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"Sorry to keep you waiting Solak. I just wanted to get the others settled. Once you've started the scan on Rory, perhaps you could take a look at another patient with me. I'd really like a second opinion." Doc Austin said in a rushed tone.
"That would be acceptable. Before we begin the genetic sequencing scan, could you perhaps look at Rory's cellular viability? I have not been in practice for some time and would not wish to misinterpret the data." Solak said, as he stepped to the monitor at the head of my bed.
"Well, would you look at that." Doc Austin said in wonder.
"So, I am not mistaken in my assumption that these readings are not typical?" Solak confirmed.
"I should say not... let's look at his muscle tissue. I would be interested to see his pyridoxine and glutamine absorption rates." Doc Austin said in a voice of deep concentration.
Solak pressed a few keys, then both doctors looked at the readings intently.
"Amazing." Doc Austin finally said.
"Rory has stated that his mother has been feeding him 'health food'." Solak said slowly.
"We need to talk to her. From the look of this, she may have actually stumbled onto an effective treatment." Doc Austin said intently.
"I concur. Perhaps we should begin the genetic sequencing, then contact Mrs. Teeter?" Solak asked speculatively.
"Rory, did your mom come with you today?" Doc Austin asked, hopefully.
"Yeah. She's with the other adults." I said, not entirely sure what they were talking about.
"Very well. The biobed is equipped for the required level of precision for the preliminary genetic sequencing. The process is somewhat time consuming, but the result is a complete genetic map which includes the protein linkages." Solak said, as he began programming the controls of the biobed.
"Do you think you could show me how to set it to do that? I can program a genetic scan, but I haven't had much luck getting that level of precision." Doc Austin asked, as he watched Solak's every move.
"Certainly, Doctor. It is not common to need such a level of precision, therefore the process is somewhat convoluted." Solak said, as he continued to work.
Doc Austin took a step back from Solak and quietly said, "Kenny, you're going to need to let go of Rory while the genetic sequencing runs. You can stay in the room, but the bed is going to be doing some very precise work and it would make it run slower if it had to compensate for you holding his hand."
"Okay. I can do that." Ken said shyly from my side.
"Rory. All you need to do is remain in place while the biobed scans you. When the sequencing is complete, we will return to begin the next phase of the examination." Solak said impassively as he stepped away from the controls.
"Yeah. No problem." I said and noticed that I felt a little sleepy.
I guess Solak doing his relaxing thing on my left arm probably did that.
"Let's stop by the reception desk and call the main house, then I'd like for you to look at Dylan."
* * * * *
"How are you doing?" Ken asked me as soon as we were alone.
The love in his eyes filled me with so much joy that I just wanted to cry with happiness.
"I'm fine. I have two hands again Ken." I said as I smiled up at him.
"Yeah. I'm really glad you're getting better... I love you." Ken finished in a whisper.
I smiled at the quiet declaration and immediately responded just as quietly, "I love you too."
Ken and I were both startled and turned at the same time to see a blond kid standing in the doorway.
"Hi Cory! You haven't met Rory yet have you?" Ken asked happily.
"No. So far, I've only heard the stories." Cory said with an impish grin.
There was no other word I could think of to describe him.
"It's nice to meet you Rory." Cory said as he walked farther into the room.
"It's nice to meet you too. I'd shake your hand but I'm being scanned right now." I said, a little bit shyly.
At first glance, I might have thought he was handsome but I would have been wrong. This guy was the textbook definition of cute.
"So, what stories have you been hearing?" Ken asked curiously.
"Well, after I received the report about your emergency beam out last night, I did a little checking around to make sure that there weren't any loose ends to tie up. I ended up talking with a very impressed transporter tech. If you guys ever set up a fan club, I've got your first member lined up." Cory finished with a smile.
"It wasn't really that much. We just helped a guy who was trying to handle something that was a little too big for him." Ken said quietly.
"It may not have been that much to you. But from what I've heard about the incident, I think you probably saved that guy's life last night." Cory said frankly.
Ken glanced over at me and was obviously as speechless as I was at the declaration.
"We're going to have a Clan meeting tonight. I thought that if Rory isn't busy, maybe he could attend?" Cory said in a hesitant tone.
"Really? That would be so awesome!" Ken said quickly, then turned to me and asked, "Do you think your folks will let you?"
I thought for a moment, then said, "I don't know. Maybe."
There's just no way I can predict what their reaction might be. They've been protecting me for so long and always knowing where I am and what I'm doing, I just don't know how they would feel about me doing something like this.
"I'll talk to my mom and get her to work on them. If you want to go, I'm pretty sure we'll be able to get them to go along with it." Cory said with his impish grin back in place.
With his golden hair and pixie smile, this guy could probably charm a leprechaun out of his gold.
"Do you want to Rory? I promise that it'll be great!" Ken said quickly and was nearly bouncing with his excitement.
I couldn't help but laugh at his hopeful expression and finally said, "Yes. I'd love to attend your meeting."
"Awesome. I'm going to go now and talk to mom so she can get to work on your parents." Cory said quickly.
Before I could say 'thanks' or 'bye' or anything like that, he was rushing out of the room.
Ken turned back to me and his happy smile said it all.
I have no idea what goes on at a 'clan meeting' but from the look of happiness on Ken's face... it doesn't really matter. Whatever it is, we'll be there together.
* * * * *
"Can I come in?" A small voice asked from the doorway.
"Sure Vincent, come on in. What's up?" Ken asked happily.
"The doctors are still in with Dylan and I got bored. I asked them if I could come in here and wait until they're done." He said timidly.
"Well, there's not much going on here. Rory has to stay in the bed while it scans him, but you're welcome to sit here with us and watch the buttons blink." Ken said with a warm smile.
"Thanks." Vincent said quietly.
"What's going on Vincent? You seem kinda down." Ken asked with concern.
"Oh. I guess that since my mom and dad are dead, and now my brother has a home with Billy and Deacon... I'm feeling kind of... alone." Vincent said quietly.
"Is it okay if I hug you?" Ken asked quietly.
Vincent looked at him uncertainly and didn't seem to know what to say.
"Vincent, hugging isn't a gay thing or a straight thing. It's a human thing. It's a way for one person to show another that he cares." Ken said seriously.
"But you can't care about me. You don't know me." Vincent said, and he looked as if he was being held back from hugging Ken by the slightest thread of self control.
Ken seemed to be at a loss for what to say next, so I said, "Your brother is Lawrence, right?"
"Yeah." Vincent said quietly.
"Do you think he's feeling alone right now?" I asked in a leading tone.
Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "No. He's got Billy and Deacon... They're like his family now."
"So maybe that's what you need." I said carefully.
Vincent looked at me with a helpless and lost expression that broke my heart.
"We don't know you yet, but maybe if we get to know each other we could be kind of like that for you too." I said quietly.
Vincent's eyes filled with tears as he said, "When you got to know me, you wouldn't want to be my friends. You'd probably hate me."
Ken didn't wait any longer for Vincent to agree. He took one step and pulled Vincent into a hug.
"I don't think I could ever hate you Vincent. If you ever need us, we'll be here for you. We can be your friends or family or even brothers if that's what you want." I said quietly.
"That's right. Just decide what you need us to be and we'll be that for you." Ken said as he brought up a hand and gently guided Vincent's head to his chest.
I watched silently as Ken hugged Vincent gently.
Finally, in a voice so low I could barely hear it, I heard Vincent mutter, "Thanks."
Ken turned his head and smiled at me.
All I could do is smile in return.
* * * * *
Footsteps in the hallway alerted us that someone was coming.
Vincent slowly pulled away from Ken's chest and wiped the tears from his eyes.
Doc Austin and Solak walked into the room and went directly to the head of the biobed without a word.
After a moment of looking over the readings, Solak said, "The scan is fifty-seven percent complete."
"Good. That should give us plenty of time." Doc Austin said happily.
Ken, Vincent and I were looking at the doctors with matching expressions of question.
"If you guys wouldn't mind, we're going to take Vincent in for his exam while your scan completes." Doc Austin said with a casual smile.
"Can I go too?" Ken asked quietly.
Doc Austin looked at Ken with an expression of mild surprise.
"If it's okay with Vincent, I'd like to go with him for his exam... you know. Just so he won't be alone." Ken finished timidly.
"Is that okay with you Vincent?" Doc Austin asked cautiously.
Vincent looked up at Ken for a moment, then turned to Doc Austin and shyly nodded.
"Then you two come with me. We should be able to get this over with before Rory's scan completes." Doc Austin said cheerfully.
"Perhaps Mr. Chang would like to visit with Rory while we wait for the call from your colleague in Austria?" Solak suggested from beside my bed.
Doc Austin paused for a moment, then said, "That sounds like a good idea. Would you get him while I get started with Vincent?"
Solak gave a half bow, half nod of agreement, then started for the door.
"Who is Mr. Chang?" I asked quickly before Solak was completely out of the room.
"I believe you know him as Dylan."
* * * * *
"If you wait here, I will return shortly." Solak said as he guided Dylan into the room.
"Hey Dylan. How are you doing?" I asked timidly.
Dylan wasn't that much older than me but... somehow from the short time that we had talked in the waiting room, he just seemed a lot more grown up.
"I'm okay I guess." Dylan said, as he took a seat in one of the chairs by the door.
"You sound a little depressed. Do you want to talk about it?" I asked cautiously.
Dylan smiled and maybe even chuckled a little bit before he answered.
"There's so much going on right now that I wouldn't know where to start. I don't even know what I'm feeling." Dylan said in a desperate voice.
"Well, I guess it's like that for me too. My stuff is a whole lot different from yours, but my life completely changed since two days ago." I said honestly.
Dylan nodded silently.
"Is it anything I can help with?" I asked cautiously.
After a moment, Dylan shook his head.
Conversation usually works best when two people participate, but Dylan didn't seem to be in the mood for that.
As uncomfortable as it was, I decided that it would be better for me to go ahead and talk than for the two of us to sit in silence.
"You don't have to tell me about what's wrong if you don't want to. But Ken and I were just telling Vincent that he doesn't have to be alone if he doesn't want to be." I said carefully.
Dylan hesitantly raised his gaze from the floor before him and looked at me with mild interest.
"I guess both his parents were killed and now he doesn't have a home and to top it off, his brother has kind of been adopted into a new family." I rambled.
Dylan continued to stare at me, but his expression didn't change.
"So Ken and I said that if he wanted, we could be there for him if he needs us. We could be his friends or family or even brothers. All he has to do is decide what he needs us to be for him." I said quietly.
Dylan nodded a little, then his gaze seemed to become distant.
He seems to be a nice enough guy, but he really sucks at the conversation thing.
Finally, after a long silence, Dylan quietly said, "I guess I'm going to have to do that too."
I thought about the vague statement, but finally had to ask, "Do what?"
He looked at me as if he just remembered I was in the room, then quietly said, "The place where I'm staying now, over at Camp Little Eagle... all the guys have been really nice and have been trying to get me to... I don't know... join them or accept them or something. I just don't really know how."
I nodded that I understood.
"I didn't know how to... I don't know... It's like they want me to be something and I don't know how to be that. But what you said makes sense. If I can decide what I need them to be for me, then maybe we can pull it all together and I'll really be able to become a part of their family. It's all just so new to me." Dylan said distantly.
"If you ever need someone outside the camp to talk to about stuff, you can always come over to my house or call me. Sometimes it's good to have someone to talk to who's not a part of what's going on." I said cautiously.
Dylan seemed to think about that for a moment, then his expression broke into a small smile.
"Yeah. I think maybe you're right. Talking to someone who doesn't have a stake in what's going to happen might be a good thing."
"I'm here right now if you've got anything you'd like to talk about." I said carefully.
Dylan sat silently for a moment, then seemed to come to a decision.
"Yeah. When we got here you remember meeting Obie don't you?" Dylan asked quietly.
"The hyper kid?" I asked carefully.
Dylan chuckled and said, "Yeah, that's Obie."
I nodded and waited to see what his problem was.
"I've gotten by this far by not letting anyone get too close to me. That way when they leave or die or whatever, it doesn't hurt as much. But I share a room with Obie and he's been working his little heart out trying to be my friend... it scares me." Dylan finished in a whisper.
"Dylan. I know it's scary to let someone get close to you. You may have different reasons than I do, but I think everyone is scared of being hurt...." I trailed off in thought.
A moment later, when I'd gotten my thoughts together I continued, "... that's probably the main reason most lonely people are alone. I guess it comes down to a choice. Do you want to be happy, even if it may only be for a little while, or do you want to go through your life being alone?"
"I don't want to be alone." Dylan said in a whisper as he looked at the floor.
"Then don't be." I said quietly.
"It's easy to say, but it's not that easy to do." Dylan countered.
"You'll get no argument from me on that one." I said seriously.
A moment of silence fell between us as we both considered what had been said.
Finally I whispered, "Can I tell you something kind of personal?"
Dylan looked at me consideringly for a moment, then finally nodded.
"I've been sick for a long time. My arms and legs didn't work, and I couldn't really even talk. I couldn't feed myself or go to the bathroom by myself or anything. I was like that for over a year. I was completely alone." I said quietly.
Dylan reluctantly nodded.
"Yesterday I met some guys and... well, it's a long story, but you can see how I am now. I can talk and I have two hands that work." I said carefully.
Dylan nodded again to indicate that he was following.
"Ken and his brothers have all become my friends and I couldn't feel closer to them if they were my own family. What I'm trying to get at is that I've been as alone as any person can possibly be. I know how it feels and I would do anything to keep from feeling that way again. I would rather die than feel like that." I said intensely.
Dylan's eye went wide at the statement.
"So even if it's hard to let someone get close to you. I promise, it's worth it. Anything you have to do is worth it. If you don't have people in your life who care for you and that you care about in return, then what's the point of anything? If your life doesn't touch anyone else, then you could have never existed and it wouldn't matter, you're just going through the motions of living." I said with some difficulty as I tried to put my feelings into words.
"So you think that there is no point to even existing without other people?" Dylan asked cautiously.
"I think that you can make a difference in other peoples lives just by being there and letting them know you. Once you've been able to do that, your existence matters." I said honestly.
Before Dylan could respond, Ken walked back into the room with Vincent held close to his side.
"You gay guys sure give great hugs." Vincent said with a chuckle.
I smiled at the statement and nodded my agreement.
"Dylan, Doc Austin wanted me to tell you that he'll meet you in your examination room in a minute. He's talking to another doctor about your face right now." Ken said casually.
"Thanks." Dylan said shyly, then started walking toward the door.
When Dylan reached the door, he paused to look at me, then gave me a brief ghost of a smile.
I smiled in return, as I watched him go.
Ken guided Vincent to sit with him in the chairs by the door.
"So Vincent, how was your exam?" I asked casually.
"I passed." Vincent said happily.
"Doc Austin checked out his head, then did a physical. Vincent checked out as one hundred percent fine." Ken said as he gave Vincent a quick one armed hug.
"That's good to hear. Do you have any idea when Solak and Doc Austin will be coming back in here?" I asked curiously.
"Well, I think they're going to be talking with that doctor on the comm and doing stuff with Dylan for a few minutes, but I don't think that will take too long, from the way it sounded." Ken said cheerfully.
"Good, I didn't think the exam was going to take this long." I said as I rested back.
"You'll probably be wishing you could come back and get in this bed again before the weekend is over." Ken said with a chuckle.
"Why is that?" I asked curiously.
"Because we're probably going to be roaming around Orlando the whole weekend sightseeing. Lawrence and I are the only ones who live here so we'll be conducting the tour." Ken said happily.
"Hey! What about me?" Vincent groused.
"Sorry Vincent. Of course you're from here too. But remember, you said that you probably couldn't go on much sightseeing with us. I was just thinking that Lawrence and I would kind of be the guides for everyone else." Ken said, still looking cheerful.
From the look on Vincent's face, I could tell that he wasn't completely buying the explanation and somehow he felt that he was being excluded from his rightful place.
"How about this, Vincent? When you're with us and we're visiting someplace you've been before, you can be the tour guide." Ken asked carefully.
"That'll work." Vincent said happily.
I smiled at Vincent's immediate change in mood and at the skillful way that Ken handled the situation.
Ken is really good with kids.
Watching Ken with Ricardo had been a wonderful experience, and now to see him work his magic on Vincent...
We're going to have lots of kids, we have to...
... and someday may not be as far a way as I had originally thought.
* * * * *
"Sorry that took so long, but I promise that it was worth the wait." Doc Austin said with a smile.
"Yeah. That Australian doctor said he could fix my face." Dylan said happily.
"He's Austrian." Doc Austin corrected quietly.
Dylan turned to look at Doc Austin and asked, "Is there a difference?"
Doc Austin smiled and said, "Yes. Actually, there is."
Dylan shrugged and said, "Whatever. I never was very good at geology."
Doc Austin appeared to be ready to say something when he seemed to think better of it and instead said, "It's only a possibility at this point. My colleague said that he will have to examine you himself before he can make any promises about the outcome."
Dylan rolled his eye dismissively then continued, "So anyway, this German sounding doctor who does this micro surgery thing says he can do a skin graft that doesn't leave any scars. He said that it might take a long time to get all the surgeries done, but when he's finished I'll look just like I used to."
"Um... Where is he going to get the skin?" Vincent asked curiously.
Dylan stared at Vincent for a moment, then quietly said, "He didn't say."
"The skin for the grafts will probably be taken from your thighs and buttocks." Doc Austin said seriously.
There was a moment of silence before Vincent burst out laughing.
Dylan stared at Vincent with his one good eye, waiting for him to calm down.
Finally Vincent noticed Dylan's stare and said, "Just don't tell anyone... then... then get them to kiss you on the cheek!"
Everyone in the room watched as Vincent crumbled to the floor in laughter.
After a moment, Doc Austin said, "Come on you guys. You're both done. Why don't you go on up to the house where everyone else is waiting?"
"Can we stay here and wait for Rory to be finished?" Vincent asked hopefully.
Doc Austin seemed surprised at the question.
"Yeah. We'd really like to wait if that'd be okay." Dylan said quietly.
After a moment of consideration, Doc Austin said, "Yes. I don't think this will take very long now that the sequencing is done. You can wait in the outer office if you like."
"We'll see you when you're done." Vincent said happily as he walked toward the door..
Dylan flashed me another one of those quick 'stealth' smiles, then walked out of the room with Vincent at his side.
* * * * *
Solak walked into the room briskly and began to examine the readings at the head of my biobed.
"Yes. It is as I suspected." Solak said as he looked at the screen carefully.
"I'm sorry, but I don't read genetic codes often enough to be able to interpret them in their raw form like this." Doc Austin said timidly.
"It is a specialized skill." Solak said without concern as he moved to a computer terminal set up beside the bed.
He keyed in some commands, then something that I recognized came on the screen.
A 3D representation of a double helix appeared, then a moment later, the picture zoomed in on one segment.
"This is the genetic sequence of concern to us." Solak said as he pointed at the screen.
"So are you proposing that we replace that genetic sequence with one that would function properly?" Doc Austin asked cautiously.
"That would be the Human way of correcting the problem. However, it would not work in this instance. Such a treatment would radically alter the patient's neural physiology and, assuming that the patient survived, he would require almost constant replacement therapy for the duration of his life." Solak said instructively.
"Let's not do that." I said quietly, understanding enough of what they were saying to know that it was something really horrible.
Doc Austin looked at me with an expression of surprise, apparently having forgotten that I was in the room.
"Do not be concerned Rory. My genetic therapy operates on a more fundamental scale. Rather than replace the offending sequence, we will simply modify the existing sequence so it will behave properly." Solak said carefully, and I swear that he almost sounded assuring.
"I don't understand how you can do that. I've never heard of anything that could effect DNA on that scale." Doc Austin said cautiously.
"It would be unlikely that you would be familiar with the technique, since it is my own creation and is in the process of being refined. Once all the permutations have been charted, I will publish my findings and make the technique publicly available." Solak said slowly.
"If it's in such an early stage of development, how safe will it be for Rory?" Doc Austin asked with concern.
"There are of course risks, as there are with any experimental treatment, but allow me to pose the question, what would be the consequence of withholding the treatment?" Solak asked, then turned to Doc Austin to wait for an answer.
After a moment of thought, Doc Austin quietly said, "Right."
"What is it?" I asked, barely understanding what they were talking about.
"Hold on a second Rory, then I'll tell you." Doc Austin said absently.
"Rory is at a point where the neural tissue is not degrading. This is necessary if the treatment is to be effective. Time is of the essence." Solak said firmly.
"I think I understand. If you can begin to alter his existing genetic sequences while he's stable, the natural process of cellular replacement will work in your favor and eventually you will have done away with all the defective sequences." Doc Austin said speculatively.
"Yes. That is the underlying principle of the therapy." Solak said cautiously.
Doc Austin shook his head and said, "I would have to work non-stop for years to develop a treatment on this scale."
"The process has been in development for nine years and all reasonable precautions have been taken. I am at a point in the development process where a clinical trial is warranted." Solak said in a neutral tone.
There was a long moment of silence, then Doc Austin said, "I think we should get Rory's parents in here and explain your findings."
"Perhaps it would be most advantageous to explain to Rory first so he can begin to process the new information." Solak said, as he looked at Doc Austin curiously.
"Right." Doc Austin said reluctantly.
"Rory... Kenny, why don't you get on the bed beside Rory before we begin?" Doc Austin said in a distracted voice.
Ken hopped up on the table beside me, then helped me to sit up.
Once we were sitting side by side, Ken leaned over and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Okay. I guess it's really pretty simple." Doc Austin began.
Solak quirked an eyebrow at the statement.
Ken and I both started to chuckle at his surprised expression.
Doc Austin smiled, then continued, "From what we can see here, the condition that caused Rory's legs to stop working is an extremely small genetic defect. It's so small that regular genetic therapy wouldn't work to correct it. I suppose I could compare it to treating a broken toe by amputating the entire leg."
Solak gave Doc Austin an incredulous look, but didn't interrupt.
"Since regular gene therapy won't work, Solak developed a technique that can go in and fix only what is wrong... probably. But it has to be started immediately. Rory is currently stable, but if his condition begins to progress again, then the therapy might not be able to keep up with the degradation and could fail completely."
"So you're saying that you can probably fix me and that I have to start the treatment right away?" I asked speculatively.
"Yes." Solak responded before Doc Austin could answer.
"Is it something you can do here or would Rory have to go to Vulcan?" Ken asked quietly as he tightened his arm around me.
"The equipment that I would require is on Vulcan. There is no practical way that we could perform the process here in the allotted time." Solak said simply.
"For how long?" Ken asked in a quieter voice.
There was silence in the room as Solak considered his response.
"There are too many unknown variables for me to be able to answer that question with any degree of accuracy. However, I can safely say that the treatment will require no less than one standard year." Solak said slowly.
Ken's arm tightened again and I shifted a little so I could put my arm around him too.
Solak looked at us clutching each other desperately for a moment, then said, "The treatment is not such that Rory would be required to remain on Vulcan until he is completely recovered. It would be possible for him to return to Earth for short visits from time to time."
"And my pop goes to Vulcan a couple of times a year so I could probably visit you too." Ken said in a whisper.
"Yes. I am certain that K'war'ma'khon Allen would be agreeable to such an arrangement." Solak said impassively.
After another long moment of silence, Ken asked, "Is that it? Either Rory goes to Vulcan to get cured, or he doesn't?"
Doc Austin glanced at Solak with question at the very basic summary of the situation.
"Correct." Solak said seriously.
Ken turned to face me and said, "Then I guess that's it. Even though I hate that you're going to have to leave for a while, there's no way you're going to pass this up. I need for you to get all better so we can spend the rest of our lives together."
I stared wide eyed at the statement and I think my mouth might have fallen open.
"I love you Rory." Ken said, then moved in to give me a full, deep kiss.
"Guys... I think we'll go talk to Rory's parents now..." Doc Austin said hesitantly.
I felt Ken's arm move behind me and imagined that he must have given them a thumbs up or gestured 'OK'... hell, he might have flipped them off, for all I know. The important thing is that they left and Ken continued to kiss me.
When we broke apart, tears were streaming down Ken's cheeks.
"Marry me." Ken whispered.
I was stunned again, and this time I'm sure that my mouth fell open.
"I love you. I will always love you. I want to grow old with you beside me." Ken said seriously.
I was still in a daze at the intensity of the moment, but somehow I was able to make my mouth say, "Yes."
Ken smiled a full, beaming smile, then pulled me into another deep kiss.
I became lost in the sensation. Nothing else existed. Nothing else mattered.
Before I met Ken, I would have described my one true love to be someone older, someone that I could feel safe with... probably someone like Billy.
I never even thought that I could love someone like Ken.
He's younger than me. Hell, he's barely more than a child, but... it doesn't really matter.
I can't dismiss the feelings he says he has for me as being the fantasies of a child, because I have exactly the same feelings for him.
I'll go to Vulcan and go through this treatment because when it's all finished, I'll have forever with Ken waiting for me on the other side of it.
* * * * *
As was common when Ken and I kissed, I lost all track of time.
But eventually, the kiss finally did break and we sat staring into each other's eyes.
A hesitant expression came over Ken's face when he asked, "When do you want to do it?"
"Get married?" I asked quietly.
Yeah. It was a stupid question. I know. It's just one of those things you say when the emotions are running so high.
Ken nodded slowly.
I thought about the question carefully.
What would my parents think? Would there even be a legal way we could do it?
The loving look in Ken's eyes brought everything back into perspective.
Nothing else mattered. Even if the law didn't recognize it, we would be married as soon as we said we were. My parents could just deal with it. It's not about them.
So what did matter? When did I want to get married?
I closed my eyes and tried to picture the moment of our wedding.
The two of us walking down an aisle, hand in hand, ready to swear before God and everyone we love, that we would share the rest of our lives.
Something about the scene in my mind's eye caught my attention and my eyes snapped open.
Ken was looking at me anxiously, still waiting for an answer.
"I'll marry you as soon as I can walk down the aisle on my own two feet." I said quietly.
Ken's anxious look turned to shock at my declaration.
From his expression, you'd think I'd just slapped him in the face.
I hurried to explain, "I love you Ken, and I want to marry you more than anything. But if we got married right now, it would be partly because we hurried to get it done before I had to leave. I'm going to go to Vulcan with Solak and work as hard as I possibly can to get better, so I can come home and marry you. I know that it might take years before I'm completely cured, so I'm not asking you to wait until my treatments are over. But the wheelchair means helplessness and dependence to me. It would really mean a lot to me if we could wait until I can stand beside you on my own two feet to declare my eternal love for you."
"Okay." Ken whispered, as he looked deeply into my eyes.
"Really?" I asked hesitantly, not quite sure how to interpret his expression.
Ken smiled and said, "Yeah, really. I don't want you to ever feel like I'm marrying you just so I can take care of you."
"I didn't mean..." I began to say.
"Rory. You never said it, but I could see it in your eyes. You're afraid that I only love you because you need me and that if you get better, I won't love you anymore." Ken said quietly.
Tears welled up in my eyes at the statement.
Even if I hadn't ever said those words, he was right... I was afraid of that.
"So we'll get married when you can walk down the aisle and stand beside me on your own two feet. That way, you'll know that the only reason that I'm there is because I love you." Ken said gently.
"I'm sorry Ken. I know you love me, I'm sorry..." I said as I hugged tightly to him.
"You don't have to be sorry for being scared or for worrying about things that seem too good to be true." He whispered into my ear.
"You are too good to be true." I whispered in return.
Ken began to chuckle, and after a moment I pulled away and looked at him with question.
"I'm a long way from being 'too good to be true'." he said with a smile.
"Name one thing that's wrong with you." I said, playfully.
"I'm a kid who grew up sheltered from the real world. I don't know anything about anything outside the walls of my house. I don't understand how people can allow greed to justify hurting other people who are poor or helpless. I don't understand how one person can hate another just because they're black or white or gay or whatever. I don't understand how people who have everything in the universe available to them can throw away their futures on things like drugs and alcohol... I guess what I'm saying is that I'm still just a little kid." Ken finished shyly.
I chuckled as I said, "If that's what it means to be a kid, then I hope you never grow up."
Ken put his arms around me and laid his head on my shoulder.
No one ever needed me before.
I never had to be the strong one.
I never had anyone trust me to make the decisions.
If Ken needs to do some growing up, then so do I, so I can be worthy of his trust and love.
Oh MultiMapper, This is a wonderful chapter. Thank you so much for giving us more about Rory and Ken. And young Vincent, for that matter. I am still drying my eyes from crying. I must say that you have a wonderful talent for bringing us right into the lives of the people in your stories. Like Dark Star, you don't have characters, you have people. Str8mayb does it too, but I really think you have most everyone beat on that score. We really care about all the people in your stories, even those that come in from other people's stories seem to blossom when you write about them. I love the entire cast from the CSU, but I have come to love Vincent, Rory and all of the ones that show up in your stories even more. They are like family. Whenever we learn something new about them, they become even more real and alive. Thanks for another GREAT chapter.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher