By MultiMapper
Copyright ©2002-2010 MultiMapper and CSU Productions.
All Rights Reserved.

For full disclaimer and Copyright information visit Copyright/Disclaimer Page. Continuation of viewing this document is deemed acceptance of all terms on the preceding link. While these stories are provided for free, I would appreciate it if those who were able would consider contributing to this artist via my Patreon.

Chapter 53

"Is this everyone that's going to be going to the mall?" A man asked from beside an over-sized Hummer.

"Yeah. This is all of us." Jordy confirmed, then turned to his companions and said, "Guys, this is Matt. He's going to drive us and he'll act as security."

"Do we *need* security?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Well, chances are that nothing will happen, but it would be plain old fashioned stupid of us to go without security after everything that's happened this week." Jordy said frankly, as he motioned for the three identical boys to get into the car.

"What happened this week?" Thomas asked curiously.

"All hell broke loose." Jordy said frankly.

After a moment to consider the response, Thomas turned to Vincent and said, "Nobody gives a straight answer to anything here, do they?"

Lehman chuckled at Thomas' frustrated expression and nodded his agreement.

"Long story. Ask me later." Vincent said with a cheeky grin.

Thomas rolled his eyes as Lehman broke into laughter.

"Excuse me, guys, but I'm curious." Matt said as he guided the car out the security gates. "If there are only four of you, why did you request a large vehicle for this trip?"

"From what Lehman was telling me, all three of them need to buy a full wardrobe of clothes. They have next to nothing." Jordy said frankly.

"I was meaning to ask about that." Thomas said, as he looked at Vincent curiously. "I just got here, but why don't you guys have anything?"?

"I outgrew all of my old clothes and I was off planet where I couldn't buy any more." Vincent said simply.

"And Vincent gave me the clothes he grew out of, but he didn't have that many clothes to begin with." Lehman said consideringly.

"I only brought a few things with me. We were only supposed to be going to Alpha Centauri for a week." Vincent said apologetically, then added, "Besides, I wear uniforms most of the time, anyway."

"Well, you guys are going to need to show me what to do. I've never really bought new stuff before." Thomas said cautiously.

"Just pick out stuff that you like." Lehman said simply.

"Yeah. And if you pick out something that we think looks dorky, we'll let you know." Vincent said with a grin.

"I bet you will." Thomas muttered.

"Did you guys get to eat anything before we left?" Jordy asked suddenly.

"No, I was going to, then that thing with Grandma Mona happened and I forgot." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"We're supposed to call her 'mom'." Lehman said immediately.

Vincent thought for a moment, then slowly shook his head.

"What's wrong?" Lehman asked with concern.

"I don't think I'll be able to call her that." Vincent said quietly.

"Why not?" Thomas asked curiously.

"For the same reason that I can't call Daddy Joe 'dad'." Vincent said helplessly.

"Why is that?" Thomas asked with interest.

"It's hard to explain because it's more of a feeling than a logical reason." Vincent said in prelude. "I love Daddy Joe, but calling him 'dad' would be like I'm trying to put a label on him that doesn't fit. That's not who he is and it's not who I want him to be."?

"But you call Cory 'dad', I don't understand the difference." Lehman said quietly.

"I don't either, not really." Vincent admitted shyly. "But calling Cory 'dad' started out as kind of a joke because he's so close to my age. It wasn't serious and didn't mean anything... until it did."

"Huh?" Thomas asked with confusion.

"I don't know why, but somehow I accepted him in my heart or something. I don't know if it's just because he's so completely different from my dad or something else. But however it happened, it ended up that I can call Cory 'dad' without feeling funny about it at all." Vincent finished with a smile of accomplishment.

"But what about Mona?" Lehman asked cautiously.

Vincent thought about it for a moment, then shook his head and regretfully said, "I can't call her 'mom'... I just can't."?

"Then call her something else." Jordy said gently.

Vincent looked at Jordy curiously.

"You know, like you did for your Daddy Joe." Jordy continued.

"You could call her Mama Mona." Thomas said with a smile.

Vincent glanced at Thomas, then considered for a moment before saying, "Yeah. Mama Mona. I like that."?

"What about you, Thomas?" Lehman asked curiously.

"What about me?" Thomas asked with confusion.

"Well, I know you just... um, lost your parents. So I was just wondering how you're going to deal with all of this." Lehman said reluctantly.

Thomas thought for a moment, then quietly said, "From what Brakkii explained to me, time moves differently in the realm than it does here... except when Vincent is there."

"I don't really understand about that, but it sounds about right." Vincent said cautiously, then added, "Anyway, I think that's fixed now, so that shouldn't happen again."

Thomas nodded that he had heard, then continued, "Brakkii and I spent a lot of time together and we talked about a lot of stuff. What I figured out is that even though I'm not happy about the way some things turned out, I'm not? falling apart, either. The way Brakkii explained it was, that if my mom and dad could have had their one biggest wish granted before they died, that it would have been for me to survive. So I guess it's okay if I'm sad that they're gone, but I can't let that get in the way of other things. The best way I can honor them is to be alive and live my life. That way I know that their wish was granted."?

"What are you going to call Joe and Mona?" Jordy asked curiously.

Thomas looked at Jordy uncertainly for a moment, then smiled when he realized that that had been the original topic of conversation.

