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"The time is now 2:23." Xain announced as he walked into the living room.
"Thanks Xain. I lost track of the time. Who wants to go with us to pick up Xain's father?" Allen asked Jake and Kevin.
"I will." Jake said immediately.
"I want to try and read my other book again." Kevin said with excitement.
"Okay Little One. If you get stuck on any of the words, Brady and Kenny will be here to help you." Allen said as he gave Kevin a tight hug.
Kevin gave Allen a peck of a kiss on the cheek before hopping off his lap and running out of the living room.
"He's really learned a lot in one day." Jake said with admiration in his voice.
"I think he just needed someone to care if he was learning or not. Come on guys, let's get going." Allen said as he got up.
* * * * *
"Um... what if your dad doesn't like me." Jake said into the nervous silence of the ride to the spaceport.
"You are my brother and friend. The opinion of he who is my father will not alter that fact." Xain said calmly.
Allen smiled at the statement and said, "Don't worry Jake. I can't imagine a better person to be Xain's brother or friend. If Solak doesn't see it, then it's his problem, not yours."
Xain looked into the back seat at Jake and gave a single nod to show his agreement with Allen's statement.
"I don't even know why I'm nervous about meeting him." Jake said in a helpless voice.
"Perhaps it is because the situation is unfamiliar and you have insufficient experience to formulate reasonable expectations." Xain said speculatively.
Jake thought about the statement for a minute before saying, "Yeah. That's probably it. But... does that mean you're feeling nervous too?"
"I am experiencing a sense of apprehension. Due to Father's counsel earlier, I am able to recognize the source of the feeling and experience the emotion within manageable boundaries. The sense of control that this new way of containing emotions provides is satisfying." Xain said in a considering voice.
"I'm glad it's working for you. Dan's going to be coming by the house tonight. You should consider asking him about different techniques for dealing with emotions. His training and experience in dealing with emotions may be able to provide you some alternatives you haven't considered before." Allen said as he took the off-ramp to the spaceport.
"Thank you Father, I will speak with him." Xain said seriously.
"Jake, maybe you could think about anything you'd like to discuss with him." Allen said as he looked at Jake in his rear-view mirror.
"I kind of figured I'd just talk to him about my nightmare and the stuff you said, "Jake said uncomfortably.
"If that's what you want, that's fine. Dan's just going to be there to talk to you and offer advice. He's not there to judge you and he's bound ethically and legally never to tell anyone what you tell him. He's been to college and has years of experience so he'll be more likely to be able to help than just about anyone I can think of." Allen said seriously.
"I think I'd rather have you help me." Jake said as the SUV came to a stop.
"Jake, I know enough of the basics to do minor maintenance on this car but it would be foolish of me to refuse to take it to a mechanic periodically and dangerous not to take it in when it's having a problem. Sometimes you need a professional. Right now Dan just wants to talk to all you guys to see how you're doing. It's like maintenance. If he feels that one of you needs some extra help, he'll tell us about it and what type of help he recommends."
Jake nodded but remained silent.
"It's your body and your mind. If you say 'no' that's the end of the discussion. I'll respect whatever decision you make. Now let's go get Xain's father." Allen said as he opened his door.
* * * * *
"Greetings." Xain said in full Vulcan calmness as he approached his father.
Solak inclined his head in a gesture that was half a nod of agreement and half a bow.
"May I introduce Allen Thompson who I accept as k'war'ma'khon and Jake Thompson who is my brother in Clan Short as well as the family of Thompson. K'war'ma'khon, Jake, this is he who is my Father, Solak of the house of Suvak of Vulcan." Xain said with flawless diplomacy.
Solak raised an eyebrow at his son's proper introduction and said, "A pleasure to meet you."
"For us as well. We have secured a cart to transport Xain's belongings." Allen said in Vulcan.
"While among Humans, we may speak your language. I am fully versed." Solak said with dignity.
"As you like." Allen said with a gentle smile.
"The belongings of he who is my son are here." Solak said and pointed to a small pile of suitcases and boxes at the back of the shuttlecraft.
Xain and Jake soon had the cart loaded and were on the way to the SUV.
* * * * *
The ride from the spaceport was uncomfortably silent until Allen finally said, "I didn't think to ask before. What is your vocation?"
