"If it's okay with you, I'm going to talk to some people and probably later today I'll be back with someone who can help you with your... um, gift." Ace said quietly, so only Geoff could hear.
After a moment of consideration, Geoff quietly asked, "Could you not do that?"
Ace looked at Geoff with surprise at the request.
"I mean, it'd be great if you could find someone to help me, but could you not bring them here? It's so quiet here, I really don't want it to be spoiled by people." Geoff asked desperately.
Ace smiled at his new friend and said, "Sure. That's no problem. It'll probably take me a little while to find someone who's free to help you. But when I do, I'll contact you and we'll work it out."
"Thanks, Ace." Geoff said quietly.
"What are you guys talking about?" Vincent asked from in front of them.
"We're talking about you!" Ace said with a mischievous grin.
Vincent stopped and looked at the pair of older boys with a considering look, then shrugged and led his way into his cabin.
* * * * *
After dressing in some of his new clothes, Vincent walked with Ace and Geoff to the medical bay so Geoff could begin his next treatment.
"Are you going to be alright on your own?" Vincent asked with concern.
Geoff smiled at Vincent and said, "Yeah. That's how I'm best."
Vincent's look of concern intensified at the statement.
"Don't worry. Everything is fine." Geoff assured.
"If you need me for anything, any time at all, just ask Manu to call me. This bracelet I'm wearing is a communicator so Manu can call me whenever you need me." Vincent said seriously.
"I'll be fine. You guys go and do the things that you need to do and I'll be here when you're done." Geoff said with a warm smile. He could clearly feel the emotions of the two people in front of him and was comforted by their honest concern and affection for him.
"Will it be okay if I come to visit you?" Ace asked uncertainly.
Geoff could feel Ace's wave of uncertainty as clearly as he could see it written on his expressive face.
"Yeah. You can come visit whenever you want." Geoff said with a genuine smile at Ace, then climbed on the Soleen-Avalla biobed to lie down.
"If you will be at the Pierce household, you may contact me on their terminal whenever you wish to speak with Geoff or visit with him." Manu said gently.
"Thank you. I'll do that." Ace said as he looked upward.
"Come on. We've both got things to do." Vincent said as he started walking toward the doorway.
"I'll see you again soon, Geoff." Ace said before turning to leave.
Geoff could feel the wave of regret from Ace, regret that he couldn't stay and visit.
In the end, all that Geoff could say was, "Thanks."
* * * * *
When the sparkles of the teleportal beam cleared, Vincent and Ace found themselves looking at Billy, Deacon and Lawrence, all sitting in the living room.
"We're back." Vincent said with a shy smile.
"Welcome back." Deacon said cheerfully, then added, "Billy was just telling us about our new nephew."
"You scared me, Ace. I thought you'd run off." Billy said as he stood from his place on the couch and walked directly to Ace to pull him into a firm hug.
"No chance of that." Ace said as he closed his eyes and returned the hug firmly.
"Good. I'll hold you to that." Billy whispered in relief, then glanced at Vincent and asked, "What happened to your eye?"
"Bad dream." Vincent said dismissively, then walked to the couch to stand in front of Lawrence before asking, "Do you still want to go to the house today?"
"Honestly, I think I'd rather do just about anything else. But since it needs to be done, I guess we'd better get it over with." Lawrence said in a pained voice as he looked into his younger brother's eyes.
"Yeah. It's gonna suck." Vincent said quietly, then dutifully added, "I'm ready to go whenever you are."
"I'm going with you." Deacon said as he put an arm around Lawrence's shoulders.
"No, Deke. It needs to be just the two of us." Lawrence said quietly.
"But what if you need me?" Deacon asked cautiously.
"I will need you. There's no doubt about that. But this is something that Vincent and I are going to have to face alone. As soon as we're done, I'll come back here and I'm probably going to be a wreck, so you'd better brace yourself." Lawrence said as he looked deeply into Deacon's eyes.
Deacon smiled slightly, then said, "I'll make sure to have the hot chocolate ready to pour and a 'Mary Tyler Moore Show' tape queued up in the VCR."
"You know me too well." Lawrence said with a tender smile, then leaned in to give Deacon a firm kiss.
"Do you need me to go somewhere for, like, twenty minutes or something so you guys can finish that?" Vincent asked uncomfortably.
"No. We'll save that for when we get back." Lawrence said decisively, then forced himself to let go of Deacon and stand from the couch.
Vincent nodded, then held up his bracelet and asked, "Manu, if I give you a street address can you teleport us there?"
"Yes. Proceed with the address when you are ready." Manu said professionally.
After receiving the address, Manu responded, "Ready to teleport on your command."
Vincent looked at his brother to be sure that he was ready, then calmly said, "Teleport."
* * * * *
As the fountain of sparkles cleared, Vincent was surprised at how dark it was.
"I thought we'd arrive outside." Lawrence said in a mildly surprised voice.
"Yeah, me too. But since I don't have my house key with me, this works out a lot better." Vincent said frankly.
"Oh, yeah." Lawrence said distractedly as he looked around.
"It's stuffy in here." Vincent said as he walked to the window by the front door to open it.
"Yeah. But it always was." Lawrence said quietly, still standing in the spot he had arrived in.
"That's better." Vincent said as he breathed in the fresh, clean air.
"What are we doing here?" Lawrence asked in a small, lost voice.
Vincent walked to his brother and put an arm around him as he said, "We're looking for the good memories that we want to keep so that when we're done here, we can let all the rest of it go."
Lawrence returned the hug for a moment, then said, "Thanks, Vince."
"Come on. Let's get it done and get the hell out of here." Vincent said as he stood a little straighter, signalling that he was ready to go.
"Right." Lawrence said in resignation.
* * * * *
Vincent and Lawrence each automatically walked to his own bedroom. Apparently they both instinctively knew that the search for good memories needed to start there.
As Vincent walked into his room, the first thing that caught his attention was that the furnace vent cover had been removed and that there was something in the vent.
Vincent pulled the chair from his desk over in front of the vent and stood on it to see what it was.
It took a moment for his mind to process what he was seeing. It was a small video camera.
Vincent walked across the hall to his father's study and immediately saw the empty space where his father's computer had once been.
As he walked back into his room, Lawrence called out, "Vince, come here, you need to see this."
Before Vincent could respond, Lawrence walked into the room and immediately looked up at the missing vent cover.
"You, too?" Lawrence asked quietly in a bewildered voice.
"Yeah." Vincent said with a sigh.
Vincent thought for a moment, then walked past Lawrence and out of the room without a word.
* * * * *
"What is it, Vince?" Lawrence asked as he stopped in the bathroom doorway, where Vincent was looking at another camera.
Vincent looked from the camera to the shower, where it was pointed and fought to control his emotions and think logically.
"What?... I don't understand." Lawrence said as his mind raced.
"Dad." Vincent said with resignation, then looked up at his brother with dread.
"What?" Lawrence asked in confusion.
"Come into the living room. There's something I need to tell you." Vincent said quietly.
Lawrence stood motionless until he felt Vincent's hand come around his waist and guide him to walk out of the bathroom.
* * * * *
"Sit down." Vincent prompted his brother.
"What's going on, Vince?" Lawrence asked in confusion.
"A while back, Daddy Joe told me some stuff. I don't know everything, but I'll tell you what he told me, so maybe you can understand, at least a little bit." Vincent said carefully.
"Stop dancing around it, Vince. Just tell me." Lawrence said quietly.
"Okay. It looks like Dad had the hots for you and that's why there were cameras hidden in your bedroom and in the bathroom. So he could see you naked and stuff." Vincent said seriously.
Lawrence froze in place and was silent as he tried to get his brain to accept the new concept.
"Daddy Joe thinks that Dad was having gay feelings for you, but because he hated gays so much, that that's what made him hit you and hate you. He couldn't deal with having those feelings, so he tried to make everything he was feeling your fault." Vincent said carefully, hoping that his explanation was making some kind of sense.
"But, there was a camera in your room, too." Lawrence said cautiously.
"Yeah. I think that after you left... I mean, after he threw you out, I think that... Just because you were gone, didn't mean that he stopped having gay feelings. With you not here, he started thinking that stuff about me... and blaming me for it."
"Oh my God! That's how you ended up in the hospital, isn't it?" Lawrence asked as tears fell down his cheeks.
"Yeah. I think so." Vincent said quietly.
"I'm sorry he hurt you." Lawrence said as he pulled his younger brother into a hug.
"I know. I'm sorry he hurt you, too." Vincent said quietly as he held his brother tightly.
After a long moment of silence, Lawrence cautiously said, "It wasn't even about me being gay, was it?"
"What's that?" Vincent asked from his place in his brother's arms.
"The reason he hated me. The reason he threw me out. It wouldn't have mattered if I was the most hetro-butch guy in Florida, he would have treated me just the same way." Lawrence said quietly.
"Lawrence, it was never your fault." Vincent said as he pulled back to look into his brother's eyes.
Vincent waited for his brother's reaction, but when there wasn't one, he continued, "I've spent a lot of time talking with a counselor about this stuff. It took a while, but he made me realize that none of this was our fault. Dad was the adult. We were the kids. There's nothing... absolutely NOTHING we could have ever done to ever deserve what he did to us. It wouldn't matter if you were the biggest flaming 'mo in the world. He was your DAD!"
After a moment, Lawrence hesitantly nodded.
"I know that back then, when we were living in the middle of it, that we couldn't see what was going on, but now that we're out of it, we can look back at the whole thing and it's a lot easier to see things." Vincent said carefully.
Lawrence looked at his brother curiously.
"Dad was NUTS. None of it was your fault. Not one single thing." Vincent said firmly.
Reluctantly, Lawrence finally nodded his acceptance of the words.
"Me, I listened to Dad. I believed him and wanted to be like him. Nothing that happened to you was your fault, but I did stuff, I hurt people, most of all I hurt you. I could try to blame dad for the stuff that I did, but... I still did it." Vincent finished in a defeated whisper.
"Vince, I forgave you a long time ago for all of that. You don't ever even have to worry about it." Lawrence said gently.
"Thanks, Lawrence. But it's not just you. I was mean to a lot of people." Vincent said frankly.
"All you can do is say that you're sorry and try to be better." Lawrence said as he held his brother gently.
Vincent chuckled as he said, "You make it sound so easy."
"No. It's not easy. But I know you can do it. You're strong like that." Lawrence said with an honest smile, then added, "I'm really proud of you."
"Yeah. Well, I'm proud of you, too. After all the shit that Dad put you through, you ended up finding a really great guy and falling in love. If I had only one wish for you, that would have been it." Vincent said frankly.
"What? You wouldn't have wished for me to fall in love with a girl?" Lawrence asked playfully.
"Naw. You and a girl? Could you even imagine that?" Vincent said with a chuckle.
Lawrence laughed and said, "No. I really couldn't."
