Of Love and Sacrifice

Prologue

"Alone? You just saw her alone?"

Sarah Jones' worry never left her shaking niece who was nothing but a sobbing mess before looking up at her old friend from her teenage years.

"Sarah, I'm sorry I may be a detective but I did not find this child in the unspeakable shape that's she's in just for you to tell me some ridiculous nonsense!" Charles Brooks snapped as the little girl looked up from her aunt's arms. "Zoeanna, sweetheart, I'm sorry-"

"You mean to Auntie Sarah!" Zoeanna sniffed, pointing her chubby three year old finger at him. "Mommy will get you no good meanie defective man!"

"Honey, Mommy she's not here," Sarah explained with a soft smile.

"Like my toys?" Zoeanna asked, nibbling on her stuffed rabbit's ear. "They're on vacation?"

"If that's what you want to think of that way sweetheart!" Charles chuckled softly before clearing his throat. "Where do you think Daddy went to?"

"Vacation!" Zoeanna giggled, clapping her hands.

"Mr. Charles, I understand that it's been a rough six hours for Squirt but Aunt Nancy and Uncle Alexander didn't go on vacation!" Nine year old Justin Jones hissed, getting annoyed by what he was witnessing. "They're dead! D-E-A-D! Dead!"

Zoeanna was confused, looking back and forth from the detective to her remaining family before dropping her rabbit to the floor.

"What's dead?" Zoeanna wondered with big green eyes.

Drake and Sarah could see Justin get frustrated with the lying Zoeanna was being fiddled with. He loved his little cousin who looked up at him for answers.

"Honey dead is like sleeping," Drake began with a smile.

"Except they take a long nap!" Justin chuckled much to Sarah's dismay.

"A nap? Will Mommy and Daddy wake up?" Zoeanna wondered as she picked up her rabbit from the floor.

Sarah stroked one of Zoeanna's pigtails gently before looking at Charles who recommended that they get her a set of new clothes and hoped that they had extra room for another mouth to fed.

Sarah thank him softly for helping Zoeanna out before carrying her out to the car, a dreadful realization hitting her face.

"Mom, Aunt Nancy and Uncle Alexander aren't coming back?" Justin wondered, seeing Zoeanna, who no doubt was exhausted, fall asleep in his mother's arms. "Are they?"

"No honey," Sarah choked , putting Zoeanna in Justin's old car set. "And I don't appreciate you leaving Spunky confused like that."

"I didn't want her lied to!" Justin blurted out with tears down his cheeks. "She needed to be told!"

"Justin Dakota Jones, she's only three years old! It's like telling her how she was made!"

"Aunt Nancy did and I turned out just fine!"

"Quiet you two. Zoeanna's asleep," Drake muttered, seeing his niece rest with her rabbit in her arms. "Night night princess."

As he watched his father pull into their home about an hour or two after getting new clothes and other things for his cousin, Justin thought back to the brunt place that was once the home of his aunt and uncle.

He remembered Drake saying among the lines of scarification. Now he didn't know what it actually meant but knew that both his mother's little sister and husband risked death for their daughter.

His little cousin who nibbled on her toy, probably hungry he noticed before trying not to choke up at her knowing that she was now parentless.

"Squirt, Squirt wake up!" Justin beckoned softly, gently shaking her awake before seeing her look up at him.

"Daddy!" Zoeanna cheered, hugging him close as Sarah couldn't help but smile at her interaction with her cousin.

"I'm not Uncle Alexander. I'm your cousin."

"Cousin?"

Justin laughed, messing up her hair. "Yes cousin."

"Cookie!" Zoeanna yelled, seeing a cookie in his pocket and tried to reach out for it.

"You like cookies Zoe?" Justin asked with a laugh. "You got good taste!"

"Dustin!" Zoeanna giggled again, seeing him hold up the cookie and splitting it in half.

"Justin Squirt!" Justin groaned, not liking how she confused a D with a J when it came to his name.

"Dustin!" Zoeanna repeated, not getting the message.

The only swear word or considered swear word that the nine year old knew was guts, having his parents laugh at the innocent nature he was bringing to their recently darkened world.

"Guts isn't supposed to be funny! It's a bad word!" Justin yelled before seeing Zoeanna nib at the half of her cookie. "Isn't that right Squirt?"

"Guts?" Zoeanna questioned, taking a bite of the cookie.

"Well we avoided having a mini Justin in the house!" Drake chuckled, taking Zoeanna in his arms.

"Drake," Sarah sighed softly, holding back a laugh. "Zoeanna was just trying to copycat him. Nancy did it all the time."

"Auntie Sarah where Mommy go?" Zoeanna asked during her first bath in her new home as she stared at Justin's old bath toys.

Whatever hand me downs were, she certainly wasn't liking it but liked at she got new clothes instead of wearing boy clothes.

"She's with Daddy honey," Sarah reminded her for the twentieth time that evening. She reached over, giving Zoeanna a toy sailboat to play with.

"No!" Zoeanna fussed, splashing Sarah in the face. "Mommy and Daddy here!"

"They can't be here!" Sarah yelled as tears went down her cheeks. "Zoeanna Leslie, I'm sorry sweetie but I-"

"Miss Mommy too?" Zoeanna guessed with a sniff, reaching out to hug her aunt. "Auntie Sarah no sad!"

"No sad?"

"No sad. Auntie Sarah no sad. Me no sad."

"Then what do you want us to be Spunky?" Sarah wondered with a smile, realizing that her niece was almost a mini version of her sister.

"Happy!" Zoeanna giggled, splashing some water in joy.

Zoeanna didn't know it but underneath her aunt's tearing face was a smile upcoming itself.

She didn't want nobody sad but as soon as she got out of the tub, Sarah dried her off, and dressed herself, she ran to Sarah in fear.

"Zoeanna what is it?" Sarah asked with a gentle smile before seeing the fireplace near Drake and Justin.

"Fire scary," Zoeanna muttered, burying her face in Sarah's soaked skirt.

"Baby..." Sarah muttered, stroking her wet hair as Zoeanna trembled and sob in fear. "I promise nothing will ever happen to you."

"Promise? No lie?"

"Princess?" Drake wondered, seeing what was going on before stroking her hair.

"Dad, she's scared," Justin muttered before turning to Sarah. "Mom, she's going to be okay right? She's like you and Aunt Nancy right?"

"Justin, I'm hoping she will honey," Sarah muttered, hearing a knock at the door.

Justin ran to the door, excusing himself as he let Charles inside.

"It'll be awhile before you and Drake can take her in as your own Sarah," Charles said, seeing Zoeanna in her arms. "You two don't have any experience raising a little girl."

"I had a little sister!" Sarah huffed as Zoeanna looked up at her. "I can raise Nancy's daughter as my own."

"Auntie Sarah Mommy?" Zoeanna asked with a smile.

"Kind of sweetest!" Charles chuckled, stroking her hair. "Do you like Sarah?"

"Yes Mr. defective man!"

"Mr. Charles Squirt!" Justin corrected with a small laugh, feeling her tug on Charles' shady blonde hair. "No no no Zoeanna. That's a no no."

"Nancy and Alexander-" Charles began over Zoeanna's cries.

"Died in a fire? Yes now get out!" Drake yelled before Zoeanna stopped him.

"Uncle Drake mad?" Zoeanna asked, seeing his face turn red. "Mommy and Daddy made you mad?"

"A little princess. It's just hard to see them go. And I'm sorry that fire scares you."

"Fire scary but I like princess! It's pretty!"

Drake laughed, stroking her hair softly.

"I'm glad you do," Drake said with a smile before turning to Charles. "I apologize for my outburst."

"No no you had a right to be furious," Charles muttered, seeing Zoeanna yawn. "She's adorable for a little girl."

"She's had a long day too!" Sarah chuckled softly, gently rocking Zoeanna to sleep.

"Sarah, so have you," Charles muttered with a sigh, gently placing an arm around her. "You get her to bed and we'll discuss her arrangements for her stay here."

"You mean she's allowed to stay here?" Sarah asked in surprise.

"Just long as I can check in on her."

"It's a deal Charles."