© 2008 MultiMapper
All Rights Reserved
Edited by The Radio Rancher

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Chapter 40

As the trio walked away from the town, Vincent thought to say, "Back in the Realm of Blades, Naleen said that if I followed the path, it would take me right to The Core. She didn't act like it was any kind of a problem. Is that the path we're going to take?"

"No. But I can understand why she would advise you as she did. It wasn't very long ago when the path to The Core was direct and without peril... I'm afraid those days are gone. In this time, there is no path to The Core that doesn't involve work, determination and an element of risk," Danas said, as he walked.

"Why?" Vincent asked simply.

Danas glanced at Vincent with amusement at the simple and naive question.

"Because things tend toward disarray. When the land was fresh and new, our lives were filled with the joy of discovery. Every day was a new adventure and nothing was impossible." Danas said distantly.

"So what happened to the path?" Lehman asked cautiously.

Danas snapped back to the present and said, "It just... went away. I don't think anyone noticed that it was going until it was too late to really do anything about it. The path became undefined and difficult to follow until one day it was just gone. We can still reach The Core, but we will have to take another route."

Vincent and Lehman shared a look, neither of them completely satisfied with the answer, but neither had the will to ask for more of an explanation.

* * * * *

"Look!" Lehman said as he pointed ahead of them.

Danas and Vincent both directed their attention to the mountain peak that seemed to be rising before them in the distance.

"The Mountains of Despair are unusually active." Danas said with concern.

Just as suddenly as the mountain had grown, it began to recede and another rose to take it's place.

"We're going to have to walk across that?" Vincent asked hesitantly.

Danas considered for a moment, then reluctantly said, "Perhaps not... if the Mountains of Despair are behaving so violently, it may be necessary for us to take another route."

"But we don't have time for that. My brother and my clan need me. We have to get to The Core, so we can find our way home." Vincent said desperately.

"We cannot change what is. We can only react in the safest and most reasonable way. To try to cross the Mountains of Despair while they are churning this violently would be reckless... Our deaths will improve nothing for us or for those you are trying to reach." Danas said frankly.

"I suppose so." Vincent said reluctantly.

"Besides, if this is really a dream, then maybe we don't need to rush." Lehman said carefully.

Vincent looked at Lehman with question, silently asking him to continue.

"You can spend a really long time in a dream and it's only a few minutes in real life." Lehman said as he looked Vincent in the eyes.

After a moment of consideration, Vincent reluctantly nodded his acceptance of the explanation.

All three of them turned at sudden movement from the Mountains of Despair.

A mountain seemed to sprout up out of the ground, right in front of them.

Even though it was some distance away, the sheer size of the mountain was enough to make even Danas feel incredibly small and vulnerable.

"What causes them to grow like that?" Lehman asked cautiously.

Danas looked at Lehman for a moment in thought, then said, "The Knights of the Queen have speculated about that. There are beings who wander through the Mountains and seem to live in harmony with them. Some believe that they are attuned to the discord of the changing landscape and instinctively know what changes are about to occur so they can move to safety... others believe that it is the travelers that cause the changes. That somehow their emotions cause the Mountains to react."

Lehman considered the answer for a moment, then looked at Vincent cautiously.

Finally Vincent noticed and said, "What?"

"You know what." Lehman said frankly.

Danas turned to look at the two boys with question.

"You think that because I'm all worried and tied up in knots, that I'm causing the Mountains to act like this." Vincent said with resignation.

"Pretty much," Lehman said without accusation.

Vincent took a deep breath, then let it out slowly as he thought about what he needed to do.

"If you talk about it, maybe we can calm you down enough to get across the Mountains." Lehman said more quietly.

"Right." Vincent said absently.

Lehman and Danas came to a stop and waited expectantly.

"It's the gay thing." Vincent said reluctantly.

Lehman rolled his eyes and said, "You Humans really do spend a lot of time and energy on that."

Vincent glanced at Lehman's exasperated expression, then broke into an unwilling smile.

"I guess it's different for my people, since we can become male or female at will." Lehman said speculatively.

"You can?" Vincent asked with surprise.

"Yeah." Lehman said, then to prove his words, he changed into an exact duplicate of Jenn.

"Oh, wow. I never even thought about you being able to do that." Vincent said in wonder.

Lehman shrugged, then changed back into his light indigo skinned self.

"So you're not really male or female?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"I'm male. But that's only because that's my resting form..." At Vincent and Danas' equal uncomprehending stares, Lehman continued, "...the way I am when I wake up in the morning. Once I'm awake, I can change into any form that I want to be for as long as I can hold it... or at least it used to work that way. If this is really a dream, then I guess my body is still trapped in one form." Lehman finished sadly.

"It really bothers you, doesn't it?" Vincent asked quietly.

Lehman considered for a moment, then shook his head as he said, "That's just the way things are. I'd rather be stuck in one form than be dead. And at least I'm not in pain or stuck looking like someone goofy... I don't have any regrets."

Vincent smiled at the thinly veiled compliment and thought about what Lehman had said.

Even though Vincent knew that Lehman really was grateful for what he had, he thought about what it must be like for Lehman to lose something that's part of his nature. It occurred to him that Lehman was like a bird that lost the ability to fly.

"The Mountains aren't calming. We may have to consider another route." Danas said hesitantly.

"Before we do that, let's try working out what's bothering Vincent. If that works, we can go this way. If it doesn't, we can still go the other way." Lehman said reasonably.

Vincent glanced at Lehman and reluctantly nodded his agreement.

"Do you want me to look at your emotions and see if I can figure out what's going on? You know, like we did before?" Lehman asked seriously.

Vincent smiled at the offer and nodded.

Lehman cautiously placed his hand on the side of Vincent's face, then got a look of surprise.

"What did you find?" Vincent asked hesitantly.

"Nothing... I can't read you." Lehman said as he moved his hand slightly and tried again.

"You can't read me at all?" Vincent asked with surprise.

"No. Not even a little bit." Lehman said as he took his hand away.

"Does that mean that we'll need to find a different path?" Danas asked cautiously.

Lehman thought for a moment, then looked at Vincent with indecision.

"Give me a minute to try something. It would be faster to do this with telepathy, but I think we can probably make it work this way." Lehman said carefully.

Danas nodded as he watched the mountains building and collapsing at an even greater speed.

"Vincent, are you worried that you might be gay?" Lehman asked frankly.

"No." Vincent answered immediately.

Lehman didn't react to Vincent's declaration at all, he simply waited.

After another minute of Lehman's silence, Vincent said more quietly, "Well, I'm pretty sure I'm straight."

"Are you worried that you might be gay?" Lehman asked again, this time in a gentler voice.

"A little bit. I don't think I'm gay, but sometimes I'll see something and I'll get a feeling..." Vincent trailed off uncomfortably.

Lehman nodded that he understood, then said, "Okay, we're going to take a shortcut."

Vincent looked at Lehman curiously, then nearly stopped breathing when Lehman transformed himself into the image of Benny, wearing the swim trunks he had worn at the pool.

"Tell me what you're feeling right now." Lehman said in Benny's voice.

"You look good." Vincent said in a whisper.

"If this is really a dream, you could do anything you wanted to without being in any trouble. You wouldn't mean anything and you wouldn't be betraying anyone. You can do anything at all here. What do you want to do?" Lehman asked, then suggestively hooked one thumb in the waist band of the swim trunks.

"I... I..." Vincent sputtered as he stared.

"You are certain that you are not an Incubus?" Danas asked, as he gripped his spear firmly in his hand.

"I'm sure." Lehman chuckled, then said to Vincent, "Tell me Vincent, if you could do anything you wanted right now, what would you want to do?"

Vincent closed his eyes and took in a deep breath as he thought about the question.

"Look at me." Lehman said firmly.

Vincent hesitantly looked up into Lehman's eyes, then a look of wonder seemed to fill his expression.

Lehman smiled as he said, "I think he's figuring it out."

"Let me try something." Vincent said, as he stepped forward and pulled Lehman into a hug.

Lehman responded by putting his arms around Vincent.

Vincent turned his head and started to kiss Lehman, in much the same way as he had kissed T'Lani on the Yorktown before they left.

The kiss lasted only a moment, but as Vincent pulled away, Lehman noticed that he had a contented smile.

"Tell me." Lehman said in a whisper.

"I got it." Vincent said in a voice that sounded almost like a chuckle.

"What have you got?" Lehman asked quietly.

Vincent closed his eyes for a moment, obviously searching for the words.

Danas looked away from the pair and noticed that the mountains had stopped their movement. The entire mountain range was suddenly still.

"Would you change back to yourself? You're kinda distracting me, like that." Vincent asked hopefully.

Lehman smiled and immediately transformed back into his indigo 'resting' form.

"Okay. First of all, I'm not gay." Vincent said firmly.

Lehman nodded that he accepted the answer.

