"So. Are you fucking my brother?" Jimmy asked Valentine with a look of menace in his piggy little eyes.
"No. But since you seem interested to know about my sexuality, perhaps I should ask what you have in mind." Valentine said frankly.
Jimmy's eyes went wide at the question, then he stammered, "I, um..."
Mike fought to restrain his chuckles at the sight of his brother at a loss for words.
Everyone was quiet, waiting for Jimmy's eventual reaction.
Some excited commentary on the television drew their attention, breaking the awkward silence.
Valentine was surprised to discover that he actually got drawn into the end of the football game. Although he really didn't understand everything that was going on, he could tell from the reactions of the others if what happened on the TV screen was something good or bad.
* * * * *
When the game was over, Mike announced that he and Valentine needed to leave for the spaceport soon to catch their transport back to the academy.
"I'll take you." Mike's father, Lloyd, said immediately.
Valentine noticed the surprised look on people's faces, but didn't give it much thought, not when the prospect of getting away from the vile stench was so close at hand.
"I guess we're ready to go whenever you are." Mike said cautiously.
Lloyd got the car keys from his father, then said, "Let's roll."
Mike's mother ran up to him and pulled him into a firm hug.
"Things are a lot different from when I was your age." Gramps said seriously to Valentine. "You give Mike something he could never get while he was here."
"I don't know that I give him anything. It's Mike that gives to me. I depend on his help every day in the labs at the academy." Valentine said frankly.
"That, right there, is what you give him. A man needs respect." Gramps said, then patted Valentine on the shoulder as he walked past him into the kitchen.
"Ready?" Lloyd asked as he stood by the doorway.
They had to wait a moment longer for Mike's mother to stop hugging him, but finally they were done.
* * * * *
"Dad! Terry and I need to get back to the academy." Troy said as he approached his father.
"Already? We haven't even had two minutes to sit down and talk." David said with disappointment.
"Yeah. But if I stayed here another four hours, we still wouldn't have a chance to talk." Troy said frankly.
David looked around the room, then reluctantly said, "You're probably right."
"So why don't you fly us back to San Francisco and spend some time talking when we get there?" Terry asked simply. "I'll be able to find my way back to the academy from the airport with no problem, so you wouldn't even have to worry about me tagging along."
"I'm sure your mother expects..." David began to say, then saw Troy's hopeful look fall.
"You know what? Let's do it! You guys grab your things and meet me in the garage." David said decisively.
Troy broke into a huge smile and hugged his father tightly.
"There'll be time enough for that once we're out of here. Go on." David coaxed, then glanced around before ducking out of the room.
Troy hurried over and picked up Terry's ornament and his tablet computer, still in it's unopened box.
"I want to throw this in my room, then we'll be ready to go." Troy said as he led Terry to the stairs.
* * * * *
"Where did Khari go?" Melanie's father asked as he looked around.
"He and Ryan seemed to need to talk." Sharan said simply.
"Good! I love that boy but sometimes he really is thick headed."
"Which one?" Patrick asked from his father's side.
"Well, I was talking about Khari, but I guess it would be kind of a contest to see which one of them is more thick headed. They're like two peas in a pod."
"I hope they can figure it out. Ryan's never been as happy with anyone else and Khari seemed to really be opening up. They're just so good for each other." Patrick said distantly.
"No matter what happens, remember that we can't interfere. Since we love them, the best thing we can do is stay out of their way and support their decisions." Melanie's father said sagely.
"No. I'm not going to stand in the background anymore. If Ryan and Khari can't work it out this time, then I'm going to ask Khari out on a date." Paul said frankly.
"But you're not gay." Melanie's father said cautiously.
"I go both ways." Paul said as he looked his father in the eyes. "I usually go more for women, but that's mostly about convenience. I think that being with Khari would be a great relationship for both of us."
"If you started dating Khari, it could destroy your relationship with your brother."
"And if I don't, I might never see Khari again. I'll risk Ryan's wrath if it means keeping Khari in my life." Paul said honestly.
"I really hope it doesn't come to that, Paul." Melanie's father said quietly.
"Me either." Paul reluctantly admitted, "I just want Khari to be happy, and if Ryan can do that for him, then I'll be fine with cheering them on from the sidelines."
"Do you love him?"
Paul nodded, then looked at his father and quietly said, "Maybe even as much as Ryan does."
"Does he know?"
"I think he knows that I care about him. That's all he needs to know right now. I wouldn't want for things to become awkward between us." Paul said honestly.
"How is everything going in here?" Melanie asked cheerfully as she walked into the family room.
"When I used to watch Earth television to prepare for my time at the academy, I believed that the overly dramatic stories were an exaggeration for entertainments sake." Sharan said frankly, then added, "It appears that I was mistaken."
Several chuckles sounded from the men around the room.
"What time do we need to leave? I wouldn't want us to miss our transport." Melanie asked quietly.
"Actually, I booked our return passage on commercial transport. I anticipated that you would want to spend as much time as possible with your family, so we don't have to be at the airport until midnight, local time." Sharan said gently.
"I love you, Sharan!" Melanie squealed as she hugged him tightly.
"I love you, too, Mel." Sharan said sincerely as he pulled the excited girl close to him.
Melanie suddenly stopped all movement and looked at Sharan with surprise.
Sharan gave one single, decisive nod to confirm that he had meant what he said.
"I've got to go tell mom!" Melanie exploded with excitement, then raced out of the room.
There was a long moment of silence, then Paul said, "Thank you for making your own contribution to our drama."
Sharan looked at him suddenly, then broke into a smile as he said, "I believe you Earth people have a saying about 'When in Rome...'."
* * * * *
"So tell me, do you have any 'single' classmates that I should know about?" Rosella asked with a predatory grin.
Phillipa shook her head, but Juan seemed to really be considering it.
I was just thinking that Liam and Rosella might make a really good couple, you know, like complimentary personalities."
Phillipa looked at Juan strangely, but before she could say anything, Rosella quickly asked, "So who is Liam, and more importantly, is he HOT?"
"He's a cadet officer who's about to graduate. And even though I don't go around judging guys looks, I think it's safe to say that he's pretty good looking." Juan said seriously.
"Smoking hot." Phillipa interjected.
Juan looked at her with surprise.
"Hey! I can notice, can't I?" Phillipa said playfully.
"But is he SINGLE?" Rosella asked slowly.
"Yeah, as far as I know." Juan said speculatively.
"He's visiting his family in Ireland right now, but I think he'll be back at the academy tomorrow." Phillipa said thoughtfully.
"If you're interested, we can talk to him and see if he'd like to meet an energetic and interesting young lady." Juan said with a smile.
"Don't forget to mention 'gorgeous'." Rosella said firmly.
"Of course, we'll be sure to mention that first." Juan chuckled.
"Seriously, Ella. We'll see if he's interested, and if he is, we'll give him your email address. After that, it's up to you." Phillipa said frankly.
"Mammie, that's all I need. I mean, what man could resist this." She asked as she struck a pose.
Juan looked her over, then shook his head as he said, "Poor Liam, he doesn't stand a chance."
* * * * *
Valentine noticed the tension in the car as they pulled out of the trailer park.
"I just wanted to say thank you for coming home for Christmas." Lloyd said quietly.
"I promised that I would." Mike responded simply.
"I know it may not have felt like it sometimes, but we wouldn't have been able to enjoy the holiday without you." Lloyd said frankly.
"I'm sure Jimmy would have been just as happy if I weren't there." Mike said honestly.
"Your brother has a lot to deal with. You need to cut him some slack." Lloyd said quietly.
"Cut him some slack? All he gets is slack! Dad, you need to open your eyes and stop defending him." Mike said firmly.
There was a long moment of silence, then Lloyd finally asked, "Do you know what the greatest day of your brothers life was?"
"Sure. It's when he caught that interception that won the game in his senior year of high school." Mike responded with confusion at the non sequitor.
"That's probably the best day he'll ever have. Take a good look at your brother, Mike. He can barely read or write. That boy looks like he's been beat half to death with an 'ugly stick' and he's dumb as a stump. And I'm not just talkin about book learnin, that boy don't have a lick of good sense. I feel like I need to talk him up and tell him that I'm proud of him for the little things he does because, let's face it, outside our house, no one's likely to say a single kind word to him."
"Does that mean that you're proud of me, too?" Mike asked hesitantly.
"I'm proud of both of you. I'm proud of your brother for what he's done and for the fact that he keeps trying." Lloyd said quietly, then added, "Of course I'm proud of you for getting accepted to Starfleet and all that, but it's different. Jimmy's probably already done the best thing he will ever do. You're just getting started."
"Huh?" Mike asked in confusion.
"You've got the brains and the drive to better yourself. I'll wager that before very long, you'll be doin somethin that'll make me so proud that I'll be fit to bust. And when that happens, I'll speak right up about it. I'll stand up there and tell you how proud I am 'cause I just won't be able to hold it in no more. And you'll know that I mean it because I don't go around praising you for the little things."
Mike stared at his father in wonder.
"And, unless I miss my guess, I figure that you're gonna make me proud like that more than once."
"I'll do my best." Mike muttered as he fought to restrain his tears.
"You always do. I'm just sorry as I can be if I ever made you feel like that wasn't good enough." Lloyd said honestly.
"You didn't make me feel anything. I let myself feel that way. But now that I understand, it won't be a problem anymore." Mike said as he regained control of his emotions.
"You always were the strong one." Lloyd said absently as he turned his attention fully to his driving.
* * * * *
"THIS is your room?" Terry asked as he looked inside.
"Yeah." Troy said as he walked into an alcove where an impressive computer system was located.
"Troy, this room is bigger than my whole HOUSE back at the colony." Terry said frankly.
"I know it's nicer than some people's rooms, but it's really not that special." Troy said dismissively.
"Where's the bed?" Terry asked curiously.
"Over that way, around the corner." Troy said with a casual gesture across the room.
Terry couldn't restrain his curiosity and ventured further into the enormous room.
"Oh! Come on! You have a balcony with a hot tub! A big screen home theater and a computer system like I've never seen in my life! This is a lot more than 'better than some people's'." Terry said in a voice of challenge.
"Okay, I admit it. I used to be into all the materialistic 'things'. Are you happy now?" Troy asked defensively.
"Not particularly." Terry said quietly, "I'm your friend and I want to understand who you really are."
"I'm a rich spoiled brat who woke up one day and realized that everything that I trusted and believed in for my whole life was a lie. I finally saw all this... crap, for what it really is. A pretty little gilded cage meant to keep me pacified until the brainwashing is complete." Troy said seriously.
Terry thought about Troy's words as he looked around, then said, "Let's get out of here."
"I'll take you down the back stairs so we don't have to face the 'festivities'." Troy said as he hurried toward the door.
"Good plan." Terry said as he followed closely behind.
* * * * *
Silence fell over the family room as Ryan and Khari walked in.
"Well?" Patrick asked impatiently.
"Well, what?" Ryan asked with confusion.
"Are you two back together or not?" Patrick asked frankly.
Khari looked at Sharan uncertainly.
"I'm curious, too." Sharan said honestly. "I just told them that you two were talking."
Ryan looked at Khari with question and received a nod in response.
"We've decided to give it another try." Ryan said simply.
A cheer went up around the room and all the men moved forward at once to hug the couple and offer their congratulations.
After a moment of watching the group happily hugging and back slapping, Sharan was surprised when he was pulled into a hug from his side.
"Thanks for what you said, Sharan. We talked about things and... I think it's going to be better." Khari said frankly.
"I hope so, Khari." Sharan said honestly.
* * * * *
"Let me take him upstairs." Eduardo said when he noticed that Little Juan had fallen asleep on Juan's lap.
"I don't mind if he stays. My little brother, Marco, used to fall asleep on my lap all the time. Mama used to say that it was the only way to get him to sleep." Juan said distantly.
"You must miss your family terribly." Eduardo said with sympathy as he settled in on the couch beside Juan.
"Sometimes, yeah." Juan quietly admitted, "But I know I'm doing the right thing. I can't spend my whole life making my father's dream come true. I have to follow my own dream."
"What is your dream?" Eduardo asked curiously.
"I guess it's to be the opposite of my father." Juan said frankly, then explained, "The only thing that matters to him is his restaurant. His family are just a way to get free labor. I'm going to the academy so I can get a good, stable job so I can be a good provider when I have a family of my own."
"That is a very fine goal." Eduardo said seriously.
"Phillipa's told me that when she was growing up, she knew that you worked hard to provide for your family. But she said you were always there when she needed you and she never felt like she ever had to do without anything. That's what I want for my kids... our kids." Juan finished quietly.
Eduardo chuckled slightly as he wiped a stray tear from his eye, then said, "I was so afraid for Phillipa when she left us. There are so many dangers and so many temptations out there... I suppose with all that worry, it never occurred to me that something good might happen."
"She's really happy at the academy, and she's safe." Juan said seriously.
"I won't worry... well, no more than any parent when their child is out of their sight." Eduardo finished with a chuckle.
Little Juan shifted on Juan's lap and snuggled a little tighter into his chest.
Juan leaned in and gave the boy a gentle kiss on the top of his head to help quiet him.
Eduardo watched the unconscious action and smiled.
* * * * *
Valentine and Mike's trip back to the academy had been mostly silent.
It wasn't uncomfortable, but Valentine could tell that Mike just needed some time to assimilate the revelations brought on by his discussion with his father.
As Valentine stepped under the hot shower's spray, he began to feel the tension drain away.
After a few minutes of standing and soaking in the warmth, he began to lather himself heavily. He felt as though no amount of washing would ever make him feel clean.
"Could you use some company?"
Valentine turned to see Terry, wrapped in a towel and walking slowly into the room.
"Your company, absolutely." Valentine said with a smile.
"Troy is going to spend some time with his father before he comes back." Terry said as he walked to the hooks to hang up his towel.
"Mike said he wanted to check on things in the lab, but I think he really just needs some time to be alone." Valentine said, then smiled at the sight of Terry's completely naked body.
"Whoa, big guy. You know we can't be doing anything here." Terry said as he noticed the evidence of Valentine's interest.
"I've missed you terribly, today. I know we aren't ready for everything, but I would like very much to hold you right now." Valentine said honestly.
"I need a kiss." Terry said frankly as he slowly walked toward Valentine.
"That is good, because I happen to have one for you." Valentine said with a smile.
When Terry finally reached him, Valentine pulled him into a hug and proceeded to give him a slow, lingering kiss.
Valentine's hands drifted down Terry's well muscled back and came to rest on his firm butt.
"You keep doing that and I might forget the rules." Terry muttered against Valentine's lips.
"There is nothing I would like more." Valentine said in return, then added, "But it would be wrong."
"It's not wrong." Terry said as he moved in for another, even more passionate, kiss.
"No. Not wrong. But the wrong place and the wrong time." Valentine said regretfully.
"When will we ever be in the right place and right time?" Terry asked desperately as he looked up into Valentine's eyes, proving that he honestly wanted an answer.
"I believe that we promised each other that we would spend the next holiday together. As I understand local customs, that will be the celebration of advancing to the next calendar year." Valentine said breathlessly.
"New Year's Eve. Yeah, I've heard of it." Terry said with anticipation.
"Between now and then, we can make arrangements for the proper time and place." Valentine said in a low, sultry voice.
"Let's go put in for passes as soon as we're dried off." Terry said with anticipation.
"Perhaps we could eat first? I wasn't able to eat very much today." Valentine said honestly.
"Yeah. I'm hungry, too." Terry said frankly.
"Turn around and I'll wash your back." Valentine said quietly.
"You just want to look at my butt." Terry said playfully as he turned around.
"That's not ALL I want to do." Valentine said with a grin as he started to soap Terry's back.
* * * * *
A knocking on the door caused everyone to look up in surprise.
"Who would be visiting us on Christmas?" Melanie's father asked with a puzzled look as he left the room to answer the door.
"Everyone who might visit is already here, except..." Melanie trailed off in thought, then her eyes lit up with delight as she thought of who it could be.
"Where's my niece?" A woman's voice boomed, announcing her arrival as she rushed into the room.
"Aunt Janice!" Melanie said with a broad smile as she ran to hug the woman.
"That's our Aunt Janice, she's the one who's in Starfleet." Patrick said to Sharan quietly, then added, "They've always been extremely close."
"Yes. Melanie has spoken of her." Sharan responded as he watched the two women hugging joyfully.
"I thought you said you couldn't come today." Melanie said as she pulled back slightly to look at Janice curiously.
"I didn't think I could. We just got back to Earth and came directly here." Janice said, then looked behind her and said, "Shish, come in here so you can meet my family!"
Everyone in the room watched as a tall thin man hesitantly walked into the room with Melanie's father at his side. There was a moment of silence when you actually could have heard a pin drop.
Sharan found that he was as much in shock as anyone else at the sight of the Andorian man standing in the doorway.
"Everyone, I'd like for you to meet my boyfriend... fiancee, Shish." Janice said proudly.
"You're getting married!" Melanie yelped, then hugged her Aunt with renewed joy.
Shish looked around the room uncomfortably at all the strangers, then his expression seemed to soften when he spotted Sharan.
"You've always been two of a kind, but this goes beyond coincidence." Melanie's father said with a grin.
Janice looked at him curiously at the statement, then followed his gaze to Sharan.
"Oh, it's no coincidence. Melanie's been telling me about Sharan for over a month now. Shish and I have known each other for years, he serves on the Enterprise with me. He's asked me out a few times, but until I heard Melanie describing the way her relationship was developing with Sharan, I guess I never really gave his invitations serious thought. Once we started dating... well, you can guess the rest." Janice finished as she hurried to Shish and gave him a firm hug.
"I'm glad you finally found someone." Melanie's father said sincerely.
"He was worth waiting for." Janice said with an adoring smile at her fiancee.
"I took Janice to meet my family on Andoria. Our ship only just arrived at Earth and we came directly here." Shish said in a soft, tenor voice.
"Yeah. I was so afraid we wouldn't make it before everyone left." Janice said quickly.
"Well, most of the ladies are in the kitchen fussing over things. I think they would be very interested to hear your news, especially your sister. Who knows, they might even be able to find some Christmas dinner to feed you while you're in there." Melanie's father said with a loving look at Janice.
"Come on, Shish. You aren't even going to believe it." Janice said exuberantly as she led him out of the room.
"It seems that as much as your aunt has inspired you, that you have also been able to inspire her. It has a certain symmetry." Sharan said thoughtfully.
Melanie smiled at his words, then gave him a quick kiss before rushing away.
"Sharan." Melanie's father said, to gain his attention. At Sharan's inquisitive look, he continued, "Just in case you ever have a doubt, you ARE part of our family. All you have to do is look at Janice and Shish to see the influence you've already had."
Sharan looked into the man's eyes and said, "For the first time since my parents' deaths, I feel like I belong to a family again. I don't have words enough to express my gratitude."
"There's no need, son. Because we're every bit as grateful to have you as part of our family." Melanie's father said, then put an arm around Sharan's shoulders to give him a one armed hug.
* * * * *
"Juan, are you Catholic?" Eduardo asked, seemingly out of nowhere.
"Yes. Yes, sir." Juan responded hesitantly, then felt it necessary to add, "I haven't attended church for many years. Not since my father moved us to Austin. But I was raised Catholic."
"That's fine, Juan. We aren't a strict religious family, by any means, but I feel that a religious foundation is important to provide a guide, a moral compass, later in life." Eduardo said frankly.
Juan considered for a moment, then quietly said, "I never thought about it before, but I suppose that a lot of what I believe about right and wrong and acceptance and forgiveness come from what I learned in church when I was young."
Eduardo smiled, then said, "Just make sure that my grandkids get that same moral foundation."
Juan's eyes went wide at the statement.
"I don't mean right now. There's plenty of time for that." Eduardo said with a smile at Juan's surprised reaction.
* * * * *
The showering might have taken a bit longer than was necessary, but Terry and Valentine didn't do much that would be considered inappropriate.
As they were walking toward the cafeteria, Valentine thought to ask, "How was your Christmas dinner?"
"I guess if I were going to describe the entire meal in one word, it would be 'Sanitary'." Terry said frankly, then asked,? "How was yours?"
"Fragrant." Valentine said as he led the way into the cafeteria.
They casually walked through the hot food line and made their selections.
As Valentine was selecting dinner rolls from the variety of breads that were available, Terry noticed that Valentine had ham on his plate.
"You're going to eat meat?" Terry asked with surprise.
"Yes. But don't worry. I'm still a vegetarian... except for ham." Valentine said casually, then carried his tray to the salad line.
Terry stared at Valentine for a moment, then started to chuckle as he followed.
* * * * *
Once they were seated, Terry couldn't help but stare as Valentine prepared his mini sandwich of ham on a buttered roll.
"I'm guessing something must have happened at Mike's family's house for you to suddenly change your diet." Terry prompted.
After eating a bite of his sandwich, Valentine said, "Many things happened at Mike's family's house, and most of them I probably won't discuss, out of respect for Mike. But as far as my change in diet, it is simply because Mike's grandfather introduced me to a new flavor combination that I find pleasing."
"Oh? Well, then, I'm glad that you found something new that you can eat." Terry said happily.
"Terry, isn't that the young man from the restaurant?" Valentine asked as he indicated a young man walking toward them with a food tray.
"Hey, Giovanni! Do you want to sit with us?" Terry asked quickly.
The young cadet ensign looked at Terry curiously, obviously not knowing who he was.
"We met in the restaurant the day before you started at the academy." Terry explained.
"Oh, yeah!" Giovanni said with a smile and placed his tray on their table.
"It looks like you've got a full meal there, I'm guessing you didn't go home and have Christmas dinner." Terry said casually.
"No, I went home a few days ago to celebrate the Winter Solstice with my family." Giovanni said frankly.
Valentine looked at the young man curiously. Although he couldn't be sure, it appeared to him that Giovanni had not been getting enough sleep and had lost some weight.
"So how have things been for you? Is it everything that you expected?" Terry asked curiously.
"No. Not what I expected." Giovanni said with a weary chuckle. "Everything you and your friends warned me about was true. I'm just glad that I listened. Every time I feel like being lazy and taking the day off or the easy way out, I just remember what you said and keep going. And most times I'll look back and see someone else who did take the easy way, and they usually end up having to pay a heavy price for it."
"Well, since we're not in the officer's training, we don't know exactly what you're going through, but that sounds about right." Terry said honestly.
"I feel like the stress is constant, always pressing down on me. But I think that maybe I'm starting to get used to that." Giovanni said introspectively.
"Well, as soon as you do, then it's time to take it up a notch. In fact, if your exams are anything like ours, the pressure is going to be ramped up pretty soon." Terry said seriously.
"Yeah. I've been talking with one of the regular term students, and he said pretty much the same thing. Of course, that's when I could get him to talk about something besides the 'Hero of Kimber'." Giovanni said with a roll of his eyes.
"What about him?" Terry asked curiously.
"You haven't heard?" Giovanni asked with surprise.
"No. We've been focusing on our studies and haven't really talked to anyone outside our group except Liam, and he hasn't said anything." Terry said frankly.
"Well, from what Aiden said, when they did their first simulator exercise, they were put in there with people from different class groups and stuff, he'd never even spoken to most of them before and didn't know who some of them were. Anyway, when the exercise started, they had this kid with them. It turns out that the kid was the hero of Kimber... I mean, he was there in the simulator with them as part of their team!" Giovanni said in amazement.
"I'm guessing they passed their test." Valentine said, mostly as a prompt for Giovanni to continue the story.
"Yeah. And from what Aiden said, they probably would have failed, like, big time, if he hadn't been there." Giovanni said with a wide eyed expression.
"I guess it just goes to show you that you never know what to expect from one day to the next around here." Valentine said with a smile.
"So, how are things going for you, besides being stressed?" Terry asked curiously.
"Okay, I guess. Except for my roommate. He seems to always be mad about something. He probably hasn't said a dozen words to me since we moved in together and he's always slamming things around. It's kind of hard to relax around someone like that." Giovanni said frankly.
"Yeah. Well, some people don't know how to handle stress. There's not much that you can do but try to let it not get to you." Terry said sympathetically.
"I know. For the first few days I was all tied up, trying to figure out what I'd done to piss him off. But I finally realized that he's just a very angry and unhappy person and that it has nothing to do with me." Giovanni said in a voice of acceptance.
"Let us know if there's anything we can do." Valentine said sincerely.
Giovanni smiled, then said, "Yeah. Just being able to sit here and talk with you like regular people is a big help. Everyone in my class group is all so serious all the time, we don't talk about anything except for our studies and preparing for the next exam."
Terry chuckled, then said, "Well, we do a lot of that, too. But we also help each other out. I think it helps all of us when we know that we can depend on each other."
Giovanni slowly nodded, then absently said, "It would be nice if we could do that."
"It's your first term. Sooner or later, it'll happen. You just have to hang in there." Valentine assured.
Giovanni looked down at his plate and realized that he had finished his meal. "I guess I'd better get back to studying. I've got a chapter on navigation that needs my attention right now."
"Yeah. We've just had a day off, but it's about time for us to get back into study mode." Terry said frankly.
"Thanks for talking with me guys." Giovanni said as he stood, then stopped and added, "And thanks for all the stuff you told me at the restaurant. It really helped me get through the first few days."
"I'm glad. And remember that you can always come to us if you need some advice, or if you just want to talk." Valentine said sincerely.
"Yeah. I appreciate it. And the same goes for me if I can ever do anything to help you." Giovanni said with a smile.
"We'll remember that." Terry said warmly, then watched as Giovanni left their table.
"He appears to have grown up a lot since we first met." Valentine said speculatively.
"Yeah. I'm glad the stuff we told him at the restaurant helped." Terry said happily.
"We still have a little time before bed. I think it would be a good idea to do some studying before we sleep, to put us in the right frame of mind for tomorrow's class." Valentine said thoughtfully.
"Your bunk or mine?" Terry asked with a grin.
"Yours." Valentine said with an answering smile.
* * * * *
Most of the family had left. Melanie's parents were sitting on one end of a couch and Janice and Shish were sitting on the other. On the other couch, Ryan and Khari were sitting snuggled together on one end as Sharan and Melanie mirrored their position at the other end. They were all silent, listening to instrumental Christmas music while they watched the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree.
"What time do you need to be going?" Melanie's father asked casually, breaking the long silence.
"We have to be at the airport by midnight." Sharan answered as he glanced at the clock.
"We can give you a ride to the airport if you like." Ryan said casually as he held Khari close to his side.
"Isn't that quite a bit out of your way?" Melanie asked with concern.
"Not really. We need to stop by Khari's place to pick up a few things. So we'll be in the neighborhood." Ryan said with a smile.
"I'm so glad you're back together." Melanie's mother said from her husband's arms.
"Me too." Ryan said quietly, then leaned in slightly to give Khari a kiss.
"If you're sure you don't mind driving us, we'd appreciate the ride." Sharan said honestly.
"No. We don't mind." Khari said in a contented whisper.
"It looks like three of our four kids have found true love. Now the only one we have to worry about is Paul." Melanie's mother said as she looked around the room.
"Give the boy some time. He has to get over an unrequited love. That doesn't go away overnight." Melanie's father said gently.
"Was Paul seeing someone? Why didn't anyone tell me?" Janice asked as she looked around the gathering.
"No. He wasn't seeing anyone. That's what I mean by 'unrequited'. Just give him some time and I'm sure everything will work out." Melanie's father said seriously.
Silence fell over the room again as everyone seemed to accept the answer.
"We should leave for the airport soon, so we won't have to rush." Ryan said quietly as he looked at the clock.
"Before we go, I'd like to thank all of you. I couldn't have imagined a better experience. Thank you for accepting me in your holiday celebration." Sharan said formally.
"We're just so happy that you came. I hope that you'll be able to come and visit again very soon." Melanie's mother said tenderly.
"Yes. That is my hope as well." Sharan said sincerely.
"Do you need some help carrying your gifts?" Khari asked as he stood from the couch.
"Yeah. Thanks." Melanie said happily as she hurried to the tree to gather her things.
Ryan put a hand on Sharan's shoulder and said, "Thanks for all your help, today."
"It is not in my nature to get involved in such things, but too many people who have been kind to me were being adversely affected by your situation. I saw a possible solution and related it to you as inoffensively as I was able." Sharan said carefully.
"If our places were reversed, I doubt that I would have been able to handle the situation as well as you did." Ryan said frankly.
"Don't forget your presents." Melanie said with a grin at Sharan.
Sharan knelt down and reverently picked up his lapdesk, then opened it and put the duffel bag inside.
"I don't know when we'll be able to come back, but I'll email you as soon as we get another break." Melanie said as she ran to give her mother a hug.
"We'll be waiting to hear from you." Melanie's mother said gently, sounding like she was about to cry.
"Yes. And we'll also be expecting regular updates on how you're doing." Melanie's father said as Melanie started hugging him.
Sharan was surprised when Melanie's mother went to him and hugged him gently.
"I hope you know that we're all really happy that you and Melanie found each other." Melanie's mother whispered as she hugged him.
Sharan was awkwardly holding the lapdesk out of the way as he returned her hug with one arm and said, "I'm surprised to say that I do know that. Before meeting your family, I would not have believed it to be possible."
Melanie's mother kissed him on the cheek, then withdrew.
"Listen, son, Melanie's not the only one we want to hear from." Melanie's father said as he moved to take his turn hugging Sharan. "Write to us and let us know how you're doing."
"I will... try." Sharan said reluctantly, then added, "I'm not good with that sort of thing."
Melanie's father chuckled, then said, "Just do what you can."
Sharan nodded, then watched as Melanie's parents went through the same hugging ritual with Ryan and Khari.
He noticed that Janice and Melanie were whispering together and that Shish was looking at him, as though he wanted to say something.
As Sharan approached, Shish said, "Even though I know you weren't aware of what was going on with Janice, I still feel that I should thank you. I've loved her for years as a dear friend, but if not for you, we might never have been able to be anything more to each other."
"I feel certain that before all is said and done, I will have cause to thank you as well. As close as Melanie and Janice seem to be, I feel certain that they will be sharing their experiences and anything that either of us does will end up impacting us both." Sharan said honestly.
Shish smiled, then said, "You remind me of how I was when I first started my career in Starfleet. There have been times when I have felt... isolated. If there's any way my years of experience can be of benefit to you, I hope that you will feel free to call on me. After all, it appears that we have quite a lot in common."
Sharan glanced over at the two women talking animatedly in hushed whispers, then looked back to Shish and said, "Yes, it appears that we do. Thank you."
"We'd better get going." Ryan said from the doorway.
Melanie gave Janice a firm hug and quick kiss before hurrying to Sharan's side.
With one last look around the family room, to imprint the scene on his memory, Sharan put his arm around Melanie and turned to leave.
* * * * *
As Troy walked into the barracks, Terry immediately asked, "How are you doing?"
"I had a good talk with my dad." Troy said with a peaceful smile as he walked to his bunk.
"I'm glad. He seemed like a really nice guy." Terry said honestly, from his place cuddled close to Valentine.
"He is. I just get the feeling that he's really unhappy." Terry said thoughtfully.
"Yeah. But there's not much you can do about that but be there for him if he needs you. Until he decides to make a change, nothing you can do is likely to help." Terry said frankly.
"I guess so." Troy said quietly, then added, "But I was thinking that if, maybe, I can show him what it's like to be happy, I can kind of be an example for him, so he'll know how it can be."
"Yeah. And even if he doesn't make a change, maybe it'll be enough for him to know that you've found happiness." Terry said honestly.
Troy nodded, then turned when the door opened.
"How are you doing, Mike?" Valentine asked cautiously.
After a moment to consider, Mike smiled and said, "Everything's fine."
Valentine smiled and nodded, obviously accepting the answer to be true.
* * * * *
Juan and Phillipa walked into the barracks, and were surprised to find that their classmates weren't already asleep.
"How was your Christmas?" Terry asked curiously.
"Perfect." Phillipa said as she cuddled close to Juan, then asked, "How was yours?"
Terry smiled, then said, "Well, I wouldn't call it 'perfect', but I'm glad I got to meet Troy's family. I've gained a whole new level of respect for Troy since I've met them."
"I can hear you." Troy said playfully from his bunk, where he was reading his padd.
"Yeah. Like I'm saying something that you don't already know." Terry said with a roll of his eyes.
"Thanks, Terry." Troy said quietly, then turned his attention back to his padd.
Terry smiled, then noticed that Juan and Phillipa were standing, holding each other and staring at the small Christmas tree.
He sat silently and watched them, appreciating the tranquility in that moment.
* * * * *
"Shhh. We don't want to wake them." Melanie whispered as she and Sharan crept into the barracks.
Valentine watched them walk into the room, arm in arm and smiled at the scene.
"Did you have a good Christmas?" Valentine asked as he sat up in his bunk.
"Go back to sleep, Val. I'm sorry we woke you." Melanie whispered.
"I wasn't asleep yet. How was your visit?" Valentine asked curiously.
"It was great." Melanie said quietly.
Valentine nodded, then looked at Sharan curiously.
"Mel has some... interesting relatives. But they were all very nice and I had a good time." Sharan finished carefully.
"You'll have to tell me all about it at breakfast." Valentine said warmly.
"Yes. Good night, Val." Sharan said in an uncharacteristically affectionate tone.
"Good night." Valentine said before lying back down on his bunk.
* * * * *
"Terry?" Valentine said in a voice that probably meant that it wasn't his first attempt to gain Terry's attention.
After a moment more of reading, Terry looked up from his padd and smiled at Val as he said, "Yeah? What's up, Val?"
"Do you still want to celebrate the calendar change holiday?" Valentine asked hesitantly.
Terry looked at the clock and was surprised at how late it was.
He stood suddenly as he said, "I'm sorry! I was studying and lost track of time! We still need to get our passes and arrange for transportation..."
Terry's litany of despair was cut off by Valentine's firm kiss.
The tension in Terry's body melted away as Valentine held him tightly.
Finally, Valentine pulled away enough to look Terry in the eyes.
"Is it too late?" Terry asked in a small voice.
"I have the passes in my pocket. And if we leave right now, a taxi should be waiting for us in front of the academy." Valentine said gently.
"I love you, Val." Terry declared, then lunged forward for a joyful kiss.
"You guys, go on and get out of here." Troy said from his bunk.
Valentine looked around the barracks, but was relieved to find that Troy was the only one who seemed to be aware of what he and Terry were doing. For a moment he had completely forgotten that they weren't alone.
"Come on, Big Guy." Terry said urgently as he took firm hold of Valentine's arm and pulled him toward the door.
"Have a good evening, and enjoy the celebration." Valentine said shyly to his young friend.
Troy grinned, then said, "Yeah. Happy New Year to you, too."
* * * * *
Things were a bit rushed, but Terry and Valentine eventually found their way to their hotel room.
Once they were secure in each other's arms, nothing else mattered.
"What's bothering you, Terry?" Valentine asked gently.
"Nothing. Everything's perfect." Terry said as he held Valentine a little tighter and rested his head against Valentine's massive chest.
"Something about this is causing you apprehension. I can't do anything to address your fear if I don't know what it is." Valentine said frankly.
After a long moment of silence, Terry finally said, "When we make love... I've never done that."
"I haven't either, Terry." Valentine whispered, then added, "But I've done considerable research on the subject. I know the things to do and have brought the supplies that we will most likely need."
"Wait. Is that what's in that shopping bag?" Terry asked suddenly.
"Yes. What did you think it was?" Valentine asked with a smile.
"I don't know. I didn't really think about it. I guess I had other things on my mind." Terry finished with a sultry look into Valentine's eyes.
"Before we proceed. There is a matter we have not discussed." Valentine said uncomfortably.
"What's got you worried, Big Guy?" Terry asked curiously.
"When a man and a woman make love, this isn't a concern. But between two men... I just don't want to assume..." Valentine trailed off with difficulty.
"I just kind of thought that you'd be the one making love to me." Terry said frankly.
Valentine absently nodded that he had heard.
Terry's look became distant for a moment, then he broke into a smile. Finally he said, "But how would you feel if I were the one to make love to you?"
"I think I would like that." Valentine said quietly.
Terry relaxed into their embrace, then slowly said, "I suppose we could try it both ways, so we'll both know what we each like best."
"That would be nice, too." Valentine said contentedly.
"Were you worried that I'd expect you to be 'the man' and take charge of everything?" Terry asked curiously.
"No. I don't think so." Valentine said slowly, then continued, "I know that you love me. I was concerned that you might be willing to forego your own pleasure to please me. I want for us to be equal."
"No matter what we do, it'll be because it's what we both want." Terry said as he pulled back slightly to look Val in the eyes. "Since neither of us have done this before, we're going to need to try things until we can find out what we both enjoy."
"That is acceptable." Valentine said with his best attempt at a 'Vulcan' expression.
Terry giggled, then said, "I'm hoping we can come up with something a little bit better than 'acceptable' before we're done."
Valentine released Terry from their hug, then allowed his hands to drift down Terry's sides, coming to rest on his waist.
"If we're done talking, I'm ready to show you how much I love you." Valentine whispered.
"Me, too." Terry said as he looked up into Valentine's dark eyes.
Slowly, Valentine took hold of Terry's long sleeved t shirt and pulled it up and off over his head.
As soon as Terry's hands were free, he took hold of the sash of Valentine's robe and untied it.
"You're so beautiful." Valentine whispered in awe.
Terry guided Valentine's tunic off his massive shoulders and allowed it to fall away.
"I think I'm starting to see why people celebrate the new year. I feel like we're beginning something new and wonderful." Terry said as he ran his hands over Valentine's firm chest.
Valentine moved in to give Terry a kiss filled with all the desire he was feeling.
Let me start by saying that I had read most of this chapter some time ago. MM had a few scenes that he was having a bit of difficulty putting together. I am very pleased to say that he has done a wonderful job of filling in the blanks.
I just finished reading the chapter from the beginning, and all the feelings that I had when I first read it were there again.? One of the things I love about reading a chapter or story from MultiMapper is that it is just as refreshing to read it again as it was the first time.
Lots of wonderful things happened during the holidays. We had some interesting revelations as well. Mike finally is beginning to understand his father a bit more, and his dad has finally explained some of the reasons he acts the way he does toward Mike's brother.
Val's food choices have expanded, and I think that even with all the somewhat negative sensations that assailed his nose, I think that he actually sort of enjoyed the experience.
Sharan has finally found a family again, and Melanie and he now realize that they love each other. Khari and Ryan have found that they are much happier together than either of them are, apart. That family is certainly a very loving and accepting one. As hard as it might seem to both the non human members, they are now both fully aware that they are indeed part of that family.
Troy can now see more plainly how totally messed up his family really is, and how much control his mother has over everyone. The whole bunch of them are almost puppets for her. When she says jump, then ask how high and where they should land. Troy's dad may have finally seen some light at that end of that tunnel, now that he and Troy have had a chance to talk.
Of course, Philipa and Juan are in love and they figured that out a while ago. Now, though, they both know that Philipa's family is accepting of their bond, and they all accept Juan as part of their family, and Juan now knows he has a family who loves him, unconditionally.
Terry and Val have finally found the right time and place to show each other how much they love each other, and figure out what love making is like.
Things are moving right along, I would guess.
I can hardly wait for the next chapter, to see what will happen next.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher