just have a TV, a DVD player, our Sky box, a radio and our Nintendo DS’s, but otherwise we have board games, like Chess and Scrabble, or games for our yard, like lacrosse and cricket. Any work that requires a computer is done in Mom’s Office on her spare laptop, so she’d be able to tell if we’re ever trying to have more playtime than we already have.”
“Your family sounds posh ,” North grumbles, wrinkling her nose.
“Well… I suppose… We’re only going to get phones when we reach high school, but even then we’re not going to be allowed any games on them, so we don’t play them during lessons or studying,” Connor hums, “But I’d say we’re more Upper-Middle Class, given you have to obtain influence and power for upper class, which is more Father’s and Mr Manfred’s area.”
“Oh? Really, then what would ours be?!” Daniel asks, smiling.
“Well… Medical professionals and Lawyers would file into Upper Middle, given they are professionals at their jobs, which you have to obtain through quite high education and result in the professional holding high esteem. Lower middle are generally teachers and small business owners, though some in that class are in the grey area that is Working class, depending on their income. I’d say, though, that you’d still be lower-middle, North, given your Father’s profession as a cop. However, were he to obtain a promotion to a higher rank, then he would be more likely to enter Upper-Middle class.”
Connor blinks at the open expressions of wonder, before North crosses her arms.
“Wow. So I’m the lowest-classed person here…” she frowns.
“I’m pretty sure that, given you’re friends with us, that automatically give you a 60% increase in your chances at reaching Upper-Middle, or even Upper Class,” Connor smiles, “Also, your grades are exceeding your predicted ones all the time, so you should do amazingly at reaching Upper Middle on your own merit, placing you at an 86%% chance of attaining a higher class in future.”
“Wow!” Josh grins.
“I-it’s nothing… Conan and Conrad do better than me, a-anyway…” Connor mutters.
“Eh?! Really?!” Markus asks, surprised.
“Yup! Conan already knows eight languages and two-hundred-and-fifty-one law books from various contents, as Conrad knows three and is part way through his fourth, alongside memorizing the other half of the law books Mom has from her travels between Europe and America, as well as from going state-to-state. I only know three law books and I’m still struggling with the beginnings of my third language… Though I’m much better at locating patterns and links between information and matching it to previous things than them, not that will help me, unless I decide to become a detective or officer, which are both lower-paid jobs in comparison to the lawyers and politicians Mo, aspires for us to become like…” Connor admits, “Those two are also already exceedingly adept in the mixed martial arts lessons we attend and I think Conan’s already pushing towards skipping three grades as Mom got a letter about Conrad skipping one, too…”
She’s a titan. They’re all titans .
The thought echoes in the other’s heads.
“Conrad already threw away Aria, too…” Connor mutters.
“Aria?” Simon frowns.
“Lucy’s twin, she was a doberman and Conrad threw her out on our last birthday. Then he got really angry at me and I ended up having to stitch Lucy’s front left leg back on…” Connor frowns, “Conrad’s already thrown out Ace, who was this big white bengal tiger, so now I’m the only one with a toy…”
Connor looks over at Lucy, a soft smile coming to Markus’s face.
“I could look after him,” he says.
“Eh?!” Connor asks, surprised.
“Lucy is welcome to stay here, should she ever be endangered at yours,” Markus smiles.
Connor’s eyes widen with open, innocent wonder.
“Really?!” he asks.
“If you want,” Markus shrugs, trying to fight the urge to blush under the warmth and soft love Connor gives off…
Things are fine.
Or, at least they were.
At midnight, they were woken by the sound of whimpering, Markus looking over to see Connor tightening his grip on his plushie, eyes squeezed shut and frame trembling.
He’d, obviously, gotten up and tried to wake Connor, accidentally waking the others.
Simon gets the light, as Daniel hd quickly noticed how Connor recoiled wherever touched, curling up tighter around Lucy.
“We’re going to have to shock him awake,” Daniel says, “North, go downstairs and find some water for Connor to drink, Josh, go with her. I’m going to slap Connor’s shoulder, so, Markus, be prepared to stop him from sitting up to quickly and hug both him and Lucy. He’s going to need as much comfort as possible.”
“S-shall we fetch Michael?” Josh stutters.
“That depends on how bad the nightmare was and what Connor wants to do, alright?” Daniel frowns.
North and Josh hurry from the room, as Daniel moves to Connor’s other side.
The slap has Connor awake with a yelp, panic evident.
“Connor, it’s just a nightmare, you’re safe , alright?!” Daniel says quickly, Markus tugging Connor and Lucy close.
“N-not there… I’m scared, I’m scared …” Connor whimpers, eyes wide and unseeing, as Simon straightens.
“There’s nothing to be scared off; you’re at a sleepover, right? You’re safe !” Markus frowns, as he instinctively rocks Connor from side-to-side.
Josh and North re-enter as Connor’s finally calm enough to loosen his grip on Lucy.
“What was that?” North asks, indignancy thick in her tone.
“A nightmare,” Daniel frowns, “Though ones as chronic as these should be getting treatment… Connor, how often do you get these?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb anyone…” Connor babbles, as fresh tears brim.
“Connor, how often have you been having these?” Simon frowns.
“S-since…” Connor takes a heaving breath of air, “P-Please don’t tell.. I’ll do anything, just please don’t let her know …”
“We won’t, everything will be OK, we just want to know about it, OK?” Markus says, voice gentle, as he continues rocking Connor gently.
“N- M- I’ve had them… Lucy’s the only one who’s- I- I…” Connor stammers, as Markus’ mind is already turning.
“Connor… Could these be why you never want to go to any sleepovers? At all?” Markus frowns.
Connor stiffens, before drooping, as hhe nods.
“I had these… I can’t even remember a time without them… I think I used to have someone to wake me up, but then Mom called it babyish and tha- that I was hindering our growth with “my silly dreams”… B-but, then…” Connor whimpers, “Mom would kill me if she ever found out… I- I d-don’t…” Connor’s face screws up in pain, as he clings to Lucy like a lifeline.
Markus sighs, before carefully getting Connor on his bed, flopping down by him.
“We’ll continue this tomorrow, but, for now, you can sleep by me, in case it happens again,” Markus frowns.
Connor’s eyes were wide, before he gave a small whine.
“ I don’t deserve people like you …” Connor whimpers, as they all settle down again for the night…
The next morning, Michael wakes them at seven.
He doesn’t remark on how Connor has cuddled into Markus’ chest, or on the way Daniel had moved his own bedding to be exactly beside Markus’ bed, Simon cuddled up to his twin.
But he does tell Carl.
Who decides to wait until after breakfast to ask…
Conor clings to Lucy as he stumbles over an explanation.
“It’s- my nightmares are more feelings , than anything, as well as the fact I’m being chased or- or told that I’m not good enough…”
Understanding crawled amongst the others at that moment.
Despite being so clever, having a better understanding of everything than they do… With strong gifts comes heavy expectations, and Connor…
...Connor was only just managing to bear the weight of it all.
For the rest of the day, Markus has them all focus on homework; it may be an unwelcome requirement for their education, but at that moment, it was the perfect distraction.
Mr Hoffman, the twin’s father, came to pick them up first at ten.
Then Josh’s Mom arrives at eleven thirty.
At that point, Connor runs off to grab his packed-up things, setting them by the entrance.
Markus and North finish their work at midday, under Connor’s gentle aid, as the doorbell goes.
It’s easy to note the way Mrs Stern has moved away slightly from Mr Kozlov, Connor glancing at North and Markus with a small, saddened smile.
“See you on Monday, thank you for having me, Markus!” Connor smiles, offering a hand.
Markus takes it, pulling Connor into a hug.
“Call me if you ever need to talk,” Markus whispers, smirking as Connor’s look of wonder returns, before nodding.
“Have a safe trip, North!” Connor smiles.
“You too, ya big doof” North smirks, punching Connor’s shoulder lightly.
Connor giggles, as he looks at his mother, who guides him away with a blank face…
Chapter 3: Is This A Home?
A week and three days later, Connor invites their little group round to his house for the next weekend.
“Of course, I mean, you may not want to since what happened on our last sleepover, but Conan says that I could sleep with him that night so he’d be the only one troubled and, um, well…” Connor’s face is bright red, as red as on those drama shows or movies with a romantic subplot where the nerdy, leading male character was asking his crush on a date.
“Of course we are!” North had snapped, “You’re our best friend , plus, I’m super curious what your house looks like, now!”
“It would be interesting, we’d also be able to have a sort of study group time, given how information-filled your house sounds,” Simon nods, as Josh grins.
“My parents would love to visit, to be honest,” Josh grins, “I told them about your Mom and both sounded really curious about your Mom, especially since your Grandmom, Mrs Amanda Stern Senior, was Mr Kamski’s teacher back when he was in University!”
“Eh?! She was?!” Connor asks, surprised, “Mom never tells us anything about our family beyond anything essential, so I didn’t know that!”
Josh grins, sitting up straighter.
“Oh, well, I know some stuff ‘cause of what my Mom’s told me! She won’t tell me how she knows, but it’s pretty neat, right?!”
“Yup!” Connor nods, grinning…
They arrive on Saturday, Connor greeting them.
Once again, it’s odd, seeing Connor greet them in blue slacks with an orange, long-sleeved shirt, a grey, happy cartoon dog on the front.
“Hey! Come on in!” Connor grins, holding the door open, “You can talk with Mom if you want.”
He says this next bit to the parents, as the parents dropping their children off, along with said kids, enter into a tiled hallway, with a wooden staircase to the right, the post at the end curling the banister round to a point, the bottom two steps widening with it, as the ruby red carpet going up the marble-lined steps held in place with bronze carpet-poles.
The walls were white with antique oil paintings hung on them, though there was a touch of the modern world with a portrait of two familiar five-year-old boys and their seven year old brother in a silver, metal frame on the left wall.
Amanda emerges from the room at the end of the side-corridor, dressed in black tights with a purple, cotton dress, purple, fluffy slippers on her feet.
The next words, as far as Connor was concerned, were always the same.
“Mrs Hoffman! Connor tells me quite a bit about your boys, it will be a pleasure to be looking after them for the weekend!”
“I remember you! It’s a sure charm, seeing you again, your honor! Josh will be in perfect here whilst he’s here!”
“Good morning, Officer! I hear quite a lot about you through Connor, I’m quite impressed with your impeccable service to our City! North will be perfectly safe here during her stay with her friends and my family!”
Then Carl arrives, which has Connor quickly guiding Markus through a room to the opposite side of the staircase, where the others are, as Amanda’s “Mr Markus! It’s a pleasure! Markus will have a fantastic time, I assure you!” is replied to with a challenging “I hope so.”
The room that Markus was guided into was like a blend of as library and living room, North, Josh, Simon and Daniel are sitting around a game of Cluedo, though North’s just watching, a discarded rubik’s cube to one side, as she listens with a cheeky grin to what Simon’s proposing.
“Reverend Green with the Dagger in the Kitchen!” Simon states.
“WRONG!” North crows, grinning.
Connor grabs his cards, a page from a discarded notebook.
“You were off by two,” Connor hums, “Is it my go, next?”
“Yup!” Josh grins.
“I propose it was Reverend Green, with a Candlestick in the Kitchen.”
“Again, you got it,” she hums.
Simon and Daniel give matching groans of discontent, as Josh laughs .
“Knew it! Though I would have won if you hadn’t predicted that!” Josh grins, showing his notebook page, said combination circled.
“That’s because you had the Dagger in your hand and I had the Lounge in mine,” Connor nods, smiling, “Though I also had the suspect as Mrs Peacock.”
“Anyway! Now Markus and I can play!” North grins, throwing the rubik’s cube onto a nearby armchair.
Connor winces, quickly picking the cube up, looking it over, before flicking his fingers around it with practised ease, solving it, before placing it in an open spot on the mantelpiece over an open, empty fireplace.
“Woah!” North exclaims, “How’d you do that?!”
“Practice,” Connor shrugs, as he takes in the cards, speed-shuffling them, before starting a new game…
After the game, Connor looks at the clock.
“Oh! It’s my turn to cook, today! You can either help or continue playing, if you want!”
“I’ll help!” Simon, North and Markus snap, before looking at eachother in surprise, as Connor blushes.
“I-I was kind of joking about getting help, but, um… Sure, if you want to…” Connor stutters.
They’re guided down the hall, through a door to the left of the one at the end, revealing a large, furnished kitchen.
Connor unhooks a pair of saucepans, setting them on the hob, as he opens a drawer, pulling out a knife.
“I thought maybe some tagliatelle would be nice for lunch today,” he hums, as he fetches a stool to reach the top cupboards, frowning when he couldn’t reach.
“Mom’s on the second floor in her study, Conan’s most likely in the study or the library…” Connor frowns, “But Conan’s probably in the middle of his thesis…”
“I’ll get it,” Simon hums, Connor smiling over, as Simon easily reaches the cupboard…
...What they want is on the top shelf.
“...Well, looks like we’re getting your big bro!” Josh grins.
Conan looks up at the knock to find Connor leading a small gaggle of children in the doorway of the study.
He gives his baby brother a look, before a smirk breaks over his face.
“Need something, baby?” he asks.
“W-w-well, we can’t reach the taglitelle that’s on the top shelf of the cupboard and- um… Help? Please?”
Conan smoothly stands.
Unlike Connor, he chose to stick with semi-formal clothing, a red vest over a white shirt and brown slacks over black socks.
“Sure, baby boy,” he chuckles, ruffling Connor’s hair with a grin as he smoothly walks through to the kitchen, smoothly opening the cupboard, before stepping on the stool and grabbing the appropriate pasta.
“Anything else, baby ?” Conan grins.
“Stop calling me that!” Connor squeaks.
Conan laughs .
“Well, you are the baby of our family!” Conan grins, “Though you should ignore Mum’s tripe about letting Conrad and I study while you cook, you’re still only ten, even eleven year olds are usually watched over whilst cooking.”
“Mom gets angry when we disregard her rules.”
“So? I don’t care,” Conan shrugs, “Avez-vous fini d'apprendre le français encore?”
“Oui, mais le japonais est difficile,” Connor pouts.
“Tres bien,” Conan hums, hugging Connor, before retreating back to the study, “Je t’aime!”
“Je t’aime, aussi,” Connor pouts, “Mais tu m'embarrasse!”
“Eh?! You know French?” North asks.
“Yes, I know French and German, as well as some Spanish, though I’m still learning Japanese,” Connor shrugs, “The kanji can be confusing, but once I know that, it should be easier to understand Chinese, which is where most of the Japanese Kanji come from, even if then I’d have to be able to differentiate the two languages, as well.”
“Cool!” Daniel smiles.
Connor flushes, as he hurries to grab the passata and veg…
Chapter 4: Or Is It Just A House?
When there’s about five minutes left, Connor removes the lid from the sauce, before opening the door from the kitchen to the corridor, propping the door open, as he then does the same from one of the other doors, revealing a large, lavish dining room.
“Through there is the coat room, for the garden,” Connor says, “We can head out tomorrow, or after lunch, if the weather’s nice enough.”
Markus neatly cuts up the veg, Simon monitoring the tagliatelle as Connor’s setting the table - but for the plates - and ensuring the stuff they’re already frying for the sauce is alright.
When it’s all done and put neatly on plates, Connor and Markus carry the food through to find North, Josh and Daniel sitting in a neat little row opposite Connor’s brothers, Amanda already at her seat at the head of the table.
“Mom,” Connor greets, taking his seat at the opposite end of the table from Amanda, by Markus and the twins.
“Connor,” Amanda smiles.
Amanda, Conan and Conrad start eating in synch as Connor gives his friends a warm smile, the others starting on their own food.
“How’s your work going?” Connor asks.
Amanda glances up.
“My client so far has been an idiot, but I’ve managed to work around that. What do you and your friends plan to do for today?”
Connor smiles meekly.
“U-um, well, I thought we could probably play in the garden for a bit, though we also are planning to have a study group, w-we haven’t really discussed it that much,” Connor admits.
Amanda gives a motherly smile.
“Be careful, given it was raining the day before yesterday; some areas of the garden may still be damp and I don’t want any of you getting hurt or messy.”
“Yes, Mom,” Connor nods.
Conan chortles, attracting the other’s attention.
“If it was the day before yesterday, the pavilion and surrounding stone area should be dry enough for intercrosse, otherwise I believe the weather should be dry and warm enough for them to do their homework outside, given what the radio said this morning,” Conan remarks, “Even if they would then have to be careful of the stream around it.”
“My roses are growing there,” Amanda notes, it would take quite a bit of muscle to move them elsewhere.”
“I can do that; I am the best at sports in my class, after all,” Conan states, “Right, Conrad?”
Conrad throws Conan an annoyed look.
“You kicking that football into my classroom window was enough of a reminder,” Conrad grumbles.
“Jeez, I said I’m sorry!” Conan grins, “You’re too fun to mess with, Conrad! Like our little baby!”
Connor’s face turns red again.
“C-Conan! Not in front of my friends!” Connor stutters.
Conan tosses Connor a look, before grinning.
“It makes you twice as cute!”
Connor somehow manages to not just flop onto his arms right then and there, as said friends knew him to do.
“Yamete kudasai,” Connor states flatly.
“Iie,” Conan hums.
“Damare, baka,” Conrad grumbles.
Connor turns his head away.
“Conrad, don’t insult your brothers,” Amanda scolds, “And unless otherwise stated, such as during your lessons, you are to talk English, corect?”
“Exposure increases one’s skill,” Conan defends.
“That may be so, but your guests can’t exactly translate everything like you three can.”
“Go- Sorry,” Connor says, drooping.
“Wakarimashita, ore no sei desu, gomen nasai,” Conan nods, “I’ll accept the responsibility for my actions, sorry.”
“Better,” Amanda hums, smiling.
Once food is done, Connor and his friends clean up, before finding the day bright and sunny.
“Homework?” Connor asks.
“Homework,” Simon nods.
“Homework, homework!” North grins, grabbing her bag and pulling out a purple, polka-dotted folder.
“Homework?” Josh asks, pulling out his own blue folder.
“Ho~mewo~rk…” Daniel smirks.
“…What?” Connor asks, confused.
“Have you ever seen the Monty Python’s Rhubarb sketch?” Daniel asks.
“N-no… Who’s Monty Python?”
“A group of comedians,” Markus smiles, “We’ll have to show you sometime.”
Connor looks at them, reminding them all a bit of a chick as it’s observing something with curious wonder.
Before Connor nods, smiling.
They settle on the warm stones of the raised platform, roses hiding them from Conor’s house as the garden itself stretched right from the back door, the exact size of an english football court, every inch perfectly controlled flowerbeds and ornaments, including an open area holding an array of statues and busts, including a life-sized pair of angels acting as an arch for the path leading to the patio.
It’s peaceful, Connor’s smile a certain constant, even as North ends up making a joke out of their maths homework, including the fact she knew several fun things for spelling on a calculator.
Connor giggles at the “Bobbles”, but then North shows how to spell a different sort of thing, as well as the symbol for another and Connor turns into a blushing mess as Simon and Daniel instinctively try “shielding Connor’s innocence”.
Though then Connor admits he’s already had “the talk” after something Conan had said once.
North starts cackling about what that gives her room to do, Josh trying to talk her out of it as the twins seem to short-circuit.
Markus, from where he’s resting on his front, just tugs Connor into his side and asks for help with his English homework.
Connor is easily distracted by this, especially since the topic that time was based around a dog and their owner…
That night, Simon and Daniel slept on either side of Connor, cuddling up to keep him comfort in his dreams.
The night is peaceful, but upon asking Connor about it, he says how snuggling up with Conrad or Conan to sleep would be “rude and babyish”.
“I don’t want to disturb their rest, as better sleep means a better performance the next day… I’m used to being alone,” Connor pleads, “It’s not worth it.”
Josh had bristled up, beating the twins to scolding Connor for thinking his mother’s words ruled his life and that if there was an option between a dreamless sleep with someone beside him, or a restless sleep with no one near, the first option was better !
Markus files that information away to tell his father, as the sleepover comes to an end…
Chapter 5: Hospitalized
For another month or so, things are peaceful.
But, then, three weeks before end-of-year exams were to start, Connor wasn’t in school.
Three lessons in, Markus, North, Josh, Daniel and Simon were being called to the headmaster’s office, to find a pair of adults, one with cropped, dark hair and determined, brown eyes, the other watching them with what seemed to be guilt and determination, brown hair framing stormy blue eyes.
“My name is Lieutenant Matthews, this is my assistant, Detective Churchman. None of you are in trouble, but we want to know if you know anything about the child abuse of the Kamski-Stern siblings… Though we believe they won’t remain Kamski-Stern for long,” the cropped-haired man states.
“Child abuse?!” Josh snaps, shocked.
Markus glances at the twins, Josh and North, before back to the Leutenant.
The Detective moves slightly, sharing a look with Matthews.
“Right now, Conrad and Conan are being monitored by a psychiatrist after Conan was the one to give the alarm yesterday. Connor… Well, the kid’s still getting fully diagnosed whilst being treated for his current injuries. We need to know what we can, if we are to ensure that Mrs Stern can’t ever hurt them again.”
North is the first to speak at that.
“I knew something was bad!” she exclaims, “Mrs Stern’s house was way too neat and Conan, Conrad and Connor were acting way too much like little soldiers when we visited! Connor wasn’t ever approached by his brothers or Mom unless they wanted something or wanted to do something in the room we were in, then, like, Connor wasn’t sitting by his brothers at the dinner table, despite there being plenty of space at the table and he’s way too quiet all the time!”
“Well, he does always wear tank-tops under his stuff during PE?” Daniel frowns, “Can we visit?”
Markus takes a breath.
“Connor has extremely low self-esteem and confidence, I’ve told everything I could to my Dad, though given he’s friends with Mr Kamski we didn’t know if we’d be called out as liars or something,” Markus says smoothly, “Connor also has nightmares without Lucy and someone else sleeping by him.”
“Lucy?” Lieutenant Matthews asks.
“He still has that toy?!” Detective Churchman asks, surprised.
“He’s the only one with one, now,” Daniel frowns.
“It’s more half a toy, now,” Matthews states, “It’s also evidence.”
“ Half a toy?!” Simon splutters.
“It got set on fire, Connor tried to beat out the flame with his hands, though Conrad had been the one to stop Connor from getting hurt too badly, as Conrad ended up putting out the flame with his shirt. When we arrived, Connor had burnt his hands whilst clutching to what remained of the toy,” Matthews states.
“Oi! They’re kids !” Churchman hisses.
“They have a right to know ,” Matthews snaps back.
The detective crosses his arms, showing open displeasure.
“I want to see him!” Markus snaps.
“Me too!” North agrees.
“Me three!” the twins say, as Josh nods determinedly.
“He’s our friend ; we’ve a right to see him!” Josh states.
Matthews turns to look at the headmaster.
“I-I’ll have their parents called,” he says.
“Good,” Matthews states, tone flat, “Come on, Churchman; I want to get Anderson off my ass before I have to deal with anymore of his baloney…”
Under Mr Kozlov and Mrs Hoffman’s careful eyes, the small group of friends are excused from classes and driven to the hospital, the rush both oddly comforting and terrifying; if the corridors had been clear, it would have seemed like everything and everyone had given up hope to their friend’s fate, but with the sounds and hustle, it assured them that this was no movie.
Yet, they were in a hospital; no way is that ever a good thing.
Connor’s alone in his room, sitting up in bed.
It is then that they can see all the wounds and weakness in the small boy; there is no longer the barrier of tailored suits or the open warmth of Connor’s smile to blind them from his physical condition.
Yet, the fact there was now a nasty, hand-shaped bruise to one side of the lips that would form that smile, the sight of bandages around trembling hands that have gotten transparent gloves lain over the top to prevent Connor from picking them off, that the hospital gown hung off his frame limply and an arm was in a cast…
It was a shock all of its own.
“Connor!” Markus calls, quickly running forwards and pulling Connor into a hug.
There is silence…
Before Josh sniffs , eyes brimming with tears.
“What did she do ?!” he chokes, as North’s hands have formed fists, eyes blazing.
“That… That witch !” North spits, “How dare she do this!”
Connor’s eyes are… His eyes are blank, lifeless, as he looks at her.
Looks through her.
“Mom was punishing me… Since our birthday was two days ago and I didn’t want to let Lucy go,” Connor states, “Conan tried to stick up for me and.. Conrad got angry… At both of us… But… She…”
His head lowers, as he starts to try and pick at the bandages on his hands again.
The hands of his friends stop the movements, Connor seemingly not reacting to the way this has the wounded arm moving.
“I was bad. That’s all.”
“Parents don’t do that! Not good ones, at least!” North snaps, “My dad would never do that to me! Nor any of the others’ Moms and Dads! Your Mom is just a Meany! A Fake Mom !”
Connor freezes up, seeming to finally notice them.
“B-but…” he chokes.
“Yeah! She’s not your Mom! She’s an Evil Step-Mom!” Josh states.
Connor looks between the two, before noticing the way the twins were cradling his hands, before, finally, looking at Markus.
“We’re going to fight for you, because your happiness is worth everything ,” Markus states, voice calm, though his eyes are filled to the brim with emotion.
Connor’s silent, before he curls up in a small ball.
“B-but I’m… I…” Connor chokes on his own voice, as he clings to his friends like a lifeline, tears starting to stream down his cheeks.
Markus pulls Connor close, as North tackles the pair of them in a hug, Josh helping her mind Connor’s arm as they all lend comfort to their brown-haired friend…
It makes the news, as Markus sees the reporters lining up to photograph Carl, Elijah, Chloe and the two mens’ sons as they arrived at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, Elijah having picked the Manfreds up on the way over.
Chloe helps Michael get Carl out, Leo sticking close to Markus as they wait with Elijah.
There may be no carpet, but there are barricades, officers on either side as they enter.
Markus spots his friends with ease.
“Where’s Connor?!” he demands, upon seeing the boys aren’t there.
“The restraint order still currently stands; in that courtroom, however, Elijah will be allowed near them,” Chloe answers.
Elijah is completely silent, face a locked door, though his eyes are hard, as he’s practically glaring holes into the doors they would soon be going through.
“Who’s our lawyer?” North asks.
“My sister, Charlotte,” Chloe states, “My other sister would be here as more moral support, but she’s at work at the moment at a care home downtown and couldn’t get time off.”
“Who’s she?” Markus asks.
“Chrissie,” Chloe smiles, “All three of us are triplets.”
She gives Elijah an encouraging smile, as the recently-turned-billionaire nods, face turning determined.
“I just want my sons safe and home ,” he frowns, “I should have waited instead of panicking over not being able to provide them with a mother-figure!”
“Shh, you’re being too harsh on yourself,” Chloe says, rubbing his shoulder.
“Even we can’t ever know what time plans for us, Elijah; she’s a cruel mistress, after all,” Carl smirks, though his tone is disgruntled and smile sharp; he isn’t at all pleased.
None of them are.
“Connor would say something like; I know where I get my heart from, now.”
Josh’s voice is small in the silence of the room; he’s clutching his own Father’s hand tightly, though his back is straight with confidence, “Whenever we talked in History, we always end up nerding out over you and your work… I think he sees you as his hope, no matter the fact you have been treated like a criminal towards your sons for so long.”
Elijah’s openy shocked, before he takes a breath, shaking out his arms.
“Well then; it appears we’re going to have to give her quite the blow, then!” Elijah Kamski smirks, “I’m a billionaire; we always have to be devils in the face of adversity, right!”
He straightens a wrinkled sleeve, as the door finally opens to yet more cameras, as well as the power of justice…
Chapter 6: The Court Case
The boys sit neatly in their seats, Connor sitting between his father and big brother as, unseen below the desk, Connor’s hands grip theirs tightly in fear, Chloe and her twin sitting on the kids’ other side as their friends sit behind them.
Mrs Stern sits in her seat, acting as her own lawyer, given her distrust for community attorneys.
The Judge, Her Honour of the Court, Judge Bonnita Smythe, announces the date,the time, the reason for the trial and the people it pertained to.
“May the prosecution please give their opening statement,” she asks.
“Your honour,” Charlotte says, standing, “The Prosecution finds that Mrs Amanda Stern Junior is Guilty on charges of Child Abuse and possible charges of Neglect. The reasoning for this is, after marrying into the Kamski family, Mrs Stern first gained the children’s trust, before separating them from their Father, which was soon followed by a restraining order to keep them separate, to keep the children isolated from their loved ones. This was the point at which the defendant could start imposing punishments for bad behaviour, which led up to things such as lashings, complete isolation, brainwashing tactics, as well as training the children to be self-sufficient by the age of nine. This has resulted in mental and physical scarring and other mental ailments found in victims of abuse.”
“Your honour, the defence pleads not guilty. The defendant only did as she found fit as a mother to ensure her children grow up into intellectual young men,” Amanda states calmly, no external signs of fear or panic showing.
Conan snorts, as he glares at Amanda, tugging Connor and Conrad closer to himself.
“Prosecution, call your first witness.”
“Fine, we will start with the results from Connor’s medical records…” Charlotte says.
Not only is there the current wounds of a broken wrist, open wounds from a whip found in the cellar, the bruise from a harsh slap and burns from Connor trying to save his cuddly toy - which was literally now just a head and behind, the central body’s remains in the middle in a smaller plastic evidence bag - but there were scars from previous lashes, bones that hadn’t set properly and signs of trauma to other parts of Connor’s body.
This was followed by a report from the psychologist, who had found evidence of mental trauma to all three boys, as well as signs of shock and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Amanda defends herself with records from previous forms of parenting, as well as results from previous styles of parenting.
Charlotte, in turn, has Carl take the stand, as his notebook, in which he had recorded what his family had noticed of Connor’s relationship with Amanda, Conrad and the twin’s overall well being.
“The signs are always at the corner of your eye, always hinted at in ways that take experience to know: being scared of letting your own Mother near an object they’re loked down on for having? Not going to anyone when you experience nightmares that have you waking up screaming? Squirming in your sheets and terrified? Being scared of opening up to others until they show you that they are kind enough to be trusted? No child should be scared of being themself ,” Carl states, “I did what I saw was right and would have whistle-blown myself, if Conan hadn’t done so himself.”
“Why did you hold off on revealing your information?” Amanda demands, the question having Carl’s eyes narrowing and the middle aged man sitting up straighter in his chair.
“Because I know how the media works, I know any gossip, any scandal to do with people like Kamski and myself, anything to do with our sons, will be critiqued and cast about as much as possible. Given we only had outsider witnesses and Elijah is one of my friends, then it could have merely been seen as a way to try and remove the restraining order on Elijah, when the courts had already ruled, twice, that you were a woman fit to be the mother of those boys! You would have obtained an opening wide enough to do whatever you liked! Even banning my sons from seeing yours when they are friends!” he snaps, “If anything, I’m glad this has happened, because then Connor, Conan and Conrad don’t have to suffer anymore from your actions!”
“Thank you, Mr Manfred, you may return to your seat now,” Charlotte nods, back straightening.
Carl lets out a slow breath, as Michael wheels Carl back to his spot at Leo’s side,Michael reclaiming his seat for a mere moment, before he is asked to confirm the current information and details within Carl’s written words, which are also a summary of the children’s words.
Finally, they turn to the boys themselves, starting with Conrad.
Connor is quick to lean over Conan and grab Conrad’s hand as soon as he stands.
No words are said, Conrad freezing for a moment, before his brow furrows, silently communicating with his twin, before giving a firm nod.
“Conrad, can you please tell us what exactly would happen during your time with Mrs Stern?” Charlotte asks, voice turning entle, as the eleven year old nods, putting his hand behind his back.
“Connor, Conan and I got Mother’s eidetic memory, so we remember things more easily than most. Mom always had the three of us studying and always wanted to know, if we ever wanted to buy anything, what it was and how much it was. We are not allowed CDs of certain genres of music, such as Pop and modern forms of Jazz and Soul, as well as anything with explicit lyrics. Any online assignments are to be done in Mom’s office without earphones or headphones and with the screen in her line of sight, so she is able to ensure we are merely working and not trying to take advantage of the internet for anything beyond our work. There is also a rotation on house chores, including cooking, though Connor and I end up having to ask Conan or Mom when we are unable to reach things in the higher shelves and hung on the higher-up pegs, even with the assistance of a stool. We are to clean up after ourselves and not touch anything we have been told we are allowed to touch, such as the various items of decor throughout our home. Games in the yard are to be cleared with Mom first, in case it may cause us to get dirty or something in the garden to be ruined. If we ever stepped outside of the rules, depending on which of us who stepped out of line, we’d be punished…” Conrad’s voice cracks, before he takes a breath, moving one hand from behind his back as he quickly rubs at his eyes, before returning to his previous stance, “If it’s Connor, then he alone will be punished, either with lashings, or isolation in the cellar… If it’s me, then both Connor and I are punished; Mom wanted to reduce the physical evidence of punishment, so I would have to sit on the cellar stairs and watch Connor getting the punishment that should have been mine. If I try to help him, I will be cuffed by my ankle to the stairs, so if I try again, I will fall over. If I speak during the punishment, Connor gets either an additional amount of time for the punishment or extra lashings, be it ten minutes or ten strikes. It depended on how bad it was as to whether Connor gets the whip, the cane or the cat of nine tails. If a limb gets broken from Connor trying to resist the punishment, I tend to it, if Connor starts to bleed, I disinfect and wrap up the wounds, which are then hidden below Connor’s vest… If Conan is the one who has done something wrong, as Connor gets the brunt of the punishment, both Conan and I have to watch. He is the eldest child, therefore his punishments should be the most severe. I am the more calm and higher-graded twin, as well as the one who is older by eight minutes, so I have to also be the one to set an example for Connor. The punishments are similar if Mom is called away from work and to school because of one of us-...” Conrad has to blink away tears as he bites his lip, trying to force control on himself, “No matter the reason, even if we weren’t the ones who had done anything wrong…” Conrad wipes at his eyes again, “If one of us has been found out as ill, Mom will care for us, but we are to stay in our rooms and away from everyone else to reduce the risk of them being infected… It’s why we have our beds by the doors of our rooms and bin by the head ends of our beds. Home- Our house is always so big and empty, otherwise. There are three, technically five, floors for us to use and we aren’t allowed to play until certain allocated times of the day, even weekends. Our eidetic memory is tested every two weeks or so to ensure we have learnt literally everything that we had been studying over that week. We may have games and things, but we are still unable to properly call them ours . If any questions are answered wrong, we aren’t allowed to play until we have learnt what we haven’t…”
“Can you please tell us about the night Conan called the police?” Charlotte asks gently, “You don’t have to if you don’t want to…”
Conrad shakes his head, taking a breath.
“It was the day after our birthday. Both Conan and I had gotten rid of the toys we had grown up with from Mother and Father, yet Connor was only okay with throwing out everything, but for some of the books and drawings from then and Lucy… Conan ended up having to shove the pictures and books in a bin-bag, before Mom had tried tearing Lucy from Connor. I tried to help her, because I just thought she would throw Lucy in with the books and stuff in the bin-bag… But then she took Lucy to the cellar and put Lucy in the incinerator. Connor went crazy ! He’d tried to tug Lucy out, to get Mom away just after she’d set Lucy on fire, so Mom tried to tug Connor back by his collar… Connor struggled out and when she tried grabbing him again, he bit her, before shoving his hands into the incinerator to try and pull Lucy out. Conan ended up tugging Connor away and using his jacket to put the flames out, but…” Conrad swallows the lump forming in his throat, “Mom slapped Connor. She’d never done that before and Conan was till quickly trying to salvage Lucy, to put the fire ut so Connor wouldn’t burn himself again. Mom threw Connor onto the floor and he’d screamed, only for the whip to be grabbed as Mom was hissing about Connor misbehaving, about how so far she’d been lenient for our sakes... “ Conrad has to lean on the podium where he’s standing, trembling like a leaf, “Conan left the room at that point and I’d gone after him because I was so scared and I knew that if I tried anything, Connor would get hurt worse… I was scared he’d die , she looked so furious and cold …”
Conan leaps over the prosecution table to the stand, yanking Conrad into a hug as Conrad bursts into tears.
“The police then arrived, correct?” Charlotte demands.
“C-Conan opened the door and we- we could hear Connor screaming … He’d nerver screamed that loud before…” he chokes, as Conan glares at Charlotte.
“Can we move on?!” he snaps, eyes turning on Judge Smyths’.
“Yes,” the Judge nods, frowning herself, “Defense, anything to say?”
Amanda can only grit her teeth.
“Connor, do you mind…?” Charotte asks gently.
Connor nods, getting up, squeezing his father’s hand, before switching places with Conrad, as Chloe runs up to Conan and Conrad, helping get Conrad to his seat, as Conrad’s tears turned into shocked and terrified sniffles.
“What happened, from your point of view?”
Connor takes a breath, leaning on the banister.
“I don’t really remember anything before living with Amanda, so getting hurt, I was used to it, no matter how scared I was, how much it hurt, because I’m the runt of us three, I’m the one always with their head in the clouds instead of with my feet on the ground. If the reason was for one of the others, then, hey, at least it meant they wouldn’t be the ones to have scars that could disfigure them for future things, given the way people who are more aesthetically pleasing are the people who tend to get jobs more easily. As far as I am concerned, as long as my brothers are safe, I’m fine with it… But then Mom tried to take Lucy away. Something-… Lucy is more than something I can hug at night to try and chase away the nightmares… She’s my friend , so, I tried to protect her… But, then Mom wanted to burn her and I couldn’t-, it-...” Connor wets his lips, before continuing, “Compared to the emotional pain, I felt getting burned wouldn’t be as bad, because getting burned just means my nerve endings are cut open, but those would probably get burnt away. Words hurt worse… But then Mom started hitting me more firmly than before and, when I curled up to protect my face and chest, I could see Lucy… I could see what I had done hadn’t- that she-… That’s when I could feel how much it hurt , it was like, like all I could see was Mom’s disappointment and Lucy burnt and… It was like my nightmares had become reality, because Conan and Conrad weren’t there, because it wouldn’t stop … Then officers ran in and it was… They knew they saw and then Conan and Conrad were there and Mom was getting tuged away and handcuffed and I couldn’t…” Connor bites his lip, before opening his mouth again, “Can I go back to my seat, now?”
“If the defense has nothing to say?”
“Then you may return to your seat, Connor. Charlotte?”
“The main thing we don’t have right now is a full motive for everything… But I can see that you already know that, Conan?”
Conan is silent as he nods, moving to the stand quietly, hugging Connor tightly when Connor is stepping down from the stand.
“Unlike my brothers, I remember Amanda’s arrival. Because of that, I remember something quite important,” Conan says, “My research has also helped me with this.”
Conan reaches into his jacket and pulls out papers, holding them ut to Charlotte, who, after looking them over, silently hands them to the Judge.
“That is my study of the human mind, as well as the test I took for certain part of that, when disguised as my thesis’ primary research, revealed a very interesting detail.” Conan stands straight again, “Both Mom and I fill the full criteria for a psychopath. Connor and Conrad both, however, fill less than the required amounts to be such, which, coupled with my memories, draws out the fact that, what Mom wishes to attain from her actions is a legacy of total power and knowledge.”
“What?!” Judge Smythe asks, surprised.
Conan smirks .
“She did this on the basis that, with three children with eidetic memories and a matching background, with her lack of sympathy and logical insight, she is then able to see about whether or not someone like her is able to raise the ideal adult male. Wit manners, brains and brawn all balanced perfectly, a gentleman ,, if you will!” he hums, “The only one she really smiled at with any genuine warmth, when meeting us, was myself, as you could say that, at the time, her and I, despite her being almost thirty and me being only seven, held a similar agenda to knowledge, to attaining the best we could from the future. However, I had problems with appearing humane enough, I was this little soldier boy working through a world of illogical things that I couldn’t entirely understand. It left me and my brother open and susceptible to manipulation. Which is exactly what Mom did. The main reason I didn’t do anything was because I didn’t know how , which is what Mom wanted . After that, she was able to monitor us quite closely, could reinforce the idea that she was the one in control, that we were just kids in a system that she knew like the back of her hand and we still had to learn about… Connor getting hurt, Conrad getting terrified to the point I could tell he was about to lose it himself, the point she lost it herself … The chance was there, so I took it. Mom had already let us try and integrate with people, I knew there were people who cared for my brothers, people who cared for me, beyond our own tiny little group, I knew that she couldn’t, at this time, get away with it, because she had gone too far . She called us the same; I’d say that, no, she’s worse , because she doesn’t try to solve the problem in herself like I am, because she is selfish, whilst I would willingly give everything I am to keep the only two people on this earth who accept me for myself , who don’t think of me as an unfeeling monster , or that kid in class who’s crazy powerful and good to be the friend of . They see me as me , which is all I could ever actually, in the end, want .”
“I was protecting you! All three of you! You are my children in a world that will destroy the weak-hearted, will take advantage of the strong-minded and able-bodied and bleed them dry of what they have!”
“ Exactly like you did to our Father !” Conan snaps, eyes blazing like crackling ice, “You saw a family with influence and power, children with abilities that are able to advance skills, increase our learning ability and overall intelligence, did you not?!”
“I saw three boys new to the world without the discipline and care a Mother must provide. Your Father I saw strength in, though then he just turned out to be a childish brat who loves showing off and lending power to others who do not deserve it!”
Elijah flinches, shock noticeable, as Chloe quickly reaches over and grabs Elijah’s shoulder, Carl noticeably gripping his chair tighter.
“Order! Order! That is quite enough!” the Judge snaps, slamming their gavel, “We will now cast the verdict! Conan, you may return to your seat.
Conan smartly bows to Judge Smythe, before stalking back to his seat, every step smoothed and controlled, though the roboticism of it speaks millions of Conrad’s feelings.
“On these charges, I wish to give seven years for each of the boys on charges of child maltreatment, I also with to remove payroll and have Mrs Stern sent to Bridgewater State Hospital. I also will have the restraint order on Mr Elijah Kamski moved up close for a third evaluation. Those wishing for time to evaluate the circumstances raise your hands.”
For a full ten seconds, no hand is raised.
“Then, those who find Mrs Stern Guilty?”
All the jury’s hands go up.
“N-no! I was doing what was right for my sons ! You can’t do this-” Amanda starts.
“Silence! Or I’ll add Contempt of Court to your charges!” Judge Smythe snaps, voice like venom, “The jury have made their decision!” the gavel slams on its board, “Mrs Amanda Stern Junior, you are hereby found guilty of Child Mistreatment with a total of 21 years in Bridgewater State Hospital.”
Shock fills Amanda’s face, as the trial is brought to an end; the overwhelming evidence proving Amanda’s guilt as the kids are taken into the entrance hall, the officers leading them having the three brothers wait, as Elijah pauses.
Connor is clinging to Kamski with both hands, trembling.
For a moment, there is only the sounds outside of reporters and the smal few allowed in zoom towards them like bees to honey, only to be halted by the officers.
Conrad tugs on Conan’s jacket.
“Hmm?” Conan asks, the arm around the larger twin tightening slightly.
“We- We seriously don’t have to live with Mom anymore?”
“Of course; we won the trial, after all.”
There is a pause, before Conrad’s legs give way, as he chokes out a sob.
Conan quickly follows him to the floor, as Chloe and Elijah quickly gravitate to the now-sobbing child on the tiled floor of the courthouse entrance, as they’re able to see through the glass front all the reporters on the steps of the Hall of Justice.
All Conrad could manage was various words of relief, as Connor, himself, starts to cry, clinging to Conrad as Conan’s face turns grim, the elder brother moving his father aside to hug both twins as close and as tight as possible, murmuring words of comfort, as the others who had come are escorted out, Markus, North, Simon, Daniel and Josh not even allowed to express their support for their friends, or even Carl being allowed to try and also comfort Connor.
Then, their lives change once more, as the officers allow through an old officer who could only be described as “shaggy” in both hair and clothing, as well as a woman with corkscrew curls and a portly frame.
Kamski looks up quickly.
“The restraint order is still in effect. For that reason they’re having the kids live with Rose Chapman; she’s a social worker that also takes in children currently being worked through the legal system, like your sons are at the moment.”
Connor’s exclamation has everyone looking at the small child who forcefully tears from his brothers’ grasps to cling to his Father, “We just got allowed near him again! I don’t want-” Connor chokes on his words as more tears threaten, the cast on his wrist not stopping him from keeping his grip tight.
“Can’t we have one of Chloe’s sisters take them in?” Kamski asks.
“Unfortunately, they still file under the restraint order and your friends will be watched over with you a lot more, given the unveiled ties between Markus and your father,” Rose says, crouching, “My son is currently looking after two other girls who come from an abusive family themselves; Kara and Alice…”
Chapter 7: The Start of Something New
After much encouragement and Hank revealing he was currently acting as “a friendly face” for the Social Services department, Connor was finally removed from his father’s arm, which had revealed red marks from Connor’s nails.
They’re driven by Hank with Rose to a suburb house on the other side of a cheerful theme park, a tall teenager opening the door.
The boy’s face is first curious, before it lights up at the sight of the kids.
“Hi! I’m Alex!”
Two girls are introduced, before the three are shown to a backroom that was just about big enough for four beds, each one set up in their own part of the room.
“The girls sleep next door, then it’s Adam and my room is opposite, by the bathroom. The door to the bathroom is by mine, alright?”
“Alright,” Conan says, gently guiding his younger brothers inside.
Kara is playing with Alice when Conan, Conrad and Connor enter, two small, gangly boys and their taller brother having the equally gangly girl shielding her chubby and innocent four-year-old sister.
“Kara! This is Conan, Connor and Conrad, the boys I told you about!” Rose smiles.
Kara is silent, eyes judging.
The smallest of the three squirms in place, before Kara huffs .
“If you hurt my little sister, I’ll attack you.”
“Likewise, but with my little brothers!” Conan smiles.
“I don’t need protecting !” Conrad grumbles, as Connor looks between the two.
“Connor bites his lip, before pointing at the colouring things the girls were doing.
“Can I play with you?” he asks softly.
Kara takes in Connor’s expression, before she nods.
“We’re drawing princesses!” she says, smirking.
“Then how about I try drawing a knight, to protect them?” Connor smiles, sitting neatly by the other two, as Conan and Rose silently sigh in relief, Hank smirking from his place in the doorway, as Adam had already escaped to his X-box.
“Hank, do you know if we’ll be able to have any of our things?” Conan asks politely, as Conrad sticks firmly by his brother, pouting with his arms crossed.
“Sure! Tell me what you want and I can ask for you!” Hank smirks, pulling out a notebook, Conan taking it and neatly writing in what they needed.
Hank raises a brow at the neat writing.
- Our three nintendo and their correlating game collections.
- Clean clothing
- The perishable food in the fridge can be used at Rose’s
- Any books left on our bedside cupboards/desks.
- If we are attending our usual school, our school things.
- Our toiletries.
Conan smiles innocently at the raised brow he receives, before a hand ruffles his hair.
“Chill, kid; half these things are kinda obvious.”
Conan tilts his head.
“But not the food and nintendo; we three are used to entertaining ourselves, or eachother. It is only logical that we be able to do that here, as I am sure that Connor and Conrad will not always be able to play with the rest of us. Oh, we’ll also need to try and locate a toy satisfactory enough to replace the one Connor lost and one for Conrad; they will be having nightmares, after all.”
“Little gent, aren’t ya?” Hank nods, “Sure, I’ll take you - if you don’t mind, Rose?”
“You could also bring that cute boy of yours, Cole, round! He’s Conan’s age, right?” she hums.
“Yeah, though he’s definitely much more of a little rascal than Conan is, that’s for sure!”
Hank arrives home to find Sumo and Cole flopped on the carpet, the St Bernard pup flopped by his younger master as Cole was finishing his homework.
The first thing Hank did was give his son a hug.
“I’m freaking hugging you, then making dinner, then helping you with homework, ‘cause I just had to deal with a witch and it rubbed me wrong,” Hank grumbles into Cole’s hair.
“You mean that thing on the news about the Kamski sons?” he asks.
“Yup; I was asked to be the one to escort them to the place they’d be staying until Kamski gets his restraint order checked a third time, we’re allowed to visit.”
“Then things are good, right?! Mr Kamski is really nice and Chloe’s like one of those really nice moms on telly! I’m sure Charlotte will win Kamski the case!”
Hank gives Cole a questioning look.
“Since when did my kid become a little bundle of hope and sunshine?” he asks, jokingly.
“I was born like it!” Cole laughs, the inside joke acting as a secure reassurance to the pair.
Hank chuckles, standing, as he goes to the kitchen.
The sound of Sumo’s food bowl being filled has the puppy across the room in less than a minute, as Hank then filled Sumo’s water bowl, before starting on the cooking.
“Hey Dad,” Cole asks, moving his work away to doodle.
“Yeah?” Hank asks, as he gets out the things for cooking.
“Am I actually allowed to meet those kids?”
“You’re actually the eldest one’s - Conan’s - age.”
“What actually happened to them?”
Hank paused in scraping the carrots’ skins off.
“You mean like, hitting and mean words and stuff?”
“…Yeah, something like that.”
Cole is silent for a moment.
“…You said one of them was my age?”
Hank lets out a small sigh, relieved Cole didn’t ask further.
“What’s he like?”
Hank and Cole revelled in the peace between them, as Sumo finishes his food, before going to try and beg Hank for food scraps, a failure leading the pup to run over to Cole, the little boy giggling as he moves to pet the pup.
Cole doesn’t comment when Hank has a tumbler of whiskey before bed…