"The thing that's been messing me up is that when I look at some guys... Benny especially, I notice that they really look good. I guess because I've always been told that I'm not supposed to think that way that I didn't know how to handle it." Vincent said speculatively.

"I guess I can understand that." Lehman said cautiously.

Vincent nodded, then continued, "But Daddy Joe said something a long time ago that I really didn't understand when I heard it. He said, 'If I was gay, that's the kind of guy I'd want to end up with'."

Lehman nodded to encourage Vincent to continue.

"What I just figured out is that Daddy Joe has the same kind of feelings that I do. When he looks at Rad he feels the same kind of thing that I feel when I look at Benny." Vincent said distantly.

"Which is?" Lehman prompted.

"Which is that I think Benny looks really good. If I was gay, I'd probably really want to... you know... do gay stuff with him." Vincent said with difficulty.

Danas looked from Lehman to Vincent, not quite understanding what they were talking about.

"When you asked me what I wanted to do with Benny, if I wasn't hurting anyone, or betraying T'Lani, that made me realize... I don't want to do anything. I think he looks nice. But I really don't want to... you know... do stuff with him." Vincent stammered.

Lehman smiled at Vincent's inability to say the words, even in a dream.

"So, it's like Daddy Joe said, if I was gay, I'd probably want to be with Benny or someone a lot like him... But since I'm not, I just get these weird little feelings because I think he looks nice." Vincent said, then a new look of wonder appeared on his face, broadcasting to Lehman and Danas that he was having, yet another, revelation.

"I just realized what's really bothering me." Vincent said in a disbelieving voice.

"What's that?" Lehman asked cautiously.

"I'm afraid that by having those feelings, the ones I have when I look at Benny, that I'm starting to be like my dad." Vincent said distantly.

"I don't understand." Lehman said quietly, prompting Vincent to continue.

Vincent was silent for a moment as he thought about several different things in the light of this new realization.

"I guess I was scared that by feeling those things, that I'm getting a little bit closer to being like my dad was when he used to hurt my brother. And if I didn't find some way to shut off those feelings, that I'd turn into my father." Vincent said carefully.

Lehman thought about the words, then shook his head, indicating that he still didn't get it.

Vincent steeled himself before saying the words, "My dad had gay feelings for my brother and because he didn't have someone like Daddy Joe to tell him how to accept those feelings, he tried to hold them back and they made him crazy. He would scream at my brother and hit him because he hated his feelings so much that he couldn't let himself love Lawrence."

Lehman had the feeling that Vincent was still holding something back and quietly said, "And..."

"And right before he died, my dad started doing that to me too." Vincent said quietly.

"Oh." Lehman said absently, almost regretting that he had asked.

"It's okay. I figured it out." Vincent said seriously.

Lehman reluctantly looked at Vincent, feeling that he had already intruded too far.

"I'm fine. I don't have to worry about becoming 'Victor Winters Jr' because, I have people who love me and people who can help me deal with it if I have feelings that I don't understand." Vincent said confidently.

Lehman smiled and said, "I'm really glad that you have Daddy Joe to help you."

"I am too, but that includes you too. If you didn't talk to me the way you do, I probably wouldn't ever realize this stuff." Vincent said honestly.

"Glad to help." Lehman said shyly, then thought to ask, "Why did you kiss me?"

"Oh, I was just checking to see if the kiss made me feel the same as when I kissed T'Lani." Vincent said seriously.

"And did it?" Lehman asked with interest.

"No. I mean, it was a nice kiss. But it didn't make me... um...." Vincent trailed off with a blush.

"I get it." Lehman said with an indulgent smile.

Vincent returned the smile with gratitude for not having to finish the sentence.

"If everything is resolved here, are we ready to go? It looks as if we may have an uneventful passage to The Core." Danas said seriously.

"Yeah, we'd better hurry up and go before Vincent finds something else to stress out about." Lehman said with a teasing smile at Vincent.

"One thing first." Vincent said, as he looked Lehman in the eyes.

Lehman froze at the intensity in Vincent's gaze.

"Thank you for helping me understand myself. Not just here, but back on the ship too. I don't know what else to say except... I love you Lehman." Vincent said sincerely.

Lehman gently smiled at the words and said, "I love you too Vincent... in a brotherly, totally non-gay way."

Vincent chuckled at the words and said, "Yeah. That's exactly what I meant."

Lehman put one arm around Vincent's shoulders, then guided him to start walking.

Danas smiled at the pair as he fell into step at their side.

* * * * *

After a long while of walking, Lehman asked, "What's that?"

Danas glanced where Lehman was pointing and said, "It appears that the Mountains have not completely quieted."

"Is something bothering you Vincent?" Lehman asked with concern.

Vincent considered for a moment, then said, "No. It's not me for once. How about you?"

"I'm good... are you worried about anything Danas?" Lehman asked curiously.

After a moment of consideration, Danas shook his head and said, "Although I have a few issues that I'd like to investigate later, I can't say that anything is particularly troubling me at the moment."

Vincent smiled, feeling fairly certain that he knew what 'issues' Danas was referring to.

"Then what do you think is causing that?" Lehman asked, as he saw the mountains starting to build and recede as they had done before.

"It seems that we now know that it is the emotions of the people traveling through the mountains that causes the mountains to react. Since none of us are in turmoil, it might mean that there is another traveler over there. If we make haste, we can be to The Core before the turbulence can overtake us." Danas said as he increased his pace.

"No." Vincent said seriously.

Lehman immediately nodded his agreement.

"What do you mean, 'No'?" Danas asked cautiously.

"I mean, we aren't going to walk away and leave someone feeling like I did. We're going to help him." Vincent said decisively, as he changed direction.

"But we are near to your goal." Danas said with confusion.

"It's part of being a Trach Manja. We can't walk away from something like this." Lehman said as he followed Vincent.

Danas sighed with resignation, then followed the boys.

* * * * *

After a few minutes of travel over uneven ground that seemed to wave and ripple under their feet, the trio finally spotted a lone figure in the distance. He was sitting on a rock with his head in his hands.

"Travelers typically aren't aware of others as they wander the mountains." Danas said quietly.

"They can't hear us?" Lehman asked curiously.

Danas considered the question for a moment, then carefully said, "I believe that it is more accurate to say that they choose not to hear us."

Lehman nodded as the group took unsteady steps toward the boy who was obviously the source of the disruption in the mountains.

"Need some help?" Vincent asked cautiously as he approached.

The boy looked up with surprise at the sound.

Vincent froze when he recognized the boy before him...

"Vince?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Crewman Winters?" Vince asked hesitantly.

"Yeah, but you can call me Vincent if you want." Vincent said gently.

"Um, yeah. Thanks." Vince said reluctantly.

"What's up?" Vincent asked, as he casually took a seat on the rock next to Vince.

"Everything's all messed up." Vince said, as tears filled his eyes.

"If you'll tell me about it, maybe we can fix it." Vincent said quietly.

* * * * *

"I do not understand." Danas said to Lehman at his side.

"I don't either. I guess we'll just have to watch and listen to see if it's going to make sense." Lehman said frankly.

"So this one, he is not another like you?" Danas asked cautiously.

Lehman looked at the boy for a moment, then said, "I don't think so. He's something else."

Danas looked at the identical boys sitting on the rock, not knowing if this was a good or a bad thing.

* * * * *

"I don't know what's wrong... just everything." Vince said as tears welled up in his eyes.

"Tell me what's going on with you. I bet we can come up with something to make things better." Vincent said soothingly.

"Well... I'm still at Camp Little Eagle... the place where you saw me last time." Vince said, then sniffed inelegantly.

Vincent smiled at the action, then asked, "How are they treating you?"

"Okay I guess. Doctor Dan has taken me off all the medication and... I think maybe it was too soon." Vince said as the tears started to fall down his cheeks.

"So why don't you tell me what's making you sad?" Vincent said gently.

"My life sucks." Vince said in a whisper.

"How?" Vincent asked curiously.

"I'm alone. I'm in the camp... there's... nothing for me... I'm all alone." Vince said between sobs.

"What about Lawrence? Do you know where he is?" Vincent asked quietly.

Vince shook his head, but didn't seem inclined to elaborate.

"Vince. I think I can help, but you're going to have to listen to me... And you may not like hearing some of it." Vincent finished reluctantly.

Vince looked at Vincent with hope.

"Do you remember what Grandma Winters used to say?" Vincent asked quietly.

Vince thought for a moment, then hesitantly answered, "Make yourself useful for a change and get me a beer."

Vincent smiled and said, "No, not that. The other thing. You know, when you'd fall down or something like that."

Vince nodded and said from memory, "Don't be a whiny little pussy."

"Yeah. That's it." Vincent said with a weak smile.

Vince looked at Vincent with question.

"It's okay to feel bad. It's even okay to cry if you need to. But it's not okay when that's all you do." Vincent explained carefully.