"Well, I grew up with Joe, the one from my world, being thought of as part of our family. He was my mom's first husband and we were all proud of him and honored his memory. Mona seems really nice too, so I guess I'll try calling them 'mom' and 'dad'. If that ends up feeling too creepy, then I guess I'll do something else." Thomas said frankly.

"We're almost there." Matt said as he pulled into the mall parking lot.

"Are you guys ready to do some heavy duty shopping?" Vincent asked as he released his seat belt.

"Just remember that I've never done this before." Thomas said seriously.

"Actually, neither have I." Lehman said with an apologetic glance at Vincent.

"Don't look at me. My mom did all my shopping." Vincent said frankly.

"Well, I've done it before, so just stick close to me." Jordy said with a smile at the trio.

"Thanks Jordy." Lehman said with a tender smile.

"Anytime." Jordy responded with a grin, just for Lehman.

* * * * *

"Wow! I've never seen anyplace as nice as this!" Thomas exclaimed as the group walked into the mall.

"It's beautiful." Lehman agreed as he looked around.

"Is that supposed to be doing that?" Thomas asked as he slowly walked toward a large fountain.

"Yeah. It's a fountain... that's what they do." Vincent said frankly.

"It seems wrong." Thomas said distantly.

"Why is that?" Matt asked curiously.

Thomas looked up at him, as if just remembering that he was there, then timidly said, "Where I'm from, no one would ever think about building something like this... something that doesn't do anything but sit there and look pretty. All the parts and work that went into making this could have gone into building a tank or a plane."

"I'm glad I don't live in a world like that." Jordy said quietly as he looked at Lehman.

"Yeah." Lehman agreed with a timid smile back at him.

"What do you guys want to do first? Look around or eat?" Matt asked as he looked over the group of boys.

Before anyone else could answer, Thomas asked, "Can we go in there?" As he pointed at a nearby store.

"Sure. I bet we'll find all kinds of good stuff in there." Jordy said as he started walking.

"Can we really buy anything we want?" Lehman asked quietly.

"Yeah. And remember that you probably won't be able to buy anything else for a while because you'll be at the colony, so make sure you get a bunch." Vincent said happily.

"Look at that!" Thomas said as he ran to the first rack of clothes inside the door.

"Those look like adult clothes. You should probably look for something closer to your size." Jordy said cautiously.

"Kid's stuff is over there. Come on." Vincent said as he pointed to a section deeper into the store.

"Look at all the stuff they have!" Thomas said as he ran to the children's section.

The rest of the group walked more slowly to follow Thomas to the first rack of children's clothing.

"Matt, how would you feel about helping Thomas while I help Lehman?" Jordy asked quietly. "I'm pretty sure that Vincent won't need any help."?

"It would be my pleasure." Matt said with a smile at Thomas' excitement.

"It sounds like a plan." Vincent said decisively before walking away to look at another rack of clothes.

Lehman stood and stared at racks upon racks of clothes spread out before him.

"Do you see anything you like?" Jordy asked gently.

"There's so much. I'll never be able to choose." Lehman said in an overwhelmed whisper.

"Come over here and we'll start looking at things for you. Once you get started, I'm sure it'll get easier." Jordy said with a grin as he guided Lehman to walk with him.

* * * * *

"Can I get this?" Thomas asked as he held up a pair of blue denim jeans.

"Of course you can." Matt said with a smile. "Why don't you find some in your size and go try them on?"

Thomas looked at Matt with confusion.

"There's a changing room right over there. We need to be sure that whatever you pick out will fit you." Matt said gently.

Thomas looked at the pair of pants he was holding then up at Matt with question.

"Let me see." Matt said as he put out his hand.

Thomas handed the pants to Matt, then watched as Matt held them up to his waist.

"These look close. Let's get the next smaller size so you can try them both." Matt said as he looked Thomas in the eyes.

"Okay." Thomas said as he went back to the rack, then turned and quietly asked, "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure. You can ask me anything you want." Matt said casually.

"How well do you know Vincent?" Thomas asked thoughtfully.

"I know some things *about* him. But as far as knowing him personally, I don't." Matt said frankly.

"Good." Thomas said as he selected another pair of pants. "Then you're the person I want to talk to. I get the feeling that Lehman really admires Vincent."

"What did you want to know about him?" Matt asked curiously.

"Well, from what I've seen since I've been here, I get the feeling that a lot of other people really like Vincent, too. He saved my life, so I know why I feel that way about him, but I wanted to know why everyone else feels that way." Thomas said honestly.

Matt considered for a moment, then quietly said, "I guess there are a few reasons for that."

The impatient expression on Thomas' face caused Matt to smile before he continued, "From what I've heard, when Vincent arrived he was a very unfriendly and angry little boy."

"Yeah. Vincent mentioned something about that, but it's hard for me to imagine him being that way." Thomas said seriously.

"I gather that he didn't make the best impression when he first met the Clan." Matt said frankly. "But a few of the guys made a special effort to look past that and try to get to know him. And from what I hear, he upset a few of them along the way."

"That must have been hard for them." Thomas said thoughtfully.

Matt nodded his agreement, then gestured to another rack of clothes as he continued, "Well, I'm not quite sure how it worked out or why, but after Vincent's parents died, the Clan arranged for him to get into the mentoring program so he could learn to become a Starfleet Officer."

"Well, if he was that awful, maybe they were just trying to get rid of him." Thomas said speculatively.

Matt chuckled at the statement as he took a pair of pants off the new rack of clothes and handed them to Thomas.

"I don't think that was their reason for doing it, although it may have occurred to someone along the way that having Vincent off the planet might be a good thing."?

"I like these." Thomas said as he looked at the pants.

Matt nodded, then looked Thomas in the eyes as he said, "While Vincent was on his first mission, there was an emergency at a Federation colony and his ship was sent to deal with it. Vincent volunteered to go into a nuclear reactor to shut it down before it blew up and killed hundreds of people. He was exposed to massive radiation and he nearly died from it."?

Thomas' eyes went wide as he remembered Vincent telling him that he knew what it felt like to nearly die from radiation.

"So, to answer your question, people admire Vincent not only because he did something really heroic and saved hundreds of lives. But also because he's worked really hard to become a better person than he was." Matt said as he started leading Thomas toward the changing rooms.

"I guess that explains a lot of things I was wondering about." Thomas said contemplatively. "It just seemed like everyone knew who Vincent was and they all liked him. Since he's so much like me, I couldn't understand why."

"Thomas, I know we only just met, but there's something that I can tell you for certain. Even though you and Vincent look alike, you two are really very different people. I know it's going to be tempting, but try not to get caught up in comparing yourself to him. You can never be him, you can only be you. So be the best you that you can be." Matt said seriously.

"Um, okay." Thomas said thoughtfully, then added more quietly, "It may not matter anyway. I might not be here after tonight."?

"Are you planning on leaving?" Matt asked with concern.

"I haven't decided yet." Thomas said hesitantly, then quietly added, "I might."

"Well, if my vote counts for anything, I hope you decide to stay." Matt said gently.

Thomas smiled at the words so sincerely spoken, then timidly responded, "I'll remember that."

"Go in and try on these pants so we can find your right size." Matt said as he gestured toward the dressing room door.

"Yeah." Thomas said as he turned, then glanced back at Matt and said, "Thanks."

* * * * *

Jordy followed along and watched silently as Lehman moved from rack to shelf, marveling over the seemingly endless supply of clothing.

"Do you want to try anything on?" Jordy asked as he noticed that Lehman already had four or five items draped over his arm.

"Try?" Lehman asked curiously.

"There's a changing room over there where you can try things on to see if they fit." Jordy said as he gestured toward the fitting room.

"I can make myself fit into just about any of the clothes that are here." Lehman said frankly.

"Oh." Jordy said with surprise, then grinned, "That's going to make shopping a lot easier."

After a moment of consideration, Lehman slowly said, "But I guess I could go in there and try on different things just to see how they really look on me. I want you to tell me if they look right."

"I can hold on to some of those for you while you do that." Jordy said as he looked at the clothes Lehman was carrying.

"Thanks." Lehman said as he looked into Jordy's eyes, then after handing him a few of the clothes, he turned to go into the changing room.

Jordy looked after him and puzzled over what he had just seen... or maybe heard... possibly felt. Even though Lehman had only said 'Thanks.' the words 'I love you.' had been there too, just as clearly as if they had been spoken aloud.

* * * * *

Vincent was looking at a rack of clothes, not really paying attention to what he was doing.

He found himself looking over every few minutes at either Lehman or Thomas.

Thomas and Matt seemed to be engrossed in conversation. As for Lehman and Jordy, the only phrase that came to mind to describe their look at each other was from some corny old movie. A 'smitten gaze' was the only description he could give that look that would even begin to explain the expression on Lehman's face.

Vincent was overcome by a feeling of utter contentment as he watched his two adopted brothers doing such mundane and ordinary things. He got the feeling deep down in his soul that everything was just the way it was supposed to be.

"Were you needing help finding anything?" A woman's voice asked from behind him.

Vincent started at the sound, then looked up at her and answered, "No. I'm just looking for some new clothes before I go on a trip."

"Well, if you need anything, you should be able to find someone to help you near the dressing rooms over there." She said in a pleasant voice.

"Okay. Thanks." Vincent said courteously, then glanced over when he saw that Thomas was walking into the dressing room.

As the woman started to walk away, something caught Vincent's attention.

"Excuse me." Vincent said quickly, before she could get too far away.

"Yes?" The woman said as she turned.

"Did you buy that here?" Vincent asked as he looked her over.

The woman looked down at herself, then asked, "Did I buy what?"

"That outfit you're wearing. Is that something that you bought in this store?" Vincent asked curiously.

The woman thought for a moment, then said, "Yes, come to think of it, I did buy it here."?

"I think that looks really nice. Do you think you could help me find something like that? I'd like to buy it for someone." Vincent asked hopefully.

"Do you know the size that you'll need?" She asked cautiously.

"Your size. You're just about the same size as her. That's what made me think of it." Vincent said seriously.

"Let me show you what we have, it's right over here." The sales lady said as she began to walk away.

Vincent glanced toward the dressing room again and noticed that Lehman had just walked in.

"Okay." He said as he followed.

* * * * *

"Does this look okay?" Thomas asked as he stepped out of the dressing room.

"Let me see." Matt said as he went down on one knee, then tugged on the waist of Thomas' pants to see that they weren't too snug or too loose.

"Those look good on you." Jordy said as he looked around the corner from the neighboring dressing room.

"Do you really think so?" Thomas asked hopefully.

"Yes. It's a nice style for you." Jordy said with a grin.

A sudden clatter made all three of them jump and Jordy immediately ducked back around the corner to see what had made the noise.

Matt rushed around the corner next as Thomas followed a little more slowly.

A sales lady was standing and staring at the dressing room with a pile of empty clothes hangers scattered about her feet.

The three followed her disbelieving gaze to find Lehman standing in the doorway of the dressing room with a puzzled expression.

"Is something wrong?" He asked as he noticed everyone staring at him.

"I um..." Jordy stammered, then gulped.

"There are some people who shouldn't wear spandex." Matt said cautiously.

"What's wrong with it?" Lehman asked as he looked down at himself.

Jordy stared at Lehman's ample endowments clearly outlined in the shimmering fabric, then cautiously said, "Personally, I like it. But I think that you're showing off a little bit more than you need to."

"Little bit?" The sales lady gasped.

Lehman glanced at her, then followed her gaze down to his crotch.

"Oh." He said in realization, "That."

"Maybe something looser would be better." Matt suggested gently.

"Um, yeah." Lehman muttered, then quickly withdrew into the dressing room.

"Would you like some help with those?" Matt asked, looking at the pile of fallen clothes hangers.

The sales lady tore her gaze away from the dressing room, then seemed to realize where she was and said, "No. Thank you, I'm sorry, I was just..."

"Yeah. A lot of people are." Jordy said as he fought to restrain a chuckle.

"Come on Thomas. Get out of those pants so we can start getting you some clothes." Matt said as he put a hand on Thomas' shoulder.

Thomas looked up at Matt, then broke into a smile.

* * * * *

"Would you like for me to set this aside for you?" The sales lady asked Vincent professionally.

"No. I'd like to pay for this now, I'm buying it with my own money. The rest of what I'm buying will be paid for by the people I came in with." Vincent said seriously, then handed her his Starfleet ID and credit card.

The woman looked at the hologram on the ID, then at Vincent with mild surprise.

"Yeah. I *really* am a crewman." Vincent said before she could ask.

"That's not it." The sales lady said as she began to process the transaction. "I have family who were at Kimber."

Vincent looked at her with surprise.

"After it was over, they wrote to me and told me what happened." The sales lady said as she put the receipt into the bag with his purchase, then as she handed him his ID she quietly said, "And they told me that you're the reason that they're still alive.

Vincent was at a loss for words as he accepted the bag of clothing from her.

"Thank you." She whispered sincerely.

"I'm glad I could help." Vincent said shyly.

The sales lady smiled gently and asked, "Would you like for me to keep those behind the register until you're finished shopping?"

"Um, no." Vincent stammered with relief, then sat the bag on the counter and said to his wrist, "Manu, would you transport this bag to my cabin?"

"Yes Vincent." Manu responded immediately, then the bag disappeared in a small fountain of sparkles.

Vincent noticed the sales lady's look of surprise.

"Thanks for your help." He said with a grin, then left to return to the boys department.

"Thank you." The sales lady said earnestly as she watched him leave.

* * * * *

"What's wrong, Thomas? It looks like something is bothering you." Matt asked as they walked from one rack of clothing to another.

"Nothing's really wrong. It's just... I know it sounds kinda weird, but I think I miss Dylan." Thomas said shyly.

"What's weird about that?" Matt asked curiously.

"I haven't known him for very long... Just a few minutes really." Thomas said as he looked at Matt desperately.

"Sometimes it works that way." Matt said frankly.

"It's not important, and I'm not upset or anything. I just think it'd be nice if he was here right now." Thomas said as he tried to turn his attention to the rack of clothes in front of them.

"We'll be going back to the Short Compound as soon as we're done shopping. I'm sure you'll get to see him then." Matt said with assurance.

"Yeah." Thomas said, but didn't sound particularly assured.

* * * * *

"Vincent, did you find anything?" Jordy asked as he approached, with Lehman following a step behind.

"A few things. What about you?" Vincent asked happily.

"Yeah. Lehman found a few nice things. A lot more than I would have thought considering that this is our first store." Jordy said frankly.

"Jordy's been a lot of help... except that he didn't warn me about Spandex." Lehman said with a rueful smile at Jordy.

"Spandex? What about it?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Bull moose." Lehman said with the quirk of one eyebrow.

"Oh." Vincent said in realization, then grinned at Jordy who was blushing.

"So are you ready to move on to the next store?" Jordy asked, wanting to change the subject.

"Do you think we could get something to eat next? I'm getting really hungry." Vincent said honestly.

"Yeah. Good plan. If you two will take your things to the checkout, I'll go find Thomas and Matt." Jordy said cheerfully.

Lehman smiled at Jordy, then turned to walk away.

* * * * *

"How are you doing Lehman?" Vincent asked casually as they walked.

"No matter what happens, this is going to hurt." Lehman responded in a pained voice.

Vincent was surprised by the response and stopped to look Lehman in the eyes.

"I'm going to have to leave. He has to stay. It's going to hurt... a lot." Lehman said with regret.

"And the worst part is... I don't care." Lehman said with an ironic chuckle. "I can't do anything but keep on going."

"We'll work something out." Vincent said as he shifted his load of clothes to one arm so he could put his free arm around Lehman.

* * * * *

After a trip out to the car to drop off their purchases, Jordy led them back into the mall and directly to the food court.

"What kind of a place is this?" Lehman asked as he looked around.

"It's kind of like the mess hall back on the Yorktown, except that you have about a dozen cafeterias to choose from instead of just one." Vincent said seriously.

"I don't know what to do." Thomas said as he looked around in wonder.

"Thomas, you stick with Matt." Jordy said simply, then looked at Matt with question.

Matt smiled, indicating that he didn't mind watching after Thomas.

"Lehman can come with me and I guess Vincent will go with me or Matt, since we have the credit cards." Jordy said frankly.

"I have my own money. One meal isn't going to break me." Vincent said with a smirk.

"Have you seen mall prices recently?" Jordy asked with a wide eyed expression, then gestured for Lehman to walk with him to one of the restaurants.

Vincent chuckled, then noticed that Matt and Thomas were heading toward the burger place that he was intending on going.

* * * * *

"Is she from the Clan?" Thomas asked as he stared at the woman ahead of them in line.

"No. Why would you think that?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Because she's talking on one of those things like Jordy does." Thomas said honestly.

"What Jordy has is a communicator. What that lady is using is a cell phone." Vincent said seriously. "Just about everybody has those."

"Cell phone? Is that like a telephone?" Thomas asked curiously.

"Yeah. Exactly, except that you can take it with you when you leave home." Vincent said, happy to have found at least one thing that wasn't difficult to explain to Thomas.

Thomas listened to the lady talking for a minute, then looked at Vincent and said, "So it's not something important?"

After a moment to listen to her side of the conversation, Vincent said, "It doesn't sound like it."

They waited for a moment longer, then Thomas asked, "Can we just go around her? She's so busy talking that she's not moving up in the line."

"Just give her a minute." Matt whispered.

Thomas did as he was told and waited approximately one minute before saying, ""Hey! You on the phone! Move your ass!"

The woman looked at Thomas with surprise, then walked up to the counter to place her order.

Thomas crossed his arms across his chest as the woman seemed to be reading the whole menu board.

"Yeah. If you wasn't talking on the phone, you'd know what you want, wouldn't you? Just pick something!" Thomas barked.

The lady glanced at Thomas, then at Matt and said, "Sir, I think you need to teach your son about manners."

"Yeah, maybe." Thomas said before Matt could respond, "But I'm nine years old, what's your excuse?"

The lady turned her attention away from them, then finally placed her order.

"What do you want, Thomas?" Matt asked quietly.

"Vincent, will you order something for me? I don't know what most of this stuff is anyway and I'll probably like the same things you do." Thomas asked hopefully.

"You didn't have hamburgers where you're from?" Vincent asked with surprise.

"Yeah. We have hamburgers, but not these... double triple bacon whatever things." Thomas said with frustration as he glanced at the menu board.

"I'll get you something good." Vincent said with a grin, then for good measure, moved in to give Thomas a quick hug.

* * * * *

"There's Jordy and Lehman. They've already got a table." Vincent said as they left the pick-up window.

"I guess they didn't have a phone lady to hold them back." Thomas grumbled.

"You really can't stand to wait, can you?" Vincent chuckled.

"I can wait just fine. I just can't stand to do it for no good reason." Thomas said bluntly.

Vincent considered for a moment, then said, "I guess I'm that way, too."

* * * * *

"What did you guys get?" Vincent asked as he sat down.

"Jordy wants me to try these 'corn dogs'." Lehman said as he looked at the corn dogs on his plate dubiously.

"And the cheese sticks, those are great." Jordy said enthusiastically.?

"What did you get, Thomas?" Lehman asked curiously.

"I don't know, I let Vincent pick for me." Thomas said cautiously.

"Just try it." Vincent said with a roll of his eyes, then unwrapped his own burger and took a bite.

"Good God, Vincent! How can your mouth open wide enough to eat that?" Jordy asked with astonishment.

Vincent had a mouth full of food, so the only answer he could give was a shrug.

Thomas hesitantly unwrapped his own burger and was surprised to find that it was nothing like Vincent's.

He opened the top bun and saw nothing but a meat patty, under the meat he found a squirt of catsup and a single pickle chip.

Relieved to see that it wasn't mounded over with toppings like Vincent's was, Thomas cautiously took a bite of the burger.

"What do you think?" Matt asked Thomas carefully.

Thomas finished chewing his bite of food, then said, "This is really good."

"Good. I'm glad you're enjoying it." Matt said with a sincere smile.

Thomas picked up his drink and took a sip through the straw, then began to choke and sputter.

"What's wrong?" Matt asked as he grabbed a handful of napkins and ran to Thomas' side.

Thomas took a few of the offered napkins and wiped his face, then blew his nose.

"Are you okay?" Matt asked with concern.

Thomas took a few deep breaths, then said, "Yeah. I think so, but that has to be the most disgusting thing I've ever tasted."

Vincent looked at Thomas' drink cup, then cautiously took a sip of his own.

"Sorry Tom, our drinks must have got switched." Vincent said shyly.

"Don't call me that." Thomas said fiercely as he looked Vincent in the eyes.

"What?" Vincent asked slowly, then played back his words in his head and asked, "Tom?"

"Yeah. I hate that. Don't call me that." Thomas said firmly.

"Sure. Fine." Vincent said, then handed Thomas his drink.

"Here, I think you'll like this better." Vincent said quietly.

Thomas cautiously took a sip, then smiled.

"What is it?" Matt asked curiously.

"Water." Vincent said as he sat back in his own chair.

"But what did you have?" Jordy asked curiously.

"Mountain Dew." Vincent said frankly. "I didn't think Thomas would like it, that's why I got him water, but somehow our drinks got switched between there and here."?

"You mean people drink that on purpose? Yuck!" Thomas said as he looked at Vincent with disbelief.

"When you grow up with it, you get used to it." Vincent said frankly.

"I think it's still fizzing in my nose a little... is it supposed to do that?" Thomas asked cautiously.

Vincent chuckled and said, "Well, you're not supposed to choke and blow it out your nose. But yeah, it's supposed to fizz like that."

"So you don't have soft drinks where you're from?" Matt asked curiously.

Thomas looked at Matt with surprise at the question.

"Yeah. We have them, but I never drank one before. I think only adults drink them." Thomas said uncertainly. "I don't know why, though."

"Have some of your fries before they get cold. They're gross when they're cold." Vincent said as he pointed to the small paper bag of french fries in front of Thomas on the table.

Thomas looked at Vincent suspiciously for a moment, then took one of the fries and carefully put it into his mouth.

"What do you think?" Vincent asked hopefully.

Thomas considered for a moment, then said, "We have french fries something like this at home, they're okay."?

"Good." Vincent said with a smile, then opened his mouth wide to take another bite of his enormous hamburger.

* * * * *

"Pants, shirts, socks, shoes, underwear, jackets, hats, swimwear... did we forget anything?" Jordy asked as he surveyed the three nearly identical boys.

"I think we got everything that we could possibly need." Vincent said honestly.

"We got enough clothes for a whole grade school." Thomas said frankly.

"Well, I'm glad we were able to get that T shirt place to custom make those shirts for you. I think they're great." Jordy said with a grin.

"Did you see the look on the clerk's face when we asked him? He thought it was hilarious." Vincent said happily as he looked down at his 'Thing 1' T shirt.

"Remember that you promised to find the book that has the story that explains this." Lehman said as he examined his 'Thing 2' shirt.

"I'm sure Timmy or Ricky have it. It's a classic." Vincent said, feeling the sense of profound happiness return.

"So Lehman." Jordy said, sounding a bit nervous, "Are you planning to stay with Vincent and Lawrence again tonight?"?

Lehman opened his mouth to answer, then shut it and looked at Vincent with question.

"We haven't discussed it yet." Vincent said as he turned his attention to Jordy.

"Well, I was thinking, that... If you, you know, wanted to..." Jordy stammered himself to a stop.

When it was obvious that Jordy wasn't able to find the words to continue, Vincent said, "There's something that I need to do with Lawrence in the morning. You know, that thing with the house."

"Do you need for me to go with you?" Lehman asked curiously.

"No. I think me and Lawrence are the only ones who need to go." Vincent said frankly.

"You could stay with me!" Jordy blurted out.

Lehman smiled radiantly, then said, "Yeah. I'd like that."?

"What about you Thomas?" Matt asked from the driver's seat.

"What about me?" Thomas asked hesitantly.

"Where would you like to stay tonight?" Matt asked curiously.

"I don't know." Thomas said quietly.

"Is it that you don't know, or that you don't think that you'll be able to?" Matt asked as he glanced to look Thomas in the eyes.

"I don't know if he'll want me to or if... if his parents will want me to."??

"I tell you what, we're almost there. How about I help you find out?" Matt asked with a gentle smile.

"Yeah. Thanks." Thomas said with relief.

Matt looked in the rear view mirror and noticed Vincent looking at him with an approving smile.

* * * * *

"Well Vincent, do you need for me to drive you over to your brother's house to unload all of this?" Matt asked as he parked the Hummer.

"No. If we can get the stuff out of the car and sort it, we can just transport it all up to the ship and then we'll be able to get to it no matter where we decide to spend the night." Vincent said and finished with a smile at Lehman.

"Sounds good." Lehman said with a grateful smile at Vincent.

As Thomas opened his door, a small shape lunged inside and grabbed him suddenly.

"I missed you!" Dylan said as he hugged Thomas tightly.

"I missed you too." Thomas said as he closed his eyes and enjoyed the wonderful feeling of being hugged so enthusiastically.

"Come on, let's get this stuff unloaded." Vincent whispered to Lehman.

"I've got something to show you." Dylan said suddenly as he backed away from Thomas enough to look him in the eyes.

Thomas looked into the sparkling violet eyes and felt something that he'd never felt before. The urge to kiss. It felt like every cell in his body was urging him to lean forward ever so slightly and kiss those smiling lips. Dylan displayed his affection so obviously and even proudly that Thomas had no doubt that he would welcome the action. Yet something was holding him back from doing it, like the slightest thread of uncertainty. And it was fraying.

"Come on. I know you're going to love it!" Dylan said with excitement, breaking Thomas out of the spell.

Thomas blinked, then absently said, "I have to get my stuff out of the back of the car.

Dylan looked at Thomas curiously, then glanced at Jordy.

"Oh, clothes and stuff. Right. Let's get it quick." Dylan said, then took hold of Thomas' hand and dragged him out of the car.

"Do you remember which stuff is yours?" Vincent asked as he looked at the large collection of bags.

"I put all mine on the right side and tied them shut." Thomas said as he was led around the back of the car.

"All of those are yours?" Dylan asked as he pointed at the pile.

"Yeah." Thomas said shyly, feeling like he had been too extravagant and bought too many things for himself.

There was a popping sound, like a sudden rush of displaced air, and the entire mound of shopping bags was gone.

"Where did they go?" Thomas asked with surprise.

"I put them in the house." Dylan said simply.?

"Is that all? Can we go now?" Dylan asked hopefully.

Thomas looked at Lehman and Vincent with question for a moment, then said, "Yeah. I guess that's all."?

"Come on." Dylan said as he took hold of Thomas' hand again, and nearly dragged him away.

"We'll catch up with you later." Vincent said with a smile at Thomas.

"Yeah." Thomas said helplessly as the young Mikyvis drew him away.

"I suppose we need to get the rest of these unpacked now." Matt said as he looked at the remainder of the bags in the back of the Hummer.

"Don't worry about it. Dylan had the right idea, we can just take the rest of it up to the ship and sort it out there." Vincent said frankly.

"Thanks for taking us to buy things. It was really great." Lehman said to Matt shyly.

"It was nice to see the three of you able to get the things you'll need." Matt said tenderly.

"Do you want to come with us Jordy?" Lehman asked hopefully.

Jordy thought for a moment, then said, "Sure. I've got my communicator if anyone needs me for anything."?

"We'll see you later Matt. Thanks again." Vincent said with a toothy grin.

"It was my pleasure." Matt said sincerely.

"Manu, will you transport the three of us and these bags of clothes up to my cabin?" Vincent asked into his bracelet.

"Certainly Vincent. Whenever you're ready." Manu said gently.

"Transport." Vincent said, then the three boys and their purchases disappeared in multiple fountains of multi-colored sparkles.

Matt stood for a moment staring at the empty car, then chuckled and shook his head as he closed the cargo area.

* * * * *

"Hey, look at this. We got mostly the same things." Vincent said as they all sorted through the clothes they had bought.

"Yeah. I guess what your people say is true. Great minds do think alike." Lehman said with a chuckle.

"Did we grab someone else's package by accident?" Jordy asked as he pulled what was obviously a woman's blouse out of one of the bags.

"No, I bought that for T'Lani." Vincent said with a chuckle.

"Oh, your wife. I should have thought of that." Jordy said as he hurried to put the blouse back into the bag.

"I just saw the outfit the sales lady was wearing and thought T'Lani would like something like that." Vincent said casually then held his hand out for the bag. "I want to hang it up before it gets too wrinkled."

Jordy nodded as Lehman said, "I'd like to get something for Benny and JonJon while I'm here. Just a little something to let them know how happy I am that they want to be my fathers."?

"We could do that when we get back." Jordy said simply.

"I need to call Dylan before we plan anything else. He's planning something and I don't know when it's going to happen and who needs to be there." Vincent said seriously.

"Dylan Chang?" Jordy asked slowly.

"Right. Would it be better if I called them Little Dylan and Big Dylan?" Vincent asked with a grin.

"I don't think Big Dylan would have a problem with that, but I don't think I have the stones to be calling any Mikyvis 'little' to his face." Jordy said with a chuckle.

"Yeah. I don't know all the stuff that they can do, but I've seen enough to know that I don't want to be upsetting them for no good reason." Vincent said with a smile.

"Are we done here?" Lehman asked as he looked through the collection of empty bags.

"Yeah. While you guys are getting your stuff put away, I can call Dylan and find out the details for tonight." Vincent said happily.

"We'll be done in a few minutes." Lehman said as he gathered up a few armloads of clothes.

"Well, if it's longer than that, I'll be on the bridge with Captain Rasch and Treep. So take all the time you need." Vincent said, then waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Lehman giggled and said, "Thanks, Vincent."

* * * * *

"I know it'd be faster to just pop us there, but then you might not believe that this is for real and I really really need for you to know that it is." Dylan said in a rush as he guided Thomas down the hallway.

"Will you do something for me?" Thomas asked Dylan quietly.

"What?" Dylan asked quickly, then blurted, "Anything!"

"Calm down a little." Thomas said, then pulled Dylan into a gentle hug.

Dylan closed his eyes and hugged Thomas fiercely.

"Is something wrong? Did something happen while I was gone?" Thomas asked with concern.

"Lots of things happened while you were gone, but none of them have anything to do with us." Dylan said frankly.

"Okay." Thomas said with a smile, then asked, "What did you want to show me?"

"It's in here." Dylan said as he kept one arm around Thomas and walked at his side.

Thomas walked with Dylan into what was obviously a bedroom and looked around. It was bright and spacious with an overall 'cheerful' feeling to it.

"How do you like it?" Dylan asked hopefully.

"It's nice. Bright... kind of happy." Thomas said slowly.

"Over here is the best part." Dylan said as he led Thomas to the huge terrarium built into one wall.

"Hey! That's nice." Thomas said as he leaned forward to look inside.

Something moving caught Thomas' attention and he smiled.

"Hey! I had a turtle just like this back home." Thomas said wistfully.

"Not just like it." Dylan said with excitement, "That's Fluffy!"

Thomas blinked and stared at the turtle a moment longer, then looked at Dylan disbelievingly.

"My brother, Bryce... you remember him, don't you?" Dylan asked curiously.

"Yeah." Thomas said, then glanced at Fluffy again.

"Well, when you left, Bryce said that he peeked in your mind a little bit and knew something that might make you feel better. So a bunch of us went to your universe and found Fluffy and brought him back here for you. Then we made a place where both of you can stay and be happy." Dylan said with accomplishment.

"A place for me?" Thomas asked cautiously.

"Yeah. This is your room! I put your new clothes in the closet over there. I didn't peek in them at all, so whenever you're ready you can show me the stuff you got." Dylan said joyfully.

"Sure." Thomas said absently, then looked Dylan in the eyes and hesitantly asked, "If you could get Fluffy, can you go back and get my mom and dad... and my brother?"?

Dylan's seemingly boundless energy dissipated in the wake of the question.

"I'm sorry, Thomas. We just barely had enough time to get Fluffy out before your dimension began to dissolve." Dylan said quietly.

"But why didn't you get my mom and dad to go with you while you were getting Fluffy?" Thomas asked as tears welled up in his eyes.

"It would take a long time to explain why, but the short answer is, we couldn't. Mikyvis can do lots of amazing things, but there's lots of other stuff that even we can't do. I couldn't get your Mom and Dad out of there. I couldn't go back and get you out before the radiation made you sick. Those things had to happen to make you the person that you are today."

"But if you could have?" Thomas asked hesitantly.

"Yes. If I could have saved them, I would have. I promise." Dylan said solemnly.

Thomas glanced back at the terrarium for a moment, then asked, "How can I get him out?"

"It's hinged. Just open the catch there and you can open the whole front." Dylan said as he pointed.

Thomas carefully opened the terrarium, then picked up the turtle and held it's shell against his cheek for a moment.

"I think he's happy to see you too." Dylan said with a tender smile, then thought to ask, "By the way, why did you name him Fluffy?"

Thomas chuckled, then held Fluffy in his left hand as he slowly stroked the shell with his right.

"A girl at my school got a pet rabbit for her birthday and brought it to school to show it off. As soon as I saw it, I wanted one too. It was just so cute and cuddly." Thomas said distantly.

"Well, I told my parents, and of course they tried to talk me out of it. Dad told me that if we did get a rabbit, it wouldn't be as a pet, it would be as livestock. We couldn't afford to feed and take care of something unless it contributed to the family." Thomas said with regret.

"I'd pretty much given up on the idea by the time my birthday came. But when I opened my presents, there was this cute tiny little turtle. When my parents asked me what I wanted to name him, I decided to name him what I was going to name my rabbit." Thomas finished with a grin.

"So even though you didn't get the pet that you wanted, you made the best of it?" Dylan asked curiously.

"Maybe at first, but I think Fluffy is a better pet than a rabbit ever could have been." Thomas said seriously.

"Really? How?" Dylan asked curiously.

"Fluffy's a really good listener. Sometimes he'll give me this look and I'll know that he understands what I'm saying and really cares." Thomas said, then noticed that Fluffy had poked his head out of his shell and was looking at him curiously.

"Of course, sometimes he'll give me this other look and... Well, when what you're saying is boring to a turtle, you should really shut up." Thomas said frankly.

Dylan chuckled as he watched Fluffy surveying his new surroundings.

"So this is really my room?" Thomas asked as he looked around again.

"Yep. All yours. Mine is right next door." Dylan said cheerfully.

"You made a room for me?" Thomas asked as he looked Dylan in the eyes.

"Yeah. Well, me and my brothers did. Dad and Pop told us to." Dylan finished shyly.

"Your parents want me to stay too?" Thomas asked with surprise.

"Yeah. It was their idea. I didn't even have to ask." Dylan said quickly, then asked in a whisper, "Will you stay?"?

"What do you say 'Big Guy'? Do you think you could stand living here?" Thomas asked Fluffy quietly.

Fluffy looked up at Thomas and tilted his head to one side.

"Okay. If you're sure." Thomas said with a smile, then leaned forward to put Fluffy back into the terrarium.

"Does that mean you're going to stay here?" Dylan asked hopefully.

"Yeah." Thomas said quietly.

Dylan gave a happy little squeak, and bounced a few times with joy.

Thomas grinned at the action.

"Thomas. There's something I'd like to do... I mean, if you'd let me." Dylan said as he started growing.

"What's that?" Thomas asked curiously.

"Can I kiss you?" Dylan asked, now appearing to be Thomas' own age.

"No." Thomas said as he looked Dylan in the eyes.

"Oh." Dylan said with disappointment.

"But if you'll be yourself, I'll kiss you." Thomas said gently.

Dylan quickly returned to his usual appearance.

"You never have to change for me. I like you just the way you are." Thomas said, then leaned down and gave Dylan a gentle, lingering kiss.

It wasn't anything more intimate than a touching of lips, but somehow it was just perfect.

To Be Continued...

Editor's notes: I am so glad that Dylan and Thomas are getting so close. How about that, together they can be Dylan Thomas.?I am sure it will take Thomas some time to get used to life in his new universe, but with Dylan's help, and the help of the rest of The Clan, I think he will fit in quite well. I am very glad he decided to stay, and I am sure that Vincent will be happy about that, too.

It's also very nice that Lehman and Jordy are bonding together.? I hope that somehow Jordy and Lehman can find a way to stay together.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
Universe founder's note: FINALLY!!! Someone figured out a way to get Dylan to stay in one place for more than 5/100ths of a second!!!!! Great job MM!