After a moment for their chuckles to subside, Vincent finally said, "We need to start going through stuff and find what we want to keep."
"What do you want to do with the house when we've got our stuff?" Lawrence asked quietly.
"You mean, besides burn it down?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Do you want to keep it so you and T'Lani could have a place of your own on Earth?" Lawrence asked carefully.
"No." Vincent said immediately, then reiterated, "No way! There's too many bad memories here, too much pain."
Lawrence nodded his understanding, then quietly asked, "So what do you want to do with it?"
"I think the best thing we could do is turn it over to the Clan. Cory and Sean will see that it ends up being used for something good." Vincent said seriously.
"I like that." Lawrence said with a gentle smile.
"Good, then lets get our stuff so we can get the hell out of here. After today, I never want to see this place again." Vincent said as he stood.
* * * * *
"Um, Vince?" Lawrence called from the hallway.
Vincent walked to his bedroom doorway carrying a yellowish brown teddy bear under one arm.
"You might want to see this." Lawrence said in a disturbed voice.
"Oh God! What now?" Vincent asked as he walked to his brother's side.
"I wanted to see if there was anything like family albums that we should take with us..." Lawrence trailed off as he slowly led the way into their parents' bedroom.
"What did you find?" Vincent asked hesitantly.
Rather than answer verbally, Lawrence gestured to the closet where a secret panel had been moved away to reveal a small hidden room.
"What..." Vincent began to ask, then saw the stacks of gay porn magazines.
"Eww! Gross!" Vincent said as he backed away.
"I just thought you'd want to know." Lawrence said with a shrug.
"Seriously, I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing my dad's gay porn stash!" Vincent said as he stopped with his back against the bedroom wall.
"Sorry, Vince. I just thought you'd want to know all of it." Lawrence said quietly.
After a deep breath to calm himself, Vincent said, "Thanks for thinking about me, Lor. I guess it's better to know the truth, even when it's not a happy truth."
Lawrence smiled at his brother, then said, "At least you have Mr. Thornton with you to protect you."
Vincent looked at the teddy bear he was now clutching to his chest with a smile, then said, "I was wondering if you'd mind keeping Mr. Thornton for me."
"I don't mind at all." Lawrence said with a smile at his brother.
"I've been through my stuff, and I can't find anything else that I'd like to keep. All the clothes are too small for me now. Everything else... there's no happy memories..." Vincent said as he continued to hold the teddy bear close to his chest.
"Well, if you're done, maybe you can help me find the family albums. I know they've got to be around here somewhere, but I don't know where mom kept them." Lawrence said frankly.
"I'll check the garage if you'll look in the attic." Vincent said frankly.
Lawrence looked at his brother with surprise and said, "Two very good ideas!"
"Yeah. Well, I always was the smart one." Vincent said with a teasing grin.
Lawrence looked at his younger brother with surprise.
"And you were always the pretty one." Vincent said with a smile.
Lawrence considered for a moment, then said, "I can accept that."
Vincent chuckled and gave his brother a quick hug before walking away to search for the family albums.
* * * * *
"Is this everything?" Lawrence asked as he looked at the two boxes on the living room floor.
"Yeah. Kind of sad, isn't it?" Vincent said frankly.
"Sad." Lawrence confirmed with a nod.
"Manu, will you transport these two boxes and my brother back to my brother's house?" Vincent asked into his bracelet.
"Wait! You're not coming with me?" Lawrence asked quickly.
"No. I've got some stuff to do. You go home and spend time with Deacon." Vincent said, then realized that he was still carrying his teddy bear.
"Are you sure you'll be alright?" Lawrence asked with concern as he watched Vincent place Mr. Thornton on top of one of the boxes of photo albums.
"Yeah. Doing this, going through the house, it feels like we finished something that we'd left undone. I've thought of something else that needs to be finished." Vincent said frankly.
"Will you promise to be careful?" Lawrence asked cautiously.
"Don't worry. Manu will be listening and will transport me out if there's any trouble." Vincent chuckled.
Lawrence didn't seem to be reassured in the least by Vincent's words.
"I need to do this for the same reason that you couldn't let Deacon come with us. It's mine and I need to deal with it." Vincent said seriously.
"Okay. Just... will you stop by the house and let me know that you're okay when you're done?" Lawrence asked hopefully.
"I will, I promise." Vincent said with a smile.
Lawrence nodded his agreement to the arrangement.
"Manu, would you please transport the boxes and Lawrence to Lawrence's house?" Vincent asked into his bracelet.
"On your command." Manu responded immediately.
Vincent stood silently for a moment, staring at the place Lawrence had been standing.
"Would you like for me to teleport you to another location?" Manu asked quietly.
"No. Thank you, Manu. I'm going to walk." Vincent said as he walked to the front door.
"If you feel the need to talk, I can be a very good listener." Manu said gently.
Vincent closed the front door behind him and smiled a bittersweet smile before saying, "Thank you, Manu. There's really not much to talk about. When I was younger, I behaved a lot differently and was really mean to Lawrence and a lot of other people. I think that Lawrence and I are fine now, so I just wanted to apologise to some of the other people that I've hurt."
"I have no experience in dealing with regret, so I have no advice to give you. But if there is any way that I can help you, simply let me know of your needs and I will do my best to provide for you." Manu said seriously.
"You've already helped me, Manu. Just knowing that you care means a lot." Vincent said as he walked down the sidewalk.
* * * * *
As Vincent walked down the street, he felt a little bit nervous about his upcoming confrontation, but, at the same time, he also felt a certain sense of peace. Even though it might be uncomfortable for him, he knew that he was doing the right thing.
"Vincent." Manu said quietly, breaking the long silence.
"Yes?" Vincent responded immediately.
"I have just finished analyzing your last statement to me. I felt it important to tell you that knowing that you and Lehman care for me, means a lot to me, too." Manu said gently.
"That's what friends do!" Vincent said with a smile as he turned onto another street.
After a bit of a pause, Manu quietly said, "Yes, friends."
* * * * *
As Vincent walked into the school, he noticed a larger boy walking toward him.
"I need to see your hall pass." The boy said seriously.
"I don't have one." Vincent said frankly.
"Then you'll need to go to the office." The boy said firmly.
"That's where I wanted to go, anyway." Vincent said simply. In the past, such a hostile confrontation would have caused Vincent to react with anger, but he was surprised to feel nothing but a slight amusement.
"Why aren't you in class?" The boy asked as he ushered Vincent to walk with him.
"Because I don't go to school here anymore." Vincent said frankly.
"Then what are you doing here, all by yourself?" The boy asked curiously, and finally seemed to be letting go of his hostility.
"I used to go to school here. I just wanted to see if it would be okay if I stopped by to talk to my old class for a few minutes." Vincent said honestly.
As they approached the office, the older boy said, "That sounds like a pretty cool thing to do."
"Yeah. I guess it could be. We'll just have to see how it goes." Vincent said with a grin up at his companion.
The boy smiled, then gestured toward the office door.
* * * * *
"Can I talk to Principal Silva?" Vincent asked with a smile as he walked to the reception desk in the office.
"Name?" The woman behind the desk asked, sparing him little more than a glance.
"Vincent Winters." Vincent said as his smile fell away.
"Grade?" The woman asked as she wrote on her clipboard.
"None. I don't go to school here anymore." Vincent said seriously.
The woman finally looked up from her clipboard and stared at him blankly.
"Mrs. Keegan, I went to school here ever since I was in kindergarten. I got sent to the office about once a month. Don't you remember me?" Vincent asked in surprise.
"Have a seat and I'll see if Principal Silva will speak with you." Mrs. Keegan said as she picked up her phone.
Vincent huffed a sigh, then walked across the room to sit in the small waiting area.
* * * * *
"Vincent! What a surprise! It's so good to see you!" Principal Silva said as he walked out of his office.
"I'm glad someone thinks so." Vincent said as he spared a glance at the secretary.
"I had no idea you were back on Earth. What are you doing here?" Principal Silva asked curiously.
"I'm only here for a few days and I remembered what you said and thought I'd stop by to see my old class... if that'd be okay." Vincent said hesitantly.
"Yes, of course." Principal Silva said with a smile, then turned and said to the secretary, "Nelda, I'll be out of the office for a few minutes. Call me in Mrs. Kleinmann's room if you need me for anything."
The woman behind the desk nodded without looking up as she jotted a note to herself.
* * * * *
"What happened to your eye? Are you having some sort of trouble?" Principal Silva asked with concern as he led the way out of the office.
"What? No, it's nothing. I kind of did it in my sleep." Vincent said dismissively.
Principal Silva stopped and looked at Vincent dubiously.
"Seriously. If I was going to lie about it, I promise that I could come up with something better than that." Vincent said with a grin.
"So, what brings you back to Earth?" Principal Silva asked as he slowly walked down the hall with Vincent at his side.
"My Clan was attacked and they wanted for me to come back to Earth." Vincent said simply.
"Yes. I heard about that. Tragic." Principal Silva said with a shake of his head.
Vincent nodded, then stopped when they reached his classroom.
Principal Silva knocked lightly, then opened the door and said, "Mrs. Kleinmann, I have a visitor for you."
Vincent took a deep breath to brace himself, then walked into the room.
* * * * *
There was a long moment of silence, and Vincent could see the frozen stares on him from nearly everyone in the room.
"Vincent, I'm surprised to see you here. Principal Silva told us that you were on a Starship, establishing a new colony." Mrs. Kleinmann said carefully.
"Yes, Ma'am. It's listed as SA-14 on the star charts. I got called back to Earth on an emergency, but I'll be leaving to go back to my ship in a few days." Vincent said shyly.
"Thank you for stopping in to visit with us." Mrs. Kleinmann said in a more gentle voice, then turned to face the class and said, "We don't have much time left in this class period. Does anyone have any questions for Vincent?"
Vincent felt a hand on his shoulder and realized that Principal Silva was letting him know that he was leaving.
"Damon?" Mrs. Kleinmann said and Vincent followed her gaze toward the class, many of whom had their hands raised.
"Are you really in Starfleet?" A boy asked hesitantly from the third seat in his row.
"Yes. When my parents died, I was adopted by Clan Short. When they found out that I was interested in Starfleet, they worked it out so I could be in the mentoring program, so I could learn how to be a Starfleet officer." Vincent said seriously.
"Oh! Okay, so you're not really in Starfleet. You're just on a ship, learning how to do the job someday." Damon asked carefully.
"No. I'm really a crewman on my ship. I've even been promoted since I've been there, I'm a petty officer, second class. After I've done my work as a crewman each day, I do my school work. I'm taking classes by subspace at the Vulcan Academy of Science. When my school work is done, that's when I study my Starfleet stuff, so I'll be ready when I take my officer's exam." Vincent said as he looked Damon in the eyes.
"Kelly?" Mrs. Kleinmann called.
Vincent turned his attention to his former classmate and waited for her question.
"I remember hearing it on the news, but I wasn't sure if it was you or someone else named Winters... Were you at Kimber IV?" Kelly asked timidly.
"Yes. That was me." Vincent said shyly.
"Why don't you tell us about it, for those who didn't hear the story when it was on the news?" Mrs. Kleinmann asked gently from Vincent's side.
"I don't like to talk about it much. But, I guess the big thing is that there was this reactor that was damaged and about to blow up. The only way to get in and shut it down was too small for any adult to fit through. Since I was the smallest crewman on the ship, I went down to the planet, crawled through the underground pipe and shut it down." Vincent said as he tried to keep his voice loud enough so that everyone could hear him.
"The story I heard said that you almost died." Kelly said quietly.
Vincent nodded, then said, "The reactor was leaking radiation. I don't know for sure that I would have died, but I really thought for a while that I was going to. A lot of people worked really hard and did everything they could think of to save me, and I ended up being fine."
"Lindon?" Mrs. Kleinmann called out.
"What happened to make you stop being such a jerk?" Lindon asked as he looked Vincent in the eyes.
"That's not a very nice thing to say!" Mrs. Kleinmann scolded.
"No. It's a fair question." Vincent said to his former teacher, then turned to Lindon and said, "I was a jerk because I was taught a lot of wrong stuff. Everything that I knew was true and had always believed in turned out to be lies."
Vincent could see that everyone in the classroom was listening closely to his every word, so he thought carefully before continuing, "I was mean to you, Lindon, because I liked you. I thought that you were nice, and since I wasn't, I knew that we couldn't be friends and that made me angry. I guess I was mean and pushed you away before you could see what a bad person I really was and could not like me for who I really am."
Vincent then looked around the rest of the class as he said, "I was mean to most of you for the same reason. I teased you and made fun of you and acted like a big jerk because at least then you'd hate me because I wanted you to. I chose for you to hate me. So it didn't hurt as much."
"What changed?" Lindon asked quietly into the ensuing silence.
"My life fell apart. My parents died. And my half-brother's biological father decided that... I don't know... I guess he saw something in me that was worth fighting for. He started teaching me right from wrong, love from hate, and a lot of other stuff. So now I look back on how I was and I'm really ashamed and sorry. But I can't hide from it. That's why I'm here. If you or someone you know is like I was, I'm here to tell you that they can change. You can give them a reason to want to be better." Vincent said seriously.
"Are you?" Lindon asked, then clarified, "Better?"
"Better than I was. I feel like I'm still a long way from being as good a person as my Daddy Joe... um, that's my brother's father. But I guess that doesn't happen overnight. I have a job and a wife and lots of friends. I'm happier than I ever was before." Vincent finished with a shrug.
"A wife?" Lindon asked with surprise.
There were a few whispers going around the room and Vincent smiled. "Yes. I got married a little over two months ago. But it's not as creepy as it sounds. We love each other and we got married. That doesn't mean that we're doing anything more when we're together than you would do if you went out on a date with someone you loved."
A class bell ringing jolted Vincent out of his thoughts.
"I'm sorry I used up your class time." Vincent said as he turned to Mrs. Kleinmann.
"I think it was time well spent." Mrs. Kleinmann said with a smile.
"I'm also sorry that I was such a pain in the butt when I was here before." Vincent said quietly.
"I'm just glad that you're better now." Mrs. Kleinmann said gently.
Vincent nodded as he turned to leave.
Standing by the door was Lindon, who seemed to be waiting for him.
"Hi." Vincent said quietly as he approached.
"Did you mean that? That you liked me?" Lindon asked cautiously.
"Yeah. I always thought you were kind of cool." Vincent said frankly.
"I used to think that if I got to know you, that we could be friends. But then whenever I'd get anywhere near you, you'd attack. You were just so mean to me." Lindon said as they walked out of the classroom side by side.
"Yeah. I'm sorry about that. I was mean to everyone, but I was a little bit extra mean to the people I liked." Vincent said shyly.
"You must have liked me like crazy." Lindon said as he bumped Vincent's shoulder playfully.
"You tried a lot harder than most people. Everyone else just left me alone after the first couple times. You kept trying to be nice to me and I kept on attacking you when you did." Vincent said frankly.
"What happened to your eye?" Lindon asked with concern.
"Some big guy hit me. But it's nothing to worry about. I don't expect to ever see him again." Vincent said frankly.
"You're only going to be on Earth for a couple days, huh?" Lindon asked regretfully.
"Yeah. But I'll be back, and until then, you can email me if you want to. Just send it to Crewman Vincent Winters on the USS Yorktown." Vincent said with a smile.
"That'd be okay?" Lindon asked hopefully.
"It'd be great! I'll tell you all about what's going on wherever I am at the time and you can tell me all about what's going on around here." Vincent said happily.
"Yeah. I'll do it." Lindon said with a smile.
As Vincent saw the outer door ahead of him, he quietly said, "I've got to be going. My brother will get worried about me if I'm gone too long."
"Okay. I'm glad things are better for you." Lindon said honestly.
"Better every day." Vincent said with a smile, then raised his wrist and said, "Manu, can you transport me to my brother's house?"
"On your command, Vincent." Manu responded immediately.
Lindon looked at Vincent curiously.
"Transport." Vincent said as he waved 'goodbye'.
Lindon's eyes went wide as the fountain of sparkles erupted around Vincent and whisked him away.
* * * * *
"Is everything okay?" Vincent asked as he saw Billy holding Ace to his side.
"Yes. Everything is fine. Ace just needed to take a little break from things." Billy said gently.
"Where's Lawrence?" Vincent asked as he looked around.
"He and Deacon are up in Deacon's room, supposedly drinking hot chocolate and watching Mary Tyler Moore." Billy said with a smirk.
"Sucking face. Got it." Vincent said with a grin, then quickly added, "Will you tell him that I came back and that I'm fine? I promised him that I'd check in so he wouldn't worry."
"Where are you off to next?" Billy asked curiously.
"The Short Compound. I need to stop in and see what's going on and then I want to see what's going on with Lehman and Thomas." Vincent said frankly.
"It's kind of strange only seeing one of you." Billy said with a smile.
"I know. It's weird for me not having Lehman with me all the time, but he needs time with Jordy, so it's okay." Vincent finished with a smile.
"Billy, I mean, Dad, called Aunt Teri and she's going to work on getting me adopted." Ace said happily from Billy's side.
"Hey! That's great!" Vincent said happily.
"Yeah. I was afraid that she'd ask a lot of questions that I didn't want to answer, but she was really cool about everything."
"Just let me know if there's anything I can do to help." Vincent said quietly as he watched Billy holding Ace so gently.
After a moment to consider, Ace renewed his hug on Billy and said, "I think I've got everything I need."
* * * * *
When the teleportal sparkles faded, Vincent found himself being watched carefully.
"What happened to your eye?" A boy only slightly bigger than Vincent asked with concern.
"Come on. You can tell me." the boy coaxed.
"It's nothing. By the way, who are you?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"I'm Ian. And I'm also one of your guardians, so I'll decide for myself if it's nothing or not." the boy said, then firmly asked, "Who hit you?"
"It doesn't matter, okay?" Vincent said impatiently.
"No. It's not okay." Ian responded firmly, then quietly added, "And it does matter. You matter. Come on, Vincent. Who hit you?"
Vincent withered under Ian's concerned gaze and finally said, "A big huge monster Vulcan in an alternate universe at about two o'clock this morning. Alright?"
"Why didn't you just say that to begin with?" Ian asked with a roll of his eyes.
Vincent chuckled, then asked, "Have you seen Thomas or Lehman around lately? I kind of wanted to check and be sure that they're doing alright."
"Um, yeah. I think I saw one of them in the game room, but I don't know which one. I can only tell them apart by who they're with." Ian said frankly.
Vincent chuckled as he said, "I didn't think of that."
"Come on. They're probably still close because lunch will be ready soon. After lunch, there's no telling where they'll be off to." Ian said as he led the way down the hallway.
Vincent nodded as he followed.
* * * * *
"Hey guys! How are you doing?" Vincent asked as he approached Dylan and Thomas in the game room.
"Everything's great! What happened to your eye?" Thomas asked with concern.
"I am soooo sick of everyone asking about that." Vincent said in a huff, then continued, "I went to bed, got beat up in my sleep, and woke up with a black eye. The End."
"I can fix it if you want." Dylan offered quietly.
"It doesn't hurt or anything. You don't need to worry about it." Vincent explained slowly.
"It's fixed." Dylan said simply.
"Oh! Well, thanks." Vincent said with surprise as he reached up and probed his perfectly healthy cheek.
"Isn't he great!" Thomas asked with a big, toothy grin.
"Yeah. I think he's a keeper." Vincent said with a warm smile at his newest brother.
"Lehman?" A familiar voice asked quickly.
"I haven't seen him yet today." Vincent said as he recognized the anxious look in Rory's eyes.
"We saw him at breakfast. Him and Jordy said that they'd see us at lunch." Thomas offered quickly.
"I can call him telepathically if you need me to." Dylan offered as he looked at Rory curiously.
"Yes. I need him to change to look like Kennon. There was this reporter who called my house and she said that if we wanted to tell Kennon's side of the story, we needed to hurry because the police would be there soon." Rory said in a rush.
"Calm down and tell us what's going on." Vincent said in a soothing voice.
Rory took in a slow, deep breath, then continued more calmly, "I'm not sure how it happened, but I think that when Kennon sent an email to his mother to let her know that he's doing okay, she somehow got the idea that we were holding Kennon captive. Now there's reporters and probably the police all wanting to get to Kennon. And I thought that if Lehman could look like Kennon and talk to them and tell them that he's okay, then maybe there wouldn't be any problem."
"No." Lehman said as he rushed into the room with Jordy following a step behind. From the awkward fit of their clothes, it appeared that they had dressed while running down the hall.
"What?" Rory asked in surprise as he turned in his wheelchair.
"Dylan sent me what you were saying as you were saying it. I won't take Kennon's form to lie to the reporters or the police. Whenever you do something like that, it always goes wrong and makes things worse." Lehman said as he stopped to look Rory in the eyes.
"But I don't know what else to do." Rory said in a begging tone.
"Get Solak to do the neural alignment on Kennon, then he can speak for himself." Lehman said simply.
Rory looked at Lehman with surprise at the suggestion.
"Remember when I touched you yesterday? I got a flash imprint of everything you knew at that moment. Solak told you that Kennon was stabilized, but wanted to wait to be sure that the trip to Earth didn't cause his condition to change before doing the alignment. I think that this is important enough that Solak can go ahead and do his thing a day or two ahead of schedule so that Kennon can speak for himself." Lehman said reasonably.
"Where's Kennon, now?" Vincent asked as he looked around.
"At Camp Little Eagle. I had us transported there because I knew it would be safe and the people at the hospital can take care of him if he needs something and I'm not around." Rory said slowly as he thought about what Lehman was saying.
"You know I'm right. Lying isn't the answer. The only thing that's going to make all of this right is the truth." Lehman said frankly.
"Can you help me? I'm afraid that I'll do the wrong thing or make the wrong decision and end up hurting Kennon." Rory asked Lehman hopefully.
"We'll all help you." Vincent said assuringly.
"Then, I think the first thing that we need to do is go to Camp Little Eagle, to be sure that Kennon agrees with our plan. It's his life we're talking about." Lehman said frankly.
Rory smiled with relief and said, "Yeah. That sounds good."
Before Vincent could lift his wrist to call Manu, the whole group was instantaneously relocated to Kennon's hospital room at Camp Little Eagle.
* * * * *
"Thanks, Dylan." Thomas said with a grin at his boyfriend.
Dylan smiled shyly, then said, "I contacted Solak and filled him in on what's going on. He and Xain will be here in a few minutes."
"Kennon, I filled these guys in on what's going on and we've come up with a plan. Of course, it's your choice, we'll handle this however you want. But we were thinking that if we could get Solak to do the neural alignment so you can talk and stuff, then you could talk to the reporter or the police and tell them that you weren't kidnapped and aren't being held prisoner." Rory said seriously.
Kennon mumbled something that most of the boys in the room couldn't make out.
"Don't be stupid!" Lehman exploded.
Rory grinned at him, then turned to Kennon and said, "I think what Lehman was trying to say is that helping you is no 'bother'. It's what we do. If you really don't want to have the neural alignment treatments, then we'll do what you want. We won't like it, we won't be happy, but we won't force you. On the other hand, if you'll let us help you, then you'll be able to speak up for yourself and we'll feel like we did everything we possibly could to help you. We'll all be a lot happier. It's your decision."
"Yeah. That's what I meant." Lehman said with a shy smile at Rory.
After a long, silent moment, Kennon finally muttered something that, from the reactions of Rory, Lehman and Dylan, was obviously his agreement.
* * * * *
"Is there anything we can do?" Thomas asked no one in particular as he watched Xain and Solak standing silently with their hands on Kennon.
"To help Solak? No. I don't think so." Vincent said thoughtfully.
"But if Rory remembers the name of that reporter, we could contact her and set things up so Kennon could be interviewed." Dylan said seriously.
Rory looked up at the sound of his name, then seemed to be searching his memory.
Finally, he shook his head and said, "I know that Dad told me, and I've seen her about a billion times on the local news, but I don't remember."
"Maybe your parents would remember." Jordy suggested.
"Yeah. Probably. I'll call them. They'll want to know what's going on, anyway." Rory said as he moved his wheelchair to the phone by Kennon's bed.
"While Rory's doing that, maybe we should talk to someone about allowing a reporter inside Camp Little Eagle. I mean, with the gates and the guards and stuff..." Thomas trailed off with a shrug.
"That's an excellent idea. I can handle that." Jordy said happily, then turned to Lehman and asked, "Do you want to come with me?"
The blush that rose up Lehman's cheeks immediately announced where his mind had been when the question was asked.
Vincent chuckled at the reaction, then said, "I think we need to do something about the cops. I mean, from the way it sounds, they haven't tried to talk to Kennon yet, but maybe we can stop things from getting ugly if we talk to them first."
"I bet Matt would know who we should talk to." Thomas said quickly, then turned to Dylan and asked, "Do you know where he is?"
"At the Short Compound." Dylan said with a grin at Thomas.
"And I guess that I'll go talk to Sean and Cory to fill them in on what we're doing. I don't think they'll have any problem with it, but they'll probably want to know what's going on." Vincent said thoughtfully.
"I'll drop you off on the way." Dylan said with a smile at Vincent.
Before Vincent could say 'yes', 'no' or 'what?', Dylan had relocated him to a large office in the Short Compound.
* * * * *
"Captain Rasch?" Vincent said with surprise as he suddenly appeared.
"Trach Manja Vincent. It is good to see you." Captain Rasch said in his heavily accented translator voice.
"I'm sorry if I'm interrupting something, Sean. Dylan just kind of dropped me off here..." Vincent said as he looked at Sean uncertainly.
"It is good that you are here, Trach Manja Vincent. Please, join us." Captain Rasch said happily.
Vincent looked at Sean with question, not sure what he should say.
"If Captain Rash doesn't mind you being here, I sure don't." Sean said frankly.
Before Vincent could respond, Captain Rasch said, "Considering the significance of my announcement, it is fitting that the Trach Manjai be present."
"Would you like for Lehman to be here, too?" Vincent asked seriously.
"If he is not attending to other, more urgent matters, I believe it would be appropriate if he witnessed these events." Captain Rasch said thoughtfully.
"Manu, would you ask Lehman if he can join us?" Vincent asked into his bracelet.
There was a pause, then Manu responded, "He will be joining you in just a moment."
"There's no need to rush. We were actually waiting on someone else when you arrived." Sean said frankly.
"So, what's going on?" Vincent asked as he looked from Sean to Captain Rasch.
"The Elders have made some decisions. I am here as their representative to carry out those decisions." Captain Rasch said slowly.
"That sounds ominous." Vincent said with a teasing smile at Captain Rasch. If it were anyone else, Vincent might be worried, but he felt completely at ease.
A slight smile and a twinkle of mischief in the black, reptilian eyes was Captain Rasch's silent response.
"I'm sorry, Sean. I didn't know. I mean, Xain only finished training us yesterday and we didn't know we might be called..."
"It's fine, Kenny. We're waiting on someone else to arrive before we begin, so you're not too late." Sean said comfortingly.
"Hi. I'm Kevin Thompson." the smaller of the two boys said as he looked up, and up... and up some more at Captain Rasch.
"A pleasure to meet you. I am Captain Rasch, here representing the Soleen-Avalla empire." Captain Rasch said in a formal tone.
"I'm Kenny Thompson, and we're here representing the Clan, I mean, we're um..."
"We're members of the clan's diplomatic corps." Kevin finished for his brother.
"Yeah. That." Kenny said quickly.
A shower of sparkles erupted, and less than a second later, Lehman was standing right next to Vincent.
"I think everyone is here, Captain Rasch , if you'd like to begin." Sean said calmly.
"For many years there has been debate within the Counsel of Elders and also among the greater population that the Soleen-Avalla empire should open itself to our neighbors in the universe, the Federation." Captain Rasch said slowly.
Everyone else in the room froze at the words, understanding just how important the coming announcement was going to be.
"Ultimately, it has been decided that, while the Federation does many good things and has many worthwhile goals that, in the end, removing the barriers between our people would not be of benefit." Captain Rasch said regretfully.
Everyone was silent, and the only acknowledgement of understanding was Sean's slow nod.
"However, we have found something that would be of benefit to our people, and to yours, should you agree." Captain Rasch continued, and smiled at the interested looks from everyone in the room.
"The Soleen-Avalla elders have examined the Federation's Safe Haven Act and find it to be worthwhile. Therefore, I am pleased to announce that the council of Elders has voted unanimously to adopt the Safe Haven Act and immediately put it into effect on all Soleen-Avalla worlds and colonies." Captain Rasch said formally.
"I'm very happy to hear that." Sean said with a grand smile.
Vincent and Lehman smiled at the announcement and felt that the announcement was the completion of something that was meant to be.
"Further, the Soleen-Avalla elders have come to admire Clan Short for the principles it lives by and the good works that it performs. So, as a token of our esteem, the Soleen-Avalla government has chosen to formally recognize Clan Short of Vulcan as an independent diplomatic entity." Captain Rasch said formally, then turned to Kenny and Kevin and continued, "The formal recognition will allow our diplomats and yours to, hopefully, work together to achieve common goals. By being your own independent diplomatic entity, we will be free to pursue agreements that we might not feel comfortable pursuing with the Federation."
"On behalf of the entire clan, I would ask that you thank the elders for me. It's a great honor." Sean said as he stood and offered his hand to Captain Rasch.
"Do the Trach Manjai have any feelings about this development?" Captain Rasch asked as he turned to look at Vincent and Lehman.
"It's perfect." Lehman said simply.
Vincent nodded, and added, "Just like it should be."
After a long moment to see if anyone had more to say, Sean quietly said, "If we're done here, there's a memorial service that we need to attend."
"Before you do that, I wanted to let you know what's going on with Kennon." Vincent said quickly.
"What? Is there a problem with his condition?" Sean immediately asked with concern.
'No. He's fine. But his family decided that he's being held captive by the Clan. So there's reporters and probably going to be cops trying to get to him. Solak is doing his neural alignment thing, so Kennon will be able to talk for himself. And we were thinking that if Kennon talked to the cops and reporters and stuff, then he can let them know that we didn't kidnap him." Vincent said quickly.
Sean slowly nodded as he considered what Vincent was saying.
"Thomas is talking to Matt, so he can talk to the cops for us. We just wanted to be sure that you don't have a problem with a reporter being let into Camp Little Eagle, to talk with Kennon." Lehman said frankly.
"It sounds like you've got the situation under control. I need to be leaving soon for the memorial service, so I'll leave the details up to you. Do whatever you need to, you have my complete support." Sean said seriously.
"Thanks, Sean." Vincent said with a relieved smile.
"It sounds like we all have things to do. We'd better get to it." Sean said as he looked around the group.
Everyone seemed to be in agreement and filed out of the room to go their separate ways.
* * * * *
"I didn't realize that there'd be so many of them." Lehman said from in front of the security monitor.
Vincent looked at the nearly two dozen reporters, all gathered by the front gate of Camp Little Eagle and asked, "Do we know which one we want for Kennon to talk to?"
"The gray haired man in front is a pulitzer prize winning journalist. It might give the interview an aire of legitimacy if you have Kennon talk to him." Matt said slowly.
"Yeah, but no one under thirty probably knows who he is." Vincent said absently.
"The woman in blue has her own nationally syndicated weekly news program. I'm pretty sure that everyone is familiar with her, even if they don't watch her show." Matt said seriously.
"What about the rest of them? Who are they all?" Lehman asked slowly.
"I'm surprised at how many have shown up. I see reporters from television, newspaper, and one or two serious investigative journalists." Matt said as he looked carefully at the screen.
"Who's that one, the one with the big... um... chests." Thomas finished shyly.
"I think her name is Candy... something. She's a local news anchor. I don't think she's actually a journalist, she just sits in front of the camera and reads a teleprompter." Matt said frankly.
"Does it really matter which one we pick?" Lehman asked curiously.
"I suppose not. It's not like there's any in-depth story for them to investigate. Kennon just needs to tell them that he's not a prisoner." Matt said simply.
"So, who are we going to pick?" Lehman asked as he looked at the monitor again.
"Who do you think Kennon would want to talk to?" Matt asked slowly.
After a long moment of silence, Vincent decisively said, "The one with the tits."