"But... I'm alone." Vince said desperately.

"And whose fault is that?" Vincent asked seriously.

Vince's eyes filled with tears again.

"Do you want the loneliness to stop?" Vincent asked as he looked into Vince's eyes.

Vince reluctantly nodded.

"Find Lawrence." Vincent said firmly.

"But he's a queer." Vince said hesitantly.

"He's your brother." Vincent said seriously.

Vince looked at Vincent with indecision.

"Listen Vince. It looks like Cory never sat you down and gave you the talk that he gave me before I joined Starfleet." Vincent said in thought.

"Cory never really talked to me much at all." Vince said reluctantly.

"Talk to him. He's a good guy and if you'll tell him the truth about what you're thinking, he'll tell you some stuff that will make a lot of things easier to understand." Vincent said seriously.

"But he's a queer too." Vince said cautiously.

Vincent took in a slow breath then released it before saying, "Dad was wrong about a lot of the things he taught you. I know he told you not to trust anyone who's gay, but... Vince, they're just people. There are gay people who are good and who you can trust and there's some that will screw you over just like Dad said. Please give Cory and Sean a chance. They're really decent people and they can make things better for you if you'll let them."

"What do I have to do?" Vince asked hesitantly.

"Just listen to them." Vincent said, then noticed the distrusting look in Vince's eyes.

"You don't have to believe them, but don't automatically think that they're telling you lies either. Listen to what they say and be honest with them and I promise that they'll make things better." Vincent said seriously.

"Okay. I guess I can do that." Vince said hesitantly as he looked away.

"There's one more thing." Vincent said as he waited for Vince to meet his gaze.

Finally Vince looked into Vincent's eyes with question.

"Find Lawrence." Vincent said seriously.

Vince looked away again, not acknowledging that he had heard.

"He's your brother, your only blood family. That means something." Vincent said seriously.

"But he's a god dammed queer." Vince spat.

"He's a person." Vincent said as he felt tears of shame welling in his eyes, knowing without a doubt that he would have said the same thing not too long ago.

Vince looked at Vincent with anger and was surprised to see his emotional state.

"Vince. I'm going to tell you something, and I hope it makes sense to you." Vincent said carefully.

Vince reluctantly nodded.

"Where Lawrence wants to stick his dick has nothing to do with you. He isn't hot for you. He isn't trying to make you gay. And if your Lawrence is the same as mine, he doesn't even like you at the moment." Vincent said seriously.

"Really?" Vince asked with surprise.

"Really. You've got to realize that Lawrence being gay has nothing to do with you. It's just the way he is." Vincent said with conviction.

Vince nodded in thought.

Vincent noticed something in Vince's expression that he recognized.

"Guys, could you give us a minute or two. I've got something else to tell Vince and... well, it's private." Vincent said over his shoulder.

"Okay, but who is he?" Lehman asked, unable to restrain his curiosity any longer.

"He's the me from an alternate dimension." Vincent said simply.

"Um, yeah. Okay... We'll be right over there when you're ready." Lehman said, then took Danas by the arm to lead him away.

* * * * *

After a moment to be sure that the two were out of earshot, Vincent quietly said, "For a long time, I was afraid that maybe I was gay."

Vince looked up at Vincent with surprise.

"I was stuck on that question for a long time and just figured it out for sure... and I mean just." Vincent finished with a smile.

"Could you... is there some way you could help me do that?" Vince asked hopefully.

Vincent looked at the terrain around them as it suddenly seemed to calm and settle into place.

"I can if you'll tell me one thing." Vincent said seriously.

"What?" Vince asked cautiously.

"What'll you do if you find out that you're gay?" Vincent asked seriously.

Vince froze at the question.

"If you're going to get all freaky and try to kill yourself, then I'm not going to tell you." Vincent said frankly.

Vince nodded that he had heard.

"Think about it. I'll wait as long as it takes for you to come up with an answer." Vincent said seriously.

Vince nodded as he considered.

* * * * *

After a few minutes of silence, Vincent glanced over at Lehman and Danas and gave a 'thumbs up', that everything was going well.

Finally Vince whispered, "I don't know."

Vincent looked at Vince with question.

"If I found out that I was gay... I don't know what I'd do." Vince reluctantly admitted.

"Do you know what you're going to do if you find out 'one hundred percent, for sure' that you're straight?" Vincent asked carefully.

Vincent watched and waited patiently as Vince pondered the question.

"I guess I'd go on like I have been... I've been thinking about... maybe asking if there's any way I could take some special training and stuff so I could be in Starfleet." Vince said hesitantly.

