"Father, I have completed my task." Jimmy said in a tired voice.
"Good Jimmy... Everyone stop. I think we're done. Hank, put on your sweats and let's go inside, it's getting dark." Andrew said tiredly.
"And cold. Thanks love, I'm about done in." Alan said and dropped his brush on the dock where he stood. The children followed his example and five thunks of dropping brushes were heard.
"We missed dinner at the mansion, let's see if there is anything to eat in the kitchen here." Alan said as he put an arm around Andrew.
"I should probably go..." Hank began shyly.
"Come on Hank, we wouldn't have shampooed you and brushed you if we didn't want to have you around. Come in and have dinner with us." Andrew said in an exasperated voice.
Hank shut up and followed obediently.
* * * * *
As they walked into the house, everyone was immediately aware of the aroma of cooking food.
"About time you guys finished. Jean suggested that we make you a good meal for your first night back." Dawn said from the kitchen doorway.
"Tell her thanks. I'm starving." Alan said as he led Andrew to the couch.
"It'll be ready in just a few minutes." Dawn said and retreated back into the kitchen.
"Father, should we continue to assemble the alcoves?" Icheb asked hesitantly.
"If you want to. If you'd rather relax after that workout that would be fine too." Andrew said as he cradled his head against Alan's chest.
"I would like to continue the assembly." Icheb said honestly.
"Before you do that, could I talk to you for a minute Icheb?" Alan asked and gently shifted Andrew against the arm of the couch.
Alan walked toward the bedroom, and Icheb followed a moment later.
* * * * *
"Who has the most knowledge of the assembly and maintenance of the alcoves, you or Trey?" Alan asked as he closed the door.
"Trey is most knowledgeable." Icheb said frankly.
"Then you should consider putting him in charge of their assembly." Alan said carefully.
"I will do so right away." Icheb said and made a move to leave the room.
"Wait, I wasn't telling you to put him in charge, I was asking you to consider the possibility. You said he has the necessary knowledge and skills to assemble the alcoves, but being in charge takes more than technical expertise. Does Trey know how to organize a group of people to accomplish a goal? Does he know how to explain his expectations to those who are working for him? Is he able to let someone else do work that he might be able to do more quickly or efficiently himself?" Alan asked in an even tone.
"I... I do not know. He has not been in charge of others before." Icheb said with a lost tone.
"Then the best way to find out is to give him the opportunity to be in charge, and to give him advice on how he might lead the group most effectively. Watch what he does and offer suggestions of how he might do things differently to achieve a better result." Alan said in a considering tone.
"Why?" Icheb asked without emotion.
"What did you feel when you were put in charge of the children?" Alan asked in return.
"I was gratified that others trusted me with that responsibility." Icheb said honestly.
"And don't you think Trey might enjoy that same feeling, knowing that he is respected and trusted, not only by us, but by you, his older brother?" Alan asked carefully.
"Yes, I believe he would feel respected and trusted." Icheb said in realization.
"That's why." Alan said with a smile.
"I hope that one day I will be as good a father as you." Icheb said and pulled Alan into a hug.
"Thank you Icheb." Alan said quietly while thinking, [And those are some of the most precious words I have ever heard spoken.]
* * * * *
Alan walked back into the living room as Icheb walked into the basement.
"Everything alright love?" Andrew asked sleepily.
"Just fine, I just had a thought and had to discuss it with Icheb. So what is the topic of conversation out here?" Alan asked as he took his seat beside Andrew and pulled him close.
"Hank was just saying how sorry he was again." Andrew said tiredly.
"Hank, get over it. You're sorry, we get it. Now fill us in on what we've missed in the last three months." Alan said as he petted Andrew's hair gently.
"Three months? You've only been gone a week." Hank said with surprise.
"I guess with time travel that could happen." Alan said, then noticed Andrew falling asleep.
"Love, do you want to go in and lay down?" Alan asked quietly.
"Dinner first, I haven't eaten in four-hundred years." Andrew said in a dreamy tone.
Alan chuckled as the others looked on in question.
"We were in an alternate dimension, four-hundred years in the future, half-way across the galaxy." Alan said then placed a small gentle kiss on Andrew's forehead.
"How were you able to manage that?" Scott asked with interest.
"We never did figure that part out. Apparently there was a wormhole or vortex or something focused between our world and the ship we arrived on, at the moment that Andrew was trying to find me help. He jumped us through and saved my life... again." Alan said with love and admiration.
"Ship?" Alex asked carefully.
"Yeah, a starship, just like in Star Wars... but cleaner... like the newer Star Wars, I guess." Alan said as Andrew pulled himself back to upright.
"And we met people of different species, that was the coolest part." Andrew said with a big smile.
"Tell me." Alex said as he sat foreword in his chair.
"We met a Klingon, a Bolian, a couple Vulcans..." Andrew said, straining his memory.
"Don't forget Geron and Neelix." Alan said quietly.
"A Bajoran and a Telaxian." Andrew finished in triumph.
"What race are the children?" Hank asked, having noticed the non-human features of some of the children.
"We don't know. But they're humanoid, so that's close enough for us. The Doctor explained something in twenty-two syllable words that meant if they mated with a human they could produce viable offspring. That was my only concern." Andrew said honestly.
"I've been wanting to ask since you got back, how did you get rid of your glasses?" Scott asked curiously.
"The food's ready, come and get it." Dawn called from the kitchen.
"I'll tell you in a minute. I'm starved." Alan said and bolted up from the couch, closely followed by Andrew.
* * * * *
Alan began putting the food on his plate in the kitchen when he noticed a pitcher of tea sitting on the counter. He took a deep smell of the tea and had an idea.
He walked to the basement doorway and called, "Would any of you kids like some iced chamomile tea?"
"Yes, thank you Dad." Icheb called from below.
"Anyone else?" Alan called to be sure.
He could hear hushed whispering and decided to wait a moment longer.
"I would like some too, thank you for asking Dad." Jimmy called.
"I'll bring it down in just a minute." Alan called and went back to the kitchen.
He carefully poured two glasses just over an eighth of a glass full of tea and diluted them with water the rest of the way. He noticed that Andrew was looking at him strangely and said, "For Icheb and Jimmy."
Andrew nodded in comprehension and took his filled plate to the dining room.
"Here you go guys." Alan said as he walked down the stairs.
Alan looked around the basement and said in an impressed tone, "You guys have really made some progress, one done and the second looks to be... three-fourths done?"
"Correct. Trey is very good at letting us know what to do next. We should be able to complete the remaining alcoves within this room in less than one hour." Icheb said with pride for his brother.
"Excellent work Trey. If there is anything Andrew or I can do to help, we'll be upstairs." Alan said and moved back to the stairs.
"Would you ask Father to port the piles of components to the proper rooms? It will save us approximately fifteen minutes." Trey said without looking away from his work.
"I'll ask him when I get back upstairs. Enjoy your tea guys." Alan said with a smile as he ascended the stairs.
* * * * *
"How are they doing?" Andrew asked, knowing that Alan had used the tea as an excuse to check on their progress.
"Trey has them putting up alcoves like assembly line workers. And he asked for your help." Alan finished with a smile.
"Me?" Andrew asked with wide eyes.
"Trey would like for you to port the alcove components to the proper rooms so they won't have to haul them up from the basement." Alan said as he went back to the kitchen to retrieve his plate.
"I'll go down and do that now, it's time for Janine to come home anyway." Andrew said and got up from his chair.
"Do you think she helped Angel?" Alan asked as he walked back into the room.
"Yes, Janine's hugs are guaranteed to reassure anyone, even a master vampire worried for his son." Andrew said and went down the basement stairs.
* * * * *
Angel had been standing beside Chris, holding Janine for two hours, and just watching silently.
"Status of hugs?" Andrew asked as he appeared in the doorway.
"Hugs have been completely effective." Janine said with pride.
"Good work. Your brothers have started assembling the alcoves, if you'll go through that door, you'll be in the basement with them." Andrew said quietly.
Angel placed Janine down on the floor and she ran through the door and disappeared.
"How are you doing Angel?" Andrew asked with concern.
"I'll be fine. Thank you for saving him... I can't even explain..." Angel trailed off.
"You don't have to, I have five sons and a daughter that I love as much as you love Chris. This is the tough part, but when he opens his eyes... that will be the reward. I'm just glad I was able to help. Now I have to get back to my family. When Chris is better, you need to bring him over to play with the kids, I think he's about the same age as my twins. Maybe they'll get along." Andrew said off-handedly as he turned to leave.
"Andrew." Angel said, drawing Andrew's attention.
"If you ever need anything that I can provide, it's yours. What you've done for me..." Angel said in wonder.
Andrew saw the intent in Angel's eyes and knew that this feeling of obligation between them would begin to weigh like a yolk around his neck. Then inspiration struck.
"Okay, there is one thing. And it's a very big thing. If you're willing to do it, I'll call it even." Andrew said evenly.
"Anything." Angel said with sincerity.
"My son Jimmy. He is a writer. I would take it as a very big personal favor if you would tell him the story of your life, and unlife... everything." Andrew said seriously.
"It isn't enough..." Angel began to say.
"Think about this Angel. Two hundred and fifty years of existence, the blood and fury, the loves and losses, the pride and the shame that has happened throughout your centuries. I want you to share it all with him. I promise that no one but my family will ever see what he writes. Jimmy is not going to be the next Anne Rice." Andrew said, maintaining his even tone.
"I just need to know one thing... why?" Angel asked quietly.
"My children aren't human, they aren't even fully organic. Even though they've been living around humans for the past three months... it was in a sterile environment. They need to know about the world, the good and the bad. Your experiences will not only show them the horrors that exist in the world but also that there is the chance for change, growth, and redemption... even for a master vampire." Andrew said honestly.
"I'll do it." Angel said in a whisper.
"And will we be even?" Andrew asked carefully.
"Yes. We will be even." Angel said and looked back at Chris.
"Try not to worry. He's going to be fine." Andrew said with a tiny smile.
Angel looked at Andrew with an aggravated smile and said, "You could have given her one or two more phrases, we were here for almost three hours and she kept saying those two over an over."
"Did you finally listen?" Andrew asked curiously.
"Yeah, I finally did." Angel said with a tender smile as he looked back at Chris.
"She takes her work seriously. She's my little angel... uh... you know what I mean." Andrew stammered.
"I know, and I agree. They're what it's all about you know. I've existed for two hundred and fifty years and just figured it out in the past week. All the rest is pointless compared to spending time with your kids." Angel said in a dreamy tone.
"I just figured it out a few months ago. We volunteered to take care of the kids and once we started we both realized that we didn't want the baby-sitting to ever end. So we adopted them all. And I haven't had a moment's regret." Andrew said honestly.
"No bad days?" Angel asked in surprise.
"Oh gods, some of the worst. When Icheb had a crush on Susan Nicolletti from Sciences. It was pure hell, because I knew he would get his heart broken... and he did. Or when the twins smuggled this bird on board from when we went on shore leave... the thing crapped all over their room, scratched the hell out of both of them, then it had the nerve to die and make them both feel guilty for killing it. But I wouldn't change a minute of it... not if it meant missing out on one of Janine's hugs or Icheb's smile when he accomplishes something. It makes all the rest worth it." Andrew said as his eyes began to fill with tears.
"Get back to your family. I'll talk to Jimmy when things have settled down." Angel said and looked back at Chris.
"Yeah, and you two are always welcomed at the boathouse." Andrew said with assurance before he walked through the portal.