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"Is everything okay?" Jordy asked with concern when he noticed Vincent's distracted expression.
"Yeah." Vincent said absently. "Fine."
Flares of worry went off within Lehman at Vincent's uncharacteristic response.
Before Lehman could ask, Vincent fixed a gaze on him that froze him in place.
"If you're ready, let's see if Lawrence is ready to go." Vincent said very precisely.
"Um... Yeah." Lehman said, taken aback by Vincent's serious tone. "I'll see you tomorrow, Jordy."?
"Yeah. I'll see you then." Jordy said cautiously.
Lehman shared a look of concern with Jordy before hurrying to follow Vincent out of the room.
* * * * *
"What's wrong?" Lehman asked as soon as he reached Vincent's side.
Vincent gave no response as he continued to walk.
"If it's something you don't want to talk about, can I look?" Lehman asked cautiously.
"No." Vincent said quietly, then stopped to look Lehman in the eyes.
"I just figured out something kinda big and I need to think about it for a while before I can talk about it." Vincent said seriously.
"Maybe if you shared it with me, I could help you." Lehman suggested quietly.
"Not this time." Vincent said with a sincere smile of appreciation at the offer. "In fact, I'm pretty sure that you'll be a lot more help to me if you don't know this."?
* * * * *
"Hey, Lawrence, how are things?" Vincent asked as he approached his brother with purpose.
"Pretty good, I think." Lawrence said uncertainly.
"Jake said that we'd be going over to his house for dinner tonight. Do you have any idea of when we'll be leaving?" Vincent asked seriously.
Lawrence was a little bit surprised by his brother's forceful attitude and cautiously said, "In about half an hour I guess, but I don't think Billy would mind if we needed to leave sooner."?
Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "No. Actually it'll work out fine this way. We should be back before you're ready to go."?
"Are we going somewhere?" Lehman asked as he shared a concerned look with Lawrence and Deacon.
"Yeah, to the ship."?
* * * * *
"Can you tell me what we're doing now?" Lehman asked as they walked into Vincent's cabin.
"Ship, can you access the Starfleet network for me?" Vincent asked, then turned to Lehman and said, "I need to talk to Tyber."?
"Vincent, you're worrying me." Lehman said seriously.
After a long silent moment, Vincent turned to Lehman and said, "I'm sorry about that. Maybe you won't be happier not knowing. Sit down and I'll tell you what I know... or at least what I *think* I know."
Lehman sat down on the edge of the bed and looked at Vincent expectantly.
"I just had a talk with Mikey. Do you know who that is?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Yeah. The angel who rescued that kid, Joel. I had some questions about him." Lehman said carefully.
"I don't know much more than you do. But all you need to know at the moment is that Mikey has been working behind the scenes, helping people to make the right decisions so they'll be where they need to be and so they can do what they need to do."
"What does that have to do with Tyber?" Lehman asked cautiously.
"Actually, I don't know if it has anything to do with him. That's why I need to talk to him." Vincent said frankly.
Lehman shook his head in frustration and asked, "Why don't you just tell me what you know?"
"Because I don't *know* anything." Vincent said with equal frustration. "I think I figured something out, but no matter how I tried, Mikey wouldn't give me a straight answer."
"So what do you *think* you've figured out?" Lehman asked in exasperation.
"Hold on." Vincent said as he started hunting and pecking on the computer screen. "I should have done this at the Short Compound. I didn't think about having to use these Soleen-Avalla controls."?
"We can go back." Lehman offered quietly.
"No. I've got it." Vincent said as he was finally able to bring up his personal account on the Starfleet network.
"What are you looking for?" Lehman asked as he stood to read over Vincent's shoulder.
"Tyber's contact information." Vincent said, then looked upward and asked, "Ship, can you connect me to the frequency in this subspace domain?"?
"Yes, Trach Manja Vincent." Ship answered immediately.
Lehman watched as the screen changed to a video screen.
"This is a secure channel, reserved for the use of the Voice of Okuda." A young man said seriously.
Vincent and Lehman were expecting Tyber to answer the call, but neither was surprised to see the young man who was obviously an Okudai priest.
"Yeah. That's who I'm trying to talk to. Tell Tyber that Vincent wants to talk to him." Vincent said seriously.
The young man seemed to be struggling to decide what he should say. When he finally spoke, the tone of his voice revealed his anxiety.
"The Voice is unable to speak to you at the moment." They young priest said and seemed to be fighting back tears.
"What's wrong?" Lehman asked immediately.
"I... I don't know." The young priest said in a trembling voice.
"Can I speak to the Holy One?" Vincent asked seriously.
"He and his high priests are attending to the Voice. They are not to be interrupted." The young man said quietly as a tear escaped down his cheek.
Vincent nodded as if he had expected the news, then said more gently, "Don't worry about Tyber. He's going to be fine."?
The young man looked at Vincent curiously, surprised by the certainty in his voice.
"If Tyber is the Voice of the Okudai, that means that I'm Vincent, the Voice of the Federation, and this is Lehman, the Voice of the Chameloids. Trust me. I *know*. He's going to be just fine." Vincent said firmly.
The young priest stared for a moment, then reluctantly nodded.
"When Tyber has finished the change, let him know that I called and will call him back." Vincent said seriously.
Lehman looked at Vincent with surprise at the unusual statement.
"I will inform him." The priest said as he tried to get his emotions under control, then he quietly added, "Thank you."
Vincent smiled and gave him a nod before disconnecting the call.
"What happened to Tyber?" Lehman asked seriously.
"I don't know." Vincent said honestly.
"I know you don't *know*, but tell me what you think." Lehman said, not letting Vincent off the hook that easily.
"Okay." Vincent said with resignation, then motioned toward the bed, indicating for Lehman to take a seat.
* * * * *
"The Trach Manjai have a big job to do." Vincent said carefully, trying to find the right words.
"Saving the entire universe... yeah, that's pretty big." Lehman said frankly.
Vincent smiled at the assessment and continued, "Okay, how long do Chameloids usually live?"?
"About the same as Humans, I guess. About one hundred and thirty years or so... longer if we're lucky." Lehman said with a shrug.
"Right. But what if a Chameloid was changed? What if he suddenly got this super-charged healing ability and got locked into one form?" Vincent asked slowly.
Lehman thought for a moment, then looked at Vincent with realization and said, "Every day when I wake up, I'm *exactly* like I was the day that I took your form. That's why you're bigger than I am now."
"What about a hundred years from now?" Vincent said in a leading tone.
"I'll still be *exactly* like I am today." Lehman said distantly.
Vincent nodded, then continued, "JonJon doesn't know how old he really is, but he knows that he doesn't age."
Lehman nodded absently as his mind raced ahead to the conclusion that Vincent had already reached.
"If J'Laad is really over seven hundred years old, that means Oscar... " Vincent trailed off as he looked at Lehman, fairly certain that he had already figured it out.
"...And something happened to Tyber that is changing him right now, and when that change is finished..." Lehman said distantly.
Vincent picked up the train of thought and quietly said, "...he'll either be ageless, like the rest of you, or he won't be a Trach Manja anymore."?
Lehman blinked at the words as he tried to absorb what Vincent was saying.
"Like I said, Mikey wouldn't tell me if I was right... but if I was way off track, I'm pretty sure he would have told me I was wrong." Vincent said frankly.
Lehman nodded his agreement as he tried to wrap his mind around the enormity of their situation.
"If I'm right, something is about to happen that will make me ageless like the rest of you." Vincent said, sure that Lehman had already figured that part out.
"But why? Why would Mikey want to do that do us?" Lehman asked in a small voice.
"The Trach Manjai have a big job to do." Vincent said, repeating his earlier words.
Lehman thought about it for a moment, then said, "A job bigger than a normal lifetime."
Vincent nodded slowly.
"Well, what's so bad about living a long time? Lots of people would do anything for the chance." Lehman said frankly.
"Lots of people aren't married to T'Lani." Vincent said quietly.
Lehman froze at the words.
"I think that when Lawrence and Deacon gave you the choice, they asked about if you wanted the responsibility, because that's the big thing that might make you want to stop being a Trach Manja." Vincent said thoughtfully.
"But the responsibility isn't the part that bothers you. It's deciding if you want to be ageless and live beyond T'Lani." Lehman said, putting Vincent's thoughts into words.
"She's my wife, my T'hy'la, my... everything. We're not just married, we're bonded. We are one. What's it going to be like living a thousand or ten thousand years remembering the hundred or so years that we spent together?" Vincent asked quietly.
"Are you thinking about giving up?" Lehman asked Vincent carefully.
"No. I already told Mikey that I was going to keep being a Trach Manja." Vincent said bravely.
"But you haven't been changed yet." Lehman said frankly.
At Vincent's curious look, he continued, "JonJon, Oscar, Me, and probably Tyber not only have made our choices, but we can't go back... You can."
"JonJon *could* go back. He could still decide that he wanted to wipe out his memory and forget what it means to be a Trach Manja." Vincent said carefully.
"Yes, he *could*, but he won't." Lehman acceded. "He's accepted the responsibility and wouldn't turn his back on it. Besides, being ageless doesn't mean the same thing for him. It's just a fact. Forgetting who he is wouldn't change that."?
Vincent nodded, then fell into silence.
Lehman sat down on the edge of the bed, watching Vincent carefully, trying to come up with something he could do or say to help.
"I hate feeling like this." Vincent finally said in a small voice.
"You have to make a decision." Lehman said frankly.
"Well, *duh*." Vincent said with a roll of his eyes.
Lehman smiled at Vincent's irreverent tone, then said, "Once you make your final decision and commit to it, I mean, deep down in your heart, then you won't feel this way anymore."
Vincent considered the words for a moment, then finally nodded.
"What do you want?" Lehman finally asked in a whisper.
"Something that I can't have." Vincent answered in a small child's voice.
"Are you sure?" Lehman asked in a leading tone.
Vincent looked at Lehman curiously.
Lehman giggled, and his eyes were dancing with absolute joy.
"What?" Vincent asked as he searched Lehman's expression, looking for a clue to his change in mood.
"Will you do something for me?" Lehman asked as he tried to restrain his smile.
"What's that?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Stop worrying." Lehman said gently.
"How?" Vincent asked desperately.
Lehman let another giggle escape before saying, "You're all torn up because you have to face this big, horrible decision, right?"
"Yeah." Vincent said, fighting back the urge to take Lehman by the shoulders to shake the answer out of him.
"I happen to know that you have a very close friend who can alter fate..." Lehman said in a whisper.
Vincent blinked with surprise at the statement as he tried to understand just what Lehman was planning to do.
"Stop worrying, Vincent. I've got this one." Lehman said with confidence.
"Really?" Vincent asked, wanting desperately to hope.
"Really." Lehman said as he looked Vincent in the eyes. "Have I ever lied to you?"?
"Never." Vincent said immediately.
"And I don't plan to start now." Lehman said with a grin.
"But... We don't know how to use it; how to make it work." Vincent said as his hopes began to fall.
"Vincent, listen to me." Lehman said seriously.
After a moment to gain control over his frantic thoughts, Vincent was finally able to devote his full attention to Lehman.
"Just wait and see." Lehman said with assurance.
"You're sure?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Completely." Lehman answered firmly.
Vincent took in a slow, deep breath to calm himself, then said, "If you say it's taken care of, I'll trust you."?
Lehman smiled as he said, "Well, it's not actually taken care of yet. But I'm here with you. I saw your pain. I felt it. And I care. If being Trach Manja means anything. Then you don't have to worry about this decision at all. The random factors will align to give you what you want but think you can't have."?
Vincent thought about the words as he considered their deeper meaning. He realized that if he couldn't trust in his ability, then he wouldn't be able to use it to help others.
"Okay." Vincent finally said, then gave Lehman a grateful smile.
"C'mon. I think it's time for us to go back. We wouldn't want Lawrence and Deacon to have to wait on us." Lehman said seriously.
Vincent stood and looked at Lehman with admiration.
"Ready?" Lehman asked cautiously.
"Yeah." Vincent said quietly, then looked timidly at Lehman and said, "I'm sorry I took you away from Jordy like that. I hope I didn't upset you."
Lehman chuckled and said, "Jordy was wanting to talk to his friend. We already said goodbye about three times before you came in to get me. It's really no problem."
"Oh good." Vincent said with relief. "I'm glad I didn't interrupt you."
"Ready?" Lehman asked with a casual grin.
Vincent looked down at himself to be sure that he was appropriately dressed, then nodded.
"Ship, would you please teleport us back down to the Short Compound?" Lehman asked into the air.
"Do you have a desired location?" Ship responded quietly.
"Not really. Just someplace out of the way so we don't bother anyone." Lehman said casually.
A moment later, the teleportal stream washed over the pair of nearly identical boys.
* * * * *
When the teleportal stream faded, Vincent and Lehman found themselves in the hallway outside the Rec Room at the Short Compound.
"I'll go get our clothes while you look for Lawrence." Lehman said seriously.
"Thanks. I probably would have forgot about them." Vincent said with a quick smile at Lehman which indicated that he was feeling much better.
Lehman walked at a casual pace to CIC to get the clothes that they had brought with them.
* * * * *
"Yeah. Him being able to change like that is really kewl, but I'd still think he was nice if he was just a regular human."? A familiar voice said as Lehman stepped into CIC.
"Jordy?" Lehman said gently as he walked fully into the room.
"Lehman!" Jordy said with a delighted smile.
"We're just about to leave now. I came for our clothes." Lehman said shyly, feeling funny about what he had overheard.
"Oh. Um, yeah. Well, I'm glad I got to see you again before you left." Jordy said as he looked deeply into Lehman's eyes.
"Me too." Lehman said, lost in Jordy's gaze.
A chuckle interrupted their private moment, and they both turned to see Seth watching them.
"You two have got it bad." Seth said with a giggle.
Jordy turned back to face Lehman and quietly asked, "Do you think you'll be coming back tomorrow?"
"I don't think we have anything planned, so I don't know for sure. But if I get the chance, I'll be here." Lehman said quietly.
"I'll see you then." Jordy said shyly.
Lehman picked up the two bundles of clothes, then turned to Jordy and said, "Bye."
Jordy and Lehman seemed to be lost in their own little world as Jordy whispered, "Bye."
"Why don't you guys just kiss and get it over with?" Seth asked with exasperation.
Lehman looked at Jordy with indecision, wanting to, but not wanting to upset Jordy.
"Not on the first date." Jordy said softly as he looked into Lehman's eyes.
At Lehman's look of question at the statement, Jordy continued, "We can do that next time... I mean, if you want to."
Relief filled Lehman's expression as he whispered, "Yeah, I'd like that."
"Besides, I wouldn't want people to think I'm a slut puppy like Seth." Jordy said with a grin at his friend.
"Hey!" Seth exclaimed, but was obviously trying to fight back a smile.
"Vincent's probably waiting on you. You'd better go." Jordy said as he turned his attention back to Lehman.
"Yeah." Lehman said, quietly, then turned and gave Seth a little wave before walking out of the room.
* * * * *
"I'm guessing Jordy was in CIC." Vincent said with a barely restrained grin as Lehman walked into the Rec room.
"Yeah... How did you know?" Lehman asked curiously.
"Because it was either that, or you got lost in the thirty feet between here and there." Vincent said with a chuckle.
Lehman shyly smiled at the statement, then glanced at Lawrence before asking, "Are we ready to go?"
"Yeah. Billy wanted to check in on Joel to see if there's any more news before we leave." Lawrence said frankly.
"Oh. How's he doing?" Lehman asked curiously.
"You'll have to ask Billy." Lawrence said simply.
Lehman nodded, then remembered what he was carrying and handed Vincent's clothes to him.
"Thanks." Vincent said as he accepted his crewman's jumpsuit and unfolded it slightly to be sure that his medicine bag was still there.
"Are you guys all ready to go?" Billy asked as he walked into the room with Deacon following a step behind.
"How's Joel?" Lawrence asked with concern.
"From what Teri said, he's still trying to adjust to being here, but he seems to have calmed down a little." Billy said uncertainly as he gestured for the group to follow.
* * * * *
"We probably won't be having dinner for a little while, so I thought we'd stop by the house so you guys can unpack and get settled in." Billy said, as they walked down the hallway at a casual pace.
//Vincent?// A voice called into Vincent's mind.
//Yes?// Vincent answered uncertainly, not knowing who was contacting him by telepathy.
//Would you mind talking to Peter for a minute? He feels bad about surprising you and making you mad.// The voice asked hesitantly.
//I don't know who that is... or who you are. But if you'll tell me where I need to go, I'll ask the guys to wait on me for a minute.// Vincent sent very deliberately.
A giggle sounded in Vincent's mind, then everything suddenly froze around him.
A younger boy, about seven years old appeared in front of Vincent and said, "I'm Dylan."
"That makes you the second Dylan I've talked to today. Hey, you're like Levi, aren't you?" Vincent asked, noticing the features that they had in common.
"Yeah. Levi's my big brother." Dylan said happily, then seemed to remember why he was there.
"Peter feels bad because when he gave you one of his 'random hugs' he made you mad and you went away." Dylan said as he looked Vincent in the eyes.
"Oh. That's who that was." Vincent said thoughtfully.
"Anyway, he feels bad and I wondered if you'd talk to him about it before you leave?" Dylan asked hopefully.
"Yeah. Sure." Vincent said immediately, then asked, "Where is he?"
Dylan looked to his left and said, "Come on, Peter. You won't feel better unless you talk to him."
Vincent looked at the empty space that Dylan was talking to. Then between one moment and the next there was a shy looking boy, about Vincent's own age, standing there looking at him with a repentant expression.
"I'm sorry." Peter whispered.
"I don't understand what for." Vincent said cautiously.
"I like to give 'random hugs', because they make people feel good." Peter said as he forced himself to look Vincent in the eyes. "But it didn't make you feel good. It made you feel angry."
Vincent thought back on how he had been surprised by suddenly being hugged without warning while he was going through his practice stances.
"I'm sorry, Vincent. I really didn't want to make you angry. I won't do it again." Peter said quietly.
"You don't need to promise that. It's just that you caught me when I had a lot of stuff on my mind, and I was trying to figure things out." Vincent explained slowly.
"I like hugs. And now that I know what a 'random hug' is, I won't mind one every now and then." Vincent finished with a smile.
Peter broke into a wide smile at Vincent's statement, then rushed forward to pull him into a big hug.
Vincent chuckled as he returned the hug, glad to know that Peter was feeling better.
"I think I like this kind of hug better than a 'random hug'." Vincent said honestly.
"Then this is the kind of hugs I'll give you." Peter said with joy evident in his voice.
* * * * *
"Is everything alright, Vincent? You seemed to, I don't know... flicker." Lehman said with concern.
"Yeah. No problem, I was just in a time freeze for a minute." Vincent said casually as he walked with the group toward the front door.
"Oh... Um, do you do that a lot?" Lehman asked cautiously.
"No. But I have a feeling that I'd better get used to it. At least while I'm on Earth." Vincent said with amusement.
"Mikyvis?" Lawrence asked over his shoulder.
"Yeah. A couple of them." Vincent said with a smile at his brother.
Lawrence nodded, obviously not needing any further explanation.
"How about I tell you all about it later?" Vincent asked Lehman casually.
"Yeah. I have a feeling that we're going to have a lot to talk about." Lehman said frankly.
"Don't worry about it, Lehman. It's all good. I promise." Vincent said as he casually draped an arm around Lehman's shoulders.
* * * * *
"It looks like I may need to think about getting a bigger car." Billy said frankly as Lawrence, Vincent and Lehman got into the back seat.
"But I like your car." Deacon protested as he got into the passenger seat.
"So do I. But we're just about at capacity." Billy said frankly.
Even though the back seat wasn't uncomfortably tight, It was obvious that the seat had been designed with only two back seat passengers in mind.
After a moment to get settled in, Lehman's skin began to change color.
As his skin turned blue, he also began to get smaller.
"What are you doing?" Vincent asked curiously as Lehman continued to shrink.
"Making myself little so you guys will have more room." Lehman said honestly as he finally stopped shrinking at about the size of a five year old child.
"I didn't know you could do that." Vincent said with surprise.
"I haven't needed to before now." Lehman said honestly.
"Is that as small as you can get?" Lawrence asked curiously.
"Yeah. Well, I might be able to get a little bit smaller, but this is as small as I can get without really working at it." Lehman said, then looked out the window as Billy started backing the car out of its parking space.
"Is that what you looked like when you were younger?" Vincent asked from his place in the middle of the back seat.
"Yeah." Lehman said absently while watching the scenery as they drove.
"You were a cute kid." Vincent said with a grin.
Lehman glanced at Vincent, then said, "Thanks."
* * * * *
The rest of the ride to Billy's house was made in virtual silence as Lehman seemed to be fascinated by every single thing they saw as they drove.
As they pulled into the driveway, Billy asked, "Are you guys going to have any problem bunking together tonight?"
"No. We slept together last night." Lehman said as he opened the door and got out of the car.
As soon as Lehman was out of the car, he began to grow and returned to his resting form.
"That is so freaky." Billy said with an amused smile at Lehman.
Lehman shrugged then looked at his surroundings.
"This place is really pretty." Lehman said as he walked with the group toward the house.
"You forgot this." Vincent said as he handed Lehman his bundle of clothes.
"Thanks." Lehman said absently as he accepted the bundle.
* * * * *
"Lawrence, do you mind if Vincent and Lehman stay in your room tonight? I figured that you wouldn't mind sharing a bed with Deacon." Billy asked casually as they walked into the house.
"No problem. That sounds great." Lawrence said happily, then turned and said, "Come on, guys, and I'll show you where you'll be staying tonight."
Lehman seemed not to have heard as he was looking around, absorbing every detail of his new surroundings.
Vincent put a hand on his arm and led him to the stairs to follow Lawrence.
* * * * *
"This is *your* room?" Vincent asked with surprise as they walked into the huge bedroom.
"Yeah. Isn't it great?" Lawrence asked with a proud smile.
"It's a whole lot better than your room back home." Vincent said frankly.
"Well, this room was decorated by the guy who used to own this house, but I wouldn't want to change a thing." Lawrence said as he walked to the closet.
"Give me a minute and I'll clear out some space in the drawers for you." Lawrence said as he gathered a few things.
"Lawrence, this is all we have." Vincent said as he held up his bundle of clothes.
"Oh... we probably need to take you two shopping, then." Lawrence said with concern.
"Yeah. I was thinking that too. Maybe tomorrow if we can find the time."
"You should probably stop by the Clan's clothes closet and get something before you go to the store." Lawrence said frankly, then walked to his dresser to gather a few more things.
At Vincent and Lehman's curious looks, Lawrence continued, "What you're wearing is fine around here or at Clan headquarters, but you'll probably want to wear something a little more 'normal' to go to the store... unless you want people to stare at you."
"I really don't care if people stare, but you're probably right." Vincent said, then looked to see if Lehman had any objection.
"I can make myself 'look like' I'm wearing any kind of clothes I want, so it doesn't matter to me." Lehman said frankly.
"I could never do that. I mean, even if I knew I looked like I was wearing clothes, I'd still feel like I was walking around naked." Vincent said with a chuckle.
"Do you guys want to take a shower or anything before we go for dinner?" Lawrence asked, as he carried his armload of clothes toward the door.
"I've had... three baths already today. I think I'm okay." Vincent said with a chuckle.
"I'm good too." Lehman said with a grin at Vincent.
"Okay. I'm just going to put these in Deke's room. I'll see you guys downstairs." Lawrence said as he walked out of the room.
* * * * *
After a minute or two of looking around the bedroom, Vincent turned to Lehman and asked, "You ready?"
"Not yet." Lehman said seriously.
"Is something wrong?" Vincent asked, concerned? by the tone of Lehman's voice.
"I think I'm the one who should be asking you that." Lehman said as he looked Vincent in the eyes.
After a moment to consider, Vincent said, "I'm fine now."
"Really?" Lehman asked cautiously, having difficulty believing that Vincent could have gotten over his earlier emotional condition so easily.
"Yeah. Really." Vincent said simply. "I can't turn my emotions on and off like a switch. But I guess I really believed you when you told me not to worry."
At Lehman's incredulous gaze, Vincent continued, "I guess what this means is that I really do believe in what it means to be a Trach Manja, because when you said that thing about trusting you, I believed it and I'm not worried about it now."
"Oh... Then I guess we can go downstairs." Lehman said with surprise.
"Not yet." Vincent said seriously, then asked, "What about you?"
"What about me?" Lehman responded slowly.
"How are you feeling? You know, about Jordy?" Vincent asked while holding Lehman's gaze.
"That's kind of personal." Lehman said as he looked away.
"So?" Vincent said simply. "You ask me personal stuff all the time. It's my turn to help you if you need it."
Lehman slowly nodded and seemed to be lost in thought.
"You like him." Vincent said as a prompt to get Lehman to continue.
"Well, duh!" Lehman said with a smirk.
Vincent giggled at Lehman's response.
"Jordy is easy to talk to. He's not complicated." Lehman said thoughtfully.
"Yeah." Vincent said slowly, waiting for Lehman to say more.
"You've got to understand something, Vincent. Among my people, we don't choose a mate until we reach adulthood." Lehman said with regret.
"So does that mean that you'll never find a mate?" Vincent asked curiously.
Lehman looked at Vincent with surprise at the question.
"It seems to me that if you're locked in my form and wake up every day *exactly* the way you were the day we met, that you'll never really grow up." Vincent said honestly.
"I...I didn't think of that." Lehman whispered.
"Is there some biological thing that Chameloids do when they choose a mate that makes it so you can't be together now?" Vincent asked seriously.
Lehman blinked with surprise as he pondered over Vincent's question.
Finally he said, "No. There's nothing like that. It's just our custom to wait until we've got jobs and know what we'll be doing with our lives before we choose a mate."
"Like being Trach Manja?" Vincent asked quietly.
Lehman smiled at the question and said, "Yeah. Like that."
"I know you just met Jordy and it's probably too soon to be talking about him as your mate. I just think it's important for you to know that, well, it's not impossible." Vincent said carefully. "I'm sorry if I'm butting into your business."
"I'm glad you did, Vincent. I didn't realize that I was just accepting the traditions of my people without thinking it through." Lehman said with a gentle smile. "Besides, it probably doesn't matter anyway. Jordy lives on Earth and I'm going to live at the new colony."
"You could live on Earth if you wanted to." Vincent said frankly.
Lehman only thought about it for a moment before shaking his head.
"Benny and JonJon are my family now. I need them... and I think they need me." Lehman said carefully.
"Yeah. I think you're right." Vincent said with a nod.
"I guess I'll just have to trust that your Great Spirit has a plan and will make things work out the way they're supposed to." Lehman said with resignation.
Vincent chuckled and said, "Yeah. Sometimes that's all you can do."
"Are you ready to go downstairs now?" Lehman asked quietly.
"Hug first." Vincent said seriously.
Lehman smiled and moved in to give Vincent a firm hug.
"I love you, Lehman. Just let me know what you need and I'll do whatever I can to make things turn out the way you want." Vincent whispered into Lehman's ear.
Lehman chuckled and said, "As soon as I've figured it out, you'll be the first to know."
As the hug continued, Lehman quietly said, "I've never had a friend like you before, Vincent."
"Me either." Vincent responded, enjoying the feeling of holding and being held.
"We should probably go downstairs now." Lehman said, feeling that the hug had gone on too long.
"They can wait for a few minutes." Vincent said, making no move to let go.
Lehman chuckled and renewed his hug.
Silence fell between the two nearly identical boys as they both enjoyed the feeling of physical comfort.
* * * * *
"How are you guys doing?" Deacon asked as he saw Vincent and Lehman walking down the stairs.
"We're fine. Where are Lawrence and Billy?" Vincent asked as he looked around.
"They're in the study on the terminal. You know, checking in to see how Joel is doing." Deacon said without concern.
Vincent nodded his acceptance of the answer as he led the way into the living room.
"Ship, how is Xandor doing?" Lehman asked into his bracelet.
"Xandor is enjoying conversation with his cousin and his cousin's companions. Would you like for me to initiate contact?" Ship asked seriously.
"No, thank you Ship. I just want to be sure that he wasn't feeling alone." Lehman said honestly.
"Xandor seems to be quite content in his current company. But if I notice a change in his mood that would indicate a need for diversion, I will notify you immediately." Ship said professionally.
"Thank you Ship." Lehman said, then thought to ask, "How are the repairs coming?"
"The repairs are proceeding according to plan." Ship responded immediately.
"Let us know if you need any supplies or anything." Vincent said into his bracelet.
"We do not anticipate needing any additional materials, but should the need arise, I will notify you." Ship said frankly.
"Good." Vincent said with a nod, then thought to ask, "How are you feeling?"
"I am well. Thank you for asking." Ship said in a notably softer voice.
"I'm glad. But I'm right here if you ever need to talk." Vincent said gently.
"As am I, should you need me." Ship said in a tender voice.
A long moment of silence fell over the group in the living room, before Deacon finally asked, "You know someone named Ship?"
Vincent chuckled at Deacon's expression and answered, "Yeah. He's the Intelligence of the ship that brought us to Earth."
"Do you mean like Artificial Intelligence?" Deacon asked curiously.
"Yeah. Except that after talking to him and getting to know him, I can't really think of him as artificial." Vincent said frankly.
At Deacon's curious look, Vincent continued, "I know a lot of Humans who are a lot more artificial than Ship."
Deacon chuckled before asking, "Have you met Davis' mom, Mrs. Plimpton?"
Vincent thought for a moment before saying, "I don't think so. I don't even know who Davis is."
"Don't worry about it. I'm sure you'll get to meet him sometime in the next day or two." Deacon said with a smile.
Vincent shrugged at the statement, then glanced toward the hallway, waiting on Lawrence and Billy to join them.
* * * * *
"Sorry that took so long." Billy said as he rushed into the living room.
"How is Joel?" Vincent asked immediately.
"Oh, he's calmer right now. Cory took him to the Infirmary at the Camp, and Kyle's reported that he's feeling a little better. He's still nervous but not as jumpy," Lawrence said simply.
"Good." Vincent said with a smile of relief.
"We just got to talking about other things and totally lost track of time." Billy said with a shy smile.
"Is everything alright?" Deacon asked curiously.
"Oh yeah. In fact, we got some pretty good news." Billy said, then looked to Lawrence to see if he wanted to be the one to make the announcement.
Lawrence noticed all attention turned toward him and shyly said, "Rory and Kennon checked out to be fine and they've been released."
"Oh good. Are they going to be having dinner with us?" Deacon asked hopefully.
"I know that they were invited, but I don't know if they had other plans." Lawrence said hesitantly.
"Yeah. I guess they might need to get settled in... where are they staying?" Deacon asked curiously.
"At Rory's house, I think. But knowing how Rory is, he'll probably end up spending the night across the street." Billy said with a chuckle.
At Vincent and Lehman's equal curious looks, Deacon explained, "Rory's boyfriend, Kenny, lives across the street from us."
"Oh... I didn't know that." Vincent said with surprise.
"We spend more time over there than over here." Lawrence said honestly.
Billy glanced at the grandfather clock by the staircase then said, "We should go, we're a few minutes late."
Vincent and Lehman stood and waited for the rest of the group to lead the way.
* * * * *
"Aren't you going to knock?" Vincent asked when Lawrence walked into the house as if he lived there.
"Nah. Allen doesn't like for us to knock. He says that we're family and we should act like it." Lawrence said as he waited for everyone to join him in the entry hall.
"That's pretty." Lehman said as he pointed at the mural on the wall by the staircase.
"Yeah. C'mon, I bet everyone is in the living room." Lawrence said as he led the way.
A knock on the door caused the group to stop before they could enter the living room.
"I'll get it." Billy said and motioned for Lawrence to continue on into the living room.
As Vincent and Lehman were about to walk through the doorway, both stopped at the sound of a familiar voice.
"Hi, Billy. Jake invited me over tonight."
"Come on in, Dylan. You know that you're welcomed anytime." Billy said as he motioned for Dylan to come in.
"Hey, Dylan. I didn't know you were going to be here." Vincent said happily.
"I didn't know either, but when Jake asked me if I wanted to come over, I realized that I'd probably enjoy a little time away from the camp." Dylan said shyly, then asked, "How are you doing, Lehman?"
"I'm good." Lehman said, a little bit surprised that Dylan had thought to ask.
"Let's go visit." Billy said as he walked around the group of boys into the living room.
"You really okay?" Vincent asked cautiously.
Dylan broke into a big smile and said, "Yeah. I'm really good."
Vincent looked at Dylan for a moment before accepting his answer.
Lehman looked from Vincent to Dylan curiously, not really understanding their relationship.
* * * * *
Vincent, Lehman and Dylan walked into the living room to find it filled with people.
"It looks like that's all of us." Allen said as he stood. "Is everyone ready to eat?"
"I bet Vincent is." Lehman said under his breath.
The irreverent comment drew Vincent's attention and snapped him out of his discomfort at being amongst so many strangers.
"Dad. We're not all going to fit in the dining room." Jake said cautiously.
"I was thinking that us old folks could have dinner at the kitchen table." Allen said as he walked at a casual pace past the stairs.
"But shouldn't we all eat together? It just seems wrong to have company, then you eat in the kitchen." Jake said with concern.
"I know, Jake." Allen said as he paused in front of the dining room door and draped an arm around Jake's shoulders. "But we don't have room for everyone to eat in either room. I'm counting on you to make sure our guests feel welcomed."
"Okay." Jake said reluctantly, then smiled and continued, "I'll take care of it, Dad."
* * * * *
"Where do you want us?" One of the boys that Vincent had never met before asked.
"Just grab a seat wherever you want." Jake said simply as he walked to the head of the table.
"It is time for Edovina to have her evening meal. I will retrieve her." Xain said from just inside the door.
"Sounds good. I bet Mamacita could use a break." Jake said with a smile, then seemed to notice Dylan.
"Hey Dylan. I didn't see you come in! I'm glad you were able to make it." Jake said happily and moved to give Dylan a quick hug.
Vincent and Lehman noticed that the four strangers seemed to be frozen in awe, staring at Dylan.
"Who are they?" Lehman whispered.
Vincent's only answer was a shrug.
"Everyone have a seat while me and my brothers bring in the food." Jake said as he gave Dylan a slight nudge toward the table.
"We want to help too." One of the strangers said quickly.
"Not this time." Jake said seriously, then broke into a grin as he continued, "The first time, you're company. But the next time, you're family."
Vincent watched as Jake, Kenny, Kevin, Reuben and Ricardo walked out of the room in procession.
"You're Dylan Chang?" One of the boys asked Dylan hesitantly.
"Yes..." Dylan answered suspiciously at being called by his full name.
"I know you probably feel funny about it, but can I see?" The boy asked cautiously as he pointed to the side of his own face.
"I guess so." Dylan said cautiously, then lifted his black leather half-mask so the boy could see what was beneath.
Vincent and Lehman couldn't resist, and both turned to look.
The first thing that drew Vincent's attention was the gauze pad taped over Dylan's eye. The skin surrounding Dylan's eye was pale and showed a few light, silvery scars.
"That's not bad." The boy said quietly as he looked Dylan in his good eye.
"I've had a few surgeries already. But there's still more work to do." Dylan said as he moved his mask back into place.
"Does it hurt?" The boy asked cautiously.
"No. It doesn't hurt at all anymore." Dylan said, then glanced at Vincent and Lehman helplessly, obviously not wanting to be the center of attention anymore.
Feeling sympathy for Dylan's situation, Vincent decided to rescue him and said, "It looks like you already know who Dylan is. I'm Vincent."
One of the strangers chuckled as he said, "I know who you are."
"You do?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"You are Crewman Vincent Winters, Son of Clan Short, of the family of Sarek, of the House of Surak of Vulcan." The boy said in a confident and practiced tone.
"And the thirty-seventh heir in succession of the Family Euchamaut of Greater Andoria." Vincent added slowly.
The four strangers exchanged looks of surprise at Vincent's additional title.
Before Vincent could explain, the youngest of them asked, "Is that the name of Thaelan's family?"
"Yes. But could you tell me who you are and how you know about Thaelan?" Vincent asked firmly.
"It's kind of hard to believe..." One of the boys started to say, when another interrupted. "If anyone would believe it, it would be Vincent."
"Actually, you've got a point there." The older boy said to his side, then turned to Vincent and continued, "Okay. In our universe..."
"Universe?" Vincent asked, then shared a concerned look with Lehman.
"Yeah. We're from an alternate universe. In our universe, there are writers who write stories about fictional characters... who happen to be all of you."
"So you read these stories about us and that's how you know about us?" Lehman asked cautiously.
"That's right, Lehman." The older boy said with a friendly smile.
"Sorry that took so long." Jake said as he walked into the room carrying plates of food. "Mamacita wanted to dish all the food onto plates in the kitchen."
Vincent noticed that Ricardo was carrying a large basket and quickly got up to help him before he dropped it.
"Thanks, Vincent." Jake said with a smile as he placed plates of food in front of his guests.
"Be back in a sec." Kenny said as he rushed back toward the door.
Within a few seconds, the other boys had rushed out of the room to follow him.
Vincent looked at the basket in his hands, then moved back to his seat and set it in the middle of the table.
"How much do you know about us?" Lehman asked the boys curiously.
"About you, not that much. We just know about what's happened to you since you first met Vincent."
Lehman thought about all that had happened since he and Vincent had met, and realized that if what the boys were saying was true, that they actually knew quite a bit.
"You guys can start eating before it gets cold." Jake said as he walked in carrying more plates.
"Does everyone like fruit punch?" Kenny asked as he walked into the room carrying a gallon jug.
Nods and 'yeahs' went around the room.
"So did everyone get introduced yet?" Jake asked as he finally made his way to his seat.
"Not really." Lehman said honestly as he looked Jake in the eyes.
"Okay. You guys tell me if I got this right." Jake said to the group of boys, then pointed at each and said, "Galen, Marky, Scotty, and Jude."
"You've got a good memory, Jake." Galen said with a smile.
"What is this that we're eating?" Lehman asked curiously.
"Carne Asada. It's best when it's still hot. Dig in." Jake said to the group.
"If you require more tortillas, they are contained in the basket before Vincent." Xain said simply.
"Homemade tortillas are the best." Dylan said happily as he immediately took some from the basket.
"Hey Lehman! You and Scotty have something in common." Marky said happily, then was promptly punched in the arm by Scotty.
Everyone watched as Scotty glared at Marky as a blush rose up his face.
"Oh." Vincent said in realization, then went back to eating his food.
Lehman looked at Vincent curiously, not understanding what they were talking about.
After a moment to swallow his bite of food, Vincent whispered, "Bull moose."
Some chuckles went around the table at Vincent's quiet explanation.
"Oh jeeze." Scotty said as he buried his face in his hands.
"Xain, did you make any of this food?" Galen asked, trying to change the subject.
"No. However, Mamacita has been showing me how to prepare some of her favorite recipes. I assisted her in preparing some of the items for this meal." Xain said carefully.
"Well, everything is great." Galen said happily.
A chorus of appreciative agreement went around the table.
* * * * *
An unusual sound drew everyone's attention from the stroller.
"Oh, I guess Vina is ready for dinner too." Jake said with a loving smile at his daughter.
"Could I feed her?" Marky asked quickly.
Xain looked at Jake with question, obviously allowing him to make the decision.
"Yeah. If you want to." Jake said, then continued, "Just stay right there and I'll bring her to you."
Marky scooted out from the table a little bit and watched with a big smile as Jake gently placed Edovina into his lap.
"That's right. Just hold her like that and I'll get you a bottle." Jake said quietly.
"Her bottle is prepared." Xain said simply as he handed it to Jake.
"Thanks, T'hy'la" Jake said with a smile, then uncapped the bottle and handed it to Marky.
Everyone watched as Marky gave Edovina the bottle.
"A lady shouldn't gulp her food." Marky said as he took the bottle from her and lifted her to his shoulder.
Edovina gave a little whimper of complaint and seemed to be ready to let out a full fledged scream.
"Here, you'll need this. She likes to spew when you burp her." Jake said as he handed Marky a towel.
Marky nodded as he gently alternated between patting and rubbing Edovina's back.
After a moment, Marky said, "There you go. Now you're ready for more."
"You're really good with her." Jake said as he watched Marky give Edovina the bottle and encourage her to hold it herself.
"I like babies." Marky said simply as he watched Edovina happily drinking her bottle.
* * * * *
"How is everyone doing in here?" Billy asked as he walked into the dining room.
Jake looked around the room before answering, "I think we're all good in here."
"Good. Do you think I could borrow Deacon and Lawrence for just a minute?" Billy asked with a smile.
"What do you say, guys? Do you mind being borrowed?" Jake asked with a grin at the pair.
Billy smiled and waited for Lawrence and Deacon to join him at the door.
"What's up with that?" Vincent asked Jake curiously.
"Dessert." Xain said simply.
"Do you know what it is?" Jake asked, knowing that Xain was right.
"No. But upon reflection, I should have thought it curious that Mamacita was not preparing any sort of dessert to go with the meal." Xain said seriously,
"Here we go!!" Billy said happily as he carried a cake into the room.
Lawrence followed him with another cake and Deacon came in carrying a stack of dessert plates.
"Come on, guys. Pass your empty plates to the end to make room." Jake said as he handed his plate to Xain.
"Vincent. We wanted to do something special to welcome you back to Earth, so Lawrence suggested that we have your favorite dessert." Billy said happily.
"What is it?" Lehman asked curiously as he looked at the strangely decorated cakes.
"Ice cream cakes, covered with all kinds of different candies." Vincent said with a grand smile.
"You guys dig in and enjoy." Billy said as he turned to leave the room.
Vincent jumped up from his chair and gave Billy a big hug.
"Thanks, Billy. It's great." Vincent said happily.
"Welcome home, Vincent." Billy said gently, then left the room.
"Well, Vincent, since it's your cake, you get to pick what kind you want." Jake said from the head of the table.
"I'd like a piece with Butterfingers." Vincent said quickly, not having to think about it a bit.
"Does anyone else have a favorite before we start dishing it up?" Jake asked around the table.
"I like Oreo." Lawrence said with a smile.
"Are any of those things mint flavored?" Lehman asked as he looked at the cake.
"Do you like mint?" Jake asked as he finally finished cutting Vincent's Butterfinger piece of the cake
"No. I really don't. If you can get me anything that doesn't taste like mint, I'll probably like it." Lehman said shyly.
"Pass that to Vincent." Jake said as he handed the dessert plate to Reuben. "Anyone else have a preference?"
"I'll be right back." Vincent said as he hopped up from his chair.
Lehman nodded, then accepted Vincent's piece of the cake and sat it down at his place.
* * * * *
"Um, hi. Excuse me?" Vincent said timidly as he walked into the kitchen.
"Hello, Vincent. Were you needing something?" Billy asked gently.
"Yeah, some coffee if you've got it." Vincent said shyly.
"I just made a fresh pot. Let me get it for you." Allen said as he got up from the table.
"If you'll tell me where the cups are, I can get it." Vincent said quickly.
"This is faster." Allen said, then went to a cupboard and handed a cup to Vincent.
"You're a little young to be a coffee drinker, aren't you?" Allen asked curiously.
"I usually only have a cup with breakfast in the morning, but coffee seems like it's extra good when I'm having something really sweet." Vincent said as he poured himself a cup.
"Do you need any cream or sugar?" Allen asked curiously.
"Let me check." Vincent said, then carefully took a sip of the coffee.
After a moment to consider, Vincent said, "Nope. You've got good coffee, so I don't need to cover up the taste."
"Well, thank you, Vincent. I'm glad you like it." Allen said with a chuckle.
"Thanks for the coffee." Vincent said, then started walking slowly to the dining room, careful not to spill it.
* * * * *
"What?" Vincent asked self consciously as he walked back into the dining room.
"We're waiting on you. It's your cake." Jake said frankly.
"Oh. Sorry. Go ahead." Vincent said as he took his seat.
"Look who finally decided to get up and join us." Jake said as he looked at the door.
Vincent turned and saw a huge dog loping oafishly into the room.
"Leave Possum alone. He was busy all day yesterday with me and Ricardo." Reuben said seriously.
Jake smiled at the younger boy, then turned and said, "Reuben is right. Possum, you earned your rest."
"I thought Possum was Rory's dog." Jude said quietly.
"He is. I'm just keeping him for Rory while he's receiving treatment and traveling back and forth to Vulcan." Kenny said frankly.
"Oh, I guess I didn't catch that in the story." Jude said quietly.
"Is anyone ready for another piece of cake? We need to get what we want so the rest can go into the freezer." Jake said to the group.
The majority of the boys around the table were finished and ready for a second piece.
"Vincent?" Jake asked as he began to cut pieces from the melting ice cream cake.
"Yeah. I'd like another." Vincent said before taking another bite.
"Butterfingers again?" Jake asked with a smile.
"Whatever. I think I'd like any of them." Vincent said honestly.
"What about cookie dough?" Jake asked as he looked at the cake.
"That'll work. Send it down." Vincent said happily.
* * * * *
"How are you guys doing?" Allen asked as he walked into the dining room.
"Everything was wonderful." Vincent said happily.
"I'm glad you liked it." Allen said to Vincent, then looked around the room and asked, "Does anyone have any ideas about what you'd like to do this evening?"
After a long moment of silence, Marky hesitantly said, "I'd kinda like to see Kenny's shelf and his models."
"And Kevin's pictures." Scotty added hopefully.
"What do you say, guys? You don't mind, do you?" Allen asked as he looked at Kenny and Kevin.
"Maybe while we're showing them, they can tell us some more about them, you know, what their world is like." Kevin said as he shyly glanced at their new friends.
"It sounds like a plan." Allen said, then gestured toward the dining room door.
* * * * *
"Trach Manja Vincent?" Ship said quietly.
"Yes, Ship?" Vincent asked into his bracelet.
"I have a video transmission for you from the USS Yorktown." Ship said seriously.
"You can use the terminal in the family room, right through there." Allen said as he pointed at a door down the hall, past the stairs.
"Thanks." Vincent said quickly, then glanced at Lehman to see if he wanted to go along.
Then Vincent noticed that Dylan seemed to be uncertain of which group he should go with.
"You can come with us if you want to, Dylan." Vincent said with a smile.
"Thanks." Dylan whispered, then followed Vincent as the rest of the group started up the stairs.
Editor's Notes:? It really is heartwarming to see all the different members of the different stories joining together and learning about one another.? That is one of the things that makes the entire body of CSU work so special.
Those of us who have been fans of MM's stories also know that anything he writes will be very special.? ACFan started something wonderful, and it has grown into something that is so much more than any of us could have predicted. Thanks to everyone who has taken part in bringing us this wonderful series of stories.
I can hardly wait to see what will come next.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher