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"So how did things go with your new brother?" Chip asked casually to Allen who was riding in the passenger seat on the way back from the spaceport.
"Great. I wish he could have come back with us, but he said he had to get some things done so he could take tomorrow off and look at the house with us." Allen said seriously.
"I don't know every detail of what he has going on, but I do know that he never takes leave and has his duties planned months in advance. I suspect that for someone like Lieutenant Thompson to take an unexpected day off from his duties will be like... well, like you unexpectedly moving." Chip said frankly.
"I just want to get to know all about him. I've always wanted a real family... Carl was the closest I've been able to manage up until today." Allen trailed off quietly.
"Forgive me if I'm prying, but I've only overheard a few comments along the way. I've been through quite a few things and might be able to give some advice if I understand your situation." Chip said in thought.
Allen looked into the back seat and saw that David and Jake were chattering away a mile a minute, oblivious to all that was going on around them. Kevin and Kenny were talking in hushed whispers very seriously.
Chip waited, knowing that Allen was trying to put his thoughts and feelings into words.
"I don't like going to clubs and things like that. It just seems... sleazy, I guess. Some friends of mine dragged me out to a club one night and I saw him for the first time." Allen said with a faint smile.
"God, he looked good. Tall, dark and handsome... My friends noticed my interest and warned me away immediately. 'If you're wanting to get laid, Carl's your man, but if you're wanting something that will last, you'd better look somewhere else'." Allen said with a shake of his head.
"I didn't listen. I was hooked. I chased after him for weeks and he finally agreed to go out on a date. As soon as I tried to do anything even remotely romantic or loving, he'd shut me down. That date ended with him telling me in no uncertain terms that he'd never love me, he'd never marry me, and that I'd be better off with just about anyone else." Allen finished with a chuckle.
"So how did you two end up together if it started out that badly?" Chip asked with interest.
"I never gave up on him. I stopped trying to get him into a relationship and worked on just being his friend. I figured that if he couldn't love me, maybe my loving him was enough." Allen said weakly.
"I guess I'd known him almost five years when he found out that one of his regular sex partners had been diagnosed HIV positive." Allen said with pain in his voice.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know." Chip said sincerely.
"I know. It's okay, that was over three years ago. After he got the call, he came to me. All I can think of is that I'm the only person who he could call a friend that he'd never slept with. We talked all night long about... just about everything. When he finally slept, I held him in my arms and swore to myself that he'd never be alone... and he never was." Allen said in distant memory.
"So did he finally fall in love with you?" Chip asked curiously.
"Yes. But he couldn't say the words. He only told me he loved me one time. That was two weeks before he died." Allen said with pain.
"So how does Kenny figure into all this?" Chip asked cautiously.
"I met Kenny the first time about five years ago. Carl was very careful to protect Kenny from his nightlife. I took one look into those big beautiful brown eyes and my heart was his. I think one of the reasons that Carl let me move in was because Kenny and I got along so well. He was concerned that if he got sick, that Kenny wouldn't have anyone to comfort him. From what I've heard about his ex-wife, I have to say he was right." Allen finished with a shake of his head.
"Are you up to raising three boys as a single father?" Chip asked with concern.
"If I can't have a husband, the next best thing is a house full of growing boys to raise. I've loved Kenny for years, Kevin inspires all the same love I have for Kenny and sets off every protective instinct I have besides. And Jake... If I had the chance to go out and choose the perfect son for me to raise, Jake would be it." Allen said with a watery smile.
"I lost my first husband many years ago. Some people tell you it gets easier with time. Those people haven't gone through what I've been through. Some days it still hurts as fresh as the day I lost him... And there are some days when I wrap myself in the memories of the good times. Josh understands and let's me have those times when I need to." Chip said with a smile of love at the thought of JC.
"So here's my sage advice. Don't try to forget, you can't. Don't try to get over it, you won't. You have the right to feel every single thing that you feel and no one else has any say in it. But the one thing you have to do is keep going. Laying around, stewing in it doesn't make anything better. Every day, find the will to get out of that bed and do the things that need to be done." Chip said seriously.
Allen nodded as a tear trailed down his cheek. "You want to hear something funny?" Allen asked in a shaky voice.
"What's that?" Chip asked carefully.
"When he died I was there. I was holding him when he just... stopped. One minute he was alive, the next, he wasn't. And at the moment I realized that he was really gone the only thing I could think was, 'I was supposed to have four more months'." Allen said with a dark chuckle.
"The doctors said he had six months to live. He was supposed to have four more months, so he couldn't be dead." Allen said, as if he were pleading his case before a court.
"We're here." Chip said quietly as Allen broke down into full sobbing.
"David, take the guys in. We'll join you in a minute." Chip said into the back seat where everyone was watching Allen cry.
"Yeah." David said quietly and opened his door.
* * * * *
"What's wrong with Poppa?" Kevin asked in a small voice.
"He's missing Dad." Kenny said with certainty.
"Is there anything we can do to make him feel better?" Kevin asked as he followed David into the house.
Jake put his hand on Kevin's shoulder and said, "No Kev, I know how it felt when I lost my mom and dad. Nothing anyone says will make it better. The best thing you can do is try to give him what he needs. If he needs a hug, give him an extra special hug. If he needs to be left alone, then try to do it without making him feel bad."
"How will I know what he needs?" Kevin asked as he looked up into Jake's eyes.
"Ask him. Just don't bug him about it. If he says he needs to be alone, then leave him alone for a good long while. When he's done, he'll come to you." Jake said seriously.
"Okay... " Kevin said in thought.
"Us three can take care of each other when Dad's out of it." Jake said with assurance.
"Not just you three." David said seriously.
All three boys turned to look at David.
"Come on in the game room and I'll show you." David said with a smile.
* * * * *
After twenty minutes, Chip and Allen finally finished their talk and walked into the house.
"I hope that didn't bother the boys too much." Allen said as they came into the entry hall.
"I'm sure David handled it if they had any problems. I'm really impressed with how he's taking charge of things." Chip said, then stopped to listen.
"What is it?" Allen asked in concern.
"Do you hear that?" Chip asked as he looked around.
"I don't hear anything." Allen said in confusion.
"Exactly. We have at least six boys in the house and it's perfectly quiet. Something's wrong." Chip said and started walking quickly toward the game room.
Allen followed, unsure what was happening.
* * * * *
Chip and Allen stood in awe at the sight before them. There were no less than twenty boys sitting in the room all listening in perfect silence as Kevin and Kenny were telling their story. They spoke in alternating sentences as if they'd been doing it all their lives.
"Come on." Chip whispered and led Allen back into the hall.
When the door was shut, Allen asked, "What was that all about?"
"The Clan is having a meeting. From the sound of it at least two of your sons are about to become full members of a Vulcan Clan." Chip said seriously as he led the way to the kitchen.
"What does that mean exactly?" Allen asked with concern.
"It means that every boy in that room will look at your sons as their brothers. If they ever need help of any kind, the members of Clan Short will see that it's provided. In return, they'll be expected to provide what support they can to their brothers." Chip said and walked into the kitchen to find a group of adults.
"Allen, you've already met Teri and Josh. I'd like for you to meet Dan, Kayla, Sara, Helen, Angela, Brian, and Matt. Some of the kids in the game room belong to them." Chip said with a smile.
"Hi." Allen said shyly.
"We'll fill you in on which kids belong to which parents later. We've pretty much accepted that all the kids belong to all of us anyway." Helen said with a grand smile.
"Okay." Allen said with a smile at Helen's friendly nature.
"So you're starting out with three. That's courageous of you." Brian said frankly.
"How many do you have?" Allen asked quietly, still feeling like he was the center of attention.
"One... two... yeah, let's just call it two." Brian said uncertainly.
Allen looked at Brian in question, prompting him to continue.
"I've got one son of my own, but my new boyfriend, Justin, we just call him Curly, has a son too." Brian said hesitantly.
"Oh. Okay. I guess that makes sense." Allen said in thought.
"Josh was telling us you're going to look at the house tomorrow. I think you're going to love it." Brian said happily.
"I hope so. I think it will be the best thing for all of us to start our new family in a new house." Allen said contemplatively.
"Yes. It somehow makes the changes in your life seem official." Teri said in thought.
"So who wants to help me make some cookies for when they're finished?" JC asked the group, trying to lighten the mood.
Helen and Teri immediately stood. Kayla and Matt joined them a little more slowly.
"Just relax Allen. I have a feeling that your sons are going through something that will improve their lives." Chip said assuringly.
"How so?" Allen asked apprehensively.
"Because they're about to become part of something bigger than all of us." Chip said dramatically.
"You mean because they'll all be brothers?" Allen asked slowly.
"No, that's an important part of it. When they come to understand what it truly means to be a member of a Vulcan Clan, they'll discover that it comes with a certain level of esteem. If someone disrespects a member of the Clan, they disrespect the entire Clan. Being accepted as part of the Clan means that they are worthy of respect." Chip said in thought.
"I hope they can handle it." Allen said with concern.
"From what I've seen and heard the past few hours, they can." Chip said in a definite voice.
* * * * *
"Thank you for sharing your story Jake." Cory said as Jake held his brothers tightly.
"Now that you've heard our history and we've heard yours, I'd like to invite you to become official members of Clan Short." Cory said seriously.
"What does that mean?" Kevin asked quietly.
"It means that we're all your brothers. If anyone messes with you, they mess with all of us." JJ said firmly.
"And if you find someone in need of help, you have all of us to back you up in giving them the help they need." Sean interjected.
"Like you did for us?" Jake said with surprise.
"Exactly." David said with a smile.
"So let me see if I got this right?" Kenny asked and waited to see if the group was listening.
"I called my friend Tiffany, she called David who's a member of Clan Short. And because he's a member of the Clan, he was able to do all that stuff and save us from Spade?" Kenny asked in confirmation.
"Basically, yeah." Cory said with a considering nod.
"And if I join, then I could be like David and help people?" Kenny asked, trying to be sure if he was understanding it correctly.
"That's right." Aaron said with a smile of pride as he hugged David tightly to his side.
Kenny turned to Jake and Kevin and asked, "What do you think guys? Do you want to be part of this?"
"I could really help people?" Kevin asked in wonder.
"And we'd have all these guys to help us if we get into trouble." Jake said in thought.
"I want to. But I've got to do something first." Kevin said slowly.
"What's that?" Kenny asked in concern.
"I've got to get rid of the gun. When I join, I don't want to take the chance of doing anything that will make my brothers look bad." Kevin said seriously.
"Do you want me to go with you?" Kenny asked quietly.
"No. I'll need Justy to show me where he put it. Then I've got to do it myself. If anyone is going to get into trouble, it'll just be me." Kevin said firmly.
"But we're all your brothers Kevin. You don't have to face things like this alone." Gabe said as he held Ricky on his lap.
"It's important that I do this alone. If I can do it, then I'll be ready to join you." Kevin said considering his words.
"We'll wait here for you. Do what you need to do." Cory said, and the discussion was ended.
* * * * *
"Are you sure you don't want me to go with you?" Justy asked quietly.
"I'm sure. If I'm going to be like David and Uncle Chip someday, I have to be able to do stuff like this myself." Kevin said seriously.
"We'll be in the game room if you need us." Justy said, then on impulse, hugged Kevin before leaving him standing outside the kitchen full of adults.
* * * * *
"Uncle Chip?" Kevin asked in a small voice with his pillow case full of pictures held close to his chest.
"Is the meeting over already?" Chip asked with surprise.
"No. The guys are waiting on me. I, um, I just have to give you something." Kevin said as fear boiled inside him.
Chip noticed the fearful expression on Kevin's face and said, "Go ahead. I have four sons. Nothing you can do will surprise me."
Kevin gave a small nod, then reached into his pillow case and pulled out the gun by the pistol grip, holding it with his thumb and forefinger.
There was a blazing moment of silence in the kitchen as everyone saw the young boy holding the weapon out to Chip.
After a long moment of shock, Chip accepted the gun and pointed it toward the floor as he released the cartridge of the revolver and removed the bullets.
Chip then looked at Kevin who was frozen in fear before him.
"Kevin, please tell me why you have a gun." Chip said as he laid the pistol on the table beside him.
"I was scared and Spade and his guys were coming. I'm sorry I didn't give it to you before but... Everything was so big and different, I kinda forgot." Kevin rambled.
Chip pulled Kevin in for a hug and said, "Thank you for giving it to me. If it's alright with you, I'm going to put it away where it can't hurt anyone."
Kevin nodded into Chip's chest.
"I'm so proud of you for doing this. I know you must have been scared of how we'd react." Allen said as he moved to Kevin and Chip's side.
Kevin nodded again.
"It's alright. You're not in any trouble. You did just the right thing." Allen said with assurance.
"Thanks Poppa." Kevin said into Chip's chest.
"Now, didn't you say that the guys were waiting on you?" Chip asked in a much more lighthearted tone.
"Uh huh." Kevin said and sniffed back the evidence that he'd been crying.
"You go on back to the meeting and I'll take care of this for you." Chip said as he gave a final squeeze in his hug.
"I love you Uncle Chip." Kevin said, then released the hug.
Kevin quickly turned to face Allen and said, "Is it okay if I hug you Poppa?"
"Of course. I could really use a hug right now." Allen said with a tender smile.
Kevin hugged Allen tightly, doing his best to make it as extra-special as he could for his new Poppa.
Finally the hug broke and Kevin said, "The guys are waiting for me, but I want to finish that hug later."
"I'll remind you where you left off." Allen said as he watched Kevin hurry from the room, holding his pillow case with one hand.
"What was that about kids not being able to surprise you anymore?" JC asked with a chuckle.
Chip looked at JC and broke into an involuntary grin.
"Would you believe it if I said I was expecting that?" Chip asked hopefully.
"Not a chance." JC said as he worked on mixing cookie dough.
"Allen, you've got some special boys. I hope you're up to the challenge." Chip said with a smile.
"I've got to be, because I wouldn't trade them for any other boys in the world." Allen said as he thought about his special children.
"You'll fit in fine around here." Helen said in a definite voice.
* * * * *
"Did everything go okay?" Kenny asked with worry.
Kevin nodded and took his seat beside Jake, the other side from Kenny.
"Then I guess we can do this now. Do you three want to join us?" Cory asked plainly as he held CD and Timmy in his lap.
Jake looked at Kevin, then at Kenny to receive their nods of approval.
"You're our big brother, you can speak for us." Kevin whispered.
Jake broke into a broad smile as he announced, "My brothers and I would be happy to join you."
"Great. Then it's done. You are now officially members of Clan Short of the Family of Sarek of the House of Surak of the planet Vulcan. You are our brothers and we are yours." Cory said dramatically.
"Daddy, William says Kevin should show us his pictures." Timmy said quickly.
Cory smiled and looked to Kevin, "Would you mind?"
Kevin got a timid look, but when he looked around the group, he didn't see anyone who looked like they would make fun of him.
"Okay." Kevin said quietly and pulled the stack out of his pillow case.
"Gabe, this one is you." Kevin said as he looked at the top picture.
"It looks kinda like a dog." Benji said as he leaned over to look at the picture.
"It's Tippy." Gabe said as he saw the vague shape.
"Who's that?" Travis asked quietly.
"When I was really little, Tippy was the neighbor's dog. I'd play with her through the fence when no one else was around. Our neighbors moved away one day and took Tippy with them. I felt so alone." Gabe drifted off in memory.
"Let's see another one." JJ said with interest.
"This one is Cathy." Kevin said happily.
"So you can see these people in your pictures?" JJ asked curiously.
"Yeah. Kenny can see them too." Kevin said as he looked at JJ to see his reaction.
"Cathy's happy. She's telling her Grandmother how much she likes her new school." Kenny said as he gently ran his fingertips across the picture.
"Can you really see that?" Robbie asked as he tried to get a better look at the picture.
"I can see all sorts of things." Kenny said and sat the picture aside.
The next picture was just a shadow in a doorway.
"It's Mr. Grimes." Ricky said as he pointed at the picture.
"Who's that?" Gabe asked carefully.
"He used to live in the apartment across from my old mommy. He was really nice, but he didn't want me to look at his face cause it was burned real bad. Then one day I went to visit and he wasn't there no more." Ricky finished sadly.
"Who's next?" Gabe asked, not wanting to dwell on his brother's past any longer than necessary.
"This is Chok." Kevin said with a smile.
"What kind of a name is Chok?" CD asked Cory curiously.
"I don't know, Chinese maybe?" Cory answered quietly.
Kenny laid his hand on the picture and said, "His name is really Charles, but somehow he got the nickname Chok. He's always had it and it seems to fit."
"Dad's name is Charles and his nickname is Chip." Justy said into the group.
A few considered the statement and finally it was accepted as Kevin moved to reveal the next picture.
"Kenny, what's wrong with him?" Kevin asked quickly.
"What?" Cory asked as he leaned forward.
Kenny touched the picture and felt a flood of emotion.
"He's hurting inside... he doesn't want to leave... his father is going to send him away." Kenny said as he tried to sort through the emotions.
"Where is he being sent?" Antonio asked as he moved closer beside Kenny.
"To Vulcan... his name is Xain. His father has been trying to make him be like Captain Spock." Kenny said in confusion.
"Kenny, if you'll let us, maybe we can help." Jacob said seriously.
"We can help you sort through the emotions so you can see more clearly." Jamie finished.
"Thanks." Kenny said as he kept his hand firmly on the picture.
Jamie and Jacob each laid a hand on Kenny's arm and concentrated to sort through the flood of emotions.
"I can see now. His father is Solak of the house of Suvak. Xain's mother was human. Solak wants Xain to be just like Captain Spock because he is also half human." Kenny said in a much more relaxed voice.
"Is the father hurting him somehow?" Cory asked darkly.
"No, no... yes. Only by keeping constant pressure on him to learn perfect control of his emotions. Xain hasn't been able to master emotions the way a Vulcan does. He tries to behave as a Vulcan, but is in constant fear that he will be discovered." Kenny said in a distant voice.
"Now his father has given up on teaching him the Vulcan disciplines himself and has announced that he is going to send Xain to live with his grandfather on Vulcan. His grandfather won't even call him by his name, he calls him 'the abomination' because he isn't a pure Vulcan." Kenny said with a disturbed look.
"Kenny, what do you think Solak would say if Xain were invited to join a sub-clan of the family of Sarek?" Cory asked carefully.
"I think Solak would believe it to be a beneficial experience for Xain. It would be another step in attaining the goal of making Xain to be like Captain Spock." Kenny said in a semi-Vulcan tone.
"Does Xain have any skills that we might be able to use as an excuse to ask him to join us?" Cory asked in thought.
"He is adept at database construction and maintenance. That is his greatest skill." Kenny said as he looked through the vast expanse of Xain's mind.
"Well, we have a few computer users here who can handle a database, but any of them would rather handle a porcupine if they were given the choice. That means that we could honestly use his help. How soon is Xain going to be sent away?" Cory asked as he looked around.
"Thirteen hundred hours tomorrow, Federation standard time." Kenny said with a note of confusion.
"That gives us time to do this right. Kenny, where is he?" Cory asked as he motioned for Justy and Sean to come to him.
"The Vulcan Embassy in San Francisco." Kenny said in thought.
"Uncle Brady lives in San Francisco." Jake said quickly, then continued, "And he's coming here tomorrow."
"Then we do this tonight." Cory said, then looked to Justy.
"Contact Ambassador Sarek and assess him of the situation. We need to be sure that we aren't breaking a Vulcan custom by inviting a member of another house to join our Clan." Cory said, then turned his focus on Sean and said, "We need someone to talk to the adults. We're not rescuing him exactly or adopting him. We need to be sure that we'll have a place for him to stay that Solak will approve of."
"We've got a problem." Jacob said as he concentrated on Kenny's thoughts.
"What's that?" Cory asked as he froze in his tracks.
"He doesn't speak English." Jacob said grimly.
"How? Why would he be living on Earth and not speak English?" Cory asked in confusion.
"Xain's father moved him here less than a year ago. Since then, Xain has been trying to learn English, but his father and his teachers keep him so overwhelmed with Vulcan studies, that he can't absorb the language. He's only been able to pick up a few words and phrases. Since he can't speak the native language, his father hasn't allowed him to leave the embassy since he's been here." Jamie said in thought.
"So who do we have that speaks Vulcan?" Cory asked weakly.
"Kevin can speak Vulcan." Jacob said seriously.
"He can?" Kenny asked with disbelief.
"I can?" Kevin asked in an identical tone.
"Kevin can speak the language that is native to anyone in any of his pictures. Currently he holds six Earth languages and Vulcan standard." Jamie said in thought.
"What about Kenny?" Sean asked curiously.
"I think while he's touching Xain's picture, he should be able to understand him. I'm not sure if he'll be able to speak to him." Jacob said with difficulty.
"Well, I guess your family is our only option. I hope you have room in your new home for our foreign exchange student." Cory said with weak humor.
"Do you think Poppa will have a problem with us inviting someone to live with us?" Kevin asked with concern.
"Do you want me to find out?" Jake asked carefully.
"That's a good idea. Aaron can go with you, adults seem to like him for some reason." Cory said with a teasing smile.
Jake smiled at Aaron and headed for the door.
"How old is he?" Jake asked in thought before reaching the door.
"He's twelve." Kenny said quickly.
"Okay, I'll see what Dad has to say and let you know." Jake said as he and Aaron walked out of the room.