THIS STORY IS COPYRIGHT © 2006-2023 BY MULTIMAPPER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DISTRIBUTION FOR COMMERCIAL GAIN, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, POSTING ON SITES OR NEWSGROUPS, DISTRIBUTION AS PARTS OR IN BOOK FORM (EITHER AS A WHOLE OR PART OF A COMPILATION) WITH OR WITHOUT A FEE, OR DISTRIBUTION ON CD, DVD, OR ANY OTHER ELECTRONIC MEDIA WITH OR WITHOUT A FEE, IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED WITHOUT THE AUTHOR'S WRITTEN CONSENT. YOU MAY DOWNLOAD ONE (1) COPY OF THIS STORY FOR PERSONAL USE; ANY AND ALL COMMERCIAL USE EXCEPTING EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS REQUIRES THE AUTHOR'S WRITTEN CONSENT.
THE AUTHOR MAY BE CONTACTED FOR PERMISSIONS OR FEEDBACK AT: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Grandma looks worried. Let's go talk to her." Reuben said as he looked at JC hopefully.
"That sounds like a good idea Reuben." JC said gently and followed Reuben across the room.
"Grandma, this is Josh... I think he's my Uncle." Reuben finished in a voice of deep thought.
JC laughed and said, "That's right Reuben. I'm your Uncle Josh."
"Haven't we met before?" Mona asked curiously.
"I don't know. You look familiar but I can't place where we might have met." JC said as he looked at Mona consideringly.
Mona gave it another moment of thought before saying, "I'm sure it will come to me. You have a beautiful home here."
"Thanks. This place is my dream. Every now and then I can't believe that I'm really here." JC said with a distant smile.
"Our house is really nice too." Reuben interjected.
JC smiled at Reuben and said, "I know. The house you're living in now is where we lived before we moved here."
"Really?" Reuben asked with wide eyes of wonder.
"Really. That's why Chip and I were at your house on Monday. We were selling the house to Allen." JC explained with a gentle smile.
"It's a beautiful house. Everyone is so comfortable there it feels like they've been living there for years." Mona said happily.
"I just had a feeling that it would work out for them." JC said casually and noticed a concerned look pass across Mona's face.
Before JC could find a tactful way to find out what was wrong, Reuben asked, "Grandma, why are you worried?"
Mona looked at Reuben and said, "Because they're in the other room deciding where Laura is going to live. I feel so close to her... I can't help but worry."
"Teri is really good at what she does. She'll make sure that everything works out so Laura ends up in the best possible place." JC said with assurance.
"I hope so. No matter what happens, Laura's life is going to be difficult. I just want to help her through it any way I can." Mona said seriously.
JC smiled and said, "As the Director of Federation Youth Services, Teri has helped so many children that I could spend all day telling you the stories. But before anything else, she's a mother. She cares deeply for every single child that she encounters and has a way of making things work out for the best."
Mona gave a gentle smile to JC and said, "Knowing that she's a devoted mother gives me more comfort than whatever title she might carry."
"Maybe later you'll have the chance to sit down and trade stories with her. To look at her now, you might think that she's always had an easy life. But let me tell you, she's been a mom in the trenches. She's been through things that I hope I never have to face." JC said honestly.
"I look forward to talking with her," Mona said in a considering voice as she glanced at the door, awaiting Laura's return.
"I got to see a real live angel." Ricardo said with wide eyes.
"Really?" Brady asked cautiously as he shifted in his seat to be more comfortable with Ricardo in his lap.
"Yeah. His name is Mikey and he's got wings and is really nice and really pretty." Ricardo said in a rush.
Brady smiled, then got a curious look as he remembered hearing something about a new Saint who was named Mikey.
"And he said that he was our Garden Angel and he hugged me and held me and then he kissed Edovina." Ricardo said happily.
Brady chuckled at the statement and said, "I think you mean Guardian Angel. That means that he watches over you and protects you from bad things."
"Uh huh. I heard him in my head when he was holding me. He said that he was my Garden Angel and that if I'm ever scared I can call him and he'll help me." Ricardo said with a smile, then scrunched up his face in thought and asked, "How do I call him, Unca Brady? Is it like when I call you?"
Brady smiled at Ricardo and said, "No, not like that. Does your mother have you say your prayers at night before you go to bed?" Brady asked quietly.
"Uh huh. Mommy says that I'm s'posed to close my eyes and tell Jesus 'thank you' for all the good things I have and for my mommy and brother and sister and Edovina. And then I say Amen... I think that means goodbye." Ricardo finished in a considering voice.
"Something like that. Well, you do the same thing when you want to talk to Mikey. Close your eyes and tell him what you want to say to him." Brady said gently.
"Do I have to do it at bedtime like when I talk to Jesus?" Ricardo asked seriously.
"No. You can talk to him anytime you want. It's called praying." Brady said with a smile.
"Can I do it now?" Ricardo asked hopefully.
"Sure you can." Brady said gently.
Ricardo folded his hands and closed his eyes as he said, "Hi Mikey. Unca Brady says I can call you like this when I want to talk to you."
"You know how you said you could hear Mikey in your head when he held you?" Brady said gently.
Ricardo opened his eyes, looked up at Brady and nodded.
"He can hear you that way too. If you want, you can just think the words and he can hear you the same way you could hear him." Brady said softly.
Ricardo nodded again, then closed his eyes and began to pray silently.
Brady smiled at the sight, then closed his own eyes and offered his own silent prayer of thanks for allowing Ricardo to be a part of his life.
Juana looked over in time to see Ricardo put his hands together and bow his head in prayer. A moment later she saw Brady also bowing his head.
A feeling of contentment washed over her at the sight and tears began to well up in her eyes.
"Is everything okay, Juana?" Allen asked in concern as he walked to her side.
"Si, yes. You and your brother are such good men. I have been worried that the children would not have a good man in their lives as an example. How is a boy to grow into a good man if he has never known a good man?" Juana said quietly.
"Juana, I grew up without a father and didn't have much of a male role model for most of my life. Mona was a wonderful mother and provided the best example I can imagine of how to be a good person. Even though I'm happy to be a father figure in their lives, I have no doubt that the boys would have grown up to be fine men if they had never met me. You're a good and loving mother and that's what's most important." Allen said seriously.
"Perhaps. But to see this... it fills my heart." Juana said and inclined her head to indicate Brady and Ricardo praying together.
Allen smiled and said, "You've got me there, Juana. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by that sight."
"Are you missing Uncle Chip?" Jake asked with concern as he and Xain approached Kevin sitting alone in a large chair.
"Yeah. He's with Deacon and Laura." Kevin said in a grumpy voice.
Jake got a look of concern, then glanced at Xain for an instant.
"I believe I should prepare a bottle for Edovina." Xain said simply and walked away.
"Kev buddy, do you want to talk about it?" Jake asked gently as he scooted Kevin to one side and sat with him in the chair.
Kevin looked at Jake's honest concern and said, "I love Uncle Chip."
Jake looked closely at Kevin and realized just what Kevin was saying.
"Oh, I guess you mean you love him like..."
"Like you love Xain." Kevin said firmly.
Jake closed his eyes and thought about what to say next.
"I really, really love him." Kevin said in an imploring voice.
Jake nodded and quietly asked, "If you could make a wish so that everything could be just the way you wanted it to be, what would it be like?"
Kevin thought about it for a minute and smiled before saying, "I'd get to be with Uncle Chip every day and every night and could hug him all the time."
"Where would Uncle Josh be?" Jake asked quietly.
"Gone." Kevin said firmly.
Jake got a sad look at the statement and continued, "Where would Kenny be?"
"Kenny could live here with us too. So could Poppa and Grandma and You and Xain and Edovina." Kevin said happily.
Jake thought about Kevin's words for a minute before saying, "Kev. You know I love Xain, right?"
"Yeah." Kevin said as he looked curiously at Jake.
"How do you think it would make me feel if Xain went away?" Jake asked softly.
"It'd hurt a lot. That would be really really bad." Kevin said seriously.
"If Xain went away because someone made him. How do you think I'd feel about that?" Jake asked quietly.
"Really mad. You'd probably want to hurt whoever made Xain go away." Kevin said firmly.
"Think about it, Kev. That's what you're doing to Uncle Chip." Jake said as he got up and walked away.
"I suppose it would be best to get right to it." Teri said in a serious tone as she took her seat in Chip's study.
Everyone took their seats and waited with concern at the tone of her voice.
"From the looks on your faces after your talk, it seems that you've come to some decisions. If you'll fill me in, I'll do my best to make things work out the way you want them to." Teri said seriously.
Laura looked at her father, silently asking him to explain what they had agreed upon. Something deep inside her just needed to hear him say the words.
"I want Lawrence... um, Laura to be my son... daughter... I mean, child. You know what I mean." Joe said in frustration.
Teri smiled at the stumbling statement and said, "I understand. I take it that you're okay with this Laura?"
"Yeah. Dad said that he's my father no matter what." Laura said with admiration directed at her father.
"Wonderful, this is going to work out fine." Teri said with a smile.
"But since Dad lives on a starship, I want to live with Billy and Deacon. He's still going to be my Dad, but this way he gets to keep his job and I get to stay on Earth." Laura said in a rush.
"That's no problem, we can make it work." Teri said with assurance, then switched to a business attitude and continued, "As Director of Federation Youth Services I have the authority to invoke the Safe Haven Act when I feel that the situation warrants."
"Even though the Safe Haven Act could be justified in this case and would be much faster and easier than trudging through the court system, I believe that to invoke Safe Haven would be a misuse of my authority." Teri said and looked around the group for their reactions.
"Does that mean that I have to go back to my parents?" Laura asked with a tremble of fear in her voice.
"No. It doesn't mean that at all. Let me back up and tell you how I arrived at this decision and hopefully you'll agree with me." Teri said in a measured tone.
"After you talked with my sons last night about finding your biological father, they did some investigation. The Clan has the ability to gather detailed information and they went all out on your behalf. They brought the information to me last night so I could determine the best way to help you." Teri said introspectively.
"Early this morning, I called your parents and talked with them about your situation." Teri said, then looked at Laura to see her reaction.
After a moment of shock, Laura hesitantly nodded for Teri to continue.
"Your parents and I had a long talk and finally came to an understanding. I'm sure you already know that they can't accept you as you are. When I told them that we located your biological father, they said that if Lieutenant Bowers is willing to adopt you, they will be willing to cooperate." Teri said seriously.
"They did?" Laura asked in wonder.
"Yes. Your mother seemed hopeful that Lieutenant Bowers would accept you..." Teri said slowly and drifted off.
"And my father was glad to be rid of me." Laura finished darkly.
"In a word. Yes." Teri said with a look of apology.
"So what do we do now?" Laura asked apprehensively.
"I've faxed some paperwork to your parents' lawyer. I've already received a fax in return of the signed official guardianship papers. The originals should be here tomorrow. What that means is that Lieutenant Bowers has legal custody of you on your parents behalf." Teri said in thought.
"So they're still my legal parents?" Laura asked hesitantly.
"Yes. For now. The adoption will take its normal course and time through the court system." Teri said softly.
"Why could you fix it so Billy could be my guardian right away and Laura has to wait?" Deacon asked cautiously.
Teri looked at Deacon and said, "Well, to be honest Deacon, you were in such an emotional state that you needed the security of knowing that Billy was your guardian and that you couldn't be taken away from him. I think that going through the court system in your case would have been a long, drawn out process that would have caused you some serious problems. It's not uncommon for children in similar situations to experience depression, anxiety disorders and worse. It was my judgment at the time that you weren't emotionally capable of facing what was sure to be a long and ugly court battle for your custody."
Deacon looked at Teri and reluctantly nodded.
"Laura's situation is different. Everyone is in agreement and the court case only serves to make it happen." Teri said simply.
"Joe said that Laura can live with us. Is this going to mess that up?" Billy asked cautiously.
"No. When Laura's parents signed this paper they gave Lieutenant Bowers the authority to make that decision." Teri said and handed the fax to Joe.
"So I guess you didn't really need us in this meeting." Chip said quietly.
"I couldn't be sure of that until I knew what had been decided. But it's just as well that you're both here. If something happens later, it's good to have reliable witnesses about what was said here today." Teri said seriously.
"A reasonable precaution." Spock said in a considering voice.
"I really thought you were going to invoke 'Safe Haven' and get this all resolved today." Chip said honestly.
"Well, the only difference is that by doing it this way, we're working within the traditional legal process. 'Safe Haven' should only be applied in cases where there is a threat to the child's well-being. The act was created to help the children who, for whatever reason, would be harmed by the traditional application of the law. As it stands right now, Laura's biological father has custody of her and she gets to live with Billy and Deacon... What more did you want?" Teri asked Chip curiously.
"Wow, I can see why you're the Director of Youth Services. You really know this stuff." Billy said with a look of respect and admiration.
"If you ever get tired of this job, I think you would do well at Starfleet JAG." Chip said with a smile at Teri.
"Not a chance." Teri said with a smile.
As the group walked into the game room, Kevin hesitantly walked to Chip's side and put an arm around his waist.
Chip gently petted Kevin's hair as he walked more slowly to join the gathering.
"So what happened?" Allen asked anxiously.
"Dad's going to be my dad, but I still get to live with Billy and Deacon." Laura said happily.
Allen and Mona walked simultaneously to Laura and gave her a firm hug.
Chip walked to Lieutenant Bowers and said, "Welcome to the family, Lieutenant."
"Thank you, Commander." Lieutenant Bowers said cautiously.
"We're off duty and in my home. Please call me Chip."
"You're welcomed to call me Joe if you want."
Chip nodded and watched as everyone in the room made their way to Laura and Joe to offer their congratulations.
After a moment for everyone to share their happiness at the outcome, Chip spoke up in a commanding voice and said, "Now that the serious business has been taken care of, let's go outside and enjoy this day."
Everyone looked at each other curiously, but followed as Chip led the way out to the back yard.
"As you can see, there are plenty of snacks and chairs for anyone who wants to sit back and enjoy relaxing in the sunshine. Anyone who wants a more active diversion can follow me out to the stables. It's a perfect day for horseback riding."
Kevin immediately perked up at the statement and asked, "Can I ride a horse too?"
Chip looked at Kevin consideringly and said, "I don't know, Kevin. You may be too small to ride a horse all by yourself." Kevin's eyes began to fill with tears at the statement as he cast his eyes toward the ground. "I think, just to be safe, you should ride with me. At least until you're comfortable on a horse." Chip finished with a gentle smile.
"Really!?" Kevin squeaked with surprise and joy.
"Come on, Little One, I want to introduce you to my horse. I'm sure you're going to love him." Chip said tenderly as he put an arm around Kevin's shoulders.
"Thank you, Uncle Chip. I love you." Kevin said in complete bliss.
"Mona, if you would like, I think this would be the perfect time for us to sneak away. Besides, I think Helen and Hazel could probably use some company." Teri said gently.
"Laura, would you like to come with us for some girl talk?" Mona asked in a friendly voice.
Laura looked at her father with indecision, not wanting to leave him so soon after finding him.
"I'll be here all day. Go and enjoy your girl talk while I spend some time getting to know the guys." Joe said as he looked around the group.
"Okay." Laura said with a smile to her father, then turned to Mona and said, "Give me a second and I'll be ready."
Mona nodded as Laura quickly ran off to talk to Billy.
"Billy, can you and Deacon watch out for my Dad while I'm with Mona?" Laura asked hopefully.
"We'll take care of him. Go and enjoy your 'girl talk'." Billy said with a smile.
"Thanks Billy. I'm so glad you guys found me last night." Laura said as she pulled Billy into a hug.
"We're glad too Laura. And I can't even tell you how happy Deacon and I are that you'll be staying with us." Billy said as he returned the hug firmly.
"I know Billy. I don't understand why, but I know that it's true." Laura said as tears welled up in her eyes.
"Because you're our sister. We don't need any other reason." Billy said softly into Laura's ear.
Laura pulled out of the hug and said, "I have a brother, but you two are the brothers I always wanted."
"You have a brother?" Deacon asked curiously from Laura and Billy's side.
"Yeah. Well, a half-brother." Laura said darkly and looked away.
"Maybe later you can tell me about him." Deacon asked cautiously, understanding that she didn't feel like talking about it now.
"There's nothing to tell. Vince is just as mean and hateful as his father." Laura said firmly.
"That's all in the past now. You're here and we love you." Billy said seriously.
"Yeah. We really do." Deacon said as he looked deeply into Laura's eyes.
Laura's dark mood dissipated as she was filled with wonder at the love of her new brothers.
Deacon pulled Laura into a hug and whispered, "You'll always be my sister and my friend."
"Thanks Deke." Laura said in a soft voice.
Deacon pulled back and said, "You called me Deke."
Laura smiled and said, "Yeah, that's okay isn't it? I mean, that's what Billy calls you."
Deacon thought about it for a second, then said, "Only my family can call me that. So yeah, it's fine."
Laura gave a joyful smile, then kissed Deacon on the cheek.
"Mona's waiting on me. I'll talk to you guys later."
"Go on. We're just going to spend time with Allen and the guys." Billy said with a tender smile.
Laura gave Billy a quick kiss on the cheek, then hurried to Mona and her father.
"She really loves you." Joe said absently to Mona.
"It goes both ways. I can sympathize with her pain and can almost feel her struggling to find her identity." Mona said with a distant look.
Joe gave a nod, then said, "When I used to think about my son, I had this image of him growing up with a group of friends and being a happy young man. I guess I missed him so much that the fantasy was my way of dealing with the loss."
"How does the reality compare?" Mona asked curiously.
Joe glanced at Laura talking animatedly with Billy and Deacon.
"My dream son had the perfect life. He had all the support of parents who loved him and never had to face the ugliness of the real world. He didn't have any 'issues' and didn't need me. As selfish as it sounds... reality is better. I just hope I'm smart enough to do the right things to help him... her." Joe finished with a chuckle.
"Doing all the right things would make everything go smoother. Unfortunately, there's no way of knowing what the right things are. You just have to take your chances like the rest of us. But you've already done the one thing that will help most." Mona said seriously.
"What's that?" Joe asked, looking Mona in the eyes.
"You've let Laura know that you love her. She needed that worse than anything else. Billy or Deacon or I telling her just isn't the same. You're her father. I think she's faced some cruel rejection and the fact that her biological father accepts and loves her is the most important thing in her life at this moment." Mona said in thought.
"I do love her. The more I get to know her, the more I love her." Joe said distantly.
"Just be sure to let her know. I don't think she'll ever get tired of hearing it." Mona said with a gentle smile.
"Count on it." Joe said as Laura approached.
"Christine, would you like to join us for a little 'girl talk' in the kitchen?" Mona asked hopefully.
"That sounds wonderful. You wouldn't mind if I leave you for a while, would you Kenny?" Christine asked carefully.
"That's okay. I want to go horseback riding with Uncle Chip." Kenny said with a smile.
"Have a good time riding Kenny. It was nice to see you again." Christine said tenderly.
"Thanks for being nice to me and my brother. I'll see you later." Kenny said, then walked to Allen who seemed to have a lost expression.
"He's a wonderful boy." Christine said as she turned her attention back to Mona and Laura.
"That's my grandson." Mona said with pride as she absently squeezed Laura in a one armed hug.
Laura smiled gently at the feeling of belonging as she walked with Mona's arm draped loosely around her.
"Do you want to go riding Pop?" Kenny asked as he ran to Allen's side.
"Well, I haven't been on a horse for a few years. I suppose it would be nice to ride again." Allen said in thought.
"Then you could show me what to do. You and Dad always talked about going horse riding sometime, but we never did it." Kenny said seriously.
Allen looked at Kenny's hopeful expression and smiled as he said, "Then we should do it now. It looks like the others are leaving, let's go."
Kenny gave a grand smile as he walked beside his Pop to go riding.
"Juana, we're about to meet in the kitchen if you'd care to join us." Teri said gently as she glanced at Mona with her arm still draped loosely around Laura.
"Yes, I would like that very much. I will go and get the coffee cake now." Juana said as she glanced around to see that her children were all safe.
"We'll meet you in there." Teri said casually as she led Mona and Laura away.
"You said you didn't want us to call you Captain, but it seems... I don't know, disrespectful or something to just call you Spock." Jake said as he approached.
Spock considered the statement, then said, "As members of Clan Short, you and your brothers are entitled to address me as 'Uncle' should it please you to do so."
Jake thought about the statement, then smiled, "Yeah. It pleases me a lot. So, are you going horseback riding, Uncle Spock?" Jake asked with a contented smile.
"I believe I will not." Spock said in a neutral voice.
"Me either. What are you going to do now?" Jake asked curiously.
"From the evidence at hand, I believe my brother will be preparing the meat course for the evening meal on the outdoor cooking appliance. I will remain nearby in the event that I may be of assistance." Spock said in a considering voice.
Jake got a distant look, then looked at Spock in understanding and said, "Yeah. I smelled the smoke from the bar-b-que grill when we came outside. I've never been to a real cook-out before so this should be awesome." Jake said with a smile.
Spock tilted his head curiously at Jake but said nothing.
"Xain is feeding Vina right now. So if you don't mind, I'll just hang around with you." Jake said casually.
Spock considered the statement before saying, "I find your company to be acceptable."
Jake took the statement as the compliment that it was and responded, "Yeah, I think you're pretty acceptable too. How about we get a table so we'll have a place to sit when Xain and Vina get back?"
Spock gave a single nod of acceptance at the suggestion and followed as Jake led the way to one of the many patio tables by the pool.
"Aren't you going riding?" Joe asked as he approached Deacon and Billy.
"Um, I'd like to, but I've never done it before." Deacon said shyly.
"Well I see three adults walking toward the stable and one of them is Allen. I bet if you asked, he'd show you what you need to know." Billy said with a smile.
"Yeah. I know he would. You want to come, too?" Deacon asked hopefully.
"Not this time Deke. I'm going to hang out by the pool and relax. Believe it or not, I don't get to just sit around very often." Billy said with a contented smile.
"Do you want to ride with me, Joe?" Deacon asked with a hopeful smile.
"Thanks for offering, Deacon, but I think I'd like to spend some time talking with your brother." Joe said gently.
"Okay, I gotta go before they leave without me." Deacon said in a rush and ran toward the stables.
"Would you like to go ride the horses?" JC asked Reuben quietly.
"I like talking to people with you. Can I stay here?" Reuben asked hopefully.
"Yes, of course you can." JC said happily.
Reuben smiled at JC's acceptance of him and timidly took JC's hand so they could walk around the gathering together.
Chip walked to the stable with Kevin holding his hand. Behind him Brady followed with Ricardo on his hip. Kenny and Allen walked up next, side by side.
"Allen, can I ride with you?" Deacon asked quickly as he ran to join Kenny and Allen.
"Sure, Deacon. But you'll have to be patient with us. Kenny hasn't ridden a horse before." Allen said with a smile at Kenny.
"Neither have I. Would you mind showing me too?" Deacon asked hopefully.
"I wouldn't mind at all. We just have to make sure Chip knows that you two aren't experienced riders so he can pick out some gentle mounts." Allen said as he led the boys to talk with Chip.
"It looks like you're going to be feeding an army." Teri said in surprise at the huge amount of food on the counters in the kitchen.
"When classes let out, the entire Clan is coming here... and so are their parents." Helen said frankly.
Teri looked around at the piles of food and finally said, "Are you sure we have enough?"
Helen chuckled and said, "When you consider the table of snacks already set up in the back yard. It should be just enough to get them by until dinner."
Teri decided that she should make introductions and said, "Helen and Hazel, I'd like to introduce Dr. Christine Chapel, she works with Chip on the Enterprise. Mona Bridson, she's the matriarch of the Thompson family."
Mona got a surprised look, then a warm smile at the title 'Matriarch'.
"Beside Mona we have Laura Winters, the newest addition to the Pierce family." Teri said happily, then saw Juana walk hesitantly into the kitchen.
"Hello Juana. Everyone, this is Juana Vasquez, she takes care of the Thompson family." Teri said warmly.
"Last but not least, we have Hazel and Helen who care for the Dodds family and my family." Teri said happily.
"Do you need any help with anything?" Juana asked as she sat the coffee cake on the table.
"Yes. Mr. Chip told me last night that we would have a get together today. Of course, I told him that it would be no problem, but there is very much to do. If everyone attends who was invited, there may be as many as one hundred people here today." Hazel said in an overwhelmed voice.
"If you will tell me what needs to be done, I will be happy to help." Juana said in sympathy.
"We'll all help. That's why we're here." Teri said with a smile.
A relieved look came over Hazel's face, then she started leading the women around the kitchen and telling them what needed to be done.
"How are you guys doing?" JC asked casually as he and Reuben walked up to Billy and Joe.
"Fine. I love your house." Joe said quickly.
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Please feel free to help yourself to the snacks." JC said and gestured to the table.
"Please call me Joe. And I'll have some snacks in a while." Joe said nervously.
"Relax Joe. We're all friends here." JC said with a casual smile, then picked up Reuben to hold him on his side.
"I was a little nervous during the introductions, what was your name again?" Joe asked, directing his statement to Reuben.
"I'm Reuben. My little brother is Ricardo. People always get our names mixed up." Reuben said shyly.
"I'll try to remember Reuben. How old are you?" Joe asked with a gentle smile.
"I'm six but I'm going to go to second grade when I start to go to school here." Reuben said happily.
"You must be really smart if you're going into second grade already." Joe said with a full smile.
Reuben got a serious look of thought before nodding in agreement.
Billy and Joe laughed at Reuben's serious expression as JC hugged Reuben tightly.
"I guess I'll go see how the others are doing. You guys just give a yell if you need anything." JC said happily.
"Sure thing." Billy said with a small wave 'goodbye' to Reuben.
"Edovina has completed her midday meal and requires the attention of her sa-mekh." Xain said as he walked to the table where Jake and Spock were sitting.
"Come to Daddy." Jake said with a smile and gently rested Edovina on his chest.
"The child is yours?" Spock asked with a touch of curiosity in his voice.
Jake looked to Xain to explain.
"Jake is sa-mekh to Edovina. Since I am T'hy'la to Jake, it is logical that I am her a'nirih." Xain said carefully.
Spock thought about the statement, then said, "You appear to be of insufficient age to engage in such a relationship."
Jake looked at Spock with surprise and a little offense, but then felt a wave of assurance flow from Xain.
"Circumstances outside my control brought me to a certain point. I was facing the prospect of long term cohabitation with a family of Humans. There was a moment when I faced a choice; Jake was in emotional distress. Logic would suggest that I should have summoned our caregiver, Allen, to provide Jake the emotional support that he needed. However, I chose to forego logic and attempt to provide assistance using my abilities to their best advantage." Xain said in deep thought.
"Can you explain what led you to make that choice?" Spock asked with interest as Jake listened in fascination.
"Upon reflection I can speculate that I felt an instinctive need to provide that which I had been denied in my own personal history. The process of identifying and resolving Jake's emotional distress was my primary objective, but it had the secondary effect of providing a sense of... caring. I was under the misconception that what I was lacking was the attention and nurturing of my father." Xain said carefully.
"Your statement leads me to believe you found the reality to be otherwise." Spock prompted, truly interested in Xain's story.
"The reality was that the fault in the relationship with my father was my own. He provided tutors to teach me, he accepted a position on Earth to allow me access to humanity, he did all things within reason to provide the material and emotional support that I needed. It was the belief that he did not understand my needs that prevented my acceptance of what he offered." Xain said distantly.
"How did helping me make a difference?" Jake asked curiously.
"When I made the choice to lend of my control, I thought of your needs before my own. I allowed myself to be vulnerable. In all the years with my father, the thought that he might have needs or concerns had not occurred to me. I believe that the process of... caring, the exchange of concern, the willingness to be vulnerable are the things that I refused to share with him and that reluctance on my part prevented the relationship between my father and myself to develop." Xain said seriously.
Spock nodded and said, "I believe that to recognize those concepts requires a certain level of maturity. It is the nature of a child to see his own needs as paramount and to have the belief that all those surrounding him exist to provide those needs. When living in a Vulcan household, logic and control may, at times, reinforce the misconception that the parent does not seek a relationship of mutual understanding and respect."
"So you couldn't have known how to have a better relationship with your father because you were too young to understand stuff like that." Jake said happily.
Xain considered the statement and finally nodded.
"So you think that Xain isn't old enough to be in a relationship with me. Would you tell me why?" Jake asked seriously.
Spock looked at Xain and Jake speculatively for a moment, then said, "It was improper for me to voice my opinion in this matter. My approval of your relationship is not required."
Before Xain could speak, Jake quickly said, "Your opinion is very important to Xain. You have been his example for a lot of years. I think it's important that he know how you feel."
Spock nodded in understanding and said, "That being the case, I will give my opinion. Xain has demonstrated a level of maturity that suggests that he may be capable of making the decision to be in a relationship. There is insufficient information to predict the consequences of that decision. I have found that in such matters, there is no definite predictor to indicate which relationships will survive and which will fail. However, I believe it was the Human, Alfred Lord Tennyson, who said something that is relevant in this situation. "Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all."
Jake thought about the words carefully, then broke into a smile as he said, "That means 'go for it!' doesn't it?"
Spock looked at Jake curiously, then at Xain with question.
"Jake has a talent for interpreting the underlying sentiment of a statement." Xain said proudly.
"Indeed." Spock said with a raised eyebrow, then turned to Jake and said, "And to answer your question Jake, You are correct. It is my opinion that you should 'Go for it'."
"Joe? Now that we've got a few minutes alone, do you want to talk about things?" Billy asked cautiously.
"Yeah. I really appreciate this Billy. It's like my whole life turned upside down in one day." Joe said in an overwhelmed voice.
"Welcome to the club Joe. I came home from a business trip to Belgium day before yesterday and found a note from my little brother telling me that he had run away from home and wanted to live with me." Billy said with a distant smile.
"If you don't mind telling me, why did he run away?" Joe asked with concern.
"Our parents have been ignoring him. I mean, they always had the 'I'm too busy for you' thing going on. But I guess lately it's gotten worse. They went for a week without talking to him, then forgot his thirteenth birthday." Billy finished in a whisper.
Joe looked at Billy with surprise and said, "And you say he got here two days ago? I never would have guessed. He seems to be perfectly happy and completely comfortable here."
Billy smiled and said, "Allen and his family are a big part of that. When they heard what happened, they bought presents and decorations and even made a cake. We went over to their house for breakfast yesterday morning and walked into a surprise birthday party."
Joe smiled warmly at Billy's happy expression.
"God Joe, I can't even tell you how wonderful it was. I don't know if Deacon ever felt special or loved like that before. It was unreal. The entire day was devoted to him. Allen even arranged for a little birthday cake at Pizza Hut last night..." Billy trailed off in a voice of wonder.
"It sounds like you really love him." Joe said into the ensuing silence.
"Yeah. Deke is the best brother a guy could ask for." Billy said with a tender smile.
"I was talking about Allen. Does he know?" Joe asked knowingly.
"Yeah. We've talked about it. Just with Deke and Allen's four boys, there always seems to be something going on. I guess it will happen when the time is right." Billy said in a distant voice.
"Not unless you make it happen." Joe said seriously.
Billy looked at Joe curiously.
"Fate has brought you two together, the rest is up to you. If you think you could have something special with him, it's up to you to make it happen." Joe said seriously.
"Are you a psychologist on your ship or something?" Billy asked in a teasing voice.
Joe laughed and said, "No, just a deflector control technician and..."
Billy gave Joe an inquiring look.
"Listen Billy, from what you just told me, you're a son without a father. For the past fifteen years, I've been a father without a son. If it won't mess with your head too much, I'd really like to be there for you and Deacon just like I intend to be there for Laura." Joe said seriously.
"You want to be our dad?" Billy asked cautiously.
"Well, yeah. Sort of. I wouldn't expect you to call me dad or anything like that. But if either of you need my advice or help with anything, I'd like for you to call on me." Joe finished shyly.
"I'll need to talk to Deke about it before I can tell you for sure. He may not like the idea of getting another dad when it took him thirteen years to get away from the last one." Billy said frankly.
"I understand Billy. There's no pressure. I just want you to know that I'm here if you need me." Joe said seriously.
"Thanks, Joe. It is a little overwhelming to have taken on a family all of a sudden. It's possible that I'll need some help when it all sinks in." Billy said seriously.
Joe smiled and said, "You'll be fine. From what I've already seen, you love my son as if he were your own brother... or sister. That's still messing with me."
"I know. But you'll get used to it. Lawrence has a lot of things to work out. There's not much we can do for him but love him and give him the time and space he needs to come to his own decision." Billy said in thought.
"I guess it's a good thing that you'll be watching out for him. You understand this stuff a lot better than I do. I think he really needs someone he can trust and talk to about these things. I don't think he trusts me enough to do that." Joe said in a contemplative voice.
"Maybe. But you have a connection with Lawrence that I will never have. You're his father. When you told him that you loved him unconditionally... the look on his face said it all. I may be there to help him and guide him. But in the end it's going to be your opinion and approval that he's going to be seeking." Billy said seriously.
"He'll have it. I promise." Joe said solemnly.
"Hey guys. How are you doing?" JC asked as he sat Reuben in the open seat beside Xain.
"We are well." Xain said as he watched JC grab a chair from a neighboring table and take a seat.
"This gathering is likely to last into the evening. Do you have everything you'll need for the baby?" JC asked with concern.
"No. I only brought sufficient supplies for the afternoon. We will need to return to our home for additional supplies before evening." Xain said seriously.
"We can go to the store and pick up what you need if that would be easier." JC said in thought.
"I believe we should also retrieve two packages of Kevin's nutritional supplement. He has only had his first supplement today." Xain said seriously.
"Then I guess we'd better find someone to drive you over. I'd do it, but I really need to be here to play host." JC said in thought.
"I am fully versed in the operation of a motor vehicle and possess the necessary certifications." Spock said informatively.
JC smiled and said, "Thank you Spock. Do you guys know how to get to your house from here?" JC asked curiously.
"I know the way." Xain said without inflection.
"I recall the location from previous visits with my brother." Spock said in a tone that matched Xain's perfectly.
"Good. Do you guys have keys to the house?" JC asked in thought.
"No. But we can borrow Mamacita's key." Jake said in a considering voice.
"Check to see if she needs you to pick up anything else from the house when you get the key from her." JC said in thought.
"Yeah. Let's do it now so we can get back before Justy, Cory and everyone else gets here." Jake said as he stood with Edovina in his arms.
"Would it be easier if you left Edovina here? That way you won't have to bother with a car seat and besides, I bet all the ladies in the kitchen would be happy to fuss over her the entire time you're gone." JC said with a smile.
"Perhaps that would be the preferable way. Mamacita becomes distressed if she is without Edovina for an extended period of time." Xain said seriously.
"It's good that you recognize it. Being respectful of the feelings of others in your house is very important." JC said in his fatherly manner as he automatically took Reuben's hand.
"Yeah. It's what makes us a family." Jake said seriously.