"I am a cellular biologist specializing in Genetic Disorders. My current position at the Vulcan Consulate is as a medical liaison between the medical communities of Earth and Vulcan." Solak said simply.
"From what I've heard, Vulcan geneticists are pioneers. The rest of the Federation are benefiting from the breakthroughs that you've made." Allen said seriously.
"The process of discovery presents rewards on many levels. May I inquire of your vocation." Solak asked courteously.
"I'm working on Project Libra. We're trying to integrate Human and Vulcan programming styles into one uniform language." Allen said in a tone of voice that said he was used to saying the phrase.
"A worthwhile endeavor." Solak said seriously.
"We like to think so. My experience on the project certainly has been a help with Xain." Allen said as he glanced into the rear-view mirror to see Xain and Jake hanging on their every word.
"In what way?" Solak asked curiously.
"Well, besides the fact that I learned the Vulcan language, my experiences interacting with a group of Humans and Vulcans has given me insights into the similarities and differences we share." Allen said seriously.
"I can see the advantage of having such knowledge." Solak said with a slight nod of his head.
"And it seems that the areas that I'm least able to help Xain are the areas that Jake excels at." Allen said with a grin into the mirror.
Solak raised an eyebrow in question.
"Jake and Xain are alike in some fundamental ways and yet are polar opposites in others. They're both in unfamiliar surroundings and having to make adjustments. Together they can develop their problem solving skills, social skills and establish their own personalities drawing on each others strengths. With Jake and Xain being peers, I just have to offer supervision and guidance when they need it." Allen said as he took the off-ramp to take them home.
Solak gave Allen a considering look, but remained silent.
* * * * *
After a few minutes of silence, Allen pulled into his driveway.
"Solak, I'd like to introduce you to my brother Lieutenant Brady Thompson of the Starship Enterprise and my son Kenny Thompson of Clan Short." Allen said and walked to stand by the shelf.
"You are constructing furnishings?" Solak asked curiously.
"We're making a shelf for my models." Kenny said happily.
Solak raised an eyebrow in question at Xain.
"Miniature replicas of vehicles." Xain said simply.
Solak got an expression of understanding and nodded.
"Would you boys get the stuff out of the back of the car and take it up to Xain's room?" Allen asked casually.
"Sure Dad." Jake said hesitantly and went to the car.
"Come in and I'll show you around." Allen said as he walked to the front door.
Solak nodded once to acknowledge his acceptance of the invitation.
* * * * *
"Juana, I would like for you to meet Xain's father, Solak. Juana will supervise the boys when I'm at work." Allen said with a smile.
"At the table are her son's Reuben and Ricardo and in the stroller is her granddaughter, Edovina." Allen said as he gestured toward the kitchen table.
"A pleasure to meet you." Juana said carefully.
"For me as well." Solak said respectfully.
"Your son, he will prepare a meal for you, for all of us." Juana said proudly.
Solak raised an eyebrow at Allen in question.
"Xain volunteered to cook the meal in honor of your visit. Most days Juana will do the cooking while we're at work and school." Allen said with a smile.
Solak nodded, then said, "He who is my son has shown interest in culinary arts."
"I hope to encourage him in his interest in cooking, as well as any other interests he develops." Allen said, then thought to ask, "Would you like a drink?"
"Water would be acceptable." Solak said simply.
Allen walked to the refrigerator and poured them each a glass of water before returning to Solak.
"If you'll follow me, I'll show you the family room." Allen said and led the way out of the kitchen.
* * * * *
As they walked into the family room, Solak's gaze was drawn immediately to the asenoi sitting by the terminal.
"Is this authentic?" Solak asked in surprise.
"We believe it to be so. I received it this morning. The proper authorities have been notified and are awaiting it's return to Vulcan. I was hoping that you could take it with you when you return." Allen finished shyly.
"Yes. I would be honored." Solak said as he carefully examined the artifact.
"Xain can tell you where it needs to be delivered. He spoke with the Vulcan Historical Archive this morning." Allen said as he watched Solak's examination.
"He who is my son was given this duty?" Solak asked with surprise.
"They asked to speak to a representative of Clan Short, so Xain was the logical choice to speak to them. He represented his Clan and his family well." Allen finished with a proud smile.
Solak stood away from the asenoi and looked at Allen expectantly.
"Through here we have the living room." Allen said and led the way.
* * * * *
After arriving in the living room Allen said, "I know it's not like a Vulcan home, but Xain hasn't shown any difficulty adapting to it."
"On the contrary, she who was my wife fashioned our home to the style of Humans. These surroundings are more familiar to me now than those of Vulcan." Solak said seriously.
"I'm glad. I've done my best to make this a comfortable place for all of us." Allen said quietly.
Xain and Jake arrived at the living room door and peered in, unsure of their welcome.
"Would you boys like to show Solak your room?" Allen asked with a smile.
"Yes K'war'ma'khon." Xain said formally.
"Go ahead and I'll meet you in Kevin and Kenny's room when you're done." Allen said with a smile at 'his' boys.
* * * * *
Solak walked in to find an aura of tranquility in the room.
"Your dwelling seems well suited to meditation." Solak said as he looked at the unusual collection of posters covering the walls.
"I find it to be so. Jake has an audio selection that has particularly soothing properties." Xain said and glanced at Jake who was already holding the remote.
The sound of rustling leaves and trickling water began to pour through the room.
"She who was your mother would have approved." Solak said in a considering voice.
"Do you approve?" Xain asked firmly.
Solak turned his gaze to his son and looked curiously.
"It has been brought to my attention that I have been misinterpreting your motives regarding me. I have based my conclusions about our interactions on these misconceptions and believed that you did not approve of me or anything that I have achieved. It would take considerable time for me to review our past interactions and reach new conclusions. You could negate that need by simply answering my question and telling me directly if you approve of the choices I make. Do you approve?" Xain asked again.
Jake got the sense that Solak didn't approve, so he hurried to say, "Xain and I worked together to make this room a combination of the things that make us comfortable."
"To fashion your dwelling in such a manner is logical." Solak said without betraying his own feelings about the room.
"It is sufficient." Xain said in thought.
Solak gave a half-nod of acceptance of the statement.
Xain looked from Solak to Jake and said, "K'war'ma'khon Allen awaits us in the next room."
Solak gave another half-nod/half-bow and indicated for Xain and Jake to lead the way.
* * * * *
"Solak, I'd like for you to meet my son Kevin Thompson of Clan Short." Allen said proudly.
Kevin looked up from the book he was reading and an expression of anger came over his face.
"You hurt Xain." Kevin said in a low voice that was almost a growl.
"Kevin!" Allen said in a voice of warning.
"You made him feel stupid and like he wasn't good enough to be your son." Kevin continued, ignoring Allen completely.
Solak looked at Kevin with an expression of true surprise.
"He who is my father did not cause me to feel as you describe." Xain said seriously.
"Why are you lying? I felt it! You were hurting. You were feeling little and alone and like you couldn't do anything right!" Kevin said with tears in his eyes, turning his anger on Xain.
"You are correct in your description of my emotional distress. However, you are in error as to the source. He who is my father made every effort to provide the knowledge and training I would need in my later life. The source of my distress was my misconception of his motives coupled with traditional Vulcan techniques being less than effective in my hybrid physiology. Neither issue was caused by he who is my father, and with the counsel of K'war'ma'khon both issues have been resolved." Xain said in full Vulcan control.
Kevin sat silently, thinking for a moment, before he said, "I'm sorry Mr. Solak. I thought you hurt Xain and it made me mad. I promise I won't yell at you no more."
Solak noted Kevin's repentant expression and said, "You have provided understanding of he who is my son. There is no harm."
An uncomfortable silence fell over the room until Allen finally said, "Xain, I think there's something that you and Jake need to discuss with Solak. Would you like to talk with him in your room or the living room?"
"Our room will be acceptable." Xain said seriously.
"Come on Kevin. Let's get you a milkshake, I think you're overdue." Allen said with a gentle smile.
Kevin looked up at Allen with tear streaked eyes and nodded slowly.
"Come here Little One." Allen said as he walked to Kevin and picked him up.
* * * * *
As soon as the bedroom door closed, Xain said, "Yesterday I noted that Jake was in emotional distress and sought to give aid."
Xain paused to see if his father had any reaction to the statement.
"I performed a mind-meld to identify the source of the distress for the purpose of aiding Jake in emotional control." Xain continued slowly, carefully picking out his words.
"I followed the steps without variation as I have been taught for the past five years, however, in this instance a bond was formed. The only word that could adequately describe the sensation of the bond's formation was 'instinctive'." Xain said as his look became more thoughtful.
"K'war'ma'khon suggested that you might examine our bond to see that it is appropriately formed." Xain finished and looked into his father's eyes.
"A wise precaution. Establish your link and allow me to observe." Solak said without expression.
Xain noticed a look of fear in Jake's eyes and said, "He who is my father will verify that the bond is complete. There is no cause for apprehension."
Jake took a deep breath and nodded.
Xain reached out through the bond and made connection with Jake's mind.
"We are prepared." Xain announced in a tranquil voice.
Solak raised a hand and closed his eyes in concentration.
Jake felt panic starting to well inside him, but just as suddenly, he felt a calming force begin to sooth his soul.
"I had not considered this possibility." Solak announced, drawing Xain and Jake's attention to him.
"The bond you have is fully formed, yet distinct from any other I have seen... save one." Solak said in thought.
Xain and Jake raised matching eyebrows in question.
"...the bond I shared with she who was your mother." Solak said as his mind drifted back into his past.
"Um, you aren't going to, like, get rid of the bond or be mad at Xain for bonding with me are you?" Jake asked nervously.
"No. The choice to maintain or reject the bond is yours. If you wish, I will instruct you in the attributes of your bond that you might understand the choice you face." Solak said seriously.
"It is time to prepare the evening meal, would it be preferable to postpone your instruction until the evening meal has been consumed?" Xain asked gently.
"It would be acceptable." Solak said with an expression of deep thought.
* * * * *
As Jake, Xain and Solak left the bedroom, they saw Brady and Kenny carrying the completed shelf up the stairs.
"That looks great." Jake said with a smile.
"It's exactly like we planned it. We're going to hang it on the wall now, then I'll put my models on it." Kenny said happily.
"Do you need any help?" Jake asked as he looked over the finished product of their work.
"Yes. Once we have the wall anchors in place, we could use some help hanging it." Brady said seriously.
"Will you be okay without me for a few minutes Xain?" Jake asked carefully.
"Yes. I do not have need of assistance at this stage of preparation. However, should I need assistance, I believe Mrs. Vasquez will be available." Xain said in a voice of calmness.
"Okay, I'll be down to help you as soon as we're done hanging the shelf." Jake said, then followed Kenny and Brady into the bedroom.
* * * * *
"Is everything alright?" Allen asked with concern from the kitchen table.
"Yes. He who is my father has verified that our bond is well formed and has offered to share his knowledge of the attributes of the bond." Xain said as he walked to the refrigerator.
"Solak, would you like to go into the living room while Xain cooks dinner?" Allen asked, then glanced at Kevin who was drinking his milkshake.
"No. It would be preferable to observe he who is my son preparing the evening meal." Solak said as if it were the most logical thing in the universe.
"Mamacita? Where's Reuben and Ricardo?" Kevin asked as he finished his milkshake.
"In our apartment. It is time for Ricardo to nap." Mamacita said as she pulled a pan of pastries out of the oven.
"Can I go up and visit with Reuben?" Kevin asked Juana hopefully.
"If your father agrees. It is good. Please to be quiet so Ricardo may sleep." Juana said as she shifted the pastries from the pan to a cooling rack.
"Poppa, can I?" Kevin asked as he turned to face Allen.
"That's fine Kevin. Just be quiet so Ricardo can take his nap." Allen said with a gentle smile.
"I'll be good. I'm just gonna get Reuben's help with my book." Kevin said as he hopped out of his chair and ran to hug Allen.
"Have fun Little One, just remember to be quiet." Allen said as he enjoyed the hug.
Allen and Solak watched as Kevin ran out of the room.
"His quest for knowledge is an admirable quality." Solak said speculatively.
"Yes. He's been told all his life that he's learning disabled and discouraged from trying to learn. For the first time in his life, he's being given encouragement. By paying attention to how he's progressing and acknowledging his accomplishments, we're inspiring him to achieve things he never thought he was capable of." Allen said with a distant look.
Solak continued to look at the door Kevin had passed through for a moment, then said, "I was unaware that Human children required such attentions."
"Kevin needs that kind of attention. Kenny, his twin, is self-assured and doesn't need the same type of attention. Each child is an individual and it's my job to determine what those needs are and provide for them to the best of my ability." Allen said as he turned his gaze to Solak.
"What needs have you determined for he who is my son?" Solak asked, looking especially serious, even for a Vulcan.
"There's no clear cut method for determining a child's needs, but in Xain's case I believe that his greatest needs are guidance and acceptance. Both needs stem from the fact that he is of mixed heritage." Allen said in thought.
"Several tutors were employed to facilitate his need for guidance and he resides on Earth to fill his need for acceptance." Solak said seriously.
"I know. And that's worked for the most part. The problem is that his tutors were Vulcan and tried to fit him into the mold of other Vulcan children. I suspect that he would have had just as much difficulty if he had had Human tutors. Xain is unique and therefore needs instruction tailored to him rather then trying to change him to conform to prearranged lessons." Allen said with concentration.
"What you say is logical. What do you recommend to provide for his educational needs?" Solak asked as he glanced at Xain working in the kitchen.
"Well, he's used to learning from Vulcan tutors. I think that he should continue to be taught by a Vulcan tutor if you have no objection." Allen said as he looked Solak in the eyes.
"Would we not continue to have difficulty with conformity issues?" Solak asked with interest.
"Yes. But the key to working around those issues is to have regular discussions with the tutor regarding Xain's progress. If the tutor will make some concessions for Xain's need for flexibility in the methods being used, I can guide Xain to find alternative ways to achieve the desired results. If the approach works, not only will Xain have the skills and knowledge that he will need, but he will also have the problem solving skills and a better understanding of himself to fall back on when he faces challenges as an adult." Allen said in thought.
Solak considered the words, then said, "It seems a logical course of action. Would you like to interview the tutors to determine if any have the flexibility he who is my son requires?"
"I think it would be best to ask Xain's opinion before we talk to the tutors. He may have a favorite or he may not want special accommodations." Allen said in a considering voice.
"We are to speak following the meal. I will inquire of him at that time." Solak said as he turned to look at Xain.
Juana walked to the table and placed a tray of cookies between Allen and Solak.
"A snack to have before dinner. Would you like milk or coffee?" She asked in her most polite and controlled voice.
"Coffee." Solak said without emotion.
"Coffee for me too. Will you join us Juana?" Allen asked with a smile.
"No. There is much to do. But thank you." Juana said quickly as she went to get the coffee.
"I find the attitude of cooperation and respect in your home to be acceptable." Solak said slowly.
"Thank you. I agree with your assessment of my home. I hope you'll consider visiting when your duties allow it." Allen said, then smiled as Juana sat a tray with coffee, cream and sugar on the table.
"My return to Vulcan will allow me to resume my genetic research. I do not foresee a significant quantity of unstructured time. However, should the opportunity arise, I will accept your hospitality." Solak said in an unusually considerate tone.
"The last of my own unstructured time will end this week. But when my job requires me to travel to Vulcan, I'll bring Xain with me so that he can visit with you." Allen said quietly.
"That is acceptable, and it would be logical for you to accept accommodations with us during your stay." Solak said with a more formal tone in his voice.
"I will accept your hospitality." Allen said respectfully.
Solak made a half-nod gesture to Allen, then took a bite of one of the cookies from the plate between them.
"He who is my son prepared this." Solak said as a statement of fact.
"Yes. He and Jake made cookies for all of us last night. How did you know?" Allen asked curiously.
"In Vulcan households, nourishment is served at regular intervals to provide for the dietary needs of the occupants. In the dwelling I have shared with he who is my son, meals were served. He who is my son strives to make the flavor, texture and appearance of each menu item into an artistic work. He surpasses his mother in food preparation abilities." Solak said carefully.
"Then why haven't you encouraged him to pursue a career where he can put his talent to use?" Allen asked in a tone of curiosity, free of accusation.
"I wish to provide the knowledge and skills at this point in his development so that in adulthood, he may have a variety of vocations to choose from." Solak said consideringly.
"I see the logic in your approach. Although I intend to encourage his interest in cooking, it won't be to the exclusion of any other interest he might have." Allen said seriously.
Solak gave a half-nod of acknowledgement.
* * * * *
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Jake asked as he hurried into the kitchen.
"Fill a pot with water and bring it to a boil." Xain said as he was stirring various powders in a large bowl.
Jake went to the hanging rack of pots and pans and pulled one down.
"Is this one big enough?" Jake asked quickly.
"It is adequate." Xain said after a glance.
Jake took the pot to the sink and began to fill it.
"If there is no objection, it is possible to give you the recipe through our bond." Xain said carefully.
"Um... okay. Just let me get this on the stove." Jake said as he turned off the faucet.
After a moment to move the pot and start the burner of the stove, Jake stood by Xain expectantly.
"It is done." Xain said without altering his stirring.
"I thought I'd hear you in my head or something. What did you do?" Jake asked curiously.
"What are you going to do with the water once it boils?" Xain asked as he stopped his stirring.
"I'll put the pasta into the boiling water. Then I'll wait six point two minutes..." Jake trailed off with disbelief as he realized that he knew exactly how to prepare the pasta dish Xain wanted him to make.
"This is the extent of my abilities with the bond. He who is my father will instruct us further at the conclusion of the meal." Xain said as he sat the bowl of dry ingredients aside and went to the refrigerator.
"I guess I'd better get the basil washed and chopped before the water boils." Jake said absently and walked to the sink.
"Jake." Xain said seriously, gaining his full attention.
"I will not make use of this ability without your prior consent." Xain said as a vow.
"I trust you Xain. You wouldn't do anything that would hurt me." Jake said shyly as he carried a bundle of fresh basil to the sink.
Xain nodded as he started to clean several cloves of garlic.
* * * * *
"Do you like living here?" Kevin asked Reuben quietly not looking at the open book in his lap.
"I'm kinda scared. It's so different from home." Reuben said in thought.
"Yeah. Me too." Kevin said as he looked around the apartment.
"It's quiet." Reuben said in a distant voice.
"Yeah. It's hard to get to sleep with everything being so quiet." Kevin agreed.
"I slept good last night." Reuben said with a cherubic smile.
"Me too. I'm glad you're my cousin now. How come we weren't friends before?" Kevin asked seriously.
"Because you're older than me. I always thought you wouldn't like me so I didn't talk to you too much." Reuben said quietly.
"I was so lonely there. Nobody talked to me, well, nobody but Jake. And he was like my big brother, not like my friend." Kevin said in thought.
"Now he is your big brother." Reuben said with a smile.
"Yeah. It's really great. It's like I was able to bring all the best things and best people from Chicago with me and leave all the bad stuff behind." Kevin said with a smile.
"I'm glad I was one of the best people because I do like it here. After Manny was killed, I was kinda scared all the time. I don't feel scared here." Reuben said distantly.
"I know what you mean. I'm used to spending my time trying to make money or find food or just being quiet so Momma wouldn't yell at me. Now I don't have to worry about none of that and I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do." Kevin said as he looked into the past.
"I didn't think about that before. But that's what's really weird here. I mean, I still have to watch Ricardo when Mama's working like before, but it's different. I can go outside the apartment if I want to. I have you and Kenny and Xain and Jake to talk to whenever I want. I can go outside..." Reuben said in realization.
Kevin looked at Reuben with surprise.
"We can go out and play in the yard... our yard. We don't have to wait for Mama to have time to take us to the park and we don't have to worry about druggies or perverts. We have a yard where we can play whenever we want to." Reuben said with delight.
"Can we go now?" Kevin asked hopefully.
Reuben looked at the clock and said, "It's almost time to wake Ricardo up. We can take him outside with us." Reuben said with excitement.
"Yeah. Kenny has a Frisbee, I'll ask him if we can borrow it." Kevin said in a rush.
"I'll wake up Ricardo while you get it." Reuben said as he jumped up off the couch.
Kevin's only response was to make a mad dash for the door of the apartment.
* * * * *
Juana was wiping down the area where she had been working and loading dishes into the dishwasher.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Juana asked Xain as she watched him adding ingredients to the hot skillet.
"If you will heat the grill portion of the stove to the desired temperature, you may begin cooking the steaks." Xain said as he lifted the lid off a skillet of green beans and checked their texture.
Juana nodded and set the control for the grill.
"Will you check the pasta to see if it's right?" Jake asked as he pulled a single piece of the tubular pasta from the boiling water with a slotted spoon.
Xain took a single bite of the pasta and considered.
"Thirty seconds more, then drain the pasta and add it to the skillet." Xain said seriously.
"You got it." Jake said and put the colander into the sink so it would be ready when he needed it.
"That smells great!" Kenny said as he walked into the kitchen, followed closely by Brady.
Xain's only response was to give a nod of acknowledgement.
"Is there anything we can do to help?" Brady asked as he enjoyed the various aromas filling the room.
"Yes. The dining room table needs to be set." Xain said succinctly.
"We can do that, what do you say Champ?" Brady asked Kenny with a smile.
"Yeah, let's go." Kenny said and hurried to the dining room.
Less than a minute later Kevin rushed into the kitchen and looked around.
"Where's Kenny?" He asked breathlessly.
"In the dining room, setting the table." Jake said as he carefully stirred the pasta into the hot skillet.
Kevin turned on his heel and ran to the dining room.
* * * * *
"Can me and Reuben borrow your Frisbee so we can play in the yard?" Kevin asked hopefully.
"Sure. But I think Xain's about done with dinner. If you'll wait till after dinner I can play with you guys too." Kenny said as he walked around the table with a handful of dinner forks, placing one at each place setting.
"Um, okay. I'll go tell Reuben." Kevin said quickly and ran out of the room.
"I think he's happy here." Brady said as he finished putting the plates on the table.
"I think he is too. It's like being in another world for him. He's happy, but he's scared too." Kenny said as he continued to lay out silverware.
"What's scaring him?" Brady asked as he started to place glasses around the table.
"A lot of things. He's scared that he'll do something to mess up and get sent back to Chicago. He's scared that he'll wake up and find out that this was all a dream. He's scared that me and Pop are going to realize that he's stupid or something and stop loving him." Kenny said absently as he continued his work.
Brady froze in his tracks and thought about what Kenny was saying.
Kenny looked at Brady curiously, wondering why he stopped.
After a moment of thought, Brady asked, "Did Kevin tell you that?"
Kenny thought about what he just said and shook his head.
"Then how did you know?" Brady asked quietly, not doubting the truth of Kenny's words.
Kenny shrugged his shoulders and said, "I just know."
Brady decided not to press the issue and went back to setting the table.
* * * * *
Kevin, Reuben and Ricardo walked into the kitchen and went to the kitchen table where Solak and Allen were sitting.
"It looks like someone just woke up." Allen said with a smile at Ricardo's rumpled sleepy expression.
"It was his nap time. Mama says he needs to have a nap in the afternoon because he's little." Reuben explained.
"Your Mama's right..." Allen began to say, but was interrupted by Edovina's cry.
"I guess someone else's naptime is over." Allen said in a gentle voice.
Reuben walked to Edovina, and stopped a foot away.
"Mama, Edovina needs to be changed." Reuben said as he backed away.
Juana looked at the steaks in front of her, then around at all the people, trying to decide what to do.
"I'm done with this, I can change her if you want." Jake said hesitantly.
"Si, yes, thank you Jake." Juana said quickly as she turned a steak on the grill.
Xain glanced at Jake and said, "I will transfer the pasta to a serving dish while you attend to Edovina."
"Thanks Xain." Jake said quickly and hurried to Edovina.
* * * * *
Allen watched Jake pushing Edovina's stroller out of the room and became lost in thought.
"Your eldest son provides much assistance to those of your household. To have such an individual with an altruistic mindset is beneficial to the family unit." Solak said speculatively.
Allen was broken out of his thoughts by the statement and said, "Jake takes being a big brother very seriously. I just have to be careful to see that he isn't giving so much of his attention to others that he's denying his own needs."
"He who is my son will see that Jake's needs are provided." Solak said as a statement of fact.
Allen looked at Solak in question.
"As his bond-mate, he who is my son will recognize any need that Jake has as his own and will strive to provide for it." Solak said simply.
"Then you think they should keep their bond?" Allen asked carefully.
"My opinion is irrelevant in this instance. They are bonded. If both parties find it to be beneficial, it is logical to continue the bond." Solak said, falling into practiced formality.
Allen thought about the statement, then said, "From what I've heard, not everyone on Vulcan has the same attitude toward bonding with a Human."
Solak gave a half-nod of acknowledgement, but said nothing.
"Help?" Jake called in a weak voice from the kitchen doorway.
"What is it son?" Allen asked as he stood.
"Um, I thought I knew how to change a diaper, but... can you just help?" Jake asked frantically.
"I am experienced in the process. I will demonstrate." Solak said firmly as he stood.
"You're our guest. I can take care of it." Allen said quickly.
"Are you experienced?" Solak asked in a tone that sounded almost like a challenge.
"Well, no..." Allen began to say.
"I am." Solak said and walked to help Jake.
Allen looked around and decided to check on Xain.
"Xain, how are you doing?" Allen asked compassionately.
"The food preparations are nearly complete. Dinner will be served in six point seven minutes." Xain said professionally.
"That's not what I mean Xain. How are you?" Allen asked slowly.
Xain looked up from the gravy-like substance he was stirring and said, "Before joining your family, the opinion of he who is my father was of foremost concern to me. With your guidance I have seen that I have worth, I have abilities and that it is my opinion of myself that must guide my actions. It would be desirable to receive the acceptance of he who is my father, but it is not necessary."
"I think that there are quite a few adults who haven't come to that realization. I'm very proud of you Xain. I was worried that this meal with your father was going to be traumatic for you. With your new realization, I think it's going to be the first day of your independence." Allen said with a smile.
Xain considered the statement carefully before saying, "I will not be independent as such, I will continue to need guidance and education. However, now I will strive to achieve the goals I have set for myself and live up to my own expectations."
Allen gave Xain a quick one armed hug around the shoulders and said, "I can't think of a better, more honest motivation for one's future. Just let me know if there's anything I can do to help you accomplish your goals."
"Be assured, K'war'ma'khon, I have found your insights to be most helpful and will seek your guidance in future." Xain said seriously.
Allen smiled and said, "I'll do my best to live up to your expectations of me."
Xain nodded and turned his attention back to his sauce.
* * * * *
"I just thought I'd take off the old diaper and put on the new one. I didn't even... it's everywhere." Jake said helplessly.
"It is not uncommon." Solak said as he laid out a towel on the vanity beside the sink.
"What should I do?" Jake asked as he watched Solak's preparation.
"Remove the soiled diaper from the child and place her on the towel." Solak said as he pulled a fresh diaper from the diaper bag.
"Oh, jeeze. That's just nasty." Jake said as he pulled off the old diaper.
"Do your complaints lessen the odor?" Solak asked as if he truly wanted to know.
Jake thought for a second, then smiled as he said, "I guess not. It just seemed like the thing to do."
"I understand, she who was my wife made similar comments when changing the diaper of my son. It is a typical Human response to adverse situations." Solak said as he efficiently cleaned Edovina.
Jake looked curiously at Solak, trying to determine if he'd just been insulted or complimented.
Solak noticed Jake's pensive expression and said, "I am Vulcan, I behave as a Vulcan, to attempt to do otherwise would be illogical. You are Human, you will behave as a Human. I have no other expectation."
Jake thought about the statement, then asked, "What do you expect from Xain?"
Solak finished the diapering process and began to put things away as he thought about the question.
He handed Edovina to Jake, then said, "My expectations have been patterned after the expectation he who is my father had of me."
Jake was about to confront Solak about the statement when he realized that Solak already knew.
"He fits in here." Jake said seriously as he cradled Edovina on his shoulder.
"I had not considered that he who is my son would be able to integrate into a Human family so fully. It was my belief that his Vulcan manner would distance him from Humans." Solak said in thought.
"You were probably right. Allen made us part of this family. If anyone else had been our dad, Xain and I would just be people who live here but we wouldn't be part of it." Jake said seriously.
Solak gave a half-nod of acceptance and gestured toward the bathroom door.
* * * * *
As Jake walked into the kitchen, still carrying Edovina, Solak followed with the stroller.
"How's it going?" Jake asked as he looked at Xain.
"The last of the food items will be completed momentarily. It would be desirable for the adults to take their places in the dining room and for our brothers and cousins to help carry in the food." Xain said as he combined two skillets ingredients into one serving dish.
"I'll get everyone where they need to be." Jake said as he settled Edovina into her stroller again.
"I guess you'll be with the adults this time, Little Angel." Jake said into the stroller before pushing it into the dining room.
* * * * *
"The children say I am to come and sit." Juana said with confusion.
"They want to serve the meal to us. Try to relax and let them do this for us." Allen said as he sat back in his chair.
Juana took her seat, but didn't look comfortable.
"Whatever they're cooking smells great so I'm willing to sit here and be waited on." Brady said with a smile.
All the adults waited expectantly to see what Xain and Jake had created for them.