"Wow. What do you think about everything that just happened?" Lehman asked as he walked to his seat at the dining table.
"I don't know what to think." Vincent answered in a somewhat overwhelmed tone.
"Levi said that when I get to Earth they're gonna fix me up. I mean, he can disappear and make stuff appear out of nowhere and he said that they're gonna fix me, so it's gotta be true!" Xandor said as his enthusiasm almost seemed to spark and flare in the air around him.
Lehman and Vincent glanced at each other and smiled at his happiness.
"So Lindon, do you want us to start calling you Xandor now?" Vincent asked as he started filling his plate again with the selections from the middle of the table.
"Yeah... I mean... I guess so. But where did the name Lindon come from?" Xandor asked, only slightly calming his absolute joy.
"Vincent came up with that. I didn't get that memory from him." Lehman said, then looked at Vincent with question.
"Well, one of the guys I went to school with was named Lindon. When you needed a name, I thought it would be a good one for you."
"Did he look like me?" Xandor asked between bites of food.
Vincent chuckled and said, "No. Actually he didn't look anything like you at all. I just like the name. I know that the name Linda means 'beautiful' so maybe Lindon is the male version of that name."
"Does that mean that you think I'm beautiful?" Xandor asked with surprise.
Vincent smiled and said, "Absolutely."
"You'd better watch it, Vincent. You're going to get your chi and ieb unbalanced if you keep going." Lehman said while trying to restrain his grin.
Vincent chuckled at the statement and responded, "Not a problem. I'm just saying that Xandor looks good. Now that I've figured out that all the stuff my dad taught me was messed up and wrong, I can say something like that just because I know it's true. I don't have to worry about it being a 'gay' thing to say."
Lehman considered the words, as Xandor asked, "Huh?"
Vincent smiled at Xandor and said, "It's nothing important. I had some problems before I met Lehman and he's been helping me figure things out."
Lehman nodded his agreement and said, "That's right, Xandor. Vincent was taught a lot of weird stuff by his dad. I don't really understand most of it and it's probably better if you don't learn it to begin with because it's all wrong."
Vincent chuckled and said, "You got that right."
Xandor looked back and forth between the two boys, then shrugged and accepted the answer.
"We'd better finish eating so we can get changed before we arrive at Earth." Vincent said before taking another bite of his food.
"Yeah. Do you think I'll be able to get some more clothes when we get there? I didn't think about needing clothes before we left the Yorktown." Lehman asked in a quiet tone of voice that said louder than words that he didn't want to be a burden to anyone.
"Sure. I don't know how things are on Earth right now, but if we can't go out and buy you stuff, then we'll just go over to Camp Little Eagle and borrow something for you." Vincent said, doing his best to make it sound like no big deal.
"I don't know. I'd feel funny about doing something like that." Lehman said as a worried expression came over his face.
Although Vincent didn't know every detail of Lehman's past, he knew that Lehman grew up in a poor family. It seemed important to make Lehman understand that borrowing clothes from the camp guys wouldn't be asking for charity.
"You're my brother, Lehman... And they're all my brothers too. I haven't spent much time with them, but I know from the hundred or so messages that they've sent me that they all know what that means and that they'll help us out any way they can." Vincent said with certainty.
"I don't understand." Xandor said timidly as he looked Vincent in the eyes.
"It's pretty simple really. When my parents died, I was a kid who couldn't take care of himself. So the Clan adopted me and made me their son. Everyone in the Clan is like a father to me... it kinda means that I've got thirty dads." Vincent finished with a chuckle.
Xandor's eyes went wide at the statement.
"So anyway, now I'm a son of Clan Short. All the guys at Camp Little Eagle are there because the Clan adopted them the same way that they adopted me. That makes them my brothers too." Vincent finished happily.
"Am I going to be your brother?" Xandor asked as he looked from Vincent to Lehman with question and concern.
"I guess we'll find out in about an hour." Vincent said and gave a casual shrug.
Xandor looked at Vincent with question, prompting him for more of an explanation.
"After you get all fixed up and remember who you really are, then we'll figure everything else out. Cory and Sean might end up making you one of my brothers... or they might make you one of my dads." Vincent finished with a mischievous grin.
"Your dad?" Xandor asked as his large eyes became impossibly wider.
"Yup. If they end up making you a member of the Clan, then you'd be one of my dads just like all the other Clan members." Vincent said with a smile, noticing again just how handsome Xandor really was.
"So you're not a Clan member?" Lehman asked in a completely serious tone.
Vincent thought for a moment before saying, "I'm not really sure how that works. I need to talk to Sean and Cory about it. From everything they've said to me so far, I get the feeling that being a 'Son of Clan Short' isn't that much different from being a Clan member. I'm still a member of the house of Surak and the family of Sarek. So I can do stuff... like declaring that this ship is under the protection of Vulcan. But... I don't know, it's different somehow. I'm not sure what the difference is. Like I said, I need to talk to Sean and Cory about that. I don't want to end up doing something wrong because I don't understand."
Lehman nodded and said, "Let me know when you figure it out. Because if I'm your brother, I need to know what the rules are."
"What do you mean 'if'? You *are* my brother."
Lehman gave a reluctant smile and shyly said, "Yeah. I guess I am. It's still kinda new to me."
The sound of the ship's engines changed dramatically and all the boys looked at each other with question.
"I think that means we just entered the Earth's solar system. We'd better hurry and get changed." Vincent said as he hopped up from his chair.
"Yeah. I'd rather be dressed when I meet your... *our* family." Lehman finished with a smile.
Vincent led the way into his room and was surprised to find Treep waiting for them.
"Hey, Treep. What's going on?" Vincent asked as he stopped just inside the door.
"I have been asked on behalf of Captain Rasch and the crew to present these to you." Treep said in a formal tone as he gestured toward the bed.
Vincent followed the gesture and found clothing neatly arranged.
"Trach Manja Vincent, I realize that your official station may require you to wear your uniform, but we, the crew, wanted you to have this clothing, as a token of our esteem." Treep said as he picked up a white tunic.
The edges of the tunic had been embroidered with a delicate pattern of gold thread and there were clear crystals in six sided patterns up and down the garment. On the left side of the chest there was a hexagonal design of crystals that matched the shape of his necklace exactly.
"Wow." Vincent said as he reverently accepted the tunic from Treep.
When he turned the tunic in his hands, he smiled at the sight of the Clan Short crest on the upper left arm. It had been recreated in perfect detail.
"It's beautiful. Thank you." Vincent whispered.
"Trach Manja Lehman. Since you do not have a 'symbol' as Trach Manja Vincent does, Ship decided to create one for you. I hope that it meets with your approval." Treep said as he handed a tunic to Lehman.
The white tunic was exactly the same in every detail to the one Vincent had been given, except that on the upper left sleeve, there was a blue circular crest. Inside the field of dark blue there were clear jewels of various sizes.
"It's my home." Lehman said with astonishment at the pattern.
The jewels represented the planetary system of the Chameloid people.
"I thought that it would represent your individuality." Ship's voice said from above them.
"Thank you, Ship. It's perfect." Lehman said appreciatively as he looked over the beautifully intricate embroidery.
As Lehman began to put on the tunic, he noticed that Vincent had already put his on.
"You're not going to wear your uniform?" Lehman asked, and the surprise could clearly be heard in his voice.
"I'll take it with me, but I won't wear it unless I have to do some Starfleet business." Vincent said as he tied the belt on his tunic.
Lehman nodded, then looked at Treep with question, hoping that he also had something for Xandor.
"Lindon, all of the Avalla crew feel a special kinship with you. Although it has been established that the Lo'Garn have no relation to the Avalla, we still feel that you are related to us in some greater sense of the word." Treep said with the utmost respect directed toward Xandor.
"As a token of our esteem, we have created this for you." Treep said and reverently handed Xandor a large black tunic.
As Xandor unfolded the tunic, the multi-colored sparkles of various jewels made him freeze in mid motion.
Vincent and Lehman stepped closer to see the beautiful, intricate pattern that covered the jet black cloth.
"Wow." Xandor said in wonder.
"Try it on." Vincent whispered.
"We'll help you." Lehman offered from Vincent's side.
Vincent and Lehman took the garment from Xandor and finished unfolding it.
"Oh, I see." Vincent said with a smile as he realized how it worked.
Within a minute they had brought the tunic up under Xandor's wings and pulled the sleeves up over his shoulders.
"It looks great." Vincent said as he stepped back.
"Yeah. You look awesome." Lehman said with a nod of appreciation.
Xandor looked down at himself, then up at his friends with a smile.
"I must go to the bridge. We will be arriving momentarily." Treep said with a look of urgency in his eyes.
"Please thank the crew for us. These clothes are great." Vincent said in a rush to get the words out before Treep was out of the room.
"Yes. Thank all of them." Xandor said in a distant voice as he looked down at himself again.
"I will do so." Treep said on his way out the door.
"I wonder why he was in such a hurry?" Lehman asked as he looked again at the beautiful pattern on Xandor's robe.
"I think it's because he's the first officer and we're in an inhabited planetary system. His place is on the bridge." Vincent said as he folded his jumpsuit uniform into a tight bundle.
"If he needed to be on the bridge, why didn't he just have someone else give these to us?" Lehman asked as he looked down at his tunic again.
"I'm pretty sure it's because we're Trach Manjai. I bet the captain wanted to do it himself, but couldn't because he couldn't leave the bridge. Treep was the highest ranking officer who could possibly do it." Vincent said as he sat on the edge of the bed and started pulling on his socks and shoes.
Lehman noticed what he was doing and began doing the same.
"Should I have shoes too?" Xandor asked cautiously.
Vincent glanced at Xandor's feet, then said, "I don't think so. We're going to be beaming in to Clan Short headquarters, so there shouldn't be anything there to hurt your feet."
Xandor nodded uncertainly.
"Does everyone have their bracelet?" Vincent asked as he held out his wrist.
Lehman and Xandor did the same to display their identical bracelets.
"Then I guess we're ready to go. Let's head to the bridge." Vincent said as he picked up his jumpsuit uniform.
Lehman gathered his clothes into a bundle and followed a step behind.
"Ship, engage level four sensor cloak." Captain Rasch said firmly as Vincent, Lehman and Xandor stepped onto the bridge.
"Sensor Cloak engaged." Ship responded in a professional voice that was a definite contrast to the tone Ship had used with Vincent earlier.
Vincent looked curiously at Captain Rasch, but didn't want to interrupt him while he was working.
"Captain, I have received orbital parking coordinates." Ship said as one of the holographic displays in front of the captain changed.
A movement caught Vincent's attention and he turned to see Treep motioning to him.
Vincent, Lehman and Xandor walked to join Treep at one of the work stations at the side of the bridge.
"Trach Manja Vincent, we are in teleportal range. Do you know where you would like to teleport?" Treep asked while keeping the majority of his attention on the display before him.
After a moment to consider, Vincent asked, "Can you contact Clan Short headquarters? I think it would be best if we ask them."
"Ship, please establish contact with Clan Short headquarters and display the output to the operations console." Treep said into the air.
A moment later the Clan Short logo filled the screen of the console that Treep and Vincent were standing beside.
The unknown boy that Vincent had seen when Captain Byrne contacted Clan Short appeared on the screen and said, "Clan Short of Vulcan."
"Hi. I'm Crewman Winters. We're here at Earth and ready to beam down. Will you give us coordinates?" Vincent asked, feeling a distinct uneasiness from talking to this unknown boy. It was hard to feel like he was coming home when a complete stranger was welcoming him.
"Where do you want to beam to?" The boy asked curiously, and Vincent noticed that he seemed to be much more relaxed than last time they spoke.
"Um, could I beam in to wherever Cory is? I need to talk to him." Vincent asked with caution. Since he had no idea of what was going on, he didn't even know for sure if Cory would be at the Short Compound.
"Sean is currently in charge. Cory has been ordered off duty by Grandfather Sarek." The boy said in a tone of voice that almost sounded like a challenge.
Vincent bit his lower lip at the declaration, now more worried than ever for his clan.
"Well, this isn't really official stuff. I just want to see Cory and let him know that I'm okay." Vincent said, and concern could clearly be heard in his voice.
The boy pressed a few keys on the console before him, then said, "I've transmitted the coordinates."
The boy then continued in a more gentle voice, "Please just try not to upset him. He's had a rough couple of days."
"Only good news. I promise." Vincent said with an assuring smile.
The boy nodded and seemed to be ready to end the transmission.
"Wait!" Vincent called quickly.
The boy looked at Vincent with question.
"Who are you?" Vincent asked cautiously.
The boy smiled and said, "My name is Seth. I'm sorry I didn't introduce myself before. I've heard so much about you since I joined the Clan that I feel like I already know you."
"Oh." Vincent said cautiously, then continued, "It's nice to meet you, Seth. I guess I'll be able to meet you for real when I get down there."
Seth chuckled and said, "I'm looking forward to it. Welcome home."
Vincent smiled and watched as the Clan Short logo filled the screen again.
"Do you have everything you will need?" Captain Rasch asked as he walked to join the rest of the group.
"I think so." Vincent said as he looked around.
Once again Vincent was struck by how elegant Xandor looked in his black robe that glistened with tiny, multi-colored gems.
"Ship, notify me immediately if the Federation ships attempt to penetrate our sensor cloak." Captain Rasch said firmly.
"Yes Captain." Ship said seriously.
"Teleport." Captain Rasch said in a firm, clear voice.
When the fountain of multi-colored sparkles cleared, Vincent looked around the room that they had transported into.
As soon as he saw Cory, everything that he had expected and planned left his mind.
Cory looked... smaller. He looked tired and as though he had been beaten down.
Vincent immediately walked across the room and without hesitation, climbed onto Cory's lap.
"Hi dad. I'm home." Vincent whispered into Cory's shoulder as he hugged him firmly.
After a moment of surprise at the unexpected transport and the group of strangers that were standing before him, Cory devoted his attention to Vincent and returned the hug.
"How are you?" Vincent asked with concern.
"I'm fine." Cory whispered in return, then continued, "I'm even better now that I can see for myself that you're safe."
A low, rhythmic sound, something between a purr and a growl, drew Vincent's attention.
Vincent looked beside Cory to find a cat-like person staring across the room.
"Shhh... they're friends." Cory whispered to his side.
"They look hungry." Treep whispered in a cautious voice.
Vincent looked down in time to see one of the cat-like people slowly lick his lips.
"Stop that, Mont." Cory said in a tone of voice that was half scolding and half playful.
Movement drew Vincent's attention and he saw Captain Rasch take a half-step forward, silently letting it be known that he was protecting Treep.
"Vincent, maybe now would be a good time to intro..." Cory began to say, then froze when Xandor stepped out from behind the group. Vincent saw a curious look appear in Cory's eyes; a knowing look.
Vincent quirked an eyebrow at Cory's abrupt stop. But when it was obvious that Cory wasn't going to say whatever was on his mind, Vincent got off Cory's lap to make the introductions.
"Patriarch Cory Short, this is Captain Rasch of the Soleen-Avalla." Vincent said in his 'mature' voice.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Captain Rasch." Cory said with respect, but Vincent also noticed an underlying tiredness in his voice.
"It is a pleasure for me as well, Patriarch Short. As a representative of the Soleen-Avalla empire, I have been instructed to extend greetings from our counsel of elders." Captain Rasch said in a formal and respectful tone. The low accented voice that the Captain's translator use was perfect for conveying the sincerity of his words.
"Kewl." Cory said with a grin. "Please relay my thanks back to them."
Vincent smiled at the informal response, then said, "Cory, this is Treep, he's Captain Rasch's first officer."
"It's nice to meet you, Treep. Please don't be afraid of Mont and Bast. They know you're a guest and would never hurt you." Cory said as he met Treep's concerned gaze, then continued, "They'd have to deal with the Tribe if they tried."
"Thank you. It's nice to meet you, Patriarch Short... you too, Mont and Bast." Treep finished uncertainly and seemed to be fighting to hide his nervousness.
"I think I like him." Bast said in a playful voice.
Vincent moved to Lehman's side and said, "Cory, this is Lehman. I probably should have told you about him before but... well, lots of stuff has been going on and I just didn't think about it."
"It's nice to meet you, Lehman." Cory said formally, then looked at Vincent and asked, "Could you maybe explain why he looks *exactly* like you?"
"Oh yeah." Vincent said shyly, then continued, "I guess if you don't know the story, that could be kinda weird."
Cory raised an eyebrow in a distinctly 'Vulcan' fashion, prompting Vincent to explain.
"Lehman is a Chameloid. He can change himself to look like just about anyone. He changed himself to look like me and kinda got stuck." Vincent said with difficulty, wanting to keep the explanation brief.
"We can talk about it later if you want. It's kind of a long story." Lehman said shyly.
Cory nodded his agreement to the arrangement, then said, "Don't leave without telling me; this I gotta hear."
"Okay, I guess that leaves Lindon... I mean Xandor." Vincent said slowly as he moved to the winged boy's side.
"Ah... Another long story?" Cory guessed, that strange 'something' in his eyes again.
"No. Actually, it's really short." Vincent said seriously.
"Too short." Lehman said with a slight nod of agreement.
At Cory's inquisitive look, Vincent continued, "Xandor is from Lo'Ga... That's it. He doesn't remember anything from before we rescued him. I was kind of hoping that maybe Clan Short's telepaths or Doc Austin or maybe that Levi kid could do something to help him."
"You know Levi?" Cory asked with surprise, but didn't seem to be worried as he asked, "What did he do THIS time?"
"Yeah. He just kind of popped in out of nowhere, told Xandor his real name and where he's from, then popped out again." Vincent said, feeling like he was understating the event, but he honestly couldn't think of any other relevant facts to relate about the meeting.
"Daddy and Pop should be able to help Uncle Xandor 'member all the stuff he forgot." Levi said as he appeared beside Xandor and pulled him into a quick hug.
"Like that." Vincent said as he gestured toward Levi.
"I would try to do it myself, but I might mess things up trying to put old memories and new memories together the right way." Levi said from the hug.
"Well then..." Cory began to say, but was interrupted.
"Daddy and Poppa can fix you, Uncle Xandor. Come on." Levi giggled, then said, "We'll be back, Uncle Cory!"
Before Xandor could agree, protest or even fully understand what Levi was saying, ::pooft:: they were gone.
Vincent stared at the vacant spot for a moment before turning to Cory and saying, "I get the feeling that some things have happened while I've been gone."
Cory gave a weary chuckle and said, "I guess you could say that."
Captain Rasch and Treep looked at each other with concern at Xandor's disappearance.
Vincent noticed their worried expressions and hurried to say, "If you're worried about Xandor, Ship can check on him to see that he's alright."
Captain Rasch gave Vincent a brief smile, then said, "Ship, can you tell me of Xandor's condition?"
"He is currently being introduced to Levi's parents. Do you wish to speak to him or for me to relay a message?" Ship's voice asked from Captain Rasch's pendant.
"No, thank you, Ship. Just please monitor his activity and notify me immediately if he is in any distress." Captain Rasch said firmly.
"Yes, Captain." Ship responded in the completely professional tone that he had used the first time Vincent heard him.
"They won't hurt him. I promise." Cory said cautiously to the large Saurian that Vincent had brought with him.
Captain Rasch turned his attention to Cory and said, "I believe you. If I thought otherwise, I would have had Ship teleport him out immediately." Captain Rasch said in a professional voice, then continued more softly, "If our situations were reversed, would you do any less to protect someone in your charge?"
"I suppose not." Cory reluctantly admitted.
"Hey Cor. They'll be here in about five minutes. You'd better get a move on." Sean said quickly from the doorway, then noticed who else was in the room.
"Hey Vincent. I heard that you were on your way, but no one told me that you were here." Sean said happily, then looked Vincent up and down before adding, "Kewl bathrobe."
Vincent giggled at the comment, then without thinking, he ran to give Sean a firm hug.
Sean was a little bit surprised by the move, but was soon hugging Vincent just as firmly in return.
When the hug was finally finished, Vincent pulled back and asked, "What's going to happen in five minutes?"
"Oh, we have some visitors on the way and I'm going to need Cory for the whole greeting thing." Sean said casually, and from the way he said it, Vincent was sure that it wasn't anything dangerous.
"Is it anything I can help with?" Vincent asked automatically, not really considering the words before he said them.
"I can't think of any way you could help with our visitors, but I can think of something else that you could do if you're interested." Sean said with a smile.
"What can I do?" Vincent asked quickly, feeling a need to do something to help his Clan.
"Well, there is a certain Clan member in the rec room who is nearly crawling out of his skin, waiting for his brother to arrive. It would be a big help to all of us if you would go in there and talk to him." Sean said with a grin.
Vincent smiled as he realized who Sean was talking about.
"Okay. Thanks, Sean. But remember to call me if there's any way I can help you guys." Vincent said as he looked Sean in the eyes.
"Yeah. Promise. Gotta go." Sean said before hurrying away.
"I'm sorry I can't stay and talk, but I'm sure Lawrence can fill you in on everything that's happened since you left." Cory said as he slowly stood, then continued, "Things are still totally nuts around here."
"Yeah. Take care of yourself, Dad. I love you." Vincent said as he walked to Cory and gave him a quick hug, then to Cory's absolute surprise, Vincent kissed him on the cheek.
Cory returned the hug and whispered, "I'd really like to sit and talk with you later."
"Yeah. I'll catch you later when you've got all your stuff done." Vincent said as he reluctantly released Cory from the hug.
Cory reached up and rubbed Vincent's slightly shaggy hair as he walked out of the room with the two cat creatures following close behind.
"Come on, my brother Lawrence should be right in here." Vincent said as he walked with Lehman, Captain Rasch and Treep into the hall.
"Trach Manja Vincent, if it would not be an imposition to you, could I meet others of your family at a later time?" Captain Rasch asked gently.
Vincent noticed that Lehman had continued on into the Rec room.
"Treep and I need to return to the ship to supervise the repairs." Captain Rasch said seriously.
"That's fine. Thanks for coming down to meet Cory. Do you think that you and Treep will be able to come down later?" Vincent asked hopefully.
"Yes. I am certain that we will once repairs are underway." Captain Rasch said with a smile.
"Okay. Then I'll see you later." Vincent said with appreciation.
"Ship. Teleport." Captain Rasch said clearly, then was consumed in a fountain of multi-colored sparkles.
"Oh God, I missed you. You haven't changed a bit." Lawrence said as he hugged Lehman tightly.
Vincent smiled at the scene before him, then noticed Deacon standing a few feet away.
"Hey, Deacon. How are you doing?" Vincent asked as he walked casually to Deacons side.
"Fine..." Deacon said automatically, then looked over at Lawrence hugging Lehman, then back at Vincent again.
"I see that Lawrence met Lehman. I'm glad they like each other." Vincent said as mischief danced in his eyes.
"But he... you... what?" Deacon asked in a diminishing voice.
"That's Lehman, he's a shape shifter... sort of. It's kind of a long story." Vincent said, then unfolded the jumpsuit uniform that he had been carrying and reached into the pocket.
"Oh good, they didn't lose it." Vincent said happily as he extracted a small velvety pouch.
Deacon looked at Vincent curiously.
"Here. I got this for you. I hope you like it." Vincent said as he handed the pouch to Deacon.
"*You* got something for *me*?" Deacon asked hesitantly as he slowly opened the pouch and poured the contents out into his hand.
"Yup. I saw it and I thought of you." Vincent said as he waited to see Deacon's reaction.
"Oh Vincent. It's beautiful." Deacon said as he held up the necklace to look at the cobalt blue pendant suspended on a thin gold chain.
"I'm glad you think so."
"Would you please get off me?" Lehman asked in an indignant voice.
Vincent and Deacon both turned to see what Lawrence's reaction would be.
As Lehman was working to escape Lawrence's grasp, Lawrence noticed Vincent and Deacon a few feet away.
"But... but..." Lawrence sputtered as he looked from Lehman to Vincent with confusion.
"Do you want to tell it this time?" Vincent asked Lehman with his mischievous grin firmly in place.
"*YOUR* brother just about hugged my guts out. You owe me big time." Lehman said firmly as he stepped away from Lawrence.
Vincent snickered and said, "I'm sorry, Lehman. I didn't know that would happen."
"Vince?" Lawrence asked quietly, still not entirely sure which one was his brother.
"I'm right here, Lawrence. The guy you just jumped is named Lehman. He's kinda like my twin." Vincent said with a smile.
Lawrence took a step toward Vincent and looked at him carefully.
"You've grown." Lawrence said in a quiet voice.
"Yeah. Growth spurt." Vincent said, not sure what Lawrence's reaction would be.
"Well, you look a lot better than when you... you know... almost died." Lawrence said with tears forming in his eyes.
Vincent couldn't wait any longer and pulled his brother into a firm hug.
"They sure are some hugging people." Lehman said casually as he walked to Deacon's side.
"Just wait until you meet the Thompsons." Deacon said with a chuckle.
"I'm really fine." Vincent said quietly as he continued to hold Lawrence firmly.
Lawrence pulled away enough to look his brother in the eyes.
After a long minute of examining Vincent's expression, Lawrence gently said, "I can see that, Vince. You've really grown up."
"Yeah, about three inches. Plus Dr. Perry says that I'm starting to gain muscle mass... whatever that means." Vincent finished with a considering look.
"No, Vince, I mean you've grown up inside. When you left you could barely stand to touch me. Now you act like you're really happy to see me." Lawrence said quietly, reluctant to disrupt the happy mood.
"It's not an act."
Lawrence stared at his brother, not daring to hope for more.
Vincent closed his eyes and concentrated on what he was trying to say.
"A lot of people have spent a lot of time trying to get me to understand myself."
Lawrence looked as if he wanted to say something but seemed to be unable to form the words.
"I guess the biggest thing that I've learned is that being family, being brothers, is more important than any of that crap that Dad used to scream about."
"More important than me being gay?" Lawrence ventured hopefully.
Vincent smiled and said, "Yeah."
Lawrence looked at Vincent with surprise and waited expectantly for his next words.
"I love you, Lawrence, and there is nothing you could ever say or do that would change that."
"I love you too, Vince." Lawrence said past the lump in his throat.
Vincent smiled at the words so sincerely spoken by his brother.
After a moment to consider, Vincent said, "And what I've learned about the gay thing is that it's really no big deal. If you love someone, it doesn't matter if you're gay or straight. Love is love."
Lawrence started openly crying as he pulled Vincent back into a hug.
"And there they go again." Lehman said in a weary voice.
"Yeah." Deacon said with a chuckle, then thought to ask, "What was your name again?"
"Right. A shape shifter." Deacon said as he looked at Lehman curiously.
"More like a 'used-to-be' shape shifter." Lehman said, and Deacon could clearly hear the sad, longing tone in his voice.
"Why is that?" Deacon asked with concern.
Lehman shook his head as he reigned in his emotions, then said, "Because sometimes you have to pay a price to get what you want."
"What did you want?" Deacon asked, feeling more concerned than ever for this person who he only just met.
"For the Holy One of the Okudai to survive so he could take care of his people." Lehman said as his eyes seemed to be looking at a distant place in the universe.
"And it cost you the ability to change your shape?"
"Yeah. Not a bad deal, really. I was ready to give up my life to save him if that's what it took." Lehman said as he tried to sound cheerful.
"Hang on." Deacon said as he pulled a necklace out of his shirt and closed his eyes.
Lehman noticed that Deacon's necklace had started to glow, then the glow seemed to surround his entire body.
"What are you doing?" Lehman asked as he started to back away.
Vincent and Lawrence looked up in unison at Lehman's words.
"What's wrong, Deke?" Lawrence asked with concern.
The golden glow began to fade as Deacon slowly opened his eyes and looked at Lehman with sympathy.
"Is there a problem?" Vincent asked as he looked around with confusion, taken aback at the golden light which was still flickering in Deacon's eyes.
"Yes and no." Deacon said in a tone of apology that was directed more toward Lehman than Vincent.
"Huh?" Vincent asked as he moved protectively to Lehman's side.
"Vince, some things have happened..." Lawrence said as he immediately moved to stand with Deacon.
"Hold on, Lawrence. I've got some avatar business that I have to do. You can explain after." Deacon interrupted.
Lawrence looked at Deacon with concern and asked, "Do you need my help?"
"That's going to depend on what Lehman decides." Deacon said, then looked at Lehman again.
"Is it just me, or does that sound like something that's gonna suck?" Lehman asked Vincent quietly.
Deacon shook his head and said, "No, Lehman. It's a good thing, I promise. I'm just sorry that there's no way I can give you *exactly* what you want."
"Okay. Just what are we talking about here?" Vincent asked as he looked from Lawrence to Deacon uncertainly.
"How about I just spell out your choices? Maybe it won't be a problem." Deacon said with a forced smile, obviously not believing it.
Lehman glanced at Vincent, then cautiously nodded at Deacon.
"Let's see. First of all, you can choose to remain just like you are."
Lehman nodded that he understood.
"Your second choice would be to ask one of the Mikyvis to help you. They can restore you to exactly like you were before you met Vincent."
"Mikyvis? Oh yeah, like that Levi kid who took Xandor. So does that mean that Lehman would have blue skin and be able to change again, or that he wouldn't be a Trach Manja anymore?" Vincent asked, finally over the weirdness of the situation enough to try to understand what was going on.
"Yes ...and yes." Deacon said without emotion.
"Then I'll stay like this." Lehman said in a small voice that betrayed his disappointment.
"Hold on. There's another choice. Lawrence and I can help you." Deacon said gently.
"What can you do?" Vincent asked before Lehman could find his voice.
"If Lehman wants us to help him, we can fix it so he can change his appearance again. We won't change anything else, we will just fix that one thing." Deacon said carefully.
"How?" Vincent asked, wanting to understand what they were talking about doing to his newest brother and friend.
Lawrence stepped forward and put a hand on Vincent's shoulder as he said, "Vince, I doubt that there's any way that you would believe it if I told you. So please just trust me when I say that if Deacon says that we can fix Lehman... we can."
"I think I believe him. It's not the weirdest thing I've heard of since I met you." Lehman said, then gave Vincent a grin that proved better than words that Lehman was being honest.
Although a part of him wanted to go along with it, a bigger part needed to know more before he could allow Lawrence and Deacon to do anything.
"I want to hear it." Vincent said in his 'mature' voice.
Lawrence glanced at Deacon and received a nod before saying, "Deacon and I are the chosen avatars of Saint Mikey of Urbandale, protector of Gay and Abandoned Youth."
Vincent thought about the words for a moment, then slowly said, "Oooookay. I think I got that. Except... I know what an avatar is when you're on a computer, but when you're talking about working for a Saint, just what does 'avatar' mean?"
"It means that we can stand in for Saint Mikey and do things for him when he needs us to." Lawrence said, then looked to Deacon to see if he had anything to add.
"We're like the Trach Manjai in a way." Deacon said as he looked Vincent in the eyes.
"Wait. What do you know about the Trach Manjai?" Vincent asked with immediate distrust.
"Not much. Just a few things that Mikey told me." Deacon said and Vincent could see the sincerity in his eyes.
Vincent nodded as he processed the information.
"I told you that you wouldn't believe it." Lawrence said with a look of concern.
"No. Actually, I think I'm okay with it." Vincent said thoughtfully, then looked up at his brother with a smile.
"Really?" Lawrence asked with surprise.
"Yeah. It looks to me like the Great Spirit has all kinds of helpers, so why not?" Vincent said with a chuckle.
Lawrence blinked as he looked at his brother with shock at his easy acceptance.
"Lawrence, you and Deacon are avatars. Lehman and I are Trach Manjai. So let's make a deal. You do what you can to help Lehman and we'll do whatever we can to help you when you need it." Vincent said in a wheedling tone.
"Like we weren't going to do that anyway." Lehman said with a roll of his eyes.
"Shhh. You're not supposed to tell them that while we're negotiating." Vincent said with an impish grin.
Deacon's gaze became distant as he said, "Our Father has a plan. The Mikyvis, the Ferox, the Trach Manjai... all of us have our parts to play. Lehman's decision will determine if he will continue to be a part of that plan."
"And what if he chooses not to be?" Vincent asked, now completely serious again.
"Then another will take his place... in fact, he's already been chosen and is awaiting Lehman's decision." Deacon said, seemingly surprised at his own words.
Vincent thought for a moment, then his eyes went wide as he gasped, "Thomas?"
Deacon gazed off into the distance for a moment, then slowly nodded.
Silence fell over the group until Lehman finally asked, "If you help me, what's going to happen?"
"A miracle." Deacon said simply.
"Could you maybe be a little bit more specific?" Vincent asked as he looked from Deacon to Lawrence with hope.
"We can restore his ability to shape-change." Deacon said as he met Vincent's gaze.
"And?" Vincent prompted.
"And that's it."
Lehman thought about what Deacon was saying then quietly asked, "So I'll be able to change myself again, and nothing else will change?"
"Yes." Deacon said firmly.
"So I'll still be able to help people." Lehman said in thought.
"Lot's of people." Deacon said, then added, "And if things go right, maybe ALL people."
"And if I choose not to let you or the Mikyvis or anyone do anything to me, then I won't be able to help those people?" Lehman asked as his gaze slipped to the floor.
"No. You're not getting it. Right now you have everything you need to do what has been asked of you. You can walk out of here completely unchanged and fulfill your destiny. But if you want to regain your ability to shape-shift, we can do that for you." Deacon said as his eyes continued to flicker with golden light.
Lehman nodded that he understood what Deacon was saying.
"But if you feel that the responsibility of being Trach Manja is too big for you, choosing to let the Mikyvis help you is a chance to go back to the way you were before. You could be a regular Chameloid child and grow up and lead a normal life." Deacon said more gently.
"I know what I'd do." Vincent said with a casual shrug.
Lehman chuckled and said, "Yeah. I guess it *is* a no brainer. What do I need to do?"
"Mikey wants you to do it." Deacon said as he shifted his gaze to Lawrence.
Vincent looked at his brother in time to see him brush his fingertips across the angel pin on his collar.
The pin began to glow, then the glow started spreading through Lawrence's entire body.
"Come here, Lehman. I need to hug you." Lawrence said in a relaxed voice.
"I should have known." Lehman said with a smirk at Deacon, then moved into Lawrence's arms.
The gold light that had been surrounding Lawrence now also enveloped Lehman.
"Do you do this often?" Vincent asked Deacon at his side.
"No. Not often. Mikey usually likes to do things like this himself. He's just... um... occupied at the moment." Deacon said and seemed to be holding something back.
"Occupied?" Vincent asked slowly, prompting for more information.
"Yeah. All he said was he was called away to rescue someone. Someone who's been lost for nearly thirteen years. He needs to be where he is right now so he'll be ready when it's time for him to act."
"Oh, okay. So when he's tied up with other things, you and Lawrence can kind of stand in for him and... what? Act like you're saints?" Vincent asked uncertainly, feeling like he might be insulting Deacon by even asking.
"No. We're not Saints. We're just a couple of guys who Mikey is willing to trust to help him out now and then when he needs it. We go where he needs us to be and he works through us and does the things he would do if he could be there in person." Deacon said in a tone of voice that indicated that he wasn't at all bothered by Vincent's question.
"I feel something." Lehman said in a whisper.
"So do I." Lawrence said cautiously, then continued, "Do you have a banana in your pocket?"
"What's a banana?" Lehman asked in confusion.
"It's a... oh, wait. that's your... Wow!" Lawrence said as he started to blush.
"Mikey says less rubbing, more healing." Deacon said in a tone of voice that was lower in pitch.
"Right. We're nearly done." Lawrence said as he continued to hold Lehman firmly.
Vincent glanced at Deacon to find a worried look in his eyes.
"Is something wrong?" Vincent asked in a whisper.
"I don't understand why Lawrence would do that. Is he getting tired of me?" Deacon asked as he stared at Lawrence and Lehman still hugging.
Vincent chuckled and said, "I bet if you were the one over there hugging Lehman, you would have done exactly the same thing."
Deacon glanced at Vincent and the incredulity was evident in his expression.
"Lehman is hung like a bull moose. Lawrence was just surprised by it." Vincent said simply.
"Do you really think so?" Deacon asked as he stared at Lawrence through the beginnings of tears.
"Yeah. I'm sure of it. I've hugged Lehman a few times and it's hard not to notice that monster he's got." Vincent said, not sure if Deacon was even hearing his words by this point.
"That's it. How do you feel?" Lawrence asked as he slowly released Lehman from the hug.
"A little shaky."
"You should be able to change whenever you feel like it." Lawrence said gently as he walked to Deacon's side.
Lehman looked down at himself, then at Lawrence with question.
"Go ahead. Give it a try." Lawrence said with anticipation as he casually draped an arm around Deacon's shoulders.
Lehman concentrated for a moment, then his body began to reshape itself.
Vincent smiled as he looked at Lehman in Benny's form, still wearing the white tunic and pants.
Since the tunic was long and the pants were loose fitting, the clothing fit Lehman perfectly.
"How does it feel?" Vincent asked with a grin.
Lehman considered for a moment, then said, "Great! It was easy... In fact..."
As Lehman was speaking, he transformed again, this time into his blue skinned form with auburn hair and golden eyes.
"...I think it's easier than it was before." Lehman finished happily.
Vincent glanced over at Deacon and Lawrence to see them arm in arm, watching Lehman with peaceful smiles.
"I'm glad it worked." Vincent said happily as he walked to Lehman to give him a quick hug of congratulations.
Lehman's joy suddenly seemed to fade, then he quietly asked, "I wonder how Xandor is doing."
"I have been monitoring Xandor's activities and he is currently investigating his regained memories. He is well and the procedure that the Mikyvis have employed has been a complete success. He's also found another Lo'Garn... and an alligator with a passport." Ship said professionally.
"A what?" Vincent asked with surprise.
"I'm just glad he's all right." Lehman said peacefully.
"Yeah." Vincent said happily, then continued, "I thought my clan would be able to help, I just didn't know that it would all be taken care of so quick."
"There's still a lot to do." Lawrence said as he guided Deacon to walk with him to Vincent and Lehman.
"Like what?" Vincent asked with sudden concern.
"I think you need to talk to Rory." Lawrence said as he looked at his younger brother with regret.
"Why? What's wrong with Rory?" Vincent asked as his mind filled with a hundred different things that might have gone wrong with Rory's treatments.
"Don't worry. He's fine. But I've heard that you and he have become friends... I think he could really use a friend right now." Lawrence said, and was obviously holding something back.
Rather than try to put Lawrence on the spot and make him tell something he obviously wasn't comfortable saying, Vincent decided that he should go directly to the source.
"Do you know where he is?"
"He's over at Camp Little Eagle in the medical building." Lawrence said as he looked at Vincent with relief.
"Mikey needs us to stay here for when he does his rescue. If you give us a few minutes, we can find someone to drive you over." Deacon said with regret that he and Lawrence couldn't go along.
"No thanks. We can get there ourselves." Vincent said seriously, then looked at Lehman and asked, "Do you want to go with me?"
"Sure. I've seen Rory in your memories, I'd like to meet him." Lehman said as he transformed himself into a duplicate of Vincent.
"Ship. Can you transport us to the Camp Little Eagle medical building?" Vincent asked into the bracelet on his wrist.
"Yes Trach Manja Vincent. Let me know when you are ready." Ship responded immediately.
"Bull moose?" Lehman asked as soon as the teleportal stream cleared.
"Oh, you heard that?" Vincent asked shyly.
Lehman nodded, then looked at Vincent with question.
"Benny came up with that."
"So you and Benny were discussing the size of my penis?" Lehman asked slowly, not sure if he was mad or offended... or even bothered at all.
"No... well, yes. But not really. I mean we were talking and somehow the subject came up. We weren't saying anything bad. I promise." Vincent said in a rush.
"Now that I can shape-change again, you don't need to worry about it. I can make it as big or as small as I want." Lehman said frankly.
"Okay. I'm sorry if I embarrassed you by saying that to Deacon. I just didn't want him to think that Lawrence was some kind of pervert, feeling up every kid that he hugs." Vincent said as he watched Lehman's expression.
"That was nice of you." Lehman said, then looked around and asked, "Where do we need to go?"
"In there I guess." Vincent said as he pointed at the main door of a building a few feet away.
"Yeah. They were still working on this building the last time I was on Earth so I haven't been in it before." Vincent said as he led the way inside.
After a short walk down the hall, Vincent and Lehman came to a reception desk.
"Excuse me, do you happen to know where Rory Teeter is?" Vincent asked the woman behind the desk.
"Treatment two, right over there." She said as she pointed, then rushed away carrying a padd close to her chest.
Vincent and Lehman shared a glance, then started walking toward the indicated door.
"I don't want to go." Ken was saying as Vincent and Lehman approached the doorway.
"I know. And I don't want you to go. But the fact of the matter is that one of us needs to be at Clan Short Headquarters in case we're needed." Rory said reasonably.
"But isn't there some way we can go together?" Ken asked in a whine.
"I need to be here, you need to be there. Ken, a lot of people got hurt and the clan needs everyone to do their part so no one is left out. On top of that, I'm counting on you to keep me up to date on what's happening." Rory said imploringly.
"Yeah. I know you're right... I just don't like it." Ken said reluctantly as he looked into Rory's eyes.
"When things look like they've calmed down for the night, come back over here and fill me in... then as soon as Solak is done with me, we can go to your house... and spend the night together." Rory finished with a devilish smile.
Ken tried to fight back his own smile, but finally gave in.
"I'll see you in a little while." Rory whispered, then leaned forward to give Ken a full, deep kiss.
Vincent glanced at Lehman, conveying his discomfort at witnessing such a private moment.
As the kiss continued, it occurred to Vincent that Rory and Ken weren't going to finish anytime soon, so he reluctantly knocked on the frame of the open door.
Ken and Rory broke their kiss and slowly turned to look at the door in unison.
"Sorry to interrupt, guys." Vincent said shyly.
"Vincent! It's great to see you." Rory said quickly, then covered his mouth and glanced at the man in the bed in the room with them to see that he was still asleep.
"I'm glad you're all right. When did you get back?" Ken asked as he also glanced at the bed.
"I'm great. I just got back to Earth a little bit ago..." Vincent trailed off as he noticed that Rory and Ken were staring past him.
"We really should make an announcement about me being here, so people will stop doing that." Lehman said, sounding more amused than irritated.
"Or maybe now that you can change again, you could change to look like someone else." Vincent said as he looked askance at his 'twin'.
"I could do that." Lehman said through a giggle, then began to grow taller.
Ken and Rory's eyes got wide as they watched the duplicate of Vincent transform into a teenage boy with straight brown hair.
"Why did you choose Brakkii?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Because no one here would know him."
Vincent nodded his agreement to the logic, then said, "Ken and Rory, this is my brother Lehman."
"How?" Rory asked in wonder.
"How what?" Vincent asked slowly, not quite sure which of many perfectly valid questions Rory was asking.
"I just changed in front of them, so I'm guessing that Rory is asking how I did that." Lehman said with a speculative look at Ken and Rory.
"Oh. He's a Chameloid... that's what they do." Vincent said simply.
Lehman looked upward as he considered the explanation, then said, "Yeah. I can live with that."
"So your new brother can change to look like... anyone?" Ken asked as he looked at Lehman appraisingly.
Vincent smiled and said, "Pretty much."
"That's really awesome." Ken said with a big smile.
"On my world it's just the way everyone is. It's no big deal." Lehman said with a shrug.
Rory smiled at Lehman and said, "It still seems like it would be nice to be able to look any way you want. You'd never have to feel goofy looking or ugly."
"Rory. You're a model. Your pictures have been seen by people all over the world. I don't think you have to worry about being ugly." Ken said with a grin.
Vincent looked at Ken with question at the unusual statement.
"Do you remember that photo shoot that Rory did with Billy at Southcrest before you left?" Ken asked as he looked Vincent in the eyes.
Vincent thought back to the Saturday before the Yorktown left Earth and said, "Yeah. Sort of."
"The company loved them and they did a whole ad campaign using Rory's pictures." Ken said and gave Rory a look of such pride that he looked like he might burst.
"I've been on Vulcan so I haven't really seen them yet." Rory said as he blushed from Ken's attention directed at him.
"Don't worry, when you get over to my house, I'll show you my collection. I have every one that's been printed." Ken said with a loving smile.
"My mom and dad have been collecting them too. " Rory said as he tried to turn his attention to Vincent and Lehman.
"I'd really like to see them. Make sure to show them to me before I have to leave." Vincent said happy to know that Rory's family were being supportive.
"Yeah, we can do that later... " Rory began to say when Ken interrupted.
"Tell him about the letter you got."
Rory looked at Ken with question and asked, "The one from the clothing company?"
"No, the one from that girl." Ken said imploringly.
"Oh, right." Rory said with a smile, then looked at Vincent and said, "After they started using my pictures for advertisements, I got letters from a few people who liked my pictures. There was this one from a girl named Stacey. She said that she was in a wheelchair just like I am, and because she saw my pictures, she felt like she could be beautiful."
"Yeah. She saw Rory looking all normal and happy and stuff and she realized that she could be that way too." Ken said proudly.
"That's great. It sounds like you're helping people without even trying." Vincent said with a grin.
"Yeah. All I was really trying to do was help Billy out because he needed a model. I didn't think anyone would even notice me. I was just there to show off the clothes." Rory said frankly.
"I'm glad it worked out that way." Vincent said peacefully.
"Hey Vincent, do you know where you guys are going to be sleeping tonight?" Ken asked as he looked from Vincent to Lehman.
"No. I hadn't really thought about it. On the ship I guess.." Vincent said uncertainly, then glanced at Lehman to see if he had any other ideas.
"Well, I bet that Lawrence is going to expect you to stay at his house. But if he doesn't think of that, you're welcomed to stay at our place. We have plenty of room." Ken said, and Vincent was surprised to hear something like hope in his voice.
Vincent looked at Lehman with question and received a shrug in response.
"And you're invited to dinner too... I'll just need to let Pop and Mamacita know that you're coming." Ken said thoughtfully, then broke into a smile.
"We don't want to be any trouble." Vincent hurried to say.
"It'd trouble us a whole lot more if you came all the way back to Earth, then went back to your ship to eat and sleep. Vincent, you're our family." Ken said firmly.
Vincent was surprised by the declaration, mainly because he had barely spoken to Ken before.
Now here he was with Ken treating him like he was family, and from the tone of his voice, he obviously meant it.
"Okay." Vincent finally said as he raised his hands in surrender.
"That diplomatic training is really paying off." Rory said to Ken with a grin.
"Yeah. I guess it is." Ken said with a chuckle in his voice, then continued more seriously, "I'm sorry I can't stay and visit with you guys, but Rory needs me to be over at Clan Short Headquarters. Just call me over there if you need anything."
Vincent and Lehman watched as Ken leaned in to give Rory a quick, firm kiss.
"I'll see you tonight." Rory said gently.
"Yeah." Ken said with a smile, then hurried out of the room.
"So how are you doing Rory?" Vincent asked with concern.
"I'm great. The treatments are working just the way they're supposed to and I'm feeling better than I have in a couple years." Rory said, and if his expression was any indicator, he was telling the complete truth.
"Then why are you in the hospital?" Vincent asked cautiously, then glanced at Lehman to see if he was having any problem following along with the conversation.
"Oh, Uncle Solak brought us here when we arrived at Earth to check us out. He wanted to be sure that the different atmospheric pressure and gravity wasn't going to change the way his therapy was working on us." Rory said in a half bored and half matter-of-fact tone.
"Us?" Vincent asked as he looked at Rory curiously.
"Yeah." Rory said, then moved his electric wheelchair closer to the bed.
"This is Kennon." Rory said as he indicated the twenty-something year old guy who was sleeping soundly.
"Kennon has a neurological disorder something like mine. In fact, his condition is *exactly* the one that Solak developed his treatment for." Rory said carefully.
"Oh. That's lucky." Lehman said cautiously, just trying to make some contribution to the conversation.
"Not really. Solak started working on the treatment when his wife got sick. Kennon is her nephew." Rory said quietly.
"Was Solak able to cure her?" Lehman asked hesitantly, afraid he already knew the answer.
Rory shook his head as he looked down.
"Oh." Lehman said quietly, regretting that he had asked.
After a long moment of uncomfortable silence, Vincent asked, "So how long do you have to stay here?"
"It's hard to say. The last test Solak did was inconclusive. We might be released after the next test or it could take until late tonight." Rory said without enthusiasm.
"Well, if you're worried about your friend waking up alone, I could stay here with him if you need to go and do anything. I really wouldn't mind." Lehman offered quietly.
Rory blinked with confusion for a moment, then said, "Kennon is a big boy. I'm not worried about that."
"Then why do you have to stay here?" Lehman asked cautiously.
"To protect him." Rory said honestly.
"I thought Camp Little Eagle was a safe place. Who are you trying to protect him from?" Vincent asked as a feeling of dread crept up his spine.