Vincent was confused by Vince's reluctance to say it for a moment, then realized that what Vince was really saying was that he wanted to pattern his life after Vincent's.

After a brief smile that he wasn't able to contain, Vincent said, "If that's what you want to do, all you need to do is talk to Cory or Sean about it and I know that they'll do everything in their power to make it happen for you."

Vince looked at Vincent with surprise at the statement.

"You want to know a secret?" Vincent asked with a smile.

Vince reluctantly nodded.

"If you found out that you were gay, you could do the exact same thing." Vincent said seriously.

Vince's eyes went wide at the statement.

"Yeah, I know. After the way Dad went on and on about it, it's hard to believe that it really isn't that big of a deal." Vincent said frankly.

"It isn't?" Vince asked cautiously.

Vincent shook his head and said, "Cory and Sean can explain it a lot better than I can, but what it boils down to is that being gay doesn't make any difference at all about anything that's important. You'll still be you, no matter where you want to stick your dick."

Vince giggled at the simplicity of the statement.

"Feeling better?" Vincent asked with a smile.

Vince chuckled and said, "Yeah. I feel like I just went from having no future at all to having everything in the universe handed to me."

"Yeah. It feels pretty good, don't it." Vincent asked with a smile.

"Really good." Vince agreed.

"I've got a quest thing that I've got to do before I can wake up. You can go with us, if you want to." Vincent said seriously.

"Weren't you going to help me figure out if I'm gay or not?" Vince asked hesitantly.

"Does it really matter?" Vincent asked as he looked Vince in the eyes.

After a moment to consider, Vince reluctantly said, "I guess not... but I'd still like to know."

"Okay." Vincent said, then motioned for Lehman and Danas to come to them.

"What are you going to do?" Vince asked in a flash of panic when he saw them approaching.

Vincent rolled his eyes and said, "We're not going to do anything 'to' you."

Vince looked at Vincent with caution.

Vincent noticed that the mountains had started to churn and build around them again.

"Hey Lehman, can you do Benny again?" Vincent asked as the pair approached.

"How do you want him?" Lehman asked seriously.

Vincent only had to think for a moment before answering, "In his swimsuit... and wet, with his hair slicked back if you can do that."

Lehman nodded, then transformed himself into the image of Benny, wearing only swim trunks and glistening with water droplets.

Vince's mouth dropped open at the sight.

"Okay Vince. If I was gay, this is the guy that I'd want to be with." Vincent said seriously.

"What?" Vince asked as he blinked and seemed to break out of his daze.

"I'm just saying that it's okay for you to notice that he looks good. That doesn't mean anything. But when you look at him, what do you feel? If you and him were alone, what would you want to do? How far would you go?" Vincent asked in a leading tone.

"I... I..." Vince stammered as his gaze drifted down to Lehman's crotch.

"You don't need to tell me Vince. Just try to forget all that crap that Dad taught you and remember what it really means to be gay." Vincent said as he stood.

"What does it mean?" Vince asked quickly, as if Vincent were about to impart some fundamental truth.

"It means that you want to have sex with guys." Vincent said frankly, then continued, "Take a good look at Benny here and I bet that if you're honest with yourself, you'll know for sure if you're gay or not."

While Vince was considering the words, Vincent moved to Danas' side.

Vince looked up and down Benny's body as his expression became contemplative.

"We're heading to The Core now. You can still come with us if you want." Vincent said carefully.

Vince blinked, then turned his attention to Vincent and said, "No. I've got some thinking to do."

Vincent raised his eyebrows in question.

"It's time for me to start making my future happen." Vince said, then glanced at Lehman again.

"How are you going to start?" Vincent asked with a smile.

"By finding my brother." Vince said firmly.

"Good for you." Vincent said happily, then turned to leave.

Lehman transformed back to his true self, then said in a secretive whisper, "Benny lived at the Kimber IV colony. I don't know how that worked out in your dimension, but if Benny survived, I bet he could really use a friend about now."

Vince looked at Lehman with surprise at the suggestion.

"It was nice to meet you Vince. I hope everything works out for you." Lehman said as he turned to join Danas and Vincent.

"Thanks." Vince said as he waived at the trio.

All three turned and waved at him before continuing their journey.

* * * * *

"Do you think he's gay?" Lehman asked Vincent casually.

Vincent thought for a moment, then shrugged before saying, "Maybe, maybe not. And if he is, I don't know if he'll admit it to himself yet. But I think that if he'll talk with Cory and Sean and Doctor Dan, he'll be fine either way."

"There it is." Danas said, as he pointed at a protrusion on the horizon.

"That's The Core?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Yes, since we were able to travel directly across the Mountains of Despair without diversion, we were able to avoid the Swamps completely.

"That's good. Just because I'm from Florida doesn't mean that I have any special love for swamps." Vincent said frankly.

At Lehman and Danas' confused looks, Vincent said, "You'd just have to be from Florida to understand."

* * * * *

As the trio approached a large door, Vincent felt yet another 'Wizard of Oz' moment.

"Allow me to speak for us." Danas said quietly, then forcefully knocked.

A small window opened high up beside the door and a furry faced animal poked his head out to look at them.

"I am Danas of the Queen's Knights. We need to speak with the queen on a matter of some urgency." Danas said seriously.

"State your business." The furry faced man said firmly.

"As one of the Queen's Knights, I have no obligation to answer to you. Allow us entry." Danas said in a growl.

The furry man withdrew and closed the window.

A moment later the door opened to reveal two guards holding spears.

"Welcome Danas. You were dispatched to guard travelers on the forest path, has there been a problem?" One of the guards asked seriously.

The guard was a humanoid deer, much like Danas, but with larger antlers.

"No. The Succubus has been defeated and the Forest Path is safe to travel." Danas said proudly.

"You defeated the Succubus?" The guard asked, with surprise.

"I did, with the aid of this young one. We need to speak with the Queen to make our report." Danas said seriously.

"She is in her private garden. I'm sure she will want to be informed immediately." The guard said as he stepped aside to allow the trio entry.

"Vincent and Lehman, this is my brother Venad." Danas said formally.

"What types of creatures are these? They are reminiscent of the Travelers." Venad said cautiously.

Danas smiled and said, "Yes. I believe they are Travelers, but unlike others that we have met."

Venad nodded as he led the way through the narrow city streets.

Vincent looked around the city curiously, noticing that it was unusually bright and clean.

"The queen will be interested to know where you come from and about your theories about our existence." Danas said quietly to the boys.

"I hope she doesn't ask too many questions about it, because we don't have a lot of answers." Vincent said seriously.

Lehman nodded his agreement as they approached a large building in the center of town that was as fortified as the city itself.

After crossing a draw bridge to enter the queen's castle, Venad quietly asked, "How are you my brother?"

"I am well. This day has brought many revelations... and hope." Danas said cryptically.

Venad approached a guarded door and said, "We have great and important news for the Queen."

The guards looked over the group cautiously for a moment, then one of them held out his hands.

Danas and Venad each handed over their spears without hesitation.

The other guard opened the heavy door and stood aside.

* * * * *

"My queen. I bring good news and two Travelers to speak with you." Danas said formally.

Vincent watched the queen turn slowly and nearly broke into laughter when he saw her face.

"Brakkii." Vincent said with delight.

"You sound surprised." Brakkii said with a smile.

"Well, I thought it might be you, but I wasn't sure. Why did you bring me here?" Vincent asked seriously.

"You've got it backward my friend. You brought me here." Brakkii said frankly.

"I did?" Vincent asked curiously.

Brakkii nodded and said, "From what I gathered, you found yourself in this... place. And when you realized that it was a dream, you called me. I was drawn in here with you and have been waiting for you to arrive."

"I did that?" Vincent asked with concern.

"Yes. And if all your people have this ability, there is no possible way that I can go anywhere near your world. They can't even know of my existence or I could be ripped to shreds being pulled from one dreamscape to another." Brakkii said seriously.

"Oh. I didn't realize that." Vincent said quietly.

"If that's the case, how am I here?" Lehman asked curiously.

"I was able to bring you in." Brakkii said frankly.

At Lehman's inquisitive look, Brakkii continued, "Vincent was worried about you and was intent on finding you. I brought you into this dream place so you could comfort him and perhaps help him on his quest to reach The Core."

"Thanks." Vincent muttered, as he thought about everything that had happened in the light of this new information.

"So now that we're here... there's nothing left to be done, is there? How do we get out?" Lehman asked cautiously.

"We're trapped here until Vincent wakes up. This isn't like the type of dream or illusion that I create. This is a dimensional incarnation which is bent and twisted to the will of the dreamer." Brakkii said with difficulty.

"Will we still exist when he awakens?" Danas asked hesitantly.

Brakkii smiled at Danas and said, "Yes, you will."

"How?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Because you didn't create this dream place. It existed before you arrived and will continue to exist after you leave. Some of the elements of this place were altered to accommodate you, but most of it was not of your creation." Brakkii said seriously.

"I don't get it." Lehman said, cautiously.

"I think you do. You know how you were explaining the 'Dream Web' earlier... it's like that." Brakkii said frankly.

"So, does that mean that you're one of those creatures who can move from dream to dream?" Lehman asked curiously.

Brakkii considered for a moment before answering, "I suppose I could, if I wanted, but I would be in constant danger of becoming trapped as I am now."

"I don't know what we're supposed to do next." Vincent said, as he looked at the people around him.

Brakkii shrugged, then said, "It's your dream. What do you want to do?"

Vincent considered for a moment, then smiled as he said, "I'd like for Lehman to meet Pipi."

"Then that's what we'll do." Brakkii said, then dramatically waved his arm.

* * * * *

The world seemed to dissolve, then reform around them.

Vincent looked around quickly and spotted the large tree that was Naleen's home.

"Come on Lehman, there's some people I want you to meet." Vincent said, as he started to run.

Lehman looked at Brakkii, Danas and Venad with question.

"Go with Vincent and have fun." Brakkii said with a peaceful smile.

Lehman could see that Brakkii didn't feel left out, so he hurried to follow Vincent to the large tree.

* * * * *

"Viznit!" A small voice screamed with glee.

"Hey Pipi! I found my brother, this is Lehman." Vincent said happily.

Pipi hopped to Vincent's side and looked at Lehman with wonder.

"Lehman, this is Pipi. He's the brave warrior who started me on my quest to find you." Vincent said with a cheeky grin.

Pipi's chest puffed out with pride at Vincent's description.

"Vincent?" A soft voice called.

Vincent turned at the sound and saw Naleen resting between the roots of her tree.

"Come over here and meet Pipi's mother." Vincent said cheerfully as he ran toward the tree.

Lehman and Pipi both hurried to join him.

As Vincent approached Naleen, he saw that she was holding someone, cradled in her lap.

"Thank you." Naleen whispered, as she stroked Peiron's fur with the gentlest of touches.

"I was glad to help." Vincent said past the lump in his throat.

Peiron opened his eyes and looked around curiously.

"How are you feeling Peiron?" Vincent asked in a whisper.

Peiron looked up at his mother, then at Vincent and said, "Happy."

"Good. I'm glad you're home again." Vincent said as he felt a tear threatening to fall.

Peiron snuggled into his mother's chest and fell back to sleep.

Vincent felt a tugging on his pants leg and looked down.

"Wanna play?" Pipi asked in a whisper.

Vincent smiled and said, "Yeah. Let's see if we can find some yummy honey berries so Lehman can try them."

Pipi hopped around in a circle, then darted away.

"Come on Lehman. We've had a really long day. It's time to play." Vincent said quietly, then took off in a full run to follow Pipi.

* * * * *

{"I believe he is showing signs of returning to consciousness."} Ship's voice said seriously.

Vincent opened his eyes and looked around the room curiously.

He was surprised to see that he wasn't in the lounging hall, but in another room that he hadn't been in before.

Vincent opened his mouth to ask, 'what happened', but found that he couldn't make a sound.

{"Vincent, I'm so glad to see that you are well."} Treep clucked with relief.

"What happened?" Lehman asked groggily as he sat up on the neighboring bed.

Vincent also sat up, then shrugged in Lehman's direction.

"You can't talk and I can't change... everything's back to normal." Lehman said with resignation.

Treep fumbled with a necklace that he was wearing, then quietly clucked something.

A computerized voice sounded from the jeweled translator which was the pendant.

"How's y'all feelin 'dis mawnin?" it said in a dainty woman's voice, sounding much like a Southern belle.

Vincent and Lehman exchanged a look before simultaneously breaking into uncontrollable laughter.

To Be Continued...

Editor's notes:

It seems that as Cinderella once said, " A dream is a wish your heart makes." Vincent needed to make a difference, and even in a dream world, it seems he was able to help.

Brakkii might want to stay around in that realm so he can have some company. He really is a nice person. I really am glad that Pipi and his brother were able to get back together and his mom is a lot happier too.

I wonder how long it will be before vincent will be able to talk again. I also wonder what will happen to Vince. I was really happy to see him again. It kind of looks like he might have found his answer to how he really feels.

I have a feeling that things are going to get a lot more hectic for Vincent and Lehman once they get to Earth. I guess we will just have to wait till next time to find out.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher