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As Vincent was eating his cake and ice cream, he noticed Dylan Chang approaching with an older teenage boy at his side.
"Hey Vincent, there's someone I want you to meet." Dylan said with a cheerful smile.
"Hey, how ya doin?" Vincent said to the brown haired boy then noticed the heavy dark circles under his eyes.
"Jury's still out on that one." The boy said in a weary voice.
"You remember the guy I went looking for this afternoon? We found him. This is Geoff. He just arrived here this morning." Dylan said quickly, then quietly added, "He's having some problems."
"Anything I can help with?" Vincent asked curiously.
"My mom died, so my dad took me to a psychiatrist to dope me up. Now he's decided that having a drugged up kid is too much trouble, so he dumped me at the front gate of this place on his way out of town." Geoff said bluntly, then in a challenging tone he asked, "Is it anything you can help with?"
"At least you're not bitter about it." Vincent muttered sarcastically.
Geoff seemed to be about to respond to that, but then flinched and suddenly twisted his head to the right.
At Vincent's puzzled gaze, Dylan explained, "Geoff is on something like a dozen different, way heavy duty, antidepressants and anti-psychotics and stuff like that. They caused him to have that tick. I told him that it takes time for it to wear off."
"It doesn't wear off." Geoff said with disgust as he glared at Dylan. "They switched my meds about a hundred times in the past three years to try and make it better, and it only ever got worse."
"It could still get better." Dylan said quietly, but appeared not to believe his own words.
Geoff flinched again, so violently that it nearly turned him sideways where he stood.
"Have you seen Doc Austin yet?" Vincent asked with concern, barely able to imagine what life must be like for Geoff.
"Yeah. And he called in this other doctor named Dan. They pretty much said the same thing that I've been hearing for the past three years. They'll keep trying stuff till something works." Geoff said as he rolled his eyes and made a jerking off motion with one hand.
"Vincent, if your Federation medical technology does not have a treatment for this condition, there is a possibility that Challen could help. Our medical science is very different from yours." Manu offered quietly.
"Who was that?" Geoff asked as he looked around for the source of the voice, then flinched and turned his head suddenly.
"That's Manu." Dylan said absently as he watched to see what Vincent was going to do.
After a moment to consider, Vincent said, "Geoff, there's a Soleen-Avalla ship in orbit. I don't know whether they can help you or not, but at least it's something you haven't tried already. They're from really far away and they have a lot different technology from ours. They might be able to do something for you."
Geoff considered for a moment, then hesitantly asked, "Does that mean that I could really go into space... on an alien ship?"
"Sure." Vincent said with a smile at the look of wonder on Geoff's face. "Give me a minute to tell the guys where I'm going and we can do it now."
"You don't need to do that, Vincent. If Manu will beam us aboard, I can stay with Geoff." Dylan said quickly.
Vincent looked at Dylan curiously and noticed the urging look in his eye. He really wanted to be the one to help Geoff.
"Yeah. Sure." Vincent said simply, then raised his wrist and asked, "Manu, will you transport Dylan and Geoff aboard, please?"
"On your command, Vincent." Manu responded immediately.
"Let me know how things turn out." Vincent said with a smile at Dylan and Geoff, then said into his bracelet, "Transport."
* * * * *
Once the teleportal beam had cleared, Vincent noticed that everyone seemed to be milling around and chatting, but somehow, the gathering wasn't really a party. Something was missing.
"This music is good. Who wants to dance?" Vincent asked the small group as he approached.
"No one else is dancing. I'd feel funny." Lehman said cautiously.
"Yeah, but if we all go out there, I bet lots of other people will join in." Vincent said in a challenging tone.
Lehman looked at Jordy and received a nod.
"Sounds like fun." Dylan R said with a hopeful smile up at Thomas.
"Shayd, Shadoe, Tan!" Vincent called as he motioned to them.
"What's up?" Tan asked curiously.
"This music is too good to just be standing around talking. Let's dance!" Vincent said cheerfully.
Tan looked around, then hesitantly said, "There's, like, ten or fifteen guys for every girl here."
"Yeah. So? We're going to be dancing, not making out. This is just for fun! Come on!" Vincent said as he took Tan by the hand to draw him into the center of the meeting.
Shayd and Shadoe shared a look, then nodded in unison at each other as they followed.
Dylan, and Thomas went next, closely followed by Lehman, Jordy and MichaelAngelo.
"Come on, Tan! You got a stick jammed up there or something? Move it like you mean it!" Vincent said with a chuckle as he began to dance to the rhythm.
It took a moment for Tan to get into Vincent's unique style of dancing, but soon he was dancing as he had never done before.
Vincent's prediction had been spot on. Before the first song had finished playing, over half the people in attendance had started dancing.
The party took on a life of it's own after that.
* * * * *
"Guys, I should probably be going home. It's getting late." MichaelAngelo said regretfully.
"You live on the West coast, Mike. It's not even nine o'clock out there." Vincent said frankly.
"Oh... yeah." MichaelAngelo said with surprise.
Vincent waved at the dance area to get Jordy and Lehman's attention.
When they finally left the crowd, Vincent asked, "Jordy, where can Mike go to make a call home?"
"We can call from Mr. T's classroom right over there." Jordy said as he pointed at the nearby building.
"Do you still want to have a sleepover, tonight, Mike? I know I kind of pushed you into it and it's okay if you don't want to. It's totally up to you." Vincent said seriously.
"Yeah. I think that would be really great. I just don't know if my mom will let me. I have to go to school tomorrow." MichaelAngelo finished hesitantly.
"Just ask her. If she says 'no', then we'll figure something else out." Vincent said simply.
When MichaelAngelo nodded his agreement, Jordy led the way toward the classroom.
* * * * *
"Hi mom." MichaelAngelo said shyly to the terminal screen.
"Are you boys having a good time?" Janet asked hopefully.
"Yeah. We are." MichaelAngelo said in a mumble, then quickly added, "Can I have some friends come over to spend the night?"
Janet broke into a big smile and said, "I think that would be wonderful! But could you do it this weekend instead? Remember, you've got school in the morning."
"Hi, I'm Vincent..." He said as he looked at her from over MichaelAngelo's shoulder.
"I remember you from last night. You were with Tan." Janet said quickly.
"Yeah. That's right." Vincent confirmed. "I promise that we won't keep Mike up too late, but I'm probably not going to be on Earth this weekend. This may be the only chance that all of us are going to have to spend time together for a while."
"Last night Tan was telling us about you arriving here on a spaceship... who you named Manu." She finished with a proud smile.
"Yes, Mrs. Curry." Manu said seriously from Vincent's bracelet. "And I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for my name. I like it very much."
Janet smiled warmly, then said, "You're welcome, Manu. I'm glad you like it."
"So, can we have a sleep-over? We won't be up too late and we'll probably be gone before you wake up in the morning." Vincent asked hopefully, then looked at her with wide, hopeful puppy dog eyes.
When Lehman noticed, he nudged Thomas to step forward and they both joined in the begging expression.
Janet started laughing, then said, "Fine! I suppose, since you're visitors from off-planet, that I can make an exception this once."
"Thanks mom." MichaelAngelo said with relief.
"It's going to be dark soon. When do you plan on coming home?" Janet asked curiously.
"I can teleport you now, if you like." Manu said quietly.
"I need to let Tan and the twins know that I'm leaving." MichaelAngelo said quickly.
"My brother Bryce will let them know." Dylan said as he looked up at Mike, then added, "And either Bryce or Jamie and Jacob will make sure that your brothers get home before it's too late."
"How do you know that?" MichaelAngelo asked curiously.
"He's a telepath-plus." Thomas said proudly as he put an arm around Dylan.
Dylan smiled up at Thomas, then looked at MichaelAngelo and nodded.
"Then I guess we can go, if you're ready." MichaelAngelo said uncertainly as he looked around.
"Do we need to get any pajamas or anything?" Lehman asked cautiously.
"I'm sure we'll be able to come up with enough for everyone." Janet said from the viewscreen.
"Okay. And we've got the Clan, Manu and the Mikyvis express to help us if we end up needing something else." Vincent said with a grin at Dylan.
After a moment to see if anyone had an objection, Vincent said, "Manu, we're ready to teleport."
* * * * *
Allen looked up from his book curiously at the sound of a quiet rapping on the side door.
"Who could that be at this time of night?" Billy asked absently as he looked up from the latest panel of images displayed on his laptop and seemed to be about to stand.
"Don't get up." Allen said as he stood. "I'll get it."
* * * * *
As Allen walked toward the door, there was another bout of knocking that was slightly louder.
Allen opened the door and froze at the sight.
"Unc... Mr. Thompson?" The teenage boy asked hesitantly as he brushed a long strand of dark hair away from his eyes.
There was a time when Allen might have been shocked at the sight before him, horrified even. But now, after everything that had happened in the past few months, it was pretty hard to shock him.? The skinny teenager was just standing there shivering in the late autumn chill, coming off the lake.
Allen reacted immediately. "Come in out of the cold. You look like you could use a good meal."
"Yes, sir. Th... thank you." The boy whispered and seemed to be fighting back tears.
As Allen ushered the boy into the house, he noticed that a tear was sliding down his cheek, leaving a trail on the boy's dirty skin.
"What's your name?" Allen asked gently.
The boy looked up at him and seemed to be about to answer, then caught himself.
"I have too many kids to be able to call you 'hey you'." Allen said in a gentle teasing voice.
"I'm Ace." The boy said hesitantly, and Allen could tell from the look in the boy's eyes that he was not accustomed to lying.
"It's nice to meet you, Ace. I'm Allen." He said compassionately. "I'm betting that you have quite a story to tell. But you look like you're chilled to the core, so how about I take you upstairs where you can take a nice hot shower while I make something for you to eat?"
Ace's lower lip began to quiver as he fought to keep from crying. All he could manage was a nod.
"Come on, let's go upstairs." Allen said as he gently guided Ace to walk with him toward the stairs.
Ace paused and looked around at the beautiful room filled with antique furniture.
"Come on. I bet you'll feel a lot better once you're warm."
* * * * *
As Ace felt the hot water finally beginning to ease the tension that he had felt for longer than he cared to remember, the sound of movement in the bathroom caused him to freeze in place and listen carefully.
"Don't worry, Ace, It's just me. I'm bringing you some warm clothes to wear." Allen called out, then added, "Come downstairs when you're done and I'll have a hot meal waiting for you."
Ace watched the blurry image through the frosted shower door and could see Allen walking on the other side of the room.
After a moment for the words to sink in, Ace responded, "Thank you. I will."
Ace watched as Allen placed something on the counter, then walked out of the room.
For the first time in what seemed like a very long time, Ace felt a smile on his face.
He was safe.
He was warm.
He was going to have food.
Life was good.
Although he wasn't sure of what was going to happen next, deep down he felt something awaken in him, a glimmer of hope that things might somehow work out.
* * * * *
"Who was at the door?" Billy asked, while keeping the majority of his attention on his laptop.
"A homeless boy." Allen said simply.
Billy looked up slowly and asked, "And?"
"He's upstairs showering right now." Allen said as he enjoyed the disbelieving expression on Billy's face.
"A homeless kid knocks on the door and you just invite him in to shower?" Billy asked slowly.
Allen chuckled and nodded.
"What am I missing here?" Billy asked cautiously.
"Actually, not much. That's exactly what happened." Allen said frankly. "He looks to be about fourteen years old. He said that his name is Ace, but I'm pretty sure he was lying. He looked like he was chilled to the core and I'd be willing to bet that he can't remember his last full meal."
"Shouldn't we call Teri or the Clan?" Billy asked cautiously.
"No. Not yet. I'm going to go in and heat up some of the food that Juana sent over. I'll talk with him while he's eating and try to get a sense of what type of help he needs." Allen said thoughtfully.
"Would you like me to help you with that?" Billy asked with concern.
"No. I don't want to overwhelm him with too many people, right at first. Once he's eaten, I'll bring him in here so we can talk to him together." Allen said gently.
"Kiss?" Billy asked hopefully.
Allen's answer was to lean in and give Billy a firm kiss that conveyed at least some small measure of his love and devotion.
After the kiss broke, Allen quietly said, "I'd better go heat up his food."
"Let me know if there's anything I can do to help."
* * * * *
Allen was pouring a glass of milk when he noticed the boy walking into the kitchen and immediately said, "You look like you're feeling better."
"Yes, sir. I am." Ace said quietly with his eyes cast down. Ace was wearing the sweats that Allen had left for him and he looked to be much warmer and more comfortable.
"Why don't you go ahead and have a seat. The food's just about ready." Allen said gently as he gestured toward the kitchen table.
Ace took his seat, then looked around the room curiously.
Allen walking toward him drew his attention, then he froze in shock when he saw the plate of food that was placed before him.
The plate was filled almost to overflowing with enchiladas, refried beans and some rolled up tortillas that were obviously home made.
Allen watched with concern as the boy's lower lip began to quiver again. Tears began falling down Ace's cheeks, then the boy seemed to crumble.
Without thought, Allen scooped the boy into his arms and held him tight.
"It's okay, Ace. You're safe here. We'll make sure that you're going to be fine." Allen whispered. He was sure that Ace wasn't hearing his words, but hoped that the tone of his voice and the warm hug he was giving him would soothe and reassure him.
* * * * *
Finally, Ace's sobs subsided and he whispered, "I'm sorry."
"There's nothing to be sorry about." Allen said gently. "Now, why don't you have something to eat? You look like you could use it."
"Yes. Thank you, sir." Ace said shyly.
"Please call me Allen."
Ace glanced at him uncertainly and seemed to want to say something, but was obviously holding it back.
"You can call me Uncle Allen, if that would be more comfortable for you." Allen offered gently.
Ace's expression was luminous as he answered, "Yes! I'd really like that. Thank you, Uncle Allen."
The reaction seemed disproportionate to Allen, but he set that aside and whispered, "Your food is getting cold."
"Yeah." Ace said happily, then started to eat his food.
Ace took a large bite of the enchiladas, then rolled his eyes in ecstasy at the taste as he moaned his pleasure.
"I guess I don't need to ask if you like that." Allen chuckled.
"This is the best food ever." Ace said emphatically, then looked Allen in the eyes as he sincerely said, "Thank you, Uncle Allen."
"Go ahead and eat your fill. There's plenty more if you're still hungry after that." Allen said happily as he stood.
Ace nodded his response, since his mouth was too full to answer.
* * * * *
"How's he doing?" Billy asked as he looked up from his laptop.
"He's eating, right now... God, Billy. It just rips my heart out when I see a sweet kid like that who has no one to care for him." Allen said as he settled on the couch at Billy's side.
Allen looked at Billy with surprise at the inappropriate response.
"He's got someone who cares for him, now, love. I can tell by the look in your eyes that you'd do just about anything for that boy." Billy said frankly. "Face it, he's in your heart."
"In less than an hour, he's as much in my heart as any of my boys." Allen admitted shyly. "Do you think I'm ready to do this again?"
"Don't even waste time worrying about it. Your heart has already made this decision. All that's left is to work out the details." Billy said honestly.
"I love you, Billy." Allen said as he leaned in to give him a kiss.
The kiss was brief, but sweet.
"He's probably finished with his food." Allen said regretfully as he stood.
"Remember, that it's already decided and that I'm right here to back you up all the way." Billy said as he looked deeply into Allen's eyes.
"Thanks, Billy. I love you."
* * * * *
As Ace was finishing his plate of food, he noticed Allen walking back into the kitchen.
"Are you full?" Allen asked quietly.
"That food was so good that I wish I could eat more, but I feel like I'm gonna bust." Ace said honestly.
Allen chuckled, then said, "I tell you what. Why don't you let that settle for a while, then if you're hungry again later, you can have some more."
"Yeah. Okay." Ace said as he stood and looked Allen in the eyes. He seemed to want to say something more but was holding it back.
Allen held Ace's gaze and waited, knowing from experience with his own boys that if he waited long enough, Ace would eventually give voice to whatever was bothering him.
"Can I..." Ace began to say, then seemed to think better of it.
"What is it, Ace? You can ask me anything." Allen said gently.
"Can I hug you?" Ace asked timidly.
Allen chuckled, then said, "You sure are in the right house."
At Ace's look of confusion, Allen said, "Of course you can hug me; As often as you like and for as long as you want."
Having received permission, Ace pulled Allen into his arms and gave him a bone crushing, desperate hug.
"It's okay, Ace. You're safe here." Allen whispered as he gently stroked Ace's back.
After a moment, Allen realized that Ace was crying into his shoulder.
"Come into the study with me where we can sit comfortably. I think we need to talk about some things." Allen said quietly.
Allen smiled as he felt Ace nod into his shoulder.
"Come on." Allen said as he coaxed Ace to walk with him down the hallway past the staircase.
* * * * *
Allen kept an arm around Ace's shoulders as they walked into the study.
"So, Allen, who's your new friend?" Billy asked, just to give Allen a chance to properly introduce them.
"Billy!" Ace said happily, then ran across the room.
Fortunately, Billy was able to get his laptop out of the way just in time to make way for the teenager who was barreling toward him.
Allen and Billy exchanged a surprised look as Ace tried to hug the stuffing out of Billy.
"This is Ace." Allen said hesitantly.
"It's nice..." Billy began to say, but was stopped with a kiss.
Allen's eyes went wide at the action, but then he relaxed a little when he recognized that the kiss wasn't one of passion, but one of pure and innocent love.
"I'm guessing that you two know each other." Allen said hesitantly.
"No. I'm pretty sure I would remember a greeting like that." Billy said slowly.
Ace seemed to finally realize what he was doing and pulled away from Billy suddenly.
"Oh, I'm sorry." Ace said as he stood and backed away.
"It's fine, Ace." Allen said as he moved to Ace and put an arm around him. "Why don't you sit down with us so we can talk about some things?"
Ace searched Allen's face with concern for a moment, then seemed to be relieved by what he saw and nodded.
Billy moved his laptop to the end table, then patted the seat beside him. "I get the feeling that you wouldn't mind sitting next to me."
Ace looked at Allen with question and received a nod that it was okay.
With a little hesitation, Ace sat down on the couch next to Billy. A moment later, Allen sat down beside Ace, sandwiching him between them.
"From your reactions so far, I get the feeling that you're not going to answer all our questions." Allen said in prelude.
Ace looked at him nervously and nodded.
"So, why don't you tell us as much as you want to share about yourself, then we can ask about what else we need to know." Allen said as he looked into Ace's eyes, conveying his sincerity.
Ace glanced at Billy and saw that he seemed to agree with Allen. He took a deep breath to brace himself for what he needed to do, then slowly began to speak.
"I can't tell you everything because... well, first of all, you'd probably think I was nuts if I did." Ace said frankly.
"I don't know about that. I have some nephews who have evolved into a new species. And just last night I had dinner guests from another dimension. I think you'd have to go a long way to find something that I wouldn't believe." Allen said honestly.
"Another dimension?" Ace asked with surprise.
Allen nodded, then asked, "Does your situation have something to do with traveling across dimensions?"
Ace slowly nodded as he looked at Allen warily.
"You can tell us. And if you want, we'll promise not to tell anyone else." Billy said as he put an arm around Ace's shoulders.
"Thank you, Uncle Billy." Ace said as he cuddled into Billy's side.
Allen watched the scene for a moment, then asked, "What happened to you, Ace?"
"My da wouldn't tell me everything. He said that I had to be really careful not to pollute the timeline." Ace said quietly.
Billy and Allen exchanged concerned looks at Ace's words.
"What I know is that something really bad was about to happen. Da and Ma knew about it, but they couldn't tell anyone else." Ace said distantly as tears began to fall down his cheeks.
Billy hugged Ace a little bit tighter as Allen picked up a box of tissues from the end table and relocated it to Ace's lap.
"Thanks." Ace whispered gratefully to Allen, then wiped his eyes.
"So what happened next?" Billy asked gently.
"Da used to be kind of a... diplomat, I guess. He was mostly retired from that, but he still knew a lot of people and had, like, diplomatic privileges and stuff. Somehow he was able to sneak me onto a ship without anyone knowing." Ace said carefully.
"Why did he need to smuggle you away from Earth?" Allen asked gently.
Ace looked at him nervously, then whispered, "There were only a few people who knew about the big secret and everyone who knew was being watched... I guess to keep them from doing what my da did."
"Okay. So what happened next?" Billy prompted gently.
"There was this guy, he was a part of our family. But I don't think I ever met him before. Anyway, he was waiting when my ship arrived. He was... let's just say that this guy was a living legend. Everyone knew who he was... Everyone! I never, ever thought that I'd even get to meet him, and there he was, waiting just for me." Ace said in a voice of wonder.
Allen nodded that he understood the enormity of what Ace felt.
"He had a ship of his very own and we had to travel for weeks to get... um, where we were going. We spent the time talking and he was... he was every bit as incredible as his legend said he was. I don't think I'll ever meet another person as good as him."
Billy smiled at the words, recognizing the hero worship for what it was and was happy that Ace had been able to meet the man he admired so much.
"I promised him that I'd never talk about where we went or what happened next. He made me swear to never tell anyone." Ace said timidly.
"We understand that there are things you can't talk about." Billy said assuringly, "Just tell us what you can."
Some of Ace's tension seemed to be relieved by Billy's words and he relaxed a little bit more into Billy's side.
"I guess the next thing I can really talk about is being here. I kind of just... appeared, in Idaho. God, it's really cold there." Ace muttered distantly, then said, "That was about a month ago. I've been working my way here, ever since."
"Here, to this house?" Allen asked quietly.
Ace seemed hesitant to answer, but finally reluctantly nodded.
"I'm guessing, from your reaction to us, that you know our counterparts in your home dimension." Billy said speculatively.
"Yeah. You're my Uncle Billy and my Uncle Allen." Ace said timidly.
"Why didn't you call us? You wouldn't have had to explain anything. All you would have had to have said is that you needed help and someone would have come and got you." Allen said frankly.
"Da told me not to talk to anyone in the family before last Saturday. It's some kind of a big timeline thing that he didn't tell me about. But now that it's past Saturday, I'm allowed to talk to you and Uncle Billy. I thought about calling you on Sunday, but I made it so far on my own and was so close... I don't know why, but I guess I just wanted to finish what I started." Ace said shyly.
"Just me and Allen?" Billy asked cautiously.
"Well, my Da told me that I could be around other people if I really needed to, but you and Uncle Allen would be best for me to talk to first." Ace said shyly, then added, "He said that I should try to keep my head down for a week or so to let things settle into place. It'd also be a good idea for me to take the time to get used to this new place and learn about how things are different from what I'm used to."
"So, let me see if I've got this straight. You're from a parallel dimension in our future, is that right?" Billy asked cautiously.
"And your parents smuggled you away from Earth and made arrangements for you to be sent here to protect you from something bad that was about to happen."
Ace nodded again.
"And for some reason, that you were never told, you had to wait until last Saturday to make contact with us." Billy asked slowly.
"Yeah. That's about it." Ace said quietly.
"I have no problem with that." Billy said honestly, then looked to Allen and asked, "How about you?"
"I'm good." Allen said with a smile.
"I was afraid that you'd think I was crazy and stick me in the nut house." Ace chuckled.
"No, Ace. It really isn't that out of the ordinary around here." Allen said with a smile.
"I've done everything that my Da told me to do... I'm kinda scared because I don't know what to do next." Ace said honestly.
"I guess what happens next depends on what you want to do." Allen said frankly.
"What I *want* to do is be with my Da and my Ma and all the rest of my family. But my Da is just a little kid here, and I don't think my Ma is even born yet." Ace said quietly.
"I'm sorry about that, Ace, but maybe it won't be so bad for you here with us. I mean, you said that Billy and I were your uncles. We can still be that for you." Allen said gently.
"I always loved visiting with you. Sometimes when Da and Ma would have to leave Earth for their work, they'd let me stay with you for two or three weeks. I always loved that." Ace said with a distant smile.
Billy looked at Allen imploringly and received a nod in response.
"Ace, how would you like to stay here with us and be our son?" Billy asked gently.
"Really?" Ace asked with surprise, then backpedaled and said, "You don't have to. I mean, that's not why I came to you. I was just hoping you'd give me a safe place to stay for a while."
"I know we don't *have* to. But honestly, it just feels right. From your point of view, you're already a part of our family. Knowing that, there's no way that I could stand it if you were sent away to live with someone else." Billy said gently.
"He's right. I know in my heart that you belong here with us. We both want you to be here." Allen said frankly.
"I want to be here, too." Ace said quietly as tears began to well in his eyes.
"If we're going to do this, we're going to need to know a few details." Allen said, wanting to redirect the conversation to something a bit less emotionally charged.
Ace took another tissue and wiped his eyes, then looked at Allen, signaling that he was ready.
"What's your name?" Allen asked gently.
"I can change it if it's going to be a problem... I mean, it might be hard to explain and Da warned me about telling stuff that will pollute the timeline." Ace rambled nervously.
"I can understand that, but I doubt that we'll be able to list you as just 'Ace' in the official records. You're going to need a name." Allen said frankly.
"My real name is Allen Vasquez." Ace said quietly.
Billy seemed to be about to ask a question, but Allen cut him off. "And I think that's as much as we need to know on that subject."
After a moment, Billy nodded his agreement.
"Would you be terribly offended if we made Vasquez your middle name and gave you the last name 'Thompson'?" Allen asked hesitantly.
Before Ace could answer, Billy asked, "Or 'Pierce'?"
Allen looked at him curiously.
"I just think 'Pierce' would be less confusing in the long term." Billy said honestly.
Allen nodded, then turned to Ace and asked, "What would you think of being named 'Allen Vasquez Pierce'?"
"You really mean it? You'd adopt me?" Ace asked Billy happily.
"Of course I will." Billy said as he hugged Ace to his side. "Besides, I can't let Allen have all the fun."
"It's not like you've been left out. You've already got Deacon and Lawrence." Allen said frankly.
"But they're living here with me. I'm not their 'Dad', I'm their brother." Billy said with a little pain in his voice. "I think, that if Ace was willing to accept me that way, I'd really like to be his father."
Ace thought about it for a moment, then said, "My Da was the best father that anyone could ever ask for."
Billy slowly nodded.
"He never had a father. But he told me that he had the best uncles that ever lived and that they showed him how to be a man and a father." Ace said as he looked from Allen to Billy. "If you're really sure that you want me, I'd like to be your kid."
"We'll make some calls tomorrow to find out what needs to be done to make it all legal, but let's just consider it settled for now." Billy said gently.
"So, does that mean that I'm going to live with you?" Ace asked Billy hesitantly.
"Yes, of course you're going to live here.? Right now, I have a few house guests, so you may have to bunk in with someone else, or sleep on the couch, but as soon as they're on their way you'll have your own room." Billy said happily.
Ace was grinning from ear to ear as he said, "I think I'm going to like it here."
"I hope so, Ace. I really do." Billy said sincerely as tears of happiness welled in his eyes.
"Where did the name Ace come from, anyway?" Allen asked gently.
"That's what you... the other you, used to call me." Ace said as he cuddled into Billy's side.
"I did?" Allen asked with surprise.
"Yeah. Just like you always called Uncle Jake 'Sport'." Ace said happily, then looked around and asked, "Where is Uncle Jake?"
"Across the street at my house. Most nights, I'd probably be over there, too, but Billy and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to spend a little quality time together." Allen said frankly.
"Am I interrupting something? I'm really sorry! Just tell me where I can go so you two can be alone." Ace said as he started to stand.
Billy pulled Ace back onto the couch and said, "Ace, we're not a couple of horny teenagers who need to be making out every minute that we're alone together. We were spending a quiet night together enjoying each other's company. You're not interrupting anything at all by being here."
Ace looked at him anxiously, then turned to look at Allen with question.
"It's true. When you knocked on the door, all we were doing is sitting together on the couch. I was reading a book and Billy was looking through some pictures on his laptop." Allen said frankly.
"Back when I was little, you two were always happy to see me. You acted like I was so special and so important... I was too young to know back then just how lucky I was." Ace said distantly.
"Well, you *are* special, and you *are* important, so you'd better get used to feeling that way again." Allen said with a grin.
"Thanks, Uncle Allen. I was really scared that when I came here that you wouldn't be like the Uncle Allen that I remembered." Ace said shyly.
"Just be sure to let us know if there's anything that you need, to be happy here." Billy said gently.
"I don't know what it's going to be like when I see Gran... Mamacita." Ace corrected quickly.
"It may be a little difficult at first, but I'll just explain to her that she reminds you of your grandmother. I'm sure that will be enough to cover for any accidental slips that might happen." Allen said gently.
"Ma says that I look kinda like my da. Do you think Gran will notice?" Ace asked nervously.
Allen took a moment to look at Ace carefully, then said, "I really don't think she will. If I were going to take a guess at your ethnicity, I'd guess that you're Greek from the coloration of your skin and hair."
"Yeah. I've been called everything from Native American to Hawaiian. Hardly anyone guesses that I'm half white and half Mexican." Ace said with a grin.
"Come here." Billy said as he stood.
Ace looked at him curiously, then stood and followed Billy across the room.
"Father and son." Billy said then pointed at the mirror.
Ace looked at himself in the mirror, then at Billy beside him.
"Well... I think you're too young to *really* be my father, but I guess since we have almost the same color hair and skin, someone might think that we're related." Ace said cautiously.
"As soon as we get the paperwork all filled out and filed, we *will* be related; legally related." Billy said simply.
"I suppose if you're getting Billy as a father, you'll also be getting Deacon and Lawrence as uncles." Allen added cheerfully.
"Lawrence is already my uncle." Ace said as he turned to look at Allen.
"He is?" Billy asked in surprise.
"Hold on." Allen said quickly. "Your father was probably right about not polluting the timeline. Us knowing what happened in your dimension in the future could cause us to try and alter events to bring about or prevent a certain outcome in this one. I think we'll need to bring Cory and Teri in on this to get their help in getting your identity established, but other than them, no one should know the whole truth."
"Do we really have to? I'm scared that I'm going to say the wrong thing to the wrong person and mess everything up." Ace said nervously.
"Your dad said that you should keep quiet and stay low for a week to let things settle, and so you can acclimate, right?" Billy asked thoughtfully.
Ace nodded slowly.
"So let's assume that he knew what he was talking about, and do just that." Billy said gently, "We'll ask Deacon and Lawrence to keep quiet about you for the next week and from as little as I've seen of the triplets, they might not even notice that you're here."
"Triplets?" Ace asked with confusion.
"I'll explain it to you when they turn up." Billy said with a grin, then added, "They might even be quadruplets by then."
"I won't know what to say when I meet them. I mean, what should I tell people?" Ace asked cautiously.
Allen thought for a moment, then said, "I think it's going to be up to you to use your best judgment about that. I'm not going to encourage you to concoct an elaborate lie just to make things easier in the short term. I really think the best thing is going to be to do what you did with us. Share what you're comfortable sharing and explain that you can't talk about certain things."
"Yeah." Ace said quietly.
"Don't worry, Ace. It's going to be GREAT!" Billy said as he pulled the boy into a hug.
"Yeah. I think so, too." Ace said shyly.
"It's getting late. Do you want a snack before you go to bed?" Allen asked gently.
"Do you have any of Gran's empanadas?" Ace asked hopefully.
"I'm not sure. When we told her that we wanted to have a quiet night alone, she sent over enough food for an army." Allen said with a grin. "It wouldn't surprise me if there were some empanadas in there somewhere."
"Do you want to have some empanadas with me, Dad?" Ace asked Billy gently.
Billy hugged him a little tighter and responded, "Sure, Son."
* * * * *
Within minutes of arriving at MichaelAngelo's house, Vincent was overwhelmed by Livvy and Jess vying for his attention.
The two little girls rattled on incessantly and the moment his attention drifted elsewhere, they immediately said or did something to draw it back to them.
"Where's MichaelAngelo?" Lehman asked as he looked around.
"He went to his bedroom." Dylan said as he tried to fend off Livvy's grasping hand pulling him closer to listen to her story about a white pony named Snowflake.
"Anyone want to take a guess about what's bothering him?" Jordy asked loudly, speaking over Jess's insistent chatter.
Before anyone could answer, Tan, Shayd, Shadoe and Bryce appeared in the room.
All of them were laughing and trying to talk over each other about what a good time they had.
"Dylan, could you please do a time freeze for me?" Thomas asked hopefully.
Between one moment and the next, silence fell over the room.
"Thank you." Thomas whispered with relief.
"Anything for you." Dylan said with a loving smile.
Vincent looked at all the siblings frozen in the room around them, then asked, "So does anyone have any ideas how to fix this?"
"Maybe we could have the sleepover someplace else so MichaelAngelo doesn't have to compete for our attention." Thomas suggested carefully.
Vincent shook his head and said, "That might be nice for tonight, but tomorrow Mike would be right back where he started."
"I guess the first step is to really define the problem. I mean, it seems pretty obvious, but I think it would be good to put it into words." Jordy said frankly.
"If you guys don't need me, I'd like to get back to the Camp." Bryce interjected.
"We've got this. Thanks for bringing the guys home." Dylan said as he walked over to hug his brother.
"Yeah. Thanks, Bryce." Thomas said with a smile at his boyfriend's brother.
"Just yell if there's anything I can do to help." Bryce said, then vanished.
"I think I've got it. I can sum up the problem in three words." Jordy said seriously.
Everyone looked at Jordy expectantly.
"Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!" Jordy said with a smile.
Dylan, Thomas, and Lehman looked at Jordy with confusion.
Jordy ducked his head and muttered, "Never mind."
When Vincent was finally able to get his chuckles under control, he said, "So, what does everyone think?"
After a moment, Lehman said, "I'd probably be depressed too if my family was like this."
"Yeah. MichaelAngelo is a middle kid. It looks like the older kids probably get more freedoms and privileges and the younger ones seem to suck up all the attention." Jordy said frankly.
"And MichaelAngelo is stuck in between, not being young enough for his parents to be too worried about him or old enough to go out and do much on his own. He can't compete. That's probably why he feels like he's nothing." Thomas said speculatively.
"So how do we fix it?" Vincent asked as he looked around the group.
"I think Thomas and I should talk to Livvy and Jess, you know, let them know what a good brother they have so maybe instead of trying to draw all the attention away from him, they might *give* him some attention." Dylan said thoughtfully.
"Yeah, and Jordy and I could talk to the older guys to let them know that MichaelAngelo is having a problem. They're good guys and I bet that if they knew what was going on, they'd want to help." Lehman said seriously.
"That leaves me to talk to Mike." Vincent said simply.
"It sounds like we've got a plan. Are you ready for me to undo the time freeze?" Dylan asked as he looked around.
"Can we have just a few more seconds of silence. This is so nice." Thomas asked hopefully.
Dylan smiled and said, "Anything for you."
* * * * *
"Can I come in?" Vincent asked from the bedroom doorway.
MichaelAngelo looked up from where he was sitting on the edge of his bed and shrugged, signalling that he didn't care.
"Mike, you know all that stuff I was telling you about depression before?" Vincent asked gently.
MichaelAngelo nodded slightly.
"Forget about it. I was wrong." Vincent said seriously.
MichaelAngelo looked at him with surprise.
"I judged you before I got to know you... and your family." Vincent said quietly. "But now that I've met your brothers and sisters, I'm pretty sure that your problem isn't something that's wrong with you. It's something wrong with them."
"So you don't think I need to see a counselor?" MichaelAngelo asked cautiously.
"Actually, I think your whole family needs to see one. From what I've heard from Tan and Rad, I think everyone in your family has some issues that they need to deal with and, because of that, it's causing all kinds of stresses on all of you." Vincent said slowly.
"So you don't think I'm nuts?" MichaelAngelo asked, to be sure.
Vincent chuckled and said, "No, Mike. I think you're probably the least nuts person in your family. Any sane person living in this madhouse would probably be depressed."
"Oh. Um, thanks... I think," MichaelAngelo said with a smile.
"The guys are out there, talking with your brothers and sisters. It's not going to fix everything, but maybe it'll make things a little bit better for now." Vincent said seriously.
"I'm going to talk to some people when I get back to Orlando, you know, adults. I'll tell them what's going on and see if they can talk to your mom and Brad about getting your family some help." Vincent said quietly. "I really doubt that your parents would listen to me."
"How do you know so much about this stuff?" MichaelAngelo asked curiously.
"Because I've been seeing a counselor for a while. We've talked a lot about what was wrong with my family and what could have been done to make things turn out better. Tony made me see that when you're in a family, you're not just yourself, but you're part of something bigger that you don't have control over, especially when you're a kid. When something starts going wrong with the family, it feels like it's you that's causing the problem and that you should be able to fix it." Vincent said gently.
MichaelAngelo slowly nodded.
"It's going to get better, Mike. I promise." Vincent said sincerely.
Before MichaelAngelo could respond, Livvy and Jess came running into the room. They both ran to MichaelAngelo and hugged him tightly.
Vincent smiled as he slowly stood.
"Guys, give Mike some room to breathe." Tan said as he walked into the room, slowly followed by his brothers.
Vincent discretely made his way out of the room and found the others waiting for him in the living room.
* * * * *
"How'd it go?" Vincent asked as he approached.
"I think we got it through to the girls that MichaelAngelo has been feeling a little left out." Thomas said seriously.
"Yeah, I think Tan and the twins understand it too." Lehman said quietly.
"Who's ready for some pizza?" Janet asked as she walked into the living room carrying a stack of pizza boxes.
Tan was the first one out of the bedroom, but was soon followed by the rest of his siblings.
"Mike gets to pick first!" Livvy called out.
Vincent smiled at Thomas and Dylan, appreciating that they had done a good job in their talk with the girls.
Everyone stood back and allowed MichaelAngelo to have first choice of the pizza.
"I have drinks." Brad said as he walked into the room with a tray loaded with plastic cups of soda.
"I'll get one for you, Mike." Livvy said as she raced away.
MichaelAngelo looked around uncertainly for a moment, then put two slices of pepperoni pizza on a paper plate.
"It's going to be okay, Mike." Vincent said quietly, as he drew MichaelAngelo off to the side, "I'm sure they won't treat you like you're the center of attention for very long, but hopefully they'll be more likely to include you in things from now on."
After a moment, MichaelAngelo gave a small smile and mumbled, "Thanks."
"Like I said before, this isn't going to fix everything, but maybe things will be a little bit better for you for a while. That'll give me time to talk to some people and try to arrange some things." Vincent said seriously.
"I heard about what you did for Tan, you know, over where he's living now." MichaelAngelo said quietly.
"He told you about that?" Vincent asked with a smile.
"Well, he told me some stuff. I don't think it's all of it. But he said that you figured out what was wrong and helped make it right." MichaelAngelo said quietly.
Vincent considered for a moment, then said, "Sometimes it just helps to have someone who's outside of everything that's going on to spot what needs fixed."
"Yeah. I can see that." MichaelAngelo said timidly.
Vincent glanced around and could see that everyone was watching them, but keeping a respectful distance so they could talk.
"I'd better not hog all your time. It looks like there's lots of people who want to talk to you." Vincent said with a grin.
MichaelAngelo shyly looked around the gathering, then smiled at Vincent.
* * * * *
"Are you boys having a good time?" Brad asked as he walked into the living room.
Vincent looked around the living room with an appraising eye, noticing that MichaelAngelo was the center of attention, then smiled as he said, "Yeah. I think we are."
Well, it looks as if MichaelAngelo is starting to get some respect and even a bit of attention, instead of being left out of everything. That is a good sign.
I wonder what is going to happen to Ace.? He seems like a really nice kid. He must have had a really cool set of parents, to have them do what they could to save him from whatever was going to happen that was so bad.? I think I know what was going to happen, and what they did was really special and I am glad they were able to pull it off.
They must have known that Billy and Allen would be there for him and take good care of him.
Geoff seems to have had a bit of good luck as well, since Manu took an interest in him.?
I can hardly wait to find out what will happen next.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher