"IAN! IAN! IAN!" He had no time to think before a small body collided with his, arms circling his waist and hugging him tightly despite the person's small stature. Alex's thrilled face beamed up at him, eyes bright with excitement and a second later Ian found himself being dragged forcefully through the house, utterly bewildered.

Per usual, Jack was home and taking care of Alex when he got back, but unlike usual, she failed to scowl at him or even bother to send him a single glare for having taken off so abruptly without saying goodbye. In fact, it was almost as if she couldn't stop smiling, such was the infectiousness of Alex's happiness. He was so caught up in his surprise, he almost missed the bruise on Alex's cheek. It was very faint, but it was still there. And Jack still hadn't glared at him for leaving.

Something was definitely wrong.

Ian mentally smacked himself for being so cynical, and then he finally realized Alex was actually talking to him and he smacked himself again for not paying attention-again.

Alex was talking rapidly, his free arm waving everywhere while he dragged Ian through the house and straight out the door. "-his name is Tom Harris and he's really nice and he likes sports 'cept he's really small so sometimes he gets picked on and that's how I met him 'cause there's this kid called Mike Cook and he's sixteen and he likes to pick on younger kids and Tom is really small so he and his friends beat him up 'cause Tom wouldn't give them his lunch money-" Here Alex stopped for air, a frown making its way onto his face at the thought of someone being bullied. But his face immediately brightened as he launched back into his narrative. "-and I think that's super brave of him 'cause Mike is really big but anyway I took care of him!" Alex chirped cheerfully. "He won't bother anybody else ever again."

Ian blanched, staring at the twelve-year-old with an incredulous expression. "Wait, what?!"

Alex paused, turning back to his uncle with a sheepish expression, scuffing his feet in embarrassment. "Umm…I may or may not have told Mike Cook to meet me behind the bike shed and it is not unlikely that he did and that he didn't like what I had to say and that he and his friends got mad and tried to beat me up and it is also very probable that they failed because I used my karate training." Well that explained the bruise. "And I might have threatened to tell the whole school he and his friends got beat up by a twelve-year-old if he hurt anyone else?" He finished like it was a question, taking a deep breath before hurrying on. "But I didn't even hurt him that badly! He's just going to have a limp for a few…weeks. And his throat might be a bit sore." He frowned. "Besides, it was technically self-defense and he really deserved it and I wouldn't have done it if he didn't but he's a bully and I-I don't like bullies." He ended with a whisper, biting his lip and looking away in fear of his uncle's reaction.

Whatever he was expecting though…it wasn't for his uncle to burst out laughing like a madman. But that's exactly what Ian did. The air was filled with his deep, rumbling laughter and for a second, Alex could only stop and stare. His guardian practically collapsed with laughter, before he finally paused long enough to send Alex a reassuring smile and gasp out, "I bet…I bet they weren't…weren't expecting that!-" He cackled-literally cackled-eyes crinkling with laughter. "Good job kiddo." (If Jack had heard that she so would've smacked him upside the head.) Ian reached forward quickly and ruffled his nephew's hair in a rare show of affection.

Alex flushed with pride, standing up straighter at his uncle's unexpected praise and Ian smiled. "Just try not to make a habit of it, yeah?" He nodded enthusiastically, eyes lighting up in childish glee.

"I won't! Promise!" He grabbed his uncle's hand again and started back down the sidewalk with renewed vigor. "Hurry up!" He cried impatiently, harrumphing when he realized his uncle hadn't even sped up at all. "You have to meet Tom. He's super cool and he's like…the best footie player I've ever seen 'cause he's really fast. I think coach's gonna make him captain next year, he's that good-"

Alex kept talking, filling the air with words and Ian just followed along amusedly, listening intently while trying to figure out where exactly Alex was taking him. A short walk later, Alex let out an excited, "Tom!" And disappeared behind a car for a second before coming back with a short, black-haired boy with some of the bluest eyes Ian had ever seen.

They sparkled with mischief, just promising trouble for whatever poor, unfortunate soul happened to get caught unawares. He wore an equally mischievous grin that widened as soon as he caught sight of Ian.

"Ian, this is Tom…"

Oh shoot. What did he just get himself into?