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"Why do we have to go to this other place?" Lawrence asked apprehensively.
"Chief Tecumseh said that Commander Dodds asked everyone to meet at his house. I guess Teri is going to be there too." Billy said unsurely.
"Kevin says that his Uncle Chip is really great. Maybe it won't be too bad." Deacon said, sounding uncertain.
"I think this is the place." Billy said as he followed Allen's car carefully through the open gate.
"It's a mansion!" Deacon said in wonder as they approached Southcrest.
"You mean people actually live here? This place is like a mall." Lawrence said with wide eyes.
"Just look at the grounds... this place is amazing." Billy said as he followed Allen's Caravan.
* * * * *
"Uncle Chip!" Kevin squealed in delight as he raced from the Caravan to hug Chip tightly.
"Hello Little One. How did you like Camp Little Eagle?" Chip asked with a happy smile.
"It was so cool. Everyone was really nice and there was a real Indian Chief running it and they said I wasn't too dumb to be in regular classes and Xain has his very own teacher and Deacon and Lawrence will maybe get to go to school with us too." Kevin rambled in excitement.
"Breathe Kevin, you have to slow down and breathe." Allen said with a chuckle as he casually walked to stand by Chip's side.
"How are you all doing today?" Chip asked Allen with amusement as he hoisted Kevin to rest on his hip.
"We're doing fine. Commander Chip Dodds, I'd like to introduce my mother, Mona Bridson, my friend Billy Pierce and his brother Deacon and his... protégé, Lawrence." Allen finished with a smile.
"Nice to meet you all. Please come in and make yourselves at home." Chip said as he walked to the door carrying Kevin on his hip.
* * * * *
"To make this as simple as possible, I'm just going to tell you all who everyone is. Otherwise introductions could take all afternoon." Chip said with a smile.
"First we have my brother, Captain Spock of the USS Enterprise."
Xain looked at Spock curiously. This man was the example that had been held up to him for the majority of his life. In all these years Captain Spock had been larger than life, an ideal to strive toward. Now here was the man in the flesh before him.
"Next is my husband, Josh Chasez-Dodds, you might also know him as JC from N*Sync."
Lawrence felt his knees go weak at the sight of JC. N*Sync was one of his all time favorite bands and now he was here in the same room with JC! And he was even cuter in real life than in his pictures!
"Beside Josh is Lieutenant Brady Thompson. He's a Security officer on the Enterprise."
Ricardo struggled in his mother's arms, wanting to go to his Unca Brady. The only thing in his mind was the desire to be in the arms of his Unca Brady.
"Next is Doctor Christine Chapel, also from the Enterprise." Chip said with a gentle look at Christine.
Kenny looked at Dr. Chapel and remembered her from their visit to the Enterprise. She wasn't like other adults. She treated him and his brothers like friends, not kids.
"Next we have Teri Short, Director of Federation Youth Services."
Juana smiled at Teri, thinking what a genuinely nice person she was.
"Beside her we have Helen McCarthy, who is pretty much the backbone of the Short household from what I've heard."
Teri gave a smile and nod of agreement as Helen shyly waved at everyone.
Mona looked at Helen and felt a kindred spirit. Helen looked like a woman who had faced everything the world had thrown at her and came through triumphant.
"Next we have Lieutenant Bowers from the USS Yorktown."
Allen looked carefully at Lieutenant Bowers, feeling that he had seen him somewhere before.
"On my hip is Kevin Thompson, a member of Clan Short." Chip said with a smile at the boy on his side.
"Over here we have Allen Thompson, a senior programmer on Project Libra."
Brady smiled at his brother and nephews.
"Surrounding Allen, we have Jake, Xain and Kenny Thompson, members of Clan Short."
Spock noticed Xain among the Human children and allowed himself the indulgence of a moment to speculate on Xain's presence.
"Next we have Billy and Deacon Pierce and Lawrence Winters."
Lawrence looked at Chip with question, knowing that no one had mentioned his last name.
"Then the backbone of the Thompson household, Juana Vasquez and her sons Reuben and Ricardo." Chip said, then looked around and asked, "Did I miss anyone?"
"Edovina Thompson, daughter of Jake and Xain Thompson of the house of Suvak." Xain said as he took a step forward with Edovina in his arms.
"Of course. Thank you Xain." Chip said with a grin at the Vulcan boy before him.
"I guess you're wondering why I've asked you all here." Chip began, when JC interrupted.
"You've been watching too many late night murder mysteries, Love."
“I'll deal with you later, Angel.”
"Promises, promises," JC replied.
Chip smiled back at JC and gave him a wink. He then turned back to his guests. "Lawrence, Teri is the Director of Federation Youth Services. She has the authority to place you with a permanent guardian." Chip said gently.
A look of panic came over Lawrence's face at the words.
"Don't worry. I'll make sure everything works out the way you want it to." Teri whispered.
Lawrence gave a hesitant nod.
"Lawrence, next I'd like you to meet a very special person, Lieutenant Joseph Bowers of the Yorktown... your biological father." Chip said with a smile of delight.
Silence fell over the room as everyone watched the father and son staring at each other.
Lawrence looked up into the face of the Starfleet Lieutenant and saw some of his own features reflected back.
"You're my dad?" Lawrence asked timidly.
Lieutenant Bowers nodded with tears starting to form in his light blue eyes.
Lawrence fought the urge to run to the man and hug him. He pooled his courage and finally asked, "Do you want me?"
"Yes son, I absolutely want you." Lieutenant Bowers said and opened his arms to Lawrence.
Billy and Deacon held onto each other as they saw their newest brother being drawn away from them.
"Why don't we give these two some time alone to get to know each other." Chip said with a smile at the pair.
Reluctantly, Billy and Deacon followed the group into the game room.
* * * * *
As the group entered the game room, Xain followed Spock with his eyes.
"Would you like me to introduce you to him?" JC asked quietly from behind Xain.
"Your husband's method of introduction in the living room was adequate." Xain said seriously.
JC smiled at the 'Vulcan' response and said, "Come on Xain. I'm sure my brother-in-law would like to speak with you."
Xain obediently followed JC to meet Spock.
Jake was only a step behind.
* * * * *
"Unca Brady!" Ricardo screeched in complete joy as Juana finally released him.
Brady squatted down and caught Ricardo as he barreled into his arms.
"I've missed you Ricardo. How are you?" Brady asked softly as he hugged the young boy.
"We went to see the school where Kevin and Jake and Xain are gonna go. It's really pretty there and everyone was nice to me." Ricardo said happily from Brady's arms.
"I've gotten all your messages and it sounds like you've been having a lot of fun. Are you and Reuben getting along okay?" Brady asked as he picked up Ricardo to hold him on his hip.
"Yeah. Reuben bathed with me last night and said that it was 'cause he likes me being his brother. He said that he likes me and loves me." Ricardo said happily.
Brady smiled at Ricardo's rambling story and said, "I'm glad your brother told you that he loves you. Sometimes people forget to say it."
"I love you Unca Brady." Ricardo said seriously.
"I love you too Ricardo." Brady said and gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek.
* * * * *
"Hello again. How are you doing Kenny?" Christine asked in a gentle voice.
"Okay. It's nice to see you again." Kenny said shyly.
"Thank you. When Chip invited me to a party at his house I couldn't resist. Besides, I wanted to see how you and your brothers were doing." She said with a loving smile.
"We're all doing really good, come on. I want you to meet my grandma." Kenny said happily.
* * * * *
"Why didn't you ever write to me or visit me?" Lawrence asked in a plaintive whisper.
"Because I thought you'd be better off without me." Lieutenant Bowers said honestly.
Lawrence looked at his father with disbelief.
"I suppose I'd better tell you everything before we decide what we're going to do." Lieutenant Bowers said as he fell into the nearest couch.
"Tell me what?" Lawrence asked cautiously.
"I was young, stupid and dirt poor when I met your mother. We thought we were in love but... I don't know what happened. The feelings just went away after a while. Anyway, we stayed together and you were born... I was so happy." He paused with a smile.
"What happened?" Lawrence asked desperately.
"I would have stayed with your mother forever if she would have let me. But she left me. It wasn't her fault, I had nothing to offer her... not even my love. You were the only reason we stayed together as long as we did." Lawrence's father said with a distant, defeated look in his eyes.
"Finally she met someone else. Someone with money who was willing to take care of you and raise you as his own son." Lieutenant Bowers said softly.
"So you stepped back and let him because he could provide for me and you couldn't." Lawrence said in a distant voice.
"Yeah. After losing you... I had to get as far away as possible. The best way I knew to do that was Starfleet. I worked harder to qualify for the Academy than I've worked for anything in my life. It's taken a lot of years, but I've made it to the rank of Lieutenant." He said softly.
Lawrence thought about what his father was saying, then asked, "Where do you live?"
"On my ship, the Yorktown. This is the first time I've set foot on Earth in nearly seven years." Lieutenant Bowers said quietly.
"If we... I mean, if I was going to live with you, where would I live?" Lawrence asked cautiously.
"Well, I could probably talk to the Captain and arrange for you to stay with me in my cabin until I can arrange to get transferred planet-side." Lieutenant Bowers said in thought.
Lawrence looked at his father and considered all that he had just heard.
A flash of inspiration came over Lawrence and he quickly said, "Hold on a minute, I need to go get someone."
"I'll be right here." His father said with concern.
* * * * *
"Kevin, you and I and your Uncle Josh are going to have to have a serious talk a little bit later." Chip said as he held Kevin in a firm hug.
"What about?" Kevin asked cautiously.
"We'll talk about it later, Little One. Right now I have guests. Would you mind helping me?" Chip asked with a smile.
"What can I do?" Kevin asked seriously.
"We need to make sure that all the guests are comfortable and having a good time. If anyone is alone, we need to talk to them and make them feel included. Do you think you can help me do that?" Chip asked gently.
"Yeah, I'll help you, Uncle Chip." Kevin said as he hugged Chip tightly.
* * * * *
"Spock, this is Xain Thompson... oh, and his brother Jake." JC said as he noticed Jake following them.
"And Edovina." Jake said quietly as he looked at his daughter in Xain's arms.
"And Edovina." JC said with a smile at the sleeping baby.
"Greetings." Spock said formally and noticed that Jake's blond hair was styled in a somewhat Vulcan manner.
"I thought Spock and Xain would like to talk since you're both..." JC trailed off, not having any idea of what he should say next that wouldn't sound insulting.
Spock, Xain and Jake each raised one eyebrow in an inquisitive fashion as they looked at JC.
"I'll leave you guys to talk, I have to attend to my other guests." JC said in a rush and hurried away.
A long silence fell over the trio as they looked at each other.
Jake finally broke the silence by saying, "Xain's father has used you as an example of what Xain should be."
"How so?" Spock asked with interest.
"He who is my father compiled a list of those of your actions that are a matter of public record. My studies have been structured in such a fashion to provide the skills to emulate your knowledge and abilities." Xain said carefully.
Spock slowly raised an eyebrow in consideration before asking, "I am curious to know of the logic in that decision."
"She who was my mother was of Earth. My hybrid physiology has presented challenges for my education and socialization. He who is my father believes that it is logical to pattern my life after a person of mixed parentage who has made great achievements." Xain said reasonably.
Spock thought about the words, then slowly said, "There is one notable flaw in that logic."
Xain raised an eyebrow in question.
"The course of my life has been determined by my choices. Any achievements I have made have been the result of facing the consequences of those choices and overcoming the obstacles that lay before me. To base your decisions on the results of my choices rather than the choices themselves is to remove the most important factor." Spock said carefully.
"Which is?" Xain asked without inflection.
"Doing that which I believed to be right." Spock said seriously.
"So what you're saying is, that instead of trying to follow in your footsteps, Xain should make his own footsteps?" Jake asked cautiously.
"A succinct and accurate interpretation." Spock said in a considering voice.
"And in doing so, I would in essence, be following your example by mimicking your motivation rather than your actions." Xain said in thought.
Spock gave a single nod in agreement.
"It may be difficult to explain this reasoning to 'he who is my father'. Perhaps Father may offer some insights in this matter." Xain said seriously to Jake.
"Yeah, Dad's pretty good at making sense out of stuff like this." Jake said seriously.
Spock raised an eyebrow in question.
"Solak is Xain's sa-mekh and is called 'he who is Xain's father'. Allen is Xain's a'nirih and is called Father." Jake explained.
Spock got a considering look, then said, "I believe the distinction would be lost on most Humans."
"Well, I get it." Jake said with a shrug.
"From your explanation of the distinction, I believe you do. However, if you would not be opposed to my intrusion into your personal affairs, I would like to make an observation."
"Proceed, your observation is welcomed." Xain said with interest.
"Logic would suggest that more distinct identifiers should be used." Spock said in thought.
Xain raised an eyebrow inquisitively.
"Repeated explanation of the subtle distinction is time consuming and inefficient." Spock said without inflection.
Xain nodded in acceptance of the fact.
"And the possibility for misunderstanding among Humans is greatly increased by using such similar terms." Spock continued.
"I acknowledge your logic. Thank you for your observation, Captain Spock." Xain said seriously.
"Outside a formal setting, the use of my rank is unnecessary." Spock said in a neutral voice.
Xain nodded once in acknowledgement.
"So what do you want to call Solak and Allen?" Jake asked seriously.
Xain thought for a moment, then his considering gaze met Jake's curious eyes.
"Solak will be Father. Allen will be Dad." Xain said and betrayed a small smile of fondness at Jake.
Jake smiled at the choice and nodded.
Spock watched their interaction curiously.
* * * * *
"Hello Teri, it is good to see you again." Juana said quietly.
"Good morning Juana. How are you today?" Teri asked with a friendly smile.
"Very good, although I do not understand why we are here." Juana said honestly.
"Well, it's a rare occasion when Chip is on Earth and Josh isn't on tour. And since everyone was apparently available today, they decided to have a gathering. I thought that after everyone has had a chance to chat, the ladies would probably retreat to the kitchen and we could have our talk just like we planned." Teri said honestly.
"That would be good. I brought a coffee cake, just in case." Juana said as she glanced to see where Reuben, Ricardo and Edovina were.
"That sounds wonderful. Let's just see how this thing with Lawrence works out, then we'll sneak away. I think Helen is already in the kitchen, probably helping Hazel with snacks or something." Teri said as she looked around.
"From his comments at breakfast this morning, I believe Lawrence would like to be included in our talk if you wouldn't object." Juana said slowly.
"That would be fine. I'd like to get to know him. He seems to be a nice boy." Teri said with a smile.
"He is." Juana said gently.
* * * * *
Allen walked to stand beside Deacon and Billy.
"God Allen, I feel so selfish right now I can't stand myself." Billy said in a whisper.
"You want Lawrence to stay with you instead of his father." Allen said gently.
"Yeah. Isn't that just horrible of me? I should just want him to be happy." Billy said as he held Deacon tightly to his side.
"Well, if it's horrible, then I'm horrible too." Allen said honestly.
"Me too." Deacon said with a voice filled with worry.
"Whatever happens, we'll get through this Deke. I promise." Billy said quietly.
"Yeah, we're all in this together." Allen said as he squeezed Deacon's shoulder with one hand.
* * * * *
"Grandma, this is Dr. Chapel." Kenny said as he led Christine by the hand.
"Nice to meet you Dr. Chapel." Mona said with a genuine smile.
"Please call me Christine." She said as she gently shook Mona's hand.
"And you call me Mona. You seem to be a close friend of my grandson's." Mona said with a fond smile at Kenny.
"Well, we had a chance to get to know each other when he came on board the Enterprise. The boys and I played a few hands of cards while we waited for the men to finish their meeting." Christine finished with a grin.
"Oh, I love to play cards. What do you play?" Mona asked with interest.
"Just about anything. Spades, Hearts, Canasta, Poker... I'm a little rusty on Bridge, but I think I still remember the basics." Christine said in thought.
"We'll have to get together and play a few hands sometime. Maybe later today." Mona said in a considering voice.
"That sounds like fun. But you'll have to watch out for Kenny here. He's a card shark." Christine said in a teasing voice.
"I trumped her ace." Kenny said with a shy giggle.
"Yes you did. I still owe you for that." Christine said with a smile.
Mona glanced at the doorway, hoping things were going well with Lawrence.
* * * * *
"You seem to be on your own over here. How are you doing Reuben?" JC asked gently.
"I'm fine. I was just giving Ricardo time to be alone with Uncle Brady." Reuben said as he watched his brother carefully.
"I bet you want to spend some time with your Uncle Brady too." JC observed.
"Yeah. But Ricardo is little and he needs to have Uncle Brady all by himself for a little while." Reuben said as he looked up to meet JC's eyes.
"That's very grown-up of you, Reuben. How would you feel about walking around with me and talking to people until Ricardo and Brady are finished?" JC asked gently.
Reuben smiled at JC and said, "Okay. You're nice, I like you."
JC smiled at the genuine compliment and responded, "I like you too."
* * * * *
"Billy, can you and Deacon come in here? I need your help." Lawrence asked hopefully with a note of desperation in his voice.
"Sure, Lawrence." Billy said quietly with dread.
Allen watched as Billy and Deacon followed Lawrence out of the game room.
* * * * *
"Dad, this is Billy, the guy I've been staying with." Lawrence said seriously.
"Thanks for taking care of my son." Lieutenant Bowers said quietly.
"Lawrence is a great boy. It's been a pleasure to have him in our house." Billy said with an ache in his heart.
"Billy, were you serious about me staying with you, like from now on?" Lawrence asked in confirmation.
"Yeah. I already think of you as my brother." Billy said quietly.
Lawrence nodded and said, "Dad, your life is in Starfleet. I don't want you to give up everything that you've worked so hard for."
Lieutenant Bowers looked at his son with panic in his eyes.
"I want for you to be my father, but I don't want to live on a starship or make you take a job on Earth just to take care of me." Lawrence explained.
"But I wouldn't mind doing it." His father said quickly.
"But I'd mind. You said you started out with nothing. Now you're a Lieutenant in Starfleet. I won't be responsible for you giving up your career." Lawrence said firmly.
"So what are you saying?" Lieutenant Bowers asked hesitantly.
"I'm saying that if Billy and Deacon still want me, I'd like to live with them. And when you're on Earth, we could visit and do father-son things together." Lawrence said carefully.
"Is that alright with you?" Lieutenant Bowers asked, directing his question to Billy.
"Yeah. It sounds perfect to me." Billy said peacefully.
"Please don't worry. Billy and Deacon are my brothers. You'll be my one and only father." Lawrence said seriously.
"Thank you Lawrence. I understand." Lieutenant Bowers said with relief.
"Then let's go tell Chip and Teri what we've come up with so we can make everything legal." Billy said to the group.
"Could you hang on a few minutes? There's one more thing I need to tell Dad." Lawrence said with a look of concern.
Billy looked at Lawrence and realized what he meant.
* * * * *
"Excuse me, Mona, do you think you could help me for a minute?" Lawrence asked with a rush.
"Of course. What do you need?" Mona asked at Lawrence's frustrated and worried expression.
"I need to change... I've got to show my dad what he'll be getting for a son before we do anything official." Lawrence said with a tremble of fear in his voice.
"Get the car keys from Allen so we can get your stuff and I'll help you." Mona said decisively.
Lawrence hurried away as Mona said, "Excuse me, Christine. My grandson needs me. I'm sure you understand."
"Of course. Please call if you need my help with anything." Christine said with concern at Lawrence's fearful mood.
"I'll be fine, but if Lieutenant Bowers says anything to hurt Lawrence, he may be needing your professional services." Mona said firmly.
Christine nodded and rested a hand on Kenny's shoulder as she watched Mona and Lawrence leave the room.
* * * * *
"So how did you meet my son?" Lieutenant Bowers asked cautiously, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
Billy looked at Deacon, seeing if he wanted to explain.
Deacon looked from his brother to Lieutenant Bowers and slowly said, "He was getting beat up when we found him. I saw him laying on the ground, hurt and bleeding, then he looked up into my eyes... I had to help him. I don't think I even decided, I just knew that I had to help him and do whatever I could to make sure he was never hurt again."
"Thanks for helping him. I really thought I was giving Lawrence a chance at a great life by letting Winters adopt him." Lieutenant Bowers said quietly.
"Lawrence hasn't told us very much about what happened, but from what little he's said, it sounds like his adoptive father has been putting him down and degrading him for years... trying to destroy his self-image." Billy said quietly.
"Why would he do that?" Lieutenant Bowers asked in a pained voice.
Billy looked at Deacon cautiously, then said, "Ask me again after Lawrence gets back."
Lieutenant Bowers looked at Billy and Deacon, then slowly nodded.
* * * * *
"You don't have to do this if you don't want to sweetie." Mona said as she walked with Laura to the door of the living room.
"I have to, Grandma. I've got to be honest with him before I'm made his son. I need to know if he can accept me." Laura said with tears in her eyes.
Mona pulled Laura into a gentle hug and said, "I'm so proud of you. No matter what happens in there, just remember that we're all there with you. Billy and Deacon love you like brothers and I love you as a grandmother. If your father can't deal with it, that's his problem, not yours."
"Thanks, Grandma." Laura said as she increased her hug.
"But if he gets nasty with you, I'm going to rip his face off." Mona said seriously.
Laura looked up at Mona in surprise.
"Maybe not literally. But I won't let him hurt you. No one is going to hurt you if I can prevent it." Mona said firmly.
"Okay." Laura whispered and pulled back to prepare herself.
Mona fussed with Laura's 'autumn' dress and straightened the pin on the collar before withdrawing her hands and giving a slight nod.
Laura took a deep inhale to brace herself and turned to enter the living room.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Bowers looked up as he saw movement in the doorway.
"Hi dad." Laura said hesitantly as she walked to stand beside Deacon.
Lieutenant Bowers stared in shock and his mouth fell open.
Mona carefully walked in to stand at Laura's other side.
Laura couldn't interpret her father's frozen stare.
"I just had to know if you can handle this." Laura finally said in a whisper.
Lieutenant Bowers blinked, then rushed to the door without saying a word.
Laura turned to follow, but Mona held her back.
"Give him a few minutes to deal with this Laura. Billy, can go after him if you want." Mona said and looked at Billy.
"Would you?" Laura asked Billy hopefully.
Billy's only response was to run out the living room door.
* * * * *
Just outside the living room door, Billy found Lieutenant Bowers sitting against the wall with his knees drawn up to his chest.
"Do you mind if I talk with you, Lieutenant Bowers?" Billy asked cautiously.
"Joe." Lieutenant Bowers said into his knees.
"Care to talk about it, Joe?" Billy asked carefully.
"I guess." Joe said hesitantly.
Billy sat in the floor beside Joe and waited.
Uncomfortable silence fell between the two as Billy waited for Joe to ask the questions that were most important to him.
"Why is he like that?" Joe asked in a whisper.
"I don't know for sure. His adoptive father used to tell him he was too prissy to be a boy. I don't know if Lawrence has gender issues because he was told that, or if Lawrence was told that because even back then he had gender issues." Billy said frankly.
"So it doesn't bother you?" Joe asked carefully.
Billy smiled and said, "Not a bit. Lawrence is a gentle person with a tremendous loving heart. Him wearing pants or a dress doesn't change his heart."
"I guess not. I don't even know why this is freaking me out so bad. It's just ... it's like something in me just snapped when I saw him dressed like that." Joe said desperately.
"Boys wear blue and girls wear pink." Billy said simply.
"What?" Joe asked in confusion.
"Lawrence is wearing pink. It goes against everything you were taught from early childhood." Billy said in thought.
"Yeah. I guess it does. I always thought I was so open minded..." Joe trailed off in a defeated whisper.
"Your first reaction doesn't make you homophobic or intolerant or anything, just human. What counts is what you do after you've had some time to deal with it. Can you accept Lawrence, even when he's dressed as Laura?" Billy asked frankly.
"I... I don't know." Joe said honestly.
"Your son is in there, probably turning himself inside out with worry about what you think of him. Even if you can't tell him everything he wants to hear right this minute. I think it would be good if you could go in there and let him know you don't hate him." Billy said cautiously.
Joe looked at Billy with surprise at the statement.
"Lots of fathers disown their sons and throw them out into the street over things like this. Lawrence never said either way, but I think his adoptive father might have done that. I think it's important for him to know that you love him, even when he's not exactly what you expect him to be." Billy said as he stood.
"Tell him I'll be in in a minute." Joe said in a distant voice.
"Yeah." Billy said and walked through the door.
* * * * *
"How is he?" Mona asked as she held Deacon and Laura in her arms.
"He's thinking about things. He said he'll be right in." Billy said as he walked into the room.
Laura pulled out of Mona's hug and wiped her eyes.
"I'm proud of you, Laura." Billy said honestly as he looked her in the eyes.
"Thanks." Laura whispered.
Joe walked into the room and looked hesitantly at Laura.
A look of determination fell across Laura's face as she walked to her father.
"Dad, if my being a girl bothers you that much... I won't do it anymore." Laura said firmly as she looked him in the eyes.
"Really?" Joe asked hopefully.
"Really." Laura said sadly, then continued, "Even though I'm not very good at being a boy because I'm prissy and feminine, I'll try and be what you want me to be."
Joe looked into Laura's eyes and saw the truth in her words.
"Thank you. But I'm not going to ask you to do that. You dressing like this makes me uncomfortable, but it doesn't change the fact that I'm your father. If you decide to dress like a boy, do it because it's what you want, not what I want. I'll still be your father and I'll love you no matter what you decide." Joe said hesitantly.
Tears started falling down Laura's cheeks as she threw herself into her father's arms.
After a long moment of hugging, Joe quietly said, "You really look nice."
"Thank you, Daddy." Laura said as she pulled back to look him in the eyes.
"I'm going to try, but I don't know how to be the father of a ... shit, I don't even know the right word for what you are." Joe finished in frustration.
"I think trans-gender is the catch-all label these days." Billy said quietly.
"Thanks, Billy. Laura, please forgive me if I don't do the right things or say the right things. I just don't know what the father of a... trans-gender is supposed to do." Joe said in an apologetic voice.
"That's okay, Daddy. I don't know either. But I won't always be like this. Mona told me that I have a safe place to live and time to figure out what I want to be for sure. When I'm sure, I'll let you know." Laura said seriously.
"You'll let me know what?" Joe asked hesitantly.
"If I'm going to be a boy or a girl. It's just too confusing to be both; I don't want that for the rest of my life. When I've decided, I'll tell you." Laura said with a hopeful look into her father's eyes.
Joe smiled and said, "I'll be waiting. Until then, just let me know if you need me to do anything."
"You just did it. You told me that you love me no matter what. I can't think of anything else that I could want." Laura said with fresh tears in her eyes.
"Then lets go talk to those people who can make everything legal... if you still want to be my son?" Joe asked hesitantly.
"Of course I do." Laura said with a smile.
Joe noticed that Billy, Deacon and Mona were in a group hug, watching them.
"Thanks for taking care of my s... child." Joe finished with a smile.
"It was our pleasure." Billy said honestly.
"I'm so proud of you, Laura. That took so much courage ..." Mona said as she looked with admiration into Laura's eyes.
Laura shyly ducked her head and said, "Yeah, I guess it did."
"That was really brave Laura. I don't think I could have done it." Deacon said honestly.
Laura cleared her throat, then in her deepest and most masculine voice, she said, "Yeah, it was tough. Cross-dressin ain't for sissies."
Everyone laughed as the group filed out of the living room.
* * * * *
As soon as Laura entered the game room Chip walked to greet her with Kevin at his side.
"You look like you've had a good talk. Is everything okay?"
Laura glanced at her dad, then said, "Yeah, perfect."
Nearly everyone in the room started to converge on Laura when Chip said in a loud voice, "Give Teri and I a minute to talk with Laura and Lieutenant Bowers before we interrogate them about their decision."
"Can I come too?" Kevin asked Chip hopefully.
"Not this time, Little One. But if you wouldn't mind helping me, you could do me a favor." Chip said gently.
"Sure Uncle Chip. I'll do anything you want." Kevin said with a great smile.
"Please ask Spock to join us in my study. Depending on what Teri decides, it might be helpful to have a second Starfleet Officer to serve as a witness."
Kevin hurried away to get Spock.
"If you two will come with me to my study, we'll get everything taken care of." Chip said to Laura and Joe as he turned to leave.
"We need Billy there, and I think Deacon should be there too." Laura said seriously.
"Oh, okay. Well, let's go then." Chip said uncertainly as he watched Billy and Joe walk out of the game room.
As Laura and Deacon walked out the game room door, Chip noticed Deacon put an arm gently around Laura in a protective gesture.